Sunday, 14 December 2008

As witnessed by millions

On the Sports Personality of the Year show tonight, the winner was trying to find a collective term to describe the child of his sister. So he had to turn the sentence around and describe him self as someone who had 'just become an uncle' which covers the relationship irrespective of the gender of the child (nephew or niece). Yes, he admitted eventually that his sister had given birth to a little girl, and that therefore she was his niece. And it would have still been his neice even if his sister-in-law had given birth. And, given the way some folks carry on these days, the actual wearing of a ring or ownership of a licence is immaterial.

But that's my point.

There is no accepted word for such offspring.
Consider the following options.
One's first Grandchild/Granddaughter/Grandson
One's first child/daughter/son
One's first nephew/niece BUT there isn't a generic term.

That's why I have been campaigning (okay, fairly quietly) for Sibskid as that term. My sibling's kid, geddit? It's friendly, easy to use, applies equally to boy or girl born of sister or of the seed of brother without argument, and is easy to remember (which is why it beats SibsSpring, which is harder to say, or NéeBoth, which is arguably more etymologically excusable).

Let me know what you think, unless you disagree.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Book Reviews:
Blink by Ted Dekker
Black by Ted Dekker

West Bow Books (a division of Thomas Nelson)

I’ve been reading a manuscript for a dear friend recently, and have had to apply some rules for this as she’s just learning the skills and techniques required. She has a good story and a good way of approaching it, but struggles a little with writing believeable dialogue, with maintaining the point of view and with developing character.

But it’s such a promising story idea that I’m prepared to point these weaknesses out in a gentle way. Indeed, in order to encourage in her the grace she shows in receiving my comments, I have asked
her to read my recent manuscripts, and I’ve been hugely enriched by the story ideas she’s suggested to improve them.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned about reading the Bible is the principle of approaching with Ontological Hermaneutic Presupposition (impressive, eh?). This simply means that we assume the Bible writers are correct, and that any weirdness or plot discrepancies are a function
of translation, inaccurate reading or a misunderstanding of God.

For example, where Luke mentions in 24:15 that Jesus approached
the two men making their way to Emmaus, we should not assume (as we might if it were not the Bible we were reading but the flawed manuscript of a storyteller) that the writer has forgotten that his character Jesus had died in the previous chapter, and therefore couldn’t be there.

In the case of Scripture (once we have ensured reliable translation), we read carefully and then bring faith to the party. This must mean that Jesus isn’t dead. So is this a flashback? No, not according to verse 1, which sets the incident in its timeframe: Easter Sunday. So what has happened?

Well, obviously, other scriptures back up the slow-dawning theory that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Eventually, we come to clear statements such as v34 and then v46, and it’s starting to make
a bit more sense: the problem is that we had too small a view of God, and failed to believe him when he promised to send his Son to die and be raised to life on the third day…

However, and it’s an huge however (practically an HOWEVER), Ted Dekker cannot hide behind this sort of approach. He’s a flawed human being (he won’t deny it) and has, despite what
they may tell him, a deeply flawed publishing editor.

Despite the claim that ‘Ted Dekker’s novels deliver big mind-blowing, plot-twisting page turners’, both of these books utterly disappointed me.

Blink is supposed to draw on breathlessly fabulous themes of science fiction, wrapped inside an enigma which unravels at breakneck pace… oh let the publisher gush: ‘An intoxicating tale set amidst the shifting sands of the Middle East, Blink touches on geopolitical conflicts as ancient as the earth itself. The page-turning plot follows a Saudi Arabian princess fleeing a wretched forced marriage for the promised land of America. A brilliant American graduate student discovers a mysterious power – giving him glimpses into the future. Thrown together, they become pawns in a struggle for power and must manipulate the very future in order to save themselves. In his most riveting novel to date, Dekker brings the story to a dramatic climax that will change the future of fiction in the blink of an eye.’

A pseudo-spiritual prophetic gift is the cheap (and over-used) deus ex machina plot device that helps the 2-dimensional good guy rescue the damsel in distress, and they both discover things about God that we knew years ago. If this were didactic fiction, it would fail as it’s not all that insightful. It’s not spectacularly evangelistic, and the pot-boiling story is predictable. The
poor quality of the writing left me annoyed, and the characterisation failed to happen. This book changes exactly nothing... the future of fiction is likely to be impoverished if this chap produces much more, unless someone is honest enough to tell him the truth.

Black describes itself as a novel, but actually it’s the throat-clearance of a trilogy.

Brace yourself: Blackness is symbolic of evil, which is the sort of racist issue
that I thought we’d eliminated in the fifties. Our ‘hero’ has a game-show Gladiator name (Thomas Hunter) but keeps falling asleep, which provides him with a gateway to the past (or is it the future?). This is the breath-taking science fiction, folks. What a crock! He gets confused between beautiful girls in each of the realities he visits, and has to battle insurmountable odds against the clock, which he does with impassive stolidity.

Once again, a fairly promising story idea gets mangled in the plot-driven action, as I failed utterly to engage with any of the characters.

And it's so not a novel. The last few pages fail utterly to resolve any of the plot threads or even deliver an anti-climax, so it's just a set-up for the sequel. Hugely irritating once I'd ploughed through so much grey text to get there, and still am left with our hero in trouble, our heroines pretty-much unkissed (despite the poor writing that suddenly made me believe one of them must be immaculately pregnant) and our enemies still in the ascendency. I know some people find this sort of stuff exciting and neeeeed to devour the next installment as soon as possible, but it left me deeply unimpressed and not really bothered.

This isn’t science fiction at all – not if Phillip K Dick or Kurt Vonnegut or Isaac Asimov or even Douglas Adams are to be considered in that genre. And it’s so sub-Christian it lacks any edge or worth in that field, as well. All you end up with is a religiously-tangential adventure yarn populated by people about whom you care not one whit. Reminded me a bit of The daVinci Code, which I hope is understood to be a serious put-down.

0.5 out of 5 leonandys

Saturday, 6 December 2008

And another thing...

Third in a series on noticing stuff when you should be concentrating

As I approached the CCK church building in good time for the early morning prayer time today, I noticed a small puddle of liquid on the pavement. Scattered around this was the remains of a glass bottle; an extra virgin olive oil bottle. The tell-tale aroma wafted mouthwateringly and I wondered if someone had dropped their shopping and lost this precious liquid.

Then my imagination kicked in and I started to see it as perhaps the detritus from a failed torching attack on the church building from some sexually abstinant macrobiotic-wholemeal/health/fairly-traded pressure group who had made a feeble sub-Molotov Cocktail... (Molot-olive Cocktoil?)

But in the end it seemed more likely it was the last remaining evidence of members of an highly over-spiritualised hit & run squad, who had been participants in some bizarre drive-by attempted healing service.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

No news is bad news

Mssrs Hurry, Up & Wait, solicitors

Dear Sir

our ref

Thank you for yours of the 12th ult.

Sign this at your earliest convenient return of post, enclose cheque for several hundred pounds and then we'll go really quiet again for a few weeks, until the next form with lots of small print has been prepared by our office Junior, who has been appointed chief executive of Squew-Whiff Photocopying & Uneven Folding.

We remain your humble and faithful servants

Yrs Faithfully
pp (illegible scibble)
Conv A Ensing
Senior Partner

Oh, it's not so bad. But I'm champing at the bit, learning lot about patience (good quality) which quicks leads to passivity (not so good), and the opposite dangers of proactive firmness (good quality) which can lead towards anger (not so good, especially if you sleep on it).

It's a right old balancing act, this obeying God malarkey.

The lovely comments, encouraging prayers and vivid prophecies keep on coming, and it's those which help me stay focussed. My moving day has come and gone and I'm still here. I'm praying for the glorious 12th (not to go gouse-shooting, but to remove my belongings to my new home), as it seems that further delay will find everyone taking their Chistmas break while I'm still living with boxes and uproar and 'maybe' and unsettled and not in the city and church God has been calling me to join since June.

That can't be right, can it?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

And so it continues, both day and night

How wonderful to be surrounded by friends!

I hoped this was going to happen; I would have been hurt if it didn't. But the reality of leaving this church (CCK) and this town (Brighton) is beginning to come close.

Before, it was a wild, adventurous concept, but when you spend the day dealing with Removals Firms and sendng cheques to solicitors and seeing an Estate Agent and then go to a meeting when folks spontaneously gather around you and start prophesying and having brilliantly vivid and perceptive pictures for you, it all gets a bit certain!

Having expressed my alarm about the amazing garden at Corn Mill Close, and also having had a meeting with Jonathan Bell, the elder overseeing Church Central in Birmingham...
A dear friend had a picture of a tree or shrub which was mature and precious being gently uprooted and prepared for transporting. The roots were wrapped in cloth, with the right amount of soil. It was then taken to a space perfectly landscaped to be the best place for the tree to flourish and play its part; a space set aside with that particular tree in mind.
While he was sharing, I could see those shrubs in the new back garden...

People are great, aren't they? They express their gratitiude and love and faith and admiration and it's truly the activity of the family of God.

There are days when this huge change in my life seems too much; there are other days when I can't wait to be in my new house, sorting out furniture and bookcases and establishing myself in the place God has carved out for me.

But there are also days when
Nothing much
Seems to be happening or
Seems to be stirring within, either.
Living in the promise is an uncomfortable place.
Things that will be are not yet;
Things that are now over tarry.
Meaningful friendships take on greater meaning;
Future friendships will bring great joy but currently are on hold.
Opportunities beckon but hurdles intervene;
Hurry up and prepare for further delay.

Lord, grant me patience, keep me keen, stir my vision, encourage my obedience, speed my solicitors, help my unbelief, bolster my flagging excitement, calm my nerves, help me enjoy the process, remind me to live in the present.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Update 2

I'm starting to think that my Estate Agents go from their office into their staff room to salivate over a cork notice board with a big headline This Week's Sale, and a photo of me underneath it. They make me feel like Royalty.

Good afternoon, Mr Back, have a seat, cup of coffee, packet of Plain Chocolate HobNobs, please wipe your shoes on my expensive suit, can I mop your brow with this old copy of Property News?, oh do have some cake or I could peel you a grape or two?, please be aware that we may be letting off Party Poppers in a moment (we wouldn't want to make you jump with the sudden noise!), thank you for breathing oxygen in the same building as us, take care since we would not want you to trip upon these palm fronds and rose petals our receptioniste is strewing before your path, may I prostrate myself before you?, please receive these flowers/certificates/shredded overstock of Mortgage Application Forms, and thank you, thank you, thank you.

Anyone would think I was the only source of income they had for this week.

And they may very well be right.

Be that as it may... 4

H'mmm. Fireworks night, eh?

I have many times wondered about the wisdom thereof. So many injuries, disfigurements, opportunities for people to hurt themselves (and, more importantly, each other); it's expensive, trivial, momentary, intrusive for those who would prefer not to have vast explosions of extreme volume rending the night sky (which may be many parents of small children, come to think of it) and almost impossible to police to prevent careless folks bending breaking and ignoring the safety procedures, leading inexorably to a desensitisation about the dangers of playing with fire.

But these are the least of the issues. Much more important, imho, and fundamental is the whole rationale behind November the Fifth and what it celebrates.

We think of the political activist Guy Fawkes and his colleagues in the cellars under the House of Parliament, plotting with their barrels of gunpowder to kill the king when he came into the chamber. But they were discovered, arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to... death by burning at the stake. H'mm yes, that's our history folks. We used to do that to people. The English way was to treat our political dissidents with brutal forms of execution. It should be something to be ahsamed about, like our historic involvement in unjust wars, piracy, the slave trade, shocking treatment of children and women and the poor and the mentally ill...

No, we don't ritually make a public humiliation and spectacle of those who challenge our institutions these days. (In some cases, we rejoice and make merry over 'celebrities' immoral choices to have a family of children outside of marriage, to have serial lovers, to behave irresponsibly with dr
ugs or booze or - but that's another topic, really). Anyway, some might argue that the pendulum has swung too far towards care and kindness, seeking to get the criminal and the psychopath back into society as quickly as possible.

Yet we set aside time, money and rational thinking to celebrate the barbarity of our long-extinct laws of execution by a seriously cruel method. No, we don't have a Drinking Hemlock Week or a Hanging by the Neck Until Dead Afternoon; perhaps these are not adequately spectactular. But we do gather up combustibles into a pile, shove a dummy on top and make a great family night from the savage punishment meted out to this man who. after all, would probably have voted LibDem, if he had been given the opportunity, commenting on the authority of the monarchy and being disapproving of the two-party system.

And don't get me started on Lewes, and the way they do things there.

But it's a great evangelistic opportunity, Andy, they tell me. Harrumph, is all I answer. Surely we should have had our big party the week before, inviting families up and down the avenue to sit around dressed as characters who populate the occult - ghosts, skellingtons, ghoulies, the undead, evil spirits, witches, warlocks, elves, hobgoblins and all things demonic, while sending the children out to break with the general rules and for one night only to talk as many strangers as possible, to beg, to accept gifts from unknown and unsupervised grown-ups and stay up late, wandering about, and to provoke nightmares and fear and nasty surprises...

There's something wrong here, surely, with both of these dangerous 'opportunities'.

Evangelistic events should be focused on fun, friendship, conversation, food, civility, times of appropriate celebration (may I tender the following ideas: Christmas, Easter, start of the school holidays, birthdays, anniversaries - let those whose marriages last make a fuss about it, I suggest - exam results, homecomings, harvest, housewarmings, weddings, births, christenings & dedications, baptisms, etc etc).

Let celebration be restored to things worth lauding.
For goodness' sake.

Friday, 17 October 2008

A Psalm of grateful thanks to God

Psalm 20
For the director of music. A psalm of David

1 May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.

3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.

4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners
in the house of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.

6 Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

9 O Lord, save the King! Answer us when we call!

More about my new home...

Counting Chickens? Maybe, but I feel very confidant

The current appearance of the 21' lounge, showing the long, useable dining area and double patio doors to the back garden.

I can't say the regency stripes are really me; and the 3-piece suite doesn't exactly float any vessels of any kind. Good job that's not included! I find the huge fire place a little grand, also.

There's obviously a kitchen, which is a good size 9'7 x 8'3, plus two storage rooms and a downstairs wc.

Here's the master bedroom, complete with frilly bedlinen and floral curtains... H'mm. Perhaps something more manly is required.

But the room's a good size 12'7 x 9'9 and has those handy fitted cupboards. The other bedrooms are 11'6 x 11'5 (square, without chimney breasts or funny extrusions) and a very useable single 11'11 x 6'10.

At this stage, I'm planning to rent out the Master, leaving the square room as an office and having the single room for myself.

There's also a bathroom, with a separate wc.

Ah, now, the garden...

H'mm, looks like some serious hard work has gone on here, and (much more alarmingly for this first-floor-flat-dweller), will be required in days to come. Anyone know a decent gardener?
But the patio certainly looks like an option for barbeques or maybe, in time, a hot tub.

One of the most attractive features of this property is that rather than the current deal of £50-odd per year for a Residents' Parking Permit which entitles you to go and park somewhere else because all the spaces near your home are occupied already, this house is in a quiet close with plenty of opportunities for vehicles to be left unattended.

Be that as it may 3/3

It's been fun trying to get a leaving do organised.

21st November 2008 at 7.30-10pm at the Clarendon Centre,
New England Street, Brighton

All welcome; please bring a bottle to share; light refreshments available.

So far 50 people have confirmed, and there's still a month to go! I'm getting the mesage; my time in CCK has carved a big hole with my name on, and I shall be missed. I know I'm not irreplaceable, but it's great to know I'm not instantly forgettable.

Friday, 10 October 2008


And the news at the end of the day is that I have made an offer which has been accepted, and I've accepted an offer on my flat. So let the solictor two-step begin!

I was brought up in Old Mill Close; now I am looking to buy a house in Corn Mill Close

And so we go to DefCon 2, as my offer is being considered and the offer on my flat in Brighton awaits my approval or otherwise. I really don't want to accept an offer before I've had mine accepted, and I didn't dare make an offer until there was one on the table for me...

Anyway, my inner turmoil is gaining pace, and my bowel has issued the command 'Abandon Ship!' as I continue this walk of obedience, faith and expectancy. It was a good week in Birmingham, and there will be many many more if this property falls into my clutches! This is actually a house, people, and if all goes to plan it means I get the things on my Must Have list:

1 Up for Sale
2 Sensible Price
3 Electricity
4 Windows
5 Sensible-shaped rooms.
All boxes ticked, present & correct, so far.

Then there's my How Wonderful It Would Be To Have Because I've Never Had These Things Before list
1 Own Front Door
2 No-one In the Flat Above
3 Window to the Bathroom (Natural Light)
4 All Self-Contained within the Dwelling
5 Loft Space for storage etc
This place is most excellent in every regard.

Bringing up the rear comes the Sensible Things I'd Quite Like But Could Manage If It Wasn't Quite Up To Muster list (known in the trade as the Be That As It May list)
1 Three bedrooms (lodger, office, me)
2 Downstairs loo
3 Upstairs Bathroom
4 Driveway or Fairly Guaranteed Parking within 100yds
5 Double Glazing
6 Central Heating
7 Back Garden (with Patio/decking if poss)
8 Access to the Rear (yes, considering a cycle, you see)
9 No Major Building Work Required Immediately
10 Livewithable Decoration.
And again, it's a full score. 10/10. 100%

So while the lounge is carpetted (I'd wonderered about this wood-effect flooring you youngsters have these days) and the back garden is rather a lot bigger, tidier and likely to turn into a jungle/thicket/wadi at what feels like a moments' notice than I might have preferred, and the downstairs loo is a touch on the primitive side, everything else is hugely up to spec.

That's the brilliant thing: I don't care about proximity to nursery schools, having the preferred small kitchen/big living room arrangement (so many have the vast kitchen/diner/family room with a tiddly living room set-up); I could cope with a downstairs bathroom or shower-room if there were loo-style facilities upstairs as well...

But the Truly Excellent Bonus Issues are as follows:
1 In a quiet Close
2 Close to lots of other ChurchCentral members
3 Cat-Swingng options
4 Two spits from a lovely park with grass & trees and fresh air
5 No Chain

So as you may be able to tell, I'm quite excited about this particular joint. Please join me for a brief moment of refection, thanking God for his kindness, mercy and love in helping me find a most excellent place. And all this is before the verbal offer bit is done and dusted, so I know there's a long way to go and the possibility of a slip... but in my search I've really been keen on two others, yet every time the next one I like has been superior to the one for which I was previously going to settle.

Watch this space!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Be that as it may

Privet Lives
(with acknowledgements to Jerome K Jerome)

Have you ever been in one of those real-life mazes, with tall hedges? You know there is a middle, and that’s what you’re trying to find, but no matter which way you turn, you keep discovering a dead-end (which, you suspect is the same dead-end every time).

After about an hour, you come across some people who look like they know what they are doing. ‘Three turns to the left and then one to the right. Follow that pattern and this maze is easy!’ they say to each other in a self-congratulatory tone. But when you sneakily follow them, a few paces behind, you discover some tough truths. The method they are using doesn’t work (mostly because after the third left turn they are facing a dead end, with no right turn or left turn). When they realise their method doesn’t work, they improvise randomly, and end up in the same dead end that you’ve been finding every 30 seconds for the last ten minutes. Ho hum.

In your despair, a child of three comes up to you and offers to take you to the middle for 20p. You pay up gladly, but the child disappears through a tiny hole in the hedge behind you. The hole is too small for you to follow, and suddenly you are both lost and diddled. You rush about, fired with a new motive (to find the little child and demand your money back) and accidentally stumble upon the middle of the maze with a surprised look on your face. You quickly recover your composure, and allow a smile to play over your lips, as if you planned all this and have simply strolled round this ‘ridiculously easy’ maze with confidence.

Having reached the middle, you sit down for a rest. You don’t know how you got there, and you know there’s very little chance of ever finding the way out. You begin to resign yourself to spending the rest of your life in this maze (or at least having to wait until closing time, when you hope a friendly park keeper will escort you to the exit). Then three of your friends arrive, with ice creams, having ‘done’ the maze four times already, grown tired of waiting for you to join them, and gone off to get refreshments, and then come back to see where you are.

You are so pleased to see them, and you follow them blindly as they confidently lead you towards the middle again. ‘Funny that,’ says one of your friends. Not that funny. ‘I was sure I knew how.’ After five more futile attempts to find the exit, which always end up back in the middle, you realize that your friends are using the three left, one right method. You suggest that on the way out, shouldn’t that be three right, one left? ‘Of course!’ they say, and you set off with renewed hope and return three more times to the middle.

Feeling hopeless and foolish, you pay the small child once again (his price for finding the exit is £1 per person per trip, because he’s a smart kid), and emerge from the maze 45 seconds later. The small child has pocketfuls of coins, you notice, and consider briefly either

a) mugging him or

b) following him, learning the route and setting up in competition.

But you are foot weary, and slightly claustrophobic from high hedges. You are enjoying allowing your eyes to focus on the middle and far distance much too much to return to the narrow corridors of the privet trap from which you thought escape was impossible.

In the parables Jesus told, the lost sheep was lost like you in the maze - hopelessly unable to find its way back to the fold. And the lost son was lost like you in the maze, as well - despairing of ever returning to his home, on account of bad decisions and foolish choices. But Jesus' parables encourage us that even when we are lost, despairing, feeling cheated and yet responsible for the state in which we find ourselves, he came into this world to rescue us by his a-maze-ing mercy (1 Timothy 1:15)

© 2002 Children's Ministry

Sunday, 5 October 2008

and another thing...

Second in a series on noticing stuff when you should be concentrating

Why, oh, why do they cone off a lane or a small section of a busy road when they're not working on it? I wouldn't be so frutrated about the delay of getting two lanes of heavy traffic into one (three if you count the bus lane, which, when there's a bus in it, I do) if there were a big hole in the ground or a bunch of navvies leaning on their shovels or sitting in a little tent having a brew-up. But when it's what appears to be regular, unblemished tarmac... I can imagine the conversation in the borough engineer's office:
'That's a nce stretch of road surface; let's make sure it doesn't become worn or spoiled by all those nasty cars, lorries, vans and buses.'
'But won't that mean some people are getting less road use from their Road Fund Licence fees?'
'Yeah, but hey, this bit of road will be nice for a wee while longer. That's good value!'

While you're there, can we talk about cycles and cyclists and cycle lanes? They now get special lanes set aside for their use, with garish red surfaces, often, with lots of additional white paint designating them for cycling only, using half the carriageway and causing additional wear to the bit that is left for the cars, lorries and vans. Yet they pay no road fund licence, despite all the extra cost to everyone else. And don't give me all that guff about green, because you will quickly find that the red tarmac and white paint aren't especially friendly to the enviroment, and the encouragement of people in lycra with those silly helmets hardly beautifies the surroundings. It can be having very little effect on the pollution issue, as the number of people who have the option to choose to cycle rather than drive can be limited. Mothers with children, anyone shopping, all commercial vehicles, folks intending to travel further than a couple of miles or up a hill or two will choose to drive, won't they? That just leaves the athletes, the loopy city-biking communters (who are exploiting the environment with electric-intense trains, mostly) and the tiny minority of green ex-drivers.

Let's get the cycles off the road, or let them pay for the huge benefits they receive at the hands of a mis-judged policy. And don't get me started on number plates for cycles, who ride with impunity on the pavement, past the No Cycling signs on the seafront, the wrong way on one-way streets and (worst crime of all) with no lights. And they don't have to fork out for insurance for the times when they have their accidents, which are bound to happen, they way some of them expect all cars to see them as they emerge from the gloom, dressed in dark clothes...

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Be that as it may

Off to London today to drive the lights and sound for the last run of my involvement with Second Impression Theatre Company.

David Weedal & I started our association in 1993, working on skethes and short pieces for Church events and meetings (with Jojo Cole and Rachie Fell). These developed (as Second Impression Theatre Company) into full plays for the Brighton Festival in 1996 with the first performance of Elephant Man 2095, starring Phil Bint in full make up, with the cast including both David and myself, plus Sophie Yule and about 130 others, or so it felt.

This good start led to a play every year in the Brighton Festival, with a second run in the autumn.

Top memories for me in various shows include Elephant Man 2095 my big scene as Harry Voss, the wicked showman who trades Merrick; Harry the would-be lover with ingrowing toenals in GSOH; Peter the skipping, sheep-like Aussie trapped in a cult (with the lovely Sophie Yule as Rita, my sidekick) - In Bed with Harry - also starring Michelle Chalmers; and the huge fun we all had in Slowly Going Under when my character persuades one of the women to indulge in a little loud off-stage sauciness. Perhaps the most memorable acting came in Out of the Darkness, again with Michelle Chalmers, as my OCD-driven inmate of the mental institution pathetically explains his compulsions and requests her assistance. And some of the most enjoyable moments were when my character Luigi, the Tomato Magnate, became enraged at the saleman who went off-topic.

Interspersed have been shows when my role was Assistant Director, chief provider of laughs, lights man, effects man, sound man, or sound & lights and effects man. I learned so much from David and from the vast numbers of wonderful actors with whom we have worked. Perhaps you may gauge my standard when you consider that my best bit of directing came when the sad old boy living in the guest house belonging to The World's Last Landlady was wearing a cardigan, and I suggested it would emphasise the haphazard nature of the character if he were to button it up incorrectly. Maybe only a few people noticed, but I believe it helped the actor to some degree.

And I won't forget the night when David tried to make his exit in a blackout at the end of the first act of Private Laughter, missed his footing and fell from the 4' high stage into the pit below, where he lay injured, unseen until the house lights came on and the audience had drifted out to the bar. There are several other incidents I could mention, but I'd start to get a bit lovvie-dahling, so I won't trouble you.

Tonight (and until Saturday) it's sound & lights at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden, for 007 - My Other Life, a Bond spoof with important questions, pretty girls, an evil baddie and about 300 cues to cope with, all in the world's smallest, hottest sound/light booth with a restricted view of the stage - what's the point of that?

Break a leg!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Book Review: The Shack

by William P Young (

This review first appeared on my site

Well, another row breaks out among those who elect themselves as the defenders of truth. Trouble is, seems to me, they’ve misjudged their target slightly.

What we have here is a novel, a fantasy novel with a twist in the tale that makes me wonder if it’s ever intended to be taken with the intense degree of scholarly gravitas which has been employed.


Mack is a father of four whose daughter goes missing in horrible circumstances. It’s assumed she has been killed, and a depression settles on Mack. Some time later, he is invited, by means of a note that appears to have come from God, to return to the scene of the incident (the Shack of the title). He makes the trip and discovers that God is waiting to discuss a number of issues, including love, freedom, the nature of the trinity, forgiveness, the identity of Christ, the root of bitterness and hope.

So far, so fictional and acceptable – except that, as one reviewer gleefully pointed out, Mack goes back to the shack, which is careless and should have been revised by a sub-editor.

Messing with our expectations

But while the Jesus character is what one might anticipate – a middle-eastern Jew – God the Father (known throughout as Papa) is portrayed as a large African-American woman, and the Holy Spirit, called Sarayu is a ghostly, Asian female. Now hang on a minute, you’ll be thinking. Can you do that?

My feeling is that while it’s a strange way to write a systematic theology from an evangelical perspective, that’s not what we’re reading here. The author’s intent, surely, is to shock us into wondering what God is like. How does the trinity work? Who’s in charge? Is it like flatsharing? Who’s going to volunteer to do the washing up? Will the phone bill and the ‘pay for your calls here’ box tally up or will there be a vast shortfall? Can an eternal spirit-being behave in every way like a father should and yet have the appearance of an alto in a Gospel choir? Isn’t our human method of defining people by their appearance somewhat finite for dealing with the creator of the universe? NB is the Holy Spirit really a pigeon? No he’s not; that’s purely symbolic.

Novels, surely, can set their own agendas, and are by definition made-up. There is work for the author to do, and work for the reader to do, and neither of them is expecting to pass an exam, preach a sermon or survive a blistering attack by the flavour-of-the-month trendy pastor to the emerging generation.

Dodgy Theology

Nevertheless, since this book wrestles endlessly (and rather tediously, in places) with weighty theology, it’s only fair and reasonable that some of it should be examined to see if it ties up with scripture or the way evangelicals interpret scripture.

Firstly, then is the issue of the gender-bending God the Father.

Obviously, for the purpose of this discussion, we do need to forget the appearance issue, as this is about character, nature, virtues. Beware, for scripture delares that God is a rock and yet we don't feel this distracts from his personality; indeed, it emphasises his unshakeability, his long-lastingness, his qualities of being a good place on which to build. Scripture also tells us that 'God is not a man.' We understand that this implies he is won't lie or cheat or decieve or fail or die or be unfaithful or grow old or weary.


The Papa character is gentle, funny, friendly, perfectly loving, forgiving, nurturing, comforting, and not judgemental, old or bearded. The character (which is, when all’s said and done, what really matters) is a faithful portrait of what the Father is like. Papa’s outward form is very nearly immaterial. God the Father’s outward form is subject to the ‘graven image’ commandment, as we don’t know what he looks like and we should not make efforts to describe his appearance. However, the Bible regularly makes references to God’s face, arm, hand, back, foot, ear, heart, eyes, smile; the scripture describes him as like a father and like a mother; the Bible shows God searching, dancing, laughing, burning with anger and loving. There is, to a degree, a slight hint of description in all this, and anthropomorphising can be a danger, can it not?

Turn wth me, if you will, to Genesis, where we find a mixture of images. In Genesis 1:26 we see God saying 'Let us make man in our own image,' emphasising his plurality (of which more later). Then there's Genesis 1:27 'So God created man in his own image,' emphasising masculinity, apparently. And then 'in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.' If both male and female are made in the image of God, then that surely implies that God placed within the nature and character of both men and women elements which reflect his nature and character.None of this makes God a woman. But by the same token, we are told many times that 'God is not a man' either.

I suppose one of the problems is that we are not experienced in imagining spirits (indeed, we see them as ethereal, insubstantial spooks, rather than the way God wants us to consider him), so isn’t there a little room for at least some of what Young has attempted?

Check out Mark Driscoll's well-meaning but somewhat heavy-handed assessment of the book on youtube:

He overstates the situation (in my view)when he aggressively accuses the writer of making a graven image. He’s certainly rude and overbearing when he describes the book as encouraging goddess worship. I agree, however, that Young takes the shock-factor too far, and should have at least maintained the male-father figure.


Then there’s the relationship within the Godhead, which is smoothed over repeatedly as being all about relationship and not an hierarchy. My view is that this misses the point about the distinctions between the persons of the trinity – to simply declare them equal is a true 50%, but seriously only half of the truth.

Pp95-96 discloses Young’s view of penal substitution, and he’s found wanting, to a degree. God the Father didn’t die on the cross; God the Son asked ‘why have you forsaken me?' And the answer has to be ‘because you have been made sin, and I cannot have fellowship with you’. Young’s kindly Papa, going through the suffering with Jesus, even bearing the same scars, leaves us with sentimental hogwash, and dangerous, too. If the wrath of an holy God has not been satisfied, then we're all in deep trouble, folks.

Jesus is portrayed as fully human, yet also fully God, and the Sarayu (Holy Spirit) character has virtues consistent with being a guide and a comforter. But it seems slightly sledgehammery to cast him as an Asian woman.


I have to say that the book makes me consider what I believe about God, which cannot be a bad thing, can it? Is there room in all the fiction in the world for a book that asks questions about God while not necessarily claiming to answer those questions.

I refer the gentleman to the answer I gave when reviewing What Dreams May Come (check it out here), a non-Biblical view of heaven, hell, redemption, love and the afterlife – and yet stimulating and thought-provoking. Must we dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s before we present truth to the unsaved? I'd say yes, if we’re preaching or teaching seminary or writing a theological treatise. But perhaps we can be slightly more relaxed in this kind of context, when we're provoking questions.

It seems that Young is given to modalism (denying the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead) and tends towards universalism (everyone will be saved). So we approach the narrative of this story with appropriate caution. But for crying out loud let’s not declare to our congregations ‘if you haven’t read it, don’t!’ After all, we would take issue with some of the theology of the sermons at the funeral of Princess Diana or the Easter message from the Pope. But we can bring discernment to the party, can’t we? If we don’t, then we have no business reading any fiction, watching any soap operas, movies and we should be jolly careful with some of the racier stories in the Bible itself, Desmond. If you have no discernment, then you might not recognise which are examples to follow (eg David's abandoned worship towards God) and which are best learned from (David's abandoned behaviour with the wife of Uriah the murdered Hittite - certainly a case of coveting your neighbour's wife).

Maybe that’s what is upsetting some of the critics, who feel the novel is so much more winsome than the way they have presented their catechism…

Context matters in this case

Knowing what you’re reading can help a lot with comprehension and interpretation.

On which page of the newspaper, for example, might you read about a ball? The sports page? Or the Court & Social page? Or even in a medical report about a ball-and-socket joint? Or in a weather report about ball-lightning? Or more or less anywhere in phrases such as ‘keep (or start) the ball rolling’ or being ‘on the ball’ or ‘belle of the ball’ or simply ‘having a ball’.

It gets even worse with the word ‘set’, as there are literally (literally, ‘literally’) dozens of ways of using that word: fixing the position; insert a jewel in a ring; lay a table; arrange the hair; solidifying jelly; the course of the sun; the time or place of a fiction; to provide a good example; establish a record; appoint a leader; cause bones to knit; provide a tune for lyrics; arrange type; to begin; a group of things or persons; a tv or radio; a section of a tennis match; in a Venn diagram… to name just a few. (Phew!) Once we understand what we are reading, then we can interpret the words therein more in accordance with the intention of the writer, isn’t it?

But I digress, as is my wont.

Wayne, Louis, Bruce or John he ain't; neither is he Eugene

This book isn’t set up as competition to heavyweight theologians Louis Berkhof or Bruce Milne or Wayne Grudem (it’s a jolly sight easier to read than any of those!). It’s a story with characters that may or may not be ones that other characters meet. It’s a book about Mack, for crying out loud, and the changes that he goes through as a result of his experience. Please don’t let’s make silly comments like the one credited on the front cover to Eugene Peterson (who has done a great work in giving us The Message): 'This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!’ That’s just not true, Eugene (careful with that axe).

I would say that this book has the potential to make secular readers wonder what God is like, and we need to be quick off the mark to explain more accurately his love, approachability and forgiving fatherhood, rather than going public with hot, assertive accusations of heresy.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

encouraging a grace-free society

There's an advert almost non-stop on the cable channels which winds me up to fever pitch. You know the one; there's a dodgy copper-actor from the Bill spouting new-age sounding tosh:

It is said that the universe is in a delicate state of spiritual balance.
If you find yourself injured, and it’s someone else’s fault, you can either say ‘it’s fate; an unavoidable destination on the journey of my life,’ or you can say ‘I absolutely did not deserve that,’ and call [company name deleted to protect the deeply guilty] They’re real laywers who specialise in getting you the exact amount of compensation you deserve: 100% of it. So with their help, the universal balance is restored.

Now, call me a wierdo for shouting at the telly, but this seems to utterly undermine any option I might choose to hold.

I might decide not to assign the events to an uncaring, impersonal universe in which I'm merely a cog in the unending wheel of life. Personally, I find this idea repellant, as it denies the existence of God and gives me no sense of self-worth or purpose. My injury is just tough luck and part of the accident of human evolution.

By the same token, I mght choose not to cry out 'I deserve more respect, and somebody's going to be made to pay for this insult to my pride and the hurt to my body, which I prize above everythng else in this world, except perhaps the money I can make from this! I want all the compensation I deserve. 100% of it.'

The blame culture, litigation and propping up my injured arrogance are loathsome attitudes to have, and it's appalling that this advert actively encourages the greed. I feel sure that if I was to be harmed by someone else, I'd have feelings of rsentment and harbour desires for revenge. This sort of advertising plays upon those dark, unworthy, selfish feelings.

Yes, someone else should have taken more care or trouble. But what about forgiveness, mercy, grace, peace-making and not 'standing up for your rights'?

Isn't that the way Jesus woud prefer? Actually, isn't that the way Jesus acted when he had every opportunity to complain about the unfair injuries others were causing him unjustly...

Makes you think, doesn't it? And if not, why not? Exactly how much is 100% of the compensation you deserve? By Bible reckoning, none, since you don't deserve anything except judgement. You may have received mercy through the death of Jesus Christ, and if so, then remember the bit that says 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.' Matthew 6:12

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Let Justice be done (or at least be on the agenda)

Once again the merry theme music of MotD fades away, and no-one has discussed the crying need for a serious review of the officials within the beautiful game.

Once again, there were refereeing decisions which
1) generate joy or anger in equal proportions among the loyal fans
2) promote or relegate teams (representing dozens of millions of pounds of revenue) and
3) bring the game into disrepute with anyone who cares about things being right and just and proper.

The shame and embarassment of the FA having to overturn the 3-match ban for John Terry following his non-foul the other week could have been avoided. The disgraceful penalty decision in today's match where Bolton's Jlloyd Samuel took the ball skillfully and cleanly off the toe of Ronaldo, who then appeared to dive, should have repercussions which shake the officiating system to its roots. United went on to win the match 2-0.

Now, all I ask is that the referee be given the help which is already available. The caneras are already in place; the technology is there to provide a video judge with the opportunity to examine the slow-mo/multi-view/action replay footage and make the decison based on that.

It is now very common in top-flight rugby, which is another of those free-flowing games (unlike cricket, which is a game that takes five days to complete and never seems to begin) where the VJ can be called in when the ball has gone out of play.

The only other change this sort of innovation would need, it seems to me, is that perhaps another couple of linesmen (let's not pretend they are assistant referees, whatever their official titles may be) can signal 'I think there was an infringement there, so let's talk about it when the ball goes dead'. The sytem works well in American Football, which while being a little more stop-start than soccer, the idea of throwing down a flag at least gives the chance for advantages to be played.

Then if a penalty decision needs to be made, like the one today, we wait until the ball goes out of play, ask the advice of the VJ and take it from there. If ia penalty is given, then so be it. If not, then we play on from where the ball went out of play. If it's a 'did it cross the line?' decision, then again the same principles can be applied.

The same aplies to offsides. If we think it might have been, then check. If it was, then the freekick applies. If it isn't offside, then we continue from where the ball gos out of play.

And let's not have any nonsense about 'oh, but the play might go on for a while before the ball happens to go out of play... are we really going to wipe out five minutes and wind the clock back?' The first thing that'll happen after an offside question is asked will be that the aggrieved side will hoof the ball into row Z in order to look at the video.

The reason why this isn't happening?

Who knows. As managers say, it's not for us to comment. 'We can't rely on the officials; we must see our destiny is in our own hands.'

On the other hand, possibly pride or arrogance is keeping the referre from acknowledging that the game is much harder to police these days. It used to be less of a strain, but now that those chaps in black have to apply the rules, watch for off-the-ball incidents, keep time, make split-second decisions and watch out for the health of players involved in collisions or gaining injuries. As well as being in exactly the right place to see whatever incident is in question. Oh, and carrying on the match ball having ajudged the suitability of the pitch before the game starts. It's too much for any man, isn't it. No shame in admitting 'I need help' when that's been blindingly obvious to every football spectator for the past dozen seasons.

One final point. Is it right that a man earning a small match fee should be able to make financial decisions worth tens of millions of pounds? Can he really have the respect of players who earn more in one week than he sees in several years, in some cases? Little wonder refs are not give the honour they might warrant, when some of them are blantantly not very good at their job. The rest of us face disciplinary statements on our record, written warnings and ultimately the sack if we are shown to be consistently incompetent...

and another thing...

First in a series on noticing stuff when you should be concentrating

Do you know the worship song by Chris Tomlin
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord? Well, in the bridge at the end of the verse repeats, there's a section which goes like this:
You're the defender of the weak

You comfort those in need

You lift us up on wings like eagles

Now, don't get me wrong. But the other Sunday we were singing this with great gusto when a thought crossed my mind and I wondered if it was a sermon structure. How about this:

Taking the idea of Jesus being the defender of the weak and applying a footballing motif:
1 Jesus is the Defender of the Week – protecting us, fighting off the enemy, taking on the firey darts of the evil one and generally doing a Bobby Moore/Tony Adams/John Terry kind of role, tidying up any attacks and launching their own.
2 Jesus is the Striker of the Month – getting in there with incisive attacks on the strongholds of the enemy, taking the axe to the root of our sinful nature, making sure that we're on the victory side. Let's think Pélé, Ronaldo, Bobby Charlton, Keegan, Rooney...
3 Jesus is the Goalie of the Season – we're in a terrible situation and we need a saviour (someone who can save) and prvent the enemy fom taking the lead or getting a foothold. This time, think Gordon Banks, Pat Jennings, Bob Wilson, Shilton, Dino Zoff...
And when the final whistle blows, are you celebrating or distraught?

Fave Hymns

First in a series congratulating writers and exploring the theology in their work.

Seems to me that there is something rather special when a poet and a tunester get together under the power of the Holy Spirit. The result is a declaration of deep truth which can continue for a l
ong, long time to assist a congregation or an individual in worshipping God.

Three examples:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteous;

No merit of my own I claim

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
In every high and story gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood
Sustain me in the whelming flood;
When all supports are washed away,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in him be found,
Clothed in his righteousness alone,
Redeemed to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

This is a magnificent piece of work, IMHO.
NB in the second verse, imagery of night and bad weather combine to speak of trials and trouble and that sense of feeling far from God. But actually he's still there, sustaining, being dependable and constantly reliable and unchanging. Just because we may feel a bit isolated doesn't mean that he's gone anywhere at all!
In verse three the shorter version of overwhelming is used in a way that strikes me as unusual but poetically justifiable. Note: his oath – God's word is not to be broken; his covenant – not my idea, but God's gracious legal bond to keep his side of the bargain; and his blood – by which I am purchased. Also note, God the Father has sworn the oath; God the Holy Spirit seals the covenant; God the Son shed his blood. This hymn's Trinitarian!
And in verse four, the mild hint of a lack of eternal security ('oh may I then in him be found') is not the writer's intention. My guess is that he knew he was 'once saved, always saved' or he wouldn't have written the rest of this hymn in this way. On Christ the solid rock I may sometimes stand would have nearer the mark... No, I think he's expressing Biblical Hope rather than worldly, vague, wishful thinking when he asks that.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be!

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!


This timeless classic expresses the eternal love of God, always looking out for me, always positive about me, never joining in complaining or moaning about me, despite my many weaknesses and sins. He's always loving, always loyal, always forgiving, always present, always faithful.
Pardon, peace, presence - what a trio of qualities, all directed at me! How wonderful How marvellous! (Oh, that's another song)
Not only does God give me the ability to walk in the light while here on the earth, but he also promises so much treasure beyond this life. What depth this song contains!
And then the chorus (refrain) gives opportunity for expression of joy, gratitute, declaring prophetically over myself that God is faithful and whatever I need is provided. Hallelujah!

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
And make a wretch His treasure!
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon the cross –
My sin upon His shoulder.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished!

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom!

The first time I heard this being sung two very unusual (for me) things happened; I wept at the power of the truth expressed so vividly; and I genuinely believed I was discovering some forgotten gem of Wesley or Watts or someone similar. Little did I realise it was a man who walked among us.
The tone of wonder and gratitude reminds me of the old hymn which asks 'Was it the nails, Oh Saviour, that held thee to the tree? Nay, 'twas thine everlasting love, Thy love, thy love for me.' (from Give me a sight, O Saviour of thy wondrous love for me). The first time I sang this one the impact on me was significant, too.
The wonderful revelation in my spirit that Jesus could indeed have come down from the cross and destroyed his enemies at any moment and yet didn't do that on account of his love for me and desire to see my soul saved is utterly breathtaking.
The Fathe's love is deep, far-reaching, soul-searching, eternal (saving to the very uttermost), everlasting, full of forgiveness, undeserved and pure beyond imagining.
My sin held him there until it was accomplished - a variant on the translation 'it is finished!'. The work is complete, achieved, the exchange has happened, the covenant is sealed, the legal transaction transacted.
There is little for me to boast about, yet will I boast in the love the Father has for me, shown through the Son, revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Friday, 26 September 2008

And off we go

So this is how one doth blog, right?
Clearly, I'm merely roadtesting this idea. Once I've got my confidence, I shall refer readers to reviews and fun stuff on my site,uk