Injustice for whom? The unexplored link between #justpray and the sexuality of ministers-in-training

It’s sometimes said that the internet in general and social media in particular is nothing more than a vast echo-chamber where the user can find any personal nuance of prejudice or point of view confirmed and re-stated. If that’s the case, then the last couple of days give an alarming picture of just how off-message we Christians can become.

It’s a matter of well recorded fact now that 3 of the UK’s largest cinema chains have refused to screen a 60-second film that shows a variety of people saying the Lord’s Prayer before the forthcoming new Star Wars movie. This is because, its attested, of the relevant company’s policy in the wake of public reaction to the screening of political themed adverts in cinemas relating to the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign; though there’s a bit of confusion as to if this policy was only applied late in negotiations.

The reaction has been vociferous. The Church of England has talked of the ‘chilling’ implications for ‘freedom of speech’; Christians across social media have expressed bewilderment, offence at other cinema content, and anger; bizarrely, Richard Dawkins has given his support to the film being screened (though it’s not so bizarre if you consider the long-game he’s most likely playing); the word ‘banned’ has been thrown around. The ante has been well and truly upped.

Let’s all take a breath. What started as a campaign to get more people praying may have got itself some extra eyeballs as a result of the press coverage (or maybe that was the plan all along?); an unwelcome side-effect is the association, yet-again, of church and Christians with what we’re against … are anger, bewilderment, offence and so on. Nothing about Jesus; little about the Gospel; relationship with God missed in the quest for more youtube hits. All over a not so bad, but not so great 60 seconds of film.

Apparently all publicity is good publicity, but that seems a bit simplistic. I’m sure a few extra people will be prompted to pray as a result, which is clearly a good thing. I’m rather less clear what the resulting big picture is. Any takers? Maybe it will emerge in time, maybe it will be forgotten in the wake of another fresh and terrible genuine crisis.

All this time that Christians are complaining about injustice received (something Jesus seemed reluctant to complain about when He received it), the UK church continues to place itself in morally tricky water. There are now reports of (evangelical) colleges that train people for ordained ministry discouraging already accepted ordination candidates from training with them if they are in a celibate same-sex relationship.

Logs and specks, and all that. Be wary of crying victim. It could come back to haunt us one day, now or in eternity.

Movie Catch-Up

It’s been a long time since I blogged on films I’d seen. In part this was because of my sabbatical, during which I enforced a break on myself; in part because I was wondering if anybody was actually interested. Then I had a couple of conversations which made it clear people were bothered about this, so I’m going to get back into it. As regular readers will know, we’re about to become foster parents, and we’re not sure how this will impact important things like movie-watching. Time will tell. For now, here’s a brief catch-up on the main cinema visits of recent months, in no special order. Click the titles for a trailer. 

Sicario

A blistering, visceral thriller about the drug war on the Mexican/American border that’s lifted into the stratosphere by an outstanding performance from Emily Blunt and some astonishing cinematography. It’s about more than drugs, too; it’s about how to stay clean in a dirty world, it’s about the politics of race, it’s about fear. There are some staggering action sequences, and the tensest traffic jam in movie history. I have a slight unease about how women are presented in the movie; though it’s hard to reach a conclusion on what, if anything, the film is saying on that. Otherwise, this remains one of the films of the year.

Everest

Spectacular and impressive true story about a group climbing, stranded and suffering on Everest. When it should be moving it perhaps isn’t moving enough, but there are moments of humanity amidst the spectacle.

Mr Holmes

A gentle, but deceptively weighty, drama about an aged Sherlock Holmes forming a friendship with his house-keeper’s son wrapped around the kernel of Holmsian mystery. Ian McKellan is excellent in the title role, a performance and a film which linger long in the air after viewing, like a fine cologne.

Mad Max: Fury Road

We saw this on what is allegedly the world’s largest cinema screen (Auckland), and what a visual treat it is. This is scorched-earth action cinema, throwing everything at the screen, most of which sticks for a long time. Tom Hardy is a good, almost wordless, reinvention of an iconic action hero; but the film’s central character is played by Charlize Theron in a plot which promises a proto-feminist perspective, marginally undermined by the costume design. You won’t get a more satisfying or artful action film this year.

The Martian

Ridley Scott’s latest is warm, witty and exciting; far more of all those three than you expect a man-stranded-somewhere-inhospitable movie to be. It’s totally implausible yet somehow convincing on its own terms, packed with generous performances and held together by fine direction from one of cinema’s great creators of worlds.

Testament Of Youth

A true and should be significant story is less than the sum of its parts. Good performances, understated direction, a decent script … all somehow doesn’t quite add up to the moving and ethically stimulating whole this should be. In part that’s because the big plot developments feel somewhat telegraphed; or maybe it’s just because I saw this in one of those cinemas with nice beanbags and good beer and I was a little distracted. It’s not bad; it’s decent, just not great.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

This series is still better than it has a right to be, primarily because director Joss Whedon knows how to entertain and the cast are completely committed to making this fun. You can’t shake the feeling, however, that Marvel’s big project is starting to fray at its ever expanding edges. It’s all very impressive and it’s an engaging watch, but maybe everyone needs to take a break now. They won’t, though.

Pitch Perfect 2

The first movie was a grin-inducing out of nowhere hit that left you with a warm glow. The inevitable sequel has lost some of the charm and under-the-radar quality that made the original so appealing, and some of the jokes really miss the mark here, but this is still funnier than most comedies doing the rounds (not a high goal to aim for, admittedly). Even in an inferior sequel, the world is still a better place with these characters and films in it.

Bridge Of Spies

Steven Spielberg’s true-life cold war thriller is beautiful to look at and engagingly acted by Tom Hanks and especially Mark Rylance; but the script passed through too many hands to feel coherent and the result is a very enjoyable film that still slightly disappoints in not delivering the food for the mind its really aiming for.

 

Too much reality

I need to tell you how I’m feeling today. I should warn you that some of you will not like it. Some of you will think I need to get some perspective. Some of you will tilt your head to the side and lower your eyes. Some of you will get angry. A few may find common ground with me. I will speak with unvarnished truth about how I feel today, and if it angers you … well, maybe you need to get angry.

I will not stay feeling the way I am about to describe forever. At least I don’t think I will. It is where I was yesterday, am today and probably will be for a few more days. And that is the last qualification that I will make. If you are worried for your sensitive eyes or ears, then look away now.

I am boiling with anger. You know, most of you, that over two years ago my friend was murdered by terrorists in Kenya. In the course of doing my job (a church leader), I had to put my own grief on hold; the result of this is a series of symptoms with which I still live, which I’m told add up to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t think you could get that if you weren’t present, but it turns out you can. I jump out of my skin if someone kicks the dog bowl. A word, a phrase, a weather pattern, a noise, a story can send me spiralling into anxiety and grief. It can not affect me for weeks or months and then it will besiege me until my resources are starved.

Yesterday (Saturday) I was starved. I woke to news of the Paris terror attacks; within an hour my heart and soul were back where I was two years ago, receiving details from inside a besieged shopping centre, comforting a fearful widow-to-be, getting fateful news. Eventually, like many others, I took to social media to both express myself and see if I could find some solace. I found some; I also found people asking why we weren’t grieving also for the many killed in attacks elsewhere – Beirut, for example. And on it went; apparently we who were moved – moved by people slaughtered doing what I like doing, going to rock concerts and football matches – especially by this, don’t care for Arab lives. Apparently we’re over Westernised. Apparently, one person told me, I shouldn’t bring my grief to social media.

The truth is I can’t take it. I have my limits. If I processed all the death and destruction in the world the same way, I would not be able function. I would sit and shake and cry and shout and scream until I couldn’t any longer. Yesterday was almost unbearable at times; I only got going when a 6-year old insisted on a cuddle … now. Today was better because it had to be – I had a job to do.

T S Eliot said that “humankind cannot bear too much reality”. How right he was. I can’t. You can’t either; you who sanctimoniously and self-righteously tell me I should be moved in the same way about everything. You can’t take it. If you felt like I felt yesterday for even an hour you would cease to meaningfully function. Have you tossed and turned overnight, wondering if your friend is safe, or a hostage or lying blood-strewn on a shopping mall floor? Have you been in the room when that phone call has been taken? Have you had to lead people on a journey of forgiving this?

We can’t take it all. We just can’t. We have our limits.

And don’t you dare, don’t you even think of citing Jesus. Even He, faced with the full weight of every moment of suffering, every evil deed, every murder and angry word; even He cried out in fear, asked for another way, sweat blood and asked why God had abandoned Him.

Of course Arab lives matter, the same as French or British or Kenyan or Burundian or Rwandan or Syrian or Lebanese or Palestinian or Israeli. But I can’t take it all, and if you say you can then you’re self-deceiving liar. You need to go to some war zones, some terror attack malls, some grieving families to get some perspective on yourself. Then tell me how much reality I should be able to take.

Paris moves me because I’ve walked its streets. Because I’ve been to more rock concerts than I can count and more football matches than I can remember. I can imagine myself there, in the midst of a carnage I can imagine only too well because of what I know from the inside.

So when you tell me, and people like me, that I must care equally … you do not know what you ask.

For the love of Christ, let us shake, mourn, grieve, cry, grow angry for a while. In time we will return to something resembling equilibrium.

We couldn’t do this every time, because we are human.

And if that’s such a sin, then we’re in more trouble than we know.