Monday, September 19, 2016

Me versus Movie

Feeling rather battered after our weekend's movie menu.

The Revenant followed by Room is an intense and demanding pairing, even for the most worldly critic. I was a quivering wreck by bedtime Sunday.

Be thankful for small mercies: I didn't catch The Revenant on the big screen.

My advice? If you want to become a bit more determined in your endeavour to avoid bear attacks, you really should see it. I am almost evangelistic now on the topic of bear danger. Even if you're Leonardo DiCaprio, you really must avoid bears. If you are unfortunate enough to encounter a bear and it has its way with you, your next best option is to die quickly.

If you fail on both these counts, it will be easier for the rest of us if you live out your last days off camera.

Similarly, if you are abducted at 17, locked in a shed for 7 years and raped repeatedly, you ought to give serious thought to the impact on viewers of any screen rendition.

Battered though I may be, these are fabulous films. My body did not relax once during Revenant, so totally gripped by its breathtaking might was I. Room tells a tale of life, love and redemption strong enough to take on evil, enslavement and hatred. It is the story of a world-conquering bond between a mother and child.

If you want to spar gently with your movie, these are not for you. If you're up for a life-affirming, sweaty, bloody, snotty, juggernaut of a fist fight with a film, you won't be sorry you picked 'em. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Multiple choice religion

Can an individual improve themselves over time in any fundamental sense? Or is the human journey rather one of self-acceptance? 

Christians get themselves in a lather about the faith / works debate. You can make the bible 'prove' either that we are depraved and utterly reliant on God to fix us - Answer B = accept. Or that we play an active part in fixing our world and ourselves - Answer A = improve.

I'm not particularly interested in the debate for its own sake. But I don't want to smooth it over with platitudes either, as many try to do. The tension it addresses impacts my actual life.

It was, some years ago, a great release for me to encounter thinkers (Rohr, McLaren, Brueggemann, Keating et al) who emphasise Answer A. They focus on how the God of Christian scripture needs human partners to complete his work and the ways they alter it; how the serious pursuit of difficult practices like solitude, meditation, tithing and confession make deep and lasting change; how great is our human potential to improve our world.

This freed me from overbearing religious leaders from both conservative and liberal camps making me feel crappy. The right telling me I'm impotent, worthless, a sex-crazed victim of myself. The liberals denouncing me as strident, intimidating, self-promoting, suspect. To hear of my essential goodness, my image-of-godness, my capacity to make myself more and better, the world-changing potential contained in every mortal minute of my life.... well, it might out of context seem like God-denial. But in fact it has brought me nearer heaven.

That said, one of my favourite public figures in Christianity today is Nadia Bolz Weber. Despite the criticism she gets for swearing and embracing LGBT people (yeah....), she is pretty conservative, theologically. Appropriately for a Lutheran, she argues only God can fix us. 

She would say (and did, during a recent Q&A in Sheffield) that no, a person cannot improve themselves. Prayer, scriptural study, hard work and spiritual practices may be helpful in coping with the day-to-day. But they do not alter our essential, sinful, state as only God's forgiveness can. Answer B = accept.

Nadia is focused on loving people, using her celebrity to confess her own flaws, standing up fiercely for the judged and being deeply committed to forgiveness in community. So her 'YOU ARE A SINNER, ACCEPT IT!' is really ok to hear - in a way it isn't from almost everyone else with a microphone.

Which reveals a paradox and proves it's not the words that matter. It's what's inside the heart of the speaker and the listener.

I think that very many beleaguered and battered Christians in our nation really need to be reassured about their potential and brilliance for a while. But the pendulum can always swing the other way, making us overreach ourselves.

For me, the answer, as with so many of life and scripture's contradictions, is sometimes A and sometimes B. And often a little bit of both.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Lost Boys (sic)

In Lost Icons, childhood is one of the things of which Rowan Williams says our society is bereft.

Perhaps we can build on that, and say we are losing out on children.

Of course, the critters are still around. Lower fertility rates and older parents there may be, but births abound. I'm talking about the ways that, in treating our little ones as commodities and not people, we actually lose contact with them.

Weddings are a good example. I understand the difficulty of the invite list. I really do. But what is it with this trend for the blanket 'no children' rule? 

These events are more about achieving the perfect party than welcoming a couple into a community, of which children are part. It's kind of understandable that if you're spending the average and absolutely terrifying £30,000 on your do, you don't want mucky paws and screeching to 'spoil' it.

And don't we love to escape our role as parents? If I'm dancing and drinking away a reception, a 7pm bedtime will drag me back to the reality that my identity is now bound up with caregiving - I'm trying to forget that, thanks!

Churches also struggle with the kids. They disrupt a carefully planned sermon or gentle, candlelit reflection. And yet our flagging denominations want to grab and keep young families. Tricky.

The response is often to spend money on a youth minister and flashy resources. Make sure the littles are entertained and hidden away in other rooms. Roll them out for a rehearsed but oh-so-cute show and tell every now and then.

Again, I understand the difficulty of balancing order in worship with the needs of particular individuals. I also understand the fear of dwindling congregations (though I do wonder what we have to fear if we really believe our faith is true?) But surely the starting point should be togetherness and tolerance, not management and spending? Otherwise, how on earth will the loudly disabled or uncontrolled mourner ever feel welcome?

Children make us face up to how demanding, unmanageable, needy, poorly-inhibited, inconvenient and totally-lacking-any-spending-power-for-anything-that-lasts we really are. They remind us of our age and our eternal youth, our limitations and our capacity, our responsibilities and our essential freedom.

And that is precisely why we need to have them around as much as possible.