Country Calendar is the longest-running reality show on TV. Nobody seems to have told its producers that successful television needs lashings of sex and violence, expose and scandal.
“Tabloid” is not a word they know how to spell. Instead the tone is relentlessly positive, respectful and informative.
So what’s the attraction that keeps this show on the air and sells reruns by the boxful? I’m not a farmer and wouldn’t know a grass grub from a prawn, but there is something compelling about these country stories.
I watched a collection of old episodes recently – a Northland dairy farmer determined to protect her land for her mokopuna and avoid any debt, Bay of Plenty kiwi growers who involve the whole whanau in the business, a Southland couple who forged a chalk and cheese partnership that respects their very different backgrounds, a Marlborough man who broke under the stress of bad seasons and found a new crop that helped him survive on his land.
The key ingredient in all these stories was authenticity. The farmers chosen were not the smartest or the richest but they all shared the qualities of exacting honesty about themselves and the odds they faced, keeping faith with people around them, consistency in and out of season, a passion for their work, a willingness to learn from mistakes made.
Honed by hardship, they had all found their vocation, their way of fitting into the world.
Authenticity is an elusive commodity, best described in the language of music, not prose. Those who have it ring true, they are pitched right, their bodies and souls in tune through how they perform rather than what they claim.
When we sense authenticity is absent in people, we keep our distance. When it’s present, our admiration for them overflows. When our leaders seem to have it, we’ll sign cheques and voting forms without hesitation, even crawl over stones to follow them.
Sadly, authenticity is easily counterfeited to inspire followers into evil rather than good. Witness the tragedy of young people being inspired by role models to become suicide bombers.
All clergy are ordained to be a sign of authenticity and to remind us that it’s much more a divine gift than a personal skill we can train to acquire.
The best-tested method of finding authenticity is apprenticeship to someone who has it, and they don’t need to be ordained of course. If you are lucky enough to find such a person, stay close and listen well.
What’s more, this authenticity has a flow-on effect that connects people and causes together, generation to generation. Collectively, it creates spiritual capital. Institutions like the church trade on that, even when our stocks and numbers decline.
We’ve just celebrated that capital investment on All Saints' Day and we look ahead to Advent when we ask that the heritage of authenticity will be revalidated, renewed and better known.
As we approach our 200th birthday as Anglicans, that prayer takes on a special urgency. Because we don’t have a programme like Country Calendar to tell our story for us.
Bishop John Bluck lives in Pakiri, Wellsford.