Monday, October 28, 2019

God Friended Me

I was drawn in by the enjoyable, clever and interesting pilot episode of this series.

Atheist podcaster Miles, who has rejected the faith of his family, is sent a friend request by God. Convinced it’s a hoax, he keeps ignoring it, but it is insistent and he finally accepts. He is immediately sent a friend suggestion for a man who just happens to be walking past him, who he follows and ends up stopping from jumping in front of a train.

The next friend recommendation is for journalist Cara who is having some family issues of her own. The two of them start to investigate what is going on, trying to hack the account and track the IP address, along with Rakesh, Miles’ coworker.

The strands get tighter between everyone as various connections are discovered between them.


As I continued to watch the rest of the season, I found myself intrigued. Miles’ father is a minister, his sister is a social worker who owns a local pub and is in a committed lesbian relationship, and his mother died in a car crash when he was eight. Cara has her own complicated past with a mother who deserted the family. All of the story lines become prominent at various points and are very well done.

They continue to search for the real person behind the God account, using hacking and tracking to do so. If you wanted to question the ethics, they use their workplaces to hack accounts, seem to rarely be at work and often use dodgy and deceptive methods to track people down.

Yet, each time the God account swings into operation and Miles is sent a friend request, they end up helping someone in a specific and detailed way, almost all to do with restoring relationships. Miles, Cara and Rakesh all discover they love helping people.

At one level, it’s very neat. Every episode has a storyline that ends neatly wrapped up in a bow, in a great feel good moment that often brings a tear to the eye. Yet even saying that in a somewhat cynical way, I didn’t feel cynical watching it. There is a real understanding of humankind and their struggles, the complicated lives that people have as well as their desires and dreams. The writers clearly have remarkable insights into human behaviour. Miles and Cara come to see that helping people isn’t a burden, it’s an opportunity.

At the same time, the larger mystery of who is running the God account keeps developing an overarching plot line. They are all convinced it’s a very sophisticated hacker, not that it could actually be God.

It’s an interesting premise that I have enjoyed watching. I think it could raise questions for people and be a good conversation starter. The faith represented here is not Christian (that is, Christ is never mentioned), in fact is almost entirely fits the definition of “moral therapeutic deism”. Yet, it is one of the few shows I have seen that is willing to even raise questions of faith, reason, atheism and put them together in an intelligent and even nuanced conversation. Big ideas are addressed: suffering, grand design, faith, hope, calling, unity. And over it all - why is the God account operating at all? Why operate with Miles?

Over all of this are the excellent visual effects. It’s set in New York City and the filming is fantastic. The shots are filled with beautiful light and it shows off the city in a way I haven’t seen before. The images are clean and clear and as a result the whole show feels light and positive. I don’t recall any swearing, violence or inappropriate intimacy, and I suspect you could watch it quite happily with teenagers and have some good conversations with them as a result.

I watched all of Season 1 and enjoyed both the storylines and the characters, and how they have were slowly drawn to intersect together to a quite satisfying finale.

The first series is currently available free to air on the 7Plus website, and Season 2 has just started showing.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Moon is Always Round

The Moon Is Always Round, Jonathon Gibson

It’s not often that a children’s book brings me to tears, but that is just what The Moon Is Always Round does each time I read it. Gibson has written a heartfelt book teaching children the truth of God’s goodness, in the midst of especially hard times.

Dedicated to his son Benjamin, the little boy in the book is meant to be him. Told in the first person by the little boy, he and his dad have a game they play when they look at the moon. Whatever shape it looks at any point in time, when Daddy asks “what shape is the moon”, little Ben always replies ,“the moon is always round”, and it means that “God is always good”. It’s their little catechism to talk about no matter what things look like and though it can sometimes be hard to see, God is always good.

When Dad told me I was getting a little sister, the moon looked like a banana.
But Dad said, “The moon is always round.” 

When the mummy’s tummy looks like a watermelon, the moon looked like a shrivelled orange, but dad still says that the moon is always round.
Even when I was told that my little sister wasn’t coming to live with us after all the waiting, Dad said “The moon is always round.”
When the little sister can’t come home, and little Ben asks why, Dad replies: “I don’t know why. But the moon is always round.”

When they are at the funeral they remind each other that the moon is always round, and that means that “God is always good”.

There are helpful instructions at the back to talk to children about the moon and Good Friday, explaining the story behind the book, and giving a little catechism about the moon.

The illustrations by Joe Hox perfectly match the feel of the book, and it’s particularly the mother’s face at various points of their loss that keeps moving me to tears.

I am so thankful that Gibson found a simple, yet profound way to explain God’s goodness at all times to his own son in the midst of their family’s loss, and that has now chosen to share it with others. In many ways it deals with a very specific subject (the stillbirth of an infant), and so would be a very helpful resource if that were needed for your own family situation. However, the idea of God being good in all circumstances, even if we don’t understand them, is relevant for young children across a whole range of circumstances, and many parents and children will benefit from this tender, gentle, yet honest story.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Good Name

The Good Name: The Power of Words to Hurt or Heal, Samuel T. Logan, Jr

This book came from honest, humble beginnings, written by Logan analysing why it was right for the Westminster Theological Seminary board of trustees to dismiss him as president for ‘shading the truth and bearing false witness’ after speaking a lie in a faculty meeting. To be honest, many of us would have hardly counted it as a lie. He introduces the story and uses it to explain how it led to a lot of soul searching and analysis of the meaning of the ninth commandment.
“My purpose in writing is to show that, as Christians, our words exist to reflect Christ’s character—his holy concern for God’s good name, his constant love for others, and his absolutely reliable truth. When our words are scornful, selfish, or false, they dishonor Christ. And especially when we speak such words to or about fellow Christians, they can cause great damage in Christ’s church.”
“Perhaps this little book will help all of us to live according to what Scripture says about bearing true witness, so that Jesus is honored as he should be.”
He turns first to consider the power of words, noting:
“Serious students of Scripture simply must take account of the fact that God, in his written revelation, has even more to say about how we speak to and about one another than he does about our sexual activity or theft or murder.”
God’s word is powerful: it creates and sustains, it also judges and redeems. As we are created in the image of God, we have a responsibility with our words as well:
“Given the enormous power of words, and the way they connect us to God himself, we must take great care with them and use them for the life-giving purposes God intended.”
In God’s word we usually find follow redemptive words following judgment words:
“Perhaps that would be a good pattern for human words to image. If we ever find ourselves in situations which call for words of judgment, redemptive words should quickly follow.”
Chapter 2 addresses how scripture defines true and false witness. He deals with how words of judgment can look, and are often unloving and unkind by humans. He addresses the ninth commandment, and then explanations and interpretations of it in various catechisms. Along the way, he notes the following:
“The problem of inappropriate judgment has plagued the church since its very beginning and the results continue to be devastating.” 
“how we speak is as important as that we speak, because the good name ultimately at stake is the name of Christ.”
“The point here is really a simple one: even as we speak against the sin and error that we perceive in others, our own sin may play a significant role in how we respond to those others. There can be sin mixed in with our good motives. It is usually when we really do see someone sinning that we end up defaming them—and sinning ourselves. So it takes the utmost prayerful commitment to make sure that our response is as God-honoring as we desire the words and deeds of other people to be.”
Chapter 3 addresses some of the damage done by false witness. Starting with the first lie told in the bible (the serpent to Eve), he considers numerous cases of lying or bearing false witness in the bible, and then extends to the evidence of false witness in the early church, noting for then as we learn as now:
“The lesson is clear: how Christians talk about one another can facilitate actions by secular governments that undermine what Christians on both sides of any argument actually desire. How we use our tongues matters.”
He notes that the Reformation was an overall blessing to the church, “but its positive impact was significantly undermined by how Protestant Christians talked about one another.” He asserts the same happened in the Great Awakening in America, and continues to today when Christians argue with each other, call each other names and accuse each other of heresy.

Chapter 4 starts to examine principles for bearing true witness. We should analyse our hearts and consider why we speak the words we do. We need to remember that we do not know other people’s hearts and therefore cannot speak with any authority about their actions or choices. He warns about the use of labels and particularly suggests that we avoid using either liberal or conservative to categorise others. He then delves into the mire of word usage online and has some great advice and warnings for Christians as they seek to honour God in the online space. There is consideration given for now to deal with error, suggesting we should communicate with governing church bodies as appropriate, rather than use online forums to air grievances.

Chapter 5 fleshes out the guidelines in some current, specific areas of controversy: abortion, evolution, women in church leadership roles, social justice matters, same-sex marriage and dealing with sexual misconduct allegations. He starts with four preliminary points: our words matter, check your motive, stay on point and cast no aspersions, and secure slippery slopes. All of these are helpful ways to interact specifically with what he has said over the course of the book in conversations that are currently very relevant. No answers to these issues are given, but guidelines on how to have constructive conversations. As such, it is relevant and instructive, and much Christian dialogue would be greatly improved and be much more God-honouring if we all gave weight to such considerations.

A timely book that challenges the reader to consider the power of their words, the easy tendency to sin in this area, and ways to honour the Lord as we choose wisely the words that we use.

I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, October 7, 2019

God Made Me books

New Growth Press have released two more children’s books in their God Made Me series.

God Made Boys and Girls by Marty Machowski is subtitled explaining it helps children understand the gift of gender.

It's set in a class when one little girl outruns all the boys and one boy suggests she might turn to a boy. The teacher uses it as an opportunity to explain the differences between boys and girls by simply explaining genetics. He uses the correct terminology of XY and XX to explain male and female genes and links it all back to God's creation in Genesis 1-2.

Variations in skills and interests among boys and girls are all explained as part of God’s creative plan. Sin is explained as us wanting our own way and not God’s way, but that God dealt with our sin by sending Jesus. In the end, we are called to love people and be kind to them, even if they are different to us.

Machowski has done an excellent job of explaining gender in a way that a 4-7 year old would grasp and understand. It is balanced in explanation, gentle in tone and does not try to do too much (eg explain gender dysphoria).

There is another book like this for slightly older readers here in Australia, Patricia Weerakoon’s Learning About Gender and they would both be good to have on a shelf when you have younger children.

God Made Me Unique is authored by Joni and Friends, the ministry group advocating for people with disabilities started by Joni Eareckson Tada. Subtitled: Helping Children See Value in Every Person, this book helps children realise that there are many differences amongst people in the world, but we are all still made by God and loved by him.

Set in a Sunday School class, one morning the teacher announces there is a new student arriving, Brie. The teacher starts an explanation of special needs and how various children in the class have some differences: Jamal has a wheelchair and Wyatt plays with toys to help him focus and keep hands to himself. Brie finds noises a bit too much sometimes and wears headphones to manage it.

The teacher goes on to explain that all parts of the body work in different ways together, and like that, the church has many members with different skills and gifts and abilities.

“Even if some parts don’t work right! We’re still important to God and never out of his sight.”

This one is in the usual rhyme format that others in series also have and for the most part it reads out loud well and easily.

Trish Mahoney is the illustrator for both (as well as God Made All of Me and God Made Me and You), and so each book has a distinct yet familiar feel, with clear, fun illustrations

The whole series is worth having for those with young children.

I was given ecopies of these books in exchange for an honest review.