Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Think about such things

What is it about Australian movies? Ever since Mad Max, the Australian movie industry has tended to make movies that are weird, bleak, depressing and dark: Strictly Ballroom was strange; Priscilla Queen of the Desert was odd; Picnic at Hanging Rock was beautiful but dark; Saw, revolting ; Samson and Delilah might may have been a wake up call, but desperately bleak; Animal Kingdom may be much closer to the reality of organized crime than glitzy TV shows, but again despairing; and the latest happy Aussie movie to the list, Snowtown, seems to have redefined darkness and despair. Sure we can all remember a few exceptions, like Man from Snowy RiverBabe, and in more recent times, Australia, but overall, Australian movies seem determined to confront, confuse and depress their audiences.
By contrast there is an Australian documentary currently in limited release nationally, that is surprisingly warm, positive and strangely encouraging. The documentary follows a girls' private school community in Sydney, MLC, as they prepare and execute their biennial music extravaganza. The film makers, who were parents of a student at the school, have cleverly embedded themselves in school staffrooms, classrooms and in the corridors of the school, as well as being present behind the scenes at the concert's stunning venue in the Sydney Opera House. Some 270 hours of filming is creatively edited down to 95 minutes, telling the 'warts and all' story of how this school works as one, in order to make rather beautiful music.
Mrs Carey’s Concert is very much a story of the impact of one forceful, determined and passionate school teacher, who still struggles with self doubt and a messy staffroom. But it is also the story of what happens when young women are challenged to excel at music which is difficult and, at times, culturally and emotionally a long way from their experience. MLC reflects something of the cultural diversity of modern Sydney, so the heroine of the story is a young woman with a painful past from a Chinese background, who is very much a young Aussie with attitude and convictions. Every story, of course, must have its villains and that group in Year 10, featuring Iris, find co-operating with the school authorities, at times, too much to bear. They also amusingly demonstrate how easy it is to confuse a middle-aged teacher by adjusting her computer settings while she is out of the room.
This is not gripping, compelling, gritty drama, but rather a pleasant story of a slice of Australian life that many will find inspiring and uplifting.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”  Philippians 4: 8

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Two Sides To Humanity

At times humans are so very impressive, but then at other times so very disappointing. We fleetingly convince ourselves that humans are rather remarkable, but then we come back to earth with a thud.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) sounds like an example of humanity working together at its best. In its own words, "The IMF promotes international monetary cooperation and exchange rate stability, facilitates the balanced growth of international trade, and provides resources to help members in balance of payments difficulties or to assist with poverty reduction”.  Sounds very noble! The IMF is a co-operative effort of 187 countries, serving as a specialist agency of the UN. With research, think tanks and economic surveillance, the IMF monitors national and international economic activity and provides technical assistance and training to help countries improve economic management. As well as all that, the IMF has the capacity to loan money to help countries overcome economic difficulties and to concessionally (ie. cheaply) loan money to help fight poverty in developing countries.
In 2007 the IMF appointed a new Managing Director, the then French Finance Minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Strauss-Kahn announced a reform agenda to make the IMF 'better for everybody'. Last week he was accused and then charged in New York for allegedly trying to rape a hotel chambermaid. On a salary and allowance package of over $US 500,000 (tax free), the head of the IMF holds an extremely prestigious world position. Mr Strauss-Kahn has now resigned while he awaits trial for these alleged crimes. There is increasing speculation that he may face further allegations of sexual misconduct.
The alleged tawdry behaviour of the Managing Director seems so at odds with the noble aims and goals of the IMF. But in a snapshot, humanity's central dilemna is exposed. We try to be noble but something within us drags us back down. In essence we want to be better than we actually are. We let people into our lives but fear that if they really discover our moral centre, they will be disappointed that the gloss is at best dull and most often, decidedly stained.
Humans still have many admirable desires and goals, and at our best we even occasionally achieve something genuinely good. But our bias to sin, our deep-seated rebellion against God, and our distorted views of our own innocence continue to dilute our achievement. 
We all walk closer to conviction by human laws than we let on and before the judgement seat of God we are far from innocent.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”  Romans 7: 24-25  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Logic and Money

I had to pop down to Melbourne for a day or two last week, so I took the cheapest option – Tiger Airways. Tiger is cheap. I think my flight down was about $38 and the one home slightly more expensive. Apart from the planes always seeming to leave late and arrive even later, plus a few other minor inconveniences (like a tin shed instead of a terminal at Melbourne), Tiger seems as good as any. By the look of the crowd on my flight price was the determining factor. No suits, no business attire and hardly a laptop in sight (though no shortage of tattoos). The logic of a cheap flight is hard to beat.
However the guy next to me on the plane exhibited an alternative type of logic. He told me he was heading to the 'G', the Melbourne Cricket Ground, to watch an AFL match. He explained that the plane trip gave him a little time to warm up on the inside. So during the flight my fellow passenger ordered not one, but two Jim Beam and colas costing $18. Now to my logic two drinks costing the equivalent of 47% of the airfare defies reason. Could he not have had the drinks at the airport for half the price? Could he not have gone via Liquorland on the way to the ground? Sometimes the things we do with our money simply defy reason.
Why do people queue for petrol that has been reduced from  $1.40 to $1.36? I guess if the garage, instead of saying 4c discount said save 2.8%, most people would not be convinced that 20 minutes of their time and petrol was worth the wait. Why do people accept the wisdom of a financial advisor who advises them to invest all their savings and super, and sometimes to borrow more, in one scheme? Why do people outbid each other at a house auction, buying that perfect house that needs no work, when down the road there is an equivalent one which needs a lick of paint and can be bought thousands or even tens of thousands cheaper? Why do people camp outside stores for Boxing Day sales and then rush in like moths to a light – all in the name of saving a few dollars on things they probably don’t even need?
In the Old Book there is a story of a young man who foolishly sold his birthright – his status in his family and his right to inherit his father's property – to his younger brother, because he was hungry and his brother offered him a bowl of lentil stew. The logic of selling a future inheritance for the short term enjoyment of a hot meal is slightly less foolish than the temptation we all face of forfeiting our eternal inheritance for thirty pieces of silver.
“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Mark 8: 36 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Trust - Better Than Control

Last week at church there was quite a reaction when I read out a list of characteristics of people who we might unkindly describe as 'control freaks'. There were a few people sitting there saying, "Yes, that’s me". What was more evident was the large number of people prodding the person next to them, suggesting that the list of characteristics sounded very familiar. Strangely the temptation to control can affect all sorts of people at different times in their lives. Tragically this sort of obsession can become very hard to live with.
Of course if we really stop to think hard, we will see that no matter how seriously we try to control, we are never going to succeed.
Firstly we forget that this world we are living in is actually spinning at a speed of about 1500 kms per hour, while traveling through space at a little over 100,000 kms per hour. We convince ourselves that we are standing still but nothing could be further from the truth. We also forget that our five and a half odd litres of blood flows about 19,000 kms throughout our body every day! Our heart pumps that blood around its long journey about 35 million times a year, again without the slightest bit of control from us. We cast off about 4 kgs of unwanted skin a year and behold, our bodies replace it again without any thought or control from our minds. We all enjoy eating and we think we at least control that, but once in the mouth we again become spectators of our amazing bodies. Our saliva and teeth begin the process that includes a journey of about 7 or so metres through our oesophagus, stomach and intestines. Along the way, again without a thought, our body extracts the nutrients we need to live, while over a period of two or three days slowly getting rid of the excess (lets not go into the detail). All the while our kidneys and liver and a few other things merrily go about their work. Meanwhile an incredible defence system within us made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs, defends our bodies against germs and micro organisms every day. This immune system again operates independently of our command.
If all that is not amazing enough, we are reminded that the very best things that happen to us in life are also beyond our control. Most of us work in jobs that other people decided we could have. If we are blessed with a marriage partner, we are reminded that we only had one vote when two were required to start and sustain a marriage. Even our children are surprising blessings of a reproductive system that we enjoy, but hardly control.
In fact, control is an illusion.
Life was not meant to be controlled, but lived. Trusting God may require faith, but it’s wiser than the illusion that we control our own destiny.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3: 5-6

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Royal Wedding

Can you imagine what last Friday's wedding would have been like, if Kate and William had followed the way of most people today and chosen a civil wedding service?
1.    A civil ceremony would not have begun with that wonderful hymn, sung both inside and outside the cathedral – "Guide me, O thou great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand; Bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore". In fact, without God people don’t even bother to sing, or worse, singing is reduced to a performance of the gifted, rather than a people's choir bound together by our need to worship and praise. There is something very good about the powerful and mighty of a land joining their voices with the nobodies, to share their common status before God. 
2.    There would have been no grand cathedral. Maybe they would have got married on the banks of the Thames (maybe not), or at Albert Hall or in William’s grandmother’s back garden. Something would have been lost. For 1000 years that building has inspired people to look beyond their earthly struggles, to look up to a grand and majestic God who rules, even over kings.
3.    There would have been no choir to remind us that "This is the day that the Lord has made". Sure a pop star or two might have sung a love song, but the reminder that all our days are a gift from a loving God would probably have been missed. 
4.    Whatever you think of the whole idea of royalty (I will leave that for another day), on Friday you could not have missed that the royals also bow in prayer to the ultimate King of Kings. Human rulers, whatever their style, will only ever be held accountable by the ultimate Ruler of this world. Take God out of the picture and kings and despots are answerable to no one.
5.    The Bishop of London’s sermon has been criticized by believers and unbelievers alike, but much of what he said would never have been said by a civil celebrant. Only a preacher with the authority of God could look the greatest wedding fairy tale in decades in the eye and say this is not enough - "As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete….."
6.    Sure at a civil wedding there would have been readings – poems about love or something that someone found on the net. But when Kate’s brother so beautifully read those words from the Bible, it was hard to miss their power and authority.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Romans 12: 1-2

God save our gracious Prince and Princess and save us all if we ever completely abandon God as a culture.