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Film reviews: Cowboy and Preacher, and A Christmas Gift from Bob the Cat

27 November 2020

Stephen Brown sees two new films

Tri Robinson in the documentary Cowboy and Preacher

Tri Robinson in the documentary Cowboy and Preacher

YOU may not consider it remarkable that a farmer in Idaho is also a pas­sionate environmentalist, but it is. Cowboy and Preacher: The life and times of Tri Robinson (given online a 13+ recommendation) investigates why.

A conservative Evangelical strug­gles to persuade like-minded Chris­tians to take creation-care seriously. The award-winning filmmaker Will Fraser is also Director of Music at St Peter’s, Vauxhall. He starts the film saying, “As a Christian, I believe we have an individual duty to protect the life of this world. What baffles me is that many Christians doubt the importance of protecting what has been given.”

Seeking inspiration on how to pursue this, he visits Tri Robinson at his homestead. Robinson is also founding pastor of the local branch of the 2000-strong Vineyard Chris­tian Fellowship. For decades, Robin­son has been challenging the reli­gious Right to become by con­viction and action eco-advocates. Why their resistance, asks Fraser. Robinson believes that conservative Evangel­icals associate green issues with liberal policies on issues such as abortion. He considers the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade adjudica­tion, endorsing a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose a termi­nation, the turning point.

Subsequently, Christians of Robin­­son’s variety perceived envi­r­on­mentalism as symptomatic of lib­eral decadence. It is clear that Robin­son is a good man, and one who has accepted Jesus as his per­sonal Saviour. He is dismissive, though, of his earlier Protestant affiliation, trotting out the old jibe that going to church doesn’t makes one a Chris­tian any more than spending time in a garage turns you into a car. It’s a false analogy. Cars aren’t senti­ent creatures. Hu­­man beings are.

Tri Robinson interviewed by Will Fraser

That aside, his exegesis of key biblical texts can hardly be faulted. Beginning with the Flood Narrative of Genesis 9 he reminds Fraser that God’s covenant is with all creation, not just people. Unusually for the Bible, God repeats this seven times, ramming home the point. Invoking Jeremiah, Robinson says if we fail to heed that creation matters, we’ll experience our equivalent of Baby­lon.

Unfortunately, such apocalyptic warnings don’t necessarily impress Christians who await the Rapture. We can eat, drink, and be merry, even if that involves deforestation, oppression of the poor, animal abuse, chemical pollution, etc. What will be will be, they say. Robinson, whose view of the New Testament’s parousia comprises the physical appearance of Christ in a Second Coming, fears that such greedy Christians will be swept away as among the ungodly.

He and his wife, Nancy, have made their home as eco-friendly as possible. He tells Fraser that it took six months to preach a creation-care sermon. A plan of action was needed to accompany his sermon. It’s no good bemoaning a situation, he asserts, if you don’t give people oppor­tunities to do something about it. This included recycling pro­grammes and work with forestry authorities. Robinson needn’t have worried. He received a standing ovation.

Fraser’s outwardly mild-mannered questioning helps us and him to get to the heart of the matter. Entering into the biblical language favoured by Robinson, if we’re to avoid the fire next time, we need to act now — in Idaho, Vauxhall, or wherever we live.

On DVD and digitally through Amazon and Vimeo.


THE film A Christmas Gift from Bob the Cat (Cert. 12A) follows up A Street Cat Named Bob. On the basis of that bestselling book, we are spend­­­­ing time again with James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) and pet.

The movie, under the heading “The Ghost of Christmas Past”, mainly takes place a year before the opening scenes. At that stage, the pair are in shelter accommoda­tion, busking hardly keeping them sup­plied with gas, electricity, and food. His regular spots have religious con­notations — St Paul’s, Covent Garden, or the Angel tube station.

Luke Treadaway as James Bowen with Bob in A Christmas Gift from Bob the Cat

In a Dives and Lazarus moment, poverty-stricken Bowen witnesses an affluent couple pampering their cat. “It’s a Tale of Two Kitties,” he re­­marks to Bob. That may be so, but he’s not without people caring about him. James is befriended by Kristina Tonteri-Young’s character, Bea, who supports former methadone-users. She presents a Christmas tree decor­ated with mes­sages of hope. One that we see, key to the plot, is “The angels are all around us if we just know where to look.”

She is one of them. As they have been thus cued in, we (if not neces­sarily Bowen) are looking out for God’s messengers and the love-song that they bring. They are not hard to find. Moody (Phaldut Sharma), a local convenience-store owner, tells quasi-parables like the one about sacks and pilgrims which touches Bowen’s heart. Then, there is the woman whose gifts regularly bring comfort and joy to both man and beast. Accidental encounters en­­gender reciprocal new mercies. In deal­ing with some of them, James is deeply suspicious — animal-welfare officials, beggars, etc. He realises that he is entertaining angels unawares.

This feel-good Christmas movie is clearly intended to raise our lock­down spirits, by and large succeed­ing. It is a fine line, but Treadaway puts enough pathos into the role without wallowing in mawkishness. When labelled a sanctimonious mem­ber of the God Squad, he dis­arms his accuser by telling the story of his time in hell. What saved him was meeting a stray ginger cat. A Big Issue-seller reminds Bowen, just when he needs it, that looking after someone gives you purpose. To paraphrase Jonathan Wittenberg’s book about his dog, it’s a case of Things James’ Cat Has Taught Him About Being A Better Human.

It takes Moody, a Hindu, to quote the New Testament. We reap what we sow, he explains. Bestowing love on any creature sometimes involves letting go and letting God. Bea tells him that Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling. Nevertheless, we are treated to festive references. I could, perhaps, have done without gently falling snow descending as a benison on all God’s people when a television chef presents Bob and Bowen with a Christmas hamper. “She’s an angel!” someone cries; but so are all the other unacknowledged members of a heavenly host.

There may not be an overt pres­enta­tion of what the incarnation is, but there is evidence galore that the Word becomes flesh in many in­­dividuals, including Bob.

Now on digital platforms and from 30 November also on DVD.

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