Saturday, June 28, 2008

FREE! Magazine

I write the occassional article for Free magazine, the Free Church's youth magazine. But hey, there's another FREE! magazine. It does Finnish culture in English - I thought those guys on the right didn't look like your average Free Church youth group. It's an online magazine and it looks pretty cool. But they've only been going since January 2007, so yet again it was the Free Church what done it first.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wired to God IV: Gaming

A few weeks ago, the fourth installment of the Wired to God series was published in Free Magazine. This was dealing with the subject of Gaming. Preparing it was a fascinating and challenging exercise. Gaming is here to stay and I can see through my kids own gaming that it has value as a recreational activity - as a family we've assumed the identity of Shrek and friends to battle all kinds of baddies. But there are attendant issues and questions which to my mind are not being addressed by the church - perhaps they are, but it would not surprise me if, as with other issues in a rapidly-changing culture, the church was dragging its heels. Perhaps the most pressing and interesting question from a theological point of view is that of virtual worlds. Second Life's creator has stated that his aim is to create an alternative reality in which your mind can dwell. Perhaps this phenomenon has two simple explanations...

  • The human mind and body crave an alternative reality. The energising and satisfying bond with our creator has been lost and so the search is on for that missing element. When new avenues for seeking are opened up using virtual experiences, then they are quickly travelled and developed.

  • The denigration of God's reality is the devil's work. People have a tendency to search anywhere but in the direction of God himself. So, alternative truths are very attractive. And what is more attractive in terms of alternative truths than a virtual world in which you are king and there are no rules? It is the promise of a Garden of Eden without God, which is where all our problems begin.
And it also raises some questions...

  • How does God's morality apply in virtual worlds? In constructed realities moral actions are difficult to determine. Is it right to race a car at high speed in a virtual world such that you crash into other road users? There are no consequences in the constructed reality, but that behaviour would be wrong in the real world. But, is the behaviour wrong in the constructed reality? Is the constructed reality merely a subset of the real world and so governed by the moral code of the Creator? Or is it a world with its own creator and hence its own code? Should we choose to live in such worlds? There are churches in Second Life.

  • Perhaps more abstruse are questions to do with constructed realities that are at least one step removed from our own reality. For example, I've played the Microsoft Halo demo, but how does morality impact on shooting aliens or other imaginary creatures? Should we volunteer for conflict?
Yet again, the question of the relative value of face-to-face versus distant relationships is raised. In the past, when travel was more difficult, we wrote letters. Then we could travel and visit people. Now, people who are geographically proximate choose to communicate using texts or social-networking. What have we got to say about this? Given that virtual churches now exist (such as Vurch, with its tagline 'Don't Go to Church' (!)), what does 'do not give up meeting together' mean?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Black Gold

I've finally got hold of Black Gold from our DVD rental service and watched it last night. It's a powerful film. The film follows the efforts of Tadesse Meskela as he tries to better the fortunes of his Ethiopian coffee sellers co-operative. Two scenes stood out for me:
  • Tadesse speaks to a group of coffee farmers and explains that the kilo of coffee which they sell for 23 cents is finally sold in the form of cups of coffee in the west for $230. Astounding!
  • The second was for me perhaps the most powerful. A poor unsuspecting (and ignorant) Starbucks employee in Seattle explains how the staff at that Starbucks outlet are 'touching so many lives' as they sell over-the-counter coffees at the store. Cut to the Ethiopian region that supplies Starbucks coffee where malnourished babies are being weighed for emergency treatment. The contrast at this point in the film is truly shocking.
This film succesfully uses the contrast between Western coffee consumers and the Ethiopian coffee farmers to make a powerful point. At one point in the film a worker at Tadesse's co-operative sits at a desk with a poster above her reading: Jesus Will Never Let You Down. I hope that Jesus' people are not letting her down by continuing to buy non-Fair Trade coffee.
Watch the trailer and find out where the money you pay for your coffee goes using the links on the left.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Latest HTC Newsletter

A month away from the blog! When it comes to exams, needs must. Consequently, I'm a little late with this one....the latest HTC newsletter has been available for a while here. It gives news of, amongst other things...

  • Professor McGowan's Inaugural UHI Lecture: 'Is there a place for Theology in a Modern University?', which has passed! It was on 10 June, Eden Court, Inverness. I wasn't able to make it across unfortunately, but I heard it was good.
  • Dr Gerald Bray, John Murray Lecture: 'The Challenge and Promise of Biblical Interpretation Today', 4 June, Dingwall. Yep, this one's gone already too!
  • Visits to HTC by the Free Church and Church of Scotland Moderators - on the same day!
  • Visit to HTC of Dr John Franke, Professor of Theology, Biblical Seminary, Pennsylvania.
  • DMin Course: a heads up on this course, offered in partnership with RTS in the USA and designed to enhance the effectiveness of ministers and other full-time Christian workers.
  • MTh Reformed Theology: latest dates and course details.