RealityBites blog

Serving God as an Opera Singer

Frank is a real life opera singer who was due to play the role of Scarpia in Puccini's famous opera Tosca. He was a gifted bass singer and had never heard a sermon that connected the Christian faith to his work challenges. On a hospital visit he asked his ear nose & throat surgeon whether as a Christian he should be taking on such a role.

"Scarpia is a real scoundrel who takes delight in raping poor, vulnerable Tosca," he said. The surgeon explained that God wants his disciples to do "all things in the name of Jesus" and this includes singing in an opera (Colossians 3). After a great deal of discussion and thought they came up with the following solution. The surgeon advised him to interpret Scarpia in a way that spills the perfume of Jesus. "Don't glorify or trivialise what Scarpia is up to," he advised, "Sing the part so that people are horrified by this wicked tyrant."

And that's what he did. The opera singer had been helped by a surgeon to develop a baptised imagination.

French Teachers, Horoscopes and Serving Jesus

Language expert David Smith has argued compellingly that the dominant way of teaching modern foreign languages (MFL) is shaped by consumerist and materialist narratives. The hidden message here is "I shop therefore I am". Or for those of you who are fluent Latin speakers – "Tesco ergo sum".

The focus in many French lessons is upon autonomous (self-governing) individuals buying ice creams, making complaints about hotels and busy in the many acts of (self-centred) tourism and consumption.

'I want a strawberry ice cream'.
'I want to make a complaint'.
'I want a cold beer now'.
'I want to buy a motor bike that makes me look good'.
'I want a top job in Paris which will make me important'.
'I want to live in a mansion where I can count out my money'.
'Foreign person you exist to serve me'!

One other point worth noting is the striking absence of Christian beliefs and insights from MFL materials. It would seem that all foreigners live without any reference to God and Jesus. In fact the only reference to anything remotely 'religious' in many MFL syllabi is to horoscopes! Following the stars and following the money god are options in French textbooks but following Jesus is simply ignored.

So do we study French in order to serve the money god? Do we learn our French verbs because we want status, power and autonomy? Or do we learn French so that we can bless and love our neighbours?

A very simple way of teaching French in a Christian way is to tell stories that affirm hospitality and loving your neighbour rather than vignettes that promote consumerism and materialism. Why not do a lesson in French about Randy Lewis or George Cadbury?

Serving God as an accountant

I've been talking to my mate Simon who is an accountant who works for a small business. This is the fruit of our conversation. Accountants can serve God full-time if they have a baptised imagination.

Accountancy has had a bad image ever since the Monty Python sketch with John Cleese and Michael Palin who have a 'pop' at accountants… "Dull, dull, dull, dreary, tedious and stuffy". Is this fair?

Simon has been inspired by the story of Oscar Schindler who 'fiddled' the books and saved the lives of 1200 Jews! How did he do this? Old people were recorded as being twenty years younger; children were listed as adults. Lawyers, doctors, and engineers were registered as metalworkers, mechanics, and draughtsmen–all trades considered essential to war production. We’re talking imaginative and life-saving book-keeping!

Simon understands his work in terms of the cultural mandate. How can we unfold and serve creation as accountants? For Simon the accountant has a unique perspective on the company. Accountants go into all the departments making suggestions and recommendations. Simon wants to challenge the idea that all that matters is the profit factor. He is profit sensitive without being profit driven. He says that you have to make profit but not with tunnel vision. He wants to resist what he calls a 'cynical mindset' – Accountancy isn’t just number crunching!

He describes putting together a report for the CEO. This isn't just reeling off facts and figures but infusing the report with local colour and human drama. A richer picture of the world than the kind of (Little Britain) person who says unthinkingly – 'Computer says No'. He says that the accountant feels the pulse of the business and he/she can make positive suggestions which can steer the company in good, wise and responsible directions. For example showing love to the cleaners. Maybe going in to bat for them re pay and conditions. You might get knocked down but you have planted an idea in someone's head. He was also asked to manage a young autistic man. This requires a great deal of sensitivity and thoughtfulness. So the accountant has to be able to teach others effectively (many callings). He would very much like businesses to employ more autistic and disabled people. They can contribute some amazing things to a company. If you have a 'baptised imagination' accountants can do amazing things for God's kingdom!

Daily Work (Part 1)

I am really looking forward to working with vicar Guy Donegan-Cross and the congregation at St Mark's, Harrogate next month. We will be exploring how to integrate Christian faith with our daily work and the church has asked RealityBites to craft some sermons on the topic. Fantastic!

A few brief introductory thoughts about our working lives. It's very helpful to reflect on all the different jobs and work activities that we engage in. From changing a nappy to writing an essay. When did you feel most happy and when did you feel most miserable in a work assignment? Think of it like this. When did time seem to flash by when you were working and when did time seem to drag on minute after excruciating minute?

Here's my answer to this. The work I have most enjoyed doing is teaching and storytelling. What a pleasure! The work I have least enjoyed doing is marking university level essays. Exhausting and such work makes me irritable and cantankerous! Ask my wife.

How would you answer this question?


The Ugandan Pastor who has adopted 1700 orphans

Very often we hear bad news from an African country like Uganda. We hear stories about famine, hunger, misery, warfare and man-eating lions. We see disturbing pictures on television and in newspapers but is there any good news which comes from this vast continent? The following story is full of hope and clear evidence that God is at work in a broken, groaning world.

Our story begins in a difficult and challenging time for the nation of Uganda. Picture it if you can. The year is about 1975. Innocent people are vanishing on a daily basis. Idi Amin is the brutal and insane dictator of this benighted land. Opponents of Amin are fed to hungry crocodiles. Murder is in the air.

Little David had never known his dad. He was brought up with his brothers and sisters by his mother on a smallholding about 40 miles from Kampala in Uganda. When he was about nine years old (he isn't quite sure of his age) his mother and siblings all died of a virulent form of malaria in the space of one week. The villagers helped him to bury his family on nearby land but none of them could adopt him as they already had too many mouths to feed.

David was alone, vulnerable and miserable. What should he do? The inspiring words of his Sunday school teacher "Trust Jesus" filled his mind. He set off for Kampala on foot and several days later he reached this sprawling, ragged city. He knew nobody. Quickly he was adopted by other ragamuffins and shown the best places to sleep and hide from the authorities. He discovered the best spot to find food – the skip outside the kitchens at the opulent Sheraton Hotel.

A few years later the street children heard that Idi Amin's soldiers were kidnapping the orphans and were forcing them to work on Idi's sugar plantations. David was reluctant to work for the rotund and sadistic dictator. How could he escape a life of slavery and brutality? Christian-run businesses in Uganda are very overtly Christian and David noticed a commercial enterprise with a sign that declared: THE JESUS GARAGE.

Nervously David knocked on the door and a huge man came out and seemed startled to see the little lad at his doorstep. David remembers standing on tiptoes to try and look big and cheekily asked the imposing man for a job. Taking pity on him, the man said he could be the sweeper and gave him an old car to sleep in – his first home for years.

Over the next few years David became an accomplished mechanic who specialised in steering alignments. He became a committed Christian through the love and witness of the garage owner who had adopted him. The first thing he did when he had a proper pay packet was to rent a shack and adopt six homeless orphans. He met and married Sarah, a delightful and intelligent lady and they have had 8 children over the years. They adopted a further 9, making 15 adopted in all, and suddenly became aware that the kids needed schooling. They had no idea how they could feed them all but they have never starved. People heard about David's large family and food or money arrived just when it was needed. After theological training and ordination, David became the Diocesan Evangelist for the Central Buganda Diocese of Uganda.

At first Sarah and David started a nursery school for their children and then they invited other local children. Then they established a primary school, of which they now have two. Then a secondary school was needed and so they set up Centenary High School.

They are now caring for and educating over 2000 children, a large percentage of whom are orphans. Each year they expect about 30 children to be orphaned and they do not turn them out when the school fees stop coming but make more bunk beds and somehow manage to look after them. Just like George Muller, the famous orphan lover of 19th century England, David and Sarah experience amazing provision from God. Money, food and clothing simply appear – often at the last possible moment.

In recent years David and Sarah have built a maize mill with funds from a Bristol church which provides income and work for his orphans and staff. He has also bought a satellite dish and shows live football games to the local people, charging a small entrance fee to help towards the costs of the school. He is also constructing the 'Double Cure Medical Centre' near Mpigi which is where Centenary High School is based. David and Sarah are concerned about every aspect of the lives of their colourful and vibrant community. Loving families, education, maize mills, hospitals and the beautiful game. What a contrast to the brutal and devastating legacy of Idi Amin.

David prefers to be called by his nickname 'Romans' and he is a man of integrity and entrepreneurial excellence. He is a Director of the Open Air Campaigners movement in Uganda and in recent months has been asked to organize the evangelization of the entire Buganda-speaking area which consists of six dioceses. His life is a thrilling and exciting adventure. An inspiration to Christians everywhere!

Outcastes, Karma and Plato

David's blog on Dalits and the caste system is well worth exploring in terms of worldviews. Why are so many Dalits / untouchables believed to be cursed from birth? The following true story is illuminating. A Dalit woman living in India was asked why she wouldn't take her baby son to the doctor. He was very ill. She replied that the illness was part of the boy's karma. He was being punished for something he had done in a previous life. She asserted that it was the boy's fate to suffer!

Karma defined – All the good and bad deeds we have committed in this life and previous lives give us spiritual 'brownie points'. These spiritual 'brownie points' determine what kind of body we will inhabit in future lives.

Does anyone know which religions teach the doctrine of karma?

Answer – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Druidism, Theosophy, Cabala, Sufism and many others.

The world's most famous philosopher believed in karma and reincarnation. His name was Plato. For Plato we don't belong here but we belong in heaven. Our immortal souls have fallen from heaven and entered this prison of earth and the body. Salvation will only come to philosophers who live the life of reason. The rabble (i.e. thick people who aren't rational enough) will be reincarnated in the bodies of women, animals, and worst of all… female fish.

It's vital to understand that this belief in reincarnation has been phenomenally popular. Surveys indicate that 1 in 3 British people believe in reincarnation. Some religions even teach that we can be reincarnated into vegetables! Some people, including the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, believed that there could be an immortal soul lurking in a humble tomato.

Karma is a very influential religious belief.

Breaking the Mould

A guest post from author and schoolsworker, David Skivington (@DavidSkivington).

What does a simple clay cup have to do with oppression? While it may seem of little significance, the tradition linked to these objects has served to reinforce caste-based discrimination for centuries. Traditionally in parts of India, after a member of the Dalit caste had drank from the cup, they were expected to smash it to prevent a member of a higher caste accidentally using the same vessel and becoming polluted by the lower caste. This simple act around the common activity of drinking chai served as a daily reminder of their place within the constrictive societal hierarchy.

The Dalits were previously known as untouchables or out-castes due to their position outside of the four main castes of the Hindu caste system. However, they chose the name Dalit for their group to represent how they felt about themselves. The word is originally from the Sanskrit language, translated as 'broken' or 'ground down’' much like the clay pots surrounding the chai stalls. Historically Dalits have been denied basic rights such as an education, entry to police stations or places of worship and even access to water. These practices of untouchability and caste discrimination are banned within India's constitution, yet despite many laws these practices still occur, leading to the feeling of brokenness among many.

However, this view is slowly changing. The Dalits have become empowered in many ways, including increased political representation. My MA Development Studies dissertation at the UEA focused on Mayawati's election to Chief Minster of Uttar Pradesh, the first Dalit woman to hold the post in any Indian state. This indicates the changes which are slowly occurring in India, increasing the pride within the Dalit people.

An interesting example I saw of this changing attitude was through a charity called Life Association. They work alongside skilled Dalit potters in the Dharavi slum of Mumbai, taking their work, marketing and selling it as a high end gift item in Britain. This provides valuable work for the potters and their families at a fair price.The profits also fund schools, orphanages and a home for disabled children in India. Through the education provided, the children are able to learn about their rights as citizens as well as increasing their employability.

What is it the potters produce and sell? Clay pots! Instead of drinking from them they are transformed into candles and filled with scented beeswax by Dalit women that the charity employ. Something which was once used to remind Dalits of their lowly place in society is now giving them an income to educate their children and create a better future. These candles are more than just a product, they are a vehicle of change for the Dalit people.

So, what does a simple clay cup have to do with oppression? Less now that it has been reclaimed as a symbol of freedom.

Using my experience – I recently completed my debut crime thriller novel Scar Tissue which is set in Kolkata, while volunteering in Andhra Pradesh. I had previously volunteered in Kolkata, and was approached by human traffickers offering me young girls for sex. This shocking experience led me to research the issue of human trafficking, particularly within India which is estimated to have nearly half of the world’s slaves. The novel is written as a way of raising awareness on sex trafficking and caste based discrimination and is available on amazon.

I am currently working on my second novel which is based on the practice of the Devadasi, temple prostitution, within the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is due to be released this summer.

RealityBites feedback

I was thrilled to get this feedback to one of our lectures at the ITEC conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Hello Mark,

We met at the end of the ITEC conference. I spoke to you to thank you for your 'Cannibalism, Faith in Progress and 20th Century Mass Murder' talk at the conference. You asked me to make contact via email – hence this email!

As I mentioned, I found your talk to be a wonderful inspiration for me as a teacher of senior Modern History. I have been challenged to completely rethink the way that I approach bringing a Christian perspective to bear when teaching the Reign of Terror to my Year 11 class. I was impacted by the discussion of the impact of Rousseau's ideology on French thought and culture, and then on the whole of modern history into the 20th century. Your stories and humour explained so clearly how we have reached the point of believing that evil is located in other people – not in every human heart. This is a question that all students have -how can such evil happen? Where did such ideas come from? I now feel more equipped to know how to approach explaining the progression of such ideas to my students.

I have been particularly inspired to try to use such stories as a way into the ideas – as you showed can be done.

Thanks again, Mark. I pray that God will continue to inspire and use you to grow the kingdom in many ways, and to impact others to enable them to do the same.

RealityBites Nominated for Jerusalem Award

We are delighted to inform you that RealityBites director Mark Roques has been shortlisted for a Jerusalem Award 2015 in the category of Short Form Radio.

The feature was entitled Football and Faith and here follows a bit of background about the radio spot.

The World Cup attracts huge global attention and so last year I teamed up with ReachBeyond's UK radio department Whistling Frog Productions to create a feature about some of the fascinating connections between football and faith.

The five minute package was broadcast last year across the UKRD commercial radio network (16 stations across England) on 6th July – a week before the World Cup Final.

Having written a book about football – Fields of God: Football and the Kingdom of God in 2003 I wanted to say that God loves the beautiful game and that one day we will play football on the renewed and restored earth. This view of the afterlife is strikingly different from the traditional story of heaven that seriously distorts the biblical theme of creation. Too often Christians focus upon 'heaven' and 'souls' and this has created much mischief in Christian circles. It makes God boring and Christianity otherworldly and irrelevant.

RealityBites is committed to innovative communication of the Christian faith and part of this work includes telling the biblical story in a faithful and imaginative way.

God is certainly not boring and he shines in all that is good and this includes sport and even football.

RealityBites and Mission to Students in Leeds

This June RealityBites director, Mark Roques, was invited to deliver his workshop on Celebrity Culture, Human Trafficking and Christian Faith in a mission week at Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form College in Leeds.

Mark delivered four one hour lessons to about 100 sixth formers and the feedback from both staff and pupils was excellent. One teacher opined – "this is 'spot on' and exactly what these young people need to hear". Peter Smith, the Head of Philosophy, Theology and Ethics said that the lectures had been "fantastic’"

What is distinctive about RealityBites is the compare and contrast methodology that works so powerfully in any missionary context. For this was a mission week and proclamation of Christian truth was an essential part of the proceedings.

We are convinced that young people need to understand the dominant western religion of consumerism ('Tesco ergo sum') as they engage with a gospel message. We do this by comparing Christian and consumerist beliefs.

We outline how committed consumerists (Katie Price etc) live in their story and then how Christians (Randy Lewis etc) live in the biblical story with Jesus at the very centre. For this is faith in action… stories that shock, puzzle and delight.

Consider the contrast between Tarzan, the human trafficker and Shay Cullen the missionary priest who rescues children from brothels and prisons in the Philippines. Ponder how Mark explained the consumerist view of 'salvation': "Abundant money and leisure will allow me to consume as much as I like. Then I will be happy!" and then outlined the Christian alternative: "God is restoring His creation through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Your sins can be wiped out!"

RealityBites is committed to innovative communication of the Christian faith, and we do ask for your prayers as we go into schools and talk to young people about God's kingdom of reconciliation, peace and love.

Next month we will be in Newcastle.