Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Food for thought - “I’m not really like that”

I see from the news that Jade Goodie, one of the Big Brother contestants, has landed herself in hot water with accusations of racism against Indian contestant Shilpa Shetty.

I’m somewhat sceptical and wonder if it wasn’t all a ploy to increase viewers.

Goodie’s response was, “No, I'm not a racist, but I accept I made racist comments.” That struck me as somewhat odd – a bit like saying “I’m not a racist but my tongue is”. Yet we hear it from people all the time. A young man gives someone a hiding or attacks a woman, and there will be people on the news saying, “Ah but he’s a good lad at heart, I don’t know what got into him.” How often have we heard some hardened convict or serial killer say, “I’m not a bad person”?

We have this notion that we can divorce people from their actions, “You aren’t a bad person, you just do bad things”.

It would be easy to point the finger though. How often are we guilty of making the same excuses? In the heat of the moment we lose our temper with the kids, or we swear at another driver, or we lash out in frustration and then we say to ourselves, “That’s not the real me, that’s not who I really am.”

Unfortunately that IS who we really are. We cannot divorce people and their actions. The Bible says, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). We wouldn’t do these things if there wasn’t a desire to do them somewhere deep within.

What we do, we choose to do. What we choose to do, we do because of desires deep within us.

That leaves us with a choice – we can either pull the wool over our eyes and pretend that we are better than we really are, all the while allowing ourselves to rot from the inside out, or we can admit that there is something wrong at the very core of our being and look for a way to have it dealt with.

There is something tremendously freeing about the Bible’s approach. It allows us to be honest with ourselves and with God about our sin. We don’t have to hide anything. We don’t have to pretend that we are better than we really are. But more than that, we can have the problem dealt with – God doesn’t just want to hear about our faults, he wants to transform us. That’s what Jesus offers to do.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you… I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

So if you’re fed up with what you see lurking beneath your surface, and fed up hiding from the truth – here’s the opportunity for a fresh start.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Food for thought - Reality TV

Does TV shape us or do we shape what’s on TV? Hard to know which it is, but one thing’s for certain – there are a massive number of reality TV shows, shows like Big Brother, X-Factor, I’m a Celebrity get me out of here, Strictly Come Dancing, You’re a Star, American Idol, Soapstar Superstar, It Takes Two, Celebrity Masterchef, etc. The list seems endless, and you can hardly turn on the TV at the moment without being asked to vote someone on or off a show.

Some of them are really good – I’ll have to admit to watching Strictly Come Dancing, especially when it got down to a battle between two sportsmen. But that’s about all – I can’t stand most of them!

In all of this there seems to be something in these shows that resonates with the public. I suspect that part of it is that we love judging! We love to hear the judges’ comments, and then we love to sit in judgement on the judges, disagreeing with them, shouting at the TV “Are you blind/deaf/untalented” (delete as appropriate) and then override the judges’ decisions with the phone-in vote.

And then there’s the top judge of all reality judges – Simon Cowell of X-Factor and American Idol. Opinionated and ruthless, you either loathe him or love him. His outspokenness infuriates people, but he’s generally always right. And there is a fairness about him such that he’ll criticise his own contestants if he doesn’t think they are up to the mark. Added to that there is the simple fact that it is his opinion that all the contestants want to hear.

Added to that there’s the tension of the results show. And they all follow the same format – string it out as long as possible and have long dramatic delays while giving the results (despite the fact that the votes are probably computer-counted and available in a split-second).

Something strikes me about our fascination with these shows. We love the judgment aspect of it. There is something in us which wants to see our opinion vindicated, or wants to see talent win out, or wants to put down the person we think is too big for their boots. And all the while we’re glad we’re not up there, or sometimes we’re thinking that we could do a better job if we were.

Judgment – who would have thought that judgment would be so popular? Yet it is something we all have to face. One day we will stand like the celebrities before the panels of judges, except for us there will be no panel, no Bruno Tonioli or Sharon Osbourne to say nice things when the others have been rightly critical. There will only be one Judge. There will be no phone-in vote to save those condemned. There will be no second chance.

How then are we to face this day? Do we make it our New Year resolution to try really hard to be a decent and kind person? No matter how hard we try we’d still never get that perfect 10. We just don’t have it in us.

Imagine that you have been asked to dance before the judges with no training. Your fate hangs in the balance. Imagine then that one of the professionals steps forward and says, “Let me take your place” and he dances a perfect dance, the judges hold up 10’s, and you are safe.

That’s what God the Judge offers: someone to take our place, one who lived a perfect life, who met all of God’s requirements. That ‘professional’ is no less than God himself – God the Son, Jesus. Go and ask Jesus to take your place, stop relying on your own decency to impress the Judge because it never will. Put your trust in Jesus to do all that is required for you to get you through the Day of Judgment.

So before you sit down to watch the next show, or pick up the phone to cast your judgment, think about your own judgment day. After all it’s God who warns us, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Does Dawkins Exist? - A genius parable

I came across this clever parable (HT Stephen) about the evidence for Richard Dawkins. I give you the first paragraph to whet your appetite:

In The Beginning

As I thumbed my way through the pages of "The God Delusion", a question dropped into my head. Does Richard Dawkins really exist?

Being a scientific and rational person, I decided that I wasn't going to just accept any old theory on this question. If Richard Dawkins exists, then I would need to be shown the proper evidence for it. Others can have their own superstitious beliefs, based on who-knows-what, but I would only be convinced by empirical science. If there is a Dawkins, why hasn't he shown himself to me?

What Happened Next

As I pondered this, a man wearing a pointy hat wandered into the room. He erected a little box a few feet off the ground, climbed on to it, and began speaking to me.

As he talked he began, rather dogmatically, to insist on a number of things. Apparently, it was clear and obvious that Richard Dawkins existed. Did I not have his own book in my hands? Did it not have Dawkins' name on the front, and the imprints of his thoughts on every page? If I wanted to see evidence for Dawkins, was it not to be found throughout this little tome? Dawkins, he said, had shown himself to me everywhere. What could be a sufficient cause for such a book, if not a Dawkins? The alternatives were incredible. They required far more faith than simply to accept that the pages were the work of the said Richard.

Read on

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Food for thought - The Spirit of Ebay

(Column for local paper - idea sparked by David McCullough's post)

I’m an Ebayer. For those of you who don’t know what that is, Ebay is an auction website where you can buy and sell almost anything. I’ve bought (occasionally), rather than sold anything. It’s great for tracking down items that are hard to find, or for getting things at a good price.

After each transaction you are rated by the other party, which gives others a guide to how reliable a customer you are. There are different coloured stars depending how many good transactions you have made – it all sounds a bit like first class at school!

Apparently all this positive feedback reinforces the Ebay values. I hadn’t given much thought to what they were until a friend pointed it out, so I went and looked them up on their website. The first three read as follows:
  • We believe people are basically good.
  • We believe everyone has something to contribute.
  • We believe that an honest, open environment can bring out the best in people.
It was the first one that particularly struck me. As a friend of mine writes in another column, “Are they living in the real world? Do they not read the papers or listen to the news? A perverted man murders five women whose lives have broken down – is that basically good?”

This was lurking at the back of my mind when I opened a newspaper lying at my mother and father’s home and read the headline, “How Ebay stole our Christmas”. The article details how Ebay, instead of being a nice open environment where people generously sell off stuff they are finished with, it’s the place to find those hard to get presents, the ‘must haves’, but only at severely inflated prices. It tells the story of Scott who bought 60 or so of the latest ‘must have’ games consoles and sold them off on Ebay for double the price to desperate parents who hadn’t planned far enough in advance. He made £6,000 profit for a few hours work.

You can’t blame Scott and the many others who did likewise, but it does call into question the statements that “We believe that people are basically good” and “an honest open environment can bring out the best in people”.

Much better to admit that the whole system is based on the fact that people are basically greedy, and that greedy buyers who want more for their money, and greedy sellers who want more money for their product keep the whole thing in balance.

Of course it doesn’t make for a great value statement – but at least it would be realistic and biblical. “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain” (Jeremiah 6:13). Test yourself – were you disappointed with any of your presents this Christmas? Although it was completely free would you have wanted something more? Or perhaps you got all you wanted – would you have been happy with a lot less?

The idea that we can have ‘a community that … brings out the best in people’ assumes that there is a ‘best’ to be brought out. Given the mess of the world and the wars and atrocities of the last 100 years, surely we can lose this myth that man is basically good.

We don’t have to pull the wool down over our eyes and pretend that if we try hard enough we can have an open honest community – God has come into the world to offer to transform people from the inside out to build exactly that type of community. The good news that Jesus brings is that he will transform those who put their trust in him so that they no longer have selfish, greedy hearts, but hearts that delight to live for God and serve others. That’s the only way to an open honest community.