Opinion


CalvaryA NEW movie making the rounds on the independent film circuit is Calvary, the story of an Irish priest in a church consumed with anger over the sexual abuse of children by clergy. The film has some great aspects, but if it had come with a spiritual health warning, I’d never have seen it, and I think I’d have been happier. So this is that warning, for any readers who might share my fragility.

First, though, some reasons why you might want to see it (I could give more, but I’m trying to avoid giving too much away). It’s well written (by someone who has a real grasp of the gospel), well acted, well directed, set in a beautiful landscape brilliantly photographed, and a suspense-filled whodunit as well as an almost unbearably perceptive social commentary. It’s one of the most thought provoking films I’ve seen in a long time; it made me think long and hard about the church, the society we live in, and what it means for Christians to share in Christ’s sufferings.

The health warning is necessary because its depiction of the sinful nature of humanity is so blunt, and hits the viewer so hard, that by the end of the film I felt as though I had been on the wrong end of the baseball bat that appears in one scene. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not ‘graphic’ or ‘explicit’, in fact it’s incontrovertible proof that heaving bodies are not needed for the portrayal of sex, or rivers of blood and guts for the portrayal of violence. Hollywood could learn a lot from the way Calvary shocks the viewer. The shock comes at least in part from the fact that the sadism and the perversion is presented as so deeply embedded, and in the sort of people we see every day—including the one in the bathroom mirror. As I say, by the closing credits I felt as though I had not only been physically assaulted but demeaned and humiliated, and I was ready to hit back. I felt as though it had been done by someone who delighted in rubbing my nose in his own anger, hatred and self-abuse; if the producer had introduced himself to me after the screening, I might well have returned evil for evil in a way that would have got me arrested, or at least thrown out of the cinema.

It was this anger at what I’d been exposed to that I had to think hardest about. I couldn’t be taking it personally in the literal sense, I’m not (yet) at the stage where I could suspect the producer actually had Philip Wainwright in mind as he put it all together. But insofar as sin is directed against our fellow human beings as well as against God, it is an assault on the dignity of every human being—we’re all worth more than the face values shown here, no matter what our failings—and it may be understandable, and even not inappropriate, to resent it on behalf of mankind. But, as the film suggests, and Jesus explicitly says, we are called to forgive, even when beaten up only metaphorically, and by a movie producer who doesn’t know we exist. And the angrier we are about the violence done to us, the more important it is to forgive it. The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. But perhaps it does help us understand the wrath of God against sin: if this is how a close look at sin affects me, when the sin in my own heart is at least a shadow of what faced me on the screen, the Bible’s portrayal of the anger sin arouses in God, Who is holy beyond our comprehension, must be the literal truth. How could He be anything but angry at what His creation has come to?

I wasn’t strong enough to bear the violence that I felt had been done to me as part of my sharing in the sufferings of Christ. I’m still struggling to forgive whoever it was that conceived this film. But it may be that God is using the film to teach me something. I may have been happier if I’d never seen it, but I might be a bit wiser for having done so. In any case, I trust that God is at work, and will bring good out of it. I can’t bring myself to recommend it, but perhaps God will put it to use in your case too.

PS, if you’re going to see the movie, I’d suggest doing so before reading any comments that get made on this post; any detailed discussion of it is bound to include some spoilers.

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‘Realism’ is based on the grandest foundation a philosophy can have, namely human stupidity

—R. G. Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics (Oxford 1998) p 34.

A quote to keep handy when people tell you it’s not realistic to ask people to wait till they’re committed for life till they have sex, to have sex only with someone of the other sex, to stay with the person you have sex with your whole life long no matter how difficult they turn out to be, etc etc

It's all here and nowhere elseAn early description of English Evangelicals, the forebears of Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, from a Jesuit priest:

Each of them had his own Bible, and sedulously turned the pages and looked up the texts cited by the preachers, discussing the passages among themselves to see whether they had quoted them to the point, and accurately, and in harmony with their tenets. Also they would start arguing among themselves about the meaning of passages from the Scriptures – men, women, boys, girls, rustics, labourers and idiots

A 21st century observer of Evangelicals in the same tradition would perhaps notice fewer rustics and laborers, but I think would still see the rest, and most still with his or her own Bible, checking the text to see if the preacher, or leader of a Bible Study, has it right, and the wise leader will be grateful when corrected. Two heads are better than one when reading the Bible as in other cases, and many heads better still.

What would be good reading for Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church at this stage in our history?

Thanks to Andrew Cambers for the quote; see his Godly Reading: Print, Manuscript and Puritanism in England, 1580–1720  (Cambridge University Press 2011)

Living Out logoHere’s a link to the best resource I’ve yet found  both for understanding homosexuality and for showing the most effective Christian response. It can be easily recommended to someone experiencing same-sex attraction, and to people who believe that the Church’s response to it should be to ignore the Bible’s teaching on the subject, but its biggest benefit to me has been showing me a better way to respond personally to people in either of those categories. It’s run by Christians living with same-sex attraction but who don’t reject the Bible’s teaching. In current circumstances, it’s a resource for all Christians.

Billy GrahamNovember 7 was Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, whose CEO is his son Franklin, used the occasion for a sort of mini-crusade, which had two main components. One was a 30 minute video production called The Cross, which was a mixture of comments from Graham concerning the spiritual state of America in 2013 with scenes from the other, a similar production called Defining Moments. The latter was a mixture of video of Graham preaching during his active years with comments by three converts about their former and current lives. On that date I happened to be on the Wheaton College campus, where Graham earned a graduate degree and founded the Billy Graham Center, and I thought I’d watch them there. For some reason they weren’t showing The Cross, but their showing of Defining Moments allowed us to see it there and be back at our digs in time to watch The Cross on Fox News.

Defining Moments was a video narrative that interwove three stories of conversion featuring what today are ‘ordinary people’—a young white female, a young black male, both drug addicts, and an illusionist whose stage career was cut short by cancer, punctuated by video montages that included scenes of Billy Graham preaching, mostly from the 1980s, I’d guess. The video narratives were pretty predictable, I’m afraid, and I found it hard to cope with the ‘mockumentary’ approach to such seriously broken lives as these seemed to have once been, but Graham’s preaching, after not having seen it for many years, hit me with all the power for which it was famous. I left the Barrows Auditorium hungry for more.

The Cross was publicised as ‘A Long-Awaited Broadcast From Billy Graham To Our Nation’, but it turned out to be less than that. It used the video footage of two of the subjects of Defining Moments, but punctuated them with footage of the 95-year old Graham speaking from his arm-chair. The passion of his preaching years had been replaced by a great peace, and I suspect that if he had spoken about the source of his peace, his words would have had the same impact as his words about the source of his salvation did during his preaching career. Instead he made a few comments on the need for a spiritual awakening in contemporary America, but was never given time to develop his thoughts into a message for the nation, and I think the production will soon be forgotten.

Much of Graham’s greatest preaching is on film, though, and if the BGEA really wants to get America thinking about its spiritual state, the best thing it could do would be to rent every cinema in the nation for six or seven Sunday nights in a row and show one of the surviving films. I think they’d be surprised at the attendance, as well as at the continuing effectiveness of his preaching style. His comments about American society in the 1950s and 60s seem as relevant today as then, except that Communism has been replaced by Terrorism as the perceived threat to our safety. Most people under thirty will have never seen anyone like him, and his plain statement of the truth found in the pages of the Bible, in simple words from a heart overflowing with passion for Christ, is bound to have an impact that neither the slick productions nor the smooth evangelists of today can match. Check out this one, or this, or this, and see for yourself.

No PoperyRemember, remember!  The fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot; I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!

England’s deliverance from a terrorist plot* whose purpose was to bring England back under the authority of Rome was considered worth remembering for centuries, although today it is, for most, just a great night for fireworks, bonfires, and hot drinks. In Lewes, Sussex, and a few other places, its purpose is still remembered; the banner pictured above was photographed in 2003.

The celebration did not spread overseas with the Church of England, and the idea that it is something worth remembering for 21st century Episcopalians will, I don’t doubt, produce hoots of laughter, even if they don’t appear in the comments section. But if the plot had succeeded, there would be no Anglicanism, and thus no Episcopal Church. If the Virginia Company had still been formed in 1607, it would have taken the Roman Catholic church to Virginia, and if a few hardy crypto-Protestants had tried to find freedom of worship in New England a generation later, inquisitors from the south would have been glad of the opportunity to light the bonfires here.

A liturgy of celebration of the deliverance was printed in the Prayer Book from its composition in 1605 until 1859, when the Act of Parliament requiring its observance was repealed. Bishop Barlow of Lincoln wrote two hymns in 1613 to be sung at services of commemoration, one of which is printed below. The celebration became even more significant when James II  began to act as though he too wanted to return England to Rome, and English Protestants asked Prince William of Orange to intervene. The troops he sent to remove James from the throne landed on November 5th.

The meter of the hymn is Common Meter (Doubled); the tune St Matthew (1982 Hymnal No 567) works very well. The spelling is modernised.

Shed tears, clap hands, yield sighs, rejoice
our mirth with throbs allay;
The trembling and triumphing voice
do both befit this day:
This day, whose danger dread did make,
whose rescue quit annoy,
Record the one, t’will cause us quake,
th’escape will raise our joy.

The power of hell, the arm of Rome,
combined themselves, ah woe!
This day to make the day of doom,
our State to overthrow:
By bloody men; not men, but fiends,
whose shape and hearts did differ.
Men’s looks did harbor devils’ minds,
our Church and Realm to shiver.

This Realm, which flourished had so long,
with peace and plenty store;
This Church, which truth had kept from wrong,
home schisms, and foreign lore:
Yea, this was it which caused their ruth,
and stirred them to conspire,
T’was England’s peace, t’was Church’s truth
which set their rage on fire.

And rage of fire was their design,
close couched as a net;
When King, Queen, Prince, and Royal line,
Peers, Prelates, Commons met:
One train, one touch, one slash, one blow,
One frush** one hoist, one hour:
Had finished what they did fore-trow,
and crushed the land’s whole power.

Our Realm made headless, void of guide,
our State confusion mere,
Our Land a prey on every side,
the Gospel banished clear:
Our streets with clamor had bin filled,
our streams had run blood red:
Our eyes with tears been thick distilled,
our hearts through horror dead.

Then on this day, this dismal day,
can we sing Psalms of gladness?
Affrighted thoughts, deep sighs, dismay,
this day’s design best witness:
Cease we to sing, let’s quake for dread,
and tremble while we think,
Of their so monstrous bloody red,
who swore our Realm to sink.

And a happy Fireworks Night to all!

* A 2003 study by explosives experts at the University of Wales estimated that the blast would not only have killed everyone in the Parliament building but also in many of the neighboring houses, and would have caused damage up to a third of a mile away from the scene.

** Charge, rush

Check out this link, too: http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/2013/11/remember-remember-fifth-of-november.html

Sowing the SeedThe news (see post below) of George Kovoor‘s presence in the Diocese of Connecticut has sparked speculation, on this blog and elsewhere, about the possibility of a revival of fellowship and energy among Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church. If such a revival were to take place, what would happen? It seems to me that the only revival worth working for is one in which we would see more clergy expounding a single scripture passage from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, more discussion of the sermon by those present afterwards, more people in Bible study during the week, more people in Bible study or prayer groups in their place of employment, more children being taught to esteem God’s word rather than their own ideas in Sunday School, more people going on mission trips and involved in ministry to those in need, more giving to the work of the church, more people volunteering for youth work—the list really does go on, and every Evangelical could continue it. In short, the priority would be soul-winning, not church-fight-winning. Would it change the nature of those whose sights are set on the ‘top’ of the hierarchy? Probably not. Would it matter? Probably not.

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