Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Argh!

Well, we are at it again. After a public declaration that the theology of substitutionary atonement (and particularly penal substitution) portrayed God wrongly as a sadist, Jeffrey John (a bishop with whom I have never been largely sympathetic) was on the end of an apparent torrent of abusive hate mail from so-called Bible believing Christians.

One contention that has often been made is that the belief that the death of Jesus was to placate a wrathful God (one way of framing the theology of penal substitution) tends to lead to aggressive and violent Christianity - and it seems that in this case the point was well made!

I actually tend towards the theology of penal substitution (though not in the words in which I framed it above), and actually believe that a lot of those who hold to it (without naming it as such) are peaceful, grace filled believers. But there are also a lot of nutters who seem happier to have a Jesus nailed to a cross and being raised only so He can come back and whack unbelievers over the head, rather than grappling with what He actually taught. That's not to let Jeffrey John off the hook either - I disagree with his interpretation of the Bible - but that does not mean I want to hurt him! Far from it; having heart felt disagreement, a full on argument, then a trip to the pub afterwards is always welcome. But not in public with the media looking on, stoking up the fight!

The basics of Christianity is simply this - I know I am a git, but God loves me anyway - and the cross is His way of dealing with me being a git. I am forgiven because Jesus faced the consequences of me being a git. That extends to those who have a different theological bent to me, such as Jeffrey John, and those who send hate mail in the name of Jesus. But I suspect, when He comes back, Jesus is going to have equally harsh words to say to all of us for being such stupid gits!

However, just to add to my level of grumpiness today, the media are in apoplexy over a change of judge at the head of the public enquiry over the death of princess Diana. Why? Who cares? We are falling behind in the promises we made to increase our aid and debt relief t the poor, and global warming is not slowing down because the Chinese are not worried about it (yet), but all the British papers care about is flaming Diana!! Poor woman has been dead ten years, and we are still dragging her out in to the media spotlight. Let her rest and watch out for the real stories you dimwits!

Jesus harshest words were for those who distracted people from the truth with petty rules and religious rituals. The media and the church in this day and age are pretty guilty of doing that job through irrelvant tittle tattle and headline grabbing theological nonsense.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sunshine

Saw a remarkable film last night - Danny Boyle's latest quality Brittywood offering, Sunshine. It is remarkable for two reasons - it is a British movie, filmed for around $40M, about a a quarter to a fifth of a comparable Hollywood movie, but of the same quality in terms of the production design and the (mesmerizingly beautiful) special effects.

However, it is more remarkable that in an era when most science fiction movies seem to rely on space battles and gimmicks to appeal to thirteen year old males, this was rare, old fashioned piece of intelligent, hard(ish) sci-fi. OK, so it plays fast a loose with some of the laws of physics (sound in space, artificial gravity, etc, etc.), and the last half hour falls apart in to a confusing and unnecessary sub-plot leading to a still relatively satisfying, if hard to follow climax. But the first hour or so it is a slow, meditative, thoughtful and above, visually stunning piece in the tradition of Solaris, 2001 and Silent Running.

Obviously, Boyle has cited these as influences, and they are all there (will not show off all the references I picked up, but they were delightfully subtle in places, from the lone seedling clutched in dying fingers, to the escape into an airlock using the pressure of atmosphere vented in to space as propulsion, and the computer voice slowing and slurring as its circuits were disconnected). Above all though, it is the image of the spaceship, alone, out of contact with Earth, years from home and facing great peril that is one of those iconic SF images that is refreshingly recycled here. I had the image of the ship behind its gigantic shield, protecting it from the heat, radiation and glare of our dying sun buzzing round my head for hours as I went to sleep.

Above all it did what all good science fiction must do, and hold a mirror up to the concerns of our own world and times (particularly environmental issues). It also looks at how a single decision, made with the best will and best logic in the world can lead to an expanding tree of unintended consequences and probabilities that cannot be seen from outset - as Cillian Murphy's character points out early on - there comes a point where the probabilities are so infinite that you just have to make a good guess. But that guess has moral, ethical and practical consequences that other people have to live with. There are no shortage of current events that this problem echoes!

Oh, and the soundtrack by Underworld is hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric - good to see those guys back doing what they do best.

If only the last third of the film had been as good as the first two thirds, it would be justifiably called a classic. Maybe, even with this flaw, it will be seen that way in the future.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Grumpiness

spiked Grumpiness - great article by Frank Furedi. Maybe being a "grumpy old man" is not so bad after all, even if the term is used to dismiss and diminish those who feel a sense of dissatisfaction with the world we find ourselves in. As the article says,

"There was a time when criticising the status quo was considered radical. Throughout history, refusing to accept the world as it existed has been looked upon as a form of rebellion. Those who did not ‘much care for contemporary life’ were very often inspired by the conviction that human life and culture could be – and must be – improved upon. Today, such an aspiring outlook is seen as a social faux pas"

I have always thought this capacity to question the everyday assumptions and values of the world around you was of the highest order and to be greatly valued. If those of us who feel this way are to be dismissed as "Grumpy Old Men/Women" by wider society, then let us wear our badge (however ill fitting) with pride! As "Queer", "Nigger" (and countless other terms of abuse) have been co-opted by those so labelled as a badge that inverted the stigma of the name and made it a symbol of resistance and pride, then let us challenge this sick society by letting their labels be turned against them. I am Grumpy and I am proud!!

Rant over, back to doing the bins and making the wife a cuppa.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Phew!!


New babies really do take over your life. Even when you have been through the experience a couple of times before, you quickly forget how rapidly they dictate how and when you get out (more slowly, less frequently). You forget because as they get older, so it gets easier to go out and do things and need somewhat less logistical planning or equipment (nappies, prams, car seats, changes of clothes, emergency food supplies for adults - emergency supplies of almost everything in fact!)

The other thing they do is put pressure on all your other relationships. We have had the odd few days since No. 3 turned up where we have all fallen apart or fallen out with one another. This Easter weekend has not been without its traumas and busts ups - and reconciliations and fun bits too.

I can begin to understand why some men just walk out on their families - well, almost. You think - "this is it, this is the rest of my life - dealing with pooh, never getting out or or doing things I want to do any more, always being tired, never sleeping enough, always having my life dictated too by our child". I think plenty of women feel the same, and I think it is a myth that they adapt better than men - they just have less in the way of socially acceptable opt out clauses - negligent fathers are frowned upon - mothers who walk out are liable to be burnt as witches. Double standards are alive and well in C21!

It is bloody hard at times being a parent - or being a spouse for that matter - parenthood changes marriages beyond recognition. Believe me if you have never experienced it, nothing is the same again. But that is not automatically bad, and because something is tough does not automatically make it impossible. We learn and grow through tough times - or we fall apart. Its our choice, and I made that choice a long time back. However hard it gets, I'm in it for the long haul. Because the good bits - when your baby recognises your voice or gives you a big smile for the first time, or when you hear them say their first words, or tell you that they love you, or write their first sentences or read their first book, or bring home their first boy/girl friend - it all makes it so worthwhile.

But it is flaming hard work! Which is why no family should ever be on their own - friends, aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents - you need them all. That may be one of the reasons why the rates of family break up are so high - we are just not looking after each other and keeping families together. If was not for having family five minutes walk around the corner, and a network of church friends and others scattered across the country, I am not sure how we would have made it through the last few years.

I know that there is more to it than that, but even just having the role model of parents who are still together can make you believe you can do the same for your wife and kids. And that belief is vital.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Why Easter?

So, here we are, the most significant season of the year for Christians, and one of those relatively rare occasions when the Eastern and Western Easters and the Jewish Passover coincide.

It has always seemed odd to me that this most important season of Christian year, when we remember the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, should be named in English (and German) after a pre-Christian Germanic female fertility deity, Ēostre. The same route from which we get the word for the female sex hormone Oestrogen. Nothing to do with Jesus, or the Jewish Passover. Yet another of the pagan accommodations that the early Christians made (we were never commanded to observe any festivals by Jesus - the only observation was the shared meal of bred and wine to remember Jesus sacrifice of Himself). Yet this is a significant time of year - the Jewish festival celebrates God delivering His people from slavery, the Christian festival God delivering His people from spiritual bondage. Emancipation, freedom, life - this is what Easter is about. You can see how it has got diluted down to a celebration of spring for most people.

So, here's to freedom, hope and new life - literal, spiritual, political, psychological, to a remembrance of the awful price to be paid for such freedom, and thanks to One who was prepared to pay that price for me.

Shalom

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Martin Luther King Jnr.

Sharing a birthday with the Rev.d Luther King has always made me feel a vague connection with the man. Today is the anniversary of his murder - a murder than highlights the high cost paid by those who stand up against the status quo, who challenge entrenched powers on behalf of the downtrodden, and above all who have the temerity to stand up to satanic theories of race based on the ugly history of the transatlantic slave industry.

If my earlier posting gave the impression that I thought it was all down to us whites to sort out the problems faced by black people, then I apologise - Martin Luther King is one of many examples of how much of the emancipation from slavery and the subsequent social segregation was down to black people themselves taking hold of their lives, history and destiny and changing it for themselves - with or without the help of whites.

Of course, it then becomes easy to swing the other way, and lionise the likes of King and lo and behold we have the Hollywood "Wise Negro" archetype - you know the sort played usually by Morgan Freeman - who is noble and kind and spiritual and sorts out the white protagonist's inner demons and sets him/her on the path to enlightenment (think of Driving Miss Daisy and you get the picture - although you could also include the Morpheus in the Matrix under that rubric). It's just as much of a myth as the other stereotypes of black people that we white Europeans and Americans have.

Martin Luther King had his flaws (he was an adulterer for one), but he also had a grasp of something central - God's bias to the poor and downtrodden and the need for justice, not based on retribution and revenge, but on setting things right between people. He only partially succeeded, but that was still some success. There is a lot more to be done.

No profound insights there then, just an attempt at a corrective to what I posted earlier, and to remember not just the man on this anniversary, but the struggle for racial and social justice which is still ongoing, and those fighting in the front line.