Tuesday, February 28, 2006


As I wrote recently, David Puttnam spoke at the BAFTAs about the way in which cinema at its best both informs and entertains at the same time. He also spoke of how it speaks to our inner-most self, addressing issues that make us identify with the character before us, and respond, "I thought I was the only one who knew what that feels like!"

The same things apply to the best TV drama. Though I track a lot of these, few hold my emotional attention beyond the first series. The perennially excellent ER is the clearest exception.

But Life On Mars ended last night, and left me looking forward to the second series. Why? For those all those reasons Puttnam identifies. The writing is of the highest standards; the scripts, 70's nostalgia, and cast are hugely entertaining; it handles social history without being stuffy, and social commentary without being preachy; and makes emotional connections with anyone who feels dislocated from familiar surroundings. While, in my opinion, subsequent series' of 24 and Desperate Housewives have merely cashed-in on repeating succesful formulas, I do think there is more to be explored here. Time will tell.

DIY Lent

Hamo asked me if I knew of any good Lent resources. As predicted, Jonny Baker has posted a really good offering here - if you haven't come across his Worship Tricks yet, you should now. The potential of participatory worship for helping people - whether they would call themselves Christians or not - who are left cold by corporate sung choruses explore spirituality further is immense, and often under-rated. I really appreciate the way in which Jonny makes what they do at Grace available as a wider resource; Steve Taylor at Opawa does the same. Thank you!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Food Chains

“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6, 7

Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, abstinence from rich foods – used up, so as not to be a temptation over the next forty days, on Shrove Tuesday by making pancakes…

Last year, we fasted from meat, only eating it on the Sundays [which are feast days]. But fasting is not just – perhaps not primarily – about not eating, as God makes clear in Isaiah 58. Fasting is as much about what and how we eat, as about what and when we don’t eat.

I’m struck by the thought that whenever I buy and eat fairly-traded food, I am not only loosening the chains of injustice in a literal sense, but also eating with the producers and their families in a mystical sense. [In contrast, when I eat food produced through the exploitation of the workers, I sit down to eat with the fat cats who exploit them…] These people – who I will never meet – share their food with me – a humbling thought; we do wrong to take those who produce the food we eat for granted. And I, in turn, offer my food back to them, because the fair price paid for it allows them to put food on their table.

If you are wondering what to Give Up this Lent, why not consider giving up food produced in ways that exploit the producers, and the earth? As a decision, this might inconvenience you enough [less choice] to reflect further, to pray and to act for justice. You might also consider Giving Up eating on your own [as an individual or a family], and look for opportunities to invite others – especially the physically and/or spiritually hungry – to share your food with you.

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken walls, Restorer of streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:8-12

Lent, And Covenant

Next week sees the start of Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. Like midnight communion on Christmas- and Easter Eves, and Epiphany, the Ash Wednesday ashing service is one of the liturgical highlights of the year for me.

The marking of a cross on our forehead in ash [traditionally made by burning Palm Sunday crosses from the previous year] is an incredibly rich symbol. The ash reminds us of our mortality – from dust we were made, and to dust we shall return. The cross reminds us that, in Jesus, the immortal God chose to take on himself our mortality, in order that we might take on his eternal life.

This exchange is a covenant – most familiar to us in the words of the marriage ceremony: “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” The words spoken express a declaration of the will – chosen and determined intent. Jesus demonstrates his will to confer on us his life, by taking upon himself our death.

But in a covenant, the will of one party never violates the will of the other. Next Wednesday is an opportunity for us to choose to let Jesus embrace our death – our physical brokenness [e.g. sickness], emotional brokenness [e.g. loss], spiritual brokenness [e.g. recurring struggles with a particular temptation] – and to choose to embrace his life – his physical and emotional healing, spiritual more-than-conqueror-ness. This Lent, let us choose to live life more fully than before.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


I had an appointment with the friendly and helpful people at jobnet at the Netherthorpe and Upperthorpe Community Alliance today. They were really, really good - and I'm all the more positive about their service because I've dealt with various other professional employment advisors lately who were either unfriendly and/or unhelpful...

In with a pack of useful information was a postcard. A publicity piece, the idea is that if any of their clients go away on holiday, they should send them their postcard, and - like balloons people used to release when I was a kid - you'd see which [in this case] postcard got the furthest from home...

Unfortunately, I have no plans to go on holiday anywhere in the near future. So I thought I'd put the card on here, and see where it got to...It would be great if one or two of you in Aus/NZ/US/... could copy the image and email it to jobnet[at]nuca[dot]co[dot]uk, with a message along the lines of "Your fantastic reputation extends to [fill-in-the-blank] !" If you do, post a comment to let me know. There is nothing in it for me, and it is free publicity for them.

In The News (Again)

The Darwinian-Evolution-verses-Intelligent-Design Debate, causing big waves in the American school system and, apparently, in British universities too, has been enjoying a high profile on BBC radio and television lately.

As a Christian, I unashamedly believe that God created the World.

I cannot fully buy-into Darwinian Evolution, not because it challenges the existence and activity of a Creator God, but because its supporters – at least its most vocal and high-profile supporters, who irrationally dismiss the possibility of a Creator out-of-hand – reject the clearly evident scientific principle that scientific knowledge is provisional, and under constant revision. Can you imagine if the community of physicists had said to Einstein, “Sorry, Albert. You can’t go about promulgating your strange ideas – everyone knows that Newtonian theories have answered these matters; they must not be disturbed!” I am bemused by the fervour with which Evolutionists counter-attack Intelligent Design on the basis that the Darwinian school has Fully (or 99% fully) Established Unquestionable Facts. Even if a scientific theory deals with 100% of the evidence, a subsequent theory might deal with the same evidence better.

On the other hand, I cannot fully buy-into the currently proposed theory of Intelligent Design, either. Its proponents clearly have an agenda, and, although as I have said I believe in a Creator God, I’m not sure that I like their agenda – as I understand it, seeking a fight – or their methods – a well-financed propaganda offensive. We might have some common ground, but Intelligent Design does not represent me. I don’t go in for Conspiracy Theories [though the world is undoubtedly full of conspiracies, mostly unconnected, but often overlapping], but I do think ID is part of a[n unconnected, overlapping] bigger Right-wing Fundamentalism at large, particularly in the US, at present; that capitalises on people’s Fear of Unseen Enemies and, ultimately, has a vested-interest in keeping a heightened level of instability in the world.

Traditionally, in this debate, that would leave me the Creationism option. But I don’t fully buy-into that argument, either. Creationists argue that God made the world in six days (in fact, many uninformed Creationists claim God made the world in seven days, which just shows they aren’t familiar with the Genesis account on which the view is built), not very long ago. But, just as Darwinian Evolutionists ignore the provisional nature of scientific understanding, so Creationists ignore the partial nature of what can be known by faith (1 Corinthians 13:9-12), and claim a certainty of scriptural interpretation that I do not view as being certain at all.

As I see it, provisionally and partially, piecing-together evidence throughout the Bible as a whole, Genesis 1 is not concerned with The Beginning [starting with an eternal, uncreated God, there is no Beginning], but is the beginning of our story [you have to begin a story somewhere]. Again as I understand it, Genesis 1 does not tell us about the creation of the world, but of God restoring order to the world after the rebellious angel who came to be known as satan had been thrown down onto the earth from heaven like a meteorite, having challenged the throne of God and lost. This event had catastrophic impact on the earth, burning seas, throwing up dust, blocking out the sun, and killing most forms of life on the planet. Though science does not talk in terms of cosmic battles, it does point to such a deep-impact collision and subsequent world-changing conditions. Into that context – a pre-existent earth, with pre-existent life; created by God, though we are not told when or how – God intervenes to restore order, and give permission to new life. In this sense, it is a new beginning for the earth following the angelic rebellion which pre-figures the new beginning for the earth in Genesis 9 following the human rebellion in Genesis 3. It is a restoring in subsequent stages – the word translated “day” does not require those stages to be 24-hour periods; and we are used to speaking of the dawning of eras – that build up to the right conditions in which humanity can be brought forth and our story begin. [Gregory A Boyd writes on this interpretation in more depth in, the excellent, God At War: The Bible And Spiritual Conflict]

Unlike Darwinian Evolutionists, proponents of Intelligent Design, and Creationists, I do not see irreconcilable differences or mutual exclusivity in their positions. Nor do I see any of the camps as having a robust and consistent position; for example, Evolutionists dismiss the idea that God created man out of earth, while claiming that we are made of the same molecular structure. I guess it astounds me that they should still be going on at each other, hammer and tongs, each entrenched in their own certainty that they are Right – not just factually, but morally – and the other is Wrong. Modernists! Thank God they’ll all be dead in a generation or two…

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


This morning a friend took Susannah to school while the remaining three of us trooped down the hill in falling snow to the maternity hospital for a dating scan...

Noah sat on my lap in hushed expectation as the lights were switched off; and beamed, and talked about the baby, as, some moments later, we saw his little brother or sister for the first time, wriggling in-and-out of focus on the monitor.

Baby Number Three - referred to by his or her mother as Ozzy, and smuggled through Customs internally back in December - is 15 weeks and 3 days old today.

Later, Jo and Noah headed south as planned, to help her mum out while her left arm and right leg are in plaster.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I’m not much of an Award Ceremony watcher, but the other night we did watch The Orange British Academy Film Awards – highlight of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts year, and dry-run for The Oscars. The nominees for Best Film – and, between them, also strongly represented in many of the other categories, too – were Brokeback Mountain, Capote, The Constant Gardener, Crash [a film I have written about before], and Goodnight, And Good Luck.

As writer and director of Goodnight, And Good Luck, and with Best Supporting Actor nominations for that and another film, George Clooney was in the frame for needing an extension to his mantle-piece. But at the end of the evening, he left empty handed. Was he disappointed? He shouldn’t be. Far from a public humiliation – unable to win even given so many chances – George departed with something worth much more than a trophy.

Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Film are the high-profile accolades, but the most prestigious award, and high-point of the night, is the Academy Fellowship. This year Lord Attenborough conferred this honour upon Lord Puttnam. David Puttman has made a tremendous contribution to the film industry, way beyond his own impressive filmography. His acceptance speech was, therefore, well worth attending to. He spoke of how, having given his life to cinema, he had retired from making films eight years ago, despondent in the belief that the kind of films he believed in – films that challenged the viewer, and enriched their life – were no longer being made, or likely to be made again. And then he thanked those who had made the showcased films of the past year for proving him emphatically wrong. And in so doing, he singled out “Mr Clooney” for a personal thank you.

George Clooney understands how to make friends and influence people, and the importance of doing so – not simply in order to inflate one’s celebrity but so as to be able to change the world. Like many in his industry, he is concerned about the world that the politicians are creating – a world of unstable climate change, poverty, terrorism – and dreams of offering an alternative future – a vision in which some of the inevitable brokenness, currently becoming even more fractured, is addressed in healing ways. I don’t mean for one moment to paint a picture in which today’s politicians are Sinners and its film-stars are Saints. But I do believe that the fostering and presenting of alternative futures is a crucial and prophetic role. In his speech, Lord Puttnam also spoke of how some people have tried to create a dichotomy, in which you can either educate or entertain – whereas in fact, as some have always known, there is no dichotomy between the two: rather, they go hand-in-hand. Jesus understood that: that is why he taught in parables.

If you want to change the world, you must first engage the imagination. If you want to change the world, you must tell stories. It doesn’t matter if they are written, or filmed, or sung. Tell stories. Change the world.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Me And My Girl

My parents' generation are the richest ever to have lived, and one of the longest-living. (In contrast, my generation is the first in the West for a very long time to be predicted to be less wealthy, and live shorter than, their parents' generation.) In recent years, this has given rise to the philosophy/activity of "SKI-ing," or, Spending the Kids' Inheritance. My parents-in-law SKI by, quite literally, skiing. Last week, MIL ended up with an arm and a leg in plaster...

...so Jo is planning on going down to help out, taking Noah with her. And Susannah and I will have an adventure of our own, staying at home together.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Last night we were broken-into by a literal, four-legged, cat burglar. Our landlady had two cats, and gave each away to different neighbours when she moved, locking the cat-flap so we wouldn't get visitors. But one of them must have a lock-pick...Jo was woken at 3:15am by something on our bed; it jumped off "too fast to be Noah" so Jo thought it was a rat (that's 3 o'clock-in-the-morning logic for you). I got up and went out the door, to discover a cat at the bottom of the stairs.

I shooed it out the cat-flap; but it tried to come straight back in. So I placed a cardboard box against the cat-flap; but it still tried to get in. So I pushed the kitchen bin up to the cardboard box, to add weight; but the cat kept trying to get in. So I wedged a chair against the box/bin. The cat still tried to get in - for ages - but it had no hope now.

It's just as well the post-man doesn't turn up till lunch-time; the back door is half glazed, and anyone turning up at it early in the morning would have found us barricaded-in!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


  • looking for a job
  • without regular access to the internet

It is interesting how we come to take things for granted; and how, even when we don't, things shape us. I guess many people would say that the internet access is a luxury; nonetheless, it shapes the world I live in, the nature of my friendships, and right now I feel cut-off from news of people I both care about and learn from. As for a job, I just want something to be able to get into. We were created to work. Employment can become a source of worth, which is problematic when circumstances change; but, I do believe it is a gift from the One who gives us our worth.

I am still waiting. The question is, am I still? Will I stop, look, and listen - to what God is doing, what God is saying? Or am I too busy looking and listening with only physical senses? One the one hand, there is the danger of doing nothing; on the other, the danger of doing plenty that amounts to nothing. For someone who likes to be doing something, being still comes hard. Learning to be laid aside by God as well as to be employed by Him, learning to trust Him in all circumstances, is not an easy lesson. But I believe that it will lead to greater fruitfulness if we choose to embrace it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

New Home

We moved house on Wednesday. It will take some time before everything is unpacked...and we don't have a landline/internet access yet either - thank you, Helen, for answering Andrew Jones' question for me!

This is the view along the back of our row of terraces. 'Ours' (rented) is the one with the green drain-pipe (this side of the pipe). The church at the end of the street is St Thomas' Crookes. This is the church where Jo and I were married; where Jo used to work, and where I worked before most of the staff moved down the hill to the Philadelphia Campus; and where Susannah and Noah were both christened. So, it has played a significant part in our past (though we haven't been part of that community for many years now); and now it is the backdrop for this next season...

I have a job interview this coming Friday, for a local Community Sector organisation. It is just the sort of experience I'd like at the moment. In the meantime, there are a lot of boxes to unpack, and flat-pack furniture to assemble...