Thursday, April 17, 2014

Awesomeness: Word Alive 2014

It was 1am on a Friday morning in the Spring of 2002 when I sat down with a group of Reading University students to watch Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia. Our host that night is now a tutor for the OCCA and I remain thankful that he gave us the experience of this unsettling and outstanding film.... and for the 4.30am ride home through the cold of the night on the back of his scooter.

I've been on the UCCF team for 13 years now and its nights like that that capture what UCCF is about for me. Gospel-loving people, engaging constructively with people about the ideas and imagination of this world, together. And Word Alive is a part of that family - with all the grown-up graduates, their kids and many others around too for a week around Easter.

Last week was my first time at Word Alive since 2008.
I wish my family had been there with me. 
I wish *all* the students I work with had been there. 
I wish my church Community Group had been there.

We experienced:
  • The Don Carson on Jeremiah. 
  • Flapjack and coffee with students discussing the big issues. 
  • The excellent Brad Green on the Christian Mind and recommending Francis Schaeffer
  • Gospel-centred worship led by Lewis Green, Kat Buckley and Stuart Townend. 
  • A beach BBQ with Bristol CU.
  • The refreshing Krish Kandiah on Social Media. 
  • Catching up with old friends and hearing about the kids programme that makes this event unmissable for them.
  • Making new friends. 
  • Tracking down the man who taught me how to read the Bible - 13 years ago at UCCF's Biblical Evangelism Conference - to thank him.
  • A Hog Roast. 
  • A full evening session from Bill Edgar on the roots of Jazz! (even better in week 2 I'm told with Ruth Naomi Floyd singing live). 
  • Quality applied gospel preaching on Luke. 
  • Plus the tracks I couldn't get to by Caroline Cox on Justice, Kathleen Nielson on Wisdom Literature, Mike Ovey on Humanity & Human Rights, church planter Richard Coekin doing the Word Alive staple of a Chronological Bible Overview, Becky Pippert (Week 2), Krish Kandiah on Adoption....and many more.
 And then there was Ted Turnau.

I was at Word Alive on team and I got to pick which week I attended.
Confession: Ted was why I picked Week 1.

Four 90min sessions on God and Culture with uber-geek academic Ted Turnau leading us towards a high quality alternative to the superficial saccharine shouty work that tends to pass for "Christian" art and culture. I don't think I'll be writing the novels or making the films, but I'd like to help make space for those who can, and to help the rest of us love art more as a vital part of life in this world.
Ted Turnau's Five Steps for Interpreting Popular Culture

  1. What’s the story (or quasi-story)?
  2. Where am I (the world of the work)?
  3. What’s true here?
  4. What’s false here (and how to subvert it)?
  5. How does the gospel apply?
I'd read Ted's book Popologetics before, and it was great to finally meet him (I dared to cross the line from Twitter-follower to personal acquaintance...) and to hear him live on a subject that he's clearly passionate about. He was a great example of someone enjoying their subject which is awesome in itself. He has an infectious enthusiasm.

We explored how to read a films and music. We worked examples from Magnolia (!!) and Avengers and music from Audrey Assad.

We considered the vital importance of the imagination in how we see the world.
"We experience this world as our world through our imagination...for the imagination, the cross makes us sensitive to the wreckage of our lives, resurrection sees hope... "
Plus we worked through examples from Polish film maker Kieslowski.

As an aside I loved Ted's family rules:
1. Salvation is by grace alone... but dessert is earned.
2. No spoilers.
Word Alive is a gospel-centred Bible 'holiday' for all ages. Around the site were people from all kinds of different church backgrounds, being given opportunities to explore the implications of the gospel for all parts of life, experiencing the life-changing nature of life in God, and being prepared to express his goodness in local churches, in the work place, at University, at home, or wherever else they find themselves.

There was a rich diversity to the programme, and quality of teaching that was sky high.... drawing on the best of so many 'tribes' and 'streams' through a common commitment to the good news of Jesus.


  1. After reading that I should probably make going next year a priority! Cheers

  2. Do. Come, bring your church too.