Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fake cancer

When we were at Soul Survivor we sang this one song called 'Healer' written by an Australian guy called Mike Guglielmucci. We saw a video which featured Mike, who "wrote the song while suffering from an aggressive form of cancer", singing it for all his might with an oxygen tube in his nose. It was quite moving.

Turns out it was all a bit fake. He didn't have cancer. But he did write the song and achieve some kind of fame for his amazing faith.

I was told this today in work as breaking news, and then tonight I discovered a member of the youth had handily posted this link to the full story on my Facebook wall.

I'm not into drawing great lessons from this sort of chicanery. The people who will be most embarrassed are the people who have endorsed this stuff - mainly the 'Hillsongs' Christian Worship Industry, who are now trying to distance themselves from it, and people like Mike Pilavachi at Soul Survivor who related in good faith this amazing story to people, mainly because it was a great story. The people who will be most hurt will be the ones who sent the money now sitting in Guglielmucci's soon-to-be-audited bank acounts, or who spent hours in prayer for his healing.

But there are two very small lessons to be learned:
1) Don't believe everything you hear
2) If you make worshipping God a profitable endeavour, sooner or later something will go wrong

Incidentally, this video from YouTube is the intro to the very video we were shown at Soul Survivor, with a commentary imposed over the top. The rest of the performance has been pulled from YouTube, as Hillsongs apparently try to "deep six" it, but it keeps creeping back on...

Still, and as a final comment, it's a powerful song of faith. But watching it again, I do wonder what was going through his head as he sung that and heard his words sung back to him by the very attractive young people who seem to go to Hillsongs worship events.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A sign of the impending apocalypse

Guys we're doomed. Seriously. I've just seen a portent of the end. Shrewsbury Town won a game when they were really the second best team on the pitch. That doesn't happen - usually they lose miserably by being outplayed, or play really well but still lose unjustly. They don't chase the game and come out on top. It's the end I tell ye, the end!

Although my run spectating at the Prostar Stadium (or Pornstar Stadium as I can't help but think of it) is now looking pretty good. Since Town moved there my record is:
Games Seen: 6
Games Town have won: 5
Games Town have lost: 1

And a dodgy 1-0 win against Aldershot has also put Town top of the table. Okay it's only after 3 games, but being at the top is still being at the top. Of course, it would be hard to be at the bottom. Three massive points deductions for other clubs have made this season a bit of a non-event regarding relegation. Perhaps it's typical that when there's little danger of being relegated, Town actually start playing well!

Tha game itself was real end-to-end stuff. If the pitch hadn't been so slippy Aldershot would have scored in the first half, but their big striker fell over. Even so they watered the pitch at half time. Obviously the problem was the grass wasn't wet enough!

Shrewsbury's goal was a Grant Holt header, connecting with a low cross from the right wing. The Shots keeper didn't move as it went in, and for a split second nobody really believed it had gone in and wasn't offside or anything. Then we all went nuts and jumped up and down, as you do.

And that was it. For an open game with so much last ditch defending, it surprisingly ended at just 1-0, although for a long time I thought I was going to stretch my run of 0-0 draws to three matches, so I'm not complaining. I'm still just a little bit amazed that it was 1-0 to Shrewsbury.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Seriously, do you have nothing better to do?

The background: recently a mobile phone was stolen from my work office. It had been left lying on a desk in the IT room. As it was an 'unassigned phone', it was only a month or so later, when the bill arrived with a couple of hundred quid rung up on it, that anyone noticed...

The response is a planned "clean desk policy". I don't have anything against cleanliness. But I can't help but feeling this is a kneejerk reaction to one person's carelessness. I feel like writing a sarcastic email to our HR guy who sent round the memo which talked about the policy. If I was going to send an email, it would read something like this...

Hi N---

I read about the clean desk policy in the tidy up day memo. I realise the new policy is a reaction to the theft of a mobile phone from a desk in Garth House, but I'm not sure it's the best way to respond to that situation.

For one thing, clean desk policies mainly apply to paperwork. Now, I'm no expert on these matters, but I am fairly confident in asserting that most would-be thieves are not really going to bother with a sheaf of papers.

Also, I'm interested to know how the clean desk policy is going to be enforced, or even if it's going to be. Are people going to patrol the building after 5pm putting everything off desks into a bin? Will this be a management role? Are our managers so desperate for something to do, they need to check whether my desk is tidy? If so, I will happily occupy their time by passing them some of the work I don't have time to do. On the plus side, if they are going to bin paperwork off untidy desks, I think I've found a fantastic new way of getting rid of work I don't want to do...

Will we get black marks if we don't tidy our desks? Will there be a grading system and prizes for the tidiest desk? Realistically, will this policy achieve anything other than making managers look petty-minded and fussy?

Just out of interest, if you haven't had anything valuable stolen from your desk, ever, do you still have to conform to the clean desk policy?

Don't you think this policy is a severe over-reaction? Why penalise everyone for one person's mistake?

As you can probably tell, I think this new policy is silly. I don't know about you, but I prefer to be treated as a grown up at work. If I wanted to be treated like a five year old, I'd go back to school.

Thanks for reading my annoyed rant. I'm sure it won't achieve anything, but I'm hopeful it might.

Lots of love and hugs and stuff


I doubt I'm going to send this email, but as a number of work peeps look at my blog, who knows where my remarks may end up...

(And if they agree with me, maybe those peeps will comment, instead of referencing my blog over lunch)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Soul Survivor

It was very wet a couple of days and very muddy the rest. Trying to sleep in a tent with what sounds like a power shower drumming on canvas just above your head is nigh on impossible. But I survived.

Some highlights
  • Feeling really reconnected with God, especially through the worship times.
  • The kids from our group going forward at the request of the platform to pray for random people they didn't know, and realising we are coaching fearless young people
  • Hearing one lad play the worship song he wrote after coming on our youth weekend away back in June
  • The challenge to love the church - God says "Love me; love my kids"
  • A seminar on lust/pornography which was probably the best talk I've ever heard on keeping your thought-life pure
  • Watching over 600 kids stream forward to commit their lives to Jesus during the week
  • Despite the rain and the wind and the cold and the mud and the boggin' toilets/showers, at the end of the five days almost all the kids seemed sad to be going home... and I kind of did too (although it was nice to get home to my lovely wife and civilised living)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A new Cardiff Vineyard? How nice.

So apparently, two years or so after the first incarnation of Cardiff Vineyard folded, a group of people are moving down from Nottingham Trent Vineyard to plant a Vineyard church in Cardiff. Figures vary depending who you talk to – ten couples, 15 couples, or about twenty-five people. But anyway, they’re coming. There’s even a holding page for a website.

My feelings are mixed on this. I don’t care much if people want to launch a Vineyard in Cardiff, although I would suggest they make sure they know who they’re dealing with in the Vineyard’s local area leadership. Without wishing to sound bitter, the fixer fixed us good and proper when we had problems. In retrospect, perhaps that was our own fault. If the issue is one of communication, perhaps you shouldn’t follow the advice to stop communicating.

But I think generally, my antipathy for the whole church plant thing is affecting me more. For all it’s faults, Cardiff Vineyard 1 was a natural, organic group, which arose because people already in Cardiff wanted a Vineyard church. Cardiff Vineyard 2 is a group of people who don’t live in Cardiff moving here to evangelise us heathens (or at least that’s what it feels like).

Truth is we have church plants in abundance in Cardiff. They range from the five-year old New Frontiers church, through to the one round the corner from my house, the Bay Church. There are adverts on buses and in the Metro for the Healing Church – a bold name, if ever there was one, and given their advertising budget, pretty well funded. And just today we had a flyer through the door from the New Hope Centre in Grangetown, whoever they are.

The Vineyard church planters are going to have their work cut out to make their presence felt. And it’s hard to see what they will be offering that’s so different. Contemporary worship is commonplace in Cardiff’s churches, the charismata are in abundance, people are already working with the poor and dispossessed, and there are churches, which emphasise grace (I go to one).

Also, what will Cardiff Vineyard 2 offer that’s so vital that we have to have yet another church set up to do it? The redundancy in running another church is immense – all the things that have to be done to fulfil the programme of the church which are all being done in another church down the road, and across the city a hundred times over. The Church Universal has never quite grasped the concept of efficiency.

So there isn't really a case of "need" for another church plant in Cardiff. However, there are other reasons beside "need" for planting churches. Vineyard as a movement doesn’t have any churches in Wales that I know of. Perhaps there’s a felt need for Vineyard to cover the whole of the UK. Certainly I think the third wave streams of church are seeing the success of New Frontiers – which has put church planting at the forefront of it’s ministry – and maybe people are scared of being left behind.

Ten years ago, when the church I grew up in joined NFI (as it was), there were very few New Frontiers churches outside the home counties and London. The leaders from the Bedford church referred to Shrewsbury as ‘our church in the north’. Now New Frontiers are everywhere. Vineyard, which has a slightly longer history, have been well and truly left behind in terms of size, and also in influence.

And then there’s the fact that some people like to plant churches. It feels great to be ‘sent out’, to be doing the ‘Lord’s work’. And it’s so much nicer to be doing that in a nice, British city, which is a bit hip (the Dr Who effect) and has plenty of coffee houses which serve a decent latte. Yeah we can ‘do the stuff’ but still get a frappuccino on the way to the skate park. Because we’re cool and living out the gospel you know.

Okay, I’m being nasty about church planters there. But there is that question of why Cardiff? Why not some shithole in Turkmenistan? Church planting in the UK isn’t an easy option, but it’s a damn sight easier than heading off with a real missionary agency to somewhere the kids still die of diphtheria, and you’re lucky a hyena doesn’t eat your chickens at night.

So, I have reservations about this church plant because Cardiff is bursting at the seams with churches and church plants, and I would question the motives behind church planting anyway. But there's also my experience of life in a church plant. Cathy and I joined Cardiff Vineyard on the recommendation of a friend who knew there was a Vineyard in Cardiff and knew we were in Cardiff and we were church-less. But one of the things you soon learn in any newly-founded church is that the main source of growth are disaffected Christians from other churches.

Just about everyone in Cardiff Vineyard 1 who joined after I did had prior experience in church. I’m pretty sure most of the people who were there before I joined could say the same. Church plants are a magnet for Christians who don’t fit anywhere else. Now that might make us sound like a bunch of freaks, and some of us were. The reason I was there is because I didn’t fit into a previous church. I don’t think I’m a freak, but other people may disagree.

And the prior experience brings it’s own problems in terms of expectations (‘I thought this time church would be different’), theology (I vividly remember the talk given by one guy about the end times which was so bizarre it was almost comical), and baggage. Maybe one of the reasons we found it so hard to trust each other is because our trust had been abused in other places. Ironically, maybe our desire to be able to trust made betraying us so much easier…

And on a final point, how much is the church planting phenomenon really just an outworking of good old protestant arrogance? We’ve got the ‘truth’ and we won’t compromise. We’re the ‘true church’. Of course, we’d never say that, but secretly we all think it. Those other Christians down in Cardiff, worshipping God in their churches, advancing the Kingdom in their communities, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. They haven’t been to our kind of church yet! (Soto voce: They probably aren’t even proper Christians at all.)

Yeah, I’m paraphrasing. But in a bizarre way it’s a good experience for anyone thinking missionally to be on the receiving end of mission. How patronised would you feel if any church decided your version of church wasn’t good enough and they had to set up their own?

Now, some church plants are needed. And some church plants work out wonderfully – people find Christ, communities are transformed, God is glorified. I don’t have an issue with church planting where there’s a desperate need. I just don’t see that need here. It doesn’t matter that it’s Vineyard and I have history there. The only reason I’m commenting on Vineyard planting a church here is because people know that I have history and keep telling me about it.

It could be any church plant and my comment would be the same. Why are you coming? And I’m sorry, but I think you ought to have a good reason. But I suspect you don't.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A gentleman is always thorough

Our lunchtime conversation today...

Cheryl (talking about the venue for the staff conference) "And if you want to play there are six table tennis tables."

Me (trying to be clever) "You can do what on the table tennis tables?"

Roger (who wasn't listening to me) "Will we have enough time?"

There's a man who knows what it takes to please a lady. Roger, we lesser men salute you.

They might say it's the runner up, but IMO it's a win

Fail blog has launched 'Burn of the Week' for commenters who get slam-dunked by another commenter.

This week's runner up is one of the funniest things I've ever read. I was in work and I had my forehead on the desk I was laughing so hard.

Then I saw this selection of artwork and I couldn't stop laughing again. I guess if your brief in school is to "Finish the Picture" and you don't like drawing cats, then you just have to lump it. Or not. I'm pretty sure this response is a sign of wayward genius.

fail owned pwned pictures

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Cardiff v Ajax

So my football-watching season begins with a 0-0 draw on a wet and windy Friday night. It wasn’t a bad game, but, obviously, it could have been better.

Ajax had a ton of chances and should have made more of them. They seemed very happy to muck around in the area - dinking chips when they should have blasted the ball, or trying backheeled passes which missed the team-mate steaming into the box. They did force a couple of saves from the Cardiff keeper, and the City strikers made a hash of a few good chances too. On balance 0-0 was a fair result.

We sat in the rickety wooden-seated grandstand of Ninian Park. As this will be Cardiff’s last season at NP before they migrate a few hundred yards west to their new stadium, it was an experience of minor historical import. Although it seems the majority of people in the stand couldn’t a) read seat numbers, or b) arrive on time for the kick off. The stewards were still sorting people out twenty minutes into the game.

Randomly, the two guys sitting next to us turned up twenty-five minutes into the match, a little drunk, and a little shouty. They then stumbled off when the half time whistle went and didn’t return. I imagine they were too busy trying to drink the club bar dry.

It’s plain to see why Cardiff need a new stadium. Queuing up for the inadequately sized toilets at half time in a narrow concrete corridor, the beergut of the guy behind me was firmly pressed into the small of my back. If there was a fire the only way out would be down and onto the pitch, but the gangways are small and dimly lit.

Sometimes fans with a hankering for old-time footie before big money ruined the game moan about ground moves. But realistically, for many clubs it’s time to move on. Sitting in bum-numbing, knee-bashing seats in a stand which could easily induce claustrophobia isn’t the ideal way to watch football.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Biology is not her strong point

One of the crueler sides of my personality is laughing at people who are sillier than myself. It’s a trait I share with my friend Cheryl who told me today about her housemate, who is fretting slightly because her period is late.

Said housemate decided that she’ll go to the doctor on Monday if she still hasn’t come on. Cheryl tries to calm her down, by telling her that if you’re stressed, which she is, it’s perfectly normal to have some variance in your cycle, and be a bit late.

Housemate accepts this advice and then says: “My mum did say there were five weeks in this month…”

Yeah, that’s not how it works, dear.

The (far too) Dark Knight

I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would. In fact, I’m not sure whether I liked it at all.

True, our appreciation of the movie wasn’t helped by the half hour queue for tickets, or the queue inside to get into the auditorium. Or by the sozzled older couple behind us who kept trying to tell us how they hadn’t had to queue for the cinema since they were kids, during the War. But this was a film I was eagerly anticipating, and had been for weeks. Why did I feel so let down?

Well, first off, it’s unrelentingly dark. Batman Begins had plenty of humour to balance the darkness of the storyline. There were a couple of comic moments in this one, but really not enough.

Much had been made about Heath Leger’s performance as the Joker. It was very high grade acting - enough to make you forget it was Heath Ledger you were watching. But this Joker was truly horrible, using a knife as his principle weapon because it was "slower" and therefore more satisfying.

The Joker’s obsession with knives was a focal point of the film, and a disturbing one. (At one point he empties his pockets in custody, and places a row of knives onto the table.) Given the current climate of fear surrounding stabbings and knife crime, I’m surprised this film got such a low age certificate. On top of the discussion about how stabbing a person is a much more satisfactory way to kill them, there are three occasions where the Joker holds a knife in someone’s mouth as he threatens them.

It’s a bad, bad time to be talking about bad, bad crimes and those scenes should have been cut.

Batman himself, takes on the role of Dark Knight as opposed to Harvey Dent as Gotham’s White Night. But when a hero beats up an unresisting villain, as Batman does with the Joker in a police cell, we know we’ve moved somewhere else as a society. This simply isn’t right. Batman’s subsequent noble willingness to become a hate figure in order to preserve the reputation of the tragic Harvey Dent, is less of a sacrifice simply because he has already become an amoral monster.

And the use of two villains in superhero movies really has to stop. It didn’t work in Spider-Man 3. It didn’t work in any of the earlier Batmans, with the exception of Batman Returns. It’s just not good movie-making practice. You end up with a wasted storyline and an under-used character when you try and squeeze two villains into one film. When Dent becomes Two-Face, he has about ten minutes in which to be evil enough to merit Batman’s attention. That’s not long enough for the tragedy of a fall from grace to be accurately communicated to the audience.

It also lengthens the film well beyond any reasonable time. If you can’t tell the story in two hours, then you’ve failed as a story-teller. They could have left out Dent’s subsequent reinvention as Two-Face and left him on a hospital bed. They could have had Dent become a villain by killing the Joker in revenge. There were so many better ways to end this film than the way they did.

So, for all those reasons, The Dark Knight failed. I left the cinema feeling oppressed and depressed by it - partly because it didn’t live up to it’s hype; partly because it chose to be oppressive. I can’t really recommend it to anyone.

And that perhaps is the biggest shame of all.

Jongudmund’s Rating: 5/10