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Reviews – October 2018

Reviews – October 2018

When crime is your safety net

Sink
Directed by Mark Gillis
Certificate 15, 87 minutes
Released 12 October

Micky (Martin Herdman), who was once a skilled manual worker, is struggling. He has to look after his father Sam (Ian Hogg) who is being chucked out of a care home. His son Jason (Joshua Herdman) is out of work. Reduced to basic factory jobs, Micky is made redundant.

He finds himself constantly caught out by various aspects of the UK’s inflexible bureaucracy. He is fined repeatedly by one strategically placed speed camera. Micky manages to wangle a better flat with enough room for his dad but it’s in a different tenant’s name, which causes problems with claiming housing benefit. Then, despite a helpful woman at the job centre seeing his potential and taking his job hunt under her wing, he gets sanctioned for being late to sign on.

Eventually he turns to his old school mate Paul (director Mark Gillis) who is doing very nicely thank you, illegally importing goods from mainland Europe. Micky regards this as morally wrong, but as pressures mount and job interviews come to nothing, he succumbs to temptation and agrees to work for Paul, terrified he’ll screw up and get caught by customs officials.

The first-time writer/director Gillis handles his story well, coaxing magnificent performances from a terrific if largely unknown cast. It speaks volumes that Mark Rylance was so impressed by an early cut that he agreed to become an associate producer. Extremely well made (and on a shoestring at that), Sink accurately pinpoints the dilemmas faced by many people trying simply to keep their head above water. Micky ultimately decides that the only way for him to do this is to operate outside the law – a pretty poor reflection on a country where the welfare state is supposed to provide a safety net for people in genuine need.

Sink deserves to be widely seen, highlighting as it does the human and social cost of how people at the bottom of the pile are treated in contemporary Britain. Thoroughly engaging and not without humour, it’s as impressive and hard-hitting as last year’s I, Daniel Blake. Put it at the top of your list.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic

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On being a Christian woman


The Girl De-Construction Project:
Wildness, wonder and being a woman
Rachel Gardner
Hodder and Stoughton
£12.99 (hardback)
ISBN: 9781473686380

 

This book is divided into four sections: body, mind, soul and strength. It is an invitation to deconstruct some of our attitudes and expectations about being both a Christian and a woman.

Right from the start, the author acknowledges that there is a lot that can hold women back from realising their God-given potential and truly being the people they are created to be. This book names a lot of the issues that women struggle with in Christian settings, from sex to hurt and fear; from encountering God to responding to power. The Girl De-Construction Project goes through a range of topics. At the end of each chapter there is a section, ‘De-construct’, that challenges the reader to seriously consider their personal response to what is written. A ‘Re-construct’ section follows that encourages change, different thinking and a positive response.

The book is anecdotal and an easy read, drawing from the author’s own experiences and those of others she has encountered or read about. It is interesting at this point in time, when there is a lot of discussion around gender fluidity, to have a book that focuses on women’s issues alone, but I feel it has a relevance that connects faith in a Trinitarian God to being a woman and gives permission for women to be our true selves.

Looking at the title, I thought I might be too old to read and review this book! Its appeal, however, is wide as it voices a lot of the thoughts that women of all ages engage in and often talk about with those whom they trust. The book gets stuff out in the open, with a very firm basis in Christian faith. At times it seemed too simplistic about how to respond in faith and hold stuff before God. That simplicity could possibly make some women feel even more discouraged. However, the author is honest in naming issues that are often inherent in church life but not challenged. The book prompted my thinking, even if I did not agree with all that was being said.

Jenny Mills is Minister of Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church and West End United Church, Wolverton

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A reassessment of Celtic Christianity


Following the Celtic Way: A new assessment of Celtic Christianity
Ian Bradley
Darton, Longman and Todd
£12.99
ISBN: 9780232533415

 

Following the Celtic Way is a reappraisal of Ian Bradley’s previous book The Celtic Way, which he wrote 25 years ago. But whether you have read The Celtic Way or not, it is an insightful and thought-provoking read.

The first section of Following the Celtic Way reviews and questions some of Bradley’s understandings, as well as the understandings of other academics, of what has been described as ‘Celtic Christianity’. Bradley re-examines previous sources and draws insights that are less romantic or simplistic. He boldly explains that he has found himself compelled to retract some of his earlier endorsements of Celtic Christianity’s eco and feminine-friendly characteristics. Throughout this section, Bradley also offers an overview of the academic journey of rediscovering Celtic Christianity, and explores some of the possible contextual reasons behind such analysis.

In the second section of the book, ‘Exploring the Way’, Bradley identifies 21 recurring themes and tendencies (each beginning with ‘P’) which appear to be apparent in a broad definition of Celtic spirituality. He suggests, in the book’s brief third section – ‘Following the Way Today’, what Celtic Christianity might offer those who seek to follow Jesus in a modern context.

In Following the Celtic Way, Bradley has courageously listened to academic criticisms of his earlier work, re-examined his sources and changed his opinions. In stark contrast to some of his earlier conclusions, Bradley concurs with medieval historian Caitlin Corning that ‘the Irish and British were no more pro-women, pro-environment or even spiritual than the rest of the Church’.

Given the years of writing and speaking he has done on this topic, I found it very liberating, humbling and inspiring to encounter a popular academic who is radically re-examining his thinking and continuing to wrestle anew with ancient sources. Overall, I enjoyed and appreciated reading this book both academically and devotionally, and have already recommended it to others.

Fiona Bennett is Minister of Augustine United Church, Edinburgh

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Christian apologetic informed by science


The Great Mystery: Science, God and the
human quest for meaning
Alister McGrath
Hodder and Stoughton
£10.99
ISBN: 9781473634336

 

Drawing on his scientific background as well as his theological expertise, Alister McGrath argues in this book for the pressing need to recapture a sense of wonder. Modern life, he says, is characterised by disenchantment, fuelled by the uncertainties stemming from the economic crash, the proliferation of political crises, the anguish arising from climate change and the threat of global terrorism. Because these all stem from human action, any rethinking of what gives meaning to life in order to face the future with hope requires honesty; we have to face up to the fact that there is something wrong with us and we need help in putting it right.

In light of this, the modern quest must be refocused to seek wisdom about the great questions of life, rather than information about how the universe appears to function. Given that we cannot raise ourselves out of our situation to take, as it were, a ‘God’s-eye view’, but instead have to make sense of things as we travel along, McGrath asks where we can find guidance for the journey. Horizons need to be as broad as possible, he suggests, and not narrowly focused. Science can assist, but it can be as prone to narrow, even fundamentalist, approaches as can religion. Unsurprisingly, he argues that the Christian Gospel opens the way to re-enchantment by providing a framework to understand who we are, why we are here and what the future holds.

The discussion is sophisticated and not a little demanding. But in an open and lucid way, McGrath offers an apologetic for Christian faith which engages with the insights of science, philosophy and literature, arguing that engagement is crucial in informing the human quest for purpose in life. He is generous towards those who might disagree with him, while his critique of those unwilling to entertain dialogue and debate is at times withering. The result is an invitation to walk the Christian way, trusting the claims of the Gospel but being willing to engage constructively with contemporary thought. It is an encouraging read.

Robert Pope is Director of Studies in Church History and Doctrine at Westminster College, Cambridge

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How to refocus on God


Rooted in God’s Grace: Dwelling in
the knowledge of God
Hannah Fytche
Bible Reading Fellowship
£8.99
ISBN: 9780857465870

 

The blurb of Rooted in God’s Grace sets it up to be little more than a recommendation to pray, read the Bible and go to church. However, the depth and honesty with which Fytche writes, and her biblical knowledge, questioning and growing faith, surprise and humble those who make the proverbial error of judging this book by the cover.

Each chapter focuses on a different way in which one can grow in the knowledge of God. From making the most of silence to finding habits that draw one closer to God day by day, Fytche explores ways in which anybody can root themselves in the love of God and allow the subsequent growth to influence their everyday life.

The end of each chapter poses a list of questions to encourage the reader to explore themes further, suggesting passages of scripture that can direct one’s reflection and prayer. Interspersed between the chapters are anecdotes from Fytche’s experiences of God and the Church in her childhood and student life that, whilst not always adding to the messages of the chapters, bring one back to the human and the humanity behind the book.

Humanity and grace is evident throughout the book as Fytche acknowledges the differences between different Christians’ understandings, practices and styles of worship. She never belittles or rejects other paths – she makes clear her own opinions and beliefs but highlights the ethos of the book by stating that the only prerequisite of a church is that they ‘have at their core the grace of Jesus’.

Whether or not one agrees with all aspects of Fytche’s theology, this is a book worth reading for anybody who struggles to make time for God in the everyday. It is a reminder of the ways in which one’s understanding can grow and of the rewards that can be reaped when time is made for the peace of God. As a whole, it is an expression of the joy that is to be found when God is placed at the centre of one’s life.

Diana Paulding is an MPhil student in Old Testament at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

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This article was published in the October 2018 edition of  Reform

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