Captain Phillips

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Captain PhillipsIn Santa Barbara, nearing the end of our American sojourn, we saw Captain Philips, with Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi — both of them fine actors.

The film offers much to ponder. Stephanie Paulsell writes in Christian Century (14 Nov 13):

I was reminded of the ancient desire for an encompassing view of the world while watching Paul Greengrass’s film Captain Phillips. Based on the hijacking of an American container ship by young Somali pirates and their kidnapping of the ship’s captain, the film is marked by frequent shifts of perspective. We move back and forth between the bridge of a massive container ship afloat in the Indian Ocean and the hull of the pirates’ tiny skiff as it is battered by the waves. One moment we are in the captain’s SUV, listening to his worried conversation with his wife about their children’s futures; in the next we are in a camp where Somalis live in inhuman conditions, the monotony of their days broken only by the appearance of armed men who take the young men out to sea to rob passing ships.
By insisting that we regard the events of the film from the perspective of every character, the film reaches for an encompassing view of the world’s "mad labyrinths." [Goethe] From a distance the defining image of the story is clear: a very small boat gaining on a very large one. We look down on the two boats from the sky; we see them locked in relationship on the ship’s radar screen. We realize that, long before they ever meet, the lives of the pirates and the captain were already bound together through globalized systems of power and trade.
No matter how involved we get in the particulars of this tale—wanting the captain to return safely to his family or hoping that the pirates will take the cash from the safe and leave the ship without hurting anyone—the view from above reminds us that we are watching this larger story. What we can see as we look down from the sky is that something is amiss in the way the world works. How desperate do four young men have to be to try to board a 17,000-ton ship while torrents of water rain down on them from the ship’s hoses? Why can’t they make a living as fishermen? Where are all the fish? What are the environmental effects of global trade on life along the Horn of Africa?
And where are we in this story? When the camera pulls back, giving us a view from above, we realize that the story includes us all. […]
Captain Phillips is a devastating film because the possibility of turning everything upside down seems so remote. All the characters appear trapped in their roles by forces larger than they are, and everyone moves toward a conclusion that, even though it feels inevitable, is nevertheless shocking. The larger story that the view from above accentuates—of the interdependence of power and desperation, wealth and poverty, globalization and despair—is so powerful that it feels as if no other ending could be written.

But, as Paulsell concludes, that’s not the only story.

Allelulia! Humbug!

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boxOn NPR’s All Things Considered, 2 December 2004 (broadcast in Australia on ABC Newsradio), John Boykin asked, “Can the ‘Christ’ Be Kept in Christmas?” For years, the retail aspects of Christmas have overwhelmed its religious significance. Boykin shares this frustration and proposes a radical solution. He proposes making Christmas into a gift-giving secular holiday, and moving what little of Christ is left over to Easter.

I agree with his purpose, especially if all Christmas did was to mark the birth of Jesus. But it also celebrates the idea of ‘incarnation’, God come to us in human flesh—Imanuel, ‘God with us’. And for this, I would still like to be able to sing the Christmas songs and go to midnight Eucharist on Christmas eve. I’m never quite sure whether Christmas is “Allelulia!’ or ‘Bah, humbug!

Do the Canadian Mennonites have the right idea with their Buy Nothing at Christmas campaign?

The God who suffers

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The recent (2013) typhoon in the Philippines, the tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004 and other similar catastrophic events provoke questions about “Why does God permit such suffering?” or “How can God exist, in the face of such evil?”

I am not sure that the early deaths of a lot of people in a flood of seawater or a terrible storm are more or less evil that that of thousands of AIDS sufferers in Africa or just one person in a city road accident. But the suffering of those left to grieve demands a response.

(Read more . . .)

We don’t have a helpful or even reasonable answer to the “why?” of suffering. But God offers solidarity with the sufferer and the oppressed. In the cross of Jesus Christ, God shares in our pain and suffering. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has achieved liberation and new creation.
Where was God when the tsumani struck? With the dead, the injured and the heartbroken.

Rudd’s tragedy

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Kevin Rudd’s story in politics has the elements of a classic tragedy, expect that he is, thankfully, still living (though dead politically?). His rise was due to his own strengths and his downfall at the hand of former allies the result of his own fatal flaws.

Like so many, I had high hopes when Mr Rudd and his team were first elected in 2007. They achieved much, but there were some monumental failures as well. And way, way too much noise and sheer busyness. A calmer, more measured, approach would have been more successful, dampening down the 24-hour news cycle, not fueling it with perpetual ‘announceables’.

Just before the 2013 election, academic David Burchell wrote:

For the past seven years of our national life, he has played the role not so much of a political leader as of the central character in a literary tragedy of his own writing […] It has been the personal trajectory, and now the personal tragedy, that has held our attention – the meteor that is now plummeting to its fiery end. […]

It is impossible to forget the spirit of hope that spread across much of the nation [in 2007]. That is an achievement too often overlooked: it is rare that an individual can instil that sense of excitement in a country of such practised laconicism. And with that talent—the first sign that he could turn history to his own ends—Rudd became only the third Labor leader since the Second World War to take Labor from opposition into government. […]

It is a truth well known to the scripters of mythology: our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses.