Sunday, December 19, 2010

Really? REALLY?

A bold claim.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember Sodastreams being crap. You had to buy the fabulously expensive syrups (made from unicorn blood and rocking horse droppings judging by the price) and the carbonating canisters, and you ended up with a drink that tasted a little bit like the drink normal people bought in the shops, but not quite. You got the same effect much more cheaply by buying Panda Pops.

Greatest Christmas present ever?

Yes, if you want to get your kids used to disappointment at Christmas.

That would work as a new caption.

"Sodastream - how disappointment tastes"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Best bits of 2010, part 2 - TV

I always say that I don't watch a lot of telly, but thinking about this haas made me realise that maybe I watch more than I think I do.

So what were the highlights of 2010? Well in no particular order, they would have to be:

Camo Daleks with Union flags beneath the eyepieces in Doctor Who - the best Daleks ever. Although then they were blown up at the end of the episode by "proper" Daleks in primary colours that looked crap. Still, a Dalek asking if the Doctor would like a cup of tea was awesome.

In fact the series of Dr Who with Matt Smith replacing David Tennant was really quite good, although I wasn't too fussed about the over-arching storyline.

Season 3 of Chuck had some good moments too. The first half of the season was fairly awkward, but the last few episodes were gripping. I watched the series on DVD (thanks, Connor, for lending it to me) as it was shown on Monday nights when I was on youth. There is a danger with series like Chuck that it will get overwhelmingly silly after a while, yet so far it has managed to avoid that.

Season 3 of Outnumbered was very good, as to be expected. This is the one comedy show that has me biting my knuckles with embarrassment on a regular basis. The stand-out episode for me was one where Sue's incredibly annoying, flighty sister brought her American self-help guru husband over to meet the family. Karen, the little girl in the show, mercilessly questioned him until he cracked. It was awesome and painful to watch at the same time.

There was also a brilliant joke that was trailed extensively before the season - when Karen is told that a woman can be any shape or size she wants to be. Karen turns her head on one side and says 'What about a hexagon?'

Two new shows from America that are airing on Sky 1 seem to be producing the goods. I haven't seen too many episodes of The Middle, but what I have seen has made me laugh. And then there is Raising Hope, made by the same team who produced My Name is Earl, and very funny. Like MNIE, the central cast of misfits and losers are cringe-inducing, yet loveable. They have good hearts and that's what makes them work as character.

Raising Hope is also one of the best stories of unrequited love I've seen in a while. Jimmy's attempts to woo Sabrina capture that sense of desperation about not trying to look too desperate; of wanting someone but trying so hard not to scare them off. It is poetry.

A love story of a different kind has shown up in the latest series of The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon has a girlfriend, possessing equal brainiac weirdness as him. I quite like 'Big Bang' (especially as the Barenaked Ladies composed the theme song!), and it seems to be maturing quite nicely as a sitcom, with no signs of flagging yet.

But there is one stand-out TV moment of the year for me - from the second series of Castle, itself a great show despite being a detective series. I normally avoid detective shows, but this has enough quirky charm to keep me interested.

It stars Nathan Fillion, one-time star of the great Firefly. One episode of Castle begins with Fillion, as Rick Castle, dressed in his old Firefly garb for Hallowe'en. His daughter Alexis asks him what he is meant to be.

"Space Cowboy," he says.

"Didn't you wear that outfit, like, five years ago," she asks condescendingly.

"Yeah," he admits, before saying in a small voice, "but I really liked it."

That is probably the best TV crossover inside joke I have ever seen. It was brilliant. Definitely my highlight of the year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

You can't be black and Welsh, according to Cardiff Council

Or any other skintone, apart from white, at least according to the 'Community Engagement form' I just filled in for them.

The categories for ethnic background only included 'Welsh' in the white section.

Sorry, my non-vanilla amigos. The best you can be, according to the form, is 'British'.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dream jobs, calling, commitments and California

At the moment I am tempted to apply for a job in California. And not just because of the weather. It’s a company I admire. It would be a taxing job I would love. So, what’s stopping me?

I guess there’s the sense of duty and of calling. I have become involved in my church youth programme and leaving would create a hole there. Yes, it could be plugged and I’m not so deluded as to think I am irreplaceable. But if I’m serious about what I do there, then I have to be serious about staying there.

Then there’s my current work, which opened up for me while I was on redundancy. It offers me opportunities to make life better for people. It gives me the chance to gently influence. And I enjoy it, the work is often fun, my team is great, my managers are great (at least one of them reads this blog so I have to be nice – ha ha!).

What struck me as I walked to work (through the bitter non-Californian cold) was that this would be so much simpler if the job I’d seen in the Golden State was a church job. There would be no question, then, that I was being ‘called’. I could leave in clear conscience, knowing that I was serving God in another part of the world, therefore it must be the right thing to do.

Obviously I’m being facetious there. But I’ve seen and heard that enough in Christian circles. It’s the ultimate justification for quitting what you do where you are and going off and doing something else.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before my suspicions about serial church planters, who always seem to be upping sticks and leaving the ‘easy’ work of actually running a church to somebody else. In the quasi-evangelical / charismatic wing of the church, nobody ever seems to question the validity of this activity, even though in this country it is often about planting a particular brand of church in a place where that style of church hadn’t been present before.

There’s a street in Cardiff with a Starbucks, a Coffee #1, a Costa and a CafĂ© Nero on.

It’s all just coffee.

I know people will say, ‘Well, what about the church-planting Paul did in the book of Acts. It’s Biblical.’ To which I can only say, ‘Yeah, but a) we no longer live in the first century, b) there are churches already in most places, and c) you’re not the Apostle Paul. Sorry, you’re not.’

What church planting can do is exacerbate the factionalism that already blights the church scene, as yet another bunch of people pile in to a crowded space and try and establish a slightly different flavour of the same thing. Paul wasn’t big on factionalism. In fact, his tactic seemed to be to hunt out the pre-existing believers and join in with what they were doing, not just start from the ground up. But, hey, I could be wrong. I’ve only got a theology degree and fourteen different Bibles in the house.

This has turned into a slightly cynical commentary on church trends. But I do wonder if swapping cold and gloomy Cardiff for the sun-dappled hillsides of California would seem more acceptable to my churched friends if the job was in a church there.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Best bits of 2010, part 1 - Music

I've started this early this year, with a category that I don't have much to say in really.

We went to one stand-out gig this year - the Barenaked Ladies in Bristol. They were awesome and it was a privelige to be present when a bunch of very talented people were having fun making music and wanted you to join in. That's always the best kind of gig, really.

At the gig we also discovered Canadian singer/songwriter Joel Plaskett. We bought his album and have listened to it many times since. I would like to collect his other stuff but as it's only available in Canada, I've put off buying up the back catalogue for the moment.

We saw Terrorvision on one of their sporadic returns to the gigging scene. They were very good, although replacing the legendary Shutty meant they weren't the 'Vision of old.

Album-wise, there hasn't been much really that I was particularly convinced by. Crossfire by Brandon Flowers was fairly good. I enjoyed it. Have to admit I think the description of it as 'Killers Lite' just about summed it up.

The new Florence & the Machine album that she promised at the disappointing Cooper's Field gig back in the summer still hasn't materialised. Meanwhile a second special edition of 'Lungs' has been released with some remixes on. The bonus material on the first special edition was fairly low quality. I'm beginning to wonder if Florence is going to be a one-album success. Hopefully not.

Which leaves us with 'Everyone Wants to be on TV' by Scouting for Girls, which is okay, but probably earns my vote for best album by default because there wasn't much else out there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

By the wayside

Disappointment with other people is sometimes hard to live with.

Almost two years ago the (Christian family) organisation I worked for was rocked when the recently departed director left his wife and moved in with the lover he had apparently been having an affair with for almost a year.

We all had questions about it, but ultimately we will never know why he chose to do that. The aftermath was an alienated family, broken friendships, and a sense of questioning wonder that anyone would do that and claim that God was okay with it.

A couple of months ago a couple I've known for several years split up when the husband moved out. There doesn't seem to be a reason why he left. I remember their children being born and he seemed such a doting Dad. As a couple they appeared to be soul mates.

I admit I hadn't seen much of them the past few years, but I wonder how they could have grown apart. Another couple I knew from the same church recently split for good as well, finally getting a divorce after a long rocky patch in their marriage. I went to their wedding. I remember the groom's dad giving a speech welcoming his new daughter-in-law to the family.

Did all that mean nothing?

I've learned there are two errors I can make when facing disappointment with people. Firstly, I can assume that there was something I could have, or should have, done to prevent it. Maybe if I'd been a better friend or invested more in them as people, then they would have talked to me about their problems and I could have fixed things and prevented this from happening.

It's the delusional superhero response. The likelihood is that I would have been sucked in to the row and been forced to take sides.

The second error is to assume that everything that went before was false. This is the 'John Calvin response' to people who 'fall away' - they were never saved in the first place. It's harsh, and it presumes there is no further chance of redemption, but it does provide an answer for why Christians do stupid, sinful things regardless of the consequences; things they know they shouldn't do that hurt the people they said they loved.

Having said all that, though, I don't find the Calvin response satisfactory. It's too simple.

Maybe it's that after a while people think that the rules don't apply to them? That was possibly the case in the first example I listed. It's easy to get blase about matters of faith and believe that God is your buddy who will wink and look the other way whatever you choose to do. Particularly if you're successful at all this 'Christian' stuff; particularly if you have a ministry and people look up to you.

We can forget that we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We can forget that promises matter to God. The thing that angers God the most, it appears to me, is people who break their covenants. Not just their covenants with God, but their covenants with people made in the image of God.

That's why offences against our neighbours - adultery, lying, stealing, killing - are such a big deal in both testaments. That's why - unpopular though it is to say this in church these days - divorce is regarded as a bad thing in the Bible.

I can believe that people mean the things they say and the vows they make, but then can change. I believe they can get overly familiar, even contemptuous, about their commitments, and about their faith. And I'm not so dumb as to think it could only happen to other people. (I'm fairly dumb, but not that dumb.)

When anyone lets their faith go by the wayside, that's a warning that anyone - including me - shouldn't take things too lightly. If we forget the Kingdom is a Pearl of Great Price we might cast it before swine.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some advice

I have been collecting a few pieces of advice lately. Here are two.

First off, from a random place on the net, comes this reminder to retain perspective:

"Don't sweat the petty stuff, and don't pet the sweaty stuff."

Then via my good friend, Matt, a reminder that no job is too hopeless:

"Remember - you can't polish a turd. But you can roll it in glitter."

Aphorisms to live by, methinks.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Grace files, or a parable about unexpected joy

I meant to blog this a while ago. I found my lost file!

It was hiding in a second 'My Documents' that had been cloned on to the system where I had obviously saved it by mistake.

The Kingdom of God is like this. A man had all his other files accounted for, but had lost one. He hunted high and low for it, and then he found it. He said to his (desk) neighbours 'Truly it is time for rejoicing, for I thought this file was irretrievably lost, but I have found it! Come celebrate with me.'

So they had a cup of tea.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Social Network, or, Facebook: the myth

I saw this film a couple of weeks ago and really liked it. Script-wise, shot-wise and acting-wise it is pretty much perfect.

But it is also a fictionalised account of a story that plays a little bit too emotively with the truth.

So, is it a good film? Can a film be technically perfect, while misrepresenting true events?

That in itself is an interesting question. Can myth replace, and somehow convey, truth? (Well, we all read our Bibles, don't we?)

The real truth of everything that happened in the formative years of Facebook is known only to the participants, and even then we have to account for subjective bias.

But this movie works because it rings true. For one thing, none of the characters are particularly likeable. They are all flawed in one way or another. They take each other for granted. They act in their own interests. So far, so true to life.

Criticism has been levelled at the film for being misogynistic. I'd say that's misguided. Yes it shows young men taking advantage of young women and treating them disrespectfully, and it doesn't outright condemn that. But speaking as a man, this is how many men act. Portraying it isn't misogynistic. It's embarrassing to think such chauvinism is perpetuated, but not portraying it would be dishonest.

In another way it rings false. Mark Zuckerberg has said that in reality Facebook was a lot of hard mundane graft, not partying with co-eds. Experience seems to support Zuckerberg. The geeks I know don't party hard while coding.

The end verdict is that it's a believable version of events and really that's what counts. I loved the way the story was told, and am smart enough not to believe that it's true. That's kind of how I react to films, especially ones 'based on' a true story.

And there was one stand out piece of dialogue. Zuckerberg is asked whether The Facebook is finished and says it will never be finished. "It's like fashion. It will never finish." I loved that line. There are so many things in life that will continue on. Facebook is probably one of them. The general trend towards technology is another.

Some people have described The Social Network as the movie about Facebook for people who hate Facebook. But, if so, this is a sinister message for them, because the central premise of the story is that there is no stopping point.

And that's food for thought for all of us.

Jongudmund's rating: 9/10