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.
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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).
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Tired and Trying Christians
Facing today’s Pressures
Amid the positive happenings and stories of our time about the church becoming more technology-savvy and contemporary, the Christian Research Association reports on church attendance projections. These projections show that from 2006 to 2026 all Christian denominations, with the exception of a few, will decline in numbers. Dr Hughes has said that over the past two decades churches have struggled to accommodate changes in society by trying to provide diverse forms of worship. Many Christian ministers and lay-people today are trying to faithfully serve in stressful situations.
As institutions decline or diversify, as finances and resources are reduced, as complexity and regulation increases, the structures and patterns that supported ministry in the past increasingly become liabilities that drain energy and stifle initiative. As a result those involved with the ministry of the church can become very tired, weary, depressed, even frantic, sweating it out every Sunday to keep “the show on the road.”
Some time ago Major Ian Thomas pointed out that as the church has learned to appropriate the death of Christ as redeemer, so it needs to appropriate the life of the risen Christ that empowers action.
Major Thomas recalled his own experience of being worn out, tired and discouraged. “When I decided to quit I thought God would be disappointed---in fact I found out He was overjoyed.” For Thomas it was a matter of rediscovering that God moves into our bankruptcy to make perfect His strength in our weakness. The rediscovery changed his life and ministry and he points out that it is not until we have jettisoned the last vestige of self-confidence, the sinfulness of what we are, our own inherent destitution, that we see the significance of Christ’s resurrection.
Encountering a Living Christ.
Instead of Easter Sunday being an academic exercise when we acknowledge the redemptive significance of the cross that pronounces our requital, (eg what Jesus did) we need to appropriate Jesus is now, that He is alive. “While what Jesus did because of what we have done is important, we need to see that what He is, is to take that place of what we are. That is the Gospel designed to restore us to our own humanity.”
“God cannot give us more than He has given us. When Christ comes to live in us, when we are restored to God by acknowledging Jesus death was for us and the Holy Spirit comes to indwell your human personality with the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, God gives us all He can afford. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When God gives us Christ, He gives you and me, with Him, embraced by Him, all things. There is not one single person who is converted who does not have dwelling within their humanity all the illimitable resources of deity but the tragedy is that we can sit on it and never know it is there.”
The Big Picture.
Paul writes in Ephesians 2.10, “For we are what Christ has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” “Jesus did not come to do his best for God, to do his best to redeem humanity some how. Every step he took, he took triumphantly, every word he spoke, thing he did, every decision he made was a Divine fulfilment of a plan agreed as between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in eternal ages of the past. It was simply that the Father—had the yielded humanity of Jesus in which to tell the story until he could cry triumphantly, “It is Finished,” and then the Father raised him from the dead and exalted him to his the right hand. That same Lord Jesus had his own programme to fulfil through you and me and all he is waiting for is for our humanity to be yielded to him today as his humanity was yielded to his Father. The moment we become available to Jesus Christ, to be who he is in action, we are caught up into that predetermined purpose for which we were first created, we have now been redeemed and we prove what is that good, perfect acceptable will of God.”(Rom12.2)
Living the Adventure Now
Thomas jolts us into rediscovering that we need to let the baggage go, it is not a matter of propping up the past, meeting the expectations of others or trying to prove ourselves.
We share a vital relationship with a risen Lord that allows Him to indwell our personalities and from there allows Him to express Himself in terms of our daily behaviour. The Lord Jesus who died for us also rose for us, rose to share his life with us. Every day can become a huge adventure of stepping out into his timeless plan. We may well say, “Lord we don’t know who you are going to talk to today, what we are going to bump into but it’s going to be our privilege to yield my humanity so you can be in me, where you please, doing what you want, how you want to do it and any time you like.”
“Jesus died that that we might be caught up into this adventure of proving daily that good and acceptable, perfect will of God. God himself working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight, being himself the very dynamic of all his demands, the cause of his own effects, the source of his own activity and the origin in us of his own image in action.”
That is the Christian life lived in the awareness of his risen presence now.
Adapted by Rev E. A. (Ted) Curnow Sourced from an address by Major W. Ian Thomas.
The Christian life fleshed out in the personal experience
of Bonney Haine, a forgiven person.
Discovering daily who God really is.
Discovering daily God’s love for me,
such mercy, forgiveness, amazingly free.
Discovering daily He does answer prayer.
Discovering daily what grace really means,
unmerited favour beyond all my dreams.
Discovering daily God speaking to me,
(He speaks through the Bible)
Once blind now I can see.
Discovering daily every day that I live,
that all that I need He freely will give.
Discovering daily Christ working through me,
accomplishing daily what never could be.
Discovering daily I can’t but He can,
thanking Him daily for my place in His plan.
Discovering daily how real life can be,
when living in Christ and He’s living in me.
Discovering daily a song in my heart with,
anticipation for each day to start.
Delighting and basking in love so divine,
secure in the knowledge,
that I’m His and He’s mine.
Besides mere contentment, excitement I see,
A daily adventure,
Christ alive and living in me.
Denial (2017, M)
Denial is also a film based on a book, but in this case the non-fiction work "History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier," by Deborah Lipstadt, the US historian who had to defend herself against a libel charge by David Irving for calling him a Holocaust denier when she gave a lecture in England. In English law the burden of proof is on the accused, so the defence focussed on the facts of the Holocaust and by relation, proving that Irving was a liar. It is a well-made courtroom drama, with fine performances, though Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt has very much a supporting role as the legal eagles dominate the film. Deborah Lipstadt has often been asked about ‘free speech’ and among many comments, I thought it was helpful to consider the following quote from the film.
“Now, some people are saying that the result of this trial will threaten free speech. I don't accept that. I'm not attacking free speech. On the contrary, I've been defending it against someone who wanted to abuse it. Freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want. What you can't do is lie and expect not to be held accountable for it. Not all opinions are equal. And some things happened, just like we say they do.”
A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove (2015, M)
This Swedish film was recently released in Australia and has had a continuing run at some selected cinemas (I have been wondering if it may continue a run like As it is in Heaven (2004) – this ran for well over a year in Sydney, mainly by word of mouth).
I thought of briefly mentioning Ove as there is a similar and distinct philosophy about life and religion to the very popular As it is in Heven. I am sure that some people will see A Man Called Ove as a (mostly) a charming and even eirenic film, but there are some questionable aspects, notably the theme of suicide. Ove consistently tries to kill himself, but is always thwarted, usually by the interruptions of neighbours, who are perhaps ‘angels of mercy’. Overall, though the film promotes the idea that being good is the most noble way for a person to live. Ove himself, hopes that when he does die, the church will be packed, and this clearly links with the concept of the ‘good man’- people giving honour to him for what he has done.
Star Wars: 40th Anniversary
Star Wars (1977, PG)
Or as it is known now, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ….
Well, I thought it was suitable to comment on a film that was realised in the same year as the inauguration of the Uniting Church. I find it harder to believe this film is now 40 years old. It was a distinctly new and ground-breaking film, heralding in a new age of technology. Amazing special effects and it of course started a franchise and provided a toy and related-goods marketing bonanza.
There is a distinct religious and philosophical stream to Star Wars that is centred around ‘the force’, and this in many ways resonates with a popular view of religion that believes there is some higher force than ourselves out there that will provide help when we need. Other themes include people being tempted and won to the ‘dark side’, and some coming back to the ‘right side’ There is also the idea that a simple good person will eventually prevail over a nasty evil person. Music is central, just like it is in our churches. In popular culture terms, who would fail to recognise the Star Wars introduction? And perhaps befitting a focus for some on individual fantasy, it led to people including Jedi as their religion in the Australian census (approximately 65 000 in 2011).
In the SILENCE
Silence, 2016 MA 15+ (Australian rating)
Silence is a strangely beautiful and yet alarmingly horrifying depiction of a quite savage period in Christian history. The context here is the period after the first ‘opening up’ of Japan in the middle 16th century, and then the reaction, and the desire to purify and rid Japan of foreign influences (not only Christian, but associated). Possibly thousands of Christians were martyred during this time, with one of the most well-known being the crucifixion in Nagasaki on February 5, 1597 of twenty-six Christians including six European Franciscan missionaries and three Japanese Jesuits. Persecution continued into the 1630s and the film itself is set in this later period following a major rebellion that had some Christian context, though was also related to other factors. The film itself provides an eye-opener into the never-ending methods of torture and killing that mankind develops at times when they desire revenge and destruction.
The film is based on the 1966 book by Shusaku Endo, and directed by the influential and controversial ‘actors’ director’ Martin Scorsese. Apparently, it was a nearly three-decades long personal project to bring the film to fruition. This film is oddly reminiscent at times of Terrence Malick films with the soft voice-over and lyrical filming. Like Scorsese, Malick focusses on people exploring their beliefs in extraordinary times.
Intriguingly Andrew Garfield, who played the main Christian character in Hacksaw Ridge, plays one of the Jesuit priests Father Rodrigues, who goes in search of his mentor Father Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson), partly to find out if there is truth to the rumour that he ‘apostatised’? The film also follows the struggles of Father Rodrigues and his companions. This is the ‘silence’ connection – even in the times that there is seemingly silence by God, God is there. As Father Rodrigues observes, “It was in the silence that I heard Your voice.”
There are certainly some theological questions raised due to the Catholic context (especially in related to confession and prayer), but these need to be considered in the strong pastoral context where the priests gave totally of themselves to serve their people. There are also incredible moments that we all hope we would never have to personally face:
What would you do in a situation where;
- Your life will be spared if you deny your faith?
- Others will be spared if you deny your faith?
- You are tortured simply for having a Christian symbol in your possession?
- You repeatedly deny Christ and yet are so burdened you repeatedly seek forgiveness?
There is another whole theme in the film about the hidden or ‘secret Christians’, and readers may be aware of this context in China after the expulsion of missionaries in 1949, in countries in the former Soviet Bloc, and in middle eastern countries today. The ‘secret Christian’ remains a theme throughout the movie right to the incredible end.
The early 17th century was a very public period of confrontation for the local Christians, and yet it was also an isolated period for Japan itself. In contrast to today, it was of course a time without social media and the broadcasting of martyrdom. This is very much an adult film, but one that I believe will lead you to think deeply about your faith. It will have a short season at the cinema, but given the length of the film, it may be best watched at home with a group. Then you can take a break at an appropriate time, perhaps even spend some time in prayer and reflection, before preparing yourself for the final part of this quite searing and intriguing drama.
Peter Bentley is the ACC’s National Director
The Story of Colliding Worlds
Download the paper The Story of Colliding Worlds by Rev. Ted Curnow
Review of Stealing from a Child
A strong recommendation to thinking friends.
After much thought, I agree with the author of the book shown here that if Same-Sex Marriage is made law, our culture will change radically in ways of which the average person is unaware. I admire Penny Wong as a thoughtful and socially responsible politician, but her remark that SSM will effect a small change without any dire social consequences is, on all the evidence available, naïve in the extreme.
I fear that many good people, accepting such reassurances at face value, are sleeping through an escalating culture war. Dr van Gend’s analysis, by contrast, convincingly argues that in statistical terms, SSM will have serious flow-on effects, especially for children.
Dr van Gend is a qualified and experienced medical practitioner in Queensland. For some years he has been President of the Australian Marriage Forum. Having recently heard Dr van Gend speak at a launch of this book, I believe him to be a genuine and competent researcher, not given to wild generalisations.
Further, having marked many academic theses in my time, and after careful reading of this book, I judge the book to be a solid analysis of evidence-based research. It does not rely on particular religious beliefs to prove its case. Rather, it documents many statistically secure findings from social and psychological sources.
In later chapters of the book, he also reviews the Safe Schools program, which has been widely publicised as an “anti-bullying program.” The evidence he presents is again very strong. Safe Schools is shown to be a deliberate and ideologically driven attempt to promote an agenda of gay sex education in schools, by-passing parental consent if necessary. It aims to encourage all children from the earliest school years to consider their own gender perceptions fluid, and to engage in sexual experimentation. On ethical grounds, I rate this as indoctrination, not education.
Incidentally, for a clearer idea of what will happen to parents if the Safe Schools program is made compulsory, view the testimony of a parent who, after she’d read the Safe Schools materials, withdrew her children from Frankston High School in Victoria, after having been refused her right to have the children opt out from this material because it was across the curriculum subjects. It is a rivetting 9 minutes and can be viewed here.
At $30, the book deserves wide dissemination, and I gather that copies can be ordered at Connor Court.
Professor Brian Hill, 12/10/2016
Christian Faith in Action
Hacksaw Ridge (MA 15+, 2016)
The story of WWII Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss, has now received full treatment in a major Hollywood production by Mel Gibson (though much of the official publicity refers to him simply as ‘the director’ of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ – clearly Gibson is still being ‘rehabilitated’ before being returned to the Hollywood directing elite).
This film received an R rating in the USA for its violence and war depictions, and MA 15+ in Australia, recognising its adult content. It would of course be difficult to avoid the use of violence given the context. I refer to the citation for Doss’s medal that reads in part: … for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty from April 29 – 21 May 1945, while serving with the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, in action at Urasoe Mura, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands. Private First Class Doss was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machine gun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. …
Doss is portrayed as a ‘conscientious objector’, but I think the term ‘conscientious supporter’ is more accurate as he supported the war initiative and was willing to be a medic. He was very aware of the dimensions of evil on the axis side and believed that the war was justified. Doss refused to kill though, or to carry a weapon and this was based on his conviction as a Seventh-day Adventist, stemming especially from his mother’s bible training, views and own experience. Doss believed God guided him and gave him strength to serve in these almost unbelievable situations. He was willing to lay down his life for another, and was wounded three times during his service.
It is as Mel Gibson has highlighted, very much an Australian production, not only with the location filming, but Australian actors, including well-known actors Sam Worthington (Captain Glover), and Hugo Weaving (Desmond’s father) and Rachel Griffiths (Desmond’s mother). Desmond Doss is played in an understated and sincere manner by Andrew Garfield a US born English actor.
Hacksaw Ridge is simply quite overpowering, telling a story that is somewhat hard to fathom at any time, and I believe can only be understood from a Christian viewpoint.
Risen - He is Risen Indeed!
Risen (M, 2016) is a helpful film to view and well worth viewing at the cinema (and hope it may have a longer and wider release), or buying the DVD when out or viewing via (legal) download. It is one of those films that causes you to think long after and if you watched it with friends, hopefully, consider together some of the themes it raises.
Joseph Fiennes stars as Clavius, a Roman Centurion and perhaps ‘ancient day fixer’. He is continually given problems to solve and soon after dealing with another zealot and followers, he is tasked by Pontius Pilate (played by Peter Firth, the lead from the BBC spy drama Spooks) to find the body that had vanished from the tomb or find out what happened to Jesus after his burial. Pilate is concerned about any implications for further rebellion or trouble.
Frank Morison (pseudonym of Albert Henry Ross) is well known for his book - Who Moved the Stone? (1930 and reprinted every few years) and this film has a similar investigative base, in that certain possibilities are examined. Written by Paul Aiello, this is a solid and intriguing 'Hollywood style' film. The script is respectful of the context, allowing the ideas developed to flow into telling the story of two men: Jesus and Clavius.
The director Kevin Reynolds has made several well-known Hollywood films, including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and The Count of Monte Christo (2002) which highlighted Jim Caviezel’s physical acting in a major role. Caviezel would go on to play Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ (2004). There is a certain orientation in Reynolds’ movies toward the outsider or rebel character, and this continues with the somewhat worldly-weary Clavius, as the film explores his past and the challenges to his worldview that this new task provides.
The film was also known as The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but perhaps to give a simpler and less religious title, Risen was chosen for release. One interesting factor in the development is that is the film is seen as an "unofficial sequel" to The Passion of the Christ. It has certainly not had the same amount of publicity and controversy, but then The Passion of the Christ was a Mel Gibson directed film.
Peter Bentley is the National Director of the ACC