Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Perfect radio face

On air
Hammering repeatedly on the studio door, I feared I'd travelled across London for nothing.

I'd come to give a radio interview, but neither the red phone by the door ('call to access Premier Christian Media'), nor urgent knocking, nor even phoning the 0800 number I'd been emailed, seemed to be getting me any closer to actually getting into the place.

This would have been a shame; many of my friends tell me I have the perfect face for radio.

I persevered. On trying the 0800 number a second time, I reached an apologetic chap who'd been answering a call of nature for the previous eight hours. Or so it seemed to me. He let me in.

Premier is a fairly large concern, judging by its spacious open-plan offices with room for a hundred or so - then empty it being Saturday, apart from me, the (now-relieved) doorman, and Nage, the presenter who would interview me (at that point live in the studio). Nage (pronounced 'Naj') later told me that 'The Big Breakfast', the show in which I would feature, has about half a million listeners.

London Jesus DayWhy was I there? Last Saturday was 'London Jesus Day', a colourful event hosted by the Jesus Army in central London. More than a thousand Christians marched from Hyde Park Corner via Picadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square where a lively rally was held for a few hours. It was nothing to do with protest and everything to do with celebration.

My chat with Nage went went well, I think. Or at any right that's what two very important people told me, in texts sent straight after I went off air (my boss and my mum).

And yes, a number of Premier's half a million listeners came along to the event. A number a little lower than half a mil, it's true - but I'm still glad I made that 0800 call a second time.

Have a listen. The event happened last Saturday, so you've missed it this year! But, all being well, we'll be doing it again next year - so why not look out for the date and come along an join us? All are welcome; the more, the merrier.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Christians by the beeb

Not having a TV in our home, I don't see much the BBC puts out to the nation's screens (my main media dose comes when I catch a snatch of Radio 4 most days while travelling to work).

But recently, and unusually, I watched a DVD of some old episodes of Spooks, the beeb’s TV drama about MI5.

Who knows if it bears the slightest resemblance to reality? The spies in the series seem to have semi-divine powers of surveillance and observation (mainly via whiz-bang ICT; topical, these days, given Farage, Snowden et al). The spooks in the series pit their wits against traitors, crazies, fanatics and fundies of every stripe. They save great old Great Britain week after week from the forces of terror.

Perhaps it was in the interest of fairness – some sort of PC gesture? – that an episode I watched dealt with a fundamentalist terrorist group not of a dissident-political or Islamic flavour – but Christian. A “Christian”/“evangelical” group decided to systematically attack and terrorize Muslims in the UK.

The portrayal was utterly unconvincing.

I know I’m biased. I’m Christian. Yet in all my years as a Christian – an evangelical one at that – I have never met, or read anything by, or seen or heard any hint of a single one who wants to betray the precepts of their Founder to the extent of bombing their enemies. Even the utterly odious Westboro Baptist Church only threaten hell; they don’t blow people up.

Not your average ChristianBefore you say it, yes, I know: the Crusades. The Inquisition. George Bush. Et cetera. I’m not saying the Christian Church has always eschewed violence in its chequered and compromised history. But what bothered me about the portrayal in Spooks was the assumption, which you find quite often in various media, that evangelical = fundamentalist = loony = dangerous.

Too many leaps. The result was a portrayal of Christianity that my inside knowledge knew that I didn't know. If you know what I mean.

It made me wonder (having no inside knowledge) whether their portrayal of Islamic fundamentalists was equally skewed (any Muslim friends care to comment?)

I despise Christian bigotry and am revolted by the silly sweeping statements that can come from Christians. Those from my own branch of Christianity, the evangelical fraternity, can outrage me most: when those most like me say things to which I want to shout, “Not in my name!” But I do yearn for some real Christians to be on the tele or the radio; Christians I can actually recognise. Humble, hardworking, compassionate, troubled-by-bigotry, trying-to-work-it-out, able-to-laugh-at-themselves, sacrificial, serving – in short, like the many, many I know – Christians.

Prejudice can go in many directions. Let’s oppose it in all its forms.

P.S. You can vote on how Christians are portrayed by the BBC on a poll here.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Do you hear the people sing?

Do you hear..?
There's been a flurry of talk round our gaff about Les Miserables. Yes, there's the recent film version of the musical - which among other things is the stimulus of discussions in our 'girls' cell group' at the moment. We also have more than one literature buff around who's read the original Hugo (and huge) novel. And a couple in our house were treated, not long ago, to a 'Les Mis' theatre experience...

And, yes, we like to talk, to theologise and philosophise.

After all, this is a tale packed with spiritual topics. There's the trio of human conditions represented in (unrighteous) Thénardier, (self-righteous) Javert and (righteous) Valjean. There's the heroic sacrifice of the revolutionary students - but also the agonised question of 'what their sacrifice was for'. There's the power of 'little people'. There's love, death and redemption (someone once said those three themes sum up all literature). And there's the musical's conclusion that 'to love another person is to see the face of God'.

Why, asks a Christian reviewer, in a world where both Christian profession and practice are on the wane, has such a musical gained tremendous popularity? The answer is twofold: The musical's approach is not didactic or preachy; the primacy of love and faith emerges from the telling of the story, rather than catechetical speeches or songs. And that approach allows the truth to speak for itself, and to speak to the viewer. Whether he is Christian or not, he cannot help but recognize the underlying truth of the story...

Story has the power to move the masses. Jesus understood this. He used story both to make clear and to make cryptic - and sometimes both at once. He used the narrative of his day - from farming to returning kings to absent sons - to reach and to reveal hearts.

I think there's something to be said for using today's narratives, found on the screen as much as the page, to raise thought, to stir longing, to reveal hearts.

Do you hear the people sing?