Thursday, 25 November 2010


Last night, Emma and I went to see A Christmas Carol at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.

Like most people I was very familiar with the plot, having seen several different renditions of it over the years, so I wasn't hugely excited about seeing another one, but I have to say it was brilliantly done and I found it very enjoyable!

It's a classic redemption story.  Selfish, miserly, miserable Scrooge has no time for anyone or anything except his money and it seems the only thing that can shake him out of it is a good haunting!  Scrooge is visited first by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley, who comes to warn him of pending doom if he doesn't change his ways.  He is then visited by 3 other spirits - the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future - who show him the current and final consequences of his behaviour.  These experiences shake Scrooge to the core and by the end of them he is a changed man who becomes joyfully generous toward all his fellows and fully appreciates the value of love and compassion over cold hard selfish greed.

This story reminded me first of the New Testament story of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was a tax collector, which in first century Judea made him a very unpopular person.  Not only did he collect taxes on behalf of the hated Roman occupiers, but it was common for tax collectors to charge more than was really owed so they could keep a little extra for themselves.

Zacchaeus is curious to see this man Jesus who everyone is talking about, but he's too short to see what's going on - so he climbs a tree!  Jesus stops below the tree, identifies Zacchaeus by name and invites himself into his house!  Zacchaeus is delighted to have such a prestigious guest, but the crowd are not impressed - "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner"!  Zacchaeus however, seems to have had a major change of heart over the whole incident - "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Jesus' response: "Today salvation has come to this house".

The biggest difference between the 2 stories above is that Zacchaeus is changed by kindness rather than fear (although in Scrooge's case it could well be argued that the fear was actually a kindness to him).  Jesus doesn't seem averse to using the fear approach as well though when necessary - as this story shows, which seems very reminiscent of the fate of poor Jacob Marley:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Parable told by Jesus - see Luke 16:19-31

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Waste and Technology

My mobile phone is a 3 year old HTC Touch with a touch-sensitive screen and a stylus.  When I bought it, it was reasonably cutting edge, although in choosing the phone, price and value for money were also significant factors.

It still works, but I'm now on the look out - potentially - for a new one.  I've decided I'd like an Android phone and am currently considering the Dell Streak.

My reasons for wanting to upgrade to this phone are:
  • It has a much larger screen (5 inches) and higher resolution, which makes it a lot better for browsing the internet, reading and viewing photos.
  • Pinch zoom - which my current phone doesn't have - so again a lot better for browsing.
  • Bigger keyboard - so easier typing and no need for a stylus
  • Access to Android app store
  • Accelerometer, GPS

Mobile phone technology is improving at a rate of knots and I think it's great!  I love technological gadgetry and being a bit of a sci-fi fan as a child, I've long dreamed about being able to do many of the things that mobile phones are now capable of.

Here's the rub though - mobile phones are extremely wasteful, to a large extent because the technology is advancing so quickly!  This results in most people who can afford to do so upgrading their phones on a regular basis.  Old phones can of course be recycled to some extent and this helps reduce waste, but you can never recycle everything and manufacture and recycling are both energy intensive processes.

My wife's job is to encourage the public to reduce waste on behalf of our local council.  Her team's mantra is, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle".  It makes perfect sense.  If you don't need it, don't buy it.  If you do need it, don't buy a new one unless you have to.  If you don't need it anymore, don't just throw it away - find another use for it if you can, then recycle as a last resort.  It's also the opposite of prevailing popular culture, which says if you want it and you can afford it then buy it.  Heck, if you can't afford it, buy it anyway - you can pay for it later on!  We are constantly surrounded and bombarded by adverts which try every trick in the book to persuade us to spend, spend, spend!

So I'm pro-technology and anti-consumerism, which puts me in a difficult spot.  On a personal level there's obviously a tension between a desire to own and use technology and a desire to care for the planet.  There's also a tension on a larger scale though, because technological research and development, which I love, is generally funded by consumerism, which at least in its present form is out of control, causing massive damage to our planet and completely unsustainable.

I don't believe God is anti-technology - in fact I believe inventiveness and creativity are part of God's nature in whose image we were made.  I'm sure it is God's desire that we develop this side of our nature to the full.  There must be a way we can do this though, which is less destructive to others, to the planet and to ourselves.

Thoughts anyone?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Alien Jesus?

Earlier today I came across this article on the BBC News website.

It's another article speculating about a planet - this one only 20 light years away - that might have the right conditions to support life.  The article also speculates that there could be tens of billions of other habitable, or at least near habitable, planets within our galaxy - although of course even 20 light years is, for the foreseeable future, a long way out of our reach!

Is there life on other planets?  It's a fascinating question!  Even more though - is there sentient life?  As a Christian with an interest in Science Fiction and technology, I also sometimes wonder what theological implications this might have!

On one level, human beings are very similar to all the other animals on our planet.  We share something like 98.5% of our DNA with chimpanzees, 75% with mice and 40% with some kinds of fish!  In evolutionary terms, the earth is our mother - it gave birth to us and sustains us.  Even if you believe in a literal interpretation of the Biblical creation story, we are made from "the dust of the ground".  On another level though, it's not hard to see that human beings are fundamentally distinct.  The ability we have to alter and exploit our environment - for good or ill - is just staggering compared to any other species (at least on earth anyway).  We're in a league of our own.

In Christian theology, human beings occupy a God-assigned place within creation - that of the "image bearer" (see  Genesis 1:26-28).  We are made in God's image (regardless of the process by which that may have happened) and are called to reflect that image to His creation - to rule it wisely on his behalf - whilst bringing out the best in it by our endeavours as an act of worship back to Him.  Because of our rebelliousness though, and our resulting estrangement from God, God became a man himself in Jesus, showing us how to live out our calling and making a way - through his self-giving love, sacrificial death and resurrection - for us and God to be reconciled.

And that's the gospel in a nutshell - although it could probably do with some unpacking!  But what does all this have to do with life on other planets?  Just this:  If God became a man on behalf of the image bearers (us), sacrificed his life and was resurrected for our salvation, where do other sentient life forms (if there are any) fit into this picture?

Are there other image bearers on other planets?  Did they also rebel or was it just us?  Did Jesus (or his many tentacled equivalent!) have to die many times on many other worlds?  Or are there many other sentient life forms still waiting to hear what Jesus has done?

Are we God's image bearers to the earth only, or to the whole Universe?  Is this calling peculiar to our species or will we one day have to share it with others?

My instinct is that this calling is unique and for that reason I don't expect to encounter sentient life on other worlds, though I would be amazed and fascinated if we did!  But then before Galileo we thought the earth was at the centre of the Universe and look how badly wrong we got that one...!

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Last night I went to see Metropolis as part of the Leeds International Film Festival.

It's an early, black and white, silent, science fiction movie, made in Germany in 1927.  It seems to have had a big influence on many later sci-fi movies, including Star Wars and Blade Runner (for more info see here).  It was also the most expensive silent film ever made!

I guess there can't have been too many science fiction films around in 1927 and when it was first released it must have made a huge impact with it's strange vision of a hi-tech dystopian future.  Like most science fiction films though, it connects with its audience by dealing with themes that are common to our daily lives and experience.

Metropolis is a futuristic city, where everything is powered by machines which are built and tended to by the workers.  The workers work long hours and are forced to live menial lives underground, while the managers and planners, along with their families, live above ground in luxury in the city which the workers have built and keep running.

The first thing that struck me about this arrangement was the starkness of the injustice and how shocking it appears on screen.  The second was how similar it is to many aspects of real life which we're all a part of and often either don't notice or deliberately turn a blind eye to.  In particular it made me think about how much Western capitalism is built on the exploitation of the developing/under-developed world, both through trade agreements which reward producers with a pittance for their crops, materials and manufactured goods, and through cheap labour where workers are frequently forced to work long hours for minimum rewards in unpleasant and unsafe surroundings - to produce goods for consumers like us, most of whom live in (at least comparative) luxury!

Apart from strong social themes, the film also contains a lot of religious imagery.  One of the central characters, Maria, tells the story of the Tower of Babel (taken and adapted somewhat from the Old Testament book of Genesis) and compares it with Metropolis.  Hel, the evil female robot who exploits people's moral weaknesses and brings death and destruction wherever she goes is compared with the Whore of Babylon in the New Testament book of Revelation.  The robot is first shown with her head in front of a Satanic star, where Maria, who counsels the workers to wait for a peaceful solution to their problems, is shown in an underground church surrounded by crosses as she presents her case.

WARNING - THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS A PLOT SPOILER.  When Joh Fredersen, the ruler of the city, learns of Maria and her influence over the workers, he decides to sow discord among them and so he employs the help of Rotwang - a mad inventor and the creator of the robot Hel.  Fredersen orders Rotwang to make the robot look like Maria so he can turn the workers against her whilst manipulating them to his own ends.  This reminded me so strongly of all the ways in which the God I worship has been and is misrepresented - such that people are oppressed in His name, or forced or inspired to do terrible things, or learn to hate Him based on the false impressions they've received.  The workers go from being incited to violence by the false Maria, to hating her for the things she's made them do, while all the time the real (and now misunderstood) Maria is working tirelessly and peaceably on their behalf...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Help needed!

My inspiration for this blog seems to be drying up a bit!

I am passionate about my faith and want to share it with people.  Like anyone else though, I also have questions and doubts about things.  My intention here was to try to be honest about the things I don't know and have doubts about, as well as the things I feel more confident about.  This isn't an easy place to do this though - its strength and also its weakness is that it can be read by anyone!

I like the fact that this blog (potentially at least) has a mixed audience.  I have different things to say to different people, but my aim, broadly speaking, is to communicate thoughts and ideas that will make sense and be relevant to believers across the spectrum, as well as to atheists, agnostics and anyone in between.  This doesn't mean I always want everyone to like what I have to say - I hope to provoke (positively if possible) as well as to inspire.

For non-believers in the Christian faith I would like to show that:
  • Contrary to what many people think, it is deeply relevant to every day life and to the wider world.
  • Some Christians are capable of thinking sensibly, logically and critically about their faith and the world they live in!
  • Despite the terrible damage that has often been done to people and to the world in the name of "Christianity", when properly understood and applied the Christian gospel is and always has been a message of hope and liberation.

For believers I would like to:
  • Challenge some of the unhelpful (in my opinion) dogmas which have become very prevalent in certain Christian circles.
  • Encourage them to think critically about the world and about their faith.
  • Encourage them to think about what their faith looks like from outside, and how they might communicate its message more effectively to those who don't agree with them.

This was my intention, but I'm running out of ideas!  Also, as I've said, it's hard to be honest about the stuff I don't know or am unsure about because it makes me feel vulnerable - I'd far rather stick to subjects where I feel like I've got it all figured out (or at least am able to more or less give that impression!).

So a question for my readers then - assuming there are still some people reading this who are interested in what I have to say - do you have any questions?  What subjects would you like me to write about?  How do you think it's going so far?  What should I do differently?

As I said earlier, I'm passionate about my faith and want to share it with people, so no offence intended to Christians, but I am particularly interested in the opinions of any non-believers who might be reading this - although believers are of course also welcome to contribute!