intraspace: the review lounge

Thursday, June 28, 2007

God is here

God is here, by steve case

i've been a fan of 'the practice of the presence of God' by brother lawrence for about 7 years or so since i read it. it was, without doubt, a book that changed my life. the main idea i got from it (and the one that stays with me) is the concept that God is there continuously - it's just a matter of recognising that fact. we tend to see moments of our heightened awareness of his presence as being the only moments when he is there. in actual fact these moments are simply instances when our senses were turned on to his proximity. he is there all the time.

steve case's 'God is here' is a book that attempts to apply and explain brother lawrence's ideas for a contemporary audience. brother lawrence lived in the 1600s, so you can see why someone might think that his writing needs some interpretation in the 2000s.

anyway, because of my feelings about 'the practice of the presence of God' i approached this book with a couple of thoughts - 1. "this should be good, because it is about such a great book" and 2. "this better be good - the author better not get this wrong."

case does a reasonable job. as usual with american published books, i found myself frustrated with the american context - these books are written with the assumption that all the readers will be american - so we get endless references to 'krispy kream' donuts and such. let's talk about what i'd like to call the 'krispy kream factor'. this is about more than just an american cultural framework. i've noticed recently that christian authors in their anxiety to make their material culturally relevant, lessen the impact of their writing by constantly referring to banal illustrations. you end up with a kind of kitsch image of something profound - like comparing the kind of divine encounters recounted by brother lawrence to sitting on the backporch with a grande starbucks espresso and a box of krispy kreams on a sunday morning. american christian authors seem obsessed with coffee and donuts.

case is trying to apply the ideas in brother lawrence's book to my everyday life. but it doesn't always work because i was first impacted by the unmediated reading of the original (i didn't need anyone to explain it) and also because i don't really identify with the krispy kream factor.

that's my rave finished. all that being said, the book reminded me about brother lawrence and got me thinking about his stuff again. and some of the things that case pointed out were helpful to me.

and, i finished reading this book on the deck yesterday, in the sunshine - which was a blissful experience that proved a lot of what case was saying... enjoy the moments, know that God is there. and i did (without donuts and coffee).

warandpeace-o-meter: 669/981 (volIII, bookXI, chapI)

on the stereo 'to build a home' by the cinematic orchestra, from the album 'ma fleur'.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

we were mel gibson

a mel gibson-themed movie review slot for you today...

old 'blood n guts' gibson eh? i'm not a gibson-basher by any stretch of the imagination - he's been involved in some great movies over the years. and you could probably even argue that these are two of them (pictured) but a huge amount of the budget of his films must surely go to the make-up department - in particular for the purchase of 'blood supplies'.

in the great tradition of mel gibson films, blood gushes everywhere in 'we were soldiers' and 'apocalypto'.

the first is the story of a united states cavalry regiment (riding in on newly introduced iroquois helicopters) that goes straight into the middle of firefight with the north vietnamese army. needless to say, the americans are out-numbered about 1000:1 (an exaggeration, but you take my point) and fight for honour, holding out against incredible odds. this is apparently based on a true event. it is quite a good movie, but there are just so many 'firefight' movies about americans against the odds these days (i guess movies about the united states overwhelming lightly armed enemies wouldn't be as exciting. actually it is interesting to note that even though the main strategy of the u.s. military since hiroshima has been been to engulf the enemy in superior firepower, all the movies are about american individuals caught in tricky situations that usually seem to be the result of poor planning in the upper echelons and under-estimating the enemy). the battlefield action in 'we were soldiers' was nicely offset against a subplot about the wives of the soldiers in the regiment.

the second film, 'apocalypto', is set in the mayan world just prior to the arrival of the europeans. city-dwelling mayan folk are suffering from drought and pestilence, so they decide to go and round up a few jungle-dwelling mayan folk to offer up as sacrifices to their god. and so the carnage commences. the story is focussed on a particular jungle-dweller named jaguar paw who is taken prisoner and tries to escape so that he can return to his ruined village and save his wife and child. meanwhile, we are treated to an upclose portrayal of the mayan lifestyle that includes all manner of blood n guts. it is a rather harrowing film to watch, but i think it was worth it and i think i recommend watching it. as was fashionable at the time of the film's release, i recall that mel gibson was accused of racism against the mayans for his portrayal, and i have to say the film doesn't leave them looking terribly attractive - but if it actually is based on historical evidence then so be it.

a strong stomach or desensitised sensibilities probably required to casually watch these films. alternatively you could be prepared to be affected by them.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

this american life

podcasting is great. i mean, basically a lot of it is people doing amateur radio shows - kind of the radio version of blogging actually. but of course there are lots of 'official' podcasts as well - and some are by actual radio stations.

one of these is called 'this american life'. it is a radio show that has run on american public radio for over 10 years - apparently now it is also a tv show. but the part i love is that they release their weekly radio show as a podcast.

'this american life' is a very eclectic [liberal] show, but it has as its heart an examination of american culture. i personally think it is very useful for us non-americans to study the american culture in this way because it influences the rest of the world so much. i think it gives us useful insights into this dominant cultural force.

each week, 'this american life' has a seemingly random theme and then people are interviewed, tell their stories etc based on that theme. some recent themes include: 'road trip' (about the american road trip tradition), 'big wide world' (mainly about a young iraqi guy who works as a translator for the western media in iraq - excellent episode) and 'notes on camp' (people telling their stories about summer camp).

but the episode that inspired me to write this review was one about guantanamo bay. i really and honestly think everyone should listen to this podcast - whether or not you think you are interested in the goings-on at america's terrorist prison. the episode is somewhat mysteriously called 'Habeas Schmabeas 2007' (all will be revealed when you listen to the podcast). it is a rerun of an episode that 'this american life' aired last year (i think), with some updates. in this episode they interview some actual past detainees of guantanamo bay and some of the attorneys that are representing current prisoners. it is very enlightening.

the original episode won a peabody award - whatever the heck that is (oh, here we go). which means, that is it very very good. a quick hunt reveals that unless you were a 'this american life' podcast subscriber (free, through itunes, or by using this link when the episode came out, then you can no longer download it for free - very sad. but you can stream it for free online. i recommend doing that at your earliest convenience my friends.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Leadership Excellence

Leadership Excellence by Phil Pringle

Having heard Phil Pringle preach and teach on numerous occasions I decided it was time to read one of his books. As I am currently trying to develop my leadership skills this seemed like the right title to start on.

I was really captivated by the first two chapters of this book, rather then giving me laws and principles of leadership it was hammering home the heart and character of the leader. This really challenged me on a personal level and led to some healthy self examination.

The rest of the book was very helpful, mixing leadership principles and character development. Overall it provided some good tips, pitfalls to avoid and some very sound biblical teaching on leadership.

One criticism is that the book is a little bit too long(276 pages). At times he repeated himself and also used too many motivational stories. It could have easily been condensed without losing its effectiveness.

However often the key with books like this is not trying to process the whole book but to pick up one or two key ideas that fit into where you are at and work on implementing them. So on that front it certainly succeeded in giving me the next step in leadership development

In closing here are a few quotes I enjoyed from the book

"When people join our church, we tell them they are now members of a house, not a hotel"

"The scripture tells us that 'Lot.... chose for himself. This will always be a poor decision"

"Sometime we want some thing more than the will of God. We are clever at cloaking this desire with the line 'God told me'

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

oceans 13

oceans 13

i went to see this on the second day of its release here in new zealand.

by way of full-disclosure, i should say that i am an 'oceans' fan so am probably horrendously biased. i loved it. i went with a group from church and when the lights came on, aaron said, "it was better than 12". he might have been right, but i can honestly say i love all of them. i don't have a favourite - well, i suppose i'd have to say that 11 is my favourite because that's when the magic started.

[amusing aside: aaron is a youth pastor and when he told the youth group that he was going to oceans 13, one of the girls said, "i've seen oceans 11 & 12, but i haven't seen 1 to 10."]

13 displayed the usual goodness of quirky characters, clever plot devices (but without the major twists of the other ones), beautiful camera work and graphics, painfully cool music etc etc. julia roberts was missing - which jonathan said would be a good thing and i have to agree - as was catherine zeta-jones (which is a pity). they were traded in for al pacino. al pacino is a great actor but he plays a low-key, intimidating character best and i felt that he was overshadowed by the exaggerated characters of the rest of the cast. what i mean is, the al pacino character (bank) didn't stand out as much as the other characters.

a great movie. and while aaron said he thought it would be a good idea if this one was the last oceans movie, i found myself walking along the street afterwards wanting one more.

on the headphones: 'ma fleur' by the cinematic orchestra, from the album 'ma fleur'.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Aspiring Modern Creature

(a commentry on being white, male, middle class, a father-to-be, geeky, and laid up after having wisdom teeth out)

In bath with iceburgs in one's cheeks.
A pause to mourn two unborn teeth,
a loss of wisdom, but in
a space-saving decision,
they had to come out.
For a few days I'm a vegetable
-eating pain in the ass,
a swollen headrive,
not talking, not contributing

Warm water love comes my way,
sympathy from one tap with
biotics from the other.
Around are surroundings honed to fit
this house, this peaceful place of us
with connections & screens, decks & views,
Chopin and Augie, BBC and Jerry.

I celebrate our bump, I plan, compose, aspire,
sleep, listen, rinse, play with icecream
good is bad:
in pain but get paid to rest it off
laid low but have the earth
& promises of heaven besides.
Others are washed away, or deserted by f*#%!^ up husbands,
disabled by age, or killed for not denouncing.

Blender starts & brings me out of this.
If you've been hesitating getting yours out,
& can count on the love of a good woman,
then book in today!
Winter is the time for soup -
This is me keeping you all in the loop.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

the complete stories

the complete stories, by truman capote

you may not know this - i hadn't clicked - but truman capote wrote 'breakfast at tiffany's', which was turned into a classic film starring audrey hepburn. a classic film which, while i'm mentioning it, you should watch. all this, by the way, really doesn't have anything to do with this review, except as a piece of trivia about truman capote.

reading short stories is probably a good way of getting a taste of an author. from a literary study point of view they also often reveal the development of an author, because short stories are sometimes written as a kind of primer for novels.

out of this book i discovered for myself that capote had an extraordinary gift for description, and wrote prose that flows beautifully. unsurprisingly, when you know that he wrote the book 'in cold blood' (which the film 'capote' is all about), many of his stories have a dark edge - something which is known as 'southern gothic' in american literary studies.

the stories date from 1943 to 1982 and find a series of characters in odd situations of 'everyday' life. the characters themselves are usually unsettled to some degree. towards the end of the book capote writes about three autobiographical stories which are quite touching - especially the last one - a perfect ending to the book i thought - all about a visit he made as a child to his birth-father's house in new orleans. this carries added poignancy when you consider that the story was the second-to-last thing of capote's that was published during his lifetime.

i think i'll be reading more by capote in the future. highly recommended.

warandpeace-o-meter: 600/981 (volII, bookX, chapXVI)

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Monday, June 04, 2007

wimbledon green

wimbledon green, by seth (gregory gallant)

this is the second graphic novel i've read in the last couple of weeks. this one wasn't overly brilliant - but it was reasonably interesting.

it is all about a mysterious comic collector named wimbledon green. it is kind of a character sketch of green and is told mainly through the recollections of other collectors who have had dealings with him. we find out that he's been involved in a number of scandals, no-one knows his true identity and he is a man of strange habits. the comic collecting world is divided between those who loath him and those who think he is a genius. the recollections of the collectors are presented in kind of an interview format - so panel after panel just feature the head and shoulders of the character telling the story. this gets a bit monotonous. occasionally there are narrative sequences and it's really a shame that the whole book isn't like this, or mainly like this.

it is nicely presented - i love it when graphic novels are enhanced by nice book design. this one has a green hard cloth cover with rounded corners and gold embossing - making it look vintage in style - i suppose to match the era of the comics that wimbledon green collects. seth, the author, is friends with chris ware - whose book design is always brilliant. the 'about the author' blurb cites seth as a book designer in his own right.

maybe this book would be more interesting if you were more familiar with the collector world. but somewhat enjoyable nonetheless. doing some reading on seth on the internet, i discover that he nearly always has characters who are collectors - "Collectors are interesting because they seek out things that no one cares about and find out the vital information regarding those items. They catalogue and interview related creators, manufacturers etc. They preserve important cultural items." Actually this is a pretty interesting article (interview).

on the stereo: 'all that can be' by fly my pretties, from the album 'the return of fly my pretties'.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Children of women

Seems funny, but the film I'm reviewing here, 'Children of Men' is not in fact about men having children! That's right, but it is a smart contemporary sci-fi film about Women not having children, and then one who does. You might normally think that the terms 'contemporary' and 'sci-fi' don't match, but director Alfonso Cuaron (responsible for the absolute highlight of the Harry Potter series, 'Prisoner of Azkaban', as well as some darker Mexican films) has really mastered this strange juxtaposition.

Its England, around 2027. The place is now a police state overun by immigrants, and the youngest person in the world has just died. That's right, no one's had kids for 18 or so years. I will say no more on the storyline, except to say it really pulls out thru allegory some of the themes facing Britian and western countries right now, like illegal immigrants and the rise of a 'big brother' state.

Top acting from Micheal Caine and Clive Owen keep things very believable, as does the blistering camera work this film is known for - several continuous, multi-minute shots that stick like glue to the characters thru warzones and harrowing gang attacks. 8/10 my friends.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

3 + 1 movies

three excellent movies plus one that wasn't that great:

deja vu. an excellent movie. a time-shifting drama all about an investigator (denzel) who tries to stop a passenger ferry being blown up in new orleans. remarkably good acting and film work distracts from the usual questions and problems that time-travel films bring up. there are lots of nice touches - one of them was the fact that the film was set in new orleans and includes incidental footage of still-flood-devastated neighbourhoods. highly recommended.

capote. another excellent movie. very good. philip seymour hoffman does an incredible job of acting the lead role. all about how author truman capote came to write his classic 'in cold blood'. beautifully filmed. here's a screenshot:

although this film arrived randomly in the mail off my fatso list, the timing was fascinating because i'm currently reading capote's complete short stories. so there was a brilliant interchange between the two media. highly recommended.

little miss sunshine. less intense than the other two but still very good. the really strange thing about this film is that it would have been disney if it hadn't been for all the bad language, themes involving suicide and other random weirdness. an excellent comedy that parodies (i think) other feel-good family roadtrip comedies. highly recommended.

which brings us to the final film. i love sci-fi flicks - and there simply aren't enough of them coming out to satisfy my interest. so because i have already seen all the good ones (matrix 1, bladerunner, fifth element, minority report, brazil, space odyssey 2001, the island etc etc) i watched recent release, ultra violet. disappointing. storyline was ok. acting wasn't great. cgi was goodish (mostly) - but not enough to carry the movie. equilibrium, by the same director, was much better. and in the kickarse female futuristic comic-turned-movie stakes, aeon flux beats ultra violet absolutely hands down. both films were not well received by critics, but aeon flux was much cooler at every level. not very recommended at all (but do watch aeon flux).

on the heaphones: 'wake up' by arcade fire, from the album 'funeral'.

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