Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Five "news" items on the new look SMH

I see the smh online has a completely new look today. I got quite a surprise when seeing it for the first time this morning. I think I quite like the new layout.

But one thing sure hasn't changed. Here's five items deemed to be "newsworthy" by the smh online editors at the time I looked at the front page this evening:

1. Scud makes his pick: Philippoussis goes public with his dating show winning candidate. This was the top headline story I must point out with the most prominent accompanying picture.

2. Star treatment for Michelle: She may play the villain but Pfeiffer was all smiles on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

3. What the gossip mags say: Poor Kirstie Alley can't indulge in a Mars Bar or 10 without them finding out. OK, so I know this column is a bit of a toungue-in-cheek-holier-than-thou send up of the gossip mags, but don't go telling me the Herald isn't using its weekly "What the gossip mags say" spot simply to disguise it's own indulgence in celebrity gossip behind a thinly veiled veneer of broadsheet "quality" city newspaper snobbery.

4. Trash Talk: Jude and Cam? Reese and Ryan? Trouble with Brangelina? It's Trash Talk time again. See point 3 above.

5. Box office poison: Crowe not worth the money - Australian actor gives the worst box office return on his salary, according to Forbes. OK, that's vaguely news. But it's still really just indulging in discussing celebrity salaries isn't it?

Is there really much difference between the SMH online and New Idea? Hhhmmm ... not sure ...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Five interesting things about Dubai

Dubai: 1990

Dubai: 2005

1. There are more cranes in Dubai than any other city in the world. Estimates range from 15% to 24% of the world's construction cranes are currently located in Dubai. It is the world's fastest growing city.

2. The expatriate population of Dubai is about 85%.

3. The median age in Dubai is 27 years.

4. The ratio of males to females in Dubai is 3:1.

5. Although the average temperature in Dubai in the coming week will range from a minimum of 31 to a maximum of 42, you can still go snow skiing in any day of the year in downtown Dubai.

A mysterious God? Salvation is tangible ...

Dan is posting some excellent stuff on music lately.  This post is gold.  All about how humans love mystery, but ultimately knowing God is not mysterious at all.
Dan starts out stating that we humans are into a bit of mystery:
Humans love mystery. Particularly in worship we are generally drawn to the mysterious. There is a sense in our post modern society that if it is mysterious it has meaning or value.
He then goes on to talk about examples of Christians craving mystery and an "ethereal experience" of God.  Then he gets to this bit which is the highlight of the piece, and beautifully expressed:
However there can be a problem when we prefer a good mystery to a revealed truth. Jesus is God in flesh. He is a tangible reality. He ate. He died. He walked around. He was not a spirit being who was beyond us but rather was God with us. No doubt this is a earth-shattering concept but salvation itself is tangible.

Good stuff.  A fleshly Jesus.  A tangible salvation.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Name dropping

Went to a Sydney Theatre Company function last night and it was a case of spot the celebrity/VIP. I'm going to engage in some unashamed name dropping, but given the "five" theme of my blog I'll limit myself to just that number!

1. Andrew Upton (unfortunately his more famous wife, none other than Cate Blanchett, failed to turn up!).

2. Nick Greiner and Kathryn Greiner - I'm sneaking two names in under the one family!

3. Bob Carr (and yes, Bob did speak with Nick Greiner!).

4. Andrew Hansen of The Chaser.

5. Barry Otto.

There were a few more, but to go any further would be bragging ...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More from Mars Hill on hymns

Seems like my Baz Lurhman theory of modernizing hymns was not entirely misplaced. From what Mars Hill have published on their own site looks like they have a similar theory when it comes to singing songs that connect with the past but are in tune with modern culture.

Here's what Joe Day has to say on Why We Don't Use Mainstream Songs:

At Mars Hill we chose to not use mainstream contemporary Christian music for three main reasons. The first reason is their theological content is often pretty minimal. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally this is true. For the ones that do contain good theology, there’s a second obstacle – we have to pay to use them (due to publishing laws). Since we live in a place where songwriters and creative people abound, we’ve simply not considered paying for worship music a viable option. Instead, we opt to write our own music and rearrange old hymns. We rearrange the old-school hymns because their content is rich, the imagery is vivid, and the theology elevates Christ magnificently. Plus, they are in the public domain, which means we don’t have to pay to use them. The original arrangements are artifacts of the era in which they were written–often times very difficult to sing–but because the content is so rich, they beg to be rearranged in a way that makes sense in Seattle. And so we rearrange.
And here's what Pastor Tim Smith says about Christmas carols, which are also in the style of old hymns:

When it comes to Christmas music standards you have to leave the melody in tact—and rest assured we have. However, in keeping with Mars Hill’s philosophy of hymn arrangement we have done our best to frame these beautiful old melodies into a modern, musical context.

Historically speaking, many of the old hymns we sing have a separate author for the tune and the text. Over the years these texts have been put to a number of different tunes to fit with a particular people in a particular place and time. We see ourselves as a part of that continuum of people seeking to bring glory to Jesus in a way that resonates with the people of our culture.

In many ways this is how we are to live as Christians: we share an ancient message (the truth of Jesus) and we articulate that message in the current language and culture of our time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Five thoughts on kids and food

I've been meaning to blog on this topic for a while, but the small debate over at Craig's blog yesterday on kids and food has prompted me to do it now.

Now you're all going to think I'm a food snob or a food nazi or a party pooper, and I'm sure I'll get shot down in flames because hardly anyone I knows shares these views, but here goes. I think that, on the whole, our society has a Bad Attitude when it comes to how we feed kids. It's no wonder there's an increasing obesity epidemic. But it's not just about health, it's also about simple taste! This attitude is exhibited in a number of ways. Here's five of them:

1. As I said over at Craig's blog, it troubles me that junk food is equated with fun. This comes through in what we hand out to kids at their parties (and then give them another bag full of the junk to take home!!!), through to the face of McDonalds being a fun loving clown. Indeed, McDonalds can wear a lot of the blame in my opinion. I have no time for that institution at all. It serves up crap disguised as food, and clothes it in a sugar coating (literally) of fun - kids playgrounds, kids parties, free toys with meals. The one time I took my daughter (then aged only 1) to McDonalds (only because of lack of choice on the highway!), she started kicking her legs with excitement at the sight of the bright vibrant colours - it immediately appeals to kids.

2. The other similar thing that troubles me is that so many restaurants have a "kids menu" which invariably consists of chicken nuggets, chips, hamburgers or anything else battered - once again, crap. I'm not saying I never eat those things (though chicken nuggets I will draw the line at), but when meals such as these are the only things on a so-called "kids menu" what on earth is the message that we are conveying?? What's wrong with sharing some of your risotto with the child? Or serving child sized portions of risotto? This happens also in homes. We have one meal for the adults, and another for the kids, and often the kids meal is stuff warmed up from the frozen food section of Coles.

3. We also use junk food as the reward for "eating your greens". It pits the "nice food" against the "necessary evil food". Again, what's the message this is sending? Why not encourage kids to enjoy avocado, or brocolli, or peas. Cook them in interesting ways. Eat foods raw (my girls love snapping open snow peas and gobbling them up). Give them flavoursome sauces. Get them to help you cook them to increase their interest.

4. Apart from the health issues, there's a broader issue of letting our kids develop a wide taste for interesting and varied foods. Frankly, whether McDonalds is nutritious or not (and we know the answer to that), the simple fact is it tastes like vomit. Why limit them to such garbage when there is a world of interesting and delicious foods out there. In multicultural Sydney there is no excuse - there is such variety to try. Take them out for Vietnamese or Lebanese or Indian. Let them try olives and grilled eggplants and Pad Thai and hommous and curries.

5. Finally, I feel that we often treat our kids like second class citizens. We eat the expensive good stuff ourselves, and give them the cheap stuff. We justify it by saying they're too young to appreciate it. Garbage. My own hypocrisy on this was exposed when we had a family over for a meal and served a cheese platter - a block of blue vein cheese (more expensive) for the adults and block of cheddar cheese for the kids (surely that's all their unsophisticated palates can handle?). Guess which one the kids got stuck into? The blue vein!! And why not - let them enjoy the good stuff too! Why should the adults have all the nice food?

Anyway, there's my thoughts? What are yours?


Just clicked over to 1,500 hits. It took me till 21 June (nearly 6 months) to reach 1,000, and has now taken less than 3 weeks to increase that amount by 50%. Just goes to show posting more often really does work ...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Five thoughts while on a lunch time jog

1.  The USS Kitty Hawk is a very big ship.  And attracted a very great number of spectators, more people to duck and weave while jogging.
2.  The Bold and the Beautiful cliches aside, Sydney is a very beautiful city, especially on a blue sky day like today and especially when running harbourside.
3.  Mat is a very good mate, who I haven't seen anywhere near often enough in recent years.  Was very good to bump into him on said harbourside run. 
4.  Inviting American sailors to come to church at the Cathedral while the USS Kitty Hawk is docked in the harbour is a very good idea (well done Mat).
5.  In case I haven't mentioned it before , Mars Hill music is very excellent and on a iPod makes a great jogging soundtrack.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Baz Luhrman and hymns

What has Baz Luhrman got to do with hymns, you might ask? Good question.

I've been doing a lot of posting lately about modernizing old hymns - same lyrics and tunes, just modernized arrangements. I was listening to one of the Mars Hill recordings of All Creatures of Our God and King, and noticed the lyrics "Thou rushing wind that art so strong". What an old fashioned way to speak. Many of the hymns are like this - with smatterings of King James English and plenty of "thees" and "thous".

What do we do with these when trying to modernize the hymn?

This is where the old Baz comes in. Have you seen his version of Romeo + Juliet? Brilliant movie. The whole thing is spoken in Elizabethan English, just as per Shakespeare's original script. Baz has taken the raw product, and given it a thoroughly modern facelift but without changing the underlying story or words. The result is a work of pure artistic genius. There's no doubting this is a modern film, but there's also no doubting it's Shakespeare's original words. The viewer barely flinches when the characters speak in language from 400 years ago.

Same thing with hymns. Keep the tune, keep the lyrics, but give it a modern facelift. If you can carry it off like Baz did, then you'll have a distinctly modern feel, but with language that reminds you that the writers of these hymns lived in another era, but still worshipped the same God and Saviour we worship today, the same God and Saviour that has been worshipped down the ages.

There's something enriching about listening to Shakespeare and his other worldly language. And I think there's also something enriching about singing these old hymns with their language from another time. Change the words too much, and you risk changing the rich poetry of those hymns. And remember, it is only the odd word here and there - it's not like we're trying to sing in Latin!

Perhaps sometimes there's a bit of a cultural gap that results, but that's where the modern arrangement comes in - to bridge that gap and give a modern edge that is relevant to today's times, while retaining the rich heritage left by our forebears.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Decisionism and infant baptism

This is a post script to my last post below on "decisionism" and also follows through on some of the thoughts I posted a few months ago on infant baptism.

You see, ultimately I think the problem with the so-called "believers baptism" model is that it is decisionistic in its focus. It says a child cannot be baptised until she is old enough to have made a mature and well informed "decision". It doesn't seem to accept that faith is something that a child can grow into, and there may be no moment of "decision". There is a constant attempt to evangelize the child and have the child reach a point where they can "pray the prayer".

This is the wrong focus. You tell your 2 year old child that God created the world, that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus died on a cross, that Jesus rose from the dead, and the child will tend to believe those words. Some continue to grow in that belief, others later reject it, but the belief can and is nonetheless present at a young age. Infant baptism is an affirmation of that reality.

Decisionism and the sinner's prayer

John H has posted an alternative version of 2WTL (h/t Craig S). He said he was keen to avoid the "decisionistic" emphasis of the final box of 2WTL. I'm completely with him on that, not so much with respect to 2WTL (which, by the way, I think is generally great as a gospel summary), but more wanting to avoid the "decisionistic" emphasis of evangelicalism generally. Here's (you guessed it) five thoughts:

1. What do I mean by "decisionism"? It's a common feature of evangelicalism that, in the course of evangelism, the evangelist tries to get a "decision" out of someone to become a Christian. Moreover, it can be an attempt to get a decision expressed in a particular way - in the old days it was the altar call; nowadays in Sydney Anglican circles it tends to be "ticking the box" on a feedback card. In both cases it is accompanied by praying "the sinners prayer". So much so that the phrase "prayed the prayer" has become a synonym for "become a Christian".

2. There is much that is true about decisionism. Following Christ does involve making a conscious decision to do so. And in our evangelism we are to call on people to make a response to the gospel. But there's a few aspects I'm not keen on.

3. The gospel response the Bible seems to ask for is faith and repentance. Yes, there's an element of "decision", especially the repentance part. But for the faith part, it's more a case of simply believing. Do you believe Jesus is Lord? Do you believe he died for your sins? Do you believe he rose from the dead? For many (myself included) it can be a case of the penny suddenly dropping - one minute you lack belief, the next minute it falls into place and you believe it and grasp it. Or for others it may happen more gradually over time. It's not so much that I made a decision to be a Christian (although I did), but that God opened my eyes to see the truth and believe it. "Decisionism" can start to sound very Arminian, so I find it somewhat surprising it is so prevalent in our more Calvinist-inclined circles.

4. The other issue I have is the empahsis on "praying the prayer" as the expression of that decision. Barely a gospel tract or gospel outline exists without a version of the sinner's prayer to pray. Of course, there's nothing wrong with praying on conversion - indeed, it's a great thing to do! But as Phil said over in the comments at John H's blog, it implies that the newly-converted person has no faith or forgiveness before the prayer and gains both by the act of praying. Phil said he would teach people the 'convert's prayer'. "Do you believe this? Then the first thing to do is to say thankyou to God!". I like that.

5. Finally, if there is to be some physical expression of the new convert's faith, what's wrong with the physical expression used in the Bible - i.e. baptism? It seems the "sinner's prayer / altar call / tick the box" package has become the new initiatory sacrament of evangelicalism. Instead of ticking the box, what about just finding a nearby river or swimming pool or bath or jug of water and being baptised!! Indeed, even taking the Lord's Supper would be a good idea - eating the bread and drinking the wine as a sign of feeding on Christ in faith for the first time. I saw the Lord's Supper used in that way at St Helen's Bishopsgate in London on my recent trip, and we've done it a few times since at our church - i.e. use the Lord's Supper as a demonstration of new found faith - "if you have believed Jesus' promises for the first time today, why not take and eat this bread along with us".

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Five ways to make an impressive sounding menu

OK, this post is aimed at anyone out there who might be running a cafe or restaurant. This is not about how to cook an impressive sounding menu, but how to write an impressive sounding menu. How to describe the dishes so that any foodie will be salivating and not able to resist ordering that delicious sounding dish (note, it is a delicious sounding dish, not necessarily a delicious tasting dish!).

Here we go:

1. Method: refer to the manner in which the dish was cooked - add the words "pan fried" or "oven roasted" or "lightly seared" or "char grilled".

2. Place: refer to the geographical location from which the food emanated - try "Tasmanian salmon" or "Western Australian angus beef" .

3. Fed: refer to the manner in which the original animal was fed - "grain fed beef" or "corn fed chicken" or "milk fed veal".

4. Jus: give it some "jus" (i.e. a posh word for sauce!) - try "Cranberry jus" or "herb jus" or "red wine jus".

5. Bed: refer to a particular "bed" on which the main food item can rest - "a bed of rocket" or "a bed of spring greens" or "a bed of kumara" or "a bed of lettuce".

Add all these ingredients together and you get a scrumptious sounding gourmet (if not somewhat pretentious) treat. Try this:- Oven roasted grass fed lamb with a rosemary infused Barossa muscat jus served on a bed of grilled eggplant.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Five more Mars Hill hymns

I referred to five of these earlier (post now updated to include links to MP3 files of songs).

These guys truly do a great job with modernizing classic old hymns. So here's five more:

1. Holy, Holy, Holy - by The BCG. ("Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!God in three Persons, bless├Ęd Trinity!")

2. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (with a bit of "And Can It Be" thrown in for good measure) - by The Mars HillBillies. (Hillbilly indeed!) ("Did e'er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown.")

3. Be Thou My Vision - by The BCG. ("Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise; Thou mine inheritance, now and always...")

4. What A Friend We Have in Jesus - by Brothers of the Empty Tomb. ("What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!")

5. Nothing But The Blood - by The BCG. ("Nothing can for sin atone: nothing but the blood of Jesus.")

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Bold and the Beautiful in Sydney

No, I'm not a daytime soapie fan, but I was going for a jog around Mrs Macquarie's Chair a few months ago and I literally ran onto the set of The Bold and the Beautiful. A crew member chased me off. They were in Sydney filming their 20th anniversary episodes. The episodes apparently screened here last week. I couldn't resist checking it out on YouTube.

I think the first video is the scene I ran onto (and no, that's not me running around town with my shirt off chasing the woman!)

The second video I've just thrown in for good measure. It's pure schmaltz - what a sickeningly cliched portrayal of Sydney. ("Oh look, the Opera House.") Look out particularly for when they start trying to say "G'day" and use other Aussie lingo ...

And watch in both scenes for the hilarious way the camera pans out from two separate romantic embraces to reveal, surprise, surprise, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

The Bold and the Beautiful in Sydney #1

The Bold and the Beautiful in Sydney #2

Friday, June 29, 2007

End of financial year

Today is the last working day of the financial year. Here's five features of the end of financial year (or of the dawn of the new financial year) for me:

1. Bills, bills, bills - no, I don't mean paying them. I mean generating them. Anyone who works in professional services will know about this. Bill as many clients as possible before end of financial year to try to make budget for the year!

2. Consequently, not a lot of other work gets done in last couple of days of the financial year.

3. Pay rise time.

4. Tax cut time (at least that has been the case the last few Federal budgets).

5. Therefore, the challenge: pay rise + tax cut = how can I use the extra cash for good and for God's glory rather than for selfish pursuits?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I'll take my hymns with a pinch of grunge thanks

I spoke recently about doing modern arrangements for hymns - same tune, same lyrics, just smooth out the chords to be more guitar friendly and contemporary sounding. Contemporizing it, as Dan would say.

Well, thanks to David's free music links last week , I've discovered the ultimate in contemporized hymns - grunge! And who better to do grunge than a church from Seattle, the capital city of grunge. Seattle, the home of not only Kurt Cobain, but Mark Driscol, the reformissioning pastor of Mars Hill Church. And Mars Hill Church is the home of some outstanding contemporary Christian worship bands.

Go here to listen. Click on "music" in the menu, then "bands" and then across to each of the bands then click on the individual songs to either download or add to your playlist.

Try these ones on for size (five of them of course). All fantastic hymns in their own right, but now with a distinctly Seattle sound (OK, not all of them are particularly grunge, but they are all definitely edgy!). Can you get your church band to play like this?

1. All Creatures of our God and King - there's numerous versions, but try the ones by E-Pop, The Parsons and Red Letter. My fave is the E-Pop version.

2. Amazing Grace - again, a few versions to try, but try the two versions by E-Pop, and particularly good is the one by Team Strike Force.

3. How Great Thou Art - by Northern Conspiracy and The Parsons. How good are the lyrics to this song? We had it at our wedding ten years ago (a month after having sung it at my grandma's funeral, so a particularly moving hymn for my family). "And when I think that God His Son not sparing, sent Him to die I scarce can take it in ..."

4. It is Well With my Soul - by The Parsons. Good stuff.

5. Praise to the Lord - The Parsons again. Love the simple piano chords in this one.

Have a look around - there's much more than the 5 above. There's some good modern songs there too, but the hymn arrangements are gold. I'm feeling inspired ...

So does this mean the drought's over?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Five ways to increase blog hits

I'm not really the master at this, having only just gone over 1,000 hits myself, but I have seen what works and when the hits have increased more quickly, so here's five tips:

1. As Craig S would say, post regularly. The more posts, the more there is to read, the more often people will come back. Simple really. Craig S of course is the master at this, being a man who posts many, many entries every day.

2. Try to post on controversial topics. My hit rate piked (well, it was a pike by my standards, perhaps not for others) when I stirred up the waters of infant baptism earlier this year (10 comments, 3 links, can't remember how many hits). And when people comment on said controversial topic, respond to their comment to keep the discussion alive and people coming back.

3. Similarly, try to post on topics that other people are likely to find interesting and link to on their blogs. A bit of linkage always increases the hit rate. (Or get someone with a more popular blog, like your brother for example, to link to you, or perhaps have your brother, unbeknownst to you, suggest to someone else who has an even more popular blog, to link to you ...).

4. Comment on other people's blogs. They will see your hyperlinked name and then your blog is only a couple of clicks away.

5. Now this is Dave's technique. Try to post on something topical that people are likely to be searching for, and try to mention that particular topic as many times as possible in your post to increase the prominence of your entry in any search engine results. Dave tried this with his recent post on the frog-turned-prince, piece-of-coal-turned-diamond Paul Potts, the winner of Britain's Got Talent . How did it go Dave? Did people come to your site in a Potts driven frenzy?

Anyone got any more tips?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Now, about that whole "five" thing ...

One reason for finding frequent posting difficult is that I painted myself into a corner by choosing this "five" theme to my blog. It can take some time to think up five points on any given issue, let alone articulate those five points.

This post, and a few of mine over the last week or so, are examples of quick, sharp posts that are easier to do more often. (And via email as well.)

Guthers in fact mentioned in the comments over at The Fountainside the other day that he had noticed I'd started just posting a few lines (while SamR was getting into the whole five thing by doing "penta-posts"!).

I'm going to stick with the five theme, but keep interspersing my penta-posts with shorter, quicker posts to keep things moving ...

One thousand and one

That is the number my stat counter clicked over to today. I know some of you are celebrating 10,000, or 50,000 or even 175,000 hits, but I'm happy to have reached the magic 1,000!

Of course, posting more often might help. In the last few weeks, with a few extra posts the stat counter clicked over a lot faster.

I'll try to keep it up ...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Five cosmic truths from John 1

What a great chapter of the Bible, one of my favourites. It contains such mindblowing cosmic truths such as these:

1. In the beginning was the Word.

2. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.

3. Through him, all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

To think that he who is eternal, divine, the creator of all, the light of the world, came and dwelt among us, taking on our frail flesh, is truly amazing.

The Church's One Foundation

An update on my last post. The re-worked hymn seemed to go well at church yesterday with some positive feedback. Really quite simple to do. Just need to work out the basic chords to play, throw in a bit of improvisation, avoid playing the melody and let the congregation belt it out.

I'll be trying more of this and letting some good old hymns make a comeback onto our song list.

Friday, June 15, 2007

On hymnody

Some more thoughts on church and music, this time on hymns:

1. I've always loved hymns. How good is it to bellow out an old Charles Welsey song? Some of these hymn writers of old wrote such gold, words so rich and deep and true and soaked in scripture, wonderful words pointing to a Wonderful Saviour. And accompanied by such soaring tunes, how could you not want to sing them?

2. Yet, since I've started choosing music at church this year, I seem to have avoided hymns for some reason. And I think it's because I've realised that culturally, hymns can grate somewhat. They can have a thumping, sometimes staid sound to them, even the brighter ones.

3. Further, traditional hymn arrangements were written for organs. They kind of work when just played on piano, though even then can have a thumping sound that is slightly jarring, but when you're trying to develop a small contemporary band where guitars have greater prominence, the hymns just don't work. There is the tedium of the chord changing for nearly every note, every strum, each syl-la-ble-of-the-song. It's not the natural way a guitar is played, so winds up sounding weird.

4. The answer? Keep the tune, keep the lyrics, but work up a new arrangement. Not a completely new tune as is common (and often works well). No, this is much easier. Just smooth out the chords. One chord per bar, two at most. Maybe have four bars where the bass note is kept constant. Change a couple of the chords from the original arrangement to give it a slightly different sound - make it a similar chord, but different nonetheless - B minor instead of G major, for example.

5. The result. Great lyrics, great tune. No need to teach a new song, but you have breathed new life into an old song. The guitar can play it and it sounds natural. The changed chords give a few little suprises that keep it sounding interesting. The bass can play along without having to play every note. The piano can muck around with the chords, without having to sound like it's thumping. The congregation is hopefully uplifted having sung great words of praise to God without it feeling tiresome to do so. And the visitor who already finds singing in public to be a little weird, at least finds that the music sounds half decent and not trapped in some cultural time warp.

I'm trying it this coming Sunday with a new arrangement I've penned this evening for "The Church's One Foundation". Will keep you posted as to how it goes.

Overheard in a crowded train carriage ...

"This isn't the Orient Express you know. We're all packed in here like sardines," said the plump man with the hat, speaking to no-one in particular and yet to the whole carriage at the same time, as well as to those waiting on the platform to get on.

The train picked up a few more people, then continued on its way towards the city carrying it's morning load of commuters. The man remained silent, perhaps absorbed by his own thoughts.

The train pulled up some minutes later at Central. A voice could be heard. It was him.

"It's a bit like India." Pause. "How long is it since you've been there?", he said rather embarrassingly and inappropriately to a fellow passanger, who I could not see from where I stood on the steps, but who I could only assume was of sub-continental appearance. I don't think there was any answer to the question, but the man continued nonetheless. "Well, maybe you'll get back to see your family some time soon."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Five things to say about singing in church

I've taken on responsibility for leading the music team at church this year, so have been thinking a bit about music and church. Here's some thoughts, probably all overlapping somewhat.

1. God made us as emotional beings and gave us music as a way to express that emotion. We only need look at the place of music in every culture to see this, but more importantly the pages of scripture testify to the place of song in the life of God's people.

2. The primacy of the ministry of the word should not mean devaluing music. Indeed, a "word-centred" church should recognise that song is a powerful way to express the word of God, but also that music is one way we have of responding to the word of God. In singing, we express our joy and thankfulness to God in response to the saving word of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See Colossians 3:16).

3. In saying that the ministry of song goes hand-in-hand with the ministry of the word, we need to be careful however to ensure our songs are not simply statements of doctrine set to music. A song should have music that lifts our hearts, and lyrics that are rich with poetry. Don't give me dry songs. If you want to just set a doctrine text book or statement of belief to uninspiring music, what's the point of having the music?

4. Much has been made in evangelical circles recently of the "horizontal" dimension to music i.e. singing to each other. This is all true. However, we need to avoid forgetting the "vertical" dimension of music. There is nothing wrong with singing to God and not just about God.

5. OK, the whole "worship" thing. Yes, some churches misemphasise the purpose of church as being to worship God, in a sense which might suggest we are not worshipping God the other 6 days a week, and some have confused what we do in church with Old Testament cultic worship, and that we somehow enter into God's presence when singing in church i.e. the "praise and worship" time. BUT, we evangelicals have way over-reacted against some of these errors by almost purging the word "worship" from our vocabulary all together, and removing any sense that when we gather together as God's people we are worshipping God, or that singing can involve worship. I think we can and should acknowledge that singing does involve worshipping God, while recognizing that worship is also much more than singing.

Stay tuned (excuse the pun) ... more posts to come on music and church ...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Five insights into wealth and happiness

Interesting article in the Herald today: We've never had it so good, so why are we still unhappy? It comes at a time when I've been wondering why the Howard government is faring badly in the polls when the economy continues to be strong and people continue to be well off.

Here's five particular insights the article had to offer:

Increasing numbers of Australians are discovering that despite the booming economy and rampant consumerism, work and wealth may not be the true twin paths to bliss.

... research by the Workplace Relations Centre at the University of Sydney shows Australians are fed up with long hours - men working full-time do an average 45 hours a week - and a third of those polled want to return to the eight-hour work day.

these electoral intentions are consistent with worldwide findings that people in affluent countries are no happier today than 50 years ago, even though their wealth has grown exponentially.

There's a sense that the pressure just keeps mounting but there is no pay-off for increasing productivity in the workplace and all the labour-saving devices that we have at home.

... the happiness of residents of wealthy societies is a function more of personal relationships than money.

As I read these comments, I couldn't help thinking it's all been said before. Here's five more quotes, this time from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:

What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless.

As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owner
except to feast his eyes on them?

God really is very wise. Wiser even than The Sydney Morning Herald.

Five things to do in Melbourne

Never content to simply do business in another city (e.g. see previous London posts), I managed to play the tourist and find a few things to do on a quick 36 hour trip to Melbourne this week. Here's five very Melbourne things to do:

1. Have dinner in a groovy cafe in one of those back lanes off Little Collins Street - a bowl of pasta, a glass of red wine, and a good book (assuming you have no-one to talk to and share dinner with). I love Melbourne's little lane-ways.

2. Rise for an early morning jog along the banks of the Yarra (and realise the sun doesn't rise in Melbourne at this time of year till well after 7am!).

3. Do a lap of the MCG (well, around the outside that is.).

4. Get a bit wet in the drizzly rain.

5. Catch a tram to St Kilda for breakfast. (Actually, I ran out of time for that one - had a meeting to get to. But maybe next time ...).

Five reasons for blogging hiatus ...

I've had a few comments as to why I haven't blogged in a while. Here's five reasons (amongst others ...)

(OK, well, yes this north coast holiday was a few weeks ago now, and it doesn't explain the entire non-blogging period, but it was 2 weeks out of action, plus the week or two beforehand frantic at work getting everything done, plus general busyness on getting back to real life afterwards ...)

P.S. Don't you just love the canefields of the far North Coast? (i.e. second last photo above). There's something about a good canefield that makes you really feel like you're on holidays. Of course, a coffee by the beach helps too ...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Five hundred reasons I believe in the resurrection of Jesus

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Five truly excellent experiences in London

1. St Paul's Cathedral - a postcard can never do it justice. Amazing piece of architecture and awe inspiring size. Also went to Sung Eucharist - not usually my thing, but if you're going to do it, you might as well do it somewhere like St Paul's and get the full aesthetic experience! (though shame about the wishy washy sermon)

2. Victoria & Albert Museum - I went to see the architecture exhibition, but got lost and immersed in the vast and amazing array of European sculptures.

3. Borough Markets - I've already raved in my earlier post about the coffee here, but the whole thing was a great experience, with cheese tasting and a wild boar sausage being other highlights.

4. Trafalgar Square - I virtually stumbled into Trafalgar Square by accident, my map not clearly marking it out, and suddenly I realised I was standing in the middle of a famous postcard. A great place for gathering of crowds, and a central point for so many other landmarks.

5. The Tube - loved it. I loved the challenge of navigating my way round its tangled, yet somehow quite efficient, web. Trains every 4 minutes - something Sydneysiders can be very jealous of! You can get anywhere on this!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Five comments on coffee in London

1. London can't do coffee like Sydney can do coffee. Which I find astounding for a city so close to Italy. We on the other side of the world have allowed the Italians to influence our coffee culture far more, and this has definitely been for the better.

2. London seems more influenced by America when it comes to coffee. People specifically order filtered coffee when coffee orders are taken in restaurants (can you imagine actually voluntarily wanting to drink filtered coffee, as opposed to it being the only choice on offer??).

3. More obvious still is that Starbucks have completely taken over the city. Every second street corner has a Starbucks outlet. Indeed, according to the wikipedia article on Starbucks, London has more outlets than Manhattan! Sorry, but Starbucks do not do good coffee!

4. Order a flat white almost anywhere and be met with a blank stare!

5. If you want a good coffee, go to Monmouth Coffee Company at Borough Markets (Fridays and Saturdays). Mmmmm ... beautiful. I craved good coffee for a whole week before getting there and it was so good I had to go back for a second cup (see photo above). They got the flavour right, they got the crema right. But it's a rare find in a big city ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Five observations of All Soul's Langham Place

1. This is a big church. I reckon there'd be close to 500 people at their evening service.

2. Reflective of London itself, this is a very multicultural church, even more so than churches in Sydney. There were obviously people here originating from all four corners of the globe. Genuine mix of ages too. Nice to see.

3. I wasn't spoken to our welcomed personally by anybody, but I think I'm prepared to forgive that in a church that big. How could anyone possibly know who's a newcomer and who's not?

4. I don't know whether it was to give a little taste of home to any Aussies in the congregation, but Toni Collette was used as a sermon illustration (including a brief mention of Muriel's Wedding), and a Geoff Bullock song was sung (Power of Your Love - can you believe it - I haven't heard that song for years! That may actually be a good thing ...).

5. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the same wherever you are in the world. Isn't that great!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Five reasons why I think Christians should baptise their children

For most of my life, I've held to "believers only" baptism (i.e. usually adult, or at least older children). But tomorrow, I am having all three of my children (aged 4.5 yrs, 2 yrs and 5 mths) baptised. Why am I doing this?

I am doing this because I have come to quite firmly believe that Christian believers should baptise their children. [Note, I still do not think unbelievers or "nominal Christians" should baptise their children; it is that practice that turned me off infant baptism for so long.]

Why do I now think this? I could go on for ages, and I'm not sure I'm yet able to articulate this as well as I'd like to, but here's five reasons:

1. The starting point is to say that baptism itself is important. On its own, the mere splashing or pouring or immersing in water may not necessarily mean much, but what that water points to are things of profound and amazing wonder - the washing away of sin, our burial and resurrection with Christ, and the pouring of God's Spirit into our hearts. In the New Testament, baptism was the expected norm for the Christian, the sign that you belonged to God and were part of his community. I could go on. But the point is, we too often undervalue baptism (some can also overvalue it) but it is a wonderful thing because it points to even greater things.

2. I believe that Jesus's great commission of making disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them to obey all he had commanded, starts at home with our own family - we are to baptise and teach our children, that they too might be disciples of Christ. Indeed, we should treat them as little disciples from day 1. We treat them as part of God's family, part of the church. We don't treat them as pagans requiring conversion, but as little Christians requiring discipling.

3. It is often said that there is no precedent in the New Testament of children or infants being baptised. Putting aside the various "households" being baptised that are referred to in the book of Acts, this argument misses the whole point of Acts. The book of Acts is all about new converts, the first generation of believers. It was groundbreaking stuff. There is nothing in the New Testament that discounts the possibility that the second generation, the children of those first believers, were baptised. Indeed, the references to households being baptised suggests that is exactly what happened.

4. One difficulty with so-called believers baptism is our definition of "belief" or "faith". We seem to require a faith that is sufficiently mature before qualifying for baptism. Why is not the faith of a three year old who knows that Jesus is God not sufficient faith? Do they have to be able to articulate the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement to qualify? What about the little two year old who says a simple grace of "Dear God, dinner, Amen" - why is not that simple trust in God sufficient? Where do we draw the line? In my mind, the only logical time to baptise the child of a Christian family, who will hopefully never know a time when they did not know Jesus, is as an infant.

5. But in any event, ultimately baptism is not about my choice, my decision, my faith. What I love about infant baptism is that it shifts the emphasis to God's choice, God's decision and God's faithfulness. Just as the initiative in the baptism comes from outside the child, so too does the initiative in salvation come from outside ourselves. Our salvation is not about our own faith, but about God's faithfulness. Baptism, and especially infant baptism, points to this.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

5 reasons I'm disappointed with Google Maps Australia Day flyover

I posted here about our Australia Day experiences and our attempt to score a family photo at the Opera House forecourt courtesy of the Google Maps Australia Day flyover.

Well, the maps have now been updated (see story here).

Here's 5 reasons I'm disappointed:

1. My baby son sleeping in his pram is nowhere to be seen.

2. My little daughter with her Australian flag is nowhere to be seen.

3. My eldest daughter waving madly is nowhere to be seen.

4. My beautiful wife is nowhere to be seen.

5. I am nowhere to be seen.

i.e. no family portrait!!!! Not happy Jan!!

What is most infuriating is that, looking at the screen shot above, to the right and close to the water the resolution is quite good and you can make out people - they must be the new, high resolution photos taken on the day. However, to the left of the shot, near the steps (i.e. precisely where we were camped) the resolution is crap, and the fact there are hardly any people suggests they are still using the old maps without the Australia Day crowds. There were heaps of people in that vicinity on the day.

Not sure if they haven't finished updating the maps, or perhaps they didn't get good shots on the day, or perhaps they just didn't like our cheesy grins as we squinted our eyes in the hot sun looking up and waving at the plane!

If only we'd moved about 10 metres further east ...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And the winner is ...

OK, so my prediction in my last post was wrong. I did say I was going out on a limb. And am I allowed to say that, when writing that post, I very nearly (I was *that* close) said that I thought The Departed would win, particularly because of the Scorcese factor? So, that's not what I wrote in the end, but I did think it ...

Monday, February 26, 2007

5 nominees, only 1 winner: Best Picture

OK, so the Oscars are now underway as we speak. This year's race for Best Picture is one of the most interesting in years as, for the first time in a while, there is no clear frontrunner. Nearly every year there is either a clear frontrunner (e.g. Brokeback Mountain last year ... oh, except it didn't end up winning!) or a race to the finish line between two films that are neck and neck (e.g. Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator the year before). Neither situation applies this year.

Here's the five Best Picture nominees and some brief thoughts on each and their chances:

1. Babel - I reviewed this film in my last post. Great film, though possibly not quite as good as I was expecting. Very similar in many ways to last year's Best Picture winner Crash. It has won a few pre-Oscars awards, such as the Golden Globe for Best Drama, and is definitely in with a chance. Deals with all those "serious" issues that the Academy likes.

2. The Departed - I haven't seen this but want to. It's a gritty crime story and one of the main things going for it is that it's directed by Martin Scorcese who has never won an Oscar despite being nominated 459 times, and the feeling is that this is finally his year (they were saying that 2 years ago with The Aviator but apparently this is a better film). Regardless of which picture wins, Scorcese will almost certainly get Best Director, but the film is definitely in with a chance too.

3. Letters from Iwo Jima - this is meant to be brilliant - has only just been released in Australia (got 4.5 stars from Paul Byrne in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend). It's Clint Eastwood's Japanese language WWII story. It tells the Japanese side of the same battle recounted in Eastwood's other recent film, Flags of our Fathers, which told the American side of the story. Eastwood is a brilliant director and seems to be just getting better with age. This is unlikely to win though. Doesn't have a very high profile, and Eastwood and his Million Dollar Baby won only 2 years ago.

4. Little Miss Sunshine - went to get this out on DVD the other night but it hadn't been released yet. Quirky disfunctional family comedy. This is also in with a real shot. It won the Screen Actors Guild award for best ensemble cast and the Producers Guild Award for best picture, which are often good signs for the Oscars. However, it didn't get nominated for direction or editing - not good signs. It is rare for a movie to win Best Picture if its director doesn't get nominated. But it still could be the little film that steals the show tonight.

5. The Queen - I've seen this, and everything they say about Helen Mirren and her portrayal of QEII is true - she is brilliant. She is completely believable, right down to simple mannerisms like the way she turns her head. Some other good acting in it too (how on earth did they find an actor like Michael Sheen who, without any use of make up or wigs, looks exactly like Tony Blair??), and a good script and story. While Dame Mirren is guaranteed success tonight, the film won't win.

It's pretty much a race between 3 horses here - Babel, The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine, with the first two more likely. It really could go any way but I'm going to go out on a limb and say Babel will take it, though don't be surprised if Little Miss comes from behind.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Have managed to see a few movies over summer and have been meaning to post some thoughts on them. Here's 5 thoughts on Babel:

1. This is a movie about the fractured nature of a world in sin and under God's judgment, people with their different languages and cultures, but the film also highlights the sin we show towards those of our own colour and race. Brad Pitt's character desparately seeks help in a small Moroccan village for his wife (Cate Blanchett) who has just been shot by a stray bullet. The locals oblige, even if inadequately, but he meets the most resistance from his fellow English speaking tourists travelling on the same bus, those from whom you thought might offer the most help and empathy, but who do not want to wait around to assist, instead hopping back on the bus and continue their trip. Their selfishness made me sick and was one of the film's more disturbing moments. Our sin is all pervasive - we can treat those of a different nationality with disdain, but we can do it to those closer to home too.

2. The film consists of different, though interwoven, stories set in different countries - Morocco, the US (California), Mexico and Japan. It's a reminder that God's judgment on humanity's attempt to usurp God is to scatter humanity to all corners of the earth, unable to communicate because of different tongues. But I was struck by the fact these different settings in the film were linked via technology - the scenes set in Tokyo include TVs in the background playing instantenous news reports of the unfolding events in Morocco involving the American couple in strife. At Babel, God frustrated our attempts to join forces together with one language and build a tower to heaven, but we keep trying to buck against that, building our technology towers and bridging the communication gap between different languages with our modern 24/7 telecommunication networks.

3. And yet, we are incapable of completely bridging our communication gaps and overcoming God's judgment on the world. Some of the most moving scenes in the movie come from those set in Tokyo. The character in the film who faces the most isolation is the character least able to communicate and communicate with - the Japanese school girl who is deaf. She lives in one of the most technologically "it" cities in the world, yet nothing can overcome the loneliness brought on by her disability. But it is more than just her disability. It is the experiences of her life, and especially having gone through her mother's suicide, that create the deepest loneliness, and causes her to retreat into herself, unable to truly communicate with her own father. The effects of sin and judgment on the world run much to deep for our technology to overcome.

4. All of this is conveyed to great effect in the movie because the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, has a real way of building a scene - some of the scenes are amazing sensory experiences - from the throbbing music and strobe lights of a night club in Tokyo that made me dance in my seat, to the simmering and dizzying heat of the South Californian desert that made me want a glass of water (make that a keg of water), to the joyous celebration of an exuberant, yet impoverished, wedding in Mexico.

5. Inarritu also has a real way of creating gripping tension, making you want to cry out to the characters not to go down the paths they are choosing - I wanted to scream at Santiego's desire to hop in the car after the wedding and drive back over the border taking the children and their nanny back home, his protestations of sobriety after hours of drinking obviously being untrue. I felt for these kids, I wanted to protect them from drunken driving, from the folly of cross-border trips, from the parched heat of the desert.

Verdit: 4/5

Friday, January 26, 2007

Five experiences on Australia Day

1. On the way to our big day out, we have a profound lesson in national symbolism as children fight in the car over who will get to wave the Australian flag, and I say to the children (though I think it went over their heads) that the Australian flag should unite, not divide us, so please stop fighting. No need for argument to begin with as Aussie flags aplenty available in the CBD.

2. Trying to find a parking spot in the CBD. Being a public holiday, shouldn't the parking meters be set to Sat/Sun settings? i.e. shouldn't the various spots no longer be deemed loading zones (which they are on weekdays) but 4 hour parking zones (which they are on weekends)? Didn't risk it. Figured $20 flat fee for parking under the Westin Hotel was better than the slight chance of a hefty parking fine.

3. We attempt to score a family photo on Google Maps (see here). This took some effort with 3 kids waiting for about an hour in the glaring sun on the Opera House forecourt for numerous flyovers till the plane finally did a lap directly overhead. By the 9th time of telling the kids “look up at the plane and wave”, I think they were a bit over it! So be prepared for not the best happy family shot!

4. Wowed by the piercing, booming thunder of a fighter jet as it breaks the speed of sound flying over Sydney Harbour.

5. Back to the Australian flag (of course, the flag is very topical at the moment). Towards the end of the day, youngest daughter accidentally rips her Australian flag down the middle. In perhaps an early indication of republican sentiment, she completely removes the Union Jack in a nice, clean break.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Five surprises from the Oscar nominations

OK, I did warn you I was an Oscars junkie. Expect a few Oscars-themed posts in the coming weeks.

The nominations were announced this morning and, as usual, while there were lots of obvious choices (Helen Mirren might as well write her acceptance speech now!), the Academy still likes to surprise us. Here's five surprises for this year.

1. The BIG surprise - Dreamgirls misses the boat! Considered the frontrunner for best picture, it didn't even get nominated in that category, nor for best director. This morning's headlines still put the movie forward as the most successful with 8 nominations, but 3 of those were in the same category - best original song (and you would hope a musical would have some decent songs!). This leaves the race for best picture wide open - it's probably between The Departed and Babel, although I reckon the surprise inclusion Letters from Iwo Jima (which no doubt grabbed Dreamgirls' spot) could have a shot at it. The Academy loves Clint Eastwood after all, and what a daring move to make a picture in Japanese, an American director telling the "other side" of a World War II story.

2. Leonardo nominated for Blood Diamond. Leonardo Di Caprio seemed sure to get a nomination, and there was a bit of debate over which movie it would be for, but the consensus seemed to be he would get a nod for once again teaming up with Martin Scorcese in The Departed (Leo is Marty's new Robert Di Niro). But the Academy chose his other role in Blood Diamond instead.

3. Volver misses out on best foreign language film. This film has had rave reviews and seemed to have been considered a sure thing for a nomination in this category. It still managed, as expected, to help Penelope Cruz to a nomination for best actress.

4. Technical categories filled by "other" films. By that I mean that the technical categories are dominated by films other than those nominated for best picture. This is unusual - usually a best picture contender has many elements in its production working towards it's status as an Academy favoured film - good acting, direction, cinematography, art direction, editing, sound etc. For example, in the cinematography, art direction, make up, sound mixing and visual effects categories, none of the nominees are best picture nominees. In other categories, there is only one or two best picture nominees. The Academy seems to like spreading the love around these days. No one epic picture is dominating all categories in the way films in the past have (like Titanic, Lord of the Rings).

5. Paul Greengrass gets a nod for best director for United 93. I just saw this recently on DVD, and this is a great decision by the Academy in my humble opinion. A great film, and brilliantly directed. He was not completely off the radar, but I don't think this nomination was really expected by most Oscar watchers.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Five things to do when stuck on the F3 freeway ...

... due to bushfire (see here).

1. Hop out of car and obtain packet of pizza shapes from friends in the car in front of you.

2. Stand in the middle of the road taking video footage of the crawling traffic (and then run to catch up with your car after the traffic has moved on somewhat).

3. Pull over and stop completely and hop out for a break by the side of the road, thus letting more and more traffic pass you and delaying even further what is turning out to be at least a 4.5 hour Sunday afternoon (/evening/late night) trip from the Central Coast to Sydney.

4. Sing Christmas carols (which are sounding sooo last month) to try to send your screaming kids to sleep.

5. Stick a handwritten sign out your car window stating "Honk if you're ....." (actually, I might leave that phrase unfinished - use your imagination).

(Please note: the author of this blog was only personally involved in one of the above activities, but did witness the others).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Five things I've learnt about HTML

In redesigning this blog starting from one of the standard blogger templates, I, a complete web design novice, have learnt a number of things about html coding. Here's 5 of them:

1. how to adjust the "padding" for blocks of text;

2. how to customise the colour scheme by selecting a colour and converting the RGB (red green blue) colour code into hex html code;

3. how to insert my own jpeg file as a header;

4. how to remove the annoying and not-very-funky rounded corners from the main text box, sidebars and footer;

5. how to remove the post title icons.

Still a lot to learn. Expect to see occasional changes to the layout as I continue to fiddle ...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Five sure fire ways to win an Oscar

OK, I have a confession to make. I'm a bit of an Oscars junkie. So, as it's heading up to Oscar time, I thought I'd offer this post on five sure-fire ways to win an Oscar. Most of my examples are from the last decade or so as my knowledge past then is much more patchy. Here goes:

1. Play a real life character. Avoid simple mimicry or imitation, and try to "channel" the essence of the person. It worked for winners Jamie Foxx (Ray Charles), Reese Witherspoon (June Carter), Nicole Kidman (Virgina Woolf), Cate Blanchett (Katherine Hepburn), Ben Kingsley (Ghandi), Judi Dench (Queen Elizabeth I) ... the list is too long ...

This year's tip: both Helen Mirren for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen and Forest Whitaker for playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotlad, are tipped to take out the top acting honours.

2. Alter your appearance. Go a step further and become unrecognisable. Perhaps even change your sex. It worked for winners Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry (a girl as a trans-gender man), Hilary Swank again in Million Dollar Baby (extra muscle bulk), Nicole Kidman in The Hours (that prosthetic nose and just the way she walked!), Charlize Theron in Monster (beautiful-turns-ugly). It almost worked for nominees Felicity Huffman in Trasamerica (woman-plays-man-playing-woman) and, conversely, Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (man-playing-woman).

This year's tip: those tight grey curls and huge glasses on Helen Mirren make her virtually unrecognisable, and it's difficult not to think of her as the Queen herself.

3. Sing. Musicals are coming back into fashion, and think how many Oscar winners in recent years have belted out some cool tunes. It worked for winners Reese Witherspoon (Walk The Line), Jamie Foxx (Ray), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago). It almost worked for nominees Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), Renee Zellweger (Chicago), John C Reilly (Chicago), Queen Latifah (Chicago).

This year's tip: the big musical offering this year is Dreamgirls and both Jennifer Hudson (a former American Idol contestant) and Eddie Murphy are tipped as strong possibilities in the supporting categories for that movie.

4. Play someone with a mental illness or condition, serious disability or low IQ. It worked for winners Geoffrey Rush (Shine), Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interupted), Tom Hanks (Forest Gump) Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot), Dustin Hoffman (Rainman), Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). It almost worked for nominees Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind) and Leonardo Di Caprio (The Aviator).

This year's tip: Idi Amin's irrational fits of rage in The Last King of Scotland - mental illness perhaps? Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi should pick up a nomination this year for playing a deaf-mute girl in Babel.

5. Be an Australian (or an Australasian). Hollywood loves Aussie actors at the moment. Considering our population and relative world cultural importance, we have been over-represented at the Academy Awards in recent years. Think of winners Geoffrey, Russell, Nicole and Cate and nominees Naomi, Toni and Heath. And lets not forget our cousins on the other side of the Tasman. The big success story of course is Peter Jackson and his hordes of Kiwi technical and artistic gurus who swept the field 3 years ago for Lord of the Rings. It also helps if you're a young teenage Kiwi girl - it worked for winner Anna Paquin (The Piano) and almost worked for nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider).

This year's tip: probably not our year this year in the acting categories, although Cate is almost certain to get a nomination for Notes on a Scandal. Our biggest hope is in the animation category with Happy Feet (a quasi-Australian movie - it's made with Hollywood studio money, but was animated in Sydney, directed by Aussie George Miller and includes the voices of Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and, would you believe, Steve Irwin).


Of course, if you can combine the above factors, you've got added chances of success. Arguably Nicole Kidman's win in The Hours fits into all of categories 1, 2, 4 and 5 (and some say also 3 because the Academy was equally rewarding her for her near miss the year before where she was nominated for singing her heart out in Moulin Rouge).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Five new things for the new year

1. This blog

2. Facial hair

3. Couple of extra kilos on the dumbells

4. Drinking water, water, water, lots of water

5. Avoiding the "January Genesis rut" (i.e. start reading the bible half way through rather than yet again turning back to page 1 only to not make it past page 20)

A new year ...

... a new blog. Out with the old and in with this, the new.

This will be a blog based around the theme of five. Lists of five things, five bits and pieces, five snap shots, five thoughts on different subject matter (a book of the bible, a film, an issue etc.), five questions. It's intended to give some structure and focus to my blogging.

Why five? Here's five reasons:

  1. it was going to be seven, but I'm not sure I'd always have seven things to say about any given topic;

  2. three is not quite enough to say anything of significance, and would sound too much like the old three-point sermon formula;

  3. five fits nicely between seven and three;

  4. it's a neat, round number that goes well with our decimal/metric system of life;

  5. I have five fingers on my hand.

So, let's see how it goes.

Oh, and happy new year!

(P.S. Would you believe someone had already taken the blog address for "andysfive" forcing me to use the number "5" rather than the word? And they haven't touched it for two years!)