Tuesday, 22 December 2009

My Top 5 Movies of the Year

It's the time of year for lists - here goes with my top 5 movies of the year, all seen either at the cinema or on DVD.
1/ Avatar
Like a cross between Return of the Jedi, Ferngully & Last of the Mohicans, with the make up done by the people who brought you 'My Little Pony' - that sounds awful, but like gravy on your chips, don't knock it til you've tried it!
This was quite simply the most spectacular film of the year & seemed to work on so many levels. As a straight forward action movie with a bit of obvious romance thrown in, or with all the post modern undercurrents of eco worship, pick & mix world faiths. The message that collonialism is as much in our future as it is in our past is strong, & the frightening American foreign policy of invasion for natural resources is ruthlessly played.
Avatar wins on every count. The action scenes are great, the cinematography breathtaking, even in old fashioned 2D at our local cinema. This is the movie of the year because other film makers will copy it relentlessly now. Any film that changes the genre of movie making deserves this kind of attention. Avatar gets it.

Perhaps the only let down was the contrived happy ending. The truth is, the super power always come back & win in the end.

2/ Up
What a fantastic family movie. Right up there with Toy Story for this type of film. Funny, sad, gripping & endearing all in equal measure.

3/ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This is my marmite choice - you'll either love it or hate it - I loved it. I found the idea of following a life moving backwards from old age...well.... moving, & the romance between Pitt & Blanchett, though obvious, worked well. I cried buckets. Interestingly, Button & Up are both films which portray old people in a really positive light & bring out some top characterisation in this way.

4/ District 9
This was a really interesting movie. Again, a cross breed between a space shoot 'em up & a sideways glance at racial tensions & the plight of refugees the world over. If it had been set in the USA it would have ended up as a Men in Black tribute act, but moving the setting to Johanasburg made it happen. The scenery, the accents, the Afrikans swearing were tremendous - then you forget the strong social justice message & just enjoy the bad guy coming good & getting back. Top film!

5/ Religulous
Bill Maher's critical look at fundementalist Christianity was always going to be anarchic, & I wouldn't watch it with your vicar or your Nan in the room. Having said that, it was the most helpful thing I've seen in terms of helping Christians understand how the world out there sees us - & it was painfully funny. The moment where Maher tries to provoke a fight with 'Jesus' on a visit to Bibleworld is the kind of thing you watch through your fingers. Or how about where Maher asks the Pastor of the Church of Cannabis (yep, you read it right the first time) in Amsterdam 'Don't you worry that all this drug use will affect your short term memory?' twice in 60 seconds to a deadpan response of 'Nope!'
Mahers stance is flawed & he ultimately shows his hand as an apologist for atheism, but the early parts of the movie should be staple viewing for every lazy Christian who has ever relied on cliched responses for their belief in God.

There were a number of close calls, but that is my top 5 for the year.
Pants film of the Year goes to Young Victoria. I would rather sit through the school recorders practise without cheese in my ears than be subjected again to this nauseating, fawning, Daily Mail Royal fanclub portrayal of the Royal Family. This was strictly for Womans Weekly readers that eat sunday tea from hostess trollies & wish Diana was still with us. Whatever you do, don't be tempted by the DVD on the shelves this Christmas.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The lasting fruit from Ulster

In concluding his account of the Ulster Revival, Ian Paisley gives 10 areas in which he believes the Province was left with lasting fruit. They remain noteworthy 150 years on, I shall list them below with some comment.

1/ Deep conviction
This was a revival of salvation through the preaching of the gospel. Conservative estimates are that over 100,000 were converted during the first year of the revival alone. In Ulster, it was common for the conversion process to involve a measure of agony over past sins, a growing horror at the judgement to come, & ultimately real joy as freedom is found. This was all usually accompanied by loud shouts & groanings. However, records show that inspite of this outward show, very few returned to their old ways, even years after the revival fires had abated.

2/ Severe spiritual conflict
A very real awareness of the battle involved in bringing the lost through to salvation. A very real awareness of the identity of the enemy, & a very real desire to engage him in that battle.

3/ A delight in the Word
Many were saved through reading the bible, many learned to read for the first time after conversion - literacy rates in the province rising markedly in revival areas. There was a surge in demand for copies of the bible, printers struggled to keep up, & what copies there were, were put to the greatest possible use, often being passed between families or onto new converts.

4/ A release of Praise
It is said that the 1903 Welsh Revival was a singing revival, but that is also true of Ulster. These staid Presbytarians were liberated from the religious singing of the Psalms & into a new freedom. Psalms which expressed joy in salvation were reworked & revival hymns which caught the flavour of the movement were sung at every meeting over & over.

5/ Impassioned Prayer
We have already heard that this was a movement birthed in prayer expectation. It was no surprise that wherever the flames spread, prayer meetings emerged as the engine room.

6/ Unspeakable Joy
No meeting would go by without shouts of joy & similar exclaimations bursting forth from the crowds.

7/ Increased Holiness
Paisley reports 'Drunkeness & profane behaviour were given up, dishonesty in business & long standing family feuds were healed.' Again, statistics show publicans closing down their businesses for lack of trade.

8/ Increased numbers gathering
Churches were packed, new churches were built rapidly which stand today as monuments to the pace of the revival. Homes & school halls were filled, streets & parks were overflowing with crowds - day & night, rain or shine. One Pastor in Ballymena sums it up well -
'Our weekly prayer meeting was attended by 50 persons normally. During the three months past we have held between 4-7 such prayer meetings a week & each is attended by more than 20 times that number! The difficulty used to be to get them to church, quickly, the difficulty has become how to get them all in!'

9/ Intense love
Families reunited, old scores set aside, divisions broken down, communities transformed. Particularly so in the areas know for their sectarian divides & bigotry.

10/ Passion for souls
Most who were transformed seemed to throw themselves back into the fray in order to win their unsaved friends & colleagues. Most seemed to be equipped with a boldness & an urgency which they had never before known. Only this can explain the rapid overflowing of local & national boundaries which this revival saw.

150 years have passed & the nation again needs men & women who will respond to God with this hunger & urgency.