ITV newsreader Tom Bradby has spoken about how his own experience of mental breakdown adjusted the way that he interviewed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in his 2019 documentary of their South African tour.
He speaks about taking his wife’s advice to speak to the couple as a “human rather than a journalist.” This produced a genuine sense of empathy that might be summed up in the interviewer asking the Duchess if she was “OK.” Her response that ‘no one else had asked her that’ was a mark of real connection.
The result was not merely a good bit of television but also a vivid display of genuine human connection. It is a valuable example of how a person can be truly present, have the knack of noticing the subtle signals people give off, and signal their own interest and involvement.
Of course, this was one of the features that people appreciated in the Duke of Sussex’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. She met people who had leprosy, held the hands of an Aids patient and walked through a recently cleared minefield in a warzone.
It’s possible to be in the same room, family or congregation and yet be disconnected. Even in the online community we can often be “together alone.”
Yesterday my son invited me to look in on an online Indie disco, at which one of my favourite singers was doing a guest DJ slot. The music came from a radio station, which invited listeners to join via Zoom. It was interesting to view the faces of those who were there. Some were dressed up, some were not, some were sitting quietly, some were moving in their seats and some were full on dancing.
It was not the same as a live disco, but it was a point of contact. It reminded me that although online church cannot replicate the full physical face to face experience, it does offer enough of a corporate experience to make us feel in some way connected.
It is interesting that when I meet a person I know on my daily lockdown exercise there is a real joy in reconnecting with people I might not have seen for months.
Even at a social distance it is so lovely to see someone’s face.
Think about the way we talk about people we have not had contact with for a long time: “we have lost touch.”
“There is value in human touch. The more technology around us, the more the need for human touch. There is a need for balance between our physical and spiritual reality.”
(High Tech High Touch - John Naisbitt)
As a preacher I have been thinking more and more about how to promote a sense of emotional connection in the act of preaching.
The hymn writer John Newton captures this well:
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in the believer’s ear.
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds and drives away his fears.”
How does this work? Jesus can sooth our sorrows because he has become the “Man of sorrows for us.” He can heal our wounds because he was wounded for us. He can drive aware our fears because he has faced all the things that make us fearful, including death itself, so that he could diffuse these fears.
Maybe that is why we get those 365 occurences in the Bible of the command: “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus is what Henri Nouwen described as the “wounded healer.” Jesus is the God who has scars.
As Graham Kendrick reminds us “Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered.”
When those hands touch our lives, we know that he has identified with us, he has walked in our shoes and he feels our pain.
Father God, give me and every preacher today more of the human touch that connects with others with an empathy that opens doors of connection, wisdom, understanding and healing. In the name of the scarred Jesus. Amen