A Window into Life in the Suburbs


"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Full of Grace and Truth

Just before Christmas last year, I was going through the gospel of John as I do at that time of the year... particularly chapter 1 which contains my favourite Christmas passage in the entire Bible.
There's no nativity scene, no talk of angels, wise men or special stars.
It's a wonderful passage of how the Creator, the Logos, of the universe, invaded time and space, put on himself the limitations of mortality to live with his creation.
The God of the universe took on human flesh and set up tent with the human race so that they could catch a glimpse of the eternal... so that they could know the mind and heart behind the universe... which was brimming with grace and truth.
Jesus is the personification of grace and truth... Those two words echo throughout John's gospel. When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, he shows her grace by first telling her the truth. When she heard the truth about herself and saw Jesus as the Truth... the promised Messiah, grace became meaningful... So meaningful that she went out to tell her friends what had happened. The power of grace and truth is infectious.

There are many who wonder what God is like. We can point them to Jesus... the Son of God, full of grace and truth. But as beneficiaries of his grace, we also have the privilege and responsibility to demonstrate his grace and truth in our lives, every single day.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tangled

Disney has updated the Rupunzel fairytale with a wonderful animated feature called Tangled.
It's funny, witty and heartwarming and stars one of my favourite actors, Zachary Levi (from the tv show "Chuck"), as the voice of the Flynn Rider.



For me, the most fascinating thing at the centre of this happily-ever-after story, is a sophisticated  and disturbing morality tale about a dysfunctional relationship between a young woman and her adoptive mother. Rupunzel, who is really a princess, was kidnapped by an aging tinkerer of magic/herbalist (not sure what her official title is) and has been duped into believing that the world out there is too dangerous for a girl with magical hair. With echoes of The Phantom of the Opera, an eighteen-year old Rupunzel has been brainwashed over the years by her captor to believe that she is safer in the tower, secluded from the big bad world eager to take advantage of her. The tower in which she lives, appears on the surface to be the safest place for her, which in actual fact is her prison cage. Using manipulative language and emotional blackmail, the adoptive mother holds Rupunzel in the tower for her own purposes.
The fact is, Rupunzel has the power to leave but the psychological and emotional hold that Mother Gothel has over her is the actual villany that imprisons her.
More than a fairytale, Rupunzel is a parable about freedom. Freedom to give, to love, to choose and to make mistakes. There's a beautiful moment in the film, encapsulated by the handsome Flynn aka Eugene when he stridently opposes Rupunzel's bargain with Mother Gothel to save his life.
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It's a terrific film. One of the best things that's come out of Disney (outside of Pixar) in a while.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A New Take on True Grit


After weeks of waiting for its release here, the husband and I went to see the new adaptation of True Grit yesterday. I say, "adaptation" not "remake" because both True Grit films are based on a novel by Charles Portis. Although I loved the older John Wayne version, I thought this version by the Coen Brothers was pretty decent overall if a tad slow moving early on. There's a bleakness about it that's both haunting and beautiful to look at.
It's been eons since I read Portis' novel or seen the first film so my memories of both are pretty hazy. It has been 2 decades at least since I last revisited either.
Although most people associate the first film with John Wayne and his character Rooster Cogburn, the story is really about the 14-year-old Mattie Ross who is the catalyst behind the plot. She's an impressive 14 year old with an impressive business sense and a spine made of steel. The plot is fairly straightforward. Mattie's father Frank was shot and killed by Tom Chaney and she wants him caught and punished for his sins. Hence she seeks out the best man for the job...  and settles on Marshall Rooster Cogburn... a man, she has heard, who has "true grit".

By the end of the film, you are left in no doubt who it is who has "true grit". It isn't one of those growing up stories because Mattie Ross is already a grown up. A 14-year old girl in those days was a woman. It's refreshing to see this kind of maturity in one so young... and I include myself in this... when we consider how increasingly frivolous subsequent generations of 14 year olds have become. It's just an observation, mind you, but the more wealthy we become, the more our children become overprotected and stunted.

Aside from the wonderful performance of the amazing Hallie Steinfeld, the other thing I really enjoyed was recurring use of the old hymn, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms".
It's odd, it seems to me, that we don't hear many of these hymns at church anymore and it's ironic when they pop up in a Hollywood film of all places. It's not out of place here and does fit the context in which the people of that era lived.

In spite of  the superb acting that screams "Oscar" in every scene, I hesitate to recommend it to just anyone. The husband and I found it rather humorous... the dialogue especially. But therein also lies the problem. That kind of old west/civil war patois can be hard to understand or follow if you haven't been bred on it. It's rather quaint. It's a shame that you probably have to be a fan of the genre to really appreciate it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Firefly

I've been a scifi fan for yonks. Probably since I was old enough to watch spaceships explode and rubber suited monsters chase beautiful blondes around cardboard boxes while they try their darndest to look terrified and terrifying.

My favourite piece of scifi television has to be "Firefly", the brainchild of Joss Whedon, famous for his "Buffy" series. There's no doubt in my mind that "Firefly" could have been a contender for the title of  best scifi show ever except that there weren't more than 13 eps made.

In "Firefly", there are no rubber-suited monsters. There are monsters... but they're existential and political. The premise is simple: A motley crew of pirates, prostitute, priest and physician wander across the galaxy on the run from something or other. The running, it seems, is the fun part but it's the relationships that gives depth to the characters and their stories.
Simply speaking, it's a Western in space. There are guns... lots of guns... and dust, boots, horses, cows, civil war patois and ugly bad guys. There's romance too... spoken and unspoken... And best of all... fantastic storytelling and great dialogue.


And then, it got cancelled... boo hiss... by Fox. Because apparently nobody wants to watch a scifi western.

A movie was made a few years later... a follow-up called Serenity (the ship's name). A darker, bleaker crew, captained by a dispirited Mal Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion from Castle) who has lost his lady love to her unfortunate profession (so he thinks). That has got to be the most frustrating romance in the universe. So much back and forth but no admission, confession and other "sion" words.
As the story unfolds we see palpable tension among the crew who are living on a wing and a prayer. Its youngest member has a frightening secret that could see them all very dead. But it's more than that... it's about freedom... against totalitarianism...
Human beings of every stripe are a screwed up bunch... and throughout history, there have been all kinds of know-it-alls who think they know what's best for all of us. So they get into power to try and fix human nature. You know what I mean, dictators... when they're benevolent, they're okay but when they're not... we get Hitler and Stalin.

I'm not sure why we don't get it after several thousand years of recorded history... the persistent belief that we can somehow change humans... force them to "be better" through the political process. It seems that every time that happens, a lot of people die.

I don't think we're about to stop people from warring anytime soon. Certainly not by talking or negotiations. Restrain and deterrence is all we can hope for.

Genghis, The Eco Warrior

Ha... this news item is incredible and shows the ridiculous level that the whole climate change "concensus" has sunk to.
Apparently, Genghis Khan, the infamous Mongol conqueror, is now being hailed as a green warrior.

Genghis Khan has been branded the greenest invader in history - after his murderous conquests killed so many people that huge swathes of cultivated land returned to forest.
The Mongol leader, who established a vast empire between the 13th and 14th centuries, helped remove nearly 700million tons of carbon from the atmosphere, claims a new study.
The deaths of 40million people meant that large areas of cultivated land grew thick once again with trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
And, although his methods may be difficult for environmentalists to accept, ecologists believe it may be the first ever case of successful manmade global cooling. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pushing

How far do you push your kids? You know they're capable of much more and they need to step up... so what do you do?
I don't think there are any easy answers. It's one of those "depends-on-the-kid" scenarios.
But kids need pushing. I did, admittedly... although, let's face it, I didn't care for it at the time.
Whether it was bashing about on the piano, or maths, or keeping my desk or bed nice and tidy. Someone had to be on my case. Fortunately for me (or unfortunately) I had grandma, aunty, two older cousins, mum and dad.
I pushed back from time to time... and then something strange happened when I got older. It gradually dawned on me that there were benefits to working hard. That there were substantial rewards to be had.

So now I'm a mum, it's my turn to push. I have renewed respect for my mother's persistence. I don't do Tiger Mom (US Spelling), however.
Who's Tiger Mom, you say? Well, it's a book (or an idea based on a book) by Amy Chua, a Chinese-American law professor at Yale University. Chua recently made waves (a lot of them) with her Wall Street Journal extract about how Chinese/Asian mums are better than Western mums because they bring up successful kids.
Read it here...  (check out the comments) it's an amazing piece of polemic guaranteed to hit a nerve and get a reaction. I wondered for a while if it was a kind of Swiftian diatribe.
But what really troubles me, is her rather narrow view of success.

Is success really about churning out university graduates, who enter the top professions? Or world class musicians?
Instilling a work ethic in one's children is important and I'd be the last person to decry teaching kids the value of hard work and self-reliance. But is financial success or fame, the be-all and end-all in life?

I haven't read Chua's book so I can't say what else she's said on the subject. As a Chinese myself, this kind of thinking is very familiar to me but it also assumes that children are products of cookie cutters. This one-size-fits-all thinking can be soul destroying for both parents and children.

There's a guy I know... I've known him since he was a school boy. I taught him Sunday School, as a matter of fact when I was university student.
He drives a truck for a living and seems content. And you know what... good for him. The world needs truck drivers too.
As someone who often feels inner discontent, I can learn a lot from that attitude. Some days I wake up and ask myself, "Is that all there is to life?"
From time to time, there are all these books, movies where people going off to some exotic place to find themselves. But I've been to a couple of exotic places and I came back feeling the same way about myself. And I was glad to be back, knowing this is the place I call home.

I don't know what the future holds. I'm a mum right now and that's what I need to be and to do.
I have heard it said that we have the most important job in the world...
Some days I just don't see it.
Some days I cry
And other days I want to cry but laugh instead.
Some days I just thank God that I'm alive.

Monday, January 24, 2011

And So It Begins...

It's the beginning of the year and I'm full of ideas. Yeah, it's dangerous when I have ideas... it usually means that very little gets done around the house... and it also sees me crashing back down to earth, three months later.
I have to say it's nice to have a tidy house. Even if The Study is a minature Cylone Alley or the crime scene on Cluedo.
My lifelong motto: One thing at a time.Which is of course, easier said than done.
I don't do resolutions because, well, I tend to forget them... er... the following week.
But I have ideas... plans...
Which have a way of getting in the way of reality. Or is it that reality has a way getting in the way of my plans.
Either way... the results are ugly.

This year, I'm going to keep things simple and set aside any grand notions until the almost 4 year old goes to school next year.
I've observed that it's all the rage to talk about dreams and visions, fulfill your potential and all that... motivational stuff... I suppose has its place. But 2011 is the year that I'm going to learn to embrace ordinariness... to keep life simple... to fulfill my obligations to my family... to get my house in order, in every sense of the word.

I'm changing the blog name to reflect that... Thinking big is not very hard for me (I'm an ideas person) but getting the nitty gritty right has always been my challenge. Once in a while I dabble with fiction so that I remember how to get the airy fairy big ideas down into manageable chunks and make them work. Writing is a discipline no matter how it looks for Grisham, King and all your other friendly neighbourhood bestselling writer.

2010 was an odd year... I felt pushed around by circumstances and wasn't intentional enough about my parenting. Odd things happened, colds happened, I wasn't as hands-on with the kids and I sort of went with the flow which made me feel dissatisfied with life in general.

School has started and already we're getting push-back from the 9 year old.
Hope that's not a sign of things to come but just another hurdle we'll have to jump.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Rains Came Down

Last week was a sad and strange week. Sad, because lives and possessions were lost. Strange, because it felt so distant.
A tragedy unfolded in the city that I lived in and yet I felt far removed from its realities. We were advised over and over again to stay away and so we did.
Names of the places we knew came up on my computer screen... an area in which I used to live... all inundated in a natural disaster.
Here was I... kilometres away... far removed from it all. Feeling helpless... numb from the barrage of images that passed my screen. Deeply moved by the stories that were being recounted on the radio.

On Thursday, a friend sent an email. One of our MOPS mums had gone to one of the evacuation sites and was hoping to collect some baby items. It was my chance to do something at last. I jumped into my car and took off to the nearby Coles.

I dunno... it felt so ridiculously meagre... But as everyone says in such time... "Every little bit helps".

I have an idea in the works... It's the best way I can contribute to the recovery. A fundraiser of sorts.
I'll get into it over the next few weeks.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Through the Looking Glass and Back Again

There are days I am given a glimpse of what sin is. In rare moments of spiritual clarity (because I'm such a thick headed beast) I see its power at work and it's corrupting influence in my life. Its subtleties are many, often catching one unawares.
Most of the time we talk about sin as if it's an abstract concept, not an everyday reality.
Even those of us who call ourselves Christians might harbour thoughts that we mightn't be so bad especially when compared to a Stalin or a Jeffrey Dalmer.

I was sitting in a cramped Maccas playground yesterday, oddly outraged by the bad behaviour of other people's children. The other people were noticeably absent so there wasn't much supervision going on.
As the minutes ticked on, I inhabited the gumpy old person persona and became increasingly irate. After a few minutes of stewing in irritation, I thought it was best that I remove myself from temptation entirely.
So we left.
One of the other people's children shot me quizzical looks... I daresay she must have cottoned on to my disapproving glances.

While I might not commit large scale genocide or rob my neighbour, my capacity for self-righteousness, however, knows no bounds.

As I drove off, I thought about the Pharisee from the story Jesus told regarding two quite different men who went to the temple. The Pharisee thought himself above reproach and so felt no need for forgiveness. True, he lacked humility but behind his attitude was utter blindness to his own sinfulness. His standard of goodness/purity were pretty low because he was comparing himself to the tax collector.

Many of us have very low standards of goodness mainly because we have a very weak view of sin. Seems like an obvious thing to say... But there's an important correlation between the two.
We are masters of rationalization in our hearts and the bar is continually lowered so there's little to feel guilty about.

The good news is that guilt is an important first step to freedom from sin. Grace is only amazing when sin is seen as the terrible power that it is.

Most of the time I'm not a very nice person... But I must be one of those sick people that Jesus claimed that he came to save.

Yeah, it's a glorious truth. For this very imperfect mummy.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

The King's Speech

The husband asked me the night after we saw the film, if I was going to blog about The King's Speech. 
Admittedly I wanted to but I haven't had the time or the energy since. We did, of course, go on holidays and when I wasn't doing something with the children, I was busy in the kitchen or reading in bed. I didn't have any energy to blog at all.
I did, however, post a general comment on Facebook which I will reiterate here in due course.



It's been almost two weeks since I've seen The King's Speech. In all honesty, I was really looking forward to it. The story of a reluctant prince who became a wartime king of Great Britain. Prince "Bertie" aka George VI had a speech impediment... he stammered and was a walking public speaking disaster. The film centres on his relationship with his unorthodox Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue, charting his progress and his success in overcoming a lifelong affliction. It features a whole host of good actors like Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Bonham-Carter and Guy Pearce. Currently 95%  on Rotten Tomatoes, it's garnered widespread critical acclaim. Undoubtedly it will recceive a ton of Oscar nominations and is in the running to win a few Golden Globes.

With such a premise and so much talent behind it, I'm almost sorry to say that I was left feeling some what dissatisfied at the end of it. A mostly good film but...

Hmph. For years, I'd heard that George VI was a devoted Christian man, regular church goer and one who relied on God to get through the rough and tumble of life. Even the book The King's Speech, written by Logue's grandson, Mark, makes mention of that albeit a brief mention.
However, I saw none of that in this film. Thus I never felt that the film got to the core of who the man was, what made him tick, what gave him strength to overcome his lifelong issues apart from the usual humanistic pop psychology triumphalism of secular film-making.
On second thoughts, it may have been blessing that they left out his spiritual convictions altogether lest the film makers turn him into a religious mockery, which they are (let's face it) likely to do.
The lowest point of the film, to my mind, comes at a supposedly cathartic moment when the king, in a fit of rage shows that he too, can descend into vulgarities with the best of them. Perhaps they were going for the shock humour factor... or for the inconvenient truth that stripped bare, the Royals are no better than the rest of us.
Colin Firth is a strong contender to win an Oscar for his performance here. Deservedly so, I felt all of Bertie's frustrations acutely... too acutely... I do think they did belabour the stammering at times. And the anger... the rage... I dunno... call me skeptical... but it felt to me that all those wrathful explosions that littered the film were an exercise of theatrical license.

Perhaps that is what was amiss about the film... it was overly theatrical. Not so much interested in history as in theatrics. Good to look at but not a lot of substance.

Treasures under the Tree

There are some who think that Christmas is nothing but a waste of money because there are millions of dollars of unwanted gifts exchanging hands every year.
You'll get no argument from me that Christmas has become very commercialized and that most of the world has lost sight of the Christ in Christmas.
However, this doesn't mean the act of giving gifts is a bad custom even if people end up getting things they don't particularly want. Disappointing as that may be, however, it isn't a good argument against giving at Christmas.

There is something meaningful in that, don't you think? Giving, I mean. Individual generosity to the people you love. Generosity to people you have never met.

The husband has taken a more pragmatic approach in recent years by asking me what I wanted for Christmas. I've stopped saying "surprise me" or pushing him to be spontaneous in recent times. Because after almost 15 years of marriage, I don't think spontaneous, in this department, works for him or for me all that well. Most husbands, I think, need a little help.

This year he gave me everything on my list of 3. Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals, a portable iPhone/iPod dock and a book seat. It was a pleasant surprise to get all three. Wonderful, really.
He did protest a little about the Jamie Oliver cook book... was worried that it would give the wrong idea. But I told him I didn't mind. I like cook books mainly for the pretty pictures anyway.




 
The 9 year old was happy to get her Smiggle stationery from various sources. The 3-almost-4-year old was probably more excited about ripping the gift wrap off than receiving the actual present itself. She has a ever-present monomania for destruction and Christmas seems to feed that nagging ache in her soul.

All our feeble efforts, nonetheless... are just that compared to the wonderful gift that we received from our God... His Son... who gave his life so that we poor beggarly sinners can be forgiven... can have new life... and be reconciled to our Creator.
No earthly possession can match that. Not even remotely.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

I Think We Went on a Summer Holiday

I'm back from a short very stint at the beach. But we didn't spend a lot of time on the beach compliments of La Nina, so I gather. It was wet and wetness tends to discourage outdoor ventures. It is pretty apt, afterall, I am a wet blanket of some description. Rain wetness equals catching cold in my book of paranoid possibilities. Hence, the prospect of dancing in the rain doesn't appeal.
Like I said, "wet blanket".

I didn't mind being stuck indoors, quite frankly. I read when I could... When I wasn't interrupted by the 3 year old who was looking for someone to play with.

The 3 year old was up to her usual tricks, of course. There would be no holiday from those. There would be no holiday from sibling squabbles or hourly (occasionally obsequious) demands for food.

And there was a case toilet regression. I'll spare you the details except it ended up with me scrubbing carpets and doing a spot o' washing
A case of citrus overload and all that.
I live in hope that one day, our warnings and cautions will penetrate her fruit-fogged brain. However, lately, I have come to a place where I suspect all that is merely a case of hope triumphing over reason.

At the end of each day, I was ready to collapse into the comforts of bed.

My thought, to console myself, at the end of the five nights was "At least I don't have to deal with the housework until next week."

Mummies don't really have holidays.



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