Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Simply Jesus

It has been called ‘the old, old story’ but Tom Wright shows in this book that it can be retold with a vitality that is a refreshment to mind and spirit.  The full title shows us what he is seeking to achieve: Simply Jesus: Who He was, what he did and why it matters.  
With his grasp of the social, political and religious conditions in first century Palestine, TW shows what it meant for the Son of God to appear in the midst of what was a volatile atmosphere.  And not just to appear in the midst but also to make the startling claim that with His life and ministry the Kingdom of God was breaking in and moving towards a climax which would see the whole of Creation redeemed and renewed.
Of particular interest to me was the chapter ‘At the heart of the storm’ where TW seeks to show how Jesus’ self-understanding and sense of mission would be shaped by the Hebrew Bible, God’s written word.  We are shown how passages in Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah and the Psalms point to the One who would fulfill the expectations of Israel that one day they would see the power and the glory of God revealed in their midst in a unique way.  
The question of when Jesus became fully aware of himself as the Son of God is one which has exercised Christian minds for millennia.  The role that Scripture had in this is not often emphasised.   
TW places Jesus in His time and suggests how his teaching would have struck his contemporaries but he is also at a stretch to show us why He matters to the twenty-first century.  This is where TW really comes into his own with his description of the Kingdom of God as a present reality made known by the witness of God’s people now and fulfilled at the great climax to human history when heaven and earth come together. 
Recommended for those new to the faith but also for weary pilgrims ‘pressing on’.  

Saturday, 23 June 2012

No Holds Barred.

Now this was a nice Father’s Day present to get from my oldest son.  It’s about a dysfunctional family.  The two brothers don’t get on and for different reasons each are alienated from their father.  They are all involved in the world of Multi Martial Arts which is a no holds barred combat sport, sometimes called ‘cage fighting.’  
The fight scenes are not for the squeamish, much like the real thing, but they function as the physical equivalent of the emotional struggle each of the three main characters have as they strive to resolve their personal conflicts.  Sometimes families can be hard work!  Sometimes we need to step up as ‘warriors‘ to sort things out!  
This was a surprise movie for me.  There is more to it than I expected.  

Monday, 18 June 2012

Definitely Wonderstruck.

Brian Selznick has continued with the format of his brilliant The Invention Of Hugo Cabret  to produce this tale of bereavement, loneliness, friendship and community.  It is all contained in an overarching theme of the connectedness of life which can lead to resolution and contentment.  
It is part written text and graphic novel.  The text tells the story of Ben while the drawings tell an earlier story of Rose.  In the end, the two come together in a poignant and hopeful conclusion.   
Like Hugo Cabret this is marketed as a children’s book but it raises important questions about the things that make up our lives and where we find our ultimate sense of belonging.
Brian Selznick is rapidly becoming one of my favourite contemporary writers.  

'Well, Almost Certainly . . .'

In the sermon that was preached at the service where I was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament the preacher quoted a friend of his who was involved in full-time work with homeless young people: ‘We give all kinds of noble reasons as to why he are involved in work like this.  But one day we discover the real reason and we don’t tell anybody.’  
Richard Holloway has been looking at his life as a prospective monk, missionary, parish priest and bishop and tells us the real reasons.  To say he is hard on himself is putting it mildly.  It might seem cruelly disparaging to say of anyone involved in ministry that he was in love with the idea of it all, that he enjoyed strutting his stuff on the stage that was provided for him, that it gave him the opportunity to be seen, heard and discussed.  But that is what he says about himself.  Reflecting on his appointment as a bishop in 1986 he writes:
‘Had I really grasped the force of my innate scepticism towards institutions would I still have agreed to became a bishop in 1986?  Probably, but I would have known that it was more vanity and ambition that prompted me than the wisdom of self-knowledge.  To be fair to the person I was then, I did not yet know myself.  We live ourselves forward and understand ourselves backward, but I had not lived long or reflectively enough to know who I was.‘  
This is typical of the backward looking ‘understanding’ in the book and sometimes it is quite breathtaking in its honesty.   It would be easy for someone with my perspective on faith and ministry to take a dim view of all of this and I have heard people question how Richard Holloway ever reached a position of such authority in his Church.  But I am reminded of an article I read some years ago called ‘The Minister’s Call’ by Joel Nederhood.  He is writing from a conservative evangelical position and explores what he calls ‘false forms of the Call’.  He recognises that ‘Certain elements of the ministry as we know know it tend to call into play a variety of motivations that may strongly impel a person to enter this work without his having been authentically called to it.‘  He mentions the lure of being able ‘to speak uninterruptedly for extended periods of time to an audience that feels obligated to give attention to what is being said.’  There is also the status afforded to ministers, although he admits that this is decidedly on the wane, and the access that is given to people’s private lives.  
Nederhood argues that no minister is immune from these and other ‘improper motivations’ and they need to be aware when they begin to take over.  It is for this reason that I am grateful for Richard Holloway’s book which I think is challenging to anyone involved in full-time ministry.  I am sad, though, that at the end we are left with a picture of this talented and thoughtful man without faith and without the hope of eternity.  However, as he writes when  he comes to the end of a glimpse into the future when his children will scatter his ashes over his favourite hills: 
‘And that’ll be that.  Well, almost certainly . . .‘    

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Dictator

I wish I had gone to see Top Cat: The Movie.  Really.