Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Blog update

I figure to be without the Internet at home for at least another week. Also, I'm going off to Barcelona (!) this Thursday and will only be back next Wednesday. So, no blogging till then! Sorry Deb for taking so long to do your meme - I will get it to it at some point!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Quote of the week

"The church is the plausibility structure of the gospel."


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wordsmiths: The Sound of the Sea

I've finally settled on calling all posts literary Wordsmiths. And since you've all been subjected to my arid prose for the past month or so, here's some relief. Today's wordsmith is Henry Longfellow, an American poet who lived in the 19th century. Being ignorant about American literature in general, that's the extent of my knowledge! Wikipedia will be a better guide.

I believe this is not his most distinguished poem, but I chose Sound of the Sea for its simplicity and accessibility. It has an enjoyable rhythm to it, simple but evocative imagery and doesn't seek to be deliberately obscure.

The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain's side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.

Update: Barb in the tagboard mentions that she has set it to music.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Random bits from this past week

On my way home from Spiderman 3, a guy waiting at the traffic light suddenly got out of his car, and with urban music blaring out of his car windows, did a little jig! Oh well, if you're got to dance to the beat, you've got to dance to the beat I guess...

Lady gets onto the bus. Bus moves 150 metres down the road to next bus stop. Lady gets off the bus. Er, wasn't it easier (and cheaper) to just walk?

Why I'm ambivalent about global warming: try living in Britain for a while. After the hottest April in 300 years (yes, that's official), the Ice Age cometh. In May.

Been trying to chase down this thesis located at another uni for a while now. My library told me that I'll probably have to wait for a month. It's been 2 months and no sign of it appearing...

Beef curry and spinach works!

Ulcers. Ouch ouch ouch...


Monday, May 14, 2007

Spiderman 3 and the moral imagination

This post is interspersed with spoilers throughout. If you want to watch Spiderman 3 and have not done so, it's best to read this only after you've seen it.

"We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. We demand windows." [1] We demand stories. It’s how we make sense of the world. Narratives grip us, for good or bad: witness the heartbreaking drama of Madeleine McCann’s kidnapping currently unfolding in the British press[2]. Negatively, it’s why gossip holds so much appeal. The windows are shut, we want them pried open. It’s Gnosticism all over again – “secret knowledge” only known to the elite.

But surely the realm of the imagination has no bearing on reality? They’re fun, they’re entertaining, great for a Saturday night out. But the world of the fictive isn’t so easily separated from what we call the “real world”. They reflect something we already know – we already have an image of New York in our minds, regardless of whether it’s accurate or not, or whether we’ve actually been to the Big Apple – before going to watch Spiderman 3. Even fantastic creations – talking animals and extraterrestrials, have something fundamentally human about them that help make them identifiable in some way to us. But they can shape us too. Fables, fairy tales, morality plays all recognise this. In Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Briony witnesses something which she can’t make heads or tails of, and, not being in possession of all sides of the story, allows her imagination to see things that aren’t quite there which ends up having real consequences. [3] "In works of fiction, we explore the possibilities of understanding and living in this world." [4]

Imagination is often thought of as that belonging to the special few – the artist, the inventor, the musician. But we all have imagination, it simply is that faculty which helps us explain life as it is and it ought to be. It’s part of being human, and it also is not exempt from the Lordship of Jesus Christ. So although it is not very fashionable these days, it is right to talk about the "moral imagination" [5]. The moral imagination speaks of virtue and wisdom, and seeks to mould us to moral living [6]. It is not sheer didacticism, since we know both from experience and the Bible that this will backfire. We chafe under the Law. Rather, it is about providing a compelling vision of goodness. It is that which fires our imaginations. It celebrates what is good in this world, weeps over what is bad, is hopeful of what will be, all in a manner that captures our hearts. As Christians, we believe that Christianity is the best way to explain the world, and so the moral imagination will always, in some ways, conform to the Christian story, although perhaps not in ways we might expect. In other words, it doesn’t specifically have to be “religious”! Conversely, this is why great art with an amoral imagination working behind it is also more dangerous: its power lies in persuading you that evil is the more glamorous sister, or that despair is the pit we’re all destined for.

And so, (finally!), I get to Spiderman 3. I think the point is rather obvious by now – Spiderman 3 has its flaws, but I find the strength of its moral vision powerful enough to render its weaknesses forgivable. It has too many villains, for one thing, meaning that both Sandman and Venom/Eddie Brock could have benefited from more character development and/or backstory. This interferes with the pacing of the movie as well; when we get to the climatic scene, there’s an “Huh? We’re here already?” feel to it. Indeed, that scene itself suffers from some cheese, including the cringe-worthy reporter (how did she get in there?) to the overly enthusiastic crowds which just feel out of place.

Yet it seems to me that although he just didn’t have enough time to fully explore it in the movie, Sam Raimi had a clear grasp, thematically, on what Spiderman 3 is about. From both the comic books and the start of this trilogy, we understand that Spiderman is all about recognising that "with great power comes great responsibility". And so the themes of selflessness as opposed to selfishness has always figured prominently. Peter fails the test. Spiderman becomes a celebrity persona to be cultivated rather than a servant of the community. He fails to "put his wife before himself".

The motif is clear: his internal degeneration is mirrored outwardly by the back symbiote that has attached himself to his costume. It is only gotten rid of when Peter chooses to turn away from that path. There have been hints: Peter apologises to his landlord over his earlier overreaction. He understands that he may have superpowers to help others, but he too needs help (as MJ reminds him, and in returning the ring). My brother tells me that the church scene comes straight from the comics, so while Raimi and Stan Lee are not Christians as far as I know, they do understand the Christian concept of grace and its tie to repentance. Interestingly, Eddie Brock is the doppelganger [7]: he’s also a photographer for the Daily Bugle, he has a girlfriend (Gwen Stacy is Peter Parker’s first girlfriend in the comics). Like Peter, he is motivated by revenge, whereas Peter raged against his uncle’s killer. But he allows it to become all-consuming, which, as we see from the climax of the film, ultimately destroys him [8].

Related to the above, Spiderman 3 also explores what it means to desire and what happens when desires that are not wrong per se govern our hearts and become an idol. Peter’s right desire for justice becomes distorted when he thinks that he is the rightful enforcer of that justice. By contrast, Aunt May also desires justice, exemplified by her tearful reaction to the news that Uncle’s Ben killer is at large, but she refuses to cave in to what she has no right to do: wish death on another person. The Sandman rightfully desires a cure for his daughter, but allows it to rule his heart such that he resorts to any means by which he can get it. Mary Jane rightfully desires good companionship – that Peter might become a better person and partner – but wrongfully worships such companionship until she fails to be faithful and kisses Harry. (She immediately recognises this as wrong. Peter too errs in wooing and using Gwen; again, his legitimate desire nevertheless leading to wrong actions). Spiderman 3 thus questions: how do we react to circumstances around us?

But actions have consequences. Peter has to recognise that he is implicated in the creation of Venom. Mary-Jane reacts to savage reviews of her performance by withdrawing into herself, and her initial refusal to be vulnerable closes the door on hope (Harry exploits this later in pretending to be the "other man".) Eddie Brock is caught by his deception. But Aunt May’s gentle response turns away Peter’s wrath and helps him see what a fool he really is.

Indeed, this then links to a minor theme, that of masking and unmasking, or to put it another way: a question of identity. Peter: is he the guy in the red or the black costume? His landlord and Aunt May both claim he’s good. Will he be that person? MJ: will she allow criticism to define who she really is? Harry: Peter’s best friend or worst enemy? (The butler really should have told him sooner though. =) Isn’t it interesting that in the climatic scene, both Peter and Harry, the “good” guys, fight unmasked. They've discovered what it means to be human. Venom and the Sandman, on the other hand, have become sub-human. [9]

No one will claim Spiderman 3 is a Christian allegory, or that Spiderman, or even Harry is a Christ-like figure. There’s no need to. Instead, Spiderman 3 simply pays close attention to moral virtues of forgiveness and grace, of understanding our shared humanity, and then majoring on them. It’s "telling the truth / but telling it slant" [10]. It simply helps invite people to have a closer look at the world once again. Then perhaps as Christians, we might be able to ask them to consider it in light of the truth of the gospel.

[1] C.S Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

[2] See this for some details. The Observer has some poignant observations. We instinctively look for some sort of coherence in a messy world, but Christians recognise that ultimately, they don’t happen to be the Author. The McCanns, devout Catholics, headed straight for the chapel. They understand this.

[3] The point of not knowing everything tells us a little of why gossip is so damaging: it's applying deviation from the truth. I should hasten to add that I haven’t finished reading Atonement yet!

[4] Clarence Walhoult, cited in Literature Through the Eyes of Faith by Roger Lundin & Susan Gallagher.

[5] The term might have originated with Edmund Burke, who was a political philosopher in the Conservative Tradition. Just in case it has a specialised meaning within political terminology, I am here using "moral imagination" in a much more general sense.

[6] As opposed to moralism! I don’t claim here that the moral imagination is a substitute for the Holy Spirit, who is the only One who can make us more Christ-like. Nevertheless, it helps in the education of our character by pointing to truth.

[7] A doppelganger literally means “double”, a technique where another character is used to mirror the main character. I think strictly speaking, it’s meant to be the same character, eg. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! I don’t push it that far in Spiderman.

[8] Vengeance is a big theme to consider on its own, since it is also a huge part of Harry Osborn’s story. Consider too Peter's use of Gwen in getting back at MJ.

[9] Keeping in mind doctrine of original sin of course! Then again, Spiderman 3 ain't systematic theology. One final theme which I haven’t thought much about is the father-child theme. But it might be worthwhile thinking about Peter and Uncle Ben’s relationship. Harry and his dad. Marko Flint and his daughter. And even MJ and her critical dad.

[10] Emily Dickinson.

Cross-posted at the Agora

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

2 Timothy: The big picture revisited

Here are all the 2 Timothy posts in one place:
Two Timothy
2 Timothy: Introductory Matters
2 Timothy: The big picture
2 Timothy 1:1-7
2 Timothy 1:8-18
2 Timothy 2:1-13
2 Timothy 2:14-26
2 Timothy 3
2 Timothy 4

And so we come back to the letter as a whole again. We’ve run through the whole gamut of emotions: joy, grief, wistfulness, resoluteness. The shadow of death hanging over Paul is palpable. But another shadow also hangs over him, one that also signifies death, in the shape of the cross. For he knows that the way of the cross is the way of suffering. Yet paradoxically it will also ultimately be the way that leads to God, the Giver of all life. And it is the way of the cross that he wants his friend and apprentice, Timothy to follow. But not just to follow, but to teach it. And not just to teach it, but to then entrust it to others.

So before we rush to make all sorts of applications to various things in our lives from this letter, we need to ask ourselves: do we see this? Do we see the shadow that shapes this letter? Do we see the importance of the "gospel", the "sound words", the "sound teaching", the "deposit"? Do we see the Lord Jesus in this letter? He who "abolished death", brought "life and immortality to light" (1:10), who gave us "salvation through faith" (3:15), who "strengthens us by his grace" (2:1), and who will "judge the living and the dead" (4:1)? Don’t miss Him. He’s there, and Paul would hate it if we fail to locate Jesus in our rush to change our behaviour. Perhaps we’re thinking: right, Paul says not to be ashamed of the gospel, so I’ll resolve to be a little bolder next time I’m out with my kakis. Or we might hone in too closely on 1:3, for instance, and think to ourselves – wow, Paul sets for us a model example here in our prayer lives! I resolve to pray more!

These are not wrong things to be thinking and doing, but Paul doesn’t want us to miss the forest for the trees. He is after all, the apostle – that is, the sent out one, the messenger, the mouthpiece – of Christ Jesus. Before we turn the gaze unto ourselves, and subsequently, outward into the world, we look upwards. And once again, be awed by Jesus, who humbled himself to death, even death on a cross, and in so doing, lovingly reconciled those who were enemies, deserving of wrath, back into the arms of the Father. We recognise, first and foremost, our dependence on Him.

This letter is written for all Christians, but it is especially addressed to those who might humbly be called to serve the church in leadership. Thus, applying 2 Timothy to ourselves is not as straightforward as it might seem. We have to work a little harder. Not all of us are in leadership. So some words here are not immediately applicable to us. Yet we can still think about how it works out in our lives. Perhaps we can support faithful ministers of the gospel, those who are labouring in difficult situations. Take Pastor A. We can encourage him: reminding him of the "hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops" (2:3) or be willing to follow his lead when he "does the work of an evangelist" (4:5) We can make life easier for him, helping him by not getting involved in "irreverent babble" (2:16). As lay members, we might resolve to have a firm commitment to truth, not to have "itching ears" (4:3) and choose to run away from Pastor A the moment we hear something we know will cost. It’d look different in different contexts, but hopefully this has provided a glimpse.

Perhaps we are in leadership in some form. Maybe pastoring a church, but it could very well just be caring for a small group. We are to take care especially of "rightly handling the word of truth" (2:15). On occasion we might have to "correct our opponent with gentleness" (2:25); maybe a belligerent Christian friend has said some things that do need to be addressed, and so we need to carefully respond, always keeping in mind God’s glory, which will then govern both the way we might say something, and the conviction we have.

But there is plenty here for all of us too to take heed. When Paul writes: "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (3:12), he surely cannot be restricting this to Christian leaders only. Some of them might be on the frontlines, but Jesus has made it clear: everyone following in his footsteps will not have it easy. And while we rightly condemn some forms of “Bible-bashing”, we need to keep paying attention to Scripture, if 2 Tim 3:16 is to be taken seriously.

But let’s turn back to the final verse again. "The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you." This is Paul’s final recorded words. And he once again, redirect the eyes of our hearts to what’s really important. Stott tells us that whereas the "you" in verse 17 is singular, the "you" here is plural. “It is directed to the whole church. It is directed to us today.” Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. I once was lost, but now am found.

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Sigh. Wonder why.

Summit on religious harmony is thrown into discord by Malaysia

Also, I thought now might be a good time to add that although I once critiqued rather extensively a piece by Ruth Gledhill, I think she's the best of all the religious correspondents for the major newspapers here in Britain.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

2 Timothy 4

[I will concentrate mainly on the first 5 verses, although we will look at the whole chapter]

“I have sacrificed all of my interests to those of the country. I go, but you, my friends, will continue to serve France. Her happiness was my only thought. It will still be the object of my wishes. Do not regret my fate; if I have consented to survive, it is to serve your glory.”
So said Napoleon to his most loyal troops, having lost the war, and about to go into exile. It was a heartfelt address, as he passionately pled for his followers to put his country first.

Paul is coming to the end of his letter in the knowledge he is coming to the end of his life. He sits in a Roman prison, aware that he cannot waste a single word. It is time to sum up what is in effect, his spiritual will. “He is writing within weeks, perhaps even days, of his martyrdom. According to a fairly reliable tradition he was beheaded on the Ostian Way.” (Stott) What will he say to his chief apprentice, Timothy?

On the weekend away, one of the things drawn to my attention was to notice the tone that Paul uses, which will help us better understand the seriousness of what is being said. "I charge you!" My dear brother, this is a command that I am issuing! For the Supreme Ruler, God, is my witness. But really, I am issuing this decree because I am ultimately under "Christ Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead" (v.1). You see, one day the King will come and make an inspection of His troops. If we understand this, we will be better motivated to serve Him and take what he says seriously.

What might we consider to be the main task of the leaders of the church today? Could it be to facilitate engagement with the social ills of today? Or could it be more political and to act as mediator? Or is it even to deliver beautifully crafted oratories which might lead to behavioural modifications? For Paul, the primary responsibility of a church leader today is to "preach the word" (v.2). That is the command – to proclaim, and the content of that proclamation is the Word of God. I hope I’m not being misunderstood here; I am a firm believer in integral, whole-life Christianity, and I think Christians should definitely engage in social justice issues and not treat politics as a dirty word. But according to Paul, writing with urgency, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the first task a church leader should prioritise is to be speaking God’s words, as it were, just as an ambassador might read out the message from the ruler of his country. Out of this flows everything else. Tim Keller talks about the gospel then being applied to all of life: “we see that the Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life-- spiritual, psychological, corporate, social--by thinking, hoping, and living out the “lines” or ramifications of the gospel. The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving”. (The Centrality of the Gospel, a highly recommended article!). But the work of the Word comes first!

He is to do it all the time, in season, out of season. Kobe Bryant is one of the most talented basketball players in the world; having recently scored an unheard of 81 points in one game. But he doesn’t take summers off, despite his prodigious talent and hard work during the season. Each day of the offseason, he will shoot hundreds of jumpers. Besides that, he also does weight-training and cardio-work. For the church leader, there is to be no coasting either. However, in real games, Kobe doesn’t just rely on jumpers to get his points but on an assortment of shots: the driving layup, the baseline fadeaway, the free throw. So a preacher needs to sensitive to his context and to handle the Word correctly without being wooden about it, to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort". There is a time for a strong message, there is a time for a compassionate one. Any good basketball player will also tell you that it’s usually best to 'let the game come to you' then to force it, as rookies tend to do. And so the church leader should have "complete patience" (v.2). This is not to be a cerebral exercise, but rather a demonstration of grace.

The NBA season is 82 games long, with frequent trips on the road. There will be nights when it’d be tough, even if you have a good team. Paul wants to prepare Timothy for the nights when the audience will be hostile, and who will not be keen on the decisions of the coach at all! Some may not want "sound teaching". Others may prefer the latest teacher off the press: Jom Paiper or Biryani McLaren. Still others may prefer the pulling power of myth to the transforming power of truth. (v.3-4).

Paul the veteran player wants the fresh-faced Timothy to play through the pain. The mark of a good player is one who is "sober-minded", he knows his limitations. He is wise

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise
- If, Rudyard Kipling
The godly leader also pays a price for his ministry. Suffering has been touched upon extensively in this letter. The one who have been called to lead will face burdens even as he helps others with theirs. He teaches, but he will not always be appreciated. He sets the example for those under his care with his desire to follow Jesus’ command to fulfil the great commission. "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." (Matt. 9:37) And “thus with the words of the solemn charge in 4:1-5 Paul in effect brings to a conclusion his words of instruction regarding Timothy’s duties as a minister of Christ. The charge gathers up the concerns expressed throughout the letter and crystallizes them in nine memorable imperatives that begin with ‘preach the word’ and end with ‘fulfil your ministry’.” (George Knight)

Supposedly the epitaph of Alexander the Great’s grave reads: “A tomb now suffices for him, for whom the world was not enough.” He had all there was in this world, but left with nothing. Here we read Paul’s own epitaph. What an amazing testimony, one I’m sure we’ll all love to have! "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (v.7). Paul, the self-described chief of sinners, stood firm on the gospel of grace and trusted in God to bring him home. By all means, he is still very human. He is tired and weary; he longs for the company of his best friend (v.9). He laments the forsaking of some of his companions (v.10). He is a touch sentimental about old possessions ("books...parchments" v.13), and pragmatic ( "bring the cloak", v.13, for winter is coming {v.21}) The watchfulness and gentleness he has so stressed in this letter is evident even here, in his words against Alexander (v.14-15), and those who deserted him (v.16). For he is assured of his Father’s character, the God in whom he has more than enough (v.17). And as Timothy gets to the end of the letter, in the silence, he can probably hear Paul’s voice whispering in his ear again, telling him that their Father is the one and the same, the King who loved us and gave himself for us:

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

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Online Petition to get Wai Nyan blogging again

Many of us have lamented the recent non-activity at Life's Legalities. Therefore, I have decided to take the lead and start this petition. To sign, all you have to do is to leave a comment below together with a heartfelt plea and/or a compelling reason as to why said blogger should resume his online writing for our entertainment edification.

Yes, it's possible; I myself have managed to get back to blogging again after slumbering for quite a while. All we're asking is for a post a week! Well, I speak for myself at least. So come back, and spin a yarn or two for us!

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Thinking Blogger?

Wow! Talk about a surprise. I was quite taken aback to learn that I have been given a Thinking Blogger award and even more blown away to find out that it was none other than the inestimable Sherman Kuek, "theologian, stand-up comedian, fellow pilgrim" (I'm waiting for him to add Kuek Doctor to his description), who had nominated me. Thanks, Sherman! Although I don't think my humble blog lives up to your high praise. And let me correct your analysis a little. I think you've got it backwards: the reason I don't blog more isn't because I've got a life, but because I'm such a lotus-eater I can't even be bothered to blog more!

I guess it's my turn to pass it on. So...

1. Tim Yao
This one is a no-brainer really. Tim represents a place I used to be at, coming from a committed charismatic perspective (I don't know if he appreciates being labelled as such!). Yet he is irenic, well-read and his posts often have me going: "I've never thought of it from that way before". And I love his passion.

2. Discordant Dude
Well, he doesn't post as much anymore 'cause he's working I guess, but his blog is a great combination of thoughtful ruminations, versifications and calls to action. Another guy whose range and depth of reading is impressive, and who cares a great deal about our country.

3. David BC Tan
Go read him. You'll never fail to learn something. We youngsters need people who's further ahead on the journey.

4. JollyBlogger
JollyBlogger was one of the first Christian bloggers I've ever read, and he remains one of the best. All his posts are intelligent and instructive, often fused with a pastor's heart. His ministry extends beyond his local church community, as shown when I, a Malaysian in the UK, am edified by him! He is a natural bridge-builder, as shown by his willingness to partner with people who hold different positions on certain issues, such as Adrian Warnock, who like me is a non-cessationist, and Stephen Shields, someone aligned with the emerging church. I'm a lurker of sorts on his blog, so he might not notice this nomination, but if he does, we're all grateful, JollyBlogger!

5.Sharon Bakar aka Bibliobibuli
I know she's already got one, but she really deserves it. Not only is this hands down the best blog on books in Malaysia, it really is one of the best book-blogs out there on the Web, period.

I'm supposed to stop here, but I should say there are plenty more I would love to mention: The Internet Monk, Bob Robinson, Education Malaysia, 31, Lingamish etc. etc....

Anyway, guys, here's what you need to do in acceptance of this friendly award:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' (like the one above) with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Also, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

The wrap

Believe it or not, this is the first wrap of the year; I did a mini-one back in February, but haven't constructed a proper one since. So here are some goodies; albeit possibly a little dated since I've hung onto some of these for quite a while.

I have to confess to not following the various debates and controversies regarding the Subashini case closely. For those who don't know, it's a test case involving religious conversion, the respective legal jurisdictions of the civil and syariah courts, and the Malaysian constitution. So you can see it's an extremely important and sensitive issue for Malaysia. David Tan has an impressive roundup of links - keep scrolling down - and has been keeping a close eye in general on his worthwhile blog! Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, the lawyer involved, also blogs extensively on this and other nation-building issues. In addition, some people have also set up a website on Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution.

I've mentioned Mark Meynell's book Cross Examined plenty of times before, and I'm glad to say that he's now blogging. I've been following enthusiastically. Among his recent posts, he alerts us to the fact that the granddaddy of evangelicalism (at least in the second half of the 20th century) John Stott is retiring from public ministry. He pays tribute to Stott's achievements. Also, Mark has written a fine, reasoned reflection on the atonement in light of some recent debates over it here in the UK . Similarly, Daniel Strange also has a lecture on the atonement - The Many-Splendoured Cross and seeks to positively proclaim the bigness of the cross. Both are in PDF format.

My friend Deb wrote a fine post a while back on authority and the fatherhood of God. Well worth reading. Authority and anger is a sequel of sorts. Meanwhile, my former pastor is interviewed on preaching. I was invited for the Simeons course he mentions but I was just too busy last year (not to mention not very confident!). Edwin commented on one of my recent posts; I've never met him, but he knows some people from The Agora and is currently doing a PhD in historical theology in Edinburgh. He group blogs at The Conventicle. One of his mates shared a hilarious video here - especially for those of us who are a little too much in love with our gadgets!

This has been linked to quite a lot, but Pearls before Breakfast is an excellent piece of feature journalism. The Washington Post paid a world-famous musician to bask on the subway to see how people would respond, and this led to further musings on beauty, the busyness of our lives etc. Speaking of subways and streets, the iMonk has a post on giving money to people on the street who ask for it. This is certainly something I had to think about for a little bit because I actually do pass many beggars/homeless every day and it's hard to know how I should steward my money.

Finally, the full story of the 3 Christian publishers killed in Turkey in epistolary form.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Review: Sunshine

Sunshine - Danny BoyleWatch the trailer

Although this might not end up being the best film I see this year (a spot in my top 10 is probably guaranteed at the least), it’d certainly end up as one of my favourites. Sunshine is a sumptious cinematic feast, and for sci-fi fans especially, this is something to be lapped up - although non-SF fans would enjoy it too.

The premise is simple: The sun is dying, and if it expires, so will the entire human race. Thus it must be revived, and the only way it can do so, at least in theory, is to detonate a massive bomb into it and hope for the best. A similar mission had done so, 7 years earlier, but was lost. Now Icarus 2 (yes, tactless I know) is sent out as Earth’s last hope.

Star Trek or Armageddon this ain't, though, but is instead closer in spirit to 2001: A Space Odyssey or Solaris. Don't worry, it's far more accessible than either of those two. We’re thrown in media res straight on board the spaceship, and will have to slowly learn about, and in the process, learn to care about our rather diverse set of characters from there. We discover that the crew has just located the missing spaceship, and will have to divert course should they choose to go and investigate. Here we get the first of many dilemmas that are presented in the film, of the consequences of choices and the agony of second-guessing.

Make no mistake, although there is a strong cast (familiar, although not quite household names, including our very own Michelle Yeoh), this is very much a director’s film. Danny Boyle is very keen on amplifying the claustrophobia of the spaceship, the tensions emanating from living in such close quarters, the intricacies of relationships, the inevitability of taking risks, the burden of having to take on the responsibility of humankind’s last hope (and a tentative hope at best). It's, as it often is with the best sci-fi, not so much about the science but about the human side. And the cinematography is just stunning, simply stunning. What a spectacle! This is one of those films that deserves to be watched on the big screen. You could very much make the case for the sun being the star of the film, and space itself takes on a viscerally haunting, beautiful quality; the vastness of it all also conveying a sense of loneliness.

This isn’t an overly introspective movie nonetheless, and thrills and spills are never far away. As I’ve mentioned earlier, decisions have consequences, while at the same time there is also a sense where you feel as if things are out of the crew's hands. This is especially true of the third act of the film; reviewers are united in their opinion here that this is the point where the movie lets you down. Be prepared for a wild ride, and a “Huh? What just happened?” moment. While it’s indisputable that the climax of the film isn’t truly satisfying, yet its chaotic nature seems to me in tune with the rest of the film. (You might disagree, many feel that it brings the whole film down one notch).

[Spoiler ahead - speculations about the ending]
The friend I’ve watched it with had an intriguing suggestion on how to make sense of the final third of the film, which I think is quite plausible. Basically, he thinks that it is reminiscent of an Asimov short story, Starchild(?). Whether Boyle meant to allude to this or not doesn't make a difference. In short, the closer one gets to the sun, the more compressed space-time is, until one gets to a point where the point of distinction appears. This accounts for the whirlwind direction, the nonlinear sequence, and why it seems as if people can be in 2 places at once. Reality becomes blurred, and the psychological stress should be intolerable. I don’t understand physics, but I’m happy to accept this interpretation!
[End spoiler]

One final note: the soundtrack is great, although not terribly original. It’s one of those majestic, operatic pianoish types designed to manipulate your sensory organs. I didn’t mind it one bit.

So do go see it, and I urge you to forgive its flaws, especially its ending, since a lot of it is no doubt visually dazzling, intelligible, thought-provoking, hopeful, and yes, fun.

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