RealityBites blog

Hollywood Mythology and Christian Education

When we talk about Christian education at RealityBites we are not talking primarily about explicit biblical teaching. We are not urging Christian educators to 'Bible-bash'. Rather our concern is to help adults and young people to understand the powerful Worldview Stories that shape and mould our imaginations and lifestyles.

Consider for a moment the powerful Hollywood perspective that repeatedly urges us to:

Trust in your instincts!
Follow your heart!
Follow your dreams!
Have faith in yourself!
Be who you want to be!

This powerful religion is the central theme of Legally Blond and many other Hollywood films. In the words of billionaire talk show host Oprah Winfrey: "Follow your instincts. That's where true wisdom manifests itself."

Is Winfrey aware of the hidden trajectory of this 'wisdom'? Should budding paedophiles follow their instincts?

These powerful mantras are frequently invoked in Hollywood films and yet few people, including Christians, are able to discern the hidden romantic worldview here that urges us to embrace our individual autonomy as the supreme purpose and goal of life.

In its best sense Christian education should be 'implicit' and encourage people to be critical and discerning about the beliefs and commitments that shape western people, like Oprah Winfrey. Perhaps surprisingly, both Christian and non-Christian people enjoy this kind of education that challenges without offending or irritating. It stands in stark contrast to the aggressively explicit Bible-thumping devotee.

Are people able to critically evaluate a romantic worldview that affirms the original goodness of the human heart and yet rejects biblical teaching about sin? Can we detect the human trajectory of Hollywood mythology that sponsors unethical and destructive behaviour? In short, should Al Capone be true to himself?

RealityBites in Perth

Here is a brief report on my trip to Perth.

I delivered two lectures to more than 900 Christian teachers. I also led three workshops with smaller groups. I focused on the power of storytelling and worldview awareness to transform Christian education. I spent time outlining Jesus' pedagogy and the importance of crafting imaginative and non-cheesy speech acts.

The other plenary speaker, Rod Wilson, President of Regent College in Vancouver amazed me with his brilliant and powerful accounts of his struggles to parent a very difficult daughter. He and his wife Bev are such warm and gifted people. It was an honour and a privilege to meet them.

I was also invited to Carey Baptist College and I delivered an assembly on William Carey to about 400 teenagers. One of the highlights of my trip was teaching several classes in the school. I was particularly encouraged by leading a discussion on the Hollywood and Buddhist worldviews. Teacher Karl Najjar welcomed me into his classroom and we had a wonderful time talking about animal stories that evoke awe and wonder. The children seemed entranced by the story of Pocho, the friendly crocodile and Jasmine the nurturing greyhound who loves other animals.

I was also very moved by another teacher who asked her class to sing a praise song for me. It was a poignant experience and I had to fight back the tears!

Thanks so much to the warm and wonderful hospitality of Ray Dallin and Jacqueline Bartlett-Day who did such a great job organising and delivering the conference. The food, vibe and conference location were superb!

Here is my talk on Inspiring Disciples and Christian Education:

RealityBites goes to Perth

This Friday I am flying to Perth in Australia and will be delivering two keynote lectures to approximately 600 Christian teachers. I have been invited by Christian Schools Australia to do this work. I have been reliably informed that sharks and jelly fish are hostile to reckless bathers and caution will be maintained at all times.

Dr Rod Wilson, President of Regent College in Vancouver, Canada will be the other keynote speaker.

I love Australia. The people are so friendly and hospitable. RealityBites is honoured to visit this huge country. Despite my love for Oz I am still supporting England in the Ashes series.

I hope and pray that sledging and foul play will not surface.

For those interested my talks will be as follows:

  • Keynote – Bond and Rat Worship
  • Keynote – Telling Inspiring Stories
  • Workshop – Try learning from Jesus
  • Workshop – Working on your Speech Acts
  • Workshop – Telling Stories that re-enchant the world.

The Calling of the Midwife

A few delightful thoughts about the vocation/calling of midwives.

One of the few instances [in the Bible] of what we now see as professions is the story about the two Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1.

In this story, these midwives undoubtedly have a solid grasp of what their practice requires of them, pertaining to their personal characteristics, their methods, and the desired outcomes. However, they find themselves in a pluralistic context. They are confronted with an authority, the Pharaoh, who tells them – for political reasons – how to do their work: he tells them to pay close attention to the babies' gender. (As this is surely one of the very first things any good midwife does, this must be a case of humour from the writers of the Bible at the expense of the Pharaoh!)

Realising, however, that Pharaoh's expectations would amount to the worst kind of care – i.e. killing the babies – they use a professional argument (Hebrew mothers are stronger than others) and find a way to keep their practice in lijne with God's expectations of them – i.e. to save the babies.

This insightful passage comes from Bart Cusveller's excellent paper, 'Bridging the Gap between Christian Commitment and Professional Nursing Practice in a Pluralistic Society'. This paper can be found in Bridging the Gap: Connecting Christian Faith and Professional Practice in a Pluralistic Society, proceedings of a IAPCHE 2009 Regional Conference.

Inspiring Norwegian Bloke

Our Cumbrian friend Henry Vyner-Brooks unearthed this great story from Norway. We love Cumbria and the Vyner-Brooks family!

Norwegian Christians draw inspiration from early pioneer Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824), a poor farmer from the Oslo region who was used by God to ignite a revival, both spiritually and economically, and paved the way to Norway's independence. Hauge spearheaded a movement that profoundly influenced the development of a people that for centuries had been steeped in poverty, collective hopelessness, and suppression by its neighbors.

In 1796 he had a decisive encounter with the Holy Spirit. God ignited such a fire within him that in the next 7 years he walked 15,000 kilometers across Norway to reach all cities and counties. He started house churches and helped people develop businesses. Whilst walking to the villages he knitted, and on arrival gave villagers hats and scarves and then, rather than immediately preaching, rolled his sleeves up and began working with the farmers out in the fields. Hauge helped the farmers develop more advanced planting techniques that he had learnt in Denmark.

A movement of common people started that was deeply spiritual. People turned to Christ and had life-changing conversion experiences. The meetings were held in homes, and challenged the control of the government-run state church. It turned out to be unstoppable. Norway’s population at that time was approximately 900.000, and possibly half the population turned to Christ. (Today, Norway has almost 5 million people.) Hauge wrote 33 books, selling 200,000-300,000 copies, so that by the time of his death, most homes throughout the land had a Bible and one of his books. Hauge paid a high personal price though. As lay preaching was forbidden, he spent much of 1804-1811 in prison.

What distinguished this movement, was also that it was deeply reformational.Everywhere Hans Nielsen Hauge went, he helped the people to start factories, mills, schools and banks. Historians agree that Norway's independence in 1814 would never have happened without this movement. Several members of the Constitutional Assembly in 1814 were directly or indirectly influenced by the Hauge revival. Christian values became strongly rooted in the constitution. Norway gradually developed from being 'the poor house' of Europe to one of the wealthiest nations on earth, and one of the top three missionary sending nations in the world.

Inspiring Barber blesses the homeless

Every Wednesday in Hartford, Conn. USA homeless people can get a free haircut. However 82-year-old retired barber Anthony Cymerys does ask for a hug in return.

Inspired 25 years ago by a church sermon about the homeless, Anthony decided he wanted to do something for those who have no home. His clients line up on park benches and wait their turn for a haircut and a hug.

"I love these guys," Cymerys said about them. He paused and turned to his client in the chair, "You know I love you, right?"

Hugs and a haircut

HITEC University and the Money god

HITEC university is situated about 20 miles north-west of Islamabad in Pakistan. It got started in 2007 and now has more than 1400 students.

This is how it 'sells' itself on its website:

HITEC University offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs in Engineering, Management Sciences, Mathematics, Computer and Islamic Shariah. The up-to-date and well-conformed [sic] syllabi have been tailored to the market needs and are designed to equip the students with the latest developments in their fields of specialization.

This sounds like a university that indoctrinates young people into a materialism where the Market has become an all-consuming god. Thomas Hobbes would be cheering!

HITEC university is only making explicit what is implicit in the vast majority of western universities.

Notice that the curriculum at the HITEC University is focused upon faithful service to the Market. Notice also that this university does not offer such subjects as Classics, History and Philosophy etc. Many western universities are now dispensing with subjects that do not please the money god.

Be alert to the power of the materialist gospel as it domesticates both Christianity and Islam.

RealityBites in Melbourne, Bradford and Leeds

Over the last two weeks RealityBites has delivered nine separate lectures, workshops and seminars to more than 700 people in both Australia and the UK. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster but very rewarding and encouraging.

People do love our stories. And if these dramatic, cheeky and intriguing stories can help them spill the perfume of God's kingdom, it's even better!

RealityBites specialises in telling the stories of inspiring Christians who are serving God in all areas of life. These narratives include cobblers, soldiers, electricians, bankers, orphan lovers, artists, writers, business people and followers of Jesus who work in Asda. We also tell stories to help people understand consumerism, secularism and our contemporary world. RB stories can also be used in mission and everyday conversation.

Here is an example of the kind of response we are currently enjoying:

Hello there Mark, can I just say how fantastic your talk/stories were yesterday. I was enthralled. Really well done.

Please do continue to pray for this work. If you are loaded please give generously so that we can do more.

RealityBites off to Melbourne, Bradford and Leeds

It's a very busy month for RealityBites. I will be speaking to 650 Christian teachers at a conference organised by Christian Education National in Melbourne which is downunder. I will also be delivering a range of workshops to smaller numbers at the same conference. I will then be speaking at several schools in the Victoria state.

My focus will be spelling out the unique RealityBites pedagogical methodology. You'll have to get on a plane and join me in Melbourne if you want to know more.

When I return to Blighty I will tune into Match of the Day and marinade in the wisdom of Gary Lineker and Alan Hanson. Great lads but they do lack biblical insight and worldview awareness. They might know about Wayne Rooney but have they read Nietzsche? I doubt it.

Suitcases unpacked, a hug from my wife and son and then I'm off to Bradford to speak at a seminar at the Bradford Diocesan Day. My theme will be 'Secularism is neither neutral nor harmless'. Finally I will be doing a workshop on 'Inspiring Disciples' at Bridge Street Church in Leeds.

Do lob up some prayers for me this month!

Nick the Greek: Story about gambling and religion

In the UK, it is estimated that around 350,000 people are suffering from a gambling addiction. It is now easier than ever before to gamble, with a huge number of online betting shops enabling people to gamble 24 hours a day. Every year over 7 billion pounds is spent on gambling.

If a gambling problem is left to fester, debts can spiral out of control and people can become withdrawn, depressed and even suicidal!

Here is a story that can help us discuss this important social issue with young people.

Nicholas Dandalos (1883 – 1966) aka Nick the Greek was one of the greatest gamblers of all time. He was born in Crete in 1883. He was a cultured lad. He studied poetry and philosophy at the Greek Evangelical College of Smyrna in Turkey.

Later he moved to Chicago in the USA. He would play poker, a game he called 'the art of civilised bushwhacking', for three or four days without sleeping.

So what story was he living in?

His words and deeds tell all. "The next best thing to gambling and winning," he liked to say, "is gambling and losing".

There were times he refused to leave the gambling tables even when desperately sick. Sometimes he was treated by the doctor while still laying bets! He once confessed his faith in the following way:

"Luck is a lady, and she is the love of my life."

Nick went from rags to riches over 73 times and he won and lost over $500 million in his lifetime. Near the end of his life he was almost broke and was playing $5 limit poker games. Another player asked him how he could once play for millions and now play for such tiny sums, he replied:

"Hey. It’s action. Isn't it?"

He died on Christmas day in 1966 and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.

Biblical Reflections

Although brought up as a Christian Nick switched faiths! Instead of following Jesus he started to follow Fortuna, the goddess of fortune and the personification of luck. She is capricious and is often depicted as a blind, veiled woman. Follow her and you will become like her! (Psalm 115:4-8) Julius Caesar was also a follower of this god.

Young people need to spot the false gods that enslave so many people's lives. The story of Nick the Greek needs to be told and pondered.