Movie Review: The Book Thief

This isn’t even a review, something even shorter, but this was the anniversary movie outing for my wife and I. Many movies leave me unsatisfied. Often style trumps substance, or a string of special effects substitutes for a storyline, although I do like good effects.

But The Book Thief was really satisfying, like the good Thai meal we shared afterward.  A great movie to talk over with your partner.  A good meditation on life, and death, and life.  And human nature.  And eternity.  I know the median review online seems to be lukewarm, but I think it’s much better than that.  If you shudder when a movie features Adam Sandler, and super hero flicks are no longer doing it for you, you might really like this.  And it features one of our great Aussie actors, Geoffrey Rush, not to mention a little girl in the lead role with a captivating face!

Those who have a soft spot for things German will enjoy the cultural side, too, with the caveat that the setting is WWII Nazi Germany, so parts of it may be a little close to home.  However, it doesn’t assume that any community has a monopoly on human evil…or good.

I recommend it.

Mini Book Review – Gary Anderson, The Genesis of Perfection

Anderson book image


This is a reception-historical work by Anderson, who is Professor of Old Testament and Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School.  Or at least he was at the time of publication, 2001.

The subject matter is the understandings of Adam and Eve in Christian and Jewish traditions up until early modern times, with Milton’s Paradise Lost functioning as something of an end-point.  Anderson arranges his book by allocating a chapter to a series of issues, in the sequence in which they arise in the Eden narrative (Gen. 2:4-3:24), that have proved theological touchstones in Jewish and Christian tradition.  And this narrative does act as the anchor point for some ongoing and important theological discussions:

  • Is there an angelic drama that precedes the events affecting the human characters in the Garden?
  • What was the nature of the sin in the Garden?
  • Was that sin sexual or not, and was marriage intended for within the Garden or not?
  • Who is more culpable, Adam or Eve?
  • How did the first transgression impact those to come?
  • How do Adam and Eve function as types of those to come, e.g. Christ and Mary respectively?

The last point is a good example of how a book like this can alert the reader to a line of thought of which s/he has not been very aware.  I did not appreciate how prominent Eve/Mary typological understanding has been in the history of Christian thought, partly thanks to a Protestant background.  Eve introduces death to the world, but her redemptress counterpart, Mary, introduces life to the world by bearing the chosen Son.  Anderson demonstrates not only through texts but the use of artworks such as Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling how such ideas are expounded, hinted at or sometimes undercut through visual symbolism as well as direct commentary.

Such is the task of reception-historical study – to notice the way biblical (and other, hopefully important) themes play out in human discourse, art and culture.  When the topics under discussion are as significant for Christian theology as many that appear in this book, the relevance of reading such a book soon becomes clear, as long as we are willing to step outside of our own little traditional stream and take time to understand the broader complexity of Christian theological and interpretive tradition as a whole, and even the history of ideas generally.  It is like having a three-way conversation about what is true; rather than simply reading the Bible for myself and coming to private opinions about what it means, I enter conversation with ancient and classical texts and thinkers who have exercised great influence over time, and the quest for truth becomes a three-way enterprise.  We are always richer for this kind of engagement.

Anderson, Gary A. The Genesis of Perfection. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.

Psalm 148 – Special Features of the Hebrew

This PowerPoint is designed to show off some of the intricacies of this current favourite psalm of mine.

Sorry about the dead link.  Just discovered that the plug-in that exists to embed FreeMind mindmaps, along with other plug-ins, can’t be installed in the free version of a WordPress blog!

Here’s a screen shot of that mind map – it is barely legible at the finer level…

Psalm 148 mind map screen shot

Cybersex and the Sin Superbug

It has been discouraging to hear the news today via BBC channels that the worst of western society has been cultivating an ugly but alluring financial temptation in one eastern society.  Westerners have been paying to watch children in places like Cebu City, Philippines, being sexually abused via webcam, and certain poverty-stricken Filipinos have taken the bait.  It seems to me that wherever accountability structures are light or absent, and many online environments fall into that category, something sinister in human nature seems to flourish like a cancer or a superbug.

I think of superbugs because in my previous occupation as a Baptist pastor of a small country congregation, I knew a lady in our congregation who had a superbug resident in her respiratory membranes.  It was kept under control through drugs; but it could never be eliminated.  It remained imprisoned, as it were, but was ever capable of doing drastic damage if left unsupervised.

There is something like that resident in human nature.  Christian theologians have long talked about what some in modern times have called the ‘sin nature’.  I’m not always happy with how it is described, as if the newborn baby and Hitler at his legendary worst are pretty well on the same level of evil.  That is not how the world that I have witnessed works.  But I don’t see myself as a rosy optimist concerning human nature, and this reported evil does not surprise me.  Whether it be the common person or the high-profile politician, there is a tendency in human nature to indulge baser instincts to the extent that societal pressures permit.  ‘Power corrupts’ precisely because power removes the usual mechanisms of visibility and responsibility.

I am also suspicious that we are better at identifying the besetting sins of other societies than of our own.  Jesus was on to this, was he not, when he said, counter-intuitively, not to judge others in Matthew 7:1-5.  He in theory still allows the appropriateness of judging in verse 5, but points out our ability to see the ‘speck’ in another’s eye while ignoring the log in our own (verse 4).  A French version we have in our home describes the speck aptly – “le brin de paille,” which translates as a ‘bit of straw’.  Racism essentially is this further weakness indulged: we are not only prone to sin, but we’re prone to see the sin of others and not our own.  Racism then attributes sin, or certain sins and faults, to other societies as if inherent to and limited to those societies.  It is simplistic and self-satisfying.  And Jesus would say, it’s a deception.  No-one’s eye is clear, though the size and nature of the intrusive objects might be different for different eyeballs.

Instead of judging, then, there’s forgiving, another counter-intuitive practice for human beings.  Back a little in Matthew 6:12, the Lord’s prayer includes asking the Father to “forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us” (Good News Translation, bilingual English/French edition).  I had never noticed it before, but the most famous piece of Christian Scripture there is, the Lord’s Prayer, here acknowledges the universality of human sin, but rules out judging attitudes as the solution.  It’s really because of the universality of the sin superbug that judging isn’t the answer.  In fact, every one of us is forced to pray, “deliver us from (the) Evil (One).