Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off is a BBC series that is a must see. I realise that this post will be dated very quickly, as the weeks progress, but the points are still valid I think. It  has shown me a number of things:

1. The British art of the Innuendo is most definitely not dead. this weeks episode had them cooking buns - need I say more? The humour - intentional and otherwise - does provide a very light-hearted banter background to the show.

2. Interactively watching TV while being on twitter does make the experience something very different. There is interaction with all sorts of people watching and enjoying the same show. It is a spur to watch them live, as you lose the interactivity if you watch it on record.

3. This year, there is a clear winner - Brendan. If I am honest, I find him a bit boring, because he is so good, so technically talented so perfect. This is nothing about him as a person - I think, from twitter, he is a good laugh. I do not have a problem with him, just that as a baker, I do not find him interesting or exciting. Hugely talented - head and shoulders above the others in terms of talent and ability - and his productions are excellent. If I wanted a centrepiece for a celebration, something that blew people away when they first saw it, and first tasted it, I would use Brendan.

4. I prefer watching Sarah-Jane (who sadly went out this week) and Cathryn. Cat has a stock expression, used pretty much every week, which is "I have no idea what I am doing". Cat throws her strudel dough on the floor - ably assisted, I should point out, by Sarah-Jane, and has hemorrhaging strudels and doughnuts. And yet she produces good bakes every week - she is very talented, because she has made it to the last 5. She has a natural ability, that brings her through, but in the process, she has a lot of fun, and is fantastic entertainment. If I wanted to do an afternoon baking workshop, where people would have fun and produce something edible at the end, I would use Cat.

I think there is something in this for Christianity and worship - no seriously. Sometimes, our theology and worship we trust to the Brendans, and they use their learning and talent to produce something that is carefully nuanced, perfectly structured, and unexciting. Alternatively, we could trust to the Cats of our world. The process would be messy, fraught, involve something ending up on the floor at some point, and the final results will always be in doubt.

I know which one I prefer. I would always rather have a fun time, get involved, get messy and throw the dough on the floor than be presented with something perfect and pristine that hasn't involved me, and doesn't involve me.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

I like Nick Clegg

Well that got you reading, at least. I feel that I should qualify that a little, however.

I think Nick Clegg is a great speaker, a really personable talker, and someone who could be a wonderful politician. Unfortunately, the world has not been nice to him.

The leaders debate, before the last election, he won hands down. He was clearly the most reasonable and sane of them all, which is why he attracted a lot of attention.

However, he believes in coalition, because that is at the core of their politics. He entered into a coalition with a firm belief that he could make it work.

He failed, probably due to naivety more than anything else. He ended up dealing with David Cameron, who was in no mood to compromise, and he has not been able to use his coalition position to do anything at all really. He has been outmaneuvered by Cameron, and has ended up supporting a minority government who have policies that his party opposes. What is more, he has ended up being the blame takers for everything, which is exactly what the Tories wanted.

His apology this week has been rather dismissed, because he apologised for making a commitment that he couldn't keep. He should have apologised for not keeping the commitment, but he didn't, and he should know that in coalition he will not be able to keep all of his promises. Or, in fact, any of them.

But despite this, I like Nick Clegg.The problem is, we lack any decent politicians at the moment. Cameron is an arrogant prat, who has shown that he is in power to help the rich and squeeze the poor. If he were to do the two things he should - taxing the rich, and regulating the banks - he would be able to reverse all of the cuts he has made. Of course he won't because he does not believe in supporting the poor, just the rich. For this, I hold him as contemptible.

Ed Milliband is completely unbelieveable as a leader of the country. In fact, I struggle to remember his name, he is so forgettable. The problem is that there are no others senior members in the party who could lead, and this is the core problem with Labour at the moment. I know that others will not agree, but I think that Gordon Brown was the only person who could have lead this country out of recession. Doing that was not going to be popular, but necessary.

So against the opposition, I think Nick Clegg is the most likeable of the main party leaders. And this is why, many years ago, I went a different way - I support and am a member of the Green Party. One major reason is that I do not think that economics should be the core decider in politics. I believe that we need to get away from the Left/Right division and follow something different.

Politics - especially party and national politics - should be about making things better for everyone. It should be about using the power that you have to make the country the best one for everyone. Exactly what that means is a case for argument. But it seems that the last 10 years or so we have had very partisan politics, and we have damaged our country in doing so.

I believe - and this summer of sport has encouraged this - that we can be a great country. What we need is politicians who can make this happen, not line their own pockets.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Faith and writing

At Greenbelt, I went to hear the wonderful Deborah Fielding, who, among other things, had the best jumper on site. But she was also excellent on the subject of writing too.

It inspired me, and I am currently writing a set of very short stories, which I will get published eventually - watch this space for more details. I would like to make it free, but it will be dirt cheap, honest!

If Jesus was around today, I suspect he would be writing short stories.

The reason is that short stories - especially - make a point and leave a lot of the surrounding history and future to the imagination. Jesus Parables were short stories, although they had a different structure and purpose than most short stories, they share something in common - memorability, and a point to make people think.

Stories are of critical importance to any culture. However much people wish to assume that they are "too advanced" or "scientific" to bother with "folk tales", we all know stories from our childhood, from our culture, and they impact the way we do things, and what we believe. At core, stories tell us what to believe, and belief impact action.

Take, for example, the currently popular philosophical writer Ayn Rand. She wrote stories, like Atlas Shrugged, which contained and expounded her philosophy.Even the hardened, capitalist right who follow the (frankly ridiculous) principles she expounds, learnt them from stories. In fact, anyone who wants to expound a popularist philosophy needs to do it in stories - and Christianity in included.

The think is, Christianity is based on myths. Now don't misunderstand me, because I hold myths in very high regard. Myths, like fairy tales, are not "untruths", rather they are truths, conveyed through stories, intended to tell a reality and truth that is difficult to explore any other way. Myths and stories help us to link to a truth that is beyond our empirical grasp, help us link to truths that we can only express in stories.

If we lose our stories, we lose our truths and reality. Stories are important, because stories make us think, an stories encompass our thoughts. My faith, my belief, my truth is built on stories. I am not ashamed of that, because the same applies to everyone. I am just prepared to admit it. Are you? What stories is your truth based on?

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Olympics and Paralympics

They are now over, so it seems like a good time to look back on them as a whole and assess what happened, and what we have learned.

1. We - Britain - are quite capable of putting on a world-class, world-beating event like this, and raising the bar significantly.

2. Clair Balding is our best sports reporter by a country mile. Actually, most of them did a fantastic job, but from what others have said as well as my own observations, Clair was head and shoulders above anyone else. She has been on TV 10 hours a day for the last 6 weeks, it seems!

3. The BBC presentation of the Olympics was exceptional. Channel 4 of the paras rather less so. Did anyone not get irritated by the constant ad breaks? Yes, I know that is how they paid for them, but there were times when they were really inappropriate.

4. The opening and closing ceremonies - in fact, for me, the first and last especially - were real examples of how to put on a huge, multi-media presentation to the world and the stadium.

5. Many thousands of games-makers were some of the stars of this summer. people will give their time and holiday to help out and make the event something special. This is the reality that David Cameron drew his "big society" idea from. However, Cameron expect people to do this all the time, and to replace services that he is withdrawing. It won't happen - people will volunteer to make a difference, but we don't like to be pushed into having to do stuff.

6. A lot of the predicted chaos in Londons transport systems never materialised. I suspect people found a way around it, although I did hear some complaints that the trains were far busier. But this doesn't excuse the fact that LOGOC prioritised some "special" people over the regular residents of London. That elitism does not go down well.

7. Having said that, I never heard of any complaints that the public transport was not working well. That in itself is an achievement.

8. We love our NHS. We are rightly proud of it. And we are rightly appalled that the government wants to destroy it.

9. Having been to the Olympic park, and watched a session in the stadium, the venues are stupendous. The stadium is an exceptional venue that we should be very proud of.

10. The British people love quality sports. The ticketing fiasco should have been organised better, knowing that the British people love sports, and would all want to go. Lets be clear, we could have packed every venue for every session. We went to see some top-class sports, and were rewarded with an excellent session of athletics.

11. British people are patriotic, but also very supporting of all quality sporting achievements. The venues roared for the British athletes, but also cheered and applauded and encouraged ALL of the athletes. Yes, we want to see the Brits win, but we mainly want to see spectacular sporting events.

12. We support and believe in our disabled people. As various people have said, the paralympics have changed our perceptions of disability, but I think these changed perceptions were already there. We are the ones who started and have continued to promote disabled sporting activity. The paralympics are, very much, a British creation. That will change from this point onwards, because they have been very decisively made a part of the global Olympic movement.

13.Against, this, David Camerons and ATOSs constant attacks on the disabled are a disgrace.

14. We have come out of a celebration summer of sporting achievement where we feel good about being ourselves. Throughout this, David Cameron and the government policies have been shown up as very much going against this. Given the choice between a summer 2012 country and a Cameron country, I know which one I would choose. Cameron has got it wrong, very wrong, and he needs to change tack.

15. A final spiritual comment. The summer Olympics - both parts - have shown how much we can achieve as people. They are a testament to the wonderful inventiveness and drive we have. People are wonderful - I believe because we are made in the image of God, but YMMV, they are wonderful anyway. I am proud to be both human and British.

ETA - because I forgot!

11.5 If you want people to provide security, then find people who have a commitment to the country, not just to making profits.The armed forces stepped in to do this without a fuss, and did a great job. G4S were only ever in it to make money. The more parts of the country infrastructure focused on making money, not providing a service, the worse off we will be. Cameron, take note. Stop trying to give away our country to profit makers.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Faith and social media

I went to head Vicky Beeching at Greenbelt, who was very good, and there are some interesting issues that came from her talk.

She was talking about social media, and the importance of it. I was reading this week an interesting book, including the claim that people will take any sort of technology and use it for being social with. The core reason is that we are social beings - yes even the most antisocial geeks. SMS texts were originally included because they could be, and no-one thought anyone would use them.Today, there are billions of messages sent every day. People took a piece of technology, and used it to be social.

Some of the biggest and most heavily used web sites today are social networks - twitter and facebook in particular. Emails - ignoring the spam - are very heavily used, although the precise number that are "social", rather than strictly business is hard to identify. The internet - which is the most significant technological development of our age - is substantially used for socialisation.

Some people argue that all of this technology is depersonalising communication. I don't agree, although I understand the concern. The problem is not the technology, it is the people, who depersonalise the recipient of their comments. We should remember that, whatever, there is a real person on the other end of the message, and consider their feelings. I still struggle to understand the mentality of people whose only communication with particular people who they choose to follow on twitter is to be rude or offensive to them. If you don't like what they say, don't follow, and so don't listen. Seriously, your views are not that important.

My experience is that electronic communication can be very personal. It is possible to make friends - real friends, who care and pray and do what they can to help - within ever meeting them, but purely through social media. What is more, I think more and more people - especially, but not exclusively, younger people - will define their social interactions substantially though electronic means. Whether this is swapping mobile numbers, or finding each other on facebook, this form of interaction is often the first and most important way of cementing the start of a relationship.

That is why it irritates me when clergy and other church leaders shun the use of social media. Or, even worse, seek to control the use of it. The truth is, as I see it, that the church of the future will be a virtual church, where the core communication, interaction and organisation will be done through these networks. This is not to say that people will not meet up, but that this will be organised online, and it will be just a part of an ongoing interaction.

And interaction does not just mean setting up a twitter account to tell people what is going on. It mean engaging and listening at least as much as taking. Engaging, not controlling. That, I suspect, will be too much of a shock for some leaders.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Faith and music

This years Greenbelt had, for me, a strong emphasis on music. I heard 10 or so acts on two stages, and missed catching at least one other. All of the music I heard was excellent, and being right at the front for most of it, I could seriously engage with the performances.

I have realised - again - that I am definately a front-row person. I love being right up there, seeing what is going on, close to the performance. And the volume you get there I love, although I realise that others do not enjoy having their ears blasted like that. But when the bass notes make your clothes vibrate, there is a real sense of being part of the performance.

If I have a criticism, it would be that the musical style was rather "folky", and I would have liked to see the big stage used for rock, at least some of the time. But Seth Lakeman, The Proclaimers, Bellowhead were all quite capable of filling the stage - I have no problems with who we had, just would have liked more or others too. There is a danger that we present Christianity as a folk-liking faith, and miss the fact that the musical range of Christians is as wide as anyone else. It was a great sight to see a metal band on the Canopy stage, and see the reaction of so many people to hearing this - but it is part of the music scene, and some people enjoy this.

However, one performer made an interesting comment, which I thought was right on the mark. Speech Debelle is a rapper, so we had some hip-hop on the main stage. She said that when she was asked, she wasn't sure whether she should come, because she wasn't a Christian. However, she said, the message of some of her songs was relevant - "Live for the Message" for example. I think she had a point, and I am glad she was there.

I have thought for many years that the most challenging and insightful music and lyrics come from artists who do not claim to be Christians. The huge majority of contemporary and worship Christian music seems to be a rehashing of the same ideas, words, emotions. It makes me wonder why we bother producing more and more of it - seriously, why do we have a Christin Music industry, when no-one seems to produce anything different. It is not that I don't appreciate music - I love it, and I play it - but I like to be made to think, not just told how lovely God is.

I have found inspiration from dance music (I still like trance, and there are some great messages in this music often), rock music, rap - pretty much anything I have listened to has somewhere given a new and fresh message. If you want social commentary, spiritual challenge, uplifting or revitalising, I think there is some form of contemporary - and not explicitly Christian - music that does that. And most of it is better than a lot of "Christian" music.