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Be the one watching

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Do you ever feel like we’re trapped inside the pages of a wild fantasy novel, a waking nightmare, or a ‘Black Mirror’ episode?

‘Black Mirror’

It’s a prophetic voice from the media/entertainment world. Too close to home for comfort.
Offering up disturbing images and ideas of a bizarre future, disturbing precisely because they are bizarrely close to reality.

In many ways, ‘Black Mirror’ follows in the time-honoured footsteps of science fiction literature: imagining a future with all its repercussions for the present. (George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and C.S. Lewis’s ‘That Hideous Strength’ should be required reading for all sentient beings.)

I hesitate to call myself a fan, as that might imply enjoyment. But I am impressed with the imagination and the warning. Binge viewing may be a temptation for anything else on Netflix, but not with ‘Black Mirror’. Personally, I dose viewing to a SINGLE episode WHEN I have the stamina; 2 episodes end to end: NOT a good idea.

I wonder whether ‘Black Mirror’ writers read the headlines, thinking, “Shucks! We’re too late with that storyline, it’s already happening!”

Capturing life

One example of a ‘Black Mirror’-episode-seemingly-come-to-life is our current tendency to view reality through a screen. We’re so busy capturing life, there’s no time to watch it.

Think of the scenes last Saturday of the newlyweds Meghan and Harry riding in their open coach through Windsor. Through a forest of phones. Thousands upon thousands of phones, cameras, tablets.

I would love to ask the royal couple who they actually had eye contact with. Mostly with the very young and very old? Did nearly everybody else have their eyes glued on their screens?

I would love to ask folks from that crowd if they thought about putting down their handheld devices to simply watch Meghan and Harry passing by. Or is there a fear of missing the moment: it has to be recorded in order to be relived and relived again.

But was it ever lived in the first place?

Is the irony, the tragedy, that we have already missed the moment in our efforts to capture it?

Be the one watching

And are we approaching a ‘Black Mirror’ point in society where we’re so accustomed to viewing life through our screens that we start to feel naked and vulnerable without them?

That we start to fear actual eye contact?

Have we even passed that point?

Dare we see screenless?

Let’s not miss the moment passing by.

 

 

Photo: How about screenless viewing?

 

Trying to outwit the Almighty

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Have a read of the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verses 15 – 46 in this light:

Jesus: 5
Pharisees & Sadducees: 0

Those Pharisees and Sadducees, right, do they genuinely have no idea Who they’re messing with? Would that explain their determination to trip Him up?

Or do they instinctively suspect Who He is, but simply cannot and/or will not accept it? Instead, they keep at it, desperate to prove Him wrong.

Am I, by any chance, also guilty of such absurd thinking?
“God, You don’t understand anything about money matters.”
“God, You have no idea about human relationships.”
“God, You cannot grasp the concept of eternity.”
“In fact, God, Your theology is way off!”

Why do I do this? Because I’m feeling out of my depth and am thrashing around, trying to have some sense of control and significance?
Or simply because I have such a long way still to go, figuring out even a glimmer of Who God truly is, or what He’s actually like?

In their blind determination to embarrass Jesus, those religious leader chaps end up embarrassing themselves. Of course.
In fact, that’s what eventually shuts them up, at least in their public attempts at tricking Him: Pride – they don’t want to risk losing face yet again.

However, in their hearts their hostility is far from over: they are plotting nothing less than His complete destruction.

Public, manipulative trickery or secret, murderous intentions, God knows what humankind is capable of, and continues on His way, with a doggedness of His own, to save us from ourselves.

You want to stand out? Then step down.

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Jesus seems to have a hearty distrust of the pedestal, implying that the degree to which we idolize leadership, we go wrong. He warns us in no uncertain terms: Don’t put anyone up there, and don’t, for that matter, allow yourself to be maneuvered up onto one either.

The pedestal dehumanizes – or rather supra-humanizes – as well as isolates. Whereas, being very, very much human, every leader needs community, i.e. connection, friendship, accountability, and relevance if their leadership is to have any chance of truly flourishing.

A couple of the red flags signaling the pedestaling process? First, we start taking a leader too seriously; second a leader starts taking themselves too seriously. Sometimes the process is reversed.
Then, before you know it, there they are – the latest poor soul atop a pillar of high repute.

And, by the way, a bright, fluorescent target for anything humanity can throw at them; a magnet for both adoration and hatred; an elevated sitting duck for the highest of praise and the sharpest of criticism. One minute their ego is inflating to absurd proportions, the next, they are being pummeled almost into oblivion…

Of course, Jesus has the perfect antidote, if you are one of these unfortunates:
Find your bearings again, recognize the true Boss.
Climb down off the pedestal, and join the rest of the human race on wonderfully solid, equal ground.
Serve others, don’t expect them to serve you.
And no more masks, enjoy simply being yourself.

You may still be the target of abuse, but you no longer have far to fall.
Plus the company and comfort of fellow-travellers will ease your journey.

 

 

Photo: Tree frog contemplating a leap in the dark

 

Thoughts taken from The Message; Matthew 23: 8-12:
“’Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.’”

Obvious

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It probably has something to do with the intensity of recent days, plus the furnace heat of full blast Filipino hot season, perhaps also the mild fever of a persistent cold, but in a moment of rest there was a moment of clarity when it felt like the whole meaning of life could be summed up in one sentence.

So, for what it’s worth, and at the risk of stating the obvious, here it is:

The Divine is both involved in the very fabric of our lives, and desires to be even more involved in our every interaction, not only in ways, but also to an extent beyond anything any of us can ever imagine.

Fever notwithstanding, I think this could be true.

 

Photo: Wednesday’s sunset skies

6 Lessons I Learned in 6 Months of Major Stress

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These last 6 months have been some of the most stressful in my life. The difficulties are not over yet, but it does feel like the worst has passed. Though hopefully this is not simply wishful thinking.

 

Just to be clear, this was not one lesson learned per month; my life at least is not that cut and dried. In fact, let this untidy caveat be about Lesson One: Real Life is, more often than not, an utter mess.

 

Lesson Two

When curled up in a fetal position overwhelmed and whimpering, or crying hard, ugly tears of despair, don’t expect to see the light. Because dark is dark. Night is night. ‘This too shall pass’ is a truism that doesn’t necessarily take into consideration how long the tunnel is.

 

Lesson Three

A song can save me. For example, ‘You’re Gonna Be Ok’ by Brian & Jenn Johnson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjF9IqvXDjY

 

Lesson Four

Receive the comfort of nature, whether it’s the companionship of pets; the singing of crickets or pied fantails; the colour of sky, the green of pine, or the smell of cut grass.

 

Lesson Five

This is precisely the time NOT to stop any healthy habits to do with eating and exercising. Good nutrition is a godsend, and pushing my body to its limits, sweating it out, can be a great release.

(Screaming into a pillow is also a great rage-releaser, very handy if you don’t want to alarm the neighbours, but not very kind to your voice box.)

 

Lesson Six

Ask for help. Especially for prayer. It need only be from one or two friends, but it helps. Don’t know how – in my four decades of being a Jesus follower, the mystery of love and prayer has only grown deeper – but praying friends have buoyed me up like a life-saving jacket in a raging river.

Courage II

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Courage comes as a grain of steadfast hope: turning to face the future even as fear breathes its merciless threats down the back of your neck.

 

 

 

Photo: Late afternoon garden sunshine, Northumberland, U.K.

A lot to answer for

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What were your two most boring subjects at school? For many of us these were R.E. (*) and grammar. For you too?

 

Did you know that theology has much in common with grammar, especially when it comes to the teaching thereof?

 

As the idea of good grammar is to open up the human faculties to a language, so is the idea of good theology to reveal the ways of God.

 

And just as the bad teaching of grammar shuts down the understanding, so the bad teaching of theology closes the door to the divine.

 

To some degree this explains my empathy as an English teacher for Jesus’ outrage over the Pharisees: the very ones who should have been showing the way, were blocking the way.

 

Teachers have a lot to answer for.

 

 

 

(*) Religious Education

 Photo: Garden path, Northumberland, U.K.