Monday, 21 November 2016

Judgement - A Text Adventure

A course I am doing wants me to create a small text adventure and to share it on the web. So, here it is: Judgement.

Any old gamers (or younger gamers with an interest in gaming history) may recognise a couple of references in here - hopefully worth a small smile.

If you are of a really nervous disposition you might want to be a little wary of this. Although as a text adventure - ie mostly words - any hazard is more in your head than on the screen (as if that were any better!).

Please give it a go and let me know how you get on. I'm fairly sure all the typos are gone, but if I'm wrong please let me know that too.

EDIT: The links to the game should work now - apologies to anyone who tried them before. One tip: if you click on the Full-Screen button the game looks far more effective, I think.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Two Models Of Church

Both models exist; too often the first makes more noise:-

Are you there?
Can you hear me?
I am thinking of you

Are you hurt?
Are you lonely?
Hope my words get through

Did you know nobody's perfect?
We all fall down
See into the heart of you now

When you are lost
I will find you
Through the dark
I can see you
And you are loved
You are worthy
You can't hide
All the beauty
I can see you ...

Let me put my cards on the table
I've been where you are
I'll never see the stain of a label
Or a scar
You need to know that i wont reject you
Let's unbreak your heart
You are not the voices that shame you
I'm coming out
So call your friends and gather round
It's time to judge and pin me down
I'm in the box you put me in
It's dark and I can't see a thing
No air, I need to breathe ...

You label and name
Because you're afraid
Because it makes you feel safe
But here is the sting:
It don't mean a thing.
So everybody sing

Define me, de­fine me, somebody find me
Tell me what I am­ you know you love it
Define me, de­file me, somebody bind me
Make me what I am/ you want
You'll never break me down

Oh my god ain't it fun to judge, ain't it fun to judge, ain't it fun to judge?
Oh my god now I'm covered in mud, now I'm covered in mud, ain't it fun to judge?
Oh my god now you want my blood, now you want my blood, ain't it fun to judge?
Oh my god now I'm covered in mud and you want my blood, ain't it fun to judge?

Actually, I suspect most churches have a mixture of both approaches in their congregations. That's probably fair enough: churchgoers are, by and large, human too, and tolerance works both ways. Up to a point.

But where I do get angry is when leaders - formal or informal - bring the worst out of others. When someone stirs up prejudice and hatred, spreading the poison from their own soul to their neighbours. It's evil and it's anti-Christian.

The job of the church is to follow Jesus, to treat people as he did. Simple as that.

The lyrics above are from the band Bad Pollyanna, off their excellent Broken Toys album.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Blessed Are The Desperate?

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit...
Blessed is the lamb, whose blood flows...
Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on...
Oh lord, why have you forsaken me?"

Blessed ... really?

I was at a "Continuing Ministerial Development" course on Thursday on "Preaching the Gospel of Matthew". I came away feeling it had been interesting but not really that useful. With one notable exception, it was full of academically inclined people talking in abstracts. Inevitable perhaps, given the CofE approach to selecting and training authorised ministers.

I don't mind abstract ideas myself, but it's been a really busy week and I have a painful back, so my initial response was that it hadn't been an effective use of the day.

One thing which we did look at was the Beatitudes - the opening to the Sermon on the Mount which Paul Simon so evocatively rephrases in his song above. I was part of a small group looking at this, which happened to include the one exception to the academic mould. She focussed us with the practical example of a young mum without the money to buy a can of beans. Is she blessed? Is that what the beatitudes are telling us?

Given a practical focus, the academic stuff sometimes comes in handy. Someone else in the group knew Oscar Wilde's De Profundis - a letter written from Reading Prison, where Wilde had been imprisoned with hard labour for 'gross indecency'. In this he writes that his first year of imprisonment was pure hell, but in the second year he was able to come to terms with all that was happening and use it to connect with Christ and with humanity.
"The poor are wise, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive than we are. In their eyes prison is a tragedy in a man's life, a misfortune, a casuality, something that calls for sympathy in others. They speak of one who is in prison as of one who is 'in trouble' simply. It is the phrase they always use, and the expression has the perfect wisdom of love in it. With people of our own rank it is different. With us, prison makes a man a pariah. I, and such as I am, have hardly any right to air and sun. Our presence taints the pleasures of others. We are unwelcome when we reappear."
To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Wilde myself - to me he seems overly flowery and full of himself, even whilst celebrating his own 'humility'.

Nevertheless, there is something here about reality, and about our inability to face it when we are comfortable. There is also something, it seems to me, about God bringing good out of situations which are not good. To my mind it is wrong to speak of God making bad things happen, to serve a greater end. But it is true, I think, that God can take the bad things which inevitably do happen in this fallen world and can transform their outcomes: evil happens but in Christ comes resurrection.

There's a famous old sermon called "Sunday's comin'" which speaks of the hopelessness that goes with Good Friday - but, unseen and unexpected, "Sunday's coming".

Somewhere in the beatitudes stands a truth that sometimes it's easier to see light when we stand in darkness, that in Jesus despair transforms to hope, and that God can raise the deadest of dead. And, in due course, a full resurrection is coming when suffering and dying and hopelessness will be no more.

By the way, that young mum who couldn't afford beans - it was a local church who were her blessing. They went out and bought her a pack of food, including bread and beans. It's not a solution, but it was a blessing. The future is in God's hands ... and Christ's people stand as his hands and feet, heart and voice, and - sometimes - his shoppers for beans.

May your week ahead be redeemed by hope and grace in Jesus, whatever you may face.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

You Are Loved

Churches can be so frustrating sometimes!

It's a month since the EU Referendum result, when a truly horrible campaign from leaders of both sides led to a situation characterised by anger, despair and terrible division. Churches in this part of the world have talked internally about prayer and reconciliation over this period, but bog-all is visible externally.

Some of that, of course, is down to uncertainty about what can be done on a corporate level. Individually, being nice to foreigners and buying The Big Issue seem to be the order of the day, and the need for reconciliation has turned up in a sermon or two (most fervently in one case where the preacher had witnessed a racist attack in the middle of Reading the previous day). But that seems to be about the lot, in spite of the Bishop of Reading putting out a call for churches to get involved.

I'm not good at grand ideas, even less good at organising people, but surely we could start by doing something as simple and visible as telling people they are loved (even that idea I nicked from the Big Issue).

This is a core belief within Christianity: "God is love", "For God so loved the world", and so on. And the churches in CTM Parish were already being challenged by the PMC team to do something more positive with our noticeboards. It's not brain surgery.

I thought we had agreement to do some sort of poster a couple or three weeks back. So when I drove past St John's a few days ago I deliberately looked at the noticeboard to see what it said. "Thieves beware!" was all I could read from the road. :(

I need to check I am not treading on anyone's toes, that there is nothing already underway, but it looks as though I'll just have to put something up myself. This is my default approach, if I'm honest, and I've deliberately spent the past month trying to do things a better way: to get others involved; to cooperate, coordinate and consult; to seek better ideas and better ways of implementing them. Hmm.

I started this post intending to come from a completely different angle, actually, prompted by this post from HTB which makes the disappointing assumption that all parents feel instant and overwhelming love for their children and, more seriously, that all children are loved by their parents. It seems to me that maybe amongst those who most need to know that they are loved are precisely those who have least prior knowledge of their parents' love.

One role for the church is to show what love looks and feels like in practice, so people can have a starting point for recognising the love of God, whatever their background may be.

The referendum exposed deep divisions and insecurities in our communities. But these were already there, really. People need to know that they are loved, then that love can overflow to their neighbours. As I said before, it's not brain surgery - but it does seem remarkably difficult to do anything about in practice.

Fortunately I do believe in a God of miracles (as well as love)!

Edit 15/08/16:

It turns out that the poster was actually underway. A week or so back it turned up on our noticeboard, which now looks like this:

The person who did the posters is a gifted graphic artist, so I can only assume the brief he was given was somewhat ... unassuming.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Us & Them On So Many Levels

June really hasn't been a good month.

This is a picture of Stanford rapist Brock Turner: white, wealthy, privileged. When he found an unconscious women rather than helping her he began to rape her.

Some people came along and caught him so technically I suppose he is an 'attempted rapist', but he got far enough that the woman reportedly had dirt and grass inside her when they treated her in hospital.

He was sentenced to just six months in prison, reportedly reduced to four, by a judge who shared his background, and he and his family are appealing that as too harsh. His victim, once she had been treated, was articulate enough to ensure the case came to wider notice: a shocking example of 'them & us' in US society.

Melissa Etheridge's song, at the top of this post, was written in response to the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando this month.

A deeply homophobic man shot dead 49 people and wounded 53 others. Behind him lay a deeply homophobic family, living in a deeply homophobic culture, surrounded by deeply homophobic churches (and presumably mosques).

Homosexuality has been a divisive issue across the world in recent years. My question on such things is "where are the haters?" Those who spread hatred of others are not God's people; and those who would divide Christ's body are nothing to do with Jesus.

Then we come to the UK's EU referendum campaign. The picture shown was probably the low point of a generally negative campaign. 

Both the Leave and Remain official campaigns focused on fear-mongering and negative propaganda. Both the official and unofficial Leave groups hammered away relentlessly at immigration and at people's fear and resentment of 'the other'.

Now the result is out and it seems the Leave campaigns worked - at least among older voters. The picture below, in many variations, is widely shared on social media by younger people angry at what they see as a betrayal of their future by those who won't have to live with the consequences. I suppose 'us & them' across generations is nothing new, but the anger is real.

I was going to put up picture of those utterly stupid politicians whose response to a crisis is to play politics and ignore the needs of the country. In many ways it was the Conservative party's internal politics, especially the ambition of Boris Johnson, which created the crisis, now Labour's MPs have decided they'd rather play leadership games than help rebuild the unity this country desperately needs to face a challenging future. The us & them of a broken political system.

In my view the most apposite comment was used as a headline by the Guardian newspaper: "If you've got money, you vote in ... if you haven't got money, you vote out." Subheading: "Brexit is about more than the EU: it’s about class, inequality, and voters feeling excluded from politics. So how do we even begin to put Britain the right way up?"

So much of the anger, so many of the divisions, arise from the deep and increasing inequalities within our society. A lot of the Remain campaign was based around fear of losing what we have got; to many that means nothing. A lot of the resentment of immigrants and minorities flows from insecurity, uncertainty, and a feeling someone must be to blame.

I'd like to come up with a nice 'Christian' solution to all this: "love one another," perhaps, "then everything will be wonderful." Meaningless! If we loved one another we wouldn't have the problems anyway. "Jesus Christ died to bring reconciliation," is at least apposite, but lacking in how and when.

At the moment my feelings are more in line with Habakkuk: how long, O Lord, is this unholy mess going to continue? When will there be justice and peace and cleansing?