Sunday, 27 November 2016

Pause In Advent #1

I have to tell you that when I saw the first Advent Candle being lit at church this Sunday morning, I nearly put my hand up and pointed out the mistake. Surely not already? It seems like we have talked about Christmas since the end of August, and I have strenuously resisted it but suddenly it really is on the way. 

I am, as usual, totally unprepared but I have never let that stop me before and I expect we shall get there without too much trauma. At least, that's the plan. To get me in the mood, I am picking out Christmas movies for each Advent pause and telling you why I love them and why they make my bottom lip a bit trembly.

First up is Nativity! This is a late entry to my Christmas favourites. A primary school teacher, organising his school's nativity, accidentally promises his pupils Hollywood interest in their play. As disaster upon disaster unfolds, the teacher spirals out of control in his efforts to dig himself out of this hole. It's all very implausible (The teacher actually has an ex-girlfriend working in Hollywood. Who would have thought it?)
However, I do love this. Firstly, it is full of excited children doing a bit of acting. Secondly, how lovely to see a Nativity with Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, as well as really sweet songs. It seems that now, in some schools, you can't call it a Nativity unless you have a life size squirrel, a solar-powered set of wind chimes and a spaceman. We have to cover all bases and make sure all the costumes in the dressing up box are used I think. 
I don't think that all Christian traditions need to be adhered to as if they are Gospel, but there is something wonderful about the combination of the Nativity story and children. Children, maybe, catch on to the joy of the whole thing. They sniff the air like tiny puppies as Christmas approaches. A lot of it is to do with the gifts - that is certain - but they also, without any cynicism enter wholeheartedly into the spirit of the time. I could probably learn a lot from them.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Wet Autumn Thinks

Of course rain is essential - we plough the fields and scatter and all that but Devon is under a deluge at the moment - it is hardly bothering to get light today. It's easy to get all wistful about Autumn but I can live without it when it's like this. I'd even rather have a good old fashioned crisp cold snap.

Anyway, on to more edifying things. I was reading this.

17 One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and religion teachers were sitting around. They had come from nearly every village in Galilee and Judea, even as far away as Jerusalem, to be there. The healing power of God was on him.
18-20 Some men arrived carrying a paraplegic on a stretcher. They were looking for a way to get into the house and set him before Jesus. When they couldn’t find a way in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed some tiles, and let him down in the middle of everyone, right in front of Jesus. Impressed by their bold belief, he said, “Friend, I forgive your sins.”
21 That set the religion scholars and Pharisees buzzing. “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemous talk! God and only God can forgive sins.”
22-26 Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking and said, “Why all this gossipy whispering? Which is simpler: to say ‘I forgive your sins,’ or to say ‘Get up and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both. . . .” He now spoke directly to the paraplegic: “Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.” Without a moment’s hesitation, he did it—got up, took his blanket, and left for home, giving glory to God all the way. The people rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then also gave glory to God. Awestruck, they said, “We’ve never seen anything like that!”
I have always loved this. I love the fact of a bona fide miracle in the middle of it. The man can't walk and then he can. The loving-kindness of Jesus reaching in and reassuring the sick man that his sins are forgiven. The way the posh and the high ups are confounded by the way Jesus is with people. In the light of recent events though, I had been thinking about the role of the helpers - the sick man's friends. I was thinking about the call to be kind - to one another - and ignore what the "powerful" are doing. How determined were they to get their friend to Jesus? They arrive at the house and there is no way they will get in - just no room. Yet they drag the bed on to the roof and dig through and lower the bed before Jesus. I have no evidence but I just think of Jesus looking up and smirking at the faces of the friends as they peered down through the hole to see what would happen. 

So what does it make me think?

  • It makes me think that I should be determined to hear from Jesus. To push on and do whatever it takes until I find him in my circumstances
  • It strikes me that kindness is sometimes hard work. It doesn't always fall into our laps. We have to fight for the right things to happen.
  • I think that being kind is also not judging before you help someone. I have no idea about this man but something had been going on in his head. Jesus is careful to tell him that he is forgiven before he heals him. His friends aren't bothered with all that. They just want to see him well. Jesus can deal with anything else the man needs.
Comfort thinking as the rain pours.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Secret of the Journal

I would never describe myself as a completist. Once I start a series - books, box sets etc. I don't feel I MUST finish it at all costs. In fact, I don't feel that I have to finish a book if it doesn't grab me. Life is too short. It is ok to do that because CS Lewis said so. Yet sometimes you just fall in love don't you and you need to read all the books or watch all the telly. Witness Harry Potter, The West Wing, The Hawk and the Dove, the Great British Bake Off etc etc. The latest addition to my "must finish" is the series of books called "The Secret of the Journal." 
I'm not really sure how to describe these books really, they aren't like anything I have read before. So far so not very inspiring review wise. But I am having a go at telling you about them anyway. Part romance (quite hot romance as well), part historical novel, part science fiction, part thriller and with faith woven in and out of it all. That should describe it enough for you. No? 
Well, being careful about spoilers - Emma D'Eresby - a Cambridge Academic travels to Maine in search of a Seventeenth-century journal. Working at college, she comes across the lovely Dr Matthew Lynes and - well you know. Except we don't, because Dr Lynes isn't what we all suppose he is. When we discover his secret, it takes the novel to a different place completely and a sense of menace and secrecy and general spooky wooey-ooeyness takes over.
Having said that I don't hang around unless something really grabs me, I sort of made an exception for this. When I started reading the series, I didn't quite get it at first and I struggled to understand the characters. However, I wanted to stay with it and by the time Matthew's secret is discovered, I was hooked (Warning - you have to go right to the end of the first book to find out properly - although you may suspect before then)
They are a rattling good read. To enjoy them properly, you will need to suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride. There is, however, a real heart to the stories and I did really care about the characters. There is a section - sort of towards the end (trying really hard not to spoil anything) where Emma - older and wearier - fights to create a life for herself and her family. I was so worried for her at this point - it surprised me how involved I was. These books are good, chums. Enjoyed - a lot. 
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