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Reform Magazine | September 26, 2020

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Reviews – May 2020

Reviews – May 2020

The space race

Astronaut
Directed by Shelagh McLeod

Certificate PG, 97 minutes
Released 27 April on most UK movie streaming platforms

At 75, Angus Stewart (Richard Dreyfuss) moves into his daughter’s family home for medical reasons. With three generations living on top of one another – his daughter Molly (Krista Bridges), her husband Jim (Lyriq Bent) and their pre-teen son Barney (Richie Lawrence) – tension arises from Angus’ strong belief that he can look after himself and his daughter’s equally strong conviction that he no longer can. So the couple move him to a care home.

Encouraged by his grandson, who reckons he could pass for 65, Angus enters a competition set up by the entrepreneur Marcus Brown (Colm Feore) to become a passenger on the first commercial flight into space. Angus always wanted to be an astronaut and this is his last chance. For an engineer whose career has involved applying his considerable geological expertise to the building of roads and runways, this would seem an unlikely career move.

Angus’ confinement within the community of the care home becomes a little film within the film. He befriends Len (Graham Greene) who is a wheelchair user and can barely speak. Care home residents and staff are inspired when the news announces Angus as one of three shortlisted candidates. Other subplots include his age working against him in the space trip’s selection procedure, his warnings to Marcus and company that take off will be a disaster because the runway construction has overlooked important geological considerations, and his son-in-law Jim’s serious work problems.

With much of the proceedings taking place inside either the family home or the care home, and an emphasis on the separation of the two homes by geographical distance, it’s an essay on the joys and challenges of families working together under one roof, or living apart under different ones. A comet is visible in the night sky throughout, a tangible reminder of the basic human need to understand our place in the universe, even as we struggle to make things work within the small social unit of immediate family or wider dispersed family. This engaging little film speaks eloquently to our current situation.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic

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God, sex and love

Why does God care who I sleep with?
Sam Allberry
The Good Book Company
£7.99
ISBN: 9781784982775


It’s a big question to set as the title for a book: why does God care who I sleep with? Though Sam Allberry puts that question at the forefront of every chapter, he challenges it by presenting different reasons for asking it. Allberry is an Anglican who describes himself as a ‘writer, pastor and consumer of Thai food’. Knowing of some of his other books, I knew what I was expecting when I opened this one, but I didn’t find what I expected.

With chapter headings like ‘What if I’ve really messed up?’, ‘Isn’t love enough?’ and ‘Why do we care who we sleep with?’, the book’s scope is much wider than might be assumed. It encourages the reader to connect with and question their own preconceptions and understandings.
This book doesn’t specifically ask questions of sexuality, instead its focus is on the much wider issues of consent, power, love, self worth and control. I found parts of the book uncomfortable to read, but I think that was most likely Allberry’s intention.

In many ways, this book challenges and provokes but it also encourages and enables. It offers a wide view of what sex is, and affirms that being in a loving, ‘complete, permanent and exclusive form of self giving’ is powerful and beautiful.

I wonder if Allberry aimed for readers to question whether Christians think too much about sex in a purely moral way, and hoped to encourage us to think much more broadly, with a God focus in our relationships? The question ‘why does God care who I sleep with?’, for me, remained after reading this book. The book encourages us to find our own answers but we are reminded very early on that God cares about who we sleep with, because God cares deeply about people. God really does care about everyone.

John Grundy is Minister of St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Brockley, and St Michael’s United Church, New Cross, both in south east London

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Holy Week meditations

The Glory of the Cross
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
SPCK
£9.99
ISBN: 9780281081974


These 12 meditations are subtitled ‘A journey through Holy Week and Easter’, and are presented with an image drawn from the story in Numbers where Israelites in the wilderness complained about their lack of water; Moses struck a rock face from which water flowed abundantly, and everyone drank their fill. They read as a series of Holy Week talks, though there are more for some days than others, and there is nothing obvious for Holy Saturday. All are short and very simply expressed, and yet there is a profoundness that often comes with brevity.

With a story so well known as the Holy Week story, it can often be difficult to find anything new to say. Nichols’ theme (the abundance of living water) is apt for the richness of the particular way in which he uses the biblical material. It enables him to give full play to John’s Gospel as a source for several meditations. Anyone, whether minister, student, elder or ordinary church member, may find something memorable in it.

I was particularly moved by the ninth meditation, ‘The glorious victory’, based on Isaiah 53, in which Good Friday is seen as the fresh water flowing forth out of the barrenness of death. I was also struck by Nichols’ characteristic emphasis on the inter-relation between Holy Week and the Eucharist, in which each is seen as giving meaning to the other. I was disappointed by the lack of reference to the Emmaus story, since for me that unpacks so much about Easter, but I admit that after reading Nichols’ conclusion that Easter is a reminder that ‘life is a gift, not an acquisition’, I realise the hollowness of continuing to argue about justification by faith.

David M Thompson is a minister and a former Moderator of General Assembly

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A bitesized survey of the Bible

What’s in the Bible (for me)? 50 readings and reflections
Lucy Moore
Bible Reading Fellowship
£4.99
ISBN: 9780857467607


This is a delightful little book written by the founder of Messy Church. It is an eminently readable book, giving a sweeping survey of the entire Bible. Following the theme of journeys, Moore takes us from the story of Adam and Eve, the journey of a family leaving home, through the journey of the ancient nation of Israel, the journey of God coming from heaven to earth and back in Jesus the Messiah, the journey of a new way of life, the early Church and the journey of human beings in faith towards God. It includes women of the Bible and is inclusive of all people.

The book is divided into 50 chapters, each of which could be read once a day, or once a week. They could also be read in one sitting. Each chapter has a short quotation from Scripture followed by a thoughtful reflection and ends with questions to invite further consideration.

The language is accessible, concise and clear. Its brevity does not mean that it is simplistic or trite: it offers deeply thought out theology in understandable language. It would be ideal to give to those interested in Christianity, newish Christians or those who want to build upon their Bible knowledge as an aid to growth in discipleship. It has warmth and a human element to which anyone could relate. The broad framework gives an excellent foundation for a balanced and full understanding of Christian faith and life.

In these days of short video clips, pictures and soundbites, this is a book that many people would easily read – and finish! It also gives great encouragement in times of difficulty and uncertainty, apt for our lives under the current Covid-19 restrictions. The book is positive, life enhancing and an easy read to curl up with while being stuck in the house.

Catherine Ball is Minister of The Free Church, St Ives, and Fenstanton United Reformed Church, Cambridgeshire

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How to retire from ministry

Make the Most of Retirement
Paul Beasley-Murray
Bible Reading Fellowship
£8.99
ISBN: 9780857468642


This book is aimed at retired ministers or, more usefully, at ministers about to retire. It seeks to address a gap in the market, for while there are many general books on retirement, and many books on ministry, there is very little on ministerial retirement.

With considerable success, Beasley-Murray manages to blend three elements into one relatively short book. It contains much wisdom. Much of the book is a reflection on and retelling of his own experience of retirement, some is an evaluation of the limited amount of research in this field, and some is the repetition of somewhat anecdotal evidence. It is not a book that will appeal to every retired minister and Beasley-Murray fully recognises that. It is very personal, and, as such, may seem alien to some.

All ministers are different, the retired as much as the active. Beasley-Murray says that ‘writing and research is one way in which I seek to live out my calling’. Committees and charitable trusteeships alongside preaching currently fill that role for me. He quotes with approval a comment from an Anglican source: ‘Priests never retire but vicars do.’ Although he himself has chosen to worship in a setting that does not offer regular opportunities for leading Sunday services, he notes that 85% of the retired Baptist ministers who took part in his survey regularly led worship.

Beasley-Murray is not shy of disagreeing with others who have written on retirement, noting that where such writing appears as a part of a general study, the tone has often been negative. This book sees retirement as positive but recognises that this is not everyone’s experience. He is clear that his book should be considered alongside the pre-retirement courses run by many denominations. The author fully recognises the value of such courses but suggests that by their nature they focus mainly on the practical elements of retirement (housing, health, pensions etc) and less on the spiritual dimension.

James Breslin is a retired minister living in Nottingham

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This article was published in the May 2020 edition of Reform

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