Yesterday April 8 saw the deaths of two famous women, both “cultural icons”, and women who could hardly have been more different from one another. I refer of course to the Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher. The differences between the two are stark indeed.
Annette Funicello was a child star who came to the public attention in America in the 1950s as a “Mouseketeer” of the Mickey Mouse Club. An image of wholesomeness in a more innocent time, and hailed as “America’s Sweetheart”, she went on to star with Frankie Avalon in a series of popular “beach movies” such as “Beach Blanket Bingo” in 1965. Though she and her husband divorced after sixteen years of marriage in 1981 and she remarried in 1986, she remained an uncontroversial image of wholesomeness, avoiding any hint of scandal and refusing to do any film which would cast her in a morally dubious role. In one of the beach movies in which all the other girls were wearing bikinis, she happily consented to Mr. Disney’s request that she wear a one-piece bathing suit to uphold her image. She continued to uphold that image: in the 1990s, she produced a line of teddy bears for the Annette Funicello Collectible Bear Company. Yep: teddy bears. She was renown for her image of sweetness, light, and kindness.
Rather less known for her sweetness and light was the British Margaret Thatcher. The daughter of a grocer, she eventually settled on a career in politics, running as a candidate for the Conservative party and winning a seat in Parliament in 1959. In what was then emphatically a man’s world, she became Britain’s first female Prime Minister in 1979, a position she held until 1990. To say that she was controversial would be a tremendous understatement, for she was both loved and loathed for her strong stands throughout her time as Prime Minister. It was not for nothing that the Russians who came to know her on the international stage dubbed her “the Iron Lady”—a title she accepted and relished. She famously commented that she didn’t know what the word “consensus” meant, and preferred the politics of conviction to the politics of consensus. Some, upon hearing of her death, commented on Facebook, “ding dong, the witch is dead” (echoing the glee with which those in Oz greeted the news of the death of the Wicked Witch of the West). Others loved her deeply, and lamented her passing, regarding her as the one whose headstrong refusal to give in to opposition saved Britain economically. Both sides however would agree that her defining characteristic was strength, not sweetness. No teddy bears here.
So, apart from the accidental fact that both died April 8, what do the two women share in common that we Orthodox could profit from? In a word, courage. In the mid-1980s Annette Funicello was diagnosed with a particularly severe and untreatable form of Multiple Sclerosis. She suffered silently for years, but only announced it publically in 1992 to dispel rumours that her falling was the result of alcoholism. She went into long decline, which culminated when she and her present husband Glen invited the Canadian documentary film-makers “W5” into their home to update the world about her condition, and revealed the devastating ravages of her disease. Margaret Thatcher’s courage was also in evidence when she entered her own long decline into ill health and dementia, a fact her daughter Carol revealed to the world in 2005. Her courage was also in abundant evidence throughout her political career, as she faced down all opposition, even surviving a bombing attempt on life.
Anyone who follows Christ needs such courage. In a world where Christian conviction is frequently mocked and rarely popular, one who decides to take up the cross and follow Jesus will find plenty of obstacles to overcome, whether one lives in Cairo or in Washington, in Russia or in Canada. St. Paul warned us long ago: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12), and we do not require familiarity with the Scriptures to know this, only familiarity with the stories in the newspapers. Some might dismiss the apostolic warning as paranoia; such a dismissal reminds me of the dictum of WKRP’s Johnny Fever who quipped that “when people are out to get you, paranoia is just good sense”. Perhaps people are not yet “out to get us”. Nevertheless the truth remains that the perennial struggle against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil requires determination and courage. When the Church receives a convert by Chrismation, it first prays for that person, and in one of those prayers we find the petition that the convert “may confess before all men the Name of Christ our God and that may be always ready for His sake to lovingly suffer and to die”. Following Christ and confessing His Name before all men is clearly not for the faint of heart. We need courage if we are to remain faithful to the Lord. The wholesome Mouseketeer had it. The resolute Iron Lady had it. May God grant that we have it too as we follow Him.