30 November 2013

The Eleventh Doctor

The next actor to play the lead in Doctor Who was in fact the youngest yet to be cast in the role. Matt Smith was aged only 26 at the time.

The Eleventh Doctor is particularly childlike, allowing him to connect very well with children (the first person he meets after his regeneration is a seven-year-old Amy Pond; the adult version would become his first companion). In fact, this persona is quite ignorant of correct behaviour, awkward in social situations, and seems incredibly slow in realising things (the audience are often a step or two ahead of him)! It's said to due to his advanced age (mentioned in one episode) or being too stupid to remember details (as mentioned in another). He is secretive, keeps vital information from his companions, and then blames himself for ruining many so many other lives. 

And yet... this Doctor can get excited over anything different and yet interesting. He has a powerful sense of right and wrong and a determination to do what's right. And he knows that bowties are cool. 

Matt Smith has appeared in 37 stories (42 episodes) and will hand over the TARDIS keys to Peter Capaldi after this year's Christmas special...

27 November 2013

Picking Your Team

In all honesty, I am not a soccer fan. But in recent months I found myself having to give myself a crash course into the fundamentals of managing my own team!

One of the younger members of the office suggested that we should set up our own Fantasy Football League. Each of us could make up a team, form an office league and see how our squads perform. And, impressively, everyone else agreed. A bit of fun to brighten up the winter months...

So, how should I go about picking my team? As intimated earlier, my knowledge of The Beautiful Game is sketchy to say the least. Would I hastily try to digest pages and pages of info about the number of goals each player had scored? Pour over match stats? Pick a team totally at random?

Nope. In a moment of inspiration I picked a whole team of players whose surnames began with 'B'.

And with a mighty fanfare, The 'Banana Splits' made their Fantasy Football debut on Saturday 17th August.

Would my method of team selection be a viable one? We're just starting Week 13 and, out of a league of 10 my team is currently... er... 10th. Oh well...

However, this process has made me think deeper about the tricky task of allocating leadership positions within a small church. Unlike premier league teams with practically unlimited budgets, small fellowships like these attempt to build a great volunteer workforce from a restricted pool of people (namely, Christians who attend that church!). Similarly, in my footballing example, I restricted my choice only to players starting with one particular letter. Does that make my task of winning the league totally impossible? I like to think it wasn't.

In soccer, you need a good goalkeeper; reliable defenders; a versatile midfield line; assertive strikers to score goals. Each have their part to play. Without the right people in key positions in church, Sunday School classes are not taught, planning committees don't function, opportunities are missed. So how can small churches strive to get the right people in the right place?

The ideal candidates in either team should be purpose-driven, not reward-driven. They should not be trying to promote themselves but striving for something higher. This has to be something they are called to do. One writer I read recently said that such people "do not quit, and could not quit if they wanted to." I like that.

Team members should have integrity, not just an image to uphold. That's usually something that you only find out after months or even years of getting to know someone. More than just a good reputation; these people possess a character that speaks volumes about them. They should be committed, not just 'along for the ride'. Can they 'walk the walk'? Are they the genuine article?

Team members should also be compatible. There's no point in selecting a team of high-fliers if they can't work together. They need to fit. By way of example, let me tell you about Vince Lombardi, who was coach to the American Football team, the Green Bay Packers. A different kind of sport from soccer, but one requiring teamwork nonetheless. He once told his team, "In terms of skill and ability, every one of you is easily replaceable; there are plenty of players around with athletic talent to equal yours." He went on to explain that his team had something much more precious; an ability to complement each other. That's the way to turn diversity into unity. Can the team work together? Each team member helping each other to achieve their best so that they can reach their common goal.

Team members also need to be coachable. Just because you aren't doing exactly what you need to, doesn't mean you can't learn how. A good leader will choose individuals who might lack experience but will possess the other attributes - provided that they are willing and able to be trained, nurtured.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (CEV)
We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.

Good News vs Bad News

This blog post was inspired by a particular incident that occurred over the last 24 hours. Somebody close to me told me a piece of bad news that was a little distressing. As I pondered this information overnight, my mind raced as I thought through all that this news could mean to me, to my family and friends.

However, on reading the information myself this morning I discovered there was a piece of good news in the very same email. This pretty much negated the previous bad news. Overlooked.

How rubbish are we sometimes at seeing the good in any situation? It's awful. We seem to leap on bad reports with a particular fervour; criticise others with glee. If a particular situation is going well we seem to want to jinx it by saying "it's all going too well... bound to go wrong soon!"

The press fill our newspaper headlines with gloom and disaster. "Good news doesn't sell newspapers", they claim.

I want to do something about this. And I suppose,therefore, it needs to start with me.

Perhaps I need to open my eyes to see the good in any particular situation. Although I appreciate that in some cases I will need to look pretty hard...

Psalm 34:8 (The Message)
"Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see - how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him."

25 November 2013

Outside Your Comfort Zone

I've been encouraged to stretch my own boundaries - to spend longer and longer outside my comfort zone. I think I have done very well.  In the last seven days I have:

- talked calmly to people even though they had been extremely rude and offensive about me (is that justified?);
- tried to socialise with other people that I personally find it 'hard to love';
- spent time working out how to do the impossible in no time at all;
- continued to work through pain and tiredness (because I didn't want to let down others who were just as tired and pained as me!);
- gone the 'extra mile' when so many others said that I shouldn't;
- taken the tube when it was exactly where I didn't want to be (crowded, cramped, noisy!) ;
- been calm and pleasant in a hostile and threatening environment.

It's the end of a busy day now and, quite frankly, I've reached the end of my patience. I've had just about all I can take.

And I have to get up again tomorrow morning and probably do it all again.

Lord, help me.

19 November 2013

... And It Exploded!

[Fred tries to digitise the creature - with disastrous results]
Jason Nesmith: What? What was that?
Alexander Dane: Uh, nothing.
Jason Nesmith: I heard some squealing or something.
Gwen DeMarco: Oh, no. Everything's fine.
Teb: But the animal is inside out.
Jason Nesmith: I heard that! It turned inside out?

[the creature explodes]
Teb: And it exploded.
(dialogue from 'Galaxy Quest')

Ever had one of those weeks where things just seem to go from bad to worse ... and then, somehow, even worse...?

Yep. Been there. And I know a few people close to me that know that experience, too. It's tough when it happens. Just one darn thing after another, after another. And then, just to cap it all, there's that one final event. The 'straw that breaks the camel's back'. Or, if you tend to look at things through the lens of science fiction, suddenly things just start to explode.

How can you carry on after that? It all seems hopeless. To all intents and purposes, all is lost.

Not so. That's a lie. Because you are now standing right in the middle of God's territory. In the midst of the impossible situation. God can still do something. Indeed, He loves to do something in such circumstances.

Trust Him; draw deeply from your resources of faith. Even if it looks hopeless. Even if the situation just 'exploded' right in front of you. Trust God and keep on fighting; never lose hope.

Luke 1:37 (CEV)
"Nothing is impossible for God!"

16 November 2013


Listen to this:
"How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.." – Psalm 133:1-3 (NIV)

These particular verses were shared with me at a Salvation Army training course that I was fortunate enough to go to last month. The words keep reoccurring; cropping up pretty much every week ever since, so I guess I am meant to share it out to a wider audience.

As God's people we are called to work together to a common aim; not to fight, bicker or quarrel. As you might imagine this can be difficult, given the different personalities that make up a church fellowship... However, I am assured that it is possible, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. And, best of all - if we can actually pull this off... work together in harmony, in unity - it's like a special anointing on all of us.

Aaron, Moses’ brother, was the first high priest and was anointed with olive oil on his head (usually this was just a drop or two). Such anointing is symbolic of receiving a blessing from God, a consecration for a specific task. However, the reading assures us that unity in the fellowship will be rewarded by a special and particularly generous blessing. Look at the symbolism - it's like the anointing oil is freely running down, cascading down the leader's face, onto his beard and even his clothes.

The 'dew of Hermon' mentioned in verse 3 is another symbolic description of an abundant, refreshing sprinking. Showers of blessing, indeed.

Isn't that something to be worked for?

12 November 2013

The Fortress Of Solitude

We were looking at some verses from the Psalms at church this past weekend, in particular Psalm 18:2. The NIV translation reads as follows:

"The Lord is my rock,my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."

As part of the Message, my officer used an illustration about Captain America's shield; how it was made, how the hero used it. A good illustration for a Marvel Comics fan like myself - it sparked off so many thoughts in my head, including this very blog post.

When arriving home, I started to think about the other words in this reading. The Lord is my fortress... And I hope fellow Marvelites will forgive me if I switch comics company allegiances for a little while. These verses sparked off thoughts about Superman.

The character of the Man of Steel has always had particular spiritual significance to me (remind me one day to blog about the similarities between Kal-El's life and the life of Moses), but I've come to appreciate him at a different level after realising that this American cultural icon, one of the mainstays of the DC Comics Universe, the Big Blue Cheese - is an introvert.

Think about it.

Here we see a person who strives to change the world for the better in his own way. He shuns publicity pretty much all of the time. His alter ego, Clark Kent, is almost a textbook introvert, a "mild-mannered" loner, a wallflower. Unpopular, weak, overlooked. And yet, hidden within him there is a heroic side to his character which leaps into action when he needs to get stuff done. 

But even this Superman persona, with its incredible strength and unique abilities, shows introvert qualities. He needs to get away from it all from time to time to recharge. He needs what he calls his 'Fortress of Solitude'. In the comics, this is a safe place where he can get away from it all to think. It's miles from anywhere, often depicted as located in the Arctic. Not too far for our hero, though...

In fact, the idea of such a retreat isn't unique to Superman. The concept and name of the 'Fortress of Solitude' first appeared in the Doc Savage pulp novels from the 1930s and 1940s. Doc Savage, who was known as the Man of Bronze (!), built his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic and retreated to it alone in order to make new scientific or medical breakthroughs, and to store dangerous technology and other secrets.

I'm really pleased that my Lord offers me the same type of Fortress. As an introvert myself, I need to avail myself of this on a regular basis in order to function better before I go out to 'save the world'. My Lord provides an opportunity to spend time alone with Him whenever I need it. Somewhere safe. However, unlike Kal-El's fortress, ours is just a prayer away.

9 November 2013

Time: Above And Beyond

This blog entry has been inspired by last week's Bible Study at my church. It's on the idea of time - and how God exists throughout the whole of time. Here's some ways that people have described God:

The Ancient of Days
Who is - Who was - Who is to come

His view of linear time is therefore quite different to us: Hear this description of God from the Message translation of Psalm 90:4: "Patience! You've got all the time in the world — whether a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you."

Having trouble understanding that? OK, spend one hour watching your favourite TV show, and then another hour doing something extremely boring. The same hour - but I assure you that hour will seem to pass at a quite different rate. Or you would wish it to! It's not the same for the Father. God exists throughout time - when He sees you, He sees not only who you are - but who you were - and who you can be/will be... He can stop and savour each moment. Skip back and forth as He would want. Awesome thought.

Some people have told me that God exists outside of time, that He is timeless. Not so. He exists throughout time. And we, poor beings, stuck in linear time, living life a day at a time, sometimes have difficulty with regard to that. And how often due we wish to stop time for a while, or fast forward through a difficult spot. How often do we have trouble moving on...

When thinking about this sort of thing, though, my mind goes back to the Star Trek episode 'Emissary', the pilot episode of the 'Deep Space Nine' series. In the show, Benjamin Sisko takes command of a space station following the violent death of his wife Jennifer some years earlier. In the episode he encounters alien entities in a wormhole which is adjacent to the station. The aliens have a different view on life; they have difficulty grasping Sisko's corporeal and linear existence. To them, past, present and future are the same. Sisko uses baseball in an effort to explain - you pitch a ball not knowing for certain what will happen.  

Whilst trying to explain 'living life a day at a time', the entities point out that Sisko continues to return to the moment of Jennifer's death (living in that moment, rather than in the present). Sisko then comes to the realisation that he has been grieving over the loss of his wife - rather than moving on with the rest of his life...

More to follow...

4 November 2013

An Adventure In Space And Time

Ever wondered what all the fuss is about? Why all this talk about 'Doctor Who'? Perhaps this drama might give you just a little glimpse into how this show evolved into what is now the longest-running science-fiction television series in the world...

"An Adventure in Space and Time" retells the story of the First Doctor William Hartnell (David Bradley) and producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) as they set out to create a Saturday tea-time family drama in 1963. Brian Cox plays the BBC head of drama Sydney Newman, with Sacha Dhawan playing Waris Hussein, who directed the first story. Lesley Manville will play Heather, Hartnell's wife.

The 90 minute docu-drama is written by Mark Gatiss. This is due to air on the BBC in the week before the special 50th anniversary episode is aired on 23th November. 

2 November 2013

It's All About Others

Others. I've been challenged by this word before. I've blogged about it (see here); been encouraged to make a difference to others in my own society.

That's why I was excited to hear about NOW.

National Others Week runs from Sunday 3rd November to Saturday 9th November. Participants aim to give a helping hand to someone in need; or to surprise someone with a random act of kindness. Perhaps it's a way to start refocussing your life...

Why not get involved?