Wednesday, 17 November 2010

In the world but not of it

I'm sitting here typing this in the library of the Oxford Union. It's a beautiful room lined with ancient books.

I was never a member of the Union when I was a student. Then I viewed it as the refuge of political hacks and an unnecessary expense. Now it provides me with quiet workspaces, cheap lunches, free wi-fi and comfy chairs to sit on in the middle of Oxford. I never go to the debates, they are in the evenings and we've got kids to look after. But I use it as a quiet place to work during the day. I'm sure everyone thinks I'm some sort of academic as I tap away on my computer and they have no idea that I am a magician/ juggler/ fire eater, probably updating the ZANE website or doing my accounts.

As has been the case for much of my life, I feel like I'm getting away with it. I'm in the Union, but I don't feel like I'm part of it. I feel like I'm running a business (I'm a company director, don't you know!) but someone will find out that I don't really know how to do it properly at some point. When I was a student at Oxford I constantly felt like I had got in because someone made an admin error somewhere. I'm a Christian but I don't feel like I fit in with most of the church.

Anyway, The Oxford Union gives me an opportunity to people watch. And the people here are hilarious. A number of very eccentric crusty old dons talking to slightly earnest students on one table. Then a hooray hack will swan in and do a hack hook-up with another to exchange smarmy sub-text laden pleasantries with each other. Many of the future Camerons, Blairs and Thatchers are here - it's quite fun trying to guess which will make it big in the future. They are all desperately trying to fit in, to be in this world and of it.

But is that what we are supposed to do? Part of me thinks that we should always be a bit uneasy about fitting in. Look at life sideways. Do things differently. Be unconventional, creative. Being normal seems wrong, makes me worried and uneasy.

My friend Ian Mobsby used to talk about "The ministry of not fitting in."

Is that what is meant by "Being in the world, but not of it?"

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Ethics of Pets

We had a trip to the Greyhound Stadium in Oxford last night. I had been dubious about going because I had heard about badly treated ex-racing dogs. However, on arrival the first thing we saw was a big hoarding talking about finding good homes for retired dogs. So it looks like they are doing something about it.

Anyway, while we were there I had an interesting chat with a new friend in our group who was trying to work out what to do next in his life. Several years ago he worked as a vet and has recently been abroad doing something else. Now he is back in the UK he doesn't want to go back to "keeping 18 year old cats going" because he has ethical problems with it.

This led on to the beginnings of a discussion about the ethics of keeping pets in general.

We have a dog and a cat. The dog is pedigree, the cat from a farm. At Christmas our last farm cat was seriously injured and we decided to have her put down because the bill to fix her would have been around £2,000. We might well have paid similar money to fix our dog because she is worth more and we have had her for longer. Were/ are we right?

Is it ethical to spend lots of money on pets when there is so much human suffering about?

But, then again, pets are lifelines to some people and very therapeutic to others.

I'm balancing a pragmatic kind of farmer/ meat eating/ countryside approach and a love of animals. But I'd be interested to know if others have a more thought out way of drawing a line in the sand on this one...

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Performance and Worship

I'm fascinated between the relationship between performance and worship.

Years ago I used to work for a big evangelical church. I was also working as an entertainer in my spare time. The Sunday services were basically performances, everyone doing something up front had to be as professional as possible. The music was brilliantly played, the preacher was excellent at public speaking, the prayers were word perfect and it was all timed down to the last minute.

Strangely enough, as a performer this started to bother me. What happened on Sunday was just the same as what happened when I did a magic and juggling show at a party. It felt very inaccessible for the person in the pew. The average congregation member could not contribute because they hadn't prepared or were not qualified enough.

I have not resolved this and would be interested to see what others think. On the one hand there is the idea that we should produce the best we can in honour of God (I actually love a kicking band in church and it really helps me worship. But I get the same thing listening to some U2 tracks. Or even any great music). On the other hand church is a community where all should contribute and feel equally valuable.

What do others think?

Hi - I'm now a blogger

Hi world!

I have decided to dive into the world of blogging. Hopefully it will become a good habit.

I intend to share thoughts and reflections on the many places I visit and the interface of family life, performing, magic, circus and theology. I think I have a unique position from which to look at life and some people might be interested(!)