The Overnighters and what makes a ‘Christian country’

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so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” – Luke 10:29

For a long time we have been told that we in the UK live in a ‘Christian country’. This message has been particularly hammered home by elements of the media who live in fear of difference and who feast on the fears of others. David Cameron in his Easter message this year declared such and that we as Christians should ‘not be afraid to say so’.

Ok I am a Christian. I’m not afraid to say so. I’m also not afraid to say we as a Christian country are currently getting things wrong!

In the last week I watched the excellent documentary The Overnighters on Netflix. This documentary highlight the plight of many men from across America who head to a small town in North Dakota to work on oil rigs following an explosion of employment in the state.

These men give up everything they have and leave to find something better in pursuit of the American dream, leaving behind their previous lives to support those back home. Many have nowhere to go and the promise of employment is very different to the reality of life in the town when they arrive. With so many effectively homeless men in their town Pastor Jay Reinke opens up the doors of his church to provide shelter.

The films highlights not the pastors good will but also the struggles of this decision. Not all church members want this. Some strongly object and declare the men to be ‘disrespectful’ of their faith. The Pastor’s time with his family is limited at best because of this project. However his strong conviction and belief is sheltering these men overrides these elements.

I couldn’t help but watch this film and be struck by the similarities we currently see with the migrant camps in Calais.

The same Prime Minister who proudly declares us a ‘Christian country’ has used badly chosen words to describe the migrants in Calais ‘swarms‘ was a particularly poor choice.

If we are to be a truly Christian country then surely we have to listen to Jesus when he says in Matthew 25: 35-40:For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

We can’t be a Christian country when it suits our motives and we gain from it. The real-time to show our Christianity is when it comes at a cost.

It will put a strain on resources to allow those in Calais into our country but surely that’s what being a Christian country is all about? Sacrifice, love, grace. Shutting our doors to those in search of a better life appears to me to be the least Christian thing we can do.

Pastor Reinke declares that The Overnighters a one point to be a ‘profound thing’ he goes on to explain ‘we have people literally walking up to our door from all over the world saying can you help me’. This is a very real and uncomfortable scenario for us in the UK right now.

Giles Fraser tweeted recently:

‘”Who is my neighbour?” ask the people of the south of England to Jesus. And they really don’t like his answer.’

Who is my neighbour is an easy question. The Overnighters show the difficulties of the answer.

Movies for Lent: Calvary

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I’ve written several times on this blog about how great I think Calvary is. It can not be over stated how much of an impact the film has had me on me. It has been roughly a year since I first watched it, to date I have not re-watched it and yet I am still in awe of it.

Calvary is not simply another darkly comedic, McDonagh directed, Irish film. It is not simply a satirical look at the cause and effect of the numerous abuse cases still being uncovered and dealt with in Ireland. It is not just a swipe at the bankers who have crippled Ireland and brought austerity through their negligence. It is not just about the changing relationship between the man/woman in the street and their dwindling relationship with the church. It is about all these things and more.

It is all these things and it is also Easter.

The man accused when he has committed no crime.

The man who encounters and has embraced those that society rejects. The prostitute, the rich young rule (banker) to name just a couple.

The man who receives no help from religious rulers the very people who SHOULD be on his side.

The man who witnesses the community around him change from welcoming him to turn on him within a week

The man who faces his accuser, listens to their lies and takes the blame.

Calvary is Easter and Easter is Calvary.

*Calvary is now streaming on Netflix in the UK

Fight Church: Cage Fighting vs. Selective Quoting

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How can the church engage the man/woman in the street in 2015? A question often posed around tables of friends as  we chat, discuss our faith and raise concerns that the church (by which I mean all denominations /faiths) is out of step with the world in 2015.

In the United States this is being somewhat resolved by several churches having ‘MMA based ministries’. Fight Church is a great documentary (available on Netflix) exploring these ministries and their purpose and moreover the rationale of churches using MMA as outreach.

I’m all for the church being seen as relevant. This blog’s main purpose is to champion the faith bsed elements of what we watch however I was troubled by what I saw at times in this film.

Selective bible quotes have always troubled me. Take a verse out of context and it can be very easily manipulated to suit your circumstances. For example’ where 2 or 3 are gathered’ to warm the souls of the 4 people who faithfully came to a prayer meeting. Forgive me for the flippant example but this is nowhere nearly as sinister as some selective quotes used to justify those who step in the ring and endure brutal beatings.

One particularly troubling sequence shows a pastor bemoaning the fact that men are no longer men. Apparently we have become soft and the Bible calls to live the life of a warrior. He then proceeds to make light of those who ‘love their neighbour’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ seemingly forgetting the true strength it takes to do this.

I’m not against MMA. I’m not against churches using it as a form of outreach. It is a genuine ministry for some, it works for them and many in the documentary attest to how their church has grown as a result.

What I am not for however are churches selecting parts of scripture for use to make people feel weak, cast out and left feeling that God would deem them undesirable because they don’t match up to someone else.

The church needs to be relevant, it needs to be engaging people differently in 2015. What it doesn’t need to do is make them feel worthless if they don’t match up to h random verse taken out of context on a topic.

The damage an MMA fight can do, in most cases, is reparable.

Sadly however the damage caused by selective biblical quoting sadly may not be fixable at all.

Review: Testament of Youth

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Testament of Youth is based on memoir of Vera Brittain cited by many as the voice of a generation and perfectly encapsulating life before, during and after World War I.

I’m not normally a fan of period dramas or for that matter war films. Testament of Youth however is a welcome change and indeed an eye opener to the realities of WWI through the eyes of a young Brittain, played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander.

Throughout the film Vera challenges the stereotypes of her day, studying at Oxford and then as so many of her era signing up to join the war effort. However Vera’s perspective is refreshingly different for the viewer as she signs up as a nurse and tending to the wounded on both sides of the conflict. It was a pleasing change to not head to the front lines as is so often the case in these films although I can categorrically state that the film loses no impact for this.

The scenes of Vera tending to German solidiers is genuinely touching. This is no glorification of the British effort as is so often the case. The sequences in which Vera deals with injured German soldiers are heartbreaking. The conflict in her character is tangible on the realisation of what she must do. However after short contemplation the triumph of humanity is displayed, love for neighbour winning out over and above predisposed  positions and prejudices.

The film does not hold back in depciting the grime of the war. You can feel every squelch of mud as Vera makes her way across base camps. Sequences showing those in the trenches covered in mud staring down the barrel of the camera and ultimately their destinies as the voice over tells their tale in letters to loved ones are hard to forget. Not to mention the many graphic injuries that the viewer is faced with.

All these elements hammer home that the war was no glamarous venture a fact whihc is sadly lacking  in today’s Call of Duty gaming age.

This is not a cut and dry love story. That is merely a fraction of what is involved in this film. Scrape the surface and there is much more to be found.

Vera Brittain was not a typical woman of her time. Testament of Youth is not a typical period drama war film.

*Testament of Youth is now available on Netflix

Chef: The surprise of 2014

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For those of us who enjoy nothing more than spending time in dark rooms with strangers, or going to the cinema, as its also known. There is no greater joy than seeing something and being genuinely surprised. Not in the sense of seeing a shocking twist in a plot revealed or an engrossing documentary (although these are also great).  The best cinematic surprise is enjoying something you thought would be terrible.

In 2014 my biggest surprise was Chef. I had seen trailer prior to another screening and thought ‘that looks cheesy, twee and the type of self praising pap that I would avoid at all costs’. Fast forward to a couple on a rare child free date night plagued by indecision, who unable to convince the other of their preferred choices took a chance on Jon Favreau and his tale of a Chef who leaves his high-profile job to chase his dream and reignite his love of food.

This tale of ‘love what you do and do what you love’ is a little cheesy in places but it is finely balanced with also being genuinely heart warming as we see Favreau not only restart his career but also restart several of his previously deteriorating relationships (primarily with his son).

We meet loyal friends,we hear good music, we see ex wives who still care for their past relationships, and we salivate at some of the most mouth-watering food ever depicted on-screen. One particular memory is Favreau making a cheese toastie for his son and it looks like the greatest toastie the world has ever known.

Music lovers will enjoy this film, foodies will enjoy this film, those who love road movies will enjoy this film (I know have added a trip to a Texan smokehouse to my bucket list), those attempting to discover their path in life could be inspired by this tale.

Out now on DVD Chef would make a perfect Christmas stocking filler. It is the perfect curl up under a blanket film, warm and engaging with plenty to savor.

Ultimately Chef is my surprise watch of 2014 and is a great piece of cinematic comfort food that more should see.