Reviews – May 2021
Where are we now?
Directed by Christos Nikou
Certificate 12a, 91 minutes
Released 07 May on Curzon Home Cinema,
17th May in cinemas
A film whose time has unexpectedly come. People are suddenly losing their memories in a pandemic. A man (Aris Servetalis) nods off on a bus and, when he comes to, can’t remember where he was going, where he came from, or even his name and address. The amnesia is permanent and no one has been known to recover. As in our real life pandemic, the health service is set up to deal with the effects of all this.
The man’s pockets are checked for ID but none found. He is given a number: 18482. In hospital, he chats to the man in the next bed until one day the man has gone – having been identified and claimed by his family. Inevitably, some people remain unclaimed, as is the case for our man. Tests are done: matching pictures to pieces of music, he picks a bride and groom for Jingle Bells and a guitar player for Swan Lake. His former, common cultural knowledge has gone. He really likes apples, though.
18482 is assigned a flat, care workers and the promise of a series of tasks to help him readjust to society. The instructions for his tasks come, in bureaucratic fashion, from the answering machine in his flat. He must prove he’s carried out the tasks by photographing them with a polaroid camera.
He’s sent to a party, a depressing affair despite fancy dress, and told to flirt with a member of the opposite sex. He goes to see a film at a local cinema and talks about it after with a woman (Sofia Georgovassili) from the audience. He agrees to accompany her on her next task – driving a car. His own instructions include attending a stranger’s funeral.
Somehow, all this speaks to our current sense of loss. We have not exactly have lost our memory, but we may find we have lost touch with what was before. Society is trying to move forward, to carry on as normal, but things have changed and can never be the same. This little Greek film doesn’t offer any solutions for the future, but, even if by accident rather than design, it captures the current state of play.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His work is available at jeremycprocessing.com
Ways forward in mission
Being Interrupted: Reimagining the Church’s mission from the outside, in
Al Barrett and Ruth Harley
Being Interrupted explores the life and mission of the Church in post-Brexit Britain. Written from within the Church of England, it has much to say to anyone seeking to engage with local communities and the Gospel. Using examples from their own ministries, Barrett and Harley explain the importance of ‘interruption as invitation’, and how ‘disruption’ becomes the catalyst in life-offering encounters.
I found this a timely, honest and courageous effort to draw together critical issues – nationalism, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, climate crisis – with a critical reading of the Gospel. We are invited into the conversation that this sparks about power, privilege and the place of the Church. Our hosts for this draw on a vast number of sources (there are many suggestions for further reading) to show the interweaving of history, politics, economics and attitudes to race, gender, sexuality and the environment, and the cumulative impact of this. They explore how the church has positioned itself and operated in relation to those to whom it seeks to minister. More importantly, they offer some alternative ways forward, and some reframing and reimagining of mission and ministry.
I was delighted that the marginalisation of children was one strand considered, as I often find myself trying to read this into discussions about inequality. That illustrates the wide-ranging nature of this clear-eyed dissection of where we are, and openness for the vision of where God might want to lead us.
I enjoyed the imaginative approach, the telling of stories, the inclusion of pictures, the unfolding of metaphors – not least the importance of compost! – and am using it in a virtual book club. Anyone wanting to find ways to connect their faith to wrestling with discomfort about privilege and power should take up the invitation to join the conversation within this book. The Church really might have a something to offer, and work to do, in reshaping the world in the image of Christ.
Sam Richards is Head of Children’s and Youth Work for the United Reformed Church
Finding justice in creation
Seven Days To Freedom: Joining up connections in creation
John Dudley Davies
A retired Anglican bishop, John Dudley Davies, offers this popular, lively and passionate book which draws on a lifetime of experience, including years combating apartheid in South Africa. The Gospel, for him, leads to liberation and the recognition that there are always second chances and new possibilities. This is good news for a world facing environmental degradation, and where Covid has revealed deep systematic inequality. All this will resonate with those for whom social justice is at the heart of the Gospel.
The originality of this book is that he grounds all this in the Genesis story of creation which, he argues, would be very bad science, if that was what it was intended to be, but very good theology. The story originated in exile in Babylon. In the face of oppression, the Jewish exiles affirmed their belief in the goodness of a God who sees humanity as a unity, and who wills freedom for all. This climaxes in the seventh day, where the Sabbath’s purpose is to create a community of liberation and of shared resources from which no one is excluded.
I am deeply drawn to this picture of the Church, but I wonder if the link with Genesis is really that strong and clear. Davies is clearly right that the Sabbath is a labour law and therefore relates in contemporary society to employment rights and economic slavery, and the Jubilee confronts structural inequality and debt. But does the mandate of the sixth day of creation, ‘The earth is the Lord’s’, really lead unambiguously to a rejection of war and patriarchy? If so, it was a long time before anyone noticed. This is the Bible without warts, where its complexities are rarely acknowledged. Davies loves the Exodus promise of freedom for slaves, but this is also a story of murderous butchery, which leads on to genocide. Palestinians are unlikely to be as enthusiastic. The creation story is linked to social justice, but it is the prophets’ linking of knowing God with doing justice which is the primary source of biblical radicalism.
Martin Camroux is a retired URC minister, and author of Keeping Alive the Rumor of God
Frank with God
A Comedian’s Prayer Book
Hodder and Stoughton
I like Frank Skinner – what’s not to like about someone who makes people laugh and also plays the banjo? – but I approached this slim volume primed for disappointment. Expecting a collection of re-badged jokes along the lines of ‘A funny thing happened to me on the way to Mass…’, I was pleasantly surprised by his approach. This is a book not of religious one-liners, but of reflections on Skinner’s own prayer life – humorous, self-deprecating, intimate, honest and laced with unforced insight. In the introduction, he writes: ‘I’ve taken my convictions, my questions, my fears, my doubts, my elations, and presented them in an eavesdropper-friendly form.’
While the book does not attempt to explore theological questions in any systematic way, Skinner does address some of the left-field questions that might arise for any honest, thoughtful believer – what about the other religions, or heaven and hell, or enlisting the help of the saints in our prayers?
A theme that crops up more than once is Skinner’s concern about the poor ‘marketability’ of mainstream Christianity. Why, he ponders, do the eastern religions offer meditation, mindfulness and yoga, and so fit comfortably with a contemporary interest in ‘wellbeing’, while the Church is experienced as austere and disapproving? The Comedian’s Prayer Book goes some way towards making good that deficiency.
The book is a simple, unpretentious invitation to kneel alongside someone who has experienced the lows and highs of life, who has grown up through that experience, and has found that a conversational relationship with God is essential to living kindly, thoughtfully and well.
Anyone new to faith or for whom prayer has become jaded and routine may well find in it an unconventional yet rich source of encouragement to keep on keeping on.
Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform
Lifelines: Wrestling the Word,
gathering up grace
Carla A Grosch-Miller
In non-Covid times, I run open mic poetry evenings at our local community theatre. At the end of each session most of what has been offered, humbly, earnestly, humorously from the stage, has been fine but unmemorable. Just occasionally, a piece will have left a durable residue. Invariably, this will be because the writer and her words have struck an unusually deep seam of authenticity and honest response which has been offered clearly and accessibly to the audience. Such was my experience reading Carla Grosch-Miller’s Lifelines.
In the first half of the book, Carla uses her own clear, accessible writing style as a means of journeying through a devastating experience of loss – of loved ones, faith and purpose:
We search for your purpose
in the ruins around us…
(‘Amidst the Ruins’)
Bible readings are used as a sounding board for life experience, always, it seems, listening for an authentic ‘living Word’ among the words of Scripture. Inevitably intensely personal, yet never self-indulgent, this living, listening, speaking-out process results in offering the reader a gift of understanding and hope:
Stretch our minds towards your horizons.
And enable us to live these difficult days,
believing seeds wait for the right time
to spring to life. (‘Amidst the Ruins’)
Part two assembles pieces written for a specific moment or sketched along the way on various paths that have led the author to where she finds herself today. The reader is invited to share in righteous anger and deepening love, hard-wrought renewal of faith, as well as walking in the footsteps of St Cuthbert or wild swimming in the chilly North Sea.
Lifelines is a generous offering, allowing others in on private grief and confusion, written with a clear sense of calling to share the benefits of hard travelling and grace-full discoveries.
Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform
These reviews were published in the May 2021 edition of Reform