Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Ode to a stranger

The story behind the following poem is that it is based on a wierd picture that I don't know the back-story to. Up until my recent move I'd been going to a writer's group in Gosport, and group organisers Jo and Marie brought some pictures to inspire us in the month ahead. The one I picked is below, photographed on my phone. I just don't know what to make of it. The poem came out of this idea of perception without understanding.

Here lie I
Dead as a dormouse.

There is the angle of the wall,
The bench,
The way the ground falls away,
And a ragged line of people.

There is a lunchbox,
Limp arms,
A lime green handbag hanging
With its half-sunken mobile phone.

While I lie
The wooden slats form a rim
Of each story’s edge,
Tall tower blocks framing me
From the eagle’s eye

And in my eyes
Life does not eke out
Or brim up or linger.
It is too late to be sorry.
Tilt your wings;
Fly on.

© Richard Townrow

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Persecution and breakfast

After a week of taking in lots of information from various staff at my new workplace, I spent part of the morning lying in, finally getting to making a lazy man’s breakfast, mainly involving toast – and picked up the Open Doors magazine I was sent recently. I was quickly struck by the gap between my relaxed Saturday morning existence and the people who are living in danger and difficulty because of their faith in Christ and the political or societal situations around them, so I thought I’d share some details.

For instance, a Pakistani Christian woman is the first woman in the country to be sentenced to death for a charge of “blasphemy” – an observer says this verdict was given under pressure from a “mob outside the courtroom”. Outrageously, the woman, Asia Bibi, held in isolation since June 2009, and her family, who are in hiding, are in danger for their lives from hard-line Islamic groups, who want to take the law into their own hands.

Another article talks about some young boys in Orisso, India, who Open Doors have provided beds for at Ladruma Boys Home. Many of these abandoned children are traumatised from anti-Christian violence in the area in 2008, when the home became a target – during which time the caregivers were taken away because of the danger! So different to the UK where a lack of sufficient care for vulnerable kids will rightly cause an uproar.

What conditions to be trying to live in, to be trying to learn in or grow in or form relationships or work and earn a living. What a poor situation many fellow believers are in!

I need to grasp just how much opposition to Jesus and his people is out there in the world, and recognise that some people are paying a high price to be identified with the Lord Jesus – because they know what a privilege they have to know Him.

If you do, how do you remember to read about and pray for less fortunate people?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Time machines are not the answer

In this sad and telling passage from the quirky novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe we hear how Charles sees his position living inside a time machine as living “at the origin, at zero, neither present nor absent, a denial of self- and creature-hood to an arbitrarily small epsilon-delta limit.”

Then we get this interesting passage as to why Charles’ missing father created the time machine to have this function:

“Can you live your whole life at zero? Can you live your entire life in the exact point between comfort and discomfort? You can in this device. My father designed it that way. Don’t ask me why. If I knew the answer to that, I would know a whole lot of other things too. Things like why he left, where he is, what he’s doing, when he’s coming back, if he’s coming back.

I don’t miss him anymore. Most of the time, anyway. I want to. I wish I could but unfortunately, it’s true: time does heal. It will do so whether you like it or not, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If you’re not careful, time will take away everything that ever hurt you, everything you have ever lost, and replace it with knowledge. Time is a machine; it will convert your pain into experience. Raw data will be compiled, will be translated into a more comprehensible language. The individual events of your life will be transmuted into another substance called memory and in the mechanism something will be lost and you will never be able to reverse it, you will never again have the original moment back in its uncategorized, preprocessed state. It will force you to move on and you will not have a choice in the matter.” (All quotes from p.54, Atlantic Books Ltd, 2010)

Aside from this being an interestingly written (though morbid) paragraph of complex prose, what are some of the underlying ideas of the viewpoint portrayed and how might we interact with these?

Charles has made himself unknowable, a kind of island from reality. From this we see the dangers of empowering people with technology like time machines, and how people can be self-destructive due to trauma or depression.

His position is described as being “between comfort and discomfort”. This is where he chooses to live, avoiding living his life in the present. Do we not see people around us doing this psychologically, or practically – avoiding responsibility, or perhaps unable to cope with what is really happening? Or out of a sense of directionless-ness keeping on in the same dead-end situation, rather than making any changes in their lives? And doing all this as they see no end or outcome to their pain or life situation?

I love how the book’s author plays with tenses and scientific terminology and uses it as imagery in this book, but here it adds up to some quite bare truths. Here we see a mathematical methodical explanation of the pain of human experience, just laid out for us to stagger under the weight of it. Charles describes well the paradox of suffering, that we want people to matter to us and yet this could well bring us more pain, so that some suffering, even emotional turmoil, is desired as we seek to maintain our humanity and increase our love for others.

In the Christian faith, the way that pain is taken away is thankfully not for it to become trivialised or merely converted into data. No, instead, when God returns to remake the world it will be seen that all the pain of this world was an aching anguish for him to come. Pain is a profound and deep part of our experience as we wait for the God-man, Jesus Christ, to come again. And he will come and reward suffering people with his presence, wiping away the tears of pain with his love for us (Revelation 21).

Charles loses track of the days through his half- or non-living in the machine, but the experience for the Christian in eternity will be real living. God, who is outside time, promises to wrap up this world and its time, and create a new time, where things grow better and better for believers, every day, as we are eternally blessed by and get to know the depths of an eternal God. This view of time, exclusive to those in Christ’s lasting kingdom, is mind-blowing, purpose-giving and satisfying.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Comic Review of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born

An excellent purchase, this graphic novel seems to draw on a whole culture created by Stephen King in his fantasy series, including a specific Wild West-inspired dialect and weapon set, an interesting approach to honour, a sense of legacy and supernatural mystery about the evil John Farson’s men.

It opens within some apprentices seeking to become “gunslingers” to follow their missing fathers into war, seeking to "remember the face of their fathers" (brilliant enigmantic phrases like this abound). Beyond that we find a tale of growth and hope and dark brooding despair, inked in gorgeous gothic detail by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove.

It’s particularly the mix of courage and doom that got me excited, and that strange narrator spinning us the story, provoking us with “what ifs” and lamenting the strange bents of the unfortunate characters and their destinies – it’s unlike any other graphic novel in this respect. By the end, writer Peter David gives us a sense that we have witnessed something truly significant, a fate that will have great implications for this world and the future.

Has anyone read the whole series of Dark Tower novels, which this was inspired by? Apparently, as part of his desire to include many different realities, the books incorporate elements (and characters) from Stephen King’s other works – how does this work I wonder? I wonder is John Farson is supposed to be Satan? And how you feel about meta-narratives, with many levels – do you like them, or do they just create too many complications?

Click here for a list of other graphic novels I recommend.

Evidence for God

On the right I have added a page with some evidence for God - adapted from a talk I heard back at New Word Alive 2010. Yes, this is long overdue! A snippet I liked is below. This is from a portion where we are talking about how the accounts of the New Testament of the Bible are good historical evidence to show us the amazing events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who came from God to show Him to us.
The gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability. For instance, take Luke, who wrote both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (or “the Acts of the Apostles”) in the New Testament. The opening to the gospel of Luke, where he explains he intends to write an accurate history based on eyewitness accounts, is written in Greek, which was the language used by learned historians of the time. By doing this Luke is straight-away pinning his reputation on the work as a work of history.
But was Luke reliable in getting his facts straight? Looking closely at the book of Acts, which overlaps significantly with the history of the ancient world, classical scholar Colin Hemer has found a wealth of historical detail, from political to local knowledge, that all matches up with what we know eg about trade routes in particular years and areas and the peculiar titles of local officials. Professor Sherwin-White says “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming… even in matters of detail”. According to world-famous archaeologist Sir William Ramsey “Luke is a historian of the first-rank … This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
Click on the page on the right entitled "Evidence for God - a few examples" for more. Thanks to Amy Orr-Ewing who didn't have time for me to interview her as she had to go pick up her kids - but she gave me some of her notes :) Check out her book But is it Real?, which I wrote about here.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Anime: Review of interesting action/drama "Tekkonkinkreet"

This Japanese animated film isn’t going to be for everyone, but you will probably like it if you liked the weirdness and the action of The Matrix or Akira and the colour of Slumdog Millionaire. Starring two brothers, Black and White, known as the Cats, who roam the streets and stamp their authority over the area, much of the drama comes from the fact that they are both children, making their way on their own, carrying out death-defying street-running stunts; but, because of how young they are, the violence they get into is quite disturbing, the measures they take to protect one another necessarily lethal.

Why are they being attacked by Terminator-like, unstoppable blue figures, silent figures who appear with little explanation, as if from some advanced alien future? They have been set on the Cats by Snake who wants to modernise Treasure Town and bring in more money for the Yakuza. The gangsters are trying to change, despite growing pains, and the brutal tactics they take mirror Black’s journey, who, as the older and more canny brother, becomes wilder in defending their street lifestyle.

There are mysteries a-plenty in the town, especially the bond between Black and the childishly playful White, with her strange, probably psychic, insights. And the theme of loss of innocence as the city changes pervades the story, including a brief scene depicting the two cops (whose empty threats are ignored by the gangsters) visiting a strip club for the first time to meet an older Yakuza. Perhaps the blue men are figures of an unstoppable amoral future, or show how the city is being taken over by a modern alien world outside.

With a shocking climax that takes us further away from the reality of the colourful city, it’s clear that in this town the price of safety is corruption, but what kind of safety does it buy? And can corruption be undone? These are questions left ambivalent despite a satisfying end to the brothers’ story. Maybe too disturbing or weird for some, I found this action-packed and interesting story highly entertaining.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Rescuing Hyrule and the Twilight Princess

As I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii lately, I just want to share how awesome the Lakebed/Water Temple is. OK, the previous temple in the Goron Mines had some brilliant sections as you worked out how to magnetise parts of the wall to get to different areas. But the Water Temple I loved because the whole area was one big puzzle. There must be some Japanese riddle-maker behind this entire area, to keep you from the darkly powerful “fused shadow” which the boss guards inside. Perhaps the idea is that, even as you unlock the rooms, you are proving your worthiness of the prize, as a persistent and wise hero.

If I drew a diagram of the Temple and marked how you get to the boss it would involve lots of circles around a central point. The central island contains the exit to the boss, but to reach it you need to release water from the lake above you out of the right surrounding rooms to raise the water level in the centre. But even within this puzzle there’s more – as you need to release some of it so it is funnelled in the right directions to access particular doors in the central room in order to release more water. And you need the right keys along the way.

I guess the layout is similar to the ugly but ingenius Goron temple in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, a game I sadly never finished.

Rarely am I inspired enough by a computer game to want to write about it, but this was one of those moments. I also like the anime-inspired story of the game, which is fuller than in previous instalments of Zelda. Weirdly though, the game is almost too similar to previous games. It makes a change when you get to swordfight a band of goblins on horseback through Hyrule, scare the townspeople in your cursed wolf form, or find a new item to exploit. The music should be better too. I hope Nintendo can continue to keep the series true to its epic and heroic roots while taking into some more unexpected directions as well.

When I move next week I’m going to miss having the family Wii around, to play this, Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition, Super Mario Galaxy, Wii Sports Resort, and Super Smash Bros Brawl – all great games.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

2011 - a year where I hope God is more and more my joy

Happy New Year! In the next week or so, expect a few posts from me on everything from anime film to reasons for believing in God's existence. But for today, here are some of the things I've been learning about God and his ways in the last few weeks and months.

  • There are two paths in life, God's one and the way of fools, the latter of which will be attractive to the eye, but only the former both offering and giving things of lasting value and excellence (see Proverbs, where Wisdom calls out offers us true life, prefiguring Jesus and his role in preaching the kingdom of God).
  • The Christian life is about responding to God’s goodness and undeserved love towards us by doing God’s will here on earth as part of his family, identifying ourselves with him while we wait for the fullness of the salvation that has been won for us (Romans 12, Mark 3:34-5).
  • The end of all history is God’s end, planned from long ago with a special place for us who know and love him (Ephesians 1:4-6, Romans 15:8-13, or read When I Don’t Desire God).
  • The call to love others in the church is God’s heart goal for us, that through this love we would show him to the world. Plus there is a great need to pray earnestly for the lost (from a talk on humility by Francis Chan).
  • It's been amazing to understand over Christmas the way Jesus came to live on earth ultimately to die for our benefit, to do a work of God for the glory of God. What gets me is how this precious anointed one of God, loved from eternity by the Father in heaven with the Father and Spirit, this one, the Christ, lived through the daily hard knocks of a life of poverty and frustration and pain and disappointment - and he did it joyfully obeying his Father, he did it to rescue us and be our light and the way to God for all who take up their cross and follow him. He lived this normal life for us, growing up like us, coming under men and women who taught him and berated him. And this life he lived came with all its hurt, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, striving for more, seeing only less; with being treated evil-ly in many ways and by many people; with being shown barely any love in return in comparison to the infinite love and worship he is due. He was committed to us and to God's glory in us with his whole self. He loves us!
  • It's no good trying to do something - anything - for God, or for love, without asking God's help. It's an arrogance to try to go it alone. It's a folly not to seek his help with any goal or meeting or event or time with family or with church or time to relax. It's a folly not to seek him for assurance that he cares for us, because he does. It's dumb to not ask to grow in Him. It's silly to not seek his help to become like Christ and to have a good relationship with God.
I hope you find this helpful. See you I hope during the year, and perhaps we can talk about how God is to shape our lives.