A little kerfuffle has broken out about how to remember someone like Margaret Thatcher. The little subservient loyal subject in all of us wants to offer tribute to the great and powerful who made the world that we live in. Others keep pointing out the obvious and unmistakable historical truths of her life and work.
There isn't a parish minister who doesn't know this situation. Each has been called to create a memorial service for someone flawed, mistaken and even destructive, someone both loved and hated in the community. The great civic leader who beat the children and flew into drunken rages at the spouse. Those with secret lives of betrayal.
I've been there, so I have some words for the present moment regarding Mrs. Thatcher, the Baroness of the Bourgeoisie.
First of all, the fact that she died changes nothing about her historical legacy. If she is praised now by those who remember her, it will not change what she did, nor change her legacy for longer than a week or two. This period of time is the least useful time to conduct an autopsy on her policies and politics. If you are so inclined, you may wish to represent those who didn't like her this week, but do not expect a substantive response.
I assume that people who reach high political office are driven in some way. There is a personal element to that much determination and will.
The most interesting question about Margaret Thatcher is "what is the motivating struggle in her life?" What drove her? What was she trying to prove with her life, and to whom? In a way, a person is an attitude, an energy, that seeks a way to express itself in the world that it finds.
I don't know her biography, but one obvious area to inquire into is being a woman in what had been a man's profession when a woman has to disprove any suspicion that she might be soft. She was also the daughter of shopkeepers, an ambiguous class position.
A person's life is never reducible to crude interpretations based on just class, or sex, or race. These are generalities, and every life is lived in the particular. And when called upon to remember someone in ritual, finding out and remembering that person's particular life struggle is the key.
There is a gospel story, good news, in almost every human life story, some way in which this particular life shows God's grace, or to put in more secularly, a redemptive healing power at work in the world. To say that takes nothing away from the historical judgments that will be made about her work. I cannot begin to guess the gospel that was revealed by Margaret Thatcher's life, but there is one, I am sure.
This week, that might be what we focus on.