Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Love my neighbour

I very occasionally teach at my local church. It is something that all Christians are encouraged to aspire to. When I do teach I usually quite enjoy it. At least I do now. When I started I got cold sweats and palpitations. (I'm not really sure what palpitations are but they seem to sound like what I experienced ;)

Part of the reason I enjoy it now is that I've developed a style which is much more conversational. I don't believe teaching means I have to stand behind a pulpit and lecture. No, teaching that I benefit from is interactive.

If I'm being taught I like to ask questions. I like to disagree. And when I'm teaching I now encourage discussion and conversation. I find that much more natural (and less scary) and it seems to work better for groups I'm teaching as well.

I used to hand write out what I was going to say: word for word. I will still sometimes write out passages I want to say and aspire to one day be able to memorize and simply be able to confidently speak without referring to notes. But that can wait for a day when I've got time.

I'm teaching tomorrow and all I've basically done is to look up the occurrence of the word neighbour (or neighbor in some versions) in the book of Proverbs. Turns out there are quite a few - though not as many as the word poor but I'll get back to that.

I quite like researching a topic (in case you hadn't worked that out by now) and this seemed like an interesting one. So why did I pick Proverbs? Well - it is one of the easiest ways to get a handle on what God is saying.

Proverbs is called the book of wisdom for a reason. If you've never read the bible it might be worth starting with Proverbs. (I'd recommend Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the best first books to read but Proverbs is a close fifth...) It always surprises me how much of our every day language comes straight out of the bible and an awful lot is from Proverbs.

Our church is focusing on the concept of love your neighbour this year. It seems highly relevant given the way everybody I know is struggling financially. Our church runs a food bank - Bethlehem House of Bread and there is a consistent need for it.

I often associate Jesus words about loving your neighbour with helping the poor but is that really all he meant? I expected the proverbs about neighbours to be connected to poverty but it turns out that just isn't true. I found four main themes regarding neighbours in Proverbs:
  • Be generous
  • Do unto others as you would have them do to you
  • Persistence can result in change
  • Some neighbors are to be avoided at all costs!
And of those four the vast majority were of the "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" variety. Only two connected with generosity out of eighteen. So, when Jesus said "Love your neighbour" did he have the Proverbs in mind? Certainly, his parable about the good Samaritan can be read that way.

Here are most of those verses:

Be generous
Proverbs 3:28
Say not unto your neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when you have it with you.
Proverbs 14:21
He that despises his neighbour sins: but he that has mercy on the poor, happy is he.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you
Proverbs 3:29
Devise not evil against your neighbour, seeing he dwells securely by you.
Proverbs 11:9
A hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.
Proverbs 11:12
He that is void of wisdom despises his neighbour: but a man of understanding holds his peace.
Proverbs 24:28
Be not a witness against your neighbour without cause; and deceive not with your lips.
Do not say, “I’ll do to them as they have done to me; I’ll pay them back for what they did.”
Proverbs 25:7-9
What you have seen with your eyes do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?

Proverbs 26:18-20
Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”
Proverbs 27:10
Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you - better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.

Proverbs 27:14
If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.

Persistence can result in change
Proverbs 6:1-3
My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth.
So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go - to the point of exhaustion - and give your neighbor no rest!

Some neighbors are to be avoided at all costs!
Proverbs 16:29
A violent man entices his neighbour, and leads him into the way that is not good.
Proverbs 17:18
One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge and puts up security for a neighbor.
Proverbs 21:10
The soul of the wicked desires evil: his neighbour finds no favour in his eyes.
Proverbs 29:5
A man that flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet.

So, the above verses are from Proverbs. They're all connected to the concept of neighbours. I'm not going to tell you what to think about all this - I want you to tell me. So go on, discuss!

[All verses above are copied from Bible Gateway:
King James Version in plain text
NIV in bold
Thanks to Biblica regarding terms of use of copyright for NIV text:
I have paraphrased the KJV to remove thees and thous etc.]

P.S. My Goal 68 is: To have my neighbours round for a meal.
I haven't forgotten!

Saturday, 26 October 2013


[Contains major plot spoilers for Ender's Game]

It's not often I get to see a movie the night it opens, still less I've been waiting 25 years for the movie!

Opening in the UK today, (I can't believe we're getting it before the US) Ender's Game has been a science fiction classic since the book was published in 1985.

I fell in love with the book as a teenager. Like Harry Potter caught kids of a decade ago and the Hunger Games over the last few years I was hooked on Ender's Game from the first page.

I'm too involved with this story to give an unbiased review. Ender's Game utterly rocks but I don't know how to sell it. The fact is that is hard to sell a movie to adults where the star is a 12 year old boy. Hard to sell a movie to kids when that 12 year old boy displays psychopathic tendencies and uses extreme violence only to be rewarded when he does so.

Maybe this explains the almost complete lack of popular knowledge of the book. Though is it possible that The Hunger Games and similar books only actually caught on once the movie was released?

I took my two eldest kids to see Ender's Game. I read the novel to my seven year old daughter last year. Child killings and all. She loved it and wanted to go see the movie, however having sat through those same two killings on screen I'm not at all sure when I'll let her see it. Maybe we'll do the same as we did with The Hobbit: show her an edited version.

Ender's Game is a powerful story. The movie did extremely well to compress the most important plot points into such a short film. Everything key to the book is there. They even managed to include dozens of homages to extended scenes in the book.

Although as a teenager I initially focused on the battle school and command school sections of the book for the awesome complexity of the games and the possibilities they offered; I re-read the book again and again as an adult for the psychological complexity. The cruel manipulation of a child by ruthless authorities; the fact that the child - Ender - knows he is being manipulated, fights back and yet in the end goes along with it since he realises he is needed; the concept of a child grasping that a warrior must understand his enemy and that to truly understand the enemy one must love that enemy.

The film manages to include a much reduced but still enjoyable set of Zero G battles and command school battles. The graphics are excellent. And the film also manages to emphasize the emotional and psychological battles that are taking place.

I wondered if they would leave out the beginning when Ender loses his monitor, an alien device that allows Graff to see what Ender sees; to feel what he feels; to hear his thoughts. But no, they leave that in. I wondered if they would leave out the ending where Ender hunts for and finds the queen but no, they include that as well.

Everything important was left in, at least, everything important to the overall story. The complex relationship Ender has with Bean in the book was reduced to a few homages. The same as Ender's relationship with his launch squad and the other commanders.

I guess I only had two disappointments with the film. The first was the politically correct refusal to use the word bugger. Why? Is it due to the sexual connotation of the word? Or the use of the word as a curse? For either reason, bugger is what everyone in the book called the formics. Bugs, buggers. Giant ant like creatures that ironically attacked us first since they thought we were not sentient; just ants to be stood on.

This concept is subtly but brilliantly shown in the film. Whether it is obvious without having read the book I can't say but in case you've seen the film and have some questions, here are a few answers...

The ansible in formic technology that humans captured after the first invasion. It is instantaneous communication and the buggers use it to speak to each other across the galaxy in real time. It is in effect an extension of their own form of telepathy.

The humans use the ansible in the film to communicate and direct the battles in real time across the galaxy but what they don't realise is that the system is still directly plugged into the buggers home world. The buggers are in effect hacked into the entire human network without the humans realising it.

The buggers attempt to use this to communicate with Ender through his mind game (another scene that young kids may find disturbing) to great effect.

My second disappointment was the ending which felt flat. Maybe my expectations were just too high. I'd be interested to see what you think after watching the film. I'm not sure how else they could have done it since it was true to the books ending but even so, I wanted something more rousing to leave the cinema with.

However there was so much complexity and emotional depth to the characters that I will want to watch it again. Asa Butterfield was utterly convincing as Ender. He was absolutely the right person to play him.

Harrison Ford was also excellent as Graff. The wooden voice over which marred the trailers was left behind the moment he was allowed to act and he played the role of manipulator well.

Viola Davis as Anderson was also amazing. Casting "her" was an inspired choice as even my daughter commented on walking out of the movie. Played by a woman the emotional range of the character was far more convincing than it would have been from a man.

Ben Kingsley was perfect for Mazer Rackham. I was extremely worried that he might reprise his role from Thunderbirds but no, he played the character just right, even managing to attack his pupil in his first scene. "Only the enemy can show you where you are weak."

The changes to the plot that allowed Valentine and Petra to drive the story forward were inspired.

On a geeky note, it was amusing to hear other men in their forties walk out of the cinema discussing the relationship between Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow... Nice to know I'm not the only geek out there!

Whether the movie will become a classic of science fiction I can't say but I enjoyed it and recommend it. If you haven't read the book you can buy Ender's Game from Amazon.

Oh, and by the way, if you enjoyed Ender's Game you might enjoy the other stories set in the Ender universe. They are all quite different to Ender's Game but emotionally rich and very satisfying to find out what happens when Ender finally finds somewhere for the queen to call home...

Friday, 25 October 2013

Goal 41 progress report

I'm almost finished!

Not what I wanted to say which was... I'm finished! But it will have to do.

Goal 41: To install a shower downstairs and decorate room

The first part of that goal is complete, it's the decorating that is now taking the time. But, I've made some good progress this week and have one more day to get all those irritating last little jobs done.

Do you ever find it difficult to fully finish a DIY job? I do. Drives my wife crazy. I can live with partially finished work in the home for far longer than I should be able to. It has inspired me to write another book though...

Don't worry, I'm not taking time away from my novel or two other non-fiction books I'm working on. But I have been planning a sequel to my "best selling" eBook: 10 Plumbing tips to save you time and money.

Since I wrote the first eBook when I was half way through the project I've wanted to finish the story. I'll tell you more about it when the actual project is actually completed but since I haven't posted in a month I wanted to at least show my face.

Our shower room is now fully functional.

I've had five face to face interviews over the past three weeks and will be starting work on a new contract on Monday.

I've written over 27,000 words towards my novel.

I've made some progress on my other non-fiction books.

I've also had another coaching session with Frank Mason - check out his site: http://www.turnkeycoaching.co.uk/. It's been good having regular sessions and being forced to think about why I do things and what holds me back. But more about that later. After writing 1,900 words this morning before breakfast (that's my shout out of the day!) I need to get my stuff together and get this shower room done and dusted (well, not actually dusted... I'll leave that to the wife... Ow, what do you mean "Cheeky!")