Thursday, December 20, 2012
the nativity as a theology for the differently abled: film review of Intouchables
The Intouchables – A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor
“That’s what I want. No pity” Philippe from his wheel chair
It is Christmas. In the next weeks many of us will find ourselves contemplating an image of the Nativity, the crib surrounded by adoring angels, bewildered shepherds and a prayerful Mary.
(from Metropolitan Museum , usage based on their fair use policy and from www.metmuseum.org.)
The Adoration of the Christ Child by Jan Joest (1515) is one such depiction. While not sited on contemporary Christmas cards, it has caught the eye of scientists, who have identified one angel and one shepherd as displaying the typical features of Down syndrome.
It raises an important theological question. When the Word became flesh, one with all humanity, how might this be good news for the differently abled? What does disability mean to a Christian understanding of being human?
French movie “The Intouchables,” written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, provides a delightfully comic, yet theologically thoughtful response.
Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a tetraplegic, sentenced to life in a wheel chair as a result of a hang glider accident. Needing care, he hires Driss (Omar Sy), a Senegalese migrant, from a long list of applicants. They share little in common, separated by age, ethnicity, upbringing and social context.
Yet together this unlikely pairing help each become more fully human. Their journey is a delight. Those around me in the packed cinema found a shared laughter, an enjoyment with, never at, the differently abled.
The film was voted the cultural event of 2011 in France, enjoying number one at the box office for ten consecutive weeks, becoming the highest-grossing movie in a language other than English. It is easy to see why. The dialogue is deft. The acting is superb.
Some critics suggest easy stereotypes in the contrast between rich white man and poor black man. Yet “The Intouchables” uncovers the brokenness in both their worlds. For one, the relational sterility of wealth, for the other, the drug addicted violence of high-rise migrant housing.
Both Philippe and Driss must eventually find healing for disabilities not just physical, but relational.
Suggesting easy stereotypes also overlooks reality. “The Intouchables” is based on truth, the relationship of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Algerian Abdel Sellou, spread over ten years. Their story is told in A Second Wind and they remain friends. Together their relationship offers a depth of insight into the task of being human.
“Pity is the last thing you need. Pity is hopeless. Pity is what someone gives you because he is afraid to take care of you. I didn’t need that. But compassion I don’t need also. It comes from Latin and means ‘suffering with’. I don’t want you to be suffering with me. I need consolation, which in Latin means keeping me as a whole person, respecting me as I am.” (Philippe in Daily Telegraph, 5/9/2012)
Christians can get good at pity. At Christmas we can face many calls for compassion. Might it be that Christ, surrounded by disabled angels and shepherds, calls us to neither pity nor compassion? Rather he invites consolation, the God who in Christ so loved the intouchables, all “the least of these.”
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.
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Sunday, October 07, 2012
seeking holy ground article
I was asked a few weeks ago to contribute an article to Journey, the Uniting Church of Queensland monthly newspaper. It’s become the front page headline for the October edition – titled Seeking Holy Ground. For those interested, it is here, or below … (more…)
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
21st century feminism: film review of Snow White and the Huntsman
Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). This one is a bit special, a collaboration with oldest teenage daughter. I’ve done this a number of times now with both the children. We watch together, write together and share the writing fee together. It’s always a very rich experience.
Snow White and the Huntsman
A film review by S and S Taylor
Snow White is a German fairytale, made famous by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. From them we get the magic mirror, poisoned apple and seven dwarfs.
The tale has long been a fascination for movie makers. Snow White first appeared, silent, in 1916. Disney grabbed her in 1937, while in 1961 the story was parodied as “Snow White and the Three Stooges.” In other words, when the tale is well known, give it a twist. Exactly 200 years later, enter “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a dark recasting of the classic tale.
Some things remain – magic mirror, poisoned apple and seven dwarfs. Both focus on the importance of inner beauty, with an Evil Queen preoccupied with her appearance.
But in 2012, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) becomes both saviour and fellow fighter, the dwarves are more suspicious, while Snow White saves not only herself, but her entire Kingdom.
While the cast is well known, the acting is uneven. Kristen Stewart (Snow White) struggles to break free from being Bella Swan of the “Twilight” saga. Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, struggles to be more than the mysterious strong man. Charlize Theron (featured in “Prometheus,” reviewed in Touchstone last month) is superbly wicked, an Evil Queen of chilling complexity.
Despite being old-fashioned, Snow White is intriguing in the way it places as central two strong female characters, in Snow and the Evil Queen. But this is a twisted tale and so the question is worth exploring. What might it take to be a twenty first century woman?
For the Evil Queen, it is to seek youth and beauty. She lives and dies defined by her mother’s words: “Your beauty is all that can save you.”
For Snow White, her mother’s words are also defining, an inner beauty expressed in honourable actions. (Although a climax in which she leads an armed uprising becomes an intriguing 21st century take on moral purity). Surprisingly for Hollywood, Snow White in 2012 requires no Hollywood love interest, no handsome hero to complete her day.
And to be a man? It means confronting pain and facing grief. For Snow’s father, impulsive decisions result in far reaching negative consequences. For Snow’s childhood friend, boyhood loss generates a lifelong quest. For the Huntsman, adult grief requires facing the pain, taking risks and making right choices.
Being a modern tale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” comes complete with environmental themes. The Evil Queen poisons not only an apple but people and planet. The good fairies emerge from friendly birds, to conjure up a very English creation, complete with cute squirrels and the famed white stag.
The M rating is deserved, a mirror of human wickedness. All fairytales contain a moral. In 1812 it was that beauty comes from the inside but it needs a rescuing Prince to restore Snow White to her rightful place, man at side.
In 2012 beauty remains, but it needs an iron fist, a deadly battle between sword and bow, leaving Snow a woman alone. Such is the feminism of the twenty first century.
Sunday, July 01, 2012
theology of divine supermodel by Gregory of Nyssa
IVP have released a new series, called Classics in Spiritual Formation. They are designed as introductions, for first time readers of the Church in history. They take the original languages (Greek and Latin) and seek to connect them with contemporary life. Last night I found myself reading Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons on the Beatitudes.
Yet God made us “in the image of God.” So indirectly we, who are created in the likeness of true blessedness, experience blessedness. Let me give you an example of what I’m trying to say. Take, for instance, the physical beauty of a supermodel captured on the cover of a women’s magazine. The real beauty is the supermodel herself. Yet, secondarily, we can attribute that same beauty to the photographic image. Likewise human beings are images of the transcendent blessedness, and similarily as copies we may be said to possess the same beauty when we display the features of blessedness. (24-25)
This is a fascinating bit of writing, for it images God in feminine terms – as a supermodel. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing recently about gender and faith development (here, here, here, here and my summary here). So it’s fascinating to find this, God as a supermodel.
The sermon is by Gregory of Nyssa, a 4th century bishop and theologian. He is highly regarded in the church for insights into the theological debates about Jesus Christ, one of the great defenders of trinitarian Christianity.
So were their supermodels and photographic images in Gregory’s day? No, which suggests the image of is introduced in the paraphrase by Michael Glerup, his desire to connect with contemporary life. So I need to whip off and check the original, as to how Gregory of Nyssa was imaging the divine.
But whether Gregory of Nyssa or Michael Glerup, what do you think of the image? What are the implications for gender and faith development if God is a supermodel and followers are copies of photographic images?
Monday, May 07, 2012
faith of girls: more than a guy thing part 3
What do Lo-ruhamah in Hosea 1, Namaan’s wife’s slave girl in 2 Kings 5, the slave girl in Philippi in Acts 16, Jarius daughter in the Gospels, have in common?
First, they are pre-pubescent girls. Second, they are agents of new theology. God is made more real, more understandable, more present, through these girls. This is so consistent with Jesus, who takes children in his arms and reminds us that keys to God’s Kingdom are found in them.
My reading in gender and faith development continues. I didn’t expect this when I began my sabbatical. But I’ve learnt there are times to chase the unexpected, to follow the rabbit holes of research. My intuition says there is something important about the emerging church and gender, so I am reading.
It is superb.
Phillips notes how gender blind is the church, and that most theologies of childhood have been written by men. She interviews 17 young girls, seeking to understand their faith development. “In asking the girls the question: ‘Who is God for you?’ I was not asking them to engage in abstract theory or systematic theology, but to narrate or to reflect on how and where in their own experience they had encountered God.” (105)
Anne argues for a “wombing” theology as an approach to faith development. It protects and so the need for a “home space.” It enables play, in which the one being birthed is free, away from adult control, to work at their identity. It connects. Regarding church, “membership of a cohort was not enough for the girls to feel a sense of belonging. Intergenerational sharing was named as a significant feature in their attachment to the environment … Girls [interviewed] regularly spoke of the impact on their faith of older people … Most participation was initiated by adults.” (160)
The Faith of Girls is practical theology at it’s best. It shows how by starting with human experience, in this case the faith development of young girls, we find fresh insights, new imaginations emerging from the Christian tradition and the Biblical text. (To the above list of Biblical characters offered by Phillips, I’d also add Mary. Plus the unnamed children of those effected by Jesus healing ministry, for example, if the leper in Mark 1 had a daughter, or the Syro-Phronecian woman had a daughter.)
Phillips is a Baptist minister, and Co-Principal of Northern Baptist College and the book emerges from her PHD research. The Faith of Girls is currently only available in hardback, which makes it pricey. But still worth it. There is a sermon series on young girls as Biblical characters, there is rich material to discuss with those in your church responsible for faith development, there are insights for fathers and mothers, grandparents, other family into how they raise children.
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Sense making faith: taste
Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.
This is superb. The power of the mouth, the potential of taste. That sense of intimacy, the way the mouth functions as useful, a barrier, sensual.
It would be fabulous loop for use during communion. Or for use during the “taste” session when teaching Sense Making faith.
Friday, July 15, 2011
God touched me downunder
In my last blog post, I reflected on smell and spirituality. It turned out to be quite a profound learning experience for the class. So, encouraged, this morning I introduced touch and spirituality.
I began with a mediation. I invited the class to think about returning home at the end of the day. To get out of the car. To enter their home. To imagine their lounge, then bathroom, then bedroom. And in each place to look around and consider what kind of things you find pleasure in touch?
I then noted the importance of touch in Christianity – in baptism, during Ash Wednesday, as we say the peace, as we participate in Communion. I noted how Jesus was touched – wrapped in swaddling clothes, circumcised, taken in Simeon’s arms, in baptism, in the passion. And how Jesus touches others – little children, the leper, in bread broken and cup offered.
And then invited reflection on what kind of touch experiences have been important to us in our spiritual journey.
Together we said a prayer
Lord, You knew the touch of love
You knew the touch of friendship
You endured the kiss of betrayal
You endured the crown of thorns
Help us to touch others with your love
Help us to touch others with your friendship
Help us to heal the wounded hearts
Help us to heal the scars and hurts. Prayer from Sense Making Faith.
I then gave out fabric, raided from the home sewing stock. Each person got 4 pieces. (They were allowed to swap if they got stuck.) And the invitation, to express our text for the week (Luke 1:39-45), using their four pieces of fabric. People worked away, some with silk and string, others with weave and fabric.
And then the question for group discussion: What had we learnt, freshly, about the Biblical text? And about ourselves?
Oh my goodness.
We were still going some 90 minutes later, sharing, learning, reflecting. It was a rich, rich conversation on a learning exercise that in some ways was so simple. Yet had become profound.
One conclusion (among many): that as Christians we are “out of touch”, simply because we have ignored the senses in our faith.
A note: The shape of this exercise owes much to some material (pun intended) from Sense Making Faith which is a wonderful resource. For more on how it can be used, not just in a class, but in church and in mission, go here.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
faith making sense?
Christianity. Is yours
Thursday, March 04, 2010
blokes in church? growing petrol heads and art lovers
A really thoughtful post on blokes and church here, from Dr Richard Beck here. The whole piece is fascinating, using Mark Driscoll’s views on masculinity as a starting point for the suggestion that we have an educated/uneducated split that creates deep fissures in our church communities.
The educated [men] teach, preach, and have the public leadership roles. The uneducated [men] are marginalized. Worse, if you are an uneducated male, you are force-fed those feminine metaphors. Educated males, being chickified, don’t mind or even notice the feminine metaphors. But Joe Six Pack notices the metaphors. All this creates a disjoint in the church. Two groups of males who find each other alien and weird.
Which is further clarified here.
people tend to focus on four big issues when it comes to church life: Gender, socioeconomic status, race, and sexual orientation. But I think one of the most pernicious fissures is the education issue. This problem is particularly acute in Christian churches as Christianity has been, from its earliest days, unapologeticly cerebral and intellectual.
He names something that is pretty real and was certainly my experience at Opawa, the challenge to form men spiritually, whether petrol head or art lover. And why I found the Opawa men’s camp last year so moving, the way that the repeated use of lecto divina (of which this is an outcome), inviting men to use their diverse hobbies, their relationships and life experience, their “caves”, as ways into sharing faith and life. People were asked to bring something from their shed, which equalised and normalised everyone, from petrol head to art lover. And that became the starting point “going to your favorite spot in your “shed”" for engaging the Biblical text. Which is such a long way from cerebral and intellectual.
The most helpful book I’ve found in framing this for me is Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Book. Educated. Yep, I see the educated irony.) I love the way it explores Biblical texts as they relate to males
- Abraham struggling to connect with his son from his first “marriage”;
- David, and whether can we let him enjoy a deep male friendship with Jonathan without it becoming homosexualised in innuendo;
- David who hides behind his work desk when his family comes crashing in
The author (and friend), Phil Culbertson, comes back to Jesus, who he explores from the angle of a person who enjoys deep male friendships, with working class fishermen and with budding intellectuals and poets (like John).
“Jesus appears to have modeled a style of male-male friendship that was committed, intimate, honest, open and even dependent … But there is no record that Jesus and his male followers did “men’s things” together. They did not go hunting together … nor did they share off-color jokes. They did not compete with each other … Christians can recognize the new Adam in Jesus insofar as he was willing to cherish his own human nature, in all its vulnerability, and yet to turn his face bravely toward an unknown future in which he and the world that he knew would be very different.” (105, 106).
It’s such a missionary challenge and we desperately need some working-class missional churches working in and around these issues.
Monday, December 03, 2007
are our noses a mistake OR a theology of revelation
The following brief interchange yesterday got me thinking.
Question: Is it OK to use some aromatherapy at a worship station?
Response (from me): Yes. Unless God made a mistake and didn’t mean to give us noses.
I was partly in jest, but it has kept me thinking. I believe that God gave us senses – the gifts of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching. So surely if God gave these, then God is able to use these. So surely God desires to speak through our senses – our hearing, our seeing, our smelling, our tasting, our touching.
Why are some branches of Christianity allergic to God speaking through the bodies that God gave us? Why is it so rare to have, say smell, in some forms of church worship? Are these types of church actually scared of our God-given bodies?
Friday, September 14, 2007
God the hairdresser
I wrote the following for my fortnightly radio slot. Those who have seen me in the flesh recently might appreciate that this post has multiple layers.
Friday, August 24, 2007
made in God’s image? guest post by Mark Stevens
A post of mine, large people and airplane seats, has set off a hailstorm of comments, and left me reflecting on how our Christian faith does, or does not, shape our perceptions of body image. How to talk about body size? Am I (Steve Taylor) personally hateful of fat people, as I have been accused of being? Why are we so sensitive, when our churches blithely proclaim we are “made in God’s image”? What on earth can “made in God’s image” mean in our world today?
So I have invited a number of people to guest blog around the theme of “made in God’s image.” Here is the first guest blog, by Mark Stevens. I welcome any other guest contributions, as we keep trying to talk (in contrast to shout) with each other about an issue that is deeply personal.
“Why, if Christians are made in the image of God, is it so hard to look at ourselves n*ked in the mirror?”
My first response to the question was a cheeky “speak for yourself”, however, the truth is, like most people, I find it hard to accept who I am in the flesh. I wonder why this is the case? It’s like the dream where we are n*ked and walk into a room, so we go out of the room and put clothes on and then re-enter the room only to find that we are n*ked again. Why don’t we just say “stuff it I’ll just hang around here in my birthday suit”?
I was recently reading an article about Angelina Jolie in which the journalist remarked, that in person her “features are disproportionate, almost cartoonish. What looks beautiful on film is actually outsized in person”. The same brave journo further remarked, “she is just a freakishly fortunate fraction of a millimeter off not being beautiful at all”. Who decides the parameters of beauty in our culture? Obviously someone has set a benchmark against which this journalist can judge Angelina and by which we often judge ourselves. When it comes to body image it’s as if society is trying to build its own Babel of beauty; trying to create humanity in their image. When we look at ourselves naked in the mirror I don’t think we see ourselves, so we want to leave the room and get dressed and then re-enter. Often, unless we are very disciplined mentally, we see what society tells us we are not! The benchmark has been set, not by imago Dei but rather by imago humanas!
We are surrounded by images and messages telling us what our bodies are not. Unlike the journalist’s judgment that Angelina is a millimeter away from not being beautiful, we are told that our bodies are a mile away from being acceptable! The challenge is for us is to live in hope of God’s image for us. The gospel affirms who we are holistically, not just spiritually. When we look in the mirror we are often looking at the effects of sin slowly creeping across our ageing flesh, and, we are unhappy with this reality. In the immediate, there is nothing many of us can do (excluding exercise and healthy living, which I believe all of us can & should do) to stop this process. Nevertheless, God is redeeming us slowly. Like the Israelites longed for a land, we long for our new creation body so that one day we can hang around in our birthday suit without having to leave the room!
 The Australian Magazine, Being Angelina, p18, August 18-19 2007