God is my Director

Youth ministry, movies, no drugs and a variable amount of Rock ‘n Roll

Archive for the ‘Spiritual is everything’ Category

The Final Post / 2blokesblog

Posted by Martin on July 9, 2008

Okay, so I sought advice, I thought about it, heck – I may have even said a prayer. But I’ve decided not to carry on with my anonymous blog, God is my Director. 

HOWEVER, I’ve started a new blog (under my real name), with my good friend/Christian media megastar Dave Rose, and you can find it, right now, at:

www.2blokesblog.blogspot.com

You are very welcome! 

Thanks for coming to GimD!

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

Notes from America – Pt 5: Wrigleyville

Posted by Martin on July 25, 2007

For the thousands of people who’ve been wondering what happened at the conclusion of my recent trip, here you go. You’re about to find out the ending. Get ready for the big finale. Block out your weekend to read it. Does Harry die? Does Jim? You’re about to find out..

UghWe’d stayed up a little late on Friday night. Perhaps we were afraid of the nightmares we’d have about the big scary mutant bugs, I don’t know. Anyway, we’d run into two people with very sad stories – sad for very different reasons. The first was a middle-aged lady youth worker from a different part of the country, who’d flown in to Chicago for the Willow Creek Arts Conference. She wanted to sit and talk to us in the bar, and she showed no signs of ever wanting to stop. Midway through the conversation, she spat out a fairly significant revelation about her activities the previous night which to her obviously didn’t seem that strange. Even more sadly, later in the evening we saw her getting ready to make exactly the same mistake again. Anyway, I’m aware that I’m not sinless enough to throw stones at her – Jim and I were simply saddened that this lady clearly did not receive enough love, support and attention in her life, and therefore had bought into a lie about the places we can otherwise get those things.

The second sad story belonged to a guy who had flown halfway across the country to compete in a World of Warcraft battle card tournament at the hotel. And sorry, but I’m allowed to throw stones at THAT. Jim and I wandered down to the ‘battle arena’ (a ballroom with lots of tables in it) later that weekend, and found around 100 grown men caught in some sort of teen-angst timewarp, wearing Megadeth t-shirts and making jokes about goblins. There were two women in there. One was dressed as a pixie and was almost certainly being paid to be there; the other looked like she was ready to throw her suddenly-much-less-attractive boyfriend into Lake Michigan.

That long, long story is my way of explaining that despite having SWEET tickets to the baseball game, Jim and I overslept. That’s not to say we missed the game – it just ensured that the morning was a little more madcap than we’d intended.

We travelled to central Chicago – which, it turns out, was not anywhere near the supposed ‘Chicago’ hotel we’d booked – by train, and bus. The train was very different to British trains – firstly of course it was on time, and secondly, it was shaped like a great big tin can. Inside, I felt exactly how I imagine a sardine might feel, although thankfully American trains are not filled with brine. On the train we coincidentally met a family who attend Willow Creek, although thinking about it, that was only like a 1 in 3 shot, considering how many people they get on a Sunday. Then we hit the bus – which was unremarkable except for the fact that the driver could not have been more of a sitcom stereotype if she’d changed her name to Chandler and asked ‘could this bus be any fuller?’ She was an extraordinarily shouty African Caribbean lady, with all the patience of a gnat with attention deficit disorder.

‘I’m sorry, do you have change of ten dollars?’ I asked in my autopilot Hugh Grant voice.

‘WHAT? CAN’T YOU READ THE SIGN? NO CHANGE! I CAN’T MAKE CHANGE! GET OFF MY BUS’ she replied, very moderately I thought.

‘Okay… does anyone else have change?’ I asked my fellow passengers. Someone did – but it was taking far too long for bus lady’s liking.

‘GET OFF MY BUS! IF YOU AIN’T GOT CHANGE, GET OFF MY BUS!’

Wrigley FieldSo she was lovely. Anyhow, a couple of kind-hearted Irish bloked sorted us out with change just before she went Vesuvial on us, and we were allowed to ride. We got to the stadium – the world famous Wrigley Field – literally five minutes before the start, and it was then that we realised how God was surely smiling on us. Chicago Cubs vs San Diego Padres – even that fixture seemed ordained. And with seats like these – right behind home plate – surely we were about to be treated to a festival of sport…

Baseball. Not a lot happens, does it? For three hours, pretty much nothing happens, truth be told. A guy throws a ball at another guy. The other guy swings and misses, swings and hits it backwards – which means pretty much nothing, or swings and hits, and then generally gets caught by some other guy. That’s it. Add to the fact that the game we saw ended 1-0 to the visiting team (pretty much the worst possible result in terms of sporting value), and on paper, it sounds like the worst day out since Legoland ran a ‘don’t touch the bricks’ day.

But in reality, it was fantastic! Not least because we witnessed a real rarity – a great big fat fight on the pitch! Now I’m as much of a pacifist as the next Republican, but this was too much fun to worry about morals. I’ve posted this video clip before, but to save you rooting around…

Wrigley field is as amazing a sporting stadium as you’ll find. Set literally in the heart of a residential area – a little like Arsenal’s old Highbury stadium in London – the low sides allow you to glimpse the bustling (and slightly 1930s-feel) Wrigleyville outside, and of course allows people in high enough buildings to peep in. After the game, we headed for those very buildings, to sample a little more of the local culture.

In the end, our social experience was saved not by our nationalities, but by our national game. We went for a drink in a very busy bar, which we were attracted to by the sight of plasma screens showing a (real) football match – the first we’d seen in America. To our amazement, even though the US national team was playing, there was barely anyone paying attention (to be fair, we’d wandered into a slightly wild place – there were a few crazy bachelorette parties around). But then, we noticed two guys transfixed by the screen. Next thing I know, Jim’s talking to one of them (he’s always chatting to guys in bars, that one), and the moment after that, we’re sitting with them. Bradley and Jimmy – for that was what they were named – were die-hard English football fans living in a country of ignorance. I mean they’re ignorant about football, obviously.

Bradley and Jimmy not only took us under their collective American-eagle wings – they also took it upon themselves to show us the very best of Chicago’s night life. Quite by accident, we’d found ourselves a tour guide. And we had a great night, which saw us weave through some of the coolest spots in the city – including a quite amazing 80s bar at which I befriended and then practically replaced the DJ. Dexy’s Midnight Runners, we salute you (guess you had to be there).

We’ll almost certainly never see those guys again. But one thing was interesting – the hospitality and friendship which they extended to us that evening was equal to anything I’ve ever received in my life. Good guys.

Ah. I’ve run out of time. I apologise – you still don’t get to find out if Jim survives. I shall attempt to rectify this as soon as possible. Bye for now.

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

The Harry Potter finale secret

Posted by Martin on July 19, 2007

WARNING – IF YOU’RE TRYING TO AVOID POTTER PLOT SPECULATION, MAYBE DON’T READ ON… 

There’s been a lot of talk about plot leaks of the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, and particularly Internet spoilers about the ending, but I wonder if JK Rowling offered a big clue to anyone who’s read a gospel, in an interview with Canadian journalist Max Wyman.

Asked if she was a Christian, Rowling answered:

‘Yes, I am, which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.’

Is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows heading for an Aslan-style finale?

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

Robbie bootleg video strangeness

Posted by Martin on July 5, 2007

Ok – so this is a bit weird – a video clip has appeared on youtube, which features British pop megastar Robbie Williams – just out of rehab, showcasing a new song which appears to be pretty much in-your-face Jesus-advocating in places. He says at the end of the clip – which also includes the f-word, so you have been warned – that this is a new song called ‘Bodies’ which he’s written with his friend Brandon. Have a listen to the lyrics – which include the repeated line ‘Jesus really died for me’ – and judge for yourself: is it genuine or a wind-up?

LANGUAGE WARNING! THIS CLIP CONTAINS SOME SWEARING!

Posted in Music, Spiritual is everything | Leave a Comment »

This is why I love THE MAN Lee Mead

Posted by Martin on July 4, 2007

And Andrew Lloyd Webber… and Jesus Christ Superstar. But not really the Scottish fella who sings first. Not so much.

Posted in Music, Spiritual is everything, Television | Leave a Comment »

Notes from America – Pt 4: Chicago

Posted by Martin on July 4, 2007

And the legend continues…

Our hotel in Chicago – well, Schaumburg if you’re going to be picky – was the Renaissance – a massive, spanking new hotel / conference centre with about a billion rooms and some impressive architecture and interior design. When we got there, Jim immediately started running around with his camera, as if he’d had to win a golden ticket to get in there. Our hotel room was fantastic, and I say that for one reason:

A television, in the bathroom.

Better than that – a TV which was built into the bathroom mirror, and which only stopped being a mirror when you turned it on. Idea being: if you’ve got a desperate call of nature, and you’re enjoying the latest episode of Desperate Housewives, you don’t have to miss a minute. Although quite why that’s an issue in a country with five commercial breaks an hour, I wasn’t quite clear.

Early Friday morning we followed our new Sat-Nav, in our new, (total rip-off) hire car, to Willow Creek Community Church. The Sat Nav sent us to Canada, meaning we almost didn’t make it to the church for the final day of their Arts Conference. Fortunately, we realised that it was going snowier, turned around, and got there – quite in spite of the directions we were being given – just in time for the start.<

I can’t really put into words what the first session did to me. I was privileged to hear the story of a couple who are worship leaders at Willow. They’d had a truly traumatic few years, which involved the very premature birth of twins. Although one of the babies was entirely healthy, her sister faced many, many problems, and almost didn’t overcome them. She lived, but she had many serious medical problems, including profound deafness. The couple were devastated – and for a year or so, life for them was just about existing; getting through the next day. And because they were being real, and honest, they admitted how angry they had been at God. They had thought at times about giving the whole thing up. But they stuck in there – and in retrospect they can see how God carried them in the toughest times. They were amazing people.

As this couple told their story, both through words and then through music, it was very hard not to put myself in their place. And as I did, I don’t mind admitting that I started sobbing involuntarily- something I don’t do often. All around me, people were crying too. And then something hit me about this church – something wonderful. I was hearing this story for the first time, but many others were not. This church had walked with these two people, in their pain, in their struggle, in their doubts. It struck me that whatever people say about this ‘mega’ church, it’s truly expressive of what I think church should be about – people who journey together, whatever that really needs to mean.

After that, we were treated to the wonder that is Donald Miller. I heard him a few months ago at a Youth Specialties convention, and thought he was a pretty average communicator. Well, now I repent. Don’s theology of Romeo and Juliet (my title) was just wonderful – probably one of the best three Christian talks I’ve heard in my life. I know a lot of people have already noticed, but this guy is important.

Finally, we were treated to ‘scribble’; a session led by Erwin McManus and a creative arts team from his Mosaic church in Los Angeles. What a precociously talented group of individuals. If I was feeling critical, I’d say that Erwin’s talk – which was woven into the mix of drama, dance, comedy and music – was just as rehearsed as the rest of it, and for that reason it lost a little resonance and impact. Still good though.

We left the extraordinary Willow Campus (it’s like a University, except bigger), but not before checking in with Youth Ministry legend Bo Boshers. Great guy – and what a servant to youth ministry he has been – so that was a bit of a privilege. From there, we raced to a couple of too-boring-to-tell-you-about meetings, but then came the weirdest part of the trip (and one of the top 10 weird moments of my life. That’s right, it’s time to tell you about the big scary mutant bugs from the planet Splurg.

We had to travel to a different part of the Chicago suburbs to meet Steve Wright – brother of my good friend Dave – who had hooked us up with super tickets for the baseball the following day. Steve lives in a nice little street, normal in every way imaginable… except that it had been INVADED BY GIANT MUTANT MONSTER INSECTOIDS FROM BEYOND THE STARS! Sorry, I’ll stop doing that.

What actually happened is that Jim and I pulled up outside his house, and could hear the horrific screaming of hundreds of tiny voices. In that respect, it was like standing outside a screening of Norbit. In addition, there were giant bug-eyed insects flying past, landing on and generally being far too close to our car.

‘Go on then’, said Jim. ‘Go get the tickets.’

‘You go and get them!’ I whimpered in reply.

Jim pushed me out of the car. I can only imagine that the Lord himself protected me in the moments that followed. For while both Jim and Steve were attacked by bugs (which, incidentally, are harmless), I escaped unscathed. Had one of them landed on me, I should surely have required new undergarments. I mean, these muthas were mean!

Steve explained why he’s prepared to live in a street with a monster bug infestation, and things made a little more sense. Turns out these were Cicadas – insects which appear only once every 17 years(!) before breeding and then dying off again a few weeks later. Apparently it was an utter privilege for us to even see them! That’s nice, but it sure didn’t feel that way.

Anyway, the previously ‘big man’ Jim screamed like a girl when one landed on his shoulder. Steve handed over the absolutely ace seats, and we were on our way again. The evening was wasted in the time-I’ll-never-get-back quest for Jim’s wife’s shoes, and to make matters worse, we ended up eating at Rockin’ Roger’s diner, or something like that… which turned out to be America’s worst restaurant. Robbie’s Rod maybe?

Couldn’t take the shine off a great day (Reggie the Robber?) full of exciting new people and horizon broadening. And to make things much more exciting, we had a baseball game to look forward to in the morning…

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | 1 Comment »

The big Doctor Jesus Finale

Posted by Martin on July 2, 2007

Alright, now I’ve come out of the closet as a Whovian (ouch – up that boy’s Nerd Test score now!), I might as well blog about my first love. The final episode of Doctor Who Series 3 seems to have split fans down the middle. Some think it was a messy piece of trash TV filled with cop outs; others, like me, think it was wonderful, and a reminder of how lucky we are to have Russell T Davies writing for television.

I’ll try not to spoil it for those who’ve yet to enjoy – but if you really don’t want to know anything before you get around to watching it, you should probably read no more of this post.

As had been widely publicised long before the big onscreen reveal in episode 11, the finale saw the return of The Master – the thinking man’s supervillain. Played rather theatrically by current golden boy of British TV John Simm, his plan was to destroy the earth, and then the universe, and this wasn’t played out in comic book style – quite the opposite – as Davies’ made several visual nods to the Third Reich. In fact, the episode began in a kind of ‘what if the nazi’s had won the war?’ scenario, with a people enslaved, armed police patrolling the streets and giant weapons under construction everywhere.

However, the biggest cultural reference seemed to be 30BC. A people desperate for a saviour whose name had become legend. Check. Said saviour turning up and saying – ‘don’t look at me, there’s someone else coming along whose sandals I’m not worthy of untying…’ Check. And the conclusion – which I’ll not spell out here – is so very Christ-like that you’d be forgiven for thinking that well-known humanist Mr Davies has violently switched his religious allegiances. With a little explanation, this episode has perhaps unintentionally become the best evangelistic tract since Journey into Life. And that never had any monsters in it.

What’s that all about then? Could it be that Jesus’ story is so important, and so true, that it’s woven into the fabric of creativity itself? Did Russell T Davies have any idea Who’s story he was really telling? I’d love to know the answer to that.

Anyway – great television, and another successful season for the show they claimed was dead. Bring on the Christmas Special – allegedly starring Kylie Minogue!

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Television | 2 Comments »

5 Things you probably didn’t know about me…

Posted by Martin on June 29, 2007

Have only just realised that Len tagged me on Boxing Day last year (!) with this little challenge. You have to list 5 things that people don’t generally know about you. As an anonymous blogger, this should be fairly simple, but we’ll see…

1. I have a truly enormous collection of Dr Who memorabilia. Well, these days, my parents’ loft does. But from the ages of 11-16 (the pre-first-kiss years I’m afraid), I accumulated over 200 books, 60 videos and a range of action figures, mugs and badges. I could quote from episodes at will. I knew the names of all the actors who operated the daleks. During much of this time, I was what real doctors call, obese. I kissed a girl in Norfolk,  in summer 1995, and the curse was lifted.

2. I once interviewed Darth Vader for my University student newspaper. Or rather, I interviewed Dave Prowse, the guy who was in the big black costume in the original Star Wars trilogy. He told me he was shocked to realise, at the first screening of Star Wars: A New Hope, that his own Devon-accented voice had been dubbed over with the infamous canyon-deep tones of James Earl Jones. ‘Luke, I am your faaaaaather’ would not have been quite the same.

3. I’m a huge Billy Joel fan, and have every one of his albums, live and studio, on my iPod. Thus if anyone tags me to do this ‘shuffle’ thing that’s floating around the blogosphere, I shall have a very dull reply. For the record, ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’ is better than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

4. I like to tell people that my favourite book is Money by Martin Amis, as it makes me sound edgy and intellectual. My real favourite book is ‘A Squash and a Squeeze’ by Julia Donaldson. Or possibly an old Dr Who book…

5. I went to the wrap party for the new Transformers movie. I spent ten minutes talking to a guy who did some of the effects on Optimus Prime, without realising that the guy next to him –  whom I was ignoring – was none other than Hollywood legend Jon Voight. I also ran into famous director Tim Story in a toilet once. We didn’t say anything to each other, but we did nod. 

Having realised that I am far more of a sci-fi geek than I ever knew, I shall tag Amanda. I choose her by way of apology for saying ‘in your face’ to her over the alphabet typing game incident.

Posted in Movies, Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

Notes from America – Pt 3: San Diego to Chicago

Posted by Martin on June 28, 2007

With unusual promptness, the legend continues.

Kono'sWoke on Wednesday, having finally shaken off the time difference, and almost immediately found myself in an area that looked pretty similar to my best idea of paradise – a great big sunny beach in San Diego. Jim and I had been strongly instructed to find our way to Kono’s, a renowned eaterie which counts ‘breakfast burritos’ as a speciality. The ocean view, laid-back feel and good conversation may have contributed, but I can only tell you, that Kono’s ‘breakfast burrito #3’ is the nicest thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Even now, I wake up in the night, salivating, and sadly realising that I’m not really about to eat one. Suffice to say, eggs, bacon, potatoes and other assorted ‘stuff’, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla, and big enough to feed a wrestler.

After walking off that slightly heavy fry-up-in-a-wrap, we made our way back to Youth Specialties, to spend some more time with Marko and the gang. We dreamed dreams together; came up with a few ideas that could be seriously wonderful news for youth workers all over; we generally had a GREAT meeting. Best bit was when Marko asked a guy who was on the phone from Colorado to text message a guy who was downstairs from us, to ask him to join the meeting. And he did! The world is truly the size of a pea these days.

sort of along these lines...After that, we headed off to a mall with one of the YS staffers, on what I now like to term ‘Jim’s big fat wild goose chase’. Jim was desperate to find a pair of shoes – apparently called ‘Rocket Dog Platform Sandals’, which to me just sounds like a randomly generated series of words. Nowhere had them, and I can say that with some authority, as we visited EVERY SHOE SHOP IN CHRISTENDOM. Afterwards, the three of us retired to the quite lovely Cheesecake Factory – a chain they don’t yet have in fair England, although if they’re interested in a franchise thing, I’m sure I could broker it.

We had another lovely evening in Marko’s beautiful back garden, where we got to know his wife Jeannie a bit better. She’s a thinker, that one, and also appears to know almost everyone in the world. She wasn’t until that evening aware however that she’d also met fabulously popular musician and Christian Corinne Bailey Rae a few years ago – and I was able to explain the connection. From her reaction, I’d be surprised if she’s stopped talking about it yet.

The following day was dull, and unfortunately, not worth a post of it’s own. We flew from San Diego (sunny) to Chicago (scary big mutant bugs). On which, more later…

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 3 Comments »

Rob Bell interview – one question exclusive!

Posted by Martin on June 28, 2007

I interviewed my buddy Rob Bell the other day for the August issue of Youthwork magazine, and there was a spare question that I couldn’t fit in. However, I thought the answer was so good that it was worth publishing here as a very short GimD exclusive. Woo-hoo!

GimD: Why is there such an issue with porn addiction among youth pastors and other Christians?

Rob Bell: ‘Well it’s available in ways like it never was, so it’s easy. In the same way that all sorts of things, were they readily available, would change things in our culture. Imagine if hard drugs were available to everybody? The best way I understand this is: there’s an adult video store at the end of my street. The door is at the back and the parking lot has a fence around it. So the guys go in, but you can’t see who they are. And I would say that if you’re parking in a lot where people can’t see you and you don’t want people to see who you are or what you’re doing, that’s shame. Shame always comes from some kind of wound.

So I would argue you have a generation of men who have not properly engaged the world with their strength. It’s a deeply male wound – they do not know how to relate to her, but to exploit her is a false intimacy that they still crave, but don’t know if they can do the real thing… and so there is a whole generation who don’t have a story. Somewhere, they have sold their soul to something which wasn’t the adventure or revelation they signed up for. A deeply wounded male who is craving adventure and intimacy – and now it’s a available… ‘click’. So it’s a convergence of factors – technology, narrative, not having a story, and a culture that doesn’t know how to let people in.’

I thought that was rather a good answer, and far more eloquent than my own stab at the issue.

Posted in Spiritual is everything | Leave a Comment »

Notes from America – Pt 2: LA to San Diego

Posted by Martin on June 27, 2007

The second part in a very odd series, recounting a trip which is drifting further and further into the past…

Our morning in Los Angeles wasn’t particularly eventful, but we did pay a visit to my favourite eaterie in the world. Don’t think they’ve got a website, but if you’re ever in the Farmers Market, on South Fairfax, devote a few minutes to finding Charlie’s, an authentic American breakfast grill – the sort where they shout things like ‘over easy’ at you (which means about as much to me as Vienna did to Midge Ure). Had a fantastic egg thing with hash browns – again, means something completely different there – and well and truly converted my companion.

We started the second leg of our US tour with a two hour road trip from LA to San Diego. Driving down the freeway with the wind (or at least, air-con) in our hair, in blazing hot sunshine and belting out ‘Sittin on the dock of the bay’ at the top of our voices, we had come as close to fantasy land as you can get without buying a ticket. Although we barely talked about anything, and the landscape was hardly inspiring (mainly road through sparse dry areas), it’s an experience I don’t think Jim or I will ever forget. Pootling along in our little black Chrysler (a kind of scaled-down A-Team van, we liked to think), we were amazed at just how big some American cars are. One guy was driving one of those trucks where you expect a dog and a couple of hitch-hikers to be sitting in the back. In truth, he could have fitted a school trip in there. It was enormous – like a Tonka truck that has been zapped by some sort of giganticizer ray. And there wasn’t a scratch, dirt mark or dent on it; I think the most this near-monster truck was ever used for would have been trips to the burger joint.

We were travelling to visit Youth Specialties, and more specifically, my good friend Mark Oestreicher. Bizarrely, as we rang to get directions, we discovered that Marko was with another Brit – none other than Soul Survivor pioneer Mike Pilavachi. Jim and I were amazed – Mike’s like the lesser spotted invisible dodo when he’s in England (as in, hard to get a meeting with) – yet here he was, in the reception of a youth ministry organisation on the other side of the planet.

TicIt was then our utter privilege to sit in the sun for two full hours and talk youth ministry with Marko and Tic Long, another absolute legend of youth work. Tic is one of – if not the best big stage hosts I’ve ever seen, and certainly someone who you could learn from if, say, you were down to host Britain’s Youthwork the Conference this November. He’s also been at the heart of what Mike Yaconelli started at YS for near on 30 years, making him one of the longest serving people in world youth ministry, by my reckoning.

MarkoMarko has been an increasingly good friend for three years now, ever since Jim and I (we’re not lovers) met him at the Dallas YS convention in 2004. He’s an incredibly sharp guy – and I’m not just saying that because I know he’ll read this, as he does all the other blogs in the world – and a great leader, but he’s also got this irresistible youth worker heart, which is what I think attracts everyone to him. He can try and have some sort of important title like ‘President’, but really he’s just ‘big daddy youth worker’. He very graciously invited us to stay at his lovely house, and to meet his family, who are just great. I won’t reveal any details, but the song he and son Max performed for us over breakfast one morning will be forever etched on the inside of my cranium.

In the evening, after Marko and Jeannie had taken us to a grill to experience ‘chicken fried steak’ (only in America), we were allowed to join the YS staff for a special preview screening of Steve Carell’s new movie, Evan Almighty. YS have been involved in promoting the movie to youth groups and churches, and rightly so – it’s perfect for a family audience, and it also has some deeper theological points to make than you might expect. I may post a review of it elsewhere if I ever get to the end of this travelogue.

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

Notes from America – Pt 1: LA

Posted by Martin on June 22, 2007

Sorry to be doing this all in retrospect… It would have been a lot more fun if you could have joined me on the journey in a proper blogging stylee. As it is, this is the best I can do. Here begins my diary of the visit I made with my good friend Jim to that rather large and world-dominating country just south of Canada.

The first stop on our journey was Los Angeles. I had planned, rock-and-roll style, to rock in to see my agent in a flying visit before we headed to our first destination proper, San Diego. However, he was busy with another client, and so my attempts to look cool in front of Jim rather fell flat. ‘I’ve got an agent, but he’s a bit too busy to see me’, doesn’t really cut it somehow. His busyness and my increasing writers block problems are worrying me a little. Perhaps things will seem clearer soon.

Undeterred, we checked into the Hotel Beverly Terrace, just off Sunset Strip and literally ON Santa Monica Boulevard. And unfortunately, as nice as the room was, it’s hard to sleep when your window is next to a busy road. Jet lagged as we were though, we had no desire to sleep. We wanted to explore the city, and so headed down Sunset in search of some famous people. Well, we didn’t see any of those, but we did meet Kang.

Kang, a small asian guy in a bright yellow t-shirt, was sitting outside a coffee shop, eating a salad in an almost indescribably messy way. I think we should have spotted that something was up far earlier than we did. In fact, it didn’t strike us until we were deeply embedded in conversation:

Kang: Hey, you guys are British (we got that a lot)!

Jim: Yes! How do you do?

Kang: I love what you guys are doing. I’ve been writing about you guys actually. You know, with how you just go out there and take it, get what you need. You know?

Me: Er. Yes.

At this point, I’m just imagining that Kang knows something about the British go-getting spirit that I don’t. But no…

Jim: So, you’re a writer?

Kang: Yeah!

Jim: Who do you write for?

Kang: Oh no. I’ve been writing for years.

Me: What do you write?

Kang: Whatever the voices tell me to.

Seriously. I’m not kidding. I’m not making fun of the mentally ill – this genuinely happened, and it just took us by surprise. Kang ran off to get his book, which was literally a hundred pages of scrawl – just words. He read some to us:

‘Process. Weird. NATO. School. Hey. Feelings.’

Jim and I bottled it, truth be told. We’d set out that evening, saying that if we saw an opportunity, we’d offer to pray for someone. And Kang needed prayer as much as anyone. But because he was just a little TOO weird, we didn’t make the offer. I’m sure that didn’t make Jesus smile.

There were plenty of other ‘characters’ in that place. There was a guy with a huge afro making chicken noises, and he chased us out of there. We didn’t talk to him either. There was a Paris Hilton-lookalike who was stoned out of her mind and almost certainly about to be taken advantage of by a bunch of guys playing backgammon. We didn’t step in there either. But despite my failings, I couldn’t help thinking – if Jesus was around today, I reckon he’d hang out on the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Sunset Strip.

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

Andrew Lloyd, Superstar

Posted by Martin on June 21, 2007

Having been completely switched on to the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber by the BBC’s recent Any Dream Will Do? hunt for a lead actor to play Joseph in Joseph, I’ve been reintroduced to the greatness that is Jesus Christ Superstar. Anyone who was on flight BA0279 from London to LAX last week will testify to how annoyingly vocal my obsession with it has quickly become. If you were on the flight, sorry.

Anyway – Lloyd Webber himself seems like quite an amiable chap. For anyone interested in the theology behind the music, there’s a fascinating article – written in 1987 – here. If you happen to know if the great man’s view of God has changed in the 20 years that have passed since he gave this interview, please post below – I’d be genuinely fascinated.

Posted in Music, Spiritual is everything | Leave a Comment »

Talkin’ bout my resolutions

Posted by Martin on April 23, 2007

You may remember that I made a special effort this year with new year’s resolutions. Not because I’m a member of some weird religious sect which practices them, but because they worked pretty well in 2006. Here’s a semi-encouraging update…

    Give up alcohol (later revised to – for a year)

This was the least serious resolution, and yet it’s the one I’ve kept to best, and I might add, most easily. I haven’t had a drop since December 31st, which should mean I’m healthier, fitter, less tired and more fertile. I wish I felt it.

    Finish reading through the Bible

Am on schedule, and loving it. Read about Hezekiah this morning: dude.

    Write three screenplays in 2007

This has not gone very well. I’ve written two books, but that was not the aim. I’ve had the all-clear to start writing screenplay number one, but there’s a lot of writing to be done now before the end of the year. As a revised target, I definitely need to have finished two screenplays by October, when I make my annual visit to the town with the big sign (not Milton Keynes).

    Become a blood donor

Ok, this is the one I actually feel guilty about. Please keep reminding me to do it. I’m a loser if I fail this one.

    Lose a stone in 2007

In order, I might add, to follow up the two stone I lost in 2006. If I did that however, I’d be doing so to cover up my failure. Haven’t yet lost a thing. Not an ounce. Thing with being anonymous is, I can’t get you to shout ‘hey fatty’ if you see me on the street. Still, feel free to do it virtually.

Hmm, that doesn’t feel very positive. It’d be good to know that there are some other failures out there. Still, plenty of time to turn it around. Will update you again soon.

Posted in General, Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

Grumbling community

Posted by Martin on March 1, 2007

No-one ever talks to each other on British public transport. We’ve perfected our famed ‘thousand-yard stare’ for precisely this sort of anti-social situation. Despite the intense possibilities for human interaction – after all, we’re all sitting there with nothing to do – we sit in silence; the community that wasn’t. But today, I saw a glimpse of what life could be like if we weren’t so… British.

My train was stopped, cancelled and emptied two stops from home. It was too far to walk, and since I wasn’t carrying enough gold bullion to pay for a London taxi, I had to rely on the advertised ‘replacement bus service.’ This is a hastily-arranged double-decker, which takes passengers to the relevant stations by roads instead.

The timetable for this service had been worked out by some bureaucratic genius somewhere, who’d decided that the buses should leave at the same times as the trains were due to do so. Only thing was, that meant we had no time to run from the railway platform to the bus stop. Consequently, we all looked on in frustration as our bus pulled away without us – completely empty.

Communally annoyed, we piled on to the next bus, which was due to leave half an hour later. Then, after another twenty minutes, the driver announced that he’d received orders to wait, not only for the next set of passengers, but the one after that too! In total, we were sitting on that bus, stationary as it were, for almost an hour. But that presented an interesting challenge to the thousand-yarders who packed the vehicle.

For a while, we all held out: noses in books, ears locked to iPods. But after about ten minutes, another traditionally British quirk kicked in – grumbling. One by one, the people on the bus began to moan to each other. There wasn’t much content – just general anger that we’d been made to wait all this time because of what was essentially a small technical fault on a train somewhere.

What happened though, once the conversational barriers had at last been pierced, was that the bus suddenly turned into a hive of discussion. Almost everyone was asking a total stranger: ‘where do you live?’, ‘what do you do?’, and ‘are those real?’ (Seriously, there was a guy on there with a box full of baby gerbils. Why, what did you think I meant?)

Thanks to the slightly aggravating circumstance, community had broken out. I talked to people I’ve been travelling to and from work with for the last three years, for the very first time. Next time I see one of them, I’m determined not to stare into the distance like I used to.

I got home eventually, but what happened made me think. Why does it take something negative to make a latent community spring into life. We weren’t intended to go though life alone, and yet when everything is going to plan, we choose the monotone path of head-in-book (or perhaps, sand). A question then that doesn’t yet have an answer: how do I help the people around me to see that they’re in community for a reason, and if they stop opting out, they might even enjoy and understand their humanity more? As ever, the change starts with me. For what it’s worth, I’m committing to live counter-thousand-yard-culture from now on.

Posted in Spiritual is everything | 1 Comment »

Tim Hughes gives it the kitchen sink

Posted by Martin on February 26, 2007

Or rather, is Holding Nothing Back according to the title of his new album. Britain’s joint-biggest worship leader and Christian song-writer returns with a third CD next month, and I’ve managed to steal a rough cut from the studio using my cat-burglar skills. Alright, the nice lady from his record company sent me a preview copy, but it doesn’t sound as cool.

Tim is one of the world’s most gifted congregational song writers, and so many people will have very high hopes for the album. The great news is that, having listened to it about thirty times now (which I suppose is a good sign), I can confirm that the album is fantastic. In fact, I’d go as far as to stick my neck out and say that this is going to be the best British worship album since Delirious released Glo – and that was practically back in the sixties.

The standout track – and the one I’m predicting will win a Dove award (American music award; nothing to do with the British soap products) – is ‘Everything’. If you’ve been at a festival in the last twelve months, you may well have heard it, but you certainly haven’t heard it like this… Based on a celtic prayer, it is one of the most rousing, moving, get-under-your-skin pieces of music I’ve ever, ever heard.

There’s also God of Justice – an unusually-focussed track about social action; Happy Day, which is a suitably upbeat intro to the album and the most instantly sing-able offering on there; and a fantastic duet with New Zealand chart star Brooke Fraser, ‘Clinging to the Cross.’

Albums from major worship leaders can go two ways: a) pedestrian, going-through-the-motions and cynically average, or b) innovative and exciting. Very pleased to report that in this case, it’s the latter all the way.

Posted in Music, Spiritual is everything | Leave a Comment »

Britney’s head

Posted by Martin on February 20, 2007

Britney's head, in hairier timesSo Britney Spears has shaved her head, added some new tattoos and just stopped short of lopping off one of her own arms in what is clearly one of the biggest cries for attention this celeb-obsessed age has seen.

Reactions have ranged from shock to amusement, but I really hope that the majority of Christians are reacting in neither of these ways. Britney has clearly lost her way – no-one is going to argue with that – but she is a child of God and He loves her so much – no matter what she does. I hope that the Christian community reflects that love in the ways in which we talk (particularly to young people) about the ubiquitous Ms Spears in the coming days and weeks.

I’d also dare to suggest that we should be praying for Britney right now. Not only just she have a Christian heritage which might really help her to find direction right now, but I’d dare to speculate that a downward emotional spiral like the one she appears to be on can often end in a grave place. Hope things get better soon for you, Britney…

Posted in General, Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

Wedding poem

Posted by Martin on February 17, 2007

My sister got married today, to a fabulous guy who I will now call my brother.  They asked me to write and perform a poem for them, which is actually much more difficult than you might think.

I wrote a poem for my own wedding, but that was easy – I just had to write my own feelings for the woman I loved, and put them into verse. Here I had to imagine myself simultaneously as both and neither of them! I’ll post it here just in case anyone’s interested – don’t worry though – I have no illusions about my ability!!!

[The form, if you’re interested, is an adapted sonnet (but with too many beats – it’s not real iambic pentameter). The trick is to read the first two words on one beat – the rest of it should work naturally.]

A Cord of Three Strands

All that was before you has faded to grey
Brilliant colours light everything since you
All of my life has led up to this day –
This cord of three strands, we’re now woven into.
Face to face, with hand touching hand,
Our worlds now collide in spectacular fashion
In this holy moment together we stand,
Choosing each other in friendship and passion.
Love of my life, we unite and begin
Magnificent vision, resplendent and glorious;
God-ordained match, outside and within
My quest for a soul mate now ends here victorious.
Tied by His hands through the words we have spoken,
A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Posted in Family, Spiritual is everything | 2 Comments »

The most ridiculous day of my life

Posted by Martin on February 6, 2007

Stick with this one; I hope it’s worth it.

I have had quite the most remarkable day. It started with an incredible email, was punctuated by a long and terrifying meeting, and ended with an even more incredible email. Let me tell you about it.

I don’t know if you believe in prophecy (look at this blog going all charismatic recently), or even more crazily, the idea that there can be a personal prophet for an individual – like a kind of Guardian Angel of prophecy I guess – but I do. At least, I do now. I first got an email from this person, whom I know only superficially, in the middle of last year. It had a few words which she believed God had given her for me, and being a cynical-before-my-time spoilsport, I took it with a pinch of salt. The email was an encouragement about God’s plans for me, and it was fairly specific.

That evening, I got a phone call from LA from a guy who wanted to sign me to his agency as a screenwriter.

I started to take my prophet friend a bit more seriously at this point. The next email came, towards the end of the year, full of similar promises, and this time I was less surprised when, come the evening, I received an invitation from the same Agent to visit a bunch of movie executives in Hollywood.

I went out there, as readers of this blog will know, and had some great meetings. But since then, thanks to a combination of factors (not least the fact that LA shuts down over December and January), nothing really happened.

Time passed, and the only thing that became clear to me from above was the fact that I am called to Youth Ministry for the long haul. God has spoken fairly clearly now to tell me that Youth Ministry and Movies are two sides of the same calling, not the big Sophie’s Choice that my life is hurtling towards.

This morning, I received another email from my prophet friend (she doesn’t go around calling herself that, by the way). Again, the message was that God’s hand was on me, that he had plans, and that he was going to provide for my family and I. Nice and reassuring, but since time had passed, I’d forgotten to expect movement later on.

That’s the first email dealt with. The rest will be shorter, I promise.

Regular readers (if there are such people) may have noticed a distinct drop in activity on this blog in the last month. There’s a clear reason for this – I’ve been putting together a business proposal to the parachurch youth ministry organisation which employs me, which, if implemented, could have a huge impact. Can’t really say any more than that, but when I say huge, I don’t mean it in the usual Christian superlative sense. I mean elephantine.

I met with the board of the organisation in the middle of the day, I pretty much fluffed it. For the first minute of my presentation, my nerves got the better of me. I said ‘er’ so many times, I started to sound like a refrigerator. I got grilled, roasted and sliced open by the panel of board members. I’m not exaggerating – I was a four out of ten at best.

And then something mad happened – they passed my proposal. I done so badly, that I didn’t really process it when they told me. But they said yes. Elephantine youth ministry development, here we come.

I went back to my desk, and re-read the email from Prophet Girl (that’s her superhero name). Ah! Of course, I should have expected it. God’s plan in action. Got it.

But that wasn’t it. As I said, there was one more twist in the day left to come. That night, I got an email from my agent in LA. It had been a while, but there it was – always sure to conjure up a mixture of stomach churning fear and excitement.

I opened it, read it, and re-read it. A director had come forward to take up my movie. The one that had been knocking around in Hollywoodland for the best part of a year. The one I’d begun to believe no-one wanted. The one my agent had last week told me to forget for a couple of years. Proper director – wanting to sign up.

The email ran through my head again, and I realised I’d limited God. Not only had he revealed his plan for my movie career once again in perfect time, he’d also timed it perfectly to coincide with the other massive development in my life, in the world of youth ministry. Could that message be much clearer?

So it’s the two things, together definitely. Elephantine youth ministry development AND Hollywood movie, here I somehow come.

Told you it was ridiculous.

Posted in Movies, Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | 1 Comment »

Mister e-worshipper

Posted by Martin on February 4, 2007

Love this pic!I had a very strange experience today as a guest at a church which I won’t mention. All I’ll say is that it was slightly more of the charismatic variety than I’m used to – they have a lot more of an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit than the average church. Which is cool by me – I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today and all that…

And it was a cool church. The worship was great, and surprisingly understated; the speaker was great (he spoke, shock horror, on the Holy Spirit!), and there was lots more about the place to recommend it. However, there was one thing that happened which I found very difficult.

At the end of the service, the leader announced that they would have a time of prayer ministry – I guess they have this every week. People gathered at the front for prayer, specially appointed/anointed ministry team members joined them to pray, and then ‘the spirit showed up’, which theologically I don’t begin to understand – but the fact is that a lot of people began to manifest a reaction to some kind of supernatural force.

That’s not the bit I struggled with. My wife and I decided not to go forward for prayer. We stood and watched (this was far more entertaining), and since it was our first time at the church, neither of us felt brave enough to do any more. After a few minutes, the leader decided to call the service to a close, and said a final prayer. My wife closed her eyes, I did not.

Seeing my wife with her eyes closed, a floating ministry team member saw her opportunity to pounce on someone who was not being prayed for. Within seconds, my wife had a hand in her back, and this lady was feverishly praying for her. Being a polite English person, my wife didn’t open her eyes, but I know her well enough to know that this was unlikely to be particularly comfortable. Still, since I am also English, I didn’t intervene, and stared into the distance, hoping it would go away.

It, or rather she, didn’t. Instead, she grabbed a friend, and this person also began praying, even more enthusiastically, for my now-clearly disturbed wife. And so despite being a visitor, and not going to the front for prayer, she now had two hands on her. Two unauthorised hands, I might add – no-one had asked my wife’s permission to pray.

Eventually my wife opened her eyes, and after a brief argument with the woman who apparently ‘hadn’t finished yet’ – we managed to get away. She was a little bit fed up at the intrusion, but had tried to go with it in case God was trying to tell her something.

Ultimately, it didn’t bother us all that much. But my concern is that while my wife is a Christian, this same thing could happen to a visitor who perhaps wasn’t, and had simply closed his or her eyes during a closing prayer as a mark of respect.

I’m not going to name the church, because this isn’t meant as an attack on them – in fact, we may even go back on Sunday. I’ve written to the minister personally, and hopefully he’ll address the matter. But it raises an important flag for me about Best Practice. I’ve been involved in the past in prayer ministry – I’m now trying to remember whether I treated the people I prayed for back then in this same way. I honestly don’t know if I always took the time to ask permission to pray, or whether the heat of the spiritual moment sometimes took over.

So to draw something positive from a slightly bad experience, hopefully this post will remind any readers who do this sort of ministry to check themselves on the issue of permission. Appearances can be deceiving – I honestly don’t think it’s ever right to assume that someone wants or needs prayer. Someone might be crying in a heap on the floor, or kneeling with their eyes closed – unless they’ve asked us to pray, it’s probably not our place to invade their physical space – especially when we’re working with young people.

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Youth Ministry | Leave a Comment »

John Barrowman and Jesus

Posted by Martin on January 9, 2007

Over New Year I happened to catch the BBC’s appalling excuse for a ‘spiritual’ Sunday morning show, Heaven and Earth. I say it’s appalling because according to them, anything appears to qualify as a major religion these days – Jedi, cross-stitch, pigeon-fancying – and they’ve probably run features on all of them. But in the midst of the usual dross, there was a very interesting article on this particular show with the actor John Barrowman, who plays ‘the other Captain Jack’ in Doctor Who and Torchwood.

John was talking about his rarely-mentioned Christian faith – he was brought up in a strong Christian family, says he tries to live like Jesus, reads the Bible and prays. He was open and honest about his faith, and the struggles he has with the church, which has not accepted him. John is gay, and recently ‘married’ his long-term partner in a civil partnership ceremony. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from being a Christian, but it has meant that he’s struggled to engage with a church which is repeatedly telling him that he’s going to hell in a handcart.

The interviewer asked him if he was just twisting the faith to meet his own ends, and he replied that he didn’t see what was wrong with that. I don’t actually believe that he would have given that answer if he’d thought about it – so it wasn’t likely to endear him to many traditional Christian viewers.

I find it interesting though how many prominent gay men I’ve heard openly talking about their interest in Jesus and their rejection by the church. The singer Boy George and the comedian Julian Clary both wrote about this in recent memoirs, and they’re by no means the only gay men to address this subject. I don’t believe it’s because they’re doing it to draw attention to the negativity of the church; I think they’re drawn to Jesus and they feel they’ve been barred from getting close to him.

I’m a self-confessed Doctor Who nut, so I’d love the chance to talk to him anyway, but I’d be really interested to find out more about John’s faith, theology and thoughts on the church. If you’re out there John – drop me a line…

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Television | 10 Comments »

Emerging a little further

Posted by Martin on January 7, 2007

Over Christmas my buddy and I managed to get a little bit further with the new expression of church project which we’ve been working on, and we’re looking at running our first ‘service’ in mid-feb. What we know so far is that it’ll start as a monthly meeting, it’ll include a meal, and it’ll be supplemented by a web-based element. Oh, and we have a name, but I’m not allowed to leak it yet. More soon…

Posted in Spiritual is everything | Leave a Comment »

Resolute again

Posted by Martin on January 5, 2007

The first of January came and went, and I’m pretty happy with the results of my last round of resolutions. 2006 was the first year I’d really tried to make them work, and as a result I’m now much lighter and entirely more biblically literate. I ended up losing a shade under my target of two stone, and got all the way to 2 Kings in the Bible, meaning I’m exactly halfway through.

This year, rather than calling them New Year’s Resolutions (and thus setting myself up to fail), I’ve drawn up a list of 2007 targets. They are as follows:

  • Finish reading the Bible
  • Become a blood donor (despite needle phobia)
  • Write three complete screenplays AND have them signed off by my manager
  • Lose one more stone in weight (and then frankly, you’ll want my number)
  • Er… give up drinking alcohol

Yeah… I know that last one is a bit ridiculous, but I just wanted to see if it was possible. You see, I’ve been a fairly serious drinker (as in little and often) since the age of 18, and so ten years on, I want to see if it’s something I enjoy or need. I’ve found that when I drink even a glass of wine or beer, my manner changes and my ability to stay alert rapidly deteriorates. So I’m not preaching – just seeing if it’s something that I can do without.

The real killer on that list is the screenplays. It takes me four months of solid work to take a script from idea to completion, so there’ll be no letup. Having been out to LA in October and set up all these smokin’ contacts though, I now have to do the hard work of putting full scripts in their hands. So three is the magic number, and I’m praying that will be enough to see my first one sell.

Posted in General, Movies, Spiritual is everything | Leave a Comment »

A WordPress Christmas message: God is breastfeeding

Posted by Martin on December 22, 2006

For anyone looking for a Christmas message, unpacking a little bit of the true meaning of Christmas, I thought I’d post this – a message I delivered on a London radio station today. Hope it means something to you – and a very Merry Christmas, whoever you are…

The Nativity Story. The wise men, and the shepherds. The cows and the donkeys and the straw. And the little baby Jesus, in his little manger – no crib for a bed. It’s a nice picture isn’t it? Soft, cuddly; reminds you of when you were five years old.

But if you’re honest, has it ever struck you that in this day and age, the nativity seems, well… a bit rubbish? This is supposed to be one of the two main events of the Christian story. Well, by Hollywood standards, it’s hardly a great action sequence.

The sweet little donkey, plodding along under the weight of a considerably-large woman. The shepherds following the star like students staggering after an early morning kebab. And then the baby is born – all little and soft and smelling of roses. And that’s it. That’s the story.

So the nativity: a bit rubbish? Well if you ever have thought that, you’re not alone. It was what the religious people thought at the time. Their prophets had been telling them God was going to send a saviour. And since they were oppressed by the Roman empire, and has lost their freedom – to them, a saviour was going to look a lot more like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Imagine this, alternative Nativity story. Jesus, played by Arnie, teleports into Jerusalem during an electrical storm. Obviously he’s naked, so he goes and beats up a local tax collector and steals his biking leathers. Then he carries his AK-47 into town, and starts blowing away Romans for fun. The Jewish people get their city back, everyone praises God, and Arnie gives the leathers back and pops off home to heaven in time for manna with Moses. Now that’s a story.

But it wasn’t God’s story. And to understand God’s story, and what on earth he was doing through the nativity, we have to go a lot further back.

Here’s what happens in the Old Testament: God makes man, but he falls and loses his place in paradise. Then God chooses a people who can come back to him, but they mess up, and end up as slaves in Egypt. They stay there for about 400 years, but they keep crying out to God, and he can’t ignore it (cos he’s just too darned nice). So he gives power to a leader – Moses – and brings them out of slavery dramatically. Then years and years pass, and the people of God just keep on messing it up. They worship other Gods, they build golden calves and opulent palaces – they can’t stay faithful for five minutes. So God removes his favour, and they get overtaken by the Babylonians, and later by the Romans.

Or more basically: God gives people a chance – they mess it up. Then God gives people a chance – and they mess it up. It’s a cycle.

So what the Jews were expecting, was another Moses – another chance from God – another rescue from oppressors. And who turns up? A little baby. Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. And all the oppressed Jewish people think – are you serious!?!?

And when he grows up – preaching love, humility and turning the other cheek, they’re even more nonplussed. They all decide that this guy just can’t be the saviour who the prophets had been predicting.

But he was. The miracles he performed, and the fact that he rose from the dead, convinced enough people that it spread to become a movement, which is today around 2 Billion strong. The words he spoke were so wise – so unearthly – that he’s now regarded as one of the greatest teachers of all time – whoever you believe he was.

Here’s what happened: God, seeing that Paradise hadn’t been enough; realising that choosing a people and teaching them how to live hadn’t been enough, takes the most drastic action. He sends his own Son – who is fully God – to earth. That moment is pivotal in human history – because God comes to earth to open up the way back to him. Through his son, man and God will again be able to look one another in the eye.

And so Jesus – this eternal, all-powerful being – is incarnated as a human being. He can feel pain, physical weakness, tiredness.

But even more than that – God doesn’t just make Jesus appear – all grown up and full of great wisdom. He brings him into the world through childbirth – as a tiny, frail, helpless baby.

So here we are, back at the nativity. And to me, it doesn’t seem so rubbish now – that Christmas Card picture: the Shepherds and the wise men, crowding round his manger, because they’re in on the secret – God just moved into the neighbourhood. And Mary, with the baby Jesus, feeding at her breast.

God is breastfeeding. He’s become human in every way. What a picture! It’s one you don’t see on the Christmas cards – but what a picture! God is breastfeeding! He humbles himself to the point that he is dependent on man to keep him alive. He lays aside all his power and puts his life literally in one woman’s hands.

He grows up, and although it’s not obvious at the time, he does save the people. He saves them from the Romans – the empire turned Christian within a couple of centuries, and then fell; he saves them from their separation from god. From those humble beginnings – he goes on to become the greatest hero the world has ever seen.

So no, the nativity isn’t rubbish. We might have sanitised it into a nice children’s story because it has animals and a baby in it, but it’s anything but rubbish. This is the moment that God started putting the world back together. And Christmas gives us a chance to remember what God is really doing in that seemingly childish story – he turns the universe upside down so that we might know him. And what an incredible Christmas present that is.

Have a great Christmas.

Posted in Spiritual is everything | Leave a Comment »

Over-prayed footballers

Posted by Martin on December 22, 2006

I’ve already confessed my love of this kind of story – now possibly my favourite TV show in the whole wide world is devoting this Saturday’s programme to it. The BBC Sport website today reports that England footballer Jermaine Defoe is a Christian who says that prayer helps him to get over the disappointments in his career. He says:

‘I pray every day. In the mornings and, before I go to bed. I think it’s important to pray not just when things are going bad.

‘When things are going bad, it’s easy to pray and ask God to help you out, but it’s also important to pray when things are going well and show your appreciation.’

Good on Jermaine for saying that in public when he knows he could get stick from the fans, and good on the BBC for airing his story of faith, and those of other players, in the ‘Faith in football’ special of Football Focus, on BBC ONE this Saturday at 12.10pm GMT.

Posted in Spiritual is everything, Sport | Leave a Comment »