What the vicar read (on holiday)

One of the great things about holidays is holiday reading. When the pace of life slows down we have more space to read and reflect. This summer I took four books away with me to France and here’s a summary of what I read. I hope what I write encourages you to pick up one of these books yourself to dig deeper.

Evidence not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. There are some books which change you from the inside and this is one of them. I have been challenged to trust God more in seemingly hopeless situations; memorise more scripture; be gentle in the face of cruelty; think of the needs of others even when things are tough for me; engage in cross cultural mission and not to grieve like those who have no hope. There are probably other ways that God has worked through the witness of this amazing lady, but that’s six which come to mind.

Darlene Deibler Rose was a pioneer missionary to a remote jungle dwelling tribe in New Guinea. When WWII broke out, she and her husband were captured by the Japanese and Darlene endured over four years behind barbed wire fences. She was starved, beaten and made to work long hours before being tortured for a crime she did not commit. Yet, despite horrendous suffering, she experienced the love of Christ her Saviour and was refined by her ordeal as if through fire. The book moved me to tears of pity, anger and joy.

The Diaries of a Fleet Street Fox. This is an anonymous book by an anonymous blogger. The Fleet Street Fox is a journalist whose marriage was torn apart after only three years. She writes humorously and honestly about the pain and the process of divorce as well as the issues of friendship, finance and the Fleet Street mentality. As I read I wanted to pick up the phone and talk things through with her, to help her find God’s way to heal her broken heart, but instead I just followed her on Twitter.

Good News for the Poor by Tim Chester (former Director for Policy at TEAR Fund and leader of the Crowded House church in inner-city Sheffield). I learned two valuable lessons from this book.

First, Tim Chester writes about social involvement and evangelism in the mission of the church. Christians and churches are called to proclaim the good news about Christ TO people (evangelism) and be good news by doing good things FOR people (social involvement). The difficult thing is getting the mixture right. Tim Chester argues that both evangelism and social involvement belong together in mission but evangelism has a higher priority because its effects are eternal. Social action should come before, accompany or flow from evangelism but should not replace it.

The second lesson I took away was Chester’s definition of poverty. In chapter 8, Welcoming the Excluded, Chester points out that most people think of poverty in terms of money. One in every five people on earth lives on less than 70p a day. When we compare ourselves to that level of poverty then everyone in West Bromwich is rich. But the bible and our experience teach something very different about poverty. The bible speaks of marginalisation, exclusion and helplessness which are highlighted in the bible as the plight of orphans and widows, but includes others to different degrees. Poverty is a lack of resources for life but, says God, that lack of resources is caused by broken relationships beginning with a broken relationship with God himself. Those with money can be just as “poor” in this way as those with no money. Therefore, the way to end poverty is through mending broken relationships through the good news of Christ and working together toward creating a loving and generous community of God’s people.

World Proof Your Kids by Tim Siesmore. Our children are growing up in an almost alien culture (though perhaps this has been the experience of every generation since the 1950s or before.) This book helped me understand some of the challenges of being a parent and of being a child in this generation. The biggest lesson I learned was this: screens are bad. I’m not just talking about the sort of cultural values which get beamed into our homes, but the actual effect of electronic screens on concentration and so on behaviour. Tim Siesmore is a Christian child physiologist. He reports that the effect of fast changing screens, whether TV, video games or the internet, has reduced the capacity for children to pay attention. Boredom, irritability and low concentration are all symptoms of the screen generation. Over stimulation of the brain has caused a massive rise in the conditions of ADD and ADHD. And so, to adapt a phrase from TV when I was a kid: Turn of your TV screen and go and do something less stimulating instead.

If you have read anything stimulating, encouraging or helpful this summer, please let me know.

God bless, Neil

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