Reviews July/August 2022
Transformed by an atrocity
Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time
Directed by Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott
Released 22 July (cinemas and digital platforms)
The late Kurt Vonnegut claims that after touching a tree trunk he saw the bombing of Dresden before it actually happened, and it’s easy to believe him. His whole life, he says, has been unstuck in time. Born in Indianapolis in 1922, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was shipped off as a POW to Dresden, a bustling metropolis unlike anything he’d previously seen. He survived the Allied bombing of that city inside an underground meat locker and emerged to see it razed to the ground. The Germans had him and fellow prisoners search for bodies amongst the ruins.
Back in the States after the war, he married childhood sweetheart Jane and got a job writing publicity for General Electric, a position he increasingly detested. His short stories only produced mountains of rejection letters until one was published in 1950. Suddenly he was making enough money to quit GE, but the US magazine fiction market quickly dried up as television came into its own.
Supported by Jane and her unshakeable belief in his talents, he wrote his first novel in 1952. Obscurity and poverty followed until the late 1960s, when he finally managed to write Slaughterhouse-Five about his Dresden experiences. Coinciding with the Vietnam War and the student protest movement, the book struck a chord, became a bestseller and made him a celebrity.
Fan and fledgling filmmaker Weide, who started filming Vonnegut in 1988, kept shooting but couldn’t seem to finish his film. The pair became great friends and the compelling result is both an intimate portrait and a well-researched introduction to the author’s life and work combining extensive interview material of him and his two daughters, childhood family archive footage and (much as he augmented his verbal texts with simple drawings) striking animated sequences.
The whole thing accurately represents Vonnegut’s irreverent and deeply anti-religious approach to life. Although Weide is best known as one of the directors of the sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, he was also the writer/producer of the terrific 1996 film adaptation of Vonnegut’s Mother Night. This provocative documentary will make you want to read the books.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His website is jeremycprocessing.com
Life without dinosaurs?
101 Great Big Questions about God and Science
Edited by Lizzie Henderson and Steph Bryant
ISBN 978 0 7459 7836 9
This book was written for inquisitive children to answer lots of questions asked by children about God and science, such as: ‘Does the Bible say there was no death when God created the world?’ and ‘Was the resurrection a trick?’ Many leading experts contributed to the answers to the 101 questions in the book.
I think that it is amazing because it answered lots of questions that I didn’t know and wanted to know. It was easy for me to understand and I think other older children aged 7 and above would like it if they like God, science, reading and learning. There is so much information in this book, but it is set out in a way that is easy to read and the pictures help to make it more interesting and enjoyable. I liked that you don’t have to read the book in order, you can choose the questions that you are most interested in. My favourite question so far is: ‘How did dinosaurs die out? What would life be like if they hadn’t?’…
Luca Moreira is aged 9. He wrote with help from his mum, Jo Moreira, children and family worker at Halesworth United Reformed Church
Golden Threads: Reflections from 50 years of the Congregational Federation and the United Reformed Church
Edited by Peter Brain and Alan Marsden
Available from URC Bookshop £12.99
Nearly a hundred people have contributed to this beautifully produced collection of memories and reflections which mark the golden jubilee of the Congregational Federation and the United Reformed Church. The pieces cover a wide range of topics from the nitty gritty process by which the two denominations came about, through stories of church life, youth events and exchanges, to more reflective pieces which recall the high ideals of 1972 and appraise how they have fared in the years that have followed. Some contributors offer delight in what has been and have high hopes for the future, whilst others ruefully survey the past and anticipate the future with hard realism and concern. The accompanying photographs readily evoke a time that was – ministers in formal attire and youths in flared trousers – as well as reminding readers that in many places the church is still lively and engaged with local communities. Mindful of this, it is significant that proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Trussell Trust to support the work of foodbanks…
Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform
Bible reflections for children
Comfort in Uncertain Times
Bible Reading Fellowship
All of us these days need ‘comfort in uncertain times’, and ways of dealing with anxiety, loss, and transition. But after the pandemic and schooling disruption, there is a special need for resources to help children. This book aims to do just that, featuring creative retellings of Bible stories aimed to help parents and caregivers create spaces in which children feel safe, seen, and heard. There are also questions for conversation and suggested activities. The book comes from a broad, warm and open evangelical perspective.
The first reflection, on Genesis 1, is strong: it succinctly retells the story of creation to highlight how change is woven into creation itself. God is in the midst of change, and this is ‘very good’. We read this study as a family over dinner, and it opened up conversations with my 15-year-old and 12-year-old. We also wondered about evolution being ‘very good’, which could have been addressed in the reflection…
Nathan Eddy worships at Islington URC and is Co-Director of the Council of Christians and Jews
Uniting the Church
In this 50th year of the United Reformed Church, when we look back at the desire for unity that brought this Church into being, and how that desire has been challenged over the years, Reconciling Theology offers an excellent analysis of the issues involved.
Paul Avis, an Anglican theologian, has undertaken valuable ecumenical and faith-and-order work for the Church of England. His book reflects the wider context of both churches and the world. In an age when ecumenism sometimes seems to be on the back burner, it’s a good reminder of the challenge to think and work ecumenically as the Church, if the Church is to offer God’s reconciling love to a divided world.
This book, drawing on a wide range of writers, historical and contemporary, theological, social and psychological, from different traditions of the Church, is a tool for reflection on God’s call to reconciliation today. Interestingly for the URC, Avis quotes the Congregational theologian PT Forsyth as summing up his argument…
This article was published in the July/August 2022 edition of Reform