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December 20, 2008

101 Best Books Ever Published

Australian bookseller Dymocks has come up with a list of the 101 best books ever published, according to Australian readers.
More than 15,000 people took part in the online survey and some of the results were pretty surprising.
Proving you can't beat the classics, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice topped the list, with classics accounting for a third of the 101 titles.
The survey also found that Bryce Courtenay is Australia's most popular author.
Here is the list in full:
1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings Series - J.R.R. Tolkien
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
4. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
5. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
6. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
7. Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
8. The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay
9. Magician - Raymond E. Feist
10. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
11. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
12. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
13. Cross Stitch - Diana Gabaldon
14. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
15. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
16. Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
17. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
18. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
19. Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin
20. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
21. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
22. The Bronze Horseman - Paullina Simons
23. The Bible
24. Eragon - Christopher Paolini
25. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
26. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series - Douglas Adams
27. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
28. Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden
29. Ice Station - Matthew Reilly
30. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
31. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
32. The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
33. Perfume - Patrick Suskind
34. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
35. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
36. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
37. Twilight - Stephanie Meyer
38. Angels and Demons - Dan Brown
39. The Pact - Jodi Picoult
40. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
41. Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt
42. April Fools Day - Bryce Courtenay
43. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Dernieres
44. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
45. Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
46. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
47. Tully - Paullina Simons
48. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
49. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
50. A Fortunate Life - A. B. Facey
51. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
52. River God - Wilbur Smith
53. Wild Swans - Jung Chang
54. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
55. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
56. The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
57. Persuasion - Jane Austen
58. The Shipping News - Annie Proulx
59. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
60. Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
61. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
62. Possession - A.S. Byatt
63. We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
64. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
65. My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell
66. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
67. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
68. Dune - Frank Herbert
69. Emma - Jane Austen
70. Marley and Me - John Grogan
71. Middlemarch - George Eliot
72. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
73. The Count of Monte Christo - Alexandre Dumas
74. The Secret history - Donna Tartt
75. Chocolat - Joanne Harris
76. Dirt Music - Tim Winton
77. Looking for Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta
78. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin
79. The Ancient Future - Traci Harding
80. Belgariad Series - David Eddings
81. The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
82. The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
83. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
84. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
85. The Stand - Stephen King
86. It - Stephen King
87. Northern Lights - Nora Roberts
88. The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank
89. The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards
90. The Outsider - Albert Camus
91. The Riders - Tim Winton
92. Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
93. Across the Nightingale Floor - Lian Hearn
94. Atonement - Ian McEwan
95. Circle of Friends - Maeve Binchy
96. Seven Ancient Wonders - Matthew Reilly
97. Tess of the D'Ubervilles - Thomas Hardy
98. The Godfather - Mario Puzo
99. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
100. The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
101. The Red Tent - Anita Diamant
source: Sky News

Posted by gary at 09:12 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2008

Lord of the Rings

A recent holiday afforded me space to watch the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, followed by a re-reading of Tolkien’s original books on which the films were based. These two classic works share a common thread but differ significantly in depicting the journey of Frodo and his companions in the battle for Middle Earth. It is a difficult exercise to turn a classic and well-loved book onto the screen – the different media requires words to be translated into visual form. The screen offers in background formations that which the text may take many words to describe, while much background history and poetry of the book do not lend themselves easily to the screen. Peter Jackson’s rendition is a classic in its own right, but many significant and creative aspects of the book have been omitted.

The relationship between book and movie makes for an interesting reflection, particularly for those faiths which bear a strong relationship a book. The Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic faiths are themselves grounded in texts, much of which takes the form of story. The living out of the truths of these texts is itself an act of translation from one form into another – from the written word to the lived world. The balance to be struck between faithfulness to the text and relevance to the lived world is an enduring challenge of interpretation and application, between idealism and lived realities.

The lived world is never identical to the written world, yet the truths of one can readily be applied into the other. This challenge faces not only the film producer, but all people of faith - the battle between spirit of the text and the imagery and words. Judgements must be made about the supremacy and centrality of particular episodes within the text. It is impossible to translate any book to the screen in full satisfaction of every viewer. Words evoke different images and emotions, stories and events tap into different memories for each reader. What emerges is the fruit of a dialogue between imagination and memory, literal word and figurative meaning, subject to reinterpretation after each expression. Re-reading the books helped provide contexts for particular actions and differences in the movie – the death of Saruman in the movie obviates the need to explain the purging of the shire on Frodo’s return which the book details. The omission or reshaping of particular pericopes results in loss of imagery and context for particular actions.

Whilst the film-maker seeks to make a faithful retelling of the original story in its original setting, the life of faith seeks to incarnate the spirit of the text in an entirely different context. In this enactment, some stories will hold greater sway, and those which are overlooked pose new questions and challenges which might ultimately change one’s perspective. To relive the spirit of the whole text requires interpretive cues and frameworks which enable one to live faithfully, yet tentatively towards the ideal.

Far from being a stricture to the life of faith, the presence of a book provides a continuing interpretive and reflective resource for every believer. The life of faith is ever a dialogue between text and action, image and reality. In this dynamic tension lie the seeds of reflection on actual events and frameworks for future action and a basis for reflecting on what is, and for shaping what might be.

Posted by gary at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2008

Freedom Paradox (Book Review)

"We have built ourselves a grand castle of freedom but choose to live in a shack nearby" - Kierkegaard
In his first two books, Growth Fetish and Affluenza, Clive Hamilton began to unmask the prevailing philosophies of our time and expose the high price being paid for our unwitting enslavement to them. In his latest work Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-Secular Ethics, Hamilton directly addresses the question which emerges from these two works: Why it is that our unparalleled time of economic prosperity and choice has left us with lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness? Has the modern promise proven empty, and left us unfulfilled, with less freedom, rather than more?

Beginning his journey with the father of modern liberalism John Stuart Mill, Hamilton begins a journey which dialogues with great thinkers through the ages, seeking explanation for the deep unease which permeates Western Culture, in spite of the promise of freedom which the great economic growth spurt promised us. By juxtaposing three alternative views of life: the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life, the framework is set for exploring the dialectic between liberty and limits.

Whereas modernity has conceptually enthroned the individual, Hamilton suggests that we have exchanged submission to obvious powers (church, state) for more subtle ones which subvert our capacity for freedom. Our ability to freely consent has been compromised by our capacity for self-deception, our tendency for akrasia (the ability to act in contradiction to one’s considered judgment), and in response to the subtle forms of coercion from the market and from socio-economic forces, all of which have served to diminish rather than enhance our freedom.

Having articulated some of the ways in which freedom has been compromised at the socio-political level, Hamilton explores the realm of metaphysics for an exploration of the relationship between inner freedom and greater wellbeing. In revisiting questions of the nature of reality, Hamilton boldly suggests that which modernity first announced and post-modernity has buried - the transcendent - remains accessible. The dense argument which comprises the middle stages of the book outlines a philosophical and metaphysical basis for access to the noumenon (the reality which lies behind the world of appearances) which Hamilton argues is based within humans (rather than God-centred), which provides a basis for the real Self as the centre of moral autonomy. In engaging with the mystical world of Buddhism, Sufism and of Christian mystics, Hamilton suggests that the "secret door to the citadel" is in finding the universal Self, where the God within and the God without are united, in the words of William Law, "in the deepest and most central part of thy soul."

Hamilton examines - in a brief digression - the question of the existence of God, taking issue with Dawkins (whom he criticises for his poor metaphysics), Kant (with his view of God as separate and remote from humanity), and attempts to equate the concept of God as expressed in words with the Supreme Being, abandoning the idea of a God as cosmic policeman (my term) for a "more sublime notion of eternal justice".

The basis for morality is thus grounded no longer in rational ethics, or an external moral code, but the Universal Self - where our independent existence merges into the Universal Self, shared by all. Morality is therefore grounded in metaphysical empathy, in which we recognise our common humanity, not merely as independent selves sharing a common core, but united by participation in the being of each other. Here Hamilton seeks to redeem emotion, compassion, intuition and conscience as a source for morality. The greatest moral acts are often counter to the prevailing social-cultural norm, citing Gandhi, Mandela and the Dalai Lama as avatars of virtue who have lived life on a higher moral plane.

"The freedom to do as we please is the most subtle form of unfreedom ever conceived," he concludes. In seeking to reclaim access to the noumenon within the phenomenal world we experience, Hamilton suggests that the journey towards true freedom begins in being rather than doing. Many readers will welcome his call to rediscover the transcendent, although some will argue that he has been too optimistic of the human capability to overcome these forces and gives too little attention to what Christian theologians continue to hold in spite of its contemporary unpopularity: the nature of sin in the human condition, although we perhaps need to confess that the church has often placed this too much at the forefront and so shadowed the good news of grace it seeks to embody.

The Freedom Paradox offers a healthy critique of modernity, post-modernity and institutional religion and seeks to point us back to the deeper reality of which the spiritual giants of history have sought to point towards. 'Tis a pity that too often we have wrestled with the words rather than the reality.

Clive Hamilton, Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-Secular Ethics, Sydney: Allen & Unwin 2008

Review by Gary Heard

Posted by gary at 02:08 PM | Comments (1)

January 29, 2007

The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins is a British scientist and author who has moved across the Atlantic in order to spread his brand of atheism. Dawkins is a thoughtful, if at times obstinate (reminds me of some christians I have met!) proponent of his particular perspectives on life and its purpose. His most recent book, The God Delusion, continues his campaign against religion in all forms (although, to be honest, he uses the most extreme forms to justify this). The following clip is perhaps only a little instructive, but worth seeing nonetheless. Dawkins is promoting his book and his thoughts (although, with authors it is often difficult to know which is foremost!), and is being "interviewed" by comedian Stephen Colbert.

Posted by gary at 07:17 PM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2006

Cultural Dynamics

I have enjoyed reading Emmanuel Larty's, In Living Colour: An Intercultural Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling, in which he seeks to explain the difference between mono-cultural, cross-cultural, multicultural and intercultural approaches:

Monoculturalism as a social perspective is not neutral - the monoculturist universalises a particular set of norms, values cultural beliefs and practices. Everyone, regardless of preference or background, is assumed or expected to function in accord with these universals. Monoculturists at best deny and at worst suppress cultural expressions which do not appear to conform to this mould.
The cultural violence and coercion of multiculturalism is often not recognised by practitioners.

Cross-culturalism's difficulty is that it encourages a 'them' and 'us' mentality that creates problems in any pluralistic society.
A very real danger in the cross-cultural approach is the encouragement of division through the essentializing of cultural difference. Essentialising occurs when we make particular characteristics the only true or real expressions of a people. Cross-culturalism represents a serious and valuable critique of mono-culturalism's presumption of universal values. However, it operates on the basis of an overemphasis on the identity, difference and homogeneity of cultural or ethnic groups.

Multiculturalism adopts a commendable information-based, scientific, data-oriented approach to the multicultural. However, like cross-culturalism, it fails to avoid stereotyping, reductionism, individualising, placing groups in hierarchical order and perpetuating myths that, when imbibed can induce self-hatred within the subdominant groups.

An intercultural approach is premised upon the maxim Every human person is in some respects (a) like all others (b) like some others (c) like no other. Intercultural experience helps us realise that no matter how different culturally or personally people are, there are features of their lives that resemble those of other persons. Here, knowledge and information about specific socio-cultural, historical, economic and political matters of relevance to the cultures represented in the caring relationships may be valuable. But perhaps more germane to the process will be the exploration of the ways, as perceived especially by the clients, in which culture has in the past exerted and continues to exert an influence on the experience or issue in question. No matter how embedded one might be in one's social or cultural grouping, there will be characteristic ways in which one experiences or faces issues that will need addressing.

The strength of his approach seems to be in the affirmation of both individuality and communality in each person's identity, such that we are all seeking to create and mould an identity against the backdrop of our own (often multiple) backgrounds in culture and family, and continue to act as members of a community.

Emmanuel Y Larty, In Living Colour: An Intercultural Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, 2003

Posted by gary at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

October 09, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I haven't seen the Al Gore movie "An Inconvenient Truth" yet, but the preview makes me put it on my "to see" list. This can be viewed here.
If you've seen the movie and would like to offer some reflection, I'd be happy to hear.

Posted by gary at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2006

Da Vinci Code

This coming week’s launch of the movie based on ‘The Da Vinci Code’ has been the subject of increasing media speculation and reflection on the claims made in the book about the nature of the Holy Grail and the life of Jesus. On the back of this we have been informed of the discovery of previously “hidden” gospels which serve to reinforce the idea that the church has ‘got it wrong’ and that the real story of Jesus has been hidden by a conspiracy within the church. It is worth reflecting on the media publicity and traction which such stories are able to obtain.
There are two sides to this story – and it is easy to miss one when being defensive. The popularity of such books reflects an interest in spiritual matters, born of a gnawing suspicion that the materialistic world in which we live is not providing us with the peace of mind and sense of value which we had hoped. Far from being satisfied with the secular, millions exhibit an interest in the spiritual. At the same time, however, there is a deep and long-held suspicion about the church and institutional faith. Many of Dan Brown’s readers have probably turned their dissatisfied backs on the church, yet remain puzzled and intrigued by the Jesus whom the church seeks to proclaim. But institutional and formulaic faith has left them empty, particularly with its historic emphasis on hierarchical and patriarchal religion.
Many of Brown’s readers are not interested in knowing that the theories which underpin his novel have little to no historical credibility. In comparison with the Jesus of the church, at least this one is intriguing. Similarly, the recent ‘discoveries’ of the Gnostic gospels also suggests that there are other options to the Jesus who is captive to the church. It does no good to suggest that most of these readers may have never read the canonical gospels – these are considered to be represented in the church’s life and mission.
There is a clear credibility gap. One might dare suggest that there are many aspects of the life of Jesus as represented in the biblical narratives which offer far more intrigue and challenge than the Jesus presented by the church today, particularly in light of some of the rationale adopted to justify the war on Iraq. The Jesus of the church has a credibility problem because the church does. It is a position which we have engendered ourselves, given our declaration of custody of the truth.
There are two approaches available to us: to point out what is wrong with the movie, and reinforce the notion that the church has no reason to change, or to acknowledge that the Jesus of the gospels is different from both the image presented by Brown, and by the church at large.
And let us pray that the true Jesus might be found.

Posted by gary at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2006

Personal Identity

For people without wealth in pre-industrialised society, personal identity was derived from their daily activities, from their occupations. Family names such as Smith, Fletcher, Farmer and Cutler remind us of this. Today this is no longer true: in consumer society people attempt to create an identity not from what they produce but from what they consume. We do not expect that people will take to naming themselves "John Sports Utility" or "Barbara Georgian Mansion", yet in consumer society we behave in ways which are only marginally less obtuse. In the words of one of the world's largest producers of consumer products:
... the brand defines the consumer. We are what we wear, what we eat, what we drive. Each of us in this room is a walking compendium of brands. The collection of brands we choose to assemble around us have become amongst the most direct expressions of our individuality - or more preciselh, our deep psychological need to identify ourselves with others.

- Clive Hamilton, Growth Fetish, p 70

Posted by gary at 09:36 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2006

A Modern Parable

This parable, called "A Modest Disposal" appears in the autobiography of John Dominic Crossan, entitled "It's a Long Way from Tipperary".

Once upon a time there was a group called the Southern Baptist Convention, which locked horns (possibly an unfortunate metaphor) every year with another group called Walt Disney Incorporated. The mdeia reported that the issue was the sexual content of movies made by Disney subsidiaries or the equal respect it showed to both gay and straight employees at its theme parks. The Southern Baptist Convention held that gays should repent, change, and go straight. Gays responded that such was not possible, that they had never met such transformed individuals, but they had often met fundamentalists who had repented, changed, and become Christian. Be that as it may, the media got it completely wrong. The debate was not over morality or even the differing views of morality. It was not over the Bible, the New Testament, or the Gospels, over where they were permanently valid ("Love your enemies") and where they were socially relative ("Slaves, obey your masteres"). It was actually over the global control of fantasy.

The contest was between two giant corporations over the worldwide missionary expansion of illusional entertainment. Both were, at least in large doses, equally if differently dangerous. With Walt Disney Incorporated it was sometimes difficult to tell reality from fantasy as cartoon characters, literary figures, historical events, geographical places, and evetually religious traditions disappeared into animated illusion. With the Southern Baptist Convention it was difficult to distinguish between religion and Prozac, Christianity and chloroform, baptism and lobotomy. But, locked together, the object of the battle was obvious. Who, for the next century or even the next millennium, would control the transmutation of reality into fantasy, of religious reality into religious fantasy, and of secular reality into secular fantasy?

The only solution was to bring in a conflict-management arbitrator to negotiate a final solution before the parties destroyed one another. She spoke about the dangers of giant corporations fighting to the death rather than arranging sensible compromise. She said she wished that Apple and IBM had combined forces to make the original personal computer and that Microsoft had died aborning. (She admitted that the last comment might have been unfair because she realised the difficulty or reinventing the wheel without infringing on its first patent. It did, however, make the final product more complicated than the original.)

After only a few weeks, the deal was concluded. Walt Disney Incorporated and the Southern Baptist Convention amalgamated freely and evenly - not a hostile takeover or even a friendly buy-out, but an absolutely equal combination. It was like, as the arbitrator had said, Harper and Collins becoming HarperCollins-Publishers. Two erstwhile enemies became BaptistDisney-Entertainments.

They started immediately to plan for the future. There would be a new giant theme park, wiping out any recent gains made by Universal Studios' Escape and taking up all of the rest of Central Florida, from sea to shining sea. It would have an attractive Garden of Eden, where visitors could create different original sins and divergent histories of the world, and an interactive Rapture Ride and Millennial Slaughter, where visitors could invent alternative atrocities to exterminate the ungodly. The possibilities were endless.

There was only one cloud on the horizon. The U.S. Justice Department moved immediately to forbid the merger and to prevent BaptistDisney-Entertainments from obtaining a monopoly on world fantasy. But a good legal defense was able to overturn that prohibition. Clearly, there were still other major contenders in the market. There were Hollywood's special effects wizards, England's Royal Family, Rome's Vatican City, and Israel's National Parks Authority, which, according to Time Magazine for February 22m 1999, "has approved a 262-ft.-long transparent bridge to be built just below the surface of the Sea of Galilee so visitors can follow in the footsteps of Christ... After it opens in August, [the contractor Ron Major] expects up to 800,000 people a year to pay a minimum fee to walk on water. And, yes, lifeguards will be on hand in case anyone strays from the true path. That issue was actually introduced as an exhibit for the defense.

Eventually, the Justice Department agreed: BaptistDisney-Entertainments would not be a monopoloy, just number one. Everything was now perfect, although an op-ed in the New York Times warned, from somewhere in William Butler Yeats's poetry, that when a heart grows up on fantasy, it often grows old on brutality.

Posted by gary at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2006

Passing on of Story

How is it that the songs of an American entertainer from the 1910s are etched into the memory of people in their 40s over 90 years later? As I watched The Jolson Story, and Jolson Sings Again in the past week, I found myself singing along, with cries from another room, “I remember those. My Dad used to sing them to me when I was a kid!” Familiar tunes and vaguely familiar words resonated through my brain. Some songs I could sing word-for-word, others echoing childhood memories. Of course many of them became familiar anthems and stage numbers, yet still from an era which pre-dates me. How are they carried through in living memory today?

The songs were originally performed in burlesque and vaudeville theatres, before moving to broadway. These were essentially live performances, often broadcast live on radio. The advent and spread of the gramophone allowed these songs a second life, albeit subject to the vagaries and fickle nature of the hit parade. During the war many gained another life, as Jolson entertained American troops, only to fade away once more. When the songs were translated into the Hollywood movie and its sequel already mentioned that a new generation was introduced to them, and the life of Jolson. I am sure that the emergence of the LP, and the later shift to digital recordings via CD kept this music alive and introduced it to further generations. Now the movie resurfaces on DVD...

Stories and history are handed on from generation to generation in many and diverse ways. As Ev and I reflected on the part these Jolson songs played in our lives, we considered the impact they had made on our parents, which emerged in the songs they sang around the home, and particularly at bed time. Some of them I still sang periodically, not recalling their origin. I often found myself thinking, “that’s where I learned that song from!” as I watched the movies.

This form of history is powerful, and reflects the ways in which the early stories of Jesus were passed from generation to generation. The first disciples and those who had been impacted by Jesus would retell their experiences, even converting some to song and poem, which would be remembered for the shape they brought to new generations. It was some time before they were committed to the written form which has come to us today, perhaps highlighting their power and influence in living memory.

As I read gospel stories, I find myself being energised in a similar way: moved to act and do as the stories depict, much in the same way as the songs came to life again for me (and others!) It’s how we keep the gospel story alive: in the life we live and share.

Posted by gary at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2006

Pay It Forward

Saw the movie "Pay it Forward" on the weekend: a simple story about a challenge given to twelve-year-olds by their Social Science teacher: "How does one make a difference in life?" The young lad comes up with the idea of "paying it forward" - when someone does a good turn, you don't pay them back, you 'pay it forward' to three other people. It's a challenge that constantly frustrates him, yet has a hidden power in the midst of his own life and family struggles.

It's not your typical Hollywood fare, and the ending will give you pause for thought. It touches on some of the nastier challenges faced by too many children growing up, and every character is allowed to be human - perhaps more than we would like for a movie.

It's the sort of movie you can watch with your (older) children and be a catalyst for some interesting discussion about our place in life and our ability to face challenges.

Posted by gary at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2006

The Little Colonel

I recently purchased "The Little Colonel" - a Shirley Temple movie - for my in-laws, as I had seen it on special. This movie, made in 1935, had been introduced to me by my parents when I was a child, themselves having seen it around the time of its original release. Now, 70 years later, it reappears on DVD. Shirley Temple (now Shirley Temple Black) is immortalised as a child actor.

Shirley Temple Black served many years as an Ambassador, working for international justice in Africa and Central Europe. She is now 78 years of age. However, since the release of her movies on DVD she has reported an increase in fan mail, with many admirers presuming that she is still 7 years of age. It is amazing that someone can be "frozen" in such a way, and how easy it can be to be ignorant of history.

I encountered a similar experience recently when talking with someone about the movie "Apollo 13". This person - in their late 20s - reported how they were on tenterhooks at the end of the movie because they did not know whether the astronauts made it back safely.

"Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it," said George Santayana. Now we might be stretching it a little to include some obscure movies (sorry Shirley!), but where do we draw the line? When we lose memory of the crusades, we cannot understand Islam's relationship with the West; if we forget the Holocaust, how can we understand the Middle East today (let alone some of the longer history of the Middle East!)

Can we develop our spirituality without regard to the rich history of faith traditions available to us? Or are we condemned to the feeling of the moment - without root, without foundation?

Posted by gary at 11:13 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

The imminent release of the movie based on Dan Brown's book has Sony Pictures more than a little nervous in the US. The power of the US evangelical political lobby to cause them problems has lead to a creative response: they have constructed a web site in which they have invited key scholars and writers to post articles on the film/book. The web site will post 45 essays who will analyse and respond to the book's assertions.

If you haven't read the book (where HAVE you been?)... it plays on conspiracy theories and institutional suspicions to underscore a belief that the true secrets of Jesus have been known and hidden.

Let's hope that the christian church has learned the lesson of The Life of Brian, The Last Temptation of Christ and other films which they succeeded in giving greater publicity to by their public protests. I, for one, welcome the opportunities that the Da Vinci Code brings to engage in conversation about Jesus and christian faith. In some senses the book offers more open opportunities for discussion than either The Passion of the Christ or The Chronicles of Narnia.

Dan Brown's book has been on the best seller list for quite some time. When the movie is released in the US on May 18, I can imagine the queues will be long... The questions it asks and challenges it poses are worthy of serious consideration and engagement, rather than dismissive ridicule. In one sense, the book echoes the spirit of our age.

Posted by gary at 10:27 PM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2006

Narnia Movie

Anyone been to see the Narnia movie? What did you think?

Posted by gary at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2005


Not a book, but a great quote from a Quaker friend:

"Christians who participate in the good news know that death has been defeated. They know that institutional self-preservation is not the greatest of all goods. They are, in other words, freed from the corporate fear of death, set free to invite institutions, corporations, and other human collectivities to fulfill their God-given purposes. Christians model this in their own corporate life and commend this liberating mode of corporate life to the world as a whole."

Source unknown at this stage...

Posted by gary at 12:12 PM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2005

Threshhold of the Future

I read Mike Riddell's Threshold of the Future a couple of years back, and had another look at it recently. It is an insightful book, retaining its value with the passing of years. Two aspects are worth noting here:

His view of holiness as relational rather than related to separation raises some interesting questions. Holiness is not a function of what we do or do not do, but of our relationship with God – it is based in identity, not behaviour. It is Christ within who makes us holy. Jesus’ presence in many places traditionally considered unholy is explained by the fact that his holiness is not diminished by his contact with the unholy. Holiness is tied to the presence of God, not places, or events.

The second aspect comes from a couple of conversations and reflections, as much as from the book. It is the reality of incarnation, and its implications. To incarnate faith and spirituality in language and body (perhaps that is the wrong order) means to take on the form and culture of the community in which one incarnates. Thus to incarnate is to risk losing one’s identity. To be seen as risking one’s life is of the essence of Christ, not the absence.

One note in Riddell’s book jumped at me - he talks of ‘the more blasphemous suggestion that God causes or at least willingly permits such ravages” (horrendous suffering). While I understand the emotion of this comment, for me it lacks integrity with the biblical data, and the theological implications. If God has not the power to halt or limit suffering, then how can he redeem it? If he is powerless to act in the face of it, how does he find power to act in the wake of it? To acknowledge the sovereignty of God in the face of suffering means also to acknowledge his sovereignty in every part of it. That sovereignty therefore places some responsibility at his feet for its occurrence – a feature of the psalms, which place the responsibility squarely at God’s feet, and surrenders afresh to God and His purposes. This is not to say that God has caused the suffering, only that he has failed to restrain it. Either way he is complicit in it, but not without the ability to redeem it. God is either sovereign or he is not. To reach the latter conclusion has far-reaching implications, beyond the apparent horror of implicating God in tragedy. Did not Jesus indicate that the power was his to stop his own crucifixion? Yet he did not. Why? Through that suffering would come a greater good. Admittedly, we have done much to downplay that suffering in the light of its redemptive symbolism, yet one cannot exist without the other.

Food for thought...

Posted by gary at 03:27 PM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2005

Maria Full of Grace

This movie has a magnificent ending, with a subtle statement made by the director appearing in the background. As Maria walks away from the airport terminal, an advertising hoarding announces "It's what inside that counts". In the context of the movie it makes many statements: Maria's intestinal fortitude, the drugs that were carried, the way in which the couriers were treated on arrival, the way in which people viewed them....

In one sense this scene is a critical interpretation of humanity and the way in which we value different things in people. One might turn it around to ask "what is it inside people that ocunts most for me"?

The movie can be a little confronting at times, but worth seeing.

Posted by gary at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2005

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski was not a beautiful man. Neither was the world in which he was raised, nor lived as an adult. There is a raw crudity which stands out. I had never heard of Bukowski, but was drawn to a film about his life: Bukowski: Born to this, by intriguing reviews. Bukowski was a poet, raw and confronting, yet insightful and disdainful of modern life. Living as he did through perhaps the most turbulent years of the twentieth century, amidst the most rapid of change, Bukowski reflected on life from the underside... a man who was harshly treated as a child, who bucked against the organising and sanitising trends of life.

The movie sets Bukowski and his works in a gentle light, giving power to the words he wrote. Although it does not ignore the seedier aspects of his journey, it utilises them to give context and power to his words. Although the movie seeks to cast him as the great American poet - and in that sense the movie is more hagiography than documentary - it sets the Bukowski image of life over against the Disney image... much more real and grounded in the struggles, seeing hope in their midst, not through denial of them.

The movie is raw, but there are the occasional apothegms amidst citings of his poetry, equally powerful. Towards the end of the movie, reference is made to the battle for a return to more formally structured poetry, over against Bukowski's own style. Together with his publisher they released a small book entitled "Art", with a single word appearing on each page: "As the Spirit wanes, the form appears".

It is a thought worth pondering.

Posted by gary at 10:21 PM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2005

A Provocative Trilogy

I have not been able to get my hands on a copy of Brian McLaren's latest book "The Last Word and the Word after That", which is the third in a series (the first two being "A New Kind of Christian" and the second "The Story We Find Ourselves In"). These works have provoked my thinking, particularly in relation to church and culture. Written in the form of a novel rather than the more traditional approach (much in the same manner as C S Lewis' Screwtape Letters) McLaren unfolds a dialogue which exists in the minds of many church leaders and christians, at least in the West.

I have managed to download a copy of one chapter of the latest book, which will have to suffice until I can import one... Let, me offer a quote:

"From beginning to end... our faith is situated. It's an unfolding story, and every story requires a setting. It's news -

and not just news that happened but news that's still happening, and that means it requires a context. It's an ongoing movement and message that always takes place in a medium. It's all about incarnation - about God entering and embracing our story. So if you want to abandon the story, if you want to get out of time and culture and into some timeless zone above the fray, you're trying to get out of the very thing that God is deeply into. Maybe some other religion or philosophy can deal with timelessness, but not real Christianity. It's forever timely, not timeless." (p. 15)

McLaren has provoked a modicum of controversy with these books. The first with its perspective on other faiths, the second in its attitude to evolution, and the third in relation to heaven and hell.

I don't necessarily agree with the answers that McLaren suggests in the book, but the questions are clearly worth grappling with.

Posted by gary at 02:15 PM | Comments (2)

April 01, 2005

Conversations with an author

I have a friend who occasionally borrows books from me. I value the opportunity, because when these books are returned, they come with pencil notations scribbled through the book. When I read a book, I feel as though I am holding a conversation with the author - or at least an audience. With my friend's comments in the margin, and often my own, a return read of the book becomes a four-way conversation: the author, my original notations, my friends, and my present thoughts.

I know a number of people who detest marks in books... I am not one of those. I enjoy returning to books from time to time and noting my own progress in thinking. If this is aided by the comments of another, we are all enriched.

Posted by gary at 08:07 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2005

A Generous Orthodoxy (early reactions)

I know it's unfair to comment on a book before you have read it through, and perhaps I am not actually commenting on the book at all, but... Chapter 0 of this book strikes me as a long apologetic before anything is said. Is this indicative of the response to bold and creative thinking about church life? God help us if it is.

Posted by gary at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2005

A Generous Orthodoxy

It is one of the quirks of living in Australia that it takes some time before certain books reach our sandy shores, while others never quite get through immigration. I have recommended a number of books by Brian McLaren to other pastors and church leaders - particuarly A New Kind of Christian and The Story We Find Ourselves In, as they address pertinent challenges of church leadership and ministry in Australia. Unfortunately to gain access to these books in Australia requires importation. It was a pleasant surprise then, in the last week, to receive a copy of A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren's most recent work.

It is interesting to read the level of controversy pertaining to these works, and to note how different topics raise the temperature of the debate in the US as compared to Australia. While one does not necessarily agree with everything McLaren writes, he is bold in addressing real issues facing the church as it moves further and further from the average person's mind as they face life's challenges.

The relationship of the Western Church to its context is a growing challenge, one which appears much more on the radar of the average Australian church leader than seems to be in the US. McLaren identifies key issues at the heart of this, and provides some intersting food for conversation. They make for easy reading and meaty dialogue.

I also noted that the third instalment in the New Kind of Christian trilogy is slated for imminent release in the US. But not Australia.

In the meantime, I am enjoying my first dips into A Generous Orthodoxy.

Posted by gary at 10:01 PM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2005

Review: Hotel Rwanda

We look back at the Holocaust when more than 6 million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis over the course of a few years and say it could never happen again. We believe that our media presence will make it impossible. Yet nearly one million Tutsis were slain by the Hutus in Rwanda in a period of a few months in 1994. And it did not happen unknowningly. The West stood by - even withdrew from the country - in order for it to happen.

Hotel Rwanda is a powerful movie. The true story of how one man did what he could in the face of an immense surging tide of genocide. The movie is not gory, but is certainly confronting. If this is the results of Western democracies at work - and it is a story which has echoes in other places - then we ought to be very concerned.

A film I would highly recommend.

Posted by gary at 07:54 PM | Comments (1)

February 17, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

What a pleasant surprise in this morning's mail to receive two complementary tickets to an advance screening of Hotel Rwanda. I have read a couple of reviews of this film in the last ten days and was really keen to see it when it is released on February 24. Now I not only get to see it for free, but I get to see it this weekend!

Hotel Rwanda.jpg

In case you haven't heard of it, the film is set in Rwanda during the time of the genocide, in which over one million people were killed in less than a hundred days - mostly Tutsis at the hands of Hutus. The film is based on the true story of a Hutu Hotel manager who saved many Tutsi lives.

I'll let you know my reaction to the film.

Posted by gary at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2005

Which Literature Classic are you?

The name of the rose
Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose. You are a
mystery novel dealing with theology, especially
with catholic vs liberal issues. You search
wisdom and knowledge endlessly, feeling that
learning is essential in life.

Which literature classic are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by gary at 01:47 PM | Comments (1)

February 01, 2005

Being John Malkovich

Still returning from time to time to ponder last night's movie. I can see why the movie created such a furore among critics, raising many interesting questions of identity and personality. It was certainly a movie which provoked strong feeling, even if people had difficulty articulating their response.

Posted by gary at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2005


Continued the holiday moving watching last night with The Butterfly Effect, a movie which projects itself as a proponent of chaos theory. Its opening screen records : "It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world". However, the film is a rather more sophisticated version of Back the Future 2, which projects simultaneous/parallel realities, which can be accessed at critical moments.

The film raises a lot of good questions about the nature of reality, and in relation to perspectives on mental illness (not unlike A Beautiful Mind). It also highlights the power of a single choice to affect our futures.

But, if we had our time over again, would we make any better choices? Evan, the main character in the movie, has a number of opportunities to make the future better, but he is unable to gain the ‘ideal future’ he desires. Each time his “correction” brings unintended consequences.

I wonder whether, if any of us could alter choices we had made at critical moments in the past, the outcome would be satisfactory in every respect?

Posted by gary at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2005

Catching up...

The post-Christmas period provides, among other things, opportunity to catch up on movies and DVDs which I have not had time to watch during the year. So far the count - since Christmas Day - is up to 11.

Last night E (my wife) and I sat down to watch The Last Samurai, a Tom Cruise epic set in the 1870s. The film offers interesting insight to different values and insights of different cultures, particularly related to death. One clear example is the idea of "an honourable death", so entrenched in many parts of the world, yet alien to the West, which tends to see all death as a waste.

The practice of the 18th century upper classes of having an image depicting death adorning the walls of their living areas (as depicted in the series Status Anxiety, the TV series and book by Alain de Botton) reflects a vastly different attitude to life and death than that which prevails today.

The movie was not one which initially appealed (at least, to me), but it kept us both to the end - which was not bad consdering we had planned to watch the first hour or so, then defer to another night....

Posted by gary at 02:47 PM | Comments (0)

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