John Walker's Electronic House

by on Oct.24, 2004, under The Rest

This needs to be written down, to be referred back to. And more fun to do it publically, because then people can remind me of it at key moments.

I’ll finish the SF/SM story soon, promise.

Last Wednesday, I had one of the most important and valuable evenings in recent memory.

I went to see a favourite film of mine, Before Sunrise, with two friends from college – Hannah, in my year, and Jo in the year below. It turned out that it was also one of Jo’s favourite films, and Hannah had heard much good about it. And it really is exceptionally good. I’ve been reading about Bazin recently – a man who is often credited with having ‘invented’ film study – and about how he believed that film was an attempt to capture God’s creation. He argued that when something was filmed, it was to film God. It’s far more complicated than that, and his books are hard to find (hoping to have some by my birthday – ON WEDNESDAY – so I’ll have a better understanding). The idea resonates with me strongly, and it’s a thought I’ve been struggling to put words to for a couple of years now. Clearly I have yet to, but I’m getting there. But still, as I watched the film it was strongly buzzing around my head. This is a large part due to my learning of Bazin through another Richard Linklater film, Waking Life. A film in which the central couple from Before Sunrise/Before Sunset appear, and made in the years between the two. Waffling.

One of the extraordinary elements of Before Sunrise is the sense of place the film gives. It’s set in Vienna, and the city is the third character of the film. I realise I’ve gone on about the film here before, but briefly, Linklater’s loving depiction of the location is generous to the viewer, allowing time for the place to be soaked in. One shot in particular stood out for me. It was simply the train leaving the station, viewed from above. In terms of narrative, the shot is not vital, although it serves to demonstrate that they are indeed going to stay in Vienna for that night – there’s no getting back on the train. But for me, at that moment, something about the care of the shot – the rust colours all so perfectly caught as to appear Autumnal – gave me a glimpse of God. I felt a moment of connection – something I’d later call communication. This isn’t the biggest deal – I often do similar. But read on.

After the film there was much conversation, and it was agreed that dinner was necessary to further this. So to the best Indian restaurant of all, the Eastern Eye in Bath. On the walk there, we decided that after food, we’d go to my flat to watch Waking Life, as Hannah was bored of Jo and my referring to it without knowing what we were talking about, and more as an excuse for both Jo and myself to watch a film we learned we’d both seen very many times already.

But it was the conversation over dinner that has inspired this convoluted and wandering diatribe. We all three began by almost confessing to one another than our Christian lives weren’t brilliant at this time. But all three of us non-conformists, we found this a difficult phrase to sit comfortably with. And through a process of sharing snippets of ideas with each other, we eventually put two very obvious twos together, and came up with a four that was staring us in the faith.

We all three are dissatisfied with Church. The institution that currently exists bears little to do with any Biblical manifestation of a Church, and the current trends and styles are so tiresome and tedious. But with this comes enormous peer-group pressure. If this is what Christians are doing, and we are Christians, surely it is we who are at fault? The small few who find the drivelly, Jesus Is My Girlfriend music (thank you to whoever it was who gave me that phrase), and empty, thoughtless sermons of the Free Church services (let alone the dreary hymns, 70s tamborine music, and expository sermons of the Church of England), to be so wrong. Is it not we who fail to understand or connect to that which the masses so eagerly wish for? And the paradox is formed.

We want something different, and yet feel as if we are wrong to not want what it is. And to discuss this with others, others who are as passionate as you – it’s liberating. But more liberating was to hear others speak of how important their relationship with God is, and how they communicate with him. It was all admitted, rather than told, so used are we to the pressure to be just like everyone else. To hear Jo speak of her love for God, and how important her work as a skate worker (youth worker working with young people who board/blade) is in her relationship with God – it was uplifting. I felt myself soar to listen to her. Despite it not matching the trends in its execution. Shock and horror.

So finally a number of things are beginning to click in new ways.

Chatting with Jo since, we’ve both felt this sense of liberation, of a weight being lifted, and of a greater acceptence of being ourselves. There’s a lot more to this, but I don’t seem to have the words for it tonight. But it’s about breaking free from the bizarre contemporary shackles of the modern church, and acknowledging that Christianity is bigger than crappy boyband-esque worship songs and ‘daily quiet times’. It’s bigger than pretending that the Bible says things it doesn’t and then preaching on them, or refusing to think about the difficult bits, and instead having stock answers brainwashed into your head. It’s bigger than WWJD bracelets and Gumbell-approved Alpha courses.

What we eventually realised was that our Christian lives weren’t that bad at the moment. They just don’t appear so when measured against the expectations of the people we have no desire to be like. The obvious four.

You just wait until I’ve actually read one of these Bazin books.

18 Comments for this entry

  • Kim

    I really appreciate your post tonight. I felt much the same way when I debated my religious upbringing. What I did, though, was turned from organization completely and kept to my own moral, ethical way of living (which is shockingly like that of practicing Christians). Now I want some sort of organization back, but I don’t like the organizations I see. I think I’m looking for a community to discuss and share my beliefs with. So I’m still looking.

    Hooray for you!

  • Rev. S Campbell

    Call me stupid, but if people stopped trying to divide themselves up into “organizations”, wouldn’t we (by which I mean “people”) all BE a “community”?

    Organi”z”ations are by definition and by nature exclusionary. If you’re including everyone, you don’t need an organisation. And if you’re not including everyone, then by definition you’re not a “community”.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    (I apologise for diluting the above with typographical nitpicking, by the way, but I can’t help it. I care about communication, so I care about spelling.)

  • John

    She’s American, you silly man.

    Just to be clear, I’m not making a Universalist argument here. It is that I find Christianity, as in living according to Christ, is not something the Church (as an organisation) is engaging with in way in which I find helpful. But there are people who are.

    I wouldn’t be the person I am, nor probably a Christian, if it weren’t for incredible people like my friend Steve Daughtery (an actual Rev. and everything), and the church he was vicar of. I’m not rejecting churches. But I think Steve’s influence was *despite* the Organisation, his acting in tension with the institution. This is why I’ve tried to refer to “the Church” rather than individual churches.

  • antichaos

    You’re really not alone in this. About 100 people from our youth congregation are going away for a weekend in November, the main point of which is to address our (and God’s) dissatisfaction with church.

  • Victoria

    I’m currently alarmed by the outbreak of reactionary prejudice in the CofE – I’ve heard opinions aired that would land anyone other than a clergyman in court for discrimination.
    I think you should fix it, John, or start your own schism.

  • John

    Can I fix it with a schism?

  • Pete Osborne

    Do you think we should do things out of disatisfaction? Do those things last? Or should we feel ‘pulled’ towards something new? Is it the difference between doing something out of negative and positive leanings, or are they both the same?

  • Tim R

    1. I would write “organization” and I’m English. I think you’ll find historically the z has been more common. Just take a look at Jane Austen for example. I think the s has crept into British English slowly, and has become accepted as having always been there – in the same way as the Spanish lisp arrived after the establishment of Latin American Spanish (no lisp), or in the same way as the British have forgotten ‘gotten’.

    2. Hooray for Stevie D – he is a hero. What I worry about is that the dissatisfied tend to leave the church, and kind of get lost. If all my friends who are skipping church attached themselves to a church and changed it, by prayer, action and force of personality, there might be a few fewer people complaining about the church. Certainly I can see no other way of effecting the change. Is there one?

  • sian

    This is what has driven me away from the church of late and my faith has certainly suffered for it. I meet so many blind sighted, narrow minded, bigoted Christians and wonder how I can tell people that that’s what I am as well. I try to live my life in accordance with the ‘do unto others’ rule and follow the basic principles, but it’s so hard. I’m surrounded by atheists and agnostics right now and I’m struggling to find the strength within myself to keep a faith, any kind of faith.

    Right now I feel like I’ve met too many christians to ever want to be one. I can’t find a church or a CU here where I feel comfortable and accepted for being myself – it’s all very gung ho, lambasting the unbeliever, and lovely though our chaplain is there’s only so much you can do in one on one meetings.

  • John


    I think, if the dissatisfied were to attached themselves together, and form a church, we might get somewhere. It is the current models of church that I challenge. There’s no point in pretending that the Church of England isn’t corrupt through and through – the financial investment in the arms industry is more than enough reason to walk away. And it’s clear now that the position of Arch Bishop of Canterbury renders the most interesting and thoughtful avocates for change entirely impotent. So why exactly do we fight so hard to keep it going?

    It would make more sense, surely, to follow the Biblical model of church, and reject what we have come to accept as church in the last few hundred years.

    I do like and support the idea of changing a church from within. However, so long as that church is a part of an institution, such change cannot occur. If people within churches could revolt, severing the church from the corrupt insitution that controls its actions, that would be quite interesting.


    I’ve a whole other rant to write about our desire to be “pulled to something new”. This constant desperate need to be new, to be different from last week, to not do the same thing twice. It’s as endemic in some churches as reverential adherence to tradition is in others.

    I think dissatisfaction is a logical reason to do things. To remain dissatisfied, especially about something so crucial as one’s faith, is the shortest route to wearing a cardigan. Christ’s dissatisfaction with institutions was impressively displayed.

    I think you’re right, that to say “I don’t like this – let’s do the opposite over here” is to act out of a negative response, and does not see long-term or effective change. But to recognise the negatives to such a point that they are no longer acceptable, and then to stop, rethink, and create something new based on what you believe to be right, is a positive action.

  • sian

    PS Tim you’re such a pedant! And you know waaaay too much about this to be healthy.

  • John


    Something needs to be done, doesn’t it? You aren’t alone, clearly, and there must be so many others in the same position as you, equally without a place or forum to voice this position you are in.

    University is especially rife with this complaint – so there must be a solution. I feel like a campaign coming on.

  • Tim R

    Sian, I’m guessing you’re Sian Davies, not Sian-John’s-youthwork-friend. It’s your calling me a pedant that makes suspect this. And you call me a pedant because you envy my knowledge! :-)

    John – as ever, your knowledge of what is really going on leaves me looking not very knowledgable at all!

  • John

    I am wise beyond even my own comprehension.

  • Tim R

    Not wanting to doubt you, but how would you know?

  • David

    First off, happy birthday for tomorrow because I’m off to New York in 14hours time.

    Okay, I became a Christian because my best friend was brought up a Christian and went to Church every Sunday. My family had always been what I like to call half-Christians (i.e. basically believing in something like God but never doing anything about it) so I decided to follow my friend to Church every Sunday. I’ve met some really great people and heard some really great stories and I really want to keep this faith. But recently, probably the last year or so my friend’s become disaffected – I wouldn’t say he’s given up but he’s arrogant, unwilling and generally someone I feel uneasy to call my best friend (although he still, no matter what). And some of it’s rubbing off on me and I hate it. I want to be able to participate and do stuff to help because my Church (and that’s the first time I think I’ve realised that it’s *my* church rather than the-Church-that-I-go-to) but it’s difficult when you’re fifteen and surrounded by your friends who aren’t willing to do anything other than make paper aeroplanes in the corner. I’m trying to get in touch more with God but it’s damn difficult.

    Anyway, ranting like a lunatic won’t help either. And you’re right it is bigger than all those little actions but don’t neglect them because no matter how stupid it seems, they do represent people’s faiths and if getting your faith in gear is difficult then those little seemingly insignificant things can help.

    So, have a good time tomorrow and if your half as good as some of my own youth leaders then you’re fantastic and you do some of the most important stuff in the world.

  • Victoria

    There’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a schism. Just ask the Pope.