Saturday, 22 March 2008

BBC Passion - Good Friday

There were some surprising omissions in this episode - after all the effort to show that Pilate was a somewhat unwilling participant in Jesus' death, they didn't show him washing his hands. Perhaps this was because in the Gospel versions, he then told the Jews that they were responsible for what was to happen - could there have been some politically correct concerns about not offending modern day Jews here? Certainly if you didn't already know the background, you might be hard pushed to identify the people as Jews in this version - as far as I can recall, the word 'Jew' is never mentioned. Jesus is not even accused of being (or calling Himself) the King of the Jews, but the 'King of Judaea'.

During the Crucifixion, Jesus is offered some wine on a sponge before He's actually nailed to the cross - and He refuses it. This was a detail I had not picked up on before, and I thought it was an invention of the director, particularly as the more widely-known account of Jesus saying He is thirsty and being offered a sponge dipped in vinegar is not included. But there it is, in Mark 15:23. I'm still not sure about the exchange that takes place in the film, though - the Roman soldier who offers it to Him says it will be less painful if He is drunk when He dies, and Jesus says words to the effect that He would prefer to die sober.

Some of the Last Words are covered beautifully - I cried when Jesus asked John to look after His Mother (a little more long-winded than "This is your mother", but "This is your son" stayed more or less intact). Others, including His very last words, were omitted altogether.

The episode ended as Jesus took His last breath. I'll be interested to see where it picks up on Sunday. So far, this adaptation has really brought home to me the human side of Jesus - the agony in the Garden, the pain and suffering, the struggle between His desire not to go through that suffering and His desire to do God's Will. Perhaps it has erred too far on the former side, but I think that's a minor quibble. Both mental anguish and physical suffering have been portrayed in a clear and unmistakable way, but without making it into a snuff movie.

I've seen evidence of His suffering, and of His compassion and love, and of the charisma that made the crowds follow Him. Of His divinity, I have seen less. Three of the four Gospels refer to the sky darkening as His death approached - in this adaptation, the sun continues to shine brightly. In fact, the director said in an interview that the actual filming of the Crucifixion scene had to be delayed, because every time they tried to roll the cameras, the clouds rolled in and the sky turned black!

Since the episode finished as He took His last breath, we didn't see the piercing of His side. We didn't see the veil of the Temple being torn, or the earth quaking, or any of the other dramatic events which surrounded Jesus' death in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

So far, although there are things I would have changed, and things that jarred because they didn't accord with my understanding of the Gospels, I'm still finding this adaptation hugely watchable. More importantly, although there are gaps which I'm filling in by going back to check the Gospels, this series is enhancing my understanding of what Jesus suffered for us.

The final episode will depict the Resurrection. I look forward to hopefully seeing a little more of Jesus' divinity being revealed in this episode.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

I'm so excited!

I shouldn't really talk about this yet, as it depends on various people agreeing to it, but I'm just so thrilled at the idea of it (and so is New Man - there's a reason I love this guy!). It's looking like a strong possibility that my eldest niece will be making her First Communion at our wedding!!! All we need now is for my sister's baby to come early, and we could get a baptism in too!

Monday, 17 March 2008

BBC Passion - Day Two

Today's episode, much more than yesterday, I think, contained a high proportion of fabrication. Once again, we saw the build-up to Jesus' arrest from the point of view of Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. We saw more of their motivations and more of the political background. We also saw a lot more dissent from the apostles than is mentioned in the Gospels. An attempt (successful, in my view) has been made to create a multi-layered drama rather than a story from one person's point of view.

I did find this a little more frustrating today, and there were times when I thought, "This is a total fabrication, and they're making Jesus more seditious than He really was." Once again, I was driven to my own Bible, and read the accounts in all four Gospels. This is the first time I've been moved to do this so immediately (actually during the programme this time) on the basis of a film or television programme.

As it turned out, the BBC portrayal of Jesus was a lot closer to the Gospels than I had thought. My mind has skipped over passages such as Matthew 23 in the past - but looking at it again, it is pretty seditious. And it would have frightened the chief priests and elders if they were trying to keep the peace in a crowded (and occupied) city in the run-up to a major Jewish festival.

And what of the pure invention - the conversation between John and Jesus, where John tries to persuade Jesus to leave Jerusalem and save Himself; Judas' desperate pleas to Caiaphas not to be made to betray Jesus; the cloak and dagger approach to the upper room in which the Last Supper is to take place; the conversation at the end between John and Peter, where they discuss whether Jesus will go through with it?

These are indeed all fabrications - but are they faithful fabrications? Do they help us to understand what happened in those few days, or do they simply try to put across the producer's own agenda?

For me, they are faithful attempts to explain the events of the Gospels, to put them into context. Viewers may or may not feel that they have succeeded, or even that they are necessary in the first place - but what the writer and producer have NOT done is to twist events to suit some secular agenda. There's no political correctness, no homosexuality, no suggestion that Jesus was sleeping with the prostitute - just a straightforward attempt to provide historical background to the events and to flesh out some of the characters so that we can understand them better.

The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales urges us to use this new production to evangelise. There are parts of the dramatisation that do not correspond to the Gospels, and there are some which are not in accordance with Catholic teaching (one of the more obvious so far being Mary's statement in her conversation with Jesus last night that "I didn't choose to have you, you know" - errrm, actually, one of the major reasons we revere Our Lady is precisely because she said "yes").

There will also be some parts that individuals will find are not in accordance with their own view of Jesus - we've all seen many film and TV adaptations of the greatest story ever told, and we each have our own favourite portrayal of Jesus.

But this is a major and very watchable dramatic production which, let me say again, is being shown on BBC1 at prime time. It's expected to attract audiences of 10 million - that's one person in every six in the UK. It will be discussed at water coolers at work, on the internet, on the bus and in the pub.

I feel very strongly that we Catholics in the UK should be watching it, so that we can join in those conversations - maybe point out some of the inaccuracies, but also acknowledge the places where this version is faithful to the Gospels. And we should be ready to answer people's questions and to counter any challenges that they offer.

The third episode is being shown on Good Friday at 9:00 pm - that gives us plenty of time to get home from church and eat our hot cross bun. The first three episodes are being repeated on Easter Sunday from 2:15 pm, before the climax of the Resurrection is shown in the final episode at 7:30 pm. So most of BBC1's prime time viewing on what to the majority of people in the UK these days is probably just day three of a four day holiday is given over to explaining what this holiday is all about.

I don't say this very often - in fact, I haven't said it for years, if ever - but jolly well done, BBC!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

BBC Passion

I've just been watching the first episode of the BBC's new dramatisation of the Passion, which is being shown in four parts - tonight, tomorrow, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

I admit to having been a little sceptical about this production beforehand - it's had plenty of pre-publicity, and the 'hook' that the media used this time was the supposed new take on various key 'baddies' - Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas Iscariot - each of whom was said to be presented in a way that attempted to explain his motivations and paint him as a multi-faceted character dealing with his own concerns in his own way rather than some pantomime villain.

I watched it anyway - although I refuse to watch anything which I know will be blasphemous (such as the awful Jerry Springer opera), most reports emphasised that the producer in this case claimed he was making an honest attempt to be faithful to the Gospels.

I can also remember year after year in which I have looked at the TV schedules for Holy Week, only to comment in despair that the only nod towards the importance of this week for the huge numbers of Christians in the country is perhaps a repeat showing of 'Jesus of Nazareth' at 3 am on Good Friday on one of the digital (ie, not universally available) channels.

So for the beginning as well as the end of Holy Week to be marked with a dramatisation of the events leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection - framing the week with prime time BBC1 programming recognising the place of Christianity in the life of this country and the place of this week in the lives of Christians - is, I think, an occasion for some celebration. It even has a couple of big names as an added pull for the audience - James Nesbitt, Paul Nicholls...

Tonight, I just noticed in time that the first episode was about to start. As an interesting point of contrast, New Man and I had just been watching Pasolini's 'The Gospel According to St Matthew' on DVD. I love this film, but it has two defects in my eyes - there are too many Significant Silences With Brooding Looks, and Jesus' preaching is angrier and shoutier than I imagine it to have been in reality (to be fair, that might just be because it's in Italian - Italians often sound to me as though they're arguing when they're just having a lively chat!).

'Jesus of Nazareth' is another good attempt, but also suffers from the Significant Silences With Brooding Looks, along with the fact that whenever Jesus is about to perform a miracle, He looks as though He's suffering from severe constipation. And Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' is just too violent for me.

So I was in a receptive mood when 'The Passion' began this evening, with the entry into Jerusalem. It's not perfect, and people will always find things to quibble with. But I found it extremely watchable, and am greatly looking forward to tomorrow's episode.

Joseph Mawle's portrayal of Jesus as a simple man of great charisma is outstanding. The scene where Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes. And I loved the scene where Jesus and His followers were gently tending to the beggars at the pool. I also loved the little vignette between Jesus and His Blessed Mother - even though I wasn't entirely happy at the way Our Lady was portrayed (as a little disillusioned, jaded perhaps). Yes, it's a total invention - but I can just imagine a headstrong young man (and let's face it, Jesus was pretty headstrong) having a conversation like that with his mother.

What we saw today emphasised Jesus' humanity, and His great love. It also showed how simple yet radical His message was. I hope to see more of His divinity as the story unfolds, but this is a Jesus I can relate to, with a message I want to listen to and no trickery to distract me from that message. One of the things I didn't like at all in Mel Gibson's version was the computer-generated devil that kept appearing to hammer home to us that something wicked was going on. For me, it was a cartoonish device that wasn't necessary and actually detracted from the simplicity and power of the Gospel message.

This adaptation aims to show some of the historical background to Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. It shows the tensions between the Jews and their Roman rulers, the underlying unrest and the fears of the high priests that they would have their authority taken from them by their Roman masters if they were unable to keep the peace.

Is it a whitewash of the villains of the piece? Well, Judas Iscariot felt such guilt at his betrayal of Jesus that he committed suicide. Pontius Pilate could find no fault with Jesus, and washed his hands of him. Look at Matthew 27:24:

Then Pilate saw that he was making no impression, that in fact a riot was imminent. So he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd and said, "I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your concern."

So instantly we see that, while this new interpretation takes some poetic licence to explain the background to the potential riot, and brings in (invents) a whole new sub-plot with the murder of a tax collector by Jesus Barabbas and the latter's subsequent arrest, it doesn't come from nowhere. And maybe it does help us to understand the context in which it was possible for Jesus to be arrested and put to death when all he had done was preach a message of love and peace.

But you know what the best thing is about this new adaptation? As soon as it was over, I rushed to my New Testament to remind myself how the same events were portrayed in the Gospels. And a hugely watchable prime-time TV drama which provokes a bit of thought and causes anyone to reach for their Bible is one which I think should be welcomed. Mel Gibson never did that for me.


We had a great day yesterday. Before New Man got here, I mopped the kitchen and sitting room floors and scrubbed a few surfaces. In the afternoon, he put books back on shelves while I carried on cleaning the kitchen.

When I moved into the house, the previous owners told me that the wooden worktops needed to be oiled about once a year. I bought some oil, and it's been sitting in the cupboard ever since. In the meantime, I've bought an unvarnished beech kitchen table and an unvarnished teak coffee table/bench.

You may have heard a faint slurping sound coming from the area of southern England yesterday. That would have been the kitchen table and the coffee table. I finally got round to oiling the wood, and boy, am I glad I did it! The oil was soaking in almost before I could spread it - the kitchen table alone took half the bottle. As it soaked in, it really brought out the beauty and richness of the wood, particularly on the coffee table. And hopefully now rings from tea and coffee cups won't soak in so easily, and I'll be able to relax a bit more when I have guests of the less careful variety.

After the wood was nicely oiled, New Man and I put the kitchen back together. We decided together where things would go, and several items have found new homes. My kitchen looks soooo great now, and I can't wait to get back to making bread and soup, now that my bread machine and blender are back in place.

Clearing the kitchen stuff back into the kitchen also meant we were able to relax on the sofa in the evening, listening to classical music on the radio and choosing the readings for our wedding (I'll do a separate post on that later). Since the front room has looked like this for over a month now, you can imagine what a relief that was!

But the best thing is that at the end of the day, New Man said, "I've really enjoyed today - I felt as if I was moving in. This really feels like home now."

He's been staying here most weekends that we weren't away somewhere for months, and we chose the colours together when the painter was coming. But after the wedding, he is going to be moving in here permanently.

I'm so happy that he now feels like he'll be coming home.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Weddings and marriages

Well, after our row on Tuesday, New Man sent me a very sweet e-mail saying he had thought about what I said and he agreed with it (sensible chap!). We've agreed that we need to spend more time preparing not just for the one day of the wedding, but for the marriage which we intend to last the rest of our lives.

So tonight we're going to sit down with the Bible and a list of possible readings, and read passages to each other and discuss them. We're both really looking forward to this, and I'm so pleased that he will have an input - his previous response when I said we needed to choose some readings was, "Well, I'll trust your judgement on that".

I've suggested that we go for a day out some time before the wedding to one of the shrines of Our Lady, where we can focus on what's important and not worry about all the hectic activity we usually cram into our weekends. He agreed that we should "do something like that", though I'm not sure he's really sold on the idea of a shrine.

And I'm going to buy a couple of books for us to read and talk about - which books they are depends slightly on what the particular shop I go to has available, but I'll take a list of your suggestions with me...

Meanwhile, the plans for the single day are progressing apace. On Wednesday I had my first dress fitting. The woman in the shop was very casual when I ordered my dress, saying that the bridesmaids' dresses could be ordered much closer to the time. Apparently it is now much closer to the time, and we need to get the bridesmaids' measurements and get those dresses on order YESTERDAY. (How do you convey a sense of urgency to the mother of a little bridesmaid without sounding hectoring...?)

And yesterday the favours for the female guests arrived. Since my brother moved to the US, every time he has come back with his family we have rented a big place where the whole family could stay together for a week. He usually comes in the summer, so the place where we stay is by the sea - and coincidentally, most of the randomly chosen places we have stayed at have had peacocks in the grounds. So when New Man and I found the place for our reception, I knew it was 'right' when I saw that it too had peacocks. And I used to work in China. So I was delighted when I found these:

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Just because I can...

Actually, a more accurate title for this post would be "just to see if I could...".

I mentioned a while ago that I'd joined a gym, and since the beginning of this year I've been on a real healthy eating kick (not a diet per se, but trying to eat sensibly and cut out the junk).

My clothes have gradually been getting looser, and tonight on a whim I decided to try a little experiment. And sure enough...

(drum roll here, please)...

I took off my jeans without undoing them!!!!!!

Oh dear, more expense in the run-up to the wedding - it's time to go clothes shopping, I think.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

When activity goes down...

I just thought I'd mention something that's happened since I had my long blogging break. I managed to break my addiction to Statcounter, but I do glance at it from time to time. Now, before my break, all my visits were from individuals, who had found my blog either through someone else's blog or through some obscure Google search.

When my blog had been inactive for a little while (I can't remember exactly, but I think it was at least a month), the hits suddenly started to go up again, and I looked at Statcounter to see what was going on. It turned out that I was getting approximately 20 hits a day from Google Images, and that has continued and is still going on today.

I don't know if it was the lack of activity on the blog that made the Google web-bot (or whatever they call it) home in and start cataloguing all my pictures, but I do know that all the pictures on my blog now come up when you do a relevant search on Google Images. Most of mine came from Google Images anyway, and I never post pictures of identifiable people, but it is a bit freaky to see my holiday snaps coming up on a Google search, and sometimes even on the first page of the results.

So I suppose first, I was wondering if any of you have experienced or heard of a similar thing, and know whether it is the lack of activity which caused this to begin. But more importantly, I wanted those of you who post family pictures to know that this happens. I don't want to freak you out, and I have just googled a couple of names of people who I know post pictures of their children and absolutely nothing came up in Google Images.

But if you're going to go for long periods without updating your blog, maybe it would help to password protect it, at least temporarily, to prevent your children's pictures being available on Google Images. (Please don't delete your blogs, though - the URL will still exist, and will be taken over by dodgy advertisers.) I don't know if anyone else has any other suggestions...

A favour to ask you all

I had a lovely e-mail from my sister-in-law the other day, in which she mentioned how busy I've been recently. She said I needed to give myself time to prepare myself spiritually for the changes that are about to happen in my life, and suggested someone that I could go and stay with for a mini retreat.

Now, time really has been a pretty scarce commodity round here recently. Last week, I was working till midnight every night, getting up at 5:00 the next morning to carry on with my work, and even working while I was on the train to work (time I usually spend reading the newspaper). In between all that work, I was shifting furniture from room to room, nipping out to buy paint whenever the painters needed more, and trying to arrange little details for the wedding.

It's been that way pretty much since early February - and I feel as though spiritually, this is the worst Lent I've had in years. I've done no extra spiritual reading, I haven't been to Mass any more often than I usually go, and I haven't set aside additional time for prayer and reflection. In fact, I was astonished when I realised that next week is Holy Week - I feel as though Lent has barely begun.

My sister-in-law was right - I need to stop running round like a headless chicken and calm down for the next two months, two weeks and five days. Unfortunately, this conclusion led to a row with New Man last night, when he listed out his assumptions about what's going to happen for the next few weekends. He appeared to have made big plans for us (without consulting me) for every weekend up to the end of April, although he later backtracked and claimed they were just suggestions (you know, the sort of suggestions that begin, "And of course, the following weekend we'll be going to...").

This weekend, I'm going to sit him down and focus on the Order of Service. We've already (more or less) chosen our hymns, and we'll look at readings and really try to read and appreciate them and try to decide which ones we'd like. Then the first weekend in April, we have our marriage preparation course, which I'm sure will give us plenty of food for thought.

But I suppose I'm also looking for some ideas from you (yes, all three of you who are still reading this blog). If you're married, how did you prepare for your marriage? Whether you're married or not, do you have any suggestions for things that New Man and I can read together and discuss to help us prepare for our new life?

Any thoughts that you can share with me would be very much appreciated...

Monday, 10 March 2008

Corporate branding

I think the firm I work for is taking its corporate branding a bit far. Today I was issued with a new computer, but I was told that I had to run a particular programme beforehand, in preparation for the change.

As the programme ran, this pop-up message appeared on my screen:

I'll let you know if New Man notices any changes...

Saturday, 8 March 2008

How long was I asleep?

OK, I was pretty tired when I went to bed, after a week of working very long hours and shifting furniture in the middle of the night so the painters could get at different rooms. So I woke up this morning, turned on the computer and went into online banking to check my statements and sort out a few bills.

According to my bank statement, the most recent transaction on my account took place on 10 March 2008. I'm sure it was only 7 March when I went to bed. How long have I been asleep....?

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Just for the record...

Here are a few things I have done in the past two weeks:
  1. Dug out my laptop from under the huge heap of stuff in the front room.
  2. Done loads of reading and figured out what I'm going to cover and how I'm going to cover it in the new course I'm teaching next week.
  3. Spent a day and a half looking after my nieces when my sister wasn't well.
  4. Prepared the final list of people I want to invite to the wedding and their addresses.
  5. Looked up the addresses of all the people New Man had put on his list and not provided full addresses for.
  6. Written a detailed information sheet to go with the invitations, covering directions to the church and reception, menu choices, information for those bringing children, etc - and printed 75 copies of it.
  7. Made a few more arrangements for the wedding, in dozens of long phone calls and e-mails.
  8. Spent last weekend with my parents and celebrated Mothering Sunday a week early with my mother.
  9. Arranged to take my future parents-in-law out for Mothering Sunday tomorrow.
  10. Kept all my appointments, however difficult it was.
  11. Spent hours on the phone to two people I'm very close to who are both going through very difficult times at the moment.
  12. Attended the award ceremony for a course I recently completed (I now have more letters after my name than in it).
  13. Sorted out all my belongings and papers at work and packed what I'm keeping into crates ready for a move to new offices this weekend.
  14. Done all the above while struggling with a throat infection that's making me feel like I've been run over by a train.

And here are some of the things I haven't managed to do:

  1. Make my house habitable - I'm still camping out in one room and waiting for the painter to return and finish the job (after a 2 week break).
  2. Prepare the slides and handouts for the course I'm teaching next week.
  3. Get enough sleep.
  4. Spend as much time as I'd like with New Man.
  5. Get anybody to deliver what was expected of them in the timeframe they had promised and to the standard that was expected.

Ho hum. This too will pass...