Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Outnumbered Post

The latest series of 'Outnumbered' on BBC1 has been immensely enjoyable, and is probably the best series so far in my opinion. This is quite unusual for a TV show – most get worse as time goes on: writers run out of ideas, actors move on and the audience expects more of the same (but still expect things to be fresh and different, if you know what I mean).

For me, I've found the previous couple of series and one-off specials to be a bit mediocre but now the show seems to have found its groove again and is on great form. What, I think, has helped the Brockman family is the fact that the children have now firmly entered the teenage years. Admitedly, the eldest, Jake, has been a teen for a few years but now all three of the Brockman offspring are in that age bracket it seems to have provided the much-needed spark to re-ignite the show.

Outnumbered's Brockman family – before the teenage years
Before, when the kids were pre-teen, it felt like they were saying stuff kids that age would probably never say (they were talking a bit too much like smart-alec grown-ups). Now, as they are growing up, they seem to be behaving more like actual teenagers (who are usually adept at catching out their bewildered parents over all sorts of things). Thankfully, the writers have steered clear of perhaps the darker elements of growing up at such an age – I mean, it is a comedy after all.

Whilst I do find it funny and entertaining, the life of the Brockmans does succeed in terrifying me about what lies ahead for me as a parent. I've always had a bit of a wistful notion that once the kids had passed the eight or nine mark, being a parent wouldn't be quite so befuddling and exhausting.

Watching Outnumbered just goes to show that, no matter how old your kids are, it's always befuddling and exhausting – just in different ways...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me...

I've just had my birthday, and even though I was expecting the day to revolve around a personal crisis of self (as I get ever closer to 40), it was thankfully lacking any moments of emotional breakdown.

I attended a registration for a TV & Film extras casting agency in the morning (part of my new grand plan for working life) and then headed into town to Mission Burrito for a rather awesome lunch. I got home to do a bit of work and watch a bit of telly before picking up the kids from the childminder. In the evening we had the next session of our Alpha course (couldn't really bow out of that one, seeing as we've been hosting and everything) but a terrific meal was cooked for me along with a sublime white chocolate mousse cake. Mmmm!

Not the most exciting of birthdays, but pleasant all the same.

Here are my top 5 birthday cards (based on comedy value, mainly – it's not like I didn't appreciate the others). You may have to click on them to see them more clearly:

Cute ... made by my friend's youngest son ... awww

IT - the scourge of modern life

Lady Gaga is presumably always good material for jokes

The most dangerous animal on earth? Maybe ... maybe not

Bring on the cake - yes, lets

A bit of retro fun

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Chocolate, Cider, Science and God. My faith journey part 2

This is a continuation of a series of articles about my faith. You can read my earlier post here.

So I left Uni with a faith that was still bruised and dented, but mostly intact. I'd had further girl trouble (all my own doing, I might add) which didn't help but for some reason I blindly carried on, thankfully.

I chose to take a 'year out' which was the done thing those days (and still is, I suppose). With most year outs, you typically had to raise funds to pay your way (to cover the cost of travel or accommodation), and most Christians who did this were usually sponsored by their home church (or people from their home church) or worked three to six months to secure the cash. It may seem odd that such organisations do this, but I can understand why they do. These outfits don't have much money and they want people who are committed to work for them. By paying their own way, I guess it makes the volunteers much better workers because they've actually made a personal investment in their time there.

Me, I had no home church and didn't think about actually raising the money myself, so opted for the charity that didn't charge volunteers to come and work for them. Everything was provided: food, accommodation and travel. Result!

What's more, I'd badgered my friend who I previously sponsored £50 – to go on a mission trip to South Africa – to give me the money back.

[I'm astounded at how selfish I was and what an unserving attitude I had back then. Hmm ... I hope I've changed since then....]

Anyway, I headed off to rain-soaked Cardiff with my pet rat (yep, that's right) and complete lack of understanding about what I was about to commit my year to. Seriously, I don't think I actually had an idea about any of it. I suppose I had this notion that it was something noble, 'working with kids'.

What is turned out to be, was, well, something far more complicated. Yes, it involved working with kids, but that was just one aspect. Me and five other unwitting volunteers were to live in a house together on Cardiff's Llanedeyrn estate 'in community'. I just thought that meant, well, living in a house with other people, but it turned out that the 'community' thing was a lot more.

'Community' turned out to be, ironically, the source or both great happiness and supreme frustration for me and my colleagues. Two guys and four girls sharing a house and working together means you get to know each other pretty quick. It meant learning to be honest with one another, getting to know people on a pretty deep level. There were intense moments of frustration, but also great moments of camaraderie and friendship.

What was interesting was that people outside of the community remarked on the bond that we had as a group – they noticed how we almost knew how each other thought. We served each other through simple things like making sandwiches for lunch or giving them a hand with club prep. Crucially though, we were not just existing together, we were also serving God together and I think that's what was different about our household.

There were some really bumpy moments during that year, but I look fondly back on that time as one when my faith seemed to grow from strength to strength – not just because I was learning it, but because I was actually doing it. I chose to stay on for another year, assuming that I would experience something similar the second time round.

Unfortunately, my expectations were very wrong. I don't really know why my second year was such a mess, but it could have had something to do with my fellow housemates – perhaps we were the wrong mix or something. It could also have had something to do with the people in charge (I wrote an article about that whole thing here), which is my preferred theory. For me, things seemed to spiral out of control as my quality of work suffered along with my sanity.

When the following summer came round I was raw and bewildered, yet again confused about why God would allow such crap to land on my lap. I had let people down and done stupid things, not just out of my own incompetence, but also because of poor management. I don't think my faith suffered per se, but my trust in those who professed the faith was severely affected.

Amazingly, I chose to stay for a third year.

Looking back on that decision, I really wish I'd cut and run. I was effectively blackmailed into staying on, mainly because I had nowhere else to go but in reality I could have gone back to my parents and they would have helped me out. One of the big factors, however, was that I had met Wifey in the midst of all this. We had become an item (she wasn't my 'Wifey' back then, of course), and she had become a trustee of the charity. It almost felt like I had to choose: either stick around and keep the girl, or leave and find yourself on your own.

Given my previous relationship disasters, I didn't want to give up on a good thing (a really good thing, actually), so I stayed.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

The problem with Noah's Ark

Having read two articles relating to Noah's Ark, I felt I had to write some kind of response (which, unfortunately has taken me longer to do than I'd anticipated).

The first article (from is about animal welfare at a proposed Noah's Ark theme park in the US. The second from the Guardian relates to a zoo close to where I live that is run by Christians and is founded on Christian beliefs.

My main reaction has been one of frustration and anger, not toward the writers of the articles but those people running these attractions. As a Christian, I am often perplexed and frustrated by fellow believers who have allowed the reasoning and logic part of their brains to be lobotomised, thinking that this is OK because they believe in a higher power.

Let's look at the Noah's Ark theme park. The intention is to presumably give Christians something fun to attend that's fully wholesome and biblical (unlike, say, Disneyworld which is clearly evil and steeped in sin*), but is also a vaguely evangelistic endeavour to show non-believers that the Ark was not a mythical vessel and could quite easily have existed. Unfortunately, this approach I believe distracts from the central truths and core message of the Christian faith – humanity's redemption through Jesus and God's desire to be in relationship with us.

There is an argument that elements of the book of Genesis from which the Ark story originates can be regarded as allegorical stories rather than factual ones. As with most matters of faith, there are strong proponents with different views, but my personal view is that certain accounts in the Bible are not to be taken literally but to be regarded at moralistic stories or messages that indicate a greater truth. I don't have a strong view about the Ark particularly, but when it comes to creation and the first few chapters of Genesis, I'm inclined to believe creation was not a 6-day event as many interpret from the Old Testament. Given that there is a huge amount of scientific evidence pointing to an 'old universe' of billions of years, a 6,000-year-old Earth simply doesn't make sense. Then there's the notion that God is not constrained by the limitations of time and space like us mere mortals, so several billion years of universe-building could well seem like a week to the Almighty (y'know, time flies when you're having fun). Finally, given that the books in the Old Testament were written thousands of years ago it's unfair to assume the writers understood as much about such things as geology, radioactive decay and astro-physics as we do now.

A rainbow. Yesterday.
There are many questions raised by the possible existence of the Ark, mainly centred around the sheer practicality of looking after a vast number of animals in a contained space for five weeks during a raging storm, which the article in Wired highlights. Fundies would perhaps argue that God's spirit rested upon the vessel giving supernatural support to Noah and his family as they cared for the rescued wildlife. This could have happened, but we don't know. The Bible doesn't say, so we are left to make up our own minds.

All this leads me to conclude that there's a possibility Noah and his Ark didn't actually exist (at least not in the way portrayed in scripture), but this doesn't automatically result in the Christian faith crashing to the ground or God disappearing in a puff of logic. The Ark story can be seen as a moral tale if anything – God punishes the whole of humanity (bar Noah's family) for being thoroughly horrible and downright evil by sending a flood to cleanse the surface of the world and start over. There is a simple message here: don't be plonkers to each other or you'll pay for it. Countless stories (not just religious ones) have carried this moral throughout history so it isn't out of place in the holy scriptures.

There's more I could say on this, but I don't want to waffle on. I guess my point is that there are more important issues of faith to debate over than the Ark, and to create an entire 'experience' around this minor (but not insignificant, admittedly) story seems misguided. Exploring and learning from the life of Jesus (a real, historical figure) seems to me a much more productive exercise.

Then there's Noah's Ark in Bristol, which I've visited several times. I quite like the zoo, and I've always found the staff incredibly helpful and friendly. It's clean and well organised with lots of stuff for kids to do. The animals all seemed pretty happy and content when I saw them (well, as happy as they will ever be trapped behind cages – of course, they would all be better of in their own natural habitat but that's another topic of debate).

NOT Noah's Ark. It's just a regular ship.
I had noticed the creationist posters on the walls but didn't really pay attention to them, but I can understand the alarm they caused to people of a scientific or atheistic point of view. If it's true that these posters push the 'young earth' point of view then I'm disappointed (even though it sounds likes they're actually giving all theories about creation an equal footing). I'm also disappointed if, as the writer of the Guardian piece claims, they also occasionally slip into bad science. This is indicative of the seemingly ignorant attitude to scientific reasoning and balance that can sometimes prevail among Christians, and particularly those with a public face and/or regular public interactions.

I'm not a 6,000-year-old-earth creationist but people have the right to believe whatever they want of course – I personally think intelligent design is a far more sensible way of reconciling the concept of an all powerful creator with the scientific evidence that's available.

For me, science is about observing the universe in which we exist and trying to understand how it happens the way it does in order to better ourselves as a species. Science doesn't 'belong' to anybody, be they an Atheist, Buddist, Christian or Klingon.  

Faith is far too slippery, messy and intangible to put down onto a spreadsheet or distil in a test tube.

Which, I think, is a good thing...

*relax, I'm being sarcastic...