Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Religion or racket?

I watched the Panorama show about scientology last night, narrated by the guy who went crazy last time he investigated the 'Church' of Scientology and end up shouting at one of the scientologist goons sent to intimidate him.

This time round the guy, John Sweeney, was interviewing one of the goons from the previous show, who is now a "defector" and has had to leave everything behind him to leave the 'church'. He can't speak to his family. He's lost friends. But, strangely, he hasn't lost his beliefs. He is apparently one of a growing number of 'reformer' scientologists who want to break the power of the established 'church' and rediscover the true heart of the movement.

It takes most belief systems a few hundred years to reach the point of schism like that.

Also in the show, Sweeney talked to ex-scientologist and minor celeb Jason Beghe (who? I hear you ask), who says he ploughed up to $1 million into the cult before giving it up. Sweeney asked him whether he thought scientology was a religion or a racket.

"Are those two terms exclusive?" asked Beghe wryly.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Disconcerting tech*

I'm not a tech person so to be left in charge of the sound desk for an event is a little disconcerting.

But nothing went wrong. I just paid attention when the bod told me which dials to twiddle and what flashing lights to look for. I'm convinced that often the fear of tech is what makes you make mistakes.

In fact the biggest problem we had was trying to fit a wide-screen projector's projection onto a normal screen, possibly the most non-technological tech problem you can have.

*This title deliberately apes the title of the previous post. I wonder who will spot it...!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Disconcerting texts

Got this text from a friend yesterday:

"We've received a notice in work from the [workplace name] christian fellowship offering dream interpretation to quote 'please send it (dream) with as much description as possible. Email it & I will ask God for the interpretation'. That's a little odd, surely!"

To which a sensible person's answer would be. "Yes. Yes, that is a little odd."

(My answer was "Awesome! Make something up and send it to them!")

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Disconcerting things #2

When you agree with someone you don't normally agree with.

This happened to me earlier this week in an interview with UCB Radio as Jon the Freelance Theologian. Paul, the presenter, read out a quote from Peter Tatchell, founder of gay rights group OutRage!, about the problem with freedom of speech is that anyone can say anything.

I may be the first interviewee ever on UCB to say they agree with Peter Tatchell, but when someone is right, they are right.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Disconcerting things #1

When you have an unwrapped chocolate in a box of wrapped chocolates (e.g. a loose Fudge in a box of Cadbury's Heroes).

Eat it or bin it? Eat it or bin it? Hmmmm.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bitter? Better? (Batter? Butter?)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a guy who I rarely see these days and he asked me how things were going and whether I felt less bitter about the redundancy thing earlier this year.

It was weird for me because I felt I hadn't been particularly bitter, in fact, the opposite. I had restrained myself and refrained from saying anything too angry and harsh in the heat of the month-long moment.

But apparently the blog posts I had written seemed bitter.

My reply was that I generally don't feel bitter. But, also, it's hard when you meet people who are still really struggling. It's hard not to get angry over the way other people were treated.

It's a bit like if someone is rude to you, it's fairly easy to shrug it off with a 'that guy's such a jerk' eye-rolling comment. But if someone is rude to your spouse, well, that is a different story.

I've always felt, as someone who tends to get angry quickly, that the test of whether your anger is justifiable is whether it is about yourself or others. I feel there is more righteousness in anger on behalf of other people.

I think as well what I have learned is that the true test of grace is whether you extend it to people who don't extend much grace to you. I am not by nature a gracious person. I can hand on heart say that if I was ever asked to boast about being gracious, all I could really say is that God helps me to be a better person than I would be left to my own devices.

And it is hard to extend grace to people who have acted gracelessly. It is hard to refrain from criticism when their are valid points you could make. And it is hard not to rip the heads off people who hurt the people you care about and don't seem to understand why anyone would be upset at the way they are acting.

That's the crunch time for grace.

Martin Luther King talked about needing the strength to love. Sometimes it takes all your strength just not to hate.

Am I over being bitter? Yeah. It was never really about me or my circumstances.

Am I done being angry? That one's harder.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What do yooooouuu collect?

Comedy conversation on Tuesday in work. People were talking about nerdy hobbies and one colleague mentioned they used to collect stamps, knowing full well I still do.

"Heeeey," I said, before acquiescing that yes, it is a bit of a nerdy hobby.

Another collegue then said, "Oh, I didn't know you were a phila, philander, no that's not right."

"No, I'm not a philanderer." (People, including me, descend into giggles.) "But, thanks."

"I'm sorry, I meant... I got the wrong word." (Giggles)

"I can see it now. You're going to be talking to someone in the kitchen and go 'Oh, yes, you know Jon, he's a mad keen philanderer.'"

"Oh I could say all sorts. 'His wife likes it because it keeps him quiet. He goes to special events and everything.'"

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Review: A.S.Byatt - The Children's Book

I don't often review books on here, as I save that for my book group, but A. S. Byatt wrote one of the better novels I've ever read, Possession, so I was looking forward to this.

After I read Possession I felt depressed that I would never write as well. But this book has restored my hope. If this is the kind of book that top novelists can get away with, then there's scope for people like me.

Firstly, this book would be better without the frustrating tendency to lecture. I am sure that A. S. Byatt read widely in her research for the book. The problem is she wants to tell me, the reader, how much she knows.

There is an improbable number of chance meetings with famous people from the time - like Oscar Wilde, Auguste Rodin, and Marie Stopes. Even given the circles the protagonists move in, it gets a bit silly (especially the encounter with Stopes). She gets obsessed with the "young and beautiful" Rupert Brooke towards the end of the book, dropping him into the prose in a gossipy kind of way.

At times the story drifts into quasi-historical narratives about suffragettes or letters written by the Prime Minister's wife. Interesting, yes, but they get in the way of the story.

As a result some of the characters, especially the younger children, hardly get a look in to the story until the end, when they are suddenly introduced to the reader before being shipped off into the carnage of the Great War.

There are a couple of plot 'twists', but they are telegraphed well in advance with hints dropped like housebricks. I worked out there were parentage issues a long time before the characters did. I knew there was something dark locked away in the Potter's cupboard and guessed what it might be. And I knew who the soldier in the clay was bound to be.

I'm not saying that to big myself up. My point is, if I get it, then it's not much of a twist.

But there is an over-arching sadness to the book. A generation of free-thinkers and Fabians, socialists, artists and poets fail to change the world. Their children are raised with dreams of utopia and end up ground through the gore-mills of Flanders and the Somme. The tragic ends of life and the shattered families who are left behind are described so matter-of-factly they expend the reader's emotional energy far more than if written as melodrama.

So, on that score, it's a good book. Parts of the plot will probably live with me for a long time (much like Possession). Many vignettes ring true to life and are powerful because of it.

And yet I was left feeling that this had the potential to be so much better if the author could have restrained herself from showing off her learning.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Catching the zeitgeist with Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking's recent comments about God not being necessary for the beginning of the universe led to a question in passing from a new acquaintance and then to a post on freelance theology.

It's always good to have a current issue to address as it helps with the web traffic. Although I'm not sure that many people will be as interested in Stephen Hawking's comments about God as were interested in Robbie Williams singing about Jesus.

Read the freelance theology article here.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Newport County v Wrexham

I had an article published on When Saturday Comes' website previewing the Newport v Wrexham game I went to yesterday. (Read it here)

I didn't realise that the game had been switched to a Sunday (for TV broadcasting purposes, no less) so had an abortive round trip to Newport on the Saturday. Doh! At least it meant I knew where the stadium was the next time around.

I really enjoyed the game. Two goals, a comical missed penalty when the taker slipped and spooned his spot-kick onto the bar, some decent passing football in patches, standing on an old-style terrace where people could smoke, the vulgar witticisms of the crowd.

Trivia notes... Both teams had goalkeepers who used to play for Shrewsbury - Glyn Thompson who was sold as a youngster but didn't make it in the big time was playing for Newport and Scott Shearer was in goal for Wrexham. Newport's reserve goalie was also ex-Shrewsbury and also called Glyn.

Neil Ashton, another ex-Town man, gave away the penalty and got sent off early in the second half. Despite the miss, having the extra man meant Newport were the better side in the closing stages. (Yet another ex-Town player was on the bench for Shrewsbury, one-time Wales under-21 international Jamie Tolley.)

Both the managers were called Dean, both had been strikers and played in the Premier League.

Former Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair, now 38, was playing for Wrexham. They say that pace is temporary, but class is permanent. You don't get to be a top-level defender for most of your career without having some nous. He read the game well and it seemed every time a Newport player turned around in possession, big Frank was there to boot the ball away.

All in all, a good day