Growing up in a pastor’s home brings with it all sorts of challenges and often our children are faced with expectations that are beyond those of any other kid their age. But imagine it was expected that (as a son anyway) you would not only choose to embrace your parents’ faith as your own, but that you would follow in their vocation.
That is the premise of a simply brilliant SBS series I have just finished watching. Ride Upon the Storm is a Danish series based around the life of the Krogh family. Johannes Krogh, a mid 50’s priest in the state church in Denmark is the central figure in the show and over the course of two seasons we are given an insight into the life of their family.
Johannes is a passionate man who seems to ‘believe’ the tenets of faith even if he struggles to put them into practice. His greatest flaw is his incendiary anger, flaring at the slightest issue and fighting dirty when he doesn’t get his way. He is a bully and a thug, but it isn’t who he wants to be. Add to this an element of philandering and a problem with alcohol and he becomes a very strong, but also very broken man – who in his own brokenness proceeds to destroy others.
The series opens with Johannes’ son, August wandering thru the family home and finding his grandfather praying passionately in tongues – not a Lutheran staple. He is confused and somewhat disturbed by this. Johann sees him peering into the room, grabs him and insists he ‘never speak of this’. It’s a family trait to never speak of hard things – which is why Johannes is so lost and why his family is in tatters around him. Early in episode 1 Johannes puts himself forward for the bishop’s role in his local area, only to be beaten by Monica. He is utterly devastated but again he will not speak of how he feels – he expresses it in other ways. As the series progresses and Johannes relationship with his sons implodes even further he even goes to the gym and pays a sparring partner to hit him ‘really hard – but not in the head’. He gets himself beaten up as a way of dealing with his anger and pain.
Spoiler alert – some of this may open the storyline up a little…
Johannes has two sons – August who decides to be an Army chaplain and Christian who cheats on his final university thesis and ends up quite lost. In a trip overseas Christian meets a Buddhist and he pursues Buddhism for a time much to Joannes disgust. August has the devastating experience of shooting an innocent woman in the heat of battle while overseas and he suffers dreadful PTSD (but he doesn’t speak of it or the killing). With all that baggage August finishes up pursuing a priesthood in one of the local churches where he finds himself questioning much of his faith, while Christian turns his Buddhist convictions into a profitable self help program – an irony he becomes aware of eventually.
The women in the show are victims of the inherited brokenness and their lives are destroyed by men who are unable to articulate their struggles and their darkness.
Alongside the family drama is the theme of how secularism is impacting on religion. The church Johannes serves is shrinking and those working in the church view their ‘jobs’ as just that – jobs. Johannes comments with disgust that ‘belief in God is no longer a prerequisite for entering ministry training. One of the disused church buildings in the area is put up for sale and despite strong and (very politically incorrect) protests from Johannes it is bought by Muslims. Although they too have their struggles with some of the Muslim characters clearly not buying into their faith as strongly as they may have previously. Christian’s homecoming after his ‘awakening’ thru Buddhism quickly translates into writing a book that sells well, that precipitates a company that specialises in self help and achieving your dreams. His Buddhist mentor observes and says words to the effect of ‘how very western of you – to take Buddhism and make it a commodity’.
Of course it is SBS so expect a lesbian affair between Johannes wife Elisabeth and another woman, as well as the question of how to manage gay marriage in a church context.
I loved this show for its gritty, realistic portrayal of a family destroyed by inherited expectations and generational demons. I appreciated the insight into how a ‘state’ run church functions and the shape of faith in the Scandanavian area. It wanes a little in the final few episodes but gets there in the end. If you don’t mind reading a TV show then give it a shot!
TBH I loathe any movie based on ‘faith’. The ‘christian’ films are always fake, based on what people thought should happen and the non-Christain ones always have an axe to grind while being incapable of understanding faith, QED this film.
But yes, pastors kids get a raw deal.