Reviews – December 2021/January 2022
Love of money
House Of Gucci
Directed by Ridley Scott
Certificate 15, 157 minutes
Released 26 November
Milan, 1978. Patrizia (Lady Gaga) meets Maurizio (Adam Driver) at a stylish party. She works in her stepfather’s transportation business. He is studying law, a member of the extremely wealthy Gucci family, his grandfather having set up the famous fashion brand. When the couple marry, his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) cuts him off. He goes to work for her father while continuing his studies.
His uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) runs the company. Aldo’s son Paolo (Jared Leto) is a wannabe fashion designer. What follows, as the trailer succinctly puts it, covers money, family, power, betrayal, sex, loyalty, scandal, ambition, murder.
Their Catholicism is largely confined to weddings and funerals. At the couple’s wedding, the bride’s side of the church is full, while the groom’s is ominously all but empty. In their marriage, she is the one behind the business decisions, slowly edging out the other family members one by one. Eventually, she pushes a little too far and alienates her husband.
The only other place religion gets a mention, which makes for a great moment in the trailer, comes when Paolo foolishly asks Patrizia if she can keep a secret – a question that will prove his undoing – and she blasphemously invokes: ‘Father, Son and House of Gucci.’
After Maurizio cuts Patrizia off and takes up with old childhood friend Paula (Camille Cottin), his estranged wife’s lengthy association with professional psychic Pina (Salma Hayek) pushes her towards murder.
There is much to admire in the director and his team’s accurate recreation of Italian period detail. The performances, particularly from the two leads, are extraordinary, with a potential career best from Adam Driver. It’s utterly compelling watching the wife coming into more money than most of us could ever imagine and trying to grab the wider family’s share for herself and her husband, something which risks ultimately destroying them both.
Ridley Scott doesn’t allow the exquisite visual style to get in the way of his characters and their family’s multi-faceted story. If anything, it underscores his meditation on money, relationships and greed. Arguably the director’s most powerful film in years, its cautionary tale touches on terrifying spiritual truths.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His website is jeremycprocessing.com
The body of God
God: An anatomy
Presume not God to scan,’ advises the poet Alexander Pope. Yet down the centuries and, indeed, the millennia, people have done just that. Some have recorded their findings in dusty theological tomes. Others, rather more colourfully, have created statues or other works of art to convey their impressions of the Almighty. Until now, however, little attention has been paid to God’s anatomy.
That defect has been remedied in the quite marvellous and stimulating God: An anatomy by Francesca Stavrakopoulou. In the preface to this scholarly and beautifully illustrated work she tells us that this is ‘the story of the real God of the Bible, in all his corporeal, uncensored, scandalous forms’.
In 423 fully referenced pages, Stavrakopoulou deals with God’s anatomy from top to toe (not neglecting some bits we might have considered unmentionable!). Feet and legs, torso, arms and hands and much more are covered in great detail with frequent reference to how the biblical writers concerned might have been inspired by ancient religions from the same geographical area.
Stavrakopoulou contextualises her work – as any good theologian should – with frequent references to current events such as Black Lives Matter, and even well informed Bible students will surely find new and stimulating insights and information.
If the book has a fault it is perhaps in being rather too selective in the biblical books and passages the author quotes from and references. The very anthropomorphic deity she describes is very much an Old Testament construct. The author, an Old Testament specialist, majors on – in her own words – a God ‘whose footsteps shook the earth and whose voice thundered through the skies.’ Although she describes the book as being about the whole Bible, it contains considerably less on God as the Good Shepherd, or about the ‘Abba’ (Daddy) to whom Jesus prayed. Nevertheless, this is a fine contribution to serious theology and an exciting read!
Andrew McLuskey is a non-stipendiary minister in the United Reformed Church
Caring for trauma
Trauma and Pastoral Care
Carla Grosch Miller
In all sorts of ways this is the book that many folk could have done with before the pandemic! The author writes in the opening sentences of the introduction that she was writing in March 2020 as the spectre of Covid-19 first impacted on the lives of our communities. As such, the material contained within comes with an imprimatur of being tried and tested.
Trauma and Pastoral Care is a one-stop shop for guidance about how to lead and support communities who have experienced or are experiencing a shared traumatic event. The text itself is divided into three sections: The Traumatised Individual, Collective Trauma, and The Changing Story of Life and Faith. Much focus is placed on the significance of normalising both individual and collective response following a traumatic experience, and on the importance of leaders and carers prioritising their own self-care. Chapters are relatively short, and conclude with lists of key takeaway points which summarise the chapter’s content.
This book is a useful contribution to published material on the subject of trauma. It is sufficiently detailed to answer many questions, draws on scientific research, and includes plenty of ‘how to’ advice. The content is not overwhelming. It is very much a practical resource that could readily be employed in the midst of supporting individuals or communities following an acute traumatic episode. A question that I had reading through the book is, how applicable the material is to a situation such as a global pandemic or other event that persists over a lengthy period of time. I concluded that it is still helpful, as the information about how to offer care, and how individuals respond to trauma remains pertinent. The section on individual response to trauma is helpful in respect of life events that impact on individuals and enables deeper reflection on how congregations might care for everyone.
Sarah Moore is Transition Champion for the National Synod of Scotland. She has also practised as a Person-Centred Counsellor for Mind and other agencies
Up from the Ashes: A Syrian Christian doctor’s story of sacrifice, endurance and hope
Dr A with Samara Levy
Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN 978-1-529-35842 1
This is an intensely disturbing account of the destruction of a nation and its people that has led to one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our age.
Growing up in a Christian home and community, Dr A (name withheld) outshone his contemporaries from many other faith communities and established an excellence in medical services within the nation. As the nation became destabilised, tempting offers came from overseas and on multiple occasions he was tempted to compromise. Instead, he chose to stay when most of his contemporaries left and the story is a gruelling read of death, loss of employment, home and loved ones.
Through it all he chose to trust Jesus. This book is truly a challenge to real and lifelong discipleship: staying close to Jesus, recognising his voice, crying out to him, and reading and replicating his Word in the most challenging of circumstances. It is also a rebuke to us Western Christians who espouse the values of the Kingdom but don’t want to embrace fully its king, Jesus. It is a warning shot across our spiritual bows that wakes us up to the subtle culture wars we are being sucked into, and which we cannot truly navigate except with Jesus.
Having been disappointed many times in interactions with well-meaning Christians, Dr A met online with Samara Levy. Their hearts beat as one with the heartbeat of God. Samara’s Aid was established in 2013 and has since been the most effective way to bless Syria. Check it out: https://www.samarasaidappeal.org
If you read this book you do so at your peril for it will not leave you as it finds you. You will, undoubtedly, shed tears for Syria – but please, ensure that your response does not end there!
David Bedford is a retired minister
Pilgrim’s Process: Essays from a theological journey
David R Peel
Wipf and Stock
Coming from a Christian family, David Peel attended a Congregational church in Keighley, Yorkshire. He studied chemistry in London, living with Congregational ordinands, and savoured ‘being among people who wanted to talk theology … because of the need to construct a Christian narrative that is as vital for our personal development as it is for Christian mission’. Called to ministry, he trained in Manchester, then Dallas, Texas, before a career in local pastorates and theological education.
David has passionately sought an intellectually satisfactory pathway which is equally faithful to the biblical witness while never avoiding the real-life questions of meaning, justice and truth. ‘Process’ describes both his own intellectual journey but also the useful tool found in ‘Process Theology’.
The book comprises essays and talks covering such diverse topics as discerning ‘signs of the times’, educating ordinands, the aftermath of 1662, and critical but respectful ‘conversations’ with PT Forsyth, Leslie Newbiggin, Colin Gunton and Alan Sell. A postscript takes stock of where David’s commitment to theology has brought him – particularly in the light of organic failure and local success, ecumenically speaking, and the decline in church attendance.
This is an honest, serious book about the importance of thinking and acting theologically. Its focus upon Congregational/United Reformed churches as well as ecumenical dialogue will resonate with others who have travelled through similar territory. This is also a limitation, and his thoughts on more recent expressions of ‘church’ and serious theological engagement outside of mainstream settings would have been welcome. He ends by watching a hermit crab move house in a rock pool and extracts an analogy of ecclesiastical process. I was left wishing he had followed instead the Moltmann quote inside his book’s cover and developed: ‘a new theological understanding of nature… so that we may learn to hear and see, taste and feel God in all things and all things in God.’ Maybe that’s for his next book.
Ian Fosten is the books editor for Reform
This article was published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of Reform