Reviews – November 2018
Massacre of the Norwegian innocents
Utøya July 22
Directed by Erik Poppe
Certificate 15, 92 minutes
Released 26 October
This film is a Norwegian-language reconstruction of the experience of the teenagers attending Norway’s Labour party youth leaders’ summer camp on Utøya island on 22 July 2011. It is not to be confused with the recent English-language film 22 July released by Netflix, which is an excellent docudrama covering the same events and their aftermath.
Shortly after a terrorist bomb exploded in Oslo, the camp turned into a nightmare as gunshots were heard and children saw their peers running for their lives. It’s almost impossible to imagine what the 72-minute experience must have been like for young Norwegians. This film attempts to do exactly that in real time, in one single, unbroken take following one particular character.
Kaja (Andrea Burntzen) is intermittently on her mobile phone, first hearing news of the Oslo bombing from her worried mum, later trying to phone her sister whose phone is switched off while other teenagers tell her not to use the phone for fear it’ll give away their hiding place. We hardly see the killer but we constantly hear gunshots and panicking children intermittently run past or towards us, fleeing for their lives.
Despite the violence of this true story, it is not a gory movie – that isn’t what this film is about. Before the gunshots start, a Muslim boy speculates that if the bombing was an Islamist attack, it’d make his life that much more difficult. In the event, the perpetrator was a rightwing extremist but these kids don’t know that while they’re under fire. For them, it becomes merely a matter of survival.
This is the only religious reference point in the film – no one is heard praying to God for safety or deliverance. Perhaps after viewing, one should ask, what would I have done in that situation at that age? And what difference would my faith have made – if any? How does our faith deal with the fact that such things happen? For those involved, it must have been a terrifying experience and the trauma portrayed here feels horribly authentic. It seems worthwhile to explore all that.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic
Three Advent reads
Celtic Advent: 40 days of devotions to Christmas
Bible Reading Fellowship
The Prince of Peace in a World of Wars: Applying the message of God’s love to a needy world
Bible Reading Fellowship
Pathway to the Stable
Ivor Thomas Rees
Wanting a new challenge for Advent? Then look no further. These three books have a wealth of knowledge, sound biblical teaching, informative challenges to our thinking and reflecting, and relevance to our lives in this 21st-century world. All three offer us a journey through the Christmas story.
Celtic Advent offers us a 40-day Celtic trip, beginning on 15 November. It leads us through the story whilst sharing the beliefs and experiences of Celtic Christians, alongside Scripture. Every day, there is an introductory comment, a contemplation on what has been introduced, a Bible reading and a prayer. The book is interesting, enlightening and accessible.
The Prince of Peace in a World of Wars offers us a different way to approach Advent. It begins on 1 December, ends on 6 January and is a book about peace. Each day includes a Bible text followed by comments from the author, who actively encourages us to reflect and build on what we have read and then to look outwards to the world. The book uses texts from both the Old and New Testaments and takes us not only through the story of Jesus’ birth but also before and beyond.
Pathway to the Stable is written by a retired United Reformed Church minister. The author shares a wealth of knowledge, understanding and teaching around the story of Jesus’ birth and does this by reflecting on each person, place, event and situation. The book is full of information and makes the story of Christmas come alive in new ways, giving us worthy food for thought. It has 16 chapters, each beginning with a Bible text and ending with a prayer and some questions that can be used personally or in a group setting.
All three of these books are a great addition to any Advent reading list. Enjoy.
Jenny Mills is Minister of Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church and West End United Church, Wolverton, as well as convenor of the URC children’s and youth work committee
Fresh ways of seeing Advent
The Art of Advent: A painting a day from Advent to Epiphany
‘Advent,’ says Jane Williams, ‘is a space between two worlds’. A space that we have traversed so often we no longer see it and are no longer amazed by its landscape and landmarks. The Art of Advent is a picturesque journey through the season, using masterful images to provoke, arrest, surprise and delight. Guiding us through Advent, the author helps us see far hills of heaven and hell. We are helped to scan horizons for light and dark, and are given walking companions, ranging from patriarchs and prophets, a carpenter and a child, to an emperor and angels.
Dr Williams uses art as icon – not stylised icon, as in the orthodox tradition, but icon as a fresh way of seeing. The paintings range from ancient to modern, from classical ideal to contemporary interpretation. We are presented with the starkness of Dürer’s Horsemen and the Apocalypse, the poignancy of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, the narrative vitality of Bosch’s The Last Judgment, the potency of Blake’s Ancient of Days, the winsomeness of Tanner’s Annunciation, the fulsome wit of Kershisnik’s Nativity – and so many more. There is an image for everybody. Take your pick, ruminate and delight.
This is a little book with a grand scope. Both telescopic and microscopic in its approach, the book explores time and eternity before drawing the reader into attending a nativity along with a mother dog and her litter of puppies. Dr Williams’ prose is erudite and engaging. Having taken to heart the maxim of a picture speaking a thousand words, her commentary is pithy, never overshadowing the images. Dr Williams knows that we have walked the Advent path many, many times before. What she does so exquisitely is to illumine, as only a teacher and theologian can, the things we may have missed or forgotten.
The Art of Advent will give your Advent journey markers, signposts, viewing points and refreshment stops. With feet dirtied by the dust of ordinary lives, you will arrive at the manger full of awe and wonder, and taste and see again.
Rosie Benjamin attends Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex
How to preach better
God Be in my Mouth: 40 ways to grow as a preacher
St Andrew Press
What? Not another book about preaching!’ Doug Gay was ordained and began his ministry at Clapton Park United Reformed Church, Hackney. This spring, he led worship at the URC Ministers’ Gathering and was widely appreciated for it. Gay’s book includes a sermon delivered at the thanksgiving service of Ali Lawrence, a much loved young mother, wife and creative youth and community worker. So, not only is the book about preaching, it also has an example of one of his own sermons.
Gay’s book is firmly grounded in Reformed theology. It is divided into four sections: preaching, reading, speaking and living. Each section is clearly separated into sub-sections. You don’t have to read every word – you can dip into the section you particularly want or need.
At the beginning of the book, Gay reminds all practitioners that it is very important to consider the congregation you are speaking to and their concerns. For example, bear in mind the congregation’s age range, cultural context, its hopes, whether it is eco-friendly, its justice concerns, its political and pastoral issues. Towards the end of the book, Gay reminds us all that preaching is ‘truth through personality’. Who we are and what is known to be our deepest concerns matter greatly.
God Be in My Mouth is rooted in scholarship, containing many quotations from Reformed preachers and theologians. The meaning of quotations from John Calvin, Leslie Newbegin, Karl Barth and more, is most helpfully discussed. The book’s bibliography is extensive. Although scholars and seasoned preachers will benefit greatly from its comprehensive coverage of the subject, beginners will enjoy Gay’s easy style of writing and the clarity of exposition.
Gay is a natural teacher, and all of us can find in his book new inspiration, a deeper desire to be trained and equipped, and new energy in delivering and offering our congregations a stronger challenge. ‘Thank you, Doug.’
Francis Ackroyd is a United Reformed Church minister serving the Thames North synod
Applying the Beatitudes to today
Living Differently to Make a Difference: The Beatitudes and countercultural lifestyle
Bible Reading Fellowship
Our lives are out of balance. For all our technological, medical and social advances, western society is in a crisis of identity and purpose. That is the opening analysis of Will Donaldson’s book. From consumerism and obesity, individualism and loneliness, scepticism and broken promises, and collapse of economic and mental wellbeing, we are all suffering from ‘chronic lifestyle dysfunction’. Such a world needs a physician to heal our souls, requiring careful listening and application of the Divine diagnosis. Williamson explores the Beatitudes, seeking to provide us with such a diagnosis.
Each section of this book begins with helpful expansions of Jesus’ words, reminding us, for example, that ‘those who mourn’ are those who demonstrate concern for the ills in our world – not simply those who are bereaved. In a society often focused on blame and compensation (as opposed to justice and restoration) Donaldson argues that we would do well to consider Jesus’ words on being merciful and compassionate.
I was, and still am, genuinely inspired by the idea of an exploration of contemporary living alongside Jesus’ words, to more fully discern how they still speak to the ills of our lives today. However, while the premise of this book is exciting, its promise is not realised. Much of the analysis quickly descends into a dated and moralistic assessment of contemporary culture and lifestyles, and, far from wrestling with complex lives and radical solutions, it all too often offers only religious platitudes and proof texts.
Throughout the book, I found myself frustrated, disappointed and, on occasion, a little angry and insulted that such a promising premise contained none of the depth and fresh thinking I was looking for. The author, all too often, appears to yearn for things now long past, rather than focussing on exploring a new model for discipleship today.
If you are looking for fresh thinking and bold use of a key text, then like me, I suspect you’ll find this book lacking. However, we would all do well to explore afresh the words of Jesus, which still speak powerfully to our time, and to live life compassionately.
Mike Walsh is a pioneer minister serving cafes and bars in Chorlton, Greater Manchester
This article was published in the November 2018 edition of Reform