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Anglicana Vera
Make your perfect Anglican flower here.

Hallo again to all.

We don't get to the cinema very often these days, for a variety of uninteresting reasons. So it was some reluctance that we agreed to go with a friend and two ten-year-old twins to see an animated (okay, more correctly 'stop motion') movie. Now we'll admit there are some marvellous examples of that genre — Ratatouille and WALL-E come to mind — but we're old-fashioned enough to prefer humans to pixels and puppets.

Grumble grumble, we thought, as off we went, trying to remember what we knew, if anything, about the oddly-named movie Coraline. We recalled some rather frightening billboards that showed a young girl staring into a strangely lighted tunnel, with 'Be careful what you wish for' creepily written on the wall beside her. Oh no, not a pre-teen animated sort of horror film: it couldn't be that, surely.

Beyond the animation and the age-bracket, there were the, er, 3-D spectacles. The movie, we learnt in the lobby of the cinema, required nerdy looking plastic spectacles to be viewed properly. At least they weren't paper, like their predecessors in the 1950s. (We were grasping for any positive signs at this point.)

William Laud, that's who!
What do you look like with buttons?

So after too many trailers and too many twee switch-off-your-mobile-phone shorts, Coraline began. And indeed it began creepily, with a rag doll being disassembled by an unseen hand. After the first five minutes, we were entirely lost in what is one of the most compelling movies we've ever seen. It has overtones of Alice in Wonderland and it has undertones of . . . the Anglican Communion. And we're not straining for a simile. Start here, with a few sentences from the trailer:

Coraline Jones always dreamed of finding a better world. A world more exciting than this. Where everything is so good, it just can't be real.

We've certainly fallen prey to those dreams in our Anglican life. Who hasn't imagined that somewhere there is a parish where people are [more interesting more spiritual more educated more committed more involved more conservative more liberal] and the liturgy is, well, better. Or raise your hand if you've never pined for a diocese led by a better [more impassioned more empowered more intellectual more forthright more conservative more liberal more interesting] bishop. And what about our national churches? Who hasn't felt that they could be better if they weren't so . . . [your choice of adjectives here]?

Anglican Mice Postcard
Performing mice can spell anything you'd like.

In the movie, Coraline finds a sort of worm hole to a parallel world that's very much like her own, but much much better. All the difficulties and tension and dissatisfactions of her old life have vanished, her tedious mother and father have turned into perfect parents, and altogether the new world is so much more fun. On the surface, at least. But to stay in it forever, she must exchange her eyes — her ability to see, with all that 'seeing' means — for buttons.

Once Coraline refuses to play by the rules of the Perfect World — no buttons for her, thank you very much! — she realizes that having everything your way, perfect and pleasant and 'all about you', is very very dangerous. And she's right.

From Coraline's world to our own Anglican Communion is just a short tunnel. How many schisms — tiny fractures in parishes or huge tears in Christendom — have rent the fabric of Christianity, as people head off and out to found or find a more purified and perfect church? (Schism is worse than heresy, and we'll never be convinced otherwise.) Be careful what you wish for.

How many parishes are trapped in a static, unchanging, comfortable world with everything 'just the way we like it'? That's far easier than confronting, with courage and energy, the thorny tough challenges of being a parish in the twenty-first century. Let's pretend that we don't need to change: pass the buttons! Be careful what you wish for

How many troubles in our dioceses and in the Anglican Communion are more roiled because we should rather hold tight to caricatures of those who believe differently to us rather than actually talking with 'those others'? It's easier to fire intercontinental ballistic blogs rather than tediously, slowly, carefully, and lovingly converse. Don't make me see that my enemy is human. Bring on the buttons!

We'd never imagined that a book nominally written for young people and a movie targeted to them would have so much to say to us. The conflicts between dark and light, wilful ignorance and clarity of vision, damaging perfection and bracing reality — along with one amazing cat — made this children's movie a morality play that stays with us still.

I would buy me a perfect Island Home,
Sweet set in a southern sea,
And there I would build a paradise,
For the heart of my Lord and me.

I would plant me a perfect garden there,
The one that my dream soul knows,
And the years would flow as the petals grow
That flame to a perfect rose.

I would build me a perfect temple there
A shrine where my Christ might dwell.

* * * * * * * *

And then you would wake to behold your soul
Damned deep in a perfect Hell*.  

Let's pretend.

Let's not.

See you next week, with eyes wide open.

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Last updated: 3 May 2009

*GA Studdert Kennedy, from The Word and the Work (1926)


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