LICC carried this review of the film version of War Horse, by Jason Gardner, which I found really interesting:
The Steven Spielberg film version of Michael Morpurgo’s renowned children’s book, War Horse – about the relationship between the titular animal and a faithful two-legged friend during the First World War – has had its own battle with the critics.
Some have applauded Spielberg, seeing echoes of grander days of Hollywood, drawing comparisons with westerns where the landscape played as great a part as the actors; and yes, there is schmaltz and melodrama aplenty, but it still manages to tug at the heart strings. Others have lambasted it for its idealised portrayal of rural England, cardboard acting, and the veteran director manipulating us to reach for the hankies during the horse’s plight. Even hardened film aficionados have been cursing Spielberg through their tears: ‘A horse?Caught in a war? Of course I’m going to cry!’
It’s not just critics reaching for the tissues. After seeing the film my wife found herself with a line of women in the loos having to readjust make-up because of tear damage.
Why do stories like this stir compassion within us? Perhaps because even though horses have been used for centuries to carry men into battle, in this film the horse is an innocent. The juxtaposition of that which is ‘pure’ surrounded by horror screams at us that something is wrong.
The horse isn’t the only innocent in the film. There’s the orphaned French girl and her protective grandfather, and a 14-year-old German soldier – lying about his age, too eager to be a man – and his protective older brother. And then there are the young Devonian men, ripped from the heart of the English countryside and thrown into war. This, in part, is why Spielberg overplays the rural landscape – to provide a stark contrast with the apocalyptic no man’s land of the Somme.
This instinct for outrage when innocence is attacked is arguably a trait inherited from our Father God. Time and again in the gospels when Jesus is faced with that which opposes God’s shalom, his intended wholeness for the world, he acts to help. The leper cries out, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean’, and Jesus, ‘filled with compassion’, responds ‘I am willing… be clean’.
May the sight, even the very thought, of innocence betrayed continue to upset and disturb us, and may we act with the instinct, immediacy, and heart of Christ in response.
Youth Pastor, St Peter’s West Harrow
When his drunken father (Peter Mullan) brings home a thoroughbred horse, Devonshire farm boy Albert (Jeremy Irvine) falls in love at first sight. Joey, as he names the spirited animal, is completely unsuitable for farm work – but this doesn’t stop Albert from bonding with him, even training him to plough in an act of defiance against the family’s grabbing landlord (David Thewlis).
But bigger forces are about to tear boy and horse apart. The First World War breaks out, and Joey is sold to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), a cavalry officer. Their ride into battle is only the beginning of Joey’s journey, and as the war rages on, he passes through many different hands on all sides of the conflict. Surrounded by chaos and death, it seems unlikely that he will survive – but somewhere in the trenches is his beloved Albert, who has come looking for him. [more...]
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The Church of England has just released its provisional stats for attendance and affiliation in 2010. Overall the picture is one of a church on the turn, growing again in some areas of the country and some aspects of its life, but not in others, with a headline figure of a very slight decline in Sunday attendance.
But in Ely Diocese the picture is one of growth not decline. Average weekly attendances rose from 19200 in 2009 to 19800 in 2010 with similar increases when other measures are used. Electoral roll aggregate numbers were up from 18900 to 19100, but the really striking growth is among children and young people, where average weekly church attendance is up nearly 10% from 3700 to 4000.
Parishes across the Diocese are also talking about significantly increased congregations at both Remembrance Sunday and Christmas, but the hard figures for these will only appear in a year’s time.
All this is by no means a matter for triumphalism. We obviously hope to see growing numbers coming to church because we do believe that the Christian Gospel is good news for people’s lives, and that what we call “church” can be a real strength in building local community. But we also fully respect people’s right to choose, and good news stops being good news if that is taken away.
Nor is this a moment to sit back and rest on our laurels. There is still a lot of work to do. But it will, I hope, be an encouragement to the hard-working women, men and youngsters who make up the life of our churches and chaplaincies, and another small sign that the tide is beginning to turn.
The RSA lecture by Alain de Botton Religion for Atheists on 26 January, 13:00 to 14:00
is fully booked but you can watch it live online.
Moving on from the stale and unproductive atheists vs. believers debate, renowned philosopher Alain de Botton argues for what he sees to be a more helpful and progressive alternative.
I will be intrigued to know whether his vision that “religious” activity like ritual and music can nourish humanity can hold true for the long haul. In the end we still confront a real difference between the viewpoint that all we have is human endeavour and choice, and the belief that value and purpose is somehow a given, whatever we make of it, and we not just love but are beloved, even if the whole world rejects us.
I love Bach’s Cello Suites and they are great to chill out to, but the liturgy of the Holy Communion is where Christ comes to meet me, and I find transformation.
It can be very difficult for schools, even church schools, to keep Lent – usually Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday will be marked, there is then a huge leap to Mothering Sunday and then, depending on term dates, children end up celebrating Easter before the rest of the Church has embarked upon Holy Week! With this problem in mind, this year all primary schools in the Diocese have been issued with a Lenten challenge by the Bishops and are being asked to mark Lent by performing a task each week. There is a great deal of choice involved in what schools actually do, but they have been given broad themes to work within, such as: “Thinking about the Meaning of Lent”; “Remember the World”; “Remember your Neighbours”. The emphasis is not so much upon “What shall we do” but on Lent as a time of personal commitment, and so at the end of the process schools will receive a gold, silver or bronze award based on their commitment to observing Lent. Twenty schools have already signed up for the challenge and there is still a month for others to put their names forward. They will be sharing their experiences through weekly blogs and you will be able to access these through the webpage http://www.stir-up.org.uk/lent.html, you can also find the challenge booklet as a download on the same web page.
The challenge is a great opportunity for parishes to get involved with their local school during Lent, in fact some of the suggestions within the challenge booklet do relate to the local church, so you might well find the schools approaching you for your support! Remember the challenge is open to all schools – church schools, community schools, academies, special schools, even secondary schools can join in if they wish – so if your local school is not yet on the list of participants you could bring it to their attention and offer to work with them on it – that could be your Lent Challenge!
Dr Shirley Hall
Assistant Diocesan Director of Education
Cambs CB7 4DX