Thursday, April 29, 2010

World XI

For those of you interested in football:

My flatmate and I handpicked a unique world XI to challenge any that you can come up with. The stipulations are as follows: the players have to be talented, lazy, and dislikable. They can be deficient in one area provided they make up for it in another. See if you can improve our team or even handpick a whole different 11.


Lucas Neill...........Younes Kaboul.........William Gallas*.......Winston Bogarde

........David Bentley......................Guti......................................Robinho........


* Just can't think of someone better at the moment

We originally had Barthez in goal, but took him out because he's retired. We were going to do the same with Bogarde, but decided it would be quite fitting for a retired Bogarde to be still in contention. After his shenanigans at Chelsea the man is almost immortal. We have Assou-Ekotto waiting on the sideline just in case.

Guti is our man to pull the strings in midfield, always ready to find the penetrating runs of the forwards with a killer pass. Should Guti prove unsuccessful, however, there is a plan B already in place. Bentley may not have Berbatov's pace, but his crosses from deep will cause any defence problems, especially with Ibrahimovic's raised foot lurking in and around the penalty area. On the other wing, Robinho is there to provide some much needed flair.

The strikers speak for themselves really. All there on merit. They will pluck balls out of the sky with the deftest touch all day. They'll be economical with their energy, sure, and they may not do much scoring. But you can be sure that when one of them does find the net, it will be one of the all-time great goals.

Some near misses were Mauro Camaronesi, Kevin Prince-Boateng, and the aforementioned Assou-Ekkota.

Managing the team is David O'Leary, who will be assisted by the vastly experienced Terry Venables, who flew in from Costa Del Sol as soon as he heard about the project we've started. We're also proud to announce that we've secured Sven Goran Eriksson as director of football.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Deus Ex Machina

Cain and Abel are the first children of Adam and Eve. Cain murders Abel, and receives judgement from God. He responds by saying,

My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.

Simply put, Cain is afraid of the big, bad world; afraid that "the others" will kill him when they find him.

This begs the question, who are the others? Who are these people that Cain is afraid of? His own brothers and sisters that Genesis fails to mention? Does he then go on to marry one of them in the land of Nod? Most theological schemes would demand positive answers to these last two questions. This I find troubling.

Is there a way out of this conundrum? More specifically, a way that doesn't involve secret siblings prone to incest? I just hate it when I have to solve conundrums by introducing incestuous children to the plot.

There Are No Christians

...if we can say that there are some Catholics who are Christians, can we not equally say that there are some Evangelicals who are Christians? Or perhaps better still, shouldn’t we simply leave the judging to the One who will judge justly? If we don’t, then where will the madness end? Calvinists will admit that some Armenians are Christians, hyper-Calvinists will concede that some Calvinists are Christians, and so on until eventually we’ll have a denomination of Christianity that claims there are actually no Christians at all...

Little did I know when I wrote this that Karl Barth, through his commentary on Romans, has already begun this peculiar denomination of Christianity:

Rightly understood, there are no Christians: there is only the eternal opportunity of becoming Christians - an opportunity at once accessible and inaccessible to all men.

I wrote about this potential with exasperation, but maybe this Barth fellow has a point.

A God in Relation: Unsettling

The film Amadeus portrays how quickly a relationship with God can disintegrate when bound to our "religious" ways of thinking and conducted on our terms alone. Consider Antonio Salieri's pious prayer as a boy:

Lord, make me a great composer. Let me celebrate Your glory through music and be celebrated myself. Make me famous through the world, dear God. Make me immortal. After I die, let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote. In return, I will give You my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life, Amen.

His prayer appears to have been answered initially with him enjoying success as the court composer in Vienna, but along comes Mozart, and everything changes. God's glory was to be celebrated all right, but it was not to be celebrated through the music of the chaste Salieri. Instead, the voice of God was to be heard through licentious Mozart, that despicable jar of clay gifted with all that Salieri longed for and more.

This he could not handle; this he had to renounce, and in so doing he was forced to renounce God himself:

From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able.

The tragic irony is palpable. Through Mozart's music, Salieri was confronted with the glory of God that he longed to see celebrated, but he could not look on it in awe and wonder. All he felt was disgust and injustice. The god he thought he knew was a fraud created by the religious mind. The real God -- the God "incarnated" in the music of Mozart -- was revealed to him, and the shocking revelation led him to turn away, knowing full well what -- or rather, whom -- he was rejecting.

An unsettling God indeed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bob, Jennifer and the Jack of Hearts

A man who once fraternised with a male prostitute, a recording artist who has recently revealed she is in a relationship with another woman, and a pastor - all claiming to be on a journey towards the truth, all claiming to be Christians, all appearing on Larry King Live.

I didn’t see the show, but I read the transcript. How could I not with such a, ahem, festive line up? I may discuss some of what was said another time, but my initial reaction is simply this: Why?

Why did this dialogue take place on national television? Assuming Ted Haggard, Jennifer Knapp and Pastor Bob Botsford to be Christians and thus members of the Church, is there a justifiable reason for opinions to be aired and judgements to be made outside of a church context? Who benefits when Christians argue about the sinfulness (or lack thereof) of homosexuality in a secular environment? This is akin to the church members of Corinth going to court against one another, thus bringing what should have been church-related matters into a non-church environment. As Gordon Fee points out, Paul’s correction of this behaviour is a correction of the Corinthians’ failure to let the church be the church.

The media has no interest in enhancing the unity of the church. This self-serving moral compass (the media, not the church…oh no - never the church) wants scandal and bickering and contradiction. It wants the Westboro Baptist Church, not Redeemer Presbyterian; it wants Pat Robertson, not John Stott. This may sound like I want to isolate the church from “real life”, to cover up its failings so that it appears good from the outside looking in. I don’t. As recent church history in Ireland tragically demonstrates, this can only end badly.

What I am advocating is for debates such as the one in question to be kept in their proper context. Since the matter of homosexuality and its relation to Christian discipleship is a community-of-faith matter and a Scripture-interpretation matter, it has no business being discussed outside of the church. In fact, this debate is unintelligible outside of the church; unintelligible in the world of the ‘No-God’ (to use some Barth-speak in an effort to delude myself into thinking I know what he’s on about).

One of the conclusions of Richard Hays’s book Echoes of Scripture... is that the Bible can only be read faithfully by members of the new covenant founded in Christ and energised by the spirit; that is, by members of the church, for whom the text of Scripture not only stands as a word spoken over and against our own words, but as a word to be “made flesh” in the life of the community.

This community, and not the bright lights of a television studio, is the place to thrash out thoughts and feelings about homosexuality. In the world of television, Jennifer Knapp becomes a mere idea, a political pawn to be used by both sides of the divide, a discussion topic for pseudo-theological bloggers to vent ab…oh…right. I’ll be off, then.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Something Odd

I noticed something odd today. I was trying to learn the following little ditty on piano this morning:

There's a part that requires some quick back and forth with the ring finger and the baby finger. I don't know if it's because of my poor playing skills or because I'm just badly put together, but it was like I had no control over what was happening with these two fingers.

Then I did a test.

With my left hand I held the thumb, pointer and middle finger of my right hand, leaving only the two maverick fingers free. I then motioned my ring finger towards my palm. Nothing unusual to report there. However, when I did the same with my pinky, my ring finger just started moving along with it, all on its own! What the mess is up with that? Why can't I move my baby finger without moving the ring finger? Is it a normal bodily function, or is there something wrong with me?

To all you pianists out there, can this deformity be overcome? Can practice give you mastery over your own digits, rendering each one subject to your every command? Do I just have do what the Bride did in Kill Bill, and concentrate all my will power on wiggling my big toe baby finger?

I can't help wondering what Heidi Montag would do...

Friday, April 23, 2010


...our task is not to explain 'the meaning' of the text, but rather show how our lives are unintelligible if Jesus Christ is not the Lord.

- Stanley Hauerwas

I'm still trying to figure out if that's the most brilliant piece of advice you can give to a preacher, or a recipe for sermonic suicide.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Barth's Next Conquest

Karl Barth has made several passes at me. He's winked his eye in bookshops and whispered sweet nothings into my ear on various websites. I've let my guard down a couple of times, but I couldn't help myself. I've heard from his previous lovers that he is the real deal. "Once you go Barth there's no going back" is what they say. His reputation is second to none.

And yet, our liaisons have thus far left me feeling cold, distant, like an outsider who doesn't get the joke. There are brief moments where I see what all the fuss is about, but most of the time I'm left dazed and confused, sensing greatness but not understanding it.

I want to understand it. I want to be Barth's next conquest. What will it take? Where does one begin with this Swiss maestro? I haven't read much theology, so perhaps I need to chase after some of Barth's uglier friends before I go for the man himself. Or maybe there is a hermeneutical key that will unlock Karl Barth's meaning for me; some sort of secret password that will make his most difficult work read like Ann and Barry.

It might simply be that I need to stop the silly flirtation and make a serious statement of commitment: Church Dogmatics, here's an obscenely large space on my Shelfari "Now Reading" list; I want you to fill it, all 795 volumes of you.

Whatever it takes, I want to know Karl Barth; or rather, be known by him. Help me achieve this goal.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Foundational

But what if God’s commitment to the cosmos he created is more foundational than God’s desire to see the Law maintained?

This is a question posed and answered over at Storied Theology. Dr Kirk talks about the magic deeper still that the witch did not know, and which we can so easily remain oblivious to despite its revelation in Christ.

If you read nothing else this week, read this post.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Out Of The Mouth of Babes

After hearing this story on Sunday, I thought I'd open up a guest spot to my sister (who got an A1 in English, you know). She has a blog of her own (that you can check out here), which is all about her three little boys, and which, sadly from my point of view, can be much more theologically profound than this one. Perhaps that explains the following...

Luke. Our middle child. The second born. Our thinker. His wheels are constantly turning. Always processing something. It's one of those things I don't remember doing as a child. I don't have all these snapshot memories of times when I was thinking. Yet it is one of the things that I probably did most. All inside my little skull. Assimilating my life as it came to me. Imagine watching life from 3 feet. No cynical cloud or pre-disposed dislike. No wound or emotional scar to form your opinion. It must be very freeing.

So here's the brown-eyed boy. Lying in his bed telling his Daddy how much he loves him and how great he is! (He's great for the feel good stuff....) He then muses.....'There are two Gods, aren't there?....Jesus and God the Father' and Ryan explains....'Am...well, no...there is one God.... Jesus is God...and God the Father is God...they are just the same God'....ahh....the awkwardness when you feel stumped and are trying not to show it. Nervous cough and well....Luke is always right. This is one of his many lovely traits! So he insisted in no uncertain terms....'NO...there ARE two Gods'.....Ryan explained again, said the I love yous and goodnight.....

Next day. Beautiful day and we are enjoying it outside on our blanket. Luke is sprawled with his hands behind his head watching the clouds roll by. 'Mammy, you know what.....'....'What Luke?'.....expecting to be told about how fast Opel cars are...but instead...'You know what.....Jesus IS God the Father'.......

What do you say?! Your three year old is grappling with the Trinity. Do I grab a clover and go all St Patrick on him. Do I break it down and pretend I fully and completely understand the mysterious God in Three Person thing....simple....straightforward thing that it is....??!....Type it into Google and hope for the best?! Nah....

I just asked him if he wanted more juice......

Theology and three-year-olds. He is clearly a genius! He then went and pooped. Right in the middle of the backyard grass, naturally.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Relecting on 7,000 Men

There have been subtle hints on the blog in recent months that I'm not the biggest fan of "Reformed" Christianity. My post The Reformation Sucked was one of those hints, as was the provocative Why R.C. Sproul Is Not Really a Christian. If you want to know why I am the way I am, read this post on Reformation21.

The author, Derek Thomas, is reflecting on Together for the Gospel class of 2010, a biennial conference led by some of the current giants of the reformed tradition and specifically aimed at pastors and church leaders. Actually, correction: Derek Thomas is reflecting on the 7,000 men at the conference. That's a lot of men to be reflecting on. But more to the point, where are all the women? Was there literally no woman at this conference to reflect on? Or perhaps worse, were there women present but deemed so irrelevant by Thomas that they don't get a mention? I understand that being reformed doesn't mean you have to marginalise women, but damn if that's not the way it often looks. It's sadly ironic that a conference called Together for the Gospel would be so dismissive of women, given how radical the gospel proclamation was for women in the 1st century - "...there is neither male nor female; but all one in Christ."

Of course given that the reformed way of doing church is "biblical", I must be in the wrong. (Note to myself and others: the adjective "biblical" is void of meaning and stems from a misuse of the Bible itself. I vow never again to use it in the way Thomas uses it. To do so would be unbiblical.)

Next, a quote from Thabiti Anyabwile: The church is multi-ethnic but not multi-cultural.

Huh? That's just not true. Why would anyone say that? Am I missing something?

Thomas proceeds to dub the kind of Christianity preached by Sproul et al as "masculine". Well, apparently only 7,000 men are allowed to hear about it, so Thomas has a point. But why on earth would it be a good thing to have a "masculine form of Christianity". We're alienating half the potential participants with such a thing. Or is there a completely separate "feminine form of Christianity"? Perhaps there was another conference on at the same time - Together for the Men. 7,000 women showed up, and were taught how best to keep silent in church, how to be as submissive as you can without your husband breaking any major criminal laws, and how to make the most amount of tea in the shortest time period. Quote of the conference was: Church leadership is multi-ethinic, not multi-gender.

Thomas rounds things off by saying that these are encouraging times. Quite the opposite, if this is the alternative to Joel Osteen that America has to offer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Breathing the Same Air

There are few places I'd rather be this Friday at 3:15pm than Wheaton, Illinois. In the Edman Chapel at Wheaton College, N.T. Wright and Richard Hays will be clearing their throats and testing their microphones as they prepare to take part in a panel discussion including audience Q & A. I don't know what they will be discussing. It could be the subtle differences between Lidl and Aldi for all I care. When those two are breathing the same air, that's worth checking out if you have ears to hear.

I have three favourite Christian scholars/authors. The above make up two of those three, with Walter Brueggemann being the third. I like to think each bring something important to the table which complements the other two, but with all three sharing much the same vision for the faith and its scholarship. Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar, whose writing is simultaneously rooted in age-old faith but also capable of stirring up radical newness. Wright is Mr New Testament. He can say more in a sentence than most can in a book. The church is blessed to have him among us, though I think future generations of Christians will be more blessed by Wright than we are. We are too close, too stuck in the tired, old ways of thinking that Wright strives to root up. Hays, then, completes the trinity. He is like a mixture of the other two, with much of his work bridging the gap between old and new testaments. He is also a remarkable reader of texts, capable of the kind of imaginative reading (and writing) that brings words to life. Moreso than the other two, I can read Hays simply for pleasure.

I don't have a set theology. I don't have a view on baptism, I don't subscribe to either side of the predestination debate, and I haven't even begun to plumb the depths of a theology of the cross. To be honest, I don't have much time for systematic theology, with all my doctrinal i's dotted and all my doctrinal t's crossed. Perhaps this is naive of me, but at the moment I'm happy not to be one of those people with a long list of beliefs that must be defended at all costs. In other words, I'm happy not to be reformed. (Zing!)

Credit (or indeed blame) for this lack of a rigid theology must go to the above three authors, along with biblical scholar Arden Autry. They have taught me a way to read the Bible that avoids using it merely as a source for doctrine, and instead uses it as a means for knowing and engaging with the living God. Doctrines have their place, but even demons have doctrines (note to self: a good title for a future book). What they don't have is God as Father and fellowship with his sons and daughters, and all the possibilities these relationships entail. Brueggemann, Wright and Hays always bring such possibilities to light. They are able to spark a conversion of the imagination by bringing it into contact with an unsettling God, leaving one ever surprised by hope.

The Gospel in the Gospels

All four gospels devote ample space to the crucifixion of Jesus, yet ‘atonement theology’ does not appear to be the major focus. There are hints and allusions, of course, but nothing quite as explicit or as universal as some passages from Paul’s epistles. And this in spite of the four gospels being written after Paul’s most robust letters.

One would expect Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to have engaged in a little historical revisionism. After all, they were probably writing for people who had heard Paul’s teaching either directly or indirectly, so a theological-heavy interpretation of Jesus’s death would have been well understood by the earliest gospel readers. What was the gospel, after all, if it was not a theology of Christ crucified that was good news?

Yet as I said already, this we don’t get. What we get instead are stories aimed not at merely shaping our theology, but at shaping our lives.

It seems the earliest churches had a particular focus, a telos they were headed towards - conformity to the image of Christ. To become a Christian was to start on this "process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others" (Mulholland).

No doubt the following question haunted the early church just as it haunts us today: What does it look like to look like Jesus? The value system of the 1st century was probably very similar to our own, with power, wealth, and prestige all being sought after religiously. A passage contained in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) illustrates this.

A dispute breaks out amongst the disciples as regards who is the greatest. Who will wield the most power in the kingdom? Who will have the authority and the prestige? Jesus answers them in an earth-shattering way. He knows the value system of the present regime, but this value system is to be turned on its head. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” says Jesus, “and whoever would be first among you must be slave to all”. We then get a statement which in isolation looks like straight-up atonement theology, but in the context of the gospel narrative is nothing less than a call to Christlikeness, which is a call to cruciformity: “For the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

This is not only an example of Jesus’s understanding of his own death, but it is his understanding of the life to which his followers are called. “Imitate me”, says Jesus. The lengthy passion narratives give a paradigm for what such imitation entails - non-retaliation in the face of abuse, silence in the face of mockery, forgiveness in the face of sin.

The call to Christlikeness does not take the form of an exhaustive list of dos and don’ts. Most of the time we are not told what the right thing to do is in a given scenario. If you think the Christian life consists of following a set list of abstract rules, you are mistaken. In Christ, the law became a story. The word became a fleshly narrative, and dwelt among us. But it dwelt among us not as one to be served, but as one who serves. All four gospels tell this story in great detail. Why? Because it makes for nice bedtime reading? Because we need to know the correct information if we are to be saved? No. The story is told because the community of faith has been called to continue the narrative begun in Christ. The goal of the Christian life is for Jesus’s story to become our story. This doesn’t happen by dutifully obeying a list of commands in our own power, but by creatively incarnating Jesus’s story in our daily lives by the power of the Spirit. The details will look different in each of our lives, but the form will always be the same: it will be the form of a cross.

The four gospel writers knew well the significance of the cross not just as salvation history, but as salvation present and future. A closer look at Paul might yield a similar conclusion. This, after all, is the same Paul who could earnestly desire

…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Bad Trailer

There are some film trailers that leave you desperate for more. The first time I saw Independence Day advertised in a cinema left me pining for July 4th, the date America sealed its independence from hostile alien invaders. The trailer so enamoured me that I genuinely thought the term “Independence Day” was coined by Roland Emmerich specifically for this movie. I also thought Bill Pullman was one of the world’s leading actors. I’ll let you judge which was the more outrageous thought.

More recently, The Dark Knight trailer proved to be a rousing success, leaving film fans in agonising anticipation for what felt like about five years. I can still hear “Good evening, commm--missioner” when I turn out the lights at bed time. Chilling.

The truth is, it’s rare you see a bad trailer. You will of course see a trailer for a film you know you’ll hate, but the trailer itself will have done its best to convince you otherwise. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t prevent from showing you Matthew McConaughey.

Yet however rare it is, the bad trailer still exists. It exists because sometimes a film is so abject that not even two and a half minutes of specially chosen footage can provide a redeeming feature, a cause for optimism.

Dear John appears to be one such film.

It looks like we’re in trouble from the get go of the trailer. Then after 22 seconds, “From Best-Selling Author Nicholas Sparks” appears on screen, and now we know we’re in trouble. I don’t know if the dialogue was lifted straight from the source material or if it was modified during the transition from book to screen, but it is seriously, seriously crap. The worst I’ve heard since Lucky You. Here are some choice examples:

Dear John demonstrating the abuse of the short sentence:

I like your Dad. He loves you. I can tell. Even if you can’t.

This is why Dear John Scares me:

- The way people act around you, it’s like they’re scared of you.
- Maybe they’re scared of who I used to be.
- You don’t scare me, John.
- Well you scare me.

Way to ruin the best line in the film:

- I’ll see ya soon.
- I’ll see ya soon.

Dear John on the philosophy of letter writing:

Dear John. Tell me everything. Write it all down. That way we’ll be with each other all the time, even when we’re not with each other at all.

Dear John not so much trailing off as simply stopping mid sentence:

All I know is that I want to stay here with you as long as I possible can. And I need you to tell me I don’t.

Tell me, have you ever seen a trailer quite like it? A trailer that can make you laugh and vomit in equal measure? If so, please show it to me.

I have to hand it to Nicholas Sparks, mind. The man (he is a man, right?) produces some of the most commercial pornography literature aimed at women out there. He has tapped into a lucrative zeitgeist, and is boldly going where no man has gone before. How is it he writes for women so well? Here’s what an angry, paranoid Nicholas Sparks might say in response:

I think I’m writing for men, and then I take away reason and accountability.

Anyway, all that aside, who wants to go see it with me? Seriously.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Sermons must not give closure. Sermons must leave the congregation poised for more gifts to be given that may threaten us out of our socks....Because...what we know is that God's good future will not be a re-iteration of what we have known in the past; it will be new.

- Walter Brueggeman

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Answered Prayer

What does it take for God to answer prayer? What does his answer look like?

There is no single template of course. We do not have a god in a box, but a free God who acts as he best sees fit. When we think we have him pegged, he surprises us with still more grace. His mercies are new each morning; never dull or expected, but always fresh and invigorating.

Nevertheless, reflecting on answered prayer has led me to the following conclusion: More often than we might like to think, what it takes for God to answer prayer is human obedience. Border-line heretical as it sounds, we have a role to play in prayer that requires us not only to ask, but to be part of the answer.

Consider Moses.

God confronts Moses at a burning bush. He tells Moses not only of what is happening in the lives of the Israelites, but of what is happening in the life of God Himself. Israel is crying out to God because of her suffering, and God has heard their cries and been moved to initiate a mighty act of deliverance.

As far as the children of Israel are concerned, this is a story with three characters: God (soon to be introduced as YHWH), Israel and Egypt. Israel prays to God in the hope that he delivers them from the tyrannical hand of the Egyptians. God, however, transports a fourth character into the drama. YHWH's answer to prayer takes the form of him commissioning Moses to be His agent of deliverance.

Moses now has a choice: to obey or not to obey. He can be God's sent one, or he can ignore the call on his life. After some powerful persuasion from YHWH, Moses chooses obedience and goes on to lead the Israelites out of slavery.

The Israelites prayed to God for freedom; God's answer came in the form of human obedience. This paradigm reached its zenith in Jesus of Nazareth. Our need for freedom was answered in the form of a man obedient to God to the point of death, even death on a cross.

There is much more to be said on this topic, but I'll finish with this: Those who don't believe God answers prayer don't take seriously enough the (witting or unwitting) obedience of their fellow human beings to the will of God. When the naked are clothed, when the thirsty are given water to drink, when words of comfort are spoken to a broken heart, God is at work and prayers are being answered. What a privilege for us to be involved in the answers, but what a responsibility. We can take comfort and courage, however, from the words of YHWH to Moses (and the words of Jesus to his own sent ones): I will be with you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Hills

I watch a lot of awful television shows. Occasionally I write about them. While the following will certainly alienate a large percentage of my readership, I'm sure a few of you with low standards for both what you watch and what you read will stick around to digest some of my biggest offering on this blog so far.

In the words of a Galway city pastor, it's long, but at least it's slow.

The episode

The Hills - Season 2 Episode 1: A Recap


The Hills is an MTV-produced television show that stands on the shoulders of giants. Ever since John Logie Baird decided he needed a new way to avoid interacting with his family, television has been slowly building towards this climactic event. In the interest of brevity, I’ll mention only the tip of the ice-berg.

In the middle of ‘the noughties’ (a clumsy term that sounds like the name of a camp Korean girl band forcedhand-picked to infiltrate the English-speaking pop market), The O.C. captured the imaginations of anyone from roughly the age of 12 up. Girls were attracted to the show for the usual reasons, but the breadth of its appeal did not end with the fairer sex. The creators of The O.C. gave us iconic characters such as Sandy Cohen, a guy women wanted to be and men wanted to be with. There were also the comic stylings of neo-nerd Seth Cohen to enjoy, which contrasted neatly with the pseudo-brutality of the lost boy from the wrong side of the tracks; the one they called “Chino”. Like a sadistic Robin Hood, he beat up the rich to gratify the poor. And oh were we gratified. (“You know what I like about rich kids? Nothin’! **bam!**)

In short, the first season of The O.C. was a riotous success. Then came season two, and it all started to go pear-shaped for our Orange County friends. Nevertheless, like the determined broadcasters of all successful TV shows, Fox wouldn’t let dwindling quality stop them from making a sackful of money, so they simply kept churning out crap until someone somewhere decided they’d had their fill (of either money or crap…let the reader decide). Still, season four of The O.C. did give us more Taylor Townsend, so far be it from me to complain.

Meanwhile, on the fringes of adequate television and never one to shy away from making a quick buck, MTV spotted the public’s fascination with fictional O.C. characters and decided it was time to put a bucket under this cash cow and just start squeezing and squeezing. Their udder of choice was an evolved version of the one that had make Fox so filthy rich proud of the work they’d done. MTV would offer us not a mere fictional account of life in affluent California, but “The real Orange County” (which looks a lot like the fictional account of life in affluent California, it must be said). With that decision Laguna Beach was born, which was a sort of cross between reality TV and teen drama: a frightening combination.

After a couple of seasons at the forefront of MTV’s programming -- beating off strong competition from Wanna Come in? and Dismissed in the process -- a spin-off show was inevitable.

That show was The Hills. Lauren Conrad left the luxury of Laguna Beach for the big smoke of Los Angeles, and with her she brought a bunch of more-than-willing cameramen, a few friends, and lots and lots of hair bands. Her plan was to attend fashion college (yes, I know), and get an internship at Teen vogue. The first season of The Hills showed how that plan unfolded.

Therein lies a brief history of the show about to be recapped. As I get ready to begin proper, you may be wondering what a 24 year old guy is doing watching (and writing about) a show that chronicles the life of a girl attending fashion college and working with a style magazine aimed at teenage girls. I can offer no reasons. Or at least no good ones. You’ll simply have to make of it what you will. I’ll stand firm on the words of the Bible - Only God can judge me. Or was that Tupac? I’m always getting those two mixed up.

If you’re concerned for my dignity and self-respect, fear not; I happily parted ways with those things when Dawson’s Creek became unmissable television about eight years ago.

The Recap

To set us up, here, in a nutshell, is how season one ended. Lauren (L.C. to you and me) had to decide between either going to Paris on a summer internship with Teen vogue or hanging out with her boyfriend Jason all summer. Ah, life’s classic dilemma: career or men? We’ve all had to make that choice at some point, am I right? And so which would Lauren choose? Dra-ma!

If you knew anything about Jason, it was a no-brainer. He spent the best part of season one making apologies: Apologies for hurting Lauren in the past, apologies for ignoring Lauren on her birthday, apologies for his beard. Honestly, I was sure Lauren would go with the wise career move and head off to Paris, but in what turned out to be one of the few genuine surprises in the show she actually chose a summer with Jason, her boring significant other with the crap beard.

In Lauren’s place, fellow Teen vogue intern Whitney got to go to Paris and sample life in the fashion capital of the world. Meanwhile, the newly single Heidi -- Lauren’s frivolous roommate -- stayed in L.A. for the summer with her friend Audrina (clearly a made up name), with plans to get up to no good and all that.

Lauren’s recap of season one informs us of all of the above, and then fills us in on the summer just passed. Audrina got a new job at Epic Records, where she sits behind a large desk on her own as a receptionist…just like in her old job. The word “lateral” springs to mind. Heidi actually made some advances in her career, receiving as she did a promotion from her employers “Bolthouse”, a company whose purpose still escapes me. Given that Heidi spent the majority of her first year in the company fetching sandwiches for her boss, I suppose there was only one direction she could go. But still, a promotion is a promotion, and now she gets to “work the door at L.A.’s hottest club”. I can only assume that sentence is not meant to be taken literally.

We’re then introduced to Spencer, Heidi’s new boyfriend whom she met in the line of duty. But, and here’s the good part, Spencer is also “seeing” Heidi’s friend Audrina on the side. It remains unclear whether Heidi knows anything at all about this. Ooh! Dra-ma! As for Lauren, her summer of hanging out with Jason didn’t quite go according to plan. Assuming her plan was to actually enjoy spending time with Jason, I think I’m beginning to see where it fell down. “Finally” she says, “we broke up”; surely a statement of relief as much as anything.

Lauren pulls up outside a house in her shiny Mercedes convertible, wearing a black outfit that actually matches her car [!]. You don’t go to fashion college for nothing, I suppose. She has a sad look on her face, clearly still feeling the effects of the break-up. The same can’t be said for Jason, however, who comes out of the house with a smile on his face saying “Yeah! Golf clubs!” If Lauren was having second thoughts about the break-up, I think those lingering doubts have been put to bed.

She saunters around the car in a minor hissy fit, dropping a bag of Jason’s stuff on the footpath rather dramatically. Jason inspects the contents of the car, and complains that “These aren’t my towels”. How dare you, Lauren! The joy of getting his golf clubs back appears to have waned, but Jason just about maintains his smiley demeanour. He’s really taking this whole break-up thing rather well. A little too well, perhaps.

“What am I supposed to do with all this?” he asks. Well, the stuff is yours, Jason, so do with it what you please. May I suggest taking the nine iron to Lauren’s Merc while threatening to unleash it on her if she doesn’t get back together with you? If I know anything about relationships, that can only end well for you.

Lauren says that she didn’t see this relationship ending with her dropping Jason’s stuff on a curb, seemingly unaware that she is the one who decided to end the relationship by dropping Jason’s stuff on a curb. She begins to cry a little, but Jason quickly puts a stop to it. He tries to console Lauren by telling her that at least he got a new golf set out of the relationship (Lauren bought them for his birthday last year), but this only makes matters worse. Okay so he doesn’t stoop that low. He merely asks if they can still be “buddies”. Lauren isn’t so sure, but for some reason Jason isn’t getting it. (By the way, he’s still smiling as all of this is going on. What’s up with that?) The scene ends with a light hug, and Lauren drives away in a sorry state. Jason, on the other hand, whips out his phone and books a 2pm tee time as he shouts “Thanks for the clubs!” in his distraught ex’s general direction. Men, eh?

Cut to the opening credits.

We rejoin the action at “Bolthouse Offices, Hollywood, CA”. There’s a staff meeting (featuring Heidi) in progress, where Brent Bolthouse is talking about the opening of “Area”, the hottest new club in L.A. Brent wants it to be an “old school Hollywood opening”, which consists of “red carpet”, “media” and….well…um. That appears to be it - red carpet and media. Isn’t that what basically every opening consists of? Next Brent will tells us about the “old school Hollywood” way of consuming beverages that he wants happening on the night, which consists of putting “drinks” into your “mouth”. In a company with this man at the helm, it is little wonder that someone as clueless as Heidi is quickly climbing the corporate ladder.

Heidi will be the hostess for the event, and since there is a lot of work to be done before the big opening, Brent asks that she not bug him. Well, it’s better than him asking her to go make him a sandwich. There’s that promotion effect kicking in.

We’re then treated to another “work” scene at Epic Records, in which Audrina decides to give Heidi a call. Heidi sees who’s calling her, however, and lets it go to voice mail. Unlike most normal people, however, Audrina actually leaves a message. She claims to not know what’s going on (oh but you do, Audrina, if that is a real name) and wonders if Heidi is “mad” at her. She is, but “passive aggressive” is the order of the day. Women, eh?

And what’s this? A third work scene in a row? Who do they think they’re fooling? Anyway, Lauren makes her way to that cosy little room where she and Whitney chat all day while browsing the internet work. Whitney walks into the room shortly after, and the two catch up on their respective summers. Whitney describes life in Paris; full of fashion shows, and dresses, and photoshoots. Lauren, as she hears about what might have been, thinks about what was - and immediately wants to kill herself…or maybe Jason. L.C. actually elaborates on where it all went wrong between the two, citing “the same fights every day” as the main reason. I can only assume they went something like this:

Lauren: Why do you love those damn golf clubs more than me!?

Jason [as he gently caresses his sandwedge and whispers sweet nothings into the club face]: Um, no I don’t.

The two girls are then summoned to Lisa Love’s office, with Lisa Love being the “West Coast Editor” of Teen vogue, and Shirley Phelps lookalike. I also imagine Lisa to live alone with a bunch of cats, but I’m open to being wrong about that. The three women exchange pleasantries for a minute or so, until hard-ball Lisa asks about the summer just passed. Whitney gushes about how great Paris was, with Lisa replying that “that was a great choice to make”. Ooh, burn! As if the dig at Lauren wasn’t clear enough, Lisa spells it out for everyone: “Lauren didn’t go to Paris”. It’s true, but at least she got to spend the summer with her boyfr….Oh, yeah, right.

With Lauren feeling about this small, Lisa asks her if she regrets the decision. Lauren sheepishly nods her head, and looks for the nearest window to jump out of. Lisa isn’t letting her off that easily though, and continues to dance on her grave like the tough business woman that she is. “So how was your summer at the beach with your boyfriend? Did that work out for you?”, she asks, though I expect she already knows the answer. An embarrassed shake of the head is about all a broken Lauren can muster up. Lisa seems suitably proud of herself for making Lauren look quite the fool, but you get the feeling she’s a little disappointed not to have made her cry. They don’t call her Lisa “Tough” Love for nothing, I guess. (They don’t call her that at all, actually, but I think they should.)

Work is finally over, and we find ourselves hanging out with Lauren and Heidi in their apartment. It’s not as fun as it sounds, because Lauren is still in a pissy mood over that whole break-up thing. I thought the “Yeah! Golf clubs!” would have alleviated the pain a little bit, or at least turned it into something more manageable like hatred, but not so. She claims she broke up with Jason because she “was sad of crying every day”. Of course the irony is that she is crying now because “he’s not here to make me stop”. Her reasoning is deeply flawed, but since when is love reasonable, especially when a set of Calloway golf clubs is in the mix?

Lauren says that “it’s like losing your best friend”. Well, yes it is. But in another way, it’s like losing that Nicklback record you always liked. It hurts initially, but after a couple of days you’ll see the light and wonder just what the hell you were thinking in the first place.

Heidi consoles Lauren by informing her that “so many guys” have been asking if she is single. Lauren can only reply, “I hate being single. I’m not good at it”. Lauren, if you’re reading this, my number is 0851491941*. Call me. Any time.

It’s date night for Heidi and Spencer. They go to Spencer’s favourite Mexican restaurant, where conversation quickly steers in the direction of Audrina. They muse about whether she’ll be at L.A.’s hottest club for the grand opening on Thursday, but apparently all the people Heidi works with hate Audrina, so…they won’t let her in? Is that the old school Hollywood way? It wasn’t on Brent Bolthouse’s extensive list of criteria, but it’s vaguely possible that he missed out on one or two little things.

Heidi has gotten wind of Audrina and Spencer hanging out, but Spencer denies such a thing ever occurring over the summer. Heidi then asks if Audrina was hitting on Spencer, and -- seemingly forgetting that he just stated he and Audrina never hung out roughly seven seconds ago -- he says it was just a “friend vibe” between the two. Heidi and Spencer then proceed to label Audrina as something close to clinically insane. I have no idea how they reached that conclusion, but it’s funny, so I’ll let it slide.

Spencer rounds the evening off by declaring himself supremely happy to be dating two beautiful girls at once sharing dinner with Heidi Montag, who remains as clueless as ever. We get a final shot of them walking up to Spencer’s pad. He asks Heidi if she’s staying over. “Yeah!” is her quick reply, said to the effect of “Duh…of course!” Ever the classy girl, is Heidi.

We’re back at Lauren and Heidi’s apartment the morning after, where Heidi walks in all smitten with the wonderful Spencer. Lauren is convinced that Spencer loves Heidi because he hides behind her back when he talks to other women. Lauren was also convinced that three months alone with Jason would be time well spent, however, so let’s not jump to conclusions just yet.

The next contrivance scene shows us the foolishness of Lauren’s words. Spencer is sitting with Audrina for a coffee and a flirt. He has given her a bunch of flowers, which perhaps even trumps hiding behind someone’s back on the scale of romance. Audrina starts complaining about Heidi not liking her, but can’t understand why. Neither can Spencer, who rhetorically asks “How do you not like you?” He then proceeds to invite Audrina to his favourite Mexican restaurant, where presumably he will talk about how crazy Heidi is and how happy he is to be eating hot food with the girl of his dreams. Spencer you dawg! By the way, isn’t it odd that he’s dating two girls at the one time, and they both know it?

After the literally minutes of thinking and planning that went into it, we’re finally treated to the grand opening of "Area" (it's L.A.'s hottest new club, don't you know). All -- that is, all two -- of Brent’s boxes have been ticked, with red carpet and media in full swing. Hey, it really is just like old school Hollywood! Lauren is there with her friend Jen. I hope they are very, very drunk at this point, for both their sakes. Jen tries to implement the “clock” system for subtly pointing out someone attractive, but gets it all so horribly wrong. It’s all irrelevant, however, because Lauren doesn’t actually understand the system to begin with. That module isn’t due up until year two of fashion college, presumably. Eventually Jen just points to the guy and says “11 o’clock”, thus defeating the purpose of the clock system, not to mention getting her time wrong. (He’s actually at about 2 o’clock, for future reference.)

Meanwhile, Heidi pretends to look busy outside by holding a clip board. (That was an old trick I used to pull when working in a supermarket. My motto was that if I walked around with a clip board then I automatically looked like I was up to something. This holds true for a ladder also.) Working the door at L.A.’s hottest new club takes a turn for the worst, however, when Spencer prances down the red carpet with Audrina by his side. Yep, Spencer definitely loves you, Heidi. If it’s any consolation, at least he didn’t hide behind Audrina when they bumped into you.

Inside the club, dra-ma ensues. Heidi and Spencer start bickering and arguing over who came to the club with who. Spencer swears on his mother’s life that he didn’t come to the club with Audrina, even though Heidi just saw him waltz down the red carpet with the girl with the made up name. Clearly Spencer doesn’t value the life of his mother all that much. In the midst of it all, Audrina just wants to be “the bigger person”, which in most cases would mean backing off and letting Heidi and Spencer sort their problems out. In Audrina’s world, the bigger person lets Spencer give you a massage in the middle of a club. There, that ought to sort this whole mess out, right? Err….

Heidi retreats to the outdoors as Spencer and Audrina dance the night away. Heidi moans with her random friend about Audrina, and even calls her nemesis a bad name. (No, not her real name. The “B” word.) Foreboding music plays us to a break in the action.

We’re back at Bolthouse the next morning, where no doubt Brent is masterminding his next event. Heidi is talking things over with her colleague, whose insight into Heidi’s love life amounts to “That sucks”. With those powers of perception I’m assuming she’s Brent’s second in command. Meanwhile, in a parallel “work” scene, Audrina is talking to her colleague about the same thing. What she’s saying doesn’t quite add up with what we saw that night in Area, but I’d be lying if I said I cared. Audrina’s colleague sums it all up in a nice little package: “Dra-ma”.

Sad music plays as Heidi drives to a pharmacy and buys…something. She mopes back home and goes straight to her room, possibly to kill herself. Alas, things aren’t quite so dramatic, but there is the small matter of Heidi’s mysterious purchase being a pregnancy test. Will she be the mother of Spencer’s child? A positive answer to that question might actually be a valid reason for her to end it all, but for that information you will have to tune in elsewhere.

* Not actually my number, but close.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Planting Roses

You are not oiling the wheels of a machine about to roll over a cliff....You are not planting roses in a garden that's about to be dug up for a building site. You are -- strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself -- accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God's new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one's fellow human beings and for that matter one's fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honoured in the world -- all of this will find its way, through the resurrection power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

- N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope