Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace


This is a show created by covid-19. During lockdown the Buckingham Palace Picture Gallery is being ‘reserviced’ and its highlights are on show in The Queen’s Gallery. The individual paintings often come out for different thematic shows. This time around they’re being shown together. So, this is not a thematic show. It’s not about a great master painter, or an era or the taste of a collector or the bric à brac of the Family. It’s just excellent paintings from the great ages of Italian and Netherlandish painting. And freed from ideological constraints or any hook to catch the visitor the curators have written handy visual notes for the paintings which are very helpful guide to the viewer.

The first and smallest room is largely Flemish and Dutch works suited to a domestic setting. The second, middle sized room has the same provenance, but the pictures are generally larger. The final and largest room has pictures large enough for palaces and small pictures once hung in serried ranks. That was how the Palace’s Picture Gallery was hung when Nash redesigned the Palace for George IV and it’s a hang which only suits the largest and brashest works. 

As it is, even the first room is quite packed. Here there are excellent, typical seascapes by Van de Velde the Younger and landscapes by Jacob Van Ruisdael. There are earthy works by Dou, Steen and Maes. Again the quality is good if you like that kind of thing – Rembrandt did. And the more you look at Steen’s ‘Woman at her toilet’ the more bizarre if not erotic it becomes.      

And then there are two works by De Hooch, with sunlight bathed interiors and exteriors. At the centre of these works are bourgeois standing or sitting like characters on a stage, not posed but moving naturally as if stumbled on by the viewer. Between these two works is Vermeer’s ‘Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman.’ It would be enough to show this picture and nothing else. Proust wrote about a similar great work by Vermeer, his ‘View of Delft,’ before which his character the author Bergotte dies, looking at a patch of yellow paint. Proust was fascinated by the relationship between painting and writing – the easiest way to master his work without having to read it is through Eric Karpeles’ ‘Painting in Proust’ (supplemented by Anne Borrel’s ‘Cooking in Proust’). The artistry with which Vermeer made a white jug standing on a chest covered in a Turkey carpet is just what captivated Proust, and rightly so. 

Then there is Rembrandt. There are five Rembrandts in the show and they all repay serious looking. The least well known – ‘Man in an exotic costume’ – was painted more freely than the other works, possibly because its Jewish subject is a character study rather than a formal portrait. Nevertheless, Rembrandt has painted the man with his typical compassion for old age. The jewelled choker at the man’s neck shows Rembrandt’s signature bravura with hard, polished surfaces set against a dark, fabric background. It’s well worth getting to know.

Alongside Rembrandt there are works by Van Dyck and Rubens. The former’s ‘Thomas Kiligrew and Thomas, Lord Crofts (?)’, is a sensitive picture of aristocratic mourning. Quite how the grieving poet managed to stay so sensitive so long for the artist to capture him is not clear, but it is one of Van Dyck’s great works. By contrast the Rubens on show owe something to the artist’s workshop and his vast production of large canvasses. The pictures of ‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’ lack the charm and painterly finesse of equivalent pictures in the National Gallery and Wallace Collection. However, ‘Winter’ does have an unusually and powerfully limited palate and shows the filth and poverty of country living quite unsparingly. The Gallery notes do not refer to the bull mounting a heifer in the middle of ‘Summer.’

The range of the Italian pictures is as great as the Dutch and Flemings. On a simple viewing the Canalettos – views from St Mark’s Square – are wonderfully shabby chic without the high finish of some of his more workaday pieces. There’s also a Guido Reni of Cleopatra which perfectly illustrates the Italian fashion for painting beautiful, statuesque and rather bland women. Guercino’s ‘Libyan Sibyl’ is not dissimilar, if more modestly clothed. The rhythms and the colours of the two paintings are joyous – especially the tones of pink around Cleopatra. 

But on the day I went it was Parmigianino’s ‘Pallas Athene’ which was a revelation. At a little more than 2 ½ foot tall the picture is small. The figure is slightly elongated, but not as much as in the artist’s full Mannerist style. The paint is quite thin, especially in the tapering fingers. And the composition is a simple circular rhythm of greens and gold, broken up by the dark eyes of the goddess and by the shadows cast by the folds of her clothing. It is a fine, elegant play of paint and intellect. Proust would have approved.

Whilst it is unclear when this exhibition will reopen the website guide is a model of clarity and comprehensiveness.

Owen Higgs




The Saint and the Atheist:

Thomas Aquinas and Jean-Paul Sartre

Joseph Catalano

ISBN: 022671943X


A great deal of ink has been split on both Sartre and Aquinas. It is reasonable to see both men as titans of their respective fields, giants of the history of philosophy, to which any serious scholar must give at least some attention. Aquinas’ influence over Church philosophy is substantial – to the extent that I’ve gone so far as to claim that with a copy of the Summa Theologicae in one hand and a bit of common sense in the other, one could reasonably figure out the Vatican’s official view on any given issue. 

From a Church perspective, Sartre’s influence is much harder to pin down, but across the Channel in France, Jean-Paul is one of the key figures in 20th Century thought. Despite himself coming from rather privileged origins, Sartre’s influence extends to contemporary feminist and anti-racist theory (although, there’s some evidence that the influence he seems to have had on De Beauvoir was actually her influence on him; perhaps he never really understood The Second Sex). Sartre’s influence on people like Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Fanon – all those naughty post-modernists your catechist warned you about – cannot be overstated, even where they deviated from Sartrian orthodoxy.

Given that both men are so important in the history of philosophy, it is not surprising that they should be brought together. Indeed, Catalano is not the first individual to do so, with Étienne Gilson (another individual I’ve reviewed in New Directions; perhaps the hand of providence is at work here) noting in the middle of the 20th Century that both men draw a sharp contrast between existence (whether a thing is real) and essence (what kind of thing a thing is), and use this distinction to motivate their metaphysical doctrines. A niche, but surprisingly fecund, new philosophical field was unearthed.

One should, of course, never judge a book by its cover (especially a book like my copy, which was a pre-print review edition without a cover), but one can of course never help it. Perhaps this is to the good, as it allows more creative works of literature to surprise us, and sometimes that surprise can be what spurs us on to think more deeply. What surprised me is that this book is not a book that aims to introduce existential Thomism – a distinctly French take – to an English-speaking audience.

Philosophy books are rarely coy about their intentions; if I want to prove that tables are all a scam (presumably by Big Furniture; I no longer trust the moral integrity of IKEA), then there’s no point being sneaky about it because people need to follow my argument. Twists, a staple of fiction, are nothing more than an annoyance in philosophy.

And to be fair to Catalano, he’s very clear that he’s not doing any metaphysics here, but ethics, and more specifically the ethics of living honestly, a key feature of Sartre’s moral philosophy, for which any thinker with an insight into honesty is a potential ally. This isn’t a take I’ve previously encountered, and I can’t deny being surprised that I hadn’t come across it before.

Sadly, the surprise didn’t last very long. There are really two problems with this book. First, whilst Catalano reports that he wrote his PhD on Aquinas, he seems to have a pretty minimal grasp of Medieval philosophy. Whilst the Summa is cited pretty regularly, it’s really the only Medieval text cited, and for a book so focused on the existentialist concern about lived experience, the neglect of St. Thomas’ prayer life comes off a little odd. This book really really isn’t about Aquinas. Aquinas pops up now and again to drop an idea in, but then pops off pretty swiftly to make way for Sartre, who’s really the star of the show. This then leads to the second problem: the interpretation of Sartre is not particularly original.

A lack of originality in a philosophy book isn’t necessarily a problem; the aim isn’t always to shock the reader, sometimes it can be to clarify some poorly phrased idea of someone else. Certainly, if Catalano’s intention was really to write a book for the general public about Sartre, with occasional support from a relatively well-known thinker in Aquinas, then he’s done solid work. Given that this book is being sold now in my local Waterstones, I am inclined to think that this is what he is doing, in which case, more power to him.

I think the real oddity of this book is what the cover sold me. I was sold on a book about a saint and an atheist, placed in dialogue to find some deep, common human experience of honesty and dishonesty, to find some common ground that unites us humans in our suffering and in our joy. Perhaps even some commentary on their respective, divergent views on religion. But no. This is really a book about Sartre, about how Catalano understands Sartre, and what he wants us to get from Sartre. And quite frankly, I don’t know if Waterstones needs many more introductory books on Sartre.

Jack Allen 


Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class

Paul Embery

Polity Press, 2021


Paul Embery is a firefighter and trade unionist from Dagenham who has risen to prominence in journalism and social media.  A proponent of ‘Blue Labour’ communitarianism, he is a stern critic of the modern, Blair-inspired Labour party, whose meltdown at the 2019 Election he accurately predicted.  The modern left, he writes, offers an ‘unappealing blend of Lennon and Lenin’ (198); it is ‘too much Hampstead and not enough Hartlepool’ (174).  The Labour party ‘has become an organisation for social activists, students and middle-class urban liberals and progressives whose lives and priorities are usually very different from those of its one-time working-class base’ (p.136).  

Two particular issues have caused this disconnection.

First, there is the neuralgic, explosive hot potato of immigration.  Embery recalls his own family life in Dagenham: rooted, community-oriented and culturally homogeneous. ‘No one’, he writes, ‘was pandering to racists.  Most local people opposed completely the idea that some of their fellow humans should be treated less favourably on account of the colour of their skin’ (62).  However, very rapid immigration in the early twenty-first century led to huge pressure on public services, a sense of social dislocation, the consequent rise of the BNP, and massive flight out of the borough, not to mention the ill effects on the economies of countries such as Romania and Latvia, due to emigration from them.  Embery argues that Britain is, and should remain, a tolerant, welcoming country, but with modest and manageable numbers of immigrants.  He laments that debate about this is ‘painted in primary colours, when in reality there are many shades of grey and much room for nuance’ (92).

A second front is opened on what Embery describes as ‘a new national religion: Liberal Wokedom’.  Traditional Labour concerns such as housing, pay and employment have given way to identity politics in contemporary left-wing circles: ‘much of today’s Left seems interested less in fighting for “the class” and more in pursuing struggles according to the biological characteristics, sexual orientation or religion of a particular section of society’ (97).  In arguments with opponents, guilt is often presumed, offence easily and swiftly taken.  Rather than open debate with opposing positions, attempts are made – often successfully – to silence, demonise and delegitimise opposing views, backed up by increasingly repressive laws.

Embery argues that the way back for Labour lies in the rediscovery of the nation state, and a move away from globalisation, together with robust challenge to the overweening power of large corporations.  He commends a renewed patriotism, not based upon animosity towards outsiders nor British ‘exceptionalism’, but the common bonds of tradition and belonging.  

He also makes the case for a left-wing, redistributive economic programme, and emphasises the importance of vocational qualifications which provide meaningful work, rather than the necessity for all to have degrees.  And he contends for a welfare system that is relational rather than transactional, and which encourages work, self-reliance and family life, rather than a universal basic income which makes everybody dependents of the state.

How does Embery’s book speak to the current Church of England?  

While the modern Labour party may be an uneasy combination of working-class, provincial voters and middle-class metropolitan liberals, the Church of England lacks substantial rootedness in working class communities, and thus experiences a gravitational pull towards the latter part of this alliance – a fact that is particularly apparent in our current leadership.  There are also perhaps worrying signs that – although traditionally a broad church – our internal debate may be starting to share in some of the bad habits of the modern left that Embery highlights, such as those of seeking to no-platform, delegitimise and even criminalise views that diverge from liberal orthodoxy. 

Perhaps, then, Embery’s suggestion for a new direction in political discourse might also have lessons for the Church.  Working-class and many middle-class voters, he writes, ‘want politicians to start speaking the language of home, place, family, relationships, work and nation – concrete things that really matter to them – instead of hammering on about modish concepts such as “diversity”, ‘inclusivity” and “equality”’ (176).  Of course, Christian theology will leave none of these subjects untouched: all are transformed in the light of Christ, but they suggest a somewhat set of preoccupations to the ones to which we have become accustomed.

Paul Embery writes that ‘well-heeled liberals often see their nation as a shop whose main purpose is the transaction of business and whose inhabitants are mere customers, whereas working-class people are more inclined to see the nation as a home and their fellow citizens as family or housemates’ (90).  His book is dedicated to the people of the borough of Barking and Dagenham, whose motto is Dei gratia sumus quod sumus: ‘by the grace of God we are what we are’.  By a gift of God, which has been accentuated in the current and hopefully exceptional lockdown conditions, each of us is rooted in a particular place.  In the typology of David Goodhart, Anglicans are intrinsically ‘Somewheres’ rather than ‘Anywheres’, because it is in deeply within our self-understanding to be rooted in local, parochial and community life.  As a national Church, we have a particular vocation to point to the grace that is revealed by being what and where we are: an extension and instantiation of the ‘grace upon grace’ that was shown when the Word was made flesh and came to make his home with us, and ourselves into his family.

Edward Dowler


The Parables

(Biblical Exploration Series)

Paula Gooder

Canterbury Press. Paperback. 

240 pages. ISBN 978-1-78622-153-7


This book brims over with an enthusiastic, information-charged encounter with the parables of Jesus. ‘Encounter’ is a useful way of understanding how Gooder presents parables: ‘parables shift and change, inviting us to think new thoughts and to explore new avenues,’ ‘they are a little like jokes – are best not explained.’ Parables challenge us to see God, the world and human relationships in new ways. They provoke a process of learning and reflection – they are open ended. There are around fifty five parables forming the most vivid and best-remembered narratives and characters in Jesus’s ministry. They warrant serious and thorough study and reflection, and this book enables that.

The parables are divided into eight subject headings; this approach gathers parables with the same vocabulary and imagery into one group. That encourages in-depth exploration of both the context and the language used. These subjects are listed as: weeds and wheat – sowing and growing, vines, vineyards and fruit trees, fishing, houses and their occupants, buildings and their owners, families, slaves and masters, weddings and banquets, money, and six parables that don’t fit into these categories.

Each set of parables is subject to the same three hundred and sixty degree examination. First, the parable and its parallels in Matthew, Mark and Luke are given their context in each version. Secondly, the material of the parable is given explanation; for example, in the parable of the sower Gooder provides a summary of scholarly research into contemporary seed sowing practice. Thirdly, there is a detailed examination of the text with careful attention to ‘interesting words’ that unearths valuable insights in many of the parables. Fourthly, there is an exploration of various interpretations of the parable and finally the reader is provided with questions ‘to think about.’ It is a very thorough, detailed process but Gooder has the light conversational touch of a gifted teacher and communicator.

There will be very few readers who will not be fascinated and informed by much of the material set out in very clear and accessible way. There are some helpful discussions of subjects that can confuse many readers of the New Testament, including for example, Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees (page 97). For some readers the comparison of context, purpose and meaning of the same parable in different Gospels will be breaking new ground for their appreciation and understanding of the New Testament. Gooder is very confident in presenting some thorny issues to the reader, such as the nature of the Kingdom, Judgement and relationships between Jew and Gentile. The whole approach of the book is a pastoral one, providing a thoughtful and challenging introduction to the parables in a way that enables an individual or group to explore the impact of the parable in their own context. On several occasions Gooder raises the question as to how a parable might provide insight to church life now. 

This book is part of series of ‘explorations’; there is an assumption in the book that the explorer begins from a fairly developed faith perspective. There are parts of the book that begin to spill over into the language of devotion. For example ‘sometimes the journey can feel extremely precarious – dangerous even- but in the midst of this we are reminded that we are not alone on the journey. The one whom we follow loves us with a love beyond words and can be trusted to lead us where we need to go.’ (Page 78). Personally, I find this to be a very helpful and necessary approach to Bible study. Too often in the books on the Bible have been nearer to the dissecting table than to the altar.

I was surprised to discern something of a blind spot in the treatment of the parables about weddings and banquets. To my mind, and to those of a catholic mind set, the Bridegroom in the parables is Jesus. For some reason Gooder doesn’t see this. It just goes to show it is very difficult indeed to cover all the ground turned over by Jesus in the parables. Nevertheless, this book makes an superb resource both for private study and reflection and an excellent basis for a group study.  There is here some good seed on good soil – it will surely bear fruit that will last.

Andrew Hawes


Austin Farrer for Today, A Prophetic Agenda

Ed. Richard Harries, Stephen Platten

£24.00 ISBN: 978-0-334-05944-8


My word, SCM Press is doing Austin Farrer proud. Earlier this year, they published a collection of conference papers about him which I reviewed in these pages. Now they have produced a second volume, a collection of essays dealing with aspects of Farrer’s remarkably varied output. It is a well-presented volume, too, though a proof reader was dozing when they allowed Stephen Platten’s name to be misspelled in page headings to a whole chapter. The essays are a tougher diet than the earlier collection, but the authors have worked to write clearly on issues which can invite impenetrable academic density – sometimes even from Farrer.

At first sight, a potential buyer who already has the first volume might feel slightly short-changed, because some of the topics covered there are found again here, but the scope of this book is wider. Farrer on the hypothetical Q document appears once more, but accompanied by examinations of his use of Typology and the place of St Paul in his thinking. Farrer’s approach to the problem of evil is looked at again, but supported by considerations of his theism as a whole. Farrer the preacher has a place, of course, but alongside reflections on his Eucharistic theology. Then there are essays on his understanding of symbolism and revelation.

In collections such as this, where the standard of contributions is uniformly high, it is probably invidious to select particular essays for comment, but I will say that, for me, the chapter by Richard Harries on Atonement has the value of reminding us of Farrer’s robust attack on the Penal Substitution theory which still exercises a pernicious influence. Likewise, Margaret Yee’s exposition of the development of Farrer’s philosophical theology opens up a number of avenues for fruitful exploration, particularly in bringing clarification to the ongoing discussion about the relation of theology to science.

Some possibly surprising facts emerge from these essays. One is that Farrer, for all his deeply devotional spirit, possessed a naturally sceptical mind. It was the work of combining these with honesty and integrity which gave his thinking its distinctive quality. Another fact is that Farrer, though thoroughly orthodox in his convictions, had no hesitation in rejecting theological formulations which he thought did not stand up to legitimate critical scrutiny. (This bore no relation to the shallow iconoclasm which was fashionable with “progressive” religious pundits in the Nineteen Sixties.)

The subtitle for this book is A Prophetic Agenda. We may ask, therefore, in what direction might he point us away from the dreary confusion in which the Church of England presently exists, where theology and scholarship are side-lined, and managerialism and increasingly desperate “quick-fix” solutions to awkward problems are the order of the day? Well, he sets a shining example as someone who refused to dodge difficult issues, but who worked away at them until he had come to solutions or suggestions which he thought worthy of consideration.

Another important legacy of Farrer is his lesson on not being seduced by contemporary trends. As I said in my previous review, he was something of a maverick figure, who was not part of any scholarly or philosophical school. Some were irritated by his refusal to engage with the debates seething around him in Oxford philosophy and theology, but he resolutely ploughed his own furrow. It is this individuality which enables him to speak to the very different world we face, and to challenge too easy assumptions that “new is best”.

Farrer insists that critical and careful scriptural study is the proper way for Anglicans, a vital message at a time when fundamentalism has gained a disturbing toehold in some Church circles, just as he refuses to let excited emotion substitute for real thinking. (What would he make of the superficiality which encourages the vogue for ill-defined “mission”, and for “Church Plants”?) Furthermore, he will never allow theology to drift from its essential moorings in prayer and liturgical worship. (How refreshing it is to hear him saying forthrightly that without belief in Heaven as our goal, Christianity is nonsense.) And – we must certainly not overlook this – his irrepressible mischievous humour is a tonic at a time like this, when our Church and its leaders insist on taking themselves and their pronouncements with lamentable over-seriousness. Like any true prophet, Farrer tells us where we should to be looking for help if we would speak the Gospel today, and that we ought to be rooting ourselves in Scripture, Tradition and Reason in order to move forward and face creatively the practical challenges of contemporary Christian living.

A problem remains, though. If Farrer is to exercise a prophetic and beneficial influence in the Church of England, how is his work to be injected into our bloodstream? That is a question to which I do not have an answer. I fear that the people who need to read about Farrer will be the ones who will not buy this book.

Barry A. Orford


Reading and meditating on God’s holy word


Simon Walsh rounds up titles for Lent 2021


This year’s Lent reading necessarily must reflect a number of factors. There is the pandemic, and how we are coming through it. There is the practical dimension that not all congregations are able to gather as normal and many people are shielding. Discussion groups cannot meet in the usual way. And there is the physical, emotional — even spiritual — fatigue caused by a year of lockdowns and restrictions.

Stephen Cherry, Dean of King’s College Cambridge, wrote the Archbishop’s Lent Book in 2011 and here gives us another, in what was the annual Mowbray tradition. Thy Will Be Done (Bloomsbury, £9.99) is an extended reflection on the Lord’s Prayer. Six parts, each with six short chapters, it breaks down well for the season and brings some fresh insight to the Our Father. Though it tilts at the winds of trend in places (racial justice, ‘motherly Father’), he’s good on semantics around the ‘daily bread’ (epiousios) and ‘forgive us our sins’ clauses. The pandemic he helpfully explores as ‘more test than temptation’ and elsewhere we have an intertextual dialogue between Bart and Aquinas; Calvin gets a kicking too. It’s unlikely to become a spiritual classic like Fr Schmemann (who at least gets a mention) and the style at times comes across as preaching to unchurched undergraduates, but there is enough to hold the attention and it’s a worthwhile read.

Sam Wells is one of the most brilliant and original theological voices we have in the Church of England today. His A Cross in the Heart of God (Canterbury Press, £12.99) is a very rich and imaginative book on our relationship with the cross — and through it with God and Christ. Four discrete sections consider the cross in the Passion, Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels. Loyal readers will note familiar themes (his emphasis on the God of solidarity who is with, not for) and his OT fluency is illuminating and incisive as he maps the cross as motif and theme back through the Hebrew Scriptures. It also includes one of the best available discussions on atonement theories and their implications. Moreover, he writes with humility and a pastoral heart, inviting self-reflection which is further encouraged in a brief study guide at the back. This is a top pick and will deepen Good Friday theology everywhere, both now and for a long time to come.

Archbishop Welby has chosen Hannah Steele of St Mellitus College to pen his nominated title for Lent 2021. In the foreword to Living His Story (SPCK, £7.99), Cantuar explains ‘As Christians, we are called to relate to people’s experiences, to understand their hopes, dreams and interests, and see how it might point towards the kingdom God has prepared for us…that this extended period of wilderness during the coronavirus might give us an opportunity to reach out and understand others in their own wilderness, and to offer them welcome and acceptance in God’s family’. Steele lectures on evangelism and is clearly passionate about it. She writes of going on a first date with her husband to see the film Titanic and being moved to tears as the bodies fell into icy waters, cried all the way home, then spent a further two hours weeping and praying for ‘the lost, the least and the lawbreaker…God spoke to me about his heart for those who did not yet know him’. Overall it’s a wide-eyed and one-eyed narrative, soaked in evangelical culture. She speaks of the Missio Dei but not once explores it in a Catholic or sacramental context, and evangelism is not a natural Lent theme (as she seems to avow herself). Still, we shall need help getting people back into church at the end of all this so a revitalised look at evangelism has value.

Known locally as the London College of Bishops, diocesan Sarah Mullally has marshalled her episcopal team to produce Rooted in Love — Lent reflections on life in Christ (SPCK, £7.99). Five sections of eight short chapters consider service, calling and baptism, the body of Christ, Christ-likeness, and Christ-centred living. Each one concludes with a suggested action and prayer. Authors, including our own +Jonathan Fulham, are identified on the contents page but not chapter by chapter; the in-text anonymity makes for a few surprising revelations. Most of the writing is pithy, if at times a little quotidian. There is something for everyone and, like any curate’s egg-project of this type, has its moments. It is confusing to read one writer say ‘I was brought up a Christian’ then two pages later ‘I had been a Christian previously’. Collectively, it brings together personal experience with soft statements on social justice and a strong spine of Scripture. Noting how many people have found reading and routine difficult during lockdown, these 40 reflections could be just the ticket.

The York Courses format is tried and tested (booklet, recorded discussion on CD, transcript) and this Lent offers Caring for Creation (£3.10-£14.70), five sessions on the environment. Leading us in theology and ecclesiology through this are Dr Ruth Valerio (author of the ABC’s Lent book last year), Dr Dave Bookless, Lalbiakhlui Rokhum, and Dr David Clough. They are a mix of activist and academic, also ecumenical. The sessions are scholarly but not inaccessible, taking in climate change (and the original ‘global warming’ description), carbon reduction, plastics, meat eating, and a clear outline of ‘environmental justice’. It’s good to keep up the pressure on this strand of theology. An ideal resource for individuals or groups, although Zoom culture may call for future recordings to be audio-visual.

Manchester-based Rachel Mann has produced another Lent course on a film: Still Standing — based on the Elton John movie Rocketman (DLT, £6.99) follows her From Now On for Lent 2019 about The Greatest Showman. She has a lightness of touch and is comfortably conversant with a number of social themes including sexuality, gender, identity, racial justice, the environment. She brings in a host of sources and voices, reflects on the pandemic, is spiritually conscious and writes from a theological standpoint. It’s not necessary to have seen the film or watch the suggested segments as she describes them at the start of each of the five chapters, all quoting Sir Elton’s songs. This style will not suit everyone (a lot of good stuff is constrained by the format) but it’s perfect for students and young people. Anyone with a teenager in the house or engaged in youth ministry will find this invaluable.