Allow me to preface this by stating that I am a Christian who owns three Eminem records. That should tell you everything you need to know about me.

I saw a post on Facebook today which linked to a rumour article which claimed that high-profile hip hop artist Eminem had become a born-again Christian. I felt compelled to write a short opinion piece about this, focusing not so much on the conjecture as to the state of his faith, but more on some of the issues surrounding this rumour article.

First of all, and I am apologising in advance for sounding like a complete internet snob (and jerk in general) here, it does not surprise me that this was posted on the Facebook social network.  When you are 'friends' with a lot of Christians on this particularly vanilla and mainstream network, you see stuff like this posted all the time. Some groups of friends are more susceptible to posting things like this than others. For example, I have a few American Christian friends, and it seems like Christianity as a 'religion' is a lot more 'tribalistic' in the United States. 

I'm trying not to offend anyone here, but you see a lot more 'Like this if you love Jesus' posts from American friends, for instance. From an outsider perspective, it seems that, because Christianity is still an acceptable religion across certain parts of the US, it's a lot easier to be a 'Sunday Christian' there, especially if you can boost your Christianity mid-week by posting urging others to vote 'NO' on gay marriage or 'YES' on prayer in schools and other such arguably pointless causes.  And every now and again, a rumour will surface regarding a certain high-profile celebrity's faith (Marshall Mathers is certainly not the first…), and it will be shared and re-posted as if to 'boost morale' within Christian circles, i.e. if X is a Christian then it must be cool. I realise this is not always the case and that some people are genuinely concerned about the souls of famous celebrities, more than just whether or not they are 'in your tribe' or not, but from reading comments on these Facebook posts I'd hazard an educated guess that these people are not in the majority.

The things that really intrigued me upon reading this article, which merely hints at a rumour regarding the rapper's faith (as if it's anybody's business what anybody else believes or doesn't), was not only the way in which the article was written, but the followup comments from other Facebook sharers. 

Firstly, the article is no better than a 'Tom Cruise might believe in aliens' story. He might, he might not. We will never know for sure because we aren't him, but moreover whether he does or not shouldn't matter to anyone who doesn't know him personally. The article also insinuates that Mathers was a Christian at one time, but then 'sold his soul' to popular music, as if appearing on MTV can somehow affect the status of your eternal hope. 

Now I'm not naive; I realise that whilst the likes of Katy Perry and Marcus Mumford have professed faith in the past, they're not currently talking about their Saviour on primetime TV. Does that mean they are no longer saved? Of course not. Is it possible to meet Jesus, decide to follow Him and then fall away? Well that's a discussion for another day. And let's not forget that everybody's personal faith is their own business and nobody else's. At the end of the day, it's down to the conversation between them and God as to whether dressing in a revealing manner or dropping the F bomb in lyrics is what He planned for their lives.

Secondly, the Facebook comments - well let's just take a look at some of them:

This person prays blessings upon Marshall. That's nice of her. She also prays he's 'turned from the dark ways of the entertainment industry'. I'd love to know what these 'dark ways' are. She sounds like a 1970s tract that I recall reading once:  

Seriously, give that whole tract a read - it's as frightening as it is funny. Let's look at another:

A 'total turn around'. I'd love to know what she thinks he's been guilty of, or what evidence she has that he hasn't been a practising Christian for many years now. Or is she saying that if you've appeared on MTV you can't be right with God? These are the kind of moralistic self-righteous statements that put Christians so far out-of-whack with reality and the rest of the world. So thanks for that. And finally:

I had to read this a good number of times before I understood the gist of it, but I'm not here to insult this person's grammatical knowledge. The sentiment is the same, and is equally flawed. What do these people believe he (and others like him) are guilty of? If it's the lyrics, they're just words. Even if you are offended by them, this doesn't necessarily mean that God is. If it's the sentiment behind the words, remember that this is a performance and, just as we haven't tried Tom Hardy in a court of law for blowing up a football stadium and trapping all of Gotham City PD underground, we must also remember that actors and musicians alike are merely playing a part, so if Marshall raps that he's got a girl tied up in the boot of his car and then accidentally drives them both off a cliff, it doesn't mean that it actually happened, nor does it mean he's a 'bad role model' to kids etc.

I am only posting this short piece because, as a Christian, I get a bit fed up sometimes of other 'Christians' who constantly bring those of us who are striving to live by God's Word every day down to the level where we're all just a bunch of automatons who believe the Bible tells us that any woman who shaves her head should be stoned and any man who swears on TV can't possibly be a Christian. I've done my best not to say anything out of a place of pride or hatred (and probably haven't done the best job), but the one sentiment I'd like any Christians reading this to take away would be this:


If you are going to re-blog an article about another person (because let's not forget, 'celebrities' have been scientifically proven to share 98% of our human DNA…), why not stop to think about why you are posting, who is going to be affected by your decision, and is that affect going to be positive or negative?

If Eminem is a Christian, that's great for him. I can't wait to party in Heaven with him, Prince, Bono and the Edge, Marcus Mumford, Katy Perry, Chuck Norris, Alice Cooper, Johnny Cash, Rev. Run and Bob Dylan. But does it really matter to me or anybody else? Probably not as much as it matters to God.

Halloween. (some thoughts on)

All-Hallows-Even, All Saints' Day, or more commonly Halloween.  Not just an awesome slasher horror movie series, but also the little holiday that could.

Halloween has its roots in Celtic, Christian, Roman and pagan traditions, dating back to the days before fake blood and Freddy Krueger masks.  The Celts traditionally held a festival of Samhain, Old Irish for "summer's end", around the pivotal turning point of the seasons.  They believed that at this time the link between our world and the next was on its thinnest, and would dress up as spirits, demons and the like in an effort to 'blend in' with the boogiemen, much like looking like a zombie makes you less likely to attract other zombies (Zombie Apocalypse Survival Tip #13).

Fast-forward to today and I think you'll find Halloween is a tradition whose true purpose and historical meanings have been lost to commercialism and free candy.  For better or worse, people don't believe in the boogieman anymore, and you'll be hard-pressed to find mention of cleansing rituals, divination, or any of the paganistic traditions of the past.  But the 'spirit' of Halloween lives on, and the 'holiday' is bigger now than ever.

The various flavours of Christianity each seem to have their own views on the festival.  Anglicans tend to promote the traditions of 'All-Saint's Day', some Protestants use the day to remember the Protestant Reformation.  Both Protestants and Catholics have used the day to organise events within their churches where parents and children can have fun and celebrate the festival from a Christian perspective.  Other Christians reject the holiday, feeling it trivialises or even celebrates the occult.

Being brought up in a Christian household, my parents treated Halloween with a strange but steady mixture of ignorance and reverence.  Although they were aware there probably wasn't anything 'Satanic' about making jack-o-lanterns in my junior school, they still requested I be excused from participating.  I remember being a little bummed about this at the time, which was weird as I was an arrogant little upstart ('was'??!) who would have relished the thought of my teachers having the extra work of finding me something else to do that day.  The teachers were actually pretty good about it all; I think for my parents it was less about a fear of me being infected with this evil pagan ritual of carving a face into a vegetable, but more about 'setting a good example', so that my teachers and other kids might ask questions about why they held the traditions they did, call it my parents' little 'social revolution'.

Halloween night itself for me growing up was a mixed bag (nyak nyak nyak).  Some years my parents would open the door to trick-or-treaters, often presenting them with little religious 'tracts' explaining why they believed Halloween wasn't to be taken lightly.  Other years they'd just apologise politely and say they didn't have any sweets to give out because they 'didn't believe in it' (which is probably harder for a 7-year-old trick-or-treater to understand than a pamphlet of doctrines...).  As I grew up they'd just stop answering the door on that one night of the year, even going so far as to turn off all the lights in the house and make my sister and I hang out in the kitchen at the back.  Which we loved, in our own little 'shh, pretend we're hiding from the Nazis' headgames..... Yeah, we were funny kids.............

I don't resent my parents' tactics for dealing with the event, but I do sometimes question their motives and wonder if I'll be the same if I have kids.  And I don't think I'm alone - Christians and Christian parents the world over seem as undecided on what to do regarding their kids and 'Halloween' as they do regarding their kids and 'Father Christmas'.  

On the one hand, you don't want your kids discounting all ideas of evil, the spirit world, demons, the Devil and the like as nonsense.  You certainly don't want them to be 'celebrating' any of that stuff, not that many parents of faith or no faith would.  On the other hand, you can be forgiven for falling into the 'oh it's just a bit of harmless fun' mindset.  In many cases, I don't think it's the worst thing in the world for kids to become involved in a tradition that has become basically devoid of any and all true symbolism and meaning, but then it may have knock-on effects that are as undesirable, like cheapening the 'good' traditions of celebrations like Christmas and Easter, or not standing out from the crowd as salt & light in a world of pepper & darkness.

I'm really not sure where I'll stand as a parent.  I really can't see myself encouraging my kids to dress up as my favourite Resident Evil characters, as much as I may want to, but I think I'll have a hard time saying no if they ask to go 'trick-or-treating' with their friends.....  Is it possible that the world has forgotten all of the darker elements of Halloween and just wants kids to have fun?  And if so, is that really a good thing, or is it just another indicator of how society is becoming more materialistic, rejecting the possibility of there being anything more to life than what they can touch, or see, or buy?

A quick commentary on The Gays...

Firstly, to anyone who has ever been attacked for their lifestyle choices by someone pertaining to be of the Christian faith, I'd like to apologise on behalf of my posse.  My bad.  In fact, all our bad.  Unfortunately, being born as sinful men and women sometimes makes you say stupid things in supposed defence of your 'faith'.  Now, reader, read on….

I often feel that the biggest enemy of Christianity is Christians ourselves.

This isn't always through deliberate or malicious actions; in fact more often than not it's just through people trying to do or say what they think is right based on what they believe the Bible teaches.  But sometimes people, myself wholeheartedly included, let their own selfish ambitions or skewed views on the world cloud their judgement of their fellow human beings.

One great example of this is the treatment of homosexuals (henceforth known as 'the gays') within our modern society.

There seem to be two common reactions to 'the gays' within Christian circles - the 'New Testament' reaction; that Jesus showed love for all mankind and that we should do likewise, and the 'Old Testament' reaction; that homosexuality is a sin and that 'that's all she wrote'.  I personally like to believe that the true Christian position takes a little from column A, a little from column B, so to speak.

I agree that the core of Christianity is love, and that we are to 'love thy neighbour', regardless of what they believe or how their views on life, the universe and everything may differ from ours.  Even if they're living in complete disregard and even disdain of the principles which we hold so dear, even if they deny the God we believe in and mock us, or even (and this is sometimes more difficult than all-out disagreement) if they pertain to stand for the same values we do but somehow seem to not quite understand things in the same way, we are still to show love.  Because you know those goofy 'WWJD' wristbands that some people (losers - i kid, i kid) wear?  Well THAT's what Jesus would do.

Nevertheless, I also believe the Bible clearly lays out guidelines about how we are to behave with our fellow humans, and no matter what 'seems' to be right in today's postmodern society, I'm personally going to try to follow the rules laid out by God down to the letter, even if it might seem regressive and maybe even a little crazy to live my life by a 2000 year old book.  I believe the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin, but this doesn't mean I'm going to chase the gays out of my village with a pitchfork, it just means that I can try my best not to commit that sin (which is a lot easier for me than for some….).  At the end of the day (using a football manager's term to prove that I'm 100% not gay), that's the best any of us can hope to achieve, with all sin.  Let's not forget that while I personally might find the idea of kissing a guy repulsive, others may not, and also that I probably commit around 100 other sins per day, which may be better (better?!) or worse depending on your viewpoint.  I'm not gay, so unfortunately (not sure why I'm saying unfortunately….latent repression??) I have no understanding of what causes a person to develop feelings of that nature towards someone of their gender.  You might say, therefore, that I don't really have any right to comment on whether it's right or wrong.  Thankfully, I believe the Word of God took away any need for discussion on whether it's right or wrong, but like I say, when Christians get hold of the Bible, they can often twist it to meet their own failed and sinful agendas.  

The bottom (no pun intended) line for me is, I can't imagine Christ showing anything but love towards someone with a same-sex orientation, just as I can't imagine Him showing anything but love towards a thief, or a murderer, or a rapist, even if they are all condemned in one way or another in the Bible (please don't judge me for kinda almost nearly possibly equating homosexuality with rape; I'm in NO WAY drawing a parallel, I'm just trying to think of things the Bible calls 'sins').  So in an effort to be as like Christ as possible, I must show love to the gays too.

(not in that way)

A definition.

Christianity  [kris-chee-an-i-tee]              

  1. The Christian religion, including the Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox churches.

  2. The state of being a Christian.

  3. The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree...

I had to chuckle (and internally applaud) when I recently read this obviously non-Christian perspective of Christianity.  I laughed, not out of any kind of thinly-veiled sarcasm, but out of an acknowledgement of circumstance - that, to the non-believer, this is actually what Christianity is.  Every statement in that joke-definition is, more or less, what I as a Christian believe.  Alright, the Bible never used the Z-word, neither did it call the tree 'magical', and I'm pretty sure there was no mention of telepathy, not even in the parts where the Pharaoh's court magicians turned stuff into snakes (and I'd like to see any of the kids from Professor Charles Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters do THAT....).  But, in a manner of speaking, the Bible asks us to believe all that and more, which is a lot for our scientifically-proven-fact-loving brains of the 21st century to take in.

I believe that the key to the entire Christian faith is 'belief'.  Having experienced the fortitude of being brought up in a Christian family and having these things told to me as 'facts' my whole life, I'm incredibly grateful that I don't find it particularly hard to believe in everything the Bible has to say, about everything.  And people can say 'well, you've obviously been brainwashed your whole life into believing this nonsense', but even if that were the case, it'd still be moot.  

I am a Christian, not because I've chosen to believe, but because God has chosen me to believe.

And still, living in a world where the things I believe are seen as fantasy and fiction, I'm daily reminded and constantly conscious of how bizarre and otherworldly the things I believe must seem to others.  Heck, when you read through the joke definition above and realise how that must sound to people who have no church background, you can see why we're generally the laughing stock of the modern age.  This is something I'm aware of every time I get a chance to share my faith.

(note: generally, unless God opens up an opportunity for me to talk about Him with people who actually want to hear, I tend to make a point of not bringing it up - I see this not as hiding my light under a bushel or keeping 'The Good News' to myself, but more like not shining the interrogation spotlight into my friends' eyes...let's remember, it's not our job as Christians to make anyone believe; an overly forceful attitude to evangelism is going to do a lot more harm than good...)

If I'm put into a situation whereby people ask me what I believe, why I live my life the way that I do, I try to explain things in the clearest, most jargon-free way possible.  In essence, I go into CBBC presenter mode, imagining that the people I'm talking to have never heard the Gospel before and then trying to explain what the Bible says in the simplest way possible.  Usually, I end up going on for way too long and getting into too much detail for a light-hearted conversation, but this comes with the territory;

Much like the show 'Lost', the Gospel is about EVERYTHING.  

It's not really something that can be explained in a 5-minute instructional video.  First you have to explain that you believe there's a God, then you have to explain that you believe who He is and what He does; if you're feeling lucky at this point you can tell them how He made the universe in a week and how He's everywhere, even though we can't see Him (but good luck with that one....).  Next you talk about sin.  Which is really more of a 4-hour 3am conversation.  Next you talk about life, death, Heaven and Hell.  If they're still with you at this point you can get onto Jesus and the coup-de-gras of the subject of grace, which is all you really want to talk about but it's essentially meaningless unless people know why they need it.

You can see our predicament as supposedly 'evangelical' Christians -100, even 50 years ago, everybody over the age of 15 would have already known most of this stuff.  Even if their parents weren't churchgoers, every kid would have probably been at Sunday School learning about this stuff on a weekly basis.  Nowadays, you'd be lucky to find one person in a Starbuck's who can name 5 books of the Bible.  

Fortunately, as I said before, the key to Christianity is belief.

I'm not a book reader, I wish that I were, especially as a Christian.  If you're not a Christian, lemme tell you something - Christians LOVE their books.  I actually think some of them are so in love with reading because they're secretly hoping to find something better than The Holy Bible.  I, on the other hand, am more likely to read something by Michael Chrichton, or in most cases, nothing at all.  In some ways, though, I'm glad that I don't read these books.  Whilst I certainly don't subscribe to the train of thought that true happiness comes from within, or that I can somehow 'fix myself', I do believe that I can learn more about my faith from looking at the world around me and listening to what God says to me through the world than I can by reading what some world renowned 19th century theologian thinks about the Acts of the Apostles (and in the words of Homer J Simpson, if he's so smart, how come he's dead??!)

Y'see......I believe that inside every human being is the knowledge of Good and Evil.  Remember?  From the rib-woman who ate the fruit from  that magical tree with the talking snake?  Now whether that was a literal or metaphorical fruit is moot, all I know is that the Bible said it and if the Bible is the word of God then He obviously wanted us to know it.  The point is, we all know.  There's something inside us, in the core of our very souls that says 'there is more to life than what we can see, touch, buy'.  I obviously only have my own conscience to go by, but from what I can see in the world, we're all born with a sense of right and wrong, we all 'think therefore we are', and none of us can explain it away.  It just so happens that, depending on what part of the world you live in, there are different explanations for this in-built sense of yearning, giving rise to the different religions of the world.  And the questions are always the same - what is the meaning of life?  Why are we here?  Where do we go when we die?

Another thing that made me laugh recently was the Atheist ad-campaign which plastered the sides of London buses with the slogan:

There's probably no God. 
Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Again, I laughed not out of flippant disregard for my fellow human beings or arrogant self-righteousness but out of circumstance. That this group of people would throw together these two clearly conflicting points in an attempt at a cheap shot against us 'religious idiots' really made me smile.  I sincerely hope that it was an ad-campaign born out of an uneasy subconscious knowledge of their own error, rather than an actual hypothesis on life.  You see, to me, from a logical point of view, the statement is nonsensical.

There's probably no God. - we can presume from this point of view that there's probably no afterlife either, and therefore no reason, rhyme or purpose to this one.

Enjoy your life. - wait.....why should I take any enjoyment from this life? If after this there is nothing, if I'm just going to slip into unconsciousness never to awaken, then surely this life and the enjoyment of it therein is pointless? 

I don't consider myself a deep thinker in any way, shape or form, but from a purely logical point of view I can detect a fundamental flaw in the arguments of their slogan.  And even if we emphasise the 'probably' in their dispute of the existence of a higher being, isn't that a pretty huge 'probably' to wager eternity on? (see Pascal's Gambit.....).  And so we can see that you can't really out-think anything when it comes to faith (which is essentially why they call it 'faith', not 'hope'....).  Everybody has the knowledge of good and evil inside them, it all comes down to whether or not they BELIEVE.

If Christianity were about definitions, or the Bible, or any of the stuff that it's perceived to be about, it probably wouldn't still be around today.  Let's say I start telling people I'm the son of God.  Let's even say people start to believe me.  Then let's say I spend my whole short life telling people how to live their lives and how to be happy and how to get into Heaven, and then I die.  People write a book about me chronicling everything I said.  Now 10, 50, 100, 1000, two thousand years down the line, is anybody going to still be learning about me and listening to the things I said?  Probably not.  So why does Christianity still exist?  Why hasn't it been forgotten about, or dismissed as a myth?  Surely all the crazy things Jesus said can now be laughed off and dismissed as falsehoods?  Surely there aren't enough gullible people to propagate this fictional story and keep it going and keep proclaiming it as fact?  

Well maybe people stopped talking about Jesus, stopped going to church, stopped reading the Bible, but they certainly didn't stop asking questions about God, because the questions were inside them from the very beginning.  I wholeheartedly believe that a man, Jesus Christ, walked on this earth somewhere in the middle-East around 2000 years ago.  Now whether you believe He existed or not, whether you believe He was the son of a God or not, you probably have the same soul-ingrained questions as everyone else.  But if you choose to believe that there is a God, then you need to decide whether you believe everything that He's said through the Bible, talking snakes, magic trees, zombies and all.

Church Funnies.

If you've been going to church all your life then over the years you'll undoubtedly have had some good (if slightly irreverent) laughs at the expense of others.  Whether it's at a church that practises some weird stuff that you're not used to in your own, or whether it's just one of those things that all churchgoers experience, there's something to make everyone smile.  While my PS3 downloads yet another update, allow me to list just a few of the things that are always going to raise a smile during a service:

Trying to get everyone singing from the same hymnsheet (sometimes literally) in church is sometimes an uphill struggle.  Couple this with temperamental technology operated by people who saw the back end of the First World War and you've got a recipe for hilarious mistakeage.  Whether it be the words not matching the song the musicians are playing, or the PowerPoint slide operator dude falling asleep mid-song, leaving everybody humming and lalalaing whilst looking around for weapons with which to end this awkward life they're living, there's always scope for a good laugh here.  Add to this the potential for surprise repeat-choruses and key changes (sometimes mid-verse), and we're in for a right laugh-riot.

Big Pimpin' - Horatius Bonar

Kids' songs featuring actions are fair game for laughs - especially if the adults of the congregation are encouraged to join in.  There's always one dad who seems to be enjoying doing the Father Abraham 'right leg, left leg, right arm, left arm, wave your hands, nod your head, sit down, turn around....' a little too much.  But that song's like the Christian equivalent of Black Lace's 'Superman Song' as heard at a gazillion school discos... 

Also, songs with the words 'throng', 'trump', 'breast', or anything written by Horatius Bonar are also near unlimited sources of mirth.  The modern worship classic 'As The Deer Pants For The Water' is one of my personal faves, as it's the only known usage of the phrase 'deer pants' in the English language...

Generally, songs in church can be an un-ending source of potential laughter, especially with a lot of modern worship songs attempting to be sung in churches that really don't have the means (or desires) to pull them off.  And some worship songs are SO modern that they'd be better off being sung at a Lady Ga Ga concert.  Peanut's top tip - if in a song you can replace the name 'Jesus' with the word 'baby', it's probably not for church.

Churches where freedom of 'spiritual expression' is encouraged are also prone to sneak-attack ninja hymnals, usually piped up without permission or warning, usually by an old lady during a quiet prayer time.  These can range from utterly inspired and soul-affirming to utterly bizarre and potentially terrifying.  Case in point, my 5-year-old mother was in her church as a kid, colouring in under the pews during a quiet prayer time, when one of the elders pitched up with a very low-register and Jacob Marley's ghost-esque 'Holy, Holy, Holy'.  She jumped up, hit her head on the underside of her mother's pew and bit her tongue in two.

The other form of spontaneous song weirdness is that thing where at the end of a song, usually under the encouragement of the leaders, everybody starts singing their own songs to their own words and their own tune, usually resulting in a cacophony of brown noise.  I have nothing against these moments, I just find them utterly hilarious and like to join in by trying to sing lines from famous songs, the more offensive the better, without being detected.  Try it yourself - the next time people break out into spontaneous and supposedly spirit-led self-worship, crack out a few lines of Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter, or, if you think you can get away with it, rap a few verses of NWA's classic 'F*ck Da Police'.

The church I grew up in held communion one Sunday a month where we all shared from the same cup of wine/loaf of bread (seeing as there were only about 20 of us....).  This led to a competition arising as to who could slurp their wine the loudest but not have it seem intended (you could get away with this stuff as a kid; we also had games like 'who can hold the last note of the song the longest' or the famous 'who can say Amen in the weirdest voice post-prayerage'....).

In some churches I've been to (usually the ones with the word 'vine' in the name...dead giveaway...), they actually use REAL WINE in the communion ceremony.  In fact, in one church, they even let the little kids take part.  I'm not sure which concerned me more; the blatant disregard for laws regarding alcohol consumption by minors or the blatant disregard for Biblical teachings about only those bought by the precious blood of Christ being permitted to take of the wine.  Anywho, this pales in comparison to one denomination of church where the wine, considered to have actually 'morphed' into the blood of Jesus, was to be taken by the congregation but not wasted if there was some left, resulting in the chief elder having to finish the dregs of the cup all by himself.  If you can stifle your cries of 'down it! down it! down it!' then you're a more disciplined man than I.

The church I now attend has a larger congregation and therefore dispenses bread and wine in already proportioned squares/mini-shot glasses.  However, the window for humour is still slightly ajar.  We take the bread as it comes to us, but then we hold our wine shots until they've all been distributed, at which point we all drink together as an act of corporate reflection and gratitude.  Still, there's always a potential for out-of-towners to miss the instruction to hold off drinking the wine til the end, resulting in a panicked look when they realise they've jumped the gun, akin to that of the wino at the wedding who always finishes his champagne before all the toasts have been raised.  I witnessed one guy pouring some out of his wife's cup into his while she was praying with her eyes closed.  I saw another guy FAKE DRINK the second time with the rest of us - bonus points for trying.  This is always worth a little smirk.

There are bound to be more church funnies, but I shall save them for another night. If you have any suggestions or comments, please suggest and comment below.


Anybody that knows me well knows that I'm a pretty huge Americophile.  I've only been there once but the country as it is today has such an interesting history and culture despite only really being an established nation for a couple of hundred years or so.  This relative 'youth' is probably the thing I find most interesting; everything's so new compared to other developed parts of the world, and people are usually more forward-thinking and less attached to tradition, which is not always a bad thing.  For instance, even in the tiny details, the idea of free drinks refills at restaurants for instance - I know it's a fairly inconsequential tradition, but why does it happen in the US and not in the UK?  Because they've thought about the way things are and have actually stopped to question normality and see if they can't make it better, and God love 'em, they have done.

One thing I noticed on my short time in the States was the prevalence of the Christian church.  Everyone's really open about their faith, and it doesn't seem to be quite as big a deal over there if you say you're a Christian.  They have these huge mega-churches that make Sunday morning service look like the SuperBowl, it's truly an amazing thing.  I often wonder, though, how sincere everyone is.  I returned to the UK a little disheartened about the state of our supposedly 'Christian' country, with church attendance on the decline etc... But when going to church is the 'done thing' (like it was here in the UK at one time), do people attend because they truly believe or because everybody else is doing it?  I guess that's one advantage of living in a Godless nation; the only people left in the pews are the ones who really get it.

This worry translates to another thing Americans have which we don't.  Contemporary Christian Music, or 'CCM' for short, is a genre of music which is lyrically focused on matters concerned with the Christian faith.  It's popular with Christians and non-Christians alike, and as likely to appear in the record shops as Shakira or Slipknot.  Also called 'inspirational music', it seems to be comprised of the sort of worship songs you'd sing in a more charismatic church service but adapted for the wider population, call it 'mass for the masses', if you will.  As London is home to the British pop industry, the CCM industry seems to live in Nashville, TN, right in the buckle of the Bible belt.  They have their own chart, their own version of the Grammys.  It's thought to have been born out of the 'Jesus music' of the 1960s and 70s - the west coast of America was rife with the youth-revolt of the hippie movement, and within that movement was a committed Christian contingent.  Christians plus Rock & Roll plus radical thinking and social re-invention equalled 'the Jesus Movement', which in turn birthed this new genre of faith-music.  Currently in the US, Christian music sales exceed those for classical, jazz, Latin, New Age, and soundtrack music.  

There are those who find the concept of Christian pop/rock music to be an unusual phenomenon, since rock music has historically been associated with themes such as sexual promiscuity, rebellion, drug and alcohol use, and other topics normally considered antithetical to the teachings of the Bible.  Others find that the rock & roll style of music simply isn't conducive to a 'worship' environment, i.e. you can't rock up devil horns whilst praising God.  I've sometimes found myself in that spot - I'm usually much more comfortable singing olde hymnals in church, rather than modern worship songs that could easily appear on a Saturday night talent programme if only they'd replace the word 'Jesus' with the word 'baby'.  But I do enjoy listening to music, bands and artists whose subjects focus on issues of faith, or come from a place of personal salvation with which I can relate.  This leads to another issue within the industry.

There is usually some contention within the CCM market as to what constitutes a 'Christian artist/band'.  Most of the 'Christian bands' I listen to prefer not to be classified with regards to their faith, and I have no problem with that; most of the time I'm just glad that people are making great music about stuff to which  I can relate.  But time and time again you'll hear interviews with bands, usually American, who prefer not to be described as 'Christian', usually because they feel it limits their creative reach or generates the wrong impression.  This isn't to downplay their faith at all, I believe, or avoid admitting it in an effort to garner increased record sales, but more to be judged on the merits of their music rather than on the content of their character.  Which is fair enough.  There is an idea floating around that having a CCM chart is like free advertising for a very specific yet abundantly popular genre of music.  You throw together an album of 'inspirational' music, publish it to a specific chart and get it pushed out to an audience who will buy up anything that namechecks their God.  It's a slick and streamlined business. 

But we don't have to worry about any of that.  We don't have CCM in the UK; for one reason or another it's never really caught on here.  Perhaps there are less Christians.  Perhaps we're just too obsessed with Lady Ga Ga.  I know I am... but is it really such a bad thing?  Let's do a check:

CCM Pros:
  • Inspirational, motivational tunes for the gullible masses.
  • The Gospel spread via music
  • A bit of light in the otherwise generally dark pop chart world of girls wanting boys to look at their asses, or rappers popping caps in other rapper's asses, or...just generally, ass mania.
  • The chance of hearing some reasonably bangin' tunes about Jesus and stuff.

CCM Cons:
  • CCM has a tendency to be a bit....how should I put this....eyes closed and hand wavey....
  • It also has a tendency to be a bit...how should I put this....generally rubbish......musically....
  • I don't really want the kids at the back of the bus blasting 'Shine Jesus Shine' out of their mobiles.

I don't think there's ever been a good 'Christian' rock band from the UK.  Okay, there are a few 'worship bands', and a few bands whose songs feature Christian-inspired lyrics, but I can't think of any full-on Christian rock bands who have made it big.  Even Athlete, who are apparently Christians, have had limited success at best.  The UK's most famous worship band Delirious have always been massive in the States but ask people on the streets here and they'll probably respond with blank faces.   Despite having had a few UK chart hits, they struggled to receive radio airplay - possibly influenced by their Christian label.  Are we not forward-thinking enough?  Should we be more like our American brothers across the sea?  Or are we in a better state here than they are over there, where 'Christian' music (if it exists) is more about getting a message across than getting records into charts?

If I'm being completely honest, from a selfish self-serving point of view, I kinda like having a complete starvation of CCM in this country as a canvas on which to create my own faith-based music.  If I sing songs about God and creation and my salvation, people would probably listen for a minute or two out of surprise before drifting off.  But if I make music referencing all that stuff and the beats are a-rockin, it might actually stay in their heads long enough to make them think.  Which is pretty much all I wanna do.

...in which an explanation of the site's title is offered.

I work for a company which runs a Students Union for Cardiff University in Wales.  My job in the events department is planning, overseeing and orchestrating events which take place in and around our building, including club nights, exhibitions, live music and comedy.

The latter events usually consist of a main act, the 'headliners', but prior to this there are often several 'support' or 'warmup' acts whose job it is to get the audience ready to watch the main act.  These 'warmup acts' are employed so that, by the time the headliners take to the stage, the crowd is comfortable enough in a large group to enjoy the performance of the band or artist, singing along to all their favourite songs.  Sometimes good, on rare occasions abysmal, the life of a warmup act is not necessarily a great one.  There's absolutely no shame in opening for a more popular talent, and sometimes they even exceed the performance of the headliner, but no support act can say they're at the top of their field, yet.

So here we have this performance - it's not what people have come to see, it's not why anybody bought their ticket, it's not why the concert was put on in the first place, but nevertheless the audience usually try to enjoy it as best they can, safe in the knowledge that sometime soon the main act is going to come on and vindicate whatever dross they've had to endure first.

Life, I feel, is much like this.  I have often thought of this world as a warmup act (hey, that's the name of the site!), in which we are all trying to enjoy ourselves, and might even find temporary happiness once in a while, but it's not why we bought the ticket.  All of us, those of us who believe in an afterlife, anyway, are in this waiting room of a world, kicking our heels and looking forward to the 'real life' that will begin with the ending of this one.

Death, the great enlightened say, is just a part of life.  This is true, but it's only really as true as saying that arriving at a destination is just a part of the journey, when surely the whole point should be what happens after you've arrived?  I think they are missing the point - journeys are traversed with a goal in mind, an aim to get from one place to another.  So, too, for those who, like me, believe in life after death, life is merely a journey.  Death is the arrival, but the destination is so much more important than the arrival.

As this site tries to examine where my beliefs meet those of the world, it should be noted that the belief in 'heaven' is probably not the most out-there of the claims of Jesus and of the Bible, less-so than, say, God coming to earth and offering humanity a second chance by dying on a cross.  Sure, lots of people don't believe in any sort of 'afterlife', and they obviously have their reasons.  I often think of the bit on Alan Partridge's Radio Norwich show where they're talking about life after death:

"Frederick emails to say he has four children, is the proud father of a new
baby boy Joshua and his daughter, Susan, five, has just started school and
he thinks that after death, there is nothing." 

That always makes me chuckle; the ensuing laughter on the show highlighting, I feel, the arrogant disbelief of some people.  But if you really think about it, it becomes a lot less funny.  I can't imagine living life without believing there might be something better.  The cynic in me would say that maybe believing in life after death presents choices that some people don't want to deal with if those choices mean them living a life by someone else's rules, but that's another discussion entirely.  But I still believe that, even amongst people who don't necessarily say they have a 'faith', the belief in an afterlife or heaven is probably not all that uncommon.

I've only been to one funeral, and as my Grandfather was a faithful Christian the service was obviously all focused on his new life in Heaven.  But what of other non-faith services?  Do such a thing exist?  I can't imagine anyone going up to give a eulogy and saying 'Terrence lived a wonderful life, fathered seven brilliant children, cured cancer and now is nothing and nowhere.'

Of course, I'm not saying that a belief in the afterlife negates any experience in this life, on the contrary.  I believe that life after death is not something which can be offered free of charge (a discussion for another time perhaps), and so as we have been bought by the blood, we should really try our best to be good faithful servants in this life while we wait for our real life to begin.  I'm not saying we can 'buy' our way into life after death via good deeds, but we should perform good deeds because we have been bought and saved from eternal death.

And so the title of the site stands, basically reminding me that whatever I experience in this life, and I hope to experience an awful lot of good things, it is merely a waiting room, the support act before the headliner, a set which will never end.  Like a Coldplay concert, only better.