Highlights for September

by

Photo/courtesy of A24
In ‘First Reformed,’ a pastor’s strained faith is tested
By Ken Valenti

The Rev. Ernst Toller’s struggle is a solitary one. The smattering of congregants who attend his church in upstate New York could hardly be called a flock. The 250-year-old Dutch Colonial building, once a stop on the Underground Railroad, is now known more as a tourists’ point of interest than a house of worship. Toller (Ethan Hawke) even gives the tours, and stoically weathers the odd bad joke.
In “First Reformed,” the film from writer-director Paul Schrader, Toller’s already strained faith is tested after a pregnant woman (Amanda Seyfried) asks him to meet with her husband, an environmentalist whose radicalism has become unsettling. We think of priests as spiritual guides who are available to counsel their congregants, not to take on their causes.

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The Rev. Les Jackson poses with some of the icons he has written. Another icon writer created the icon of St. Matthew, hanging on the wall, that belongs to his church. Photo/Melodie Woerman
Writing icons reveals the presence of God
By Melodie Woerman

Acrylic paint. A wooden board. Short brush strokes. More paint.
Those all help the Rev. Les Jackson, rector of St. Matthew’s, Newton, Kan., finish an icon of Jesus, Mary or one of the saints. But they are not what get him started.
It’s prayer. “To write an icon is to engage in prayer,” he said. “We make ourselves present to God.”
And breathing. “You breathe in God’s mercy and grace, and breathe out all the bad stuff.”
And creating. “Creating is what God did in the beginning and created us to do that, too.”
Icons are central in Eastern Orthodox practice but are less understood in Western Christianity, Jackson said.

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