Thursday, 23 December 2010

Reality TV Nativity

The Nativity has been showing on the BBC, 7pm each evening this week - It has been great. Really good in fact, especially for a generation who haven’t been brought up with the story. They didn’t hear it at school, didn’t see it acted out in nativity plays, didn’t hear it read from family bibles or hear it sung in Sunday school carols.

For the post Christian generation, this series is better than we might have thought. Instantly accessible & attractive to the unchurched in a way that our more well known religious programming is not. No, I’m not knocking Songs of praise, but we’re still not sure who they really make that for, & still not certain who really watches it other than the initiated. About the Nativity, there is no doubt – this is the prime time, One Show slot, picking up all kinds of viewers who have never given any real thought to the Christmas narrative.

Their big hook is the romance, but with it some gritty realism thrown in. We’ve all seen the Christmas cards of Mary in blue robes, gentle, tame & clean animals gazing tenderly at the blond, blue eyed baby who wears a halo. This it is not!

Thankfully, the writers have avoided the tradtitions & gone back to the book. They’ve really attempted to understand some of the terrible pressures on the young Mary who had a tall tale about her pregnancy which no one believed.

They have tried to show the wonder of the travelling wise men – pagan astrologers who believed the Prophets more faithfully than the Jewish scholars. They’ve shown the desperate shepherds, living in abject poverty, under harsh Roman rule, simmering with resentment & revolutionary fervour. They’ve shown a weak, jealous, ulcerated Herod, desperate to hold onto his delegated powers, ready to do anything to maintain his grip.

Nothing warm & glowing here. This is a sad & difficult picture. This is grim reality TV where surely there is no room for faith. This is lonely, friendless, hopeless. Tonight I guess we’ll see Joseph’s turn to be rejected by his family, watch Mary deliver a baby with no help, no Mother or sister, no experience.

The Nativity is so powerful because we begin to see a glimpse of our own tortured lives behind the turbans & the dust. We see our own disappointed hopes, our own painful alienation, our own fear of having walked through life & missed our moment. This story resonates for our generation. It connects, it opens a door in the darkness to an outline of wonderful light. It shows lives like ours which are short, bitter sweet & painful, not romanticised in any way, now opening up to redemption. It brings us to our knees in the dirt, before the God who became a man in order to reach us & redefine everything. Dear Points of View…Can we have more of that on the BBC please?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Happy Birthday Youtube! - Reflections on a shifting culture!

Youtube is 5 years old today! How is it possible that something so young has become so much a part of our normal lives? Do you remember when you used to wait for the news in order to see that clip again, or Match of the Day to see the goals? Do you remember having to watch ‘You’ve been framed’ on a Saturday tea time to see Grandma falling from the trampoline headfirst into the waterbut? Do you remember having to go into record stores to listen to songs that you might want to buy or waiting to see film trailers at the cinema?

The very fact that we can’t really remember life before Youtube proves the point. If you are looking for evidence of the ever increasing pace of technological advance & our reliance upon it, then Youtube is a case in point. Other than mobile phones, the advent of the internet itself & the phenomena of social networking - facebook, twitter et al - it’s hard to believe that any single idea has had a greater impact in shaping popular culture for post moderns around the world.

Slow burn trends in clothes, music & film now race around planet earth in a matter of days. What we affectionately call ‘the 1960’s' could never happen again in the Youtube generation. It just wouldn’t have had time to develop before it was over & we were onto the next thing. We’d have missed the Beatles & leaped straight to Justin Bieber! The flip side of all this speed is that no generation is more quickly bored. We’ve got so hooked on the latest that even the still very new loses its appeal in our thirst for cultural relevance. This faddism has led to a shallower pool of creativity, to imitation rather than true invention.

The You tube generation have to be in control. They have to vote on their TV shows, they rebel against organisation, believing the lie that organic, underground is authentic – even though they are now part of the mainstream. They can’t commit to anything, can’t do long term, can’t save, don’t have pensions, won’t join institutions & rebel against authority. They would rather rage against the machine than join a political party. The Youtube generation can’t even vote a government into power anymore, they get the coalition that reflects their mood swings - though they will express their democratic right to decide who wins the X Factor & gets the Xmas number one.

As the Youtube generation grows up, you wonder what is in store for a demographic who can’t concentrate long enough to enjoy anything twice, to listen to a whole album all the way through, to watch an entire TV programme to the end, to actually read a book – to cope with life in all its mundane, boring moments. How do you handle it when you can’t flick channels, choose something new, go for the next thrill? Have we really become so disposable, so throwaway, the give up when it gets tough generation? – what does that do to a society, to relationships, to communities, to our commitment to God?

The challenge as ever in engaging with such a strong defining culture is to wake up & realise how much it shapes each one of us. Here’s the first step – ‘Hi, my name's Steve, & I’m part of the Youtube generation!’ We’re going to keep laughing with them as they watch, ‘Charlie bit my finger!’ for the 258 millionth time! But then why don’t we lead them gently by the hand, away from the mouse & the TV remote, out into the slow lane, into the real world – the one that reality TV doesn’t really show, where real life in all its boredom & brilliance has yet to become a parody of itself.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Worship words

Think of the best love songs we sing, the crazy, heartfelt promises that we belt out as the chorus soars. The pledges of unending, unfailing, undimming devotion - If the promises whispered in ears during the last dance of the disco were all kept, we all would have married our first a matter of fact I did! Even there, we danced & sang to Whitney Houston 'I will always love you' at the reception.

We are no different in our churches, singing with genuine emotion & hands in the air each Sunday. This is our equivalent of the last dance, the big moment in the meeting when hearts are stirred, hope of changed lives dawns, brighter futures are promised. I wonder, if we really mean what we say in our Sunday celebrations? Doesn't there come a point where our devotion to our first love begins to overflow into an authentic live of worship?

Words are easy of course. We make promises to each other & to God in worship each week which are about as throwaway as a Lib Dem pledge on tuition fees!
Think about it - We stand to sing in tears,‘Lord I give You my heart, every breath I take every moment I’m awake, have Your way in me....’ only to go home & download porn, we gossip over Sunday lunch, we exaggerate our expense claim on Monday morning. Don't mistake this comment for cynicism. 99% of the time our passion in worship is genuine, our intentions true - but there comes a point where our words & our worship have to add up to something if we're going to show the world a better way to live.

How does singing on a Sunday, ‘Here I am to bow down’, affect my life at work on a Monday morning? How does my reverence in a prayer meeting this Wednesday evening impact the way I speak to my wife over breakfast on Thursday, or my attitude of submission to my awkward unbelieving boss at the office?

Having bowed down in worship at church when He seems near, how do I bow out in the boat, in the storm, when I’m not sure that He’s coming to rescue me? How do I continue to submit in reverence to Christ, to recall what I know of His goodness,in the midst of all the crises of life?
Having eaten the bread & drunk the wine in communion, how can I continue to nourish myself on the bread of life, how can I remain aware of His blood which covers all my sin when I'm far from the cup & the crowd?

How do I worship Him, continue to magnify Him when all hope is gone? How do I lift my hands at home in worship when I barely have the strength to lift my head from the bed? How do I learn to fall facedown in a mix of fear & joy at the feet of Jesus who comes to me in my grief, this Christ who has overcome everything, even sin & death, & now draws near to me?

How does my confession of praise, my narrative of God’s story in my life, draw unbelievers towards the Saviour? To paraphrase the writer to the Hebrews: Is their any fruit from my lips as I confess His name?

Maybe as we get the answers to these questions then we’re beginning to get to the heart of what it means to be radical spirit & truth worshippers of Jesus for the 21st Century – We’re starting to see what it truly means to offer our lives as living sacrifices in our generation. These are the worship words we're exploring this Sunday & intending to live in the days ahead.