Fighting Trump with two ‘F’ words

Awesome thoughts by a Durhamite in Cambridge.

King's Debates

Hannah Wilkinson is in her third year at King’s, studying history. She is President of Unicef on Campus Cambridge and runs a women’s Christian Ministry. She enjoys following American politics as well as feeding a love of coffee. She hopes also to pursue post-graduate study in the US next year. As a proud Christian and feminist, she writes that two key ‘F’ words – Feminism and Faith – are central to her rejection of Trumpism.

On the 20th January the President elect, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. This is a man who rose to power while stepping on minorities and standing on a platform of sickening racism and sexism. Over 3,660 miles away, women and allies will take to the streets of Washington DC in what is set to be one of the biggest demonstrations in US history, the day after the…

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#ECG2016 Report Day 1

ECG2016 began with a bang on Tuesday night with an evening Celebration with the the Revd Elaine Lindridge as our preacher. The theme this year is Authentic. The Evening Celebration was followed up with a number of late night fringe events, from a music set, to a film night.   Wednesday morning began with a communion service, all age worship, and a seminar at 9.00. This was followed by Bible studies in 2 streams at 11.  Youth and children’s sessions began at 10.30.  One Day 1 we explored the theme of Authentic Living. One of the real encouragements this year is that ECG has attracted the largest number of Children and young people in its 9 year history. 

After lunch the seminars began. RT Kendall led the first of three daily seminars on Authentic Preaching. The first of three daily seminars from Fresh Expressions was also launched. Jazz Community Church shared in their experiences. We also had seminars from MET (Methodist Evangelicals Together), exploring Art & Spirituality, whilst the young people led an enthusiastic game of Rounders on the BeachWednesday’s Evening Celebration had RT Kendall as its preacher, as part of an inspirational evening of worship. His challenging sermon on Authentic Praying built on what we had already heard the previous evening.  The late night fringe had three sessions: An evening with RT Kendall, and 2 music sessions, one led by Jazz Community Church, and one of ECG’s in house bands led by Sam Taylor. In between all of these sessions were the impromptu conversations, renewing of friendships, opportunities for laughter, visits to the bars and cafes of Sarborough. 

By the end of Wednesday night we were feeling a little tired but mightily encouraged. 

Roll on Thursday….

Happy Valentine’s Day

I had a conversation this morning after church.  The woman I was chatting to over coffee mentioned that she had thought about whether she should buy a Valentine’s day card for her husband. She decided that she would and so last night she wrote up the card whilst he wasn’t looking.

Her plan was to put it on the door mat so it would look like it had been posted through the letterbox. So whilst hubby was in the shower this morning she crept downstairs and opened the porch door to put her card on the mat.

When she got there she discovered her husband had already got there ahead of her. There was a crimson card and rose waiting for her on the doormat.  They have been married for 50 years.Valentine imageValentine’s Day has an interesting status, doesn’t it?  It’s a highly commercialised day where those who are in the greetings card/florist/dirty weekend/restaurant business look to make a killing over this weekend.

It’s viewed as a day for those who are courting, those who are secret admirers, those who are dating.  It can be a bit sickly sweet too.  Lots of people get engaged this weekend and  make grandiose gestures, that may not get followed up for the rest of the year.

So what about those like us, married for nearly 20 years and together for longer?  Surely mature and sensible Christian couples like us should  be above days like Valentine’s Day, mostly promoted by companies like Hallmark, for obvious reasons.

Happy-Valentines-Day-Image-7Actually, not so much…

My wife and I have always marked and celebrated Valentine’s day in our marriage. We don’t  make a huge deal of it, but we usually exchange small gifts and in some other way mark the day, perhaps going out for a meal, or having a romantic evening at home.

The reality is, that we have enough of a challenge as a married couple, finding time and space to be attentive to our marriage relationship.  So a day dedicated to romantic love, whether or not highly commercialised, is nonetheless a gift. Never look a gift horse in the mouth (whatever that means….).

Love within a marriage can be a challenging thing. After the initial romance and excitement fades into the background comes the hard work of building a relationship between two  imperfect and often self centred people who are (hopefully) learning to be less so as the years go by.Carlene & TommyIn our marriage we are definitely a case of opposites attract.  We are pretty different at most points of comparison.  Obviously we share some similarities: Christian faith, music, singing and a cultural heritage are the obvious ones, alongside a recognition that God lives in the Caribbean.  (We’ve since discovered that God also maintains a second residence in the North East of England….).

However, beyond that core of similarities we tend to occupy opposite ends of whatever spectrum there is.  In Myers Briggs terms it’s Introvert v Extrovert, Thinking v Feeling, Judging v Perceiving.

I’m grateful that I’m married to a vivacious, generous, opinionated, beautiful, and incredibly large hearted woman.  However, what I don’t have is a woman who is like me in obvious ways. This makes for an interesting life and marriage; it means that we often complement each other.

But let’s be real here; it also means that we disagree on all sorts of things.  A Lot…031814-b-real-relationships-angry-couple-talking-argument-fighting-relationship-unhappy-communicationBut disagreement, even argument, is not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it can be  very constructive.  A chance to get stuff off your chest and out there, opportunity to vent frustration and anger. Opportunity for lots of misunderstanding.

Open disagreement and argument are usually much more healthy in the long term than internalising it all. Moreover, once you’ve had the big argument there is opportunity for making up and reconciliation. I’m fully persuaded that make-up sex is almost certainly a sure sign of God’s grace…..

Far more damaging than disagreement or argument, I suggest, is disappointment.

When you have behaved in ways that disappoints your spouse, when you see in their eyes that unspoken but evident disappointment because you have not lived up to your own ideals, never mind any one else’s, that’s when you have hit a low moment in your relationship.angry-coupleIf you’ve been with someone for a couple of decades, I imagine that you’ve experienced that at least once, and it’s not a great moment.

It seems to me however, that this what Christian love is about.  My wife is not perfect. My job is not love the woman I wish she was, the woman that she will one day become. Nor is my job to mould her into the woman i think she should be.  Rather, my job is to love her as she is, despite her imperfections.

Fortunately, my wife does not have to negotiate that challenge, because I am, of course, perfect. I am also always right….  Whenever we have a disagreement it is naturally never my fault. In this universe, pigs also fly…..  happy-face-black-and-white-8672606839_9fc935a1e5_z

The reality is that it is only in the face of imperfection that we discover the true depths of love.  If the object of our love really were perfect, we would not truly discover what love is.  They are perfect, so what’s not to love?we-fell-in-love-despite-our-differences-and-something-rare-and-beautiful-was-created-quote-1

It’s when we are confronted, as we all are, with someone who is not perfect, someone whose habits are sometimes irksome, with whose decisions we regularly disagree, whose perspective on life is quite different from our own; it is only then that we discover what it means truly to love.

When we get there we discover that this is in fact that love is, Love despite.

Rather than offering love only in response to attractive qualities, Love Despite offers love even in the face of unattractive qualities. DESPITE your flaws I love, DESPITE your betrayal I love, DESPITE your petty jealousy I love, DESPITE the fact that I am very angry with you right now I love, DESPITE legitimate reasons not to love, I love anyway.

Love Despite, unconditional love, is the love that parents have for an unborn child. No parent says if my unborn child is beautiful, well behaved and healthy then I will love them but if they aren’t I won’t. Parents take one look at their newly born child and love them, despite sleepless nights, snotty noses, and nappy changes.bd45146856a7a30523a4597072231d55The child doesn’t need to do anything to earn or deserve love; we love them unconditionally, even when they drive us to the brink of exhaustion.

This Love Despite is also the love we discover in the God who loves us unconditionally, whether we are good or bad, religious or agnostic or atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu.

This unconditional love is the basis of marriage vows: better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health. Most married couples I know spend their marriage trying to learn what it means to Love Despite. In other words, we spend our marriage trying to live up to the promises we made at the beginning.

Love is, of course, more than a set of emotions, it is also a choice, in many cases, a daily choice, to love. It is to act in love, sometimes despite our emotions.

It seems to me that this is what days like Valentine’s Day offer to us, particularly those whose marriage relationships are getting long in the tooth. It’s a free pass, permission to be attentive to our relationship.  Most of us need it.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

The Problem of Being a Perfectionist

My name is Calvin and I’m a perfectionist…..

Alcoholics have their support networks, Alcoholics Anonymous perhaps being the best known and loved. When will the time come when perfectionists develop their own? Perhaps we could call it Problematic Perfectionists? Problem is, could such a network ever be good enough for perfectionists?

It’s pretty well known that living with a perfectionist can be problematic. Whatever you do is never quite good enough, or you live constantly with what Alexander Pope famously described as ‘damned with faint praise.’

Damn with Faint Praise – Alexander Pope (1734)

I recall over a decade ago that I preached a cracking sermon. (I may have preached one since but I’m not sure….) It’s the only time that I’ve experienced my sermon interrupted by a congregation breaking into spontaneous applause. So I recognised it was a well-received sermon and over the next few days people who had been in the service told me so.

However, it was only when one of my brothers, who happened to be present, said that it was a good sermon (he had to be encouraged to say this to me, though he had already said it to others) that I fully accepted that it was a good sermon. He’d heard me preach a few times previously and had been, shall we say less impressed….MLKIt meant a huge deal to me that he said it was a good sermon. Over the next day or two as I basked in the warm glow of my brother’s praise, I tried to work out why it was that it mattered to me so much that my brother thought it a great sermon, especially given that many others had already said as much to me.

It dawned on me that at least part of thew reason it mattered so much was the fact that this was the first time I could recall him paying me an unqualified compliment.

He’d certainly been complimentary before but the way I remember it, those compliments were always qualified:  “That was really good. However if you want to make it better what you could do is….”    “I like what you are doing there. One thing I think you could look at is….”   “I see what you are trying to do, and I think you are nearly there. The problem is….”

However, on this occasion there was no qualification. It was simply, “That was a good sermon.” Moreover, the fact that I learned that he was telling others that his brother had preached a good sermon meant that he was not simply being polite; he actually meant it.

My relationship with my brother began to improve after that. However, there was a lot of work to do, admittedly on both sides.

Perfectionists are  Incredibly Useful

Perfectionists I think often unjustly receive bad press. They are in fact really very useful to have around even if they can be difficult to live with. The harsh reality of the matter is this: I think the world is undoubtedly a better place because of perfectionists.

For example, if you use an iPhone be grateful that Steve Jobs, a well known and near insufferable perfectionist, existed and that his drive to improve Apple’s tech not only made iPhones better; it also required all competitor smartphones to up their game.steve-jobs-rip-1I suggest that the next time you have to go to the dentist you probably would prefer to go to a dentist who is a perfectionist than one who’s happy with ‘good enough.’ Similarly, should you ever require surgery you’d prefer the perfectionist. And whoever is in charge of safety in our nuclear power stations I desperately want them to be a perfectionist.

Perhaps what we need is a Myers Briggs personality test for those potentially disabled by perfectionist tendencies.

Perfectionists are useful precisely because they rarely satisfied with very good; for them ‘good enough’ is virtually considered an insult! And whilst excellent is, well, excellent, it is still not quite perfect, and therefore even excellent is often not quite good enough for some perfectionists. Indeed they closer they get to perfection, the more dissatisfied perfectionists can become with the status quo.

I remember many years ago scoring 98% for Greek test whilst in College (training for ministry!!). I was deeply frustrated and went off for a sulk for the next hour or two. It remains probably the highest mark I achieved in my entire academic career.

So why was I in a hump? Because it could have been a perfect score, my only opportunity to get one, and I messed it up by mistranslating a verb that I in fact knew well in the present tense rather than past tense. So I lost 2 marks. In summary, my issue was not that my score was 98%; rather it was that it could have been 100% and I had screwed it up.

The problem with being a perfectionist is….

And that, my friend, is the problem with being a perfectionist, in a nutshell. Perfectionists are cursed with an affliction which means that they don’t easily see the 98% that is right; because they can’t take their eyes off the 2% that’s wrong.perfectionistSo whilst ‘normal people’ would be busy celebrating the fact that they scored their highest ever test score, the perfectionist is silently cursing the fact that the final 2% has eluded them. And whilst it doesn’t matter to anyone else, and they know it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, it nonetheless matters to them.

It means that perfectionists sometimes can’t fully celebrate either their achievements or those of others around them because their eyes are immediately drawn to the comparatively minor imperfections rather than to the achievements themselves.

Self-aware perfectionists recognise that this is unacceptable behaviour and learn how to celebrate with others, or at least to look like they are. However they often never quite allow themselves the same privilege.

 ‘I wondered if I might be a perfectionist but concluded I’m not good enough to be one.’

I remember having a conversation some years ago with a gifted colleague who was talking about her failings and shortcomings but not about her successes. When I asked if she might be a perfectionist her response was classic: ‘I wondered if I might be a perfectionist but concluded I’m not good enough to be one.’

An ‘Autistic Spectrum’ of Perfectionists?

I reckon that perfectionists might be ranked on a scale, perhaps a bit like people on an autistic spectrum, or with varying degrees of dyslexia.finalperfectionistI rank myself comparatively low on the perfectionist scale. I recognise I am one but it’s not so out of control that I can’t quite function in normal society. And I am sufficiently self aware to I know that I need to moderate my behaviour. I also have people in my life who are prepared to mock my stupidity should I lose perspective.  Very helpful for regaining perspective…..

In contrast, my brother and the colleague who made that comment, I imagine might rank further along the scale than I am. And people like Steve Jobs I imagine aren’t even on the scale. They may well be beyond it. This is highly subjective, of course, and perhaps what we need is a Myers Briggs personality test for those potentially disabled by perfectionist tendencies.

My point is this: the world needs perfectionists. Their contribution to the wider society is to challenge us to raise our game, to aspire to do better and to be better, to improve performance and efficiency.

Perfectionists are cursed with an affliction which means that they don’t easily see the 98% that is right; because they can’t take their eyes off the 2% that’s wrong.

However, there is a high personal cost to them of being perfectionists, hence the problem. They so often struggle enjoy fully what they have now. They see the 2% wrong rather than the 98% right and feel an irrational and often unwelcome need to address what they see as a shortcoming in themselves and in others.

So if you have a perfectionist in your life who annoys you (don’t they all?) spare a thought for them. They are living with the problem of being a perfectionist.

Ideas for how to create an equivalent to Alcoholics Anonymous for Perfectionists on a postcard please….

Happy New Year.


Last September the Newcastle-upon-Tyne District of the Methodist Church adopted the Pray For A Change initiative, which would run over the coming connexional year in each of the 12 circuits which comprise the District.

The chosen day was the 20th day of each month and so all across the District on the 20th day, circuits and churches organised special prayer activities.  In addition, each circuit was assigned one month for which they would take particular responsibility for organising prayer in their communities.

Sometimes God appears lost in mist. Faith is trusting that God is there when we cannot see.

As the most recently formed circuit in the District, the North West Durham Circuit, was assigned the final month of the initiative, August.

Over the last 12 months or so local churches in the NW Durham Circuit have held local prayer events on the 20th day of the month but for the 20th of August a circuit prayer walk was organised. It would pass through each of the 16 communities in the circuit where there  was a Methodist Chapel.

The plan was to start at the Burnhope Chapel at 8am and conclude at the White le Head Chapel between 4 and 5pm.  Despite these two points being only about a 5 mile walk apart, the full journey around the circuit would take 26 miles (and about 4 hours longer than anticipated).IMG_2671So we began on schedule at Burnhope and the walk proceeded to Lanchester, Delves Lane, Consett, the Grove, Blackhill and  Medomsley, roughly the halfway point, where we stopped for lunch and rest.  By Medomsley we were about 2 hours behind schedule.

From Medomsley the walk proceeded to Bradley Cottages, Leadgate, Catchgate, Annfield Plain, Kyo Laws, South Moor, East Stanley, Tanfield Lea before the final uphill stretch to White le Head, where the walk reached its destination around 8.05pm.  Final prayers and refreshments meant that the prayer day finished about 8.30pm.IMG_2626It was an exhausting and at times excruciating day, but well worth the effort. It was a chance to meet and pray with other members of the circuit.  For newcomers like me, it was also a chance to visit churches in the circuit that I had not yet visited and to better appreciate the geography of the place.

That it was August meant that some children and young people could join the walk because they weren’t in school.IMG_2627Not everyone walked.  Some committed to walk either the first half or the latter half, to or from Medomsley.  Others joined us for parts of the journey.  Those not fit enough to walk, joined us at various stops in the chapels providing refreshments and joining in prayer at those moments.

Annfield Plain Chapel, with doors to the pulpit and communion rail open wide

Not all of the stops were at Chapels, nor did we enter each of the 16 Chapels.  On the first half up to Medomsley we went inside every Methodist Chapel on the route.  On the second half, though we continued to stop at every Chapel on the route, we went inside only 3 of them.  In other cases we stopped in the church yard and in one case stopped at the home of a member nearby and prayed on the street.

I learned a number of things yesterday.  I learned something of the geography of my circuit and of its people. And I learned just how beautiful the region is that I call home and how deep its history runs. But  I also began to understand better why some churches were built in communities so close to each other.

In a number of cases we have Chapels less than a mile apart.  The reasons for this are complex but stem from two primary issues in my view.  Some of these chapels were built in  an era when Methodism comprised of competing branches who would each build a chapel in the vicinity.  But they also come from an era and a part of the world in which there were competing mining villages, each of which desired its own chapel.  As a result, we have a legacy of more buildings than we need and located too closely together.IMG_2647However, that judgement is in part shaped by the fact that we normally drive to church. When I had to walk a mile uphill yesterday to get from one chapel to its next nearest one I suddenly understood that these chapels weren’t quite as close together when on foot as they appear when in a car. I am slightly less judgemental of my forbears today than I was 24 hours ago.

But I guess what I learned most about yesterday was to do with prayer.  I had never undertaken a prayer walk which had demanded such a high level of physical exertion.  It raised for me some interesting theological reflections on loving God with the heart, soul, mind, and strength.   IMG_2654I was also struck by the gender balance.  More males walked yesterday than females, in a church that is strongly female dominant.  We have some more thinking to do about how to engage men, too many of whom remain on the fringes of the church even when their wives are deeply engaged.

All in all, despite my various aches and pains today I am pleased that we undertook to Pray For A Change yesterday and to do so in a way that presented both physical and spiritual challenge.

Hats off to our Superintendent whose vision it was to attempt something slightly outrageous in prayer.IMG_2631

Now if anybody knows where I can get a foot massage get in touch….

#ECG2015 Part 3 – Worship

A big part of of ECG is the worship.  Each of the 4 venues has a a resident band and each session begins and ends with sung worship. Its’s high quality, contemporary and lively.  It includes moments of quiet but it has to be said that the default setting is loud. Wonderfully so.  The Theatre venue tends to be a bit quieter, a bit more gentle. 

Whatever your worship preferences there is something refreshing about worshipping with hundreds of others.  Most of us spend our Sundays worship in small congregations. The big gatherings at ECG offer an opportunity to worship in a very different context for a very different experience. 

Those who lead worship are an eclectic mix of professional musicians, local church worship leaders, gap year and university students, and singers.  Somehow it works, and works well.    

 The sung worship is but one element.  The Oasis is a prayer room that is available all week, and each venue has a prayer team who offer prayer support where needed and requested. People seek prayer for themselves and for their loved ones, for their local churches and the world. My experience this year has been that the worship has been powerfully moving. In the evening celebrations in particular, care has been taken to ensure that there is time for prayer ministry after each speaker. This has been hugely beneficial offering not only opportunity for people to respond to what they have heard, it has also provided a space for the Spirit to minister, and sometimes this has been independent of whatever the preacher may have said. 

Indeed, that has been one of the learning points for me this week. As a somewhat cerebral person I have great faith in the spoken word. I want to explain the scriptures to people and allow it to do its work. However, I was reminded powerfully this week that it is ultimately an encounter with the Spirit which is most critical, not necessarily what is said in the sermon. 

One of the big highlight this week has been the song Shine Jesus Shine. I haven’t sung it in years and we sang it only twice but I was reminded of just how powerful the lyrics are.  Shine Jesus Shine is in many ways a cliché of contemporary sung worship. And not without cause.  Nonetheless, this week, sung with gusto and purpose, it brought us to our knees before God.

For me a huge high point this week has been the quality, energy a dn passion of the worship, and in particular the sung worship.  I am aMethodist after all, singing is always going to be important!  One worship event even included inflatable wars. ECG2015 is now complete and we’ve booked for 2016. I suggest you do the same!

#ECG2015 Part 2 – Streams

ECG is centred around 4 streams of activities, 2 for children and young people and 2 for adults, each one located in a particular part of the Spa Scarborough. Adult activities happen in the Grand Hall and the Theatre.  Youth events are located in the Regency and the children’s work in the Vita Dome.  Around 1,000 people are spread across these four venues each day. 

The main adult event each day is a bible study series which is run in both the Grand Hall and the Theatre each morning and an evening celebration, also in both venues.  The morning bible studies are led by the same person across the week whilst the evening celebrations have a different speaker each evening. Bibles studies this year were led by Tom Greggs in the Grand Hall and by Katherine Stephens & Elaine Lindridge in The Theatre. Katherine and Elaine are Methodist ministers in the Newcastle District and Tom is Professor of Divinity at Aberdeen University. Both studies looked at Ephesisans 1-4 under the overarching theme of Together.

Each venue has a slightly different flavour and people choose a venue depending on their preferences and needs.  The Theatre is a smaller more intimate venue, more often interactive.  The Grand Hall is larger and thus less intimate.  For those who want to be anonymous, the Grand Hall, is a place to sit quietly in the balcony and soak up the worship and ministry.This year I spent most of my time in the bible studies led by Tom Greggs.  Tom is a Methodist local preacher and manages to combine great preaching capacity with excellent theological understanding and depth.  He is knowledgeable and profound, but perhaps more importantly passionate about the person of Jesus.  It was a really fantastic experience to engage with someone who is an internationally respected theologian of the highest order, but who was accessible without dumbing down the theology.  This is more difficult than it sounds.  

The Bible Study I attended in The Theatre was also excellent.  It was led by Katherine Stepehens and was rooted in the reali of circuit ministry. Some of the best use of multimedia I’ve seen in a talk.  Informative, funny, but packing a punch.However, whilst the bible studies have been brilliant, I have been most ministered to by the 5 evening celebrations this year.  These have been times of fantastic worship and powerful preaching, but even more importantly, there has been opportunity and openness to the moving of the Spirit.  On occasion it’s not been the preaching which has struck a chord, but a powerful sense of the ministry of the Spirit.

Not all who come to ECG are already Christians.  Some become Christians at the event. The ECG event on the Saturday afternoon took the form of a mission outreach event in Scarborough involving a world record breaking number of pipe cleaner figures. My guess is that most of us were drawn closer to Christ within a D&M as a resuto of this event.  This is Discipleship. The aim of ECG is to resource people who will go back to resource their local churches, circuits, parishes and communities. 

#ECG2015 Part 1 – Overview

This week we’ve been at ECG, the Christian Confernce and Festival which has a Methodist foundation, but these days reaches Christians from a wide range of backgrounds. 

If you’re not familiar with ECG it’s not echo cardio gram it’s Equipping, Calling, Going and is a successor to the popular Easter People Conference that ran for a number of years under the leadership of Rob Frost. 

ECG is in its 8th year now and is one of the church’s best kept secrets. For those in the know it is a place of refreshing and resourcing, a time of meeting up with friends, of captivating and inspiring worship and of gathering as a people of God from a wide range of churchmanship and denominational identity. It’s not just for adults either, the 11-18s have their own stream of activities as do primary school children.  So it’s for the whole family. 

  For those not in the know, and that’s too many people, ECG passes them by.  That’s a shame because I think this is one of the best Christian Conferences around.  Spring Harvest is better known, almost certainly, but I am not at all persuaded that it is offers any more than ECG.  

Unlike Spring Harvest ECG is not in a holiday village like Butlins, which means you can feel a little disconnected form the rest of the world.  ECG has been, for the  last few years at least, held at the Spa Scarborough with Conference delegates staying in local hotels or self catering facilities. It means that if you fancy dinner in a local restaurant or coffee in your local Costas that’s not a problem. Scarborough hotels are very low price, as is the cost of the Conferecne itself. 

ECG happens in the week of Easter and so the dates move around each year. ECG2016 runs from 29 March to 3 April 2016 at the Spa Scarborough under the theme Authentic – As the Maker Intended.   Put it in your diary now.  Plus if you book now you get the early bird price of only £80!  For more information see the ECG website

Dawn of The Planet of the Apes

We saw the film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes last night. I thought it was a great film, at multiple levels. Great cinematography, fab CGI, great musical score. However, far and away the best thing about it was a pretty gripping storyline.

If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. However, given that it is picking up an old franchise and the nada of the film you kind of know where it’s going.

What was great about the film is its portrayal of differing ways of dealing with conflict and the fight the right to exist. One of approach was to fight fire with fire, the sort of civil rights approach, rightly or wrongly, attributed to early Malcolm X: ‘ by any means necessary.’ The other was a more conciliatory approach, the sort, again rightly or wrongly, attributed to Martin Luther King. The inevitable friction between those approaches and their followers was interesting to see develop.

Another theme was that of the ways in which violence and brutalisation debases both the violators and the violated. One character, who literally bears the scars of systematic torture and brutalisation, is so wounded that he cannot see any other way of responding other than with brutality. Look out for Koba’s ‘human work’ references in the film to get an idea of what I mean.

But perhaps one of the most powerful themes was that of the alienating effect of a complete breakdown of trust. When that happens even those who have similar aims cannot trust each other sufficiently to work together. The inevitable outcome is conflict, out of which there seems to be no easy way.

The storyline makes it clear that there is no obvious and easy identification of who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Moreover, at various points in the story telling one’s sympathies rest first with humans and then with apes and then with particular humans and particular apes. No one is an evil person, but there are flawed people who make some understandable though bad decisions.

Sounds awfully like real life. Moreover, given the ongoing conflict in the Middle East , for example, it was an interesting reflection on how complex and intractable, and indeed dangerous, large scale and long lasting armed conflict can be.

It reminds us that questions of justice and god and evil are complex theological questions. Facile answers to these questions and indeed most other complex questions will almost always be wrong. Complex questions need wrestling with.

One interesting response to the film has been the accusation of racial profiling for the film’s primary villain, Koba. I’d heard about this accusation before seeing the film and had dismissed it as the rant of an angry black man. Having seen the film, I am not sure I agree that the film is guilty of racial profiling but I can see some why some would hold such a viewpoint.

What is clear is that Koba is set up to be more distinctively ‘other’ than Caesar. The former’s name sounds more foreign to English speaking audiences than the latter’s, and Koba speaks with a more obvious foreign accent, one that sounded vaguely African to me. Caesar, in contrast, sounds more like an American. Now whether that is racial profiling is another question. One could ask whether Hollywood’s penchant for casting Brits as villains is some form of profiling.

All I all I think Dawn is a great film, which will set you thinking. There are scenes of violence, which are to be expected given the film’s theme, so you might want to think about whether this is a film you want to see with the very young or the squeamish.

Go see it and drop me a comment on what you think.