Friday roundup: Five things worth paying attention to this week

As you begin this weekend, here are some interesting things to consider:

  1. Always with Us? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor by Liz Theoharis is an important book for our time. Theoharis argues that the Bible and our faith demand that we “join and support a necessary and growing social movement to end poverty.” She shows that “the poor you will always have with you” is actually one of the strongest statements of the biblical mandate to end poverty. This book will likely be on my “best books of 2017” list.
  2. Summer is a time when some people try to catch up on their fiction reading. Although I think any time is a good time to read fiction, if you’re looking for good reading, try Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels. I read the first one, My Brilliant Friend, last year, and I just finished Book Two, The Story of a New Name, in which Ferrante (a pseudonym of an Italian writer) continues the story of two girls, Lila and Elena, the narrator, and their life growing up in a poorer neighborhood of Naples, Italy. The story quickly draws you in makes you care about each character, but Ferrante is especially good at unveiling the experiences of girls and women in a machismo society (the novel is set in the early 1960s). In her novel The Days of Abandonment, she writes: “To write clearly is to speak from the depths of the maternal womb.” We all need to listen to that speech.
  3. Netflix and other streaming services let us catch up on films we may have missed in the theater or that never came to where we live. I saw a couple of good recent films in the last week or so. One is A Man Called Ove, a Swedish comedy-drama that was nominated for best foreign-language film at this year’s Academy Awards. The title character is a 59-year-old widower who is mourning the death of his wife, Sonja, six months earlier. He is a curmudgeon who polices his townhouse neighborhood to keep things in order. In flashbacks, which often occur when he’s attempting suicide, we learn about the deaths of his mother when he was a young boy and his father when Ove was a young man. We also learn of his meeting and falling in love with Sonja. Things begin changing when Parvaneh, an Iranian immigrant, moves in across the street with her Swedish husband and two young children and befriends Ove. This heartwarming film will bring a lump to your throat.
  4. Son of Saul is a Hungarian film that won the 2016 Academy Award for best foreign-language film. It tells the harrowing story of Saul Auslander, a Jewish-Hungarian prisoner at Auschwitz in October 1944, who is in the Sonderkommando unit. These men must salvage the valuables from the clothing of those who are killed in the gas chambers, then drag the bodies away and scrub the floors. One day he sees a boy he recognizes who miraculously survives the gas chambers. A Nazi doctor suffocates him. Saul becomes obsessed with keeping the body and finding a rabbi to say Kaddish, a Jewish prayer. One striking element of the film is how the camera stays close to Saul throughout. We experience things from his point of view, and there is no escape. The film draws us into the horror of the story and to Saul’s desperate attempt to retrieve his humanity.
  5. June 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’m old enough to remember when this came out, and I enjoyed listening to it. But I learned later how innovative and influential it was in popular music. (Rolling Stone named it “the greatest album of all time.”) The Beatles and their ingenious producer George Martin used recording techniques that were new and painstaking then. They also incorporated many genres of music into their original songs, whose lyrics drew on childhood memories, items from the newspaper, everyday life, while having fun and expressing a hopefulness we all could use.

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