Sunday, 26 April 2009

Anime review - The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

I'm still enjoying the way the Japanese are able to create a different kind of tone in their animation: stories don't have to be oriented around world-changing events or part of a process by which a character becomes stronger and saves everyone. Instead, being courageous in small, mundane things, such as in the way a character treats her peers, can take the spotlight - without seeming overly sentimental.

That is just one thing I enjoyed about the sunny animated film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. In the film, the pressures of school and youth become real, as the amusingly assertive schoolgirl Makoto, who wants to keep the good times rolling, jerks the clock back to in her attempts to make the right impression, have fun, or to desperately hold on to the present status quo.

Bewildered to begin with by her new ability - to physically leap through space and time - Makoto soon finds a way to make it work for her, at the cost to her real-life friendships. In the end the film is about a funloving schoolgirl coming to terms with her future, seeing her errors and choosing to forge a better, less selfish way forward.

It's not as grand and layered a plot as something like Miyazaki's excellent Spirited Away, which tries to get its audience to enter into a child's position in an hostile and strange world, and so focuses on the magical, and a whole society of otherworldly characters which 10 year-old Chihiro has to find her footing in. After her true name is taken by Yubaba, she struggles and ultimately succeeds in forging a new identity for herself, and finally takes her family with her away from the danger.

In The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Makoto does not have to grapple with a set of problems far bigger than herself in a world of ancient Japanese gods; she merely has to battle herself, finding out her own desires and priorities for the path ahead. Threats to Makoto's future development come from within: carelessness, pride, self-centredness, avoiding wisdom and responsibility and not listening to friends. It's a simple moral and well-told.

In summary, the film is much more low-key than one of Miyazaki's films, though it's good fun, and the animation is great to boot.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Praise God for the rest

• Praise God for how having a sense of humour can really lift the spirits of people at work/ during the game of cricket which you are losing/ etc. What a gift!
• Praise Jesus for creating deep blue evening skies, for words of crowning beauty at the climax of a song, for laughter and friendship and bonding (despite sin).
• Praise God for making us able to express things in pictures and film, and for moral dilemmas on TV which remind us of the value of human life, and simply for quality entertainment, like the creepy and tense anime Death Note, which is really grabbing the imagination of my whole family.
• Praise God for other things of brilliance and joy, like being able to finally start Lost Planet on Xbox 360 and enjoy its (Zelda or Metroid-like) action and brilliant survivor-on-a-hostile-ice-planet atmosphere.

And finally for now...
• Praise the Lord that he really is in charge of our futures, so it is not trite when people say “the Lord knows which job is for you”. He really does know and care.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Family matters

As part of a kind of blog-praise project (see here), and because God is the source of all the good in life:

• Praise the Lord God for family – God’s grace to sinners is seen in the way others at home, and in the church, care about me, through all their own issues – yes I repeat – having patience with sinful, self-centred me! I can not even really gauge how much benefit I get from them, as we learn to love one another in Jesus.

• Also we at church are praising God for a team of Christians being let back into a difficult and poor area of Tibetan China, which I heard about on Wednesday. Isn’t it great that the Word of God is unbound? (2 Tim 2:9) May it keep spreading life!

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Praise God for books

Today I want to praise God for the way even memories aroused by books can show us our own foolishness. This happened this week as I delved into Terry Pratchett’s artfully constructed and amusing story of an inexperienced fairy godmother, Witches Abroad. As I read about the dangers of getting one’s soul trapped in endless mirrors and enjoyed the way the fairy godmother’s wand keeps resetting to pumpkins, I recalled a time when someone was trying to tell me about this book, and I, even though I was interested in Pratchett, was basically off in my own world, not listening. That was both foolish and unkind.

At times like these I am reminded how unlovely I am and how unworthy of God’s gracious love – praise Him that shows us what we are really like and, most of all, praise Him that He does graciously love the unlovely.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Comic reviews: Gothic monsters and fairy tales

I recently discovered Tales of the Multiverse: Batman -Vampire, a collection of DC stories attempting to mix the world of Gotham with the melodramatic lore of Dracula. The brutal way the characters are treated seems suitable in this context, and this new kind of challenge to Bruce Wayne’s operation of protecting the gothic Gotham city is welcome. No woman out late in the claustrophic streets is safe, even with the Batman around. And these vampires, powerful, sudden and hard to pursue amongst the streets and poorer levels of society, really leave gashes at the neck, and threaten to overthrow all Batman's work by turning everyone into un-dead creatures – it is a bloody read, but satisfying and exciting (if in a straightforward way), and I like how it really touches on Bruce's mission and how much he is willing to give up for the people of his city.

On the other hand, Fables is a different quality of comic book drama, from the acclaimed comics imprint Vertigo, made famous by Alan Moore's Watchmen (read about that here). It is a comic which seems to revel in not only telling stories, but building up a picture of the lives and richer-poorer relationships between the characters – which all adds up to mean that you actually care about what is going to happen to them. In fact this is a distinguishing feature of the series, along with the way each punchy episode is so tightly crafted: You care about the fate of Fabletown more than in most other fictional communities, probably as you’re never quite sure what threat is working it’s way against them next.

At the beginning the amiable King Cole and Snow White, woman of action, lead Fabletown, an area within twenty-first century New York where storybook characters live as refugees, hoping that the one who drove them out of their homelands does not come after them. And they need policing and defending, whether through the careful measures of shady-detective-type Bigby Wolf or through a more direct approach, in which every prince, pauper and talking animal avails themselves of the right to bear arms and defends their new homes (with all the practical difficulties of this).

Shocks and clever intrigues from one faction or another are always around the corner, and the Fables show their capacity for pride, greed, true love or the more predatory kind, anxiety, feeling the burden of war or responsibility, affectionate friendship, loyalty and betrayal and much more in the five volumes I have so far read of this brilliantly-plotted series. Do seek it out, and do start from the beginning. Writer Bill Willingham is clearly heading somewhere big to end this series, but it would be a shame to miss all the stunning surprises along the way.

Fresh perspectives on everything from CS Lewis

I caught most of this documentary last night, a brilliantly fresh and relevant look at the thinker CS Lewis' ideas about the world, and how he thought there was more to it than just what can be described scientifically. I suppose most of us would agree with him on that point, really: Love, friendships, people, incredible sights and brilliant art/music all have more significance than can be described by formulas and tested based on their make-up.

The doc focuses on the Narnia books and shows just how much thought went into them! Finally it was good to see some thoughtful responses from Christian academics and thinkers, who pushed us to think about the big questions of life while still being relevant to the subject at hand, and only assuming interest in Lewis and Narnia.

For another take on the doc, try here or here.

Thursday, 16 April 2009


Hurried on without fire
Beneath a tantalising thought
Working all the God-damn day

Far too afraid to mention
Distant dreams with misgiving
Constant wishing, only grieving.

Where must we reach for worthy cause
Or aping jeers of total loss;
Borrowed backs of firebrands past

Holy, unforgetting, we
Gaze into metal jars.
Never mind infinity.

We are cherry-picking;
We are realised;
We are terrible;
We are guarded.

What did you learn this Easter?

It really struck me this year how Jesus chose to become a man of sorrows for us. Jesus, Creator and Holy One of God, chose to be a man of brokenness, of pain, of sadness, offended over and over by each false or malicious word and driven nail against Him.

He was in glory and security and chose anguish that we could know the Father as He does, and follow Him both now and into eternal blessing. He made the way! Praise God!


The last seven days or so have been full of things which made me feel weak and out of control, but much that makes me thankful to God as well.

Positively, it’s been a time of rest, doing things with family, writing long emails, and mixing light reading and watching Death Note (a fun anime series exploring the nature of justice), 24 and Little Miss Sunshine with trying to thrash out what some of the New Word Alive teaching means for me (next week I aim to blog a few thoughts that came out of the excellent Engagement with Culture talks).

It has also been a time of being thrown a scattering of suggestions for future employment while suddenly being dropped from one call centre job and offered another. No more work for that unnamed department store – the less said about their computer systems the better, and the same for some of their customers! People can be so unreasonable, seeming so ready to believe the worst of you, when you are doing what you can to help. I’m not whining at anyone in particular, but just at human nature I guess. One good thing is: I’m learning to be more confident in what I can do, and let the rest go. We will see how the new job goes…

Finally the last few days have been a chance to hear about the situation on the ground in Italy after the recent earthquake, and to seek God’s help for those there in prayer. Hundreds are homeless, many more scared, or without a workplace or university to go to. CU life and church life continues, so please pray for their strength.

On that: I’m hoping to start making posts beginning with “Praise God for…” – as I want to learn to see everything good as coming from God, and want to grow in my gratefulness to Him. So, as we have reflected on the earthquake, realising many have had to flee for their lives, we can praise God for keeping back His day of wrath, out of love for many, when there will be no place to hide for many who have not come to Jesus for salvation. As believers we can too realise that, as Psalm 46 says, God is our true refuge in times of great trouble. Once we believe in Jesus, our souls are safe in Him, and our bodies will be delivered when Jesus returns, too. God really is our strong fortress. Praise Him!

And, as I have been reading today in A Few Good Men by Richard Coekin, we can trust in our God who, though invisible to us now, is near in whatever we are going through (Heb 11:27). What an encouragement to keep going with Him.

Friday, 10 April 2009

"Pause" - a review

Here are my thoughts on an inspiring evening titled “Pause” by the Christian drama and arts group Acts 29. As one Reading student pointed out, it’s a way into evangelism that isn’t purely middle class! (That’s one thing about the arts – they can work on lots of levels.)

OK, so here’s what you need to know about Pause.

The idea? To run an evening of intimate entertainment which does more than entertain – which aims to stir up thought about the deeper issues of life and to provide a conversation starter, through a variety of high quality acts, from an R&B/Soul singer to a hip-hop duo, from impressive, rousing rock to probing poetry to sharp, engaging monologue. I particularly enjoyed the cleverly layered guitarwork, the way you were made to feel at ease during the monologues, "down the pub" style, the classy, funky keyboard-accompanied songs - and the way the poetry brought a sense of place and roused feelings about situations and systems, and yet had the power to get us to think. For instance at one point our enigmatic poet recasts tube passangers as silent beings frozen on their "pillar arms". Where has the life gone out of this picture? It is in the poet, who is there, it seems, actively questioning the situation.

The writers behind the project clearly see the power of great art to raise our eyes from the things of everyday to the Maker of everything, and I can imagine the performance nudging non-Christians to respond to these attitudes and ideas, and to take time to consider where their lives are heading in the middle of all the messages and ideas in our society. All this will provide a chance to speak about our message of hope “in season”.

What makes it good?

Well, on New Word Alive, I learned about the value of shared life experiences in the dialogue between Christians and our largely secular culture. These experiences are made possible because of God, who made us in His image. We have emotions and hopes, because we were built for good things, and we have, like God, the capacity for joy and love - and brilliant thoughts, which we can think “after His thoughts”. He dreamed every creative thing up before we even thought it, as He (specifically Jesus) is the source of everything good (cf Colossians 1:16-17).

"Pause" connected with us as it sought to evoke and reflect on important life experiences and feelings in our culture - helping us relate to the characters involved, and also (sometimes more directly) pointing to the one who designed us to enjoy such experiences. Here’s a quick list of issues which were suggested or came up in the evening:

Our sense of humour about all kinds of things,
peer pressure, and group behaviour,
the way we can’t escape media and information in a non-stop TV world,
the way we hide behind masks, looking good but being broken inside,
the way we often refuse to be vulnerable in front of someone,
the joy that someone’s love can bring us when they make incredible sacrifices for us, and how we treasure them,
the way we build our lives, and the direction for them,
the idea of not being real, or the feeling of being out of place in the world, or the idea that we are just cogs in a vast impersonal machine, and related questions about the value of working,
the way we tell, and love to hear, stories (even tall stories), the way we feel threatened in our society when asked about religious things, unless it is in the pub, or very casually discussed,
and finally, the wonders of creation and expression, demonstrated in music and rhythm and in the way we experiment with sound and words.

Many of these themes and ideas celebrate what is good about mankind, and face us with our huge aspirations in life, filling our horizons with new perspectives, some right, some foolhardy. The acts suggest that we long for authentication, love, friendship, expression, freedom, and to be taken seriously, and that we are frustrated in many ways and have reason for sorrow. More than once I heard a biblical strand of thought suggested, that we should seek God's help, and that His love is there for us if we come to Him - really the only answer to humanity's real problems.

Without being in relationship with Him, forgiven freely through the death of Jesus, and accepted into His family, our lives our ultimately futile, and fragile, something that can sometimes be sensed in art. The Bible clarifies this, teaching that man is "like breath" without God, quickly fading away, and having no hope - without Him we are not ultimately heading towards great things but towards death, after which we will have no hope to produce or to experience anything good at all: In fact we will reap the rewards for living bad lives, by facing God’s punishment in hell.

Sobering words, but necessary ones: life is meaningless without the hope of a future, and this is reflected in the way the working life can become a drudgery, and things seem to keep going round and round; we were designed for somewhere better (as CS Lewis suggested, cf Ecclesiastes).

Other reflections: For what is effectively a pre-evangelism event, there was a lot of talent on show, and great production values (good work, team) – and this made me think more broadly about the state of things in the UK. We are so fortunate to have all these resources for an event targeted brilliantly to a certain audience, a certain type of friend, who is up for discussion and who enjoys stimulating art.

But why do we need pre-evangelism in the UK? Part of me tends to think it’s because we are now either too afraid or unimaginative to develop good relationships with those who are not Christians and to speak up to let them know about our wonderful gospel message, and so we want to rely on a packaged resource like this one. Or perhaps we are just too unconcerned for our friends’ eternal future? Whatever, we really need more creative ways to raise questions and starting points to speak about the true and triune God of Christianity, as our society has become increasingly reluctant to discuss Him and increasingly unaware of what the Bible has to say about Him. I’m all for more projects like this one!

Anyone else got any views on Pause?

Yes, more poetry, and this one isn't so subtle

Express pain
For the whole body is shouting
And can not hear you.

Jump for joy
For each muscle is tensed
Lacking only reason.

Be at peace
For my torso and legs
Argue over direction.

Face facts
For the mind is absent
And the heart is full.

Teach me
For an ear strains
All while an eye beholds.

(Impossible news
Of immeasurable worth
Speaks of “knowing yourself”).

While I remember, the poem at is a wonderful reflection on how God has rescued sinners who have merely trusted Him. Check it out!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Coldplay puppets

This is genius - I LOVE the techie, and everything else! I wonder if we will ever see that tiny helicopter again, over some faraway hill perhaps. What a fun idea.

Getting perspective on what the church is here for - part two

Here are some more areas where I was pushed in my thinking at New Word Alive this year...

• Evangelism. Apologetics is about being a person who has hope, and showing that you have hope: 1 Peter 3:15. This does not just have to be argued for in rational arguments (although any believer ought to know the firm basis we have for hope, using their minds to dwell on the historical records about Jesus and the way God has worked in the world, as this can only strengthen faith). The point is this: We can make a case for Jesus by showing what a great hope we have in Him for the future, and how this affects us; what joy and happiness it brings us.
• Worship. Every part of my life is worship. I am designed for worshiping God yet (and this is what I saw more clearly) I often give myself to other things in worship. For instance, the right responses I have to things or people or groups of people around me are easily twisted to become idol-worship, while on the other hand, the devil wants me to discount parts of my life entirely, forgetting that I ought to glorify God in every activity and motivation of the heart. Therefore, our job, as speaker Dan Strange on the "Engagement with Culture" track taught, is to “smash idols” in our lives, and return to true worship, as God is Lord of all - the one whose name means salvation and eternal hope for many, many sinners: such a powerful and generous-hearted God deserves our all.
• Fellowship. Talking and praising with Christians can be a life-line – it really can work on my attitudes and encourage me towards love of God. I am more convinced than before that meeting up in 2s or 3s or 4s with those of similar age-groups to spur each other on has an important place within churches.

There were other more creative things that came out of having some time away from work too, such as the poem below I began to write one day when looking at the amazing blue sky over breakfast in the caravan. More to follow soon, including a review of the brilliantly experimental arts-fused "Pause" evening I went to one night.

Bare sky-hearts

Blue skies
Wide open
Looking at me
In a benign way.

Affording to be above and arching over;
A friendship offering, or blessing
Rebounding out to others.

Cold morning surfaces, and seagulls,
Next to unbroken stretches of grassy curb –
Irregular. Like restless light.

Now gracious, now despising the impact she makes
Re-painting over and over

But light presents itself
Bright, full of colour, through her!
And people stop and admire.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Getting perspective on what the church is here for - part one

This could be the start of my very own blog-athon, as I want to make several posts following a trip last week to a big Christian conference called “New Word Alive”. Not only was I encouraged by being able to receive high quality teaching and meet together with lots of other Christians to worship and share our lives, we also had great weather (yes, and in Wales!) and I was able to enjoy chilling out with old and new friends.

Altogether a seriously encouraging, motivating, empowering experience that built us up both in terms of our thinking, and emotionally, as our hearts were stirred to greater love of God. It has helped me get a number of things into perspective:

• Our direction for life. There is an eternal heaven for believers, and great security and hope as we look forward to that, while there is eternal punishment for those who don’t follow Jesus – who Himself warned people about this in stark terms. What does this mean? For one thing, it is utterly appropriate for us to weep with a heavy heart for those who face hell. And it is our responsibility to love others enough to share our great message about Jesus, the only way to heaven. Truth, and good teaching, are meant for spreading, not leaving with believers or in comfortable places!
• Prayer. What an amazing privilege! May we continue in prayer for spiritual life and growth in the hearts and lives of those around us. It is God who brings the growth (1 Cor 3:6). Thus prayer is essential gospel work.
• Service. The vital ministry of caring for others doesn’t just happen. No ministry does. It is a struggle, and we need to ask God for help with it, and involve the church too – all the time, remembering that God is with us and it is God who wants to do good in the lives of our friends/family, and we are His servants.
• Joy. Here is what should be my greatest joy: I have Christ! Not that I have a comfortable life, or friends, family, intellect, things to do or watch or enjoy here on earth – but that I have been united with the Son in death to sin, new life and the promise of a rich eternal future. All else is from Him anyway!

More tomorrow, and yes, I actually mean tomorrow.