Behind the Screen

rainloveIt is really easy to see the internet as an abstract place. A place that isn’t really
real but we all seem to live on it. It sometimes feels like a place where there are no faces, no real people but just words and videos and pixels.

But it isn’t that simple. Behind every screen is a person. A real person. A person with feelings and dreams and fears and doubts. Behind every blog is someone living real life, trying to get through the daily grind. Behind every YouTube video is a real person going through a tragedy or clinging to hope or skipping in the sunshine. Behind every twitter account is flesh and blood, typing thoughts and ideas and their hopes and dreams.

I have been pondering this. Which may seem odd, but when we comment or tweet back we aren’t placing words into an abyss that swirls them around and sucks them in a black hole. No, those words which are dripped in meaning and language are going to be seen and processed by a real person. And depending on the words you use, they will either encourage or scar that person. They will either uplift or break down. 

I have friends with YouTube channels and blogs that sometimes get abuse from people, words flung onto the screen and sit there chewing away and they are hurt by them. They wonder if it is worth it? Does it outweigh the good stuff? One of my friends said that he get about 5% horrible comments and its often those comments that he remembers the most.

We need to recognise that the person behind the screen has real feelings. And then we ask ourselves…

Is what I’m saying encouraging, helpful, uplifting, truthful, humane?

Even if I disagree with someone, if I don’t think their theology is like mine, if I think their concepts and ideas are not what I agree with, the truth is that they are still a human being behind the screen. My ungracious words could knock their confidence and hurt them.

Would I say the same things to them if I was sitting at the table with them? Eating, looking into their eyes as we discuss theology, gaming, YouTube videos, music etc… What would drip off the tongue?

My friend recently wrote some thoughts of a book she was reading, she doesn’t agree with everything he wrote but her mini review was full of good and gracious thoughts. But the author of the book sent her a message saying he was glad she read the book and would interested in more of her thoughts on it. She shared this with me and it made us stop and think.

There is a real person behind this book and although we don’t agree with everything the book says, the person who wrote it is not abstract and not someone to simply disagree and argue with. It made her think about how she will engage with the rest of the book.

The person behind the screen is not abstract. They are real. Flesh and blood. Dreams and Imagination. Hurts and Fears. Someone you could sit down with and drink coffee with. It should change the way we comment, remark, review and write when we engage and disagree with people or dislike something.

Love should be in every keystroke.

*Image from Imadecode (Flickr: Creative Commons licence)

Unapologetic: Francis Spufford

unapologeticI finally got my hands on this book at a discount price. It has had mix reviews and I must admit as I read the book, I had mix feelings about it. On the one hand, his honesty and plain speaking was really refreshing, it is raw and feels unedited and I think it works. But then it seems to lose its edge half way through and it slightly lost its way. There were lots that I didn’t agree with but there was also lots that I could resonate with.

The other thing that people pick up on is the swearing. I am not sure where I stand with this, I don’t know if the swearing added any value to what he was trying to say. I personally think some of it was making a point, it made the reader take note and listen but at other times I felt like it subtracted from what he was saying and he didn’t need to have it there.

I don’t want this to be a negative book review, but I wanted to be honest that most of the way through I just wasn’t sure if I liked it. On the other hand there were bits that were helpful, so I thought I would share with you 5 things that I appreciated about the book:

  1. The first couple of chapters are really helpful. It felt like his thoughts were spilling on the page and helping the reader to see that Christianity make sense, at least to him.
  2. He identifies the deep longings that we have as humans and the way that the world tries to offer us stuff, but it always lets us down.
  3. His chapter on suffering and all that’s wrong with the world was really insightful and helpful. It is down to earth and sometimes its something you need to hear – it is the less fluffy version.
  4. He explores what is wrong at the heart of humanity and the truth that we all mess up. He isn’t afraid to say that we all mess up, we all have a problem and we need a solution.
  5. If you want to read something that is just really honest when it comes to the deep longing and suffering questions then I think this book is worth reading.

Those are just some of my thoughts. It probably isn’t a book I would read again or even recommend to my friends. However there are bits in it that are worth quoting and worth using for illustrations. So all in all, this book and this review is rather mixed!

Would love to hear what you thought of the book – what did you enjoy? What didn’t you enjoy?

Mad Men – The Shell of Happiness

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”

madmenDonDon Draper has it all.

Wife, kids, job, house and a nice car. He works in advertising bringing people happiness in the shape of a product. He has a nice suit, slick hair and poetic words that drip from his tongue.

Everyone wants to be Don Draper.

But cracks begin to show. The layers begin to strip off and you start to see that this happiness is a shell. You find out quickly in the show Mad Men, that Don draper is extremely unhappy, living a lie on many levels and trying to sell people an empty happiness, a happiness that leaves you feeling cold.

But he does what we all do. He reflects our human propensity to hide. To cover up and plunge ourselves in a hole. To find fig leaves large enough to cover our shame and our longing.

We ache, sensing that there is something wrong and so we go on a rampage to fill the gap. We seek temporary happiness to gloss us over, sucking in the lies of the adverts that promise us that a certain product will make us feel better, make us feel complete and as Don says whatever it is to “scream with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”

You are OK, right? Why then, is there always that sense of feeling vacant? After a shopping spree or a night drinking or going from one partner to another, there is a void that keeps tickling the edge of your conscience.

There must be more than this, right?

In John’s Gospel we meet a woman. She is collecting water in the middle of the day from a well where Jesus starts to talk to her and her story begins to unfold.

She was going from one man to another, not really finding happiness. Searching but not finding. Resulting in being an outcast, collecting water at the hottest part of the day and being alone.

Jesus knew the cycle she was in and offered her something better:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

madmenJesus says he offers something better than what the world offers. The world offers empty promises, shells and shadows of truth.

Jesus offers the real thing and gives it freely. He gives himself freely and says that if you take this offer, you will never be thirsty again. He is the fountain in the wilderness.

Don Draper sells a lie and he knows it. He wraps himself in affairs and nice suits, but we see glimpses of a man who is deeply unhappy and unsatisfied. That is what the world can offer. Shells and suits. Flings and broken wells.

But Jesus offers life and belonging. Redemption and family. Hope and living water.

The woman at the well was seeking this and took it.
Don Draper desperately needs this but doesn’t take it.

But what about us? What will we do?

Transition: Where it all Began

It all began 10 years ago.

Stepping onto campus as a fresher, stuffing all my things in my room, putting the pot plants on the side knowing they will die in a few days. Bringing hundreds of pots and pans for cooking like everyone else and trying to work out how it was all going to fit in the kitchen.

Freshers week was a mixture of working out what kind of person I was going to be and how I was going to use this fresh new start.

I had heard of the CU but only through a little leaflet that came in my freshers pack advertising their events. I missed most of their meetings that week. It wasn’t until someone in our halls invited me to the CU meeting on a Thursday night that I actually went along and worked out whether I wanted to be a part of this strange group.

I didn’t know that 10 years later I would have invested my life into campus student ministry. It is crazy to think that. I came to Uni wanting to do a computing degree and get a good job and earn money, but the Lord had other plans.

As I look back on those 10 years its hard to imagine what it would have been like if I never went to that CU meeting – I imagine that life would be very different for me.

It makes me so thankful for my time as a student in CU. Thankful for opportunities to serve on committee, to organise a mission week that gave me a flavour and ideas for reaching the campus.

I am thankful for my staff worker willing to meet up with me and answer all of my questions. I am thankful for the friends I made in CU and on my course. Thankful for those years of forming my theology as a young Christian and placing in my heart a high priority to reach the lost.

I am thankful to my church who loved CU and supported me through my time at Uni. I am thankful for the relay workers who spent time serving us and guiding us. I am thankful for the training I got through UCCF and thankful for the people I met.

I am thankful that my staff worker put me in touch with a geeky guy from Reading who was on committee at the same time as me, which resulted in the geeky guy becoming my husband.

Those 4 years of serving in CU, where it all began, where so formative for me. I made so many mistakes, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and yet I was allowed to have a go and develop skills and convictions and passions.

It was near the end of my degree that I realised I wanted to serve in CU for longer and that led me on to the journey as a relay worker in the UK and then in Peru and then as staff worker in the UK.

I really treasure my time as a student in CU and I know it wasn’t perfect, but the Lord used it to change me and form me and I am thankful for all those that invested in me, helped me, corrected me and walked with me on this journey.

A Loving Life – Paul Miller

Loving lifeA loving life is a short book looking at the story of Ruth. I decided to read this book because several people told me it was good and it turned out to be a book I really needed to read. Sometimes you get those books that just hit the spot and spiritually nourish you, this was certainly one of those books for me.

Here are 5 reasons why I enjoyed A Loving Life:

1) Paul Miller unpacks the story of Ruth – If you have never studied or read the book of Ruth, then this little book is a great place to start. Miller goes through the story step by step and pretty much does a bible study through the book. Its engaging and interesting and it helped me get to grips with the story.

2) Love is not just a feeling – Miller really hits home that we are in a culture that regards feelings and how we feel when in love as our top priority. But he remarks that love is deeper, not just an emotion that quickly changes from one moment to the next. And in a broken world like ours, love needs to be deeper then just an emotion.

3) Love is about dying to yourself – Miller calls this Hesed love, which is written throughout his book. He highlights in Ruth the remarkable sacrifices she makes in the name of love. True love is about sacrifice and dying to yourself, which is so counter cultural where we see love as what we can get out of people and how that person can suit our needs.

4) God is gracious to Naomi – I loved how Miller highlighted Gods mercy and kindness to Naomi who was bitter about the events in her life. It reminds me that the Lord is really with us in every situation and is so kind to us even if we can’t see through the mist of life’s craziness.

5) Encouraging and Challenging – I was encouraged by how God uses each person in the story for an amazing outcome that benefited the whole of the human race (Jesus), I am encouraged by the Lords kindness and his working through each person in the story. I am challenged by Ruth’s sacrificial love, where she died to herself for the sake of Naomi, she never put herself first. I find this hard and it challenges me about what true love is and how to show true love.

I would recommend this book to you if you want to dig into Ruth, if you want to be challenged and encouraged by what true love is and if you want something that will nourish you.

You can buy the book at IVP here.

Frozen: True Love

frozen When I was a kid watching Disney films was a real treat. I grew up with the magic of Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Jungle Book. Singing along and enjoying the classic boy meets girl story. I have written before about how Disney gets the heart of the universal story that we all ache for.

A prince rescuing a princess.

*Spoilers Alert

But the other day I watched the film Frozen, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Unlike most other Disney films, Frozen captured more of the Gospel story then ever before.

Salvation plays a big part in the stories we tell. Go to the movies and you will find the story is telling you that salvation is necessary – to be rescued, to be taken from poverty, ugliness, captivity into riches, beauty and freedom. And there is always a saviour, whether that is prince charming or some inner person/ courage in your heart that you just have to find. With salvation, true love is not far behind.

For Disney, salvation is true love. And that true love must be shown as a kiss.

  • trueloveskissAriel’s salvation from being captured in the prison of silence was broken by a true love’s kiss.
  • Snow white is awoken and saved from eternal sleep by true love’s kiss.
  • In Beauty and the Beast, the beast is free from eternal hairiness by true love’s kiss.

Disney is right, only true love can save. Love does indeed win.

However it is not through a kiss that true love is shown:

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8,10)

True love is sacrifice. It is through death and giving up ones life for another. The bible tells us that in order for us to be rescued, Christ stooped down and died for us (while we hated him), saving us and reconciling us to His Father.

Death is far more powerful than a kiss and it brings a better salvation. 

In the film Frozen, Disney shows this reality. Salvation doesn’t come through a True Love’s kiss but through a True Love’s sacrifice.

Elsa has magical powers (she can freeze people) and it causes relationships to break, she feels guilty and she runs away ashamed. She wraps herself in her own castle of ice and tries to hide, pushing everyone away.

Her sister Anna pursues her. She doesn’t give up.

This is a Hosea moment.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14)

Anna pursues and woos her.

Later on there comes a moment where Elsa has to die, but Anna steps out and takes her place. Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa and Elsa is saved because of the death of another has taken her place.

Then Anna is resurrected, showing the strength and power of her love.

As with anything, of course it isn’t a perfect representation of the Gospel – but it is a glimpse and a better glimpse then a kiss.

This film would be a good one to explain what true love really is, the cost of true freedom and the love that Christ has for us.

Word Alive: 10 Highlights

crazypeopleThis week my husband and I went to Word Alive to serve on the International Track. Here is a snapshot of our time there:

1. Being on the International Student Team and working with a group of people that are very talented and have a heart for the nations.

2. Sunshine and the feeling that spring has arrived

3. Sharing with Josh and Jo – like-minded crazy people who love coffee!

4. Being on the logistics team and doing behind the scenes work so that everything works together.

5. 3 Year Wedding Anniversary

6. Romans 8 and seeing small groups in many different languages getting to grips with God’s Word

7. Coffee catch ups with Kristi Mair

8. Helping to cook Thai Curry for 80 international students

9. Seeing old friends

10. Having non-Christian International groups doing a bible study and asking questions about how they can know God.

It was a really fun week and the last time I will go as a staff worker. But if we were to go back, then serving on the International Team is where our heart is!

Thanks Word Alive for a Great Week!