Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Daughter: theological film review

ticket-1543115-640x480 Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 100 plus films later, here is the review for November 2016.

The Daughter
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Daughter is enthralling, a cinematic triumph in which superb acting and smart dialogue yield an emotionally charged finale.

A grown son (Paul Schneider as Christian) returns to the town of his childhood for the second marriage of his father (Geoffrey Rush as Henry). Reunion with his childhood friend (Ewen Leslie as Oliver) and his loved daughter (Odessa Young as Hedvig) results in a sequence of questions. Christian’s present grief rips the scabs from grief past.

The acting is superb. Paul Schneider and Geoffrey Rush are fine embodiments of a male ability to remain emotionally distant. The tears of abandonment by Odessa Young and regret by Ewen Leslie express perfectly the emotional power of this slowly unfolding tragedy.

Hedvig is essential to the movie’s success. She is lively and rebellious. The result is a joy-filled palette of colours, which accentuate the gathering storm clouds. It is an effect magnified by the somber tones of the movie’s backdrop, a rural forest town in which the sawmill is facing closure.

The Daughter is inspired by an 1884 play (The Wild Duck) by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen. In a movie that draws from the traditional strength of threatre in plot and character, the clever use of sound plays a significant role. The first noise heard is a distant gunshot. Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” is an apt soundtrack as the family wedding descends into painful farce. In two key scenes, the only sound is that of breathing: powerful in anger, pleading in pain.

The New Zealand film industry has connections with this Australian movie. First, when The Daughter is placed alongside 2004 New Zealand movie, In My Fathers Den. The similarities are uncanny. Both offer a strong sense of place, in which memories are haunted. Both star a man returning to his childhood home and a lively teenage girl growing into maturity. Both compress pain past and present into unfolding tragedy. This examination of similarities also underlines the differences, particularly the sombre palette that marks The Daughter in contrast to the moments of beauty that gave joy to In My Fathers Den.

Second, through Sam Neill, who plays Walter, Hedvig’s grandfather. He is the character closest to the wounded healer, a previously damaged nurturer watching over these wounded in the movie’s present.

While theology is difficult to find in The Daughter, Jesus is a word used repeatedly in one pivotal scene. The word is uttered neither in blasphemy nor piety. Rather it is a word of shock, as the hammer blow of an unimagined past obliterates a peaceful present. In its repetition, it suggests one way to understand the death of Jesus. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken” is equally a cry of incomprehension in the face of overwhelming pain. It suggests Jesus as a Divine shock absorber. Simple repeated words – My God – arise from a person absorbing blows at the limits of human experience. It offers a response both pastoral and theological to the repetitive use of Jesus in the face of profound grief.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 02:52 PM

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Henna art as Christian storytelling

This is lovely – the use of henna in telling the Biblical story.

One of the highlights for me of a visit to Port Douglas Markets a few weeks ago was watching the folk at work in the henna tent – the young girls checking facebook while their henna tattoo dried. Their care and interaction with each other was a joy to behold.

So it was fascinating to discover this website with designs and stories.

Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Christian women use henna to illustrate Bible stories and share the Gospel in a non-threatening manner. These pages describe how you can host a henna party in your home or church. Learn how to make henna and draw Bible story illustrations, and how to prepare traditional foods served in henna cultures.

I could see henna art like this also working at youth group camps as a way of building community and engaging the Christian story. I could see it working at a Synod gathering, quiet hands engagement during debates. Perhaps a mission dimension, like back at Port Douglas markets, as part of a tent in which readings from the Jesus deck were offered in a tent, along with prayer massage and henna tattooing.

Posted by steve at 08:19 AM

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Pilgrimage spirituality interaction

Darren Wright, who so long ago did a very thorough blog review of my Out of Bounds Church book, is interacting with my recent Old Testament festival spirituality talk.

to be honest the idea of seeing our liturgical year being split into 6ish gatherings connected to festivals (we already naturally celebrate 3 festivals in christmas, easter and harvest) sounded like a beautiful and sustainable idea for many people at the conference. People seemed so attracted to the idea of festivals that the other ways of exploring community, spirituality and faith seemed overlooked by many of the group, so with that in mind I thought I’d like to explore each of the categories leaving Festivals to the last.

He is taking each of the categories I introduced – temple, festival, pilgrimage, table, sacred site – starting with pilgrimage.

He explores rural life, driving, weekly bike club rides that exist in almost every town, a driving holiday, transporting cattle/stock along the stock trails, harvesting and sowing (where in Australia one sits alone on a huge machine for days on end). Even geocaching.

Pilgrimage as practice opens up the possibility of seeing the tractor as a space for liturgical & ritual practices, the car/vehicle as one drives between Hillston and Sydney as a space for faith and connection. The task for us now is to develop ideas that help the spiritual practice of pilgrimage develop and professional travellers ways to engage with the region they’re driving through in deep spiritual reflection.

It’s a creative piece of work.

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM

Friday, May 03, 2013

Festival spirituality stories: Spin and Fibre Festival

I’m starting a research project, wanting to collect stories of Festival spirituality. It is an extension of a brief idea I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (emergentYS) and which I recently developed further.

Festival spirituality (working definition): an occasional period of community gathering for celebration, in which Christians intentionally participate, seeking to make the shalom of God more visible.

This Festival spirituality story – Spin and Fibre Festival comes from Frontier News, May 2013, 8-10. It relates to the 35th Bothwell International Highland Spin In and Fibre Festival, a biennial event held in Tasmania and comes from an interview with Rev Meg Evans, Patrol Minister, Midlands, Tasmania.

Held every two years, Meg is the unofficial chaplain for the festival, which was started by a group of Uniting Church women who were spinning wool to raise funds to restore the church tower. Bothwell is one of the smaller communities in the Patrol located in the Central Highlands, 70 km northwest of Hobart. It has a long history in Merino wool production and the festival remains a huge event for both local and international visitors showcasing crafts and skills associated with superfine wool.

“On the Friday, we shear a sheep for the fleece, and then we hold a ‘Blessing of the Fleece.’ The wool is given out to people to spin during the weekend. On the Sunday I hold a service in the school gym, surrounded by all this wonderful creativity. It is just a great community celebration.”

“People come and tell me how much they enjoy it. I think the fact that the Church is there speaks to people.”

Some interesting things to note

  • gift – the involvement of the church begins with “Blessing”. This suggests a thankfulness. What is blessed (the Fleece) is then given away to participants
  • risk – This clearly involves risk, that the gift might not be “unwrapped,” might not be utilised. Or it might be “wrapped” in a way contrary to the values of the giver.
  • theology of creation – the connection to wool, as the product of local industry, as the lifeblood of what this community, this land, produces. A celebration both of the gift of wool, but also of the creative gifts that surround wool – “crafts and skills associated with superfine wool.”
  • being church as spun (interwoven) presence, first in being close enough to the land to be aan initiating participant, second in being a worshipping presence through the festival, both from the initial blessing through to the service, third in the theology of Meg, “the fact that the Church is there speaks to people.” The church began this event, but was willing to give it away. The church is willing to be one of many participants, many strands, in the fibre of this event. It does not need to own it nor control it.

So this Festival spirituality is mission as chaplain, celebrating creation, with particular attention to presence, participation, gift and risk.

Questions for discussion

  1. I wonder what things might be worth celebrating in your community – what gifts of “creation” and “creativity” you could bless?
  2. I wonder how you might take risks and invite people to participate in these gifts?
  3. What might an authentic presence look like? Think about this both from your perspective as a church and from the perspective of visitors and locals.
Posted by steve at 11:08 AM

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Festival spirituality, mission and ministry

I’m speaking tomorrow at the National Uniting Church Rural Ministry Conference, at Barmera, which is about 3 hours drive north of Adelaide, in the Riverlands.

My topic is festival spirituality. It’s a significant development of some ideas I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. I will begin by looking at Old Testament patterns of gathering and how it relates to worship, mission, community and interconnection. I will then do a drive by of a number of articles from Rural Theology, contemporary research on belonging and participation, along with research into current festival patterns in the UK.

Here’s my conclusion.

I have wanted to engage with two problems. First, the perception of Christianity as urban, a move which can downplay the vitality of rural ministry. Second, the perception of church as building, geographic and Vicar led.

I have deployed the Old Testament to suggest different modes of gathering, around sacred sites, on pilgrimage, in festivals, around tables. I would suggest these are more congruent with the needs of rural folk, in current patterns of belonging, in ways of participation and the existence already of festivals.

Finally, two examples have been provided, which show current examples of rural churches embracing these new/old forms. My suggestion is that these patterns are more likely to be life-giving for a rural church. Rather than a weekly habit, they provide ways to participate in the rhythm of a community, to embrace sense of place and to offer spirituality for the road trips so integral to rural life.

It should be a fun day.

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM

Friday, March 02, 2012

rural church mission models

I had a lot of fun on Wednesday, working my way through Rural Theology journal, researching current study of the rural church in mission. During Thursday, some of that research was synthesised into my current fresh expressions, mission and church thinking. Today the results go public, as I gather with 30 folk from across South Australia.

One thing I’m taking some time to explore with them is rural churches in the Bible. While the mission of Paul is often portrayed as urban, there are examples of rural churches in the Bible. As I thought more about them, I became to find them really thoughtprovoking and began to I wonder what patterns of life they might suggest for rural churches today.

For example, Israel in the Old Testament was primarily a rural church. Their pattern of gathering revolved not around weekly worship but around three large festivals. This suggests a very different pattern of worship, community, mission and interconnection. (I wrote about this in 2005 with my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change but never related it to rural church life until this week. Duh!)

Similarly, the church of 1 Peter was primarily rural, scattered in house churches across Asia Minor. Their call was to be “wildflowers” – distinctive in behaviour, drawing questions.

For those interested, my notes for the two hour session are here

Update: the Old Testament model really brought some energy into the room. “So, could we stop doing weekly church and move to a festival gathering?”; “So how would we resource better the home table?” (well, Faith inkubators is one place to start); “So could we connect rural youth with state-wide three or four festivals and skype networks in between?”

Posted by steve at 11:05 AM