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Will you see the Noah movie?

noahThere has been some heated discussion online recently about the new movie Noah, a Hollywood blockbuster starring Russell Crowe, which releases in the UK on 4 April.

It’s 10 years since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ came out, so many Christians were looking forward to another good, bible-based film. But then came the news that the Genesis story had been dramatically (and contentiously) rewritten for Hollywood.

Even the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, was quoted as saying “it’s the least biblical biblical film ever made”. Apparently Paramount bosses were worried about the negative reactions test screenings had received from Judeo-Christian audiences, so they tried editing it to create a few different versions. These fared no better, however, so it is Aronofsky’s account that will be shown to worldwide audiences from the end of this month.

Objections from Christians

A few days ago UK digital radio station United Christian Broadcasters offered a competition prize of a trip to London for a special preview screening of the film. This prompted concerned responses from one or two believers who objected to the film’s unbiblical interpretation and accused it of promoting deception.

One follower, however, said they saw the picture as an opportunity to share their faith, and to discuss with non-Christian friends how the movie deviates from the truth of the account in the Bible.

Elsewhere on the web opposing views have been detailed in articles such as ‘Should Christians support the movie Noah?’ on the Huffington Post’s religion page – which makes some valid points and ultimately gives the movie the nod, versus the blog Around the World with Ken Ham which cautions movie-goers against the film, citing its bizarre storylines, while Christianity Today balances five positive facts about the film with five negative features.

Make up your mind

Having read some of the arguments I might be inclined to give this one a miss, preferring to spend my shekels on the new independent film Son of God about the life of Jesus which, while not necessarily blockbuster, looks like a more uplifting experience that remains true to the text.

I guess each of us needs to make up our own mind about how we respond to pop culture art that calls into question elements of our faith. Thankfully, God is greater than it all and the truth of his Word, along with the Holy Spirit’s revelation, is all we require.

What’s your response to a ‘re-writing’ of a biblical truth?

Great expectations – when what we get is not what we anticipated

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“They’ve got the name of these wrong,” said the elderly gentleman as he passed the coffee shop counter, pointing at the biscotti he’d opted for along with his cup of coffee.

“Oh?” The assistant smiled brightly in response. I could see her wondering what was coming next.

“Yes, they should be called Concrete,” he admonished, shaking his balding head in distaste.

She laughed lightly. “Oh, yes – they are quite hard, aren’t they? They’re Italian. That’s the way they make them.”

No doubt he had been eagerly anticipating the buttery chewiness of a McVitie’s Hobnob. Or perhaps even the spicy crunchiness of a ginger snap. But not… well, not what he got. Not an uber-crisp, fairly plain Italian biscuit that should be softened by dipping it in either strong and aromatic mid-morning coffee, or after-dinner fortified desert wine.

He trudged away, disappointment hanging about him like a heavy, ill-fitting coat.

So often in life it comes down to our expectations, doesn’t it? We have an image in our head of how circumstances should be, or of how things should turn out. But what we anticipate and what we end up with are often at odds.

It seems sometimes it’s that way in our walk with God too. And when things are not going the way we planned – in our relationships, our work or our ministry – we can become frustrated and disappointed. When God answers our prayers in ways we haven’t predicted, it can be challenging.

This weekend I baked my own biscotti.

Granted, I did know they would turn out really crunchy (due to being baked once in the shape of a loaf, then sliced and returned to the oven), and yes – what I got was different to the biscuits we usually eat in the UK.

But they were delicious in other ways… their little taste sensations of bitter chocolate, chewy cranberries, citrusy orange zest and almonds exploding through the plain but crunchy biscuit dough. And I could eat them relatively guilt-free because of a lack of butter and not too much sugar.

If God has presented you with something you least expected, something new and unfamiliar and not what you were hoping for, ask Him to show you the good in it. Ask Him for the grace to embrace it.

He just might lead you to new and wonderful discoveries.

Is creativity always this hard?

(www.freedigitalphotos.net)

(www.freedigitalphotos.net)

It’s easy to get sucked into the web. I start out googling some piece of information I want to know more about, move on to another site, and another, and end up hours later with not a whole lot to show for my efforts. Goodness, but there’s a lot of junk out there!

But there’s also some brilliant stuff. Don’t you just love Amazon’s “look inside” function that allows you to pore over book excerpts? Last week I managed to read a few tidbits from several great books, then I found myself reading the authors’ blogs, and I ended up by watching videos they had posted about their work. By then it was time for a coffee break!

Now what?

What I read was interesting and inspiring and exciting, but in some ways, also just a little bit discouraging.

It’s funny that, how other people’s artistry can bring you pleasure and yet dishearten you at the same time. Perhaps it’s how a musician feels when he hears a beautifully-composed piece of music for the first time… appreciating its masterly creation but wishing he could produce something equally meaningful.

But despite the twinges of envy, I can sense God turning over and over in my mind and heart some of the fragments I’ve read. Somehow I know they’re important, and that He wants to use them in my life in some way, and change something in my heart because of them. But what?

These thoughts and senses have been filling my head for weeks. But it’s difficult to understand where God’s going with it all, and what He’s doing.

Slosh, slosh, slosh

When I was little and my mum bought her first frontloading washing machine, I would sit in front of it, watching the water fill up – agonisingly slowly – and the clothes sloshing around and around till all the frothy soapsuds pressing up against the glass door obscured the view.

And that’s how it feels right now. Everything seems mixed up and tumbled together, and the foam so thick I can’t see what’s going on inside. The process feels long and confusing, and I can’t help wondering if it’s going to come to something, or nothing.

I’m hoping – really hoping – that if I keep listening, God is going to end the cycle, pop open the door, and bring out something beautiful and fresh and clean, and that I’ll know exactly what to do with it!

 

How do you make sense of the creative ideas God gives you? What process works for you?

Jesus, in unexpected places

It says in the Bible that it is the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth (John 14:17), and it is a beautiful mystery that He often helps us encounter Jesus in so many places we would never think to look or expect to find Him.

Recently I watched for the first time the 2007 film The Kite Runner, based on the bestselling book by Khaled Hosseini from 2003.

It focuses on the friendship between two boys – privileged Amir and poor Hassan – and is set against the background of Afghanistan under the rule of the monarchy in the 1970s, then Soviet Russia, and finally the Taliban.

Exploring themes of innocence, sacrifice and redemption, the story unfolds in a Muslim context, so I doubt very much that the author or producers ever intended the film to make any reference to Christ. Yet for me, He was unmistakeably present.

The servant boy

I was profoundly struck by the Christ-like portrayal of Hassan, the servant boy, who willingly endures great suffering for the sake of his well-to-do friend.

It begins early in the film, when we see the brave little Hassan choosing to protect the weaker, fearful Amir from neighbourhood bullies, the same persecutors who mock Hassan as being of inferior race.

Then, the movie’s pivotal scenes, Kabul’s kite-flying competition which Amir so desperately wants to win in order to gain his father’s approval, show Hassan refusing to hand over to the bullies the winning kite he has fetched for Amir.

His loyalty costs him dearly – he is subjected to a brutal, physical and sexual assault by the leader of the gang, a vicious sociopath. And this while Amir hides in the shadows, too afraid to stop the attack, and unwilling to risk losing the love and admiration of his father that failure to bring home the winning kite will mean.

The blood

He is riddled with guilt and feelings of unworthiness, contrasted strongly with Hassan’s sacrificial goodness, and in a fit of rage strikes his friend with ripe pomegranates, the crushed, blood-red flesh staining Hassan’s clothes. In an unmistakeable moment, Hassan picks up the fruit to crush it against his own forehead, willingly accepting the punishment that should have fallen on Amir.

Amir’s actions have profound consequences. The depth of his guilt and Hassan’s love eventually lead to Hassan accepting his friend’s false accusation that he is a thief, and he and his father must leave their home and employment out of shame. Ultimately, Hassan’s faithfulness to Amir’s family results in his death many years later.

It is a supreme act of sacrifice, where the Jesus-like figure – a humble, scorned boy – lays down everything for the sake of the friend that has betrayed him.

The Kite Runner is a profoundly moving story, but it was made all the richer for me by the presence of Jesus… in such an unexpected place.

Have you met Jesus in an unexpected place recently? How did it make you feel?

Got the cooking blues?

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How do you feel about being in your kitchen this weekend? Are you looking forward to creating another tasty family meal or perhaps an extravagant dinner party menu? Or do you have the cooking tedium blues I seem to run in to every now and then?

Sometimes deciding on, shopping for, and cooking yet another meal makes me want to scream… or at least grumble and whinge loudly. But a recent visit to a National Trust property in Cornwall helped put things in perspective!

Lanhydrock’s fascinating history has been beautifully recreated in interiors fashioned by its former Victorian/Edwardian owners, so we were able to immerse ourselves in the family’s storyline. But after traipsing through room after room dedicated solely to the production of food – nine in total – my other half queried incredulously: “So, how many people were they cooking for?”

The upstairs/downstairs divide

It was a pertinent question. This family of two parents and nine children, along with innumerable ‘downstairs’ servants, all needed to be fed. Actually, ‘fed’ is something of a misnomer. Wealthy Edwardian families feasted on several huge meals a day, interrupted only by teatimes, evening appetisers and late suppers.

And the implications of such output for the cook (and her helpers, if she had any) were staggering. Everything had to be made by hand. Every can (oops, sorry – no cans in those days), jar, bottle, tub, tray or dish of anything used in the kitchens was produced by her, down to the butter, jam and clotted cream in those gloriously-indulgent Cornish cream teas!

Little wonder servants were up before dawn, retired to bed only after the last family member, and were treated to just one afternoon off a week.

Modern technology

After a devastating fire in 1881, Lanhydrock’s owner commissioned repairs that incorporated the latest technology for the times, including new range ovens, heated cupboards (connected to central heating pipes) for warming the food and plates, and a high-gabled kitchen roof with louvre windows to remove hot air. The massive roasting spit was particularly impressive, with the rotisserie being turned by a fan located in the flue above the fire.

But the mod-cons don’t appear to have made life any easier for those toiling in the extensive kitchens, which comprised a scullery (with yet another, smaller range oven); a bake-house for a constant supply of biscuits and cakes (the oven took four days to bring to temperature); a pastry room; a still room for making jams, chutneys, jellies and broths; and a meat larder.

For ‘refrigeration’ there was a pantry room with cool slate slabs for storing cooked foods and an ice chest for making ice cream; a dairy scullery where butter and clotted cream were made and the milk kept in pans in cold water; and finally a dairy room where jellies, mousses, cold puddings, soups, custards, milk puddings and the cream and butter were all stored on marble slabs and over slate runnels cooled by spring water piped from outside the house.

Whew! I’ll think about that next time I sit down for a quick cup of coffee and a warm scone oozing jam and cream! And tonight, if I don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen, I’ll open a can, throw its contents into a pot with some other ready-prepared item, perhaps add a little chopped this and that, and dinner will be on the table.

For that I’m immensely grateful.

How I found grace in a gooey, chocolatey indulgence

Florentines

June was a difficult month in our household and I didn’t feel able to do any blogging. Somewhere in the middle, I experienced a crushing disappointment.

It wasn’t completely unexpected, and I found myself responding as I usually do to life’s hurts. I withdrew from all but my dearest. I ignored pinging text messages, the telephone and the doorbell. I took time to cry, sleep, think and mooch about. I know from experience that solitude and space help me recover.

But what I hadn’t anticipated was a sweet moment of grace that taught me something new about myself.

In the midst of my sadness, I thought about baking. Seriously.

And this from a woman who in the past could have given lessons in kitchen avoidance techniques.

It wasn’t so much the idea that some extravagant treat would produce a feel-good sugar rush and sweet-coat the bitter pill I had swallowed. It was more that the process itself might have some kind of mind-and-heart soothing effect.

Perhaps I reasoned subconsciously that a concentrated focus would help me forget the ache for a while. Or perhaps I was inspired to create something new and satisfying out of disparate parts, or to bring joy to those who would eat the treats. I really don’t know.

But I trawled through my recipes and settled on Florentines. Despite them being one of my favourite indulgences, I haven’t made them before. So bake I did.

And those mouthfuls of crunchy nut-and-toffee deliciousness, layered with dark chocolate turning more gooey with every mouthful, not only delighted friends and family, but – surprisingly – took me a step closer to my healing. Making them brought a fresh and different rhythm of grace into difficult circumstances.

It is such sweet moments of grace, gifted to us by a loving Father who knows what we need just when we need it, that often sustain us on our journey.

*****

Chocolate Florentines

Here’s the Sainsbury’s recipe I used (it makes about 12). The combination of nuts, toffee and chocolate is difficult to resist (and why would you want to)!

50g unsalted butter

100g light brown soft sugar

1tbsp plain flour

75ml crème fraiche

50g flaked almonds

¼ tsp mixed spice

125g unsalted peanuts & raisins

50g Brazil nuts, roughly chopped

125g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

25g white chocolate, broken into pieces

 

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan 160°C). Line two baking trays with baking parchment.

2. Put the butter and brown sugar in a pan and melt over a gentle hear. Stir in the flour and bring to the boil. Stir in the crème fraiche and remove from the heat. Add the almonds, mixed spice, peanuts and raisins, and Brazil nuts, and mix well.

3. Spoon tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the trays and gently flatten with a spoon. Space them well apart as they will expand as they cook.

4. Bake for 12 – 15 mins until golden. Leave the Florentines on the baking parchment and lift onto a cooling rack. Once cooled, turn them over ready for the melted chocolate.

5. Melt the chocolate in separate bowls in the microwave (on medium, in 30 second bursts; keep checking). Or bring a little water to a simmer in a pan and suspend a heatproof bowl over it (don’t allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Add the chocolate pieces and stir until smooth and melted.

6. Spread the Florentines’ bases with the melted dark chocolate. Then drizzle over the melted white chocolate in thin lines. Chill to set.

 

If I make them again I’ll probably avoid adding the crème fraiche when the mixture’s boiling, and follow the Hairy Bikers’ instructions to gradually combine it over a medium heat, stirring continuously.

The Florentines really do spread over the baking sheet, making them thin round the edges. Next time I might try spreading the mix into a baking tray, and cutting it into neat squares once it’s cooked and slightly cooled. Another recipe suggested using walnut-sized scoops of the mixture and, once baked, immediately reshaping them into circles using a cookie cutter or knife, before allowing them to cool. Enjoy!

Does your phone benefit or burden you?

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I admit I’m no technology geek. Actually, I’m more backwards at going forwards, but fortunately I have a techie husband who patiently imparts what he can. He gets excited about how technology works and how to manipulate it. I, on the other hand, am what he calls “a user” – I only appreciate what it can do for me.

A few years ago when he offered to pass on his old smart phone to me, I resisted. I was quite happy just making calls and sending messages. Eventually I relented and now, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’m rather hooked. I could sound super-spiritual and say I use it just to aid my Christian walk, but that would be fibbing. It’s become a part of my everyday in so many ways.

I use it to stay connected

If I’m out and need to see who’s replied to an urgent e-mail I sent, I can check and respond. If I’m at the pharmacy waiting for medication, I’ll quickly scan Facebook to see what they’re talking about on the writers’ page I follow. And if I spot a beautiful scene somewhere, I’m able to take a photo and instantly share it with loved ones far away.

If I’m in Tesco, contemplating the fresh rhubarb, I’ll check out the Hairy Bikers’ rhubarb and custard tart recipe online to see what ingredients I need. If I want a friend elsewhere in the world to appreciate my latest concoction, I’ll send her a quick WhatsApp message and pic and we can ‘chat’ while it’s bubbling on the stove.

At night in front of the television I might read the latest news, investigate tomorrow’s weather (I use that ALL the time!), look into a book I’m considering buying online, or type up an idea for a future blog post.

I’ve also used the microphone to record an interview, and recently my tech-savvy sister-in-law used an app to scan and e-mail to me some signed documentation. She wasn’t anywhere near a scanner or computer!

It has a higher purpose too

I enjoy using my phone for its spiritual advantages too. I can download a podcast of a sermon (or ‘preach’ as its called now – when did a verb become a noun?) and listen to it through my headphones while I’m vacuuming. If I’m taking a walk, I’ll sing along to my worship music playlist.

On a long drive, I’m able to play UCB (the digital Christian radio station) through the car’s sound system off an app on my phone. Or I might be at Lifegroup when God reminds me of a Bible verse and I fire up the YouVersion app to locate and reference it.

But I must be the one in control

There’s a darker side to all this immediacy, though. I dislike the way my phone tries to call to me first thing in the morning when my waking thoughts should be of God. When I long to sit in his presence, listen to him and soak up his Word, I find myself being nagged to check my mails, type a to-do list or set a reminder. And as I hear that soft ping telling me a new e-mail has arrived, it’s all I can do to stop myself going to look! (I guess I should turn that function off.)

It can be a battle – one that many of us share I think, and sometimes we may need to take authority over it. Let’s use technology for its benefits, and not be used by it.

Do you use technology to your advantage, or do you sometimes battle its grip?