Reviews – February 2018
Loving the alien
The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Certificate 15, 123 minutes
Released 14 February
There’s a tradition in horror films and fairytales that the monster is bad. The Shape Of Water is a fairytale that features a monster (Doug Jones) who is viewed very differently by different characters. To the military security man, Strickland (Michael Shannon), it’s an affront to the image of God, in which man is created, which must be brutally subdued. To the scientist and Russian agent, Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), he’s an intelligent being from whom our species has much to learn and who should be kept alive at all costs and treated with respect – rather than killed and dissected as the authorities suggest. And to the mute cleaning lady, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who subsequently falls in love with him, he’s someone who responds to hard-boiled eggs and Benny Goodman records, and sees her for herself rather than for her so-called disability.
The monster is an aquatic humanoid who can breathe both in and out of water, and resembles the Gill-man in the 1950s classic, Creature From The Black Lagoon. He’s housed in a vast, labyrinthine government research facility where Elisa and her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer) work as cleaners.
The film’s engaging habit of shifting from one genre to another means that later escape scenes take the creature to Elisa’s apartment, where she puts him in her bathtub to keep his body suitably wet and even puts him into her dreams for a brief but captivating black and white, 1930s Hollywood musical scene.
This genre-shifting makes the proceedings somewhat uneven – one minute you’re watching Elisa and her illustrator neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) tap dancing while sitting on his sofa, the next she’s noticing the blood on the men’s room sink. The whole is part spy thriller, part feel-good drama and part full-blown underwater romance. Arresting visuals reimagine Baltimore circa 1962 as you’ve never seen it, underscored equally by Cold War paranoia and 1930s musicals.
This film’s unique vision has much to say to a world in the painful throes of childbirth for a better world that is to come. If there are indeed monsters in our world, they may not be those persons who at first glance appear outwardly to be so.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic
Five Lent reads
£6.99, ISBN: 9780281078639
The Bible Reading Fellowship
£7.99, ISBN: 9780857465603
The Way of the Carmelites
£8.99, ISBN: 9780281075294
The Art of Lent
Sister Wendy Beckett
£9.99, ISBN: 9780281078554
Songs of the Spirit
£9.99, ISBN: 9780281077960
I thoroughly enjoyed these books. Each brought information, insight and challenge and could be used to great effect in Lenten journeying.
The Art of Lent is the simplest, displaying paintings on one page and a reflection on the opposite page, one for each day. Each week, engaging and enlightening biblical themes are explored. A charming book, an easy read which leads to continuing reflection, and it’s educational about art!
James McCaffrey has produced a guidebook for the Lenten journey. He explores the spiritual significance of Lent though the Carmelite saints, their origin and ways. We are encouraged to stop and think, learn and pray. The book has six chapters so could be read once a week, or before Lent, to enable the various prayer practices reflected upon to be used during Lent.
In Songs of the Spirit, the psalms are freshly translated and a daily text, reflection and question are offered. The book encourages the reader to develop a daily ‘holy habit’. The psalms are not in numerical order but in an order that flows. Overall, this book takes the reader on a well guided journey whilst discovering the depth of the poetry in the Psalms.
Lent Talks is concise, containing six Jesus stories considered in a 21st-century context by Radio 4 broadcasters. Each explores how the story of Jesus connects with their own story and with this world. They are accessible, free from religious language and contain thought provoking material that challenges and informs. For those for whom following a daily habit is not possible, this would make a fruitful Lenten journey.
Towards Jerusalem contains 40 reflections focused on Scripture from Genesis, Psalms, Nehemiah, Revelation and Luke, and an epilogue for Easter Monday from Acts. The reader is encouraged to ‘get on board’ and to journey day by day through Lent with these texts that guide, enlighten, inform, challenge and teach.
A veritable feast of books – all encouraging the reader to journey through Lent and to read, reflect, pray and grow. Enjoy.
Jenny Mills is Minister of Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church and West End United Church in Wolverton, Milton Keynes
Why Bible literacy still matters
Engaging the Word: Biblical literacy
and Christian discipleship
Peter M Phillips
The Bible Reading Fellowship
What place does the Bible have in renewing Christian witness in the 21st century? This book has two basic premises. First, biblical literacy has declined, resulting not only in a lack of biblical knowledge but also in an inability to identify the biblical references which are deeply embedded in western culture. Second, biblical literacy comes not through reading in isolation alone but by reading with others in prayerful discernment of God’s address to us today. The first claim is supported by survey findings and, if true – the author sugests – renders the Church impotent. The second is supported by appealing to theologians – including Wesley, Bonhoeffer, von Balthasar and Hauerwas – and it inspires the proclamation of the Gospel in deed as well as in word. It also results in ‘noticing the presence of the word everywhere we look’.
Christianity, the author argues, possesses a message that cannot be jettisoned in favour of a superficial appeal to the contemporary zeitgeist. Phillips reminds us of the need for shared community values, inspired by the collective hearing of God’s word, rather than any quest for personal fulfilment alone. Only this, Phillips believes, can offer redemption to a world increasingly characterised by narratives of destruction through terrorism, violence, displacement, isolation and fragmentation.
Readers might feel that they know much of this. They might regret that advice on practical implementation comes rather late, and is, perhaps, a little muted. But as the United Reformed Church moves forward with its vision of missional discipleship and its ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’ emphasis, this book might offer a challenge and an inspiration, as well as a resource, to proclaim the Gospel afresh in our day.
Robert Pope is Director of Studies in Church History and Doctrine at Westminster College, Cambridge
Interviews on hearing God
That Other Voice: In search of a God who speaks
Darton, Longman and Todd
With all our high-tech methods of communication, do we ever really try to listen to God? Do we believe that God can communicate directly with people, as God spoke to the prophets of old? Have you ever wanted to hear God speak? Graham Turner, in this honest and open-minded book, travelled around the world to interview people of different faiths – including Rowan Williams, Jonathan Sacks and the Dalai Lama – all of whom claim to have heard God’s voice. Turner reports their stories to learn how those people experienced God’s voice and how it changed their lives.
Turner explains that for most people, the ‘other voice’ was not heard as audible words spoken out loud so much as a clear and commanding voice which seemed to come from elsewhere, yet speaking within them. He learned that this was different from a stab of conscience, which doesn’t have a spoken quality about it, but rather a dull, depressing thud. Turner’s interviewees did not believe the voice was simply their own thoughts, for they found this experience completely different from normal thought processes. Nor was ‘the other voice’ destructive, such as those that can afflict some people as part of mental illness. In these people’s stories, the voice, although demanding honesty and kindness, wished only well for the person and for others.
The spiritual voice gave them guidance at important junctures of their lives, or a new insight, or encouragement in a difficult time. Turner found much similarity in the stories – although the experiences were interpreted in terms of the interviewee’s own beliefs. One piece of evidence that suggested that it was God’s Spirit speaking, was the way the interviewees’ lives were transformed – they seemed to become more trustworthy and ready to serve others. Sometimes, these experiences of God’s voice came out of the blue, but in many cases they came to those who practised listening through times of silence and who were open and ready to respond to the voice.
Are these stories conclusive proof that God speaks today? Read about the experiences of the people Turner met and you will consider it a real possibility. Moreover, you will be inspired to try listening more carefully to God for yourself.
Catherine Ball is Minister of The Free Church, St Ives and Fenstanton United Reformed Church
This article was published in the February 2018 edition of Reform