A Rough & Tumble Ride

•June 19, 2016 • Comments Off on A Rough & Tumble Ride

Last night I completed The Riders – a book I galloped through, (oh dear, cliche and pun at once) because it is a thriller moving at such a pace – but it deeply disturbed me with the inner workings of the character Scully.  The novel traces his ever maddening desperation to recover his lost love – a wife who fails to arrive into a new life in Ireland that she had requested as a move from Fremantle in Western Australia.  When Scully had completed a renovation of an ancient cottage in the Irish hills, the woman sent his 6 year old daughter to him alone – no explanation – so we travel to Athens and a Greek island, Paris and Amsterdam looking for his wife, while Scully sinks into the lowest behaviour of his life, and his daughter victim to it.

I hated the journey this time – yet couldn’t but admire his prose. The depths of Scully’s disintegration infuriated me for the sake of his daughter – yet I couldn’t help wanting to know if he’d find his errant wife somewhere.  It was a needle in a haystack odyssey with a surprising result. And his dependence on recapturing the apparently lost relationship nearly destroys him and his daughter. In that, the book is utterly credible.

His daughter Billie was the voice of sanity, the long suffering Christ carrier in the journey – her face literally marred by the adventure – her head ravaged by a German Shepherd in Greece – a crown of thorns she wore, with minimal medical attention, as Scully indulged the demons in his heart. So I empathised with the child all along the route, while hating his drunkenness, his rat cunning and his surrender to a dark self indulgence, that I have known only too well from both sides, as a boy, as a youth and in pastoral ministry!  The neglect of Billie’s welfare is iconic of the fierce concentration on the fortunes of the self.

Winton has created a profile of Australian male character that rings loud and true. One of the reviewers quoted in the fly leaf said that too. I add that he plumbed the depths of an unhinged Aussie manhood.

As with other stories Winton has a redemptive angel in this story – a true depiction of Jesus in a character, in this case a child – an almost 7 year old – a lone upholder of sanity and virtue when all around is surrender to despair. In Scully’s final drunken self abandonment the seven year old upholds him, takes control of purse and travel documents – even advocates for him when in police custody. The same awareness of Jesus is true in Cloud Street and That Eye the Sky.  It becomes far more subtle in his later books: Dirt Music, Breath, and Eyrie. I struggle to identify the presence of Jesus as a character in those stories – yet those stories too are redemptive in outcome.

It seems Winton was about 31 when The Riders was published in 1994 – an astonishing maturity for someone so young.  It is utterly humbling.  Finally to say – Winton’s ability to depict the essence of a city or place is staggeringly accurate – and seems to arise from his attention to the details of his own place. The characterisation of places in the 1990s, rural Ireland, Athens, Paris and Amsterdam seems objective, not ethnocentric with him, upending cultural hubris like an Isaiah or Jeremiah of the Old Testament.  What a feast of a novel that I so disliked in the rush and tumble of its plot and trajectory!


Lead Us Through This Crisis

•May 5, 2014 • Comments Off on Lead Us Through This Crisis

This tragedy of deficit of leadership needs our prayers and our active support of those willing to lead through the crisis.


Nigeria, where I was born, is in crisis. In the space of a few weeks, 200+ secondary (high) girls have been kidnapped and abducted from a school in the northeast of the country (by men dressed as soldiers) and this unprecedented horror has been sandwiched by two bombs in Abuja the capital, which have killed almost 100 people between them. Untold others have been injured. The nation is under seige, the government appears not to know how to respond, and people are grieving, frightened, and angry.

The radical Muslim fundamentalist group, Boko Haram – who also were behind the bombs – has just come forward to claim responsibility for girls’ abduction. Some of the girls managed to escape in the days following which is how we know of how this terrible event unfolded. Read more here:   http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2014/04/nigerias-stolen-girls.html

And check out the names of those still missing here:  https://www.facebook.com/fjgriffin/posts/10203696377830243.  They are…

View original post 199 more words

“Noah” – obscuring the the golden thread

•April 24, 2014 • Comments Off on “Noah” – obscuring the the golden thread

Yesterday I completed a three week project of writing a bible study on Genesis 1-11, and the reward I gave myself for completing it was to see “Noah.” The interest was natural enough! I had been forewarned by general criticism that the movie was, in part, a response to climate change and our treatment of the planet. An exploration of an old, old story for light on our current dilemma. But this did not jump out at me.  (Spoiler alert – this review exposes most of the movie)

Although I found it a well-crafted movie with strong acting from the four leads, it leaves me grieving. It has ever been thus from the very beginning of my Christian journey in 1975. The grief is about such a sad depiction of the human/God relationship.

God is depicted as the inscrutable God of existential Jesuits in old Japan, or at least as I then read about them in a novel. He is the always out-of-sight far off authoritarian who never communicates personally with the missionary – just leaves him to agonize his way through a cross-cultural life’s challenges, including martyrdom.

Noah, the person, has that kind of “where are you God?” agonized relationship, and it never improves. His help from God is indirect – through his great, great, great grandfather, Methuselah, a kind of Star Wars, “Yoda” figure here. And then of course there are “the watchers,” a little like the Ents in Peter Jackson’s the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Only, these are angels who came to guard over Adam and Eve after their fall but now forced to live in makeshift rock bodies as a punishment of God for their disobedience.

For some it will seem ludicrous, but the watcher legend is there in old writings to unpack. The script enlists these creatures to help Noah and his family especially in the building and safeguarding of the ark.

Noah, the man, is also a depiction of religious fundamentalism – bending the tragedy of the judgment of God over a whole planet to mean that he and his family deserve to die too, but after obediently saving the animals. Thus, he determines they will die! So just as he built an ark to save the animals, he will see to the end of the human line, because, he reckons that he and his family can only bring more disaster upon the planet. Noah believes mightily that this is in fact God’s plan, affronted, as Noah is, by unnameable evils that we see slip by us very quickly in the city of Cain’s progeny, Tubal Cain.

Noah plans to kill girl children at birth and let the boys die, as they will eventually, without progeny. This is the plot line that creates the drama on the ark, and the climax of the movie. It also interprets Noah’s Biblically reported drunkenness as a coping mechanism after such a long period of stressful adventure/misadventure, involving his family, and the stowaway violent relative, Tubal Cain.

So, if you come from that place of experiencing the personal compassion of Christ in real times in real places, you might be observing that it’s a twisted plot line, very dramatic and attuned to Hollywood success, one that owes much of its story to Jewish midrash and the Targum.

Now, there is nothing wrong with going in that direction – the filmmaker being Jewish has every right to give an interpretation of that event far back in human history. The Hebrew Bible by contrast provides very terse and simple lines to note its place in the unfolding of human redemption. It is very hard to build a Hollywood script from that alone.

But, for “Noah” to unfold in this way, it misses, as it must, the golden thread that unifies Hebrew/Christian scripture – a thread that upends the sense of Creator as distant, ethereal and tyrannical God, but rather weaves us into his compassionate and personal redemption of mankind, his concern for people like Noah that prefer good to evil, but are indeed trapped by evil. And this redemption begins with the promise of a child king, born of a woman, at the fall.

Hebrew and Greek scriptures lead us unwaveringly to the child, Jesus of Nazareth, who grows up to be crucified then resurrected as the rightful Lord over heavens and earth (a Hebrew merism for “universe”). When understood in its physical actuality, His resurrection changes our view of where life is found.

This source represents God who communicates person to person through his Spirit, a Spirit that has been to hell and back, deeply immersed in the affairs and fortunes of mankind throughout history, and amazingly, you and me.

So there is a cultural cringe at work in this movie to take the story line off into what Christians will universally identify as a fatally flawed representation of Christ, the Creator.

And that is why I find it sad that for the next decade or two, this over-large blockbuster interpretation will inform western culture about Noah, without linking it any way to the promised redeemer of mankind that came through Noah’s son, Shem. Rather there is a tired Hollywood fall back – a lone hero’s choice between the love of his family, and the violence of Cain.

Near the end of the movie, the drunken Noah hates himself for preferring love, until he comes to his senses and experiences a pulse of rainbow rings, like cigar rings, from the sky above. Are they the distant God’s affirmation of his choice to be fruitful and multiply? We are left to decide.


Boston’s North Shore Business Expo 2013 – a flourishing economy

•April 3, 2013 • Comments Off on Boston’s North Shore Business Expo 2013 – a flourishing economy

Boston’s North Shore Chamber of Commerce attracted a record number of local businesses, large and small to its annual showcase – the North Shore Business Expo on March 5, 2013.

The mood of the local business representatives was strikingly positive and is captured in the video below.

Reflection from an Aussie Expat on the Blizzard of 2013

•February 11, 2013 • Comments Off on Reflection from an Aussie Expat on the Blizzard of 2013

Youtube and First Amendment Rights

•January 8, 2013 • 2 Comments

I received the following email from Youtube this morning.  Before reading, here’s the context: it’s about a trailer for a short documentary of an historic church celebrating its 200th anniversary in February 2009.  The request I made to Youtube to monetize it – was made early in 2012 – after at least 8 months, they have clearly agonized about it and come back with this! —-

<Dear Christopher Gilbert,

Thanks for submitting your video “Park Street Church – Bicentennial movie trailer” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd1KLtxJzHY) for monetization. We did not approve this video for monetization because the content in your video and/or the metadata may not be advertiser-friendly.

Please note that YouTube reserves the right to make the final decision whether to monetize a video, and we may disable monetization for partners who repeatedly submit ineligible videos.

As next steps, please read our Community Guidelines before enabling another video for monetization.


The YouTube Team>

May or may not be advertiser friendly?  Really!  A trailer on an historic center city Boston church, that points to the short documentary that has been for 3 years a Freedom Trail experience?   Thoughts on an appropriate response to the keepers of the Youtube gate?

“De-Friended” – the embitterment of Facebook communication

•November 1, 2012 • 1 Comment

I had a grandfather who liked to greet my visits as a young adult with a rump steak cooked to my liking and a Fourex beer. Sitting opposite me he would sip a neat whisky, probably his fourth or fifth for the day, and descend into an embittered rant about Australian politics and life in general.  When he was really in his stride he’d turn his invective to family matters.

At this point, from behind the barricades, so to speak, I’d let fly with a growl, “Stop it Cec!”

He would stop, with a sarcastic grin on his face, back down, and change the subject back to the mundanity of his 24/7 care of my stroke-paralysed grandmother.

My grandfather was an object lesson for me in how a life can become sour, and I was confronted with it in every encounter from my earliest childhood.

The memory of this has been freshened for me in this US election cycle.  Who knew I would become an American citizen in my middle age? And it’s Facebook, that wonderful forum for dropping in and out of one another’s lives, across all continents, that has brought back that same experience for me.

The rants I object to are from people who matter to me and their biting words seem to reveal a bitter hatred of President Barak Obama, the real cause, they believe, of all their patriotic disappointments. With as much well meaning as my departed grandfather, they name-call anyone associated with the Democrat Party, and to me it seems vicious. (I wrote on this in the last election cycle when it was email that was the vehicle for disinformation and hate commentary.)

What they have in common? They are white, they describe themselves as Christians, as I do, and they are staunchly Republican.  Me, I consider myself an independent politically.  I also value good journalism.

It’s hard to speak about these encounters. How do you discuss this assault with words without returning serve like I inevitably did once I was old enough, with my grandfather?

My attempts to debate the rationality of the arguments from three people I care about has resulted in permanent “de-friending” – that’s got to be a word in the English dictionary by now.

One, a woman of high public profile, was convinced that George Soros is incarnate evil in the US, wrote about it with a passion, and directed it to what I came to realize was a gathering choir of like- minded believers.  But she excludes dissenters. She can simply de-friend them. Like me.

The other an 18 year old high school senior, and sharp debater – his language became so out of control, that I suffered the worst personal slanging in five and half decades of life for daring to warn him that Facebook rants might affect his job prospects.

Then yesterday – the catalyst for this reflection – a former colleague, cut the Facebook cord then wrote me off to his Facebook audience as a one-eyed Obama supporter.  Because? I challenged his conspiracy-theory attacks on “Ohblahblah” with New York Times & Washington Post reports from eyewitnesses in Benghazi.

For some years he has been, in my perception, a megaphone on Facebook for every right wing extremist that supports his view of Obama as the cause of the demise of the USA. And, all the way from Australia.

It’s the mean spiritedness that gets to me, but beyond reminders of my grandfather, I allowed myself to make another attempt to persuade him to another way of seeing Benghazi and the film by the discredited Dinesh D’Souza,  “Obama 2016.”


The issue isn’t really he said/ I said.  The issue is the lack of value we give to people who don’t see life the way we see it.  So little value in fact that it’s easy to cut them off despite previously important relational ties.  Now mind you, I own that my participation in the backward and forward is not without its own follies.  Who handles an argument faultlessly?  But in each instance, I didn’t expect nor want a friendship divorce.

Still, it’s not a black eye.  I’ve been king hit twice in my life.  And, it’s not a gunning down, or a roadside bomb – so perspective matters here!  It is a shunning, as a pariah, as one who just doesn’t get it

So, I discover that each de-friending hurts because it demonstrates that the feeling behind the argument is more important to my former Facebook friends, than me as a friend.  That their integrity feels impugned because I exist as a challenge to the lens they use to view reality.   Therefore, for them, I’m quite expendable.

Expendable.  Said that way, it sounds like the seed of terrorism doesn’t it?  Come to Facebook & see how to make an enclave of like-minded people, militant and chanting cliches over a life reduced to just a few issues, and discard our non accepting friends, our dissenting relatives or neighbors. De-friend them!   It’s a bit like how the seeds of murder are sown in simple anger with another.

So, as I began, this isn’t just a Facebook phenomenon.  It’s been the experience of human beings since records have been kept. Novels and memoirs and movies, and our news cycles are full of it, and in those stories “de-friending” often comes to murder, slavery, torture, war, or romantic tragedy.

For all its benefits in interpersonal communication, Facebook is a new channel for expressing our feuding over tribal or cultic loyalties. And since, ironically, it is NOT face to face, some people are willing to put into text online what they would never say to me in person.

The danger here is to our very souls – a selling of ourselves to a mean spirit, a spirit that makes sport of others through the expression of our basest feelings.  And the saddest thing? When we do this we know we are doing it, but believe it is coming from our truest, our best self.

Lord, help us!