Friday roundup: Five things worth paying attention to this week

Here are five things worth paying attention to this week. These are designed to expose you to a perspective you may not normally come across in your daily lives.

1. The Absent Christ: An Anabaptist Theology of the Empty Tomb by Justin Heinzekehr. This challenging book explores the implications of Christ’s absence and applies this to political theology, environmental ethics and nonviolence. Employing insights from process thought, Heinzekehr warns against letting one’s metaphysics “uphold and mask systems of domination.” He writes, “God does not impose an order on the world but provides the impulse toward creative, relational community.” This is not an easy read but is well worth pursuing.

2. Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli. This intriguing book is one of my five best books of 2019. Mexican-born Luiselli combines fiction and nonfiction in this account of a cross-country road trip by a couple whose marriage is faltering and their two children. The nameless Mama and Papa are sound documentarians pursuing their own projects, while the man’s 10-year-old son, called “the boy,” and the woman’s 5-year-old daughter, called “the girl,” are key characters with their own narrated sections. Luiselli uses various narrative techniques to unveil the suffering and heartbreak of people, particularly children, seeking to cross the U.S.-Mexico border just to survive.

3. The Work, directed by Jairus McLeary. This powerful documentary came out in 2017, but I only recently watched it. In Folsom State Prison, convicts meet weekly for intensive group therapy. Twice a year, they invite members of the public to join them for a four-day session. The film follows three men as they join inmates in taking turns to delve deeply into their past wounds. Rather than preach a message, the film simply captures the raw emotion of these men as they confront hurts often related to having absent or abusive fathers. Watching it moved me to think about my own experiences and feel the pain of these men. A note at the end says these sessions have been going on for 17 years, and in that time 40 of the participants have been released from prison. None of them has returned.

4. 63 Up, directed by Michael Apted. In 1964, Apted made 7 Up, a documentary looking at the lives of 14 British children from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Every seven years, he has returned to catch up with each individual and ask questions about their lives (some have dropped out, not wanting to be filmed). The series is organized by the statement, “Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man.” I’ve watched every film and recently saw this most recent one. The films have led me to reflect over the span of my life and the encroachment of mortality, and I imagine they will do the same for others.

5. “Selective Hearing: On the Specious New History Podcasts” by Hugh Eakin. This article in the February issue of Harper’s points to the increasing popularity of podcasts and notes that many, while based on actual events, aren’t always truthful. And there is little or no accountability in the industry. Many podcasts get facts wrong, plagiarize or misrepresent situations by emphasizing extravagant connections between the distant past and our own era. Eakin concludes the article with this warning: “As long as Big Podcasting is allowed to flourish in the digital Wild West—beyond the remit of informed criticism—we listen to them at our peril.”

Gordon Houser is editor of The Mennonite.

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