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Reviews April 2023 - Reform Magazine

Reviews April 2023

Combatting spiritual wickedness

How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Film by Daniel Goldhaber, Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol, Daniel Garber
Certificate 15, 103 minutes
Released 21 April

A radical film whose four makers eschew the widespread film industry notion of the film director as sole author, film production being a collaborative process. It follows a group of young eco-terrorists pursuing their eponymous goal. That title is taken from Andreas Malm’s book, which argues that the fossil fuel industry’s ‘business as usual’ approach to global warming dictates that the only effective way to fight climate change is via property destruction and sabotage.

If this sounds a long way from any concept of non-violent Christian protest, bear in mind the biblical mandate of good stewardship over God’s creation. Here lies a challenging tension. At the present time, these ideas appear to be in conflict and different believers may come to very different conclusions. The apostle Paul tells us, ‘If it is possible … live at peace with everyone.’ But has the fossil fuel industry made it impossible?

While the book is an apologetic for violent action, the film takes a very different, yet equally provocative, approach. It’s a thriller, to all intents and purposes a heist movie, but where that usually involves extensive preparation for robbing a bank and getting away (or not) with the money, in this case, the plan is to sabotage an oil pipeline and get away with it (or not).

In most heist movies, the bank robbery is an indisputably criminal act whose goal is personal financial gain, yet human psychology is such that we identify with the protagonists and want them to get away with it. The current film is rather different, in that while the action shown may technically be criminal, the preservation of the planet’s ecosystem is presented as a greater good than the legally sanctioned status quo. Paul again: we battle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, spiritual wickedness in high places.

As well as proving highly effective both as a thriller and, perhaps surprisingly, a multiple-backstory exploration into the various eco-terrorists’ individual radicalisations, it’s a deeply unsettling watch because it challenges our notions of law-abiding behaviour and stewardship. With the climate emergency becoming more insistent with each passing day, this is 100% essential viewing.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His website is jeremycprocessing.com

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Grasp a hard subject

Talking about Death: A pastoral guide
Susan Walker
Canterbury Press
£12.99
ISBN 978-1-78622-463-7


Using a quoted survey, Susan Walker, a URC minister, sets out her motivation for writing this book. Among all the topics of conversation which might feel awkward for most people – politics, immigration, money – only discussing sex proved more difficult than talking about death and dying. We are, it seems, happy to watch violent endings on TV, but speaking usefully with loved ones who are nearing the end of their life, or seriously considering our own mortality is still more taboo than commonplace.

To address this chronic conversational deficit, Talking about Death is not primarily a ‘how to do it’ book – although it includes plenty of practical advice and lived-out examples from Susan’s experience as a minister and hospice chaplain. Rather, it is designed to get the reader thinking about death, dying and how we can deal with the inevitable with honesty, practicality and, as Christians, faith…

Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform

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Theology in verse

Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World
Pádraig Ó Tuama
Canongate
£20
ISBN 978-1-83885-632-8


An Anglican colleague recently tweeted, ‘The best way to do theology is poetry.’ In this illuminating book, Pádraig Ó Tuama, poet, theologian, conflict mediator and former leader of the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland, does an excellent job of supporting this observation. He explores some of the biggest and most important questions in our lives, questions that don’t go away. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Pádraig explains how poems are constructed. He unpacks throughout his heart-warming book a way to speak to these persistent questions, with answers and also more questions, in ways that open up new possibilities.

Pádraig presents 50 poems in his inspiring and contemporary 350-page book – poems that contain prayer, pain, power, history, grief, anger, doubt, ecology, joy, sexuality, exploration, friendship, death, and love. Some poems are full of love, and some of anger; some sound like a song, others like a story. He writes a short commentary on each poem, introducing it, explaining it, adding personal anecdotes and generous insights from his own life and how it has been important to answer these basic questions…

Ray Anglesea is a self-supporting minister in the URC Northern Synod. Watch a video of Pádraig Ó Tuama on the URC’s YouTube channel: YouTube.com/urcuk

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Hymns for the ages

50 hymns for 50 years
Anne Sardeson
The United Reformed Church
£7.99 from urcshop.co.uk
ISBN 978-0-85346-355-9


A musician, URC minister and hymnwriter for most of her life, Anne Sardeson was invited to expand a series of articles about nine contemporary hymnwriters in the hymnbook Rejoice and Sing. That project grew into this book timed to coincide with the URC’s jubilee. Having set out ground rules – ‘hymn’ is used throughout irrespective of length, age, style or purpose, and only one hymn per writer is included – Anne explores ‘how what we sing responds and reacts to the world we live in’.

Each decade is preceded by a helpful reminder of notable events in that period and there are several intermissions for reflection on the way. We begin in 1972 with the events of Bloody Sunday, the UK joining the EEC, and Fred Pratt Green’s ‘Christ is the world’s light’. This journey ends with remembering the 2012 London Olympics and celebrating, not a contemporary writer, but Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) – pastor to a city gripped by plague and writing ‘Now thank we all our God’…

Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform

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Mission memoir

Thursday’s Child Had Far To Go
Betty Robinson
Austin Macauley
£8.99
ISBN 978-1-398-43013-6


In 1966 Betty Robinson sailed from Scotland to India to begin a lifetime of service with the London Missionary Society and Council for World Mission. Betty and her husband retired back to Scotland in 1999 and this book comprises the collected letters which Betty (and husband Leslie from 1979 onwards) sent to home supporters.

The letters deal mostly with the day-to-day trials and triumphs of missionary life in South India. Trained in administration, Betty’s work swiftly expanded to include horticulture, animal husbandry, financial management, adult literacy, off-road ambulance driving, training health workers, establishing rural clinics, and myriad other ‘trades’ which nowadays would come under the umbrella term of ‘sustainable community development’…

Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform

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This article was published in the April 2023 edition of Reform

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