Culture

My thoughts on TV, film, books, etc.

Watching Parliament

My interest in politics continues to grow as I become more and more incredulous at what a mess some politicians seem to make of it. The more I watch activity in the house of commons, the more I am struck that John Bercow’s job as speaker of shares an important similarity with the teaching profession – a large part of it is controlling a large group of children. I have also found that watching parliament is much like watching a playground fight, but with slightly less danger of someone ending up with a bloodied nose.

I wonder if any adults will stand in the next general election?

Face/Off with the apostle Paul

Isn’t it bizarre how the brain remembers strange pieces of trivia? Last night I watched the film Face/Off on iPlayer. The antagonists are two brothers called Castor and Pollox, and the name Pollox rang a faint bell. At the end of the film, while the credits were rolling, the penny dropped, and I remembered that Castor and Pollox were brothers in Greek mythology. I don’t know a great deal about mythology from any culture, so I was a bit surprised to have this knowledge rattling around in my head. Before long I realised where it came from – the life of the apostle Paul! In Acts 28:11 Paul goes on a ship whose figurehead is the “Twin Brothers”. According to my study Bible, these brothers are Castor and Pollox, who the Greeks believed would protect them on the sea. And that is the sum total of my knowledge about them!

Watching Leeds

I’m a Leeds United fan, albeit not a particularly dedicated one, so I was pleased to hear the announcement that Leeds’ first round FA cup match (against Oldham Athletic) would be broadcast live on the internet by the FA, with no charge whatsoever. For me, the biggest obstacle to watching Leeds matches has always been the cost. The only time I’ve ever watched a game at Elland Road was when a friend won a pair of free tickets. Much as I’d love to go regularly, it’s never been financially realistic. The match took place, and sadly I was working through most of it, but I did watch the end of the game. Viewing figures have just been released, and the video of the game was played a massiveĀ  176,000 times!

To put this in perspective, Elland Road seats just over 40,000 people (incidentally this makes it the 240th largest football stadium in the world by seated capacity). The new Wembley stadium seats 90,000. The largest football stadium in the world is the Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, which seats 150,000. Obviously there were not 176,000 separate people watching Leeds vs. Oldham, but it’s an impressive viewing figure nonetheless (and makes it one of the 5 largest free-to-view online sporting broadcasts in the UK so far)!

The next match to be freely streamed is the 2nd round match between Norwich City and either Carlisle United or Morecambe on Saturday 28 November. I’ll be interested to see how many people watch that one.

What’s the point?

I’ve recently been watching some of the TED videos, many of which are fascinating. One I watched tonight was an inventory of invisible things, which was a delightfully baffling look at life. Towards the end of the talk (9:20 in if you want to check for yourself) the speaker, John Lloyd, concludes

There are only two questions really worth asking:
‘Why are we here?’
and
‘What shall we do about it while we are?’

What excellent questions! Fortunately we have answers to both of of them: we are here because God created us as an overflow of His Trinitarian love, enabling Him to love us and us to love Him. While we are here we should enter a personal relationship with God and live our lives for His glory. This isn’t the answer that John Lloyd gives, but he does offer a quote from poet W. H. Auden:

We are here, on earth, to help others. What the others are here for I’ve no idea.

(N.B. According to wikiquote, the quote is actually by John Foster Hall.)

Love of the loveless

I’ve just been listening to some Eels songs on spotify, and noticed an interesting lyric in one. It went:

God shine your light down here
Shine on the love
Love of the loveless

I don’t know if anything profound was meant (I don’t suppose so) but it did strike me that it’s a plea which describes exactly what God has already done. By sending Christ (who is the light of the world, John 8:12) to earth, God has shown love to the loveless. We have nothing in us to commend us to God, and even our best efforts at good living are filthy rags in His eyes (Isaiah 46:4). Our only access to God comes through Jesus (John 14:6) who came to earth so we could repent of our wrongdoing (Luke 5:32) and be accepted by God (1 John 1:9).

The Eels capture it quite nicely in another of their songs, in which they sing:

You don’t need a thing from me
but I need something big from you

And now, in the title of another Eels song, “I need some sleep”.

Bourne to know

I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the grey truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?

Jason Bourne, The Bourne Identity (2002)

Earlier this evening I rewatched The Bourne Identity, with a view to rewatching its two sequels at some points over the coming week. I enjoyed the film again, but the above quote struck a chord with me. I’ve never a) been an assassin or b) forgotten about it. At least, not as far as I remember.

I have, however,grown up with the immense privilege of two Christian parents. They have brought me up to regularly attend church and read the Bible. I have believed in the God of the Bible for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never been under any false impressions about His character, thinking of Him as either a cute and cuddly Santa-like figure who gives presents to all the good little Christians, or as a malicious sadist who smites and smotes.

The reason The Bourne Identity made me think of this is that Jason Bourne, while suffering from amnesia, knows about himself, but does not know himself. In much the same way, I spent my entire childhood knowing about God without ever knowing God. I knew the Bible’s teaching, and I mentally assented to it, but it made no difference to me. Now, as a Christian, I know God personally and the difference is immense. We are born to know God, and the countless number of children (and adults) who know the gospel without ever seeking God are merely storing up judgement for themselves slightly more knowledgeably than some others.

At my home church, virtually all the church kids of my generation do, by God’s grace, seem to have a genuine faith in Him. At the church I’m part of at university, to the best of my knowledge, not one church kid is a Christian. They both preach the gospel and pray for their children, so I don’t mean this to reflect on one church as better than the other. Instead I mean you to see that this is something which is close to my heart as I see the huge contrast. A group of people who have already heard all your gospel explanations, all your intellectual arguments, all your pleading, and still reject Christ is difficult to reach. May God open their hearts, and use them to remind those of us who are saved that we do not win souls in our own strength.

You are special

Today, while looking after some children at the annual FIEC joint churches day for churches in Yorkshire, I saw a very interesting animated film. (My church isn’t actually part of FIEC, but we do have links with several churches in the area which are.) It was called You Are Special, and tells the story of wooden people who live in a small village and give each other stickers which do not come off. Anyone can give other people a star (for being exceptionally clever, brave, or good in some other way) or spots (a dark grey spot signifying idiocy or clumsiness). Obviously it’s somewhat desirable to get lots of stars and no spots. Indeed there is even a prize for the person with the most stars. The film’s protaganist is a boy called Ponchinello who is covered in spots and has not a single star.

One girl is different though. She has no stars or spots, and the irremovable stickers won’t even stick to her in the first place! It transpires that she has daily visits to the giant wooodcarver who lives over the hill, even though it is forbidden for the village children to visit him. Eventually Ponchinello is persuaded to visit him, and finds out that even though he is covered in the spots of failure the woodcarver still values him as precious because he made Ponchinello. He explains that the stickers only stick if you care about them, so the girl is free of stickers because she does not care about other people’s opinions of her.

The message is pretty obvious. The woodcarver is God and he is the only person whose opinion should matter to us. Naturally Ponchinello’s spots all fall off as he gets to know the woodcarver, and stops worrying about others’ opinions. We can be secure in God despite the attacks of other people who may mock or despise us for our faith.

Interestingly, the stars do not stick either. This is not, of course, the point of the film, but is still a useful lesson for Christians. The world’s opinion does not matter. We are dead to the world. We are secure in Christ when we suffer, but also when we succeed by the world’s criteria. Compliments should not affect us any more than trials should. We should praise God in both, and seek to glorify Him alone. It is undoubtedly easy to be wooed by compliments from the world, but while they are not necessarily a bad thing to have, they should not change how we view ourselves. We are victors in Christ’s death, and if God blesses us with worldly success then such success is so insignificant next to Christ’s that it shouldn’t affect us. If we are blessed with trials the same is true.

The Narnia Code – an opinion at last

Having recently pointed out that The Narnia Code was back on iPlayer, I watched it tonight. I thought that having pointed out its availability, it was only fair to give an opinion about it.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I knew the program had been popular with several Christian friends of mine. Someone told me before I watched it that this program was the ‘best religious program the BBC had made for a long time‘. I didn’t really engage with the religious ideas in it, though I will admit it was very interesting.

The basic premise of the program is that Michael Ward chanced upon a secret meaning to the Chronicles of Narnia series while working towards his PhD in C S Lewis. He found that each book in the series represented one of the seven classical ‘planets’ – the sun, the moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune – and the characters associated with each of them in mythology. He proposed that Lewis took those characters and developed stories around them. This means the books have three layers – the story, the Christian analogy, and the planets.

I’m no C S Lewis expert, but it doesn’t seem too great a leap of the imagination that he could write such a code into his work. Whether or not he did I have no idea. A one hour program presented by the person whose theory is being discussed does not lend itself to an in-depth analysis of whether or not a theory is correct. Right or not, the program did throw up some very interesting facts and some great quotes. Two stuck in my mind particularly:

At the start of the program, in reference to the discovery of the Narnia code, Michael Ward says that “It doesn’t really matter that it’s come to me first, the only thing I’ve got to do with it is share it with people“. If Michael Ward has this attitude six years after writing about a hidden meaning in some children’s books, shouldn’t it be my attitude to the soul-saving, life-transforming good news of Jesus Christ? I suspect the difference is that Michael Ward has dedicated years to studying C S Lewis’ life and works, and knows them inside out. I trust the Lord that as I study His Word and get to know Him better the same zeal for making Him known will infect me.

The discovery began when Michael Ward read a poem about the planets written by C S Lewis which includes the line “winter passed and guilt forgiven“. It’s a wonderful summary of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s also a reminder to me of my condition before God. The ‘winter’ of my sin is over. Yes, I still sin, but I am not under it’s power and I never will be. My guilt is forgiven and I am no longer weighed down by it. I would prefer “sin forgiven” but the point still stands.

The Narnia Code is available to watch and download until Monday evening. It’s very interesting, and there are many worse uses of an hour.

P. S. Did you know, that Jove (as in the phrase ‘By jove!’) is another name for the Roman god Jupiter? I didn’t.