April 3, 2014

A different perspective of "Noah"

My husband and I went against advice from many Christians and saw "Noah" at the theaters last weekend with some other friends.  Now, whenever Hollywood adapts a book, you know that it is going to be somewhat messed up.  As great a job as Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens did in adapting "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy, there were several changes that they made that I really didn't like at all and for that reason, I don't like the second movie as much.  I also do not like what they are doing with the unnecessary love triangle in "The Hobbit" series, nor do I think that it needed to be three movies.  There are worse adaptations.  My daughter shudders and begins ranting whenever we mention the movie "Earagon" because the movie was such a hatchet job of the book.

And with the Bible having very various levels of detail in its accounts of history and some of its history sounding a bit implausible, it is ripe for speculation and modification.  Let's face it, very few movies based on the Bible include all aspects of the Bible story or make changes.  For instance, "The Prince of Egypt", hailed by the Christian community in general, has a young, handsome Moses, rather than an eighty year old man who probably had already had kids and raised them.   Therefore, I did not have high expectations of a story that matched the Bible.  I will try not to include spoilers in case you want to be surprised.

"Noah" stars Inspector Javert ("Les Mis"), I mean Russell Crowe playing Inspector Javert as Noah, a man who is totally obsessed with God's judgment and justice and totally blind to God's love and mercy. His wife is played by Alicia Nash ("A Beautiful Mind"), I mean Jennifer Connely playing Alicia Nash as Naameh, who has to hold the family together and still manage to love her husband as he moves from grim determination to grim reaper wannabe.  Earnest, smart and resourceful Hermione Granger ("Harry Potter") makes an appearance as Shem's matrimonial prospect and Percy Jackson ("Percy Jackson" series) plays the middle brother, Ham, who still has daddy issues and a chip on his shoulder that causes him to be sullen and resentful through most of the movie, though in this case, he actually might have a good reason to be.  There are other bit characters who don't do much, except, of course,  for the bad guy.  The movie is okay until the rain appears because there is hope and a wee bit of humor provided by Odin ("Thor"), I mean Methuselah.  Once the rains come and Methuselah dies however, the story grows unrelentingly grim as Noah abandons all hope for mankind and a snake enters the garden. Oh wait, that is flashback played multiple times throughout the movie, along with Cain killing Abel.

Artistically, the movie has beautiful cinematography.  I give kudos to Matthew Libatique, cinematographer, and ILM for the visual excellence.  The desolation of the land shows the utter desolation of man's spirit as he pursues his own selfish pleasures.  The sky is amazing.  Once scene reminded me of Jesus' promise that streams of living water flow from him.  And there are other visual treats.  The flood scene is spectacular and very similar to what I have imagined from the Biblical account.  The dialogue and characters, however are pretty flat, like out of a mediocre action movie. And the word grim seems to be the only appropriate description of the tone and message of the movie.

What the movie gets right:
- The evil people don't want to follow God.  They want to do whatever they want to whoever they want and use the world created by God for their own selfish pleasure as Romans 1:20-21 states.  It is only when their doom is impending that one of them asks God why He doesn't speak to him.
- God created everything*. He created it good, including Adam and Eve. (Genesis 1-2)
- Adam and Eve, encouraged by the snake sinned against God and soon after saw their son Cain kill their son Abel. (Genesis 3-4)
- The basic elements of the flood--Noah following God, God telling him to build an ark for his family and the animals as outlined in Genesis 6 &7 are followed with two major exceptions  which I won't divulge to avoid a spoiler.  In both cases the variation is a plot device to be consistent with the director's version and/or to get an idea across through repetition.
- God is powerful enough to throw down angels to earth and cause a forest to grow from desolate surroundings.  He creates beauty.  (Verses about God's power are too numerous to mention)
-  The earth was flooded, not just from 40 days of rain but from water bursting from the ground.(Genesis 7:11-12).
- God provides everything they need to carry out his instructions. (Many Bible verses again proclaim God's provision)
- Nephilim are mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 6:4
(* In the creation account told by Noah in the movie, the montage of images shows animals evolving, though God is credited with creating them)

Speculation with the purpose to advance the story or highlight some idea:
-  Noah and his family are vegetarian, flower children.  Considering that in Genesis 1:29, God only gives them permission to eat plants and in Genesis 9:3, He explicitly gives Noah and his family permission to eat food, this isn't purely a tree-hugger piece of propaganda.  Furthermore, even today, some Christians see the Genesis 1:28 verse as a mandate to be good stewards and caretakers of the planet rather than masters using it for our purposes.  This movie contrasts Noah's view with the bad guy's carnivorous eating habits, which some have deemed to be environmentalist propaganda. 
- Noah misunderstands God's purpose and focuses on the judgment of God, forgetting about His mercy and love.  This is actually a pretty well documented human condition (Jonah, Saul, the Pharisees, Peter, Paul, not to mention current leaders).   Heck, I have experienced the tap or whack of God's heavenly 2x4 correcting my vision of Him or the job He has given me to do on multiple occasions.  However, the director stretches this concept to almost the breaking point.
-  Noah received help from the Nephilim.  This is pure speculation.  The Bible doesn't specifically mention any help from outside sources, but then again, there is very little information about how it was built, including a specific timeline of how long it took.
- Tubal-Cain is the bad guy.  This could be possible because everyone lived a long time in Noah's day and the Bible doesn't scrupulously record timelines for Cain's progeny as it does for Seth's line.  What I did discover when I did a timeline with the kids several years ago is that Noah's great-grandfather probably had seen Adam alive.

Things that are outright wrong:
- There are two other big changes to the story as I have mentioned previously but I don't want to reveal them and spoil it for anyone planning to see the movie.  They are obvious to anyone who knows the Biblical account of the flood.  The only problems I have with one of them is that it might make God seem either remote or unable to accomplish His will.
-  The Nephilim are changed from the giant offspring of female humans and "Sons of God" (whatever they are) to angels that God kicked out of heaven for helping Adam and Eve after they sinned.  To me, this is a grievous change because it portrays God as vindictive and merciless, even though God shows His mercy in the Bible by clothing Adam and Eve and he even lets Cain live after killing Abel and offers to protect him.  Once again,  I have no problem with Nephilim as rock monsters and helpers of Noah, only as symbols of God's lack of mercy.
-  God is portrayed as solely a God of judgment and not of mercy.  Noah cannot see God's mercy extended to human through the ark.  And it is Tubal-Cain, the bad guy, that expresses the idea that man is made in the image of God, not the man who follows God.  Even when Noah shows love and mercy, he does not attribute it to God.  And this is where I do feel that God's name is trampled and blasphemed.


Summary:
Considering that the writer/director is an atheist using Jewish mystical books and considers this a myth subject to artistic license, the fact that "Noah" gets anything right should be considered an act of God.  This is certainly not the worst adaptation of the story of God's great flood.  That honor goes to a TV miniseries called "Noah's Ark" and starred Jon Voigt as Noah, who was placed as a contemporary of Lot and Sodom/Gomorrah and in which God finished the ark for Noah because he became impatient (as IF).  My husband I turned it off after half an hour because we couldn't stomach it.  Maybe the awfulness of "Noah's Ark" has, in comparison, made this version seem less offensive.  My husband and I were, after all able to sit through the whole movie rather than walking out of it.  I confess that maybe I am working too hard to see God's word in this movie.  It definitely caused me to re-read the Genesis account of the flood, which is always a good thing.  I can see why Christians get upset by the movie and why they might not want to line the pockets of the "godless Hollywood blasphemers."  If you don't want to give money to the writer/director, then wait for it to be on Neflix or whatever movie service you use.  But I would encourage Christians to see the movie themselves and form their own opinion of the movie rather than parrot their pastors or friends or Christian critics or even reviewers like me.  And as Christians, we should be highlighting the story of the  flood and mercy shown by the ark providing salvation to some as a foreshadowing of the story of the cross and how God managed to merge His judgment with His mercy to save His beloved children by faith in Jesus Christ.

"On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”"  Matthew 9:12-13

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment"  James 2:12-13

March 11, 2014

My Husband vs. Superheros

My husband, daughter and I just finished watching "Thor:  The Dark World" last night.  In the afternoon, I had had oral surgery to install a dental implant.  It turns out that baby teeth start re-absorbing their roots when you get older.  I was supposed to have the surgery at the end of March, but the poor little tooth wouldn't hold out that long and it was starting to constantly ache.  Thanks go to God for creating an opening for me yesterday.  That night, with Novocaine and high doses of Advil keeping the pain at bay, I decided to watch the movie, hopping it would be better than the first one.  I was disappointed by the first "Thor" movie because the plot was a little dicey, my expectations were pretty high because it was directed by Kenneth Branaugh and because I could not for the life of me believe that a smart scientist would fall in love with an arrogant, easily affronted, possibly not-so-smart guy, even if he had blond hair, blue-eyes and well defined muscles. The movie did not give a stirring defense of the love that developed between them and I believe that scientists are supposed to be attracted by brains, not brawn.

This movie was better, not just because Thor had really learned his lesson from the first movie and was less arrogant, but also because Loki had more lines and most of them were very funny.  It was great to see Rene Russo back in fighting form.  She has been a favorite actress of mine for her roles of making men the damsels in distress and for her gracious characters.  Kat Dennings continued to be the most charismatic female character in the story, adding both humor and gumption in recruiting an intern's intern.  And I loved seeing Christopher Eccleston ("Dr. Who", 2005) again and hearing his Northern England accent sometimes come through his Dark Elvish speeches.  Natalie Portman as Thor's love interest continues to be a bland, flat character, though this time she showed that she was a bit feisty by slapping both Thor and Loki, though Loki probably deserved more of a sucker punch.  Thor himself is definitely better in this movie, showing more intelligence, kindness, dedication to loved ones, even Loki and more in control of his anger.  However, the movie would have been much better if Stellan Skarsgaard, whom I love as Dr. Eric in the previous "Thor" and "The Avengers" movies,  had worn more clothes through his scenes.

I must confess, that if I were single and had a choice between Loki and Thor, I would choose Loki. I know, that is a totally anti-Christian response because we are supposed to love the good guy, not the evil one/morally ambiguous guy.  However, I have a weakness for funny men and I love the dark hair/blue or grey eye combination, which is far less common than blue eyes/blond hair.  If I have to choose between humor and well-defined pecs, humor wins hands-down every time.

And this is why I am totally grateful to God, because my husband has all that Loki has to offer in being incredibly funny.  And I love the fact that my husband's hair, which used to be dark, now more closely matches his grey/blue eyes.  Best yet, I don't have to feel conflicted about his character because he is a man after God's own heart, which is not to say that he is perfect, but that he is humble before God and is willing to listen when advice or constructive criticism is offered.  He has our family's best interests at heart and pursues them.  It is why I have been able to trust him with my life and be able to imperfectly submit to him as the leader of our family.  He is the type of man that I pray that my sons will grow up to be and that my daughters will marry someday.

March 2, 2014

Marathon DNF or "Running With Wings Like Eagles Makes Me Dizzy"

Yesterday, before the race started, I quoted Isaiah 40:31--"But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.  The will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and  not grow weary.  They will walk and not grow faint."  Sadly, I did not finish (DNF) the marathon.  I was doing great.  I made it up all the hills and down the hills.  I ran in the rain and without seeing the sun, which was actually a relief.  I had made it to the halfway point.  And then, somewhere near mile 14, I started feeling out of it and a bit dizzy.  I called my husband and asked him to pray for me.  I started walking and taking deep breaths.  The feeling didn't go away and  my legs started to seize up.  At the mile 15 rest stop, I stopped for a moment and the people there gathered around me and asked me how I was doing.  I confessed that I was feeling dizzy.  They suggested that I stop.  I wasn't about to argue.  And yes, I started crying, feeling defeated.  Everyone at the race stop was so kind.  They reminded me that I had run 15 miles, which was quite an accomplishment.  It helped.  I sat on the ground and stretched, waiting for the "car of shame" to arrive and carry me to the finishing point.  They guys driving me were saying the same thing.  My husband and kids comforted me as did the runners from East Valley Running club, with whom I have trained for the last five months.  My family and I ate lunch together and got in the car to go home as the heavens opened and rain poured down in buckets.  More words of kindness and encouragement came from friends and family when I posted  my results on Facebook.  And with every posting, God was whispering His "Amen" to their words.  Rain in the middle of the night woke me up and the words "Not strong enough..." kept popping in my head and I started crying again.  My husband prayed for me and as he did, God completed the sentence with one word: "...yet."  That comforting word lulled me to sleep with visions of running just like in Isaiah 40:31.

This morning, God continued to sing me a love song by having Mandissa's "Overcomer" playing on the radio as the alarm went off this morning:  "...You might be down for a moment, feeling that it's hopeless, and that's when He'll remind you--You're an overcomer..."  On my walk with the dog, I put on my Marathon playlist and set it to shuffle.  However, there was nothing random about the songs that were played:  The first four songs were "I Feel Pretty" (West Side Story), "Wait and See" (Brandon Heath), "Remind Me Who I Am" (Jason Gray) and "All Creation" (Brian Doerkson/Vineyard Worship).  He reminded me what my husband had been telling me, that my training was not without fruit because I was stronger, my body was leaner and I had developed enough strength to run 15 miles AND He had been teaching me so much through it.  He reminded me how beautiful I am in His eyes ("I Feel Pretty"), that  He won't forget me, nor is He finished with me yet ("Wait and See"), that regardless of what I do, I am the one He loves ("Remind Me Who I Am") and that He will provide all that I need ("All Creation") for which I am incredibly thankful.   Then came the worship songs, which I unabashadly sang to Him who is my Savior, Messiah, Redeemer and Friend, even though I was still walking the dog and making a fool of myself and in danger of torturing people with the sound of my singing.

So I will listen to the words of Isaiah 40:31 and wait on the Lord, on His timing, on His provision and teaching and I will follow His lead which will make me stronger in so many ways, so that the next time He calls me to run a marathon, IF He calls me to run a marathon, I will run and not grow weary--at least until I cross the finish line.


P.S.  I have also come up with a list of the benefits of not finishing that outweighs the loss of some bling (the medal) and the title of "marathon finisher":

  1. I still earned the T-shirt and arm warmers (which aren't much more than adornments for anywhere other than Arizona) by starting the race and training for five months.
  2. I can move today.
  3. I can walk (with some difficulty).
  4. I can bend down, given enough time.
  5. I can walk up and down stairs, gingerly.
  6. I showed my kids that even grown ups fail and have to pick themselves up and try again and are thankful for the chance to try.
  7. Best of all, I will be able to run before the end of the week :-D

February 26, 2014

The Marathon cometh

In three days, I will be running my first marathon.  Two years ago, this wouldn't have been on my radar.  I was just glad to run for 20 minutes.  But then I ran a 10K and survived.  And I ran another 10K and survived.  And then my brother-in-law and sister-in-law ran a marathon.  And another sister-in-law completed a biatholon, the running and bicycling kind, not the cross-country skiing and shooting targets kind.  They were my inspiration.  Then I realized I needed better shoes and maybe some other stuff to help me recover.  So on Saturday, I will get up sometime around 4 am to make sure I make the last bus taking me out to the start of the race at 5am to start running at 6 am.  It will be the final sacrifice of sleep for this marathon that I will make.  My biggest challenge will come around mile 18, when I will be running 1/2 mile south of my house and be sorely tempted to make a right turn on Harris to go home.  But I am confident that my family will be there to cheer me on and keep me going in the right direction.

My last few weeks have been a bit discouraging because I have been suffering from pain that caused me to NOT complete my 20 mile run of the official marathon route.  I have been doing a lot of stretching, using the roller and "the stick" and very little running to give my legs the maximum rest.  The few times I have run, it has been short, fast runs that I have really enjoyed and reminded me of why I started running in the first place and my attitude has improved.  I have spent a lot of time training for this and my goals are pretty basic:  finish it within 6 hours with a secondary goal of finishing below 5 hours. To accomplish this, my plan is to run a 10K without stopping for anything except bathroom and drinks, then speed walk 0.3 mile.  Run a little more than a 10K to reach the halfway point and speedwalk 0.4 miles.  Two more 10Ks separated by a 0.3 mile rest will bring me to the finish line.  The first half is almost totally downhill, so my average might be closer to 10:30, but after that, I will try to keep a 13:00 pace in my runs and 15:00 walking pace.  I am bringing marzipan and Gu to give me energy in between stops.  I might also bring the 1L camelback as much to carry the food and focus on drinking the gatorade at the rest stops.  The Marathon is providing Cliff Shots which have made me feel sick in the past.  My pre-race meal which seems to work for me is a banana and 1/2 cliff bar.  I might need the camelback just to keep my stash.  I will be running in an orange shirt with  arm warmers and shorts, unless the forecast is for rain, in which I will wear a loose rain jacket and leggings so that I don't deal with chafing from the wet shorts.

I keep telling myself that I have prepared for this as much as I can and God has given me the strength and determination to keep going even when I wanted to quit.  He has brought four wonderful women in my life through the East Valley Runners group who have encouraged me in each long run.  Most of them are running the half marathon, but one lady will be running with me.  And He has made me stronger through it, mentally as well as spiritually.  He has proven that I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).  And He has been showing me why He gave me Hebrews 12:1-2 as my life verse all those years ago when I hated running:  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off all that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race set before us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (my words from memory).  The training I have done for this race has been so good for me, though training in godliness through it that God has done in my heart during the many runs, both short and long has been of greater value (1Timothy 4:8). I praise God for encouraging me to accomplish this and for carrying me through the difficulties that come with training for it.  And I will rejoice in the fatigue and inability to walk on Sunday, much less go up stairs.


January 15, 2014

Running my butt off

There is a literal component to my title, but it also reflects how much running I am doing to prepare for the Marathon.  In fact, considering how much I have hated running up until 2 years ago, when I realized how quick and easy it is to get ready to run, my mileage is getting pretty impressive.

There have been set backs.  I started to develop a Bermuda Triangle of pain--right foot, left knee and right hip which sent me to get an abbreviated consult with a physical trainer who gave me some exercises to help me with it.  While I was trying to run the plan for the experienced runners, for which I qualified because I have run a 10K, I started experiencing exhaustion that left once I humbled myself and moved to the running plan for inexperienced runners.  It also reduced the amount pain in my foot/hip/knee.  I have have yet to run any of my long distance without having to walk part of the distance.

The last long run involved long stretches of uphill and equal amounts of downhill. The uphill portions were so hard and I ran the first set way too fast for my legs because they gave out on me at mile 10 when I was supposed to run 17 miles.  I cut it short and walked 14 miles.  At the beginning, however, one runner gave me some great advice as I was struggling:  "Don't focus on the uphill portions, focus on how it will feel going downhill."  And isn't that what the Bible tells us to do?
"Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame..."  (Hebrews 12:2)
"So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light, momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison..."  (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

And so, I have taken joy in considering every run a learning experience, not a failure to meet goal X.  For instance, I have learned never listen to a comedy-based podcast while trying to run--you can't run and laugh simultaneously.  When your body is telling to to make a potty stop, walk until you can reach a potty because you cannot run and "hold it."  Plan your route on long runs to include potty stops because you WILL hear the call of the potty at some point.  Carry money with you to buy something from the gas station/coffee shop/grocery store when you use their facilities to thank them.  Or just leave them some extra money.  Don't eat Gu on an empty stomach, thinking that it will give you energy for the run because all of that sugar will give you the runs.  My personal preference for pre-run food is a banana and half  a cliff bar if I am running a long distance.  I save the other half for when I am done.  Marzipan is a great running food--much better than Gu because it has sugar and a bit of protein and melts in your mouth without the need to chew it and tastes SO much better. Walking is okay because it allows you to exercise different muscles. Running with people is better than running alone.   Polar heart beat monitors cause really bad welts on my chest.  Chafing can happen in the bosom area (sorry for the TMI).  Anytime you run father than you ever have run, even if it is not the distance you should run is a successful run.

I have learned that I can do more than I think I can do, that running without music is a great time to experience God and running can be a wonderful date with your husband, especially when he is as encouraging and supportive as my husband.  He slowed down and stayed with me during the St. Paul Turkey Trot even when I was having a bad attitude because it was SO incredibly cold.  So many of the runners I have met through the East Valley Runners club have been uplifting during the run and helped me become mentally stronger as I persevere during the long distances.  In fact, we came up with a motivational song:
"Hit the road (name).  I know you can run some more, some more, some more, some more.  Hit the road (name).  I know you can run some more.  Yes we can!" (to the tune of "Hit the Road, Jack).

I will end with a new song by Jonathon Thulin that has been playing in my head.  I love the imagery in this song, which is matched by his song "Dead Come to Life"

January 10, 2014

Lost Dutchman Inspiration

We hiked at Lost Dutchman State Park on New Year's Day with MANY other people.  We got there too late for the guided tour, but apparently well before the rest of the parking lots filled up.  There is one part of the mountain which is called "praying hands" because the rocks look like two hands together in prayer.  However, a different formation caught my attention.  I call it, the "praising hands" feature because it looks like a series of hands raised up giving praise to God.

This started a couple songs plying in my head,which I will share via videos.  The first song is called "Open Skies" by the David Crowder Band




The second song was from the "Passion:  Waiting Here For You" album and sung by Christy Nockels.




I also had some verses playing in my head that I tracked down to Psalm 19.

So basically, I felt as if I was joining the mountain in worshipping God for the amazing complexity and beauty of His creation, of which I am a infinitesimally small part.  Even without that amazing experience, it was a great day because it was January, I was with my family soaking up the sun and getting some exercise and fresh air.  And I waited until after the polar vortex headed back north to post this to avoid hate mail, to which I would reply, "Just wait until summer."

January 1, 2014

Happy New Year with a new focus

So the year is done and I have less than a month to prepare for my older son's 11th birthday.  Last year, inspired by oneword365.com I focused on joy with moderate success.  This year as I have been praying to figure out what God wants me to focus my efforts for the coming year, many words have come to me.  In Bridgetender Academy this year, the focus has been to help my kids become kinder and more respectful to each other because those are life skills that God values. God has been working powerfully in me to help me become kinder and more respectful, though, as all Christians, I stumble and need His grace, forgiveness and restoration.  I am seeing some response in the kids, but have gone through a rough period of backlash that reminds me that progress is never a straight path, but a series of loops that go through mountains and ditches.

But kindness is not what God wants me to focus on this year.  The word I kept getting from Him while running this week is "presence."  With my iPhone and other things, it is so easy to check out of pretty much everything and even easier to take a 2 second "check out" when in a group of people to see what is going on in some application or other.  We have instant video through Amazon and Netflix and then there are blogs to read which "need" comments.  None of these things individually are bad.  In fact, I can say that I have made new friends with Ken and Christie Hagermann, missionaries in Asuncion,Paraguay because I made comments on their blog and comments led to email and email led to a Skype conversation to help them celebrate the New Year at 8pm our time last night.  However, obsessively checking Facebook or other interactive applications on our phones and putting priority on them rather than people is exactly the opposite of the overall job God has given us of loving Him with everything we have and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  It is distracted living, which is far more dangerous than distracted driving, because we can miss so many blessings, so many treasured moments, so many opportunities to show the love of Jesus and have really NOTHING to show for it.  So my goal this year is to be fully present with God, fully present with my family, fully present with friends and fully present with neighbors and whoever He throws in my path.  And this is what it will look like:

  • Less Facebook presence--feel free to call me out on FB when I start backsliding (because backsliding is part of persevering)
  • Less comments on blogs, though I will still keep reading the blogs that I am reading because I REALLY enjoy reading them. 
  • More phone calls to keep in touch.  Be forwarned!
  • More face-to-face time for AZ folks
Happy New Year.  May God bless you and keep you, may He make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)