Monday, 27 August 2012

'The Heaven Is My Throne . . .'

News of Neil Armstrong’s death has brought back memories of the days when I needed heroes and astronauts were the main men.  In the 1960s they were promoted by NASA as the archetypal all-rounders: super-fit, intelligent, brave, happily married, popular with everyone.  And that seemed to me to be the kind of person we should all want to be.  I read about them, collected cuttings, followed the missions and looked forward to the day when the dream would be fulfilled and a man would walk on the moon.  

Imagine my consternation when I realised that I would be on holiday when Apollo 11 touched down on 20 July 1969.  On holiday on a camp-site in Machrihanish with no televisions for miles around.  I had to be content with my radio and occasionally poking my head out of my tent to look at the moon which that night seemed  very clear and big.  

The next day the newspapers were full of it of course.  The headlines and photographs were all pretty similar but there was one cartoon which I have never forgotten.  It showed a huge astronaut seated on the moon with his feet resting on the earth with a huge grin on his face and giving the thumbs-up.  Beneath him were the words: ‘The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.’  It was cut out and pasted into my scrapbook.  

It was some time later that I realised that these words given to the cartoon astronaut were from the book of Isaiah in the Bible and were actually the words of God.  The message was that with this great achievement man had displaced God at the centre of the Universe.  There was no more need for a Supreme Being when we had supermen walking on the moon.  

Move on to 11 April 1970 when Apollo 13 is launched.  Something went wrong.  An oxygen tank exploded and the planned moon landing was aborted.  Despite great hardship which has been well represented in the movie Apollo 13 the crew were eventually returned safely  to Earth.  I remember the moment the crew stepped out on to the deck of the recovery ship USS Iwo Jima.  They were met by the ship’s chaplain Commander Philip Eldredge Jerauld who offered a prayer of thanksgiving for their safe return. 

It was good to remember this acknowledgement that despite all the breathtaking achievements of humankind there will always be times when we need a strength beyond our own strength and a power we will never be able to demonstrate.  Many astronauts were men of faith were happy to give expression to this great truth.  They also gave thanks that in their explorations they were given opportunities to appreciate more of the heaven that is His throne and the earth that is His footstool.  

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

History People.

It has been said that we understand ourselves better as individuals and as a nation if we have a sense of history.  That was one of the great strengths of Winston Churchill, something that was brought out very strongly in a recent television series on the Churchill family.  Winston, it was said, was a great war leader because he studied the life of his ancestor John Churchill, the seventeenth/eighteenth century soldier and statesman.  From him Winston learned the importance of having clear objectives, taking hard decisions and motivating those under his leadership. 

The television series was presented by the controversial historian David Starkey.  In a newspaper article he wrote prior to its screening he said that the trouble with most modern politicians is that they have no sense of history.  He mentions one honourable exception in the present UK cabinet but even he, according to Starkey, does not seem to be learning the lessons of history. 

It is a problem we have in the Church.  We tend to think of ourselves as cast adrift on a modern sea of troubles, facing hazards never before encountered and which are threatening to overwhelm us.  A close study of the Church in her earliest days, however, will show that her very existence was threatened by a departure from Gospel truth, slack moral standards and a dangerous drift away from a sense of Christian community.  Paul and the other apostles had to work hard to hold things together until a new sense of purpose was established and Jesus’ vision of a world-wide mission could go forward. 

In these troubled times for the Church we need to get back to our sources to discover afresh what was important to those who were closest to Jesus and who made great sacrifices to preach His truth and show His ways to the world.  We are called to engage with our times but never to disparage the lessons we can learn from our ancestors in the Lord who knew what it was to see great days of the Spirit.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Internet Danger!

‘What would we do without it?’ said my brother-in-law recently.  He was talking about the internet.  Like many of us he finds it an invaluable resource for his work and leisure activities.  Compared to some I am a late arrival on the cyber-scene.  I can remember being suspicious of the Internet and very reluctant to start using email.  Now as well as being a emailer I am a blogger, Facebooker, Amazonian and sometime surfer just for fun.     It has all become a part of life.  And that is what is worrying Andrew Keen in The Cult of the Amateur, a very challenging and at times disturbing book. He is described on the blurb as ‘an English digital media entrepreneur and Silicon Valley insider’ and he is convinced, in the words of his sub-title, that ‘blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today’s user-generated media are killing our culture and economy.’

As Keen sees it the Web 2.0 revolution has created two whipping boys: ‘truth and trust’.  There is a welter of information and opinion online and much of it is not generated by accredited sources.  Wikipedia is a case in point where the identity of ‘volunteer editors’ is not always known.  Says Keen: ‘These citizen editors out-edit other citizen editors in defining, redefining, then redefining truth, sometimes hundreds of times a day.’

The ‘revolution’ has also had a negative impact on employment and the economy.  Newspapers are dying with an inevitable impact on jobs and millions of dollars/pounds are lost through illegal downloading of music and movies.  Paul Simon is quoted as saying: ‘I’m personally against Web 2.0 in the same way I’m personally against my own death.‘  But forget the big names for the moment.  Keen raises concerns which affect the lives of ordinary citizens like you and me.  The internet has increased access to pornography,   gambling has increased, children and young people are more vulnerable to sexual predators.  The most horrifying consequence for some people, however, has been identity theft.  Skilled ‘hackers’ have been able to access credit card and bank accounts to the ruination of unsuspecting victims. 

Keen is convinced that controls are necessary and with this in mind he has praise for Gordon Brown when he was Prime Minister of the UK.  He commissioned Tanya Brown, a clinical psychologist, to produce a report  on child Internet safety.  The result was a 225 page report entitled Safer Children in a Digital World which was published in March 2008.  As far as I can see, the report seeks to make parents and teachers more aware of the dangers of the Internet and to encourage search engines ‘to be more assertive in guiding parents and protecting children.’  Keen applauds the report as representing ‘an appropriately fine balance between the do-nothing libertarianism of Silicon Valley . . . and the equally unacceptable authoritarianism of unelected Internet policy makers in Iran, China and other undemocratic countries.‘   What effect this has had is unclear.  A follow-up report has been commissioned to explore this.  

Whether we agree with Keen or not, he raises issues which all Internet users need to be aware of.  Without a doubt the Internet is an invaluable resource.  I write this on a day when a downloaded ‘app’ (paid for, I may add) has given me access to hundreds of radio stations all over the world.  But we need to be alert to the dangers and this book is a welcome wake-up call.