back to the future and me: understanding the timings of the Christian gospels

My kids are getting older, but they’re still not quite old enough to watch the Back to the Future trilogy. We were talking about Rube Goldberg machines, and the kids love to watch YouTube videos of the different machines that people have made.

I remember the start of Back to the Future, how Doc Brown has set up a machine to feed Einstein a fresh tin of dog food, and the next thing I know, we’re watching the opening titles for Back to the Future.

I first saw Back to the Future on the big screen with my Dad when the movie came out in late 1985: over 31 years ago. A lot has happened in my life since then, and I’ve interacted with that movie and its sequels a number of times over the years, and I still have a strong recollection of the events of the film.

And this wasn’t even a set of events I lived through: just a film I saw.

The back to the future trilogy is particularly interesting because it talks about 30-year intervals of time. The film is set in 1985, and involves journeys to 1955, and later to 2015. Watching the film again in 2015, I was struck by the sense of distance that comes from a 30-year period: just as I was watching a film that looked back to my childhood, my Dad would have been watching a film that looked back on his childhood.

30 years is a long time. And not a long time.

Which brings us to the gospels. As we head back to ancient times, the standards of document copying and reporting change significantly. It was not possible to photocopy the documents you would want to: indeed, it’s more expensive to write things down in general. And so people were better at remembering things they had been told, and tended to have a more formal process for memorisation, and – when something was important enough to write down – it was written in a way that tried to conserve space on the page.

If you date Jesus’ life from a birth in 4BC (should that be BCE?) and death in 33AD (should that be CE), then there’s a gap of some 30-35 years between Jesus’ death and the writing of the early gospels: there are a range of scholarly opinions around the dates of the gospels, but here’s a rough guide:

Mark: 65-70 AD, just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies.
Matthew: 75-85 AD (though some say 60-70 AD).
Luke: 80-85 AD
John: 85-95 AD.

Source: Eric Hatfield, Were the gospels written al long time after the event?

I have a pretty good recollection of the Back to the Future films, and the events in them, and as much as I like them, I don’t think they are of eternal significance, nor have I spent a lot of repeated energy learning about them. The people who wrote down the gospels were motivated and well equipped to investigate the events of Jesus’ life, and would have done the best job possible. These documents could still be verified by people who were still alive at the time of circulating them – so there was a built-in fact-checking.

Can we trust the gospels? I think they’re a spectacularly good record of a long distant period of time.

What’s in the gospels? That’s for another post.

movie: Moana

movie: Moana

Since watching this at the movies with my daughter, we’ve bought the BluRay and watched it as a family umpteen times. Largely a story of girl power, a re-imagined Disney princess, a comedy-hero performance from Dwayne Johnson and a great session from Jemaine Clement. There are some concepts around reincarnation and polytheism, which my kids at least have been able to take up as the world of the movie, rather than reality. Between the characters and the story, and the Lin-Manuel Miranda songs, it’s one you’ll find on high rotation, and not mind too much.

Movie: Silence

I wanted to see Silence on the big screen. I also didn’t want to. The Scorsese films I’ve seen have been more in the category of ultra-violent, and filled with characters who little valued human life.

I was glad to have spent the time watching this one. Decades in the making, it tells a story of faith, and what to do when your faith is tested that forces the viewer to think carefully about their own experience. Its lack of soundtrack made me more aware of the sounds around me even days after watching.

former piano


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I spent years learning the piano. I can still remember my late piano teacher – a lady who devoted most of her life to teaching kids like me how to be better musicians – showing me how the sustain pedal works: lifting the dampeners so they no longer press against the strings to cut off each note. Walking past this abandoned soundboard brought me right back to that moment.

cafe: Buck Hamblin, Thirroul

Marvel Street Roasters coffee. 260 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Thirroul. The original Buck Hamblin ran a shoe store here for three generations of his family, and now it’s a licensed cafe. Ex-White-Horse barista Luke Barrett is at the helm, and is running the show on a hot but quiet Saturday afternoon when I wander in.

Buck Hamblin, Thirroul

Inside, it’s a spacious, well lit place with comfortable chairs and excellent coffee. I have an espresso and a filter, and they’re both well made, and Luke is happy to explain their origins.

Buck Hamblin, Thirroul

And you have to love a place with a lego character on the espresso machine.

Buck Hamblin, Thirroul

Open 7am-4pm every day.

netflix: Minimalism: A documentary about the important things

Minimalism: A documentary about the important things

Watched this while on holidays, after reading Nathan’s review of it. I was on holidays mostly to stay home and tidy up the house – something we’ve been aiming to do for weeks – and so I was lifting boxes of things while listening to how people have dramatically simplified their lives.

Is there more happiness in getting rid of everything? Just having a tiny wardrobe, a chair, and a few technology items? Or in globe-trotting with all your possessions in two bags (and – we assume – a large bank account somewhere)?