Sunday, 7 November 2010

Wallander: 'the secret'

I’ve been following the re-broadcast first series of the Swedish version of Wallander on bbc4. I also saw ‘Side-tracked’, the first of the Kenneth Branagh English language versions, last night (do I need to get out more?!)
Both are very good, but there are some uniquely intriguing qualities in the Swedish version, qualities indeed common to all authentic foreign language drama. It feels properly rooted in the local community of Ystad. I like hearing the Swedish language spoken - don’t know it at all, have to follow the subtitles - but it gives you that pleasant feeling of being exposed to and absorbing something unfamiliar and novel, like foreign cuisine. And I love the under-stated-ness of the Swedish actors performances.
Last week was the last of 13 episodes, called ‘the secret’ - tackling the topic of child abuse. It packed a big emotional punch; and I’m interested why.
Stefan, a character we’d got to know over the series, had an aggressive style of policing and a tumultuous, impetuous nature - prone to occasional violence. I recall from earlier episodes being amused sometimes by his take no prisoners style of questioning suspects.
But in this episode, tragedy strikes. Though meant to be on leave to get professional help, he gets embroiled in a case involving child abuse. Aids and abets a friend in killing the man who’d abused the friend’s son. His colleague and friend Linda, daughter of the eponymous Kurt Wallander, tries to offer him some support while he’s on compulsory leave. Stefan has already said if he can’t work he’ll go mad, and she drives this point home by telling her father that Stefan’s job is the only thing that means anything to him. Round at her flat one night, he confides that he’s never felt so lonely. So we know he’s a man on the edge, but don’t quite understand why. And then we see him in a scene with a gun threatening to blow the head off an ex cop under suspicion of implication in the child abuse, who, somehow knowing Stefan’s no murderer, leaves him in a state of clear anguish. And it transpires through flashbacks that Stefan was as a boy himself abused by this man. Stefan loses the struggle against these personal demons that have been uncaged, and one evening Linda comes to his flat and finds that he’s taken his own life. The discovery of the photograph lying next to him, of Stefan as a boy, taken by the abuser, floods Linda with the realisation of the past pain that has made Stefan the troubled man he is, and she breaks down. And when Kurt tells her Stefan was ‘not suitable for police work’, she remonstrates with him for his ignorance, insensitivity and not having listened to Stefan, and exits, leaving Kurt to discover for himself the photo which unveils the tragic truth, and break down in tears himself.
A full exploration of the insights gleaned and questions raised by what one reviewer called ‘this extraordinarily rich and absorbing drama’ would need another whole post or three.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

are christian stand-ups too safe?

Been thinking about comedy. I’m a big fan of mock the week. Especially hugh dennis. He’s a superb and hilarious actor. I especially used to like his double act with Frankie boyle, where boyle would feed the ‘PR’ line from some politician or other public figures’ mouth, and hugh would say what they really meant. The pause before he delivered the line, the razor wit of the actual punchline, the narrowing of the eyes after he said it which self-mockingly seems to say ‘is that what I meant to say?.. is that quite good enough?’… brilliant.
And I’m intrigued by Milton jones, one of the guest panellists. He’s a Christian – was a star turn at greenbelt, where he was a big fish in a small pond. On mock the week he’s a smaller fish in a bigger pond. He’s certainly different from the rest. An absurd, surreal brand of humour, and very pun and word play based. Like tim vine, another Christian one liner merchant. But something bothers me about them both. Does their Christian standpoint, which keeps their humour very clean, also make it too safe? No swearing, no attacks on public figures… and no satire. An intriguing question. The others show a greater freedom to be dark, edgy and let’s face it sometimes a bit dirty. And I find them often hilarious. Whereas with Milton, the need to be clean can sometimes feel like an inhibitor, leaving me wondering when he’s about to say something… will this actually be very funny? To be continued…

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Stephen Hawking's Universe

Last part last night on C4. The ball bearings on college floor perfectly aligned and still, remove a few and see how they re-pattern - illustration of process of formation of universe, the removal of the few ball bearings representing the inherent ‘imperfection’ that gravity could get its teeth into, leading to the clustering of material and formation of galaxies, stars, planets… The revelations of science enthrall the modern mind. The awe I have seen from atheist bloggers like billy jonathan and lee in past comes from here. Hawking’s response to the suggestion ‘surely there must be a higher design at work’ - ‘not necessarily’, and posit’s the notion of multiple universes of which we happen to be inhabiting one conducive to life.
I’m intrigued by the questions this raises. The mind of course pushes back further.. So, ok Mr H, you’re saying this universe is like a cosmic roll of the double six (with the odds magnified exponentially methinks). But still, still we ask why, why are we here, and intuitively we ‘know’ there’s something deeper going on. What drove the formation of the universe? - a question posed early in the programme. Answer: gravity.. And you say, yeah, of course that’s the science, but, come on, the mystery and marvel of existence and life, there’s more to it…
Does not biblical truth need ‘unpacking’ with the same love and reverence scientists devote to their science, so the richness of its truth may be seen in place of the cut out cardboard cartoon caricatures some of the Dawkins disciples laugh at?

Saturday, 2 October 2010

a jesus to get excited about

Jesus. What a guy. Look, gonna be honest here. He can often seem pretty remote. You can imagine if you were there in the crowd or one of the disciples back then, being pretty excited.. But I’m probably not alone in finding it often not easy to locate his presence, relevance, activity in my 21st century daily life. Not easy doesn’t mean there’s no point - it could just be especially challenging. There may be ways my eyes need to be opened to ways he’s already ‘doing stuff’ with me. Maybe I partly need to just chill and learn to savour a little more.
But I’ll tell you one thing. Compared to a lot if not most stuff I’ve read about jesus in christian books or songs, I do LOVE the way he’s portrayed in the gospels. I mean compare and contrast. In that popular book the shack which got a fair bit of attention in the christian world, I frankly cringed at many of the passages about the jesus figure. In jeans, smiling broadly, like some glowing all american boy saying corny movie lines, jesus smiled gently, jesus just gave me a big hug etc. sentimental yuk some of it. (ok who knows maybe I got some issues here;) ). But then I read a passage like mark 9 vv 14 to 29 this morning, jc healing a demon-possessed boy. The stripped back raw drama. The crowd enthralled with him. ‘how long must I put up with this faithless generation?’ no mincing there. his cool authority over this nasty, ugly, violent demon, telling it where to go. The boy suddenly looking like a corpse so most think he’s dead, and - imagine it - the thrill of awe as he is raised. THIS is a jesus you can get excited about.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

friendship across boundaries (cont'd)

I appreciate the feedback from both Billy and Lisa, helps bring some of the questions and issues into relief. For starters, belief is not (just) a head thing. Billy you’re tending to view it as ‘mental propositions you assent to’, when of course to a christian it’s so much more. Trust, faith - which are larger, richer words than belief - in God shapes and colours and transforms my entire being and the way I live my life. It also gives my personal sense of purpose and direction. It’s not hard to see how in a close relationship where you are seeking to walk and flourish together, there is potential for conflict and limitation of intimacy if you are at odds at such a profound level.
Also billy it’s you who are using this word struggle. I don’t feel I’m struggling with this, but exploring with a light heart and curiosity.
Actually I feel it’s partly the boldness and sense of adventure I have developed through the life of faith that has propelled me to seek out new friendships in the first place. I think I was in the past sometimes too timid and restricted in my views of how to relate to ‘non-believers’. Jesus himself is my inspiration in this, his mould and barrier breaking approach to relationships.
You are right about treating people as people, not to be pigeon-holed. I feel the faith and love growing in me as a christian - not that Christians monopolise either! - motivate me to truly listen, get to know and respond to the ’hidden country’ of each person’s heart I meet. That’s the goal anyway!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

friendship outside the flock 3

Thanks for the comments. To expand a little further my thinking here… I still need to clarify, but I’m also partly working it out as I go along. I DO believe that ultimately in a close relationship that’s going to last, there needs to be a bonding in heart mind and spirit, there’s no compromise in my mind about this. Really what’s in question for me is wisdom in how - as a christian who enjoys meeting people, including, yes women(!) - I relate to those who don’t share my faith. In the context of seeking new friends as a foundation – I emphasise this - is it wise and appropriate for a christian who is also on the look out long term for a relationship, to include in their forays those who don’t share faith? It’s a question for me as I said before partly due to my interest in ‘localness’ and the limited range of local christian women currently on my radar. I’m being quite candid about this cos I think it opens up interesting perspectives. Dating sites are not the only way to meet people by any means, but yes they are one. They obviously open up a pool of people who it could be interesting and who knows possibly fruitful to meet. It strikes me that if as a Christian your thrust (emphasis) is to meet people and make friends, it’s ok to connect with people on a secular as well as Christian website ie the whole ‘who do you yoke with’ thing only becomes an issue when you get a fair way along in a friendship. Which I’m currently nowhere near!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

friendship outside the flock 2

Aha, thank you people for comments on last post, interesting. And ryan I can’t deny a chuckle at your image of the atheist woman luring me back to her eveil lair, ha ha!
To clarify a little. (have to say I’m assuming not too many people who know me will read this..!) Ok, what prompted me to contact women who are not at least overtly Christians? Two factors combined. A certain sense of a lack of obvious opportunities to meet christian women locally, partly through my current church circumstances (not to say I couldn’t meet more with a spot of effort). And a desire to socialise more locally - cos I’m quite socially adventurous and love to meet new people. So actually contacting a few people on secular sites is a way of widening the pool. But contrary to what’s being perceived I think, it’s not out of an urgent desire to be in ‘a relationship‘. it is simply to expand opportunities for the pleasure of engaging in person with attractive people. It’s also, granted, a bit of an exploration, an experiment (w/o that word’s cold connotations). yes I AM interested to see more how people without God necessarily explicitly in their lives find meaning and deep fulfilment. What are their answers, how deeply do they satisfy? and also what they’d make of someone with religious faith. Might one or both our outlooks be challenged, changed? but none of this means I’ve closed the door to meeting and engaging with christian women too..!
BTW I like do discipline myself to blog for a v limited time each day, that’s why this kind of thread is quite episodic.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

friendship outside the flock (cont'd)

I want to think a bit more about this matter of engaging with people - yes, ok, in particular, women, who aren’t Christians. If I’m not honest and straight about my (evolving) thought about ‘controversial’ issues, as far as I can see what I write will lose interest. By exploring it, I reflect myself and may prompt someone else to.
I’ve got chatting with a woman who lives locally. An atheist. Let’s just think about the standard(?) christian response (it used to be mine). You can’t get too close to her, cos you’re going in different directions. Now hold on, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why did I get in touch with her in the first place? I want to connect with people locally. I feel it’d be a positive move to gain at least one or two more friends I can just meet up with for a drink. It’s a simple desire for friendship. And yes, being a straight bloke, there is an additional desire for female companionship.
Yes there is a tension here. The key change in my thinking is, why shut off a potential interesting friendship ‘cos she’s an atheist or not a christian’? another key thing is, in any early stages it’s JUST friendship. Heck it may not even get to that stage! It doesn’t mean I’m going to end up with her - I did say before I seek to submit all my relationships to my sense of God and his leading. There’s already though been just a hint of the positive potential of this kind of interaction. Her seeing I’m a thoughtful kind of person has, it wd seem, already softened her likely previous view that belief in God is just for nutters. Who knows what the positive impact on the other person’s life could be - or on mine?
As I say, this thread of thought is evolving so I hope anyone who reads it wd not misread or over-read or jump to conclusions about me! I’m just interested in exploring this kind of stuff and I think it's an interesting one to blog about.

Monday, 20 September 2010

irony at heart of papal parade

Yesterday watched the beatification service… incredibly ornate clothes, and metal ware for mass… and this is the successor of a guy who got crucified upside down. And the leader of a church who worship someone who was exposed to messy brutal violence. Think of it. We’ve got from a young guy 2000 years ago, first on a donkey, then dragged bloodied and naked though city streets to a execution on a cross… to a frail old man in crisp clean white clothes sitting regal and barricaded in a funny looking white motor behind bullet proof windows, surrounded by a dozen men in dark suits. Quite an irony.
This is not a bare attack on Catholicism, other parts of the church have some similar as well of course as all kinds of other strange features.
I’ll get back to earlier comments later.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

paradoxes of papal mass

Watched the papal mass from Westminster this morning. Intriguing business.
Took some notes so just gonna pretty much reproduce them in somewhat unrefined form here just now. Pope on throne, white hair red robe, reminded me, no disrespect, slightly of santa claus. Opulent cathedral, marble pillars. Red and black robes, white diamond hats (what do you call them?) Paradox: one man, servant of the church but also revered, tight security. Highlights undemocratic church structure? Muslim Glasgow uni professor mona sadiki found this aspect, one man locus of such moral authority intriguing too. A little old man getting such attention, getting out of tinted glass windowed car.
Bible reader sings response - what if he couldn’t sing? (comedy value)
R Dawkins said in newspaper he shd get back to his tin pot castle. 'Trials of the pope' on bbc2 tues, Ratzinger's personal painful history, the lack of empathy - which involves getting to know about someone properly to get a balanced view - deeply unattractive in RD. ‘Catholic voices’ featured on that prog, 2 young girls trained to be on message with media, I learned how they do natural fertility… Shouldn’t the church give its wealth to the poor? Mark Dowd the presenter asked, she wasn’t prepared for that one!
Sung liturgy in latin - why rome, why latin? - in England? Anachronism, indecipherable to an outsider.
Cardinals in black with pink waist bands, magisterial church power.
Appearance of whole show, this locus of wealth and beauty in a world full of poverty ugliness suffering, how justify?
Commentator attitude of neutrality, interest and tolerance. Incense waving, high mass altar. Holy father, putting on his specs - camera homes in, the youth, treating him like a pop star, but he lingered with them, more than protocol required…
Fascinating, much for further reflection.

Friday, 17 September 2010

friendship across the boundaries

Change of subject. Getting a bit more personal and risky here. But it’s an interesting topic so here goes. Dating. I have quite a ‘local’ approach to friendship and dating, ie not greatly inclined to try and develop a relationship at a distance. I like to be able to meet up with someone for a drink or whatever, fairly easily. Some might call it a green approach too!
But there’s a problem. It’s not been easy to find a suitable match in the immediate locality ie Leeds/Bradford/west Yorkshire. My ‘base’ church is a small local parish one with as far as I’m aware currently not a single eligible female present! And while getting to know a few folk who are a little further afield via christian websites and networks, my sociability and love of meeting new attractive interesting people, has led me to seek out ways of meeting people locally who may not have a christian or indeed any other faith.
There is something liberating about this. For a long time I feel, in retrospect, I often closed doors to potentially good friendships at the very least because I was seeking a relationship with someone who explicitly shared my faith. An at times it felt limiting. On the other hand, I don’t envisage pursuing a friendship/relationship with someone beyond what is comfortable with the simultaneous pursuit of the absorbing quest of relating to God.
We’ll see what happens.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

pope ponderings

Watched ‘the trouble with the pope’ dispatches last night on C4 last night. Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell lambasting the pontiff for rigidly adhering to traditional catholic teaching in ways perceived to harm people round the world. At the heart of this kind of controversy are opposing perceptions of the same doctrine. Faithful and strong, or rigid? Moving with the times or being swayed by the crowd? Timeless truth or backward anachronism?
The bible contains the seeds of some revolutionary values that have bloomed and worked themselves out down history. Jesus’ and indeed Paul’s treatment of women for instance are recognised as being radical and pioneering in their day, setting a course that, dare I say it, ultimately helped fuel some of the modern movements towards equality of the sexes(?)

The LGBT issue is a little more thorny. I remember a talk in St Silas church in Glasgow years ago, from a man with a homosexual background, arguing for the deep theological underpinning of complementarity of the sexes, and their fusion in marriage. Adam and Eve’s union Jesus himself alluded to significantly – and Paul picturing marriage as a symbol of Christ and the church.

This may provoke some disagreement.

Monday, 13 September 2010

the pope and the panel show

Sunday Live programme 10am bbc1 yesterday. ‘Is the catholic church obsessed with sex?’ was the question poll put out to viewers to vote on during the programme. How simplistic can you get? Is this the level of intelligent response the bbc expects from its audience at this time on a Sunday morning?
You could also make some comedy from the way the cameras were angled to show the reactions of the panellists (three of them) when someone else was speaking, to show agreement or otherwise. Jack Valero of Opus Dei says women shouldn’t be ordained cos Jesus chose 12 men, ensure angled shot to show feminist shaking her head. And of course they’re all savvy to it, make sure they shake or nod head exaggeratedly at appropriate moment to make sure audience sees clearly what they think. Mad.

Saturday, hiked up on Ilkley moor with a friendly group of fellow hikers.
We went to Betty’s, a famous Yorkshire tea shop. Had to join a queue to get seated. I thought, it’s going to have to be really good to make it worth my while standing here so long – in my hiking boots. It was good – but THAT good?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Hawking on God

This morning on radio 4, Jonathan Sachs the chief rabbi referred to Stephen Hawking’s recent pronouncement that the universe requires no creator. He pointed out a key difference between science and religion, that the first is about explanation, the second, meaning. A pertinent point. I’ve read so often, including from one of my most loyal readers, that such and such shows ‘no god is required’ - aware that somehow the point is being missed. The human heart does yearn for meaning, on a cosmic scale – eternity is ‘written in our hearts’. And is this not where God meets us, through the gift of faith and spiritual practice (understood not as naïve credulity as the atheists insist, but as a route to a kind of knowledge, spiritual knowledge, inaccessible in other ways.

And just to balance things with a question of my own about Christianity… I spotted in third way magazine an ad for a book called something like ‘Did Paul get Jesus right?’ Paul evidently did have a dramatic experience out of which flowered his whole theology about Jesus. But the question does arise, why was so much entrusted to one man? It contrasts with one of the bible’s ‘selling points’, its diversity of authorship. It is quite easy to see how some view Paul’s writings as the ideas of ‘a religious genius’ rather than the thoughts of God. That’s not to say I suddenly think it’s all not true. But it’s one to explore.

Monday, 6 September 2010


On Saturday, scaled Kinder Scout in peak district with a group of walkers. Paragliders floated in the distance like gulls above a sea cliff. One walker with sore knees tried walking backwards downhill for a bit. Interesting 

I’m quite a fan of the Swedish version of Wallander. A rich, textured, absorbing drama, overtly a detective story but with personal interactions and relationships at its heart. Each episode addresses a contemporary issue in some way, and the story simply unfolds step by step. Beautifully composed shots of Swedish countryside. The central character, Kurt Wallander… naturally a good detective, is less sure-footed in his emotional life. He combines an evident underlying capacity to care, with a famous surface lack of empathy, especially towards his daughter. Also a certain awkwardness, shyness and naivety that afford a certain vulnerability and elicit sympathy – in this episode being left alone in a town square, by the woman he’s fallen for. In the nicest possible way.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The LGBT question

Lesbian gay bisexual transsexual. Regarded with sympathy at greenbelt. Even just to write the phrase, it looks creative. Where do you draw the line between valid diversity/creativity, and wrong, against nature? Some things are still taboo, eg paedophilia. So it’s still viewed as ‘just wrong’ to abuse power, prey on the vulnerable. Why in the popular view is that not ok, while homosexuality, say, is? Sexuality has come to be viewed as a valid arena for the display and expression of diversity, in the same way race is. One to ponder.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

glastonbury and greenbelt

A little more on the Cheltenham racecourse. The scale and the power of the beast it’s designed for evokes awe, is humbling, makes you more aware how small we humans are, and of the vast creative force that brought such creatures into being. There could the makings of a poem there…

When I got back from greenbelt on Monday night, I watched the ’40 years of Glastonbury’ programme on bbc4. the Glastonbury phenomenon merits some thought, especially in contrast with gb. Glasto is a much bigger event, more than seven times as many people. I’m struck by the powerful visual display there of human diversity, celebration, creativity, exploration, energy, and a degree of anarchy. The pull to gather in such huge numbers to celebrate and enjoy music together - is there a taste of heaven there?

The most striking and beautiful sight, the crowd at a pyramid stage gig. The vision of beautiful youth, in big sunglasses, colourful and creative clothes, girls on guys’ shoulders, all swaying and smiling. And most of all, those great tall flags on poles, varied nationalities and designs, that sway and furl elegantly amidst the vast sea of people, like a variegated multitude of sails.

The main stage crowd at greenbelt looked nowhere near as glorious. It gets you thinking not least about the beauty that can emerge from unfettered human celebration. And how, and in what ways, and why, Christians can be inhibited, and how that might change.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

groovin at greenbelt

I’m back from greenbelt arts festival at Cheltenham racecourse. Broadly Christian event, but radical, exploratory, political and left wing/field. The racecourse itself is awesome to behold. A vast circuit, immense broad grass corridor, thick grass, its undulations and hilly backdrop enhancing its splendour. Its scale against a human athletics track accentuates what a magnificent beast is the horse, and indeed even more so, a field of them thundering round, tiny jockeys perched, hooves pounding, divets flying.

A musical highlight was undeniably Beverley Knight, R n B soul diva. A pulsating, high octane performance. Ok, and she’s a bit gorgeous to boot. This time round I was drawn to big expansive music and events, though there’s a thriving ecology of smaller scale happenings too.

Challenging thought: Richard Rohr, that the Christ, meaning the Word, the Spirit, can be found in people of many faiths and persuasions who seek goodness and truth. What place then for evangelism? I venture to suggest the explicit message of the Christian faith still brings into sharp focus the truth of who God is and what God is like, in a unique way, so that there is still an unveiling work to be done through word and deed – while learning and listening to the insights of others too.

And the hippy-est sounding event I noticed: ‘Foraging with the earth God’. Get out your trowels and wellies.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

musings in lymington

Radio Times re jazz musician Jamie Callum - he's dating Sophie Dahl, he's friends with Clint Eastwood, and he's about to do his own prom. does life get any better? I’m struck by the daftness of these kind of magazine headlines. It’s like, well actually I can think of a whole host of other ways life could be pretty good. But you might have to step outside your celebrity-idolising bubble to appreciate them. Not bitter or anything!

Was chatting to an old family friend yesterday about the Normans, history etc… William the conqueror wasn’t averse to mutilating enemies, and violent punishments, burnings etc were meted out as national law till a mere few centuries ago, sanctioned by religion. But down history the gospel has also had a transformative dynamic, eg as an engine in the abolition of slavery through the understanding that Christ came to set all free. Comprehensible if the gospel’s considered not as a set of rigid rules, but as a seed or seeds with latent transformative potential that works itself ou over time…

Spent five hours on Monday in London. I love the scale, the beauty and the multitudes. The heave of humanity. In a world with such diversity of view, goals, lives, how do you understand the application of a message with supposedly universal import like Christianity?

Monday, 2 August 2010

christian and cool??

Mark ronson & Business Intl ‘bang bang bang‘. I’m a sucker for a spot of style and syncopated rhythm. It makes me think, is it possible for christian faith to be expressed, incarnated, in ways that are cool?? Singing some church choruses of a Sunday is frankly the antithesis, but I’m quite sure it’s possible. What enables cool creativity? I guess you first need to ‘free your mind’, be open to many possibilities, like a painter’s palette. And to have a sense of poise and proportion, for what ‘works’, which I guess is part natural, part developed…

Q of the day: How can you justify spending money on luxuries like cinema when there are is gross poverty in the world?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

a goal to inspire

How define what excites and inspires me most? Questions about God and the meaning of life are the biggest that can be asked. But the busyness of the normal run of life can hinder a full exploration and expression of them. Of course life itself can give insight into profounder truths, for instance I recall someone close saying at the birth of their first child, that it gave him a new appreciation of the wonder of the fatherhood of God. But the sense of a gulf to be crossed, a problem to be solved, can give a mission in life, and for me that gulf is this: on the one hand, the gospel contains purportedly the most radical and potentially life-changing truth anywhere to be found, and on the other, explicitly at least, our society is largely indifferent to it. That sense of gulf compels me to explore and seek to understand, and to communicate what I discover in creative ways. It feels like a worthy goal, a big enough ambition.

Monday, 12 April 2010

isle of wight adventure

I’ve been on holiday in Lymington, south coast of England. Thurs I took the ferry to the isle of Wight. A glorious sunny day. Cycled… an anti-clockwise trip, first to the needles at the westernmost tip, sheer white cliffs, three sisters jutting from the foaming sea. At the top, the rabbit-clipped rolling grass plain swept off eastwards. Passed a sign to a farmhouse offering cream teas, and was reminded of a jaunt along the south downs way with an old uni friend, when, passing through quaint thatched villages, we joked about the possibility of Joanna Trollope style scandalous goings-on behind privet hedges, and getting ‘hopelessly waylaid by tea and scones’. I had bought an explorer map, which unfolded like a vast origami deck chair. I constantly had to renegotiate it to keep up with my position, each time stuffing it back into a small square plastic map wallet. By the time I finally folded it back the way it was to begin with, it was like a paper accordion.
On the ferry back, a shimmering tapering gold-flecked path drew the eye across restless waves to the sinking sun.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The day Jesus died

This morning I watched ‘The day Jesus died’ on bbc1 - Bettany Hughes exploring the developing interpretations of Christ’s death down the centuries. Fascinating and profound. Especially moving were two examples of people who were touched by the recognition of God himself identifying with human suffering in the cross. German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who, having witnessed some of the horrors of world war two, was depressed to the point of despair until he read Jesus’ words from the cross ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. And the Archbishop of York John Sentamu… being with a fellow prisoner in Uganda who was beaten and close to death, he was able to tell the man how, in Christ on the cross, Jesus identified with him - and heard theman say, just before he died, ‘thank you’.
I’m intrigued by the richness of meaning in the Christian story. I’m not saying it is the only religious story with rich meaning - exploring how it is distinctive is also an ongoing topic of interest - but I am again struck by the paucity and limitedness of the response that regards the ‘christian god’ as a little petty god among many. Even with my own questions and sometimes doubts, a little meditation on even a single aspect of the gospel is like savouring rich wine, percolating through mind and spirit (billy may disagree!)

Saturday, 20 March 2010

unlocking the wonders

I’m thinking about the series ‘wonders of the solar system’ running on bbc2 Sunday evenings 9pm just now. The awesome realities it opens our eyes to. Number 2 on iplayer most watched when I looked the other day.
The rocking motion of the earth on its axis as it hurtles round the sun, producing the seasons’ sensual and visual spectrum of delight - the charm of spring flowers, the beauty of autumn colours. Directly linked. Or the ‘beautiful coincidence’ of the moon’s size and the sun’s distance from the earth, allowing the ‘perfect fit‘ that reveals the sun’s ghostly corona and the spectacular light show of a solar eclipse.
Massive physical laws at one end of the scale, producing the most delicate effects that enrich our lives. A moment’s reflection makes it hard not to be awed by the connection, and have a sense of ‘gift‘.
Because scientifically we understand nature better, does it have to rob that sense of awe the ancients had of a power and intelligence behind it? Like nature, isn’t the spiritual world a treasure house to be explored and unlocked to yield its delights? In the secular western mindset ‘religion’ including christianity has come to be seen as static, archaic and irrelevant. How may its potential as a world of wonder again be glimpsed, to kindle once more the kind of childlike amazement currently excited by ‘wonders of the solar system’ and its ilk?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

engaging with radio 1

I’m listening to radio 1 more. Pulses with energy. Cutting edge, new music at the fore. And reading ‘the gospel according to chris moyles‘. A big ego but talented, successful, 'powerful'. We believe in the resurrection, awesome power. The greatest radio station in the world. Gospels: who is the greatest? The least. How should the faith be lived out in a high-powered, competitive environment? ‘In new music we trust‘. Why not in God we trust? Why is God sidelined by popular culture? Or is he? Is it just the christian sub-culture, its sound and image, that parts of ‘the world’ including radio 1 reject? (they never played christian band delerious…) I’ve had a couple of mildly funny lines read out on jo whiley’s show. It feels like part of the way forward for engaging with popular culture: meeting the show where it’s at, joining the conversation, riding the wave.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

how the earth made us

Recently watched the bbc series ‘how the earth made us‘ with Dr Iain Stewart. One of those national geographic type perspective-expanding programmes. Struck by the mix of bounty, opportunity and risk in nature. For instance, the cyclical patterns of the trade winds, circling round the atlantic, and how the early explorers learned to exploit them to travel to the Americas and back again. Or continental plate boundaries’ resources of oil and water. But the same natural marvels, coupled with human folly or mistake, of course carry risk and danger too, and can cause great pain: earthquakes, volcanoes, shipwreck, disease and death on the slave ships. But we’re also given the capacity to improve things. I don’t really get the fixation some atheists have with the misconceptions of perfection and absolutes in God and in creation. Theology has developed a far more rugged and robust view of God and his relation to creation and his creatures. Akin to parent and child in ‘macrocosm’. Full of risk, pain, mess, but with a steady heartbeat of love and joy - strong, heady - pulsing through.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

radio spot: hollywood

radio spot idea, with marina and the diamonds 'hollywood' music bed

'Oh oh, I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America
I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America...'

What are you obsessed with? Speaking personally I’d say face book, football, and um, this song at the moment. And while we're about it, where are you looking for happiness? Job? Kids? Second life? Tescos?

'Oh my god, you look just like Shakira
No no, you’re Catherine Zeta
Actually, my name’s Marina...'

And do YOU ever feel people don’t know who you really are, or are just not interested? What if someone did know? Everything about you - and still loved you? Now who was it I was hearing me about who sounded just like that? Oh yeah, Jesus! AND he said he was the way to true and lasting happiness. Crikey. Scuse me while I sit down and let it all sink in.

'Hollywood infected your brain
You wanna kissing in the rain
Oh oh, I’m living in a movie scene
Puking American dreams...' to fade

Monday, 22 February 2010

a happiness of atheists

That's the collective term coined on yesterday's ‘the big questions’ on bbc1, which featured the poser, ‘should religion be more fun?’ Alongside a friendly track suited vicar who meets up with a group of blokes for a pint, go-karting or paintballing, and a loquacious muslim cleric, there was a row of hand-picked atheists who countered the idea that faith should be more partnered with joy. They pointed to examples of child abuse, mistreatment of women etc. Fair enough, but it doesn’t take a phD in dialectics to note that they’re attacking a distortion of religious values and practice, not core truths, of Christianity at least. The 14 feb episode of ‘the bible: a history’ on c4, about women in the bible, was another interesting counterpoint. It highlighted the portayal of strong women in the bible of different kinds of strength, from the guerilla warrior leader Deborah to the quieter, inner fortitude of Mary. Gerry adams’ piece last night is a whole other discussion…

Saturday, 20 February 2010

radio spot: empire state of mind

idea for a radio spot, with alicia keys' empire state of mind as music bed:

I love this song. Who wouldn’t want to go to a place where you can feel so inspired? Ok, occasionally I feel like that in the morning, but it takes a strong coffee, and a couple of rounds of ready brek. Sounds amazing doesn’t it? A little taste of heaven on earth. But do I really have to fly across the atlantic to fulfil my wildest dreams? Can‘t I just stay here in Bagshot? You know, I’m sure I’ve heard words like this somewhere before. It’s that apostle bloke Paul in, wait for it, the Bible. Takes a bit of getting your head round, but he says that in Jesus you can be a new creation, and do all things. Blimey, no-one told me that in Sunday school. So I think I might hold off on those tickets to the big apple. Till Christmas at any rate…

Monday, 15 February 2010

ground of confidence?

Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you. A psychological crutch? A delusion? ‘The power of positive thinking‘. But the irony is, it can only work if you really do believe God is there, if you have confidence in this, and in his promises. If you just think ‘think positive’, your spirit as a reflective being cries out to know why you should be positive. You long for something, someone to anchor your confidence too. The moment you seriously doubt the reality of that solid ground, confidence evaporates. And I believe reality, especially for instance beauty in nature, points us towards the ultimate Ground of confidence.
Will I act as if I truly believe that a being of supreme wisdom and power undergirds me?
I read from mark about the soldiers’ treatment of Jesus. The irony of human power turning against one who was the locus of God’s power. God hidden, in disguise, treated like scum.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

easter ads... 4

In thinking about what I want to say about Easter, I’m first asking, what does it mean to me? If Jesus, this character whose words and deeds on earth are remote in time and recorded in an ancient book - is present and with me today, how does that affect how I live my life? I kind of feel I’ve only got something meaningful to say to others to the extent the message is somehow embodied in my own life. Then again, this is thinking quite a way along the spiritual road. Need to get a feel for a non-believer’s starting point; what effect do I want this ad to have on the listener, and how best achieve that? How far along the road can I expect to try and move someone? And by the way billy, I’m not expecting your average punter to be born again at the end of 30 seconds.
Think Easter, and a lot of people think ’easter eggs’. Now how have we got from a bloke rising from the dead 2000 years ago, to a Cadbury’s creme? Or how might we get back again? Uncovering the true meaning of easter. A journey, detective investigation? Easter – get behind the eggs… I’ll think on it.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

easter ads... 3

Easter suggests there is a power at work in the universe that can transform situations of death and decay, on all kinds of levels. The risen Jesus wasn’t merely a resuscitated corpse, he had a new kind of body, a transformed one, and we believe now inhabits a different plane of reality. Like the heavenly beings in cs lewis’ ‘the great divorce’, more solid and real, not less, than the earthly bodies… I want to identify core human aspirations, desires, interests to which Easter offers a response – or just one – and then perhaps shape an idea around that.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

easter radio ads... 2

In thinking about this, I want to address questions and problems too. People find jesus attractive. But the ‘resurrection’ happened a long long time ago – a remarkable event, someone coming back from the dead, but for two thousand years since, history has rolled on, the long mundane march of reality has continued… what I need to connect with is how the power at work in the resurrection is at work, can be at work, today, in my life, in people’s lives. The shift from ‘not seeing’ to recognition can be subtle, swift and seamless; her name spoken by ‘the gardener’ transformed mary’s outlook from gloom to joy in an instant; the disciples on the road to Emmaus suddenly recognised the stranger’s identity when he broke bread. Like the sudden wave-like ‘small stimulus to big effect’ phenomena in chaos theory mentioned below....

Monday, 18 January 2010

radio ads for easter

I’m producing a couple of radio ads, probably one for good Friday and one for easter Sunday, for a big commercial station in Manchester, so need to start dreaming up ideas. I’ve heard it said that postmodern people are not so much asking ‘is it true?’ but ‘does it work?’. so how might the easter message, or some aspect of it, be made fresh and relevant?
Resurrection, coming back to life, made new, surprise, revelation… mary’s first encounter with risen jesus, she thought she was seeing a stranger, but then he spoke her name, personal touch, recognition…hopelessness to hope.
I hope to continue to develop ideas on blog, so if you want to contribute, fee free (that includes you billy:))

Sunday, 17 January 2010

secret life of chaos

Watched this programme on bbc4 last night, exploring the spontaneous, self-organising patterns in nature. Order and chaos found to be closely linked. We’re constantly learning more of nature’s beauty and surprises, and are curious, fascinated. And in some ways nature does appear to be conducting a slightly messy experiment. The presenter insisted the picture emerging suggests random process, not ‘an active interfering being‘ - but an alternative response would be a more enlightened exploration into the nature of the kind of God who could be behind such phenomena. Intellectual interest in this developing knowledge doesn’t stop my heart being warmed when I read scripture or pray; underlines for me that these are distinct arenas of enquiry and experience: the scientific, and the spiritual.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

haiti: God in the dark?

We say ‘God is in control’, but how do you square that with a disaster like the Haiti earthquake? A tide of human lives, not only taken quickly and mercifully, but ebbing away, water from a burst skin seeping wasted into parched ground, because there is not enough help to stem the flow…fifty thousand, a hundred thousand… where is God in this cruel, desolate place on the margins? Perhaps his Spirit is at work in the surrounding surge of human compassion that propels help on its way; but that is so slow and limited, and cannot halt the relentless clocking of lives being snuffed out. What of the victim buried but still conscious beneath the rubble, alone and in pain?
A passage from ‘the shack’ hints at the possibility of light in such darkness. Comforting the father of a young girl kidnapped then murdered, the Spirit tells him that while she was alone in the back of that dark van not knowing where she was being taken, and even in the depth of her ordeal, she found strength and comfort: ‘she and I know each other well’. Could not the Spirit similarly minister to the forsaken earthquake victim buried in the rubble - where there is, and maybe even where there is not, the flicker of an inner cry for help?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


mark 2:13-17 I’m thinking about the attraction jesus held for tax collectors and sinners. They felt comfortable in his presence - he exuded acceptance and love. Painfully aware of their ‘badness’ - seen in the mirror of others’ disapproval - they felt acutely their need for cleansing and wholeness, and were drawn to the warmth of divine welcoming presence in jesus. An inner recognition… in contrast to the Pharisees and scribes, whose external righteousness blinded them to their need, kept them fixated on keeping up appearances, and aroused their contempt for this man who allowed his image to be so soiled.
Am I sufficiently aware of my need to draw closer to God? Do I see past appearances and reflect the love of God to people with a less than shiny image?
What one ’lowly’ person in my life shall I seek to love more, and how will I do it?

I’ve got hooked on the tynchy stryder with amelle berrabah 2009 hit ’never leave you’. I’m intrigued by the creative synergy between this poster boy of black urban street cool, and poster girl of modern western ethnic chic, a beautiful young woman, of muslim Moroccan descent, utterly conscious of and relishing her sexual magnetism.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

notting hill moment

Watched Notting Hill last night. Key moment: she - ‘famous actress’ Anna Scott aka Julia Roberts - says to bumbling bookshop owner Will Thacker - aka Hugh Grant: “fame, it means nothing really. Don’t forget that underneath it all, I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her”. interesting. Fame can give the illusion a person is on a pedestal, rich, has all they could want.. But she’s saying, it’s external show and façade, I have the same human vulnerability everyone else has, the same desire to be loved, facing the same risk of rejection. She’s even dressed in a simple skirt and cardy that makes her look like a little girl
I’m intrigued by correspondences between human reality and relationships, and the heavenly/earthly. We could explore how the human soul before God is like that little girl, seeking to be loved. How the layers of earthly paraphernalia, like the trappings of fame, keep the soul from awareness of its vulnerability and desire for that surpassing love, and how they might be stripped away.
I don’t mean to be a complete big softie. The other classic scene is of course the rhys ifans buttock clenching one.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

does 'king jesus' need deconstructing?

Bradford at its more picturesque early this morning, its rooftops mantled in snow, clear and crsip, the sun a molten burst of yellow peeping shyly over the horizon. I like this cold snap; I’ve never liked the idea the world is probably warming up with the concomitant threat of more monochrome weather, a flattening of the seasons, slow death of cold white winter.
Back to ‘king Jesus’. Just started reading though Mark’s gospel. ‘immediately’ pops up a lot. A narrative of swift action - Jesus healing, casting out demons, ‘doing stuff’. power evidently was at work in this man. And it’s all very concrete - it doesn’t look made up. This is why partly why the idea Jesus never existed doesn’t look credible - as cs lewis said, the gospels have the character of journalistic reporting, vivid and real. When I read about Christ and his actions, especially in the morning, fresh in body mind and spirit, I am inspired and motivated. But ‘king jesus‘… I feel uncomfortable and doubtful sometimes in church, with people in a state of adoration, eyes shut, hands in the air, jesus I love you, you’re beautiful.. I’m just not making the link between the man of wisdom and action who inspires and this ’invisible love object’. I’ll come back to this…
To answer billy’s question, what Wayne meant by the word ‘christian’ having become compromised was that it has become tainted in popular consciousness by various bad associations where it’s been negatively expressed and lived out.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

liquid gospel

In our HCJB team prayer meeting, we listened on DVD to president Wayne Pederson talking about the vision of the mission. He suggested that the word ‘christian’ has become compromised, and that what we should be seeking is to lead people to love and follow Jesus. There’s an impetus to use technology and current popular communication methods like twitter and face book more effectively as channels. The image popped into mind of the liquid metal T-1000 in Terminator 2, able to morph shape as circumstances required - as an image of what this nimble, adaptable communication aspiration is like.
I try to be honest about my own questions and doubts too. So here’s one: We sing about ‘king Jesus’ in church, celebrating the idea that this man who lived two millenia ago somehow rules and infuses the universe. So how is it that in the daily grind he can seem so peripheral: so far off the radar of my own consciousness in the rough and tumble of life, let alone in the mind of the secular masses? The notion that the church ‘made’ this man into Deity can at times appear a persuasive one. To be continued…