Two views on poverty.

000269ba-314“Poverty is built into the way our society operates…As long as society operates on the principle of individualism and personal achievement, poverty will not be eradicated. What we need is a strong social policy which will ensure that we have [ an] equitable distribution of our resources”

Sister Stanislaus Kennedy.the-thinker

“Establish a basic standard of life and labour.. Once that is done, set the people free- get out of the way, and let them make the best of themselves, and win whatever prizes they can for their families and for their country.”

no-poverty-mdSir Winston Churchill.winston_churchill

Exploring “The Way”

Film Review: The Way

By Brendan O’ Regan.

As I am both a fan of Michael Sheen and of the Camino fan I had high expectations for “The Way”  and I wasn’t disappointed. The plot explores a damaged father- son relationship and is set against the background of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.compostela_map Martin Sheen plays the father, while his son Emilio Estevez who plays the son also wrote and directed the film. This was very much a family project as made clear in the many interviews that they gave when the film was released in 2010.51fmQay0u6L__SX500_

“The Way” is moving, challenging and thought provoking. It works well on many levels. The visuals are beautiful. We get to see many of the sights and landscapes along the pilgrims’ path. The excellent music, which includes an original score by Tyler Bates, and songs by James Taylor  and Alanis Morrisette, subtly enhances the mood of the film. But for all that, it is in character and theme that the film is most impressive. Gradually we get to know the character played by Sheen, and the various personalities he meets along the way, who include a kind Dutchman who is trying to loose weight, but who is too fond of pot, the somewhat clichéd figure  of a gregarious Irish author with writer’s block; and a young Canadian woman trying to give up smoking, but who also carries deeper scars. This is a strongly human film, and we feel for its characters.

SuperStock_1060-593The Pilgrimage motif and journey metaphor have always been powerful in both film and literature- the journey we take through life, the baggage we carry other than that in our back packs, the varying paths we take, and the people we journey with. But has the theme been overworked? Is there just too much of it? Estevez has the Irish writer (played by James Nesbitt ) revel in the “metaphor bonanza” and yet he wonders if he is being over fanciful – things may be themselves and no more than that. The Sheen character is an eye doctor, suggesting that the film may be about insight, or about how we see the world. Later the Canadian woman suggests that he is trying to help people see the world a little better, raising the question of whether Estevez is afraid we won’t get the symbolism. Or is he trying to forestall criticism of his use of metaphor?

Certainly this is a “religious film,” but I got the sense that Estevez may be uneasy with this – at one stage a minor character  says that the journey is not about religion at all. None of the characters makes any connection with God in any way, yet at the film is imbued with religion without being heavy handed. The Sheen character prays, although to begin with he doesn’t see the point. In a key scene the Canadian woman struggles with prayer. Churches and religious images abound, and there are at least two positive priest characters. Even going this far is unusual and welcome in a mainstream film.

There are some fine set piece scenes. Near the start a French policeman explains the nature of the pilgrimage ( when did you last see a religious cop in a film? ), and later, on the road, the travellers discuss the nature of the “true pilgrim”. There is a scene  at one point along the way in which tradition dictates that the pilgrims say a prayer at a particular monument. Among the interesting conversations a woman who has had an abortion wonders about her unborn baby – giving a subtle pro-life message. Most moving of all is scene where the pilgrims arrive at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella and are overcome with a sense of awe and wonder. So are we.

This, of course is not a perfect film. I regretted its ambiguous attitude to soft drugs, and it is not devoid of clichés; but “The Way”  is a warming celebration of human solidarity, which is sure to popularise the pilgrimage that it celebrates.1309360081_Camino-frances-day8

“Christianity’s Dangerous idea” by Alister McGrath

By Richard Miller

Just to hand is Alistair McGrath’s book “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, The Protestant Revolution, a history from the sixteenth century to the twenty first” [1. SPCK]  published as long ago as 2006 ( we always like to give you the very latest!).128756_imagno Obviously it is a bit “off topic” for us. But  equally clearly it is so  important a  work that I thought that it should at least be mentioned here if only briefly.

MacGrath’salister mcgrath judgement is not impeccable.  He crashes an important methodological fence in the introduction when he says that church history should explicitly be written in the light of later developments- which of course is a bad way to write the history of anything. ( Were we, for example, to write the history of the build up to The First World War in the light of the German defeat in 1918 it would be difficult to make sense  of the Kaiser’s actions in 1914. He thought he would win. We know he lost. )

I doubt also that McGrath  has properly understood the relationship between the Renaissance and the Reformation- which was probably much more complicated than he allows.

Despite these miss steps this is an a well written survey by an Irish born author which should be read widely. I’m not making any promises- blogging is like that – but I may well have more to say about this ( to me ) fascinating volume soon.


Let the Falcon fly!

By Laurence Ticehurst.

First the craziness in Washington!  Why is the Federal budget so out of control? Because the government is trying to do too much. One only has to set foot in the Federal Capital to realise that one has touched down on a planet where costs are borne by others._70201502_019498460 Of course American government agencies have the seediness that is inescapably associated with government operations elsewhere; but the fundamental extravagance of the operation is not in doubt as rush hour in either direction develops.

But it get worse than that; as the recent  events show the political process is no sure way to achieve anything. Government projects are inherently political, and they can only continue as long as a consensus to fund them continues. But such agreement is ultimately now dependent not so much even on the results of elections- but on what the focus groups are saying.Focus-Group And so what chance now for long term projects?

Contrast the scenes on Capitol Hill with the report from California of a private enterprise space launch which plans to explore the possibility of reusing the various stages of the rocket assembly to reduce costs. This time it didn’t work. But the company concerned thinks they have got the hang of it. And that next time.._70180885_photo

Why didn’t NASA think of that? And if they did why didn’t they do anything about it?

The answer to this at least is clear. Because the taxpayer is paying, and because as the very name suggests NASA is a political body- deeply embedded in the political process. Ultimately NASA is like the National Coalhe6a04-0354072-main board or even  closer to home The Turf Board. Both I don’t doubt in the short run comforting organisations to work for  but ultimately as insecure and fragile as the will of their masters.

If ever there was a long term project it is the creation of human xtrastructures beyond our planet. Deep space will probably forever remain beyond our reach. But there are commercial prospects in our solar system, for mining, for specialised manufacturing, and for tourism. Exploiting them presents huge challenges to our determination and our ingenuity. But are we more likely to overcome these through the tired machinery of politics and public administration, or by trusting the the human quest for profit, for adventure, and for renown?_70181419_70181418 Let the Falcon fly!