The power of Story

The Oscars.  “The movies have always been there for us. They’re the place to go to laugh, to cry, to question, to text. So tonight, enjoy yourselves because nothing can take the sting of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues.” Billy Crystal. Since the advent of the cinema, celluloid has been an escape, a storybook come to life. However, stories can hold our dreams, our griefs, and our questions, like no other medium of communication. Skilled writers, photographers and actors can slip past our defences and reshape the way we think and feel, through the power of story. Nick Baines has also recently reflected on story.  Jesus may not have had cinema, but he spoke in stories. No wonder they said of him, “No one speaks like this man”.  The more I study them, I am sure that the parables we have, are merely the bones of the stories he told. Like the best of storytellers he would have fleshed them out with passion and imaginative details, with colour and tone and dramatic pause. He was the master of surprise, speaking of familiar things, readily accessible and adding a very different twist.

I love films that move me and make me think. ( I also love films that you bury your brain under the seat and enjoy fun and laughter)  I have seen a few recently, that made a deep impression on me. No surprise to anyone, of the first of these was  ‘The Artist’ , which in my view, deserves all the accolades it gets. A beautifully crafted film, creating so many layers of meaning and depth. I went, expecting it to be a light hearted ‘fluffy’ film about the 20’s and 30’s, the time of the transition from Silent Movies to The Talkies. What I got was a touching film where communication was by expression and micro-gesture. The absence of words left a lot of room for thought and interpretation.  It spoke alot to me about priesthood. Being a public person,  and handling both sides of  ‘fame’. How you view yourself, and how others see you, good and bad. Being a ‘rising star’ a newcomer, or a ‘has been’ where all you trained for is suddenly disappearing beneath your feet. Adapt or you are last weeks news. The touches of humour sprinkled through it heightened the pathos. You can take it at any level you like, and I defy anyone not to enjoy it. Definitely a ‘must see’.

The next film was Shame.  A sensitively produced picture of  the very real and complex problem of sex addiction. A review said, “Shame is captivating and intensely intimate. McQueen has followed up Hunger with an unflinching and compelling film that explores the depths of addiction and the consequential destruction and demise of the mind and although it is sometimes difficult to watch, you won’t be able to keep your eyes off it.”  I couldn’t agree more. Not an easy film, not an easy subject, but that was the point. Like his film Hunger, the co-writer and director Steve Mcqueen intended to bring out into the light a hidden and painful issue.  Michael Fassbender, McQueen’s acclaimed lead actor in Hunger, was apparently, the first and only choice to play the lead role in Shame. He played it exceptionally well, with great depth and insight. Anyone who came expecting cheap titillation would have left disappointed, from this intensely moving film. I applaud McQueen’s compassionate motivation in writing and directing this story and for crafting it with such sensitivity and skill.

Prayers for Bobby’  is another difficult film to watch.  The synopsis on the website for the film probably says it all.

“Prayers for Bobby is the amazing true story of a mother torn between her loyalties, challenged by her faith, and moved by a tragedy that would change her life, and the lives of others, forever.

Bobby Griffith (Ryan Kelly, Smallville) was his mother’s favorite son, the perfect all-American boy growing up under deeply religious influences in Walnut Creek, California. Bobby was also gay. Struggling with a conflict no one knew of much less understood Bobby finally came out to his family. Despite the tentative support of his father, two sisters, and older brother, Bobby’s mother, Mary (three time Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Sigourney Weaver, Avatar, Working Girl), turned to the fundamentalist teachings of her church to rescue her son from what she felt was an irredeemable sin. As Mary came closer to the realization that Bobby could not be “healed,” she rejected him, denying him a mother’s unconditional love, and driving her favorite son to suicide.

Anguished over Bobby’s death, Mary finds little solace in her son’s poignant diaries, revelations of a troubled boy fighting for the love of his mother and God. Finding it difficult to reconcile her feelings of guilt, her conflicted emotions over religious teachings, and her struggles with understanding her son’s orientation, Mary finally, and unexpectedly, reaches out to the gay community as a source of inspiration and consolation. For Mary Griffith, it’s the beginning of a long and emotional journey that extended beyond acceptance to her viable role a vocal advocate for gay and lesbian youth. In 1996, twelve years after Bobby’s death, she was invited to address the Congress of the United States, establishing her as a major force in the fight for human rights.”

Prayers for Bobby

Image via Wikipedia

In a church where this subject is such a divisive issue,  I tread softly on what is very tender ground. I have seen the emotions on both sides of the debate, and this searingly honest  film shows a range of them.  Any hope of reconciliation of polemically held views, requires understanding of the other person’s perspective. To ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ and to feel the loads they carry. I feel this film goes some way to helping this to happen. The debate is not a safely packaged theoretical argument – it is played out very painfully within the realities and struggles of a real family who have to live with the consequences. I firmly commend it to anyone to see, and particularly to anyone in ministry or church leadership.   You can make your own mind up about how it leaves you, of course, but for me, looking away wasn’t an option.

Beatbox Nativity

This was such a good, literal and seasonal example of my last post Singing the Next Verse      I just had to add it here.

Reverend Gavin Tyte, a  vicar from Uplyme in Devon who puts a  creative take on a very familiar story.  It has been entered for a competition and  you can vote for it on the following site and see many other examples ( in a wide variety of styles) of the Nativity Story told in 3 minutes or less.!


Singing the next verse

“it makes me realise what an amazing privilege we have, and yet what a huge responsibility, singing the next verse of the Great Story and Song to those who have not  yet heard the tune, with a certain freedom to improvise, but in such a way that the Word is still heard. ”   Sue Wallace speaking about Cathedrals, and Transcendence at York Minister, in particular. 

Singing the next verse..  joining in with the song. Finding your voice and  daring to sing, even when the tune is unfamiliar.  Discovering God as composer and conductor.  I have been sitting with this quote for some weeks now, partly because it is a key quote in an essay I have been writing on Cathedrals and the Mission Imperative, and partly because the image sparked something in me.

Perhaps it is because I love re-inventing..  ‘How can I do this differently? ‘ is my default approach. I have come in recent years to appreciate the rich inheritance of tradition in Church liturgy, and all the depth and nuance it gifts us with. I have no desire to sweep it away, but I do want to add to it. Contribute my own voice/verse. In an age where culture and language change at a breathtaking pace, I want to be at the crest of that wave, as it were. The Good News is as relevant now as it has ever been, but less and less people have heard the song. There is both a need and a place for finding ways to make the song one that connects. The possibilities are endless and the question is only,

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’  Psalm 137:4