Saturday, July 29, 2017

Doctoring the Doctor

As anyone who has been reading my blog over the years has probably realised, it would appear as I have not written anything for some time... that I had apparently gone on some kind of hiatus.  It would therefore be a little ridiculous for me to begin this post by saying something like "I have been strangely silent on the topic of recent developments in the world of  Doctor Who", when silence has pretty much been my modus operandi.

Nevertheless, my silence has largely extended beyond the realms of blogging... I've not said much on Twitter or Facebook.  Instead, I've sat on my mountain watching the shenanigans. I think now is as good a time as any for me to re-enter the fray on both the micro and macro level.

I suppose I should start by giving you some context.  I have been something of a traditionalist in terms of  casting the Doctor.  In the past I have maintained that the Doctor should be male, largely  for two reasons - firstly  because of in-universe consistency and secondly in terms of supporting a feminist counterargument about the fact that in terms of progressive non-violent fictional male role models, the Doctor is pretty much alone... and that taking that away is arguably killing the golden goose (this argument is similar to the one put forward by Peter Davison). I also do not find it a healthy way of breaking the "glass ceiling". To truly do that, a female character has to be positive and strong in their own right... without borrowing a male legacy.

I would say that in the case of the first argument, that it seems highly odd that a member of a species for which we now are to accept treats gender as physically flexible between incarnations, would take over a millennium to decide that he'd have a go on the other side of the fence.  Incidentally and purely for the record, I never treated the issue of race in that argument.  So does this mean that I would never be accepting of a female Doctor on this front alone?

No, not at all.

There are several ways on that sole argument that I would be happy to find a workaround.  In my own head, before Peter Capaldi inherited the role, I would have been content for the Doctor to have an entire set of female regenerations in the new cycle gifted to him (although I think the way he *received* those regenerations was written terribly).  I would have also have been content for him to die permanently and bequeath his title to say -  Jenny, Susan or Romana... after a reunion with any of them. Aside from this, there's also the notion that actually, the only reason the Doctor has never been a woman over the show's run until now, may have more to do with British societal attitudes restricting producers choice. It would seem the original producer never felt that the role would always be male... and fourth Doctor - Tom Baker, also provocatively put the idea of a female Doctor forward when discussing his departure.

It was my second argument, which whilst slightly more simplistic... provided more of a block.  Whilst I still maintain there is a valid point to be made in the argument... it is a wider problem that transcends Doctor Who and I think all progressively minded individuals could find common ground if we accepted that actually there's a need to deal with such things on the macrocosmic rather than microcosmic plain. Both arguments are actually correct. Girls need more positive role models and boys need more progressive ones.  If we wrote more characters that covered both these bases, this would be a non issue... nobody would need to demand any character be one thing in terms of representation... because representation itself would no longer be an issue.

For me it's not so much that there is a glass ceiling and more that both male and female characteristics have grown too big for the floor of the building they now occupy and the divider needs to be removed for both their benefit - the ceiling may be too low downstairs, but the floor is also too high upstairs.

However... all that musing is now by the by..  We find ourselves in a different world.  We all must face things as we find them... and not as we wish them to be. No doubt some, having read my contextual arguments... will assume that when the announcement of Jodie Whittaker's appointment came through, that I went all Chicken Licken and lost my mind in a red mist of vitriol.

And yet, they'd be wrong.

Jodie Whittaker is the new Doctor

Admittedly it did help that I wasn't watching the dedicated TV show (I was playing D and D at the time and caught the announcement via BBC News apps headline announcement), so I was removed from all the high emotion. However, I have to say that when the announcement came through I had a genuine peace about things. I think I'd compare my emotional journey as having been akin to an aircraft breaking the sound barrier.  As a vehicle approaches supersonic speeds, compressibility and drag generate flight instability, but once the craft has passed beyond supersonic, flight becomes smooth again.

There's a minor character in Babylon 5 who goes on a similar journey. Early in the third season, he is sounded out about the possibility of rebelling against Earth... and he seems against it (much to the disappointment of the command staff); however when everything hits the fan in the middle of the season and a fleet of Earth ships rocks up, he's given the choice to walk away... but stays loyal.

You can't always tell what way a person will jump based purely on their prior convictions.  It's also equally dangerous to make assumptions about a person's motives or about where they stand on a topic, purely on the basis of their arguments. One of my recurring fears at the moment is the polarisation of modern society.  Suddenly it seems, everything has become about "us versus them".  There is no middle ground.  At first I noticed this with the ultraconservatives and ultraliberals.... but it is a malignancy that has spread much further - Brexit, generation conflict, gender, nationalism... the fallout over all these is rooted in the same disease. It damages friendships and destroys dialogue. It takes no prisoners and causes collateral damage in the middle ground that gets denied.  This is a much larger topic which I hope to return to at a later date.

Returning to the topic of Doctor Who through the lens of this disquiet, I would encourage all fans of the show to be patient and bear with others who have different feelings about the change of direction/format. It seemed to me no sooner had the announcement been made, that a number of exaggerated responses came out from people with strong feelings on both sides:
  • People saying the show is dead and refusing point blank to watch it any more.
  • People making misogynistic remarks.
  • People pre-empting negative responses and making vitriolic statements that those who held different views were never fans of the show.
  • People "Virgin shaming" others who were against the idea.
That last one is something that particularly annoys me.  I find it ridiculous and unacceptable.  We live in a society that quite rightly frowns on and calls out against those who abuse/persecute select sexual minorities and yet turns a blind eye when people use another as a badge of shame. There is no shame... celibacy is a perfectly valid choice.  And for those who don't necessarily make that choice, but find themselves living under the banner... I think getting hung up on that one aspect of life leaves you a bit lopsided and sets you up for more trouble.

But really all these reactions are over the top. We absolutely need to respect that in many cases, people are needing to make a journey along the change curve.  Though I personally accept the change in direction, I do still harbour a few reservations... and having sympathy with some of those who now find themselves ostracised for the position they maintain, because I once trod their path... I find personal attacks and aggression towards them, unacceptable.

Capaldi's Doctor openly defies regeneration.

In conclusion though, having thought long and hard about the way The Doctor Falls ended, I'm actually starting to think that the show itself is going to do something very meta to the audience.  The Doctor's stubborn and this time physical refusal to regenerate, mirrors the emotions and thoughts of many people who are not sold on the idea of Jodie Whittaker taking over. The fact he runs into the First Doctor who seems to be at the point in his journey when he has to make the same decision only amplifies this. Could it be that this year's Christmas special will serve as group therapy for those who feel this way and are stuck on the change curve in the 5 stages of grief?

I think it just might.

All that remains to be said really is "good luck, Jodie".
  • How do you feel about the change in direction/format of Doctor Who
  • What are your hopes and fears going forward?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bridges Across The Great Divide: A Christian Response to #Brexit

In light of recent events, I feel it would be remiss of me not to make some form of comment on Britain's decision to #Brexit - that is, to leave the European Union.

First of all, for the record I am one of the 48% who voted to remain within the European Union and I spent a lot of time researching my decision and campaigning with its merits, having weighed them against the perceived costs.  I won't bore you with all that detail here, because as things stand what's done is done and whether you voted one way or the other... we have to face the future together.  Suffice it to say I felt both shock and deep grievance over Britain's decision to come out and have my own deeply held concerns about where this road may lead us.

But I'm not writing to whine about that here and now - perhaps if people feel like responding in the comments, I may go into more detail there.  My principle aim in this blog entry is to look at where we are at now... and talk about how British Christians have a unique perspective, opportunity and sacred duty to help our fellow citizens in the coming days, years and months.

So let's look at the lay of the land at the moment - the state of the union.  Weeks of bitter campaigning have rocked families, friendships and relationships up and down the country.  I've even become embroiled in a few regretful tussles myself. The endless stream of charts show us that most of England and Wales are at odds with London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and that divides are not just limited to the geographical but extend to rich versus poor, old versus young and left versus right.

The United Kingdom is very much shaken.... and that's where we need to come in.

During the Scottish referendum, I felt that God laid a scripture on my heart and as polling day loomed, the same passage came to me again... even clearer:

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe"
Hebrews 12:28
Paul's letter to the Philippians assures us that we are citizens of heaven and we therefore have an identity that is not founded on the temporal confines of an earthly nation. That's not to say that we are any less patriotic about our nation... but it is to say that our British identity is defined by our Christian identity - and not the other way around.

How can this help other people in the country who are not Christians? Well, whilst Britain may be shaking, we don't have to shake with it. As the psalmist wrote we should turn our eyes to the mountains and remind ourselves that our help comes from - the Lord God.  The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that life "under the sun" is full of futility... all things come and go in cycles and have their beginning and end. However if we remember our creator we have a perspective that sees us through that futility - we live life "above the sun" or perhaps we should say "under the Son and not under the sun".

If we live in the unity of our belief we can be a shining example to people who are broken and grieving in the current political situation. As Christ's ambassadors we also need to open our spiritual doors to non Christians. Our hearts and homes must be places where we offer welcome and refuge and a friendly ear to people who have not come to terms with where the country is at (even if we have not ourselves). This may very well become more and more important as time goes on, if the country goes down a road we like even less.

Beyond prayer for our nation and its people, we have a part to play in God's service. So let's pick ourselves up, refresh our spirits with the common identity and  greater truths we find in Christ... and ready ourselves for the spiritual work ahead.

Thoughts for further (respectful) discussion:
  • How do you feel about Britain's exit from the European Union
  • How can Christian's serve God in its wake?
  • Would *you* like prayer with regard to anything that has come out of the result?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Feeling "Lent" Upon

As you may or may not have noticed, we are now firmly in midst of yet another gripping season of Lent.

People often assume that Lent is about giving something up, but actually the act of abstinence in itself isn't at the heart of what those of us who are Christians, do.  Interestingly a poignant and relevant bible verse cropped up twice yesterday, in two different church services I attended. It was  from the psalms:
"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise."
Psalm 51:16-17
The first service I attended, I was responsible for the morning's prayers and felt compelled to use the words in my petitions. In the second service of the morning, the rector of the church used the phrase in his sermon. In my mind it perfectly encapsulates what Christians should be aiming towards during Lent (and indeed in a macrocosm of this, throughout our entire lives on Earth as well). It isn't about taking a break from something naughty. It isn't about refraining from something we like. It's about taking part in a regular, committed activity that draws us nearer to God. It is the personal cost and commitment that are important, not the action. The former is the purpose is the driving force, the personal cost involved is the fuel... the actual act is merely the vehicle that transports us there.

Not being a creature of many traditional vices, I have often struggled to come up with something I felt able to commit to in terms of giving something up. This year, I opted to commit to spending at least an hour every night in a state of personal lockdown. Simply put, at as close to 6pm every night since Ash Wednesday (or as close as I can get to it, where practicable), I have shut my door, stuck some Christian music on and just put myself in God's presence for an hour. Sometimes I nod off; sometimes I prefer to choose silence over music; sometimes I try to finish a theology book I've been reading and I also try to read scripture and pray as I feel led. The format differs periodically, but whatever happens to me in that slot, is purposefully and intentionally pointing towards the presence of God.

Not that I'm boasting... far from it!

You see all that writing was just some preamble before I talk about what is really on my heart for this post... namely, the matter of when God himself seems to raise the ante.

Please excuse me for one moment if I talk somewhat vaguely on a personal matter:

I have been quite encouraged of late by some personal turns in circumstances and have been investing time, thought and energy on what may easily be a fools errand. Then, all of a sudden... just before Lent, any ideas I may have had were frustrated... that's not to say they were derailed... just that no opportunities have arisen for me to do *anything* in regard to them.

The thought has occurred to me that maybe this is not mere coincidence. I find myself asking, "What if God has decided that this is the thing *He* actually desired me to lay on the altar during Lent?" This thought is somewhat reinforced by the fact that praying over the way I felt about the matter and committing those feelings to God just prior to Lent, seems to have been the catalyst.

It's incredibly frustrating but it is very much in line with some of the things you see God doing in scripture with notable characters. Just when things seem to be turning around for a character, God throws a curve ball. Think of Abraham who after receiving a son, is seemingly called upon by God to sacrifice him... even though he is his true heir and a child of promise.  Or think of Josiah who after rejecting the ways of his fathers, embraces the worship of the one, true God... only to discover that the same God who called him to righteousness had now revealed just how far His people had fallen, just how hard the journey back into the light was going to be and that there were no shortcuts... and had then in the narrative basically challenged the new king along the lines of "Are you *really* still up for this? Your move."

Those are just two examples, but there are others. The amazing thing about these men of God, is that when God pulled the plank from under them... they didn't back down and they didn't turn away - Abraham solemnly obeyed but was delivered; Josiah tore his robes and pressed on with the reforms.

And of course these point to the greater, ultimate truth of the sacrifice Jesus Christ himself carried out in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When you are faced with such circumstances, you basically have only a few limited choices. You can stomp your feet about and yell until you get your own way (but you probably won't get anywhere, and you might not find what you wanted is all you hoped if you do - again look at Israel's demands for a king, and God's response). You can passively accept things as they have been and continue to swim against the tide and hope for a lucky break. You can lose faith in what you have already attained and walk away from all God's providence and promises.

I don't think any of these responses are correct. I don't believe God wants us to abandon hope or rob us of it any more than he wants us to try and impatiently snatch it out of his hands. I believe he wants us to surrender our hopes to Him and to entrust them to Him.

Abraham had to trust that God would somehow allow Isaac to walk away from Mount Moriah; Josiah had to trust that God would guide him and strengthen him as he reformed his nation. Jesus had to trust that in obeying his Father's will, and paying our ransom through his sacrifice, that he would be raised to new life.

In my case I have to trust that in surrendering my ideas and intentions to God, that he will give them back to me in a meaningful way that is pleasing to Him, when the relevant time is accomplished. I have resolved not to try and engineer any circumstances for opportunity myself in my personal situation until Lent ends. There may well be natural opportunities that arise, but I have committed to not explore them fully in my favour until that time, or unless God himself turns things around.

In all cases, this is hard. The flesh (the sinful aspect of our human nature), tells us there are no guarantees... that is the cost of the sacrifice and the journey. However, the Spirit  and scripture say:
"And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose."
Romans 8:28 (AMP)
It is this knowledge... this belief, that sustains us through our sacrifices - this and the knowledge that we have One at the Father's side who endured the greatest sacrifice and is able to show sympathy and empathy to our situation through the Spirit.

It can be a hard thing to know and accept that God is sovereign... that He is the potter and we are the clay, but at the same time, that same knowledge is at least equally reassuring.

The question we have to ask ourselves when the time comes, is are we prepared to trust our faith in the One we serve, or let our feelings about our circumstance overwhelm and dominate our actions.

For further contemplation and response:

  • Have you felt leaned upon, this Lent? What are your experiences?
  • What do you think of personally when you consider the idea and theme of "sacrifice"?
  • How does the idea of God being "deeply concerned about us", help you when He asks you to make a personal sacrifice?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Forces Awaken

I'm very excited.

We are so very near to two big events in the calendar - one secular, the other religious. The first is the release of the new Star Wars film this week (I've got my tickets for a 3D showing on Wednesday (going solo... Han Solo), and a 2D showing with friends on Thursday. Here's a fan re-edit and mash up of the trailers:
The second of course is Christmas... the time of year when Christians like me celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the new hope that the law and prophets spoke of in the Old Testament.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what links these two very different events personally, in my own mind. I've found it very interesting and poignant that all through the promotional months we have seen precious little of the main protagonist of the original trilogy - Luke Skywalker.  Fans have been getting very anxious about it, some are worried it means that Luke has turned to the dark side, others think he won't be in it much at all... still others have come up with the (crazy) idea that Adam Driver's character (Kylo Ren), is actually Luke and the casting of Driver is all part of some big conspiracy. I share the anxiety but not the fear. We've all become hung up on the question of "Where is Luke Skywalker"?

However, I keep going back to what J.J. Abrams said about accepting the job of director for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. He said that originally he was not going to take the job on, but then he was told the synopsis by Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy. It was a single question - "Who is Luke Skywalker?" That single concept turned him around 180 degrees... and he was on board from that moment on. He has since been quoted in interview as saying:
“The idea that Luke Skywalker now, nearly 40 years after the movie came out, I started thinking he would be as good as of a myth to people who are 19, 20 years old. The idea of a new group of young people, not knowing who he is or who any of the characters were, is the beginning of what became the story of the film.”
And there in a nutshell is what for me is connecting the release of the new Star Wars, with Christmas. Let me adapt that Abrams quote and alter the subject... because I actually think it says something quite important about the subject of faith:
“The idea that Jesus Christ now, nearly 2,000 years after his public ministry, I started thinking he would be as good as of a myth to people who are 19, 20 years old. The idea of a new group of young people, not knowing who he is or who any of the characters were, is the beginning of what became the story of the film.”
You see therein lies the heart of the matter.  As Christians we get so hung up about demanding "Where is Jesus?" in the festive celebrations... but that's defensive and about fearing what we care about will be ignored by others.  True evangelism isn't driven by the fear of rejection... it's driven mutually by the love of the subject  and the love of the uninformed audience. We actually need to move the question on.  We need the question to be "Who is Jesus Christ?".

One of the main trailers for the Force Awakens has a line of dialogue between Rey and Han Solo, it literally made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Rey is talking to Han about the history of the Rebel Alliance and mentions that there are stories about what happened. Han's response is brief and to the point:
"It's true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They're real."
That it is Han Solo who speaks this way of the Force is deeply significant; after all in the first movie he appears in, his view on the Force is very different, telling the young Luke Skywalker:
"Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen *anything* to make me believe that there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything. 'Cause no mystical energy field controls *my* destiny. It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense."
That's quite some turn around.

It may well be that Han's concept of the personal significance of the Force isn't much different, but for him to have come forward as a kind of reluctant evangelist and state "it's real", is immensely powerful.

The changing views of Han Solo
For the record, I'm not saying in any way that Jesus is a myth... I'm saying quite the opposite. I'm merely saying that if we want to stop people seeing Jesus as a myth, we need to move on from repeating stories to them that they already know (when they know them), and show the reality of Christ in how we live.

Often people get hung up on dressing Christianity up, be it with the bells and smells of tradition or an explosive light show that would put even Michael Bay to shame; but actually if we took a step back we'd see the simplicity.  It all boils down to conviction - a person or a group of people stepping forward and demonstrating with sincerity that it happened... that Jesus was, is and always shall be real and has had a tangible presence in their life.

Han Solo is not a Jedi... in fact he was (and almost certainly still is), a bit of a rogue. He can't levitate X Wing fighters and furniture and he can't perform mind tricks... but what he can do is be honest about his loyalties and the things he has seen.  I think what I'm saying is that for Christians, it doesn't matter how the Holy Spirit has gifted us in relation to things like prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, leading, teaching and the like... we might think we are fairly lacking in any or all of those areas, but God still speaks through our everyday lives and we should not underestimate the power, relevance and importance of our own day-to-day testimony. It's because Han Solo has known Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance that he is able to speak with total conviction about their reality. Likewise because we have known the presence of Jesus in our own lives we too can speak of him with conviction:

"It's true. All of it. The sinful nature, the Saviour. They're real." 

Over to you:
  • What excites or worries you most about the forthcoming Star Wars film?
  • What excites or worries you about Christmas?
  • Is Christmas true for you? All of it? Is it real?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Unmercifully Blessed

In recent days I've found myself thinking about and re-exploring  the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. It's a story of Jesus that only appears in one gospel (Matthew), it features a man who having a great debt faces terrible punishment. at the last minute his master has a change of heart and mercifully forgives the debt. Shortly after this, the servant tracks sown another man who owes the master a debt and threatens him with the same punishment he narrowly avoided, when the master hears about this... he reverses his decision and comes down on the unmerciful servant like a tonne of bricks.

In hindsight, the point of the story post Jesus death, resurrection and ascension is quite clear to us because those of us who are Christians recognise that in Christ, God forgave each and every one of us an unpayable debt, and therefore we accept the importance of forgiving others their own sins, however manifold.

However, I believe that the parable has applications beyond the obvious.

Why do we always assume that this attitude only applies to God's grace in respect of the bad things he has forgiven us? I put it to you that in fact, this applies equally to God's providence - the good things he gives us. When God blesses us, should we not equally acknowledge that we also don't deserve the good things he gives us. When we see people who have not been so fortunate or have yet to experience blessing in a particular way, should we not be merciful to them? Should we not remember what it was like to manage day by day before God blessed us? Should we not recognise in others, the difficulties and trials we may once have walked with and escaped, or may have completely avoided simply because God chose to bless us in a particular way?

The most obvious, stand-out example for me is the concept of marriage and the family. Time and time again I see people move into family life (with or without children), and they go through a personality change. I'm not talking about the increase of responsibilities and the change in priorities - these are natural. What I'm talking about is a personality swap that seems to occur. Where once you could joke around with your friends, the humour is lost and actually becomes offensive to the point they feel feel they have to defend one another. These are just the first few subtle cracks of an invisible chasm that begins to widen as time goes by, one that begins to create two tiers within the church... haves and have nots; one that has led to the idolatrous worship of the family unit within the Church... where those who do not meet the criteria are seen as eccentric lepers who we find discomfort in being around, whose presence embarrasses us and who we don't like to talk about because they have become so foreign to us.

In some ways, attitudes like this remind me of the final scene in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers:

It may sound ridiculous, but sometimes it really does seem sometimes like you can strike up a conversation with someone you once knew following a positive change of circumstances... and they just react as if you are some kind of aberration, foreigner or alien. The idea that your friends have become replaced by pod people is laughable... but the feelings associated with it are also not very nice.

There's another parable that Jesus told (this time in Luke's gospel), it's the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In this tale, a man who has been abundantly blessed with the things of this world remains blissfully unaware of a poor man named Lazarus who can only hope that leftovers might come his way.  However when both men die, the situation is reversed and Lazarus enjoys the company of Abraham in heaven, whilst the rich man longs for drops of water to cool his tongue from the heat of Hades. Isn't it telling that Jesus doesn't even bother to give the rich man a name? Because of their attitudes, the rich man is temporal and Lazarus is eternal. It is a tale of two chasms - the lateral and eventually... the vertical.

This then is another take on the temptation to be unmerciful. Had the rich man remembered where his blessings came from, had he been mindful of Lazarus... he could have a voided his fate.

So in conclusion then, what am I saying? Am I suggesting that if you are married with kids, you've had your lot in life and if you forget your single friends you are in danger of hellfire? No, of course not. I was merely using the paradigm between the married and the single as an example as it is the one that is most prevalent and relevant to me (and I should add that it isn't even universally true... I am blessed with several groups of married friends who treat me well).

No this isn't my point at all. My point is simply this... that each and every one of us has an obligation to recognise the manifold ways that God has blessed us... and not hoard it from or lord it over the people around us. there must be no ivory towers in God's kingdom.

Let it not be said of us that we are "unmercifully blessed". Instead, let us seek ways of  using our blessings to raise others up. Let us use what God has given us to bless others.

I'd like to finish with a quote from Ridley Scott's take on Robin Hood. I think it sums up in many ways the kind of attitude we should have with regard to the undeserved providence we may find ourselves the beneficiary of:

"We can't repay our good luck with bad grace, it invites darkness."
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