Today in church: women and frogs

Today’s Gospel reading, for those of you who care about these things, was the tale of the Syrophoenecian woman, from Mark 7:24-end. The sermon drew out some interesting aspects of this story.

Firstly, having just come back from a spiritual retreat on the nature of women in Christianity, the curate emphasised that it’s sometimes necessary to read the New Testament with a suspicious eye. The Gospels were written by men in a time when the genders were most certainly not equal. So this makes the story of the¬†Syrophoenecian woman even more incredible. That a woman from a very lowly part of society could draw up the courage to speak to Jesus, and even to answer him back when she doesn’t get the answer she wants.

Secondly, this is a story about persistence. A sort of “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again,” if you like. She finds strength and courage in her faith. And good things happen to her.

Thirdly, we must accept that Jesus is really pretty mean to her. He basically compares her people to dogs, and initially won’t help her. But, thanks to her persistence, he changes his mind. This is intriguing when compared to the concept of an all-seeing and all-knowing God. For us lesser mortals, it’s heartening to see that even Jesus sometimes has to go through a thought process. It’s sometimes okay that we don’t get the right answer first time, so long as we continue to be responsive to the situation.

As for the frogs, we were fortunate enough to have Messiaen’s wonderful O Sacrum Convivium as the communion anthem. I remember singing this for the first time and, as we sight-read through it, finding myself drowning in its overlapping dissonances and resolutions. And, at the end of the service, the organist played Cesar Franck’s Chorale No. 3 in A. Youtube links for both are below.

Brave

This weekend, I went to the cinema for the second time in as many weeks. I took my two daughters, aged 10 and 7, to see Brave in 3D.

Now, I must confess I did this somewhat under duress. I don’t really like the Scottish. Note: I actually do quite like Scottish people, who are generally lovely. But aggregate them into a nation and, Mcglashan-like, they seem to acquire a sense of entitlement and anti-English hatred that would be completely unacceptable if practised in reverse. I really didn’t like the trailer to Brave, which seemed to pander to the Scottishness of the characters. Surely this would be merely a prequel to an hour and a half of English-bashing. Braveheart,¬†just without the heart, if you like.

In fact I only took them at all because it was vital that we did something together as they had been on holiday abroad, without me, for the previous ten days. Even though you’re completely in the dark and can’t talk to each other, there’s something nice about going to the cinema. The sense of anticipation on the way there and the way you roar at the cheesy adverts prior to the film itself are all great bonding rituals.

So, dear reader, I am delighted to admit that I was totally wrong about Brave. The film is a gem, and fully deserves to be join the ranks of classic children’s animated films.

I won’t spoil the film by unnecessarily revealing too much of the plot, but the core of the film is the relationship between a princess and her mother, the queen. Early in the film, they fall out and must spend the rest of the film doing whatever it takes to get back together. Because they realise that their relationship is worth saving. They grow to appreciate that they were so wrapped up in what they wanted that they weren’t listening properly to what the other was saying. And there’s a wonderful happy ending.

What really makes the film special is that the female characters are so strong. In one part of the film, the male characters are brawling. The queen tells her husband to sort it out. He does, but peace lasts only for a few moments before they start fighting again. The rabble only falls silent when the queen walks – speechlessly and imperiously – through the middle of the room. Later, the princess gives a rousing and deeply moving speech that has the entire, male, audience enthralled. This is a brilliant film for girls, as it demonstrates that the traditional female stereotypes in films are simply unnecessary. You can make a good film without having to have violent, dominant male characters and meek, submissive female ones. You just need a director with a bit of bravery.

As of the time of writing, the film is on general release. Go see it – at an independent cinema near you, if you can.