More about the books

Things to do when you’ve missed your train at Kings Cross (part 1)

The British Library1.No, don’t go to platform 9 3/4 and watch the tourists photographing each other. Come out of the station, skip past St Pancras, and walk into the British Library.

2.Breathe deeply. Relax. It may look like a Young Offenders’ Institution, but this is an holy place.

3. Climb the broad stairs to the dimly-lit room where they keep their treasures.

4. Try not to get too excited.

5. Find the folio in which Handel hand-wrote the Hallelujah Chorus. It is open at the last page, the final, endless A-le-lu-ia, and you can see Handel’s spidery lines, his scribblings-out, his squashed semibreves, his desperate haste. This is not the forensically typeset version of the printed score. It is Handel’s own untidy and spontaneous penmanship.

(This is a photo of a facsimile, not the original, just in case you thought I’d done a bad thing.)Handel - in his own hand!

6. Reflect. Here’s what the all-knowing Internet says about Messiah:

In 1741, Handel composed Messiah and what we know now as the Hallelujah Chorus. While designing and composing Messiah, Handel was in debt and deeply depressed; however, the masterpiece was completed in a mere 24 days.

Despite his mental and financial state, the Hallelujah Chorus’s birth story is a glorious one. After Handel’s assistant called for him for a few moments, the assistant went to Handel’s work area because he received no response from Handel. Upon entering the room, the assistant saw tears emerge from Handel’s eyes. When the assistant asked why Handel was crying, Handel proclaimed, “I have seen the face of God.” 1

In front of Handel would have been the manuscript that’s now in front of you.

Here’s the internet again“Considering the immensity of the work and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.”

7. Reflect some more. Life wasn’t going well. But a gifted person, in the place God meant him to be, doing the thing God gifted him to do, met God, created something beautiful, and 275 years later, the world is still reverberating.

A problem with miracles

You just can’t rely on them…

beauvaisOn Ascension Day 1573, just after the congregation had filed out of the building, the cathedral tower at Beauvais in Northern France fell through the roof. A monument to mediaeval hubris (it was, for a few short years, the tallest building in Europe), it  has never been finished1. But because the tower fell just after church, nobody died. A miracle?

1755On All Saints’ Day 1755 the Great Lisbon Earthquake struck, while the churches and Lisbon cathedral were packed with worshippers. Thousands died. Meanwhile the non-churchgoers, picknicking or partying away from the city, survived the quake and also the following fire and tsunami.

Christians 1, Atheists 1.

 

Storytelling: In praise of World Book Day

This is to remind discouraged writers everywhere. All these are from flickr; thanks to their creators for making them available.
Reading Well

reading
reading time

Shared readingreading
Reading
Reading for my new born kid
Reading the newspaper in a saturday afternoon
CL Society 334: Walking and reading

Reading
Sunny reading
Reading a touristic guideReading III
"He who reads a lot and walk a lot, seen a lot and knows a lot."
That moment when you're reading a book...
Reading
Reading list
Reading at the demo 2

On not being sucked into the vortex of someone else’s urgency

Evangelists, and apostolic, entrepreneurial Christian types generally, seem to be the unsettling opposite of ‘slow mission.’ They dash about. The apostle Paul seemed always to be in a hurry.

Rush Hour at Guwahati Club, Guwahati

This can make the rest of us feel uneasy. These people are out evangelizing the world while we are digging allotments, playing games, visiting Aunts or watching cricket. Do they show up us slow mission types as wicked, lazy servants?

Here’s why that isn’t—or at least might not be—the case.

  1. Much of what is achieved in haste seems either to evaporate altogether or need re-doing more slowly.
  2. In my experience, some evangelists cut corners. They might be slapdash with relationships, or with money, or with the speed limits. Their evangelistic zeal is a kind of coverall to hide their character defects.
  3. God in any case has his ways of slowing evangelists down. Paul kept being put in jail, and arguably did his best work there, writing half the New Testament.
  4. Slow mission is not about laziness. When you follow your love and your passion, you work harder and for longer than when you work at anything else. Duty can take you a long way, but devotion will take you further. 
  5. Evangelists’ love and passion is in winning people. That’s their thing and their devotion. Wonderful.  But it shouldn’t–should it?– be foisted on the rest of us as if it were the final word in discipleship or obedience.

‘Chasing Slow’: great title, helpful book

Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten PathChasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title was irresistible and was happy to promote this book up my reading shelf. This was the first time I’d come across Erin Loechner who is evidently famous in lots of places for her interior design (in the sense of homes, rather than souls. Though she’s not bad on the interior design of souls either.). Here are the pluses and minuses for me:

The pluses:
* Beautifully designed and very often beautifully written
* A personal life-story, nevertheless it’s crafted well enough to connect her story with ours and is stimulating and thought-provoking.
*It’s an enjoyable, fresh, challenging read.

The minuses
*I found the beginning (?more about hope, ambition and dreams) more interesting than the latter half of the book (more about the challenges of rearing a toddler and for me a bit more been-there-done-that)
* It’s about a blogger reflecting on her blogging life, which as a blog itself contained a lot of reflecting on life. Shades of someone looking at herself looking at herself looking at herself in two facing mirrors. In this sense, it’s quite millennial in its enthusiastic self-analysis, but that’s refreshing for a boomer like me.
* There are some lovely aphorisms in the book, but I got a little worn down by the sheer mass of cutesy one-sentence solutions by the end.

I certainly don’t mean to be harsh. I liked this book, and its writer, a lot and will recommend it to others. Bit more cutting would have made the diamond shine brighter.

** I picked this book up for free as an Adavanced Review Copy. There was no obligation to write a review, still less a positive review, but it’s a good book. **

View all my reviews

At the smell of coffee

We Christians, especially us evangelicals, are very keen on programmes and courses. It sort-of suits our desire to package things. And we all of us like to receive pre-packaged things, whether it’s a ready meal or story. Life would be impossible without them, especially the Western consumer lifestyle.

I can’t help feeling something has been lost though.  This is God we are packaging, the Ultimately Unpackable. I suppose it’s good to always have something in the freezer that you can bring out when necessary, a gospel ready-meal, systematically covering the basics of Christian truth. A reader myself, I like a book, even though it’s a packaged summary, because it’s at least a start. (I’ve even written one for just that purpose.)

But the danger with a power-point-type presentation of the gospel is like every other power-point you’ve ever seen, it passes through the mind without ever being internalized. All the boxes are ticked, you’ve had the training, but in another way none of the boxes have been ticked. 

Jesus told stories which were totally incomplete accounts of the gospel. He probably had many reasons for this (not being stoned to death in a religious hothouse might have been one). But his stories are like the smell of coffee. They set you off on a hunt for the source.

Life is Short. Enjoy ur Coffee.

Does our love for the pre-packaged make us compartmentalized in  our thinking? Identikit in our practice? Unnatural in our growth? Interesting.

On why Atheists and Christians should be friends

And how mismatched are?)Here are some reasons:

1. We all have to share the planet and be good neighbours.

2. We all agree (I think) that humans are both wonderful and ‘born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.’ We disagree why. Is it because we are created good and fell from God (as the Christian account has it) or because our intelligence and reasoning skills sit atop a brain still programmed by (some) unhelpful routines that evolved millions of years ago? Is that even different? Either way, we have a shared space to explore celebrations and remedies.

3. We can enrich each other. I have to admit that Christians (with some notable exceptions like the Quakers and the Salvation Army) have not historically been the leading proponents of fighting for some things that are now commonly held as precious, such as gender equality. Christians tend to put up with things rather than upset them. Sometimes, radical, pioneering atheists force me to go back and ask fresh questions of the Bible. They challenge sloppy thinking. Which can only be good. Perhaps we Christians can return the favour, because I have to report that sometimes in my observation the champions of pure reason do trip on their own shoelaces, especially in the face of Christ.

4. I’d like to hear the best things that atheism has to offer; and like to offer the best things I know of Christ in return. So our debate is about our comparing our good points, more than dredging up our bad.

5. In all this, it is quite fun winding each other up. At least atheists are interested in God, which is more than I can say for most people in the West.

6. We can convert each other, which is a lot more possible in  a place of peaceful dialogue than trench warfare, lobbing chosen texts at each other. And this is a good thing, a free-market in ideas.

 

A book wot I wrote for atheists and Christians to enjoy.

Faith in the workplace: four pointers

Our worklife is another area that we can think of as something to do with Kingdom of God. (As I blogged here.) So:

  1. It’s about devotion to Christ. Work, like the rest of life, is something in the end that we do in front of an audience of One. That leads to the extra-mile contributions.
  2. It’s now and not yet. Some stuff at work will never be put right until the end of everything. But we can make a difference today.
  3. It’s internal and external. Our heart has to be right, not just our conduct. (The heart always spills over anyway.) It was said of the great reforming MP William Wilberforce that he kept on friendly terms even with his political enemies.  The Christian faith calls us to love our neighbours, enemies, brothers, even, therefore, the awkward so-and-sos at work. We can’t just politely hate them. That’s awkward, but ultimately productive.
  4. We come in weakness. Which implies patience, willingness to admit being wrong, persistence, gentleness. Not a doormat, but not a door-slammer either.

Storytelling 101: 6 marks of a beautiful book

Yesterday I finished the first draft of The Sump of Lost Dreams, the third book in my comic novel trilogy. A fantastic feeling after several years’ gestation.

The three books are about, in turn, the presence, the power, and the persistence of grace. These themes are stripped of all Christian language, deeply buried under layers of comedy and fantasy and nothing is brought to a conclusion. skinny latteThe books are supposed to be like the smell of coffee or fresh bread: fun in itself, and setting you off hunting for the source.

They’re part of ‘slow mission’ because (a) they’re  my ‘thing’ and  everybody’s ‘thing’ has to fit somewhere and (b) because we can’t live on bread alone; we need stories like we need protein.

Re-writing: a checklist

reading waterHere (for my reference mostly and because I’ve got to put it somewhere) is my checklist for when I come to re-write the first draft. It’s my best thoughts on what makes a fine novel.

  1. Premise. Does it drive the book? Are any parts of the book extraneous? Does the premise resonate though the book, even if is not stated explicitly? Is it moving? Does it move me?
  2. Background. Is it consistent? Accurate enough?  Does the chronology work? Do seasons pass? Special occasions happen?
  3. Plot. Is it believable? Organic? (one thing develops naturally from another)? Is it taut, pulling the reader along or does it go slack in places? Is it satisfyingly tied up or are there loose ends or dead ends? Does the tension in each scene rise and fall away like a wave?
  4. Characters. How well do I know them? Do they have distinctive voices? Do they change? What would strike the observer about them? Are they operating at full capacity? Are they struggling? Do they get somewhere?
  5. Texture. Is the dialogue funny, terse, unexpected? Is the writing unobtrusive? Do descriptions drag? Do the eyes skip over parts?
  6. Overall. Does it delight? Move the heart? Grip? Make people late for appointments? Force them buy it for others? Compete with Netflix and Sky Sports?

 

Slow mission: How to be complete and incomplete at the same time

Seed Blog

They are familiar words, ringing across at funeral services:

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

The seed is the perfect picture for the now-but-not-yet, complete-but-incomplete, slow-mission Kingdom in which we live.

Some seeds look wizened. Y0u bury them in the soil. They are inconsequential. But a plant has spent a whole summer and all its strength manufacturing them. And they are packed with life: as the old saying has it, you can count the seeds in the apple, but you can’t  begin to count the apples in the seed.

Seeds are complete but incomplete, fulfilled and unfulfilled, finished yet hardly started, old in one age, new in the next.

In Christian-world and Christian-speak I think that’s what we aspire to be. Wizened, inconsequential, easily forgotten; and at the same time, seasoned and refined by grace, fulfilled, and ready to carry all the good we’ve known into an unfolding future. We aren’t there yet, and we don’t get there except through death,  but even through death we don’t lose anything of importance; we carry it all. Everything sown here–every hope, every partial work, every tear–find a harvest there.

Nice thought.

[Jesus] also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’ (Mark 4:26-29)