Everything is illuminated

Everything is illuminatedLast night I hired the movie "Everything is Illuminated" starring Elijah Woods of "Lord of the Rings" fame. To be honest, I struggled for a fair while to get the baleful image of Frodo out of my mind. However, the lack of hairy feet, no long locks of hair and and the absence of elves was a great help. The film is based on a book by Jonathan Safran Foer (the same name as Elijah's character) and is said to be about searching. I spent the first part of the film trying to cope with the incredible size of Jonathan's glasses, and it occurs to me now that their overstatement fits in rather nicely with the broad narrative of his search for information about his family. Jonathan is a Jewish American who has an bizarre obsession with collecting things. He is on a mission travelling through the Ukraine trying to find a woman who saved his grandfather from Germans during the war. The author did actually undertake the trip but found out very little. However he decided to write a novel that formed the basis for this movie. Some initial thoughts on the film:

1. the Ukraine looks beautiful – wonderful landscapes, and the film features some great cinematography. A great setting for a road movie.

2. There is an amusing restaurant scene that does not promote the local cuisine, and I do believe as a "mostly vegetarian" I would starve.

3. The plot is undeniably clever, and I loved the way the lives of the rather eccentric characters end up being entwined. Jonathan is driven around by an old man who claims to be blind and insists on his vicious "seeing eye bitch" (a dog) coming wherever he goes. The old man's hip hop (Ukraine style) America loving grandson comes along for the ride (and to offer cumbersome English translations). Elijah Woods character is extremely exentric and obsessed with collecting the weirdest of things.

4. I have always been interested in stories about the holocaust. It is a period in history that fascinates and horrifies me in equal measure. This was a quirky and at times poignant exploration of this incredible period of history.

Searching. Remembering. These are important themes in "Everything is illuminated", and I think rather significant in the broader Jewish narrative. Remembering is like a thread that links much of the bible and ancient Jewish history together with varying responses – remorse, hope, encouragement, gratitude, despair, reconciliation. These emotions resonate through this film. There is a rather shocking twist towards the end that in spite of its bleakness seems to bring a peaceful resolution in the film.

The film was definitely worth seeing, especially if you like "quirky". I don't think I will forget this film in a hurry. Not so much for any quality it possesses, but because our hired DVD appears to have vanished off the face of the earth and we will have to buy a replacement for our video store. I guess it is a bit ironic. The film is about searching, and that is precisely what consumed our afternoon. If only the location of the DVD will be illuminated…

God is in the house

On the weekend I read an interesting article in The Age (Saturday's A2) called "Digging to the soul", by Chris Fotinopolous. He quotes Nick Cave as saying "God deserved much better than what He has been getting". A bit of a sad indictment on Christian music, yet something about it resonates truth for me. Chris writes that the Christian pop song is "essentially a morality tale told dishonestly", and is usually heard on tv shows by evangelical preachers "arguing for the preservation of a social institution known as God's Kindom, a morally insular and homogenous place where the cries of the lost and forgotten do not reach the ears of the occupants." I wan to protest and say this is not so, the very heartbeat of the Kingdom is to embrace the lost and forgotten. Yet I think the words are readily drowned out by yet another cheesy lyric of self actualising faith statement, hallelujah. Nick Cave wrote a very provocative song called "God is in the house", on his mellow "No more shall we part" album. You can read the lyrics in full here. The sentiment expressed cuttingly by Cave as he writes that there is no cause for doubt or fear as "God is in the house". Outside the house are the broken – sexually, chemically, morally.

At the end of the song comes the sting in the tail.

" For no-one's left in doubt
There's no fear about
If we all hold hands and very quietly shout
God is in the house
God is in the house
Oh I wish He would come out
God is in the house".

Mournfully (in lyric and voice) Nick wishes that God would come out. In this song Nick has the ring of the prophet – he shines an peircing light into an attitude that pervades the church and sorely needs correcting. As the Age writer intimated, the Kingdom of God is not to be reduced to little Christian feel-good enclaves. Jesus himself said he did not come for those who are well, but for the sick. It is time for us to stop wishing that God would "come out" of the house (as if we could contain Him), and join with Him amongst the broken and the lost.

Spare the rod

I wasn't going to write about this issue, but haven't been able to get it out of my head since this morning's internet ramble with breakfast. I stumbled on a blog that linked to this site ironically called "No Greater Joy". The site amongst other things, advocates for physical discipline of children as the biblically mandated parental role. Specifically, it mentions using flexible piping and "switches" as implements on children even under one year of age. It is promoted as a means of training children, to defeat their will. It disturbed me, as it obviously has many other bloggers out there – eg Benediction blogs on. It hit the media in the UK recently in response to their books being made available. You can read one of the media releases here. It saddens me deeply to see the Bible used in this way, and unfortunately the broader Christian body is so readily tarred with the same brush. There is no escaping the fact that children need firm, clear and consistent boundaries to grow. But they do not need physical abuse, and using the bible to justify dominating children through using switches and bits of plastic piping is abhorrent.

The growing of goodness

I am doing some reading at the moment on Jesus as the Healer,and decided to give Google Scholar and Google book search a go. Go Google! Great stuff available at my fingertips without leaving my lounge. I came across an interesting excerpt from Phillip Yancey's "The Jesus I never knew". It has very little to do with my topic of interest, but got me thinking anyway. Reflecting on a trip to Russia (and a brief overview of some of its colourful political history), Yancey writes that goodness "can not be imposed externally, from the top down, it must grow internally from the bottom up" (page 76). If this statement was not true, communism would be a beautiful thing, and Russia would have been the socio-political envy of the world. So we can't legislate goodness and its various relatives such as kindness, mercy, generosity, integrity and so on. Maybe that means that we actually don't depend on Howard and other world leaders to cement these traits in our culture? We can't ignore the impact of politics on our everyday lives, rights and access to justice, but perhaps we give away too much of our own personal power when we leave the betterment of society to our leaders. These things need to bubble up in our own lives and spill out to affect those around us – in a similar vein to the movie "Pay it Forward". Maybe this is not so far removed from my original topic after all. The way in which Jesus lived in his society permanently changed those closest to him, and countless subsequent generations. Jesus impacted the world "from the bottom up" even though you could argue he came from the "top down".