THE BELIEF POLICE

What are you thinking about right now? Did you know that if you’re someone famous, what you believe – inside your head – could get you into big trouble?

If it gets out.

Okay, so you’re not someone famous. Nor am I, but my point is that this ‘trouble’ is generated not by behaviour, but by revealing the contents of your mind. Reveal beliefs which offend the dominant cultural belief-system and your entire sporting reputation may be on the line.

Welcome to the world of Margaret Court. (What a great name for a tennis player. If I’d been named Mikey Outside-half or Tommy Left Wing, my sporting destiny would have been revealed.) But back to serious commentary.

Margaret Court. Winner of the most Grand Slams by a female tennis player, 24. 11 in the Open era when it became much harder to win them. She is a tennis sporting great, no question. The equivalent of Rod Laver, another Australian great.

Until now. Until she revealed some of her beliefs.

Bad move. She’s a Christian and she told a Christian TV station that she disagreed with gay marriage. Apparently, her language was un-PC also, which didn’t go down well.

She didn’t lie, steal or hurt anyone. She just revealed her beliefs which conflict with our culture. Especially women’s tennis culture. Billy Jean King and Martina Navratilova are especially important in this regard. Both tennis legends, both gay, both activists for their sexual orientation. In female tennis culture, it’s a very bad move to offend them. Martina, in particular, is ticked.

In fact, it’s such a bad move that the court named Margaret Court Arena may now lose its name at the Australian Open. Having a court named after you is a great honour. But Sam Stosur, Australian former World number one, wants it removed. She has started corralling women’s tennis players for the cause, threatening to boycott the court. Because of Court.

They will probably win. Margaret Court’s name will probably be removed.

Our ‘tolerant’ liberal culture is tightening up. It’s more aggressive, more judgemental, more punitive than it once was. If you put a foot wrong, it will punish you.

Not for your behaviour. For your thoughts. Your beliefs.

What’s wrong here? Well, the idea that it’s how we think, or believe, which is so offensive. In just the same way that a ‘hate-crime’ criminalizes thought and belief, Margaret Court’s beliefs are on trial and found guilty. A ‘hate-crime’ is a criminal behaviour which is considered that much worse and therefore punished more severely because of the beliefs which are behind it. That’s why I don’t agree with the designation ‘hate-crime.’

Because only God knows the heart. Only God knows what we truly believe. And only he can judge us for our thoughts and beliefs. Hence the tenth commandment, which is a commandment relating to the heart: Do not covet.

In our society, we should criminalize behaviour, not thoughts and beliefs.

Because we’re not God. It’s as simple as that.

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MANCHESTER CITY UNITED

I’m sure you were as shocked as I was by Salman Abedi’s suicide attack last week in Manchester. There can be few horrors worse than losing a child. I can only look into the abyss and shudder.

Here are some – perhaps rather uncomfortable – thoughts on Islamic terrorism.

1) There’s a cancer in the heart of one of the world’s major religions and it’s no good talking about ‘one bad apple.’ Apparently, the security services – Harry to you and me – can’t keep up with the number of ‘potential bombers.’ They can track, what, one to two thousand at the most, and there might be more than that. All living in the U.K. No wonder, even though the chances of becoming a victim of terrorism are still very very small, the media attention has generated a great deal of fear.

9/11?

One bad apple – or 18 bad apples, is no way to represent what happened back in 2001. A rough assessment of support for the 9/11 bombers in Iran has been calculated at around 30-40%. Sure, very very few would commit the crime, but like St. Paul at the martyr of Stephen, they approved. Millions approved. I know the U.K. isn’t Iran, but extrapolating from the numbers of ‘potential terrorists’ tracked by MI5, that means there are possibly thousands in the U.K. who approved of Salman Abedi’s act. That’s worrying.

2) Why did Salman Abedi choose an Ariana Grande concert? Have you asked that question?

Islamic fundamentalists hate liberal Western culture. It’s an abomination to them. And their attitudes towards British culture were on view in the recent BBC mini-series, Three Girls, which dramatized the cases of child grooming in Rochdale between 2005 and 2013. Nine men, mostly Pakistani, were jailed for up to 25 years for their crimes of child rape and abuse.

While in the dock, one of the men started shouting. He lambasted the entire court, accusing ‘the British’ of their permissive customs, namely allowing our young girls to get drunk, wear skimpy clothing and have sex before marriage. The shocking hypocrisy was not lost on the viewer. The man speaking was guilty of plying several under-age girls with alcohol and then raping them.

But what’s been revealed here? Self-hatred on the part of the man in the dock, that’s for sure. But also his hatred of our liberal British culture.

A couple of days after the Manchester bombing, I went on the Ariana Grande website to find out more about the artist. I watched a video in which two women made out, then a couple started having sex in an office setting, removing clothing with abandon and finally, an elderly couple started to become amorous on a bus. I won’t describe what happened towards the end.

This is the liberal culture which Islamic fundamentalists hate. It’s what Salman Abedi hated. Of that I’m fairly sure. Who knows how deep his own self-hatred went, but in blowing himself up in that location specifically, I’m sure he thought he was attacking our decadent Western culture. Or at least one of its representatives.

What lessons can we learn?

Well, I’m probably preaching to the converted when I say that the only antidote to hate is love. Christians know that love is costly, it hurts and even if we’re misunderstood, it’s always better to love and reach out than cast out and condemn. And if that includes reaching out to Muslims, all the better. Some Muslims are currently attending an Alpha course in my church. They’re ‘seekers’ and open to the truth. We pray they’ll discover the Way, the Truth and the Life. We pray they experience love in our midst.

But what are we to make of the sexually permissive culture which produces Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and the like? Would you take your 8 year-old to see an artist who sings about ‘walking side to side’ because she’s had so much sex, that’s how she walks now? How uncomfortable as a follower of Jesus to find myself horrified by the outrage of a terrorist and yet realize his views on our liberal culture might contain similarities with my own. It’s very unsettling.

It’s enough to make sure you don’t ever write about it on a blog.

Too late.

We live in a very uncertain world and frankly, even though it might sound like a platitude, what’s more important is that it’s true: Only the God of the universe can provide security. Only he can keep us safe, because he holds all our lives in his hands. He gives and he takes away. And all he does is good, for he himself is goodness by his very nature. And he is love.

So, as Jesus urged so very often . . . don’t be afraid.

SHORT AND SWEET

Short and sweet. A post every day of the working week.

200 words or less. A minute of your time. Enjoy.

So, why is it that if you mention Hitler, you always lose the argument? It’s true isn’t it? And it happened last week. Boris – gotta love a great entertainer.

He was vilified immediately. Why? Because Hitler is a non-starter in an argument. Why? It’s because in our culture we respond primarily with our emotions and not our judgement. We’re all heart and no head. Second, we’re really into ‘being offended.’ Hitler ticks both boxes. I’m offended by your suggestion that there is any similarity between the Bad Guy and me or my position. Second, my emotional response trumps whatever argument you were making.

Did Boris have a point? Who cares? We’re all so offended, it’s got lost.

So, when you’re tempted to mention Hitler, remember Basil Fawlty. ‘Don’t mention the war. I did once but I think I got away with it.’ He may have, but you won’t. Your argument will be lost.

 

I think I heard a whoosh

I think I heard a whoosh.

This is currently my favourite movie quote of the year. Possibly of the decade. It comes from The Lego Movie, 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (leading movie critic website).

After we’d watched The Lego Movie, this was the one quote which tickled both my children and I more than any other. And believe me, the film was so full of great lines that we were spoilt for choice. However, there was something about this line, I think I heard a whoosh, which touched our funny bones more than all the others. On a side note, there are few things in life which bring me more joy than exchanging amusing movie quotes with my children. They do it a lot between themselves, but when I am allowed to join in, I love it. Absolutely love it.

So, I think I heard a whoosh. What is it about that line which attracted me? I thought for a while and then the penny dropped. Here are some of my thoughts.

First, the word whoosh is pretty funny. It’s onomatopoeic, of course, but so is ‘crash’ and that’s not funny. No, there’s more to it than that. The amusement value surely comes from its use in this particular sentence. In the movie, it’s uttered by Emmett, who is our main ‘regular-guy-hero’ character. He hears something speeding by making what can only be described as a whooshing sound. And so you might think the phrase, ‘I think I heard a whoosh,’ would be expected.

But it’s not. Here’s why.

You see, I don’t think whoosh is generally a word which people say. It’s normally reserved for children’s books and comics. In a similar situation to Emmett’s, we would probably say ‘What was that?’ or ‘What was that sound?’ We wouldn’t say ‘I think I heard a whoosh.’ And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the phrase is funny. It contains a funny-sounding word in a sentence where it would never normally be used.

Why is it there?

I mentioned that whoosh is used by writers of comics and children’s books. It’s used by story-tellers. In addition, whoosh is the kind of word used by children during imaginative play. ‘Whoosh’ declares Tommy as he launches his ‘rocket’ – made of a loo roll and plastic sticks – towards the ceiling. He’s describing what’s taking place in his story. He’s a story-teller. Sure, it’s certainly possible that we might say the word whoosh, but it’s a word which is far more commonly used by story-tellers.

Let’s return to The Lego Movie. It’s a film which uses several well-worn movie tropes. They are used so often, we instantly recognize the formula. For example, it has goodies and baddies. It has a hero who grows in self-confidence, discovering that he can be extraordinary if he believes in himself. Been there before. It starts with a dystopian vision of society. The situation looks hopeless before someone does something heroic which saves the day. Seen all of this many times.

But it also has a trope which I absolutely love and which is tagged specifically by this phrase, I think I heard a whoosh. I call it, ‘story-within-a-story,’ though I can’t find its exact definition anywhere. In The Lego Movie, we discover that the lego world we’ve been watching symbolically reflects a story between two ‘creators’ on the outside. There are two worlds and they are related, although the exact connection between the two worlds is left vague, which works well.

It might even be called a creation motif.

This is when characters self-consciously reflect on the fact that they are ‘characters.’ They are someone else’s creation. This sometimes happens in movies when a character will turn towards the camera and smile or wink. Because this breaks our ‘suspension of disbelief,’ it is done very rarely and it is never done well, in my opinion. In The Lego Movie, on the other hand, it is done quite brilliantly. And it begins with the line,

I think I heard a whoosh.

It is almost as though Emmett is saying ‘I’ll use a word used by story-tellers to indicate that I’m a character in a story.’ Later on in the film, the character Lucy, (his love-interest, AKA WyldStyle) engages in the same kind of language. She’s describing who she is and then suddenly you hear her say . . . blah, blah, blah. Proper name. Place name. Backstory stuff… Excuse me? Backstory stuff? Another indication that she’s self-consciously telling us that she’s a character in a story.

Now, why do I love these kinds of movies so much? Here’s why.

Because I’m in one. And so are you. And the idea that film-makers ‘get this,’ whether consciously or unconsciously, is thrilling to me.

A movie by M. Night Shyamalan called Lady in the Water contains a very similar idea. It’s a film in which characters discover they’re in a fairy tale. A Problem presents itself and they must discover what part they need to play in the fairy tale in order to resolve the Problem. Resolving the Problem brings Resolution and it brings tears to the eyes. The movie had its critics – some justified – but the central idea was fabulous. Think about it. A story about people who have to work out which characters they need to play in order for the story to reach its glorious resolution. A story-within-a-story.

A movie about people who themselves realize they’re in a story.

Wow. A true reflection of our reality.

For we are people who discover that we are in a Story. And we’re called on to discover what part we must play for the Story to reach its glorious resolution. To discover which is your part, you might want to consult 1 Corinthians 12.

Of course, the movies don’t reflect every aspect of our reality. For example, half way through The Lego Movie, Emmett and two other characters enter his brain. It’s very Matrix-like, consciously so, I think. A huge finger reaches down and we’re given the first clear indication of a Creator character. It turns out that this Creator isn’t good and kind at all. He threatens their future. Yet the very fact that we’re given two worlds, the world of the Creator(s) (there are two of them) and the world of the Lego characters is wondrous to behold.

It’s a welcome reminder that we too are in a Story. And our little stories – our lives – will only make sense when seen in reference to the one Big Story. All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, wrote William Shakespeare. So this idea is hardly new.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller. That’s a great line.

But he would surely have been prouder of this one, had he written it:

I think I heard a whoosh!

© Richard Collins 2014

There’s nothing wrong with watching movies

NOTHING WRONG WITH WATCHING MOVIES

(Started over ten years ago – hence the term VCR – and completed today)

‘There’s nothing wrong with watching movies’ I said to myself as I switched off the VCR and TV after watching a rather gruesome thriller a while back. Not only did I feel dissatisfied with my argument but the movie had left a bad taste in my mouth.  I had a sense that I ought not to have been watching it, that it had damaged me inside in a way I couldn’t readily identify. I felt dirty. The after-effects of watching the movie I could not change, but my poor argument, ‘there’s nothing wrong with watching movies’ demanded more attention. How many times had I used this line of argument, confidently tossing it out there as though it were some kind of faithful talisman that would protect and justify me?

The argument is weak primarily because it denotes a defensive posture. It smacks of Garden of Eden, hand-in-the-cookie-jar reasoning. ‘You didn’t say we couldn’t …’, ‘we thought you might have meant …’ etc is relayed with the look of someone who knows they’ve been caught red-handed and is valiantly trying to justify bad behaviour. Arguing ‘there’s nothing wrong with ..’ simply reveals the inherent guilt that lies within such a person. Why? Because if there were ‘nothing wrong’, then the issue wouldn’t arise in the first place and we wouldn’t be backing into a corner. In addition, it is the argument of the person who is quite simply asking the wrong question about life. Let me explain.

In Matthew 25: 14-30 we read of the three servants who are left various talents by their master. Two of the servants use their talents well, investing their money and earning a return. One buries his. The parable teaches a number of lessons but one is to do with intentionality.  If we are asking ‘what can I do without getting into trouble?’ we are asking the wrong question. This is the position of the foolish servant who said, ‘I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground’. No, we should be asking a different question altogether. It’s found in the name of a famous book by the great Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer: ‘How shall we then live?’ That is the question. The master in the parable wasn’t looking for excuses; he wanted to know what his servants had intentionally done with the gifts they had been given.

Now, I have to confess right now, that I simply love the movies. And there’s nothing wrong with watching movies. You see? I can’t stop using that phrase and I’m the one writing the article! But the place of entertainment in a believer’s life requires careful thought. There are two aspects to this which require attention. First, we need to learn to watch movies (and TV for that matter) with a careful eye to its effect on our thinking. I’d recommend a book by Steve Couch and Nick Pollard called ‘Get more like Jesus while watching TV.’ (Try to ignore a horrible use of the word ‘get’ in that title). Entertainment is saturated with worldviews (ways of interpreting the world) and learning to watch wisely requires a little effort. In some cases, a lot of effort.

Second, if we’re honest, most of us probably watch too much while creeping behind the statement ‘there’s nothing wrong with . . .’ The point isn’t that watching is wrong, it’s that we’ve lost our focus. We’re not here for very long. We’ve been given work to do. And often, we’re not doing it. No no, don’t feel guilty. Take a look in the mirror and ask for strength. Strength to make good choices. Those choices involve balancing the need for relaxation and yes, entertainment with the call of God to do his work – love others, serve, care, teach, whatever God has called you to do. And of course, prayer. Self-discipline is not just for uptight people, though the uptight keep a better eye on their use of time than others. (They’re often more judgmental too, which balances things out ;)). The fact is, we’re accountable for our use of time before God.

So, this weekend – this is posted on a Friday evening in the U.K. – go ahead and watch a movie. Watch it wisely. But be careful to evaluate your life and the gifts you’ve been given and lay them before God for his service. Most especially, ask for his help in achieving balance – the need for relaxation and the call to give yourself up for your God and others. He will give you the strength to make wise choices.