Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Noah" all wet

One of the pieces of Noah art that hangs on the wall
of my office.
I don't think I've yet reviewed a movie on this blog. But, after watching "Noah" last night, I feel compelled to try my hand at it.

A couple of things first: 1) I was VERY excited about seeing this movie. I am a huge Noah buff (that is, a fan of this extremely powerful story). I spent five years in my 20s writing a fantasy novel ("Fountains of the Deep") which swirled around the edges of this historic, globe-changing event. My office at home is decorated with Noah wallpaper, paintings, etc. I was thrilled with the previews. So, it really was something I was looking forward to. The reviews were mixed, but even though I read a few sour ones, I still couldn't miss it.

2) I wasn't expecting biblical accuracy, per se. Actually, I was happy to read in one of the reviews (and I used this fact on Facebook to respond to those who expressed doubt about the movie) that while the movie "filled in the blanks" left by the scriptural account, it didn't actually contradict Scripture.

And, even if it did, I was prepared to live with that if they did a good job telling a good story and didn't totally screw it up. It's Hollywood, after all. The director is an atheist. My expectations were not high.

Yet in spite of all this, I was bitterly disappointed. Now let me try to express why. (And, be warned, this will contain spoilers.)

I felt the movie started out fairly strong. It depicted creation and the fall with a fair degree of reasonable accuracy. When Noah came on the scene, one felt how precarious it must have been to carry the light of a relationship with the Creator in such a dark world.

The depiction of earth as an industrial wasteland, spoiled by humanity's sin, reminiscent in some ways of a prediluvian Mad Max, I could live with. I was expecting a creative approach, and this didn't disappoint.

But, my first major disappointment was in the depiction of the creatures labeled as "Nephilim." In the Bible, the Nephilim are some sort of mysterious union between "the sons of God" and "the daughters of men." They were a race of giants, physically speaking. (One of the great biblical mysteries, to me, is how descendants from the Nephilim race came to exist in the antediluvian world. My novel provided a proposed solution to this mystery.)

But, in the movie, the Nephilim are actually angels who have fallen to earth. It's implied their motives were pure for falling: they wanted to come "help humanity" overcome the temptation of Adam and Eve! (That's rich, isn't it!) But God had forbidden it, supposedly, so when they reached earth they were turned into funky rock creatures, with the angelic light of their spiritual being somehow shining through the cracks and manifesting in their glowing eyes. They reminded me of Ents. I couldn't decide whether it was creepy, or just plain silly.

These "Nephilim" end up redeeming themselves, later in the movie, by allying with Noah and protecting the Ark from the hordes of barbarians who are trying to take it over to save themselves from the Flood. And of course Noah also uses the Ents (er, Nephilim) to do the heavy lifting on the actual building of this magnificent vessel. Hence it looks like it takes about a week to complete, rather than the full century Scripture assures us it actually took.

So, of course when raindrops start falling the evil humans rush the Nephilim to get at the Ark, and while the rock creatures are able to hammer many of them into dust, they are eventually overcome. As they are overcome, their angelic spirits are freed from their rock prisons and they are able to soar back up to God. How pretty.

(This was probably the most noble depiction of demons that one could imagine!)

And that's just a start of the movie's problems. The sin of godless humanity around Noah is depicted as being a combination of disrespect for women (trading them as sex slaves) ... and eating meat. (Which is worse? I'm torn.) Noah and his family are, of course, vegetarians. Because only a true sinner could eat meat.

Which brings us to the purpose of the Ark. Noah seems convinced that it's to save the animals, so that God can start over again with a much simpler and nobler world. Noah realizes (rightly enough) that sin is inherent in all of us, and the dilemma of repopulating the world with sinful humanity strikes him hard. As a result he assumes that it is his responsibility before God to ensure this is never allowed to happen. When his only daughter-in-law miraculously becomes pregnant (and bears twin girls, conveniently enough one for each of his remaining, wifeless sons) he is convinced God wants him to kill the newborns, and almost does.

This is all a very complicated set-up for the end of his movie, and the all-important "drunk and naked in the tent" scene. Actually, it wasn't in the tent, but in a cave on the beach. Of course Noah is making wine out of nice table grapes (not wine grapes) and somehow manages to become smashed. The reason, we realize, is his depression at his failure before God to extinguish humanity and hence save the world for animals. Plus his pretty wife is pissed off at him. (Noah, a frumpy version of Russell Crowe who might have passed for 60, should have been like 600 years old at this point, so having a pretty wife was a definite bonus.)

But of course, love wins in the end.

I'm sorry, does this all sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me? It left me crying out for even a small ounce of the power of the real story.

The beauty of the Ark, of course, is that it's a metaphor for Jesus. The metaphor was repeated, hundreds of years later, when Moses' sister places the baby in his own little Ark and sets it afloat on the Nile. The Ark is the salvation that God has provided you and me from a fate worse than death. Sin is the disease and a holy God has to judge it, elsewise none of us will survive. He created all this for a reason beyond our ability to imagine, but whatever it is, it's worth the pain of a sinful and decaying creation. It's worth Him going to great lengths (like the Ark ... and like His Son, dying on a cross) to save it. To save us.

Yes, all Creation groans and longs for that day, and no doubt in some wonderful sense all Creation will be saved (a seed must "die" and be planted before it can be born again into a magnicent tree). But it's not just about Creation. The Ark is there to save you and me!

It was Noah's simple obedience that made this possible, but it was God's doing. The Ark is a symbol of His grace, carrying us high above the waters of sin and death.

And another Ark is coming!

Okay, sorry about the soapbox. Back to my review. Watch "Noah" if you want to, but be warned. You might want to save it for a Redbox coupon night.

Did you see it? What did you think? Am I all washed up?

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Stressing the Shrooms

I go through periods of my life where I am intensely interested in learning about something new. (My wife calls this by a much less flattering label, "Obsessive/Compulsive!")

Right now it's mushrooms. Not just picking wild mushrooms ... which I became interested in about 20 years ago, when we moved up to the Northwest, and during the past five years have really exercised/grown in my knowledge of how to hunt and find wild mushrooms ... but now, in terms of growing mushrooms (and no, we're not talking about the psychedelic kind, just the delicious, edible kind) here in my own home.

Baby pearl oyster mushrooms
(Pleurotus ostreatus) "pinning"
out of a "stressed" bag of substrate.
I've started by ordering a couple of pre-fab mushroom growing "kits" (one for oyster mushrooms, and one for portobello mushrooms, both among my favorites). The oyster kit is faster and is already sprouting shrooms (see the photo at left). The portobellos (also known as crimini, if you pick them at an earlier stage) will begin to mature in about a month.

Also, I've ordered and started building mushroom logs in our back yard, using "spawn plugs" impregnated with the spawn (mycelium) of Pleurotus ostreatus. (Basically, you cut maple logs into three-foot lengths, four to six inches in diameter, and drill them full of small holes, then hammer these little spawn-impregnated wooden dowels down into those holes, seal them with wax, keep them off the ground but in shade and damp for about a year before the mushrooms begin to sprout out.) I have 100 spawn plugs, about 4 logs' worth, so hopefully a year from now I will be knee-deep in pearl oyster shrooms.

These are pearl oyster "spawn logs."
3' Maple logs with 25 spawn plugs

embedded in each (sealed with
spot of red cheese wax).
Naturally I've been doing a lot of reading on the internet about shroom cultivation, and also talking with our local shroom company, Ostrom's. And I'm learning a great deal. One of the things I learned recently about shrooms is what has inspired me to write this blog post.

Most people don't realize that the shrooms that we eat are not the largest and most significant part of the mushroom organism. The largest part is actually the part that you can't see, what shroomologists call "substrate." Mushrooms are a fungus, of course, and like any fungus they have a very fine, hair-like root structure called "mycelium" which generally grows underground (or within the rotting bark of a tree, in the case of oyster and other shelf mushrooms). In some cases that organism can be very large, we're talking as large as football fields.

This is why you often find mushrooms growing in large "fairy rings" on lawns or in fields. The ring of mushrooms actually marks the outer edge of the single mycelium organism that connects them all.

So what, then are the mushrooms themselves? They are what shroomologists call the "fruiting bodies." They contain the seeds (spores) by which the mushrooms propagate themselves. If you take a mature mushroom (one which has opened so that the gills beneath are exposed, in the cases of those which have gills) and set it on a piece of white or black paper for (depending on the spore color; dark spores show up better on white paper, and vice versa), when you remove it you should see what is called a "spore print." You'll see that the spores have dropped like dust in a very distinct pattern corresponding to the gill pattern of the mushroom. (Spore prints are one way shroomologists positively identify various species of mushroom which may look, externally, very similar to other, possibly dangerous, species.)

Think of the mushroom, being to the organism beneath it, as the apple is to the apple tree. Fruit.

This is oyster mushroom spawn which I
 am growing myself in a plastic container.
The white mycelium covers sterile
pieces of wet cardboard like fur. The
individual pieces of cardboard will 
be inserted into bags with substrate
nutrients like pasteurized straw and
coffee grounds.
The mushroom spores, like seeds, are what propagate the organism. If in the proper nutritive environment, they will grow into new "spawn" (or mycelium) in order to start the cycle all over again.

Obbviously, for our purposes, the mushroom "fruiting bodies" themselves are what it's all about. They are the part that's delicious to eat. (I don't know of anyone who actually eats the mycelium. Yuk.) And, it's something that I learned recently about how these fruiting bodies come about that has given me cause for pause.

It's stress. A mushroom organism typically won't "fruit" (shoot forth delicious shrooms) unless it is stressed somehow.

There are, of course, various things that stress a mushroom organism. In the case of oyster mushrooms, it's predominantly moisture, light, and warmth. Hence I hang my substrate bag in front of a window in my mushroom-growing room. I regulate temperature at an even 62 to 64 degrees, and try and keep humidity well above 70%, keeping my mushroom substrate bag (which is punctured with small holes so the oysters can "pin," or send out small mushroom fruit buds) suspended in a "humidity tent" above a pool of water. I also spray the substrate bag at least daily with a fine mist of water.

More pearl oyster mushrooms pinning.
They double in size every day and should
be ready for harvest in about a week.
As you can see from the photo, this "stress" is paying off ... Today, 9 days after I started stressing the substrate bag, the shrooms are pinning and beginning to grow outward. They are approximately doubling in size every day, so within another week I ought to have a nice crop of shrooms ready to harvest. (I'll be sure and include more photos then.)

The portobello substrate, on the other hand, is located in a cool, dark room in a box. The substrate is scheduled to mature about March 7, when the mycelium should be at maximum health. Then I will open the bag, and stress the organism by scratching the top surface of the substrate with a fork. I will add casing (which is a mixture of damp peat moss and calcium carbonate, with some of the scraped substrate mixed in) to the top, leave it open to air, and keep the casing damp. This combination of air, casing, and damage to the substrate is what stresses the crimini organism (Agaricus bisporus). Within a few weeks it should begin pinning (poking up through the casing), then within a month I should have mature crimini and/or portobello shrooms ready for harvest.

The mushroom logs in the back yard will take much longer to mature, between 6 months and a year, but once they mature I will stress the logs primarily by soaking them in water, in order to begin the fruiting process. (The season also contributes to this process, as warmer temperatures also stress the organism.)

Our young adults group is currently studying a fascinating book by C. S. Lewis titled "The Problem of Pain." One of Lewis' theses is that pain (stress) is a natural part of life (including the Christian life), and is designed to cause us to grow spiritually. When we are too comfortable, we do not progress in our trust in God. But, introduce a stressful event, and the pain that brings (hopefully) causes us to look God-ward, to re-evaluate our lives, to pay attention to the cause of the stress and to begin to make the adjustments necessary for a healthy and dynamic faith.

You can learn a lot from a shroom ...
if you'll only listen.
We are just like mushrooms. Stress and pain cause fruiting. If our response to stress is the proper response ... realizing that we cannot in and of ourselves fix our problems, and relying on God for divine strength ... then we will be fruitful. God will be glorified, others around us loved and strengthened, and ultimately we ourselves (like Job, at the end of his traumatic stress experience) will be blessed.

Easier said than done, of course. None of us wants the fork. Pain hurts, by definition. (If you are hankering for pain, then something is seriously wrong with you!) But, when we are in pain, we can draw comfort in realizing that "God is not finished with us yet," and that, according to Romans 8:28, "God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose!"