William Willimon quote

Rev Professor Willimon, a Christian Century editor at large, is back teaching at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina after serving as a Bishop in the United Methodist Church in Alabama. This article appeared in The Christian Century, January 27, 2004, p. 20.

“Now, the Bible is a violent book. That’s good, because we are very violent people. Something about our system of government makes an average of 2,000 New Yorkers want to kill one another. This is the system that we graciously offer to the people of Iraq.”

Two Brothers by Ben Elton

Two Brothers by Ben Elton

Two Brothers by Ben Elton

I very much enjoyed Ben Elton’s latest novel in my summer reading package this year.  Two Brothers is the account of the Stengel family; Berlin Jews who try to make their way through the unfortunate events of the 1920’s – 1940’s.  The two brothers find themselves on different sides of the racial issue through their own manipulations, bravery and cleverness.  It is a tough read that is made easier by the courage and resilience of the main characters.  You can look elsewhere on the web for a synopsis (I don’t want to take the ‘fun’ away), but it is enough to say that the cast of strong characters in an appalling environment provide a convincing counter to the spurious argument that the Jews did not resist the Nazi-instituted hate as much as they could have.  The boys’ mother Frieda is amazing and at the end profoundly brave.  The character with the most flaws is the beautiful and manipulative Dagmar Fischer… the extent she goes to survive is testament to her audacity and sheds light on the profound and sacrificial nature of the devotion and courage of the Stengel family.  The novel is an enlightening insight into the contrasting ways that humans respond in crisis… it brings out the best in some and the worst in others.
Elton is a great storyteller and this is among his best and most creative.  For me, his novels based around wars – this and The First Casualty are his best.  Interestingly he dedicates the novel to his uncles Heinz and Geoffrey – both who served in WWII on different sides.

The Messenger

The Messenger version I have with helpful study notes

The Messenger version I have with helpful study notes

One of the novels I read over the summer holiday was Markus Zusak’s The Messenger (published in some countries as I am the Messenger).
It is the second time I have read it… it is among my favourite novels and is an easy read.
It has some quirky characters in the fine Zusak tradition.  He always has young adults as his main characters in his novels and is unhelpfully relegated to the category of young adult fiction when there is always much to satisfy the older adult as well!
The novel (and the novelist!) poke around the life of a young going-nowhere-after-the-death-of-his-alcoholic-father man, Ed Kennedy, over a period of months.  He received four aces in his letterbox and cryptic tasks that he is invited/forced to attend to.  Some are harrowing, some are violent, but all are redemptive, not only for Ed, but also for the company he keeps and engages with through the mysterious tasks set for him.
Ed is loveable… his friends are interesting and disturbing and shaped, like he is, by a series of life-events that are gradually exposed as Ed watches, listens, and intervenes.
There is some significant intervention!
The intervention and redemption theme is of particular interest to me as a Minister of the Gospel, as is the heart-warming interaction with the overwhelmed yet very human priest.  There are hints of  ‘kingdom of God’ (as I know it) in the interventions that are at times hugely inspiring.  There is also a great deal of hope waiting to be discovered in Zusak’s portrayal of what is possible for meaningful life in community.
I love this book.

sometimes dreams become realities

The Decomissioning Group 20-1-13

The Decommissioning Group 20-1-13

On Sunday afternoon Anne and I travelled south  to our new property.  We arrived in time for the short decommissioning service at the St Paul’s Totara Valley Presbyterian Church and valued meeting the 30 or so people from the community who have had links with the church – some over all of their lives.  I had an opportunity to share a few words and said something like “We all have our dreams and hopes in life – many of the them never come to be because they are somewhat fanciful.  However, sometimes they do come true.  As children Anne and I dreamt of living on a small block of land in the countryside, and through our adulthood never let that dream go.  Well, this time the dreams have come true!  There might well be some nightmares in this new reality as there will be some significant challenges with the building, but we are so excited and thrilled to have this opportunity to honour what has been and one day live here.”
The Totara Valley Church on Cleland Rd was opened on  5th October 1890.  It was from the outset a community church with church folk offering labour to cart stones from the nearby quarry and try to lessen the costs.  It was built for 370 pounds with the foyer added in 1925 from funds given by Andrew Cleland (after whom Cleland Rd gets its name).
The 50th anniversary of the building in 1940 (war-time!) is pictured.

1940 Jubilee

1940 Jubilee

Two folk who were children then were at the decommissioning service.
In 1955 about 400 pounds was spent on re-plastering the inside walls of the church and repairs to the porch, roof, and windows.  The shack that we are living in when we get down there was finally opened in 1952 housing three Sunday School rooms.
Monthly services concluded in August 2010 because of the 4 September Canterbury earthquakes.
Here we are – man, woman, hound & pitch fork… ready for action!
man, woman, dog & church

Les Miserables

Anne and I went to see the movie last night.  It was enthralling and one of those rare movies that betters the hype.  The cinematography was flawless and stunning.  The passion was perfectly captured.  The music was wonderful and the singing, while mixed in quality at times (deliberately as I understand the singing was recorded ‘live’), was amazing because it came from a cast of such superb actors.  The storyline was always understandable (less so with the two stage version I have been to in the past) – all those little and sometimes oblique nuances became clear through the way the film was directed.
Clearly outstanding was Anne Hathaway – her ‘from the pit’ rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” was both harrowing and spine-tingling… I shed some tears… for me, she stole the show and nothing that followed (a few hours!) reached that height, although Samantha Bark’s Eponine nudged close.  I enjoyed Eddie Redmayne’s Marius (I always find that this guy surprises and steps up to new heights as an actor) and Hugh Jackman was also outstanding.  The children, Daniel Huttlestone and Isabelle Allen were also wonderful.
Clearly, the gathering of an exceptional cast of actors as the first step was the right move – that they could sing was obviously necessary and that we didn’t know they could sing so well was fantastic!  This was movie not stage – the camera was frequently zoomed in closely to the faces of the actors – they needed to be able to act!  In light of that close filming, the costuming and makeup people deserve all and any awards!
That the movie is also a witness to the power of God’s grace at work (and the cost of following the way of Christ) is the icing on the top of an already fantastic cake.
Rave, rave, rave!!!  One of those must see movies!
An excellent article on the theological politics of Les Miserables by Richard Beck,that my mate Bruce Hamill pointed me to, is well-worth a read: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.co.nz/2013/01/the-political-theology-of-les-miserables.html