Welcome to Culture Connections
This 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.
‘Little Women’ - Revisited Today
Little Women (PG, 2018)
This Little Women is the latest film based on the Louisa May Alcott novel. Though made and released in the USA in 2018 to recognise the 150th anniversary of the novel, this film is now having a commercial release in Australia in early September 2019 (and before the launch of a re-made traditional version). What makes this version distinct is that it has a modern setting and the four sisters are all women of the 21st century. The key question is still there though - what do you want to do in your life?
Marriage is still the context, rather than a relationship, and in a way today this consideration of faithful male - female marriage is a counter-cultural approach to the individualistic trend of looking to your own fulfilment.
There are some whimsical moments, including a really lovely cat, and aspects that will resonate with people in Australia, even though it is an American setting. Cracked phone screens are as much a symbol of this age as communication through text. The role of fantasy and fable are brought into a modern setting though without the usual focus on horror or desecration. I liked the references and context of books and reading and particularly the consideration that modern reading should still be in a printed book format because of the different dynamic of personal communication.
It is a helpful and gentle family film in a time when the idea is developing that there is no need to have a family or perhaps even be part of one. In this film there are positive models of women and men. The father is now a military doctor and is often away, and the mother and children all have love and support for him and each other, and together exemplify a faithful bond of unity.
I see this Little Women primarily as a good film for mothers and daughters to see together and talk about - it could lead to deeper conversations about what is really important in this short life we are given by God.
Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey
Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey (2018)
Many readers would have attended the 60th anniversary gatherings held earlier this year (2019) that were arranged by the Billy Graham Association (BGA) in recognition of the impact and long-term ministry of Billy Graham. Soon after Billy Graham’s death (February 21, 2018), the BGA released a documentary to provide an ‘official’ film of Billy Graham’s ministry calling. The documentary is now available via streaming services.
This is a personal journey, and features Billy Graham from his early years and at different and pivotal points of his life and with members of the Graham family.
His wider connections and ability to relate to a wide variety of people is a feature. In the USA and in other places, his regular appearances on radio, and then TV talk shows brought him into contact with many people who would never have attended a crusade. The ecumenical foundation of his crusade gatherings, and his general support for integration are prominent in themes, but of course the central focus is on his calling to preach the gospel.
There has been some debate over the style of the documentary and criticism that it was not a critical or academic documentary, though I think this misses the point as that was not its purpose. It is a relatively short overview (about an hour) and serves the purpose of being a visual eulogy for the countless millions of people that Billy Graham connected with, and clearly could attend the actual funeral. People are invited into the life of Billy Graham and towards the end of the documentary the actual funeral service is featured. I found the documentary to be quite illuminating and humble in its approach, with a focus on giving thanks to God for the life of one person who was called to tell others in this very public way about his lord and saviour Jesus Christ.
(Another interesting film, though not BGA produced is Billy: the early years (2008) - this was reviewed in an early ACCatalyst: March 2009.)
The Bible in Australia
by Meredith Lake, Newsouth Publishing, 2018 (pp 439)
A short explanation of what this book is about is found in the subtitle - A Cultural History.
This book provides a picture of how the bible’s influence and impact has connected with Australian history and culture. It considers how the bible has been used and misused, and perhaps ‘not used’, in the context of the foundation and development of modern Australia. Meredith Lake has created a rare offering - a readable scholarly academic work. There are four parts:
The opening section considers the arrival of the bible in 1788 and initial interactions in the convict era, and the overall immigrant context as the nation develops. Woven throughout the first part and indeed through the whole book are stories, and examples of connection related to Aboriginal and Islander people, especially in relation to translation and hearing the word in their own tongue, and the wider questions about indigenous theology and relationships.
The Great Age of the Bible
This part provides an excellent overview of the incredible stories of missionary endeavour and promulgation of the bible and the beginnings of the consideration of different ways of viewing the bible, its authority and status.
Bible and Nation
The third part looks at the place of the church (and bible) in Australia in the context of a consolidated Australia that was finding its own identity. A revealing chapter is the chapter on WWI and its aftermath. As it has been revealed during these WWI centenary years, the impact of this era has often been underestimated.
The final part A Secular Australia? Explores the place of the bible in the new era, looking at the changes in society and the impact of change on the church and the place of the bible. I noted quotes from people who would be known to ACC readers, including Deane Meatheringham in reference to his conversion at the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade. In this 60th year anniversary of the Crusade, it is illuminating to reflect on the differences in Australia in terms of our cultural history.
The chapter ‘The Bible in the new millennium’ vividly highlights the pace of change, especially in the context of SRE (and certainly the fact that this is now the sole area of contact with the bible for a large group of Australians), and the impact of new technology and how this relates to reading and understanding the bible.
Having highlighted this book’s accessibility and wide-ranging material, I am still going to suggest that an abridged version is needed (not the twitter form), but more an adult pocket version that summarises and yet continues the main themes and ideas. I note that Meredith produced a version of this in 2016, aimed at students and prepared for The Bible Society - The Bible Down Under.
I found the last few pages especially fascinating and helpful as they raise the context for a wider discussion. These pages form a very interesting conclusion in the context of ethics and decision-making. It is a question I have long been asking - how do people make decisions today when for many there is no association with a book like The Bible?
The conclusion takes one back to earlier discussions and ongoing themes in the book about the cultural impact of the church and its role in providing for the common good in society. This enables one to understand, consider and discuss in hopefully a helpful way the continuing role of the bible today.
The Way Back
How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back (pp 251)
by Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock
Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbours. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honourable behaviour, and they will give honour to God when he judges the world. 1 Peter 2:12 (NLT)
First, I need to highlight that this is a book that looks at how the church and Christians relate to society and not the issues and nature facing the church internally. The context is evangelical faith in the USA, so the context for the reflection is how that evangelical community essentially blew it by becoming too associated with politics and the culture wars. It is not an apologia for liberal Christianity and a call to adopt the culture of the day. It is a simple challenge for Christians to become more the people of ‘the way’.
The two authors have both been involved in a wider media and communication ministry and network and are well placed to report on the perceptions of society and change in how Christians and the church are viewed and provide pointed reflections on where we are and what to do.
Phil Cooke will be known to a number of readers as he has spoken in Australia and was a lead interviewee on the Andrew Denton documentary God on Our Side (this looked at evangelicals and their support for George W Bush in the context of the US National Religious Broadcasters Convention in 2006). Phil’s blog (search philcooke.com) provides short reflections and practical examples and ideas to encourage people to re-think their way of doing things.
Of greatest help though in this book is the focus on our personal Christian lives and a call to renew our Christian walk. As we become more people of the way our hope is that people will see the way themselves.
A.D. The Bible Continues
The ‘sequel’ to The Bible (2013) TV series, was originally shown on Australian TV with the title A.D. Kingdom and Empire in 2015 and is now available on some subscription channels. Even though the series is based on the first ten chapters of the Book of Acts, the latter title is a more accurate a description as it is more a biblical Game of Thrones than a historical docudrama rendition of the Bible stories. The last episode of The Bible series provided a shorter consideration of some key parts of the Book of Acts. The A.D. series has 12 episodes, with the first two connecting with the previous series The Bible and acting to remind or introduce viewers to the context of the new Christian community with a focus on the death and resurrection of Christ.
This series is similar to the SBS aired Vikings in terms of its historical accuracy (lack thereof) and use of truncated time-lines and re-arrangement of historical figures to suit an overall story, rather than a series based solely on the biblical text and historical sources. There is a good amount of creative licence (they are filling in 12 hours or so of material), but there are also some good scenes of biblical message and interaction. The main issue for me is that it suffers from the curse of contemporary television; the reality TV show, and so focusses on personalities and individual perspectives, rather than providing a holistic theology of the bible. Too often, (especially in the later episodes), the main characters are reduced to emotional caricatures in the attempt to personalise them. Essentially it is Hollywood-style television aimed at a nominal Christian audience and culture.
If you watch, have your bible ready and take the opportunity to review and work out what is biblically based and where the creative licence comes in.
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.
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.
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.”
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.