Friday, 23 October 2009
The Emperor's New Clothes
I imagine you may well be familiar with that story by Hans Christian Anderson about ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. The vain emperor always goes about extremely well dressed. Elegance is his hallmark – until two scoundrels hatch a scheme to get the better of him. They tell him they are fantastic taylors who “have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality.” They are commissioned to produce a very special suit of new clothes for the emperor. And the emperor thinks he is getting a real bargain. Not only will he have a wonderful suit – but he’ll be able to discover which of his subjects are stupid and incompetent – because they won’t be able to see it. The prime minister, on being sent to check progress, discovers an empty loom - and breaks into a cold sweat. If he admits he can’t see the clothes, he’ll be regarded as stupid and probably dismissed from office. And so he admires their wonderful work – and that’s what he reports back. The tailors come to measure the emperor. They seem to be holding a large roll of cloth, but the emperor can’t see anything. He panics and admires the fabric he can’t see. The new suit is finished, tried on, and shown off to the people. Nobody wants to be regarded as stupid, and so they all admire it. All except a child – “The emperor is naked.” The boy’s father grabs him and takes him away – but the crowd finally see sense – “The boy is right! The emperor is naked! It’s true!” The emperor also realises it is true, but really can’t admit it – and so carries on with the illusion. The theme of new things is a common Biblical concept. God deals in making things new. But the story helps to remind us how critical it is to look for authentic newness – and not that illusory newness that is akin to those so called emperor’s new clothes. The church has much to value in its traditions, much in what has brought us to this point on which we can build. But the church needs always to be looking for new challenges, always to be looking for those new places to which God is taking us.