Top 10

{There aren’t in any order, just my ten favorites, the ones I can read and re-read. And yes, I cheated, counting series as one book}

Fiction Books:
1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (J.R.R. Tolkien)
2. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
3. They Loved to Laugh (Kathryn Worth)
4. Viking Quest series (Lois Walfrid Johnson)
5. Crown and Covenant Trilogy (Douglas Bond)
6. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman Trilogy (Brian Jacques)
7. Rilla of Ingleside (Lucy Maud Montgomery)
8. Hostage Lands (Douglas Bond)
9. The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy)
10. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

And one that’s kind of in between fiction and nonfiction: The Bronze Ladder (Malcolm Lyons)

Nonfiction Books:
1. Memoir of Ann Judson
2. God’s Way of Holiness (Bonar)
3. The Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis)
4. If (Amy Carmichael)
5. The Loveliness of Christ (Samuel Rutherford)
6. In Defense of Food (Michael Pollan)
7. A Sacred Sorrow – Michael Card
8. Uncle Eric (series) – (Richard J. Maybury)
9. Let Me Be a Woman (Elisabeth Elliot)
10. From Beirut to Jerusalem (Thomas L. Friedman)

Movies
1. Return to Cranford
2. Amazing Grace
3. Hornblower
4. Up
5. The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob
6. Of Gods and Men
7. The Ultimate Gift
8. The Princess Bride
9. Gods and Generals

(and I can’t think of any more off the top of my head)

Parallel Journeys

A few months ago at the C’s I saw a book called “Parallel Journeys” sitting on the table. It was based off of two autobiographies of a Hitler Youth leader and a concentration camp survivor. WWII stories always attract my attention. I find them riveting, sickening, and inspiring all at the same time. This one didn’t disappoint, and also added a lot of food for thought.

The contrast between the lives of Jew and German was probably one of the most striking things. You follow the story of one of the most privileged Germans alongside the story of one of those who went through what some have called the “closest thing to hell on earth.” You wonder how the two can exist side-by-side, in the same country, at the same time.

An interesting comment was how the “war changed womanhood.” Alfons Heck mentioned that in Germany the ideals for women that were around at the beginning of he war were kitchen, children (and one other, I don’t remember). But as the war went on it required women to take on jobs that took them out of the home and when the war ended, they didn’t return to the old “ideals.” (I don’t want to go into details here about why those ideals are good, but there’s a long article that my dad wrote).

But there were two big thoughts: the first, to forgive. The second, to never let it happen again.

By the end of the book, Alfons Heck and Helen Waterford had met and were speaking to people together. Ms. Waterford’s comment when people asked her if or how she could have forgiven Mr. Heck was that she didn’t see something she had to forgive him for. This is a very interesting position, and I think it can be interpreted a number of ways.
The first is that while Mr. Heck was involved with the Nazis, he was not personally involved in anything with the Jews. So Ms. Waterford felt there was nothing to forgive, because he had not done anything against her (and I think this intepretation could even go further, that even if Mr. Heck was involved with the Jews, it was not personal – he did not do anything against Ms. Waterford).
A second interpretation  which was talked about more in the book, was that because Mr. Heck was so young, he did not need to be held responsible for his actions. There’s a sense in which I agree with this. He did not know what was going on. He did not know the Jews were being killed. He thought he was helping Germany and helping the man who had restored Germany after the war. He had been brainwashed. And yet, he still took part in it, so he was still involved in the wrongs that were going on.
I don’t know how far to take that. I don’t think the question should be of people being “too young” to understand, but that what was happening to the Jews was carefully hidden and worded so it seemed harmless. What I do know is that whether or not a person is responsible for their actions, people who have been hurt by them still must forgive, and I think that those who harmed others, whether or not they knew it, must also ask forgiveness when they see what they have done.
Why is forgiveness so important? Ms. Waterford talks about this a lot. Genocide, then and now, occurs because of hate. True forgiveness does not allow hate to fester, thus genocide cannot continue. And this brings us to the second big point: that we cannot allow it to happen again.

This struck very deeply with me, especially after having read for the first time about how Hitler came to power – how he “saved” the country and seemed so good. Mr. Heck comments that if Hitler had died before a certain year (I don’t remember what it was), he would be remembered as a hero. He was a good speaker and he helped Germans “recover” from what the repercussions of World War I. He got into the schools, getting the young on his side. And he used an assassination attempt to limit free speech, saying that if they did so, the “evil Communists” would be stopped. The documentary “The Fatal Attraction of Adolf Hitler” has a lot more on this. I have yet to finish it, but so far it’s very interesting.
I think it’s a warning for us today, and we need to be on our guard and not succumb to hype. Mr. Heck also talked about teaching our children so they will not follow a man like Hitler, either.

An important part of “never again” seems to be “never forget.” There are so many things we must not forget. The heartbreak of children fighting. Even worse, the children dying in concentration camps – or before they really even made it to one. Alfons Heck talks about being burdened when he found out what had happened. The horror of so many dead, the brainwashing and the lies.
Helen Waterford said that to condemn all the Germans is the same as the Germans condemning the Jews. There are people who hate Germans. I’m sure that in all the world, you’ll find people who together would hate everything and everyone. We need to learn what hate does.

And we also need to learn how to speak about the hate, not to let it fester, but instead to reconcile with each other, and most importantly, with God.
Helen Waterford wondered why she was spared when so many died. She commented that we may not know why we are spared – but when we are, we must live for the truth. I applaud her and Alfons Heck for doing so. And it’s a lesson for us all to learn. God doesn’t have to let us live. But He does. Let’s be careful with our time – redeem it. Forgive. Pass on wisdom to others. Use your days for Truth.

—–

Read the book, or you can also watch some documentaries on Youtube. I’ve watched this one, but have yet to finish this one, so I can’t vouch for what’s in it. The first one was similar to the book, but in less detail. There are some black and white shots of concentration camp; I don’t think they were “too bad,” but they were still piercing.
And my favorite “tribute” to the Holocaust – John Williams & Paul Wylie, with “Never again” emblazoned on Mr. Wylie’s vest.

Desert Christmas

{if you want the review, scroll down for a review of the Hobbit}


{55-250mm lens! now I can shoot people from farther away!}


{Herod and the Wise Men}

And New Years’


{fireworks up the Burj}

And some quick thoughts on the Hobbit, since I don’t know where else to put them:
– I missed the fireside story feel that the book has. I feel like they tried too hard to make it as epic as Lord of the Rings. A lot of the time I felt like “again?” whenever something else popped up to hinder an escape or start a battle.
– I got excited that Radagast was in it… and then was disappointed because he’s too silly, almost foolish.
– The magic of Gandalf, Radagast, and also just Galadriel, is darker than in the books (this is the same for LotR), which I don’t like.
– The dwarves weren’t as dwarfish as I thought they were going to be – I was expecting more Gimlis.
– The soundtrack was amazing, especially the Misty Mountains song.

Les Miserables

… a quick review and my thoughts on the movie.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Les Miserables. I’d heard some good and some bad reviews of it, and also had mixed feelings from what I had seen in previews and heard in sound clips. While it wasn’t a perfect movie, I definitely came away pleased.

I’ll start with the bad, so I can end on a positive note.
The immorality was less than I thought it was going to be based on Christian Spotlight’s review. I think all that they mentioned was there, but most of it was going on in the background, and I was watching the foreground (at least, my guess is that’s what was going on in the background; I didn’t look). One reason I was very glad to see it in Dubai was because I thought if there was something really bad, they would cut it. There was one scene that was cut, right before I Dreamed a Dream. So I know the immorality was worse than it was in our screening.
I will add that there were things that were hinted at and immodesty throughout.
There was not more swearing than there is in the musical – if anything there was less because of things they cut or changed.
The sewers were absolutely disgusting. You could tell it was sewage. Which is realistic, but gross.

I was sad when they cut verses. I probably know the whole musical by heart and so it always throws me off, and sometimes my favorite verses were missing, like Grantaire’s solo in Drink With Me. And I love Turning, so was sad at how short it was. However, I was glad Beggars at the Feast and Dog Eats Dog were basically nonexistent.
I didn’t mind the re-ordering of songs, since they seemed to fit better where they were put now.

I really enjoyed most of the singing. I wasn’t expecting to like Russell Crowe’s Javert at all, and I do think he is a weaker point in the cast, but he better than I thought he would be. But he didn’t intimidate me. Geoffrey Rush and the Javert of the book sometimes scare the wits out of me. Emotion in his singing didn’t come through very well, and he often seemed rather monotone. He wasn’t quite nasally, but if he had sung deeper, lower, more in his chest (maybe – I’m not sure exactly the wording) I probably would have really liked him. He just sounded… stuffy.
The only comment of disappointment I have on the singing was that Marius alone seemed to combine singing and acting in a way that both were the best. Most of the singers sounded weak – I don’t mean bad voices, just they didn’t have power. The clearest example of this to me is Enjolras. He was fabulous, but he wasn’t thundering. This was highlighted for me when there was ensemble singing and then it went to a solo. It lost all its intensity when that happened.

The good – I can’t say enough about scenery and cinematography. It was phenomenal. It really brought the musical to life. I could go on and on about it but it would just be the same “amazing.” The shots above Paris were especially great.

I loved the score, and could still hear most of my favorite harmonies and counter melodies (or counter lines, I don’t know if you’d really call it a counter melody). The only disappointment was that the oboe solo after the battle was cut short… but that’s the oboe geek in me complaining, and that song is special to me because it’s what got me started on oboe.

At first I wasn’t sure of what I thought of Jackman’s Valjean, but by the end I really liked him. Of course, Colm Wilkinson takes Valjean to a whole other level, but for someone other than him, Jackman was great.
Anne Hathaway was good as Fantine. Not the strongest point in my opinion. I do like the broken Fantine, but I do miss the strong voice in I Dreamed a Dream.
Cosette – Amanda Seyfried – was wonderful. She was just perfect. So sweet and clear and elegant.
The Thenardiers, minus their coarseness, were hilarious.
I was pleasantly surprised by Samantha Barks as Eponine. I didn’t like her when I’d heard her previously, but she filled the part well.
I hadn’t liked Enjolras in the “One Day More” promo. He seemed too weak, and he could have been stronger, but was better than I thought he would be. And most of the time, I really did enjoy him.
Gavroche was my little gamin, so perfectly urchin and child yet adult. Without fail, he always makes me cry.
But the best was Marius. He was perfect. I’ll admit that after seeing Les Miserables on stage in 2011, I haven’t liked Michael Ball as Marius that much. He has a great voice, but it’s too mature for passionate, young Marius. Eddie Redmayne was so great. His voice was very good, and he never compromised his singing for his acting. And he brought so much passion to Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.
I love “Suddenly.” It’s a beautiful addition to Les Mis.

They added more book details, like Gavroche’s elephant and the Thenardiers’ trying to get Valjean later. Those made me very happy.

I was debating whether or not to go see it in the theaters, and I’m glad I decided to. There were parts I didn’t watch, and I would caution men against going because of the immodesty throughout. That’s true of the musical too, but in the musical it’s not so close-up. But overall, it was enjoyable. I don’t know if I would own the movie if I couldn’t get it edited. But the bad scenes are easily skipable without losing much of the story. So know yourself and know what you do and don’t want to see, or how much you trust yourself to look away.
Doing a “moral rating” is hard because there are different areas of it. As far as having a great message, it rates very high. But as far as immorality is concerned, it loses a lot of points.
All “movie” aspects of it earn very high marks. Musical aspects score a little lower, but still very high.

So those are my thoughts! Let me know what you thought if you saw it.

Brave

I was told one day at Csehy this summer that I have Merida hair. I wasn’t so sure – it’s not red and it’s not that curly or long. But then I watched Brave and found out that the way it poofs out all over the place if I don’t do anything with it and falls into my face – is just like Merida. But that’s about where my identification with Brave ends. I watched the movie recently and was rather disappointed with it, even though I wasn’t expecting much.

I’m not going to talk about the issues of feminism brought up in Brave. Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin have already done that very well here and here. I will just say that there is a way that Merida’s hatred of being prim-and-proper princess is founded. She wanted to be like Bodicea, a warrior queen. But true womanhood is neither of those. It is strong and sturdy, but in a different way than manhood. The Botkins expand on this more, but I just wanted to say a bit in my review.

Along those lines, all of the “men” in the movie drove me crazy. It was pretty obvious the queen was really the one in charge of the kingdom and all the guys were jerks. And I often wondered what the king was doing trying to rule a kingdom when he couldn’t keep his own family under control.

This was clear early on. Even when Merida was a child, there were hints of rebellion, and more than that, of her future confusion. Her mother is prim and proper and wants her daughter to be the same. Her father is wild but passive, and their personalities and standards are always at war with each other. It’s no wonder Merida doesn’t know how to act; her mother and father can’t agree on what a woman should be like and so she doesn’t know where to stand. Also confused are the three boys. Their father lets them do things their mother refuses to allow them to do. And so they are being raised in an inconsistent household where no one knows what’s expected of them.

Merida is very rebellious, and her rebellion only increases in the first part of the movie. I say this so you know I’m not excusing her actions, but there are things we can learn from what she and her mother did.
A phrase familiar to many of us appeared in the movie – “you’re not listening to me!” Both Merida and her mother thought they knew what was best and so ignored what the other was saying – listening while forming what they were going to say next, or listening just to refute the other’s words. They were pushing their agendas and speaking at each other, not to each other – lecturing and not communicating and conversing. This is a lesson for all of us to learn!

Another good point is how Merida’s mother comes to see the good in what Merida wants and see the need for sturdy womanhood (though I don’t think Merida sees the truth in her mother’s words). Also good is how Merida learns to think about what she says and question if she really means what she says. But while these steps are good, ultimately they don’t really redeem anything.
The queen’s agreement that Merida doesn’t need to be betrothed yet ends with the lie of “follow your heart,” in the preachiest way I’ve heard Disney do it yet. It wasn’t subtle in Brave, Merida came right out and said it and was applauded for saying it.
Another problem is that no one ever said “I’m sorry.” There wasn’t true repentance, forgiveness, and restoration of family relationships. Since everything turned out alright then everything was “fine,” but just because something doesn’t seem to have consequences doesn’t mean there’s no need for reconciliation when all is “well” again. Now, I know you have to have “bad” in a character to have any character development – I don’t think it’s morally wrong for a movie to show friction in a family. But the movie’s “goal” was to mend that friction, and it didn’t.

The movie seems to be more about being free than about being brave. Merida runs away from her duty, which is not brave (though one can question if it’s really her duty at that point in time). The danger in it is that Brave is full of half-truths. Many statements sound good, but if taken to their end become very bad. I’m afraid I can’t remember any of these off of the top of my head, but there were statements that I nodded to and then thought “wait, no!”

That’s much more dangerous than the other aspects, but other things were there. I’d never thought of animated characters as being able to be immodest, but there was definitely immodesty, from both men and women. Also bad was the discussion of fate – I haven’t picked it apart but it was definitely odd and wrong.
The witchcraft was frightening, but to be honest I was not surprised by it. An oft-forgotten aspect of Celtic culture is how deep it was in witchcraft and the occult. We like to take the druids out and make fairies good instead of the troublemakers they were. But even so, the spell was never really shown to be bad because it was witchcraft, just because it didn’t work.

Most of the soundtrack was great. I loved the Celtic music, especially the vocal pieces. But there were a few modern songs thrown in that ruined that wonderful wispy Celtic-y feel.

Brave was definitely darker, scarier, and more intense than most of Disney/Pixar’s other movies, and it wasn’t as crude as many animated movies, except for two parts that I can remember, but I tend to block out things I don’t like. Although the humor wasn’t as bad as some movies, it was very cheesy and I didn’t find it funny. Normally there are jokes the kids don’t get but that are funny for adults (Finding Nemo is full of them), but there weren’t any (or I’m still too young to get those but too old to find the kiddy humor funny).
There were things to learn, but I don’t feel like I gained anything from watching it, not even humor or a phenomenal soundtrack. The animation was pretty. After watching Brave, what I’d really like is a film about Christianity coming to the Celts, or at least to finally get my hands on and watch The Secret of Kells.

It wasn’t all bad; there was some good in it. But I wouldn’t recommend it as a good use of your time.
Worthless, no.
Worth it, not really.

Of Gods and Men

It’s been some time since I last watched a movie I loved for the first time. There have been some clean, enjoyable ones lately, like Dolphin Tale and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. I think what makes or breaks a movie for me is its depth. Odd Life and Dolphin Tale had good things to say, but they didn’t leave me thinking very hard. Most movies that do have a lot of depth often have a lot of bad stuff in them (like Schindler’s List), are poorly made, or are independent films that don’t make the news (not that every good movie has to – but they’re just not very well-known and so don’t get around).

Of Gods and Men breaks those molds. If you haven’t heard of it, watch the trailer here. There is minimal violence (I was expecting much more in a film about a civil war), two swear words, and no sensuality. There is, however, a fair bit of suspense. It takes a while to get going and even once the story is well underway it moves slowly, but the slowness captures stunning moments of reflection, pain, and beauty, building up to the climax. I really liked the pace, since it gave time in the movie to weigh the words and actions, and it brought you to know and understand the monks. Some of the theology seems strange, at least at first glance, mainly when they talk about loving the Muslims – sometimes it seems like they imply there are two ways to God, but I think rather than that their words come from an understanding that we are all people. I also appreciated that while they were monks, their simple living was not asceticism but done to focus on God and their neighbors, almost the “what-should-have-been” of the Roman Women.
The soundtrack geek in me must comment that I didn’t notice a soundtrack apart from what they sang and one other scene, which was interesting but worked really well.
I should also note that it is in French, with English subtitles.

Set in Algeria in 1990s, Of Gods and Men is about a group of monks ministering to their village during the civil war. They face Muslim terrorists, division from inside, and pressure from the outside to leave or accept government help.

Very early on, the monks are told that if the army does not protect them, they will be killed. Christian, the leader of the monks, says they do not want military protection. From then on in the movie, I was often reminded of The Hunger Games. Whenever I say that I don’t believe what Katniss did was right, people always ask me what I think they should have done. My answer is that saving our lives is not the highest good, but honoring God is, and the monks understood this.
The monks were willing to risk their lives by staying and keeping their freedoms to help the villagers because they knew what their calling was and they knew they needed to obey God, even if it cost them their lives. “I gave my life to God and to this country,” one says, and so they stay. That is beautiful.
This is a foreign idea in a world that puts self as god and comfort above ethics and others, but to Christians it should not be strange.
That’s my first big thought: Of Gods and Men is, in essence, an antitype of The Hunger Games, and in many ways embodies what the right thing to do is in situations where morality is challenged by death.

My second thought is a lesson for all of us in this world where terrorism is so prevalent and we have many enemies. First, the monks’ fear of God above the terrorists is exemplary. At one point, one of the monks says “I’m not scared of terrorists, even less of the army. And I’m not scared of death. I’m a free man.” But as the movie progresses, it’s easy to see that there are many times the monks are afraid. And yet, they “don’t fear what is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6), but cling to God for strength and hope. The beauty is not their fearlessness but their moving forward even in fear. They become so real and human, in a way that we all can strongly identify with. That’s part of what makes the movie so powerful.
Second, Christian makes it very clear who the enemy is, and embodies the command “love your enemies.” He holds fast to his principles even when death is nigh, pushing past fear to act rightly – and he sees the fruit from that.
Too often, Americans group all people in the Middle East as terrorists, or at least as enemies. I consider it a great privilege when I am able to show people that that’s not the case. At our last baptism at church, we baptized three people who by political standards would be considered our enemies. But they are more my friends and family than some Americans are. In saying that I do not deny the terrorism and the animosity between countries. But not all Americans agree with what America does, and this is true for many other countries as well. We must know who the enemy really is.
So some are our brothers – but what about those who do want to kill us? Those do qualify as enemies, but we still must love them. The monks show this very well, much to the surprise of the Algerian army. They do good to the terrorists when given the chance. They know the terrorists seek their death, but instead of hiding from them, the monks help them. I’m finding it difficult to explain it well, but Of Gods and Men shows it so beautifully. Christian and the others know these terrorists have souls, and so they love them.
This is clear in what they do, but Christian also writes of it.
“Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of the last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.” {emphasis mine}

I’ve tried to give my thoughts, but the things the monks exemplify and teach us aren’t really things that can be said in words, but that you have to point to someone’s life to show. As Michael Card said,

“The deep things of the faith we learn less by didactic principle and more through people of faith and their simple stories …when we are struggling to explain a difficult topic like prayer, faith, or perhaps servanthood, we resort to naming a person who incarnates that ideal… When we seek to understand discipleship, we think of someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not because of his book on the subject, but because his life and death validated everything he spoke about in his writings.”

It’s the same with Of Gods and Men. If I try to say more, it will just be more of the same, joy at the beauty of their lives, of loving their enemies, holding God more important than their own lives, and pushing through fear to find great courage in God.
Of Gods and Men is a French-made film, set in Algeria. It holds a depth that not many other movies I’ve seen has. Lately I’ve been asking myself a lot why death and sorrow has such beauty. It’s not because they in themselves are good, but because good comes from them. America produces so few movies like this because it has so little suffering compared to the rest of the world. Americans are more interested in feel-good movies that make you forget than ones that inspire you and cause you to live still more.
If our lives are easy, then they’re also generally shallow and we know God very little. But when we suffer, we know Him more and we grow – and then we don’t regret the pain it took to get us there.

That was a bit of a tangent. But I hope that this review has made you want to watch Of Gods and Men, or if you don’t watch it that you were able to glean from what I loved about it, and see the beauty in their suffering, courage, and trust in God.

“…Day after day, I think each of us discovered that to which Jesus Christ beckons us. It’s to be born.  Our identities as men go from one birth to another.  And from birth to birth, we’ll each end up bringing to the world the child of God that we are.  The Incarnation, for us, is to allow…  the filial reality of Jesus to embody itself in our humanity. The mystery of the Incarnation remains what we are going to live.  In this way, what we’ve already lived here takes root … as well as what we’re going to live in the future.”

Downton Abbey

I’m not big on watching television. We only ever had cable during the Olympics – and even then we only got it for one Olympic games. But I do like watching some shows later – when I can decide when I’m free to watch them, skip parts, or finish later. Some of my favorite ‘movies’ once aired on TV, like Hornblower, Barchester Chronicles, and Wives and Daughters.
I also generally don’t get excited about things that are popular. I saw lots of people talking about Downton Abbey on Facebook and was put off from it by the fact that it was so popular. Then there was a review of it in WORLD and on the Gospel Coalition, and I thought maybe I’d see what I thought. Mommy watched a few episodes of it on the plane on the way to Italy and so on the way back I watched a few, too.
After the first two episodes, I really wasn’t sure what to think. I liked the characters, but as far as plot went, I thought it was slow-moving and not all that intriguing. Still, perhaps it was like Barchester and Cranford, where the main draw was characters. As I’ve finished the first season, I’ve found that to be true. In a way, it’s good, and in a way it’s bad.
I like it because it’s much more like normal life – about people, not huge events. My favorite part about writing and reading is the characters. I find it fascinating to come up with or decipher the things they like and don’t like, how they respond, why they say certain things.
On the other hand, it’s very dangerous because it keeps you drawn in even when there are many things you feel uncomfortable with. It’s because of those things that I can’t recommend Downton, even though it’s very well made and enjoyable to watch (for the most part – there are many things that disgust me in it, but I’ll get to those).

The political undertones (which become more and more prominent as the season progresses) were also fascinating. Socialism is a big political agenda – multiple episodes deal with the idea of the oppressive upper class. There’s also a fair bit of feminism involved in later episodes. I thought it was interesting how they introduced it so slowly, and via characters you love and identify with so it’s harder to see the worldview and the outworkings of the ideology. That’s dangerous – but very interesting. I like the balance that the Crawleys bring to this, though – they’re upper class but using their wealth for good and not being too proud to interact and be friends with the poorer folk.

Perhaps more dangerous and less interesting were the more moral issues. Downton is set in 1912-14, yet it feels very uncanny because although it’s in the Victorian era, the morals are much more modern. My quick, blunt summary of what Downton is about would be “lying daughters, abdicating fathers, and sibling rivalry.” There’s less going on of that sort down in the servants’ (though the servants aren’t without their drama, especially not Thomas), but the way they – and everyone – lives in the same house for so long yet are so distant from each other was saddening.
If I had known episode 3 was going to color the rest of the episodes so much, I probably wouldn’t have started watching. I stopped about ten minutes into that episode and moved on to episode 4. Later I read the synopsis because I wanted to know what had happened so I could understand what was happening. In short, the immoral worldview about marriage was put into practice and led to lying to the father (whose responsibility the issue was, according to scripture), and still more sibling rivalry and keeping secrets from other suitors (though I do appreciate Mary’s thought that she needed to be honest with Matthew).
I hated the whole way suitors were considered because of money or class, rather than character, and how that tainted the whole purpose and end of marriage, tainting the picture of Christ and the church.
The other thing that disgusted me was the rivalry between the sisters, especially Mary and Edith. It’s sickening how they blackmail each other and vie for attention from suitors, trying to prove that they’re better than each other and one-up each other. I’m more thankful than ever for sisters who are among my best friends and who help me and build me up, not tear me down.
There are characters I love – and there were some I loved and then am not so sure about (like Matthew, who at first was my favorite). Mrs. Crawley has kept most of her honor, though her conversation sometimes smacked of feminism and socialism. William is probably my favorite, though Daisy has kept my attention throughout the whole season. I liked Sybil until her rebellion was shown, and Edith until she began blackmailing her sister. I like Mr. Bates but don’t agree with all of what he does. Except for Thomas, I think all of the characters have aspects about them I admire, but some are more admirable than others.
It’s a lesson in human nature, I think. In most shows and movies we don’t see much of human weakness in a way that makes us confused about characters (Little Women is the only movie I’ve seen that I can think of off the top of my head that’s realistic in their characters). Yes, the hero has a flaw and in the end he overcomes it. But to have a show full of sinners is rare. I’m not excusing the sin in Downton . There are ways to show sin nature less explicitly. But it’s convicting, too. You can make all sorts of excuses that most people really aren’t that bad, but that’s not true at all. Downton doesn’t lie about the fallenness of men. It’s very honest about it in a way that’s so frank it’s hard to swallow sometimes.
Yet you can say that although we’re all just as depraved as Thomases and Granthams and Pamuks and everyone else in the show, the reason my family isn’t full of fathers abdicating, children lying, and sibling rivalry is the grace of God. It’s nothing in us that keeps us from one-upping and blackmailing each other, rebelling against our parents, or anything else that happens in Downton. The difference is that the Spirit of Christ is in us, so that we walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh.
That’s one main thought I came away from Downton with. The other was from Proverbs, and every episode ended with me thinking this:
“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Proverbs 15:17).
The Granthams have fattened ox – land, money, servants, beauty – yet there is hatred so much it often made me sick. Those belonging to the body of Christ may have a dinner of herbs, may have scars from the battle, may have the same weaknesses and struggles as everyone else – but there is the love of the Father we have received and love the fruit of the Spirit with our small dinner.
That’s better any day.

{P.S. – if someone wants to fill me in on what happens in the second season, please do. I’m not going to watch it, but I’d love to find out what happens}