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In Case You Missed It: Books, Podcasts, Films and Television Worth Noting

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A new monthly feature of interesting stuff from the world of books, podcasts, film and television. 

Films 

Star Wars I-VII

In anticipation of Rogue One and with the time summer holidays allow, we caught up on Star Wars Episodes I-VII (yes, including episodes 1-3, which are better and worse than you remember). Watching them in quick succession and as an adult was enlightening. I noticed how predictive British accents are of a character being evil. I also noticed how un-Buddhist, even anti-Buddhist, the story really is. Despite the doctrines of Jedi religion and the proper use of The Force, in actual fact acting on the basis of attachment is always redemptive; decisions based on attachment are always vindicated. So, for example, Luke’s decision to leave Yoda and attempt the rescue of his friends in The Empire Strikes Back was right, and central to the stories redemptive logic.

The Star Wars universe is technologically odd: weak on telecommunications, strong on inter-stellar travel.

The line between kitsch and cool is a fine one. Episode VII’s mechanical robot-dinosaurs on Hoth really shouldn’t have worked, but they did; the Ewoks on Endor really could have worked, but didn’t. 

Podcasts

Cultivated

Whilst Mike Cosper’s enormously promising The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea podcast seems to have gone missing in action, his other podcast, Cultivated, continues to deliver. Recent interviews with Andy Crouch, David Dark and Alissa Wilkinson were particularly interesting.

An interview with Gregory Thornbury included his terrific description of the Four Stages of Grieving Francis Schaeffer, to which some might relate: First, you’re really into Francis Schaeffer. Then you’re disappointed because you go to university and realise he hadn’t really read the books he was talking about. Then you get angry and don’t ever want to talk about Francis Schaeffer again. And the you come back and think, ‘actually, I kind of like that guy.’ Snap!

I have often reflected on how huge Francis Schaeffer’s work was for me as a teenager, and how little it would ever occur to me to actually read him today. Nor could I imagine deploying any of his specific theological, philosophical or critical claims in any context. I wonder whether his big gift to evangelicalism was not any of his specific claims, but rather his posture towards art and culture? I think his gift of permission to take art and culture seriously, rather than any specific analysis, will be his legacy.

The Ezra Klein Show

Ezra Klein of Vox Media hosts a weekly interview-based podcast called The Ezra Klein Show which is often worth dipping into. I was strike by a recent interview with climate change expert Elizabeth Kolbert (author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History). The apocalyptic mood of the interview is palpable. The structure of the problem is so, well, biblical: Humans have done something wrong. A day of judgment is coming. Repentance is required. In the interview, religious language keeps bubbling to the surface in this otherwise rather secular space. Klein repeatedly apologises for sounding ‘preachy’. And half way through the episode, after a moving and heartfelt account of the catastrophe, Kolbert says: ‘I don’t know if I want to call it a sin, but it’s a mistake. A huge mistake.’ 

I was left wondering why there was such effort to avoid the word ‘sin’, despite its obvious applicability. Perhaps at some intuitive level we realise that to invoke the concept of sin takes us on a line of theological reasoning that would lead, inevitably, to the question of God?

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Books

Victoria, by Julia Baird (Harper-Collins, 2016)

Julia Baird’s new biography of Queen Victoria is engrossing and magnificent. It has the seriousness and discipline of real historiography (Baird has a PhD in history, and there’s a tonne of meticulous research under the bonnet here) with the flair for language of a journalist. The portrayal of Albert is sympathetic and a genuine Lutheran faith shines through. The picture of Victoria is complex, fascinating and absorbing. Well worth the 500 pages.

Rory Shiner studied Arts at the University of Western Australia and theology at Moore College in Sydney. He is currently completing a PhD through Macquarie University on the life and work of Donald Robinson. He is senior pastor of Providence City Church in Perth, where he lives with his wife, Susan, and their four boys. He has written books on Union with Christ and on the relationship between Jesus' resurrection and our own.

Rory serves as a member of the TGCA Editorial Panel as Editor for the Arts and Culture Channel and for Book Reviews.

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