Tuesday, 22 December 2009

My Top 5 Movies of the Year

It's the time of year for lists - here goes with my top 5 movies of the year, all seen either at the cinema or on DVD.
1/ Avatar
Like a cross between Return of the Jedi, Ferngully & Last of the Mohicans, with the make up done by the people who brought you 'My Little Pony' - that sounds awful, but like gravy on your chips, don't knock it til you've tried it!
This was quite simply the most spectacular film of the year & seemed to work on so many levels. As a straight forward action movie with a bit of obvious romance thrown in, or with all the post modern undercurrents of eco worship, pick & mix world faiths. The message that collonialism is as much in our future as it is in our past is strong, & the frightening American foreign policy of invasion for natural resources is ruthlessly played.
Avatar wins on every count. The action scenes are great, the cinematography breathtaking, even in old fashioned 2D at our local cinema. This is the movie of the year because other film makers will copy it relentlessly now. Any film that changes the genre of movie making deserves this kind of attention. Avatar gets it.

Perhaps the only let down was the contrived happy ending. The truth is, the super power always come back & win in the end.

2/ Up
What a fantastic family movie. Right up there with Toy Story for this type of film. Funny, sad, gripping & endearing all in equal measure.

3/ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This is my marmite choice - you'll either love it or hate it - I loved it. I found the idea of following a life moving backwards from old age...well.... moving, & the romance between Pitt & Blanchett, though obvious, worked well. I cried buckets. Interestingly, Button & Up are both films which portray old people in a really positive light & bring out some top characterisation in this way.

4/ District 9
This was a really interesting movie. Again, a cross breed between a space shoot 'em up & a sideways glance at racial tensions & the plight of refugees the world over. If it had been set in the USA it would have ended up as a Men in Black tribute act, but moving the setting to Johanasburg made it happen. The scenery, the accents, the Afrikans swearing were tremendous - then you forget the strong social justice message & just enjoy the bad guy coming good & getting back. Top film!

5/ Religulous
Bill Maher's critical look at fundementalist Christianity was always going to be anarchic, & I wouldn't watch it with your vicar or your Nan in the room. Having said that, it was the most helpful thing I've seen in terms of helping Christians understand how the world out there sees us - & it was painfully funny. The moment where Maher tries to provoke a fight with 'Jesus' on a visit to Bibleworld is the kind of thing you watch through your fingers. Or how about where Maher asks the Pastor of the Church of Cannabis (yep, you read it right the first time) in Amsterdam 'Don't you worry that all this drug use will affect your short term memory?' twice in 60 seconds to a deadpan response of 'Nope!'
Mahers stance is flawed & he ultimately shows his hand as an apologist for atheism, but the early parts of the movie should be staple viewing for every lazy Christian who has ever relied on cliched responses for their belief in God.

There were a number of close calls, but that is my top 5 for the year.
Pants film of the Year goes to Young Victoria. I would rather sit through the school recorders practise without cheese in my ears than be subjected again to this nauseating, fawning, Daily Mail Royal fanclub portrayal of the Royal Family. This was strictly for Womans Weekly readers that eat sunday tea from hostess trollies & wish Diana was still with us. Whatever you do, don't be tempted by the DVD on the shelves this Christmas.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The lasting fruit from Ulster

In concluding his account of the Ulster Revival, Ian Paisley gives 10 areas in which he believes the Province was left with lasting fruit. They remain noteworthy 150 years on, I shall list them below with some comment.

1/ Deep conviction
This was a revival of salvation through the preaching of the gospel. Conservative estimates are that over 100,000 were converted during the first year of the revival alone. In Ulster, it was common for the conversion process to involve a measure of agony over past sins, a growing horror at the judgement to come, & ultimately real joy as freedom is found. This was all usually accompanied by loud shouts & groanings. However, records show that inspite of this outward show, very few returned to their old ways, even years after the revival fires had abated.

2/ Severe spiritual conflict
A very real awareness of the battle involved in bringing the lost through to salvation. A very real awareness of the identity of the enemy, & a very real desire to engage him in that battle.

3/ A delight in the Word
Many were saved through reading the bible, many learned to read for the first time after conversion - literacy rates in the province rising markedly in revival areas. There was a surge in demand for copies of the bible, printers struggled to keep up, & what copies there were, were put to the greatest possible use, often being passed between families or onto new converts.

4/ A release of Praise
It is said that the 1903 Welsh Revival was a singing revival, but that is also true of Ulster. These staid Presbytarians were liberated from the religious singing of the Psalms & into a new freedom. Psalms which expressed joy in salvation were reworked & revival hymns which caught the flavour of the movement were sung at every meeting over & over.

5/ Impassioned Prayer
We have already heard that this was a movement birthed in prayer expectation. It was no surprise that wherever the flames spread, prayer meetings emerged as the engine room.

6/ Unspeakable Joy
No meeting would go by without shouts of joy & similar exclaimations bursting forth from the crowds.

7/ Increased Holiness
Paisley reports 'Drunkeness & profane behaviour were given up, dishonesty in business & long standing family feuds were healed.' Again, statistics show publicans closing down their businesses for lack of trade.

8/ Increased numbers gathering
Churches were packed, new churches were built rapidly which stand today as monuments to the pace of the revival. Homes & school halls were filled, streets & parks were overflowing with crowds - day & night, rain or shine. One Pastor in Ballymena sums it up well -
'Our weekly prayer meeting was attended by 50 persons normally. During the three months past we have held between 4-7 such prayer meetings a week & each is attended by more than 20 times that number! The difficulty used to be to get them to church, quickly, the difficulty has become how to get them all in!'

9/ Intense love
Families reunited, old scores set aside, divisions broken down, communities transformed. Particularly so in the areas know for their sectarian divides & bigotry.

10/ Passion for souls
Most who were transformed seemed to throw themselves back into the fray in order to win their unsaved friends & colleagues. Most seemed to be equipped with a boldness & an urgency which they had never before known. Only this can explain the rapid overflowing of local & national boundaries which this revival saw.

150 years have passed & the nation again needs men & women who will respond to God with this hunger & urgency.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The spreading flame

Fire is often used to describe the growth of a revival. This is nowhere more true than the rapid spread of the flame in 1859. From sparks in the lives of 4 men to the whole of Ulster & beyond in less than a year!

One story from early on in the revival shows this better than anything else. Samuel Campbell from Connor attended a meeting led by the instigators, McQuilken & Meneely. It is reported that he was so overwhelmed by an awareness of his sin during the meeting that he fell onto his knees & cried out for mercy. The following morning he was led to Christ whilst reading his bible.

This is wonderful, but what happened next is characteristic of story after story in Ulster. It is the catalyst factor which turned a time of blessing into a full blown revival.

Having found his own peace with God, Campbell became increasingly distressed about his relatives in the nearby town of Ahogill. Just 3 weeks later, after praying with others, Campbell visited his family home to plead with his mother & sister to 'flee from the wrath to come.' He went out to find his brother John at a shooting match & told him, 'I have a message for you from the Lord Jesus!'

John decided to accompany his brother back home to Connor that evening (probably to make sure that he went & to talk some sense into him!)However, Campbell would not stop praying out loud for his brother who walked alongside him, & after a while, John began to feel an incredible power & terror sweeping over him. In his own words, 'I saw heaven on the one side & hell on the other. The conviction flashed upon me with overwhelming power that I deserved hell & such horror did the thought produce that every joint in my body quaked.'

John managed to struggle home, now crying out loud for mercy all the way. During the same night, his mother awoke, also crying out in terror, suddenly aware of her sin for the first time. The sister was aroused, & she too came under the same conviction. Mother & daughter prayed together until God brought them peace & salvation.

The next day, brother John was still in turmoil, in fact, he continued for 3 weeks in agony over his sin. Then, whilst working at his loom his heart was 'suddenly filled to overflowing' Paisley comments, 'So powerful were the waves of love which overwhelmed his whole being that he was forced to stop his work & fall on his knees before the throne of grace.'

At the same time, a son in law of Mrs Campbell also visited the house. Anthony Huston heard the account of his mother in law, & he too was overcome, bursting into tears & weeping bitterly for his sinful past. Soon Huston's wife was also converted.

The remarkable & rapid change in these 2 families became the talk of the town. People that knew them, could see the immense change which had taken place. It was decided to hold a revival meeting in Ahogill to see what may happen.

An enormous crowd gathered, too big for the largest hall in town. As people pushed to the front under conviction of their sin they were directed out into the streets for fear that the gallery in the hall would collapse!

Over 3000 now stood in the rain as Meneely exhorted them to 'receive Christ & the Holy Ghost.' Eye witnesses say it was as though the entire crowd became paralysed. On streets covered in mud, converts began to fall on their knees in prayer. From that night on, the revival wave which started with Campbell's burden for his family, swept over the entire district.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A confectionary rant

First it was the Marathon bar, then Opal Fruits. This creeping globalisation & re-branding of our favourite childhood sweets simply because Opal Fruits means 'Panda farts' in Mandarin. Who are these mystery executives in their corporate towers that make these life changing decisions?

If we're honest with ourselves even back then, we knew really that our silence would only allow greater evils to emerge. It's true. We were sidelined, shaking our heads as Wagon Wheels got smaller & smaller. This was once a mighty product which began life in the wild west as an actual sized meringue & choclate covered wagon wheel.

The mystery men are at it again, & now they have my all time favourite in their sights. Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the Sherbert Fountain! It's the kind of product that would never be allowed today, would never get through the focus groups & the fanatical PC commitees that now hold sweet makers hostage in the top floor of their sweet factories.

Everyone has a Sherbert Fountain story to tell, usually an accidental explosion or breathing in incident. Is there any confectionary today which is able to make you wheeze & could give rise to lung related insurance claims later in life?

In one swoop they have taken away everything which makes the Fountain so good. The glue over the top is replaced by a screw lid. The cylinder which was once lovingly made from strange smelling paper wrapped around used toilet roll tubes, is now plastic.

Never again will you be able to scrunch up the bottom of the packet to expel the last few clouds of sherbert. Never again will the saliva soaked paper fall apart, allowing sherbert all over your school jumper. Never again!

I am a realist. I know there are far more important battles worth fighting. But surely someone ought to be doing something about this sherberty shenanigins, this fountain fiasco! For the sake of our children & their right to breath puffs of choking confectionary! Will you join me?

Monday, 16 November 2009

'I yelled, they prayed, God worked!'

150 years ago the Ulster Revival had an impact not only in the Province but around the world. I'm continuing today with some stories from this great breakthrough which came almost 50 years before Asuza. Here you will find a few insights that don't make the headlines, but which any would be preachers may understand.

Jeremiah Meneely was one of the original gang of four from the prayer meeting in the Old Schoolhouse. As the revival grew, these four became reluctant leaders of an increasing band of converts. No one was more surprised about this than Meneely himself.

Whilst travelling to one of their first meetings, they argued about who should preach. Eventually, after all had expressed their reluctance, Jerry stepped forward & said that he would on the condition that they pray. Describing the meeting afterwards, Meneely reported, 'I yelled, they prayed, God worked!' In this unassuming way they had inadvertantly hit upon a successful formula!

Meneely took his zealous preaching to Ballymena, where one story characterises his approach. I'll leave biographer Ian Paisley to tell you in his own words (imagine his voice as a rising angry growl being hawked & spat through a mouth full of gravel)

'The whole day he was kept busy for the Lord, & finding himself late had to run part of the 5 miles to the meeting place. When he arrived the place was literally crammed with a teeming multitude.
Jerry preached with his usual ardour & when he had finished the people refused to leave. He then preached a second time & attempted to dismiss the gathering. They again refused to go.
After 4 or 5 such attempts he left the platform, & going aside, took off his coat & waistcoat, removing his shirt & wrung out a stream of sweat. Attiring himself, he re-entered the hall & preached for another hour, after which he walked the 5 miles home.'

These snapshots serve to give us an insiders view on the pace of the revival, & the constant readiness these men lived under. A few minutes after returning, his door was knocked on by a man seeking the way of salvation. Jerry immediately went to call on his next door neighbour to see if he would help in counselling this seeker. By now it was late into the night & the neighbour was in bed. Undaunted, Jerry hammered on his door all the harder, yelling, 'Get up! Lying in your bed whilst there are souls seeking Christ!'

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The 1859 Ulster Revival

150 years have passed since the Ulster Revival of 1859. This significant revival had connections with the awakening the previous year in the US. There is little of the story in print right now, with most concerning themselves with the more recent centenery celebrations from Wales,then Asuza Street & the birth of Pentecostalism.

What we see in Ulster is a genuine pentecost 40 years before Asuza. Over the next few posts I shall give you some excerpts, most of which come from the unlikely source of the Rev Ian Paisley. Better known to English readers as the florid faced Presbyterian ranter who always seemed to get on the news in the 1980's with something bad to say about the Catholics. Whatever his political leanings, Paisley has written a long out of print account of the '59 revival which remains stirring to this day.

It all started with four new young converts - James McQuilkin, Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle & John Wallace. They agreed to meet weekly on a Friday night to pray through the long winter of 1857-1858 in the Old Schoolhouse near Kells.

They took armfuls of peat for the fire in with them & in Paisley's words 'The peats made a fire in the schoolhouse grate & warmed their bodies from the winter chill, but their prayers brought down unquenchable fire from heaven which set all Ulster ablaze for God, & warmed with saving rays at least 100,000.'

Jeremiah Meneely described their meetings as follows: 'The prayer meeting was started in the autumn of 1857 & continued for 3 months before there were any visible results.' Only 2 more men joined them during that time, but on New Years Day 1858 their first conversion took place. After that, their records show they saw salvation each friday night through the year. By the end of 1858 there were 50 young men taking part.

Meneely continues: 'Women were not allowed in the meeting during the first year & after that they had a prayer meeting of their own. We had so much opposition & persecution to encounter that we did not think it advisable to allow women in. The world would have said that the meetings were held only for the purpose of flirtation.'

There was clearly a remarkable momentum building. We'll see next time how this overflowed into the nearby towns around the province. Meneely put it this way: 'Our one great object at the meetings was to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves & upon the surrounding country. This was the one great object & burden of our prayers. We held right to the one thing & did not run off to anything else.'

Many people ridiculed their stance, telling them that God poured out His Spirit at Pentecost already. Meneely retorted, 'The Lord knows what we want & we kept right on praying until the power came!'

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Some things....

Some things I just find easier than others.
Talking to crowds of people, crying at the end of High School Musical, trapping a football (sometimes), falling head over heels in love with the same woman each morning.

Some things are a bit harder.
Talking to new people, getting my hands on the Sky TV remote that I pay for, bending down to tie up my shoes without my head thumping.

Some things are just impossible.
Licking your own elbow, getting my kids to practise their instruments, staying in the room when any tunes from the world of musical theatre are playing, understanding the plot to any episode of NCIS & working out whether I've already seen it before the end credits.

Some things are just awkward.
Shopping in Sainsbury's. They want me to have a bag for life & I'm just not sure if I'm ready for that kind of commitment. That sort of pressure you can do without when you're heading down the chilled isle towards the checkout.

Some things are bitter sweet.
Heading off for the weekend to a monastery in the mountains above Rome to be with great people & to stir them to reach their city. At the same time, leaving behind the people that help me to get through each day without falling to pieces.
Bitter sweet is what makes life so exhilarating & excruciating all at the same time. As Del Boy would say, 'He who dares wins Rodney!'

Friday, 9 October 2009

Golf rant

Mark Twain was right when he said that golf spoils a perfectly good walk. Unfortunately, the news today confirms that golf is now also going to spoil the Olympics.

Golf at the Olympics - whatever next! Let all the other non sports that seem to get on TV these days join in too- Anyone for Olympic Darts? Snooker? Poker? Shopping?

I spat out my mouthful of tea listening to the spokesman for the Royal & Ancient Golf Club on the radio earlier. I quote, 'Our athletes are excited about taking part!' Athletes!

In what remote way can the morbidly obese Jon Daly, Colin Montgomery or Laura Davies be considered athletes? The only occasion Monty would beat Usain Bolt out of the blocks might be for the lunch queue at the Olympic Village.

And is there another sport steeped in such colonial history where your manservant carries around the only bit of heavy equipment for the full 4 hours? They should be ashamed of themselves.

Golfers, you can take your Rupert the bear trousers, your pastel jumpers, your golf sticks, your single slightly camp glove, your bogies & your manservants & leave the Olympics to the real sportsmen & women!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Dr Livingstone I presume?

Today I came face to face with two of my heroes. These men were old school adventurers, explorers, men who endured between them extremes of hot & cold, one in Southern Africa, the other the Southern Pole.

In our modern age of celebrity, where men are enobled with greatness for kicking a football or acting in movies, these two heroes of mine would pass unnoticed. Indeed, to find their statues in our capital city involves a degree of exploration which no doubt they would consider appropriate.

Robert Falcon Scott is hidden away on a side street in Westminster. More prominent are fallen Viceroys & Colonial Major Generals. Their tributes grand, their achievements less so,their names forgotton. Scott is clothed in his Polar gear & half submerged in hedgerow. His fading plaque tells briefly how he died in 1912 returning from the South Pole with his 4 companions.

In his own words, 'Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance & courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes & our dead bodies must tell the tale.'

I found Dr Livingstone by surprise, not unlike Stanley when he stumbled across the explorer in Ujiji. Back then, Livingstone had been gone 7 years, searching for the source of the Nile. Speculation as to his welfare was rife until Stanley found him alive & well in a native village.

Today I discovered him perched in a niche on the wall of the Royal Geographical Society, choked by traffic at the corner of Exhibition Road & Kensginton Gore. Standing larger than life, Livingstone leans hard on a stick in his right hand, a bible clutched firmly in his left & a coat draped over his arm. Looking out over the busy streets & modern day Hyde Park he seems restless for another mission, urgent & poised to reach these bustling, unfamiliar natives.

Captain Scott, Dr Livingstone, the heart of this Englishman is remains stirred by your exploits.

Friday, 2 October 2009

What makes a man? Part 3

The stark & disappointing message awaiting me on my doormat as I returned home read,'Commiserations, your ballot application to run the Virgin 2010 London Marathon has been unsuccessful.'

Every man needs a challenge, & my next big daring deed has just false started. Maybe my disappointment is compounded by the boys own adventure stories I've been reading this week.

In 'The Lost City of Z' David Grann tells the remarkable story of Amazon explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British man driven by courage & obsession into exotic danger & mystery. As Grann attempts to follow in Fawcetts considerable footsteps, he starts by visiting the Royal Geographical Society, that archaic British Institution, steeped in colonial history.

Fawcett had begun his journeys as a cartographer for the RGS. Listen to the remarkable scope of their original vision statement in 1830;'to collect, digest & print new interesting facts & discoveries.....build a repository of the best books on geography & a complete collection of maps....assemble the most sophisticated & surveying equipment & help launch explorers on their travels..' All this in an age where maps of inland Africa & Latin America were simply left blank!

Their extraordinary mandate was to chart every nook & cranny of planet earth. A later President of the Society vowed, 'There is not a square foot of the planet's surface to which fellows of the Society should not at least try to go, that is our business, that is what we are out for.'

Many did go, many died horrible deaths from strange diseases, hostile natives, or were just never heard of again. Some emerged from the jungle as heroes to their generation.

I like these guys, something in their attitude makes me want to stand up & pull my boots on. They are the kind of men Jesus wanted in His church when He said, 'Go & make disciples in every nation on the planet, don't let anything stop you, shake the dust off your feet.' This is the original mission statement, & still the best. Paul followed it through shipwreck, beatings, riots, storms & imprisonment. Down through the generations there have been many outstanding Kingdom men who have followed these footsteps. These guys considered it worth losing everything for the sake of gaining the one thing worth having.

Percy Harrison Fawcett may have had more press coverage than most of my Kingdom heroes, but he never found what he was looking for. He eventually threw his life away for the sake of adventure alone, disappearing into the jungle with his tweed jacket & magnificent handlebar moustache. What an empty pursuit!

Percy never discovered what he was made for, who he was made for. If only his adventures had led him to truth. If only he'd discovered a man really worth giving his life for.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

These are a few of my favourite Kings

With apologies to Julie Andrews & Sound of Music fans. I've been remiss in waiting so long to provide with a few of my favourite Kings.

In date order -

Alfred the Great (871)
More a Monk than a warrior, he led at a time when the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Wessex was reduced to a small rabble trapped in a marsh in Somerset. From this low point, he managed to fight & negotiate his way to becoming the first true King of a united England. Alfred alone is responsible (in my view) for preserving the Anglo Saxon culture & language which was about to be lost forever at the hands of the Danes.

William the Conqueror (1066)
William gets on the list because the mention of his name is the only legitimate reason in our house for the children to say the word 'bastard!' William the Bastard (to give him his full French title) spent his whole life being reminded of his dubious origins, until Harold gave him the swift opportunity for a change of surname.

Henry VIII (1509)
An arrogant monster, terrible mood swings, changed his mind like he changed his wives/religion/weight (delete as approprite). By the end of his life, the gangrene in his thigh smelled so bad that courtiers standing downwind would gag into their puffy tudor sleeves! And yet this contradiction of a monarch genuinely believed he was God's voice to the world & oversaw the break from Rome which allowed England to hear the gospel.

Edward VI (1547)
Unlike his Father, Edward really had caught the reformation bug. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only bug this sickly boy-king caught. Had he lived a few years longer his English Book of Common Prayer with Cranmer, & other reforms would have led to a true church of England rather than the compromise that his sister Elizabeth allowed to evolve.

Charles I (1625)
Lost his head with dignity after the Civil Wars, having spent his whole life with his royal head up his royal....well, in the sand maybe! He took the divine right of Kings to the extreme & realised too late that the people didn't agree.

Oliver Cromwell (1649)
Never King, but Lord Protector of the new Commonwealth for just a few short years. In spite of his reputation, Cromwells freedom of religion act & his social reforms amongst the masses have only been surpassed in the last century in more progressive societies. Had he lived another 10 years we would never have returned to the monarchy.

William III (1689)
William of Orange drove his own Father-in-law James from the throne when he arrived with his Dutch troops. Christmas round the family table was never the same after this! James fled in the night & bleated for a few years from exile in France, but the danger of a return to Catholicism was now finally over.
William never really liked it here, preferring to spend as much time back in the Netherlands as possible. It's ironic that a Dutchman was the last 'true' king of England, giving away powers to Parliament that reduced the monarchy & set their rule within ever tightening boundaries.

Feel free to add to the list!

Friday, 25 September 2009

What makes a man? Part 2

Since putting up my 'useful things I can do' list, many of you have commented to me how useful I would be in your life - thanks for the encouragement. But you'd still call the Action Man with the eagle eye function (not the Sailor with the beard & no grip) rather than me in a crisis!

In the big story of mans beginnings we are given a glimpse of real man made in God's image. Here we catch something of our purpose which has become buried under the twin opposing forces of manbags & moisturising or chest thumping muscle headed neanderthalism. (You can tick your own box here!)

The first man, Adam, is given the incredible assignment to rule & subdue, to fill & multiply. He's given land, he has to tame animals, make his own tools - no wonder boys young & old get bored sitting at desks all day. We were made for adventure! Here is the whole earth; Explore it, cultivate it, care for it - go find the equator, build some cities, invent some stuff!

At this point in the story, only Eden is on the map. Everything else that google earth has made so small, is still actually wild & uncharted. No oceans crossed or mountains climbed.

My friend Neil is slowly but surely getting the boat in his garage ready to sail around Britain with his boys.
Fella's - this is what we were made for! Get out this weekend, get dirty, climb a tree, build a camp, come home with sore muscles & begin to rediscover your calling on planet earth to live with the kind of risk that crosses barriers. You'll look the same to everyone else next week when you sit back at your desk, but you can feel the grazes under your suit trousers & smile to yourself!

Part 3 coming soon.

Friday, 18 September 2009

What makes a man?

This week I cleared out my garage & discovered a workbench & a vice. This equipment is what every man should have & I am now the proud, masculine owner of a workshop.

However, I have no idea what to do with it. I have realised that all the things which make us feel like real men have become hidden away in this manner. As we pull the wraps from them we feel a deep stirring to manliness within us, but can't quite work out what we're supposed to do next.

There are so many voices in this generation which have rightly released women, whilst we men have sat back & forgotten how to live ourselves. We've either become over feminised & distant from our roots as men, or we observe the other macho extreme.

'What makes a man?' is the question in my mind as I try to turn my rusty vice. I think the answer may lie somewhere buried in the idea of man made in the image of God. I'll return to that in the next post. In the meantime, I've selected a list of useful things I can & can't do as a modern man to get the ball rolling.

Useful things I can do
1/ Be nice to people
2/ Make/change a bed
3/ Dig a small hole
4/ Write sermons
5/ Sing tenor
6/ Read a map
7/ Drive a car
Hmmmm, not really up there in the Bear Grylls stakes.

How about, useful things I can't do
1/ Chop down trees to make a shelter or for firewood
2/ Ride a horse, train a dog, tend a herd of animals
3/ Grow or produce my own food
4/ Handle a boat without panicking the others on board
5/ Bowl a good consistent line & length
6/ Load, shoot, clean a gun / or bow & arrow / or use either of them / or a spear, net, catapult to obtain food.
7/ defend myself with my bare hands.

Feel free to add to the list.

Monday, 14 September 2009

There's no 'I' in team

Today we had a staff team day. Somewhere deep inside I still flinch when they approach in the diary, a buried reflexive response to some horror shows in the distant past.

Geoff was a director in the Manchester office of our multi-national insurance corporation who made Ricky Gervais look like a balanced & considerate boss. His leadership style seemed to shift at rapid tangents, dependent on the courses he'd been on, the articles he'd never quite finish reading, or his own instinctive nous for a 'winner' of an idea.

On reflection, & with the benefit of much hindsight, I can thank God for Geoff & all that he has taught me about leadership, mostly through the medium of negative experience.

His team high point came in surreal fashion. Having been informed of our failure to reach targets & thus secure a performance related pay rise, Geoff knew all we really needed was to have a little sing song. Stay with me - it gets better. So Geoff disappears in the lift, only to emerge moments later with a guitar around his neck & a bandana,giving the faint impression of rock stardom to his otherwise follicly challenged pate.

Whilst some of us cynics put our heads in our hands at the back of the department-Amazingly, others found this the perfect outlet for their pay worries, & joined Geoff in lusty renditions of all the Oasis tracks they could remember the words to from the classic 1995 album 'Whats the story morning glory.'Geoff, thanks for the memories!

Today, the insurance world & Ricky Gervais wannabee bosses are light years away. Today, I loved my team day. No ego's, no pride, no Billy Big Boots. No insecurity driven affirmation junkies. Just 12 men & women who really want to see their team deliver the kind of things they used to just dream about.

Hybels talks about the 3 C's of team - character, competence & chemistry. Today, the chemistry clicked, the ideas flowed, the friendship deepened. This is the privilege of serving on a team which, though imperfect, in some way models the way we were designed for mutual dependence on a task which is impossible alone.

Thanks guys for helping me to lose my 'team twitch'. As Geoff would have sung....'I said maybeeeeeeee, you're gonna be the one who saves meeeeee, and after all, you're my wonderwaaaaal........'

Friday, 11 September 2009

What is Britishness?

The Year 9 homework that I got roped in to help with last night was asking this question. It's a bit of a conundrum really, in spite of the best endeavours of the politically correct class who talk of cohesion but can't produce it in reality.

The reflex response is to talk about good old British values, fair play, trust, tolerance, decency. You only have to scratch the surface though to see through this veneer.

Fair play - Does that explain our ability to be plucky losers in most major sporting competitions? Happy just to be taking part & getting stuffed by the Germans/Australians (delete as appropriate). Our society is about as unfair & class divided today as it's ever been with the rich getting richer & the poor, well...poorer. More than poverty, it's the lack of opportunity, the closed doors to developing your destiny, that which became the American dream is a British nightmare.

Trust - I'm not sure how we have ever been able to claim this as some unique British characteristic? Does a society based on trust fill it's cities & town centres with CCTV, or require Dad's taking their lads to football to have CRB checks?

Tolerence - Hmmm....I remember the race riots in Oldham, just a few streets away from us. Neighbour against neighbour solely because of culture, colour & creed. Never mind race, anyone who is different really is fair game. Gordon Brown today apologised for the hounding of Alan Turing, who took his own life 53 years ago. This brilliant Cambridge Mathmatician of the Enigma Code fame deserved plaudits, but instead was prosecuted for being a homosexual. The French, the Germans, the Irish, the Asians, Gays, Chavs, MP's, Estate Agents, Bankers.......tolerent Britain?

Decency - Thanks to all those CCTV cameras in our town centres, we can at least watch 'Indecent Britain', live on a Friday or Saturday night. Even if you escape it all by going abroad, you're likely to encounter the kind of Brit who loves to party, fight,vomit & copulate all over the resort. Indecent Britain means we have the highest teenage pregnancy rates, terrible stats for marriage breakdown, all kinds of exciting new STD's that never existed when I was a boy, & a favourite leisure pursuit of internet porn. Happy days!

Before this sounds like a message board for the Daily Mail, let me tell you that I think there is plenty that is good about being British. Every society has something positive to offer, some glimmer or spark of humanity made in the image of God, however deeply it is buried in the mire.

This is surely a challenge for the church to rise to, that we could build true community based not on any national characteristics, but on our new shared identity in Christ. We have a promise to chase, that even in degenerate, broken Britain, we might shine like stars & show people a better way to live.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The kids of today!

It came to my attention with horror this weekend, that the kids who are off to university later this month weren't born until 1991! For me, 1991 seems like last week. In fact, come to think of it, I can remember more about 1991 that I can about last week!

It got me thinking that we have a generation here who are going to shape our nation & society, & yet they never watched Bagpuss, or public service announcements like the Green Cross Code. They never lived under Mrs Thatcher, & if you said 'Jolly green Giant' to them, they would picture Shrek rather than a plate full of vegetables.

So (with a nod to James Emery White, USA culture guru), here is my stab at how our class of '91 see the world around them -

They think TV's have always been flat.
They believe that Chelsea always were a top 4 team.
They have never written a letter, posted it, & enjoyed the anticipation of waiting for the reply to drop back onto the doormat.
They have never watched the evening news without already knowing what the evening news is.
They think tattoos have always been in vogue & that rap has always been mainstream.
They would call the Police if Jimmy Saville asked them to sit on his knee.
They never lived alongside the Soviet Union, never saw the Berlin wall, never knew Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine et al as anything other than independent nations.

Lists like this are depressing. They show us how impossible it is for each generation to understand the one which has gone before it. They share none of my key moments, they relate to none of my reference points, they have no shared memories to anchor their understanding of the world to mine. It's no wonder they don't listen to us & we can't comprehend them!

How do we communicate into this culture, without sounding like the archetypal trendy Vicar? Should we just leave it to the kids? Well, I do believe there are a few things we can teach them, but it involves us learning too. We have to make an effort to understand their worldview & to some extent keep pace. More importantly, we mustn't move from the key places we are anchored to in our own story. Or, to put it another way, there are some things in our message which cut across any culture - we've just got to find the right package to send them in.

Feel free to add to the list!


Friday, 4 September 2009

Scandalous stories

It's outrageous that a man who only works for the last hour of the day should get paid the same money as a guy who slogs himself all day in the heat.

Remarkably, it's a scandalous story that Jesus told & I shared it today at Aubrey's funeral. This is the story that changed his life on 6th August when, with 2 weeks to live, he gave his life to Jesus, right at the finish line.

What a cheek! It's like hopping off the tube at Green Park in your running gear & racing up the Mall to cross the marathon line & pick up a medal!

Actually, those of us who have toiled away for years at trying to work out what it means to follow Jesus have one of two responses. We can either dance for joy at this scandal that is grace, or we recognise the gangrenous stink of legalism & the spirit of the elder brother stirring up in our hearts........'...but we've worked for you all these years & never been rewarded like this!'

As for me today? I've already told you - I was born to dance, & I had a little jig for Aubrey earlier.

Speak soon.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Gather around the wireless

We gathered around the wireless (internet) this morning to listen to a replay of Neville Chamberlains famous declaration that Britain is now at war with Germany. As Chamberlain outlines the German failure to comply with their deadline to withdraw from Poland, the fear in his voice is as clear today as it was 70 years ago.

Today we fight on a number of fronts & the slogan 'Not in my name' has become a banner of protest with which I hold some sympathy. To this day, I still can't fathom why we are in Afghanistan.

However, listening to a 70 year old radio broadcast this morning, I felt the swell of pride at a just & noble venture to fight alongside France & liberate the Poles from Nazi occupation. Perhaps Chamberlain was viewed with the same disdain & suspicion as our politicians today, maybe it is just the passing of years which ennobles his words with such gravitas? Churchill is rightly idolised for his later role, & Chamberlain was certainly on the way down, but his tone on this day 70 years ago was as statesmanlike as it is possible to be. Listen to it yourself on www.bbc.co.uk/archive

I wonder about my great-family, huddled aound a real wireless to hear the news. Did my Grandad know that day that he would fly planes? Did his parents realise with a chill that they would lose sons?

All I know is that we have lost a little perspective. In our town where people are mobilised with aggression over the wrong kind of parking meters & housing developments, isn't it time we got our heads up & remembered what Chamberlain led us so reluctantly into?

That's all for today, speak soon

Friday, 28 August 2009

Books I've read

People seem to have an interest in what I read. I'm hesitant to publish my reading because most of what I say is other peoples thoughts. You may discover all my secrets!

I set a goal in Jan 2009 to read a book a week this year, ranging from study to top ten novels. I'm up to around 50 so far. The list on the blog brings you up to speed on what I've read on our summer hols.

I'll keep adding to it, & for those who are interested, make some recommendations.

I have to say, for summer reading, I really enjoyed the Twilight & New Moon novels by Stephanie Meyer. I know I'm not a teenage girl (never have been) but they seem to speak for the whole post modern pick & mix generation. A real culture lesson. At the heart of it, these books are good old fashioned romance, albeit with a few vampires & werewolves thrown in. Don't knock it till you've tried it though, & the strong redemptive themes make them a great launch pad for communicating real truth with post moderns.

Apart from that, my top 3 were probably -
1/ Reformation, Dairmaid MacCulloch (an 800 page rattle through reformation history from a warmly secular standpoint)
2/ Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin (surprised myself by really enjoying it. Lots of this will come out in my preaching!)
3/ Child 44, Tom Rob Smith (a crime novel, shoe horned into an historical & ethical review of the bleakest days of Stalin's Soviet Union)

Falling with style

It was a defining moment in the movie Toy Story. Buzz & Woody, former enemies, now teaming together, & swooping high above the removal lorry they are chasing whilst strapped to a firework....(stay with me, it's a true story!)

Woody knows that so much of Buzz's identity has been defined by his belief that he really is from Gamma Quadrant Sector 4. He really is Buzz, the Space Ranger, not just one of the toys. He really believes His special powers work, and most importantly - He really believes he can fly.

This particular claim is met with such scepticism by Woody early on in the film that it leads to their estrangement & the great put down retort from Buzz, 'You sad, strange little man.''

As with all movie plot twists, they find themselves in our opening scenario, now understanding each other & their own identity like never before. Back to the story....Woody shouts to Buzz as they shoot up on the rocket, 'Buzz, you're flying!'. Here comes the line....'This isn't flying, this is falling with style!'

What a moment of self realisation. I have been meaning to enter the blog world belatedly for a long time. However, I've wanted to make sure that I have something to say, something occasionally even of significance. Also, being a bit 'old school', I don't want to clog things up & slow down t'internet with my ramblings.

It may be that I'm the only one who is interested in the identity turmoil between Buzz & Woody, it maybe that this becomes a self help forum for me alone. I guess ultimately, as someone who earns a living by having other people listen to me, I'm looking for a fresh way of expressing some of the things I often try to say incoherently!

Falling with style sums it all up really. I still pinch myself when I look at my life, my family, my calling, what I get to do & who I get to do it with. I seem to have muddled through life looking like I know what I'm doing & somehow landing on my feet. It might look like flying to you, but I know it really has just been falling with style.

I'm intending to post weekly on here with thoughts, rants, things I'm reading that move me, my own selective & revised views of history, & some of the 101 ideas for changing the world that I have before breakfast most days. As they say in the small print - the views expressed are my own & may not reflect the church I have the privilege of representing. However, any fellow Space Rangers will know that the stuff which stirs me about the church will find it's way here too!

So, you are welcome to come along for the ride.

Speak soon, Steve