Monday, January 25, 2016

Downton Abbey Episode 4 - Now We're Moving

So last week I commented that I felt this final season of Downton Abbey was really in slow gear and rather bland.  Well, last night Episode 4 aired & I feel like the story lines have amped up and now we're moving along.  Thank goodness!   My biggest fear as we finish out my favorite television series has been that it's just going to kind of stop with no real resolution or sense of closure.  It looks like there are 8 total episodes for this season.  We're at the halfway point and now I'm finally fully engaged.

Last night was one of those nights where I didn't want to miss anything.  There were so many lines spoken throughout the evening that carried weight, so many stories that took off running.  The sudden advancement in last night's episode seemed a lot like Daisy's near confrontation of Lady Cora.  It came storming out of the kitchen, tired of holding it's tongue, & ready to go to war......or so to speak.  Last night the writers had thrown off whatever sleepy fog they were in for the first three episodes and made stuff happen

In Daisy's case, she didn't actually have that confrontation.  Thank goodness Lord Grantham showed up just in the nick of time.  He naturally assumed Daisy was there because she'd already heard the good news that they were going to rent the farm to Mr. Mason.  It stopped Daisy in her tracks.  And she quickly scurried back down to the kitchen not sure to do with the misplaced righteous anger she'd had coursing through her veins.  Lady Cora said she felt as though she'd dodged something.  Oh, you did Cora.  You did.  And, so did Daisy!

But what really stood out to me last night was Thomas Barrow.  I know we are just talking about characters.  But, sometimes a character really touches us deeply nonetheless.  I think we all know a Thomas Barrow - someone who is so damaged by life that they lash out.  They've been wounded & they don't trust anyone and even when they feel a certain level of trust, they don't know how to reach out.  They don't know how to react to kindness.  And, they retreat into their bitterness and cynicism because it's safer there.

So my heart goes out to Thomas....not out of pity - because he can't stand pity....but out of compassion.  Last night was painful to watch for poor Thomas.  He got to briefly step into the role of butler during Carson & Mrs. Hughes' honeymoon.   This is the position he has longed for.  With it he had also expected to receive respect....because in truth he longs for that as well.  Rather, the staff just seemed to barely bear with him & bided their time until Carson returned.  If anything they seemed to take every opportunity to remind Thomas that this position was temporary & he was certainly not there because of any merit of his own.

There were so many heartbreaking moments with Thomas last night.  There was a brief conversation with Lord Grantham where Thomas indicated how much he had enjoyed his week in the role of the butler.  It would have been nice if Lord Grantham could have just been gracious and thanked Thomas for his hard work that week & stepping up to the plate.  Instead he basically told him he could never expect to reach the heights of Mr. Carson because Carson is a kind man & Thomas could learn a few things about kindness from him.  Except, while Carson is certainly a principled man and is a defender of propriety, I don't know that 'kindness' is always an accurate descriptor.  In fact, he's often quite unkind to Thomas. And then Lord Grantham basically confirmed Thomas's worse fear that his time at Downton Abbey is short and that it's best to continue searching for other employment.

There was also the scene with Thomas & Baxter talking outside.  I have a terrible memory & I should really write things down.  I don't recall the specifics of the conversation.  But, I remember Thomas telling Baxter that she's lucky because people actually like her.  She made some comment.  I forget the specifics.  But, she was downplaying herself.  Thomas told her she doesn't give herself enough credit.  This was the first part of this scene that touched me.  Thomas said something nice to someone else.  There was that period of time where Thomas was basically blackmailing Baxter & torturing her mentally.  Rather than allow this to make her bitter toward him, she has taken it upon herself to show Thomas kindness even when he rejects it outright.  She has slowly built up a trust with him.  And, he's still afraid to admit how much he appreciates the fact that she's the closest thing to a friend that he has.  So, the fact that he stepped out & said something to build her up was huge for Thomas.  She later said that she admired Thomas for not caring what people think of him. And this was the second part of the scene that just ripped my heart out as he turned away and said something to the effect of "You're wrong about that.  I do mind."  There Thomas goes opening his heart just a teensy tiny crack.

And, of course, at the end of the evening's episode Carson & Mrs. Hughes (as she will continue to be known because it was just too hard for everyone to remember to say Mrs. Carson now) return.  A welcome back party has been planned downstairs, and all the upstairs folks venture down to welcome them back...even the Dowager Countess who mentioned she hasn't been downstairs in at least 20 years.  Isobel quipped, "Do you have your passport?".  Oh, those two!  Anyway, all is back to the way it was.  And, Thomas recedes once again into the shadows.  In fact we see him standing back in the hallway observing the others...once again forgotten.

My other takeaway from this week's episode was that this seemed to be the week of "WWSD - What Would Sybil Do?"   We were reminded several times throughout the evening of Sybil's good nature & giving heart.  The biggest reminder was the return of Gwen, the former housemaid.  As a little aside - I have to say that there have been so many characters that have come & gone over the course of these past 6 years...often just appearing as a minor blip in the storyline....that when they return again I really don't remember who they are.  Apparently we were supposed to remember the man Edith ran into on the street as someone she had met before.  Although, I am like Edith.  I would have walked right past him never realizing our paths had crossed before.  And, the new race car driver/ possible new love interest for Mary has been seen before?  Apparently.  But, I couldn't begin to tell you in what context he first appeared.

Anyway, Gwen is now Mrs. Harding.  She and her husband work to raise funds for young women to achieve higher education who otherwise lack the  opportunity.  Gwen herself has done well.  She was a housemaid with higher aspirations.  With Miss Sybil's encouragement she took classes to become a secretary.  She went on to work in the secretarial field before marrying Mr. Harding, who to the best I can figure is high enough in the social structure to have the respect of the Granthams, but isn't quite as high bred as they are.

Gwen didn't realize that one of the stops she and her husband were making to try to rally support for their cause would be Downton.  She feels understandably awkward and doesn't immediately 'fess up to why Lady Mary would think she looks familiar.  "Have we met before?"  Lady Mary asks.  "No, we haven't officially met."  Gwen replies...which while it's technically true, it's stretching it a bit.

Thomas' cranky nature gets the best of him & he can't help buy 'out' her at their lunch.  It doesn't go as he imagined though.  And, instead everyone seems annoyed at him for trying to put her in an uncomfortable position and instead they ooh & ahh over her and seem genuinely glad to see her.  This is where we are reminded again that Miss Sybil did a great deal to mentor and encourage Gwen.

So is it any wonder that later that evening as everyone is gathered & the discussion of the farm & Mr. Mason comes up, the question "What would Sybil do?" helps them all find their moral compass.   Even Mary later notes her own moral failings in comparison to her dead sister.  Perhaps there is hope for cold hearted Mary yet if she's able to acknowledge that she is indeed cold.

Other notes from the evening:

 - The Dowager Countess seems to be fighting a losing battle.  Even when she brought in reinforcements to support her side of the hospital merger debate, it backfired.  She knows she's outnumbered.  And, at dinner it appeared that she could spit or cry....neither of which is appropriate.  So, she had a bit of a contained hissy fit.

 - Foreshadowing?  Lord Grantham continues to have shooting stomach pains.  Something is most definitely not right.  At one point Lord Grantham & Lady Cora are talking about his mother & how upset she is over the whole hospital issue.  And Lord Grantham worries it will be too much for her insinuating it could kill her.  Cora alludes to the seeming immortality of the stubborn Dowager and says something along the lines of "You never know.  She will probably bury you."  Ugh.  Is the series going to end with just that happening?  Will Lord Grantham die and be the final death stroke for the floundering estate?

 - Ok.  So Lady Mary referred to Tom Branson as her brother.  I guess she doesn't see him as a romantic interest.  But, she does seem intrigued by this car racing fellow.  And, he doesn't seem the least bit intimidated by Lady Mary....which of course appeals immensely to her.

 - Oh, & thankfully Anna told Bates the reason for her & Mary's midnight excursion.  Let's hope they have a bit of good luck now & that Anna's pregnancy is uneventful from this point on.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Recommendation - The Advocate

I am really drawn to biblical historical fiction. I have found a few authors who are quite talented at staying true to the biblical text while pulling in historical aspects and a compelling storyline.
Francine Rivers is one of those authors. Also, Bodie & Brock Thoene accomplished the same in their A.D. Chronicles.
I have another author to add to this list. His writing talent blew me away. Today I finished reading The Advocate by Randy Singer. This book takes place in ancient Rome. It begins right around the time of Jesus' execution. It is written mainly from the perspective of Theophilus. While we don't actually know who Thephilus was in real life (the addressee of the letters known as the books of Luke & Acts), Singer creates a believable and thoroughly engaging character.

In the book Theophilus is a young Roman nobleman of the equestrian class. He has trained extensively in both Roman and Greek philosophy. He is an intelligent man who is concerned with justice and he becomes an assesore (much like an advisor) to Pontius Pilate. He later becomes an advocate (lawyer) who is drawn to defending cases of those who have been wrongly accused.
The first 2/3 of the book is written before Theophilus has any encounter with followers of The Way. He had a brief encounter with Jesus during his trial before Pilate and while it effects him profoundly he does not become a follower himself. This section of the book is filled with Roman political intrigue and vivid descriptions of Roman life. Trips to the Colosseum, and glimpses inside the lives of gladiators, along with descriptions of the Roman perception of the gods, their style of worship, and the role of vestal virgins help to establish who the Roman people were and how a Roman would think and behave.
The last third of the book picks up where Theophilus meets Paul while he is Caeser's prisoner. From there we witness his eventual conversion, and the bravery of the saints.
The end of this book literally moved me to tears. It was intense and deep. And, I definitely believe God's hand was on the writing. This book brought to life a period in time that is hard to imagine. You should absolutely read this book!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Downton Abbey...Final Season Blues

So Downton fans, what are your thoughts?  We are 3 episodes into the final season and I have to say it's feeling a little....bland.  It just seems to be trudging dutifully along but it's lacking its usual luster.   We have only a few more episodes to bring us to a satisfying closure for all of our beloved characters and, as it's going now, it feels like it's just going to end with no real denouement.

What of our favorite villain that we love to hate & still have been rooting for his good side to prevail?  Even Barrow seems to have lost his teeth.  He's just sort of been moping about through these first three episodes convinced he's going to be sacked & halfheartedly searching for alternate employment.  Come on Barrow.  You are one character I always count on to infuse some menacing quality to the story line.  But, most of all, I'd love to see you have a character transformation.  There's a hero buried under that cranky, nefarious surface.  Let us see it!

Carson & Mrs. Hughes have finally tied the knot.  After all the hubub over where the reception should be held, and then the COAT incident (more about that next) you would have thought the wedding & reception scenes themselves would have received a little more time rather than being a bit of an afterthought crammed into the last few minutes of the episode.  And then Tom & Sybie totally stole any remaining thunder by showing up unexpectedly.

Don't get me wrong.  That was the first thing that happened this season that has really caught my attention.  First of all, I just love Tom.  I'm really hoping they give him a story line.  Actually, as much as Mary annoys me I think she just lights up when she sees Tom.  Maybe we can have a romance?  Or would it be weird for her to marry her dead sister's husband and for cousins George & Sybie to grow up as siblings?  Eh.  Weird shmeird.  This is Downton Abbey.  They can make anything happen.  After all, we hardly remember Tom as chauffeur.

Ok.  Back to the coat incident.  Cora!  I didn't realize you had that nastiness simmering under the surface.  Honestly, I could just feel the humiliation of poor Anna, Mrs. Patmore, & especially Mrs.  Hughes.  Even though Cora came downstairs and made it right I imagine that would still hang over Mrs. Hughes head like a cloud.  Poor Mrs. Hughes would never and had never in her 30 years of loyal employment presume to go into her ladyship's closet & try on her coats.  But, good ole' Mary insisted she do this and that it was all ok.  It was their wedding surprise to Mrs. Hughes.  But, oopsie, she didn't get around to talking to her mum.  She halfheartedly tried to get her attention as she was leaving the library.  Why not get up off your bottom & go tell her Mary????  Anyway, the explanation Cora offered for her show of anger toward her loyal servants when discovering them in her room was that she was tired, had a headache, & was still brewing over her earlier confrontation about the hospital.  Still, it was a painful scene to watch

Edith finally told her blowhard editor to take a walk.  Thank goodness!  And who was that secretary?  She could be an interesting character.  Why not have Edith become her own editor & have that plucky secretary as her sidekick?  The two of them can run the magazine themselves.  But, just when I thought they were going that direction, that guy shows up and comes in to help them and the secretary becomes a background figure again.  Boo.  It would have been so much more interesting to see the two women work together to beat the deadline and forge an unlikely friendship across class lines. Changing times and all. But, I suppose we have to come up with a quick love interest for Lady Edith if she's to have found love by the end of the series.  And so Mr. What's His Name.

The theme of the whole show seems to be the changing times....the struggle of estates to stay afloat, reality setting in that it's not going back to the way it was, those pesky servants demanding to be thought of as human beings with rights, dreams, & hopes of their own.  And, then, there's my favorite....Lady Grantham and her nemesis Mrs. Crawley.  I have to say.  I sympathize a bit with Lady Grantham.  I'm not a fan of change myself.  And, here she is desperately trying to hold on to one thing she still has some bit of control over...the hospital.  But, she's outnumbered & I don't think she's going to win this fight.

At any rate, this season so far has left me feeling a bit deflated.  Maybe it's just because I know it's coming to an end.  There's no more time for dilly dallying.  Each episode counts.  Perhaps the pace will pick up because I absolutely refuse to come away disappointed.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Be Still

I've been doing more paper & pen journaling lately.  Really that is my first love.  I've kept a journal of some sort or another since I was about 12.  Sometimes I write passionately and frequently.  Other times there are long lulls....years even.

But, as I've been seeking God, I've found that writing down the things that he impresses on my heart is a huge help in remembering and applying what he has for me.

As I sat down this afternoon to spend a few minutes alone with God, I decided to go back & read some old journal entries.  This is something I do fairly often.  I often see what I wrote with fresh eyes and often it speaks to me in new ways.

I came across this entry from October of last year....only a few months ago.  And, it resonated with me today.  I thought I'd share it with you.

10-27-15      Be Still

I am impatient.  I know this about myself.  It's funny that my impatience even extends to wanting to hear God speak.  Sometimes I open my notebook and words just seem to flow from the Spirit.  And, I feel like I'm hearing the voice of God.

Other times I sit here waiting and there's silence.  I'm like, "Here I am God.  My notebook is open.  I'm ready to hear you."   And then I get impatient if I don't hear anything right away.

"Be still".  That command is in Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations.  I will be exalted on the earth".

It's interesting how that line that is so famous - that seems to indicate rest for us - is followed by the promise of God's glory, that He will be exalted.  We are reminded of His sovereignty through it all.

But, it's so hard to be still sometimes.

There's another place where stillness is mentioned.  Zechariah 2:13 says "Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling."

There's this sense that when we are still God is on the move.

Anyway, as I sit here with my notebook open - hoping for profound words of encouragement or enlightenment I'm reminded that sometimes the most powerful thing is to be still and to wait.
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