Some thoughts post-Friday night (football)

Firstly: full credit to Algeria for closing us down very athletically, denying us space and making us look stupid. That said…

If you are facing a hard wall, you need your best drill. If you have a diamond-tipped drill, why use a drill-bit best employed on wood? Most especially, when things are going wrong, why do you shift your diamond tip out on the left wing?

The team seem to have lost belief – either in themselves or in the coach – and I would put it down to using the wrong formation. Capello is, I think, starting to realise his lack of experience at this level, most especially (and I laughed heavily) when he said that the team didn’t reflect what he saw on the training pitch. Well, duh! He needs to put the players in their best positions, where they feel most comfortable, and he needs to bring on Joe Cole, a proven performer at this level who also has a lot to play for (like a move to Man Utd) – and who also isn’t exhausted by the over-long Premiership season.

Unless Capello shifts to the formation I recommended (!) then we will not score against Slovenia – and then we’ll be on our way home, and deservedly so. Grrrrr….

The Fall

This was an absolute feast visually, but what held it together was a phenomenal performance from the child at the centre of the story. I’m not sure if it carries a great weight of meaning – the ‘bracketing’ of the film with particular images put me in mind of Magnolia – but it is certainly a film that could be watched many times. Highly recommended 5/5

20 Seconds of Joy

I caught this on TV last night and found it fascinating. It is a documentary following a Norwegian base-jumper, and it explores what drives people to pursue these extreme sports. It had interesting things to say about the nature of fear, and the way in which facing and conquering the fear of death – which you need to do if you’re going to jump off the side of a cliff – leads to much greater equanimity and sense of proportion in the rest of life. I’d recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

It also struck me, however, that some people have the same attitude to worship that base-jumpers have to the adrenaline rush (the “20 seconds of joy”). They seek a ‘hit’ – an internal ‘charging’ of their spirituality, in the same way that the base-jumpers entered a state akin to meditation when they really had to concentrate on pulling the parachute cord at the right moment. Just as with any other addiction, familiarity breeds contempt. The Norwegian girl rapidly became accustomed to simply jumping off a cliff and flying down, so she pursued a path of flying closer to the cliffs for a greater rush. In the same way I have the impression that much Christian “worship” is about pursuing a particular experience, a particular subjective state, which allows some self-forgetfulness, and we end up with the phenomenon where “the pastor feels like a cult prostitute, selling his or her love for the approval of an upwardly mobile, bored middle class, who, more than anything else, want some relief from the anxiety brought on by their materialism” (Hauerwas & Willimon).

I think that to really enter into a genuine and transformative relationship with the living God a believer has to be prepared to work past the threshold of boredom with regard to worship. It is only when the self, with all its immoderate and ultimately jaded appetites, its consumer preferences and idolatry of choice, is subject to a higher discipline that a genuine intimacy with God can be found.

Put differently, many contemporary worship forms will simply end up breaking the legs of the believer. Liturgy puts them back together.

The Unforgiven Wrestler

Finally got around to watching this film last night – I had been meaning to watch it for ages – and it was, as expected, an excellent film, highly recommended, although, as a tragedy, it ends up being pretty grim. 4.5/5

However, whilst watching it I was put in mind of the text from Sunday’s service: “he who has been forgiven little loves little”. The turning point in the wrestler’s story is a rejection, which leads to a relapse into bad habits, which escalates into another rejection, and a further relapse, and the man sinks back into the way of death. In other words, it is because of a lack of forgiveness – especially from one crucial person – that death follows. So I see the film as an exploration and presentation of a spiritual law – where choosing love and forgiveness leads to life in abundance, so too does a lack of love and lack of forgiveness lead to death.

Similar themes to the Eastwood film – hence the title of this blog post.

Some thoughts post-Saturday night (football)

I’m starting to really lose faith with Capello. The best thing about his coaching is that he learns from mistakes – hence the frequently inspired changes for the better in England’s second half performances – but I’m worried that he is going to stick with the formation that served him well in qualification, and which isn’t going to be up to it at the more elite level of the knock-out rounds in the world cup. NB this is true even if Capello sticks with the formation for the next two games and we get resounding victories.

Let me expand further: it’s all about Heskey. Now, I happen to admire Heskey and I have absolutely no qualms about him being in the squad. I would use him, however, as a back-up for Rooney. This is not simply because his scoring record is so appalling, but because of the impact on the rest of the team.

When Capello started out in the qualifying campaign, Rooney was used as the split-striker (an enganche, a beautiful word I discovered recently), and it made perfect sense to have him playing off Heskey. Against the standard of opposition in our qualifying group, it worked well. However, in this last season, Rooney has made the lead striker role his own, to great effect. Much the most frustrating thing for me on Saturday night (other than watching it on ITV HD and therefore missing the England goal!) was seeing Rooney occupied in deep midfield, when the gaps between the US central defence were crying out for his industry and goal-scoring. Rooney needs to play as our lead striker – our best player in his best position.

Sticking with Heskey as the lead striker means that there is a severe knock-on effect for our ability to score goals all through the side, which goes beyond Rooney. It means that Gerrard is also not played in the position he plays for Liverpool (behind Torres) and he is less of a threat. It also meant, on Saturday night, that Gerrard and Lampard shared the midfield and, although they did better in that game than they have achieved before, it also means that Lampard isn’t able to play his natural game, as he needs to have half an eye on staying back if Gerrard goes forward etc.

Put simply, Capello needs to drop Heskey and push some of our best goal-scorers into more effective positions (not least because we need to outscore the US if we are to top the group and avoid Germany in the next round).

I don’t expect to see it change though.
All this and I haven’t said anything about the debacle of choosing Milner on the left and never bringing on Joe Cole. Barmy.

Diamonds and Pearls

(A Courier article)

I’ve been talking a little bit about values – about how we value the world and the many wonderful things in it – and about how to understand what theologians call ‘idolatry’, which is simply what happens when we get our priorities wrong. I want this week to talk about some of the pressures that lead us to get our values muddled, and to do that I want to share talk about diamonds.

Everybody knows that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Everybody also knows that they are a girl’s best friend because they are incredibly valuable, and can be counted on to remain committed to the girl even if the boy ups and leaves. Why, though, are diamonds valuable? After all, they are basically just a stone, a rock, something that is dug up from the ground. Yes, when they are cut and polished they can look very pretty, but why should that make them valuable? Yes, they are extremely hard, and therefore useful in industrial processes (and industrial processes can now manufacture diamonds at will), but why should that make them valuable? Most of all, why are diamonds seen as more valuable than rubies and emeralds and sapphires – all at least as beautiful, and in fact much rarer.

The simple answer is: Advertising. In 1947 an advertising agency working for De Beers (who used to control over 80% of the diamond market – imagine Murdoch controlling not just Sky and the Times but BBC, ITV, the Daily Mirror and even our humble Courier and you get an idea of how dominant De Beers was) came up with a new advertising slogan, “A Diamond is Forever”, and began to associate the purchase of diamonds with the idea of eternal love. All the talk about ‘how to make one month’s salary last a lifetime’ and how to show the seriousness of your love for your fiancee – all this was created for marketing purposes. After all, why should the giving of a clear lump of carbon symbolise love? Why couldn’t it be rubies (red for the heart)? Or something else completely different, like the keys to a house, or a portrait, or a meal?

My point here is simply that the cultural significance of diamonds is something that was created, and created not all that long ago. Yes, there is some intrinsic value to a diamond, but not much, and certainly not as much as our culture gives. In other words, I see diamonds as a perfect example of the way in which our values can be distorted by wordly pressures. We as individuals value diamonds because our culture as a whole has accepted the advertising slogans about diamonds. It’s all an illusion.

Of course, it isn’t just with diamonds that we go along with peer pressure and value what other people value. It applies to what we eat and how we dress, how we travel and how we entertain ourselves. We do it with most of our choices, and doing so actually makes life easier and more convenient for everyone. Imagine what it would be like if there were no shared values! There wouldn’t be much of a community left. Yet alongside the positive ‘social glue’ there is the danger that who we are, who we are meant to be, gets squashed by the majority.

For in the end, if we simply go along with the crowd, we stand to lose all that is most essential in our own lives. We gain the world, but lose our own soul. When Jesus talks about this, he uses the language of ‘living in the Kingdom’. He said “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great price, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13.45) In other words, rather than simply going with the flow, and accepting the values that the wider society have given to us, finding heaven involves finding the one thing that needs to be given a higher value than anything else in our lives. Once we have that in place – and we can give up everything else in order to get it – then we get everything else as well, in its proper place. We see the world clearly, and we have our lives in proportion.

I believe that our present way of life has rather too much of diamonds, and not enough of pearls. We have accepted certain things as having a very high value – such as economic growth and technological progress – but we have ended up giving them too much value. As a result, we are destroying the ecological basis for our existence, and losing our humanity in the process. We need to recover a proper sense of priorities, and remember what it means to be human.

District 9

Probably the best sci-fi film of at least the last ten years, a highly intelligent, sharply observed and meaningful movie which packs a hefty emotional punch. Obviously, if your preference in alien films involves Arnie and a big gun, this might be a bit disappointing (although the action-packed third act is very exciting), but if you want an original vision that is fully realised and executed, you won’t go far wrong. Marvellous. 5/5

Ghost (Robert Harris)

Got this to read because I saw the trailer for the movie, and thought it looked intriguing. Fascinating plot – and consideration of what ghost-writing involves – and a satisfying ending, albeit a little predictable. At some stage I’ll have to do a rant on attitudes to the Iraq war, but not today.