Monday, 28 April 2014

Slayer, Anglicanism & Babette's Feast

by Richard Trouncer

Jeff Hanneman’s death conformed with the image of metal - necrotizing fasciitis caused by a spider bite plus liver disease from alcohol abuse. He was a brilliant guitarist with Slayer, writing songs that I love and listen to regularly 25 years on. I’ve always wanted to see them live before I die and now I won’t, or at least not with their original lineup.

All of which plays into thoughts I’ve been having about death and change recently.

It’s partly the Anglican Church. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, like some mad old maiden aunt who now only seems to talk about “gays” and “women bosses”, and it’s getting embarrassing. For years I’ve been going along to Emerging Churches, Alternative Worship, Fresh Expressions or whatever they’re currently called, hoping that this was going to help revive the Church. But, talking with old friends I made there, it’s emerged I’m very unusual in still being a Christian let alone going to Church. Obviously this may be more a reflection of my friends, but it’s starting to get a bit lonely.

It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. The Church spread far more widely to the East than the West in the centuries after the death of Jesus. Now there is little left to remember that. The church that spread into 7th century China was wiped out, the vast churches of Syria and the East are tiny vestiges. Churches die. God will not necessarily stop the same happening to Anglicanism.

Death and change are inevitable. But when you care about something, watching it die is pretty painful. Plus it reminds you of your own death and what you’ve achieved (or not) in life. Oddly guiding me through this has been the film Babette’s Feast, which features a dying Church and lost loves. I don’t want to spoil what is a wonderful film for those of you who haven’t seen it, so I’ll stick to what may seem peripheral - the quiet death of a small unimportant Christian sect. All that’s left are a few aging folk who will be dead within a few years, taking the Church with them. And who will remember? What difference will they have made?

It’s easy to say that the impact of something is impossible to measure - a tiny act of kindness, such as giving up your seat on a crowded bus, can lead to profound change and joy unknown to the giver. But I don’t think that’s the point. I don’t think anything needs to be left for it to have been hugely important. I think that those acts of kindness, or love, made and forgotten, are great in the eyes of God, showing his presence and celebrated by all of heaven. The Church in Babette’s Feast will soon be dead, but the love and kindness they can show each other is hugely meaningful. The Anglican Church may die, Emerging Church may not emerge, Europe may stop being Christian, but God remembers.

And though death and change may be inevitable for us, ours is a risen God, a God who breaks the chains of death and despair. I have no idea how anything will emerge from the mess we’re in, but I will keep faith in my God and hope that there is the possibility of something remarkable. I will continue to try to do the right thing, to try to listen to where God is calling me, to try to achieve something meaningful in my life. Nothing may remain except a memory in the heart of God, but God may also bring new life out of death in ways I cannot understand. The Anglican Church too may rise again.

And maybe I will see Slayer live. After the last judgement, in Heaven. Because, even with people who hate the Church for what it is, and claim to hate God for what he’s done, there is a risen transforming Christ who is always able to surprise.

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Parasol Protectorate, a review (Part 2 of 2)

by Claire McDermott

Continuing from last week...

God is rarely mentioned, but there is a religious order. The Templars in Italy are the main villain in the third instalment of the series. Their agenda is to destroy all supernaturals, who they consider to be abominations to God, because they have chosen the immortal life thereby rejecting the natural order established by God (mainland Europe is not as open to vampires and werewolves as GB is!) They also consider Preternaturals to be demons, being born without a soul and therefore denied any chance of eternal rest in heaven. Conversely, the Preternaturals are also pitied because they are born in that condition, and are used as tools by the Templars to weaken and destroy their enemy. Religion is seen to be antiquated, dangerous, and presented in a negative light, but I don't think that this is a bad thing in literature. The Templars are fixed in their endeavours to see non-human beings as creatures to be destroyed. It's easy to see a similarity with our own world today, we still have persecution and rejection of people who don't conform to Christian standards, and religion is seen by many to be outdated and even damaging. This fantasy story gives the reader something to fear that we can identify with - tragically we know all too well that Religion has and will be used to achieve goals that I would deem not of God. Sadly the Templars are not given an opportunity in the books to redeem themselves, but I like to hope that if a future book were to be released, that there could be some saving grace for them.

In truth, no one gets away without some portion of guilt - all types of people, from scientists to Egyptian mummies, from family members to butlers, everyone in these novels does something wrong at one stage or another. There is a balance here, good and evil is not black and white, and that for me is the best thing about the series. There are countless times when you discover that the hero is actually the 'bad guy', but they have valid reasoning for their actions and end up favourable again. People make mistakes and then correct them, all have sinned and many seek forgiveness and redemption, and there is an air of learning and discovery throughout the books which I find encouraging. We as Christians need to be continually reviewing why we believe what we believe, and be willing to change our view on things as well, because only then will we be able to stay true to the world around us, and not become the villain without realising it.

I highly recommend these books for people who like steampunk and supernatural themes, they're rather silly at times, but they are considered, well constructed and give a new perspective on what could easily be a bit of an over-wrought genre of late. I enjoyed the new perspective and value an opportunity to look at my belief system and see how it measures up. Am I most like the Templars, the religiously fervent, skilled warrior types, who hold fast and true to their faith? Do I consider myself to perhaps have excess soul, and if so would I consider the choice of immortality that supernatural metamorphosis offers? Would I be open to the notion of welcoming werewolves and vampires into my home if they truly existed? And is it possible to be born without a soul?

Plenty to ponder over a cup of tea!

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Parasol Protectorate, a review (Part 1 of 2)

by Claire McDermott

The myths surrounding vampires, werewolves and ghosts have been around for so long, and been repeated so frequently in media, that we take for granted our awareness of certain rules and guidelines that they adhere to. I don't need to tell you that a werewolf changes at a full moon, a vampire thirsts for blood, ghosts can pass through solid objects, and so on and so forth, because it's now steeped into our culture. A few writers and directors will try to veer from the norm, but they often have to reference the original conventions first, to give assistance in our understanding. The knowledge is so deep rooted that we have to force our minds to consider an alternative.

This challenge proved to be no issue for Miss Gail Carriger, American writer and daughter to a Brit, who chose not only to bend and change some of the established laws of supernatural culture, but also to create something entirely new in the process. The Parasol Protectorate series (5 books in total and noted in a previous SUB blog) explores the life of Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a lady from a high society family in late 1800's Victorian London. Her escapades bring her into contact with numerous members of the supernatural set, in part due to her own special nature (more on that later), whilst maintaining the modesty and decorum of her age. In this alternative history, where prevalent scientific discoveries are manifested in a rather steampunk fashion, vampires, werewolves and ghosts are welcomed members of society, with Great Britain and Queen Victoria being very progressive for their time. They still follow many of the expected behaviours that supernatural tradition dictates, but there are some significant changes that as a Christian I find particularly intriguing.

For me one of the most interesting aspects of Carriger's stories is how she explains why the 'undead' still live past their metamorphosis to supernatural state. We believe everyone is born with a soul, and traditional stories would suggest that vampires and their ilk are without soul, whether sacrificed or taken against their will, that their condition is born of an ungodly union or rejection of salvation. Not so in The Parasol Protectorate. Anyone who is able to transform from human to supernatural can only do so if they have excess soul, the overabundance of soul is what keeps them 'alive' in their new state of immortality. This significantly changes how we perceive them, they are no long excluded from heaven, they are just prolonging the journey there. Our protagonist Alexia however is something new. She is what is referred to as Preternatural. She is born with no soul at all, and what is also particular to her condition is that if she touches a vampire or a werewolf, she turns them mortal for the duration that they are in physical contact. With ghosts, if she touches their original body, they vanish, never to be seen again. Many of the characters still follow the recognised patterns of supernatural behaviour, but with the change to the application of soul, and with the introduction of the Soulless main character we see a very different attitude towards these creatures.

Return next week for my final thoughts on the book and its subject matter...

Monday, 7 April 2014

Biker mortality

Bike not representative of my own!

by Catherine Pratt

More on death - it's been a recurring theme recently, having been involved in the Encountering Corpses exhibition, and for various reasons has been on my mind more than usual.

I'm a biker (ok, Scooterist, but they've still got two wheels and an engine). The experience of encountering a car pulling straight out into your path on a regular basis does serve as a constant reminder than motorcyclists are 35 times more likely to die in an accident than car drivers [Source: THINK!]. My partner was recently knocked off her motorbike and that call from the police at 10pm could so easily have been much worse news. All this does tend to remind me of my mortality.

Prior to getting into biking, I didn't have anywhere near as many reminders, however the Christian faith does have a lot to say about it - or at least, a lot to say about life after death. I've never really explored this, or heaven and hell, very much until now, as it all seemed to me to be a pretty harsh system and I didn't fancy dwelling on it. I'm currently reading Love Wins (At The Heart of Life's Big Questions) by Rob Bell, so I might have a little more to say about this in the near future...