Wednesday, 28 July 2010

An open book

Having started as an intern on Monday at Granta Books with Granta/Portobello I have been inspired by some of the great writing I've come across there, and surprised by the amount of poor or unsuitable manuscripts they are sent. If you want to check out some good writing, the Granta magazine on "Work" seemed really interesting, and the new one on the theme of "Going Back" has a moving piece about one reporter's feelings towards Sarajevo recalling the awful seige there, which is titled The Book of the Dead. Each of the magazines is like a small book, and contains fiction, non -fiction and occasional poems.

Meanwhile I came up with this opening to a story. Here's my idea: Why don't you finish it? Enjoy the challenge.

"Don't just leave me here, then!"
The sky was fast melding into a blue so deep it didn't seem real, but I couldn't tell you if this was just what creation was doing then or whether it was due to the knock I had taken in the fall.
The sky has funny way of capturing my attention like that. Even then, when I had no idea where Misha had gone. The sky continued to turn itself over as I tried to make out what had happened to the blurry figures who had left me.
Misha's words stank in my ear. Hoarse, they troubled me, like a poison. I felt the guilt he wanted me to feel, and I knew I felt and understood his hurt now. But right now I needed to get up and out, in case he came back.
I'd known he hated me. But I could not have forseen today, in a million years.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Poem: On denying self & paralysing guilt

Bad poetry:

Here am I
The monster in my own life
Grace and art gone to the wind
Because I am languishing
The monster

Good poetry,
Showing signs of improvement:

Where am I
What rod can I branch off
Making the angle required
To support this tree, standing,
And these people?

Ties made or re-made,
With terms of possibility:
Weakness to weakness
To strength that is vital.

For music-lovers, here are 3 playlists of great tunes I have found on Spotify, which I really love. Just click on the links below to bring up the playlist. Finding a band called Band of Horses has been great, also I am enjoying hearing some great Creed songs, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Fleetwood Mac, Vampire Weekend, some top, little-heard Athlete tracks, Owl City, John Mayer, The Pigeon Detectives, Marina & the Diamonds, Katrina and the Waves or even tunes from Seether, Jimmy Eat World, Mighty Mouse or The Cat Empire.

Brand New Day
Spring leftovers
Spring picks 2

To check out my analysis/reviews of a few excellent tracks and albums, start by clicking here or click the "music-related" tag on my blog.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Mini- review of bestseller The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2008)

Mr Whicher was a famous detective from the first stock of detectives ever produced, back in London in 1842. This non-fiction book mainly deals with a murder case he investigated, that of young Saville Kent, who was less than four, but it also covers most of his life with fascinating detail, especially the parts about his first successes.

The details bring it alive. For instance, he tricked a crook into handing back a stolen diamond shirt-pin in a bar, by knowing exactly how the crook worked with an accomplice. Another time he and two fellow officers got into a scuffle with some thieves, trying to recover some stolen jewels, and we read that Mr Whicher was set upon by a man with a red hot poker.

The details of the murder of Saville in his own house at Road Hill are shocking and by the end of this well-researched book much has been revealed about the need for morality and love in the household and in the family. Other fascinating themes and questions are raised as well as the whole country became obsessed with the case in the 1860s and were not satisfied when they could not see justice done. So the need for public justice is shown, but so is the foolhardiness of many who had little to do with the case writing to Scotland Yard with their own theories about what was done, and by whom. Even Charles Dickens had a theory!

Finally the question of madness interested a casual fan of classic Gothic/sensation literature like me. It really makes you wonder what madness is. Is it getting things in the wrong perspective, like a sociopath who does not see that a certain human life has value? Is it not having the proper feelings there? Is it doing something horrendous, out of character, or out of spite or anger (yet surely this definition isn't too far from things any of us have done). What is madness and what is just plain evil, after all?

The book, which perhaps could have been shorter, brings out all the ways this case became politically and socially important, and finally the sentence is passed and we know who did the terrible deed. Author Kate Summerscale reminds us in the last few pages that we must not allow the tragic loss of a human life to become lost in the intellectual game of finding out "whodunit", which is a brilliant sentiment to end on, and the whole thing is an illuminating and really interesting read.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Seeing and believing

On Wednesday night I went to my house group (a Bible study group that meets in someone's house). As we were looking at John 9 it struck me how easy it easy to get everything totally wrong. Let me explain.

The Jewish Pharisees were so sure their rules of religion were right that when God showed up among them, they discounted him - and worse, opposed him. His work amongst people did not fit into their ideas about what kind of activities could be carried out on the Sabbath - and some held this against him, seeing his new way as undermining what they "knew" to be God's way.

Their desperation with the situation and growing hatred of Jesus is apparent, yet He is the one they must wake up and see is God.

The contrast in the chapter is of course with the man whom Jesus has freed from blindness, who answers their questions plainly and as best he can. His words start to point out the Pharisees' spiritual blindness!

There's a whole lot here to learn about how we must relate to God: humbly, coming to Him for salvation. The gospel comes and it offers a message which is bitter to someone who is confident in their own righteousness. It points us to the ways we have all failed God's standards because it's the inward thoughts and intentions of the heart towards God and others which matter most.

The sweet good news of salvation comes though God's free gift. He initiates rescue, and the Pharisee or the self-righteous can't do a thing to save themselves - we all must only accept this gift by accepting the great Saviour Jesus and coming under his rule. He achieves our salvation by the cross - we merely throw ourselves at his feet and receive this work of grace into our lives.

May I never NEVER never forget this Lord of love and his gift of grace. As I see what He has done, my desire increases for Him. And so I try hard to follow Him in my life.


The sequel to thoughts like this is living this out in reality. Sadly in reality, my desire for and love of God is far too weak. At times I will serve God forgetting that I rely on him and, as Tim Keller describes in his excellent book The Prodigal God, I'll try to control God by doing things I think should please him. And I'll get frustrated when things go wrong.

There's much work still to be done on my heart. I need to tell myself that I need Jesus. Above all else. I need Him as He is my only salvation.

Another thing that spins out of this is how we show this message to others. How do we show people that while being good is important, it's the inner life towards God and others that matters the most? How do we model grace (as Ed Moll recently described it in a talk at my church)? How do we show the love of God instead of dishing out approval or disapproval based on outward behaviour, like the Pharisees would have done? How do we show that God accepts us when we have broken all the rules - when I have broken all the rules? Can we be as accepting of others as He is, and yet, of course, never saying that evil behaviour is right in any way.

I think the way I relate to others rarely shows this. I'm sure that people around me still get the impression that the way I relate to them will depend on their behaviour towards me - this will determine whether I give my approval. Surely God's way is far better! I should love and keep loving whether I approve or not, whether I am treated well or not! I should be patient, generous, giving, listening, bearing with others, when it's far too easy to fit in with the expected culture which shows either that it does not care about a person and their lifestyle, or that the lifestyle ought to be of a certain standard in order for me to pay attention to the the person in question.

If anyone has done some further thinking about how to model grace in relationships, let me know!