Selfies and the Western Religion

So we have another story about a young person who has suffered trauma and misery through a perceived lack of physical perfection. In 2008, Imogen D’Arcy, a 13 year old girl from Leeds committed suicide because she thought she was “fat and ugly”.

Danny Bowman has appeared on British TV and has talked openly and eloquently about his addiction to ‘selfies’. The 19 year old confessed that he took 200 photos of himself each day, played truant from school, wouldn’t leave his house for six months and even lost two stone as he struggled to take the perfect photo. He also tried to commit suicide but his mother saved him when he took an overdose. He had a deep craving for physical perfection and the social approval this would bring.

When will we learn to connect these tragic stories to the western religion that blights so many lives? When we believe deep down that we are just physical creatures then our horizons of happiness will always be focused entirely upon material criteria. It would seem that the aggressive gospel of Hobbes disciples young people to be incredibly insecure about how they look.

The Nazis glorified physical perfection and this led to the compulsory euthanasia of those deemed ugly and ungainly. The western religion is also prone to this devaluing of physically ‘inferior’ people. Idolatry always devalues some of God’s human creatures.

The good news of God’s kingdom should be clear. All of us are created in the image and likeness of God. Our value has nothing to do with beauty and physical perfection. We are loved by God, warts and all. Even those who are flatulant are loved!

Mark

 
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RealityBites in Bradford

Thanks so much to the Light Church in Bradford which invited me to speak about Celebrity Culture, Discipleship and Evangelism at their Café Theology. Gareth Jones was a superb Master of Ceremonies. I love working with Taffy. About fifty people attended and we got some great feedback.

Gareth and I believe that the discipleship of young people must connect to our contemporary culture and its distinctive idolatry. The western religion mugs us on a daily basis with a false gospel. It proclaims that physical nature is all there is and enjoying material possessions is all that matters. In this social context we argue the following:

  • - Disciples should be able to compare and contrast the western religion with the teaching of Jesus.
  • - Disciples should be able to ask great questions about the western religion.
  • - Disciples should know about inspiring role models who are resisting the western religion.

In short, we tell dramatic stories and we ask questions before we talk about God and His kingdom.

In conclusion I explained how Gareth and I used this approach in a successful outreach event to homeless men in Leeds. RealityBites is touching lives!

 
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RealityBites is reaching thousands with the good news of Jesus

In the past few weeks RealityBites director Mark Roques has partnered with Whistling Frog Productions (Bradford) and St George’s church in Leeds to bring RB stories and teaching to thousands of people in West Yorkshire.

On Christmas day Mark delivered six football monologues on the Pulse of West Yorkshire radio station to approximately 136,000 listeners! He told the story of Jesus’ birth through the lens of five football fans from England, France, Germany, Spain and Russia. There was a clear gospel challenge to follow Jesus and not Herod! Feedback has been excellent.

In January Mark and RB co-worker Gareth Jones were invited to participate in three evenings entitled Big Questions by St George’s curate Jon Swales. Mark and Gareth not only presented two RB talks but they also answered questions about the Christian faith and prayed for several non-Christian men. Again the feedback was excellent.

RB is having a spiritual impact on the lives of believers and non-believers and we would like to thank you for all your support and prayers.

 
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This bloke came up to me…

I was talking about James Bond, rat worship, trafficking and God and this former member of the National Front, I mean the NF, came up to me! He told me he thought my talk was brilliant but he thought it very political and unlike any talk he had heard in church. What’s that all about?

 
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Ideas Have Legs!

A quick plug for Mark’s new LifeMatters course in Horsforth, Leeds…

Starting this Thursday, “Ideas Have Legs!” will explore the key ideas of the great philosophers and how we can look at them with a Christian worldview. It’ll be philosophy like you’ve never heard it before: an earthy, blood-and-guts investigation into some of the big ideas and idolatries that have shaped our world, from Plato to Rorty.

It’s not just about ideas and theories: there’ll be examples of real-life situations transformed by good or bad philosophy, with guest speakers… and there’ll be pirates, and crocodiles…

Come along this Thursday at 7.30pm for an evening of stories, images, small-group discussion, food and drink. Details on the LifeMatters page – and see the Facebook event. The first session is free for all students.

 
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Narnia Experience and God’s Kingdom

The Narnia experience in Leeds has been absolutely amazing. Thousands of people, young and old, have entered Narnia and experienced the magic. Truly Lynsey Jones and the other core people have achieved something quite remarkable.

The story of Aslan, the white witch, the beavers etc is delightful, funny, poignant and subversive. The story re-enchants the world and opens peoples’ eyes to the wonder of the world. The Narnia experience spills the perfume of Christ in the theatrical sphere of life. Notice please that there are many ways to spill this fragrance and the institutional church should take note. Too often God’s kingdom is reduced to church activities and church programmes – but enjoying Narnia should cause us to reimagine God’s activity in the world. Banks can manifest God’s kingdom. Businesses can reveal God’s purposes. We could go on and on. God’s kingdom goes far beyond the institutional church and includes the aesthetic delights of the Narnia experience.

 
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Joseph wasn’t perfect

If Hollywood transforms Joseph into a secular hero, there are others who portray him as a moral and spiritual giant. Both views fail to do justice to the biblical story.

In Genesis 47:20-21 we read that Joseph reduced the Egyptian people to servitude. In this respect he can be described as a spiritual pygmy. Consider the teachings in Deuteronomy 15 and Leviticus 25 that give us a fuller picture of God’s redemptive purposes for the world.

There is a rarely quoted passage in Ezekiel 46:16-18 that instructs rulers not to steal their subjects’ inheritances and connects this to the law of jubilee. Joseph would have benefitted enormously if he had known these kingdom themes. Joseph wasn’t perfect. He struggled with sin and foolishness just like the rest of us.

 
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Hollywood Ruins Joseph Story

Tim Rice is an incredibly rich man who has made 150 million pounds sterling crafting lyrics about Joseph and many others. Here is Joseph’s finale:

“I closed my eyes,
drew back the curtain
to see for certain what I thought I knew.
Far far away, someone was weeping
but the world was sleeping;
Any dream will do.”

To be fair it’s a really good tune but the words are pure Hollywood mythology. Romanticism gone mad. Follow your heart and follow your dreams. Would Joseph Stalin have found this advice (any dream will do) helpful and inspiring?

Instead of a Joseph who trusts in Yahweh and believes that God is faithful to His covenant promises we have a plucky, lucky, self-reliant secular hero! God has vanished. God is no longer the hero of the drama. Plucky Joe has taken his place. Singing this song, crafty old Joe Stalin would have felt deeply reassured. After all, didn’t he follow his dream?

We desperately need to help young people to understand the difference between the biblical Joseph and the Hollywood distortion.

 
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Parable Probing ‘Follow Your Heart’ Religion

Frau Beckstein lived in Austria at the fag end of the 19th century. She was a noble and idealistic school teacher and she loved poetry, novels, opera and painting. To say that Frau Beckstein was cultured would be an understatement. She loved the life of the artist and she swooned when she pondered the inspiring story of the eccentric, poverty-stricken bohemian living in a rat-infested garret.

How many times had she fallen in love with Richard Wagner, Goethe and Novalis? Very hard to say. These Great men of Genius inspired her and moved her to tears of joy! How grateful she was to the divine spark that indwells this temporary bodily kit! This electric spark of the divine was wonderfully manifest in these very superior men.

And now the summer had arrived and Frau Beckstein was looking forward to the camping holiday. All her young boys were excited and enthused. ‘Camping is so much fun’ was a popular conviction and Frau Beckstein could not hide her delight when the tents finally arrived.

The young Austrian lads were so looking forward to the Spartan simplicity of the late 19th century camping scenario. No showers. No toilets. No insect repellent. A total negation of comfort and luxury. But it was this very fierce attack on bodily cravings that filled the young men with such zeal and anticipation. In some sense mystical experiences of our inner identity with the Cosmos were almost inevitable in the camping milieu.

Finally they had arrived and Wolfgang and Heinrich, two elderly but jovial men, supervised the erection of the tents. Old Willi rushed about the camp-site waving his mallet in comical mode. How the boys laughed!

In the evening all the happy campers swarmed around the blazing log fire. Delicious Austrian ginger beer was quaffed with titters, gurgles and sighs of inner refreshment. The three elderly gents imbibed excellent Austrian lager beer. Twiglets, unfortunately, were lacking; they had not yet been invented. A dark and sombre feature of this historical period.

Frau Beckstein was nervous and edgy. She refused all offers of fizzy pop and the ubiquitous sausage was spurned. How she longed to bring this year’s work to a satisfactory and spiritually-sated conclusion. She knew that she had to speak, but would the boys respond to her deepest longings?
With much trepidation and foreboding, the young Frau stood up and begged leave to speak. There could be only one response. Total silence descended upon the merry throng.

“Boys….we have learned so many facts this year and you have worked so hard. We have studied Austrian geography and your German grammar is beginning to impress me. All of you have grasped Newton’s theory of gravity and Boyle’s theory about gases. Well done! But, meine Liebchen, what does this mean?

“All these facts are really nasty, grubby things which hide the true essence of the world. You cannot see the divine in man and nature if you focus only on these brutal facts! There is a higher world and a better world that will never be discovered by the scientists and the vulgar men of commerce.

“If only you could journey into your hearts and touch the eternity of your deepest longings. There you will discover rumours of glory. There is a spark of God in each of you, and as Goethe remarked: ‘Everything is feeling.’

“Boys – I want you to follow your hearts and put your faith in this inner spark of divinity. Follow your dreams! Do what your heart says is right! If you long to write great novels, write great novels! If you long to compose beautiful music, compose beautiful music. If you long to be a great architect, follow your heart. The artist participates in the divine life and this is the highest and best life. Again I beg you – follow your hearts and become great men of destiny.”

By now Frau Bechstein was weeping and sobbing with raw, pure emotion. The boys were pensive and hushed. This sweet serenade had moved and touched them in the deepest recesses of their manhood. Young Adolf was not the only one who wept that day; even Wolfgang and Willi could not hide their tears. Adolf made a secret inner vow. Some day he would follow his heart and the world would change forever.

 
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David and Guliefe

Following on from my short piece about the Ofsted Report, some thoughts on how many young people learn Scripture in their RE lessons.

Many British people have studied RE but it is often unacknowledged how materialism and Hollywood mythology infuse this educational experience.

Here we draw on the research of Terence Copley’s Biblos Project at Exeter University. His team have been looking at what children learn about the meaning of Bible stories in schools in England. Here are some examples:

Year 9 pupil on David and ‘Guliefe’ (sic, Goliath): “No matter how small u are, belive in yourself.”
Year 12 pupil on the birth of Christ: “that the birth of a newborn baby is the best gift of all.”
Year 9 pupil on the betrayal of Christ: “You can’t trust anyone these days.”
Year 9 pupil on the feeding of the 5000: “Don’t take things for granted and share things.”

The researchers noted that God and Christian faith were often consciously or unconsciously edited out by teachers, so that pupils uncritically absorbed a secularised version of the biblical text.

This research and its findings confirms so many of my experiences of teaching RE. The David and Goliath story is understood in a completely secular way – the little guy can do amazing things if he believes in himself!

Hollywood – We admire your wisdom and insight!

Your power to evangelise young minds is unique!

 
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