A tweet from Joel Edwards struck a chord with me as I was enjoying a sunny breakfast on the patio on Sunday. It read: 'If you don't understand the bad news you won't appreciate the good news."
I can vividly remember the first time an adult leant down into my shiny-eyed nine-year-old face and said, in answer to some question: "Well, dearie, do you want the good news or the bad news first?" I quickly opted for the bad news first, sensing that going from bad to good might be the best order. That was when I realised, perhaps for the first time, that the full meaning and impact of the good news only made sense when I first understood the bad news.
It can be very overwhelming living with unprecedented access to media coverage of the 'bad news' stories unfolding across the planet. Before Jesus left his anxious group of followers, he reminded them not to be afraid (in the face of 'bad news'), "for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). Jesus set the litmus test for his own brand of 'good news' when he read from the scroll of Isaiah 61 in the synagogue; it was to be, first and foremost, good news to the poor.
In many of the same ways that the poor of today face the consequences of 'bad news', the poor of Jesus' day faced plenty of bad news. Sometimes, in our desire to keep cheerful and build a momentum of 'good news', we can be guilty of overlooking and disregarding or simply of failing to understand the deeper significance of the 'bad news'.
This last week the foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was weary of harking back to the 'bad news' elements of Britain's imperial history: "We have to get out of this post-colonial guilt and be confident in ourselves." He then went on to proclaim the 'good news' of 'new and equal partnerships' with ex-colonies. This certainly would be good news… if it were wholly true. If we open our eyes and are willing not to fudge the bad news about what happens, then Jesus' message of hope and good news can really begin to make a difference where it matters the most.
One year on from the extraordinary beginning of the global Occupy protest movement and 11 years on from the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11, we might ask ourselves whether and in what ways, as people of faith in the 'good news', our thinking has changed in the light of these 'bad news' events?
Einstein once said that problems cannot be solved by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them; this resonates with the Apostle Paul's conviction that, in order to live lives which reflect God's 'good news', our thinking needs to change (Romans 12: 1-2). I am excited when I read or hear of Christians and others who have been spurred on to find new ways of thinking and living which transform our ways of doing business, social care, restorative justice, education and so on. This is in line with the resilient and joy-filled good news of the kingdom.
As we face the challenges and pain of very real consequences of axed benefits for the vulnerable in our midst, increased levels of child poverty in our communities, or the collective amnesias which may turn a blind eye to the very real and on-going unjust consequences of history which continue to shape the world today, we must not forget that our life, in however small a way, can be a bearer of good news for the poor and vulnerable in our midst.
After all is said and done, what is good news for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the alien, the destitute and the prisoner, will be good news for all of us.
Carol Kingston-Smith, lecturer at Redcliffe College, Gloucester, UK, co-founder of the jusTice Initiative and member of Latin Link