BOOK REVIEWS

TIM WINTON - THE SHEPHERD'S HUT

Shepherd's Hut

I have been a fan of Tim Winton for thirty years. 

A few pages into every novel I have asked myself why? They are often stories about bleak characters in bleak circumstances in bleak western Australian terrain.  

BUT… there is always little snippets of redemption. Like an Australian Flannery O’Connor - vivid, lyrical, earthy prose that are always God haunted. God is omnipresent.

And so The Shepherd’s Hut. Jaxie is a teenager that Winton describes as a ‘feral ratbag’. Taking off across the western Australian salt lands on foot without the equipment or experience needed we are gripped by this bad boy’s adventure. Place is like an extra character with Winton and never more so in this tall tale.

Eventually in this nowhere place Jaxie meets a nowhere man, Irish priest Fintan. We never know why he has been exiled out there but the two start the strangest of fractious relationships that eventually becomes a bond. 

The elderly educated Fintan is all words and song and books whereas Jaxie ain’t! In their strange conversations the spiritual is opened up. Religion. God. Prayer. Hope. Peace. Finding yourself an instrument of God.

As I said, utterly gripping with an almost wild west cowboy ending that I could not possibly spoil here. 

Back to why I love Tim Winton. His redemption is never simple testimony of sinner to saved. It is messy, realistic, incremental; ordinary broken humanity groping in a shadowy world for grace and peace and God… just a hem of the garment. Nobody does it better.


WINN COLLIERS - A BURNING IN MY BONES; The Authorised Biography of Eugene Peterson

A burning in my bones

Psychological relief. Page after page. Winn Collier’s biography on Eugene Peterson was like a retreat of soul healing for this near sixty year old minister.

For most of my 33 years ordained I have felt a little odd, eccentric, black sheep. I thought I was alone. That there was someone else out there like me was consoling in itself but that it happened to be Eugene Peterson made it utterly joyful. I was close to tearful during paragraphs.

Winn has done an amazing job with Eugene’s life. For those who somehow don’t know Eugene Peterson, he was a pastor, author and college Professor. He is perhaps most famous for his paraphrase/translation of the Bible that became known as The Message.

Winn Colliers was given permission by Eugene to trawl through his entire 86 years on the planet, with access to diaries and letters and whatever was available. He has somehow edited that to just over 300 pages and given a deep and wide story of a unique human being trying to follow God as best he could with all the grace gifted him.

Of course I was drawn to Peterson’s relationship with Bono though I feel that David Taylor’s short film about Bono and Eugene discussing The Psalms had given us a real feel for their friendship.

I was also delighted that included in the book was the story Eugene told the night he embarrassed me as his interviewer by not answering any of my questions in a sizeable tent full of people back in the 90s. Unable to get a word of Eugene, the main speaker at a Presbyterian Special Assembly, my friend David Montgomery rescued me from the piano stool and asked me to ask about the filling in reports for the New Church Development committee. Eugene lit up like a comedian. Read about that evening here - Surmising The Life Of Eugene Peterson

This was all good but it wasn’t what Eugene did as much as why he did it that most excited me. Winn tells us of a man who had no time for sectarianism among Christians, even suspicious of the evangelicalism label; he was more interested in the outworking of faith rather than the correctness of doctrine, quoting “Barth wasn’t indifferent to “getting it right” but his passion was in “getting it lived”; he saw the God-part of people and was short on judgementalism as a result; he saw holiness in his dad’s butcher’s shop and in the mountains and lakes of his childhood and later life Montana; he heard God speak in novels, even using novels to teach his theology; he always felt an outsider with no desire to join any broad movements; he loved the Scripture, not to debate as much as enter into and feel and learn and love.

I could go on and on. This is not your common or garden pastor and I needed to hear about him. I loved particularly an idea that he found in the works of Nobel poet Czeslaw Milosz. Milosz survived Communism in Poland by employing “Ketman” - “a stance of outer compliance but inner dissent”. “Ketman” could be my middle name over 40 years of ministry.

Another poet to give Eugene spiritual understanding or at least understanding of his own spiritual journey was Denise Levertov. Her picturing a dog following its nose caught the imagination of a man who grew up in love with dogs and animals and lakes and mountains. Winn writes, “His life and work had been more like tracing a scent than following a map”.

I have struggled my entire ministry with 5 year Church mission plans. I do not understand the language or idea. That doesn’t make me any less a visionary but my process echoes “tracing a scent” perfectly. I read the paragraph and my weirdo soul screamed ‘not mad’! At least the only one not mad!

No doubt the big talk about the book will be how Peterson wrestled with the LGBT debate. All of his sniffing scents and being a little suspicious of “some people who took themselves too seriously a were certain of ‘what God is doing’” led him to a place of pragmatic pastoral care that will no doubt ruffle many feathers. 

What Winn Collier has done is to give us the honesty and integrity of a life given over to follow and serve Jesus and to share the Scripture in word and pastoral care. It is the story of a human being consumed by something way bigger than himself or the mountains of his Montana childhood. It is the story of a man who had a “hunger for something radical - something so true that it burned in his bones.” 

I am thankful to have met Eugene Peterson, to know his work. My soul is leaping for joy at Eugene’s earthed, authentic sense of the transcendent. I am left yearning to sniff out the same holiness! Thank you Winn Collier for a wonderful biography. 


PATRICK MAGEE - WHERE GRIEVING BEGINS; A MEMOIR

MAgee

Patrick Magee writes in his concluding postscript to his honest and open memoir how a moment in the middle of his life changed it. That moment was one of two that defines his life, at least in public terms. 

With the first, this second one would mean nothing. The first is that Patrick Magee is the ‘Brighton Bomber’. He is the IRA man who blew up the Grand Hotel where the Conservative Party delegates were staying during their 1984 Conference. 

Five were killed, some were left disabled and many others injured in the blast. One of those who lost their lives was Conservative MP and Deputy Chief-Whip Anthony Berry. 

Magee’s life changing event was when Berry’s daughter Jo sought him out wanting to understand the motivation of the killer of her father. Brave decision. Challenging for the bomber. Those first few hours in a room with Jo Berry are what Magee describes as perhaps the most significant moment.

It certainly is in the book. If we divide the book into three. We get Magee’s formation personally and politically in family and his experiences of nationalist Belfast, his joining the IRA because he thought then and still thinks now that it was the only way to deal with British and Unionist oppressors. Then there was the experience of Long Kesh as a prisoner. 

We then get his volunteering to be part of IRA campaigns in England, that pivotal moment of the Brighton Bomb and then his time in prison where he starts work on a PhD on how fictional novels about The Troubles misrepresents the Republican narrative and the real reasons for their campaign.

I found all of this a little bit of a trudge. For me it was slow. That might be because of my own upbringing in very different circumstances to Magee’s. I will come back to it though. That might be more important than I found it enjoyable.

For me the third section was where it all came alive. At that meeting with Jo Berry. From then on we have the memoir of a man who becomes a friend of the woman whose father he had killed. The rest of the book is about making space for reconciliation and as someone interested in such things I was fascinated. 

Jo Berry’s courage, grace and generosity of spirit needs huge respect in all of this. She isn't soft writing about their dialogue in her Foreword.  As well as Jo Berry, Magee finds Harvey Thomas also blown up in the bomb reaching out to him. Thomas is motivated to forgive by his Christian faith. Elsewhere forgiveness is recognised a difficult word. 

All these questions fill the last third of the book as Magee and Berry continue their dialogue, find themselves in TV documentaries and speaking at various Universities and Peace platforms. We even find a couple of pages where Patrick and Jo speak at a 4 Corners festival event, though he calls the Festival after the name of that evening’s event - Listening To Our Enemies. More of that in another blog.

I found it all thought provoking and helpful in my own thinking. What was most challenging and most difficult is what is probably most needed.

Patrick Magee is called upon time after time to claim that the IRA military campaign is wrong. It will be a very difficult read if that is what you are looking for. Magee admits the apparent contradictions in himself - “My own conflict is that I stand over my actions and yet profoundly regret the hurt inflicted.”

As well as working tirelessly for peace, in these past 20 years, Patrick Magee has also been keen to be an apologist for the Republican campaign. This is the challenging part of the book. Yet, as we live through all our decade of centenaries and surmise how we might move forward with two very different stories, Magee might just highlight one of the keys to unlock a better future - “The last and perhaps greatest obstacle to a shared future is the battle of narrative.”

As a result of the engagement that both Jo Berry and Harvey Thomas has offered him, Magee has experienced the benefit of dialogue and contact. It has allowed him to humanise the other. I imagine it has been the kind of challenge to him as reading this book might be to many of the victims of the IRA. Narratives need shared. Understanding needs sought. Humanising each other’s other needs to result.

If you are interested in such then take on the challenge of this memoir.


JAN CARSON - THE LAST RESORT

Last Resort

Jan Carson has this County Antrim conversational literary style. You can almost hear the accent. It is so easy to read, so enjoyable. She is great at painting pictures of her characters. They are real. There’s honesty, humour and drama. You feel that you have met them. In their stories Jan leaves her deep thoughts.

The Last Resort is another beautiful read, more evidence that she is more than worthy of the awards and Radio 4 reads. 

The Last Resort was written in Lockdown. It is set in Ballycastle where I wish I was reading it but Covid restrictions meant that I had to make do with Belfast. We’ve all been static for so long hence the setting of a caravan park. 

My biggest critique would be that I am not sure about her research in Ballycastle. She doesn’t describe the town I know. It sounds more like Kellys and Portrush but she needed a cliff! 

The book is short. It is not unlike David Park’s short novel from last year A Run In The Park. Short stories of different lives drawn together in a common space interweave and throw out lessons of life.

Where Park’s book is about moving on, Carson’s is about lives that are stuck. In the stories all linked by the caravan, the cliff and the loss or theft of things we have an array of Northern Irish issues, The Troubles, Church, migrants, gender, dementia…

In keeping with the magic realism of Jan’s other writings the magic in her work arrives in the form of the child ghost Lynette. Blown up in her RUC father’s car at the caravan park decades earlier she reappears much the same way that Douglas Coupland’s Jared appears in Girlfriend in a Coma. Like a holy ghost Lynette seeks the letting go of the fears that keep our characters and our wee country static.

The Last Resort is my favourite of her books to date. I loved it so much that I would have loved more. It has me looking forward already to what the wonderfully gifted Ms Carson will do next. 


RICHARD OSMAN - THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

ThursdayMurderClub_1200x1200

Richard Osman is all over the TV and seems like an all round good guy. Naturally funny and clever too. The idea that he could also be a novelist was not a leap of fiction. Nor that he would be good.

His debut novel Thursday Murder Club has been making the year’s shortlists and it is again easy to understand why. This is a beautifully easy read with great characters, lots of charm and humour and full of drama and twists.

Our main characters all live in Coopers Chase a rather high end Residential Home. Don’t get the idea though that this at all dottery  Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron are feisty characters and what of course we should know but too easily forget have full lives of intrigue and wisdom and skill. 

Starting out as a wee club these guys find themselves, beyond their wildest dreams in some ways, up the their neck in not one but two murders in their very own neighbourhood and loads of historical secrets get turned over as they help and outwit the local police in the investigation. 

Osman does a lot for the rights of our societal elders. He highlights what they have on us - memories, experience, life. Under the smooth top layer of this yarn we have regrets, broken dreams, life long love, heartache and need for confession.

You would need to be a literary snob to read this and not be looking forward to the follow up, slated for later in 2021. So enjoyable. 


KERRI NÍ DOCHARTAIGH - THIN PLACES

Thin Places

Kerri ní Dochartaigh memoir Thin Places is the first book that I ever bought twice. I don’t Kindle much these days. I need the tactile feel of a book and pages easily turned back as well as forward. I Kindled Thin Places but it was so good that I had to have the book! I never read books twice. There isn’t the time but Thin Places is different. 

I was utterly captivated by the the first paragraphs of the prologue, where her soul is environmentally heightened to the wonder of a moth as she walks the edges of the Inishowen Peninsula where the wild Atlantic meets Lough Foyle. The scene is beautiful, as are the prose. This is gorgeously written.

Though this sharp awareness of environment continues throughout do not think for one moment that Thin Places is a light and pretty read. As well as the beautiful terrain of the north west and later the middle of Ireland, and other places scattered across Scotland and England, Kerri ní Dochartaigh is writing about the inner terrain of trauma and the Troubles. 

Thin Places is equally haunting as it is captivating. It is as harrowing a read in equal measure to the beautiful. Kerri experienced being burned out of one Derry/Doire/Londonderry housing estates because she wasn’t the right religion and then having to leave the other for the same reasons. She was from a mixed marriage! A late teens idyllic space in Ballykelly is cut short by the murder of her boyfriend.

Thin Places is the long scarred and scared story of how Kerri ran away from these events. It is a story of a lost soul who somehow eventually finds redemption. She returns to eyeball the festering trauma and finds herself in an Ireland whose peace project has been thrown again by Brexit. Kerri struggles but seeks out Thin Places of spaces and creation and her new love for the Irish language and eventually romantic love that helps her find her self. 

Thin Places is no tome but it has so much going on that it is difficult to do it justice. It is a deep soul trawler eeking out life wisdom from the darkness and whatever flickers of light.  Like Colum McCann’s Apeirogon there’s a lot of threads weaving the brilliance.

The Twelfth chapter of the book is entitled Hollowing, Hallowing. For me these two words are the crux of the entire piece. 

Kerri writes: “To hollow out is to remove the inside of something: to make an empty space in the middle of something else. Sometime there is space inside us but no matter how we want it, nothing grows there.”

And then: “When we hallow a place, we bless it and we make it holy. We sanctify and honour it; we consecrate and hold it as sacred. We keep its ways and we hold them close. We listen to the place and feel its reverberation in our bones.”

I am writing this review as I also write my Resurrection Sunday sermon. They are blending and blurring! Deep in the dark tomb on the side of a hill in Jerusalem all the badness lies. It needs hollowed out to bring the possibility of a new beginning. In the hallowed ground of resurrection where Jesus says “Mary” and Mary realises. The new life starts here.

In the various threads of Thin Places Kerri ní Dochartaigh touches on religion and at time the Christian faith. I think she would understand somehow my use of it on Easter Sunday. 

Now back to the Prologue…


JIM DEEDS: A LOOK OF LOVE

A Look Of Love

Jim Deeds has almost become 4 Corners Festival’s spiritual leader. Not only did he host our Night Prayers at the 2021 Festival but he often leads our Planning Group devotions. 

It was in these Planning Group devotions that I became aware of Jim’s love, knowledge and ability to open up the Gospels. In an attitude of silent prayer he would have us walking to Emmaus with Jesus, keeping us in the text and then bringing that text to the context of where we were as a festival and a city.

Jim is an artist. He is a fine singer and guitar player. He has published poetry. He is also a wood carver. Our house is adorned with his finely honed crosses. My girls wear a cross of his making around their necks.

I have always found artists to be a wonderful resource in the opening up the Biblical text. Artists look above, below and around the texts, throwing fascinating hues across them.

A Look Of Love is Jim’s fifth book and though there are some similarities to his previous four, particularly the poetry, this is a little different. 

What we get in these pages are something similar to what Jim does for us at the beginning of 4 Corners Festival planning meetings. They are not exactly commentaries on Biblical texts though they are all very heavily based on the text. 

Jim takes the familiar stories and then brings us into the text from a unique angle. It is to a certain degree fictional BUT never leaves the meaning of the original passage. As well as a deep passion for Jesus and his love, Jim is a man of the Holy Spirit and seems to me to be a conduit of the Spirit as he brings to life lessons within the texts.

So as I have used A Look Of Love to help me into Jesus’s stories I have been intrigued by Mary’s story of the cross, the Samaritan women’s memory, a post parable discussion about The Prodigal Son and two friends arguing over Zacchaeus. The biggest challenge of all is the chatter about how literally to take Jesus teaching about storing up treasure in Luke 12.

There is a theme running through - Jesus’ look of love. The posture of Jesus grace overwhelms these pages, the stories and poems. A Look Of Love is Jim Deeds opening up The Good News in imaginative ways. He does it so well. 


PÁDRAIG Ó TUAMA & GLENN JORDAN: BORDERS AND BELONGING

Borders and Belonging

Just as I had heard lots of great things about Mumford & Sons before I actually heard a song I had for a few years been hearing amazing things about Glenn Jordan's Biblical teaching on Ruth, and how he was applying it to Brexit and migrants, without actually hearing him teach it.

Sadly, when Glenn's book on Ruth landed on my mat Glenn had been dead for eight months. Glenn's sudden passing last June is still beyond my belief. Reading his work posthumously was quite emotional.

Borders and Belonging is actually a collaboration with Pádraig Ó Tuama. It is the result of their work with the  Corrymeela Community where Pádraig was Leader of the Community and Glenn was working Public Theology Manager. 

Having known Glenn for decades and been privileged to sit on committee and around Ulster fries with him I was always taken by how he threw fresh perspective on Scripture, particularly the Old Testament. Over coffee tables he had piqued my enthusiasm for passages in Jeremiah and Isaiah. 

I could well see why he was looking to apply Old Testament writings to Brexit and the migrant crisis but I was a little surprised that he had chosen Ruth. 

I was pleased though. I have always been suspicious of Ruth as this lovely romantic story. The simplicity of how we have exegeted it has always been a little Twentieth Century. It always seemed earthier and full of intrigue.

Glenn and Pádraig do their theological homework as you would expect. I particular love how they look at the Jewish meaning of the text and context. Too often I think we ignore this and put too much confidence in post 16th century Protestants rather than the Jewish theologians who have spent millennia in these texts.

The book is also not just the thoughts that they both find sitting at some table in some library. They have toured this text and have discussed the texts in modern contexts all over Ireland and further afield.  

The bottom line is that Glenn and Pádraig find a short Old Testament book about migrant and borders. They believe that it can "help us amplify those voices silenced in the clamour of political, economic and social debates."

Naomi and her husband Elimelech cross borders in time of famine, heading to Moab for survival, their sons marry Moabites one of whom is Ruth. Migrants are fundamental to the text. Borders are crossed and back across again as Naomi returns home with a Moabite daughter-in-law. 

Added to this is the political and indeed the religious. Deuteronomy 23:3 says: "No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation."

In truth Naomi and Elimelech should not have crossed the border into Moab, their sons certainly should not have married Moabites and the Jews, including our "knight in shining armour" Boaz should not have welcomed Ruth in.  

Glenn declares his opinion, "I would argue the obligation to change the Law and the tradition so that kindness and grace is extended." 

I am sure some will take issue. If anyone does they need to be aware of Glenn's concentration on Scripture. This is not some liberal adding or subtracting from Biblical text. This is robust research, study and seeking understanding.

So Glenn and Pádraig open up some thought provoking stuff for how we relate to "the other". The law kept in loving God and neighbour. How does that apply to our Northern Ireland peace process, the Brexit crisis and how we deal with migrants. I also thought it interesting that both Glenn and Pádraig are Irish not Northern Irish or British. Forgiveness of the British for the famine is an intriguing example in the mix.

It is fascinating stuff and I am so glad that it has arrived in print. I am also more heartbroken than ever that I won't get a chance to sit across an Ulster fry with Glenn and debate it with laughter, love and Biblical thoroughness. 

 


PAUL DISTILLED - AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR GARY W BURNETT

Paul Distilled

In the first weeks of Lockdown in 2020, Gary Burnett did a wonderful series in Fitzroy on the theology of Paul. He took 10 themes in Paul's letters and gave 10 minutes teaching session on each. Gary's research in into Paul's writing and the social history of the first century was wonderfully illuminating.

A year later and Gary has added a few more themes and put it all down in a book that is launched on March 10th 2021. I had the honour of endorsing the book with these words:

"Gary Burnett has an academic mind, a devotional heart and a cultural perception. This unique blend gives him the ability to take big theological ideas and distill them into short accessible teaching sessions. They are inspirational, insightful and instructional. You will read the text afresh and hear the call to live in challenging ways."

I got a chance to ask Gary a few questions about himself, the book and of course Paul.

 

When did you start taking theology seriously?

About 30 years ago, after having been a Christian for many years, and thinking I knew my Bible pretty well, I went to a year of evening class study at Belfast Bible College – and realized how little I really did know! That spurred me on to do a theology degree and then I couldn’t get stopped, so I did a PhD. After that I began teaching, mostly in Union College, but also in the Bible College and Stranmillis College

 

What then drew you particularly to Paul?

The church I grew up in was a great fan of Paul and so I knew Paul’s letters pretty well. But during my studies I discovered there were a great many other approaches to Paul than what I’d grown up with, so it was very intriguing to start to drill down and see if I could get a better handle on him. 

Plus, I’d become very interested in the social history of the first century world, and I really appreciated trying to understand Paul within his own context. In the light of what we know – and we know a great deal – about his world, how might we understand what he has to say? And what relevance might that have to our world and our lives?

So, as I approach Paul, I’m always reminded of what John Stott said was the job of preachers – to try and understand the two worlds of the first century and our own, and then to build a bridge between them. And that’s pretty much what I’ve tried to do over many years. But there’s hard work involved!

 

Paul Distilled started as a teaching series. What was the original inspiration for that?

Well, last Spring the pandemic had hit and the whole world was turned upside down. We went in to lockdown for the first time, and we were aware of a great deal of suffering all round the world because of the havoc caused by the virus. So, I suppose I just wanted to do something positive, to provide a little bit of encouragement and inspiration for people.

So I knew that there was great potential for that in Paul’s letters – something, of course, that I know a little bit about! What he has to say about resurrection, about anxiety, joy, the power of the Holy Spirit and about love seemed to me to be the perfect antidote to the malaise we were all feeling.

As a result, I did this series of ten “Paul in Tens” – little video presentations, taking a theme in Paul and trying to make it engaging and hopeful for everyone, and doing each one in just 10 minutes. And they seemed to go down quite well, so after the videos were completed, I talked to the guys at Wipf and Stock about turning the material into a book and they were enthusiastic. I then set to work to augment and re-arrange the material and turn it into Paul Distilled.

 

In your introduction you suggest that many people have issues with Paul. Why do you think we ended up with a wrong take on him?

Well, you’ve got to admit, some of the trains of thought in Paul’s letters can be a bit confusing! Even the apostle Peter said that he thought brother Paul’s letters were “hard to understand.” And he lived in the same world as Paul! So perhaps we can be forgiven for getting the wrong end of the stick sometimes.

And then, of course, we have 2,000 years of theology to contend with – much of which is good and helpful, but some of it is a product of its time and its own social setting. So, along the way, Paul has been used to support slavery, despotic regimes and dreadful treatment of women, for example, and that legacy lingers on. But, trying to understand Paul in his own world can be a great help in untangling some of the knots we’ve got ourselves into at times.

Knowing something about the Roman Empire, its religion and its values, for example, can be a great help in seeing that Romans 13 isn’t the only passage in Paul that can guide our attitude to the powers that be. There are other passages where he is really being quite critical of all that Rome stands for.

 

Your subjects are intriguing. Usually Paul is all about "justification by faith” but though you use a Bob Dylan quote to almost take that as read, you are dealing with poverty, peace-making and justice. Why do we often miss these themes in Paul?

Yes, it’s maybe strange to have a book on Paul which doesn’t cover what most people think of by the term “justification by faith.” And, of course, that is important. But I did want to highlight some of the areas many of us have missed – perhaps by the very concentration there has been on that phrase. 

Once you start thinking about what the idea of the “gospel” was to a first century Jew like Paul, then you are immediately into the idea of the expectation of the kingdom of God arriving on earth. And that was his expectation – except now, it all revolved around the person of Jesus the Messiah. His coming, death and resurrection, Paul saw, were the way in which God’s promises to Israel were being realized. And that meant the peaceful world that Isaiah had envisaged; that meant the great reversal of rich and poor that Mary had seen; that meant the new day of justice that Israel’s prophets had looked for was now arriving; and that the transformation of the world was beginning.

So, I think, once you get that clear, and you see that the gospel is not simply “getting saved and going to heaven,” then as you read Paul, you’ll begin to see ideas about peace and love and justice popping up everywhere. 

What I really like about Paul’s letters is that in them we can piece together this grand vision that Paul has for seeing the significance of the coming of Christ. Which will culminate in the day of resurrection when God comes to renew the world. But, for Paul, that day of resurrection has already begun – which has enormous implications for our individuals lives, but also for the world. We Jesus-followers are called to anticipate God’s new creation in the present by seeking peace and justice in our church communities and in the wider world.       

 

And then the woman issue. Paul is often seen as against woman. You challenge that assumption.

Sadly, Paul is often seen as restricting the role of women in leadership. With the result some people just give up on him, thinking he is some sort of misogynist. Part of the problem is that there are a couple of verses in his letters that have been magnified out of all proportion. But if we start at the right place – which I argue in the book is Romans 16 – then we begin to get a much different understanding of Paul. One where he clearly works with and appreciates a whole range of women leaders in the early churches. So, the evidence from the New Testament really does not support restricting women in leadership. Far from doing that, actually, Paul supports women in church leadership!

         

How do you hope people might use the book?

I hope that the book is a good starter for people. That it gives them a way into Paul and opens up their thinking about the way that he thought about the gospel, about Jesus, about the world and the potential for transformation. That it might whet their appetite to study and think more about Paul’s letters. 

But also, I’ve included a set of questions at the end of each chapter, so that the book could be used in a church or home group setting. Where, perhaps, people could read a chapter and then come together to chat about some of the issues it has raised.

But again, like the Paul in Ten videos, I hope people will find this little book interesting, challenging and inspiring.

 

More details at www.pauldistilled.wordpress.com


PAUL COOKSON - FIGHTING TALK AND CAN OF WORMS; A Covid 19 Poetry Diary

Cookson

 

I cannot get enough of these books. Flicking across their pages I laughed, I sympathised, I welled up, I remembered and I raged. Paul Cookson has been writing poetry for decades but it is almost as if his gift was honed for such a time as this. He has captured ten months of living through Covid 19 with a holistic breath and depth that I don’t think he ever thought about doing when he set out.

Paul Cookson is a funny funny man. I have watched him doing his day job, grabbing the attention of Primary School children making them laugh and opening them up a love for poetry. I have actually laughed so hard that I thought I might pass out!

In the innocent Coronavirus days back last March, Paul committed to writing a poem every day. I bet he regrets that commitment. A few rhymes for a week or two turned into a year! Yet, every day there on Facebook… another poem! I followed the days, then weeks, then months on Facebook. Every day. 

Writing a poem every day is quite a task. It is not the quantity of the poems that impresses. It is that every day he found something of a weightiness to say. I have found these books a rather astonishing way to look back at the strange year we have lived through. Actually reading them, looking back has been much more profound than when I read them at the time.

Now, let me explain. Mr Cookson has a few roles in his poetic life as well as making a Primary School class love poetry. He is the Poet-In-Residence for the National Football Museum as well as for Everton in the Community. He is Poet Laureate for Slade too. He is even in a band with Slade drummer Don Powell!

So there are some wonderful entries about football and Glam Rock. However, this collection encompasses national issues and communal issues that sit alongside Paul’s own personal experience. It is a rich tapestry of what we have been going through. There are dull days, mental challenge, grief, tributes, praise for the NHS, sympathy for teachers and lots of political critique. 

These collection are about Coronavirus life in all its fulness in a punchy clever arranging of words and rhymes. They are an entertaining national history. Thank you Paul for committing to that first poem and keeping on… and on… and on.