Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Meeting Generation Z

Recently I have been reading a little about the latest generation born between 1999-2001 that have been dubbed Generation Z.  Past classifications such as Baby Boomers, Generation X have prepared us for the next iteration and with hesitation because of the dangers of their massive generalizations we can discern some definite changes and differences. Of course, my grandchildren have already taught me some by their hyper tech savy awareness and immersion into the digital world. Social media is their breath!

This interest was sparked by meeting Jordan Whitmer a couple of days ago when he came to visit us in Cambridge.  He shared how he had passed beyond Generation Z having (just) reached 21 years.  However, as a Gen Z member he demonstrated what he sees as some of the distinctives about this next generation.  When he was 16 he felt God's call to witness to his peers and with 5 friends, using social media, they planned a meeting in their home town of Harrison, Arkansas. They called it How to Life. Expecting a few tens, they gathered 750 teens in a rally where 75 made commitments of faith in Jesus Christ.  Other high schools joined in as news rapidly spread throughout 20 different US states, coast to coast.

A teenager in Wigan read about it which led to How to Life taking off in England with an international conference in 2018 in England and Hamburg.  Jordan was over here because the movement is now spreading to other countries in Europe.  As he puts it: 'Teens listen to other teens more than to any others'!

My day spent with Jordan introducing him to Cambridge and its history was sheer delight.  His interest in Reformation history, his mature self-awareness even as the founder and CEO of this rapidly expanding movement (which could so easily lead to conceit), and his clear vision for winning others made him a memorable visitor.  I learned so much and was encouraged by his perception that among Gen Z there is receptivity to the gospel and when teenagers feel empowered remarkable spiritual things can happen.  I'll mention a couple of things next........

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Photo realistic computer animation and a punt pole

With our grandchildren staying for a brief visit I had opportunity to be with Elliot (13 years plus) and Sophie (10 years) for at least a couple of experiences.  One dismal wet day I decided to take them to see The Lion King.  I had read about this billion$ grossing movie with its photo realistic computer animation remake of the earlier Disney animation. I had also read some mixed reviews!

In the small studio with about 50 recliners and ample space all round, we stuck popcorn and drink on a swing table between us and laid back (almost flat) for the pre-programme and then the (very) long movie. I know I am losing some hearing but when the lights went out it was deafening. Both children agreed it was too loud (though perhaps they were humouring me!)  Anyway, the movie itself was extraordinary, bringing animals to life in spectacular scenery and I gawped at the wonder of technology today. So, a very contemporary deafening experience.  My grandchildren besotted with ipads and games felt right at home.

On their last full morning Elliot wanted to go punting again.  He had already made a couple of happy attempts and wanted to expand his skills.  Going upstream my son punted leisurely towards Granchester/ Just river bank scenery, ducks and swans. Sophie was helped to wield the pole and her smile of triumph as she sat down was a delight.  Elliot then took over.  Unfortunately, the river bed was quite sticky and trees overhung either side.  His strenuous efforts took us from one side to the other and back.  And then the pole firmly stuck in the mud and (fortunately) Elliot let go. Suddenly we (and some onlookers on the bank) were enthralled by adventure.  Paddling furiously back to the pole we rescued it with such laughter.  Genuine enjoyment in the moment. Of course they took a video and pictures on the iphone but I couldn't help but contrast these two experiences.  One created by technology for us.  The other...just messing about in a boat. There's nothing like creating your own enjoyment together, is there?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Proud father

When Rob was a teenager he volunteered one Summer at Addenbooke's Hospital radio in Cambridge.  Visiting the wards, gaining requests and communicating greetings he fell in love with the process of radio.  Of course, this was very local but it was sufficient to spark enthusiasm for the whole world of radio. His ambition became fixed on 'getting into radio'.  As parent I sought to be wise!  I cautioned him about having too narrow a focus. About the danger of shutting out other possibilities and, of course, the possibility of serious disappointment if it didn't happen.

But his focus on radio never wavered once!  At Oxford University though he was reading English he with a couple of friends launched the first UK's FM student radio station.  It hit the headlines though his Principal said that if he had spent  the same amount of time on his academics as setting up the radio he could have excelled!  However, since then he has gone from strength to strength, collecting an unrivaled number of national awards for his own university station in the US, founded Student College Radio Day, and the international student radio organization that has been held this week. Always radio!

And for the first time this week at the conference I heard him speak. It was an extraordinary sensation to listen to Rob in full flow with wit, clarity, content, great skill and contagious enthusiasm communicating his passion, now so obviously fulfilled.  I was immensely proud of him (and his wife has been the most supportive partner in it all).  To see his dream fulfilled with such gifting was quite overwhelming.  I know why I cautioned him those years ago but I am delighted to see he stayed with his vision.  Quite wonderful.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Thinking Radio

Yesterday, I was at the 2nd. International Student Radio Conference - Alternatives 2019 - at Jesus College, Cambridge.  Those readers who know of our son Robert's work with student radio will guess that Carol and I were both there in the bonds of parental relationship!   Following up from our Golden Wedding at the college this time last year, Rob resolved to organize this radio conference at the college too.  It's been very hard work - representatives have come from all over the world and trying to bring the admin. and content together has involved Rob and Lori sleepless nights and the rest.   But it has launched with a very good spirit though many attendees were delayed.

Rob asked me as a former student of Jesus College to welcome them with a word about the city and the college.  I began by mentioning that Cambridge is statistically in the driest part of the UK.  Guffaws echoed round the room since it had rained heavily all day and wet weather is set to continue through the rest of their stay.  Oh, blame the shifted jet stream!

It is easy to overwhelm with welcome facts but I knew I had to communicate the thrill of staying in a place of such history.  You never know who studied in your room in the generations before!  Because it was a radio conference I had to tell them about former student Alistair Cooke who emigrated to the US.  In 1946 he was commissioned to give 13 weekly radio sessions which became 'Letter from America'. After only a few weeks the BBC knew they were onto a winner.   He continued giving weekly 15 minute talks....well, for how long?  I asked them to guess.  No one got it!  Until 2004!  He had broadcast for 58 years without a gap - a world radio speech record.

Earlier, before the conference started, at a coffee morning I had asked the group of older friends we meet with how many remembered Letter from America.  Everyone round the table did!  With animation one after another told of episodes they remembered - like his eyewitness to the shooting of Robert Kennedy.  Yes, radio connects.  I hope the conference inspires many.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reformation Cambridge 4) Fresh learning

I mentioned how I had learned new things.  After the cool we were hit again by the heat as we walked by the Market Square into Great St. Mary's - the University Church.  I had no idea that in the window of opportunity for Reformers granted by a different monarch (1547-1553) one of the great German reformers, a personal friend of Luther, a brilliant scholar and a powerful preacher had actually come to be the preacher in this church as well as Divinity Professor.   Martin Bucer is one of those names that should be better known.

He came to Great St. Mary's and preached from a three-tiered pulpit set up at the front of the church. So influential was his preaching that when he died after only two years in Cambridge (in 1551) the town and gown mourned him in vast numbers.  3000 people gathered at his funeral as he was buried in the church.

Sadly, the story does not end there.  Soon afterwards when Mary came to the throne she ordered his coffin to be dug up and his body burned with his ashes scattered in the nearby Market Square.  Later Queen Elizabeth 1 ordered the ashes to be collected and reburied in the church.  A plaque at the east end on the floor now remembers this great man.

In the sweltering heat we paused to take in this bit of history.  For me, it led to finding out more about Bucer.  One biographer reflects that he hasn't received enough attention for his influence on others was immense (especially on Calvin who claimed Bucer's commentary on Romans was one of the very greatest!)  So many aspects of his work sparkle - like how he initiated small discipleship cells for the spiritual renewal of believers with an evangelical service of confirmation (he designed) being a focal point of commitment to Christ.  What a story we belong to!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Reformation Cambridge 3) In the cool and wow.

We passed through the crowds gathered round the locust clock (apparently 5.3 million visitors came to Cambridge last year) and went down a narrow alley opposite King's College to the church of St. Edward King and Martyr.   On the ancient church door was pinned a notice to keep the door shut.  However, it was ajar held by an empty beer crate.  Entering the darkness the drop in temperature was startling.  By many degrees!

With gratitude many of the group sat while I described how this had been the college chapel for Latimer and Bilney.  Outside the bishop's authority it could therefore be the one place in Cambridge where Reformation truths could ignite.  And on Christmas Eve 1525, one of the reformers Robert Barnes preached the first Reformation sermon in England.  He had known Luther and come to Cambridge to head up an Augustinian monastery.  The pulpit from which he preached is still at the front. Called Latimer's pulpit you are not allowed to climb it but many of us touched its pitted surface.  This is where it first happened!  On a side wall a plaque marks how reformers had met at the White Horse Inn as new ideas fermented before this church became the birthplace of the reformation.  It also notes how Barnes, Bilney and Latimer were all burned to death for their witness.

The professor leading the group, sitting in the welcome cool, said: 'It's hard for us now to realize just how revolutionary all this was.  Everything was changed.' We stayed there for several minutes quietly reflecting.  Revolutionary, yes.  In the cool, wow!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Reformation Cambridge 2) The clock and plaque

The group of students I was hosting was on an assignment about post-Christianity.  I shared how the latest British attitude survey put 52% as non-religious with 26% of the population avowedly atheist, who are better at passing on their atheism than the small Christian percentage passing on their faith.

As if to prove the point.... I had scouted out the reformation walk beforehand. Walking along King's Parade (towards the iconic King's College Chapel) I saw a large crowd spilling across the road with their cameras out.  It was close to one of the most significant reformation sites.  However, moving closer I saw they were all looking in the opposite direction at the Corpus Clock which shows a monstrous locust-type creature gobbling up the seconds on top of a 5 foot high disc clock. Unveiled in 2008 by Stephen Hawking it is a strange sight.  Indeed its designer called it a chronophage - literally time eater - with the words in Latin beneath: 'the world passeth away, and the lust thereof.'

Admittedly, it is an unusual sight.  However, on the opposite side of the road is a blue plaque commemorating the White Horse Inn where the first reformers met in secret to discuss Luther's books which had been smuggled down river in 1521.   It is called 'Little Germany' for obvious reasons. The modest plaque adds: the birthplace of the English reformation.  Just near this spot scholars like Thomas Bilney (Trinity Hall), Hugh Latimer ( Clare) and Nicholas Ridley (Master of Pembroke) dared to think through Scripture afresh that believers may have a direct relationship with Jesus Christ, unmediated by priests, a relationship of grace, justified by faith and all that.  All these three men (and more) were later to be martyred for their daring.

Nobody was interested in this plaque.  But nobody.  Parked in front were several motor-cycles preventing you getting close.  Returning with the group of students this scene was repeated.  All the interest was expended on the clock with nil interest in the site of the revolution that was to impact the world.  Sadly it served as a poignant example of post-Christian Britain.