Friday, November 15, 2013

Aronofsky puts Noah on the big screen

The trailer for Darron Aronofsky's Noah is doing the rounds. With the possible limitations of Russell Crowe as Noah it looks pretty impressive. The release date in the end of March 2014 so I wonder if that raises some good possibility for a short Noah preaching series for a church or CU over Easter or early summer term. Who knows how big a film it is but advertising alone will get people thinking about the story.

Six years ago, the Guardian reported:
The script, Aronofsky tells me, is no conventional biblical epic. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk," he says admiringly. "It's there in the Bible - it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character." 
Noah is famous, compelling, features in kids books, has big-action and is right in the mainline of the Bible's story. You could easily get three messages from the Genesis 6-8 story if you wanted...
1. The world filled with wickedness. When this gets personal that's hard to hear but the diagnosis of Genesis 6 makes huge emotional sense as we look at the world today. The context is Genesis 1-6 tells us that the world should've been filled with goodness, again something that resonates in us and our desire for beauty and good design, care etc. A world being de-created in need of re-creation.
2. The one righteous man - a preacher of righteousness to the world, a picture of the true Righteous One, calling us through death to resurrection. It's an opportunity to speak of Jesus and his death and resurrection. Aronofsky says Noah's story tells of "new life emerging from old." We think every man is an island but John Donne is right, we're all connected... one man dies and we all die, but if he rises from the grave...
3. The hope of a renewed creation - see Noah, in a newly re-formed world, waiting to be filled with goodness. This is the hope of peace on earth, a new world, an end to pain... unachievable by the flood, unachievable by our utopian dreams... but achievable through the true and greater Noah.
Opening up the Noah narrative inevitably raises a number of big objections and questions like...
  • Did this actually happen? Is Genesis 1-11 myth or true myth? 
  • Was the flood localised to the middle east, or was it global? An opportunity to engage the question of whether 'the earth' in Genesis means the land... and to think about the widespread myths of floods in so many human cultures...
  • What kind of God floods the world? There are massive questions here about sin and the extent of sin and the wrath of God in response to it that don't sit easily with people (and probably shouldn't.)
In any case, Noah's story, is a myth - even a true myth - that we need to hear today if we're to know what kind of world we live in and what kind of hope we need.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Andrew Bonar's Psalms

I've started reading through Andrew Bonar's 19th Century commentary on the Psalms from Monday to Friday, to walk through the book of Psalms over 30 weeks. You can follow along via @bonarpsalms and

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Esther 5: Gospelicity is upside down

Mordecai has prepared Esther. She's learned her lines. She's survived entry to the presence of the king. And then she asks not for salvation but for a feast... and given a second chance to ask, she asks for another feast. And feasts with the villain. Has power gone to her head? Has she forgotten her people? Is it the mother of all missed opportunities? Outcry. Despair...

Or maybe she's wiser than she looks...

Feasts are significant moments. Esther as a book is built on ten of them. Feasts are where hearts get exposed. Where real business happens. We moved our Community Group three metres from our living room sofas to our dining room table and it deepened our relationships significantly. It's the tragedy of many student houses - no dining room table. Buy a table and start shopping online together and cooking together and you not only save having to go shopping and save lots of time and money but you might just gain a depth of relationship.

God lays a feast for his people in Eden's garden... and for the elders of Israel after the Exodus... and for all-comers at the end of time. Jesus invites people to a feast and they receive his invite but then when the feast is ready many turn him down... their hearts exposed and they turn away.

Villainous Haman leaves the feast full of food and wine and joy. It looks like Esther has made things worse. The villain happy, but then infuriated on his way home by the presence of Mordecai. He gathers his family to boast of his greatness and complain of his nemesis. They spur him on to add vengeance to vengeance. It looks like everything is gettinng worse. The villain is going to make a spectacle of Mordecai....

Much more will Jesus be made a spectacle of on a Friday afternoon, he'll look defeated and foolish... but be victorious and wise and in reality be making a spectacle of all his enemies, crushing them in his own being crushed. Esther's has a greater wisdom, her feast look like the river running even harder against her people but it's the turning of the tide...  as Esther 5 ends things appear worse than ever, but the story is not over.

As they await the next feast Esther stands, as she does on eight occasions in the book, firmly in the favour with the king. Greater still does the true and greater Esther, Jesus, stand in his Father's favour and invite all to find refuge in him through the seeming foolishness of his wise death and third day resurrection.

Like making an Ogre the hero of a fairy tale, Gospelicity subverts what you'd expect by giving us exactly what we're longing for with a wisdom that looks foolish through the death of the son, the king. As Adam Clarke puts it, commenting on Esther 5, the cross explains Christ. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Esther 5: A gospelicious world

I love a good Jerry Bruckheimer summer blockbuster but they don't tend to be the films I want to go back to again and again, the stories don't tend to under your skin. They're shallow, popcorn experiences with little character development. And that's ok. But we need richer stories too. Esther sits firmly in among the best short stories. Highly structured, with depth in the detail and the characters and brimming with suspense and emotion.

As the plot unfolds we're given just what we'll need to know about key characters but not in ways that seem too obvious. We're invited to ask questions - what was that about?

In chapter 5 events get particularly tense. Mordecai's rebellion against his arch-enemy Haman has triggered the threat of a genocide at the end of the year. The King and Prime Minister feast but everyone else is in uproar. Esther is in the position to act if she dare and instructed by her adoptive father she agree to go - 'for such a moment as this... if I perish I perish' she famously says.

The world of Esther is one of Kings and betrayals, of heroes and villains, of feast and spices, and of formal relationships.

You can't approach the king without permission. If you do you're likely to be exiled/killed unless he holds up his golden sceptre and receives you. Formal relationships set the frameworks for freedom and shape even though in the 21st Century we're deeply suspicious of formality, addicted as we are to spontenaity.

It's the third day. A moment pregnant with Biblical meaning, surely? Either we consider the details of the Bible to be coincidence or perhaps ina world where not even a sparrow falls from a tree without the Father knowing the details might be significant. Esther resides with the 2001 masterpiece Shrek, laced with allusions to it's canon - not so much nursery rhymes and films and pop culture but the canon of Scripture.

And so, Third days are days of seed-bearing plants (of death bursting out in life), of Seed being figuratively raised from the dead, of anointed one's winning victories... and drawing those allusions and types together: the resurrection of the anointed one on a Sunday morning. Esther's approach feels like death but the ambient music has a note of resurrection.

She's clothed in royal robes. Not naked. Not ordinary. No cause to be ashamed. She looks like one who belongs in the court with the robes given by the king. Esther's world is one in which that sort of thing happens.

And she stands in the court with the king. The X-factor results cameras lingering on each, mood music building, tension rising. What will happen? He receives her! Yes! Resurrected! And he offers her up to half his kingdom. She can have all she wants. Salvation is a whisper away... (to be continued in the next post)

Esther's world is Jesus' world.

It's a picture of the Christian's life. The true and better Esther passes through death and resurection to sit with his Father. And those who take refuge in him can follow him in. We're invited to a better access. No fear, we can run in confidently not casually but because all the terms of our formal relationship have been fulfilled in Jesus. The way is open and our Father has much greater generosity than Ahasuerus. Not just half the world but all of it as co-heirs with Christ. To pray is to taste resurrection life. Come on in?