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)

The Truman Show: Freedom Outside the Cage

TrumanshowRecently I watched the Truman show on Film 4 and I was struck by how much it was telling me about their view of the Creator.

The God role of Christof (Christ?!) the creator has a booming voice from the sky and he has Truman in a giant dome of ignorance while he watches and even controls him. On top of that the film makes us ask the question: “what is true reality and what is true freedom”? And can we get any of that with God or without Him?

As Christof says, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.”

Those growing up in religion or those believing in God simply accept the reality they are presented and they never question it. We may feel that God is just like Christof who keeps Truman in a cage through lies and watches his every move like Big Brother. And this cage is the safe place, outside the cage is the sickness;

“I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place.”

At the end of the film, the Creator speaks to Truman from the Moon. He is cold and distant and Truman decides he has had enough and wants to go on an adventure outside of the Truman bubble. He seeks truth and reality away from his creator.

And the Creator loses his star and the whole of the Truman show collapses. Once the truth is discovered there is now freedom and no need to live in a cage and no need for the Creator. But the question is still there:

The_Truman_Show2Will Truman find true freedom and life outside the Truman show?

It is interesting that they portray this view of God. And I think many people can resonate with Truman. They see God as an old man in the sky. With a white flowing beard and wearing a glowing robe. He has a booming yet distant voice. He hides in the sky, far away and shouts commands to his creation.

And often Christians see God like this, a cold and distant being hiding in the clouds.

It’s odd because not even in the Old Testament is God like this. Straight away the Lord in Genesis 3 is walking in the garden. He eats and talks with Abraham (Genesis 18) he speaks to Hagar (Genesis 21), he speaks to Moses face to face (Exodus 33) etc..

Ed Harris The Truman ShowWhat’s more, there is no solitary being alone in the clouds, but there is a unity of three. Father, Son and Spirit who dance together and who interact with their creation in a personal way right from the start.

Most importantly, the Son becomes flesh and walks among us. He walks around in the world, the “sick place” as Christof calls it, and he touches, talks to, eats with, heals, forgives and loves the sick people. The Trinity is no distant God.

The Sent One walks in and among the sickness of the world and brings hope, healing and salvation.

We are right to reject Christof as a portrayal of the Christian God. If you disliked him and the world he created, if you yearn for finding truth outside the cage, then I agree with you.

But the cage isn’t the world of the Trinity, or the life in the Son. The cage is always outside of Christ, a place of darkness and sin. Christ beckons us to find Truth and reality in Him, not outside of Him. He allures us to find life and love in him, not anywhere else. And he doesn’t call us from a distant far off cloud, he calls us by walking with us in our darkness and shame and he carries us and shines a light in the darkness.

There is no life in the creator Christof, there is only a cage that this one person creator can offer Truman. A cage of rules and camera’s and lies and control. That is not a place we want to be and thankfully our God offers ever-lasting life in the Son and in Him is freedom.

1998_the_truman_showSo will Truman find true freedom and life outside the Truman show?

A resounding yes to this question, but only if he turns to Christ. If he turns to the world and the idols of the world then he will find himself in another cage with an idol that is perhaps more destroying then the first.

And so if you find you are feeling a bit like Truman, like you are in a cage and your view of God is like that of Christof. Then run to Christ. Don’t run to the world, it wont offer you what you heart truly needs.

You need to run to Christ and find freedom outside the cage.

15 Million Merits: Reality of Escapism

1doppelBM5 Million Merits is based in a world where exercise bikes power the world and those who are on those bikes earn merits (money) so that they can buy food and accessories for their “doppel” (which is a virtual version of you and you can dress them up etc), their bedroom are made up of screens where they have to watch adverts including adverts of porn and a game show called Hot Shots (a take from X Factor). It’s a world where reality is based on a screen, your life has adverts streaming to you where ever you are and there is a charge for not watching them. Those who don’t contribute to society due to being overweight, ill or old get ridiculed and some become cleaners where the bike riders hail abuse at them.

The only way out, the only salvation is by auditioning for Hot Shots so that you can win freedom. But all is not as it seems, the protagonist Bing meets a lady who actually has talent and a shot of getting out of this mundane bike riding life. But it’s all a fake, the judges don’t care for her or her talent and instead persuade her to go on the porn channel and be a porn star where she can become famous and never have to ride a bike again. This infuriates Bing and so he fights back and comes out with heart wrenching speech in front of the judges where he hits the nail on the head of how the world of the Doppel, the world of technology has numbed our minds:

“What, I have a dream? The peak of our dreams is a new app for our Dopple, it doesn’t exist! It’s not even there! We buy sh*t that’s not even there. Show us something real and free and beautiful. You couldn’t. Yeah? It’ll break us. We’re too numb for it. I might as well choke. It’s only so much wonder we can bear. That’s why when you find any wonder whatsoever; you dole it out in meager portions.”

“The peak of our dream is a new app” It’s disturbing isn’t it? Bing goes on to say:

“And only then until it’s augmented, packaged, and plumped through 10,000 pre-assigned filters till it’s nothing more than a meaningless series of lights, while we ride day in day out, going where? Powering what? All tiny cells and tiny screens and bigger cells and bigger screens”15-million-merits-black-mirror

“It doesn’t exist”… “while we ride day in day out, going where? Powering what?” A mundane existence that drives towards getting bigger cells (living spaces) and bigger screens (ipads, flat screen TV’s). We power on and on and we become numb and anything real or beautiful will just break us. Some of this is Ecclesiastes language, the idea of meaningless and striving and toiling and not getting anywhere. It makes you take a step back. Am I numb to life? Do I just want comfort? Is the constant viewing of screens and online life sapping something of beauty and wonder away?

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

brave-new-world

In Huxley’s Brave New World he also explores the place of technology and pleasure. Technology appears to be the saviour of mankind where they can find all their comforts and needs met while reducing danger and pain – but at the cost of mind-numbing dependence. Huxley gives us a grim view of the future on the same vein as 15 Million Merits.

Technology isn’t evil. But it makes you think about what you value and where the world is heading. Sometimes I find myself in a group of people and all I am doing is checking my phone looking at twitter and Facebook. In these moments I am missing the interaction and community around me.

In 15 Million Merits there is an escape from the mundane way of life through the Doppel and through the Reality TV show “Hot Shots”. Both which prove to be fake, they trap you in a world that drugs you and deprives you of real beauty and emotion.

This show makes you yearn for real life. The gritty real life of flesh, dirt and sweat. The place of real conversations and emotions. There is a moment when Bing and this lady hold hands. It’s the one thing thats real.

It makes me think about how Jesus takes on real flesh and becomes truly human. Truly human means he laughs and cries and hugs people and eats with people and gets tired. Truly human means having a perfect relationship with His Father in Heaven. He says he has come to bring life and life to its fullness. Fullness of touch, taste and sounds. Broken relationships restored.

We not only have the physical and spiritual but we now have the virtual.

Imagination is good. It’s needed for creativity. Escapism on some level that transforms us into a world of imagination and stretches our mind with stories is good. They draw us out of ourselves. But when our world is seen through a screen, eyes fixed on a black mirror, distracted by the beeping and adverts then life becomes very small, we are drawn into ourselves.

Is Facebook real life? In some sense yes, there is a reality to it, there is a community on some level. There is a function to it and its a good function. But also in some sense it’s not real life, it’s not where I should live my life or spend my money, it’s not where I solely cultivate community. Flesh is better. Face to face is better. A life less in front of a screen is fuller. Jesus offers us more. He offers us the gritty life of new creation and new family where we are invited to live in community like in Acts 2:42-47. He offers us true humanity in Him. If we want to escape the mundane and meaningless parts of our lives then we should turn to Him. Not a computer screen.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

At the end of 15 Million Merits, Bing is offered an escape where he can have his own 30 min show twice a week where he says soul-stirring speeches like the one above. But as the camera pans out we see that Bing has been sucked into the lie. In his room, which is much bigger then before, he stares out the window overlooking a beautiful forest. But its fake. It’s another computer screen. It’s not reality. He doesn’t have fullness of life. There is only one way to get that.

No Airbrush Please

Nigella Lawson is one of my favourite TV chefs, I quite enjoy watching her TV show and getting ideas for tasty food that I could prepare. Recently I read some news that gave me much joy. Nigella is on a show called the Taste in America and they have a photo of her and other chefs as part of the promo and they asked her if they could airbrush her tummy out. And she said no.

nigellathetaste

On her blog shes writes:

“Although it was very thrilling to think of being up on a billboard in LA and around the States, I was very strict and English and told them they weren’t allowed to airbrush my tummy out. Wise? Hmmm. But that tum is the truth and is come by honestly, as my granny would have said.”

When I read this I felt like there was some sanity in this insane world. There was a bit of reality in the plastic, super thin glossy magazines.

It’s crazy to think that when we look at a picture it may not be of the real person, but instead a person that’s had computer surgery which will magically remove the lines, the fat and curves and the humanness. So then we see a hollow image of perfection, a distortion of beauty and we think that’s what we should strive for.

I hate playing this game. A game of looking in the mirror and thinking I am not the image of the ladies in the magazines or on TV. The world demands you look like someone who has only eaten bread and water for the last 10 years. It demands perfect make-up and designer face-lifts. No one wants to get old and have lines to prove it. No one wants curves. But we are sold a lie in all of this. The women in front of us are not real. The real women have warts and curves and bags under the eyes. And whats so bad about that? Each line tells a story. An experience.

There are young girls who look in the mirror and then back at the magazines. They clutch their stomachs and think they are ugly. I want to scream at them and tell them that they are not ugly, they are loved beyond looks and the person who loves them thinks they are beautiful – with warts, baggage and sin. He thinks they are so beautiful that he died for them. Those magazines are lying – they promise the world but they will only leave you unsatisfied. Jesus promises you himself and will never leave you.

“But that tum is the truth and is come by honestly, as my granny would have said.”

I am glad Nigella said this. I am glad she is proud of how she looks and doesn’t mind the bumps and curves. It’s nice to see a bit of truth for a change!