Keepin’ it Real Fake: Olympic Style

girl on the left not cute enough

girl on the right not cute enough

There has been some consternation in the British press over the last couple of days over the ‘revelation’ that the cute little girl who sang at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics wasn’t actually the girl singing. The girl who was actually singing had been deemed insufficiently cute, and hidden behind a curtain somewhere like a diminutive oriental Wizard of Oz.

This revelation has been greeted with incredulity by papers such as the Telegraph. Apparently, this sort of fakery is just not done. It’s not cricket (obviously). But really, what’s the fuss?

I have to say that I have been quite impressed by the sheer pragmatism China has displayed in its organisation of these Olympics. Singing girl not cute enough? Replace her with a more photogenic one. Impressive fireworks a danger to your filming helicopter? Do a digital version for the live TV feed. Not enough spectators? Bus in some appropriately cheer-y volunteers. Infernal smog a danger to health of athletes (and making it hard to see)? Close down all the factories, and ban ordinary citizens from driving within the city limits. Just brilliant.

Yes its fakery and ubercontrolfreakery. But, could you really imagine any western country getting away with something like this? If, in four years time, the London authorities tried to stop ordinary Londoners driving their cars… well, the result would not be pretty. It would probably involve a lot of white van men blockading the Olympic site.

So the girl on stage wasn’t actually singing. So what?! It made a good show. It is quite possible that there will never be another Olympics quite like this one, because there isn’t a nation on earth quite capable of controlling all the variables as the Chinese, who are quite determined that this will be as big, and spectacular, and flawless as it could possibly be. All the moaning on this is just jealousy, because we all know that there is no way any of us (the UK, the US, even Russia) could get away with controlling the message to that degree.

Yes, China is a totalitarian state with limited freedoms and an overinflated sense of its own importance. But they sure do it with style

GAFCON: Like Comic-Con, but for right-wing bigots

I don\'t want to play!No-one else will care about this (it drew numerous blank looks when I was asked to explain it at the weekend), but GAFCON began today.

No, this isn’t come high tech conference dealing in the latest GPS-related gadgets or a superhero-fans get together: GAFCON is the Global Anglican Future CONference, a gathering of right-wing, ‘conservative’ clergy from the UK and the Third World.

Basically a whole host of ‘Traditionalist’, anti-gay, anti-women, leaders got offended that our beloved Rowan invited so many of those evil liberals to his once-a-decade Lambeth Conference that they went off in a huff and created their own gathering. Kind of a “we don’t like your smelly club, so we’re going to have our own! – And you’re not invited!!

Yes, it is a whole load of Bishops and other significant spiritual leaders behaving like 6-year olds, including respected evangelicals like Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, and Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria.

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Seriously, this whole thing makes my blood boil, and I am having a hard time writing about it in anything approaching a balanced manner. My angry, opinionated b*****d side rears its head every time someone mentions the word ‘Reform’ or Anglican Mainstream.

If you wanted to deliberately set out to give the secular world exactly the wrong impression of a Christian response to the (very real) issues of homosexuality and women in leadership, GAFCON would be it. There is no message of love or Grace for the individual here, rather an approach of ‘if you even conscience to begin to sensitively wrestle with these issues, we will have nothing to do with you’. All that communicates to the world is at best angry indifference, and at worst real hate towards what is an established position in Western society.

That’s not to say that the church should just capitulate and abandon centuries old belief to follow the conventions of society, especially when the perspectives of societies around the world are so wildly different. It is just that this is an issue that deeply affects individuals’ core beliefs and perceptions of themselves and so needs to be dealt with sensitively. Instead we have a perfect example of how ignorant the church is of media relations and its perception in society: what is communicated to the world by these actions is often the exact opposite of what I believe the vast majority of individuals concerned would choose to convey in person.

Like I said, I don’t suppose many people, even Anglicans, will care about the gathering of a minority of Anglican leaders. But if there is a split in the Anglican Communion, it will be this conference that historians point to as the significant precursor.

Dave Walker, over at the Church Times Blog, is doing a great job of pulling together all various voices on this. Go read if I’ve managed to interest you

Negotiating Minefields

Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) has recently been tackling, with great sensitivity, the biggest minefield in contemporary, western Christianity: the issue of homosexuality.

There are three essays: the first is a commentary on the need for sensitive, loving communication; the second and third are responses to a specific commenter, on (loosely) whether orientation is God-given, and biblical interpretation (within this discussion).

I really, really don’t want to step into this minefield, but I do think it is worth giving credit to someone who is doing so in a careful, considered and above-all loving way… Worth a read if you are interested in this topic. Well done Michael!

UPDATE: There is plenty of interesting play in the comments, especially of the first post. Commenter Peter has the most erudite and thought-provoking response from the ‘gay’ perspective… Kevin Montgomery asks some interesting questions as well.

Heresy

I think we use the word Heresy too much.

Grace has posted an open conversation on yet another controversy regarding the comments of one Mark Driscoll. Mark, talking to a group of pastors in the states, uses the platform to ‘constructively criticise’ some of the more prominent US ‘emerging church ‘ voices. Mmmm…

I haven’t heard the podcast, and I haven’t even read the books of the people concerned. I’m not going to get drawn into a ‘who’s right, who’s wrong’ thing here. If you are interested in the issues, then the conversation going on in Grace’s comments stream is (relatively) balanced. My point in postsing on this, is because I disagree with the principle behind it, and this is something that is happening way too often at the moment.

The Church, globally, is big, colourful, and very, very diverse. There is a wide range of perspectives, opinions, theologies and approaches between countries, and that diversity often extends within countries as well. In the West we have many, many different churches and a celebrated history of freedom of thought and expression, that fully extends into the church. We may have burned people for believing the wrong thing a few hundred years ago, but we’ve stopped doing that now…

Except that, especially in the American Christian blogosphere, we seem to be regaining a passion for (un)healthy criticism. It seems that a section of the Western church that has issues with freedom of religious thought is getting rather vocal. I’m not going to say that Mark Driscoll is heading this up, or even a bad offender in this regard, but his actions in this talk are symptomatic. He took the stage in a public forum (its podcasted on iTunes!) and denounced some of his fellow ministers as having ‘incorrect’ beliefs.

There is such a thing as Heresy. You can’t read the New Testament and not understand that some beliefs cross the line into what becomes un-Christian. But what constitutes Heresy is things like the denial of Jesus as Christ, it’s promoting another saviour, not whether or not someone uses rabbinical sources to help them understand the bible!

We don’t get to point at people in that way and shout ‘you’re wrong!’ Our faith is bigger and more complex and more mysterious than can be fit into a systematic theology book; there has always been space for differences in approach and understanding. That’s why we have so many different churches.

It is fine to disagree, even strongly, on what constitutes the right expression of our faith. But I really don’t think it is fine to stand up in a public forum and say, effectively ‘I am righter than these other people’. It is not fine to promote and perpetuate this form of badly researched antagonistic criticism.

If Mark Driscoll has a problem with the other pastors he mentions, he should talk to them about it. If someone comes up and asks him “what do you think of X’s teaching on this” he can go “I disagree with them and see it this way”. But I really don’t think its right to stand up and say “this person has it wrong” in a public forum like that.

But then, maybe I’m just the pot calling the kettle black… 😉