Sunday, 16 July 2017

We're not ready for the end of the world

Globe


A few years ago I wrote an article for a niche US publication in which I speculated that there could be a referendum on Britain leaving the EU (even the re-election of the Tories, the only party offering this, seemed unlikely at the time) and that this could possibly relate to eschatology (note to the uninitiated – eschatology refers to the study of the end of the world).

We are not ready for the end of the world.

I’m really not any kind of prophet and I don’t claim to be, but it reminded me that just sometimes I can be right. Just sometimes. (My wife would say ‘very, very occasionally’). I’ve always preferred beginnings to endings, but I am still fascinated by the theories and mythology that accompany the end of days. In story terms I prefer beginnings, the blank page, the start, the hook and the possibility. But endings naturally fascinate many of us. We want to know what is going to happen in the end and we want it to satisfy. Part of us wants to see the sky fall.

As better people than me have said: ‘We face immense adversity’. Most of us. We face all kinds of problems. I’m going to spare you the pessimism of my Christian worldview as I’m not a literalist and I don’t really know how the end times are ever going to pan out. Some people say that the end times can be mitigated through prayer and preparation. But safe to say I don’t think we are in the last of the last days yet. If there is anything I have been conscientious in, it is in not alarming people by saying that the world is about to end imminently. I have never misled people in this. To be honest, I’ve rarely led people at all, but please indulge me unless you think I have no care for you as a reader. I have usually been as honest as I can be, I have a little integrity. So despite rumours to the contrary it is not the end of the world. There is hope for your children (if you have them) to live full lives without the fear of getting raptured (and, believe me, in some circles, there is a lot of fear surrounding the rapture). 

Things are grim on this island for many of us these days in 2017. There is no getting round it. I think it was the TV series ‘Lost’ where a character exclaims: ‘…we're just going to go crazy waiting for the next bad thing to happen’. Lost was about a group of survivors stuck on an island and that may sound like a familiar plot to us in the UK.

Seriously, even if the rich elites stockpile gold and have reinforced boltholes in Alaska because they ‘know things’, it still doesn’t mean that the world is about to end. They live in fortresses like Prospero’s castle in Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. But my theory is that things were just as grim in 1666 when the plagues hit Britain and the great fire of London burnt it all out. They blamed the terrorists then too – except they said the terrorists were Catholics not Muslims. It is convenient for a Government to have an enemy like that. It is in the Government’s political interest for us to have a common enemy of flesh and blood. When really we should be fighting together against so many other adversaries that are not human or animal.

I was so fascinated by eschatology that I wrote a whole fictional novel about it for the writing contest NaNoWriMo, speculating about end of the world scenarios. Accepted thinking is that the earth is destroyed by the sun in millions of years and that the hope for humanity centres around finding the technology to occupy some other world. But even then, accepted wisdom is that, eventually, the universe will either expand or collapse into some kind of oblivion. There is no hope. We’re doomed, if you subscribe to the narratives of scientific speculation… and they are narratives and speculation (unless we are somehow able to transcend the physical universe or you are able to see some kind of strange beauty in transience and meaninglessness).

Christian thinking is that there are not millions of years. That what is left are the last raindrops of a storm and that another storm is coming. But my point is that we are not prepared for nuclear holocaust, a third world war or the opening of the abyss from the hadron collider. We are not the generation to deal with these things on top of all the rest of our problems.

What I’m trying to say is this – whether you are fascinated by beginnings or endings, by the past or the future, you have to accept that our interest in current affairs and in what will become of us is almost certainly (and I’m 99% sure) going to revolve around the sun getting turned to darkness, the moon to blood and the stars falling from the sky. When I say this I’m using the Bible’s own metaphors when it comes to sun and moon and stars. In the story of Joseph in Genesis, Joseph has a dream in which the sun is a metaphor for his father, the moon for his mother and the stars for his siblings. Presumably the end of the world, and the end of all our worlds is the loss of our own lives and that of our friends and family. Some suns have already darkened. Some moons have already turned to blood. Some stars have fallen. And this is sad and real and something we all face if we have not faced it already – it is going to happen. We can’t escape it through a portal or through any other means. I’m sorry, but as Jim Morrison said, ‘No-one here gets out alive’. All we can do is prepare. Or distract ourselves.

However it feels at the moment for some of us, it is unlikely that we are the last generation. It is a coincidence too far that just as the digital, information and news revolution has taken place that we somehow suddenly face the end of the world too. We are more likely to lose our own suns, moons and stars and experience our own world ends on a micro level. And so, on that level, yes, suffering is always going to be with us and we are always going to be afraid as long as we live and the end of the world could be imminent (quite probably through house fire, car crash or some disease (please check your smoke alarms – I have too few readers already and don’t want one less)). We are unlikely to die from a terrorist attack. I’m sorry, but we’re just not. We are unlikely to die through an end of the world scenario. We are likely to die before the end of the world takes place and who knows if we will ever see how that happens.

I’m a little sad about the jaded tone of this blog entry. But that’s not the end of the world.


Think happy thoughts.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Second Review



Pastor L. J. Darkside, following his controversial review of 'Life', has penned another review for the appraisal of those who remain on this planet. Enjoy...


The Second Review

(by Pastor L. J. Darkside)

In my review of today’s theatre performance I am compelled not to be too biting. As I have said repeatedly to my readers: ‘I don’t bite’.

My first point would be to say that none of the show was realistic. It was an anachronism. The aesthetics were lacking in some way. I appreciated the slightly camp symbolism in the ‘over the rainbow’ entrance and the psychedelic lighting which filled the huge venue. It was – perhaps, like Sharif’s horseback entrance in Laurence of Arabia in some ways. Except the desert was the barrenness of the scriptwriter’s imagination in this particular production.

But please, spare me the clouds and the flying horses. If one were a marketer or advertiser, one would use the visuals to promote beer, which, is, ironically, precisely what I require after experiencing this shambles.

Not that it was without merit. In some ways it was like a forgotten Frankie Goes to Hollywood video – but I could clearly see the discrepancy between reality and the cloudy backdrop. The effects were lacking. Aren’t we beyond this? I mean – angels – really? Angels. As, I say, archaic and condescending in many respects.

I had heard much about this show prior to its release – rumour had it that it would be a satisfying end to anyone’s day. There was a mixture of expectancy and nervousness surrounding the whole performance. How long did it even take to recruit such a vast army of extras? Points are gained for detail, but that is all.

And that was the problem for me. It simply was not realistic enough, at some points it went into out and out fantasy. There was no life to it. It lacked the X-factor.

The rest of the audience seemed to be either thrilled or horrified. One man turned to me and said ‘Told you so’. What was that even supposed to mean? Clearly we held very different artistic sensibilities. We were in very different places.

As a production, it appeared to be performed simultaneously across the globe. And that was the problem, not merely the appropriation of the platform to force this performance on (often unwilling) crowds, but the thoughtlessness, the crass nature of the whole drama. Some of us were busy.
I am not one to criticise a free performance without cause. I am no philistine and I have reviewed many, many such shows for papers. But the audience was clearly divided in their appreciation and reaction.

I cannot, of course, criticise the aesthetics inasmuch that the special effects were effective to an extent. But please – a man on a white horse coming in the clouds to save humanity? In terms of narrative it lacked any satisfaction on a personal level. In terms of endings it was both predictable and slightly depressing. At least for me.

Spoiler alert: The lacklustre character on the white horse won – at least in some people’s eyes. So predictable. And unnecessarily violent. There seemed to be an underlying hypocrisy to it all. It was even gory in places when the dragon character succumbed to the mouth-sword prop. A bit of an over-reaction towards a character with no discernible or meaningful backstory. Was he killed by bad breath? Many of us were left wondering, I can tell you. For some reason I am unable to parallel these archetypal characters with any previous form or genre. I fear they are stereotypes. The best that can be said of them is that they are caricatures, but I am stretching the parameters of my goodwill.
I watched, hoping for some kind of resolution to the drama, some kind of redeeming quality. Drama should be uplifting, especially in these troubled times. But I found that it was not life-affirming at all. I found it to be quite the opposite. I pride myself on being in-touch with my audience and that was one of the problems of this performance – it was so out of touch with the day to day life of the hoi-polloi.

I saw faces in the strangely painted stage clouds and I would suggest that they were the faces of similarly disappointed viewers. At one point I found myself distracted by what seemed to be a great crested newt in a spiral of contrived cumulonimbus. The newt turned to me and said, ‘Remember Tangier?’ I forget the specific point at which this happened, but it seemed incongruous and irrelevant, my fascination with this detail only revealing the depth of my ennui.

Then there was the whole battle scene – both brief and unsatisfying. The dragon character seemed to come from nowhere and was dispatched with the sword-prop coming from the mouth of the protagonist in an instant. Many viewers were left wondering what on earth was going on. The antagonist had popped up from nowhere. What was that all about? An army on horseback riding through the clouds, simultaneously performed at a number of venues? It reminds me of the ending to some half-forgotten tale from childhood. I feel I should remember it, but for the life of me it has passed me by. I would say though that the lead actor was the only one who seemed to be taking the whole proceedings seriously, albeit he was far too melodramatic. Perhaps he could do better things than this. I can see him in a Woody Allen adaptation one day.

The relevance of the trumpets at the start I will leave to your imagination. Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd introduction was less of a cacophony of noise than this. It was an assault to my virgin ears. The shofars were too Jewish.

During the performance, I turned to my neighbour and asked him what he thought. But he was engrossed, his eyes glassy, as if hypnotised. His entire demeanour shouted: ‘Drug-induced psychosis’. I think he had been to the toilets and tried to make the performance more tolerable in the only way he knew how.

The end of the whole show was ridiculous. As I say - It simply was not realistic. Where was the life? Where was the passion? One can sense when there is love behind a performance and I can only think that the actors had all had a bad day or were being underpaid. A massive over-reaction from the protagonist towards the dragon character resulted in it being thrown into some kind of fiery pit which appeared stage left. Surely that was a fire hazard? Indefensible of the producers. The theatre programme suggested a backstory for the protagonist that was a contrast to the angry vengeance he displayed. It seemed as if he and the character from the backstory were two different characters, one kind and gentle, the other the reverse of everything he had ever stood for. And as for that fiery pit – it lacked any kind of beauty. Such an ugly thing. Anyone could have fallen into it at any moment – and it was too literal. Indefensible. I confess to feeling sympathy for the dragon character at this point. It was the sheer predictable didacticism of the performance which was its greatest failure.

Where was the irony? Where was the passion? It was a perfunctory anti-climax. I’m sorry, but it was. No questions were answered. No words were spoken in the whole drama. Pathetic.

Spoiler alert… I laughed at the epilogue – the finale when the audience members began to ascend from their seats. How passé. They were clearly stooges who had been placed in the audience with wires attached. It was a low-brow, people-pleasing effect. If I had wanted to see Wicked I could have gone to the West End any day of the week. Even my neighbour turned out to be one of the plants.
The rest of us watched as the assorted hoi-polloi extras ascended to the clouds. And that was the problem, as I have said – this sheer lack of realism. Most of the audience seemed to be terribly pre-occupied – why stage such a divisive performance during such tense political times? The mind boggles.

I confess to feeling somewhat unnerved, disturbed even by some aspects of the show. But it was disturbing people for the sake of it. Street art is fine – and in effect, that was what this was - but artists do not disturb for the sake of disturbing. It seemed so contrived. I am not the only one who felt no feelgood factor, no affirmation of life. And that is important, because it is important for a show to create a sense of joy, a sense of bliss and there was none of that. Where was the bliss?

End

Note for the editor

I rushed home and was so affected by this performance that I quickly wrote this review. However, I was unable to post my review on the newspaper website as there appears to be a blackout in the area and neither my mobile or computer seem to be working. So I have been forced to write this by hand. That I am reduced to such a platform is a problem but I’m quite sure that you will be in touch presently. At present you appear to be unavailable.

I have some pressing personal matters right now but shall invoice my fee as usual when things return to normal.

Information for review box graphic:

Overall: 1 out of 12 stars.

Positives: The camp portrayal of angels in a sky-based psychedelic backdrop.
Negatives: Where do I start? The protagonist seemed familiar somehow. It detracted from the performance. Had he been in The Bill? I think even I could have done a better job than he did.

Personal note for final draft:

Delete the reference to the cloud-newt. Tangier should not be mentioned for obvious reasons. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Lost books

Brian Haw


In my glory days, back in the early noughties, I worked in London as a trainee staff writer at a trade magazine. It didn’t last long. The truth is that it was not as glamourous as it may sound and in the end I returned to the Midlands, defeated by London. When a man is tired of London he is tired of life they say. And I left London both tired and a little jaded. London had been fickle to me.

But occasionally I would still go back to the capital. On one journey I met the anti-war protester Brian Haw in Parliament Square in his makeshift protest camp in support of ordinary Iraqi families. He died from cancer as he was a smoker (but this one fault did not outweigh his great principles – he was a man of genuine conviction).

I talked with him a little in Parliament Square. I mumbled about how he needed to be heard in the media and how he deserved to be taken seriously. He spoke to me of how one of the large established churches in London had rejected him and his cause even when he had asked them for help. That was very sad as he was one of the most conscientious Christians I have met and he deserved to be supported. He wore badges on his hat, some of them Christian badges which praised God, others were badges of protest and resistance. He stood (or rather sat) to defend humanity – to defend the ordinary people of Iraq who were suffering because of UK sanctions and who later suffered even more from UK war intervention. He made great personal sacrifices to protest and was treated with disdain by the British Government of the time who preferred war, for their own agendas. The Government considered him to be invisible, as they do to many of those who oppose them. To ignore someone is often an act of enmity.

When I met Brian, he asked me to fetch him some tobacco from a newsagents and I went to the shop and bought a pouch of tobacco for his roll-ups. I didn’t know that he would later die of cancer - I just wanted to be of help at the time. When you are consciously resisting the Government day and night you really do need some kind of comfort and some human faults can be necessary.

And Brian Haw showed me a book which he was writing. It was a handwritten diary of his experiences and life story. He had no computer. He only had pen and paper and principle.
And sometimes, late at night, I wonder what happened to that book.

What happened to it? Where did it go? Why was it never published?

I’ve searched for any reference to Brian Haw’s book over the internet but I can’t find anything. The distrustful, jaded side of me speculates that it was ‘appropriated’ by Government. But it seems to me that it is a little like Anne Frank’s diary. One document is lost, another is held as rightfully important. Sometimes important things are lost or kept private. Sometimes the truth doesn’t out in this lifetime. And how can it without people working towards that?

We all have stories to tell. They are documents. They are often important testimonies to the events which we experience and which we cause. Some are more important than others. But many deserve to be told.

And Brian Haw’s is one of them.



Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Plan






I’m aware that I’ve been neglecting my loyal reader again.


You probably should know that the Church of England has a new campaign planned for the 25th May – 4th June called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. In a nutshell the idea is that it will organise people into praying for the country to somehow fill churches again. They say it is a cross-denominational, inclusive initiative.

Just think of all those Christians praying for the people of Britain (whether you like it or not). Filling the post-Brexit vacuum of division and sporadic violence with an atmosphere of love.

Will it work? Sheesh, who knows. But anything that holds back demon-inspired racism and violence has to be a good thing doesn’t it? Anything that lifts up the vulnerable and oppressed in this country sounds okay to me. Of course, the efficacy of prayer is always up for debate and few people expect a paradigm shift.

So that appears to be the Church of England’s plan following Brexit. ‘Pray’. It probably took about 1000 meetings to come up with that one.

‘Surely someone, somewhere has a proper plan?’ I hear you think.

Nope. Hope the world doesn’t end. Don’t immanentize the eschaton. Pray. Try to stay alive. That seems to be the plan.

Think happy thoughts.





Sunday, 29 January 2017

Book launch - Irony by Nick White

Book cover - Irony


“We’re living in strange times.” It was an offhand remark to the electrician as he came to assess a broken cooker. We had been talking about politics. It seemed like a safe, anodyne remark, unlikely to cause offense or to alienate. And maybe it was ironic.

But it’s true – we are living in strange times. Perhaps the times have always been strange, but they are no less strange today than they were before. This world of alternative facts and fake news has driven many of us to the edge of our resources. All kinds of things that we used to take for granted now have to be fought for. It’s partly the fault of the citizen journalists but it’s also true that alternative facts and fake news are not new.

We can say we are post-truth and post-irony and that we are far too sophisticated to accept old dogmas, but there is still that longing for some kind of meaning to it all, some kind of certainty. For some kind of pragmatic way of survival in this strange world. And that is partly why I have written my new book, released today.

It is a non-fiction book which takes an original look at irony in our modern lives. It is a book which extends the definition of irony in line with our modern understanding of the term. And it is written for people who blame God when things go wrong. It’s for the agnostics, for the people who wonder why the believers and atheists are so loud. I make some wild claims in this book. I say that irony needs there to be a story. That it needs there to be an audience. That it implies an ironist in the same way that a story implies a storyteller. But what would the nature of such an ironist be, given the nature of the ironies which we are subject to?

Would it be ironic for there to appear to be patterns in both our lives and in the story of history or in our meta-narratives, stories like the Gospels, Frankenstein or 1984? Or are such things evolutionary survival mechanisms, like the formulation of language or the willingness to arrange our lives into some kind of meaningful story? What is the point of the sword which is irony? Why is it there?

I invite you to read my book as it is written for thinking people like you. People who seek meaning.

It’s available from Amazon here. 

Think happy thoughts.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Irony


My first non-fiction book 'Irony - Evidence for God' will be published soon so it seems right to blog about that.

Of all the evidences for God to be found on the Wiki page, you won't find irony listed. In fact, historically, writers have used irony to argue against the existence of God. Literary giants like Voltaire have used irony to state the alternative view. So, you could say, at the very least, it's an original book.

The book was born out of a growing conviction that the primary sustaining factor in my faith was irony. That irony had become a kind of secret pain in so many chapters of my life. A pain so intimate and seemingly-orchestrated that to see it as dumb luck or coincidence was more unlikely than any other possibility. That it hinted at the existence of God.

The book talks about this in further detail and about the way God allows irony in all our lives. In the book I call for a wider definition of the word in keeping with today's understanding. Language evolves and for many people irony today is not the strict dictionary definition. What if the real irony of Alanis Morissette's iconic song was that the lyrics really were ironic after all?

Irony can be hypocrisy, 'crazy bad luck' and even serendipity. And, to be honest, sometimes 'Crazy-bad-luck - Evidence for God' felt like a better title. But we live in post-ironic, post-truth, and post-God times - we are far too sophisticated to accept dogmas which we may have been expected to accept in the past.

If you understand, observe and think about irony in your life you will realise that most ironies are negative. So, to say that they are orchestrated by God is a big ask. It is intellectually insulting (at least, if we are to believe that God is good) to say that God has caused ironies to occur. Or worse than that, it is inhuman. So you will be able to see the spiritual gymnastics I take in order to get God off the hook for the bad ironies while still trying to defend human dignity or the remains of my intellect. After all, isn't that what being a believer is about - 1001 ways to defend God even when all reason says he is to blame? Of course, I'm trying to be ironic (or at least being disingenuous). How can irony be evidence for a benevolent God? To find that out you may need to read the book.

Without being too defensive, I'm anticipating a few possible reactions to my book. Firstly (and most likely), I'm anticipating it to be largely ignored. There is a solace in being an obscure, relatively unknown writer in that it means that I'm off the radar of most critics. So, 'Wouldn't it be ironic to totally ignore this diatribe?' is perhaps the most cruel criticism I face. 

But there is also the possibility of a considered counter-argument - that I have misunderstood irony, that I have misunderstood God and that I have taken one too many illogical steps in the formulation of my premise. An unreliable narrator can safely be questioned. I think there are many holes in my argument, but I'm willing to defend it.

Or a worse reaction still, that the universe would have me subject to more negative irony for even daring to write about the subject. Because that's how it all works isn't it? Or that in pointing out God's apparent neglect I have somehow forgotten to toe the faith party line.

The book is written for the agnostics, the seekers, the doubters, the skeptics. It is not primarily aimed at believers or atheists (although I hope that these two groups would at least find it interesting). It is not a very long book as I tend to write shorter books, finding them easier to read myself.

I approached a handful of publishers with the work but unless one of those who ignored me offers me a contract too late (and that really would be ironic) I'm indie-publishing it since I know the process so well. The most fun rejection I had from a publisher was: ‘This is an interesting idea… clearly the Christian faith has plenty of ironies to offer, but irony is not uppermost in the day to day life of the church. I don't think our market would react with sufficient enthusiasm.'

The ironic thing is that it is a book which can help you a little to survive day to day by making progress towards a meaning to life, and pointing away from despair to hope. Surely this helps people to survive (unless Viktor Frankl was wrong about all that)?

However, you don't really need this book. It won't resolve the issue of suffering. It won't make you rich or make your tweets go viral. 'Why should I read it then?' I hear you think.

Firstly, because, you may want to know why everything is conspiring to keep you from reading it.

Secondly, because it's original and brings some fresh ideas forward.

Thirdly, because it's shiny?





Wednesday, 4 January 2017

'Irony - Evidence for God' book trailer

This is the trailer for my first non-fiction book which should be available by Feb 2017.