Monday, 27 May 2013


I have been very impressed By Charlie Brooker of late. Not only the exceptional Black Mirror series, but the "How TV ruined your life". It makes me think, because the idea that he is addressing is known as hyperreality.

This is a vital concept for us today, even though we may not yet know it, and I think Brooker is excellent because he makes this idea accessible, whether he knows it or not.

The concept of hyperreality is that the reality we see and experience is not really any connection to any form of objective reality. Rather, the perception we have is a modified and controlled perception, dictated to us by the media (of all sorts - the internet is included in this). For example, we get an impression of the level of violence in the world around us by the media - the news and papers can very easily give us a different perception to the reality.

One example is the recent horrific attack in Woolwich. What actually happened was two very disturbed people attacked an innocent soldier form the local barracks. Of course, if you watched the news, there are a number of other perceptions you could easily draw from this:

1. That the perpetrators were Muslim, and represented Islam.
2. The attack was part of a bigger conspiracy.
3. The soldier was a soldier and therefore not innocent.
4. Islam is a dangerous religion.
5. All Asian people are Muslim

none of which are entirely accurate. Of course, some people - the EDL in particular, take some part of the perverted logic and respond appropriately.

What is clear, in general, is that the perception we have of events goes through two important filters. the first one is the filter of the presentation of that information. This includes when someone tells us something that has gone on - so the report we have of an event that someone else said has a filter reflecting that persons interpretation of the event.

The second is our interpretation of events as relayed to us, based on our experiences and understanding. Our perceptions will change the was that we see events, or the aspects that we latch onto. Both of these will change the interpretation we put on events that we hear about (and, the first will affect events we experience directly).

All of which means that we do not have a realistic perception of how things are. We don't know what is actually going on. We have a particular perception of the reality around us and no-one has this accurately.

What this also means, of course, is that the stories we have of Christianity are also seen through the filters of other peoples perceptions. The biblical stories, the stories of the saints, the current stories of events around the world are all delivered to us through these filters. that does not mean that they are not true, what it means is that we need to interpret the stories we have based on what we know of the people telling us the stories. What is more, we need to listen to stories knowing our own perceptions. Stories that challenge our perceptions are probably the most important ones, because they make us reconsider how we see the truth.

Hyperreality does not mean that nothing is true. It does mean that we cannot perceive reality without the various filters that everyone has. It means that our personal take on reality does not, in fact, have any more claim to an absolute truth than anyone elses. Once again, it doesn't mean that objective truth does not exist, just that we cannot claim to be able to grasp this, because our perceptions will warp our concept of truth.

It is a difficult concept to get around, which is why I so like Charlie Brookers take on it. What is all means is that just because we read something, or see something on the TV, doesn't mean that it is true in whatever way we decide to interpret it. That should make us think before telling people that something we believe is "true".

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Yes I drive an SUV.

Mark Driscoll made a comment recently saying “I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” He then "apologised" for it suggesting that people didn't seem to take it as a joke.

Some joke.

The core problem is that this position is one that I suspect he actually holds. Many others hold this position, and this includes people with no faith - the likes of Jeremy Clarkson come to mind. This is the typical position of those who care nothing for the environment, and who justify it from all sorts of positions, from a biblical argument or from a hedonistic argument, it matters little. And, incidentally, they both make a similar pathetic excuse for an apology when they get caught out.

His argument is that, because God made the earth and will come back some day, he doesn't need to care for the environment. That is just so much hogwash, for two critical reasons.

Firstly, yes Jesus is coming back - and I do believe this is true, although exactly how I don't know - that could be hundreds or thousands of years from now. We need to preserve the earth not because God needs it, but because our children need it, and their children, and so on for however many generations it takes. Driscolls arguments say more about his concern for the next generation than anything else.

Secondly, "he's going to burn it all up" is a strange interpretation of the second coming prophecies. In fact, as Rob Bell pointed out, God will make a new heaven and a new earth. It is not about "burning this one up", it is about renewing this one. It seems to me that the more people follow Driscolls approach, the harder work He will have in renewing it.

It is far too easy to lose your sense of humour, and I have been accused of this before. In all honesty, I don't think I have lost my humour, and I do think that this approach and attitude is dangerous and unworthy of the name of Christianity. You can joke all you want, but when your jokes are this poor, this close to your actual views, I fail to see the funny side.

And given how much more work Driscoll and his like have made for God, I doubt He will see the funny side either.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Is the internet a good thing?

This seems like an odd question to ask, especially on a blog, but I think there is some validity in asking anyway. There is a particular part of this question that I want to address.

Now just to make it clear, there is a lot about the internet that is definitely good. In particular, so much of the social media is a positive influence, it allows people to communicate and talk and discuss, in a way that the telephone used to, and the market-place did before that. For all of the criticism of social media, in essence, it is merely another way of enabling people to communicate with each other. All of the issues and problems with social media are actually the problems with communication as a whole, just taken to a different medium.

Let me explain, because this concept is important. When our society was primarily locally based, we would talk to people, discuss with them all sorts of issues. Within a village, you would have the bores, the arrogant, the well read etc. You would have the celebrities - who may be the local gentry. You would have the local vicar, who may be the only academic in the area. What is more, you would have the odd people, the village idiot, the slightly dangerous person who the children are told not to talk to.

And people grew up knowing this range of people, learned to identify them, would occasionally taunt the weird people along with the other kids. I don't condone this demonising, taunting etc, but we did learn how to interpret people, and we learned, over generations, how to interact with people. The problem with the internet is that some of the visual clues that we used to use are lost. We are interacting with people in words - or text - only, and we have evolved to use our eyes and ears to help us interpret what people are saying to us. What this means is that we have to find new ways of interacting, new ways of interpreting what people are saying. Bear in mind that the internet is incredibly young, and widespread, non-technical usage is around a decade old. It takes far longer to develop the full communication skills needed. This will come, in some way, but it will take time.

There is a whole lot of other things that are good about the internet. e-commerce, for example, has its issues (the damage to local bookshops caused by Amazon is not to be underestimated), but it also allows me, sitting at my computer, to get access to anything I need. Put the other way, it allows someone to run a business where their customer base is very scattered, and traditional business approaches would not work. There is no sense in opening shops if your product will have one or two takers per county. It is possible that a small London shop might work, but it is difficult to keep the specialism while maintaining a market.

With the internet, of course, if you have a worldwide market of several thousand, you might have a viable business model. This is good, if I need something that is available from a specialist in Australia. I can make contact, and obtain what I want.

The truth is, the internet enables our normal interactions to be achieved in a global village. It is the same interactions, but the size of our "village" is now vast, and yet we cope, because we manage our own interactions.

There is, of course, a vast amount of information on the internet,and this was the initial driver. As a researcher, I find this is a wonderful resource, as I can access a whole lot of papers and documents that I would struggle to find otherwise. When I did my first degree, I would have to visit the library, and hope that they had the references I wanted, or that I could identify them and request the specific documents or resources. Today, I can use Google to search for the areas I am interested in, and have it return a whole range of documents, papers and books.

This, however, is where I think one of the biggest problems come. Because not just me but anyone can do this sort of investigation. I have had some training and experience in "researching", which sounds very arrogant, but it means learning something about how to assess documents, how to identify whether a resource is academically credible, all of which is critical. The truth is that anyone can put anything on the net, any ideas, any arguments. Publishing material is easy, which (positively speaking) means that it is far easier to get access to short, basic material, but (negatively speaking) means that there is no review and refereeing of the material.

Without these skills, it seems that the internet can provide support and backup for any view and opinion. It means that people can think they have researched their arguments, and so be more certain that they are right. Whereas the truth is, the same applies as always - if you want to do research, you need to do it carefully and with an open mind. You need the research skills. You need the insight of professionals. The internet can, unfortunately, hide the need for these skills. That, to my mind, is the real danger of the net.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

10,000 hours to master something

It has been argued that to master something - anything - you need to do it for ten thousand hours. This made me think that people who are regular church people do spend a lot of time in church activities. With attending church, setting up or clearing down, helping with coffee, home group meetings, church meetings, preparation work, it seems that if you are involved for twenty years or so, you probably put in the ten thousand hours that are needed.

The thing is, what have you mastered after this time? The answer would probably be "churchmanship", and the problem is that we can far too often confuse this with faith. Diana Butler Bass points out in her book "Christianity after Religion" that this ten thousand hours does not work for faith. Faith is a growing thing, a process, that it is impossible to master, because it is always changing.

The danger is that after ten thousand hours, people seem to be adept at managing the church system, and part of this managing, or expertise in churching, is the ability to seem "pious" or "spiritual". To those who are less experienced - or even those more experienced - it is very easy to confuse this expertise with real spirituality or piety. Which then, of course, becomes the thing that people seek after, and so stay within the church for a long time, to gain the hours to seem spiritual. In the end, this churching experience becomes the definition of spiritual growth, the definition of a mature Christian. Which it isn't.

Don't misunderstand me, there are people who are in churches who are spiritually mature, pious, strong Christians. The problem is that these two are not necessarily related. There are people not in churches who are spiritually mature too. There are people who have not been Christians for long who show great spiritual maturity. Of course, because they have not much experience in churching, their insights and ideas are liable to be dismissed.

So, ten thousand hours to master something?This is perfectly valid, but it fails when we are talking about faith, spirituality, maturity. We need to learn to see these in other ways.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

A New vision for the church - what is the church for?

What is the church for? That is an interesting question, especially if I am wanting to explore whether it is worth keeping. So I googled the question, and found a list. This is probably not a complete list, but seems it serves as a good starting point. The purposes of church are:

Worship. This is not just about singing, of course, although this is a significant part of it. The whole context of worship is a difficult one, because I think that many things I do outside the church are worship, and there is a strong position that argues for worship being everything. However, in this context, I think the churches context of worship is something corporate, focused on God. Singing might be a part of it, but not necessarily - worship should be far bigger than that.

Worship is a very difficult thing to define, although it is far easier to know when you are doing it. For now, I think I will leave it at that, but it is worth bearing in mind that a clear definition of worship is extremely difficult to achieve, because we use the word in a whole lot of different ways.

Spiritual disciplines. What does this mean? I think the core is aspects like prayer, study and exploration of our faith, the drive to be a better Christian, to improve all of the time. I do have questions over whether the church does in fact do this, or whether it enables us to avoid to these. But church should be there to encourage us to improve.

Discipleship. This is the other side of the disciplines, which is about teaching others. Many churches will give opportunities to teach others, or to explore with others, but I think that discipleship is more than this - like with worship, it can cover a whole lot of aspects that are not always included. There is something important in learning to explore and explain what we believe and why with others, and helping them to also explore their beliefs.

Fellowship. In essence, this is about meeting with other people, and is a critical part of what church does. It allows us to meet with others, probably with food or coffee.

Service. This is about doing things for others outside the church group, but doing them because of ones faith. Once again, it can be a difficult thing to define clearly, because all that we do for others is a part of the outworking of our faith. This even applies when we would rather not discuss the activities and our interactions with others.

Evangelism. This is about telling other people why we are Christians, what our faith means to us. It doesn't mean ramming ideas at people, or telling people what they should believe. It means working with people, listening to people, and being open about our faith with other people. It means being open and honest about who we are in all situations.

In truth, the church is quite poor at this. It does tend to "organise" evangelistic events and stuff, but these are more the church as a body getting out - good in itself, but not necessarily helping individuals to be better evangelists themselves.

So this is what churches are for? Is there more than this? Because if this is it, there are alternatives.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

De rendering the house.....

I have spent the bank holiday weekend removing the render from the house. That is a tough job, I can tell you, but I thought I would enclose some pictures of the work. Firstly,this was the tower scaffold that I had to build and then climb. I would love to tell you that it was straighter than it looked, but I suspect that it wasn't! I am glad that I didn't see this before I worked on it!

 The work of removing render is unbelievably hard. Seriously, if you are considering doing it, don't - the drill I use for it weighs quite a lot, and hammers at you for hours and hours. It hurts - my arms were aching after a half hour, and I had probably 15 hours of work to do over the weekend.

The other thing is that the result of the removal of the render causes damage to the brickwork - some from the drill itself, some from the stickiness of the render to the bricks, and some from the poor quality of the brickwork anyway.
 From these pictures, it looks quite a nice wall, but 70-80% of the bricks are damaged. We are going to re-render, the whole purpose of doing this is to replace the old concrete render with a lime-based one, which will let the wall breath.
 Oh, and it is very messy. All of this render needs repeatedly clearing up, and skipping. It is very dusty, and the render breaks as it hits the floor, meaning that it is small lumps. I needed to shower and bath and shower again at the end of the days work.
The skip was not very full, if I am honest, but there is actually quite a lot of render in it! Having a skip is a necessity, because there is a whole pile of rubble and junk to be disposed of

And yet, after a long and hard weekend, it was all removed. The walls do look better un-rendered, and I would love to be able to leave them without anything on them, although, unfortunately, it would require replacing most of the brickwork.

And yet, there is, I think a lesson from my life, from my move away from the church. Let me explain.

My faith is like the brick wall. Originally, it was built as needed, and was fine. However the more I became involved in the church system, the more this faith was covered in render - a layer to present to the outside world, fastened onto my faith. As such, there is nothing wrong with this - it serves to protect my faith, and to cover cracks and problems.

The problem comes when this coating causes problems in the wall, when the church causes problems in my faith. In this case, the only option is then to remove the render, the church. This is a very tough, painful, and difficult task to remove this render, and the results are not great. There are still some pieces of render stuck to the walls, and the walls that are left are permanently damaged. This damage is partly the result of the covering - the render, the church - and partly the result of the removal of this.

It is also worth noting that some patching has been done to the wall in the meantime, and this has been done in the certain knowledge that it will be rendered over. Sometimes areas of my faith have needed to be patched and repaired, but this has been done knowing that the church fronting will patch over any real damage.

And what is most significant is that the wall needs to be re-rendered. The damage has been done, and I need some form of support and covering. I am working on finding the places that I can do this, making sure that it is done in a way that allows my faith to breathe. This is a whole lot harder - both for my faith and for the house - than you would believe.

Overall, it would have been much better if the wall had not been rendered at all.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

What is up with TV?

Let me make it clear - our main TV stations have produced some outstanding drama over the last few years. Broadchurch is a clear example of exceptional TV making.

What is more, a series like Rev shows that they cam make some excellent and brilliantly nuanced comedy too.

Which makes me wonder why The Wright Way has appeared on out TV screens. This is a BBC sitcom, staring David Haig and written by Ben Elton - both of whom are exceptional, and should produce far better than this. I watched the first episode and half of the second before deciding that it was not worth the trouble.

The problem is that the premise - an over-zealous Health and Safety nazi - should be full of humour. In fact, as a range of stand-up performers and news-comedy programs demonstrate, it is a rich seam of the ludicrous material. Its just that this series fails to tap into it. What we have, instead, is a tawdry series reminiscent of all sorts of 1980's sitcoms, the likes of which we should not have to see any more.

Sadly, that is not the worst of it.

I also watched half an episode of a new ITV sitcom, Vicious, which is substantially worse. This features Derek Jacobi, Sir Ian McKellen and Francis de la Tour. McKellen and Jacobi are an old gay couple, who are constantly bitching at each other, and this is a very strong cast, so one would hope it might produce something good. Unfortunately, it fails to do this.

Within the ten minutes I watched, there was a young chap arrived at their door, which had McKellen and Jacobi fighting each other to proposition him. Encouraging the stereotype that gays are all predatory, which is not helpful and not true.

Then de la Tour turns up, and we get a line that shocked me, from McKellen: "Nobody would want to rape you". Because she is old and ugly. And, of course, only young and pretty people get raped.

I turned off soon enough after that. This is tawdry, cheap, and pathetic "humour". It is reminiscent of the 1970's sitcoms, most of which could not be produced these days, relying, as they did, on racism, sexism or abuse.

Vicious is not funny. In fact, the very idea that this could be paraded as "humour" is a very sick indication of the state of some parts of the nation. It should be taken off the air, because this sort of stereotyping is dangerous. If it was funny as well, there is a chance of it being redeemed, but in the end, it is just appalling.

The BBC and ITV really need to redeem themselves after these travesties.