The (second) greatest story ever told

A Christmas CarolI only re-read one book every year (apart from the Bible). I have an audio version of A Christmas Carol and I listen to it every Christmas season without fail. It’s huge fun and it’s about repentance.  What more could you want?

It’s also interesting for two other reasons:

  1. It’s nearly perfect. For me A Christmas Carol is the textbook for popular storytelling. Everything opened up at the beginning is resolved at the end. Everything is vivid and passionate. The dramatic tension never stops, building like a symphony through scene after perfect scene to the final explosion and the shattering and remaking of Scrooge.
  2. It shows how a novelist can change culture. All of us in the West draw on this text when we think about Christmas. Dickens edited the world by scribbling stories. He’s a reminder of why people should write; in a story-dominated world, culture is jerked and pulled across the stage by the story-tellers. If you want Christmas to be about something other than snow and the wretched jingle of sleighbells-something like a gleeful, subversive transformation of an old sinner–write a book.

My novel Paradise isn’t about Christmas. But it is subversive and is supposed to be funny.  A recent Amazon review from someone who described herself as an “extremely liberal atheist” was kind enough to say “Truly excellent! … I can’t wait to read his next work.” Which was nice. Courtesy of internet bookshops, I’ve been able to make Paradise a free download. Happy Christmas.

 

12 rules for giving to charity

It’s an art, and a science, and a gift.

Feeding birds

  1. Give. It’s just good.  Even if you haven’t much money. Even if you’re not sure it’s being spent well. It’s a way of saying ‘thanks, I’m alive’. It’s about being human — not just a recipient, not just a barely-manager, a giver. One tenth of our income is a principle that many have found life-giving, not as a rule, but as an opportunity or an aspiration, even if we are very poor or on benefits.
  2. Don’t be stupid. There is a bit of a line here. It’s not automatically stupid to give most or all of your possessions away sometimes. But I don’t think giving should be pushing you into debt, and shouldn’t make you dependent on others, and you need to look after your loved ones. Wise advice might help here, clear your head.
  3. Even in debt, you can give something. Giving away money, even just your 10%, might not be wise in those circumstances. But you can still give something–practical help maybe, a smile, a meal, whatever-and your generous heart will help heal both your struggles and the other person’s.
  4. Get organizations to give. Your company; your sports club; your church; your nation. You have a voice here, however small. Argue for generosity and humanity. It isn’t all about us.
  5. Plan most of your giving. Find some causes you like and believe in, and give to them steadily, year after year. It doesn’t have to be much, or showy. Just get stuck in. Do it at the beginning of the month or the end of the week, before the cash drains from you.
  6. Index-link your giving. If your income goes up, so can your giving. If it goes down, so can your giving.
  7. Get good value. It isn’t enough for a charity to have a heart-rending appeal. How efficient are they? What do they spend their money on? How much do they pay their chief executive? Do they mention that in their publicity? Charities range from fine to terrible. Orphanages, for example, aren’t brilliant. They are easy to set up in some countries, can be unaccountable, aren’t necessarily full of orphans and at the worst can be places of abuse. Our responsibility doesn’t end if we give to a charity just because it’s a charity. We have to think about value, or give to things we trust.
  8. Keep some money aside for spontaneous, one-off, gifts. Some kid you know wants sponsoring. Somebody’s rattling a tin in your face for some good cause.  Not your cause, not really your kid. Still, you’d be pretty hard-hearted if you didn’t set aside something for this kind of thing.
  9. Review every so often. Maybe other causes have caught your eye. Maybe your interests have changed. Maybe one of your current recipients doesn’t seem to be spending its money so well any more. Move on. Keep it fresh.
  10. Beware creating dependency in the people the charity is for. Are your gifts helping people grow, making them more like you, or are they dooming them always to be the needy person while you are the generous benefactor? None of this is easy and many charities struggle with it internally. But we have to try. (This is also why I don’t give money to homeless people on the streets in the UK.)
  11. Beware of creating dependency in the charities themselves. Don’t respond to charity appeals. Honestly. Or hardly ever. It just encourages charities to make more appeals. They become dependent on sending out ever more gruesome descriptions of need, a race to the bottom. Don’t let them do it to you. Give steadily, regularly, whether or not there’s been an earthquake. There’ll be another one tomorrow.
  12. Be a bit light-hearted. Giving is beautiful, as beautiful as great art or great science. Unlike art and science, however, it’s within the reach of all of us. It’s a kind of gift.

Free offer on my book ‘More than Bananas’

I’m delighted to have got my book  ‘More than Bananas: How the Christian faith works for me and the Universe’ listed as free on the Amazon kindle store and the iBookstore.

This enables loads of people to download it. If they like it, to sign up for my non-fiction mailing list.

Prof Sir Colin Humphreys FRS of Cambridge Uni, someone to whom I sent a copy, said, ‘Your book is wonderful! I do hope that it is very widely read

I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, coming out of a lot of thinking — science, faith, meaning– some of it while in hospital coming out of a coma. Please help yourself, and give to your friends. And/or any enemies.

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