Tuesday, November 05, 2013

I am not the Messiah...

For those of you wondering about the strange title of this post, please do not be alarmed, it is for my benefit not a shock announcement to anyone else.

I was recently involved in the staging of an evangelistic event, but that wasn't my intention. No, my intention was to be the sole creator of this event, the man who had made it all possible, the one who had brought the good times to town! I didn't say this out loud; I didn't even realise it myself.

The problem with this plan was that owing to recent eye issues the was always a small chance that I would be unable to attend due to a hospital visit. As the time grew nearer it was more like 50-50 whether I could make it or not and then, thanks to a rearranged operation date, it became clear to everyone that I would be in no condition to organise and run an event. Everyone, that is, except me.

Why am I telling you this you might wonder? Because I feel like I've learned (or relearned) an important lesson. I was that desperate to be the one who was responsible for this happening that in the end I put the whole thing at risk of not happening at all. Then, I was convinced that it would fail. Not because of my failure in planning, but because I wasn't there to make it happen. By wanting to be the one who made it happen, I was engineering a situation whereby I was the only one who could make it happen! 

You aren't the only person who can make it happen.

In the end some very willing, kind and forgiving people stepped in and managed to salvage a good event out of the mess I had created. The thing is, what will stop me doing it again?

This started out as a good idea, from wanting the event to happen, as do lots of things. But we are often all too quick to make ourselves far more vital to proceedings than necessary. I used to joke that as the only person in the church who knew how to pack the storeroom I was making myself invaluable to the church. As it turned out, I was just setting up everyone else with a massive job to try and sort out when I wasn't there to do it. Either that or there was in fact no need for me to be at the centre of it happening every week because actually it's packing a cupboard, how hard can it be?

In short, I hope this post will serve as a warning and a remnder, to both you and myself, that when we make ourselves integral to something, or just think we are, we are going down a dangerous road. The event went perfectly well in my absense. The difficulties there were, were of my own creating. And as Chris Green, one of my lecturers at Oak Hill, often says "There is only one position in the church that it vital for it to function, that role is the messiah and the position is taken".

I am not the messiah, the church will continue perfectly well without me.

P.S. For those of you who know the details of this, I didn't make much attempt to disguise them, but felt they were not necessary. Please ignore them, save for reminding me of this important lesson in the future!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why I am 'Just' a Creationist

This post was originally going to be a response to Tim Challies’ blog post “Why I am a six day creationist” but soon outgrew the size of a comment, so I decided to make it a post in its own right. If you haven’t read Tim’s post then you really should (here) because it is great to see someone taking a view on a big topic and being willing to defend it. 

It prompted me to think about my own view, and whilst I have a viewpoint on creation, it is not one I would go to the stake for or argue with people of differing views over, so my considered opinion for this post is “I am just a creationist”. There are three main reasons why this is the position I take:

1.    I don’t know enough about Hebrew (or even Greek) to make a decision on the issue of how you translate “day” in Genesis chapter one. Some people argue that the obvious reading is day, as in 24 hours, whereas others fiercely argue for six “periods of time” of unknown length. I personally do not know which is right, or even the more likely, and so am not willing to build my beliefs on my guess on this issue.

2.       I don’t know enough about science to claim to prove or disprove anything. Again there are people on both sides who say that scientific evidence can prove one way or the other in the young or old earth debate. Can fossil fuels only exist because of a sudden worldwide flood (see Genesis 6) or did they form over the 65 million years since the dinosaurs walked the earth? I don’t know and so am not willing to pin my opinion to either side.

3.       I wasn’t there. This seems to me to be the only way to conclusively know exactly how creation happened, and especially how long it took.

The bottom line is I don’t think it matters. The Bible says God created the heavens and the earth and that’s good enough for me, because my salvation doesn’t depend on when that was or the length of the process. (A quick caveat here: this is not the (only) line I would take in an evangelistic discussion with someone who felt the answer was important to their accepting the gospel.)

Essentially, I’m happy for people to form their own opinions on this and I don’t want to accuse anyone who asserts that God is creator of being wrong. If God wants to create everything in 144 hours then He can. If He wants to do it in 6 billion years He can. And if He wants me to know which one, if that’s an important issue, then He’d tell me. Because He hasn’t then I will just say “I’m a creationist”.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Your minions serve your beck and call...

A few months ago I wrote an essay reviewing the worldview of the film 'Despicable Me' from a Christian perspective. It apparently missed the mark in terms of the essay requirements but nonetheless I would be interested in peoples thoughts...

 The World of “Despicable Me‟

Despicable Me is a 2010 animated film with the tagline “superbad, superdad”. It is the first feature length computer animation by universal studios, but follows after the enormous successes of Pixar and Disney in this genre. It is written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio based on a short story and is deliberately aimed at both adults and children. The film itself is a story of one man’s life being changed by adopting three children. 

The film opens with the villain Gru, the film’s protagonist, learning that the great pyramid has been stolen by a new super-villain, now regarded as the best. In response Gru gathers together his minions; small yellow creatures who both work for but also like him, and outlines his plan to fulfill his ambition to steal the moon. When Gru finds the „shrink-ray‟ has already been stolen by new villain Vector he attempts to break into his base but is defeated by booby-traps. He then sees three girls selling cookies walk straight into the base and so decides to adopt them.

Using them to gain access, Gru steals the shrink-ray and initially plans to abandon the girls, however over the course of time becomes attached to them. Realising Gru is distracted from the plan his associate, Dr Nefario, arranges for the girls to be returned to the orphanage before Gru successfully shrinks and steals the moon. However he immediately realises that is not what he wants anymore and exchanges it to try and free the girls, now kidnapped by Vector in vengeance. Gru eventually successfully defeats Vector, rescues the girls and the film ends with him adopting them permanently.

The World behind “Despicable Me‟

The film follows the familiar story line of the protagonist doing something with one intention but ending up with something completely different happening. When Gru adopts the children it is purely for his own gain and even after he begins to change he is still willing to give them up in order to fulfill his dream. The film quickly shows however that he is being changed so that what he has been pursuing for years will no longer satisfy him.

Despicable Me
The film also follows the classic plot of setting up many unhappy situations that are all ultimately resolved by the climax of the film. Gru is set on the path to being a villain by his craving for approval from his mother, shown in flashbacks to constantly ignore or belittle him. The three girls are orphans, harshly treated by the woman in charge of the orphanage, and are looking for someone to love and take care of them. Meanwhile Vector is set up as the "bad guy‟ (although he is actually the same as Gru, with the same ambition) who must be defeated whilst the minions are made happy by Gru being happy. By the end of the film Gru has adopted the girls winning his mother’s approval as a good father, whilst vector is stranded on the moon, giving the happy ending we want. 

As previously mentioned the film sets up Gru as the hero, when in fact he is shown to be an uncaring and selfish man, before being changed, a liar and a thief. He is basically the same in character as Vector (both even shown as having unpleasable parents) but in the film he is the hero. The wrong things that Gru does are portrayed as good and it is important that he succeeds.

Things are also shown in the film world to be acceptable if they are funny or entertaining. Although partly in response to the young audience nearly all the film’s violence is shown to have no lasting effects such as Gru’s multiple clashes with vectors security. It seems as though nothing is actually capable of doing harm as Gru, Vector and the minions are variously hit with missiles but having been blown up carry on as before, unharmed. 

The film’s overall aim is to show that success and happiness are the same thing. When their plans are failing Gru is naturally unhappy but this is shown to affect the girls, who try to help him as well as the minions who are, essentially just his employees, yet inconsolable.

Finally the film explains that everything is the way it is, blaming Gru’s despicable character and life of crime on being unloved as a child. As he softens through the film he is at one point unable to show the love that he never received, because he doesn’t know how. In a world where everything has cause and effect, Gru is absolved from blame as, even now, he is just trying to gain his mother’s approval.

The World in front of “Despicable Me‟

Next we move on to see how the film attempts to make us, as the audience, think. At the end of the film we are shown that everything is solved and we can be happy. Looking closer though this is not the case and even if it were this is not how it works in the real world. We are told that the main issue is resolved; Gru defeats Vector and saves the girls, so now there are no more problems. Happy endings are possible and we are encouraged to pursue them and our own happiness.

We are also led to view bad things as acceptable provided they are done by the „good guy‟. Throughout the film we are encouraged to want Gru to succeed, because of how the situation is set up. Gru is clearly the hero and so we empathise with him, feeling his frustrations and wanting him to win, despite the fact that most of what he does is evil. “The repeated theme is that being bad is not so bad”

The film also seeks to change what we value as Gru becoming the parent the girls need is the unintended outcome for him. Although other outcomes could include; stopping both villains, or Gru’s evil ways being reformed, we ignore those aspects provided that he saves the children. Although the theft of the moon ultimately fails, no effort is made to show previous wrong being undone or an intention to change in the future. Contrast this with our potential outrage to an alternative ending where Gru did not save or adopt the children (as true to his original character) and the film’s values are easy to see.
Gru's minions are awesome - I want some!

The non-approval of his mother as the reason for Gru’s character feeds into our idea that nothing is our fault but rather the fault of the world around us. The argument that Gru is simply behaving in response to his upbringing and therefore his flaws are not his fault can be readily transplanted into our lives as we are encouraged to shift any blame or fault from ourselves.

Finally the film portrays the message that violence and confrontation is OK provided that no-one gets hurt. It goes to great lengths to show that whatever happens to the characters they are never physically hurt in any way and so we are encouraged to think that what happens to them is acceptable. Although much of the violence is unbelievable, there are some realistic acts viewed as funny and entertaining.

The Uber-text of “Despicable Me‟

In spite of the overall nature of the film there are some „good‟ themes which reflect the nature of God and of his creation. There is genuine love between Gru and the girls, as well as the minions. When Gru despairs at not having the money to complete his plan, the girls offer him their savings, at which point the minions also offer what they have. Although the aim may not be good, the willingness to help and to serve each other out of love is exemplified by the relationships between the characters through the film they become a family.

We also see the problem with pursuing self-serving goals, particularly highlighted when Gru has the moon in his hands (having shrunk it) before being reminded of the girls dance recital (which he had missed in order to complete his plan). Despite having the thing he craved for so long, Gru realises that this cannot fulfill him, and that he needs other people to be happy. This theme is however undermined by making the children able to do this whereas in a fallen reality no-one else can. The character's desire for love and acceptance rings true for all of us, but is again undermined as the film suggests it can be achieved.

Amongst the bad views is the idea that people can do bad things without negative consequences. The film shows no concept of moral right or wrong, as Gru's actions are never shown to be bad. The only time his actions are questioned is regarding the children and as he eventually does the ‟right thing‟ for them he ends the film as a perfect character. This is immediately contrary to what we know of the world as no-one is in this situation, even if they could change their character to be perfect from now on.

The film’s basic worldview could be summarised as a "no-one else matters‟ view. As the film is shown from Gru’s perspective we see that everything he does is self-serving, even towards the end where his actions benefit the girls, the focus is on him. At the end he tells the girls a bedtime story of how they came into his life, irritated and frustrated him but finally changed his heart. Gru ends the film by being happy, not in the way he intended at the beginning, but still by his own doing.

The main idol in the film is redemption, specifically through parenthood, shown by the fact that Gru is portrayed as the finished article once he accepts and loves the girls. The clear message is that redemption is possible, but more importantly, possible by us doing the right thing. Not only is this redemption within our power, it is shown as being able to outweigh massive „wrong‟ because of the form it takes. As everything negative about Gru’s character is blamed on his upbringing, he is redeemed by doing the right thing for the children. This idea is seen in many ways in society today as parenthood is viewed as able to redeem anyone in the same way it does here.

Redemption is reinforced by Gru finally receiving his mother’s praise for being a good parent and we are left with a picture of everyone being loved and accepted and all the problems of life gone.

The issue this leaves us with is that of "what now?" Gru the same person he was, just nice to the children yet cannot continue as a villain without undoing that work of redemption. The films ends with the other issues swept under the carpet and not dealt with as Gru is so transformed by this one change that nothing else he did or does matters.


This light-hearted entertaining film in many ways tries to show good triumphing over evil and a cold man changed by loving three children is definitely worth watching. The danger comes, as with many films, if we end up viewing situations and characters in the way the film portrays them rather than as they actually are. When the film crosses the line of challenging what God and the Bible tells us about human nature and the world, then we must be careful not to be drawn into believing what its characters tells us will achieve the things we also desire.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

They're trying to build a computerised community...

“Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life”

“Facebook is a gross waste of time and effort that could be better used in the real world”

From these two quotes it is not difficult to surmise that there are massively varying opinions on Facebook and its place in the world. But what are the positives and negatives of it? (and social media as a whole?) Is it a useful tool, harmless fun or a dangerous invasion? I’m not even going to attempt to answer that question, but here are my musings on some of things that need to be considered on the way to trying to answer it.

The main issue most people immediately point to is privacy. As soon as you join facebook it becomes difficult to keep things away from it, whether it is because you say things on it or because other people are continually writing you messages and uploading photographs etc. Although much of this is harmless, it is almost certain that people will find out things you either don’t want them to know or that they just have no business to know.
Is it good, bad or both?

Following up on this point there is the idea that records will be kept long into the future. After all, it’s one thing to make comments etc now, but are they things you will want to be available for people to find 5, 10, 20 years into the future? Who knows what things, which mean nothing now, could come back to haunt you, especially if they are taken out of a context you may by that point not even remember.

There is also the aspect of privacy in terms of personal information. Many users register their email, address, phone number, date of birth etc on their accounts, which are then available to anyone who is able to view you profile. Even with the added security features that have been introduced, there are still relatively few hacking skills required to gain access to them. Is having an account, at least one with this sort of information on it, a risk in terms of fraud or even identity theft?

On the positive side facebook does provide an easy way to keep in touch with people. This can be especially useful where people have moved away and tend to slip from your mind. I have been reminded many a time that I haven’t heard from someone for a long time when they crop up in facebook and it provides a spur for me to get in touch.

The immediate flip side to this is that it’s very easy to end up maintaining the same level of friendship with people we actually barely know. A quick trawl through my friend list reveals that many of them are people I know and see on a regular basis. But there are also people I was a school with 10 years ago and haven’t seen since, people I used to work with and even people I met once at a conference and, no offence intended, I wasn’t that close with them when I did see them regularly. It may not be a massive downside, but it is difficult to maintain different levels of friendship as everyone is treated the same. Would it be a big deal if my ‘friendship’ with someone I’m not that likely to see again were allowed to be lost?

I think probably the biggest advantage of facebook is that it provides an easy way of sharing things with friends. You can announce news instantly to lots of people, you can put up photographs of things you’ve been doing and you can organise and invite people to events all from a computer screen or a phone. Gone are the days where people had to get prints of their holiday photos and then take them into the office and go through them with anyone that wanted to see. Now they're online with comments and descriptions before you’re back from the holiday!

Are scenes like this a thing of the past?

The upsurge in the use of facebook to share this sort of stuff has however led to facebook in fact becoming the main way some people relate to each other. The danger of it being so easy and quick is that we never actually spend time with some people. Sure with our closest friends we would do, but there are lots of people that I don’t see that often, or when I do see them I don’t make a concerted effort to go and chat with them, because I commented on their photo a few days ago and they ‘liked’ my status just before that. It creates an illusion that we are maintaining friendships that in reality are becoming neglected and suddenly aren't there when you need them. When was the last time you saw a wall post from someone bearing their soul to another and asking for help?

A final benefit, though it pains me somewhat to include it is the simple fact that, with so many people using it so much, you feel like you’re missing out if you’re not involved. Didn’t get invited to a massive birthday gathering? Haven’t seen someone’s wedding photos? Didn’t know they were having a baby? The chances are that you would have done if you were their facebook friend rather than just a friend.

So there it is. I’m no nearer a conclusion than when I started but please do feel free to weigh in on the debate or make points of your own!
PS: The irony of promoting a blog that denigrates facebook  via twitter on facebook is not lost on me!

Friday, February 24, 2012

There'll be equality and no suppression of minorities...

I would apologise for heading down the football route again, but I think this one is worthwhile, in the wake of the news that Blackburn Rovers have appointed former coach Terry Connor as their new manager. He has served the club for the last thirteen years under four previous managers, and seems a logical choice, so why is this so high profile? Because Connor is black.

Terry Connor: The premier league's sole black manager
This has led to PFA (professional footballers’ association) chief Gordon Taylor (amongst others) lamenting the lack of black coaches and managers in football. Taylor in fact goes one step further by suggesting that the football league adopts the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”. This is a rule for American Football teams that states that when candidates are interviewed for the head coach position at least one of those shortlisted (and subsequently interviewed) must be of an ethnic minority and is cited as a great example of affirmative action to avoid discrimination. So should this rule be adopted?

One in three members of the PFA is black as apparently were 21% of those who took their UEFA coaching badges in the last three years which, assuming all other things are equal, should mean there are between four and seven black managers in the premier league. How many are there? One. Terry Connor.

At first it seems like an obvious step to redress this balance and I want to be the first to say that more black coaches and managers would be no bad thing; but is introducing a rule like this fair? And would it help?

Club managers are appointed by varying combinations of directors, owners and chairmen and as such those people reserve the right to appoint whoever they deem the right person to the role. Based on the average number of qualified professionals we might expect a higher number of black managers, but that doesn’t mean that there should be. But if we decide that for equalities sake there should, would football’s own Rooney rule help?

The rule in fact only states that a minority person has to be shortlisted and interviewed for the job and whilst that may be a step in the right direction (you are certainly more likely to be appointed if you are actually considered!) it need go no further than that. The Detroit Lions were the first NFL franchise to fall foul of the Rooney rule in 2003 when they sacked one coach and immediately replaced him with Steve Mariucci, the recently sacked coach of another team. Their arguments of firstly not interviewing anyone (they only had one candidate, he got the job by default) and secondly that anyone else who wanted to be shortlisted had not put themselves forward for interview as they thought the appointment of Mariucci was a foregone conclusion were rejected and they were fined $200,000 for not interviewing a minority candidate. They paid the fine, interviewed candidates, appointed Steve Mariucci and everything carried on as before.

Keith Alexander was a managerial legend at Lincoln City
It should also be considered that such “positive discrimination” to further the cause of minority coaches is on the other hand discriminatory against “non-minority” coaches. They are interviewed based on the whim of the chairman or the owner, why should other candidates be interviewed solely based on ethnicity (or any other minority category for that matter)?  

Whilst the basis for introducing a rule like this is right, the main change surely has to come from within the clubs when appointments are made. Black coaches and managers such as Leroy Rosenior, Chris Powell and the late Keith Alexander have proved that when given the chance they can do the job well, but then, isn’t that the belief of all managerial hopefuls? The bottom line is that all other things are not equal and so the jobs will continue to be given to the board’s preferred man, regardless of colour.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

He always shakes you by the hand...

No prizes for guessing what the theme of this post is but after this I will move away from the theme of football related issues, I promise!

This weekend saw the farce of Luis Suarez refusing to shake Patrice Evra’s hand, then Rio Ferdinand withdrawing his hand in retaliation, then Evra celebrating the win in Suarez’s face, then Ferguson labelling it a disgrace, then Dalglish’s outburst… The end result? Apologies all round and then we’ll do it all the next time they play each other.

In the last few months/years we have also had Wayne Bridge refusing to shake hands with John Terry, Raymond Domenech and Carlos Parreira and even the pre-match handshakes dispensed with altogether over fears that Anton Ferdinand would refuse to shake John Terry’s hand. 

Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay has followed Mark Hughes (amongst others) by this week saying that he thinks the ritual should be scrapped and I have to say that I agree with him. I wish I didn’t, but I do. As (IMHO) a respectable and polite man there is something almost British about the idea of shaking hands before a contest that I like, but in the cases above and indeed many others it seems to be just a charade. These people clearly don’t like each other, don’t respect each other and admittedly some have good reason for not wanting to shake hands with certain players, so why force them to? It’s only been in recent years that it’s been happening in more than the cup final and as Mackay said “It certainly never happened in my day”. 

In fairness, I don't remember this game!
Remembering football matches from when I was younger the captains would shake hands in the centre circle with the referee and each other at the coin toss and that was it. It’s generally accepted that the managers will shake hands at the final whistle, regardless of the result and Mackay suggests letting the players do that as well, if they so choose. Whenever I’ve played football I’ve shaken hands with ref’s, managers and opposition players with whom I have no problem (thankfully, the vast majority) but I’ve also refused to shake hands with those who seem to think that a handshake at the end papers over the transgressions of the previous 90 minutes.

It is, in my opinion, a shame that all players cannot respect and treat each other fairly, but if they can’t why force them into pretending? Surely that just cheapens the value of the genuine shake between men who have played well and enjoyed the contest?

Monday, February 06, 2012

He is the captain of the team?

Given my previous piece describing my views on the whole John Terry / England Captain issue it seemed only right that I should continue in this vein after today’s news, that Terry has been stripped of the captains armband without any reason  (see previous post for justification).

Fabio Capello, for his part, has come out on TV to express that he was totally against this and since the FA made the wrong decision and is now being lambasted for doing so. For a positive view on this visit here but for my part here is why I think David Bond and Capello’s other detractors are wrong.

As previously said – there is no proof of what John Terry is alleged to have said and done and there is certainly no guilty verdict which I think is the only justification for the FA to intervene in the matter.
The FA are arguing that Capello is wrong to denounce their decision in public and are even claiming that it breaches his contract as manager. Now, it may well breach the contract, I don’t know, but it surely says something about the level of the FA that they need to right into a contract “must agree with us when we make decisions that are nothing to do with us”. Capello is being paid a lot of money to make team decisions for England and has already made public his intention not to change his captain until a verdict was reached. Is it any wonder that he feels slightly aggrieved at what the FA have done? If anyone has undermined a previously stated opinion from the man in charge it’s them.

Capello wanted Terry to remain captain
There has also been a lot of self congratulatory applause for David Bernstein and the FA for being willing to take a strong stance on an important issue and making the decision that everyone knows is the right one. I’m afraid I have to disagree here as well, because the allegations about Terry stem from a match three months ago! If the FA had a policy (which as far as I’m aware it doesn’t) saying that a player under investigation for racial abuse and other like offences will be removed from captaincy until the investigation is complete AND the FA had then immediately stripped Terry of his position then it would make sense (though to my mind, still be completely unjust). By doing what they have done Bernstein and his colleagues have shown once again that the FA are completely clueless about how to deal with big issues and instead have dithered for 3 months before making a decisions the manager didn’t want because they thought it was what the people wanted. The people may have wanted it, but that is far from a compelling reason to do it and does not make it the right call.

Finally, there is also the comment that I made in the previous post that if Terry is not fit to lead the country because of allegations and pending court cases, how then he fit to represent the country at all? But wait I forgot – that’s the manager’s decision picking the players! Unless of course the public makes a clear compelling case in which case watch this space is about 3 months time….