aRt and tHeOlOgy: Don’t Shoot the Messenger

August 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

I had originally set out to write this the other night. My thoughts eventually turned into another article, which although different, has a somewhat related subject matter.

I did some research on the axiom, don’t shoot the messenger. What I found was this: it is linked to Shakespearian play Henry IV. Act 1. Sc.1 and can be sourced in various forms way back to Ancient Greece. I’ll spare you the history lesson and only point this out so as to establish historical context.

Here is the quote from said play.

 ‘’The first bringer of unwelcome news hath but a losing office; and his tongue sounds ever after as a sullen bell…thou shakest thy head and holds’t it as fear or sin to speak truth’’


‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ because they are more than likely NOT as willing to share it, as you are in NOT wanting to hear it.

Another relevant aspect of the Shakespearian statement is uncovered in the final part of what could be a monument to his influence on the modern and post-modern zeitgeist or spirit of the age.

 ‘’…Thou shakest thy head and hold it as fear or sin to speak truth’’.

Has Western society really come to this?

For example: are our familial relationships, society and politics a loci for what may have become Fear or Sin. To. Speak. Truth?

In his book ‘’Let your life speak’’, Parker Palmer writes:

‘there is a great gulf between the way my ego wants to identify me, with its protective masks and self-serving fictions, and my true self…’ (2000:L.83 kindle ed.)

What Parker is saying here is qualified a little later by his suggestion that when we ‘refuse to embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of, we misread our own reality’ (2000:L.98 kindle ed.)

Suffice it to say, if we shoot the messenger we may fail to receive the message a messenger has the duty of delivering. Therefore we deal in the ignorance of what could be named a ‘happy silence’. The effort required to stay informed is too much so we avoid the details, context and historical points of impact which anticipated the current reality we find ourselves in. This smug ‘happy silence’ becomes indifference and is subsequently fed by conflict avoidance and complacency.

Jean Bethke Elshtain points out that this is exemplified by a ‘style of action…that repudiates the very existence of those with whom one disagrees’ (Public man Private woman 1981:365).

If we contrast this with the Judeo-Christian narrative of the Free God who frees us for others and Himself (Karl Barth & Ex.3:1-12), we end up with an interesting challenge to freely participate in seeking truth through respectful dialogue. This is counter to self-serving activities which seek to undermine that process.

…’God’s promises are rude and relentless. These promises do not honour our despair or our complacency. We are the people who believe that God’s future will cause a new-ness in the world, in which our old tired patterns of displacement and fear and hate cannot persist…. God has come to enlist people into these promises for the future of Israel and the future of the world’

(Walter Brueggemann, ‘Subversive Obedience’ 2011:25; Ex.3:1-12)

This enquiry raises two questions:

1. Might we actually mean what we say, say what we mean and choose to live by both?

2. Might we find the tension, ambiguity and imperfection found in the translations of these, as useful to our movement forward?

Take this gem of a thought from  American Mychal Massie, writer and Los Angeles talk show host:

 ‘I have a saying that ‘’the only reason a person hides things, is because they have something to hide’’ (Cited by Kevin Sorbo, Facebook August 26th 2013).

Perhaps we need to move beyond  assumption, by reassessing the impression management so closely linked to social media?

I realise this is wordy, but bear with me and maybe go back over those two questions above in order to really process them. There is a real need, in my view, to resist the Machiavellian ideological perspective which allows for a covert aggressive nominalism. A kind of manipulated-artificial  existence, where people are given permission to covertly tear others down and yet make themselves look innocent and victimized, because they have been enabled by others to do so. Historically speaking this is reflected in the abhorrent potentiality located within the ‘logic of deconstructionism, which reverses a claim like “the Nazis oppressed the Jews,” showing instead that the defenceless Jew’s oppressed the Nazis’ (Cited by Gene Veith, 1993:2615-2617, ‘Modern Fascism’ Kindle Ed. paraphrased)

In short: this could also apply to the practice of being something in public and then being the absolute opposite in private.

Abuse thrives when assumptions are fuelled by what we are led to believe about a person. Whether this be through appearances, gossip or lies-through-omission.

A protest against this is found in Swedish Musician, Ulf Christiansson’s contrasts outlined in the song ‘Entertainers and Soldiers’. Although here I acknowledge an argument could be made that Entertainers are ”messengers”, therefore the use of this song makes my overall point redundant and confusing. My response to this is to say that the phrase ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ points to a paradox of appearance, intention and purpose. For me, this is only reinforced by the lyrics not limited by them. Therefore this is an adequate example of the conversation between art and theology regarding nominalism.

Entertainers and soldiers


Brueggemann, W. 2011 Subversive Obedience
Elshtain, J.B 1981 Public man Private woman
Jerusalem, ‘Entertainers and Soldiers’ available @ iTunes and amazon.
Parker, P. 2000 Let your life speak Kindle Ed.
Shakespeare. Henry IV
Veith,G. 1993 Modern Fascism Kindle Ed.

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