Reviews – April 2018
The pain of separation
Directed by Xavier Legrand
Certificate tbc, 93 minutes
Released 13 April
Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Miriam (Léa Drucker), whose marriage has fallen apart, attend a custody hearing regarding their son Julien (Thomas Gioria) who is 11. Their daughter Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux), being almost 18, will soon be considered an adult under French law and is therefore legally regarded as able to take care of herself.
Antoine wants custody so that he can look after and spend time with Julien at weekends. Miriam doesn’t want to grant him this, because she wants as little to do with Antoine as possible. Each partner makes accusations against the other. As the judge says, it’s a question of who is telling the bigger lie. But the judge must make her momentus decision based on this brief hearing, so Antoine is allowed custody at weekends.
Outside of the hearing room, we get a closer look at both wife and husband. While Miriam is no saint, Antoine seems to have something pathologically wrong with him. Julien seems traumatised by merely being in his father’s presence. When father and son are alone in the car, Antoine wants to know Miriam’s current address (which she has refused to give to him). To obtain it, he first threatens, then hits Julien. Eventually, he gets the address. Now Antoine can go round to Miriam’s apartment and bang on the door whenever he wants, day or night.
Joséphine’s 18th birthday party is coming up. Antoine uses this against the boy – would he like his dad to take him? And what of elder sister Joséphine, supposedly doing exams but spending much of her time with her boyfriend?
Once it gets going, this film will have you riveted throughout, right up to its nerve-shattering climax. That ending is rendered all the more powerful by the fact that this isn’t a thriller, more a drama based on social mores and relationship breakdown.
Custody engages with and shows the emotional pain associated with really tough questions. How should former couples behave after separation? How well do their children cope – especially if their only experience of a father is that of a bad father?
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic
Fresh and poetic invitation to deep discipleship
God-Soaked Life: Discovering a kingdom spirituality
Hodder & Stoughton
There is a freshness to God-Soaked Life which makes it worth reading. It is not the freshness that comes from someone trying hard, it is the freshness that comes from someone getting to the source of the spring and sharing that water with you.
If you are a person who reads self-help and spiritual development books, you will know that in many of them there are similar themes. God-Soaked Life brings new and challenging themes to the party. That is not to say that it is always an easy read – suggesting to someone that they pray for their former partner to die, for example, is a shocking idea! Our church found the honesty section particularly challenging.
The book’s sections are focused around creation, renewal, fearless honesty, intimacy with God, everyday discipleship and love, in both the personal and political sphere. At the end of each section there are questions to discuss as well as Bible passages.
Generally, the book is divided into easily digested sections. Our church read from God-Soaked Life during our small, evening service gatherings over the winter months.
We found the language poetic. At the end of our reading, often we would pause and sigh. We felt we had been taken to a good, deep place – a place we knew but now had fresh labels for. The book uses the sort of poetry that helps you see more clearly and then move into deeper discipleship, not the sort of poetic language that takes you to dark corners and ideas you cannot understand.
To describe the book as practical could be read to mean tips and techniques. That would not be correct. This is a book that is rooted in discipleship and interested in increasing the depth of that. We recommend it.
Lesley Charlton is Minister of Kingston United Reformed Church, Surrey
How to approach other faiths
Vibrant Christianity in Multifaith Britain
The Bible Reading Fellowship
At last! Thank you, Andrew Smith, for this invitation, to evangelical Christians, to engage seriously, as equals, with people of other faiths. I know of nothing else like it, and it is much needed in these times, when British Christians find themselves rubbing shoulders with people of other faiths as neighbours, colleagues and citizens.
Smith’s argument is that we should stop thinking in terms of a ‘spiritual scale’ where some people are going to heaven and others not. Letting go of such dualistic thinking allows us to view our other-faith neighbour in a more complex way. The command to love our neighbour trumps the command to evangelise, and love shows itself in respectful service. If we approach the faith of another with an enquiring mind, we may find much to learn.
When we do invite others to faith in Jesus, Smith argues, we should do it without manipulation; we should listen as much as we speak and try to understand that they, too, have a right to invite us to their faith. Smith reproduces the Christian Muslim Forum’s excellent ‘Guidelines for Ethical Witness’ in full. He also writes passionately on the need for mediation in times of tension, for cultural bridge building and for long-term commitment to interfaith friendship.
Each chapter begins with a piece of biblical narrative retold, and the book is thoroughly rooted in Scripture. It is a very accessible read, made warm and vivid by Smith’s attractive and often self-deprecating anecdotes about his own interfaith experience.
This is a book for interfaith enthusiasts as well as evangelicals. I was put off at first by Smith’s assumption that his reader might worry about whether or not the neighbour of another faith would go to heaven – I don’t, nor, I’m sure, do many Reform readers. But how can we seek to understand our neighbour of another faith if we don’t first listen to the concerns of fellow Christians across our liberal/evangelical divide?
Vibrant Christianity in Multifaith Britain is divided into eight chapters, each followed by questions for discussion. At £7.99, it’s a good choice for a book group or a four-to-eight-session course.
Maggie Hindley is a retired church minister living in Harrow, London
Justice inspired by the prophets
Sing Out for Justice: The poetry and passion of the Hebrew prophets
Ray Vincent is a retired Baptist minister who has spent much of his career working closely with the United Reformed Church. He writes now with a deep concern for justice in God’s world, and finds this concern inspired and echoed by the wisdom and witness of the Old Testament prophets.
Twelve brief chapters, about ten pages each, introduce the prophets and reflect on their message. There were voices in the wilderness and poets in the royal court. Some prophets told stories, while others had stories told about them. There were bold, street-corner speakers and scribes who packaged their words for generations to come.
Prophets spoke for the poor and against the privileged. They challenged the worship of foreign gods. They were pained by the stresses of invasion and the sorrows of exile. They traced God’s judgment through the troubles and shadows of history, and looked forward in hope for God’s gift of a new beginning. Idealists, they knew the need for patience. They were fragile, and resilient too. Now, we have them in the Bible, which means, for Vincent, that we should wrestle, as they did, with God’s passion for justice in the world of today.
So, who would read this little book? Someone who cares about truth and justice, and someone who believes the past might have wisdom to offer. A reader who wants to explore the Old Testament but isn’t quite sure where to start. No prior knowledge is necessary. The attitude to Scripture is respectful but not uncritical. The author explains his material well.
This is not a reference book; it has no index. The logical layout is not obviously systematic. Yet, as we explore the relevance of this ancient material for today, this guide is readable, interesting, thoughtful and honest. If you want to benefit from the prophets and their words, this book will help you find some ways in.
John Proctor is General Secretary for the United Reformed Church
Eat, Pray, Tell: A relational approach to 21st-century mission
The Bible Reading Fellowship
I write this review in the wake of Billy Graham’s death, after a lifetime of evangelism – most famously through large gatherings where he preached and called people to repentance. Nowadays, we rarely see such large-scale, evangelistic campaigns (although J John did organise an event last year at the Emirates Stadium). Eat, Pray, Tell is about one of several different and smaller approaches to evangelism.
The book’s title goes a long way to explain what the book is about. Andrew Francis, a retired United Reformed Church minister, encourages the reader to share the Gospel by first developing a relationship with the other person. This is now a common teaching from many authors. The method that Francis prompts us to use starts with eating together. He reminds us that a quarter of Jesus’ ministry revolved around food, so for those seeking to be a Jesus-shaped community, eating together should come naturally. Francis gives examples of sharing food in the context of mission, for instance the Alpha course and Messy Church. In this friendly, foody environment, people may be readier to engage spiritually through prayer (pray) and in conversation (tell) – hence ‘eat, pray, tell’.
I found this book helpful and the author’s approach a positive method of evangelism. Francis writes in an accessible style which is enjoyable to read, but for me it could have been a little shorter and still the message would have been conveyed.
The book could have a wide appeal within the URC. Francis proposes using his ‘eat, pray, tell’ method without ordained ministers being involved, which would be helpful in those situations where ministerial deployment is an issue. There are questions at the end of each chapter, so Francis’ book might be useful to groups that want to consider this form of mission. Francis also points out that the ideas in this book can be found too in Holy Habits, the key resource for the URC’s ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’ emphasis on discipleship. With this in mind, Eat, Pray, Tell could be useful in assisting URC and Methodist churches in deepening discipleship work.
Andrew Willett is a church minister and an evangelism advocate
This article was published in the April 2018 edition of Reform