If this wood could talk

Kris | Biographical | Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Do you know the Old English poem “The Dream of the Rood“? You should. It recounts the imagined thoughts of the wood that became the cross (rood) on which our Lord was crucified. I’m not going to say anything more about that poem, other than “read it.”

I only refer to it because tomorrow we are moving. This morning I was in our bedroom to disassemble the mirror from Paula’s dresser, and I started thinking about how many times I’ve had to take these things apart and put them together. And that led me to reflect on the history of our bedroom furniture.

In 1984 Paula was pregnant with our first child and we were preparing to settled down. We bought a tiny house (900 square feet) in Little Rock, bought a Honda Civic wagon, and a set of bedroom furniture that we thought might be part of the family for a long time. A few months later in November our bed welcomed Nicholas into his first home. In April 1986 it welcomed Karen as well.

But in 1986 I was having some ministerial inclinations, and we sold our house and packed up our furniture and headed to Jackson, Mississippi, where I studied at Reformed Theological Seminary. As our babies became toddlers a tradition developed, particularly on Saturday mornings: Nicholas and Karen would climb into our bed and the four of us would wrestle and snuggle and just enjoy each other.

When I graduated in 1989 we moved to Shreveport for a six-month stint, then in November to Las Cruces, New Mexico. In 1993 Kristian was actually born in our bed, with the assistance of a midwife. Our bed similarly welcomed Ethan into the world in 1995. And on my birthday in 1994 (I believe), about 5:00 in the morning, Paula and I were awakened by an unusual sound coming from our backyard, just outside the glass doors next to our bed. I jumped up “to see what was the matter,” and on pulling back the curtains I saw ten or so people from our church standing outside, singing Las MaƱanitas. I opened the door and they paraded through the room, each giving me a flower, and they continued out the front door of the house, singing all the way.

In 1997 I took a position at Dell, and our furniture followed me to Austin as 1997 turned to 1998. During the next ten years our family was anchored and our bedroom furniture had its longest rest to date. I think it only moved when we replaced the carpet with tile.

Having an obvious tendency to restlessness, I left Dell in 2007 and we put our bedroom furniture on a container, in which it made it’s way to New Orleans, then on board some ship that carried it across the Atlantic. I can’t recall it’s port of entry, but from there it traveled across the Western Nations toward its new home, right in the heart of Europe, Slovakia. And this Sunday will mark seven years in Slovakia–and our furniture will be resting in its third home.

I suspect it will not be the last.

The destructive power of unforgiveness

Kris | Films | Monday, September 22nd, 2014

I haven’t read George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, so I can’t say anything about the faithfulness of the 1997 BBC adaptation of it. I did have the feeling, though, that I was being cheated of a lot of the story–this version is less than two hours long, and some of the transitions seemed a bit quick. But as a film it’s powerful and leaves a strong impression.

The impression is of the cruelty, irrationality, and destructive power of a prideful unwillingness to forgive one’s enemies. Emily Watson plays Maggie, and she becomes the sink who receives and bears the most unjust consequences of the hatred and bitterness that her father and brother refuse to relinquish. Even when their perceived enemy is willing to be reconciled, they will have none of it. Watson makes sure we feel the tragedy of it.

A sobering film. Someday I’ll read the book.

Five stars for the brisket

Kris | Films | Saturday, September 20th, 2014

I like food. Although I’m far from being some kind of foodie, I appreciate people who work creatively with food–and especially those who recognize the goodness of God that is mediated through food (Psalm 34:8), and who treat food “sacramentally.” Of course, in Chef there was no evidence that the characters delighted in Anyone beyond the food itself–yet, because they are inescapably the images of God, they create beautiful reminders of his glory. For those who have eyes to see, the glory of God shines bright through a Texas brisket. That’s what I liked about this film: the sequences that savored the wonder of good food.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I liked about it. It could hardly have been more predictable–which isn’t always bad for a story, but in this case it hobbles it. The way twitter was a major character annoyed me (I think it was meant to be cool, or at least cute). And I’m always put off when films put young children (in this case a 10-year-old boy) in “adult” situations (where “adult” doesn’t mean mature, but rather vulgar and base). I did appreciate, however, the reconciliation and growth within the main family, regardless of how predictable it was. So I suppose I liked two things about the film.

I need a new word

Kris | Miscellany | Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

According to dictionary.com, escapism is “the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc.” But as I see things, the current “reality” is pure escapism–everything is swallowed up by fantasy. And I’d really like to escape all the escapism. So what would I call that?

Pretty good judgment

Kris | Films | Friday, September 12th, 2014

Over the past few days I introduced my younger sons to a couple of Tom Cruise’s classic lawyer performances: A Few Good Men and The Firm. Both are excellent, of course: good stories and fine acting. But each also had it’s just-a-little-too-cheesy moment at the end that tainted it. In A Few Good Men it’s the soldier turning to salute Cruise; in The Firm it’s his wife telling him how she loved him even before she met him. Too much! Still, great films.

Back in the USSR

Kris | Books | Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Isn’t it wonderful that two books such as, say, Pride and Prejudice and Anya Von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Longing, can be so vastly different, and yet both so engaging and delightful? I’ve long been fascinated by the (to me) inconceivable reality of totalitarianism in its Soviet incarnation. Von Bremzen, a girl of ten when she and her mother left Russia in 1974, delivers a cornucopia of a book, full of food, history, memoir–and all of it giving the flavor (not always pleasant) of life in the USSR.

A glorious book!

“Are you finished with Anna Karenina?”

Kris | Films | Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

That’s what Paula asked me last night as the credits rolled on the 2012 Keira Knightley adaption of Anna Karenina. I think I should put adaptation in bold typeface, for this is a bold adaptation. Not all of that boldness is good–in fact, I found the highly choreographed and stylized sequences of the film at first to be mesmerizing and intriguing–and distracting. The production called too much attention to itself, as if to say “Look at me! Look at me!” Well, I looked. So?

I was impressed with the way the script captured sweeping sections of the story in a line or two–but I wondered how much of its success depended on the fact that I just recently read the novel. I suspect that ten-thousand details from the film would have been lost on someone who had never read Tolstoy. And that reminds me that the script was written by Tom Stoppard, who also wrote Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead (a favorite of mine), a film that I think would be difficult to enjoy without being pretty familiar with Hamlet.

So, did I like it? Sort of. But things happened so quickly that there was no time to develop Vronsky as someone in any way likable, someone you could ruin your life for. The Levin-Kitty relationship, my favorite from the book and the BBC adaptation, also does well here–though I had a hard time warming to the portrayal of Levin in this film.

Are you getting the mixed-feelings signal yet? I think that sums up my reaction. And my answer to Paula’s question was, Yes.

Anna Karenina, BBC-1977-style

Kris | Films | Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

When Paula and I finished reading Anna Karenina we started watching the 1977 BBC mini-series adaptation of the novel. The production had a very stage-play feel to it, mostly filmed in a studio, and most of the acting a bit exaggerated. But when you account for that it was reasonably interesting and watchable. The casting seemed solid to me: the actress who played Anna reminded be a little of a British Suzanne Pleshette, and the actor who played Karenin was good at being Karenin. As in the book, our favorite characters were Levin and Kitty, and they receive a fair treatment here and provide a great contrast to the doomed Anna and Vronsky. In fact, to us, Levin and Kitty are far more interesting and enjoyable than Anna and Vronsky. I think I’d even change the book’s title….

A postscript on catechisms: resources

Kris | Faith and Life | Friday, August 22nd, 2014

As I tried to convey in my previous post, the Heidelberg Catechism is a precious instrument to lead us closer to Jesus. If I at all piqued your interest, you might also benefit from a few resources that have helped me.

The first, of course, is the online version of the HC.

Another gem is a lecture on the HC by Carl Trueman. His discussion of assurance of salvation and the reformation is profound.

Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett is superb in its historical survey of catechisms and suggestive of ways to use catechesis in the church today.

If you know of other resources, please add them in a comment.

In praise of catechisms: especially of Heidelberg

Kris | Faith and Life | Friday, August 22nd, 2014

When I was in the second or third grade there was one day of the week on which some of my friends couldn’t play because they had something called “catechism.” As a Southern Baptist child I had no idea what that was–it sounded intimidating. I might have been in awe of them. When I made my way into the Presbyterian church in my twenties the mystery was removed, and I learned to appreciate the Westminster Shorter Catechism in all its glorious precision. Some years later I met the Heidelberg Catechism and I once again fell in love–this time with Jesus.

I wrote the following little article for some friends in Slovakia who don’t yet feel affection at the mention of catechisms. But they are interested and open, so I offered them this bit of persuasion entitled, “Why Use the Heidelberg Catechism?” (more…)

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