Monday, November 30, 2020

The Croods: A New Age

After watching The Croods in preparation for this review, we were a little surprised by the decision to produce a sequel. While it was visually very impressive and had a strong theme of ‘family sticks together’, there really wasn’t much of a storyline.

The Croods are a family of cave-people, who just try to survive each day. Father Grug (Nicholas Cage) protects his family from all the dangers that the world throws at them, and regularly cautions his family not to do anything new or different, because everything adventurous can lead to death. But his daughter Eep (Emma Stone) feels trapped and longs to explore the world. Sneaking out one night she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a young man who is completely alone, yet searching for tomorrow.

By the end of The Croods they had all travelled to safety away from the impeding dangers of tectonic shifts, and were finally in a place where they could ‘follow the light and find tomorrow’. That was just one of numerous illogical ideas in the movie.

So, in a turnaround of the usual scenario, we were pleased to discover that the second movie is better than the first. The Croods are still searching for a good place to live, and enough food to eat. Eep and Guy are in love and considering what it might mean to be together, just the two of them. Grug however is desperate to keep the family together. Grug happens upon a wall, and when he breaks through discovers crops and ample food all owned by the Betterman family. It turns out that Phil and Hope were close friends of Guy’s parents, and they are thrilled to have Guy back, especially as he makes such an obvious partner for their daughter Dawn. It did seem a little odd for a movie, presumably aimed at under 10s, to make teen love, with parents trying to set it up, a key focus. And some humour was clearly for adults, with references to man-caves, and being passive aggressive.

After that, the story goes a little haywire and changes tack quite dramatically as the men are captured by Punch Monkeys and the women have to come to their rescue.

Some things we appreciated were:
  • The imagery is striking, with bold colours, imaginative creatures and creative landscapes. It feels like a technicolour Dr Seuss world. Nothing is quite the same as our world, but much is still recognisable, such as the wolf spiders: fluffy wolves complete with 8 legs and eyes, and spinnerets.
  • Dawn seems to have no idea that her parents are trying to set her up with Guy and no romantic interest in him. She is just keen to be friends with Eep. Eep and Dawn realise how much they have in common, and are both excited to finally have some company their own age. 
  • There were very few negative body image messages at all. How anyone looked was not really referred to, which is refreshing. In fact, Dawn is envious of Eep’s numerous scars from the dangers she has encountered. 
  • The strong family theme was again evident. Both fathers wanted what they thought was best for their children, and tried to get it, even if later it made them realise they had been “two profoundly foolish fathers”. 
  • In the end, the Bettermans and the Croods were able to look beyond their surface differences to find their common humanity. And a final happy medium was found with the families choosing to stay and live together, but Eep and Guy also able to explore the world on their own. 
I’d give this one 3 stars.

I saw an advance screening thanks to Universal Pictures Australia.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Building Bridges

Building Bridges: Biblical Counseling activities for Children and Teens, Julie Lowe 

A few months ago, I reviewed Caring for the Souls of Children, and concluded it was an excellent tool for biblical counsellors, parents and mentors as they reach out to children pastorally and biblically.

This new book by Julie Lowe (author of Child Proof) is an excellent companion volume to that book, focussing on assisting those who want to provide more specific counsel to children and teenagers:
“This book aspires to help counselors, families, and other caring adults to build bridges—life-giving, gospel-infused connections—with young people in our sphere of influence.”
Young people need people who will love them, listen to them and then offer a wise path forward:
“Young people … need wise adults who are willing to enter their world and experiences. They need us to sit with them and feel what life is like in their shoes, and they need a vision for something beyond such experiences. They need hope that there is more to their lives than their current circumstances, and they need us to find winsome ways to point them to the Lord.”
Lowe addresses different stages of development and how we need to be aware of them as we talk to young people. She makes some helpful observations on character and temperament, with temperament being more innate characteristics, and character being more learned moral behaviour.
“In seeking to understand and help a young person, it is prudent to ask when issues are developmental and when they are moral (sin) issues. Is a challenging behavior a result of willfulness and sinful desires, or just immaturity? Initially it is not always obvious. But with wisdom, time, and a willingness to engage with a child’s struggles, clarity will often develop.”
Chapters also address the importance of involving parents, and a biblical rationale for using expressive activities with children:
“Expressive activities are demonstrative, winsome ways to draw out what is going on in the heart and mind of an individual. Each activity is both expressive (meaningful and communicative) and projective (symbolic of their inner world) and seeks to find ways to understand individuals and help them grow. The activities are used to help uncover a person’s thoughts and feelings in a nonthreatening, indirect fashion.”
“I like to think of expressive therapy as “creational counseling”—using things in nature to remind us of biblical truths and point us to the Lord. It would seem both winsome and wise to use his creation to woo those we counsel to what is true, right, and good.”
Lowe then turns to practical principles and application, the skills needed to draw out children, and ways to engage well, such as giving instruction one at a time, being simple and clear, asking open questions and letting children explain what they have done in an activity. All reasonably basic reminders of things many will know but sometimes forget to practice.

The second half of the book gives many examples and activities of ways to interact with children. Starting with methods for drawing them out, she covers strategic use of storytelling and books, talking about superheroes and villains, role playing, sand trays, art and other activities.

Then follows numerous activities to understand children, their families, their heart, relationships, and challenges. All are very helpful and will be a springboard for many to assist with their own resources. Those in professional counselling will already use or be aware of versions of these, and will find them easily adaptable to their own purposes.

Then there are numerous expressive activities that speak into children’s hearts and challenges, bringing God’s word to bear in ways that are understandable, relatable and applicable. Those familiar with the idea of fruit & thorns from How People Change or any of the CCEF courses will recognise elements. 

She concludes by encouraging readers to unleash their own creativity, adapting these resources for their own use and in their own ways. Those who buy the book, will also find they have access to pdf downloads of all activities for their own use.

A comment I found helpful throughout was the reminder that those who have skills working with young people are not necessarily inherently gifted to do so, but rather it comes through hard work, persistence and a desire to care:
“Working with young people may appear to be an innately God-given gift, but it is really a fostered expertise and aptitude that grows when we commit ourselves to knowing and loving this community well. Let’s lean into the truth, wisdom, and encouragement of God’s Word as our foundation as we seek to best steward the ministry he has given us. It is a privilege to serve on the front lines of ministry as a counselor, and to seek to winsomely connect a struggling young person to the heartbeat of Christ.”
As I said with Caring for the Souls of Children, you shouldn’t read this and then expect to be fully equipped to counsel children. Rather, this would be one of many resources you would want to have before you proceed. But the wisdom and insight contained within will encourage those who counsel children (both ‘officially’ and ‘unofficially’) to consider creative ways of doing so as they reach out to young people with hope.

I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Note: I use the Australian spelling for counsellor myself, but when quoting the book, use the American spelling counselor