Monday, December 5, 2016

TV shows - drama

The final two posts for this year are reviews of more light-hearted things  - TV shows.  Perhaps something will interest you over the summer!  Today’s are dramas, next week’s are comedies.  Then it’s time for a break for me too!

Over the years we have watched many TV shows on DVD or some free offer of Netflix, Stan, etc.  We often find that at the end of the day watching an episode is a good way to wind down and relax.  Sometimes it is the precursor to talking about the day, sometimes it happens after that.   Sometimes, when we have both had too much on, it’s a good way to spend time together but not talk anymore!   We usually have a drama series on the go at any one time, as well as a comedy.  It also seems that we always have two series on the go, one has 40-60 min episodes, another 20 mins – allowing more choice depending on mood and time available.

Here are some of the dramas we have enjoyed (probably spanning about the last 10 years)

House Husbands
We’re currently working our way through this, just having finished season 2.  It’s the story of 4 intertwined families, where the husbands are the ones mostly caring for the kids, and all have a child in the first year of school.   There is a blended family, a divorced family, a gay family and a ‘nuclear’ family.  I like the realistic portrayal of much of Australian family life where people are busy balancing jobs, family and friendships.  I like the way the men support each other and encourage each other to step up rather than be slack.   The school the kids go to is like any Aussie primary school, where you meet the teachers and parents and have to figure out how involved to be.   It gets more dramatic as it goes on (more like a soap opera) but for now, it’s still pretty good.

Sherlock (BBC)
Modern drama based around the idea of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson.   There are 3 seasons of detailed, very well produced 90 minute episodes, with only 3 to a season.   Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, the genius who is out of place in a normal world.   They take concentration and are best watched all together over a few months/weeks so you can keep track of characters and plotlines.  Very enjoyable watching for when you want to think a bit more.
NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles
We have been watching these on and off for years.   Starting with NCIS, it’s a good solid crime drama, without the gore of some other shows.  A murder/crime is always discovered in the opening scene and the rest of the episode it’s up to the team at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to solve it.   NCIS is in its 14th season and has slowly developed the main characters over this time.  NCIS: Los Angeles (up to Season 8) is more angled at solving terrorism cases, and this one has really grown on me.   I like the interplay between the characters here more (must be different scriptwriters), there are essentially 4 pairings of friends/partners and it is generally funnier and more light-hearted than NCIS.   Both are easy to watch with some humour and enjoyable characters.  
Friday Night Lights
It took me a while to give this one a go, it’s the story of a high school football coach, Eric Taylor in Texas. With his wife, Tami (a high school counsellor) and daughter Julie, they move to Dillon, for him to take over the local team.   Their story is told over 5 seasons with a fair number of changes in their situation, as it also charts the life of the students under their care.   I liked the reality of the situation they were dealing with for teenagers, although it did make me grateful (yet again) that I returned from the US and went to high school in Australia.   Overall, the best part of this series is the strength of Eric and Tami’s marriage and how they work through the ups and downs of life together.    

The West Wing
Probably the best drama we have watched in the last 10 years (we came to it late).  Spanning seven seasons (1999-2006), it charted the presidency of Democrat Josiah Bartlett with his key staff and family alongside him.   Loved by millions, chances are you have already watched this series, but if you’ve never tried it, it’s still worth it.  Get to the end of Season 1 and tell me you aren’t hooked!

The Newsroom
Another offering by Aaron Sorkin, this three-season series has Jeff Daniels starring as a news anchor Will McAvoy on News Night, a cable news program and his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale as his executive producer.  Each episode is built around an actual news event, the pilot starting with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  This series got better as it went along, it took a while to warm to the characters (I found Maggie, an associate producer, especially annoying).  We like Sorkin’s writing, so we liked this series.

Madam Secretary 
Another US offering based around the events of the US government.  Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni), an ex-CIA analyst (and happily married mother of three) is called upon by her old CIA director boss, now President to be his new Secretary of State.   Now in its third season, this is one of the few shows we watch as episodes are showed (well, taped of course to skip the ads).    Two aspects of this show stand out for me - firstly, the high levels of ethical and moral accountability both Elizabeth and her husband Henry (ex-marine, theology professor and lecturer at the National War College) have.  As he is well researched in theology and philosophy, the show has some intelligent comment on complex religious issues too.   Secondly, I really like the portrayal of their marriage and parenting - they are both busy, high-level public servants, but they are committed to each other and to their family.   It's a good show.

800 Words
An Australian-New Zealand co-operative effort, the is the story of George Turner (Erik Thompson), a journalist whose column is always exactly 800 words.   In the wake of his wife's death, he decides to uproot his two teenage children and move to New Zealand so they can all start anew.   This is the story of them finding their way in the small rural community of Weld.  You can see it going the way of all of these types of shows - good and realistic for the first few seasons, then getting soap opera-ish as the original story idea fades and they need to add more drama.   But, two seasons in, it's been pretty good so far.  

I have also written previously about: 24, ANZAC GirlsCall the Midwife and East West 101.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Zeal without Burnout

Zeal without Burnout, Christopher Ash

Seven years ago I did a detailed chapter by chapter review on Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry, by Peter Brain.  It is an excellent book, but requires a fair time commitment to read it. 

Christopher Ash has developed this primer which is also excellent in its simplicity, clarity and brevity.   Ash writes to those who can prevent burnout in ministry:
Burnout is a terrible price to pay for Christian zeal.  Sometimes it cannot be avoided.  For some, their circumstances mean there is no other way to live sacrificially for Jesus.But sometimes it can.  For many of us there is a different path.  One that that combines passionate zeal for Jesus with plodding faithfully along year after year.  I want to write about this path.  (p14)

He writes to those in full-time ministry and to those committed lay people who also serve the Lord Jesus faithfully.   
As someone who has spent the last decade training young men and women for Christian service, I have been keen to help them see that the best kinds of ministry are, more often than not, long term and low key.  I have tried to prepare them for a marathon, not a short, energetic sprint.  In other words, to help them have a lifetime of sustainable sacrifice, rather than an energetic but brief ministry that quickly fades in exhaustion. (p20)
This resonated with me as Husband and I often talk about wanting to be in ministry for the long marathon and to manage it in a way so that we can.   He also addresses the truth that “there is a difference between godly sacrifice and needless burnout”, adding that even if it may sound heroic to burn out for Jesus, we do not do it alone.  We take others down in our crashes – spouses, children, colleagues and friends. 

Ash starts with the reminder that we are creatures of dust.   We are mortal and we need sustenance, but God does not.

He then moves through seven keys:
  1. We need sleep and God does not – sleep is both a necessity and a gift.     
  2. We need Sabbath rests and God does not.  Husband and I know this from personal experience – the rest of a day off in seven has been remarkably restorative for us individually and as a couple.
  3. We need friends and God does not.  He adds an extra part here about maintaining intimacy for married couples.
  4.  We need inward renewal and God does not.   We need to find ways to refresh and recharge.
  5. A warning to beware celebrity – for how much of overwork is driven by a desire to please others and be feted?
  6. An encouragement – it’s worth it.  God does not need us, yet this service of the Lord matters.  It may not be able to be measured or counted, but it is worth it.   And any fruit borne, is a gift of God.
  7. A delight – rejoice in grace, not gifts

He concludes with some parting ideas: don’t be soft (ie. don’t go the other way into over protection), don’t despair (you can change patterns, and God still works out his grace), do a self-check and make a resolution (to glory in salvation not anything we can or cannot do).

I read this book with two other ministry wives and we were encouraged and challenged.  I suspect you will be too!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Max & Liz books

Max & Liz books, Jenny L. Cote

Our children discovered Jenny L. Cote’s books a few years ago, and have loved them.   It’s an interesting category she has created – a biblical retelling with fictional characters added in - the fictional characters being mostly animals!

In the first book The Ark, The Reed & the Firecloud, you are introduced to Max, a Scottish terrier and Liz, a brilliant French cat.   Under the instructions of a goat called Gillamon, who reveals to them the Maker and what he has called them to do, they make their way to Noah as he builds the ark.   What I loved about this book was the creative way Cote managed to get all the animals of the world to Noah, and then how they were housed in their native habitats (eg. desert and ice) on the ark.  Of course, her interpretation is entirely fictional, but you found yourself thinking it could have happened that way. There is an element of danger in as an evil stowaway threatens the safety of the animals and the continuation of the human race.

At the end of the book, Max & Liz, with their life partners (Kate and Al) are granted immortality, and the chance to live through all time as they see the outworking of the grand plan of the Maker throughout history.

The second book, The Dreamer, the Schemer & the Robe is set in the time of Joseph and again I really liked it, with the details she included as the animals lived among the people of the Genesis accounts.

Now Cote is in the midst of writing The Epic Order of the Seven series, where 7 animals (including these original ones) are going to live out the rest of the history alongside the key events.  Book 1: The Prophet, The Shepherd & the Star, begins with Isaiah in his years of prophecy, moves forward to Daniel in Babylon and then finishes in the early days of Jesus’ young life.   In this book, Cote masterfully deals with the Old Testament prophecies, constantly showing how they are all fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

Book 2: The Roman, the Twelve & the King, has two concurrent storylines – the time of Handel as he writes “The Messiah” and the adult life and ministry of Jesus. 

Two more books have been written:  The Wind, The Road & The Way (the story of Acts part 1) and The Fire, Revelation and the Fall (Acts part 2).   Three more are promised to complete the series, also forming their own trilogy.  I have not read these ones.

She is clearly a committed Christian and her writing praises the Maker (God) and how he acts, and sings the praises of the Jesus her Lord and Messiah.   The way she has chosen animals to be part of the story means the same events unfold as in our bibles, but through the animals’ perspective, as they interpret and explain what is happening.  As such, kids are given solid, real biblical truths through creative storytelling.  There is always a note of tension, as shadowy forces against the Maker at work: the devil in various forms.    Of course, in bringing her interpretation to biblical events, there are some things I felt were overemphasised (eg. there is a very strong emphasis on 7s in The Prophet, The Shepherd & the Star).  But overall, I am amazingly impressed at how she has managed to essentially re-write massive parts of the bible into a setting that captures children’s attention and imagination while still remaining very faithful to the
biblical account.

At points I’ve had hesitations about how the reader is to know what is factual and what is fictional.   I noted upon finishing The Roman, The Twelve & the King, that there is a detailed explanation of which parts were factual and which she embellished.  This is really helpful.   Even more helpful is the opening page of the next book The Wind, The Road & the Way which says “This book contains fact, fiction, fantasy, allegory and truth.  For the entire true story, read Acts and the rest of the New Testament.”   

These are long books - all near 500 pages – so while they can be read and understood by ages 9-10+, they need to be committed readers to manage it.   Because she has lots of animals with different backgrounds, they all speak with accents and with some foreign words, which can add to the confusion for younger or less capable readers (it’s hard to read a Scottish accent sometimes!).  Having said that, there is always a glossary at the end to explain the terms.  

These are also books adults will get a lot out of.  I loved the first two, but have found the Epic Order of the Seven harder going – they are very long and take a reasonable time commitment.  But whenever I have read them, I have been encouraged in my faith and reminded of the biblical account.    Mr 13 avidly awaits the new releases, and started reading them at about age 10.  Miss 11 has also enjoyed them and has read them all.   I am planning to read the two set in Acts over the summer, as part of my thoughts as I prepare some teaching in Acts myself.

If your children want to read Christian books (or you want them to!), these are a great choice.