Sunday, December 30, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
3:10 to Yuma is a remake of the 1957 film of the same name. I haven’t seen the original so can’t comment on the relative quality (although others have said it improves on the original); but the contemporary version is a great movie with some very significant themes.
Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a rancher living on drought-stricken land outside the town of Bisbee with his wife and two boys. In the eyes of his eldest son, Dan is a weak man. Dan has a prosthetic leg after losing his own during the Civil War; he is in debt; his barn has been burnt down by the henchmen of a powerful neighbouring landowner who wants to force Dan of his land. His son can’t understand why he doesn’t go after those who have harmed him and use violence for violence. His father refuses.
The movie actually opens with a stagecoach robbery by the notorious Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang of murderers and thieves. Ben is caught and Dan, a witness to the robbery, ends up volunteering to escort Wade to the town of Contention where the 3:10 train (which has a prison cell on board) will transport Wade to Yuma for trial. The journey is fraught with dangers from Indians and Ben Wade’s highly devoted gang who want to rescue him before he arrives in Yuma.
But the greatest struggles are internal ones for Dan and his eldest son. What makes the story so interesting are these internal struggles going on in even the "evil" characters in the film. Russell Crowe is excellent as Ben Wade and portrays the nuances of character that make Wade a complex protaganist. I’m not really a Christian Bale fan, but he does a great job of Dan Evans - a man torn between his past, his values, and what his wife and children think of him.
3:10 to Yuma is often a very violent film - as one would expect from a modern Western. But the violence is a necessary counterpoint to the human conflicts that are going on within each person in the story.
Catch the 3:10 to Yuma - it will take you places that will have you thinking deeply about what is really important in relationships; what it means to be strong; the nature of respect; and subvert your stereotypes of good and evil.
My Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)
’James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma restores the wounded heart of the Western and rescues it from the morass of pointless violence.’ - Roger Ebert/Chicago Sun-Times
’The remake adds 24 minutes and subtracts most of the suspense.’ - Stephen Hunter/Washington Post
Violence and some language
Saturday, December 15, 2007
During a conversation about this girl’s future, I made the comment that, by the time she gets to the age where she might complete her study and want to be employed as a pastor, we are going to have to do something about the discriminatory practice of not permitting women to be ordained, even though they may be functioning in exactly the same capacity and with the same gifts (given by God!) as men.
In response, the person I was discussing this with said something like, ’I don’t think she would worry about being ordained. She will just get on and do what she wants to do, working around the issue of ordination. Not being ordained won’t stop her.’
This conversation reminded me of one of the most irritating things I hear said about women’s ordination. It usually comes from those who disagree with it. I’m particularly irritated when I hear it from ordained men. They say: ’It is not necessary to be ordained for a woman to still engage in ministry. They can still serve God with their gifts - so why worry about ordination? Just get on with their ministry. Why make trouble fighting for women to be ordained? It only distracts from the real task that needs to be done.’
If this is true that women can minister without ordination (and, of course, I agree that it is), then I think there is a way of solving the whole "problem" of women’s ordination. I suggest that we stop ordaining men as well! After all, if women can serve God just as well without being ordained, surely men can, too. It would give those who perpetuate the discrimination against women an opportunity to prove that, indeed, they can minister just as well without the recognition that comes from ordination. And we could stop the debate over women’s ordination overnight. Everyone would be treated the same and we could move on with ministry without the issue of ordination distracting us from the main task.
Now - I wonder how that would be accepted. Maybe we’d discover all of a sudden that ordination is "essential" for a whole host of reasons -- but only for men, of course!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Camille Fauque (Audrey Tautou) is a cleaning woman living alone in a shoe-box of an apartment. She befriends an eccentric young man with a stutter, Philibert Marquet de la Tubelière (Laurent Stocker) who she invites to a meal on the spur of the moment. As their friendship develops, a love relationship forms unexpectedly between Camille and Philibert’s housemate, Franck (Guillame Canet). A subplot explores the relationship between Franck and his aging mother.
The French title, Ensemble, c’est tout literally means, Together, It Is All and more accurately represents the themes of the story. The three main characters are, indeed, going about their lives "hunting and gathering" in ordinary ways. But they are all living lives that are mundane and lonely in varying degrees. But as the relationships form and challenges test them, they discover that friendship and love are what really matters in life - togetherness means strength.
I enjoyed Hunting and Gathering. It is charming, the characters are likeable, and the story is simple but engaging. Hunting and Gathering opens in Australia on 13 December 2007.
My Rating: ***1/2
Friday, December 07, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Atonement is a powerful story of love, guilt, self-deception, and the desperate need for reconciliation that seems impossible. The film is superbly structured as we see certain events from multiple perspectives and times. The narrative moves forward and backward, revealing different nuances as it approaches significant moments, retreats, and re-engages.
The cinematography is beautiful. One notable scene is the 4.5 minute long shot on the Dunkirk Beach. The soundtrack uses wisely selected classical music and is frequently overlaid with the sound of an old typewriter clacking - symbolic of power of words to affect us deeply.
The performances are excellent and Keira Knightley shows she really can act. James McEvoy is also excellent as Robbie, the falsely accused lover. And Saoirse Ronan, who plays the 13-year-old Briony is superb. These three characters are the backbone of the film, but even the supporting roles are well executed.
It is wonderful to see a movie with deep themes, great direction, good acting, and an intriguing and profound narrative. This one is most definitely an Oscar contender in my book! It opens here in Australia on Boxing Day (26 December). Don’t miss it!
My Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)
’Rarely has a book sprung so vividly to life, but also worked so enthrallingly in pure movie terms, as with Atonement, Brit helmer Joe Wright’s smart, dazzlingly upholstered adaptation of Ian McEwan’s celebrated 2001 novel.’ - Derek Elley/Variety
’You have to admire it, when so much of the competition seems inane and slack, but you can’t help wondering, with some impatience, what happened to its heart.’ - Anthony Lane/The New Yorker
Disturbing war images, language and some sexuality
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
- Dependence on miracles - throughout the Eirichs’s story, their faith in God rises and falls depending on what happens to them. At times, they question God’s love for them because they can’t see God working miracles for them. On a number of occasions, they describe how they ’needed’ a miracle from God to cope with events in their lives. When people rely on "miracles" to cope, faith will inevitably be fragile. The Bible warns about seeking miracles and, despite the fact that God can work miracles, makes the point that they can be counterfeited. In addition, there are times when the miraculous is used as evidence of truth. Although the Eirichs describe how they studied the Bible when considering SDA doctrine, they make the point that 15 miracles they believe they can list makes them certain that God had led them to the SDA denomination. Most Christians will want to affirm that God is capable of working miracles. But making miracles a central feature of everyday life is bound to end in disappointment eventually. The authors of this book experience disappointment frequently, but they seem very capable of rationalising all events to be either miraculous signs or satanic interference.
- Trivialisation of the miraculous - the authors claim they can ’identify 15 indisputable miracles from the Lord that surrounded [them] becoming Seventh-day Adventists’ (p. 207) One was God impressing one of the elders of the Lethbridge Church to put a sandwich sign on the sidewalk advertising the Net ’99 meeting. They write that, unless this person had been obedient to the Lord’s impressing him to do this, it wouldn’t have been there for them to see when they drove down the street. Another alleged miracle is said to be the timing of the Net ’99 program which was delayed at the Lethbridge Church and had to be recorded from the satellite and shown later. They write, ’after a two week delay, things settled down and they decided to go ahead with the series. Interestingly enough, we had not even moved to Lethbridge when the series had been originally scheduled to begin. That two week delay gave the Lord the time necessary to get us moved and lead us to see the sign. Had the church been able to start the series on time, we would have missed the seminar completely!’ (p. 207) One has to wonder why God couldn’t have miraculously got them there on time for the original starting time rather than putting the organisers through so much frustration trying to plan the program! According to the authors, Ken remembering that the Net ’99 program was on was a miracle. And God knew exactly which session they needed to go to because Ken was particularly interested in the topic for that session. And on and on it goes. For a sensitive reader, the question inevitably arises: Why is it that God spends so much time working these trivial miracles (which, admittedly, are important to the authors) when miracles don’t seem to occur in situations where they would seem to be more urgent - war torn areas; people dying from HIV/AIDS; children being abducted from their homes and raped; kids being killed by trees in church yards falling on them (these last two were real events in my local city); women being sold as sex slaves; wives victimised by violent husbands; etc etc etc. That God should spend so much time getting two people to a Net ’99 meeting to persuade them that the SDA Church is the right church seems to be completely unfair when miracles are desperately needed in life and death situations. This leads to the next point.
- Egocentric supernaturalism - the way these writers speak, God constantly works miracles for them. But they give no consideration to how all of this intervention works when there are other people in the world. On one occasion, when they were feeling particularly down, they discussed how they would love to have a Thanksgiving dinner which they had missed out on because of them moving from one location to another. Lo and behold, some neighbours knock at the door and invite them to a late Thanksgiving dinner. Why were they having Thanksgiving so late? The people they had originally invited had been ill and couldn’t make it until now. Did God make these people ill so that the Eirichs could have their Thanksgiving dinner when he knew they would want it so badly? If God is manipulating events and providing signs for this couple as frequently as they claim, then God must be manipulating events and people long before the miraculous events occur just for them. What the authors describe as miracle raises a host of theological questions about how God interacts with the world and with people.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Levin grew up in the Assemblies of God church now known as Hillsong. Hillsong is probably the most visible Pentecostal church in Australia with its music being listened to and sung in churches across the nation. But, according to Levin, all is not what it seems on the surface. The book is a series of anecdotes from her own experience, observations she has made, research she has done, and material from interviews with those in and outside the church.
It is difficult, of course, for people outside of Hillsong to evaluate how accurate Levin’s portrayal is. But an enormous amount of what she describes resonates with other sources on pentecostalism and Christian fundamentalism. She names names and recognises her own "warts" as she shares her story.
People in Glass Houses was controversial even before it got published. In February 2007, The Bulletin reported on the dropping of this book by Allen & Unwin whose lawyers suddenly reversed their previous approval of the book. According to the report, Levin’s publisher had decided that there was too high a possibility that Hillsong would sue for defamation. And Hillsong have told Levin she is not welcome on the premises of Hillsong anymore. There are also those who defend Hillsong and its activities.
Clearly, People in Glass Houses is one person’s view. Some people insist that Levin has an axe to grind. Others who have had experience with Hillsong support what she says. But it is a view that should be heard. Judgments about Levin’s motives should at least be reserved until after reading her book. In my view, a good deal of what she says is not surprising given what I know about Pentecostal theology and the people I know who subscribe to it. Levin also names and documents sources where they are needed.
People in Glass Houses is an engaging, thought-provoking, fascinating expose of the darker side of Hillsong and ’Word of Faith’ Pentecostal fundamentalism.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
The largest part of the documentary tells the story of the rise of Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Chavez has revolutionised Venezuela bringing a form of democracy to the people that we have pretty much forgotten about in the West. But Chavez has not been popular with the middle and upper classes of Venezuela who ride on the back of capitalism that marginalises the poor of the country. Chavez has begun to fill the gap between rich and poor with his policies and Pilger tells the dramatic story of an attempted but failed coup during which US media were manipulated into showing footage that perpetuated a distorted view of actual events.
The second part of the documentary surveys various nasty tricks the US has perpetrated in various countries with some stunning interview footage of ex-CIA operatives who proudly boast about their countries right to do anything it wants, anytime it wants, wherever it wants, if it serves its own interests.
The War on Democracy is not, however, without its faults. It is clearly biased in and the strength of the film is undermined by the few times Pilger appears on screen "preaching" to his audience. Additionally, despite the fact that Chavez explains his passion to bring true democracy to Venezuela, many despots in the past have started out preaching freedom for the oppressed. Only time will tell whether Chavez continues to run a government by the people for the people. In a telling moment when Pilger asks about the high number of people still living in poverty, he sidesteps the question saying that the real issue is to live with dignity. It doesn’t quite ring true. Apparently, too, Chavez is gaining significant control of the country’s institutions (see Negative Review below).
The War on Democracy, however, is a must see documentary, particularly in the current political context of the "war on terror" and the "modern Vietnam" of Iraq. Our politicians who speak so eloquently about democracy may have a democracy in mind that the rest of us don’t recognise.
My Rating: **** (out of 5)
’A brilliantly-researched and sometimes shocking insight into the democratic position of those countries whose dealings with America are more along the lines of slave than political poodle.’ - Kat Brown/Empire
’Pilger, typically, is not content to let the film do its own talking. He appears regularly, in cream lightweight suit and complementary tan, to deliver schoolmasterly dissertations on the sins perpetrated by self-serving Washington and its craven acolytes.’ - Sandra Hall/Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
On another occasion, I had a Christian friend tell me that he never read anything about the Bible - no commentaries or books. He believed that he only needed to read the Bible and accept what it said and that reading anything else was merely contaminating Scripture by other people’s opinions.
Finally, I have had a number of people warn me that reading so widely, particularly material that contradicted what the denomination of which I was a member taught, would inevitably lead to the loss of faith or the adoption of error.
Many people seem to fear reading widely as if, somehow, they will be unwillingly entrapped. The problem, however, is not so much what is read, but how one reads. I would suggest that, in fact, it is essential to read widely if one is to avoid erroneous thinking and that those who, out of fear, confine themselves to reading only what they agree with are the very ones who are in danger. Reading widely brings with it a number of benefits.
It provides an opportunity to test our thinking. By reading widely and exposing ourselves to other ideas and critiques of our own ideas, we have the opportunity to reflect on issues and questions that may lead to a refinement of our own beliefs and values. The reality is that our own thinking may be wrong. It is inevitable that, at some point, it will be wrong. By only reading what is agreeable to us we merely reinforce our own beliefs and values. For some people, that is what they want. They fear being exposed to ideas or thinking that may challenge their own and only want confirmed what they already believe to be true. But those who wish to pursue truth must be willing to take the risk of examining alternative views to their own. So reading widely provides us with the opportunity to test our thinking.
It avoids cultic manipulation of one’s beliefs. One of the favourite techniques of cults, in controlling their members, is to control the information that is fed to them - what they hear and what they read or see. By refusing to read anything that challenges our beliefs or gives us information not consistent with what we already think, we are essentially choosing to apply cultic mind control to ourselves. Many Christians only read what they find in their Christian bookstore or published by their denominational press. By making this choice, they do not need to ever deal with genuine challenges to their thinking or what they believe. And although this may be a voluntary restriction the effect is the same as if it was imposed. Organisations and denominations may also subtly "encourage" their membership to limit their reading by producing their own material in such quantities that, if a person has so much available, they may not ever have the "need" to read outside that particular world view. So reading widely prevents any form of cultic manipulation, however subtle that might be.
It enriches understanding and experience. The practice of reading widely is to enter into dialogue with other people. By sharing others’ perspectives and ideas we enrich our own view of the world and, as we think about these varying perspectives, our experience is also enriched. The way we think affects our emotions, the decisions we make, and our behaviour. By exposing ourselves to the thinking of others, we open ourselves to the potential to live differently and experience life more fully. Increasing our knowledge and information also increases the resources that are available to us in making decisions. Reading widely has the capacity to significantly enrich our understanding and experience.
There is nothing to fear from reading widely. It allows us to test our thinking; avoid manipulation of our beliefs, however subtle; and enriches our understanding and experience. Reading widely without thinking critically may be dangerous because we would tend to adopt the position of whatever author we happened to be reading at the time. But approaching our reading whilst thinking critically about what we are reading, evaluating ideas as we proceed, is an absolutely essential part of our spiritual journey if we are to mature and grow in faith.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Liberty is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying No to any authority -- literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social and even political.
- It is wrong to doubt
- It is wrong to make mistakes
- It is wrong to search and experiment
- It is wrong to say No to any authority
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Saturday, September 01, 2007
- to live life fully
- to love wastefully
- to be all that one can be
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
This post should be read in conjunction with the following:
Individuals who argue that Sabbath keeping is not required of Christians often argue that Genesis 1-3 doesn’t include any reference to Adam and Eve keeping the Sabbath. In addition, there is no command to keep a weekly Sabbath. It is concluded that God, therefore, did not institute the Sabbath in Eden.
This brief essay presents some observations that respond to this position and argues that God did, in fact, institute Sabbath keeping at the time of creation and that Adam and Eve would have kept it.
The argument that Adam and Eve did not keep the Sabbath is an argument from silence. In that case, it is incorrect to conclude that they didn’t. Just because Genesis doesn’t mention Adam and Eve keeping the Sabbath doesn’t mean they didn’t. After all, the creation account is primarily about God, not what Adam and Eve did. This focus on God may mean that, in this narrative, what Adam and Eve did is not as important and, therefore, their Sabbath keeping or a command from God to keep a sabbath is not mentioned.
It is incorrect to conclude from an absence of a command that a command didn’t exist. Surely Adam and Eve didn’t require a command about everything that was right/wrong. And even if they did, all of these commands didn’t need to be recorded in the Genesis accounts. The Genesis narratives are not intended to be a list of all the commands God gave to Adam and Eve. The stories are written with a very specific purpose in mind and that purpose constrains what is included and what is left out.
It is true that there is no command in Genesis 1-2 about Sabbath keeping. What we do have is an example. This example provides evidence that the Sabbath should be kept. There is no command in Genesis 1 - 3 proscribing murder. But we don’t conclude from this that murder is ok. When we get to the story of Cain killing Abel, we know it is wrong because it doesn’t fit with God’s example. We have God’s example as the life-giver in Genesis 1 - 2, therefore we should follow that norm and promote life. In the same way, we have God’s example as the Sabbath-creator and observer. God was never physically tired so he had no actual need to rest. Therefore, he must have rested as an example. In the same way we follow God’s example in not murdering, Christians should follow God’s example in Sabbath-keeping.
In addition to all this, sin had not entered the world as a result of human choice at the close of the creation week. A God of love is hardly going to lay down a ’law’ for how His new creatures should follow Him. Rather, he’d teach Adam and Eve about the Sabbath in person - rather than in law - by spending quality time with them.
The creation narrative states that God sanctified something. In that case, we must ask what God sanctified. We have a number of things to choose from. Firstly, it could have been just that one day at the end of creation. Secondly, it could have been an open-ended long period of time. Or thirdly, it may have been a weekly repitition of the original day that was sanctified. The question is which of these makes the most Biblical and logically consistent sense?
A good deal of the argument revolves around the meaning of the omission of the phrase ‘there was evening and morning, the x day’. There is no doubt this was a deliberate literary omission for theological purposes. But what does this omission mean?
It is clear from the text that a period of time was blessed, made holy, and sanctified. To be sanctified means to be set apart. It doesn’t make much sense to say that an unending period of time was set apart. Something with no boundaries can’t be set apart! The most obvious thing set apart is a discrete period of time. If, subsequent to creation, the seventh day was ‘unending’, then every actual day would be considered the same as every other day, in a spiritual sense. Surely, if something is made holy and ’set it apart’ it must be different to all other days. Otherwise there is actually nothing special about it.
If God had wanted the whole week of all time to be special, surely he could have ’set apart’ (sanctified) the whole creation week, but he didn’t. This all points to each discrete seventh day being holy and sanctified from that time on.
So we return to the question: Why might the author of Genesis intentionally leave outthe final ‘evening and morning’ statement? God wanted us not to falsely limit the Sabbath day that was blessed to one day in history at the end of the creation account and thereby conclude that there is no Sabbath blessing today or special time set aside today. The Sabbath was for all time and the absence of an end of the day in the creation narrative points to that fact. The Sabbath continues - not as a general period of ongoing time or a spiritual experience - but as a 24 hour period, which makes most sense of it being ’set aside’.
Another important question to ask is why God created the Sabbath in the first place. It is for humanity to remember their Creator and keep us from becoming self-centred and self-serving and pursuing our own interests (work, pursuits) all the time. It is a celebration of God - a being outside of ourselves - the being Who created us. Therefore to rest signifies our acceptance of God’s creatorship and his Lordship of our lives, including how we spend out time.
It is true that Scripture - and Jesus - speak of our spiritual rest in terms that have links with the creation Sabbath. This stems from the Sabbath being grounded in creation. The metaphors of peace and rest are foretastes of Sabbath when we approach the now-and-not-yet of our salvation and the re-creation of all things. In this sense, although Israel stopped labour on the seventh day, they - for the most part - missed the essence of the Sabbath and what a relationship with God is all about. We too can continue to miss that rest.
Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 remind us that there remains a promise of blessing and there continues to be a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Therefore, in a sense, the Sabbath points forward to our future salvation and rest in Christ from sin. But this level of typology is secondary to the primary meaning of the Sabbath as a celebration of the Creator, and the conclusions we draw from the secondary level of typology shouldn’t contradict the primary meaning, but rather add to it.
All of this leads to the conclusion that Adam and Eve did keep the Sabbath to begin with. Surely they wouldn’t have missed out on this good thing that God specifically took a further day to create. He could have insituted a six day week, and how much fun would that be today!
Finally, beyond Adam and Eve, we have the example of how Jesus observed the Sabbath as a day of restoration and celebration of such restoration (and celebration of the Restorer). The Sabbath is a gift - for us to delight in - ‘made for man(kind)’ (Mark 2). It goes without saying that God created ongoing time. We don’t need Genesis to tell us that. But within the abstract construct of ongoing time, God has also planted - set apart, blessed and called ’holy’ (special) - regular intervals of time as reminders of and celebrations of Him.
God did something in time as a gift to us - that may enhance our experience of finding peace and rest in Him. How good is that! We only get to call this day a delight and experience this blessing if we actually turn our foot (effort) away from pursuing our regular daily work (KJV pursuing our own ’pleasure’), eg Isaiah 58. God won’t - of course - force this blessing upon us.
Did Adam and Eve keep the Sabbath? We can speculate about what the silence of the creation narratives on Adam and Eve’s Sabbath keeping means. But Adam and Eve are not our example anyway - God is, and so is the example of Christ. So the bigger question really is not, did Adam and Eve keep the Sabbath? The real question is Did God keep the Sabbath? Clearly, he did, even though He didn’t have to. That’s the example that is worth following!
I would like to acknowledge the major help of a friend who provided the essential argument for this post - saving me an enormous amount of time!
THINK CRITICALLY LIVE FULLY CHOOSE FREELY