why the church should care about top gear

17 06 2015

With Chris Evans revealed as new Top Gear presenter – the world’s worst kept broadcasting secret especially if you watched TFI Friday – that pillar of blokey TV and payer of Dave’s bills is back on the front pages.

Groan, you may. 

I know a lot of people who don’t care about Top Gear. It is derided as chauvinistic, childish, sometimes offensive and often simply irrelevant. A friend of mine tweeted that they had ‘no interest at all in who is or is not presenting a show about motorised toys.’

The trouble is, Top Gear is massive. Globally. Especially in a certain demographic. And that demographic happens to match the one that the church consistently fails to reach. 


So perhaps we should think a little about what makes Top Gear so popular. After all, it’s got no sex, no girls, virtually no swearing. It’s loved by children and their dads. And granddads. It’s not exactly wholesome, but it’s not Game of Thrones either.

Popular Thing Number One – Humour
Love them or loathe them, the main thing that made it work – and the challenge for Chris Evans and his new team, which will include a female presenter – is that the presenter chemistry worked. They were mates, they were funny; they did cheeky banter, they took the mick out of each other. Yes it was scripted, to a point, but we know that. Humour goes a long way in a making something essentially not very interesting to most people – a new car – into something interesting. Church leaders have a lot to learn from that. It’s not about that scripted sermon joke, but about relaxing, playing to your strengths, seeing the comedy around you.

Popular Thing Number Two – Normal Language
But perhaps more importantly for us, they talked about cars in the way most normal men talk about cars. For a bit, in not too much detail, with enough to satisfy car geeks but not too too much to alienate the casual watcher. For a preacher with a mixed audience of new Christians who don’t know a Hosea from a horsepower, to church geeks who need the original Greek quoted in every sentence, it’s a tightrope we walk all the time. To talk about faith in a way normal people talk about it. Ditch the hifalutin language and church-speak and ridiculous outfits.

Popular Thing Number Three – Humour (again)
The presenters were experts who didn’t take themselves too seriously. Experts? Well, they knew more than me, they could fix stuff, break stuff, make stuff. But they could laugh about it. They knew they were geeks, and it didn’t matter. We church leaders can take ourselves so seriously sometimes. In our suits or robes with pious words and an air of superiority, when actually people  – not just men – relate to us being normal, laughing at ourselves, admitting our mistakes, knowing when we’re being dull because we love the subject but no-one else cares… 

So perhaps instead of dismissing the most popular TV programme for our missing demographic – blokes and their sons – we should pay attention. Maybe there’s more to learn that we thought.

destroying the arrogance of mans

24 09 2014

Two very different incidences this week revealed the way we men so often accidentally – and not so accidentally – assume and adopt positions of power and dominance that should not be acceptable, but are. The first is the way that Emma Watson gave an excellent speech for #HeForShe about not demeaning and sexualising women, which the Daily Mail reported by reviewing her outfit and the Telegraph used a stock picture of her in a more sexy outfit than the one she actually wore. The second is David Cameron’s ‘She purred down the line…‘ throwaway comment about the Queen’s response to the Scottish referendum result.

Emma Watson then. She takes the mantle, knowing that she will be demeaned for talking about not demeaning; abused for talking about not abusing. Barely has she finished when the repercussions start. Men, we can stop this. To support and uphold and stand by women is a totally and truly and utterly Christian – and human – thing to do. Jesus was touchy about demeaning women. After all, his own mum would have been rejected as he was born a bastard. So he made a beeline for abused and hurting women in order to restore them. To restore them. Not to humiliate them, not to act out some domination fantasy over them, not to replay years of cultural stereotypes over and over again. 

Men, when we join in sexist jokes we are part of this hateful and horrible bullying. When we judge women by what they wear and not what they do we are part of it. When we do that, we show ourselves to be as weak as classroom bullies usually are. To be truly human, to be truly man, is to stand up for women until they are not demeaned, abused, hurt, sexualised and judged. The changes start with us, in our families, homes, workplace, cars, colleges, schools. 

David Cameron. So much to say, but in that throwaway line he revealed a great deal about how men present to the world. Confident, capable, in control. We all know the Queen does not ‘purr’. She may well have been pleased. But she is not a cat. To talk about her as if she is a domesticated animal, and he is the warrior hero rescuing her country from the brink… no, he was desperately relieved, he massively miscalculated, and she is very much above him in the order. But the archetype dominant man cannot have that. So we use language, the way we tell stories, to keep ourselves dominant and in control. 

It’s not just a ‘posh’ thing, though it is easy to attribute some of it to that Etonian, private-school self-confidence in which success is assumed, mistakes are someone else’s problem, and the distance between revealing the pain of our hearts to the world is about 1000 miles. But we see it all over the place. We men will make jokes about our insecurities so that nobody else can, and more often than not will demean someone else in order to cover our own sense of shame. Most of us do not do than in conversations about the Queen. It may be about our wives, the ‘girl’ at work, the woman walking down the street, or what Emma Watson wore whilst giving her speech. 

Men, this matters. Disappearing Page 3 matters. Judging women by appearance matters. Talking disrespectfully about your kids mum matters. Christians must be at the forefront of standing up for this, because Jesus stood up for women outrageously and took the rap for it. It’s not actually about being feminist, it’s about being human.  

See how you can change a conversation, hold in the sexist joke, and say positive things about women around you today.

FIFA Banned for Biting Brazil

27 06 2014

FIFA HAVE BEEN BANNED FROM FOOTBALL FOR BITING. In a shocking turn of events in the Luis Suarez saga, FIFA have been banned for allegedly biting developing economy Brazil on the shoulder, a bite deep enough to leave a clear teethmarks. Brazil claim that this was an unprovoked attack that took place whilst everyone else was simply trying to enjoy the game of football.

In a statement following the bite, Brazil said:

All we wanted to do was host the World Cup in our wonderful country. Instead, FIFA forced us to build stadiums in cities without football clubs, to change the law regarding alcohol in stadiums in order to keep their sponsors happy, to bulldoze the homes of the poorest people, and forced labourers to work in unacceptable conditions to build to their excessive requirements.

Worst of all, they made it a condition of hosting the World Cup that they pay no income tax on their immense profits, so that Brazil suffers only costs, not benefit. FIFA have taken a massive bite out of the economy of this country, and we think they should be severely punished for this unprovoked attack.

People hold placards with the names of victims of violence during a protest against the World Cup and military police at the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, June 23, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/PILAR OLIVARES

In response to these allegations, FIFA at first tried to cover the Brazilian shoulder bearing the teethmarks of their economic and commercial dictatorship. However, TV cameras from around the world could see the effects, despite FIFA’s best efforts to keep the protest marches and demonstrations secret. This attack repeats that seen in 2010 when FIFA took a bite out of South Africa, which means this cannot be seen as an isolated incident. As a result of this, FIFA have been banned from football, and are not even allowed in stadiums. 

The future is not bleak for FIFA though. Because of FIFA’s immense skill, and the commercial benefits of being associated with them, they will not be out of the game for long. There are rumours that FIFA are being courted overseas, by people willing to pay huge sums to have them in their team. In a bizarre turn of events, it is alleged that Qatar, a strict Islamic state with no footballing infrastructure, no alcohol, and religious rules that requires shoulders to be covered, have already bared their naked shoulder towards FIFA and invited a bite. The saga will no doubt continue.  

Anti-Fifa protesters in the Copacabana at start of the World Cup. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Yes, this article is a spoof. But I hope it makes the point. 


things jesus didn’t say #7 | other

10 06 2014

Now that all the furore over the European elections is dying down, it’s time to reflect on the idea of othering. I know this is a delicate area, but to listen to lots of people claiming to be followers of Jesus, or to speak for those who are, you’d think that Jesus had said “And the second greatest commandment is this: other your neighbour as you other yourself.”  thingsjesusdidntsay7otherHe didn’t, of course, he said “Love your neighbour as yourself”. He said that loving God with all your heart and believing your neighbour is as important as you is worship – more important worship than offerings and sacrifices. Despite politicians ramblings about us being a nation of tolerance, so many seem to be actually causing us to do the opposite: to label each other as ‘other’, as different. Which cannot be good. Whether we are pointing at those out of work, those with spare rooms, those who work in finance, those from Romania, those who are Muslims… the list goes on… we seem to be retreating into greenhouses and throwing stones. 

Jesus didn’t say the EU is a good idea, or that it isn’t. This isn’t about that. You can be anti-Europe, or Euro-sceptic, and still love your neighbour. To be against the corruption and interference of Europe does not equate with being racist; to be worried about immigration doesn’t equate with being racist; yet they seem to be being conflated, conjoined.

We as followers of Jesus should be prime examples of those who love and embrace our neighbour, because we are citizens of a kingdom in which Jesus is Lord; we must not be equated with those who ‘other’ each other, making differences between us our defining characteristics. We must not demonise, or let the media soften our resistance to demonisation, and we must not allow casual racism to become respectable again. 

Let’s be careful with our words, careful with our votes, and generous with our actions.

(And have a quiet giggle at the new UKIP local councillors as they realise they are dealing with suburban bin collections and dog poo, not mass immigration.)


a new hope for amateur church

27 01 2012

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, then you’ll love the brand-new crowd-sourced fan film just released online – in normal-speak, that’s where Star Wars nerds made their own versions of scenes in the film, using actors, cardboard cut-outs, puppets and anything else they could find, sent them in to Darth Vader and he cut hundreds of 15 second clips from them to make the whole film. It is random, disjointed, painful to watch but also brilliant, and mesmerising, for perhaps the same reason.

I love the idea of fans – people who love something – being asked to make it themselves. Instead of being passive consumers of the latest Blu-Ray DVD Extended Directors Cut Olympic Edition, you get involved yourself. Yes, of course it won’t match the professionals; it won’t pass for 3-D when it’s made from a cardboard box. But it’s yours!

It reminded me a bit of when we as Christians go to “Big Events” to see professional musicians & talkers at conferences and things like Spring Harvest or New Wine or whatever is your chosen flavour, get all immersed in the wonder of the Hillsong gas-light anthem with 1000 beautiful people on stage smiling about how Jesus made them all shiny and new… and then try and recreate it in our home church with Marjorie and her 83 year old piano. To be honest, it’s a bit,well, crowd-sourced. It’s a fan film. It’s not going to win an award. But it’s real.

We don’t expect it to be brilliant. It isn’t. But that’s the church. You work with what you’ve got. Jesus came and invited us to follow him, to worship him, and he did away with Professional Worshippers who do it for you, like High Priests. So, you’re not meant to get a glossy show, which is why I am suspicious when I do.

Even the C of E, for all our dodgy theology about priesthood, is crowd-sourced. The reason there is no C of E press office is because we are a collection of diocese who agree to work together. There is no-one ‘in charge’, which is why what Rowan says is not the ‘official’ party line. It’s just his.

May we the church forever be crowd-sourced, the best ever fan film, made by people who love Jesus and spend our time worshiping him because we love him. We won’t be shiny and glossy, there’ll definitely be some visible editing cuts, jerky cameras and accidental comedy moments. But you’ll love watching it.

And better, you’ll love being a part of it. 

sacrificing jack

16 09 2011

—caution: plot spoilers!—

He who was immortal became mortal, and it was his mortal blood that was sacrificed for the salvation of the world. Following the offering of blood in sacrificial death, there came resurrection. The man in question… J.. J… Jack. Captain Jack.

the trinity?

So Torchwood ended last night. Epic story telling from Russell T. Davies that we got used to in Doctor Who and that has been sadly lacking in the bite-size adventures of Stephen Moffat’s Doctor. Davies’ Doctor looked outwards with big stories about humanity, salvation and the power of sacrifice; Moffatt’s looks inwards to saving the Doctor and his friends from their Boy’s Own adventures.

Back to Torchwood. Yes, this series was nothing compared to Children of Men; disappointingly Americanised, way too long, too many pointless plot deviations, not enough emotional depth and as Gwen herself said, contained nothing extra-terrestrial. But the last 2 episodes were much better. And the ending at least restored some faith in the Big Story.

Big Story is important. Some call it meta-narrative. Story that helps us find our place, our meaning, that tells us about Big Things. This Torchwood ended as many of Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who stories ended: stories of personal sacrifice, of salvation, of resurrection. This ending particularly had so many echoes of the sacrificial death of Jesus. In fact, you can’t help but chuckle at Russell T Davies use of religious metaphor as the first words Gwen spoke after Jack’s blood saved the world: “Jesus Christ Almighty”. Then Jesus Jack came back to life. Resurrected.

Then there’s Jack’s words spoken to the most unlikely of characters, Bill Pullman‘s creepy paedophile Oswald Danes. Jack, for all his own moral ambiguity, tells Danes, “you’ve made your life so small.” Maybe in this Big Story, that even tries to find redemption for the paradigm of the most hated figure of our time, there’s an encouragement for us to live bigger lives, looking outside of ourselves and the darkness within  to look outwards and upwards, to the author and perfector of all things. In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.

What would we sacrifice, and for whom? Because we know real life. That begins before death. A bigger life. That is a real Blessing.

bin laden with questions

12 05 2011

The world we live in is flat, was created in 7 days and morality is as black & white as a zebra. There are no further questions.

The thing is, the world appears to be a sphere. Genesis appears not to be attempting to be a construction manual. And the closer you look at a zebra, the more the black and the white hairs seem to be a mixed-up and blended in.

It is important to me that our faith in the resurrected Christ impacts on all areas of our life. And those lives are all mixed up. Which is why sometimes I write about my own faith journey, sometimes about politics, sometimes about music. Because there is no place in which Jesus is not. As Rob Bell said, everything is spiritual. There is no sacred/secular divide. 

Which brings us to the death of Osama bin Laden. Immediately I heard the news, I was concerned about the language that was used. ‘Taken out’, ‘eliminated’, and all kinds of other euphemisms. I was concerned about the celebrations that were taking place in America, though thankfully it would seem only in America. People from Pakistan were killed on 9/11 too, though that is easily forgotten. 

But what difference does me being concerned make? Am I just being pious, do I live in a cloud-cuckoo-land where a fair and just trial for bin Laden would cause more problems than there already were? Maybe. But I think we are right to think about these things. We are right to ask difficult questions to those who act on our behalf. There may well be good answers. But we must ask the questions. Because the Jesus I know was not afraid to ask them. The Jesus I know sought justice for the oppressed and he also sought integrity from the powerful.

Richard Littledale notes how mixed-up those things are in posting this picture:

Image: cdn.theatlantic.com

Many have commented on bin Laden’s death so I won’t repeat what has been said, but provide some links to those discussions. 

Tom Wright caused a bit of a storm by comparing the execution to America’s obsession with ‘exceptionalism’, based on the Wild West model of being beyond the law, writing in the Guardian and quoted by Ian Paul; Will Cookson has offered a response to that and to the question of whether Bishops have anything to say on global political issues. Journalists often criticize them for speaking out,  whilst at the same time reporting what they say. 

Nick Baines responds to the accusations of Bishop’s ‘hand-wringing’ with this example:

For example, my own involvement in Zimbabwe led me to believe that unless and until the rule of law is established there, little else can happen to sort the place out. What should Robert Mugabe learn from the killing of Bin Laden? Either the rule of law is fundamental or it isn’t.

These questions are important. We must be uncomfortable, even if we decide that the situation could be no other way. The moment we stop being uncomfortable, the moment we don’t allow ourselves to be deeply concerned, is the moment we are no longer being ambassadors of the radical, life-changing, transformative and very very resurrected Jesus. Because life is not simple. And Jesus is not on our side.

the elephant in tahrir square

12 02 2011

There have been tanks in Tahrir Square, and horses and even camels… and a great big elephant that no-one talks about.

What has happened in Egypt has been momentous, and will continue to be remembered as a remarkable event. It brings back memories of the toppling of Eastern European communism in 1989 and Apartheid in South Africa in 1991 – largely peaceful, grass-roots revolution, which the powerful cannot simply ignore or suppress.

Other things can be ignored though. There were martyrs, of course. Could a largely peaceful revolution have happened without the initial violence and the torture of prisoners? We will never know. And then there is prayer. Prayer is notoriously difficult to report. I cannot imagine John Simpson talking about the power of prayer. And in a Muslim country with a small and largely oppressed Christian population, the prayers of whom?

This picture above (from BBC News) stood out for me. It highlights everything of interest, yet totally ignores the several hundred people praying. They are really quite obvious. Bloggers should never be considered more important than pray-ers.

This reminded me of another picture (below) that dropped onto my Facebook wall the other day, showing Christians protecting Muslims at prayer in the Square.

prayers, protests & protection

Prayer is the elephant in Tahrir Square and the elephant in the news room, that which cannot be reported because no-one understands it or wants to credit prayer with achieving anything. In such a deeply religious country as Egypt, with some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, this is an interesting elephant.

It’s partly our ‘secular’ news culture that avoids talk of things religious unless they are divisive, frivolous, controversial or gay (or all of them). And I think it’s partly our attitude to seeing Muslims at prayer. Christians at prayer in churches seems quaint, a little dull, irrelevant; Muslims at prayer en mass in the outside, to the frightened-of-Muslims public, looks slightly sinister, in their straight lines, all moving together; our paradigm of Muslims in the news is of shouting, fighting, and being angry. This breaks that stereotype.

Maybe that’s why it was ignored.

We pray now for a peaceful transition of power.


23 01 2011

I remember soon after the tragic murder of Jo Yeates in December
that the media wanted it to end as quickly as an episode of
somer Murders

so in true journalistic style I remember them seizing upon the arrest of the landlord
who by all accounts fitted the TV detective show model
a quiet, shy and retiring bearded academic

ergo loner, a mysterious recluse, definite murderer material

so i remember them seizing upon him and doing such a good job of
a ch
aracter assassination
that it nearly jeopardised the whole courts process

and now it strikes me that as he was released on bail
we never heard of him again

and that now they have arrested and charged someone else
that says something about the whole judging another person thing

and we can‘t just blame the media for because we lap it up
we love a good murder mystery
and forget there’s real people involved

and this seems a good example of why Jesus said that in this new world called the

kingdom of heaven

we try not to judge others unfairly
or even at all

because we also will be judged in the same way
I don’t think we would much like that

and once we have judged it is very hard to unjudge
and every now and then we need a timely reminder.

i know I do.

many of horrors. many of love.

21 12 2010

So Matt Cardle’s shabby soft-pop croony karaoke X Factor song is number 1. Some people will settle for anything. We really will. Pale imitations of the real thing. Either because we’re lazy, or don’t expect to receive anything better, or don’t realise there is better out there. Of course this can apply to lots of things, from Tesco’s water-filled chicken to cheap chocolate to, of course, music.

biff this

No-one expects the X Factor to work miracles; nobody really expects the X Factor to be about music – it is after all a pantomime entertainment show on which contestants and performers and judges are scripted, guided and if there’s a danger they might get it wrong, they are auto-tuned or made to mime. But it’s good fun (at times!), and it keeps people who made flashy lights and ‘cheer spontaneously now’ cards in business.

What really gets me though is the lack of effort at the end. The song is always, and without fail, awful. A damp squib, a pathetically lazy, badly thought-through pile of poo. What should be the climax of 6 months of being taught to sing by Sinita and to dance by an aerobics teacher ends up as the most bland and boring performance of the lot. It shouldn’t happen. After all the effort that goes into different song styles, into finding the ‘unique’ thing – shall we say the X Factor – of the winner, all they do is a cover version. This year at least the cover is of a decent song, but they might as well say Matt Cardle has won, now go and buy Many of Horrors by Biffy Clyro to celebrate. As soon as he has won, Matt Cardle is pointless. An irrelevance.

biffy clyro

Even so, maybe we can turn this into something good each Christmas. Maybe we can use the disappointment of a feeble unimaginative cover version every year as a reminder that Christmas isn’t about being feeble and unimaginative at all but is about wonder and beauty and creativity. Maybe we can even find ourselves at the point where we thank the X Factor for showing us each year that there is another way to live, another way to do Christmas; we can thank them for being all that we don’t want to be in order that we can be who we are meant to be.  Beautiful. Orginal. Unique. No pale imitations, no shabby cover versions. Us, and our creator God.

No longer many of horrors, but many of love.

Maybe, just maybe.

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