Monday, July 31, 2006

Superman Returned to

OK, I went to see it again. I don't often do this, but I was so disappointed not to be thrilled first time around that I decided to give it a second go.

Well, I knew I wouldn't like Lois, and I still didn't. But I didn't dislike her as much - I was simply left cold by her, which is a sadness both in Superman terms and in simple human terms: Teri Hatcher and whatshername off Smallville never left me like this. Mind you, Teri reminded me of an old girlfriend, which was a mixed up thing in and of itself, and which always served to heighten my Lois-ward reactions (Typical! Wonderful! Oh no! Oh yes!). What I hadn't remembered was just how much Lois there is in the film.

What I wasn't prepared for was how bored I was by the leisurely pace of the whole thing. For an action film, it was tedious. The opening plane wreck was the best thing in it. Go see it just for that - and then go home; you'll save yourself a lengthy 2 hours and more that serve very little purpose.

Ricky Carvel has a great scoring system for films; and some great views on films he likes and dislikes. He's going to dislike this: on second viewing Superman Returns took a nose-dive down to a 4/10.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Every Breath CD Now at iTunes

It's true. Go to iTunes and type in "marcus green big band" and there we are. Ninety nine cents a track in the States, seventy nine pence each here in the UK. Download away!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Gifts and gratitude

On Wednesday I had the enormous pleasure to spend half an hour with my old music teacher, Jack Longstaff. I was visiting the grammar school in Blackburn to hand over a copy of my book for their library, and in chatting to Phil Lloyd there decided to call on Mr Longstaff.

TJL (as he signed himself on all my schoolwork) retired two years after I left school. And that retirement was 20 years ago. So he's in his mid eighties now, but still living in the house where I went as a kid for my piano lessons - a house which remains very much as I remember from that time.

Mr Longstaff was the single most important teacher I ever had. He taught me everything I know musically. He was my piano teacher, and as he taught me to play he taught me to listen and to understand music as I listened. He taught me harmony, and this gave me the practical skills to arrange and to compose. He took all the potential of the boy and enabled me to grow into the musical man I became.

I wanted to see him, because I wanted to say thank you for that gift.

And as I was about to leave he picked up a CD of excerpts from our old school choir and gave it to me. Our school choir under TJL was 250 strong. We did major works. The very first thing I ever sang in any choir was the Verdi Requiem. It remains my all time favourite piece of classical music.

This afternoon I listened to that CD. The sound quality is excellent, and the memories that filled the room were wonderfully tangible. I remember singing in Blackburn Cathedral, and the shock of hearing the orchestra for the first time when we had rehearsed to the piano for so many months. The Verdi Requiem excerpt (from 1979) is the last movement, the Libera Me: right at the end, all of us trebles headed up to a glorious final high C which is really the soloist's domain, and which I have only ever heard one other choir attempt. Absolutely glorious.

Gifts of music, and now gifts of memories. And Mr Longstaff, I am grateful for them all, more than words can say.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Story and meta-story in man and superman

OK if you are still reading following a title like that, I applaud you!

I often use a line when I'm lecturing on my book to get people's attention. It goes like this: Many protestants work on this basic understanding of the Scriptures, that in the beginning God created everything and everything was good. Then man sinned and everything went bad. Then God decided to help by sending Israel the Law, only it didn't solve the problem - how could it? Man was so bad he could never keep the Law. So God thought again and sent his only Son, and he sorted the problem.

I know this is really simplified, but does it sound familiar? I hope not because it is total rubbish. The cross isn't plan B! The cross is always gloriously plan A. So why did God give the Law? So that we can understand plan A when we see it. The Law is fundamentally about how to worship God, and then how we should live together in the light of worshipping this God. And if we don't get this meta-story right, this world view, this biggest of big pictures, then all our attempts to understand the stories within, the details that make up the bigger picture, we will inevitably get the detail wrong. Only a church that doesn't understand what the Law is (ie about worship first) would imagine sin was primarily about the moral things we struggle with. This makes us fuss about sexuality as if this is God's fundamental issue with humanity. Drivel. Get the meta-story right, and all the details will fit nicely.

So: Superman. Here's the thing: my big picture, my meta-story (like everyone else's) is set by my first real Superman exposure. I know this. And for me, it wasn't the 1970s films. It was Lois and Clark in the 90s. So Clark as clutz is totally alien (to use an appropriate word) to me. And more importantly, Lois and Clark (and self-evidently Smallville) makes this important choice: which one is real - Clark or Superman? - answer: Clark.

Clark is the real person, and the blue tights are the disguise so that we don't recognise Clark at his other job. Whereas I think if you grew up with Christopher Reeve, and now the new movie, Superman is the real person and Clark is the disguise so we don't recognise Superman at the office.

Which is why I dislike the new movie so much. It makes the wrong choice on the central character. It makes the wrong one the "real" one. Everything else is skewed by this basic choice. Nightmare. Meta-story sets the deatils, and if the wrong picture becomes the big picture, I don't want to see it.

We all agree; Lois is terrible. Everyone I know uses the word "feisty" to describe Lois, and Kate Bosworth just doesn't have that. But the problem with this movie is greater - in terms of my lengthy intro, it misunderstands the cross because it thinks it is plan B. So everything is misunderstood.

Make Clark the real person and everything about Superman works. Make Superman the real person and Houston, we have a problem.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Gone Fishin'

Day two of my holiday. Glory. How I love holidays.

I went to see Superman yesterday: visually stunning, but character-wise not exactly how I see it all. Alas. So a mixed feast. And now I am in the splendid home of John and Clare, along with their sons Micah, Simeon and Daniel. Matt is with me, very much enjoying the female companionship of Sheba. (Cue mental "Arrival of Queen of" music) Sometimes I worry that Matt doesn't have the famed Queen's paramour's discretion with the ladies.

And I got to see John at work - Juggling John - eating fire and escaping from chains and a straightjacket. Wonderful. Doing what he loves, entertaining the crowds, and doing it very well too.

And though this is day 22 of my current migraine (never fear - the record is still six months off!) my head is cooling nicely and I think the end is in sight. Which is good. Holidays are great for de-stressing, and even on day 2 the ability just to sit with a book, or read a paper, or spend time writing the blog, or watching a film, or walking Matt in a beautiful park and eating a cake from Raymond Blanc's place on St Giles - just the chance to do these things does a man good!

Holidays mean health. It's as simple as that. Thank the Lord for such precious gifts, and may the rest of these two weeks be equally wonderful.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Heroes and Dreams

So the second series of the new BBC Doctor Who is over. And tomorrow I get to see the new Superman movie. I confess: these are two of my favourite heroes!

I love both. One is enigmatic, a loner, filled with a sense of right and justice, prepared to put himself in harm's way to protect those he loves, always in the right place at the right time, both magical and mystical, bringing hope into the lives of those he touches. And the other is... pretty much the same with a cape. Of course in the 70s, both had capes, though Jon Pertwee's Doctor's cape was a rather small natty retro-Edwardian thing. And Superman never had a Tardis. Though of course the popular picture does involve him using a phone box to change in.

Well there's a question: is the Doctor really Superman?

And I'm not going to answer it. Well, not really. Well, a bit. Well, OK if you insist...

Both are pictures of a need in humanity met by an outsider. Story after story presents ordinary people in great peril (though occasionally the danger is limited - think of Superman rescuing a little girl's ice cream from hitting the floor - or the Master taking over Perivale) not knowing how to deal with the situation in which they find themselves. So along comes a hero to help.

I rather like that the hero in the current Doctor Who series is a tainted hero - he may heal, but he may also hurt. The Doctor is a force that is beyond human niceties, and those who get too close find themselves likely burned by the experience. This is Saturday evening hero-dom way beyond the simple charm of Lois and Clark. Yet still he comes out of the ether and saves the day. It is a myth as old as history: because it is a need as old as humanity. Clothing it in a blue box or blue lycra makes it fresh and new, but actually a huge part of its power is its comfort which in turn is its familiarity. We don't need these heroes re-invented for today - just spruced up a bit and told well again. We need heroes because we need hope, and part of that hope is surely that part of us might inhabit that cape or that police box.

Ask yourself when you watch these shows: who are you relating to? When you watch, is it the family in the car about to be hit by a meteorite? ("Oh that could have been us!") Or the mechanic on the space station who is about to be possessed by the evil aliens? ("That's just like when I was at work last week!") No! It's not even very often Lois or Rose/Sara Jane/Leela/Romana/Jo/Susan etc etc. It's the Clark who is ordinary but special, the Doctor who is vulnerable yet triumphant. These aren't Messiah shows with ersatz Jesuses working modern day miracles to feed the TV masses; these are escapist wonders which raise the hearts of the humdrum to a glimpse of being something greater. And I love them for it.

I don't need another Saviour - I have one. And I don't dream of being him. (Surely even in the extreme worlds of geekish fandom surely no-one worships Colin Baker or Tom Welling?)

But what I do need, what we all need, what we desire and enjoy and revel in is the pleasure of the fantasy that if we were the hero in the story we would be that good too. "That could be me." Of course it couldn't. I can't fly/travel in time/deflect bullets/regenerate. But that's not the point - it's escapist! It's fantasy!

If I can't have big dreams how small a life would I be left with?

We are right to want life to be better. We are right to want the monsters defeated. We are right to dream! This is what it means to be human. Thank God for the people who tell us these stories and remind our imaginations of these great truths.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Life and death and worship

A friend of mine has just sent me an email with this great line in it:

"Much worship is designed to be instrumental for the sake of mission rather than an ultimate place of doing mission."

I think this an accurate observation that deserves a little time being spent over it. Cos what lies behind this position, and what my friend is critiquing, is the basic assumption that worship is not the gospel; we need to give people the gospel, and worship might entertain people whilst we do so or it might even create a good ambience in which to preach at them. But it is an extra, not the core: the icing, not the cake.

This same friend last September whilst I was visiting Kentucky made a comment on a song we both know: "Let worship be the fuel to mission's flame". He said - "but worship is the flame!" And I said, "Amen!" It was the most profound thing I have ever heard in Kentucky.

AW Tozer puts it this way:
"Jesus was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died on a cross and rose from the grave to make worshippers out of rebels!"
The point of the gospel is to make worshippers; indeed the force of the gospel is "We can worship God!" Which is to say through Christ we can do and be what we were made to do and be, being saved from doing and being anything else (which clearly can't be as good). So worship is essential to mission - because how can you experience or even talk about this good news without experiencing the truth and power of the true and powerful worship of Jesus? This is indeed the cake, and a very good cake at that.

Let me slice this cake another way.

Really often just lately I get this question thrust at me: what happens to people who don't know Jesus when they die? (They are asking if their friends and family will be OK in the hereafter, or does our gospel exclude the people we love.) But this totally misunderstands the gospel. We are not the travelling salesmen and saleswomen of a heavenly insurance package. We are not! The good news of Jesus Christ is that through him and in the power of the Spirit we can worship God today! Let us not be so fixed upon future destiny that we forget today's reality. Indeed - forget the future: are our friends and families worshipping God today? No? Then who or what are they worshipping and why are we leaving them there? This is the question we need to have: what is happening to people who don't know Jesus when they live, never mind when they die. Let's sort out today for tomorrow is gloriously in the Lord's hands.

Seeing worship at the heart of the gospel places worship at the heart of how we communicate the gospel, and also fundamentally questions how we view people who live outside the gospel.