Reviews – November 2019
Struggling with the gig economy
Sorry We Missed You
Directed by Ken Loach
Certificate 15, 101 minutes
Released 1 November
Newcastle. In need of a job, Ricky (Kris Hitchen) signs up with the parcel delivery firm PDF as a delivery driver. His status: self-employed, independent contractor. To pay for a van, his wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood) sells her car, which she uses to travel between specific clients at scheduled times for her work as an agency carer. Meanwhile, their teenage schoolboy son Seb (Rhys Stone) is playing truant. What could possibly go wrong?
For a start, since Ricky is working for one rather than several companies he is in effect an employee of that company without the employment rights to which an employee would legally be entitled. He is fined £100 whenever he misses a day’s work. This is not funny if you suddenly get a phone call from the police asking you to come down to the station at the start of your shift because your son has just been arrested for shoplifting, or if you’re in a casualty department because a gang of youths have just mugged you, stolen a pile of parcels and stamped on your scanner (cost, for which you’re liable, £1,000).
There’s a hint of what’s to come early on when Ricky’s boss Moloney (former policeman Ross Brewster), the self-styled Patron Saint Of Nasty Bastards, wants someone to take on the delivery round of a fellow worker who’s regularly missing his delivery targets.
Then Abby is under increased stress having to get from client to client by public transport. Her more vulnerable clients don’t get the time they need with her. And Seb is bunking off school to produce street art with a bunch of mates. He’s a talented, creative boy but the education system is failing him. With the family falling apart, younger sister Lisa Jane (Katie Proctor) makes matters worse with a bad decision in a misguided attempt to improve the situation.
The director Ken Loach and his frequent writer Paul Laverty have been making politically left-leaning films for several decades including most recently I, Daniel Blake. Like last year’s equally effective Sink by the writer-director Mark Gillis (reviewed in Reform, October 2018), Sorry We Missed You tackles the growing problem of making a living in a UK economy where the secure jobs of yesteryear are getting harder and harder to come by. Go see it and talk about it.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic
Two Advent books
Freedom is Coming: From Advent to Epiphany with the prophet Isaiah
Wake Up to Advent!
Written by Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, Freedom is Coming takes us on a journey through Isaiah for six weeks. It focuses on the people of Israel, in exile and beyond, and then grounds this in New Testament stories and teachings. Each day begins with a single verse from Isaiah, followed by a reflection, and ends with a brief prayer that roots everything in our daily lives and encourages further thought. Baines’ knowledge and writing are inspirational. He assumes nothing but makes his thinking accessible to all. This book would be an excellent Advent discipline, as it looks at faith and relates it to the real world, as well as to Christmas and beyond. It would also be a good book to read through at any time, as it contains wisdom and teaching to encourage discipleship and faith.
The Archbishop of York’s Advent book, Wake Up to Advent, leads us through this special time of year using both Old and New Testament texts. It is set around four weekly themes: Wake up, clean up, feed up and grow up. Each day has a Bible reading (or occasionally a hymn), a comment, a prayer and a final reflection. The texts are thoughtfully explored and the themes have relevance for today’s world. John Sentamu shares his theology and knowledge enthusiastically, to encourage the reader to think and reflect on life, faith, attitudes and actions.
Both writers use their personal experiences to enrich their books. This human touch is a blessing. These books inform, teach, challenge and inspire. They are easy to read, and each day’s offering is short enough for even a busy person to manage! I particularly valued journeying with Isaiah, as I learned a lot, and found myself wanting to note certain points and ideas in the margins! But either book would be a valuable companion for Advent reflection.
Jenny Mills is Minister of Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church and West End United Church, Wolverton, Buckinghamshire
Inspiring, real-life Christian stories
Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian way
Rowan Williams is a brilliant theologian who has written some difficult theology books. However, this short book is not abstract theology but lived theology. It tells the stories of influential Christians who tried to live out their faith in the midst of the contradictions and complications of real life, with its complex social and political situations. Williams has chosen a rather eclectic selection of people – people he has researched and thought about, who have illuminated his faith. He hopes that they will be beacons of light on our faith journeys as well.
Williams starts with St Paul in the first century, whom he describes as a ‘man of passions’. He progresses through ten bishops and saints including St Alban, St Augustine of Hippo and St Anselm. He then looks to the time of the Reformation with William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer, before addressing ten people who lived during the 18th to the 20th centuries, including William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, Simone Weil, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and ending with Oscar Romero. With each story, Williams highlights significant aspects of their lives, their social context and how their faith was lived out. Some were led to challenge authority, others showed great courage in face of danger and persecution, still others had a faith that led them to care for the needy.
Each story is succinct, with insightful comment and deep reflection. They reveal a depth of understanding of the people, their situations and their thinking. Williams’ scholarly research is evident. The descriptions are vivid and reflections thoughtful, but they are accessible and easy to read. I found the stories moving and inspiring, and wanted to read more about them.
The stories told here are strong examples for Christians in any age to follow – a challenge to be faithful in our own age. And they are good reminder of the power of story to illustrate and reveal truth.
Catherine Ball is Minister of The Free Church, St Ives, and Fenstanton United Reformed Church, Cambridgeshire
Life Is Not a Long Quiet River: A memoir
Willy Slavin has been a Roman Catholic priest for more than 50 years. During his ministry, he has been a parish priest, a prison and hospital chaplain, a psychologist and a church worker in Bangladesh.
I thought I would be reading a different narrative from my own, but Slavin remembers the ships’ hooters sounding on the Clyde to mark the death of King George VI. So do I. Slavin talks of reading writers like John Robinson, Harvey Cox, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Teilhard de Chardin during his ministerial training. So did I. But while I was encouraged to read widely, Slavin, studying at the Scots College in Rome, was directed to read only Catholic orthodoxy. I felt that he and I had been in the same pond at the same time – yet sitting on different lily pads. There were common things that touched my memory, and yet reminders of two different religious cultures in the Glasgow of 50 years ago.
A young man entering upon his priesthood must make three ‘evangelical promises’ to his bishop: obedience, poverty and celibacy. Slavin looks in detail at each of these, and sets out his reflections on them – theological, political, psychological and sociological. There is a goldmine of insights and provoking challenges to accepted norms. Several times through his career Slavin has had skirmishes with authority over these very subjects. As a result, he is able to explore values, how they are acquired and nourished and re-examined for the health of the Church. Churches of the Reformation can bring their own insights to these same questions.
Today, Slavin lives in a hut in rural Fife. He encourages us to consider embracing our final years as a precious gift. He offers freedom and contentment as he looks back over life. He says: ‘Naked we came into the world – but we were believed in, we were hoped for, we were cared for. We pray to leave it in the same way.’ Father Willy’s book points us in this blessed direction.
John R Smith is a retired minister living in Peeblesshire, Scottish Borders
A nun’s story
River of Fire: My spiritual journey
Sister Helen Prejean
Hodder & Stoughton
Sister Helen Prejean is renowned for her exposure of the horrors of death row in the US. In this book, Prejean offers a riveting, often humorous, account of her journey from a traditionally austere novitiate – the ‘boot camp for the brides of Christ’ – to a stage where she learns to translate Christian ideals into concrete action. Inseparable from this story are the tumultuous effects of the Second Vatican Council on Christian vocation. Prejean, a Roman Catholic, charts these effects with insight.
For many within the Church, the possibility of change – the focus of the Second Vatican Council – brought uncertainty. Prejean describes particularly well the conflicts and struggles over papal authority in the adult education classes she led. Can a faithful Roman Catholic disagree with the pope over birth control?
Prejean also describes a sense of liberation. As her convent came face to face with the modern world, it lost its mystique. Nuns dressed in a way that was indistinguishable from modern women. Scripture was opened up. Sisters discussed radical theology and the latest psychoanalytic theories. There was a new awareness of Christian ethics based on love rather than fear. But where were the boundaries? How might celibacy be reconciled with a desire to live a full life? That question led Prejean into new territory – a growing friendship with Chris, her soulmate from another convent, and a more charged relationship with a young priest.
Another issue was the community rift between ‘social justice sisters’ and ‘spiritual sisters’ like Prejean. When ministering in inner-city New Orleans, she says that ‘Jesus lightning struck’ – she awoke to race relations, became aware of the intractable obstacles faced by the people she met, and of the ways in which poverty reduced choices. This is a book for all who are summoned to seek truth in the face of life’s mysteries, and to live boldly in a suffering world.
Fleur Houston is a retired minister living in Macclesfield, Cheshire
These reviews were published in the November 2019 edition of Reform