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Reviews – April 2021 - Reform Magazine

Reviews – April 2021

Spiritual wickedness

The Dissident
Directed by Bryan Fogel
Certificate 12 (Amazon advisory), 119 minutes
Released on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Ireland from 1 April 2021

On 2 October 2018, the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey to obtain a marriage licence. He never came out. It later transpired that Khashoggi had been murdered on the premises by Saudi officials and his body dismembered, taken away and disposed of.

This fast-paced and frankly mind-boggling documentary examines a good deal more than the murder, though that is present in the numbing transcript of events complete with chilling remarks about ‘the arrival of the sacrificial lamb’ when Khashoggi has entered the premises. An audio recording of the deed also exists, but thankfully we’re spared any exposure to that.

We follow Jamal’s bereaved fiancee, the political researcher Hadice Cengiz, in her campaign for justice after the atrocity. Although the Saudi state has prosecuted a number of individuals in connection with this case, the most powerful suspects have avoided arrest.

Jamal’s fellow Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz Alzahrani, who lives in exile in Montreal, Canada, broadened Khashoggi’s activities beyond journalism into anti-state activity when to combat Saudi-funded internet troll army the Flies, whose job it is to ensure that the only those topics promoted by the regime are readily seen on Twitter, the pair set up a small army of cyber activists the Bees.

Used by 80% of Saudis (compared to 20% of Americans), Twitter is the go-to place for free speech in the Arab world, as shown by its role in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Consequently, governments in the region today do their utmost to control it.

Saudi intelligence hacked Alzahrani’s phone to access his conversations, contacts and movements. This is how the Saudis discovered the pair’s anti-state activity which Alzahrani believes is what got Khashoggi killed. The wealthy defence minister Mohammed bin Salman’s forces also alienated Amazon boss Jeff Bezos when his phone too was hacked. Bezos’s Amazon Prime now hosts this film. The Saudi regime’s apparent contempt for human rights provides a frightening example of what Paul calls ‘spiritual wickedness in high places’.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His work is available at


Building community

Why would anyone want to go to church?
A young community’s quest to reclaim church for good
Kevin Makin
Baker Books
ISBN 9781540900005

This is an accessible, entertaining, thought-provoking book written by a Canadian Lutheran pastor who started a new church community at the age of 23, in Hamilton, Ontario. The book is both an exploration of Kevin’s own faith journey and that of this new emerging community. There were huge resonances for our new church community in Milton Keynes, Church Without Walls, as a small group of us read and reflected on the book together.

The book explores, through Kevin’s own personal stories and those of his community, so many important aspects of the life of any church community, but particularly a new one. It has chapters such as ‘Nap Sunday’, about stepping out of the treadmill of busyness and new initiatives, reflections on the importance of honesty in faith, and the need for lament as well as rejoicing – the idea of holding a ‘wake’ for Jesus on Good Friday was fabulous. The jealousy Kevin felt when a new, ‘hipper’ church arrives in town and it felt like a steady stream of people started ‘moving on’, was both honest and salutary.

As a pioneer minister, called to a particular new housing area, the chapter on the importance of place I found particularly helpful. The URC comes from the ‘gathered’ model of church, but as we seek to reach new people exploring the importance of ‘place’ is crucial. Kevin writes: ‘Once we accept the “place” our church inhabits, we can begin to notice all the natural ways our geography overlaps.’

The group who read the book with me was very varied in age and background, some new to church and faith, others with many years in a range of church communities. They all found something to relate to and it worked really well as a book to enjoy and read together. We found it a book that helped us step back as a church community and look at our own context in the light of the stories and reflections.

Ruth Maxey is a pioneer minister working in Milton Keynes


Love in action

Love Is the Way: Holding onto hope in troubling times
Bishop Michael Curry
Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781529337334

Until the marriage of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry, few would have heard of the presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. But he preached at the wedding, and took as his theme the redemptive power of love. In the year that followed, Curry faced many questions prompted by his insistence that the way of love requires a radical inclusion into the beloved community, and a reaching for social and racial justice as a practical expression of the way of Jesus.

His book is structured around his answers to these questions – questions such as, ‘How do I find the energy to keep loving when the world seems to be going the other way?’ ‘How can love overcome what divides us and move us forward together?’ ‘I’m just a regular person, so how can my love make a difference?’

Like any good preacher, Curry speaks from his context, both pastorally and prophetically. Love Is the Way was written following the presidential election of 2016, and Curry explores a range of issues such as building an oil pipeline across a Sioux reservation, describing how faith leaders came together in solidarity with the indigenous people.

On care for the environment, radical inclusion, and the difficulties of working for these goals for the past four years, he exhibits resilience and a determination to work for reconciliation.

Writing about love mirrored in action is where the book sparkles. In downtown Baltimore, among boarded up and derelict homes, people from the churches went carol singing. Just as they completed a verse of ‘Silent Night’ in empty streets, a voice from an alley completed the refrain. Someone was listening, and so began a new partnership between church and community.

If all this sounds worthy but vague, it should be added that the book is a call to action and includes a daily planner of love in action as an appendix. An easy read, this book will appeal to readers wanting to leave no one behind in their search for the beloved community.

Richard Church is a retired URC minister


Being a missionary in the modern world

Away to the Ends of the Earth
Sylvia Coombs
Honeybee Books
ISBN: 9781913675073

If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to be a missionary in the modern world, then here is a personal account of one woman’s involvement in such work. In 1972, Sylvia Coombs left the home comforts of north London suburbia to go and live and work as a missionary teacher on a tiny island in the Vona Vona Lagoon in the western Solomon Islands, in the South Pacific.

The island was accessible only by canoe, and when initially asked to go there she had to dig out a map to find out where she was headed! There were frightening journeys by sea and in small planes and alarming encounters with wildlife, such as snakes, poisonous centipedes and swordfish.

Sylvia writes in an easy-to-read style and tells the story of her missionary experience over 18 years in the Solomon Islands with much humour, and tongue-in-cheek comments about her own missionary experience. In addition, she also shares some anecdotes about other missionaries who served in the Solomon Islands. The book is a delight and deals very openly with some of the hardships that she encountered.

I hope that it might inspire some others to follow in Sylvia’s footsteps, as the joy of serving God in a context with which one is unfamiliar comes across very clearly. What also shines through every page is Sylvia’s firm faith in a God who will look after her. The Council for World Mission no longer ‘sends’ missionaries but instead calls for Partners in Mission to serve alongside communities all over the world. Although the language has changed, this book has relevance and poignancy for anyone engaged in mission enterprise whether at home or further afield.

To buy the book directly from Sylvia, call her on 020 8363 3543.

Mark Meatcher is Minister of the North Enfield group of the United Reformed Church


These reviews were published in the April 2021 edition of Reform

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