Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Harry Brown (2009): A Review, Reaction and Reflection Of Sorts

I watched the Movie Harry Brown yesterday. A hard watch as it immersed itself in the urban decay of post industrial England. Michael Cain’s performance as an ex-marine and recently widowed pensioner driven to avenge his friend’s murder by the local hoodies on the estate is masterful, well supported by Emily Mortimer as a empathetic police women and a series of englich acters who were able to portray the embodiment of evil and damaged social victims with made it hard to suspend belief and watch ‘Harry Brown’ as simply a flick.

Having recently seen the post apocalypse movies ‘The road” and “The Book of Eli” I couldn’t help but make a connection between the almost sepia tone and lack of colour of “Harry brown and the aesthetic of those movies. The urban landscape was not washed of all colour by the flash of atomic bombs and the ensuing atomic winter and ash but by sorrow and grief, drugs and violence, despair and lack of hope. The unravelling of society’s fabric was in Harry Brown was as marked and as savage as the other two movies, while there wasn’t the spectre of cannibalism, there was plenty of the supposedly strong feeding off the weak.

I couldn’t help but wonder what hope from this movie what answer, what relfection other than that of police indifference and vengeance. It represented a helpless community daunted and oppressed by street crime. Hiding in their own desperate little worlds. The aloneness of Harry Brown in the midst of the death of his wife and the life he chose to live was soul crushing. The lack of any meaning and purpose, artfully portrayed by close ups the most menial of tasks, was palpable as was the equally meaningless lives of the hoodies as their world revolved round a dark underpass and they seemed to venture out into the light only seldomly to commit crime or at the beck and call of an older generation of criminals.

What got me however was that there was no attempt to offer any real hope apart from vengeance and the seemingly acceptable solution of extermination of the villains. The police were only spurred into action by the vigilante killings that they saw as a gang war and the chance for some quick and in the end dishonest press coverage.

Harry does have some compassion, shown in his response and concern for a girl caught in the vice of drug addiction and sexual exploitation. He seems incapable of the same compassion for the character of Markey, played by Jack O’Connell who portrays the enigmatic and equally damaged ‘Cook’ in the TV series ‘skins’, who is dragged into the drug culture after abandonment and sexual abuse and still victimised by crime bosses, although Harry does stop short of killing him.

I wonder about a Christian response to such a setting and context. Where is the community and care and gathering up of the elderly and the attempt to see them with wisdom and energy to give back to new generations? Where are the places and systems in place to break down the walls of isolation? What alternatives to drug culture and unemployment? Where the safe spaces for young people to congregate and develop healthily for the community to come together across generations? In the end even the place that for Harry Brown is the canter of his communal activity, the local pub becomes a centre of crime. The only time the church seems to step into shot (and it does) is an old idyllic village church where Harry drops off the thousands of pounds he had been left with after killing a couple of drug, arms and sex dealers. There was no grace stepping in. There was no alternative kingdom of God community. The solution as I said before seemed to be violence.

Even ‘The Road’, with the boy being adopted into a new family and ‘The Book of Eli’ with a community of hope, ironically installed on that Island of no hope Alcatraz, with the wisdom to correctly use the Book of Eli and a young women heading off into the world to start a new way of living gave hope. Yes in Harry Brown the sun did shine in the last sequence and Harry was able to walk into the dark underpass without fear but it left me feeling bereft of any real solution or change. I wonder if in the end it reinforces a meta narrative society tries to tell itself or does the context and the film open itself up for the hope of a new imagination, more than a glimpse of a crucified Christ in a rural setting, rather an incarnated Christ in an urban wilderness?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mezuzah your world

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. -Deutoronomy 6:4-9

This portion of the Jewish scriptures is called the shema when you walk into any Jewish home you will find in response to this passage the shema in what is called a Mezuzah nailed to the door post. So that as people come in and out of the house they will be reminded, “hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”. In his book ‘SoulSala (17 surprising steps to Godly living in the twenty first century)’ Leonard Sweet explores the Jewish tradition of Mezuzah and invites us to mezuzah our universe.

Over the past few years I have looked at different ways to do that. Things in everyday that help me to remember God, who is and what he has done for us and to live out that love in all I think and do. Let me share some of these with you and if you have some of your Own I’d love to hear them just write a comment.

In my twenty first century world I’m more likely to go in and out of windows as much as doors. No I’m not a cat burglar (I’ve never really got why people would want to steal cats) rather like many people I spend as much time in cyberspace as I do in time and space. So I have found ways to mezuzah my computer and my usages of it. Sweet talks of having classic painting as wallpaper that focus him on various things and for a while I would put pictures and verses on my computer wall paper so that when I opened up my computer for the day or returned to my desktop I would again be focused on God’s word and his presence. I get sojourners Voice and verse email sent to me each day and when I open up my email fist thing every day I stop and read a bible passage and a relevant quote and pray the prayer in that email as well.

I use facebook quite a bit to keep in touch with people and a communications devise for studentsoul Auckland, the church I am involved in planting. The Bible has its own facebook page thanks to the recently resigned head of the Bible Society of New Zealand Mark Brown. So the two or three times I go on facebook each day in my ‘news feed’ is a bible verse which reminds me that in the midst of all my relating with people that the core relationship is with God. It’s amazing how often the verses connect with where I am at and God speaks into my situation through this. I have to admit that the Bible isn’t as regular at posting scripture as it once was.

I’ve mentioned it before but when we lived in Dunedin I often saw Kereru flying round. Kereru are the native New Zealand wood pigeon. Amazing birds, the largest pigeons in the world and as close to doves as you get amongst native New Zealand birds. Every time I saw one flying or sitting in a tree or on a power line I would stop and thank God for the presence of his Holy Spirit. After a while it was amazing where and when they would turn up. I was feeling down in the dumps one day and looked out my window and there were three wood pigeons sitting on the power lines looking in at me, and I saw it as a very concrete reminder of the whole of the trinity’s presence with me. I was complaining about money issues (being an adult student with a family of four) and walking down the road to the seminary where i was going to school and looked up and there was a wood pigeon sitting on thre power lines with its head under its wings and right away the small voice at the back of my head that I equate with God (to quote Adrian Plass) said “ is that how you see me asleep in the sun? Off the job?” “Point taken” I replied. Now living in the more northern city of Auckland i don’t see wood pigeons very often but whenever I see a normal common ‘rat with wings’ city pigeon I say thank you God for your spirits presence. Even in this humble bird in this urban landscape.

I love the sea and find myself quite depressed if I don’t see it at least once a week. Fortunately Auckland is a city built on two harbours and I live in New Zealand where you are never more than 120 km (70 Miles) from the sea. When i see the sea I am reminded and pray “Thank you God that your love surrounds me like the ocean surrounds our Island home.”

Does it make a difference or is it just a tired new ritual? Yes it makes a difference I am more aware of what is around me, I find myself able to slow down and focus again and remember the LORD our God. I’d love to tell you that I have become more saintly... maybe I have but I still fly off the handle when that motorist cuts in front of me (it’s amazing the number of high end German cars on New Zealand roads that are so badly maintained, their indicators don’t seem to be working, perhaps it’s a design fault). I still get stressed out when I can’t find my remote mouse or my shoes or my glasses. But gradually I’m finding myself more and more aware of God in those spaces and places (sure wish it was the remote mouse I lost as well). The spiritual discipline of Mezuzah-ing helps and transformation is a slow process.

The Parable Of The Narrows: A Reflection On Psalm 136

Come with me for a walk along the Waikato River. You’ll probably want to change the shoes your wearing for what my mum would call sensible walking shoes. It’s a bit muddy and the track we’re walking on goes through the long grass of a field.

We’re at a place called the Narrows just south of Hamilton. AS the name suggests the river here goes through a narrow gorge with high rock banks that drop almost shear to the water. The current is deep and from on top of the bank here you get the sense of the power of this great river.

In fact from up here on the top of the banks you get a great panorama of the river. The rivers surface seems smooth and uniform and the overriding impression you get is that of flow, huge amounts of water moving ever onwards down to the eternal sea.

We walk along and come across a set of steps cut into the bank. We start down and realise that it may not be that safe, time has eroded some of the steps and they are slippery underfoot as this part of the bank never sees the sun.

You gingerly go down the stairs, trying not to slide and eventually you come down to a concrete platform just a foot or two above the surface of the river. There are short concrete piles rising up from the concrete pad just high enough to make a good seat. You spy a similar construction on the other side of the river and realise this must be all that remains of an old bridge, probably swept away in the fury of a flood. You can tell the river has been higher by the debris high up in the trees that hold desperately to the steep bank. So we sit and stop for a while and look out at the constantly moving river. Your ears fill with the roar of the river.

Down here close to the river you realise that it is anything but smooth. In fact the water is churned up as if, there, just in front of you was a series of springs, water rushing and bubbling up to the surface.

You watch and you see that as the disturbed water pushed outwards into the rest of the river small whirlpools form and spiral, round and round slow at first but then with a ever quickening pace, then they dissipate and final vanish. There is a new disturbance and new whirlpools appear swirl and vanish and then another disturbance and another new set of whirlpools. It’s like a dance. They seem like small galaxies in the vastness of space, or the brief existence of a human being in the flow of history.

Yeah then your mind starts to think that this is a bit like life. The briefness of the human existence and the sameness of routine and everyday life is like those spinning whirlpools.

The cycle of feeding new babies, those sleep disturbed nights.

A life governed by picking the kids up from school or making sure you get home in time for them.

The constant round of being a taxi driver for demanding teenagers.

The slow move of the clock at work.

The constant flow of paper across your desk that demands your attention.

The jobs on the farm that come every year with each change of season.

The round of appointments that need to be met: of clients and customers.

The days that seem so busy even though you were sure it would get easier and quieter when you’d retired.

Washing, the meals that always need to be cooked and the dishes that always await you afterwards.

Meetings where sometimes things just go round and round and you don’t end up getting anywhere, even matters of weight and importance seem to end as a little eddy going forever round and never reaching a viable conclusion.

A circle of friends, people you need for your support, to enrich your life, for your sanity where unless you make time to see them become people you greet on the street and say see you round the next time round or you simply drift apart.

Births and marriages, exams, deadlines, bills, deaths it seems so much like the whirlpools on the surface of this river. The everyday round and round of life like the whirlpools getting faster and faster and pulling you into the centre. Then well maybe we don’t want to think of that.

Even sometimes the round and round of the disciplines of reading the bible and those daily study notes: The sameness of the weekly journey to church. You fear maybe even God has become just part of that daily spiral. Maybe even God has become lost in the routine.

AS if it is God’s reply you become aware again of the whole river, the dark deep powerful body of water moving on and on, never ending. You look and you see the truth of it that even the disturbed water breaking into those small whirlpools was moving with the current and was being carried along by the stream. The flow itself had created the whirlpools in the first place. They seem to be going round and round but the river was carrying it onwards in its grasp.

Then God speaks to you of the river “For his steadfast love endures forever”, in and through and round and before and beyond and so intrinsically part of the cycles of life the unfathomable, everlasting stream of God’s steadfast love flows.

It flows in the goodness and greatness of God’s character

It flows from the core of his being love.

Love of the father for his children,

Love with no hidden agenda freely given.

Love that gives not what we deserve but what is for our best.

Love that does not let us get way with injustice but paid the price for our sin and has washed us clean again.

Love that is so patient and long suffering.

God’s love: God who keeps his promises surer than the flow of this Waikato River. It may be unthinkable but this river may dry up it may jump its banks and find a new course to run but God is constant in his faithfulness.

The flow of his love in creation. It is easy for us, and our 21st century minds, to get caught as if a fish on a lure, in quibbling over cosmological origins. Rather than to rejoice in our environment, not the mere work of chance or mechanical process but of the steadfast love of the Lord.

The flow of God’s love in the history of human kind: The vast river of God’s saving work. Casting a line to his people as they flounder and drown in the rapids of oppression, sin and death.

The Israelites brought out of Egypt away from slavery and brutality. Through the Red Sea and the wilderness to the land promised to their ancestor Abraham. Every step of the way the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

The life giving river of God’s love in Jesus, breaking into history to bring freedom from sin and death, to give new and abundant life in him.

‘Like the stone on the surface of a still river’ Bruce Cockburn sings, ‘the ripples going on for ever and ever redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.’

The river of God’s love flowing into our world through the manger in Bethlehem: through God becoming one of us. The man who steps into the everyday lives of people like you and I and said follow me. Who healed with a touch and revealed God as our heavenly father. The love of God flowing across the darkness and pain of the cross and into the grave then busting out again full of the promise of renewing for the soul in eternal and abundant life. The love of God poured out in the Holy Spirit on his people at Pentecost. Then being there in the sharing of the good news as it is preached and proclaimed, lived out and taught from generation to generation. Breaking, finally, into the swirls and spinning of our lives catching us up in the flow of that immense river of God’s love.

The love of God flows and will not be stopped. Earthly powers like the kings Israel meet on their journey through the wilderness and spiritual principalities and powers have tried to dam up the flow of God’s steadfast love. His people faced with death, the sword, starvation, nakedness, humiliation, criticism and the laughing mock of “where is your God now?”

Yet these cannot stem the flow, they cannot separate us from the love of God. They are like the child’s beach game fighting the tide. The work of oppression and persecution and animosity, grief, sickness and pain like a barrier of sand below the high tide mark destined to crumble in the face of the rising waters. There is nothing says Paul that can separate us from the love of God. As we look around us here at the narrows we realise that even the seeming solid rocks have been warn down and breached by the flow of this water.

A poet sitting not by a river but by a burning ruin of a city. He sees his home going up in flames. He smells the burning of wood and above it the sickening stench of death. His ears ring with the tormented cries and sorrowful wailing of his people. Jerusalem is destroyed, yet even here in this desolation the river of God’s love is not stopped. He puts his pen to paper and in the middle of his lamentation writes “this I remember and have hope. The steadfast love of the lord never ceases and his mercy never comes to an end they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness O lord.”

The river flows ‘His steadfast love endures forever’ he sees us in our lowly state and he buoys us up and carries us in the great current.
The river of God’s love flows and as it flows it irrigates the land it flows through and makes it fertile. It is the simple truth that God provides for us. A loaf of bread coming from the wheat and corn planted and harvested, the vintage bought to completion in the rain and the warm sun are gifts from God. His love knows no end.

You sit a while longer and let the picture sink in. Our everyday life; the spiralling of every day routine and the reality of that constant flow of God’s love that never ends. You are challenged and encouraged by it encouraged by the goodness of God and challenged to acknowledge that great flow of his love more in your everyday life.

You stand up and stretch that concrete pillar hadn’t been really been the most comfortable thing to sit on and you go to leave, but taking one last glance at the river you hear God whisper in the sound of the water “will you abandon yourself to the current of my love will you not only see it flow around you and in you but will you let it flow out from you to those around you as well.

You walk back. Back up the slippery stairs, back through the long grass, back from the bank of the Waikato River at the Narrows. You put your good shoes back on and here we are today in this place to give praise to God for his steadfast love and called to let that life giving water flow out from us to the parched world around us.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What book am I?

I saw a DVD of the film 'The Book of Eli' last night. It got me wondering 'What book am I?"

Having just recently seen John Hillcots 'The Road' (2009) the stark post atomic Apocalypse ascetics of 'The Book of Eli" were vaguely familiar. As was the brutality of the human experience eking out a subsistence living in a world where it had all been stripped away.

What I found challenging was the way the main character (played by Denzil Washington) protected and held on to a book. 'The last remaining 'King James version of the bible. AS a response to the war (the flash as it was referred to) all the bibles had been burned but one had survived. Eli felt the voice tell him to guard the book, read the book and take it to a community out west where it would be valued. the film chronicles the last part of his journey and possibly the biggest challenges to his mission.

the book is seen by the villain as a weapon, a book of power by which he could subjugate and oppress the few remaining human communities and rule over them. But Eli is sure the book is not for them.

In the end in a very Fahrenheit 451 way the book is lost to Eli but we discover that the book was Eli (good play on words in the title) and Eli is able to deliver the book in a way that was reminiscent of the pre-printing press scriptorium, to a community that is preserving all the wisdom and treasures of the world before.

he has read the book each day and it has become so much part of him. He is a navigators dream, he has committed it all to memory... However there is one telling line in the whole movie that for me cut to the quick (even more than Eli's razor sharp machete). AS he sums up the book to his illiterate companion in the words of Jesus golden rule "Do unto other as you would have them do unto you" he reflects "I've spent so much time protecting the book and should have spent more time living it out."

In the end (and sorry if this ruins the movie for you) the book ends up on a shelf amidst the other religious books of wisdom (the Talmud etc) sitting on a shelf. Its been kept safe but...

The question for me is 'What book are you?" and how do you embody that book? Does it sit on my shelf amidst all the other volumes. Does it reside inside my head, do I use it as a weapon or do I spend my time living it out.