Archive for September, 2007

Review: Jesus Camp

Directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, Jesus Camp follows several young children to the charismatic-oriented ‘Kids on Fire’ camp at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. The camp is run by Becky Fischer and her ministry, Kids in Ministry International, and the film focuses on three children who attend the camp – Levi, 12, Tory, 10 and Rachael, 9.

One of the reasons I went to view this documentary was because it was said, based on some secular reviews, that the film was ‘even-handed’ in its portrayal of what is essentially only a segment of charismatic Christians in America. Driven by curiosity to see if the film held up that lofty claim, I discovered that the term ‘even-handed’ was merely a slick marketing move made by the distributors so as to avoid alienating a potential audience demographic.

My initial thoughts after watching the film was that the audience will see what they want to see. I wondered what they would think after having witnessed children sobbing, speaking in tongues, writhing on the floor or worshipping God with arms raised.

The problem with this film, and speaking from a believer’s perspective, is that so much of what is shown is taken out of context, despite claims otherwise. For example, in the beginning of the film, we hear Tracy, Levi’s mother, saying: “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who love Jesus and those who don’t”; this is not long after we see the children dressed in miltary fatigues with camouflage-painted faces and performing what looks like a war dance. The statement alone appears either fanatical or polarizing. Later, I discover that Tracy had actually said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who love Jesus and those who don’t. And they are both worthy of dignity and respect, by virtue of the fact that Jesus died for them”.

You see how much difference a single sentence can make?

Such editing for sensationalism’s sake becomes characteristic throughout the rest of the film, but accomplished in such a subtle, manipulative way that people who have never had an opportunity to attend a charismatic church service would walk away from the film thinking that we’re all a bunch of crazies. It also throws in doubts whether the teachings of Becky Fischer, which frankly appears to be a mishmash of old and new covenant in the film, were edited to seem that way so as to stoke up the fires of controversy.

Jesus Camp does have an agenda. The directors, both non-believers, have produced the film to echo the political state of America and how evangelical Christians, the 30 million of them comprising 10% of the American population, can sway an election and how the children are ‘indoctrinated’ into the faith by their parents. I am certain that for most non-believers, the term ‘brainwashing’ comes to mind.

Believers with some foundational knowledge of the gospel will definitely enjoy some scenes in the film. The handsome Levi, tells Becky that he wishes he can be less shy and be able to go up to talk to people, but says that he isn’t shy when he’s moved by the Spirit. Tory loves dancing and Christian rock music, and confesses it’s hard not to ‘dance in the flesh’. Rachael is a lovable kid who stammers a little, but is no less bold about professing her faith.

The best part about Jesus Camp was when the film moved towards chronicling the events at the camp itself. Levi seemed like a very special boy who was asked to preach, and his preparation was a mix of boyish glee and surprisingly mature seriousness. Tory, however, didn’t get much screen-time – I also had trouble distinguishing which kid she was in the camp. Rachael’s portrayal was more for her fervency and outspokenness of her beliefs (which I think the directors wanted to reveal as fanatic).

To witness the children praying in the Spirit during the ministering sessions and moved to tears by the presence of God was very poignant, and one particular scene stood out for me. Andrew, a startlingly eloquent blonde-haired boy, went up to the stage to share about how he doubted the truth of the bible and even the existence of God. Even though the directors cut to closeups of confused looks of the other children (which were also taken out of context), I couldn’t help feeling it was such a beautiful thing to see Andrew being so vulnerable to share. I suppose it’s very much like a caregroup setting!

Jesus Camp is a documentary, but only in the loosest interpretation of the word. It has taken several scenes out of context and produced it in a manner that portrays charismatics or Christians in general as fervent or devout to the point of being fanatical, irrational and histrionic. Grady and Ewing do seem intent to lead non-believers along this road.

When I was leaving the theatre, I overheard a youth telling his girlfriend: “That was just sick! I can’t believe they’re doing this!” That made me sad, because of all the veracity was ripped from the film. If the film was as ‘even-handed’ as it was purported to be, would responses to the film be so vehement?

However, for the believers, some scenes will warm your heart and the Spirit will rise up within and make you realise, “Hey, they’re just like us”. Sometimes we think we’re the only church in the entire world that matters, but God is working in places and people we can’t even imagine where, or who. Just like what He’s doing here in Singapore, He’s raising up history-makers all over the world as well.

And that thought makes me smile and be thankful that we have a Father in heaven who’s bigger than anything we can ever comprehend or understand.


Levi

Rating:

New Roads

New photos are up!

I’ll need a lot more work on the camera technique – too much evidence of camera shake, poor focus and exposure for it to be a fluke. It’s a tad disappointing, but things can only get better.

Arrow/YWA Launch/Sunday Set

Snow White & The Big Bad Wolf

Bigby:

“We can talk about her in detail if you like, but the gist is this.

Sarah’s one of the ways I tried to forget you. I also tried booze and solitude.

Nothing worked. How could it?

So here it is, one last time and then I’ll leave you alone forever, if that’s what you decide.

I love you, Snow, and have since the hour we first met.

Hell, I wanted you even before then. Since before we existed.

As if every movement of every star and planet, every tick of creation’s clock occurred only so that we could someday find each other.

Snow:

“Bigby, I…”

Bigby:

“I’m certainly no handsome prince, come to steal you away from all the cares of the world. I can never offer you riches and palaces or any sort of luxury.

But I think you’ve had your fill of such things by now.

What I can offer you is a home in our valley, where we can raise our kids.

And I’m old-fashioned enough that I think we should be married to do it.

(pause)

I think that’s your cue to say something now.”

Snow:

“Okay.

You’ve defeated me.

You win.”

Review: Fables

Fables is, by far, one of the best running series in comics today. Published on DC’s Vertigo imprint, it has garnered immense critical acclaim for its imaginative, compelling writing and stellar artwork ever since its debut in 2002.

Written by Bill Willingham and joined by regular penciller Mark Buckingham (also known to be a close friend and collaborator of Neil Gaiman), you find yourself immersed in a world come alive and populated with familiar characters. Throughout the series the reader encounters characters lifted from legends, myths, fairy tales, medieval poetry and nursery rhymes – from Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll and Aesop’s Fables – and brought to life again.

The folkloric characters in question are in exile, retreated into the world as we know it today, in escape from a tyrant only known as the Adversary, who has begun his merciless conquest of all the fairytale worlds. The Fables characters conceal their true nature from the ‘mundies’ to live in New York, along a street called Bullfinch Street, calling their little community Fabletown.

From the first issue, Willingham propels the reader right into the thick of the Fables universe. He employs a classic storytelling device – the whodunit – and through its unveiling, subtly introduces the various characters we will come to know, love and loathe. I bet you didn’t know Snow White had a sister, right? Well, neither did I, and here, right in the first story arc, we discover that Rose Red has been murdered. Bigby Wolf, the wolf that terrorised the Three Little Pigs and Red Riding Hood, is reformed, hirsute and chain-smoking, but also Fabletown’s sole detective, and called in to investigate.

Willingham’s writing is amazingly versatile. The overarching plot of the series is advanced slowly, but deliberately, and Willingham occasionally takes the reader into a deviating side-path that is both intriguing and delightful. We are given glimpses of a character’s past and background, while some story arcs follow the exploits and adventures of another. Classic favourites such as Snow White, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Bigby, Beauty and the Beast and Prince Charming all make regular appearances. The strength of Willingham’s writing is in his characterisation – evidenced in his clever wit and deft touch. Here, we witness a master storyteller in action, very much in the vein of Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey.

The artwork by Buckingham is astonishing, and the cover art by James Jean is no less accomplished. Buckingham’s art is intricate, meticulous and alive, exploiting Willingham’s writing to the fullest. There is something familiar in his art, but gloriously imaginative as well, very much like the fairy tales with pictures that we used to read. One of the pleasures of reading Fables is trying to figure which fairy tales to the minor characters belong to – such as Kay, the Red Cross Knight, Tam Lin, Britomart and several others.

Fables, as mentioned earlier, is published on DC’s Vertigo imprint (such as Marvel’s MAX line), so expect a certain measure of explicit content – such as violence (the communist Goldilocks meets a rather grisly demise) and nudity (Prince Charming is a rogue and cad). So consider this fair warning – Fables is a comic with adult themes and content, and despite being based on fairy tales, it shouldn’t be placed in the hands of the young (However, it is curious how it can be easily borrowed from the National Library – along with titles such as the Punisher).

Nevertheless, Fables is a must-read for any comics fan, and there isn’t 50 years worth of back issues and continuity to wrestle with. If you’re someone looking to see what the fuss with comics is all about, Fables is an excellent way to get started.

You can check out some of the awesome Fables artwork and panels here.

Rating:

Serving With a Heart of Worship

(written 16th September)

I’ve just got back from serving at the YWA’s Marked for Greatness launch earlier today.. or rather, yesterday, seeing that it’s already 1.38AM!

I think today just about stretched my limits – from waking up early to be at the event site at 9.15AM and then finally leaving Noel Building close to 1AM.

My feet are aching like crazy.. while the right ankle is creaking unsettlingly.. the skin of my fingers are bruised and smarting.. I am sticky all over.. and my eyes are half-closed.. but I came from the event receiving more than I had imagined.

Every expectation fulfilled, every question mark in my head answered with my Abba’s divine assurance.. I’ve come from the event knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that my Abba has me wrapped in His embrace. Feeling more certain than ever of the destiny and limitless potential I have in Jesus.. because all goodness unto me comes by grace, and not by my own efforts.

It is a blessed reassurance that the world can never give.

I’m glad that Ireen ‘volunteered’ me to join the logistics team, despite my initial misgivings, forI have witnessed how Abba has blessed me many times over. One of the dominant themes of the event was to share how some of the people who were in the ministry had grown and benefited so much from being in the ministry and serving in it, in what ever capacity.

As I listened to what they shared, from Sam and YY to Arthur and Rachel, I realised that I, too, have my own testimony.. and I see that I am still in the midst of it, in this season of new beginnings and an acceleration of growth in so many aspects of my life.

“For He will complete what He appoints for me” (Job 23:14)

I was musing in my mind again just now why I enjoy serving in logistics.. to call it a thankless job would be untrue, and a example of a petty heart. I receive so much more than what I ‘give’.. I take pleasure knowing that few people could or would volunteer readily to undertake the kind of tasks we do.. so it makes me feel special. Heh!

Seriously though, by serving in the logistics, I get to see how the church operates, the real behind-the-scenes stuff, especially for events such as these. As I watched the other servers going about their responsibilities, it filled me with a tremendous sense of appreciation for what they were doing to make everything work spiffily.

Take for example, the I.M team who’d cut out the funky oriental patterns and draped the cloth.. pasting them everywhere to decorate the event venue; the sound team who ensures that the praise and worship goes on smoothly and that Pastor Benjamin’s (yes, it’s no longer Pastor Chin!) preaching can be heard clearly to everyone in the room; the RSM who welcomes the people with a smile and a pleasant disposition; the video and photography crew who immortalize the day itself; the event committee who makes sure we even have a place to be at, have food to eat, chairs to sit and that everything that can be planned is planned for.

So even if I don’t know your names, I’d like to say thank you.. for having availed yourselves to Him and serving with a spirit of excellence. It truly humbles me when I watch all of you as you serve, because I know I could not do it as you do πŸ™‚

I think that I would not have seen all this if I weren’t serving in the logistics.. of course what I’ve said is merely the tip of the iceberg, and I’m writing this down to ensure I don’t forget it tomorrow morning, see how tomorrow is going to be another busy day for me.

The most significant thing that I remember about the event was as Pastor Benjamin was closing off the event. It was short, but no less poignant or powerful; such was the anointing and the presence of the Lord sweeping through the place. Pastor ended off the event by singing ‘Heart of Worship’ together with the music team.. as we began to sing it, it took only the first verse to send the tears streaming down my face.

It reminded me how I should serve with a heart of worship, because everything we do is in fact an act of worship unto Abba.. everything else is just superficialities and circumstancial.. take it all away, and what is left?

That’s the question that He reminded me I needed to ask myself.. was everything that I did or acted upon, a result of beholding the loveliness of the countenance of Jesus?

Because when we do.. when we let the love of God ensnare our souls.. we enter the flow. We become arrows that never miss the mark because we let ourselves be loosed by the Master Archer himself, Jesus.

“He opens their ears to instruction
and commands that they return from iniquity.
If they listen and serve him,
they complete their days in prosperity,
and their years in pleasantness.” Job 36:10-11

Farewell

You are a question
upon a thousand.

What I know
of you
is the fading light of day,
in the shadows
that strike our sight
in the
horizon at midnight.

Only the regretful sea
brings the moments,
long gone,
in the waves that
touch our shores
again and again,
of promises already
carried away
by the breeze,
forgotten.

We could have
danced
in beautiful twilight
in quiet-soaked
evenings,
even in
greatest dusk,
we could have.

You are
a question.

A walk with
different heartbeats
taking delight
in dissimilar dreams
we step in unparallel,
running in
divergent directions.

Now I see in you
an answer
and it is farewell.

“The memory of you emerges from the night around me.” – Pablo Neruda, in A Song of Despair

“Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Cor 13:11

Jay Chou’s Secret (δΈθƒ½θ―΄ηš„η§˜ε―†)

Jay Chou’s directorial debut is a romance flick catered no doubt for his legions of female fans, all too eager to spend nine dollars to pass the next ninety minutes gazing wistfully at their idol.

The film’s marketing boasts of a ‘genre-changing’ twist two-thirds into the screentime, but as we jaded moviegoers know, twist or not, Chou’s fangirls will still be streaming in to cinema theatres nonetheless. But for the rest of us, it’s the promise of discovering this eponymous ‘secret’ .

Secret is said to be Jay Chou’s vanity project, but it plays out like a dream made flesh for one of the region’s most popular and successful singers. One imagines the film to be one of the many adolescent fantasies Chou has dwelled lengthily in his head before attaining fame, which will undoubtedly strike a tender chord in the hearts of the film’s teen demographic.

Jay Chou plays Lun, a self-effacing but brilliant piano student who bumps into the saccharine-sweet Yu (the luminous Gui Lun Mei) on his first day in school. The two youngsters immediately become enamoured of each other, playing at juvenile flirting and stealing moments together as their relationship progresses. The young couple hit a rough patch in the middle of the film; misunderstandings are, of course, in the natural order of things in such films, because happily-ever-afters don’t come easy, after all. A pair of schoolmate-ruffians and Chiu (the eminent Anthony Wong displaying his classic charm), Lun’s father, provide the comedic effect.

Everyone who wants to watch this film have probably already done so, but I shall refrain from spoilers nevertheless.

A film like this requires suspension of disbelief and a rather large pinch of salt. There is nothing gritty or realistic in Secret because it is essentially a feature-length Chinese music video. No doubt, there are sweet moments of romance and scenes running high with emotion, but the story is nondescript, the dialogue cringeworthy at times and a fair number of done-to-death plot devices. The pacing leaves much to be desired, and one wonders at how quickly the two fall in love; the question begs to be asked: is it true love, or just raging hormones?

Chou’s acting chops are barely given a stretch in this film – Lun appears to be merely another variation of the brooding young men he’s played in film so far (Takumi in Initial D, the prince in Curse of the Golden Flower). In Secret, one cannot tell the person Jay Chou from the character Lun.

Gui Lun Mei, probably unfamiliar to most of the audience (including myself), plays Chou’s love interest Yu in the film and reputed as an acclaimed indie film actress. The nature of her role doesn’t allow us to experience the breadth of her abilities, but it is her efferverscent performance that pulls the film out of the doldrums.

Despite the flaws of the film, it is still competently directed. The cinematography is beautiful, and one of the film’s redeeming points is its careful selection of music. The pieces are bittersweetly evocative, lingering in the recesses of ones memory as the film continues. The music proves to be the most resonating aspect of it, even as the credits are rolling.

For a debut, Jay Chou has acquitted himself rather well. Secret is fine entertainment, even if only for ninety minutes, and a pleasant diversion from the harsher realities of life that await outside the theatre. The film is an anecdote, almost fairy-tale or myth-like in quality, of young love, full of hearts, flowers and all things gooey. However, one suspects that it won’t be the secret that’ll be worth repeating, but the music that people will be talking about.

Rating: