Category Archives: Culture
Amy Winehouse & Daniella Westbrook. Both were young and famous. Both had serious drug addictions. One died, the other survived and has been clean for ten years. One is dead, the other is born again. That’s the reality of faith in the Lord Jesus.
While I share Christian faith with Dave I would put it slightly differently, since Westbrook had been clean for drugs for about eight years before she found faith in Christ. However, there is certainly a poignant contrast to be made between these two famous young women who consumed vast quantities of narcotics. In addition to Dave’s words, I received this afternoon the weekly email from The Word Magazine, in which the lead quote was from Winehouse:
I don’t need help because if I can’t help myself I can’t be helped.
How tragic is that? Westbrook sought help – first to be rid of her addiction, second in faith. Winehouse ruled out the possibility. Some criticise Christianity for being a ‘crutch’, but what if we all have broken legs, so to speak? While there are certain forms of dependency that are immature, to deny the need of dependence upon others is dangerously foolish, as Winehouse’s words show.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not writing this to join in some pious post-mortem condemnation of Winehouse. I hope and pray that whatever went on in her final hours and days, the God of mercy was reaching out to her. But perhaps an age that talks of either not needing help or only of self-help needs to hear again that a true mark of maturity is knowing when and where to seek help.
Life and eternity depends on it.
There is no new sermon for tomorrow. Having to give up time yesterday to help nurse a son who had to come home from school mid-morning, I never got the new sermon finished. I ended up abandoning ship and lightly revising last year’s Pentecost message. After all, I’m in a new location, and furthermore not even at one of my two churches in the morning.
However, I did find a wonderful video for Pentecost on the web, which I’ll be using in the morning. My Facebook friends have already seen this, but here it is (again):
You can download it free in HD format here.
Meanwhile, in other news, headlines have been made here in the UK today by the publication of the annual Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Topping the news has been the knighthood for beloved entertainer Bruce Forsyth. Seventy-three MPs had signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, calling for him to be knighted. (He was appointed CBE in 2005.) This honour is for ‘services to entertainment and to charity’.
Now, I have nothing against dear old Brucie, and indeed I have a tenuous claim-to-fame link with him: we grew up along the same road. Not at the same time: he is about the same age as my father. He was a local hero due to that fact, even if a little scathing in his autobiography about the way the town declined in latter years, in contrast to how nice it apparently was when he lived there. In his light entertainment career, he has put smiles on the faces of millions. And never more for me than the classic time he first hosted Have I Got News For You in 2008:
However, contrast this with the announcement that founder of The Message Trust Andy Hawthorne has also been awarded an honour, the OBE. He can’t beat Brucie’s sixty years in show business, but he has put nearly twenty years into work in some of the most deprived estates, with difficult young people and prisoners.
The question I ask is, who has given more to society? Because for me it’s Hawthorne. I have no problem with a nation having an honours system, even if ours contains some anachronisms mostly associated with the monarchy and some remembered feudalism. If a society wants to honour those who have made a positive difference to them, fine. And perhaps that will include entertainment, and even sport, given the gongs also awarded for our cricketers thrashing a poor Australian team last winter.
But make a difference? I’m sure Bruce has raised a lot of money for charity, but Andy Hawthorne has got his hands dirty. To me, in kingdom terms, Hawthorne deserves the higher honour, hands down. At least he awaits a reward in glory. In the meantime, this is an area of British life that only reflects God’s kingdom extremely imperfectly.
What do you think? What would you do with the Honours system?
When entertainment is the air everyone breathes, it’s natural for people to respond to whatever worship media we use with either “I like that” or “I don’t like that”—even when liking it or not isn’t the point. That’s how you’re conditioned to respond in an entertainment-based culture.
Does this explain a lot of comments ministers receive about worship or other aspects of church life? As well as those comments, I recall turning up at one church as the visiting preacher to lead an act of all-age worship. Before the service, somebody said, “I hope you’re going to entertain us this morning.”
I replied, “I thought we were here to worship God.”
So – thoughts, anyone?
What I do know is that it reminds me of something that happened to me once. I had applied to my bank for a loan to buy a new car. As the staff member took me through the interview in his office, he had to fill in various details about me on the computer. When it came to the question of my occupation, there was no option for ‘minister of religion’ or anything similar. After a lot of deliberation, eventually he said: “I know what I’ll classify you as: entertainer!”
If there was one subject I disdained at school, it was English Lit. Too girlie by half, it was. Especially for us scientists. What use was it? I never clicked that literature was a powerful way of communicating a message, despite my enjoying the (anti-)war poetry of Wilfred Owen. Eng Lit was the only O-Level for which I didn’t revise. For some reason, I failed it.
My views began to soften a few years after leaving school. An article in Buzz Magazine extolled the virtues of a Christian rock poet called Steve Turner. I sought out his first book ‘Tonight We Will Fake Love’. The edition I have sells for £45 today on the Internet. If only I had the original edition from Charisma! A few years later it was followed by ‘Nice And Nasty’ , which contains his famous poem ‘History Lesson’:
And to drive home the point, that poem appears four times throughout the book.
Other collections followed, notably ‘King Of Twist’, and Turner also ventured into rock books (having started as a rock journalist). He wrote biographies of, or titles themed on, the Beatles, U2, Johnny Cash, Van Morrison and the rôle of religion in music. He also wrote a splendid book on a Christian vision for the arts entitled ‘Imagine‘.
But just lately I’ve come back to his books, and here’s how it happened. Recently I spoke at a midweek renewal meeting as a favour to the friend who runs it. He met me before the meeting and gave me an envelope. I protested.
“No, Mike, I’m doing this tonight because you are my friend. I don’t want a fee.”
But he insisted. “It’s not a fee, it’s a gift. Spend it on the children.”
I soon knew what I wanted to do with this gift. Since the mid-90s, Steve Turner has written collections of poetry for children. I have longed for the time when I could introduce our two to his work. Off I set on a virtual journey to [the] Amazon, and into my basket I placed ‘The Day I Fell Down The Toilet‘, ‘Dad You’re Not Funny‘, ‘I Was Only Asking‘, ‘Don’t Take Your Elephant To School‘ and ‘The Moon Has Got His Pants On‘.
They arrived this weekend. For the last two days there has been unbridled hilarity at our dining table as the children have either asked me to read another poem to them, or they have read some out loud. Sometimes the language needs a little explanation, but Steve Turner is giving my children a further introduction to the joys of language at a younger age than I ever had. What a gift.
Various websites are reporting a study for the BBC in which 79% of respondents (27,000 people around the world) say that Internet access is a fundamental human right. The BBC report itself is here, and the full report in PDF is here. Tech sites such as PC Pro report it, too.
Much as I love techie stuff, I think we have to be careful about our language. I find it interesting that the lively comments on the PC Pro report are not all fawning agreement. The idea of net access as a fundamental right is described as ‘hogwash’ by one commenter and ‘a privilege’ by another.
The point in the report is one about communication. Here is one extract from the BBC news report:
“The right to communicate cannot be ignored,” Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told BBC News.
“The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created.”
He said that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water”.
“We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”
We need to communicate. The Internet is now fundamental to that. Ergo, internet access is a fundamental human right.
‘Rights language’ is all around us. Have you noticed how politicians, when they describe some improvement in welfare or health provision, say it is what people deserve? Gordon Brown certainly does. It’s on a par with the execrable ‘Because I’m worth it’ adverts.
Am I alone in being bothered by the use of ‘human rights’ language? By the looks of those PC Pro comments, I’m not. Just to raise a doubt about human rights language today is to risk being labelled as an oppressor, but from a Christian perspective it needs challenging. In fact, I would argue such terms are used recklessly and thoughtlessly by Christians.
Why? Because – as the late Lesslie Newbigin argued – the language of human rights is secular. It arises in a post-Enlightenment society where faith in God had been relegated to the private sphere. In the public, ‘secular’ discourse, humankind was the highest rank of creature and virtually deified. Rights language is about what belongs to deities, Newbigin said. Therefore, to speak of human rights is to talk in idolatrous terms.
To many ears, this will be shocking. How else do we protect some basics of human existence? But would it not be better from a Christian perspective to speak of human dignity (because we are made in the image of God) and human need? Welfare and health provision – to return to the example of politicians – are issues of dignity and need. The ability to communicate – as Dr Touré indicates – is pretty basic to human life. Whether we all need to communicate in every which way is debatable, of course, but the fundamental need is there. If society becomes so dependent upon information via the Internet, then Christians may perceive that the gap between the information-rich and the information-poor could be a moral issue.
However, we probably need to qualify the link between the Internet and information. Firstly, it isn’t entirely the case – surely we’re not going to dignify everything from Facebook status updates to pornography with the label of ‘information’. Secondly, ‘information’ is an insufficient category for Christians. What we value is ‘wisdom’, which is more than a pile of facts: it is what moral choices we are going to make and live with those facts, in the light of God. And that is even more basic to human flourishing than information.