Category Archives: storytelling

Advent and the Coming of The X-Factor

This morning I was reading Martin Saunders blog about “why life is too short to watch The X-Factor“. The X-Factor has become a staple on television sets all over the world and there are many complex reasons as to why people choose to watch it year after year (Martin has given a good overview of some of those reasons).

As I read the post it got me thinking about how TV programmes, like The X-factor,are replacing the common seasons of the church calendar and what this tells us about our culture.

For millennia, civilizations have used calendars to find a rhythm and flow to the year. Whether it be the calendar of the seasons in agriculture or the life of Jesus in the Christian religion, we all use calendars, and their significant dates, to find meaning and purpose in the year. Key dates help to remind us of our place in the world and to look forward to the future.

In the UK, we have largely followed the Christian calendar, with a few extras, for centuries. Advent prepares us for Christmas; New Years Eve helps us take stock of the last year and set our eyes on the coming year; Lent reminds us of our failures and the coming of new life and Easter allows us to celebrate the new hope we have in Christ. The Christian calendar has been the overarching story we have found ourselves in year after year but with shows like the X-Factor, I’m noticing a change in this trend.

Rather than following the environmental seasons or the landmarks in the Christian calendar, we now seem to be using TV shows as our gauge of where we are in the year. I’ve heard it said by several people that when The X-Factor starts you know that the countdown to Christmas has begun and for many the Christmas season officially starts when they see the Coca Cola “holidays are coming” advert. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that this a negative thing. Our Christian calendar is made up of a number of pagan festivals that Christianity subverted so it would be disingenuous to say that this is all bad news. A better response would be to see what this change means for our calendar and for our culture.

The seasonal calendar (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) is used as a way of survival. It helps those working in agriculture to know when to sow and when to reap. The Jewish calendar reminds Jews of their story and their place in it. The Christian calendar follows a similar structure as it helps us enter into the story of Christ. But what does this new calendar offer us? What story does it tell?

The traditional calendars mentioned above create community. They give us space to experience the full spectrum of emotions. The new calendar, made up of The X-Factor, Britains Got Talent, Big Brother and the Coca Cola Advert also offer these but their foundation is built on consumerism and consumption. This new calendar has been created by corporations with one goal: to get us to spend money. Rather than inspiring and captivating us, the TV calendar restricts our imagination, forcing us to become vapid consumers. Instead of giving us space to to lament and remind us of our connection to the rest of the world, it forces us down the road of individualism.

We are better than this. There is a better story than this. Yes, we can  celebrate the fact that The X-Factor at its best brings people together and showcases new talent. But at its worst it turns us into mindless consumers who care more about who goes ‘out’ each week than our neighbour struggling next door.

If we allow this consumerist story to take centre stage of our year; if we allow it to define and control us then we lose the very essence of the core Christian calendar (and the other calendars before it)…

Ourselves.

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A Call to End Original Sin!

I finished reading Peter Enns, “The Evolution of Adam” and found it to be an engaging and persuasive argument for the end of a literal reading of Genesis 1-3.

In the book he gives two possible interpretations of the Adam story:

1) It was written as a response of the exile. It is the story of Israel and was a way of them understanding how they ended up in exile.

2) When read alongside Proverbs, the story is about the failure to fear God and attain wisdom. Rather then fear God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10) they follow the advice of the snake and try to achieve wisdom without God. The Adam story is then a story for all of us as we make decisions each day. Do we follow God or someone else?

I was listening to an “Unbelievable?” podcast today where they were discussing “the fall” and “original sin”. As a consequence to not believing in a historical Adam, I then do not believe in the idea that we are all born depraved. I find the concept that we are all guilty because of what two people did to be incredibly unjust. Rather I believe that we are born with the potential to be good or depraved based on the decisions that we make.

I believe that the Adam story can be read in this way.

We are all born into a culture. A culture has been defined by some as “the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organization’s view of its self and its environment.”

Rather than seeing the serpent as ‘the devil”, I believe we can interpret it to be the voice of our culture. We can choose to follow the voices of our culture or we can choose to listen to God. Now, there are times where the voice of the culture echoes the voice of God but that will not always be the case and it is the work of each christian to develop maturity and wisdom by differentiating between the two voices.

What do you think? Does this alternative reading hold true?

The Story of Film

The world is a narrative.

Our lives are a narrative.

We are all part of one global narrative that is unfolding day by day. One global ensemble film.

It is no surprise then that films reflect the ongoing narrative of our world.

We can tell a lot about our world by the kinds of films that are being made.

Mark Cousins’ ‘the story of film‘, in either it’s written or TV form, is an expansive history of the narrative of film in the world. It beautifully conveys the overarching narratives in film and how they directly correlate to moments in history.

As someone who is deeply passionate about film and culture, I enjoy analysing these connections and I want to begin a series looking at different periods in the worlds story and how films reflect that. Using that as a basis, I then want to connect that into current youth work practice.

GENRE #1: FOUND FOOTAGE NARRATIVES

Found footage “is a genre of film making, especially horror, in which all or a substantial part of a film is presented as discovered film or video recordings, often left behind by missing or dead protagonists.[1][2][3] The events on screen are seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, who often speaks off screen. Filming may be done by the actors themselves as they recite their lines, and shaky camera work is often employed for realism. While the genre dates back at least as far as 1980s Cannibal Holocaust, it was popularised after the release of such films as The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008).”

Now one can simply say that the reason for the sheer quantity of these types of narratives in recent years is a financial one. They are cheap to make. Simple. And in one sense that is true. But the question that must then be asked is, “why are they so popular?” Let me offer a couple of thoughts.

Since 9/11 the news has been filled with images and scenes from ordinary cameras; from members of the public. We have grown accustomed to shaky cam footage of war and other atrocities. Social media outlets like youtube, facebook and twitter, and the rise of the smart phone have allowed the general public to document the news as it happens. It has become part of our culture. It is embedded in our psyche. We associate shaky cam footage with reality; authenticity. Also, the rise of reality shows, beginning with Big Brother in 2000, also demonstrates our obsession with, so-called, reality.

And studios and filmmakers are well aware of this. It seems obvious then that in order to make films appear more real and authentic, they are made as found footage films. Shot on lo-fi tech they seem to produce reality. But, as we are all aware, they are not. ‘reality’ and ‘authenticity’ in film is simply a technique. It is a means to an end. It is just as superficial green or blue screens and special FX.

We want authenticity. We want to be transported from our real worlds and pry on someone elses. We want to snoop on other peoples lives. We see real footage on the news all the time and we want that in the cinema too.

Maybe, we’ve had enough of superficiality. We want to believe in something. We do not want to be conned anymore (although we still are).

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think, for youthworkers, this is both exciting and challenging.

Through this genre of film, we can empower young people to tell their story. It has never been easier for young people to make a film and showcase it online to friends and family. This is an area we should be exploiting (if that is the correct phrase) in our youth work.

Secondly, we need to make sure that we are being truly authentic in our relationships. “Found footage’ films appear to be real but they’re not and we can pretend to care about young people and their welfare but in reality we might not. The rise of scripted reality dramas like ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ are a worrying trend because I believe they may be even more manipulative than ‘found footage’ films.

What is our agenda in youth work? Are we happy to get to know young people and that be the goal, or are we always trying to push them towards something?

What are your motives in youth work?

 

 

Create a book for young people

 

I’ve written before about trying to find creative ways to help young people engage with the Bible.

Yesterday, I was looking through the app store and came across the ibook author.

“Available free on the Mac App Store, iBooks Author is an amazing new app that allows anyone to create beautiful Multi-Touch textbooks — and just about any other kind of book — for iPad. With galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more, these books bring content to life in ways the printed page never could.”

I don’t have an ipad but I’m interested to see christian youth workers or other christian artists/ writers produce some interactive christian books for young people that might help them engage better with the bible.

anyone up for the challenge?

Please comment or post if you’ve done this already or are presently doing it. I’d love to see the results.

Everyday Leadership

The Bible in Transmedia: A New idea for Youth Ministry?

I was getting my weekly fix of tech news by way of BBC click this morning and I was struck by one of the reports on Transmedia.

Transmedia is the technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies. This concept is not new as I remember when I was in 6th year at school (a good 12 years ago now) signing up to receive e-mails from Patrick Bateman, the serial killer (or is he?) from the brilliant subversive novel ‘American Psycho‘. I had enjoyed the book so much that I had signed up for this extra feature to continue to feed my Bateman fix.

Things have moved on since then and with the rise of augmented reality, apps and social media, transmedia is going from strength to strength with authors now building on the universe of the novel for those interested in going deeper.

As I watched this, I started thinking to myself, could this be the next big thing in christian youth ministry? Could we start creating transmedia bible stories? Now, I know that the natwivity (the nativity story told through twitter) has been running for a couple of years and this gives ‘twitterers’ the opportunity to see the story in a new perspective but I’d like to see things go further. Because the simple truth is, many young people do not engage with the bible.

We started the ‘beautiful disciplines’ series at our youth fellowship last night and, as part of the introduction, you get everyone to fill out a God Audit (or as a I prefer a Godit). One of the questions asks about where you are in your relationship with God and what you would like to improve on. Almost of the young people said they would like to read the bible more.

Why is it that young people are not engaging with it?

There’s a variety of reasons and this isn’t the blog post to go into that. There are far better blogs out there that wrestle with these questions. The question I am more interested in is how do we change that?

I believe transmedia could be an option. Imagine your young people are studying the story of Jonah. They get to the point where he is swallowed up by the fish and then they go on facebook or twitter and add/ follow Jonah and ask him how he felt about that. Whilst they are waiting for his response, they can read his status updates, stream a video journal of Jonah from inside the fish or be directed to his blog that he wrote whilst inside. Once they’ve digested all this info, they can go back to the bible, finish the story and repeat the steps.

Is this a viable option for youth work? Could this help young people engage with the history stories, the letters of Paul, the prophecies of the prophets, better?

I’m not sure. But it’s an interesting idea and one worth exploring.

Storytelling Thoughts: A Fresh Perspective

Last Saturday I attended ‘starting with stories 2’ at the Scottish Storytelling Centre (i thoroughly recommend it for anyone interested in developing their storytelling skills).

Throughout the day we were given a number of different tips for developing stories and making them more interesting.

One area that stuck out for me was telling the story from a different perspective.

Our group chose the story of the ‘three little pigs‘ and one of us began telling the story from the part of the narrator (the main way this story is told). About a minute later, the ‘teacher’ rang a bell and the next person in the group had to pick up the story but tell it from the point of view of the pig. Another minute later, I then continued the story from the point of view of the wolf, and so on.

For me, this helped to establish the other characters and also bring a fresh perspective to the story. I’m so used to telling stories from the perspective of the narrator but I found it far more interesting to tell the three little pigs story from the viewpoint of the wolf. It brought new depth to it.

At our Sunday night group, we are sharing the parables of Jesus.

here are links to the story of the sower and the prodigal son.

Both of these stories I’ve told from the narrators point of view but now I want to begin to experiment from different perspectives and see what new things can come out of the story.

Thoughts? Have you had experience of telling any familiar stories from a different angle?

I’ll share some other tips in a later post.

The Sower

The teacher informs the class that they have a test on Monday. He tells them what they need to study and the sort of questions they will be asked.

Some of the class are sitting chatting to one another and don’t even hear the teacher talking.

Another bunch hear the teacher and plan to study at the weekend. But as soon as they leave the class it goes out their head.

Others hear the teacher, and also plan to study at the weekend. Saturday evening comes and they sit down to study but they get a text from a mate telling them about a party that’s happening that night. The books gets closed and they forget all about it.

The final group hear the teacher, plan to study and sit down saturday night to do so. They also hear about the party invite but plan their studying around it.

Monday comes along. Who passes the test?

The Prodigal

When our Sunday night YF starts up again at the end of August, we’re going to go through a series looking at some of the stories Jesus told. The problem is, there are such well known stories. Everyone knows them. They know what happens in them. They know how they end.

So I’m trying to reinterpret them. Make them fresh.

The first one is probably the most famous of all. The Prodigal Son. How do you make that story fresh to people who will have heard it many times before? I’ve taken my first stab at it and the results are below. I’m not sure whether it’s enough but it’s  a start. I have a couple of weeks to mull it over. Please let me know your thoughts.

The Prodigal

Tom sits staring at the text on his phone. Thinking whether to send it or not.

“Dad, I’m sorry. Can I come home?”

He deletes the message and puts the phone back in his pocket. He leans back against the cold hard cement of the building behind him. The sounds of traffic echoes around his ears. A passer-by throws a twenty pence piece into his cup. He’s been living on the street for three weeks now.

Hard to imagine that just four months ago he had everything. Tom lived in a two story penthouse with his dad and sister. He had everything he ever wanted. Clothes, gadgets, good schooling.

But you know what it’s like when you’re a teenager. You want independence. You don’t want your parents supporting you all the time.

So he left home. Well, more than that.

He got into a fight with his dad one night. Told him, he wanted him dead. That he was moving out and he’d never see him again. Told him that he didn’t understand him. He needed to be on his own. Things escalated. Minutes later, Tom was standing over the bloodied and beaten body of his dad. He grabbed some money from the safe his dad had behind a painting in the dining room, and took off.

His dad was inconsolable. Close friends and family told him to forget Tom. That he was a nobody. He’s better off out of his life. His dad disagreed.

Over the next few weeks, Tom’s sister, Tracy looked after her dad. She nursed him back to health. She did everything for him. Anything to make him happy. That’s just what she was like. She’d always been like that. Trying to get her father’s approval through what she did. What she didn’t realise is that she always had his approval. She didn’t need to do anything to get it.

For Tom, the next couple of months were great. He rented a small flat, went out all night and slept all day. He experienced everything he had ever dreamed of. He had it all. Every desire, he filled.

But soon the money ran out. And the friends that he had recently acquired left also. He didn’t have the money to pay for the flat so he was thrown out on to the streets. He had nobody. Just a sleeping bag and his phone.

He thinks back to what it was like a few months ago. He wants to go home.

He takes his phone out again and tries to dial home. But he can’t. He doesn’t deserve that life. 

A voice calls out to him.

“Put the phone away”.

He looks up. The tall frame of his dad stands over him. He stares. Not knowing what to do. His dad reaches out a hand.

“It’s time to come home”.

You see, once his dad was able to walk again, he set about looking for his son. He spoke with bar and club owners, shop managers, any contact he had. And they led him to his son. His sister was outraged. Why does he need him? He threw it all away. He doesn’t deserve his father’s attention. She does. She does everything for him.

“But you’ve already got my love Tracy. You don’t need to do all of this. My son needs my love, just as much as you”.

Tracy doesn’t understand. Tom doesn’t understand either.

But he’s glad to be home.

David and Bathsheba reimagined.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a talk on the story of David and Bathsheba at a Scripture Union weekend for teenagers.

I’d heard people talk on this story many times. But does the story of a king’s fall into adultery resonate with teenagers. I decided to reinterpret the story. My entire talk would simply be the story, re-imagined. David and Bathsheba as two sixth year pupils. It went down really well. You could hear the silence in the room. Afterwards the group broke into discussion groups and many of the leaders afterwards came up to me and said how much the story had affected the young people and how it provoked such great discussion.

I don’t say these things to big myself up but simply to show that the story worked for these young people. Which is why I’ve decided to finally write down a simple draft of the story for others to use if they see fit. It’s just the bare bones of the story. feel free to add to, remove bits from it. do whatever works best for your group. It’s simply the blueprint. I have changed certain situations but I feel that these are still true to the original narrative.

I love stories. And I think one of the greatest things we can do for the biblical stories is to refresh them and to orally tell them in ways that resonate. I believe that this is one way to tell the story. Later this year, I’m going on a couple of storytelling workshops and I hope to begin translating some more of the biblical stories into good oral stories that reflect the culture of the young people I work with.

Let me know your thoughts on the story.

The Story of David and Beth

Let me introduce you to a guy called David. He’s a sixth year at the local secondary school. House Captain, prefect, good at sports, maths, english. You get the idea. The best thing about him is that he doesn’t boast about anything of it. He’s a good guy to know.

David’s two best mates are James and Beth. David and James have been friends since they started school. they’re inseparable. Beth started hanging out with them at secondary school when James started dating her in 2nd year.

When James was seven, his parents split up and so every second week, he goes to visit his dad down in Portsmouth. One Friday lunchtime, after James has already left to go see his dad, Beth and David sit round the back of the school lying out on the grass. It’s another heatwave. It’s been like this the last few days. Too hot to anything. So they just sit on the grass, talking.

David looks round at Beth. The sun makes the skin on her legs glow. She glances round at him and he looks away. David’s always fancied Beth. He’s been out with a few girls but none of them ever hold up the vision he has of her. The truth is he’d ask her out in a second if she wasn’t going out with his best mate. If only he’s met her before James started-

“you okay?” beth asks. his thoughts are broken by her question.
“yeah I’m fine.” david replies.
“what you going to do tonight?” she enquires.
“was thinking about going out for a few.”
“yourself?”
“depends whose out. why, you wanna come?”
“I shouldn’t. James said he’d phone later.”
“Oh gone. just for a couple.”

She should have said no. That would have been the end of it. But she didn’t. They agreed to meet at 7.30 at the bar in the centre of town. They sit and have a couple of drinks together. But that soon turns in a few and before they know it, they find themselves stumbling out of a club just after 2am.

They’re giggling and laughing. Beth falls back and lands up against a wall. She feels David’s breath on her neck. She’s too drunk to think any better. They have sex there against the wall, in the side street. Afterwards, they stumble home, ashamed of what they’ve done.

It’s weeks later. David and Beth have tried to act like nothing’s happened but things aren’t the same. there’s an awkwardness around them. A sense of guilt. David betrayed his best friend.

David’s in his room on facebook one night when Beth messages him. She says they need to talk. can she come around. What could it be? has james found out? He panics.

Later, there is a knock at the door. David goes down to answer it and Beth is standing there.

“Come on in”, David says. They go up to his room. He shuts the door.
“So?”
“I don’t know how to say this David. I’m pregnant.”
“How do you know? Is it James’?”
“No.”

Time stops.

“It’s mine? How can it be mine?” How can you be sure?”
“You’re the only one I’ve had sex with”.
“And you’re sure?”
“I took three tests.”

David panics. What’s he to do? His life will be ruined. He’ll lose his best mate. The teachers will be disgusted with him. he’ll lose the respect of everyone at the school.

“You need to get rid of it.”
“No, I’m not going to kill my baby”.
“Well I need time to think.”

Beth leaves. David thinks about it for hours. What is he going to do? Then he has an idea. An idea that will clear them both. If Beth tells everyone that james raped her when they were both drunk, they’re saved. Beth won’t be known as a slut and David’s reputation will be saved.

David goes round to see Beth and tells her the plan. She is appalled by it and refuses to go along with it. But David persists. What will her parents think? What will the school think? This is a way for both of them to be free from it. And James will get out in a couple of years. It won’t be so bad. So she finally agrees. there’s no other way.

The next night, when Beth’s parents are out, she invites James round and they both get horribly drunk. James passes out. He wakes up to screaming. Beth is on the floor, her shirt torn. He can’t quite make out what she’s saying at first. Rape. Is she saying rape? He doesn’t remember anything. He wouldn’t have done that would he?

The case goes to court. James pleads guilty. he doesn’t remember what happened but Beth is so sure. He can’t believe he would do a thing like that but Beth wouldn’t lie about it. James gets three years.

Beth has her baby and goes to college whilst her mum looks after her little girl. David goes to Cambridge, far away from everything that happened. Some nights he cannot sleep. the guilt bears down on him so hard sometimes that he cannot breathe. But he still has his reputation. It was worth it wasn’t it?