December Thoughts


It’s been a quieter month at More thoughts, Vicar? That’s partly because December has one or two extra work commitments for someone in my line of work! But the lower number of posts also reflects the fact that I’ve been unwell for the best part of a fortnight.

Advent coverage brought us an informative video, a few thoughts and some wonderful seasonal music.

Giving Tuesday seemed far more worthy of a post than either Black Friday or Cyber Monday and was a chance to give another shout out for my favourite local-to-us charity: Boaz Trust. The theme of asylum seekers and refugees was revisited for two special December days too: Human Rights Day and Migrants Day.

There were several posts about books and reading, including an attempt to summarise a whole year of (fairly eclectic) reading.

In spite of the busyness, rising to the challenge of a monosyllabic re-write of the biblical story of that first Christmas proved irresistible. But signing up for the Writing 201 challenge was definitely little more than wishful thinking at this time of year, so only one of the four posts actually got written and published. Another two are still in my thoughts – they might still see the light of day come January . . .

So, how was December in your bit of the blogosphere? I’d love to hear about it.

Happy New Year!

My year in books: 2014

Since I started blogging back in September, I’ve loved discovering a whole world of book blogs and reading challenges out there in the blogosphere.  It’s meant I’ve come across books I hadn’t heard of before – or might not have thought about reading – so my TBR list is now longer than it ever was (not that I knew I had a TBR list – or even what one was – before I entered the book blogging world!). I even began to wonder if my own blog should be just for books – but this vicar has way more thoughts than just those about books so it will go on being a place of random musings for the foreseeable future.

But perhaps the best outcome of starting to blog is that I’ve read far more books in the months since I started blogging than I’d been reading in the months before I did.  And having the blog has given me a space to keep a record of my reading – something that never quite worked before.

I’ve tried to put a list of my 2014 reading together – both fiction and nonfiction.  It’s not been easy with no written records before September, but I think I’ve remembered most of what I’ve read this year.  All the books listed with an asterisk* are books read on the Kindle I got as a Christmas present a year ago.  Given what I’ve said before about struggling with e-reading, I’m amazed just how many I did read on a screen rather than on paper.

  • The Casual Vacancy* J K Rowling
  • Bridget Jones – Mad about the Boy* Helen Fielding
  • One Night in Winter Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • The Sweetest Hallelujah* Elaine Hussey
  • The Lie Helen Dunmore
  • A Possible Life Sebastian Faulks
  • Chestnut Street* Maeve Binchy
  • The Last Runaway Tracy Chevalier
  • Purple Hibiscus* Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Americanah* Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry* Rachel Joyce
  • The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy* Rachel Joyce
  • Your Church in the News* Robbie Lane
  • Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom for MinistryStephen Cherry
  • Pilgrim: A Course for the Christian Journey Stephen Cottrell (et al)
  • How to Write Great Blog Posts that Engage Readers* Steve Scott
  • Productivity Ninja* Graham Allcott
  • One Summer: America 1927 Bill Bryson
  • Red Love: The Story of an East German Family Maxim Leo
  • Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall Hester Vaizey
  • Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo Tim Parks
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran Azar Nafisi
  • I am Malala Malala Yousafzai
  • Travellers of the Heart: Exploring New Pathways on our Spiritual Journey Michael Mitton
  • Making Disciples in Messy Church: Growing faith in an all-age community Paul Moore
  • The Challenge of Change: A Guide to Shaping Change and Changing the Shape of the Church Phil Potter
  • The Book of Boaz Dave Smith
  • Walking Backwards to Christmas Stephen Cottrell
  • Lingo: A Language Spotters Guide to Europe  Gaston Dorren

Well, those are the ones I can remember. There are a few more that I started but haven’t finished, so I’ve left them off the list. I love the final list and can see it’s very ‘me’. There’s a good mix of fiction and nonfiction and coverage of a fair few countries along the way as well as some ‘how-to’ type books and those that connect with my Christian life and ministry.

I’ve just skimmed the list to pick out some favourites, but I just can’t single any out as there were good things about most of them. Looking forward to getting down to some more reading in 2015.

Happy New Year!

Walking Backwards to Christmas: Some Thoughts

imageJust finished reading this brilliant book by Bishop Stephen Cottrell. The cover bills it “The must-read book for the season” and the book is dedicated, in the author’s own words, to “all those who thought they knew the story well”. I’m guessing Bible-reading, book-loving vicars fall into that category, but, in any case, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on this reading experience.

In an intriguing twist on the familiar biblical narrative, the book begins with Anna, and runs, chronologically-speaking, more or less backwards to Isaiah the prophet and Moses. Along the way we hear the voices – eleven in total – of some of those caught up in this story we revisit each Christmas-time. Some are the characters we would expect to find here: Mary and Joseph, one of the wise men and a shepherd. But others are voices whose detail the author has had to create from the wider scriptures and their context. In doing so, I would say he has created entirely plausible characters, who add depth and new or different insights to the familiar story.

In his introduction, Stephen Cottrell suggests the book is best read alone, but that it also lends itself to group discussion after the solo read. To aid discussion, he offers his readers three prompt questions:

Which person in the story did you most relate to?

For me, it wasn’t so much relating to one particular person more than the others, as connecting with insights from particular thoughts or moments in their individual stories.

What surprised, shocked or delighted you the most?

Each story was a delight – I enjoyed them all. There are some shockingly dark and gruesome moments portrayed here, but I felt it was good to be reminded that Jesus’ birth wasn’t the pastel-coloured perfection we often depict it as. And there were surprises on each and every page – those small insights, fresh thoughts or unusual angles I’d never considered before.

How has this changed your understanding of the Christmas story?

It added real depth to the people whose story it is. And the book also reminded me how diverse people’s experiences of Jesus can be. Both of these are good things for a vicar to bear in mind as she prepares to tell the story again this Christmas-time.