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Culture Connections

Welcome to Culture Connections

eternity_signsac_fountain_400_01This ACC web section is devoted to reflections and opinion pieces on culture in contemporary society, especially about Australia and Australian churches. The three main areas will be Contemporary Issues; Film; Books and Publications.

Peter Bentley provides regular articles for the primary benefit of the ACC Community, but if you would like to reproduce the articles in your own church or community publication (especially in an edited form), please contact Peter at the ACC office for further information.

If you have ideas for articles please contact Peter to discuss these ideas and contributions.

The photo is the main permanent memorial to Arthur Stace and his writing of the word Eternity. It is located in the St Andrew's Cathedral Town Hall Arcade (now inside Cascade Coffee Shop, near Town Hall Station).

ACC member congregations can reproduce ACC resource material in this section for their own church newsletter, provided proper acknowledgement is provided to the author. For Peter Sellick please acknowledge: Peter Sellick from On Line Opinion Column.

New Life

New Life is having a limited Australian release in early December 2018 (it was produced in the USA in 2016). It is promoted through Movies Change People (Heritage Films). New Life is not a Christian film in the defined US tradition, but a film in the ‘Hallmark’ style tradition of stories about life, family and love. It raises questions about life and being in the context of the friendship and love of two childhood friends, and links into other more well-known commercial love story films. New Life is a sweet film for today, and while not overly dynamic, it has some moving moments and is certainly a film you would feel comfortable inviting people to view and discussing the themes of life, death and living.

While I don’t want to outline the ending, I found it quite intriguing for this day and age and have wondered what people’s reactions to this will be. 

Actor Drew Waters directs the film, and the main female character Ava Kennedy is played by Erin Bethea, who will be recognisable to many Christian film watchers, particularly as the lead in the 2008 faith-based film Fireproof.

I leave you with the defining narrating comment from the film, by John Patrick Moore, an Australian actor who plays the main male character Ben Morton:

There are mountain top experiences in our journey through this world. Those rare and lucid moments when everything seems right, and anything is possible. There are those ordinary days when we may not be thrillingly aware of what lies in the future, but we know it's still out there. There are also those strange times when things do not add up or make sense, when we seem to be forgotten, when heavens are brass, but it's all the moments, good and bad that make up life, and the most important thing to do with life is to live it. 

Peter Bentley

I’m in Love with a Church Girl

I’m in Love with a Church Girl (PG, 2013)

I admit I was intrigued to see this film (available on Netflix) mainly because of the title. It is a professionally produced new style of Christian film in that it is aimed at a broader audience than the typical church group, namely the wider US nominal Christian audience.

Miles Montego is a former drug dealer, and now wealthy investor and event organiser, though still with strong ‘street’ connections. At a party held by his stockbroker and the stockbroker’s wife, he meets a group from the wife’s bible study, including Vanessa Leon. Miles is interested in Vanessa and soon they are seeing each other as friends and this leads to questions about where the relationship is heading. Vanessa clearly outlines the importance of having a husband who has a relationship with God. Miles is so keen on Vanessa he starts to attend church, read the bible and talk with other Christians. He meets Vanessa’s parents, and there are some strong scenes with her mother who is clearly not as keen on Miles.

Stephen Baldwin plays a DEA agent who has been trying to catch Miles out, but is also intrigued at the change in lifestyle and then his connection with the church. The film is based on the director’s own story (Galley Molina), who actually wrote the material as a book in prison. Molina was keen to also have well-known American Christians like Adrienne Bailon (who plays Vanessa) and Stephen Baldwin to bring a strong sense of authenticity to the Christian roles.

While there may be a few ‘twee’ moments, this is an encouraging and faithful story, and illustrates how someone’s life can be transformed by the gospel, and the role that ordinary people play in sharing the gospel.

Peter Bentley

 

Come Sunday: Film Review

Come Sunday (M, 2018) is a fascinating and well-made film about the challenging and sobering story of Bishop Carlton Pearson (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor - the lead in 12 Years a Slave). Pearson established and grew a large church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was one of the leading African-American preachers in the ‘fundamentalist’ tradition established by Oral Roberts, having been mentored by Roberts during his ministry training. Oral Roberts is convincingly played by Martin Sheen.

The film follows the basic story of Pearson’s ministry and influence and the dramatic (almost overnight) change of belief where Pearson basically explained to his congregation one Sunday that he had had an ‘epiphany’ and woken up no longer believing he could reconcile judgment with a loving God. Leaders and members of the church tried to explain, rationalise and wrestle with his thoughts, but it was soon evident he was promoting a form of universalist reconciliation, and soon there was a large exit of members. Pearson was declared a heretic by his colleagues in the Joint College of Africa-American Pentecostal Bishops in 2004, and moved onto different churches and arrangements, including Unitarianism and New Thought faiths.

The film is in need of some editing for length and repetition, especially as it is a bit didactic in the sense that the director is trying to make Carlton Pearson into more of a martyr for the liberal cause than he patently deserves. I leave you with some of Pearson’s words.

“I’m an atheist who is a theist,” he chuckles. “I still believe in God but not ‘a’ God or ‘the’ God. Just God.”

Peter Bentley

Snowy Summer: Book Review

What would a novel by a Christian sexologist be like? How many sex scenes would there be and how would they be described? 

I had read Patricia Weerakoon's previous novel, Empire’s Children, and enjoyed it as a gentle romance between a wealthy British plantation owner and the daughter of the tea-maker. It was set in Sri Lanka, the country of the author’s birth and in a tea plantation much like her own father’s. 

Snowy Summer reflects much more of Australia, the country that is now her home, and is strengthened by a more complex plot with more suspense. Patricia has crafted a story about Annie, a young Australian girl who had emigrated from Sri Lanka. Annie is engaged to a Sri Lankan man that she and her family expect her to marry. Within the first chapter, doubts are cast over this marriage and the story moves swiftly to include much unravelling of secrets and exploration of the main characters’ lives. The setting is mainly around Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains, which is accurately and charmingly described, due to her frequent visits there and her husband’s passion for bushwalking in the national park. Her detailed research into both the landscape and the communities give the story an authenticity which even Snowy locals may find difficult to fault.

The wholesome romance – without lurid or unnecessary sexual descriptions – delighted me and it had enough twists to make the ending less predictable than Empire’s Children. The intrigue gradually unfolded and kept my interest to the last page. It is not an overtly Christian novel, but has some positive references to church and Christian radio and Annie’s commitment to reserve sexual intimacy for marriage is respected.

Patricia is more well-known in academic and Christian circles as a woman who has researched, published and continues to present on many aspects of sexuality, including 23 years as lecturer at the University of Sydney. She is not afraid to speak frankly and yet beautifully about God’s gift to married couples, and to address many of the pressures facing children and young people in today’s sex-obsessed world. She has written books for several age groups and a recent resource for parents Birds and the Bees by the Book was reviewed by Lisa Yew in the March 2018 ACCatalyst.

If you are looking for a wholesome romance/mystery novel that would suit teenage to mature-age readers, I recommend Snowy Summer.

Anne Weeks is a secretary of the NSW ACC Movement and is married to Rev. Ian Weeks, minister at Belrose UC.

Soldiers of the Cross

At the start of the twentieth century the Christian religion dominated the religious statistics in the census returns. In 1901, about 97% of the population identified with a Christian denomination or Christian cause. The new century ushered in a new parliament and a new identity and saw the consolidation/and or coming together of the established denominations and traditions and the continued development of newer religious bodies. One of the newer groups was the Salvation Army and while Australia had a Christian heritage and high nominal Christian identification, the Salvation Army viewed the country as a mission field and they embarked on new ways of reaching people with the Gospel.

Salvation Army work started in Australia in 1880, fifteen years after the movement had begun in England under the leadership of William and Catherine Booth.

Since it was a new mission focussed organisation it was perhaps, more open to experimenting with new forms of technology. Before film, the Army used the medium of magic lanterns, which projected images on glass slides, including optical special effects. These productions were often used with music and lectures or sermons to provide a sense of cohesion and illustrate the message that was presented. The Salvation Army viewed these new technologies as a gift from God, and the step from magic lanterns to film was a natural one for the Salvation Army.

The leading person behind the Army's venture into film production was Major Joseph Perry, an Englishman, who came to Australia from New Zealand in 1885. Perry was an early user of photography and magic lanterns and was a logical choice to take charge of the Limelight Department in 1892. The Limelight name came from the light source in the projectors - gas-heated lime blocks. Perry was encouraged in his cinematography work by the new Australasian Commandant Herbert Booth.

At first the Department projected films made by other organisations, but Booth and Perry saw a need to expand the range of subjects and show the work of the Salvation Army, and consequently the Department moved into its own production work.

Their early success of short scenery-based films soon prompted plans for a large-scale epic production that would establish the Army's reputation and focus people's attention not only on individual salvation, but the work they believed that Christians needed to do to save the world. This epic, written and presented by Herbert Booth was Soldiers of the Cross, premiering at Melbourne Town Hall on 13 September 1900.

Soldiers of the Cross is sometimes referred to as the first Australian feature film, though it was more an early form of PowerPoint, being a dramatic lecture, combining stills and illustrations, film, music and commentary. The production concentrated on the heroic stories of Christian martyrdom, including the deaths of Stephen and Peter, and countless other Christians who would rather face an earthly death than recant their faith or worship a false God. One purpose of the film was as a recruitment tool for the Salvation Army. I wonder how a new film version of Soldiers of the Cross would fare in Australia today?

Peter Bentley is the National Director of the ACC

 

Erring on the side of Better? CPX Documentary 2018

For the Love of God: How the Church is Better and Worse than you Ever Imagined is the new film from the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX). The documentary has been several years in the making and involved considerable travel by members of the CPX team, including Dr John Dickson, Justine Toh and Simon Smart and many interviews with leading scholars and figures throughout the western world. The director Allan Dowthwaite would be known to many Christian viewers in Australia through his work on earlier series with John Dickson, The Christ Files and The Life Of Jesus.

The ‘main’ For the Love of God film is a 90 minute ‘cinema cut’ and released for viewing in selected areas through the FanForce arrangement from May, and then there will be extended material available in a series of episodes on-line. For more information click

For the Love of God is a cerebrally stimulating film, and clearly aimed at a thinking section of society (not just people attending church) and can be seen as a modern form of apologetic. It is quite accessible overall as the presenters are engaging and clear and the questions answered by the range of expert commentators are well-thought out and helpful. The style is non-linear, and ranges over history, ending in Australia. 

Areas of consideration include the crusades (I don’t think I have to say which category this fits into): Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church (and the worse - the German church in general), Father Damien of Molokai, Christians caring in Roman times (how different they were to the culture of the day especially in the care of new-born babies), ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland, the treatment of women, including perceptions of witchcraft, and the Myall Creek Massacre in NSW and the treatment and perception of Aboriginal people. There is challenging and sobering material to reflect on, and a film that will stimulate many conversations about God and faith, helping us to reflect again on the centre of our faith Jesus Christ, who we are called to truly follow, rather than our own agendas.

The website has a quote from Nick Spencer that I think sums up the whole idea of the project (Nick Spencer is a Christian writer and commentator based in England with Theos. His recent book is worth reading: The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values)

“It hasn’t always been used on the side of the political or cultural angels - but to think you can understand our idea of right, democracy, human dignity, the scientific revolution, even the welfare state without understanding Christianity … you’re making a big mistake.” Nick Spencer

Review by Peter Bentley, National Director for the ACC

Paul - Apostle of Christ

Paul, Apostle of Christ (M, 2018)

My twitter summary of this would be ‘Biblical epic without the spectacle’. This time Jim Caviezel (Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) plays Luke, and the context is the writing of the story of the acts of the apostles, so the film is literally peppered with biblical lines and references. The film is not the long-expected sequel to The Passion of the Christ, but part of a new series and is directed by Andrew Hyatt. There was a limited cinema release in Australia. 

English actor James Faulker does an excellent job as the Apostle Paul. Paul is mainly seen in prison during this period, though the wider context is the increasing persecution of the people following Christ. There are several other well-known English actors in supporting roles, playing early (biblically referenced) Christians within this wider context. Yes, there are some Hollywood scenes, including the interaction with the gaoler, but the film is faithful to the Christian context. Overall, the film is certainly worth seeing and will be available later in the year on DVD or to download/stream.

Peter Bentley

National Director of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations

The Sweetest Country?

Sweet Country (2017, MA - for language, violence and adult themes)

I reviewed Warwick Thornton’s first film Samson and Delilah in June 2009. Sweet Country is his second film as Director and was released in January this year. Warwick is an indigenous man from Alice Springs.

Sweet Country is a rough film (particularly in the language aimed at Aboriginal people), though it is also a film of surprising beauty. Among the violence and also vile treatment of the Aboriginal people, there are scenes deliberately and slowly arranged that are reminiscent of Albert Namatjira paintings - the natural beauty of the country is breathtaking.  Warwick Thornton has also used ideas from the traditional western to convey this beauty and the story. John Ford films set in Monument Valley come to mind in this Australian western.

The story is set in 1929 and follows the shooting of Harry March, a white settler by an Aboriginal farmhand Sam Kelly (played by Hamilton Morris), who then goes on the run with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber). A small posse is formed to bring Sam back for a trial, but Sam eventually gives himself up to help his pregnant wife and the trial ensues.

The ‘sweet country’ that Bryan Brown’s character Sergeant Fletcher talks about, is the sweet land that he believes is just right for raising cattle and living a good life, but there is also an irony to the title as the characters question whether it can ever be really a sweet experience for any of them.

I want to quote a section of my review of Samson and Delilah as it is evident that Sweet Country has central Christian content as well.

“It would appear from this film that Warwick Thornton is also considering how the contemporary Aboriginal experience cannot be understood without reference to Christianity. The cross is a central symbol, from the simple cross in the tin shed chapel in the Aboriginal community to which Delilah takes her Nana to worship in silence, to the placing of a cross in the family home at the end of the film, where Delilah reclaims her place in her country. While no answers are given, the elements of Christian symbolism and consideration of Aboriginal art and dreaming must be related to the influential experience that Warwick Thornton had at Salvado College at the Catholic Monastery in New Norcia (in WA). His mother sent him there as a 13 year old, seemingly to have him straightened out, and he learnt to appreciate the regulated and yet simple lifestyle.”

The Christian faith is quite central again, with Sam Neil’s character Fred Smith a gentle Christian man who sees the Aboriginal workers on his farm differently from his neighbours. “We're all equal here. We're all equal in the eyes of the Lord.” There is a moving scene as they all join hands to give thanks for their food. In another scene, as part of the posse to track Sam (to make sure he comes back alive), one of the men bemoans that they don’t even sing around the campfire. Fred then starts singing ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so’, much to the amusement of the other men.

The town itself has no church, but that will change as one of the future images shows that what is raised up is not what the viewer is led to expect, but a church.

The clearest religious context is near the end, and while I do not want to give too much away, it is the positioning of the rainbow while hope is questioned that provides the answer. There will always be love and hope if people truly follow God.

The second part of the film concerns the trial. Matt Day is Judge Taylor and in this town, the courtroom is the travelling cinema. The travelling cinema man had been screening The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), a choice that is not incidental to the director’s theme. It was intriguing though to see people in the same deck chairs, but now as the courtroom ‘audience’, perhaps a nod to contemporary reality TV shows?

There is undeniably a focus and comment on the rule of law (from our British heritage) during the trial, and I leave it to the viewer to ponder this aspect.  

Thornton closes out his second film with a song, this time a Johnny Cash version of Peace in the Valley; yes an irony, though it links well with the final scene that raises the continuing question about the relationship of the people of the land with the contemporary time they are in.

Peter Bentley is the National Director for the ACC

 

Birds and Bees: Having the ‘talk’ today.

Having 'the Talk' Today

Birds and the Bees by the Book 

reviewed by Lisa Yew

"Where did I come from?" It's the question that makes parents and carers to squirm, but these days it seems so much more complicated. Questions that children may or may not be asking out loud still need clear answers. Is it ok to look like me? Why do two men want to marry each other? Am I really a girl? Why do those pictures make me feel so good? How do we teach our children to think biblically about sex and sexuality in our current world? And how do we do it without needing an industrial plunger to remove our foot from our mouth?

Patricia Weerakoon's picture book set Birds and Bees by the Book, illustrated by Lisa Flanagan is a great tool for introducing these and other issues around sex. Consisting of six books, the set looks at different kinds of families, the body, the brain, gender, sex and pornography in an age-appropriate, biblical, and straightforward way.

Each book is underpinned with a relevant truth from the Bible. They look at how the first family was made, that God wonderfully made our bodies and brains, and sex as a part of a marriage relationship. This focus teaches children to approach sexuality as a positive thing created by God.

The books explore the good aspects, and the potential pitfalls of each topic. From recognising that many families differ from nuclear families, to avoiding images that are unhealthy for your brain, to valuing bodies that don't conform to media images, to rejecting inappropriate touch, these books are filled with good safeguards that are relevant for today.

It sensitively broaches current issues around sexuality. In previous generations, people didn't talk about transgender or homosexuality, especially not to children, and there was little chance of viewing pornography. Today, this is not so. Birds and Bees by the Book appropriately defines what these are, but importantly also what they are not. Gender is not about stereotypical behaviours, and the friendship love you feel doesn't define your sexual orientation. Thus, confusion around what to think and how to behave in light of todays issues is minimised.

Godly attitudes and behaviours are encouraged, especially that of loving different kinds of people. There is a strong warning not to bully, and to report any bullying of anyone. Instead, children are encouraged to be kind to boys who look or behave like girls and vice versa, or to people with different sexual orientations. Just as Jesus loved all kinds of people, the books encourage children to follow his example.

Children everywhere can benefit from this excellent resource. The style of the writing is concise and factual and concepts are introduced simply and clearly. The pictures show children and families from a range of ethnic backgrounds in action and having fun. Rather than being clinical, the pictures support the writing in the style of picture story books. These books are invaluable for seven to ten-year olds, as a fantastic starting point for that awkward conversation parents dread.

Parents and carers need no longer fear talking about the birds and the bees. Even though the topic has become more complicated in recent years, we can springboard from the Birds and Bees by the Book set and begin the conversation with our children. We can flesh out the issues with our own anecdotes and examples, and be a clear light that helps children navigate through our hyper-sexualised culture. So, there are no more excuses to put off having 'the talk,' Birds and Bees by the Book equips you to have the talk today.

Lisa Yew is married to Manfred Yew, the Assistant Pastor at Belrose Uniting Church, NSW and mother of four young daughters.

Note: The accompanying web site has support information: http://birdsandbeesbooks.com/