This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Saturday round-up: Five things worth paying attention to this week

Gordon Houser is Editor of The Mennonite magazine. 

Academy Award (or Oscar) nominations came out this week. I recorded my own top 10 films of 2016 at last Friday.

Other things worth paying attention to include:

1. Last week, I saw Hidden Figures, nominated for Best Picture by the Academy (though not in my top 10). This film tells the true story of a team of African-American women who provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. Here’s an inspiring piece of history not taught in schools (at least I never encountered it). It’s no easy task to dramatize people solving mathematical problems, but this feel-good film pulls it off. It also shows the pervasive racism in Virginia (though it wasn’t only in Virginia) in the early 1960s.

2. I also saw Silence, not a feel-good film but nevertheless worth seeing. It’s a faithful adaptation of Shûsaku Endô’s outstanding novel (see below) from 1966 about Jesuit priests suffering for their faith in 17th-century Japan, where Christianity is outlawed. The film is long and at times harrowing, and it raises difficult questions about Christian faith. It’s that rare film that questions simplistic, victorious faith and delves into the depths of God’s mysterious silence and suffering with us.

3. I read Silence, Endô’s novel, back in the late 1970s, and it was a powerful experience. Like Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I’d read earlier, it challenged my comfortable theology and made me consider the place of doubt and suffering and how God relates to that. Endô was a Japanese Christian who wrestled with what Christian faith means in the Japanese context. The novel is well-worth reading and would make a good book for discussion. You may also want to check out his nonfiction Life of Jesus, which incorporates novelistic elements.

4. Continuing with the theme of silence, another good book is Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality by J. Brent Bill. Originally published in 2005, it was reissued by Eerdmans last year in a new edition. Bill is unapologetically Quaker and tells us much about Quaker spirituality, but his thoughts on the practice of silence are very helpful. And he doesn’t romanticize it. “Spiritual silence,” he writes, “is a scalpel. It slices our souls open. It cuts through layers of our fears and insecurities and our reliance on ourselves instead of God.” Bill is an engaging writer and invites more than preaches.

5. As part of a research project I’ve been listening to the All Time Greatest Blues Songs and reading a biography of Muddy Waters (Can’t Be Satisfied). Perhaps no music is more honest and in touch with the human experience of suffering in its myriad forms than the blues. I’m learning much while feeling the music.

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