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Advent Listening

I know halfway through Advent is a little late to be recommending things to listen to in Advent.  But I had to listen to it before I could recommend it, didn't I?  Anyway, even if you haven't got organized for the first half of Advent, there's nothing to stop you giving these a try for the second half. The first recommendation is a book, but you can also listen to the author reading a chapter each day. I can't remember where I picked up Penelope Wilcock's The Hawk and the Dove trilogy, but it came into my life from somewhere, and I enjoyed it.  Then I discovered she has a blog, where she writes about simplicity, and living with less, and little anecdotes about her home and life.  And then I bought Into the Heart of Advent , subtitled Twenty-five conversations with Jesus . This book laps you with peace and tranquillity - the calm of a winter's morning, sitting by an open fire, standing out under the stars - yet it never lapses into sentimentality or wishful thin

The Normal Christian Life: Spiritual Formation Book 1

"I have never met a soul who has set out to satisfy the Lord and has not been satisfied himself.  It is impossible."   The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee is the first of my four books for spiritual formation that I'm reading this year.  Watchman Nee was a Chinese Christian who was converted in 1920 and was able to spend many years in preaching and evangelism.  However, after the Communist revolution he was imprisoned, and died in jail 20 years later.  The Normal Christian Life is based on talks he gave in Europe in the 1930's. What are the main themes of this book? Nee starts by saying that it's possible that the normal Christian life has never been lived by anyone except Jesus - which is hardly an encouraging beginning!  He then goes on to outline his view of such a life, using the book of Romans as a guide.   He certainly sets a high bar: for Nee, the normal Christian life is based on a knowledge and experience of death to our old self through the cros

Paint the room red (or blue)

 We've reached that stage in life. That stage where you've lived in a house for several years, and now all of it really needs redecorating. And moreover, your children have Opinions about what colour their bedroom walls should be. So, we entered the dread portal of B&Q, came out several cans of paint heavier, summoned up some paintbrushes and a lot of extra energy, and got started. Let loose with a can of red paint... First up was Toby's room.  Previously a light purple, it's now a bold teal with dark blue curtains and lampshade.  It's a really nice colour.  I painted the ceiling a pale grey, too, but I still need to sort out the woodwork, which will eventually also be pale grey. I completed Toby's room in the summer holidays.  Ever since then, Theo has been nagging to get his room done.  A seven-year-old has nagging skills of similar persistence to the unfortunate widow begging for justice in Jesus' parable.  Last weekend, I finally gave in and devoted

Melbourne Art Festival: A Surprisingly Good Afternoon Out

Maybe it was the warm autumn weather.  Maybe it was the fun of peeking into other people's back gardens.  Maybe it was the novelty of standing with other people, listening to real live musicians.  Or maybe it was just the giant pink ice creams. Whatever it was, Melbourne Festival had turned into a surprisingly satisfying afternoon.  I'd seen the posters for it and thought it might be a nice change from yet another walk on a Sunday afternoon, but that was about as high as my expectations had been. When we arrived, the male three-quarters of the family were immediately pleased to see the signs for classic cars at Melbourne Hall.  Shortly afterwards, I was pleased to discover that there were only about half a dozen of them, so that we could rapidly move on to less mechanical works of art. The festival was spread out around the village of Melbourne, in churches, halls, and private gardens.  Melbourne is one of those fascinating places anyway, with archways and alleyways and houses

Pizza and the kingdom of heaven

We like home made pizza in our house.  We like shop-bought pizza too, of course, or the big gooey expensive pizzas from Dominos if it's a special occasion.  But we do like home made pizza.   The only snag is, I have to be around in the afternoon at some point to make the bread dough.  I can't do it on a day when I'm out at work and then pick the boys up from school and don't get home until 4pm.  I don't have to do anything to the dough in the afternoons; I just have to make it by about 2 o'clock to give it time to rise. Cake mixture is easy.  It usually has baking powder in it, plus the air beaten in and held by the eggs, so you can make a cake and cook it straight away.  When I worked in a bakery, those of us who made the cakes worked daytimes.  As we left in the evening, the bread bakers would arrive - hefty guys in sturdy aprons, who would sling around sacks of flour and heavy metal pans - ready to make and prove the bread overnight so it was fresh for the ne

Reading for Spiritual Formation

Do you read books in order to live a better life? I read books for lots of reasons, ranging from escapism and enjoyment to information and obligation.  In some sense, every book we read lodges somewhere inside us, affecting who we are and how we react to life.  I am the product of many books (far too many, some would say!) Not my library! (Image: Pixabay) Last year, though, I read four books with the specific intention of growing spiritually.  These four books were chosen by the Renovaré Book Club.  Renovaré Book Club Renovaré wasn't a name I'd come across before.  Turns out that it's a Christian group founded by Richard Foster (who wrote Celebration of Discipline ) and involving Dallas Willard (who wrote The Spirit of the Disciplines ), which probably gives you a good idea of their emphasis!  I was impressed with the quality of resources offered with the book club - podcasts, articles, discussion boards, online Q&A - and I also thought they'd done a good job get

The singing lark

They came bursting into the house as I was finishing breakfast, with a clatter of confused explanations to my wife, and a hasty pat on the head for little Abi.  Before I quite knew what was happening, I was out in the street, still clutching my half-eaten bread roll, and being carried along much faster than was comfortable. We'd got halfway to the crossroads before I recovered enough to ask any questions.  "What...  where... who...?" I started, not even quite sure which was the right thing to ask. "The teacher!  The one who heals people!  He's at home!" puffed James, somewhere above my right ear. "Yes!  They say he got back last night.  And we're going to get you there first this morning," added Paul, twisting round from his position holding the front left of my mat, and giving me a big grin. "Too right," said Zach, next to him. He was a man of few words. "What?  Who are you talking about?  What teacher?" I had a horrible f

Dealing with crowds

How do you feel about crowds? Do you imagine a concert audience singing in unison, the spectators at a sports match cheering for their team, colourful crowds in the street for Carnival or Holi?  Does the idea of being in a crowd make you feel uplifted and energised? Image: Pixabay   Or do you think of being pressed too closely, of protestors causing disruption and destruction, of things being a little bit out of control?  Would you feel uncomfortable and on edge? Image: Pixabay   Either way, we are rather out of practice at being in crowds right now. Maybe that's why, when I read Mark's gospel recently, I noticed for the first time just how crowded it is.  On every page, people swarm around Jesus - following him out into the countryside, besieging him at home, preventing him from eating, begging for his help. Mark has Jesus almost constantly surrounded by people.  Even when he tries to get away, people usually find him pretty quickly.  On one occasion, they start taking the roo

Perygl in Wales

 "Per-gol" Toby said, reading the sign.  "Hey, that's a much better word than Danger.  Welsh is great!" Actually, the word is Perygl and comes out more like pear-reyg-l, but it didn't really matter - the boys had already fallen in love with everything Welsh, and were happily agreeing that all the words were far more interesting than their English equivalents. We seemed to encounter a lot of perygl on our two days in Wales.  Signs warned us against flying golf balls, steep drops, deep water and narrow roads, but fortunately we survived unscathed apart from one scraped shin (that was Theo falling off a rock).  In fact, it was a remarkably good short break, with perfect weather, beautiful scenery, and the main attraction: a big blue camper van to carry us around. Graham's friend Ben had converted the van a couple of years ago, and kindly agreed to lend it to us for the weekend at the end of half term.  After a rather last-minute search for places to park