My Reading: July 2012-2013

14 07 2013

It’s that time of the year again when I display my geeky side and cast my mind over the books I’ve read in the past 12 months.

Each year I try to justify my nerdish tendencies. This year I shan’t bother to elaborate too much – feel free to read my previous attempts here, here and here – but I’ve personally found it helpful to plan roughly what I want to read each year, so that I can ensure I’m getting a balanced diet; reading the kinds of books I might otherwise be tempted to avoid, and making sure I’m not just overdosing on one genre.

To be honest, this year I’ve not followed my plans as much as in previous years. Most of my reading has been dictated by necessity rather than choice. But with the M.A.’s completion fast approaching, I live with the hope that I may regain some sense of choice over my reading plans!

That said… a couple of observations.

  • For the first year ever I’ve reached (and exceeded) my goal of one book a week – 55 completed.
  • I’ve no idea how many books I started this year, since I’ve read copious poems, articles and chapters of books for various essays, and didn’t bother noting down the books I had neither inclination nor intention to finish.
  • A literature class bumped my fiction quota up considerably!
  • I soon realised I wasn’t going to read any drama this year, but needed to read a fair chunk of literary criticism for a class I was taking, so I switched the category title.
  • The Christian/Secular divide wasn’t easy to discern this year (how do you categorise the collected works of Gerard Manley Hopkins or T.S. Eliot for example?) so is a little arbitrary in places. It’s a division I don’t much like anyway! But it’s loosely helpful to make sure my head’s not stuck in religious literature the whole time.
  • I didn’t read any books on leadership (I find them rather boring, truth be told!) though I’ve read loads more articles and listened to podcasts on the subject this year.
  • I also didn’t complete any books on marriage, though I restarted Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. But again, I’ve read a number of articles and listened to podcasts – and spent time with my wife! And I resisted the urge to put all the books on divorce and remarriage into the ‘Marriage’ category! Skewing the stats to make the numbers look like I was a great husband, would only have provided a temporary ego boost, before you glanced down the list of books!

So here’s a rough breakdown of my how my reading faired this year, and also the list of books I read. I always intend to review books and never get round to it – but if you want my opinion on any, just ask:

Reading Breakdown

Category Aim (%) Achieved (%) Variance
Spiritual 16 10.30 -5.70
Theology 42 41.21 -0.79
Ethics/Politics/Apologetics 16 10.91 -5.09
Drama 1 8.48 7.48
Skill-Development 8 5.45 -2.55
Fiction 8 23.03 15.03
Marriage 3 0.00 -3.00
Biography 3 0.61 -2.39
Leadership 3 0.00 -3.00
Christian 75 63.64 -11.36
Secular 25 36.36 11.36

Reading List

  • Alldritt, Keith – Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Beck (ed.), James – Two Views on Women in Ministry
  • Bell, Rob – What we Talk About When we Talk About God
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph – Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament: The Ordering of Life in Israel and Early Judaism
  • Burke, Trevor – Adopted into God’s Family
  • Camp, Claudia – Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs
  • Chandler, Matt – The Explicit Gospel
  • Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
  • Cornes, Andrew – Divorce and Remarriage
  • Crenshaw, James L. – Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction
  • Delillo, Don – White Noise
  • Delillo,  Don – The Angel Esmeralda
  • Dell, Katharine  – Get Wisdom, Get Insight
  • Donovan, Jeremey – How to Deliver a TED Talk
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment
  • Duvall, J.Scott and Hays, J. Daniel – Grasping God’s Word
  • Eliot, T.S. – The Four Quartets
  • Erswine, Zach – Preaching to a Post-Everything World
  • Fee, Gordon and Stuart, Douglas – How to Read the Bible for all its Worth
  • Foster Wallace, David – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • Gish, Nancy – Time in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Greene, Graham – The Heart of the Matter
  • Hybels, Bill – Just Walk Across the Room
  • Instone-Brewer, David – Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context
  • John of the Cross, St – Ascent of Mount Carmel
  • John of the Cross, St – The Dark Night of the Soul
  • Johnson, Adam  – The Orphan Master’s Son
  • Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Keener, Craig – …And Marries Another
  • Kramer, Kenneth – Redeeming Time: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Kreeft, Peter – Christianity for Modern Pagans
  • Manley Hopkins, Gerard – Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Medearis, Carl – Speaking of Jesus: The art of not-evangelism
  • Miller, Donald – Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation
  • Murray, John – Divorce
  • Partridge, Alan  – I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan
  • Peers, E. Allison – St John of the Cross
  • Phillips, Caroline – The Religious Quest in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Rajan (ed), Balachandra – T.S. Eliot: A Study of his Writings by Several Hands
  • Rossiter, Joanna – The Sea Change
  • Sinnot, Alice – The Personification of Wisdom
  • Smith, Zadie – White Teeth
  • Sproul,  R.C. – Can I Have Joy in my Life?
  • Spufford, Francis – Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can make surprising emotional sense
  • Stibbe, Mark – I Am Your Father
  • Stott, John – The Cross of Christ
  • Thomas, Gary – Sacred Pathways
  • von Rad, Gerhard – Wisdom in Israel
  • Vonnegut, Kurt – God Bless You, Dr Kevorkian
  • Warren, Rick – God’s Power to Change your Life
  • Wenham/Heth/Keener – Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views
  • Westermann, Claus – Roots of Wisdom
  • Witherington, Ben – Jesus the Sage
  • Zacharias, Ravi – Jesus Among Other Gods 

Note: there’s one book missing from my list because it’s not actually been published yet. But rest assured, it will be released soon and then I won’t stop recommending it!!





Reading Analysis 2011-2012

16 07 2012

To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.’ – A.C. Grayling

What you put into you matters. Or so nutritionists tell us. Balance is essential. Too much of one food group and you end up fat, lethargic, unwell… or dead.

If that’s true of our physical wellbeing, might it not be true for our intellectual wellbeing?

Each year I try to plan my reading in order to ensure that I have a balanced diet: reading widely, reading in areas that will strengthen the areas I need to be strong in immediately, and reading things that stretch me and strengthen me for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky I know, but I’ve found it helpful over the past few years to plan what types of books I need to read over a year, keep a list of all the books I have read, and then analyse how balanced my reading has been. Each July I’ve set goals for how I want to divide up my reading in the next 12 months. And the time has come to analyse my reading from 2011-2012.

This year I thought my reading would take a hit. Having started an MA, I’ve been reading more articles or chapters of books rather than whole books. I haven’t listed those here, since I’ve dipped into well over a hundred books that I’ve never had the inclination or intention to finish. These are just the books I’ve read in full.

As it happens though, the number of books I’ve completed has increased rather than decreased, which I’m pretty happy with, especially since a number of the books are pretty enormous (Beale’s commentary on Revelation for example, was something of a beast!)

In July 2011 to July 2012 I completed 50 books; that is 3 more than last year. Annoyingly I didn’t quite make it to 1 book a week. I was tempted to read a couple of Mr Men this morning to tip me over, but resisted the urge…

82% of books were Christian, 18% secular. This is a bit out from what I had hoped. I’d originally aimed for a 70/30 split, but reading for an MA in Theology skewed that quite considerably.

The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements.

My theological reading has been more than I’d aimed for this year, on account of the fact that I wasn’t planning to study for an MA when I originally set my goals. A change of focus means that I’ve read no plays this year, and have spent less time reading books on Leadership or Skill Development. However, I’ve made a concerted effort to develop my writing this year, and have consequently found it useful to read ‘well written books’ rather than ‘books on writing well’; hence more novels.

Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.

All this has helped me to set goals for 2012-2013. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

And in case you’re curious, here’s a list of all the books I completed this year:

Barr, James – The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality
Barnes, Julian – The Sense of an Ending
Barton, John (ed.) – The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
Bauckham, Richard – The Bible in Politics
Beale, G.K. – The Book of Revelation (NIGTC)
Carson, D.A. – The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
Cook, Jeff – Everything New
Cooper, John – Body, Soul and Life Everlasting
Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
Coupland, Douglas – Miss Wyoming
Coupland, Douglas – Life Without God
DeWiit, Patrick – The Sisters Brothers
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – Exponential
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – The Big idea
Giles, Kevin – Jesus and the Father
Guinness, Os – The Call
Guinness, Michele – The Genius of Guinness
Gunton, Colin – The Promise of Trinitarian Theology
Hosier, Matthew – Sex Talks
Hosier, John – The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil
Keller, Timothy – Counterfeit Gods
Koukl, Gregory – Tactics
Lawrence, D.H. – Apocalypse
Laws, Sophie – In the Light of the Lamb
Lloyd-Jones, Martin – From Fear to Faith
Mamet, David – Writing in Restaurants
Mansfield, Stephen – Searching for God and Guinness
McEwan, Ian – The Innocent
McLaren, Brian – The Secret Message of Jesus
Mitchell, David – Cloud Atlas
Moore, Phil – Straight to the Heart of Revelation
Moraine, Jack – Healing Ministry: A Training Manual for Believers
Ponsonby, Simon – More
Rahner, Karl – On the Theology of Death
Rahner, Karl – The Trinity
Reeves, Michael – The Good God
Rollins, Peter – How (Not) to Speak About God
Rollins, Peter – Insurrection
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – In Memory of Her
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – Discipleship of Equals
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment
Smith, James K.A. – Desiring the Kingdom
Smith, James K.A. – Thinking in Tongues
Tyson, Jon – Rumours of God
Wilson, N.D. – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Wilson, Andrew – If God Then What?
Wimber, John – Power Evangelism
Wodehouse, P.G. – Love Among the Chickens
Wright, Tom – Revelation for Everyone
Zacharias, Ravi – Recapture the Wonder





My Progressive Education Plan

15 12 2011

I dread the question: “What kind of music are you into?” I tend to dawdle for a moment before doing that non-committal thing that people do… “Uh… Oh… you know, a bit of everything. A pretty eclectic mix” which tends to mean they’re embarrassed by the contents of their CD collection. And embarrassed I am; not because I think there is anything intrinsically wrong with my taste in music, but because I know that the moment I say I like progressive rock, people’s heads will be filled with images of aging rockers in capes, singing about pixies, with hair and voices more befitting of 1970s women!

I love This Is Spinal Tap, but it has a lot to answer for.

Truth is, progressive music is one side of my musical taste. The last ten albums I listened to were by Peter Gabriel, Adele, Alter Bridge, U2, Paul Simon, John Coltrane, Regina Spektor, John Mayer, Dream Theater and The Beatles. Only one of those bands is really progressive (I’ll give you a clue, it’s the one you’ve never heard of) but if I did have to nail down one genre of preference, progressive rock would be my choice… sans mythological lyrics, general weirdness and Stonehenge replicas.

So this week a colleague (with a discerning musical taste and an open mind) happened to mention that he didn’t really know anything about progressive rock, and I leapt on the opportunity. I took it upon myself to educate the poor chap, whether he wanted education or not, in the finer details of progressive rock. I made up a playlist, jotted down some listening notes, and inflicted them on him…

The initial results were better than expected, with him enjoying not only the first recommended song, but a couple of albums by the first band too. I’m not sure how deep into the education he’s got yet: I like to think he’s savouring it… And so I decided, why not road test my Progressive Education Plan on a wider audience?

Here are some initial thoughts and recommendations on how to get into progressive rock. It’s not exhaustive. I steered clear of things I knew I had no chance of selling!! I didn’t go too far back in time; though I did include one Rush track and one from Yes. I didn’t bother with any of those so called classic bands like Jethro Tull, or Caravan or Gentle Giant, partly because I find their names embarrassing (reminding me of cornish comedians, mobile homes and the green sweetcorn man) and because I find their music a little embarrassing too! I’ve even left off some of the real classics who I do very much enjoy: Pink Floyd for example, and to a lesser extend Rush and Yes. My aim was not a complete education in all things progressive, just a window into the contents of my ears… if you know what I mean!

I’ve left it more or less as I wrote to him, with just a couple of tweaks, hence some of the personal references. Load up the playlist, Give it a go… let me know how you get on:

My Progressive Education Plan

What draws me to progressive music is the intricacy of it. I love listening to stuff that is complex, which really shows off all the instruments, and which does stuff I could have no hope of playing myself. I tire quickly of listening to music that is predictable, unremarkable, and which the average busker on the street could replicate without breaking into a sweat.

I love the long songs, and the complex changing of time-signatures, but (and this is key), I love it when it’s done so naturally that you barely notice. That’s a real skill, and that’s why I like each of these bands here, and dislike many others. As well as being highly skilled musicians, most of the guys on this list are great songwriters too and have a feel for how to write a well-crafted track that doesn’t sound too jarring.

So here are some suggestions for a first foray into progressive music:

I’d suggest starting with a kind of quasi-progressive group like Porcupine Tree. Weird name, but by progressive standards it’s remarkably tame! There are some obvious progressive elements to their music: long songs, concept albums, odd time signatures, atmospheric sections, but also a lot of their music is just straightforward good song-writing. I imagine their style will not feel a million miles away from many of the bands you tend to listen to.

Start off with the track The Sound of Muzak, which is a great song in a weird time signature (also – the subject matter is the commercialisation of music, so I thought you’d appreciate that!) If you like this, I’d recommend checking out their album In Absentia, and then Deadwing, which is a bit more progressive and a little heavier.

Second, I’d suggest trying Dream Theater who are the leading progressive metal band of the moment. Each musician is absolutely top of their game, and their music is very complex, often revolving around a lot of intricate soloing sections. I’ve suggested two songs, which demonstrate various elements of their style. The first is Breaking All Illusions from their latest album. It’s not too heavy, but is quite complex musically, with some amazing riffs, some quirky fun parts and an absolutely beautiful guitar solo. Then secondly I’ve gone for Blind Faith for no other reason than because it contains my all-time favourite keyboard solo from 6:12-8:22.

To follow up on Dream Theater I’d recommend their latest album A Dramatic Turn of Events which is relatively heavy, but fresh and modern, or one of their older albums like Scenes from a Memory, which is a concept album or Images and Words which was their breakthrough album – note, it’s a bit dated, so sounds a little cheesy in places, but still is quite amazing, and less heavy than their more recent work.

Next up, completely, unapologetically self-indulgent showing off: Liquid Tension Experiment. This is an instrumental super group made up of a few members of Dream Theater, plus a keyboard player (who wasn’t in Dream Theater at the time, but now is) and bassist Tony Levin.

I’d suggest trying Paradigm Shift, which is a relentless and ridiculously fast masterclass in showing off! It’s their first track from their first album, it’s very technical, but as a musician it makes me smile because it’s just so intricate and fun. Then I’d recommend their first album Liquid Tension Experiment. To be honest, once you’ve listened to one or two tracks you’ll have a pretty good idea of what their music is like since it’s all pretty self-indulgent.

Fourthly, a band which is less about showing off and more about crafting strong songs in the style of some of the more retro progressive bands: Spock’s Beard. Their music is typically more keyboard led, which is due to the fact that their (now ex) lead singer plays keyboards primarily, and other instruments as and when required. There’s a lot of Hammond organ, long songs, still complex, but more based around well-written song structures. There’s a clear Beatles influence to a fair amount of their song-writing, which I love.

I recommend starting with one of their longest tracks At the End of the Day. In some ways it’s not typical of all their stuff, since they tend to have plenty of short tracks on their albums, but most of the elements are there: lots of organ, quirky bass work, Beatles-esque writing, a range of music styles, some brilliant keyboard soloing, and a little bit of brass for good measure. If you want more from Spock’s Beard I’d recommend their album V, followed by Snow (for a longer concept album made of shorter songs) or Beware of Darkness (if you want something a little more retro).

Fifthly, a band called Transatlantic. These guys are a super group made up of the singer/keyboardist from Spock’s Beard, the drummer from Dream Theater, a guitarist from a progressive fusion band, and a bassist from a British group called Marillion.

Their style is a mixture of Spock’s Beard and some elements of each of the other bands represented, and is characterised by (very) long songs, lots of Hammond and keyboards, lots of jazzy guitar work, very-beatles-esque lyrics. I recommend starting with Stranger in your Soul – don’t let the 30 minute song length put you off! These guys are expert song-writers as well as technical musicians, so if you think of it like an album rather than a song, it’s full of catchy sections, and holds together brilliantly. Then if you can stomach it, one of my all-time favourite albums is called The Whirlwind, which is an approximately 76 minute song… it’s better than it sounds! Complex, brilliantly written, and I could listen to it over and over. If you want something with a few more tracks, then check out Bridge Across Forever.

Once you’re done listening to those 6 songs, you will have spent the best part of a day listening to progressive music!! And you’ll have a pretty good picture of the landscape of modern progressive music.

Good luck, and enjoy,

LT





The Widow

22 09 2011

Somewhere in my dim and distant past I studied drama. And I took it relatively seriously. And I tentatively entertained the vague notion that I may one day want to pursue a career in playwriting. Well… that notion has waned somewhat, but I have three scripts to show for it, in various states of dress. One completed and performed, one completed and submitted to theatres (two rejection letters received so far… counting the days until the next couple arrive…) and one awaiting a final edit before I kick it out of the nest and let it plummet down the cliff face towards obscurity.

Yes, since you asked (which I’m well aware you didn’t), you may read them if you wish (which I’m well aware you probably don’t) for the first two of them are online and publicly viewable.

The Bush Theatre runs a site called Bushgreen, which is a great online community allowing playwrights to publish their plays for other potential collaborators to view. It’s a great place to go to read work by new writers, and of course allows folks like me to sustain the hope that someone may stumble across us and consider us the next best thing to hit British theatre.

It is through Bushgreen that you may, if you feel so inclined, check out my latest play, recently uploaded. It’s entitled The Widow and is a one man play, around 75 minutes in length in which a young man, trying to come to terms with the death of his wife begins to plan for the future, taking comfort from his obsessions with language, envelopes and Bertrand Russell. It is a black comedy, exploring themes of bereavement, stubbornness, OCD, denial, hope, escapism, and the blurring of truth and fiction. The widower is a complex and thoroughly pretentious, self-absorbed character who, over the course of the play, becomes increasingly ‘under the influence’. Hopefully a challenging, but enjoyable role to play!

If you want to check it out, you’ll need to sign up and then search for ‘The Widow’ or just ask nicely and I may send you a copy. Feedback gratefully received*

_____

*Level of gratitude may vary!





Getting my junk together

31 08 2011

I have an annoying habit – which may well be on account of my gender – of leaving items such as keys, my wallet or loose change scattered in random parts of the house. I walk into the house, and tend to just put down the items on whatever flat space happens to be available at that part particular moment in time.

Having been irritated by this for quite some time, my wife has devised a simple but brilliant solution: a small rectangular plate, approximately 12x5cm, which resides permanently on the bookshelf. This is my space, and we have an agreement that all my random items are to be placed on this plate, and on this plate alone. Not every possession I own, of course, just those little things that I’m tempted to dump on windowsills and promptly forget about. And it works the other way round too; if I fail to put my keys there and instead place them in some unhelpful location, upon finding them, Helen relocates them to the plate. Thus my junk is confined to a 60cm² piece of porcelain.

In recent months I have been scattering thoughts in too many locations around the web – an article here, a blog post there – and I’ve tried not to duplicate material too much for fear of boring absolutely everyone at every juncture. But now even I’m losing track of what I’ve written and when, and so I think the time has come to put all my junk in one place.

So consider this blog something of a porcelain plate!

When I write articles elsewhere, I’ll link to them here as well. That way, everything I say, do and write is in one searchable location, and perhaps I’ll remember where I’ve left my thoughts, should I ever have need for them again.

And so I start with something published today… This is a talk I gave at Newday 2011 called God’s Plan to Change the World, which can be found at the Everything Conference website along with an interactive presentation, my first foray into the wonderful world of prezi.

It was a fun challenge to try to articulate something of the Everything concept to 14-18 year olds… you can be the judge of whether I succeeded! At least, if nothing else, it was amusing making everyone look as stupid as my sister did:


Enjoy!





Riots, Looting and the Myth of Redemptive Violence

8 08 2011

London is in shreds. Rioting has begun to spread: First in Tottenham, then Enfield, and now many other places, including my neighbourhood, Brixton. It’s shocking and saddening when you hear the reports and see the footage of buildings you pass by every day, with bricks through windows and flames tearing their hearts out. Each shop represents a staff of dozens; people’s livelihoods. Each person injured is a son, or a daughter, or father or mother. Each person arrested is a needless waste of human liberty.

I’m not in London at the moment. I’m on holiday outside the city for a few days, and my news is coming from TV reports, online newspapers and twitter searches. It’s strange watching the whole raft of people commenting on the various riots; some in proud approval, some showing off their haul from various shops (a few seemingly oblivious to the inherent stupidity of posting a photograph of your own face next to a stolen plasma screen!), some in shock or fear. Every time I hit refresh there’s a new threat, a new rumour, a new precaution. People speculate about how it’s all been organised and where will be hit next. Who knows how far this will spread?

It’s hard to know if any of the protests were legitimately warranted, even in their nascent form. It’s not yet clear whether Mark Duggan’s death was due to police malpractice, or whether he shot first, and I dare not speculate.

But what is clear is this: responding with violence will achieve little. Violence has a nasty habit of escalating. We could cite hundreds of examples, but one leaps immediately to my mind.

In the Bible, the book of Judges chapter 15, Samson’s father-in-law gives Samson’s wife away to someone else; perhaps a legitimate reason for him to be somewhat irked! Samson responds aggressively, the Philistines up the ante, and the whole thing spirals out of control:

‘Samson said, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.

When the Philistines asked, “Who did this?” they were told, “Samson, the Timnite’s son-in-law, because his wife was given to his companion.”

So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death.  Samson said to them, “Since you’ve acted like this, I swear that I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.” He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.

The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi. The people of Judah asked, “Why have you come to fight us?”

“We have come to take Samson prisoner,” they answered, “to do to him as he did to us.”

Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?”

He answered, “I merely did to them what they did to me.”’
(Judges 15:3-11)

What is striking about this scenario is the futility of it all. Things so quickly leap from the actions of one person, to the burning of crops, to murder, to mass murder, until over 3,000 men are involved, and 1,000 Philistines get pummelled to death with a donkey’s jawbone!

How quickly too the threats, excuses and defences leap to the tongue:

“I have a right to get even” (v3)
“Since you’ve acted like this, I swear that I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you” (v7)
“We have come […] to do to him as he did to us” (v10)
“I merely did to them what they did to me” (v11)

Humans have an uncanny ability to legitimate their actions and defend the indefensible, at least in their own minds. Even if Duggan was the victim of police malpractice, a violent retort is hardly the answer. How does burning buildings to the ground establish justice? How does robbing a shop, or decimating a bus?

But let’s be clear: most of what has been done this weekend is in no way related to the Duggan incident. I don’t know what motivated the hundreds of youths to smash, maim, burn, destroy and steal, but I doubt that for many of them it was a passion for justice.

Just this week I’ve been thinking about a talk I’m due to give in a month or so. It’s on the latter chapters of the book of Esther, and at this point in the story, the Jewish people are facing extermination. The Persian King Xerxes permitted the Jews to defend themselves, to kill their attackers and ‘to plunder the property of their enemies’ (Esther 8:22) and yet three times we are told that ‘they did not lay their hands on the plunder’ (Esther 9:10, 15, 16). I don’t know why they refused to take the plunder, even when the King had permitted them to. I assume it was to show something of their character: they were not in this for selfish motives, to make money at others’ expense; rather they were trying to establish justice. So they protested strongly, they fought, but they refused to cross over into greed.

Looting would only have undermined their cause, but they demonstrated the purity of their motives by refusing to plunder their enemies.

Of course, at other points the people of God did take spoils from war, so I’m hardly holding them up as a shining example! But for all the questions this passage does raise about the legitimacy of war or self-defence, it tells us one thing: In standing up against injustice, you don’t have to go to extremes. You have a choice. You can draw a line; saying ‘this far and no further.’ You are able to go as far as is necessary to protect yourself, to prove a point, and yet still resist greed and selfish motives. You have a choice about how you conduct yourself.

There is nothing honourable about the way in which people have conducted themselves these last few days. This kind of mindless looting is immoral, and it undermines the original cause: the pursuit of truth and justice. The higher the injury toll goes, the harder it will be to gain sympathy for the cause, and the death of Mark Duggan, innocent or not, will very soon be irretrievably buried under hatred, pain, bitterness and cynicism.

I pray for peace on my home streets. I pray for the family of Mark Duggan. I pray that justice will be done for all involved. I pray for the police, that they may have wisdom to handle the riots with integrity. I pray for those arrested, that they would be truly repentant. I pray for those who are contemplating rioting tonight; that they would think before throwing away their lives. And I pray that Isaiah 2 will be fulfilled even quicker than expected:

‘God will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.’ (Isaiah 2:2-4)





Reading Analysis: 2010-2011

19 07 2011

A balanced diet is good for your health, because what you put into you matters. Too much of one food group and you will end up fat, lethargic, or with vitamin deficiencies. I would propose that the same is true of our reading…

What you put into you matters; it shapes what you become. And so for the past couple of years I’ve tried to get a balanced diet of reading, ensuring that I am:

  1. Reading widely
  2. Not simply reading in the categories I enjoy, but broadening my horizons to read things I wouldn’t naturally choose
  3. Reading books that will help me develop the skills I will require for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky, I know, but I’ve found it incredibly useful not only to chart what I’m reading, but then to set goals for the next year. I haven’t followed my goals slavishly… reading is an art (and a joy!) not a science, but it has helped me to identify areas I rarely read in, and to readdress the balance accordingly. With a limited amount of time to read, it’s too important for me to leave to chance…

If you wish, you can check out last year’s stats and book list, but here’s what I’ve found for July 2010-2011:

  • In 2010-2011 I started 55 books, of which I completed 47.
  • I completed one more book this year, and started fewer, which is great! I no longer have quite an enormous pile of half-read books languishing on my bedside table. Of course, there are plenty of other books I’ve dipped into for the odd chapter or fact… I haven’t bothered listing those here, only the books I started with a genuine intent to finish!
  • 77% of books were Christian, 23% secular
  • The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements*

  • From this I can see that I’ve read more ‘spiritual’ books than I had imagined or intended, but that’s no bad thing. Part of that has been necessity (researching for talks on prayer for example) and some of it was a healthy redressing of the balance from last year.
  • I’ve read far fewer books on ethics, apologetics and politics this year than I had intended. That is a weakness, and I would like to change that in this next year. I’ve already lined up a couple of apologetics books that I could do with reading to strengthen my thinking in that area.
  • I’ve spent little time reading books about marriage, though I’ve listened to plenty of talks on it this year, so hopefully I’ve still invested in it my marriage in other ways!!
  • My reading of drama has decreased this year. I’m happy with that. As I’ve thought long and hard about what I am likely to do with my life, I see less of a role for drama and the theatre, other than being a hobby. So I’ve felt less inclined to give time to it in my reading.
  • My ‘skill development’ figure is low and my ‘fiction’ figure high. This is due to the fact that I really want to develop in writing, and yet as I have read books on writing, I’ve realised that I can learn immeasurably more from just reading well-written books! Books on writing can be pretty turgid, self-indulgent, opinionated, and not overly helpful… So I’ve read a number of novels by skilled writers instead, and have enjoyed them immensely. I’m not usually one for reading fiction, but I’ve gone on recommendations from my wife, and she’s hit the nail on the head every time!
  • Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.
  • All this has helped me to set goals for 2011-2012. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

In case you’re curious, here’s the list of books I’ve completed this year:

As I’ve said previously, I’ve found this to be a helpful exercise, which has caused me to take my reading more seriously, and to be more strategic and forward looking about what I read. Socrates wrote:

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for.”

Think about where you want to be in a year. Think about the character traits you want ironed out, the skills you want to improve, then read the relevant books. Make your reading count. Think about the great men and women of history you want to learn from and emulate – and then read their biographies. Think about some of your edges that are blunt, and read books that will sharpen them. Think about your jagged edges and read books that will smooth them. And then join me in public self-humiliation – post a pie chart!

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* Given that there is often a significant amount of cross over between categories, I apportioned each book 3 points, which I could spread across the categories as I saw fit.