Burning Man

I began watching this movie on the way home from Sydney in January, but the plane landed before I got finish it, so I’ve been waiting for it to come out on DVD. Last night I picked it up on iTunes and managed to watch the whole thing.

It’s a quirky, raunchy, funny, but very potent movie. If you want to follow the journey of a family coming to grief with terminal cancer then this might be the movie to watch. Its hardly ‘fun’ viewing, but it is insightful and powerful.

Its shot in a completely non-linear way so the timeline shoots back and forth and its up to the viewer to work it out. I did better the second time around. Matthew Goode does a great job of being the grieving husband and as you watch his life spin out of control in the early scenes of the movie you find yourself wondering ‘what could have caused this?’

If you didn’t watch the rest of the movie you’d think him a screw loose, accident waiting to happen but as you get to see his life fall apart around him, interspersed with memories of the ‘good times’ you can’t help but feel compassion.

I loved this one. Its full of very clever cinematography, a believable and tragic story and just raw emotion that doesn’t resolve nicely in the end.

Don’t watch if you’re faint hearted or disturbed by breasts… lots of them…

The Gift of Reality

I don’t know how many books I’ve read or conferences I’ve been to that have inspired me as to the potential of the church to be an amazing and dynamic community.

I have read so many books that tell stories of amazing transformations and offer insights into ‘how to’, but invariably when you go back and try to implement them either others haven’t read the books or been to the conference, or its just not as easy as it sounds in the books.

Maybe you’ve had that experience of ingesting an idea, feeling that rush of hope and vision only to try and make it work and discover that either you’re all thumbs, or people are too busy, or just plain disinterested – or the ideas were never meant to be transferred! After a while you don’t believe the books or the conference speakers… Or you may lose faith in your own leadership, or in your church community.

Or maybe reality is that life, faith and mission are pretty much a case of ‘keeping going’, of living in the mundane, often uninspiring and seeing the moments of beauty when they are present, while other times just walking on.

Much of what we read in books is what I’d call ‘highlight reel’ stuff – the kinda stuff that makes good stories to tell other church leaders, but reality is that most of life is ‘steady as she goes’. Its that constant quest for ‘more’ that can make us inappropriately dissatisfied with the beauty of what we have and can then undermine what God is actually doing in our midst.

Perhaps reality disturbs us because it doesn’t seem all that exciting, yet ‘reality’ is the ground from which all hope filled stories come. If we accept that, then we won’t miss the moments when they do come around.

Over the last few weeks we have been helping a young Iranian guy find his feet in Perth. I always smile at how helping ‘asylum seekers’ can be made to sound like cutting edge / sexy work, when in reality it can just be hard work because language is difficult and everything is slow and clumsy.

This morning our friend bought us lunch after church – a quarter of his weekly income went in one hit. It was a beautiful expression of thanks and one we couldn’t refuse. Then as we chatted in our home I heard Sam tell him that he had been praying for him. My 9 year old son wanted him to know that God cares for him as he struggles with loneliness and anxiety.

These are small things and probably not the stuff that most people get excited about, but in the ebb and flow of ‘real life’ they are God moments and they really are worth cheering for.

Maybe one day I’ll write my own book that will tell stories of the very real and ordinary stuff that really ought to be celebrated a bit more. Rather than being disappointed that 2000 people didn’t get saved last week if we begin to savour the golden moments of God at work we might find that hope that so often seems illusive.

Just a thought at the end of another ordinary – yet often inspiring week…

Higher Ground – When Faith Comes Unstuck

Last night we watched Higher Ground, a well made and quite believable movie about the challenges that come to faith as a person matures.

Set in the Jesus / Hippie era it tells the story of a woman who grows up in a devout and fairly fundamentalist church community. She is happy enough until she begins to ask questions. A good friend gets a brain tumour and becomes a virtual vegetable, her role as a woman is constantly being scrutinised and her marriage falls apart in the process of her faith questioning.

Its a pretty accurate portrayal of that kind of church life and is doesn’t suffer from being a caricature, a cyncical jab or from presenting everything as rosy. I found myself recognising some of the characters from my own upbringing, and recognising the issues from my own childhood.

Corrine is both believable and likable and the movie depicts what many experience but don’t know how to articulate – a real faith struggle by someone who isn’t seeking to exit faith, but is seeking better answers than they currently have. And yet the quest for answers has her bouncing out of her tight knit community as her only way of grappling with the issues. Sad.

I have met plenty like her and I have had some of her experiences. Some days I still have them and that can be disturbing for a leader. Her pastor in the movie is a man with faith like a rock. Towards the end she tells him that she admires his faith – and I think she genuinely does – but I don’t think she wants his faith. While there is something attractive about a simple faith, to anyone who has asked questions there is also a strong degree of dissatisfaction and little desire to go back there.

These days I find myself with very strong convictions on what I consider core issues, but I am also open to new ideas when it comes to questions that don’t have easy answers.

In some ways Higher Ground was a trip down memory lane and yet not an unattractive one. The genuine love for God and desire to follow him from the people in the church wasn’t cheesy or awkward and in that the church looked attractive. But the issues that go with a more fundamentalist approach to faith, were noticeable and did grate on me.

Its not a ‘wow’ movie, or a dud, and it does move quite slowly, but for those who are in that place of asking questions it could be a helpful story to engage with.