Reviews – May 2018
A Love That Never Dies
Directed by Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds
Certificate 12A, 75 Minutes
Released 18 May
Parenting is not the easiest job in the world at the best of times. But what if the unthinkable happens? What do you do if one of your children dies? How do you cope?
Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds found themselves in that position when their 22-year-old son Joshua died travelling around Vietnam in 2013. Someone stepped out in front of his motorbike and that was it. Struggling to come to terms with his death, they travelled not only to the site of the accident but also across the US in search of other bereaved parents, a journey in memory of their son. En route, they made a documentary film out of the experience.
In the footage and voiceover, the couple describe the different ways they struggled or coped. Sections feature other parents coping with bereavement from children as young as 14 and from causes as varied as road accidents, dropping dead at a rock concert, ill health and drug overdose. It touches on such subjects as marital breakup, internalising bereavement, not wanting to offend others and positive acts to commemorate the passed loved one.
I say ‘passed’, but one thing that comes across is how helpful it is to deploy the seemingly offensive word ‘dead’. Anything else risks fostering a pretence that the deceased is still there somehow. This film shows that we need to face reality.
There is no religious or philosophical underpinning to this – you get no idea of Jane’s or Jimmy’s belief systems. Even though one interview subject mentions faith in God briefly (as in: ‘I found my faith in God severely shaken’), the film never goes there. And yet, as someone who at the time of writing hasn’t undergone this particular trial, there was much here to help me in dealing with people who have done so. Had I myself been bereaved, I suspect I would have found the film more helpful still.
Because it attempts to deal honestly with a very tough subject, it’s not always easy to watch. Go and see it, if it turns up at a cinema near you. Or you can get in touch with the filmmakers through their website alovethatneverdiesfilm.com and organise a one-off local screening.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic
Faith in the Making: Praying it, talking it and living it
The Bible Reading Fellowship
Sometimes it is hard to hold onto what we have received in worship – to carry it with us into the coming week and use it to make a real difference in the world (or even with those alongside whom we work and live). Sometimes we cannot make the Bible study group. We long for something that can inspire and energise us to respond in action as well as words. This book ticks all the boxes in giving us something to read that is Bible-based, challenging, interesting, personal, realistic and practical. It is easy to read but also honest. It acknowledges the vulnerabilities and weaknesses we all struggle with and uses the author’s own life experiences to expand on texts and bring the characters to life.
Bywater bases the whole book on Hebrews 11 and the characters from the Old Testament who are mentioned in it. She feels each one of these were heroes in their own right, and that we can learn from both their ability to hold onto hope wherever they found themselves and from the stories of their friendship with God which fuelled their faith.
Each chapter has the same structure: a Bible text from Hebrews 11, a reflection on the character(s) that also includes the author’s personal narrative, then ideas for praying, talking and living out faith (this section focuses on the ‘hope’ of each character.) A passage from the Old Testament follows, relating to the character(s) and the ‘friendship’ aspect of their story, which then leads to more ideas for praying, talking and living out faith.
I found it unsettling that God was always addressed using a male pronoun and I was unable to identify with some of the words Bywater used to portray God and how God relates to humankind. However, that did not stop the book from being useful. It was practical, interesting and encouraged us to step out in faith, to be heroes – just like the ones we read about in the Bible – despite our human failings and shortcomings. To carry hope and friendship with God as travelling aids.
Jenny Mills is Minister of Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church and West End United Church, Wolverton, Milton Keynes
A call for peace
Things That Make for Peace: A Christian peacemaker in a world of war
Peter B Price
Darton, Longman and Todd
What is an appropriate Christian response to war? This is a book born of visceral experience – the story of a life lived in faith and courage. The author is a Christian peacemaker whose journey from bystander to witness is based on more than 40 years involvement with war zones and those who live there – in Ireland, Central America, the Middle East and Israel/Palestine.Price argues that peacemaking involves addressing the causes and effect of war. Reconciliation, he believes, involves both spirit and will, and under certain circumstances it can and should lead to challenging political powers. He instances extreme poverty in South America, the suffering of children in conflict situations and returns to his frustration over the UK government’s support for war in Iraq.
What part might the institutional Church have to play in sustaining a vision of a world that is reconciled with itself and with God? Though Price acknowledges that the Church is fractured, divided and is itself in need of reconciliation, it can yet be an instrument of hope, argues Price, referencing the Jubilee 2000 campaign and its campaigns against modern slavery.
Alongside the atrocities, Price cites examples of generosity of spirit and of hospitality exercised by individuals and small groups – often at personal cost, in the face of evil and suffering. These point to a different civilisation, inspired by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, where living the Gospel offers the possibility of a new future.
This book is wide-ranging. Some might feel that the text is weighed down by aphorisms, that the thread of argument is often lost in an accumulation of quotations. But nonetheless, a strong and sincere witness to Christian hope in cruel, violent and barbaric social situations emerges. It is an encouragement for the Church to ‘keep on keeping on’.
Fleur Houston is a retired church minister and a member of Macclesfield and Bollington United Reformed Church, Cheshire
‘Discipleship of the mind’
The Landscape of Faith: An explorer’s guide to the Christian Creeds
This book explains Christian faith by discussing the clauses of the classical creeds and is placed in a Trinitarian framework. Alister McGrath advocates a ‘discipleship of the mind’ where Christianity becomes the governing lens through which all else is seen, and if necessary challenged and transformed. McGrath’s own experience confirms this – his conversion to Christianity involved entering into a ‘new universe’ characterised, as Evelyn Waugh claimed, by ‘anticipation and excitement’. Christian revelation, then, is ‘an acquired habit of understanding and imagining ourselves and our world which allows us to see things as they really are’.
The author employs many helpful illustrations, engages with popular authors such as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, Dorothy Sayers and Marilynne Robinson, and uses biographical information which describes his journey from atheism to faith, from science to theology, from the belief that atheism provided an ‘evidentially compelling statement’ about the world to the realisation that it was no more than a ‘judgement – an interpretation’ of it. Yet, while McGrath seeks to demonstrate that belief in God makes a practical difference to the way in which one lives, and claims also that this is no simple matter of belief but a response to the God whom we find to be trustworthy, this remains something of an intellectual quest.
Some readers will be drawn to this, others will not. There is much to be commended – Christianity does, after all, have a content which can only be taught – but the emphasis on the mind means that this book is for those with some theological background, not beginners, and suits those whose faith is rooted more in thought and belief than experience or practice.
Nevertheless, those who persevere will reap rewards from the book’s insights. After all, the idea that Christian faith, healthily understood, is the single, motivating factor by which the rest of life is viewed, understood, challenged and transformed sounds remarkably similar to the United Reformed Church’s emphasis on Christian missional discipleship: ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’.
Robert Pope is Director of Studies in Church History and Doctrine at Westminster College, Cambridge
How to reconcile beauty, truth, suffering and God
The Beauty and the Horror: Searching for God in a suffering world
‘Most intelligent people these days,’ writes Richard Harries, ‘do not believe what I believe, and they do not believe for perfectly understandable reasons’. In this humane, beautifully written and courteous book, he rightly seeks to engage unbelieving contemporaries in a conversation rather than confront them with polemics.
Harries sets out to address the disturbing surd at the heart of Christian mathematics – how the creation which is simultaneously pregnant with exquisite beauty and afire with grievous suffering can be reconciled with the idea of a loving creator. Some, like Ivan Karamazov, in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, will find all answers lacking and return God their ticket. Harries knows that, and he chooses to place his own philosophical answer (that creation has to be as it is to enable the evolution of intelligent beings who mature through the free choices they make) within the context of the faith and theology which has nurtured and sustained him through a long and distinguished ministry.
His generous theological pantheon includes Rowan Williams, CS Lewis and Austin Farrer. But it also embraces such figures as Simone Weil, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Jonathan Sacks.
What emerges is a mini-systematic theology. Epistemology, beauty, truth, what we know about Jesus, the relationship between Christianity and other faith traditions, and ways of honest believing – all these things are addressed pithily and clearly. But this book is also written from the heart of a compassionate pastor and it is evidently rooted in a lifetime’s reflection on poets, dramatists, novelists and artists who have very different understandings of existence.
This was an apt book to read and review during Holy Week, for it reaches into the darkest of places, finding there nothing other than the light and grace of God. I can think of no better book to place in the hands of an unbelieving friend and say: ‘This is what I believe, and why.’
David Cornick is General Secretary for Churches Together in England
These reviews were published in the May 2018 edition of Reform