Nothing More and Nothing Less: A Lent course based on the film I, Daniel Blake, by Virginia Moffatt, November 2017. Darton, Longman & Todd, ISBN 978-0232533446, 128 pages. RRP £6.99 (paperback)
Virginia Moffatt’s new, lively and accessible book explores current social challenges in the light of Lenten practice through engagement with one of today’s most popular and controversial films.
The award-winning film I, Daniel Blake follows its protagonist through his heart attack and subsequent denials of employment or support allowance. Interwoven throughout is the story of his friend Katie, a single mother driven to food banks and prostitution, who delivers a final judgement at Daniel’s funeral. In the film, Katie reads out Daniel’s own words; despite his cruel travails he is “nothing more and nothing less” than a citizen like every other. The film is a stout defence of the dignity and equality of all humans, and a strong indictment of the injustice of inhumane benefit cuts. Opening with a message of support from the screenwriter of I Daniel Blake, the course sets out firstly to awaken sympathy, solidarity and active support for the practical building of God’s Kingdom, manifested here as greater social justice in Austerity Britain. Secondly, the course evokes parallels between Christ’s journey to Golgotha and Daniel Blake’s to the DWP office in which he eventually dies.
Each of the five preparatory weeks of Lent takes as its theme an aspect of the film that coincides with Christians’ journey to Holy Week. It starts with “Systems of Oppression” and the vision of God’s Kingdom found in the Beatitudes. The following section “Staying Human” dwells on Katie’s and Daniel’s friendship and love’s power to keep us afloat when we’re drowning. “Compassion in the Darkness’”suggests strongly that choosing not to become a Good Samaritan is tantamount to complicity in the original crime. “Fighting Back or Giving In?” illustrates Jesus’ call to non-violent resistance with some contemporary examples. Finally, “The Suffering Servant” reiterates the enduring mystery of Why Bad Things Happen To Good People, and it closes with a prayer for God’s comfort and strength in times of need.
Moffatt is a former CEO of think-tank Ekklesia, so it’s not altogether surprising that her Lent course should advocate transformative theological ideas and solutions. What was surprising to me, however, is that so much background is taken for granted: I could think at once of a dozen local parishioners who earnestly believe themselves to be ‘apolitical’ and whose eyes would glaze over at the first mention of East Timor. There is little here to convince those who are not already convinced. Having said that, the course provides a useful tool for non-specialists to structure conversations about faith, hope, truth and justice with sensitivity and purpose.
And there is the rub. With so much content shoehorned into a five-week course, it may be hard to avoid a merely superficial outcome. However, especially as the chapters zig-zag though the Old and New Testaments in a fairly random manner, readers may prefer to ignore the author’s imposition of a “Lent” structure and allow the course to unfold at a longer, slower pace.
It’s not just for Lent.
Dr Hellen Giblin-Jowett FRSA