What’s wrong with real reality?

There was a discussion on today’s BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme on the wonders of virtual reality.   It would seem that before long we will have no need to react with the world outside our home but will be able to just sit in a chair and let the world come to us.

It seems that the history of civilisation has been a relentless retreat from the real world to a copy of our own making – from speaking to writing and from writing to printing – although no-one would quarrel with that – but today we no longer need real paper but can find all the words we need on an I pad or E book.

Homo sapiens first learnt to communicate by vibrating real vocal chords with real air and shaping the sounds in a real mouth with real lips.   But in the course of time we learnt to produce virtual copies of the vibrations at first mechanically, then electronically and finally digitally.

Once upon a time, to get from place to place people put one real foot in front of the other on real ground, until they found that sitting in a box on wheels was easier and more comfortable. They found their way by looking at real features of a real landscape – admittedly a difficult exercise if you were going more than a few yards so they produced a virtual landscape on a piece of paper called a map.   But that required a real brain so they devised a virtual brain which directs them by a virtual voice from a virtual map.   They still have to guide the box with a real steering wheel  but we are assured we shall soon be able to dispense with that and sit back and enjoy a virtual journey albeit hopefully to a real destination.

Real life can sometimes be tedious so very early on people learnt to escape its tedium by watching people enacting a more interesting virtual life on a stage.   But real actors wanted real wages so a way was found to produce virtual images of the actors at first on a screen in a virtual theatre called a cinema and finally in the virtual cinema of a television screen at home.

It seems that the only step left for me as I sit in my chair in my virtual world will be a virtual lunch, but somehow I expect I might get really hungry.

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More hope

After yesterday’s rather gloomy blog I was struck this morning by the beauty and promise of  Psalm 85.   “Lord, you have been gracious to your land and turned the tide of Jacob’s fortunes”.   It is as if the psalmist has reached rock bottom and the only way is forward and up.
Maybe we have yet to reach rock bottom but are desperately floundering in the bog, vainly trying to fight terrorism with its own weapons of violence in the Middle East and ever tighter security at home; fighting a corrupt capitalist system with ineffective legislation and the poison of prejudice and racism with righteous indignation;  searching for direction in squabbles over leadership.
When we reach rock bottom and know it, when we realize that our wounds can no longer be healed with sticking plaster but only by drastic vital surgery, when “love and faithfulness come together” and” justice and peace embrace” then the tide will turn and the only way will be up.   John the Baptist had a word for it “Repent”.   There, and only there lies our hope.

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Responding to a remark about the terrible things that have happened in the last month I commented that the world seems to be collapsing around us.
On reflection isn’t that  just what our corrupt, individualistic, consumerist hate-ridden world needs?   The process may be painful but so was crucifixion.   Yet without crucifixion there could be no resurrection.
Rather than despairing at the state of our world today should we not be looking in hope for the opportunity for a new and better world where justice may thrive and Blake’s prayer for  “mercy, pity, peace and love” find fulfillment.
Indeed, Paul’s vision of the whole of creation groaning in the pangs of childbirth (Romans 8:22) suggests that even the ominous threat of global warming may not be irredeemable if it inculcates a renewed respect for the environment and a responsible and sustainable use of its treasures.

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Oldies aren’t all leavers

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s article’ “Family rifts over Brexit” in today’s Guardian is so very sad.

As an 86 year old who voted “Remain” I have long been concerned about the generalization that older people are leavers but had not realized how deep and bitter this rift could be.

Riahnnon quotes a friend as saying “I saw this older couple in the street and just felt this sudden, enormous wave of fury towards them”.   It is hurtful – if understandable – to think that this is how young people may be thinking and feeling about my wife and I as we go about our shopping or other outdoor activities.  Indeed more sensitive souls might be discouraged from venturing outdoors rather than be the cause of such emotions.   I have long since abandoned the pride that would refuse a seat in a train and would have to think hard about travelling today if I could not depend upon the welcome offer of a seat by some generous younger person when needed.

I cannot blame young people for such feelings but would beg them to understand that not every old person is a bigoted “leaver” just because they walk with a stick.     I would like to say that I am as saddened and upset by the referendum result as those young people but that is not possible since they have a lifetime to lose whereas I can have only an imagined future.    Nevertheless, let them be assured that I am as sad and as hurt as my imagined future will allow.

It has been suggested that the age for voting should have been lowered because the young have a greater future in front of them.    But perhaps it would have been more sensible to have an upper limit and disenfranchise those of us who only have a brief spell to vote for.   In my lifetime I have never knowingly failed to use my vote in any election for which I was eligible but I would gladly have forgone my referendum vote if it could have prevented the injustice inflicted on the young.

I am tempted to paraphrase Martin Niemoller’s famous quote as “They came for the gays and I did not speak out because I was not gay, then they came for the Poles and I did not speak out because I was not a Pole, lastly they came for the oldies and there was no-one left to speak for us”.

I know that is absurdly over-dramatic but it is truly alarming to see how this referendum has divided our nation – or brought to the surface divisions and emotions that simmered beneath the crust of society waiting for the eruption of the volcano.   Forgive the mixed metaphors but I cannot think of a better way of expressing my concerns at this time.

To misquote again – this time from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – there is surely something rotten in the state of Britain and there is an urgent need for the voices that will speak out for the fairer, kinder, more just, more tolerant Britain that the “leavers” claimed to be voting for.

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Sovereignty! What sovereignty?

So we’ve voted to leave Europe – correction – the country has voted to leave Europe – correction – England and Wales have voted to leave Europe.   My “we” is the 48.1% (16,141,241) who were shocked and deeply saddened by the referendum result.   Maybe it should not have, but pictures of people rejoicing almost physically hurt.   Sackcloth and ashes would be so much more fitting.

But all need not be lost.   Sovereignty – which means so much to Nigel Farage and those who share his world view – is not a luxury to be indulged but an instrument to be used and the crucial issue today is how that sovereignty will be used in the days and months and years before us.    It could be used to promote the xenophobic nationalism of Trump and Farage;  to protect the privileges that we and our forbears – to the nth. generation – regard as our birthright from the pain and misery, the poverty and injustice of the world beyond our shores.

But it could be used to serve another way, what the apostle Paul called “a better way” a way that Jo Cox died for and many unsung Jo Coxes live for, a way that does not jealously guard our fortunes but unstintingly plays its part  in bearing the burdens of our troubled world.   May it be so.

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Divine empathy

Last Sunday morning we sang of Jesus the Christ “Can we have a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?”   It struck me that the key word there is “share”.   The risen Christ does not just support, care for us in our sorrows, he does not pity or sympathise with our sorrows, he empathises with us in them.   Several on-line definitions of empathy include the word “experience”.   Christ experiences our sorrows, i.e. our sorrows are his too.  He does not just suffer for us, he suffers with us.

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Mene Mene

It has been suggested that the use of the expression mene mene tekel u-pharsin in my previous blog was “very strong stuff”.   In defense I would stress that it was applied to global power structures and not to any specific regime or organisation.   It was also expressed in the superlative mood as a possibility for consideration rather than a prophecy.

However, Michael Northcott entitles the penultimate chapter of his book (A Political Theology of climate Change) “Revolutionary Messianism and the End of Empire” and the sub-section on William Blake as “The Apocalypse of Albion – Christ”.   Hardly weak language.   As a liberal Christian I am wary of applying apocalyptic language to contemporary situations but I find the parallels between the industrial society challenged by Blake and the global economic situation facing us today remarkably convincing.

So let us consider that mysterious expression from the book of Daniel, phrase by phrase as it might apply to our 21st century world.

Mene – “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.”    Our post-Christian society may think it can dispense with God but it cannot dispense with history.    Every previous civilisation has come to an end and it is the height of arrogance to suppose that ours will be an exception – that we have in fact reached the end of history.   It is indeed apocalyptics gone mad.

Tekel – “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”     Suppose it were true, that history had in fact reached its goal, that there was nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for.   Would it be ground for satisfaction, let alone pride?    We are slaves to the fear of terrorism;   international security rests on the mutual threat of a nuclear holocaust;   refugees flee from war or famine and the countries in which they would seek security fear the threat to their comfortable living standards;   where the privileged enjoy luxury others depend on the charity of food banks to satisfy their hunger……….   Can there be any doubt but that the global power structures on which the welfare of the world depends are wanting?

U-pharsin – “Your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”   Mention of the Medes and Persians makes it clear that the expression applies to a particular historic situation, namely the capture of Babylon by Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C.  It is futile to attempt to apply the particulars of a specific situation in 539 B.C. to a totally different situation two and a half millennia later but the intention of “u-pharsin” to explain how the end implied by “mene” was to come about is clear.    It remains to be seen how history might bring an end to the empire of contemporary political and economic powers but there is no shortage of candidates – a nuclear holocaust, climate chaos,  an Islamic Caliphate…….

But do we need to be so negative?    Might not the demise of the present political/economic empire be a cause for hope rather than despair?    Whatever the faults and dangers of cyber-technology it has given rise to a real sense of the empowerment of ordinary people.    They are waking to the realisation that they do not have to accept slavery to the  pressures of media, the economists, the politicians, the global corporations………   Here is hope for a saner, happier more peaceful world.

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