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  • Ross Moughtin

Cynicism is trying to make people as unhappy as you are. (Ricky Gervais)


“Good. It's going to need careful training, the commander-in-chief wants a special squadron formed. it'll be best if you formed it yourself.” So Wing Commander Guy Gibson at the remarkably young age of 24 is tasked to lead Operation Chastise, better known to us as the Dam Busters Raid. Last night on the 75thanniversary of this amazing operation Jacqui and I went to the Plaza community cinema in Waterloo for a special showing of Michael Anderson’s classic 1955 film, now gloriously remastered in 4K which even enhanced the special effects. As a bonus we were treated to a simulcast of the gala evening at the Royal Albert Hall to mark not just the raid itself but the making of this iconic film. For the film, possibly more than the raid itself, has entered our nation’s blood stream, not least through its theme music written by Eric Coates. As soon as the film opens, you know you are in a different landscape, a bygone world, as the driver turns into Barnes Wallis’ drive after making a right hand signal. (You unwind the driver’s window and stick your arm straight out.) One of the advantages of making the film just 12 years after the raid itself is that everything you need is already there, not least the use of real Avro Lancaster bombers supplied by the RAF. Moreover, the film company bought (or maybe leased) four such aircraft at a bargain-basement price. And not just the equipment. The entire cast too would have the war as a recent memory, not least the lead actor Richard Todd who played Gibson. As a captain in the Parachute Regiment, Todd dropped at Pegasus Bridge on D Day. He saw action and knew the human cost. For the raid itself had a high casualty rate – of the 133 aircrew taking part, 53 died and three were captured. The film captures this well and not just in the closing sequence as the camera pans over the untouched breakfast settings for the returning crew. You just wonder what it must be like to see your accompanying plane hit by flak and burst into flames – and yet stay focussed. Even so the film is earnest, with impeccable language with table manners to match Every cup of tea, I noted, is always served with a saucer. In complete contrast to (say) Catch 22, which is set just one year later, the Dam Busters is devoid of cynicism. There is an overriding sense of a noble purpose, sad of course but totally necessary. No one is in it for their own advancement. For today we live in a cynical, disillusioned age. We feel let down. As musician Walter Becker contends: “Cynicism is the wailing of someone who believes that things are, or should be, or could be, much, much better than they are.” As a society we are suspicious of each other’s motives, wary of trusting those who would lead us. “Even churches,” writes John Ortberg, “can become places of cynicism, resistance, and pessimism.” However, disillusionment can only happen if we are at first illusioned. Right at the outset we need is to accept the truth, especially about ourselves, however painful. Remarkably German WW2 martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer realised that disillusionment with the church can be a work of the Holy Spirit. He writes of the crushing of unrealistic dreams about God's people (as well as ourselves) as an act of God's grace. But that’s only the first step: we don’t stop there. For the truth is that God loves us – and this insight makes all the difference. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). We may not love ourselves but God, unto whom all hearts are open, loves us with a passion which is both comforting and challenging. And more, God is engaged in his world. Just look at the cross. And then look at the open tomb – as the Kingdom of God breaks into our world, not at the end of time but now. Aslan has arrived and our barren landscape begins to blossom. So the Holy Spirit invites us to share with him the task of renewing God's world as part of God renewed people. Like Guy Gibson, we may be tasked with an awesome challenge but a challenge which can be achieved if we rely on the resources and people which the Holy Spirit provides. For to follow Christ means we may see the world through his eyes, to work together with our fellow disciples with a focus, a confidence which comes from a hope which will never be disappointed. We may be set free from the curse of cynicism. Why? “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

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