Some of my more detailed reviews - books, films, theatre trips, software etc. I will also post the text of some of my sermons here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I'm assuming that you all know the story, so if you don't see the film (or better, read the book) then return.

My recent experiences of Cinema attendance meant that it was quite a long time since I was last at a Film Theatre.  We again attended the 'Empire' in Basildon.  It was not quite as bad, still popcorn on the floor. How about not filling the buckets to overflowing?  Being boxing day there were not that many people there.  No box office either, so if you went without credit/debit cards you would not have got in!  We had deliberately avoided the 3D option.  Screen 8 is an odd shaped theatre.  I must have been in it before but I don't remember the screen seeming to be set at an angle, so the right side is further away than the left side - a very strange experience, especially during the sailing scenes.

The film itself was better than the cinema experience.  A long time ago I read the book and my memories of the story are not that clear. Eustace I remember, and the general plot, but Eustace as a dragon I don't.  However, Will Poulter who plays Eustace is undoubtedly the star of the show.  I began to dis-like him almost immediately. Watching his transformation from a horrid little boy always relying on his doting parents to someone of more mature character, indeed even courageous was the best part of the film.  The cause of the change is 'the annoying glass is always half full person', as he is described by Eustace, of Reepicheep.  An animated mouse, voiced by Simon Pegg, whose tail was given to him by Aslan.  Which brings me to the special effects.  Always unobtrusive they, in many ways, bring the film to life, but that is what they are for - magic can only occur this way.  I'd like to know how real the Dawn Treader was.  If it was part of the special effects it was VERY good.  Some were a little tired though.  When the invisible mansion appears, it seems to build itself, like so many reconstructions of the Colosseum or similar ancient building you may watch a documentary on.

The story is better, on film, than Prince Caspian - much better.  It moves at a constant pace, sometimes forgetting to pause for thought as we move from island to island and closer to the source of all evil.  It does though slow for the final (well until the last book) goodbye to Narnia for the Pevensy Children, and also the parting of Reepicheep and Eustace.

The story has a clear Christian basis and this is not eroded by the film.  The morals are still there, some easier to see than others, but all still intact.

My verdict: Well worth a visit to the cinema to see it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Joseph, an obedient servant

Joseph @ the school Nativity - illustration
At the school nativity play a boy desperately wanted to play the role of Joseph. He didn't get the part – he was to be the inn keeper. Instead the part of Joseph went to his greatest rival in the class. He was very upset. All through rehearsals he was planning what he would do. On the first night of the play when Joseph knocked on the door, the Inn keeper opened it. Joseph asked if they had any room. The Inn keeper said “Of course, there's plenty of room, come in.”. There was a bit of a silence and you could see the confusion on Joseph's face. Finally he moved forward, looked in the Inn and said to the Inn keeper “Never mind, no wife of mine is staying in a dump like this!” Turning to Mary he said “Let's see what's round the back”. The nativity was back on track.
Introduction to Joseph
It seems that there's something special about playing Joseph. Sure, Joseph's part is probably seen as the staring role for boys in the Nativity play. Although he is in many of the scenes, his only lines are with the Inn keeper – who has a similar number of lines.
Perhaps there is something deeper going on. Could it be that playing the role of the father is still seen as important. Perhaps it is something about being the father of God that makes the role attractive.
Last week Jo and I went to the Baptists Church to see Star Wise – the story of the Visit of the Magi set in a science fiction genre. There the star ship captain, who represented the modern sceptic, got to play hide and seek with the baby Jesus. Quite a lot was made of it, as it was the point in the play where the Captain began to change his mind. What was it like to play with Jesus as a toddler?
I'm sure Joseph enjoyed playing with the young Jesus as much as any father enjoys playing with his son. The reality though is that in the Bible Joseph has a bit part. The focus is on Jesus – exactly where it should be, of course. Joseph doesn't have a single word recorded. He is a silent witness but we do have a record of his actions. As my mother constantly reminded me “Actions speak louder than words”. Lets take a look through Joseph's story to see what he did, to see what we can learn about him and from him.
1st Century BC marriage
When we meet Joseph he is already being described as Mary's husband. In the first century BC the Jewish marriage process was nothing like ours. The system was based on arranged marriages. Joseph's parents and Mary's parents would have made an arrangement between them. When Joseph was old enough and established enough to support a wife the wedding would take place. This would probably have been the first time the couple met. After the wedding celebration the couple would return to their own homes. The period known as betrothal had started. During this time Joseph and Mary would get to know each other and begin the process of learning to live together. From the point of view of the Jewish law they were married. If anything happened – such as the death of one of them the other would be a widow, or widower. The divorce law also applied.
One of the most serious sins a woman could commit was to be involved with another man during the time of betrothal. The penalty was death by stoning.
Deuteronomy 22:23-24
If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
We have no idea what Joseph thought of Mary – we cannot tell whether he was in love, or whether he even liked her, but the reading tells us that he was a righteous man (v19). So when it became clear to him that his wife was pregnant and he knew that he couldn't be the father, he knew he must end the marriage.
Joseph righteous
Joseph was righteous – meaning that he kept the Law as best he could. So he could not complete the betrothal. He could not be married to someone who did not start out a virgin, and especially someone in a relationship with another man.
By Jesus time the practice of stoning was not so common, although it was still an option. He could have called for the full force of the law to be applied and made a public denouncement of Mary. Being righteous does not mean you lack compassion. Psalm 112:4 links the characteristics together:
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.
Well Joseph was certainly in a time of darkness – perhaps as dark as it gets. His decision was a compassionate one. He will just get Mary out of his life by getting a certificate of divorce and then start again on finding a wife. After all there was plenty of evidence.
The plan is made, but before it can be put into action God intervenes.
V20 “... an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Is this one of the things we can learn from Joseph – always act on your dreams? Does God still guide through dreams?
There are some significant differences of opinion. One preacher says “If you remember your dreams then God is trying to speak to you” I can't agree with that. Most of the dreams I remember are nightmares that wake me up and make getting back to sleep difficult. They are disjointed and frightening and do not seems as though God is there in any way.
Others will tell you that the promise in Joel 2:28-29 that Peter quotes in Acts 2:17-18, is not for our time, but for the time of the apostles or the time after Jesus return.
Here's what Joel says:
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
Neither position really makes sense to me. It's true, of course that God will not and cannot act in ways that He has said He will not act in. It's also true that the prophesies are hard to understand, and can be looked at in several ways.
All I can say is that in the one or two cases where my dreams may have come from God the message has not contradicted my understanding of scripture and has reminded me to help people or pray for them.
Joseph clearly knew the difference between a dream sent by God and an ordinary nightmare. To him this message is clearly from God – it fits with prophecy:
Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Remember the words from the dream:
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Who is the father?
OK, the baby is God's and that's very important, but there is still an earthly cost to consider. Families with bastard children were considered to be evil. They had broken the law and would be shunned. It would affect Mary as she brought up the family, and it would affect Joseph and his business. People may have thought that they just couldn't wait. People may have asked who the real father was. Channel 4 made a whole program on a rumour that starts around 150 AD that a Roman soldier called Panthera was the real father. There was speculation even before Jesus was born, and there has been ever since.
If Joseph had heard and believed the rumours things would be very different. Mary would have been divorced and unmarryable. Jesus could not have been David's descendant and the prophesies would not have been fulfilled. If Joseph heard the gossip he certainly didn't give it any value.
Joseph is not only a believer, but he is also faithful and obedient. Once he knows that the message is from God, he obeys. I'm sure he considered the cost. Righteousness goes deeper than simply following instructions. For Joseph righteousness means being open to follow God's commands as they arrive, it means knowing God's voice and following what it says.
Jesus says in John 10:3-5
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
I wonder if he got that idea from Joseph?
We see how obedient Joseph is after the visit of the Magi, where another dream tells him to take his family to Egypt. In Matthew 2:13-14 Joseph wakes from his dream and the family leave immediately.
If you are to know someone’s voice then you must spend time with them. Dogs are generally reckoned to be more intelligent than sheep. Some of you will know we got a dog in June. He was about 18 months old, and it took him a few weeks to get used to our voices. Even a couple of months ago he wasn't entirely sure and went chasing after someone else whistling for their dog. If it takes the dog months, how long will it take the sheep.
Joseph is an excellent example of the character God is trying to develop in each of us.
If we are to be obedient to God, in the way that Joseph was obedient we must get close to God and listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to us. We will then be prepared to understand not just the message, but the urgency of it too. That way we can respond accordingly. We also learn from Joseph that our response to situations in the world must be loving and compassionate, just as God is loving and compassionate with us.
Joseph has a lot to teach us, not bad for the Bibles Silent Witness, Joseph son of David, the man who taught God.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Star Wise @ Billericay Baptist Church

Billed as a modern musical for Christmas 'Star Wise' follows the story of the Magi (Wise Men, Astrologers) on their journey to find the baby born to be King.  As the title and especially the picture suggests it is set in the Star Wars / Star Trek science fiction genre.  The Magi must hire a star ship to get from their planet to the Judean system, through the occupying armies of the Augustinian Empire. The captain, known as 'Skip' Tickle, of the star ship provides the sceptical voice of the non-believer of the present day, to balance the story and fit it to modern times.  The Judean system is ruled by a megalomaniac Herod to whom the Magi take an instant dislike.  There they must find the right planet so that they can worship the King. On Beth 3M they find the Baby with his mother Mary, and Father Joseph, and we hear some of the prophecies from Daniel and from Simeon in the temple. They return by another route and witness the prelude to the slaughter that Herod initiates.
The whole performance is backed by video clips, showing the controls of the ship, recorded messages (captains log ..) from the chief of Magi - Melchior, and outer space.  The programme contains a list of the films and TV series that the ideas came from, and there are a few tributes to shows whose ideas have not been used - 'Blakes Seven' even gets a mention.  The songs are mostly very clever.  One I particularly likes was about faster than light travel and contains a line something like 'go out in the morning, come back the night before'.  Scientific rubbish, of course, but entirely true to the genre.
Remembering that the cast are complete amateurs and most (if not all) are not regularly involved in drama they did a very good job.  The few minor glitches and hesitations are easily forgiven.  The show is quite long at around 2 hours, but there is an intermission when refreshments are served.  The baptist church itself was really too small as a venue, but I doubt they had much option.
Star Wise was put on to raise money for "Door of Hope".
Jo and I had an enjoyable evening.  Our thanks go to Peter White, the author, the cast and crew and the Baptist Church down the road.

I hope that this was a very successful outreach activity.  It had all the main points of the story, and the script showed some attempt to explain who the Magi were and where their beliefs came from.  God is referred to as 'The Uncreated Creator' most of the time and our captain gets to play hide and seek with the son of God.  Even the captain has the dream warning of the danger of returning to Herod.  At least it should certainly produce lots of questions for any who saw it and were not believers.