Reviews February 2022
On being a refugee
Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Certificate 15, 83 minutes
Released 11 February
There have been animated films about life under the Taliban in Afghanistan before, including The Breadwinner (reviewed in Reform, June 2018), but Flee is different. It covers not only the experience of fleeing your home country, but also the psychological aftermath once you successfully settle in another country. And although animated, it’s a documentary based on a real person. Amin (not his real name), a gay Danish citizen due shortly to marry his long-time partner Kasper, is persuaded by a radio journalist to give a series of interviews about his history as a refugee. His experiences have taken their toll and now threaten to undermine his relationship with Kasper.
Amin’s fond memories of childhood are very different from the way we now think of Afghanistan. As a young boy, he dresses up in women’s clothing and no one bats an eyelid. As his teenage years approach and the Taliban come to power, however, things change. Most notably, boys his age and older are press-ganged off the street for military service.
Amin’s parents decide the time has come to get out and the family fly to Moscow, where they are faced with food shortages and queues. Life – or rather subsistence – consists of watching dubbed TV soaps in an apartment block.
His big brother has made it to Sweden, but the high cost of paying people traffickers to get there is prohibitive, with no guarantee that you’ll end up in the country of your choice. In Amin’s case, he ends up in Denmark, the uncertainty of the process having thwarted the simple aim of getting to the same country as family members who went on ahead.
The journey has its share of harrowing experiences – an encounter with a group of Russian police who rape any female refugees they come across, traffickers threatening to shoot old and infirm refugees for slowing everyone else down, and being packed into a boat that’s taking on water at sea.
The perfunctory animation style is perfect for conveying such episodes, and the film is highly effective at showing the trauma of the contemporary refugee experience. It isn’t preachy about it, either, which renders it all the more effective.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His website is jeremycprocessing.com
My Theology: Duppy Conqueror
Darton Longman and Todd
ISBN 978 1 913657 50 5
When a theologian’s works span numerous tomes, a summary of how their ideas might inspire the Church today is valuable, especially if they develop their theology through other media. What is all the more exciting about this new series of short excursions into the thoughts of some of the world’s current leading theologians is that it is written by the theologians themselves. It is especially welcome for those of us who currently have little time to do lots of serious theological reading.
In the first book of the series, Robert Beckford outlines the theological orientation that has developed in his academic and media work, and which is influential in the field of black theology. As a second-generation British African Caribbean, Beckford describes how his Jamaican heritage and forbears led him to this orientation from the perspective of the emancipation/defiance tradition of African Caribbean Christianity. Wanting to construct a Christian theology that was a work of radical justice and black empowerment, Beckford demonstrates how he has built theological views of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that dispel untruths about the meaning of God taught to enslaved and colonial peoples. Beckford does this through questions which are raised by lived experiences, sociological-cultural analysis and theological reflection of those experiences, and examples of responsive positive action taken in his media productions. In Jamaican patwah, a ‘duppy conqueror’ is someone who overcomes obstacles.
Beckford’s presentation of the Trinity, developed through the sociological-cultural lenses of the black struggle in Britain and the African Caribbean community, offers theological thinking that cannot be ignored by the Church if it is committed to social action. He paints images of the Trinity that speak out against injustice and exhibit what radical corporate inclusion and fellowship of all people means.
As a way to dip one’s toe into black theology and discover a view of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit which should not be entirely alien to any of us, I would thoroughly recommend this little book.
Elaine Colechin serves at St Mark’s United Church, Greenwich, and Bromley URC
Light on Scripture
How To Eat Bread: 21 nourishing ways to read the Bible
Hodder & Stoughton
Using tried and tested ways of Bible reading, How to Eat Bread is an introduction, and more, for those wishing to know the Bible better. A priest in the Church of England, and Rector of three churches in Liverpool city centre, Threlfall-Holmes knows her stuff and leads the reader through a practical guide to the texts looking for, and exploring, how the Bible can be supportive and sustaining for people of faith.
In 21 short chapters, divided into three sections, the author uses in the first section a collection of familiar texts to highlight ways of making them come alive. The second section is an exploration of techniques and methods of bringing spiritual gifts to the readings, for example Augustine’s rule of love and Ignatian imagination.
In a final, and perhaps more complex section, the reader brings a personal agenda to the task of interpretation, whether it be from a feminist angle, a liberationist agenda or a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ approach.
At first I thought the book was going to be rather twee and superficial. How wrong I was! It is not a long book but it is brim-full of ideas and resources that I found very enriching and, dare I say it, exciting. I thought it a marvellously rich book that could be used in any Bible study group, sermon writing exercise or elders’ meeting. I shall certainly try out some of the exercises the author provides, and I enjoyed the imaginative way of looking at texts that might have become, in their familiarity, stale and uninterestingly obvious. In the words of Paula Gooder, writer and lecturer in biblical studies, quoted on the cover: ‘A powerful reminder of how nourishing Scripture can be.’
I can enthusiastically recommend this book to ministers and congregations. First rate.
Martin Hazell is Minister at Redhill and Moat, East Grinstead, United Reformed Churches
Guite on Guite
My Theology: The Word within the words
Darton Longman and Todd
ISBN 978 1 913657 38 3
In this short book, continuing the ‘My Theology’ series, the poet, priest and academic Malcolm Guite explores the influences on his own beliefs, interspersed with his own poetry.
He suggests the need to read the Bible contemplatively, steering a middle course between excessive literalism and a purely academic approach. On liturgy, the language of the worship of the Church (very particularly that of the Church of England), he considers the influence of Evensong and the use of psalms in worship. The Eucharist Guite sees as absolutely central to his faith and the life of the Church and he describes it as the ‘true heart of Christian liturgy’. The personal stories he tells along the way are well chosen and often moving, particularly when referencing the pandemic and its effects.
As a poet Guite takes language seriously, and this is a book in part about words and their limitations. Debates around the social and political impact of the language we use, particularly relating to identity and gender, are key contemporary concerns. Yet the language Guite uses to discuss faith, worship and the nature of God is always highly traditional and conventional, as indeed is the theology he sets out.
The poetry included is largely in the form of sonnets, a rigid form with a long history, and its mannered precision clearly bears the influence of both the 16th-century metaphysical poets (Guite quotes, approvingly, George Herbert’s lines on the Eucharist) and 20th century writers including TS Eliot and CS Lewis. Despite the references to Covid there is very little about what the faith he describes might mean in practice. Indeed, when the book ends with the image of ‘Christ alive and loose in the world’, outside the confines of the Church, it’s a shame there isn’t space for another chapter.
Nick Jones is Minister of Heswall United Reformed Church
Sharing the Easter Story: From reading to living the Gospel
Bible Reading Fellowship
Sharing the Easter Story by Sally Welch, a priest with 20 years’ experience ministering across the Diocese of Oxford, is this year’s Lent offering from the Bible Reading Fellowship. The title might be misleading – it is less a primer in evangelism and more a gentle encouragement not just to believe but to live out our Christian faith.
The book is a guide for individuals and/or groups, with daily Scripture readings (mostly from the NRSV), a reflection on the passage, personal questions for consideration, and short prayers drawing on the treasure trove of Christian prayer and praise from throughout the centuries. Each week ends with questions for groups to consider together and additional, creative prayer activity on the week’s theme.
Focusing on not just reading the Gospel but living it, the themes are all active verbs, actions which we don’t simply approve of but choose to live out. These include repenting, forgiving, hoping, trusting, sacrificing, loving, and changing. These would fit a seven-week study series beginning the week of Ash Wednesday and concluding the week after Easter, but as practices in Christian discipleship they could easily be adapted for other seasons of the Christian year.
Welch writes in a warm and sympathetic style, drawing on her breadth of pastoral experience, as well as books, film and TV to illustrate her reflections. You may not agree with everything suggested but will almost certainly find yourself challenged to consider what you believe is important and why. On occasions her reflections touch on the events of the past year, not dwelling on them, but providing appropriate moments for lament and thanksgiving and reflection.
I know Welch’s reflections on 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 will strike a chord with many. I hope also her experience of renewed hope and joy at the creativity, love and service demonstrated in the darkest of times will be recognisable in your life too.
It is hard to imagine anyone failing to grow as a disciple of Jesus through engaging with this clear, challenging, rich and refreshing study and I would warmly commend it to you this Lent.
James Church is a URC minister in Leamington Spa
This article was published in the February 2022 edition of Reform