Tuesday, 31 December 2019

TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2019

In the order I enjoyed them:

  • Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces 
  • Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End 
  • J Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer & Life in Christ
  • Robert A Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York 
  • David Gibson, Destiny: Learning to Live By Preparing To Die 
  • Margaret Craven, I Heard the Owl Call My Name 
  • Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure 
  • Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction 
  • Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience 
  • Julian Hardyman, Fresh Pathways in Prayer

Saturday, 28 December 2019

DIARY PLANNING

'...if someone invites you to a two-day conference in six months' time, what should you do? I suggest asking yourself this question. Does the thought of fitting a two-day conference into the next fortnight fill you with dread because you are already so overcommitted? If the answer is yes, you should turn down the invitation to the conference later in the year because it's very unlikely that in a few months' time you'll be less busy than now. 
Or how about this scenario? You are asked to sit an a committee next year. Have you read the papers for the meeting you are going to tomorrow? No. Well, don't join another committee then. Because if you do, you will find yourself in the same position as now, unless you plan to take steps to change your regular schedule, which - experience should tell you - you are unlikely to be able to do.' 
Claudia Hammond, The Art of Rest, p.259. 

THE GOOD COMPANY OF A BOOK

'...reading is special. It not only allows us to escape other people, but simultaneously provides us with company, company that as well as being more interesting is more restful than real people, company you can ignore whenever you choose to, without giving any explanation.' 
Claudia Hammond, The Art of Rest, p.239. 

THE OPPOSITE OF LONELINESS

'The opposite of loneliness is wanting some time alone.'
Sean O'Hagan in Claudia Hammond, The Art of Rest, p.173. 

THE LONELINESS OF TOO MANY FRIENDS

'Researchers at Iowa State University found that among college students, as the number of close friends they have approaches the number they think ideal, so feelings of loneliness decrease. It doesn't matter how high or low that number is - that's a subjective judgement - but if a person feels there is a deficit of quality relationships in their lives, then they tend towards loneliness. The Iowa researchers also discovered something which surprised even them. When the number of friends students have exceeds the number they desire, the students begin to feel lonelier again. Perhaps they find having an excess of friends a burden, or perhaps although they consider these friends to be close friends, they aren't close enough.' 
Claudia Hammond, The Art of Rest, p.172.  

A WAITING PEOPLE?

'One good answer to the question "What sort of church are you? Who are you?" is to say, "We are a community of men and women who are waiting for Jesus to return". Not waiting passively, as if we just wait and never do anything; no, that would be nonsense! But waiting actively - working at our daily work, loving God, loving people, giving our lives for Jesus and his gospel, and all the time praying, "Your Kingdom come, Lord Jesus!" As we do so, we will never be satisfied by what this world offers, never too disappointed when we do not experience healing or reconciliation or happiness in this life, always keeping our hopes set on that great future day.'
Christopher Ash, Repeat the Sounding Joy: A daily Advent devotional on Luke 1-2, p.345. 

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

A CHRISTMAS POEM

Into the Darkest Hour  

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

Madeleine L’Engle in Winter Songs:Christmas Readings (Madeleine L'Engle & Luci Shaw), p.67. 

Saturday, 21 December 2019

BORN THAT WAY

'The single factor that has most clearly helped to change public opinion about homosexuality in the West has been the decision that homosexuality is in fact a 'hardware' rather than a 'software' issue.'
Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds, p.30. 

SEXUAL DOUBLE STANDARDS

'In society as large, when people come put as gay they are celebrated for having arrived at their natural end-point. For most people this is a decent recognition by society that there is no problem with them being who they are: they have arrived at a place that is natural and right for them. But one oddity of this position is that anybody who is gay and then subsequently decides they are straight will be the subject not just of a degree of ostracism and suspicion, but widespread doubt that they are are being honest about their true selves. A straight who becomes gay has settled. A gay who has become straight has rendered himself an object of permanent suspicion. From being strongly inclined towards straight the culture has settled with a mild inclination towards gay.'
Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds, p.22. 

MAGNANIMOUS IN VICTORY

'The manner in which people and movements behave at the point of victory can be the most revealing thing about them. Do you allow arguments that have worked for you to work for others? Are reciprocity and tolerance principles or fig-leaves? Do those who have been censored go on to censor others when the ability is in their own hands?'
Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds, p.16.

IDENTITY TOTALITARIANISM

'...we are being asked to perform a set of leaps and jumps which we cannot, and are perhaps ill advised to make. We are asked to believe things that are unbelievable and being told not to object to things (such as giving children drugs to stop them going through puberty) which most people feel a strong objection to. The pain that comes being expected to remain silent on some important matters and perform impossible leaps on others is tremendous, not least because the problems (including the internal contradictions) are so evident. As anyone who has lived under totalitarianism can attest, there is something demeaning and eventually soul-destroying about being expected to go along with claims that you do not believe to be true and cannot hold to be true. If the belief is that all people should be regarded as having equal value and be accorded equal dignity, then that may be all well and good. If you are asked to believe that there are differences between homosexuality and heterosexuality, men and women, racism and anti-racism, then this will in time drive you to distraction. That distraction - or crowd madness - is something we are in the middle of and something we need to try and find our way out from.' 
Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds, p.8. 

BAD FOUNDATIONS

'...while racial equality, minority rights and women's rights are among the best products of liberalism, they make the most destabilizing foundations. Attempting to make them the foundation is like turning a bar stool upside down and then trying to balance on top of it. The products of the system cannot reproduce the stability of the system that produced them.'
Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds, p.8.

IDENTITY POLITICS TODAY

'...one thing that everybody has begun to sense in recent years is that a set of tripwires have been laid across the culture. Whether placed by individuals, collectives or some divine satirist, there they have been waiting for one person after another to walk into them. Sometimes a person's foot has unwittingly nicked the tripwire and they have immediately blown up. On other occasions people have watched some brave madman walking straight into no man's land, fully aware of what they are doing. After each resulting detonation there is some disputation (including the occasional "coo" of admiration) and the world moves on accepting that another victim has been notched up to the odd, apparently improvisatory value system of our time.'
Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, p.5.

TIME HEALS?

'...time heals all wounds or at least dresses them, makes them endurable.'
Frederick Buechner, A Sacred Journey, p.55. 

WHERE BEAUTY TAKES YOU

'It was the upward-reaching and fathomlessly hungering, heart-breaking love for the beauty of the world at its most beautiful and beyond that, for that beauty east of the sun and west of the moon which is past the reach of all but our most desperate desiring and is finally the beauty of Beauty itself, of Being itself and what lies at the heart of Being.' 
Frederick Buechner, A Sacred Journey, p.52.

DEATH CANNOT HOLD THEM

'How they do live on, those giants of our childhood, and how well they manage to take even death in their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them. Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond  doubt that they still live in us.' 
Frederick Buechner, A Sacred Journey, p.21. 

READING AS A CHILD

'I suppose it is partly because you read so much more slowly as a child that the books you come to then seem as endless as summer and richer, fuller, more inexhaustible than anything you are likely to read later on.'
Frederick Buechner, A Sacred Journey, p.15.

SIN & GRACE

'What about sin itself as a means of grace? What above grace, when misappropriated and misunderstood, becoming an occasion for sin?'
Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey, p.3

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

CHRIST-LIKE EMPATHY

'Trying to understand someone else's predicament lies at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.' 
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion, p.107. 

Monday, 16 December 2019

THE HUMILITY CREATED BY OUR FAILURES

'The web of our life is of mingled yarn, good and ill together; our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not.'
William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well quoted in Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus, p.20. 

Sunday, 15 December 2019

OUR DIVINE CREATIVITY

'Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
     is the piece of God that is inside each of us.'
Mary Oliver, from 'Blue Horses in Blue Horses, p.43. 

INSTITUTIONS ARE COMPROMISED - BUT NEEDED

'All human traditions, institutions, and structures are prone to evil - including religion and including Christianity and the Church. They are all part of this present age. They are all prone to make absolutist claims. They are all ambiguous. There are always good reasons for attacking them. But human life is impossible without them, and God in his mercy preserves them in order to give time for the Church to fulfill its calling to make manifest to them the wisdom of God...' 
Lesslie Newbigin in John G Stackhouse Jr., Why You're Here, p.283. 

REJOICE IN WHAT IS GOOD

'We can rejoice, and we ought to rejoice, in goodness discovered anywhere, since all goodness comes from the same fountain.' 
John G Stackhouse Jr., Why You're Here, p.283. 

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO THE DEATH OF CHRISTENDOM

'...we Christians should be taking the initiative to surrender those privileges that no longer make sense in a post- or semi-Christian society. And we ought to use our shrinking cultural power to establish new relations of religion-society and church-state that will benefit all participants, including religious communities and state institutions, without unjustly penalizing or privileging any. Indeed, we should use what influence we have left to help construct the sort of society in which we ourselves would like to live once our power to effect it has disappeared. And we can be guided in part by our "tribal heritage" of being a minority as the beginning of our religion and in various societies ever since. How unseemly it is for Christians to fight in the courts and legislatures for what remains of the dubious honors and advantages of Christendom! There is no more prudent time to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.' 
John G Stackhouse Jr., Why You're Here, p.268. 

Saturday, 14 December 2019

THE STRENGTHS OF DEMOCRACY

'One of the great things about democracy is that the way is always open for a defeated party to make its case again.' 
John G Stackhouse Jr., Why You're Here, p.243. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSITY

'Cultivation of diversity can seem inefficient; it is, at least initially, more costly than uniformity in time, effort, and attention. But if we fail to provide places for different people to grow, and to grow together, we will alienate both our own "non-standard" brothers and sisters and also, in the case of churches and other Christian organisations, all those outside our company who might have wanted to join but now see that they would not be welcomed as themselves. Such an attitude fosters a kind of social inbreeding that inevitably results in pathology. God has so arranged the world that we actually need a certain amount of diversity just to avoid going wrong, let alone to help us go more and more right.' 
John G Stackhouse Jr, Why You're Here, p.235. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

THE CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS

'There is a centrifugal force at work in human nature; we want to spin out and away from the offense of the cross.' 
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion, p.61. 

Monday, 2 December 2019

GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY OVER SIN

'We trust that the God who specializes in bringing good out of evil will make something beautiful out of our efforts to love God and our neighbors in creation. Indeed, God often brings good out of our failures, and even our sins. For in the aftermath, we sometimes learn humility, and faith, and other vital lessons we would learn no other way.' 
John G Stackhouse Jr., Why You're Here, p.179. 

POLITICAL DECISIONS ARE MADE BY THOSE WHO SHOW UP

'...in the world as God has seemed to ordain it, and from the pages of scriptural history in which God is shown to act politically, it appears that the adage is true: Political decisions are made by those who show up. The monastic movement, important as it was in nurturing Christian piety and promoting evangelism, shaped broader contours of European culture only as monasteries became significant landlords, educators, artistic centers, and advisers to the powerful.' 
John G Stackgouse Jr., Why You're Here, p.177 

THE MULTIPLICITY OF FORMS

'The multiplicity of forms! The hummingbird,
the fox, the raven, the sparrow hawk, the
otter, the dragonfly, the water lily! And
on and on. It must be a great disappointment
to God if we are not dazzled at least ten
times a day.'
Mary Oliver, from 'Good Morning' Blue Horses, p.22. 

ANGELS & PINHEADS

'I don't care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It's
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.'
Mary Oliver, from 'Angels' in Blue Horses, p.15. 

THE POWER OF A GOOD WALK

'All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.'
Friedrich Nietzsche in Claudia Hammond, The Art of Rest: How to Find Respite in the Modern Age, p.97.