Tag Archives: Books

30 Books That Have Shaped My 30 Years

As I hurtle towards my thirtieth birthday, I decided to put aside by 1/3 life crisis (it’s not a thing – but I’m feeling it!) and think about the 30 books* which I have loved the most and which have been the most influential in my own writing. I haven’t ranked them because that would be utterly impossible, and they are a mixture of children’s books, memoirs, theology and fiction. I hope it may give you some inspiration for your next read.

The Bible: Okay, this is probably obvious, but the Bible has been the backbone of my reading for my whole life – whether it’s been read to me, I’ve read it devotionally or studied it for an essay it has more than influenced me, but been part of the trellis of my life.

The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo. When I first read this, I was yet to develop my love of butterflies, but something about the ache for home expressed by Morpurgo stuck with me and it was one of the first books I chose to re-read multiple times.

Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotson. Simply a lovely story, beautifully written and one I carried around in my school bag often so that I could read it in every spare moment.

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. It’s possible that this was the book which crystallised my wish to become a writer – and it certainly inspired me to start writing a diary – although never from a kitchen sink like this protagonist did – I definitely tried, though!

Soul Sista, Beth Redman. This was the first christian book I read as a teenager and I devoured it! I haven’t read it in many years, but I remember how much it pointed me to reading the Bible myself and trying to sort through the muddle of my heart as I entered my teenage years.

July, Karen Roberts. I read this story after returning from a trip to Sri Lanka with my family aged twelve; I came away still not really understanding the country half of my family were from, but this book gave me a peek. It’s not an easy read, it’s violent at times but it taught me more about the Sri Lankan civil war and enabled me to find myself in the country my Dad grew up in.

Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian. Oh how I loved this; and it was this book which began my love affair with books set in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s also has one of the few TV adaptations which I loved as much as I loved the book.

The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis. A world which is sung into being was always going to resonate with me! And in later years, I have loved discovering the rich theology that underlies not just this book, but the whole Narnia chronicles.

The Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling. I know it’s seven books – but I refuse to pick a favourite! I have read these more times than any other, and listened to Stephen Fry reading them as I fell asleep for many years on audio cassette, CD and mp3, but I don’t get bored, it simply feels like coming home.

Mocha with Max, Max Lucado. We used to visit my local christian bookshop at least once a month, and I chose this because I thought the idea of a mocha sounded interesting! It was one I returned again and again to, as I found so much comfort and hope in the way Max shared stories of Jesus.

Cafe Theology, Michael Lloyd. The book that began my love of theology. I bought this from the aforementioned bookshop and it made me want to be a theologian – I began to read the Bible differently from then on.

God on Mute, Pete Greig. I read this the Easter after I first developed depression, and the idea of Holy Saturday, the day heaven fell silent captivated and comforted me in equal parts.

Secret Scars, Abigail Robson. I was given this memoir about self-harm after I disclosed it to my boyfriend at the time, he gave me this, signed by Abbie and years later I attended a retreat she ran and we became friends. Abbie’s honesty and hope was a beacon to me and I continue to recommend this first for a christian struggling with self-harm.

Wasted, Marya Hornbacher. If Abbie’s book gave me hope; this told me I was not alone. The writing is breathtakingly brutal and brilliant, and Marya put into words feelings I’d never been able to articulate.

A Grief Observed, CS Lewis. I credit this book for getting me my place at the London School of Theology. When asked what I thought about Lewis’ “The Problem with Pain”, I replied that it was best read in conjunction with this slim volume written in the wake of his wife’s death to best understand the breadth and depth of the problem of evil. It’s a thought I stand by over a decade later!

The Island, Victoria Hislop. A holiday read that remained with me long past turning the last page, it made me want to learn more about leprosy, about Spinalonga and I’m very excited that a sequel has been announced for later this year.

The Other Hand, Chris Cleave. This is a masterclass in writing and Cleave’s writing on scars has had a profound impact on the way I understood my scars.

A Psychology of Hope, Kaplan and Schwartz. I saw this book in Foyles the summer before I began my degree and I decided there and then that I would write my dissertation on how christians can respond to those who are suicidal – I didn’t know how much of my work this project would spark.

Mud and Stars, Robert Twycross. I was given this book before I embarked on a summer placement working alongside mental health chaplains and it struck me for perhaps the first time how beauty and pain are so often intertwined.

Night Falls Fast, Kay Redfield Jamison. A exploration on suicide, this is not what I’d call an enjoyable read, but it’s hopeful and helpful.

Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen. This classic has underlined much of my approach to my work and theology, that the pain we live through can be used a fuel for our fire.

Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff. A heartbreaking book written in the aftermath of his son’s death, this was the book that began my journey looking at lament.

The Message of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann. A theologically rich reflection on my favourite book in the Bible.

Resurrecting the Person, John Swinton. Another writer who has had a huge influence on my own theology, Swinton’s concept of coming alongside someone who is drowning in their mental health problems to see them become more like themselves again is wonderful.

Faith in the Fog, Jeff Lucas. I love a lot of Jeff’s books, but this one has a special place in my heart – I particularly love the way he expounds the reinstating of Peter after that BBQ on the beach with Jesus.

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi. This began my love affair with memoirs, it’s a celebration of life and love in the midst of death.

Finding God in the Ruins, Matt Bays. A recommendation by Tanya Marlow, I love Bays’ writing but also how he casts a vision of God who, through Jesus delves into our deepest pain alongside us.

Those Who Wait, Tanya Marlow. This advent reflection came into my life as we were trying for a baby and then subsequently suffering a miscarriage and her pastoral and wise look at the waiting was a great comfort.

Rejoicing in Lament, J Todd Billings. A true ‘theology from the middle’, this book recounts the author’s journey with terminal illness and rich theological insight into lament.

The Girl Deconstruction Project, Rachel Gardner. Last but by no means least, this has a place not only because it’s the heart pouring of a very dear friend who writes of joy in the way she lives out joy, but also because it was the very first time my own words appeared in a real, hardback book!

*Please note, affiliate links have been used, if you’d prefer not to, don’t click on my link, but open a new tab and search from there 🙂

Baby Change, by Anne Calver – Review

Usually these days I find myself reading books in fits and starts, frequently having to re-read the pages as I’m snatching moments when my own baby (well – racing toddler is more apt) is asleep.

As it happens however, I read this in just over a day as I was stuck in bed unwell and unable to do much else but read.

Anne eloquently echoed many of my own feelings about motherhood, especially the tensions between calling and working out what that looks like as a stay at home mum.

I found the stories of other mums really helped to shape the book – proving once again that there is no “right” way to do things – that motherhood looks as different as we all do! The only criticism I would possibly level is that there was little recognition, or inclusion of a story from a Mum who’s doing it alone, whether through family breakdown, being widowed or solo adoption – but perhaps that’s another book.

The interweaving of Anne’s own experience with her biblical reflections produced some really valuable wisdom. I loved her thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 which reads:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Anne writes:

“Baby Change does not equal persecution, but it can make you feel perplexed, out of your depth, weak, crushed and alone…Our feelings do not limit [God’s] power.”

This served as a potent reminder for all of us, whether parents or not that God reigns, that as tough as things are (and they are feeling pretty tough this year, aren’t they?) God is stronger than anything and everything we face (although we should continue to do our part).

I’d really recommend this book for Mums in their first few years of parenting – I’ve got a 15 month old and found it a valuable read.

You can buy it anywhere that sells books including Eden and Amazon* and SPCK currently have 50% off all ebooks on their site until 25th March.

 

*Affiliate link

 

 

 

Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo – An Honest Conversation About Motherhood

Before you become a Mum, you’re told lots of things:

“Don’t rock the baby to sleep – it’s a rod for your own back”

“Never let your baby use a dummy”

“Breastfeeding is the most natural thing ever – it’s a breeze!”

“You’ll never sleep again”

But no matter how much advice (helpful or otherwise), no matter how many books you read or how many children you’re around, you can’t really prepare yourself for it. (That’s another thing you hear, isn’t it!?)

One of the best pieces of advice I was given, was to be honest about the reality of motherhood – the dizzying highs and the desperate lows and it’s advice echoed in Annie’s book. She writes:

“When we choose vulnerability, connection can happen i the messiness of everyday life.”

So, inspired by this and taking my own advice, here are my honest confessions about motherhood, a year in.

  1. Personally I’m finding parenting a toddler harder than having a newborn. (This one depends completely on your child – some breeze through babyhood, others are beset with colic and constipation – my son was what some might call an “easy baby”, but the same cannot be said for toddlerdom.)
  2. There have been times when I’ve missed my old life, particularly the freedom I had to work when I wanted and take every opportunity going.
  3. Making sure I take a book wherever I go is great for those car naps I don’t want to waste!
  4. I fall too easily into the trap of the “who’s more tired game?”
  5. Teething is a sure sign of the Fall and I’ve sometimes counted the minutes until I can administer the next dose of Calpol.
  6. Sometimes I regret making my son give up his dummy at six months old.
  7. On difficult days, nap times are my favourite time of the day.
  8. I quite enjoy daytime TV as company as a backdrop to pottering and parenting.
  9. I love going to work.
  10. Being a Mum is the most ridiculous, difficult, hope-filled, despair-making, contradictory, frustrating, heart breaking and joyful thing I’ve ever done.

“Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo” is available to buy now from Amazon* and christian book shops. *Affiliate link Head over to my Instagram and Facebook to get the chance to win a free copy!

I also heartily encourage you to head over to Annie’s blog Honest Conversation – it’s great.

Out of Control: Book Review

I have to admit that I began reading Natalie Collins’ “Out of Control” with no small degree of trepidation. Not only is domestic abuse something outside the realm of my experience,  but it’s also something that the church has struggled to respond to well.

The first thing that struck me upon reading, however, is the gentleness with which Natalie writes. At the beginning and end of chapters the reader is given space to breathe and practice self-care which, when reading about something as harrowing as domestic abuse is not only important, but vital. She does not shy away from the horrors of abuse, including sharing her own story which enables the reader to understand the issues presented in a way that is more than theoretical.

The following sentence, quite literally took my breath away, and it’s as true for domestic abuse as it is for many other difficult issues that the church faces.

She writes:

“If we are to walk with people in their pain we have to be willing to witness the brutality, not shutting our ears when the stories are horrifying or the language offends us.”

Without doubt the strongest parts of the book are those which can be used to inform pastoral practice. First and foremost for the majority of churches is the recognition that domestic abuse is probably present in their congregations, as Natalie writes:

“Presuming that abuse is present without our congregation… is the only way to ensure that our communities become safe contexts for those subjected to abuse.”

Secondly, the importance of reviewing how our church practices and language can be used to keep women trapped in abuse. Her point about the language of redemption used is interesting; that it may help to collude with an abuser and allow them to continue their  behaviour is important, but I also think that our understanding of redemption needs to be greater. Redemption is not a free pass for what has gone before, but relies on the character of God; not an individual’s actions

Natalie’s understanding of the sociological and psychological effects of domestic abuse are incredibly useful to those wishing to understand how best to support sufferers. Her explanations of trauma theory enable us to get to grips with the way those subjected to abuse may act or respond in certain situations which we must be aware of in our churches. 

I did find one part of Natalie’s argument problematic. Chapter 3 can be seen to dismiss any reasons which may lead men to abuse women. It’s true that reasons are in no way excuses, and that they should not be used to keep women trapped in abusive situations or seen to be mitigation for their crimes; but to ignore men’s own backgrounds and the way their own life experiences have led to their behaviour is troubling to me.

Exerting power may be central to men’s abusive behaviours, but I can’t help but wonder how men’s own experiences of abuse or violence inform their later choices?

The book is worth buying for chapter 10 alone in my opinion; it’s intensely practical but also highlights the difficulties people face in accessing the help they so desperately need which must inform our pastoral care. It’s all very well knowing where to signpost, but we must also be prepared to wait with people until they get what they need, not as pseudo-professionals but as the body of Christ, family.

This is a book that every church leader should read. Not only for the knowledge it imparts, but the way in which Natalie tells her story and because it broke my heart for those affected by domestic abuse and highlighted how the Church can help.

 

 

The Story Unfolds Guest Post by Luke Maxted

My friend Luke Maxted is the Children and Families minister for the Chalfont St Peter Parish Churches and has self-published an amazing fold out book with his own translation of the creation story. This post originally appeared on his blog – you can find it and buy his book “In The Beginning” here.


The process of designing, making, and sharing In the Beginning has been surprisingly painful and vulnerable.

Really I should have seen it coming. I should have known that it would be incredibly hard and gut-wrenchingly hurtful, but I didn’t.

It’s been nearly a year since I first received a completed copy of the book and it went live for sale online. It’s not been an easy journey. There was a long time in which I didn’t even look at it because I felt an overwhelming sense of shame.

How strange that something which I poured my heart and soul into, took a fair financial risk on, and has largely (although not completely) been received with resounding praise and positivity, could lead me to such self-loathing.

Now on the one hand I know this of myself, that I have always been hyper-critical of the things that I do. Anyone who has heard me preach knows that almost everything I say is couched in self-deprecation. It seems only natural that I would feel pain at the prospect of sharing something that I have made. On the other hand I think it might be deeper than that. There is an apparent trend of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt that pervades the creative community. I have found myself asking why that is.

Why are creativity and the paralysing sense of vulnerability so closely linked? And what can I do about it?

Creativity and Humanity

I believe that at the core of humanity we are creative and compassionate. We are fundamentally relational and seek to express ourselves and our experiences to our communities. That belief is a significant part of why the creation narrative is special to me and why I wanted to find a unique way to share it with others. Rather than being an historical account of how the world was made I think Genesis 1 is a poem of identity, it is a lyrical expression of our spiritual DNA.

In days 1-5 we see God’s joyful self-expression in bringing everything-ness out of nothingness. He speaks and everything starts, each time adding an extra layer and increasing the complexity. He loves what he makes and calls it good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, and 21). On day 6 God makes humanity and in doing so says that he is making men and women in his own image (v27), describing his creation finally as ‘very good’ (v31).

Now assuming that this is the start of the book and the first thing that you hear/learn about God you have to wonder what that image is. He hasn’t been described yet, we have no way of imagining his appearance, we only have his actions. His actions tell us that he is joyful, creative, and expressive. It seems to make sense that if that is all we know of God at this point and we are made in his image then that is what is true of us.

It makes little sense, however, if this creativity and joy of expression is inherent in us to find that it is also the cause of so much pain. So why is creativity so difficult?

Creativity, Vulnerability, and Risk

The clue to this, I think, is in in the rejection God experiences at the hands of his creation. Beginning in Genesis 3 and continuing throughout the Bible God is rejected by the ones he loves the most and is proudest of. We see it perhaps most strongly in the histories and the prophets where the people reject God and go their own way – Hosea is a great example of this.

Hosea is commissioned by God to marry a prostitute as a representation of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 1:2). This seems painful and cruel, but perhaps that’s the point. Whether using the metaphor of the unfaithful wife or that of the wandering child (Hosea 11:1-3)The pain of unfaithfulness and rejection is a pain that God feels as part of the result of his creativity. Worse for him is that his desire is to have her back. God is not giving up on the unfaithful wife but calls her back to himself (Hosea 2:14-3:1) and hopes for the return of the ungrateful child (Hosea 11:8-11).

Loving something, being proud of it, taking joy in it, comes with risk and vulnerability. If one cares about nothing one cannot be hurt. If one has no joy then one’s pain is reduced. Creativity, then, creates vulnerability and a possibility of hurt, pain, rejection, and all its accompanying emotions. We become anxious because we fear rejection, we feel ashamed because we experience ridicule. These feelings do not come because what we make has little value, but rather because we place such great value on them and the reflection that they are at the core of ourselves.

Perhaps, then, if the risk and fear are part and parcel of creativity then it really isn’t worth the effort…

Keeping Going

But that would make the word a really boring place…and there are a few good reasons that I can think of the keep going.

Firstly I think the prophets help us again. They were the great dramatists of their time and were incredibly creative (or are given creativity) in how they conveyed their messages. Ezekiel 4 is my favourite example of this. Ezekiel is asked:

  • to take a brick
  • make it into a city
  • put a frying pan as a wall between him and the city
  • lie on his side for ages – until it wastes away
  • prophesy to the brick with a dead arm
  • make bread baked on top of poop and eat that for over a year

After that he has to shave himself and scatter/burn his hair and other such very normal things.

As strange as this is it’s important because the prophets were willing to look ridiculous to convey their message. If creativity causes vulnerability then these were some of the most vulnerable people in human history. They suffered great hurt – both physically and emotionally, yet they also achieved incredible things and stood before the most powerful people of their time demanding justice and a fairer society.

Much of creativity comes from having something worth saying, whether because we are expressing love and joy, or because we are sharing our sorrow and hurt in light of the pain of those people or things we love and cherish. The prophets show us that the vulnerability of that pursuit is worthwhile in what it achieves.

Secondly it is worthwhile because it enables and empowers others who are seeking to share their passions and imaginations.

Seeing that others are creating and showing their loves, fears, passions, and dreams often allows us to realise that we are not alone, either in their own experience or endeavour. That sense of commonality and solidarity is a fundamental part of the relationality that we all experience in one way or another. Sharing your creativity and imagination allows others to know that it is ok for them to do so.

Finally it is worth being creative and taking those risks because without them we are not ourselves.

If it is true that being creative, sharing joy, and expressing love are a part of our spiritual DNA then not doing those things is akin to being something you are not. You might as well try to be a chair or a turnip, because once you start to hide those things about yourself then you run the risk of stopping being a human.

Now you might be reading this thinking “Yes, but I’m not actually creative, so maybe I am a turnip.” but all of us have an imagination and something inside that is there to say. It is entirely possible that you just haven’t found a way to let it out yet. I can’t draw or paint or act or dance or anything else really, but then one day I tried folding some paper and it worked for me. There are so many things left to try… and if you find it scary then it may well be exactly the right thing for you to do.

Best Books of 2018

As 2018 ends, I’ve linked* some of the books I’ve read in the last twelve months and included the standout quotes from each book which have stayed with me, challenged me and shaped my own thinking and writing.

Luminous Dark – Alain Emerson

“The wounded places in our hearts, the silent caverns of our souls, the dark tunnels of our minds, are the hiding place of God.”

I read this book near the beginning of the year as I was trying to come to terms with miscarrying our first baby, and the idea that it was in the darkness – not despite of it – that God could be found was a great comfort to me.

Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) – Kate Bowler

“Everyone is trying to Easter the crap out of my lent”

This book is worth reading for this one sentence – but it’s amazing throughout. How often do we rush people’s grief and lament because we want to get to their victory story?

The Girl Deconstruction Project – Rachel Gardner

“Our bodies matter because they are the place where are able to experience God.”

I read this book whilst I was pregnant and it made sense of my changing feelings about my body, it’s goodness and it’s purpose.

The Prodigal Prophet – Timothy Keller

“Jonah wants a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad people, for instance, the wicked Ninevites and blesses the good people, for instance, Jonah and his countrymen. When the real God—not Jonah’s counterfeit—keeps showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair.”

I re-read the story of Jonah as a part of my church doing the Bible Course and I was captivated by it in a way I’d never been before. The discomfort of our desire for justice against God’s lavish mercy challenged me to be less judgemental and more merciful.

Catching Contentment – Liz Carter

“Contentment is based not on our wholeness, but on God’s holiness.”

There were many things about Liz’s book that I loved, but these words summed it up for me. The idea that contentment really isn’t about me was one which has stayed with me.

The Language of Tears – David Runcorn

“Resilience is a gift learned in the wrestling and struggling with life. It is forged through our fiercest and most vulnerable tears.”

I’ve always been fascinated by tears; namely because I’ve cried many of them and this little book was a brilliant look at the science and theology of them. It shows resilience as something more hard-fought and less shiny that I’d thought it was previously.


*I’ve used Amazon affiliate links in this post, so if you click through my links I get a small percentage of the sale; if you’d rather not, then feel free to just open a new tab to purchase them 🙂

Replay and Regret? Responding to Shame #IThoughtThereWouldBeCake

When I first read Katharine’s book it was the chapter that had me crying “I do that too!!” So I wanted to explore a little deeper the idea of replaying conversations again and again, squirming with shame at what has been said.

Shame leaves us stuck in replaying and regretting what has gone before, preventing us from moving forward and dealing with what has passed.

Brene Brown writes that:

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

I’d go a step further, because I believe that shame corrodes our belief that God can restore and redeem us.

Shame tells us that we are worthless and unredeemable; it can make us think that the very worst parts of ourselves overshadow anything good about us.

Shame fails to live up to the standards of the law – but the gospels show a new way of looking at ourselves and our sin.

It doesn’t minimise or deny our sin, but reminds us that despite our sin we are still worth dying for!

I can’t help but think of Simon Peter here; his denial of Jesus was shameful; but Jesus neither denies his sin nor shames his sin – he confronts it and forgives it.

In John 21:15 we read that Jesus refers to him as Simon; and yet when he was called from his life as a fisherman, he’d been given a new name. No longer Simon – he was Peter, the Rock. Surely Jesus was reminding him here that his faith hadn’t been so rock-like recently.

But the conversation doesn’t end with Peter stripped of his new identity; Jesus redeems each of Peter’s denials by repeatedly asking, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me.”

Jesus restores Peter’s denials, and through that He’s showing Peter that he is forgiven.

Shame keeps us stuck in our sin – forgiveness and redemption move us on – and they moved Peter on.

The latter part of Jesus’s conversation with Peter is a re-commissioning. Jesus gives him a new role as a Pastor, the imagery shifting from fisherman to shepherd, giving a fairly succinct job description!

Feed my lambs.
Take care of my sheep.
Feed my sheep.

This is the calling for Peter’s next stage of ministry – to take up the role of a shepherd, a pastor – in spite and perhaps in part because of all he had done. I personally don’t know if I would have trusted the “top job” to someone who failed me so badly.

It’s a beautiful reminder that where shame sees only sin – Jesus sees through our sin straight to our identity as sons and daughters of God – redeemed and restored by Him.

Replay and Regret is a thing of the past because in Jesus we find our Redemption.