Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Counting the Cost of the Anglican Crisis: Rubbish?

I'm just back from finally going to see The King's Speech. It is a great film - excellent performances, direction, cinematography, and writing.  But what I want to write about was something that for me jumped right off the screen.  Though it was presented as being within the time of the Coronation of George VI, it was in fact not so. 

One could recognize who were the sympathetic characters and who were not in The King's Speech. The sympathetic characters were those who displayed on the Duke of York, as in his wife Elizabeth, and his public challenges with a stutter. Those who were unsympathetic showed a lack of compassion for the man and instead displayed their own desire to get him fixed so he can do his job - or remind him that he can't do the job because he could not be eloquent in public.

The Archbishop of Canterbury does not fare well in this film. He is portrayed by one of my all-time favorite actors, the now-knighted Sir Derek Jacobi. By casting him in this role, it was clear the role was taken seriously, but the person of the archbishop was not. He consistently was more concerned by how things looked, then cared for the man, Bertie.

That being said, the scene that caught my attention was when Lionel Logue, portrayed brilliantly by the acclaimed actor Geoffrey Rush, is rehearsing King George VI in preparation for his coronation. By Lionel's assistance on equality (also a sign of the 21st century breaking through), they have formed an unconventional friendship of trust.  They are practicing his responses to the questions he will be asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury. They go through the secular aspects of the service, but in the film when the reach the section having to do with the sacred oaths he takes, Lionel skips over it, saying yadayadayada for that section of the text and and calling it rubbish.

I was astonished - not only because the sacred aspect of the service was called rubbish, but that I haven't heard or read commentary about it the comment. I sat there in the dark theatre thinking, now why did the screenwriter do that? It was presented almost humorously, but we are not told what section is being castigated as rubbish.

The 21st century broke through the film in that moment. Certainly as Hitler was preparing his march across Europe and England would soon go to war, the hope of God's call and assistance on this particular man in this particular time was acute. It was not a moment for rubbish.

But today the position of the Church of England and it's subsidiaries in the Anglican Communion are humorously dismissed in a major film that is positioned to garnish even more acclaim and recognition at the upcoming Academy Awards. It is all now rubbish.

And friends, I think that rather then pointing fingers at the film, the film is merely reflecting, even projecting what is the view of the church in the culture.

Here is the section of the Coronation from the text of King George VI's daughter, Queen Elizabeth II that apparently remains the same for each coronation:
Madam, is your Majesty willing to take the Oath?

And the Queen answering,
I am willing,

The Archbishop shall minister these questions; and the Queen, having a book in her hands, shall answer each question severally as follows:

Archbishop: Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?

Queen: I solemnly promise so to do.

Archbishop: Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?

Queen: I will.

Archbishop: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel?

Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?

Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?

And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?

Queen: All this I promise to do.

Now an argument can be made that it serves this particular story that this section having to do with the King's position with the Church should be overlooked, but to take it a step further and call this section by the most sympathetic person in the film, after the King himself, rubbish speaks volumes as to how the Church and these vows are viewed.  The moment is played for a laugh.

It indeed, most ironically, it is a sobering moment in the film. It is this moment I think we should perhaps take seriously as we contemplate the next steps in facing the crisis in the Church of England, in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion and how the church is viewed by today's generation. Are projected well-meaning actions on all sides now seen by the very people we wish to reach as being nothing more than rubbish?  Is the church's authority, as Canterbury is presented in this film and the commentary by Lionel Logue, now merely irrelevant?

Today the Anglican Communion Office announced that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been re-elected to serve on the Primates Standing Committee. This is not surprising since she was present at the meeting Ireland and those who may have put forward other candidates were not there, and not without good reason. That Bishop Schori will now also have to face the Archbishop of the Sudan, who was also elected to represent the African provinces, at future meetings is heartening.  His witness has been far far from rubbish - it has proved to be essential.  His appointment to the Primates Standing Committee It will no doubt mean that the future Primates Standing Committee meetings will look quite different from the ones Bishop Schori has all ready attended (in fact, she will miss the first meeting after Ireland since it conflicts with an Episcopal House of Bishop's meeting). If the last Lambeth meeting in Canterbury in 2008 is any indication, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul does not and will not mince words or actions in confronting the Episcopal Church, as he and the Bishops of the Sudan did at Lambeth 2008 much to the surprise of the Episcopal Church that spent two weeks attempting to lobby the bishops of that province into accommodation and silence.

What then makes the church relevant?  How is that communicated effectively, accurately, and transparently.  As we look forward, it is not  a sobering moment to reckon that the perception so far of the Anglican Church may be viewed - as it is in this film or those who see the film - not as a struggle over truth, over compassion, over scripture, over revelation - but rather that it is now viewed by this generation as rubbish?  Are the solemn oaths the monarch takes now so easily dismissed as pointless?  And is the Archbishop of Canterbury assumed to be an irrelevant and unsympathetic character out of touch with the true needs of not only a king, but his people?

Rubbish did not unite the British people to resist a vicious dictator marching across Europe. And rubbish will not bring good news to a generation seeking meaning and community and love.  We are not so different from those men and women in the late 1930s - the need for hope in the face of fear is still as important today as it was then.  It is the theme of this film and juxtapose that against Lionel's dismissal of the sacred should cause any of us to pause - at least I hope so.


Anonymous said...

"We are not so different from those men and women in the late 1930s - the need for hope in the face of fear is still as important today as it was then."

And today, there is still a need for leaders with solid connection to reality, the common good and the truth of God according to the Scriptures and the common mind of the centuries.
Instead, we have leaders in both church and government promoting an unhealthy and unholy sexual agenda and practices, promiscuity, homosex, abortion, euthanasia - sin - the consequence of which are sickness and death - temporal and eternal death.

Unknown said...

Yeah, well, that's true - but the point is we are sharing Good News - and according to this film it's not coming across as very good. You want to say that to someone's face - you think they want to know Jesus? I doubt it - but listen to them, really listen to them so they know they are heard, and the Holy Spirit will come and do a powerful work not just in them, but in us all.

That's what happens in the Alpha Course - it's about hospitality and listening and breaking bread and crying together, laughing together, sharing together, and meeting the Risen Jesus - we need to put our pointing fingers back in our pockets.


Anonymous said...

Interesting insight,BB, and well worth mentioning. I wonder, however, if the writing of that scene may not have reflected Mr. Logue's rather unconventional personality, more than being a jarring 21st Century intrusion. I put that as a question to those who might know more about him than I do. If it turns out that Logue was a CofE stalwart, then you really are on to something. As portrayed in the film, however, one gets the impression that Logue was quite the iconoclastic eccentric, and may have been so in his religious views.

I lost traction with the post when you changed gears to present day personalities.


ettu said...

I agree with film representing - providing an insight into present day sociology - and applaud your exposition of this point.
Since you morphed the film into KJS representing the Americas I will take this as an opportunity to point out the irony of KJS officially representing the Southern Cone in this body.
As to her coming up against those who speak their mind plainly and mince no words, just let me say that she is no wimp in speaking her mind - and, yes, I have heard her in person.

Kevin said...

"And friends, I think that rather then pointing fingers at the film, the film is merely reflecting, even projecting what is the view of the church in the culture."

As one who regularly deals with the non-Believers, I'd say this is accurate. Granted, one can not point a finger at just one side without having to take a deep & honest look at one's own house. Tragically the culture sees both the lack of believe of substance on one side and the hypocrisy of others.

Anonymous said...

Since the "rubbish" comment appears not to have been in context with the persona developed for Logue, I'll assume it is the view of the screenwriter. I'll therefore skip seeing the movie...

Dale Matson said...

Can someone verify if the next King of England will have the title "Defender of the Faiths"?

Anonymous said...

Anon 1023 - why do you conclude that it was not in the context of developing the Logue character?


Anonymous said...

There are a number of elements of the coronation service that were not portrayed in the movie and which were not shown. Do you have any evidence that Mr. Logue was some type of devout believer? I haven't read anything to indicate he was. In fact, what I did read online (admittedly, not a secure source) seems like he might very well have viewed the religious aspects of the nation's leader to truly be rubbish. I think you might be trying to find fault where one doesn't actually exist. One of the dangers of the internet is it gives everyone a blog to spout off things that need not be heard or expressed.

Also, you have a frequent tendency to use the words "all ready" when you should be using the word "already." The two might sound the same but are quite different in their purpose.

Dale Matson said...

"One of the dangers of the internet is it gives everyone a blog to spout off things that need not be heard or expressed." It also allows for criticisms like yours in the comments section. This is her home and we are all her guests.