Be a kid!

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor 13:11)

No, no I didn’t put away childish things. Paul may have, but I still embrace the childish things. They’re fun, they bring joy, happiness and silliness to life. I need these things to keep me going, pull me out of the mire and add some colour to life.

The other day I saw a tweet by @Lolly_Knickers (Worth following, by the way. She’s funny) which simply said “I killed Lucy”, a reference to the murder of Lucy Beale in Eastenders (which I don’t watch anymore, but still got the reference). I replied that I shot JR, which led to an increasingly silly conversation where we claimed responsibility for a series of historical soap opera events. Daft, but really good fun.

She then tweeted “we are grown ups. I never imagined that this is what grown ups do when I was little”.

This is the truest thing I’ve ever seen on Twitter. Two 40 year old children claiming to have burned down Crossroads Motel and that they are Mr Opodopoulous is inane and not what I ever imagined grown ups do. (I apologise to anyone from outside of the UK, or under the age of 40 who may not get either of those references)

I always thought that I would, one day, feel like a grown up. When I was 20 I thought I’d feel like one by 30. When I was 30 I thought I’d feel like one by 40. Now I’m 40 and, well you get the idea. I just feel like I’m pretending I’m an adult. It feels like everyone around me is mature, responsible and knows where they’re going in life, while I’m still a kid trapped in a bald, middle aged body.

Then I have conversations like that on Twitter. Or my wife tells me how she broke into song at a job interview (primary school teacher – it sort of makes sense). Or I have a conversation with a 70 year old man who says that he feels like he’s pretending to be a grown up. These things make me realise that everyone feels the same. We’re all just kids in adults’ bodies still trying to find our way in the world.

Yes I’m more mature than I was. Yes I can be a grumpy old man at times. Yes I can go off on very serious rants. But, I still want fun and silliness. I still need to have pointless conversations, just for a laugh, or put on stupid voices, or laugh like a drain at a not very funny joke. We all do. Life is there to be lived and enjoyed. It’s a gift and a blessing which we can sometimes miss by letting the world get on top of us and crush us so that we’re care worn, cynical and too serious.

Let’s be kids. Not all the time, we need to be serious and responsible as adults. But, just at times, we need to let ourselves go and be silly, joyful and carefree. We need to just enjoy life.

Come on. Last one to do it is a rotten egg!

Lent Day 31: John 3-4

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“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)

When I was really young I used to see people holding the John 3:16 posters up at sports events on the TV and wonder why. I couldn’t understand what it was all about partly because I had virtually no biblical knowledge, partly because I didn’t see why one verse was so important amongst so many and partly because I couldn’t understand the point in holding that up without the words of the verse being with it.

I still don’t really get how it’s meant to achieve anything, to be honest. Following Jesus is all about relationships. Relationships with other followers, with people who aren’t and with Jesus himself. I don’t see how holding up a piece of card with one word and two numbers on it from, often, a foreign country, with no chance of building that relationship is going to have much, if any effect.

I also don’t see how quoting it out of context is going to do any good. What does it actually mean in practice? Who is God’s son, really? Who is God? How does he give us eternal life? What does it even mean? We need to go beyond one verse to even get close to answering those.

However, if you asked people to quote you a Bible verse, the chances are that they would quote you this one (or “Jesus wept”, which comes a bit later). This means that, despite whatever the poster bearer’s intentions, this is a great conversation point. What does John 3:16 actually mean? And why is it so famous?

The fact is that it’s the verse used by remote, faceless evangelists because, more than any other verse, it sums up why Jesus came. He came because God, the Father, loves us. Not because he wanted to judge us or punish us, but as an act of love.

He came because God gave him up. He gave him up to us as a gift of love so that we can learn from him about life, about love for him and for each other and about God’s kingdom. He also gave him up to death. I once took part in a Church music as l called “A Man Born To Die”, which describes Jesus well. His teachings were important, but his death and subsequent resurrection are what leads to the final part of the verse.

Eternal life is a tough concept. I don’t know what it looks like, but then, I don’t want to. Not yet. I want it to remain a mystery, a surprise, if I get it. I do know that Jesus overcame all of the wrong things we’ve done by dying, as sin is what really kills us spiritually, and by coming back to life. This is how he gave us eternal life, I just can’t explain how it means. I tried him that it’s worth it, though.

And that’s the point. Whoever believes in him gets it. When Jesus speaks of belief here he means that we trust what he says and follow him. Simple as that. It’s not about having a rigid set of rules and regulations. It’s not about ritual, avoiding doing certain things at certain times and doing others on a regular basis. It’s about listening to what he teaches us, trusting that he is the way to go and following him. It’s about helping others along the way; loving them, guiding them, comforting them, feeding them, sharing everything with them. It’s about life.

What it’s not about is religion. I try to avoid the word because it has so many negative connotations, and rightly so. Religion is a system of rules, a system of control, a system of separation and segregation. Religion is man-made and has been used as the justification of so many bad things throughout history. I mean, read the Bible itself! There are enough examples there of how religion has been used to justify evil, including Jesus’ crucifixion.

Jesus didn’t come to found a religion. He came to give us life. To show us the way to live, fully, eternally. He came to help us to break free from the control that those in power have over our hearts, minds and souls and to show us how to love each other and him so that we can truly live. Believing in him means all of this and more. Not control, not religion, not rigid rules, not condemnation, but love and life.

Who wouldn’t want to believe in that?

Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?

In February 2013 the second series of Charlie Brooker’s excellent dystopic, technology based series, Black Mirror, kicked off with the story Be Right Back. In it, a young woman called Martha (Hayley Atwell), whose boyfriend, Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) has recently died, finds out about a new technology designed to help people reconnect with deceased loved ones. By allowing a company access to Ash’s whole online presence, they can build a picture of his personality, memories, beliefs etc which enable her to speak to ‘Ash’ online.

This is so convincing for her that, after uploading recordings of his voice, she is able to have phone conversations with this virtual Ash. It eventually progresses to a lifelike Ash robot, uploaded with his ‘personality’ which comes to live with her.

Here, the problems started, as it became clear that ‘Ash’ has no emotions, unless Martha tells him to display them. He won’t argue, disagree or debate anything with her. He is ultimately nothing more than a very clever robot. He is not Ash, no matter how convincing some of the superficial elements were.

And how could he be? He was simply an amalgamation of things Ash had posted on various social media sites, not the whole person. There was no way he could be a replacement for the real Ash, or even that realistic in the long run.

I, and many others, will have thought about this drama when journalist Simon Ricketts posted this on Twitter.

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If you go to the Eterni.Me site it asks you,

” What if your children or grand children would know more about you and your life? What if they would be more like you, think more like you?

What if all the important events, adventures and thoughts in your life would be accessible to future generations, who never met the real you?

And what if, more than that, they could really interact with your memories, as if they were talking to you in person?

Eterni.me collects almost everything that you create during your lifetime, and processes this huge amount of information using complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms.

Then it generates a virtual YOU, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to your family and friends after you pass away.

It’s like a Skype chat from the past.”

All under the streamline “Simply become immortal”.

Really?!

It isn’t the only website out there offering this, but it was the one which grabbed my attention. Especially as it is so close to the initial premise of Be Right Back. Ok, we’re not at the stage of phone conversations or life-like robot versions of our departed loved ones, but it the similarities between what Eterni.Me is offering and Martha’s original web chats with ‘Ash’ are uncanny.

I can see the attraction. Grief and loss are two of the hardest emotions to deal with, as anyone who has been through them (including most people reading this) will tell you. Pain, anger, denial, despair, depression are all natural parts of the grieving process. It’s a horrible time which almost everyone will experience at some stage in their life and all those who do will look back on with immense sadness.

You do, however, get to look back on it. At some stage the grieving slows, then ceases and the process of living starts up again. One thing never leaves you, though. The void that person, and all you would have experienced with them, leaves in your life.

When I was 20, my Dad, Michael, died very suddenly. He was only 44 years old. He never met my wife or any of my children (my daughter was born a year, almost to the day, after he died). I never had him around during any of my adult years. I missed his advice and guidance on being a father and a husband (he was fantastic on both counts). I missed out on sharing my joys, pains, celebrations and everything else with him. As did my Mum and sister. I would give anything to have him back.

That is what Eterni.Me is trading on. The millions of us who would give anything to have a certain person back again. The chance to hear from them, their advice, humour, views, almost their voice again. Introduce your children, spouse, grand children to them. A chance to have them back again.

Here’s the thing, though. My Dad died before the internet age, so I couldn’t do this with him even if I wanted to. But I wouldn’t want to. It wouldn’t be my Dad. No amount of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, blog, Reddit or any other online activity can make the person. It’s simply a snapshot, a glimpse into what the person was like. Very often it’s simply a glimpse at the person that you want to present to the world, rather than the person inside.

No amount of uploads would ever give me back my Dad’s sense of humour. It would never give me the little words of wisdom he would give me. I’d never get a moment like that burst of sheer joy when I passed my driving test. I’d never feel his love.

The same goes for all of us. We are more than words, thoughts, reactions, jokes, remarks and the like, we don’t just have a mind. We have a heart. We have a soul. We all have that divine, God given breath of life which makes each of us a unique, remarkable, beautiful, unpredictable being. That can’t be replicated and spat out using “Artificial intelligence algorithms”.

“Then God said,

“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
(Genesis 1:26-27 NIV)

We are made in God’s image, not the image of ones and zeros. We are made in the divine image, not an electronic one.

Nothing can get back a person once lost, no matter how much we wish and pray that we could. Death and loss are a valuable, though painful, part of life. We learn from it. We draw closer to others from it. We suffer from it, yes, but from that suffering we can draw strength. Not everyone manages it and, certainly, everyone would rather we didn’t go through it at all, but we can come through it as stronger people.

Death is an integral part of life. Life is, after Jesus, the greatest gift God has given to us. We can’t replace it with websites. If we try, we may fail to appreciate all of its wonders while we still have it.