Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? This year's Eurovision Song Contest.
Well, it’s that time of the year again. “Royaume-Uni, nul points!” I have to confess that I will not be joining the 186 millions of you who will be watching the finals of the Eurovision song contest being broadcast tomorrow from Tel Aviv, of all places! Strangely many young people find viewing this live international song competition compelling, with its own eclectic subculture and strange traditions. Only yesterday I bumped into someone who told me that her son was coming home from London especially to watch the programme with his friends. They love it as it goes increasingly bizarre. It seems that this year’s Iceland’s act, a black leather and metal-spiked group, has challenged Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a traditional Icelandic wrestling match on the day after the final. I wonder if he will turn up. All this is light years from those innocent contests from the 1950’s. I used to watch them avidly, delighting in songs from strange, far-off places like Luxembourg and Monaco. Even today I often burst into song with Bryan Johnson’s exuberant "Looking High, High, High" from 1960. You can sing along by clicking https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2GivwSboXM. For many of us the ESC is forever linked with the late Terry Wogan who developed his gently ironic commentaries into an artform. “Every year I expect it to be less foolish and every year it is more so. ” This was from 2006. And from the following year: “Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? … Actually, I do. I’ve seen the rehearsals.” It seems that the ESC was founded by members of the European Broadcasting Union, meeting at Rome’s Palazzo Corsini on 19 October 1955, a date to live in infamy. Europe was still battered and bruised by WW2; rationing had just ended in the UK, for example. Their aim was to bring European neighbours together “in the spirit of harmless fun” while pushing the limits of live broadcast television to the very limit. Of course, in those far-off days ‘European neighbours” meant everyone west of the Iron Curtain. 1989 changed everything. As far as it went, like all human endeavours, the ESC did the job, to a point. We enjoyed being part of an international show. After all it gave us Abba. But in reality as Terry Wogan himself noted, the contest promotes only a grand illusion of continental unity. The contest is being held in Israel this year because Israel won last year’s contest – that’s how it works. It seems that Benjamin Netanyahu had planned to hold Eurovision in Jerusalem; it would have been a political coup. But he was overruled by European Broadcasting Union who insisted on Tel Aviv. Strange, isn’t it, how Jerusalem – the city of peace - keeps turning up in international affairs as a problem, an ongoing irritant. To quote Bashar Murad, a Palestinian singer: “Although the Eurovision Song Contest is a fun pop competition, you can’t remove it from the context of where it is being held and who it is affecting.” It so happens that the contest is being held in the same week as Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of their exile. As Murad observes from his perspective: “Eurovision is supposed to be about bringing people together but it’s almost helping Israel to keep oppressing and keep occupying and it’s almost encouraging it.” To say the obvious the ESC is not going to change human nature, our problems are too deep-seated. In fact, it could easily make things worse. It’s not inconceivable that a misdirected vote could cause an international incident. Over the centuries we have seen a succession of panaceas, bringing peace and harmony to a disordered world. More recently: education, free trade, science, music, the Babel fish. The list goes on, a search for a human fix. But as an earlier inhabitant of Jerusalem asked: “Who can understand the human heart? There is nothing else so deceitful; it is too sick to be healed.” (Jeremiah 17:9) As Christians we are called to be realists because we know our own hearts all too well. We can avoid cynicism or fatalism because what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Only the cross of Jesus can heal, only his cruel death can bring true shalom, bringing people together. As the apostle Paul affirms: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-15) For God’s purpose is to heal his broken creation, to restore harmony between peoples. Here is our hope. Our response? “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.” (Psalm 96:1,3).