The Absence of Grace

Recently I was running out of stuff to watch on Netflix (serious first world problem…) so I decided to give Sons of Anarchy a go. I’d tried before but never got past the first episode. This time I did.

It began with curiosity and after a few episodes it started to lure me in as I got to know the characters and their relationships. After a couple of seasons I was intrigued to see where it would go, but not long after I found myself in ‘car wreck mode’. I knew I shouldn’t look any more but I couldn’t help myself. I had one season to go and I watched it to the bitter end – one of the longest, most drawn out and dissatisfying seasons of any show I have watched… and the final episode left me shaking my head in despair.

Only read on if you never plan to watch it – because I will spoil it for you.

Sons of Anarchy is at surface level about a fictional biker gang in a small town in the USA and how they live, interact with other gangs and do their thing – mostly gun running, prostitution and porn studios. Its a brutal world and the body count mounts with every episode.

But its also an intriguing depiction of the complexity and contradictions in the outlaw scene – a commitment to family and brotherhood, but an adherence to a ‘biker law’ that sees them even kill ‘family’ members who do the wrong thing. We see men frequently tell one another that they love each other, they kiss one another as acts of affection, but in a heartbeat they can turn and shoot that same person in the head.

One thing ‘Sons’ lacks is any portrayal of grace – forgiveness or redemption. Its a hard culture where ‘law’ rules, but eventually crushes those who seek to live by it. Sound familiar?

Thru all this the lead character Jax Teller is portrayed at times as some kind of Christ figure / saviour – leading the club out of gun running and crime and into legit business (porn… and prostitution).

The final episode sees Jax ‘give his life’ for the club as he drives in front of a truck after killing the last of his enemies and being tailed by 20 police cars. Before setting off on his ‘passion’ Jax is met by a curious homeless woman who pops up at various moments in the show. We don’t know exactly who she is, but she seems to be some sort of spiritual guide to him. When he leaves her the camera spends a long time paused on an image of what she was eating, stale bread and cheap red wine, arranged to look as much like a communion meal as possible – a last supper?

When Jax rides headlong into a truck the final image of the show is one of bread stained with wine on the road, as if to suggest he was the sacrifice and the saviour. Unfortunately it was a completely unbelievable scenario as the Jax of the previous 6 seasons was a brutal, vengeful tyrant – even if he did occasionally seem to wrestle with his demons. If he was intended to be a Christ figure then it was by someone who had little grasp of the real Jesus.

I don’t get affected much by brutality in TV, but you need a strong stomach for this show. I was more affected by the absence of hope and grace in a community that so desperately was trying to make things work. If nothing else Sons of Anarchy is a graphic depiction of where revenge takes you and its a very dark place…


Bright Lights and Bullshit

txf_logoI don’t know Ezereve, the woman who wrote this post, but I enjoyed reading her down to earth, open handed assessment of her experience with X Factor.

If you wonder what happens on these ‘talent’ shows then this report gives a good insight. Goodonya Ezereve for writing your real experience.


Confounded by Kindness

derek I began watching ‘Derek’ a few weeks back and wasn’t sure what to make of it as a show. To be fair it was late at night, I was tired and it looked a bit like Ricky Gervais was using his acidic humour to ridicule the disabled. But having watched a couple more episodes since I’ve seen how wrong I was.

There’s no question Gervais is a genius and can often use that ability to mock, but this series revealed a whole different side to his storytelling ability. The series is set in a nursing home for the elderly and ‘Derek’ is a simple 49 year old carer whose central quality is kindness. Derek cares, loves and enjoys people. He is innocent and naive and often the humour in the show is at his expense, but the redemptive aspect of this story is in the love that people have for Derek – because he doesn’t have a nasty side.

The final episode has the other characters saying they wish they had Derek’s life – because he is kind and isn’t encumbered by the cynicism and anger that the world breeds in us. I think the final episode caught many off guard with its moving portrayal of a death in the nursing home, as well as the reflective exploration of life’s bigger existential questions.

Its shot in “Office’ mockumentary style but is unusual both for the setting (an aged care facility) and for the use of someone like Derek as a central character.

I know I’m going to go back and download some more ‘Derek’ because I’m pretty sure there is much there to both laugh at, but also be inspired by.

If you’re offended by R rated humour and naughty words then Derek isn’t going to work for you, but if you can see past the surface and get a handle on what Gervais is doing then I imagine you will be pleasantly surprised.

Time of Our Lives

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This Sunday will be a bit sad in our household as there are no more episodes of Time of Our Lives, an Aussie drama that has been running for the last 13 weeks on the ABC and has become a weekly event for Danelle and I.

I watched the first episode and was underwhelmed – or maybe there was just too much going on for me to digest. But from week two we started to get to know the characters and their stories.

Time of Our Lives is essentially a drama based around the lives of predominantly middle aged suburbanites as they try to make sense of their relationships, vocations and families. What ends up happening for the most part is that they make a mess of their relationships and families and have some success in their vocations.

At times the story is a little clichéd, but for the most part it picks up on many of the issues we face in contemporary Oz society and tells the story around them.

One of the intriguing aspects of the show is that after 3 episodes there appear to be ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. Some characters – Matt, Caroline and even their spoilt little boy Carmody, seem to be easily dislikable, while others – Luce and Bernadette, never seem to miss a beat and are people I’d love to have round for dinner. However after 13 episodes I found myself liking all of them in different ways. Caroline is a broken woman – not a bad woman. Matt has failed in his marriage and is obsessed with work, but he wants to make things work. He isn’t the complete jerk he appeared to be early in the story.

It’s a reminder that most people are likable in some way if you get to know them and understand why they do what they do.

Justine Clark as Bernadette was my favourite – a beautiful, compassionate, but honest woman – reminded me a lot of my wife! Luce (Shane Jacobsen) was also totally likable – a down to earth, good bloke – and the episode that saw him reject the possibility of an affair with a younger woman was a good one. Steven Curry as Herb was a great character, an Aussie larrikin who finally gets the woman he wants, after having plenty of others throughout the show…

I’m hoping there will be a second series that will pick up on the next stage of each of the character’s lives and will give us more laughs and moments of going ‘hmmm…’





Last year I read The Slap while on holidays and found it both intriguing and gruelling. The makers of the series on ABC have done well to capture that same car crash sense of ‘This is terrible, but I want to keep watching’.

My friend Andrew Menzies posted this on his facebook wall – a comment he overheard:” ‘The Slap’ should be compulsory reading before refugees leave for Australia… It will certainly make them think twice as all the people are so awful!!”

There certainly isn’t much redemptive or hopeful in the story. There really is’t a single likable character and there are plenty of horribly dislikable ones. The secret of The Slap’s success, I would suggest, is that it is a very raw slice of reality and as we watch we see familiar people, feelings and responses. Tim Winton offers a slice of reality also in his novels but he writes in such a winsome way that the rawness has a beauty about it. In The Slap that rawness is ugly. Dog ugly. And I don’t think its a failure on the part of the author. I think he wants us to see how messed up some of our lives really are.

As Danelle and I watched it last week we saw the tragic story of Aisha and her screwed up life. A messy unhappy marriage held together by kids and convenience, a random affair as a result of pain, a husband (half) wanting to make amends for his infidelity and so it goes on. Maybe its just the world I observe, but it feels affrontingly real – very much like life in the suburbs of this city.

There are a few moments of hope and happiness amidst long periods of struggle and darkness, but they fade quickly and the dominant landscape is bleak, cold and conflict ridden. People have spoken of how harsh and vulgar the language is in the story, but as I observe the world we live in, its pretty much par for the course. Its just that we don’t hear that stuff regularly on TV.

To some degree The Slap evokes a deep sadness in me and on the other hand my response is to want to ‘slap’ the people for being such self centred morons. Perhaps at the core of this sad story is the inability of people to have relationships and resolve conflict in a healthy way, and maybe that is why it is so tragic. Take away relationships in this world and what do you have?

I’ve seen too much of ‘The Slap’ in the world around me to call it a caricature or an aberration. I’ve seen friends cut friends off in a heartbeat rather than resolve conflict. I’ve seen husbands play up, regret it but then do it again because they are miserable in their marriages and feel trapped. I’m sure you’ve seen it too.

The good news?…

There isn’t much in the story. But if you read this blog regularly you’d know there is good news and hope. You’d know there is someone who invites us to follow him and live in a different reality. I don’t think Jesus way is easy – not at all – but I find myself wanting to speak to the people in the story and ask ‘have you considered a different way?…’

And then again I just want to slap them back… And therein lies some of the struggle for us as missionaries in the west. To love those who don’t look very lovable is a challenge. If not for Jesus I don’t think we’d have a hope

Smashing Machine

Did anyone else stay up and watch the SBS doco entitled Smashing Machine, about the Ultimate fighting guys?

It was on last night and was quite a depiction of the lives of those involved in the sport. The bit that struck me most was how little these guys get paid.

The world championship bout in Japan netted the winner only $200000.00! If he were a boxer he’d be getting 50 million, but somehow these guys beat the crap out of each other for what I reckon is a pittance!!

I dunno Rev… Might stick to surfing…


Last night the ABC’s Compass program showed a brilliant story love potion no 9 download on the life and faith of CS Lewis – or ‘Jack’ as he is known.

I imagine it would be hard to capture the spirit of Lewis in a doco type show, but these guys did him proud. It was in story form with an actor playing Lewis as he narrated his own life. They did well to capture that amazing mix of razor sharp logic, wonderful creativity, agonising honesty and perpetual questioning that has made Lewis one my heroes.

Thanks God for Jack.

If you missed last night’s show then you can see it repeated again this Saturday.


After last night’s John Safran v God exorcism show I’m sure I’ll get a few more visitors than usual as a result my post last year.

Seeing the whole thing again it certainly re-inforced that it didn’t look fake. I wonder what John would have to say about it all now?…