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or other members of the congregation!
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Assimilate or go home: Notes from a failed
missionary on rediscovering faith (2016)
In June I went on retreat, to the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland. A beautiful and peaceful place, with breathtaking views, rocky beaches, and calming walks. The evening I arrived, I met the manager of the retreat centre, and after we'd finished the washing up, he quizzed me: ‘So what have you read recently that’s inspired you?’ I was stumped. For as long as I could remember – more months than I might wish to admit, I couldn’t recall reading anything like that at all. Sure, I’d read. I’d read loads – but always for a specific purpose. To help me write a sermon for church. To help me write a journal article at work.
But I couldn’t think of anything I’d read that provided a response to his question. I had plenty of excuses – I’m really busy, I’ve been helping my church since our vicar left… and so on.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I ordered (another) book, one I’d read about on Twitter. It arrived and I put it on my ‘find time to read’ pile. And last weekend, I picked it up, and started to read. It was delightful. It was more than delightful, it was inspiring. It expressed how I felt. So now I have my response – finally – here’s something I’ve read that’s inspired me.
The book is by DL Mayfield, a young American woman who grew up wanting to share the love of Jesus with others. Not just those around her, but those she didn’t know. And so she volunteered with a refugee community, she got to know them, she helped them with their problems – but she found that the closer she got, building relationships with this small, tired, forlorn community, exiled from Somalia, the more she learnt from them, about her faith, about God’s love, about what Jesus really meant. She chose to live among this desperately poor community, but every time she invited her Christian friends to connect with the refugees, she found that they were unable to cross the divide. She recognised how challenging it was, but somehow, she kept going, learning through failure, and gaining little of what she might previously have seen as success. No conversions. No transformations – except in her own heart.
This story has touched my heart in a way that I can’t explain. It reaches deep into the core of my soul, and fills me with a yearning to connect with others in the same way. It reminds me of the times – and I wish there had been more – when, before we moved house, I would visit my Muslim neighbour, Shahista, and we’d sit around chatting, playing with her children, and eating the delicacies she prepared in her tiny kitchen. Most Friday nights the doorbell would ring, and the scent of curry wafted in through the front door, another gift from our generous neighbour, sharing what she had.
DL Mayfield found that hospitality can be testing. It’s easy to give hospitality and share with our family and friends, with those we like. (Well, ok, maybe not always). But, she says, those in need will often demand our attention at an inconvenient time, stay longer than expected, and ask for more than we had bargained for.
Well worth a read...
Ruth Dowson, September 2016
Howard's End is on the Landing
by Susan Hill
Susan Hill was born in Scarborough in 1942 where she attended a convent school before the family to Coventry. An award winning author and a publisher, she is perhaps best known for her play 'The Woman in Black'. When she decided she would buy no more books until she had had a year of reading from home she embarked on a journey not only through her book shelves but also through her memories; her childhood, school and university days, and on through a lifetime passion for literature. If occasionally it reads a bit like name-dropping it is worth it for the anecdotes she has to tell of the authors she has known or met.
Any reader will find their favourite chapter. I especially enjoyed the one on poetry. I found that many of the works she was given to commit to memory (as a school punishment, can you believe!), I learnt for the pleasure of it. Like her I too have a headful of fragments of verse, and rather fear that one day, in some old folks home, I shall drive everyone to distraction with 'The Lady of Shallot' or Gray's Elergy.
Towards the end comes a chapter on books about faith with which I really identified. A life long member of the Church of England, Susan Hill, like many of us, is of a generation to have large chunks of the Book of Common Prayer in her head. She extols the value of The King James bible, both Old and New Testaments, not only for beautiful language but for what it has to teach about life. She quoted the writings of H.A. Williams too which I had set a lot of store by in my younger days, and posed the question 'Is what he wrote about Christian life devalued when you learn that later in life he lost his faith?' Indeed does what we know about a writer change the way we view their work?
This is a book which is easy to read and which will set you off on your own journey down memory lane. At the end Susan Hill chooses her top forty books. I must confess that some are only familiar to me through television adaptations. It is a list which challenged me with far too many books I have yet to read.
Kindling, June 2013
A Year of Doing Good
by Judith O'Reilly.
(Published by Penguin and available on E-books).
Reviewed by 'Kindling', March 2013
This the diary of one woman's attempt to keep her new year resolution – a record of 365 good deeds.
The title caught my eye whilst seeking some light holiday reading after hearing Reverend Beverley's sermon on taking up as well as giving up something for Lent.
A good Catholic wife, and mother of three young children, the author has many amusing anecdotes to tell as well as raising such questions as – Can I count it a good deed if I do it for my nearest and dearest, or if I am merely returning a favour? And what if the recipient rewards me with a nice bunch of flowers or box of chocolates? She quotes some serious scientific findings too of the benefits that accrue to habitual good deeders - mental, psychological and even physical, so that I began to wonder if there is such a thing as altruism at all.
Someone recording their good deeds and then turning it into a book, presumably for profit, could be thought anything but altruistic but there is no hint of self-serving or smugness here. The author comes across as a woman of great goodwill with a sense of humour, a bit zany perhaps and certainly fallible, but there is more about the desperate difficulties of the lives around her than there is about her own efforts to make the world a better place.
This is an uplifting light and easy read with plenty of laughs as well as much to admire in Judith Reilly's 365 good deeds.
POSTSCRIPT. My only problem with this book is that it made me question my own contribution to the general joy of the world. In the last few weeks I have undoubtedly received more good deeds than I have given. It seems to me that good-deedery comes as naturally as breathing to today's saints of All Saints and they just don't think about it, - support for my favourite charity, an arm offered to cross a frosty path, a feel-better-soon pot plant, a card of sympathy or an encouraging email, to list but a few. When I write my account of Forty Kindnesses for Lent, I fear it will be much easier to list those received than those given.
Love Life Live Lent
by Paula Gooder & Peter Babington
(Children's version also available).
Available from Church House Publishing.
Price (2013) £2.99
Reviewed by 'Tracto', March 2013
This colourful, pocket sized booklet with the tongue twisting title claims to help you "Be the change you want to see in the world". Its 46 pages contain a positive do something hint for each day of Lent. Suggestions such as, "Slow Down", "Be Still" and "Have More Fun" are followed by a quotation from scripture and practical tips on how you might achieve your goals such as "'Phone someone you love but haven't seen for a while" or "Find something you don't use and give it away" or "Tell someone you love them". There's even a tick box at the foot of each page so you can check your progress. To tick every single box by Easter would be quite an achievement - not one I will attain! You may surprise yourself in discovering many of the goals are things you already do routinely, other, apparently simple tasks, may turn out to be very tough challenges indeed. The hope is that your new habits, formed in Lent, will stretch out into your future life.
Love Life Live Lent is fun and I recommend it to you!
Slower than Butterflies/Talking with Hedgehogs
by Eddie Askew
Price: £5 on the TML site, but Amazon have them from 1p to £2.95.
Reviewed by 'Kindling', March 2013
I have had these two booklets and several similar publications for some years. You will find them on The Leprosy Mission (TLM) website. The two above are based on Eddie's Thoughts for the Day for Nottingham Radio to which he was a regular contributor. I have been re-visiting them for Lent.
Illustrated by his own wonderful watercolours and pastel paintings there is a page for each day with a biblical quotation at the top and a one -line prayer at the bottom. The preface tells us that just one minute and forty-five seconds was the time allocated for these broadcasts which is why, no doubt, these are such amazingly condensed mini-meditations. I am struck by the fact that one is two-thirds of the way down the page before amusing or interesting anecdote leads into some sound practical advice for a better, happier life. Perhaps I find them particularly pertinent because many focus on slowing down, and taking time to listen – something I still need to learn!
There many daily readings available, notably via The Bible Reading Fellowship, but none more accessible nor so beautifully illustrated than Eddie's.
Although he is no longer with us, this lovely Christian man can still be met in his writings.
A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN
by Patrick Gale
Published by Fourth Estate
Available in hardback, softback and on Kindle.
(Various prices from £10.87 to £2.49)
Reviewed by 'Kindling', April 2013
Ten years ago I joined one of Bradford Libraries reading groups
(of which more below) and this month we have been reading A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. It is a novel about the parish priest of two remote Cornish churches, and of the people his life touches, and those whose lives have shaped his own. It is a book about relationships, especially family relationships, and the nature of goodness, but I can say little more without giving away the plot. Indeed I would say avoid reading the reviews available on the web if you want to enjoy the twists and turns of this novel as the author intended. I will only add that I was surprised to find I enjoyed it so much because I had read one of Patrick Gale's books before and thought it well written but a bit like the plot for some TV soap!
This is the thing about Bradford Metro's reading groups – the books are chosen for us, two a month, and over the past ten years I have read many things I would not normally have chosen to read. The librarians' only brief is to provide novels written in the last ten years. Other groups I know of are friends who get together, meet in one another's homes, and make their own selections, but that of course involves having to buy the books. Bradford Library provide a dozen copies of each of two titles, and we have them for a month before they are passed to another library group.
I chose to join a group on the simple grounds that it met on a day convenient to me and not too far from Bingley, and I relish the fact that the dozen or so members are people most of whom I did not previously know and who have had different life experiences from my own. Each month a couple of us offer to write and read out a short précise and suggest topics raised by the books, which we might like to discuss during the hour we spend together. Just occasionally one of us will confess that we found a book too dense or too boring to finish but that happens surprisingly rarely. Through my book group I read 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' long after everyone else seemed to have read it, and 'The Life of Pi' before anyone I knew had even heard of it.
So if you are looking for something new to try and new people to meet in a comfortable setting, and all for free, I do warmly recommend joining a reading group.