A Million Little Ways

a million little ways  A Million Little Ways
by Emily P. Freeman

Sometimes a book wakes you up.  This was my experience reading Emily P. Freeman’s ‘A Million Little Ways’ subtitled, ‘Uncover the art you were made to live’.  It’s a book that touches a longing that’s hidden inside many but which can easily die at the hands of cynicism or mid-life fatigue.

Uncover the art you were made to live?  The child inside says, ‘I want to do that!’ and the adult replies ‘You’ll fail.  You won’t  manage it.  Give up.  You don’t  have the discipline or the talent or the courage’.  But as you read this book, you may find, as I did, that your heart lifts just a little bit.  Maybe I could get the paintbrush out again after all.

In her early chapter entitled ‘Desire’, Freeman put words to a feeling I’ve had countless times and am sure is shared by other Christians, particularly women:

I tend to assume if it’s something I really want, then it isn’t something I should be allowed to have.  Am I just being selfish? Greedy? Crazy?

Doesn’t that resonate?  If I’m drawn to play the piano or arrange flowers or redecorate the kitchen, aren’t I just wasting my time which could be better spent doing something more obviously servant-like?  Yes, scripture reminds us of the deceitfulness of our hearts (Jer 17:9), but Freeman dares to suggest a challenge which, rightly understood, we need to hear:

If we continue to live as though our hearts are desperately wicked, we have tragically misunderstood the work of Christ.

She invites the reader, as God does, to move with the rhythm of His Holy Spirit so that ‘maybe we don’t have to be so suspicious of desire’.

Pursuing desire is only toxic when we demand our desires be satisfied on our terms and in our timing.  As recipients of the new heart of the Spirit, our deepest desire, when honestly realised, will always lead us to God [who has] left room for creativity, innovation, and personality.  He left room in his creation for desire.

The reader is encouraged to ‘explore with abandon those things that make you come alive’ trusting that we’ll never be truly satisfied by reaching after secondary things.

There are frank sections dealing with discouragement as an artist; how to respond to the critic without and within and knowing how to recognise the pernicious drive of self-glorification but always with the balancing and biblical reminder that ‘You are God’s art’ (cf Eph 2:10) made in His image and being remade in the likeness of Christ.

Freeman recognises artistic possibility in countless ways.  It’s not just painters and writers and musicians that make art. Roadsweepers and mothers and bankers too can live out with  wholeheartedness and thankfulness the person God has made them to be to the Father’s greater glory.

I haven’t written any reviews for a couple of months.  I started telling myself that there wasn’t any point.  Everyone writes a blog these days.  ‘Vanity publishing’ I think it’s called.  Who wants to be accused of being vain?  There’s the point.   I am not to write for the opinion of any reader out there, nor because I’m any good at it, nor because it’s not yet been done, but because it’s what I have to offer; it’s me and not to share it with you really would be selfish.  So what if someone else has already written a better review.  As Freeman rather unflatteringly puts it, ‘Being a mess doesn’t disqualify you from having an influence.  And it doesn’t make you any less of a poem.’

In her last chapter ‘Create’, we read:

‘You are an image bearer and that is not about you becoming famous or important or promoted but about you becoming more fully yourself for the glory of God.  And when you are fully yourself, everyone benefits.’

If this subject touches your heart too; if you’re struggling away with your own insistent instinct towards creativity,  I would encourage you to read this affirming and honest book and to make your art too.

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The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness

The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness by Tim Chester

The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness
by Tim Chester
Available from 10 of Those

I only realised that I’d already read this book nearly ten years ago when I recognised its former book cover in preparing to write this review.  It turns out that I was so busy at the time that I didn’t really take it on board let alone even realise I was reading it!   I’m sure that many can relate to the experience of reading whilst thinking about something completely different.

It is this epidemic of western business that Tim Chester seeks to address in this most recent edition of the 2006 book published by IVP.

I love IVP.  Here’s part of their mission statement:

Inter-Varsity Press publishes Christian books that are true to the Bible and that communicate the gospel, develop discipleship and strengthen the church for its mission in the world.

Tim Chester does just that in a book that is saturated with biblical meditation, borne out of clear gospel convictions and designed to encourage Christians to examine before God their use of time in the light of His overarching purposes for the world.

Twelve chapters of 171 pages are made accessible to the busy reader by the repeated use of bullet points, numbered lists of provocative questions, frequent emboldened section headings, italicised bible quotations and tweet-able soundbites making it a book you can read in snatched moments without losing the thread of the author’s argument.

Tim Chester starts by citing the problem of the busy Christian.  What’s so wrong with being busy?  Isn’t busy a good thing?  Well, yes, until it begins to affect health, relationships and spiritual life.  Our behaviour is driven by our beliefs but do we ever slow down enough to examine either?

There’s a historically informative first chapter which talks us through a comparison of working patterns in pre and post-industrial life.  We are then given a breakdown of attitudes to work and leisure beginning with the ancient Greeks and Romans through the transforming attitudes of the Reformation to today’s culture which ‘has made busyness a virtue’.

Whilst acknowledging that the Bible commends hard work, it also commands rest, both for the glory of God.  It’s at this point that Tim Chester starts to chisel away at our hearts and the real motives for our busyness.  The glory of God?  Or the glory of me.  He suggests six deceptions to which we are prey and then offers the protection of six liberating Biblical answers.  The first of these deceptions, ‘I’m busy because I need to prove myself’ highlights how our sense of identity and value gets confused with the work that we do.  Chester quotes Lynne Baab in her book Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest:

We don’t want to rest because we want to be indispensable.  We don’t want to stop being productive because our identities are rooted in activity and accomplishment.’

The truth is that we are justified by grace.  We need to stop trying to meet the expectations of others and stop falling into the trap of thinking we have to appease our Father with our own efforts.  In Chester’s words, ‘we don’t have to be up and about trying to make atonement.’

The reader is encouraged to ‘stop [his] frenetic activity and wait for the Lord’.  As a person who is currently not rushed off my feet, I find it salutary to observe my own inclination to fill my time as quickly as possible to justify my own existence before others and acting ‘as if God’s love will fail if [I am] not busy proving [myself] worthy.’   For any who suffer from a similar tendency, I heartily recommend this book.

 

The Sunrise

SUNRISE_pre_order_011

The Sunrise
by Victoria Hislop

More famously known for her first novel, The Island, Victoria Hislop, wife of Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, is a writer whose work I’ve only recently tasted.

They say you should not judge a book by its cover but I just can’t help it.  With repeated romance/beach motifs adorning her books I’m afraid I assumed that the books wouldn’t even qualify as ‘intelligent trash’.  However a trip to Greece this summer required something ‘light’ so I took and devoured ‘The Sunrise’, published this year.

Far from being ‘low brow’ this novel thoroughly and intriguingly traces the tumultuous political background to the Turkish invasion of Famagusta, Cyprus after the military coup by the Greek Cypriots in 1974.  This political drama provides a backdrop to the front-stage action set in the Mediterranean’s most glamorous resort dubbed ‘the millionaire’s playground’ on an island where Greeks and Turks have, until now, worked harmoniously alongside one another.   For a full review, see Susan Elkin’s article in The Independent.

Hislop begins her account with descriptions of Famagusta, this ‘most important port in Cyprus’ where ‘residents, workers and visitors alike enjoyed almost immeasurable contentment.’  It is along the sea-front of ultra modern hotels that ‘The Sunrise’ is being built.  ‘Fifteen stories taller than the rest’ with ‘imposing gates’ and ‘high railings’ I’m reminded of the Tower of Babel and further biblical echoes come to mind as the first impressions of the hotel are described.

The first thing that should impress was its size.  A man would be reminded of a football pitch.  A woman would think of a beautiful lake.  Both would notice the impossible gleam of the marble floor and experience what it might be like to walk on water.

The man behind this ‘vision’ is Savvas Papacosta, married to the impossibly beautiful and intelligent Aphrodite whose enviable glamour is, by the end of the novel, stripped from her along with her money, her jewellery, her home and her dignity.  The only seemingly fulfilling relationship in Aphrodite’s life with her husband’s colleague, Markos, ends in abandonment, theft and betrayal of the most negligent kind when he witnesses her rape by a Turkish soldier but passes by on the other side.

Two families, one Greek (the Georgious) and one Turkish Cypriot (the Ozkans), know a contentment never experienced by the nakedly ambitious Papacostas.  ‘Instinct told them that extravagance did not equate with happiness’.  They laugh and enjoy friendship ‘bemused rather than jealous’ of the opulence by which they are surrounded.  They seem to have unconsciously grasped the biblical exhortation to ‘Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands.’  They do not seek the limelight.  Indeed there is none to seek when they become the only two families left on the island after the Turkish retaliation.

Living in hiding there is no audience for their lives in real terms but as readers we witness their daily struggles, courage, decision-making and emotional turmoil.  The two matriarchal figures of these families exemplify simple hard work, passionate love and commitment to their sons and daughters and the ability to overcome prejudice and boundaries to friendship in the face of extreme danger.

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy.’  So much of this novel is redolent of Christian truth.  By the end of the story, the coastline of Famagusta is littered with the ‘shells’  of deserted, unused hotels with outdoor building works frozen in time.  How quickly something man made can be destroyed.  How fragile money, power and influence turn out to be.

The book has been described as a tender and well researched treatment of ‘ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances’.  It is just that and sparked far more reflection that I would have anticipated from a holiday read.  My son’s English Teacher was right when she said at a recent address to parents that we should not be ‘snooty’ about our children’s reading choices.  I need to take her advice in my own reading!

‘Words, words, words!’

It’s easy to get into trouble these days, especially for what you say.  Political correctness has gone frankly bonkers to the point that if you believe that something is right or wrong you’d better not say it or you’ll get labelled  with the ‘f’ word – ‘fundamentalist’ and ostracised accordingly.

One of the things that you really can’t say any more without making people nervous is that, the Bible, that great work of 66 books of historic narrative, wisdom, letters, poetry and prophecy, is inspired.  By God.

The word ‘inspired’ is in itself inoffensive.  We’re happy to use it to praise a person’s writing or affirm his or her ideas but say that another work of literature, the Bible, is inspired, and by God to boot, and we get very jumpy and nervous.  I suppose we just don’t like what it says.

The verbal inspiration of Scripture is a doctrine I struggled with for a long time, partly because I somehow got the idea that if the Bible was the most important book in the world then I shouldn’t spend any more time reading other books, which, for a book addict was a real problem.  I’ve got over that now.

Strangely, help with this verbal inspiration thing came from the world of art – another closet passion.  The following works of art illustrate the doctrine and also shed light on its truth.

Caravaggio

Caravaggio St Matthew and the Angel

This is a painting by Caravaggio, called St Matthew and the Angel which dates around 1602. I love how humble the gospel writer, Matthew, is here in this painting, needing the Spirit to move his very hand. I think the artist found it easier to paint an angel than the Holy Spirit but the point is clear! God is inspiring the words Matthew writes.

Caravaggio

Caravaggio The Inspiration of St Matthew

This is another by Caravaggio entitled, The Inspiration of St Matthew.  Here he comes across as more confident with his pen poised in his left hand but no less attentive to God’s voice as he turns his ear to what the Spirit is saying. There’s a sense of urgency in his writing. He hasn’t even taken the trouble to sit down properly on his stool so eager is he to get God’s words down on paper.

2 Timothy 3:16 puts it like this: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’ literally breathed out by God and 2 Peter 1:20 and 21 makes the same point:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Peter is saying that the writers of Scripture, referred to here as ‘prophets’ which included all the Old Testament prophets, didn’t make up what they wrote themselves. ‘Prophecy never had its origin in the human will.’ Rather, God was the initiating author, speaking through what the men were writing. ‘They spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’.

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Tending your spiritual garden

cbc52efbd7712e8683433bef588aab46It’s summer time. The strawberries are ripening and thrush and robin barge the queue for the cherries on the trees.  In their abundance these seeded delights seem to call out ‘Are you bearing fruit too?’  echoing Christ’s words to his disciples in John 15.  ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.’

A plant, if it is to thrive needs to grow its roots deep into the nutrient rich soil in which it has been planted. And that soil will nourish and strengthen it to become the fully blossomed beauty that it was meant by God to become.   The man or woman of faith is like the plant.  As a plant yearns for water, minerals, oxygen, light and sugar, we, in our right mind, yearn for the Word and Spirit of God.  And as a plant yields its fruit in season, we can hope to live out lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control as our Father does His gardening.

A newly planted dwarf cherry tree requires a surprising amount of water each day to keep it growing.  Great care was taken when we planted ours that a suitably deep hole was dug, that it was wide enough for the roots to arrange themselves comfortably and that the soil was the best we could afford.  It was then lovingly watered and we hired someone to continue the job while we were away.  The result?  Cherries.  Lots and lots of big, beautiful, fat, juicy cherries.

My bible sits on my kitchen table daily but I don’t take care nearly as much as I could to ensure that my plant, the life I’ve been given, is daily nurtured and saturated in its riches.  So it is no surprise that irritability and impatience are more in evidence than the fruit that God desires.    If I am to grow, I cannot afford this summer to neglect my spiritual garden; and I can’t hire anyone to do the job for me either.

The believer will not grow by roaming around looking for his food as an animal does.  Our food is always right in front of us, found in exactly the same place every mealtime. ‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.’  Colossians 2:6

So as I prepare for a feast of summer reading, I hope I’ll be wise enough to keep feeding on His Word.