Flowers and Noah


My recent dental work gave me some grief towards the end of last week and so on Friday night when I got home I was bush whacked, completely so. Tress and I had made a prior appointment with the Hipos to collect some winter stuff for asylum seekers and refugees our church were helping so we went over, had a glass of very nice red with Gerry, played with the kids, chatted with Jesslyn and her mum and came back with the winter stuff about an hour or so later.

We stayed home then, and enjoyed Hawks’ close victory against the Bombers (2 goals in last 3-4 minutes for a 4 point margin). On Saturday after a few errand runs we took the train into the city for the flower and garden show in Carlton Gardens. Not before however, experiencing another idiocy involving Melbourne trains. Someone had “trespassed” onto the tracks a couple of stations before ours in Blackburn and so trains couldn’t run between affected stations. The other train on the next platform which was heading in the opposite direction towards Lilydale got changed and became the city bound train. We hopped on to that one and after a few minutes of chaos with those passengers wanting to head to Lilydale and still on that train, we were on our way.
We got into the city, walked towards Carlton Gardens and Tress hadn’t been to my office before so we stopped en route and I gave her a little tour.

We spent the whole day there, and didn’t get back till close to 6pm. It was a good event, with lots of amazing displays. Different themes all re outdoor/garden matters with lots of booths introducing and selling tools, flower seeds and bulbs, ideas etc. Tress took tons of photos and we also took in the magnificent Exhibition Building which we hadn’t been insider before.

We got home close to 6pm, took the little fellow for a walk and then came back home for nothing in particular. We had wanted to watch Russell Crowe’s Noah but decided to just rest at home. I started watching you tube videos of Bourdain and Ramsey in Malaysia (Penang in particular) and then went to bed early – around 11pm.

Sunday was the usual and after church and then lunch at Madam K’s we went home and I worked on the hedge, trimmed the lemon trips some more and cleaned up the lawn at the end of it all. I had the hedge trimmer catch a handsaw right at the end and so the trimmer is sort of gone… Ryan the neighbour had wanted to trim his side of the fence after I finished but couldn’t use it. I guess I need to get it fixed or replaced for next time.

The weather is surprisingly warm for late March and it was humid too – I was soaked in sweat and according to Tress, smelled… towards the end of the garden work. I enjoyed it however – being out in the sun with relatively fresh air and warm conditions was a treat. I only came into the house close to 5pm, washed, took the little guy out for his walk with Tress and was ready to settle down for another week at work by around 7pm.

This morning I was reading my usual columnist about “Noah” – wasn’t too sure about his take that this movie was more from the perspective of the greens. I looked up what some Christians might have thought of the movie and found the below piece, which I think is coherent.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/03/26/darren-aronofksys-noah/

Gregory Alan Thornbury|10:31 AM CT

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

Disclaimer: A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend a screening of Darren’s Aronofksy’s highly anticipated and purportedly controversial new film on Noah. Our small group spent a considerable amount of time both before and after film hearing from Aronofsky himself and co-writer Ari Handel. Both were interested in listening to and responding to our theological and critical reactions. My immediate response was that this was a film with profound moral and theological imagination. My thoughts below are my conclusions after several weeks of reflection.
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In his 2012 memoir Supergods, Grant Morrison, arguably the greatest comics writer of this generation, explained the mass appeal of superheroes to the world in which we live: “In a secular, scientific rational culture lacking in any convincing spiritual leadership, superhero stories speak loudly and boldly to our greatest fears, deepest longings, and highest aspirations. They’re not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark.” Isn’t that what Western society used to think about the prophets, apostles, and martyrs?
Morrison goes on, explaining the paralyzing fear he felt as a child living under the constant threat of nuclear holocaust in Scotland. “Before it was a Bomb, the Bomb was an idea. Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better Idea. It’s not that I needed Superman to be ‘real,’ I just needed him to be more real than the Idea of the Bomb that ravaged my dreams.”

Today, we live in age in which the Bomb is both atomic and metaphysical. Deep moral cynicism, physicalism, brutalism, and yes, even nihilism (an overused word which I deploy carefully here) are all very real, all very deadly Bombs. What is the idea that is better than the Bomb?

We say, “the gospel.” But before we congratulate ourselves, how confident are we really, outside of our ecclesial safe places? Does orthodoxy really strike the people we meet on the street as wild, dangerous, and romantic in that enigmatic Chestertonian way that we’ve all come to know and love? Maybe. But if I don’t miss my guess, a great number of professional clerics and parishioners these days are pretty much not the droids the Empire is looking for.

You can go about your business. Move along.

As Peter Thiel told The Financial Times, “from the average liberal in San Francisco to the average church lady in Alabama, I never know how much people believe any of the stuff that they say.”

Really That Bad

And that’s why I am intrigued by Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. It’s not because it’s a straight-up-the-middle-New-York-Giants-football Bible movie. In this film, we see an antediluvian world in which human depravity is really “that bad.” As in, “way worse than you think.” As in Genesis 6:5: “So the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It’s a world so gone wrong that you could imagine a good and kind God wanting to have nothing to do with it, drown it to death, and start over. As in, really that bad. Aronofsky gets all of this. I mean, we’re dealing with the director of The Wrestler and The Black Swan, for Pete’s sake.

Only with the juxtaposition against radical depravity can mercy actually make sense. Failing this understanding, you cannot sustain Christian theism. Otherwise, mercy becomes weak, expected, and even demanded. Seeing Russell Crowe-as-Noah grit his teeth and war against real flesh-and-blood evil makes sin, a notion seemingly incredible to Hollywood, to be real. As a viewer, locked into the gaze of the film, you’re thinking, I’m with God, and this Noah guy. It makes the redemption and mercy theme of the film compelling, even if Aronofsky takes a slightly perverse (and admittedly extra-biblical) route to make the point. We grew up in a world that makes Noah nice. Noah is not nice.
About that extra-biblical material. There’s a ton of it in Noah. If you go into it, saying “That stuff is not in the Bible!” you are going to be a very grumpy camper when you leave the theater. But of course we all realize that Genesis 6-10 actually underdetermines much granularity in terms of the precise details of a story. I remember as a child, my mother used to read me Bible stories from a book with black and white Gustave Doré illustrations. They were terrifying, especially right before bed. My imagination ran wild. Apparently, so was Aronoksky and Handel’s in the writing of this film.

Dangerous World

There is a legitimate argument about whether or not the biblical world can and even should be depicted on film. My Orthodox and Presbyterian friends would not see The Passion of the Christ for precisely these reasons. I respect their theological convictions. But after talking to Aronofsky and Handel, they not only impressed me with their deep seriousness and research in the history of biblical interpretation, but they also had a theory behind their script. They see their Noah as midrash, plain and simple. For the uninitiated, midrash aggada is a form of rabbinic literature that provides expansive commentary and discourse analysis on why certain things happened in Scripture. It was a homiletic technique whose origin lies deep within the history of Judaism, going all the way back to the return from the Babylonian exile. It is certainly not a interpretive device evangelicals are encouraged to practice in seminary, although let’s face it: who among us hasn’t heard preachers do this accidentally (and poorly) all too often? Yes, Aronofsky and Handel cast the Nephilim in a central and fantastic role. But Genesis 6:4 is cryptic. Said Aronosfky in our meeting with him: some interpreters see the “sons of God” through a very sexualized lens; we took it in a more metaphorical way so it wouldn’t be too graphic for families.

But midrash is Aronofsky and Handel’s hermeneutical device going in, and they stated that up front. The result is a bizarre, supernatural, pre-flood world. It’s a world in which principalities and powers of the heavenly realms actually exist. And recalling Grant Morrison, it is so fantastic that there may just be some (probably young) moviegoers who might think that this biblical hyper-reality is far more interesting than the grim, brutal, “red in tooth and claw” world of Darwin. It’s a dangerous world. A world in which there is a sovereign God bent on justice (and redemption). That’s a horror story for the wicked. It’s also a world in which there are no righteous “heroes,” only recipients of grace in the wake of being human, all too human.

Theological Objections

With this said, I did have theological objections to this film, just for the record. I can boil them down to two.
First, God is actually a character in the biblical Noah narrative. In the text, God speaks in intelligent sentences and paragraphs. You actually can see the world through the LORD’s point of view. You can feel his grieving over the tragedy of creation. For Aronofksy, “God who speaks and shows” (to use Carl Henry’s phrase) was simply not possible for artistic reasons. And let’s be honest: does anyone really want to hear Liam Neeson-as-the-voice-of-God again? No, thank you. I’ll read the book. Still, because Noah is seized by the Lord through dreams in the film, we never really develop an imaginative sympathy with the Creator. I thought that Terrence Malick achieved this sympathy in The Tree of Life during those beautiful and cryptic cosmic scenes. What might it have felt like to be God witnessing the birth of the universe? Like a mother giving birth to a child, being received into the arms of a father? Potentially. But in Noah, we are forced to experience God only through his servant.

Second, the film entirely misses the covenantal structure of the Noah story. In the text, God clearly sets his love upon Noah as an expression of grace. Through Noah, a righteous man, the entire family is saved. Never is there any hint in the Bible that Noah or those he loved were ever in jeopardy. Surely this is a picture of the good news. Even in the harsh, hyper-realized biblical world Aronofsky depicts, through a miracle, those upon whom God set his love were never meant any harm. This is a message we need to hear too. The Genesis text begins and ends with God’s covenantal promises to Noah. Through Noah then, all of the earth was to be blessed (Gen. 9:12). This point is further underscored by the author of Hebrews: “In reverent fear, he constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Heb. 11:7). Exploring the theme of God’s justice and mercy, if pursued apart form the notion of covenant, is a risky proposition with unreliable theological results.

Strange New World

In sum, Noah contains numerous plot points, devices, and characters that film critics can and will judge and critique. Over the years, I have taught philosophy of film in a number of educational and institutional settings. I have always had my students study Aronofksy, and I believe that this film, which he has said he wanted to be among his first, is a worthy addition to the body of his work. It is strikingly different, in important ways, from his previous films. For me, I found nothing more arresting and hopeless than the final scene of The Wrestler. In Noah, Aronofsky and Handel are wrestling with a different subject matter: theology. Their film will, I think, provoke heated biblical and theological conversations in restaurants and coffee shops after patrons see it. Christians might find it helpful to go see the film with people they know who have a lot of questions.

In 1916, in a tiny church in Lentwil, Switzerland, Karl Barth, in the midst of recovering from his background in theological liberalism, delivered an astonishing address entitled, “The Strange New World in the Bible.” He posed an elementary but bold question for modern Continental theology: “What is there within the Bible?”

He answered:

It is a dangerous question. We might do better not to come too near this burning bush. For we are sure to betray what is—behind us! The Bible gives to every man and every era such answers to your questions as they deserve. We shall always find in it as much as we seek and no more: high and divine content if it is high and divine content that we seek; transitory and “historical” content, if transitory and “historical” content that we seek. Nothing whatever, if it is nothing whatever that we seek. The hungry are satisfied by it, and to the satisfied it is surfeiting before they have opened it. The question, “What is in the Bible?” has a mortifying way of converting itself into the opposing question, “Well, what are you looking for, and who are you, pray, who make bold to look?”

Aronofksy’s Noah is a way of putting ourselves before the Bible’s “dangerous question” as Barth put it. The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.

Gregory Alan Thornbury, PhD, is the president of The King’s College in New York City and the author of Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry.

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Sabbath


I had an “appointment” in my work calendar that I had completely forgotten about until about 10 minutes prior. It was an entry for only 5 minutes and I had to get to the HR floor for this. It’s time for another flu shot.

It was only 8deg this morning when I left home, and I had to put on a jumper – albeit not my much loved woollies, which would no doubt be needed before too long. Last night too, as Tress and I sat on the couch and watched tele – we both felt a little cool and I had to go put on my jeans and that same jumper. Shorts and t-shirt days are numbered, as days shorten and the temperatures slowly descend.

I think in some ways Tress and I have both moved a little – she is no longer embracing stinking hot days and I no longer look forward to cold ones. But I may be wrong, and old habits may prove difficult to perish and may well make their ways out again soon.

On Saturday morning too, it was a bit cool. I was still clinging on to a shorts only attire though. We went yum cha with the Hipos and Chews, to farewell Hipos’ mum. After that I had wanted to do some gardening but the skies continued to threaten opening up. Tress and I had walked up our street to a property auction when we got home from yum cha and it had started to rain a little then. So we pottered around and didn’t do much.

We went and watched George Clooney’s “Monuments Men” that night, and later that night watched Mourinho’s Chelsea maul Arsene on his 1000th game.

Sunday was the usual with church and lunch thereafter at Madam K’s. We then went home and I finally got to do some gardening. We continued trimming the old lemon tree at the back corner, and I mowed and edged the lawn, before taking LBJ for a walk. Still when it was all done, it was only about 4pm. The Bolt Report came on, and we just continued along a languid, restful weekend. It had been a terribly busy and trying week so this restful weekend was much welcomed.

I think the best part of the weekend wasn’t that it was uneventful and therefore relaxing, but that we no longer expected anything exciting or “meaningful”. I was just happy to sail along and not worry (too much) about not having anything on/happening. I was at rest in more sense than one I guess.

Laurence How


I first met Laurence in 1993 (I think), when the clubhouse was still near the old Jaya Supermarket. I cannot remember the address now. I remember signing up as a member with great excitement, United having just won the league after a 26 year drought. He was relaxed, in his shorts and t-shirt (as always) and wary about another glory hunter. When we next met and he discovered my favourite player was Dennis Irwin, I think he started to see me differently.

After some continued success, Peter Kenyon became the CEO of United PLC. Wanting to build the Asian following, he withdrew the official supporters club status from Laurence and us. Laurence then asked me to write a few letters to PK, which I did. One thing lead to another and soon we became friends (Laurence and I, not with PK!).

Our friendship didn’t have a lot of opportunities to develop but we did travel to Barcelona to watch that glorious triumph over Bayern. We (there were about 6 of us) walked back from Nou Camp that night, stopping for champagne before reaching our hotel at the wee hours of the morning – tired, drenched and deliriously happy.

After that we made more trips – to Bangkok, Old Trafford, Singapore – all to watch our beloved United. His passion equalled that seen in Carrington or Old Trafford and the great Cantona himself commended Laurence and the club for his and its passion. As did Sir Alex himself. It was a wonderful time. Men who would otherwise have little in common,, found fellowship and camaraderie in a love for a football club. The club and the game may be a few thousand miles away but we recognise skill, passion, commitment and athletic wonder as universal traits that transcend geographical and cultural bounds. The common love for these traits galvanised men in the tropics sipping beer on humid nights across on the other side of the world. Laurence lead these men. His passion was recognised and celebrated and gathered a following. Those fortunate enough to share in his passion discovered friendship, loyalty and simplicity of love for a football code.

Through his passion we came into contact with our heroes. Who in our right mind would have dreamed of being in the same small room (that is the clubhouse) with the likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law, Eric Cantona, and Bryan Robson? Many of us did. We spoke to them. Took pictures with them. Shared a beer with them. All made possible because of the passion of one man. Laurence How, you were only 67. A youthful 67 (although you would say your knees feel 76). You were sending emails to the supporters’ mailing list just a few days earlier. It was an absolute pleasure to have known you. I will miss you. I am sorry I never got to talk to you about Jesus. I hope you knew him and his saving grace. May you rest in peace.

Reckoning


It was uncomfortable. Then there was an itch on my nose, which I couldn’t scratch. Those hands were in the way. They have been the cause of the discomfort for a while now – over an hour. They were pressing into my face. They held tools which they shoved in and out of my mouth as they violated tooth after tooth. Occasionally more hands would press down as the first pair exerted more pressure in their acts of violating my teeth.

As I sat there for close to 2 hours I knew my life would never be the same again. 14 March. One month short of my daughter’s 20th birthday. Barely 49 years old and a 2 hour assault which would forever change who I am. Or would it?

Truth be told, the assault began nearly 10 years earlier. For one reason or another they were all fighting a battle to get out. A battle that could only be detected by time lapsed photography – a battle which creeps up on you slowly but ever so surely. Slowly, the fatal blow lands on one after another. Often, days (sometimes weeks) of throbbing pain precedes a death. Then when death comes the pain stops. And it is no more. Life needs to go on however and so a prosthetic is put in place. A prosthetic had for its purpose largely cosmetic, and only a little bit functional.

Ten years on the carnage is complete. The tomb is whitewashed. One can adjust to prosthetics but life has irretrievably changed. Physically and to a large extent in many other respects it is adverse change. Coping and adjusting to prosthetics is a first step not unlike a baby learning how to walk perhaps.  Maybe that’s just life. One adjusts and copes with changes at all turns. Some are harder than others and some are more far reaching than others. But everyone encounters events which require adjustments and coping.

This carnage though, would take a long time to come to terms with. If at all.

Labor Day Weekend


The “fish bowl” I work in is a section cordoned off by floor to ceiling glass panes. It houses procurement, client services, strategy and legal. It has maybe up to 25 people.

Last Friday someone organised for everyone in the fish bowl to have a drink after work. It was the first time the fish bowl inhabitants did this. I was there for just under an hour, and then left for home. Tress picked me up from the station, having gone home early on one of those monthly early Fridays at her workplace.

Later that night we had Jason and Mel over for some wine and chit chat. They left relatively early and we went to bed shortly after.

Saturday morning after a quick dry cleaning run we went to Cranbourne to visit the royal botanical gardens. Auntie Hooi have been raving about the place for a while so we organised for a few families to meet there. The Hipos’ had one of their 2 little angels down sick with food poisoning so they skipped it last minute and Alex’s family was swamped with their usual sporting activities so it was just Jason and Mel, Hooi and Marloney and Tress and I.

Tress and I arrived earliest and we picked a spot for lunch. Tress has been mastering and refining a salad which was great for the day. Later the other 2 couples arrived and there was even more to eat and after lunch we wandered through the gardens, which were faithful representations of native flora. We only left the place close to 5, made our way home, walked LBJ and then just hung around and watched tele, ending with a match between United and WBA, which United won comfortably (for a change). I had donned the “”Pure Genius” t shirt the whole day (produced after the 1999 treble) so it was a fitting end to the day.

Sunday after church we met up with the Hipos, Chews and Jackie for a farewell lunch to Madam Hipo senior – Jessie. She would be leaving to return to Singapore in a couple of weeks. We met up at Glen Waverley. Strange how after months of not coming to Glen Waverley, Tress and I found ourselves there 2 days in a row. We had stopped there on our way home from Cranbourne the day before for some groceries.

After lunch we adjourned to The Glen for some coffee, where we caught up with Mark, Jackie’s boy who’s now in Monash studying medicine. We stayed for about an hour then Tress and I left to go to Eltham to pick up an ear wash for LBJ. We stopped at Montsalvat for a glimpse of the famous building, then went home, to veg out the remainder of the day.\

Monday was a public holiday so Tress and I spent the better part of the day cleaning up the garden. It was a warm day and after a few hours I was soaked in sweat and caked up with the dust thrown up by the mower on a hot and dry day. We finished up close to 2pm, then watched “The Butler” off iTunes, before meeting up with the same group from the day before, for dinner and also at the same place! We finished just after 8.30, went home, and started preparing for the new working week. We had been exchanging FB messages with Kiddo the afternoon and it was good to hear the work she was hoping to complete had been completed.

So we had a terrific long weekend, with loads of time with friends, lots of food and visiting parts of greater Melbourne we hadn’t been to before.

Adelaide and cleaning weekend


I was in Adelaide last Thursday and Friday for the Law Council conference. There was a pre-conference drinks session on Wednesday night but I wasn’t going to spend an extra night away from home just for an hour of hobnobbing with other lawyers I hardly know and unlikely to meet or have anything to do with for the most part. So I just left early on Thursday morning – leaving home at 5.30am – to catch an early flight to arrive just on 8.30am for the first talk.

The first morning was enormously boring – it was laden with detailed discussion of the development of trustees duties in the context of legislative expansion in that area. 2 current judges – one each from South Australia and NSW – 1 ex-judge from NSW (who was also my lecturer in UNSW) and a senior QC right through the morning made it heavy going and sadly, switched me off the rest of the conference.

Anyway I ploughed on and tried to take it all in and at the end of the first day was ready to look at some emails and do some work when the boss rang to ask if I wanted to have a drink with him. He too had switched off but out of necessity as the office had been hounding him. When I caught up with him at the lobby of the hotel, he looked drained. We walked a couple of blocks to a bar. We had that drink but he looked like he just wanted to get away from his laptop and have a drink and chat to someone.

There was a dinner that night for the conference delegates so we left the bar and walked to the dinner venue. It the food was a bit ordinary the wine was nice but there was the next day – another full day of talks – to work through.

I finally left Adelaide at 6pm, got home around 8.30 and felt relieved to be home again. Tress fixed a very nice dinner for me and it was good to be home again.

I no longer enjoy travel for work.

We didn’t do much over the weekend – just a lot of cleaning. The house hasn’t been vacuumed for a while so I got on with that. Scruffi’s groomer called on us, so he got clipped and washed too. Tress did a truckload of laundry including all the sheets so at the end of Saturday, the house felt clean and I was able to really relax. We had gone to Madam Kwong’s for lunch so we weren’t going to have a proper dinner. We’d also rented a promising movie (Gravity) from iTune so we just settled down on Saturday night to enjoy that.

Sunday was the usual except after lunch at Madam K’s we went to Master’s – the other hardware store – to look at options for edging our front garden bed.

 

Overnight there was an entry in Kiddo’s blog. Tress wondered how she was doing and I said I thought it was a reflection of her thoughts and also possibly a self-admonition exercise. There are too many “look good, feel good” programs (and dare I say it, mainly in Universities or amongst so called intellectual circles) and too few outcomes based actions. I said I thought I wasn’t particularly concerned with what she has written as it didn’t sound like a negative experience, intensity of angst notwithstanding.