Jesus and the Reading Public Part One

It’s a rare novel that has taken off if it deals with Jesus.  Sure, those novels are worthy and deal with deep issues, but you’re unlikely to find a bestseller (the Bible itself excluded, not being fiction!) that has used the figure of Christ in any depth.  The name ‘Jesus’ will find itself onto the pages of many thrillers and pulp fiction as an unthinking exclamation, or ‘Mary mother of God’ if the novel is set in Ireland.


Why is this?  What is it about Jesus that the public are not too comfortable about?  Recently I have read two very uncomfortable extracts from the gospels – I have been spending a little bit of time reflecting on them.  Both are set pieces attributed to Jesus from the gospels.  Put either of these alongside a ‘Reading Public’ and it would very quickly polarise opinion.  The second one I will save for the next post.

Let’s start with the one I read this morning: the rich man and Lazarus.  Summing it up – a rich man dines luxuriously every day, and a poor beggar lies at his gate, dogs licking his sores, pleading for the crumbs from the rich man’s table.  (Ever wondered why Jesus gives the beggar a name, but the rich man is nameless?  I wonder if that has a bearing on the multitudes of the rich in the West and the faces of the poor?)  Lazarus dies first, and angels carry him to Abraham’s bosom, where he is comforted.  The rich man dies (the impression we get is not soon afterwards) and he is placed in Hades, where he is tormented in flame.

It is made very clear that whatever the rich man does, he cannot escape the flame.  His pain and anguish is so great, he asks for Lazarus to bring some water over to cool him down.  He even thinks of others, and wants his five brothers to be told about the terrible outcome they will endure unless they change their ways (having just marked through several hundred exam papers on A Christmas Carol, I can’t help but see a parallel here).  Jesus injects some dramatic irony into his account by closing it with Abraham telling the rich man, that if they won’t believe Moses and the prophets, they won’t believe even if someone rises from the dead.

Sharing a story like that on Facebook would be tantamount to dropping a bomb.  No wonder the Reading Public want Jesus hidden away, out of sight.  Leavis in her book in the 1930s lamented the ‘supremacy of fiction and the neglect of serious reading’.  I think, Queenie, that THIS would count as your serious reading.  This is strong stuff.  No one escapes censure here, except the poor, the diseased and the forgotten.  There is no doubt that Lazarus is valued as highly as the rich man by God.  Abraham’s comment: ‘During your life you received your good things, Lazarus bad things.  Now you are tormented, and he is comforted.’


And here is where a secular reading public will not benefit from a parable like this.  They would be tempted (for heaven’s sake, I am tempted too!) to judge it.  To argue round it.  To question God’s compassion, or to claim that this parable is far too simple to take as a rule of life.  To state that this is why Christianity has become outdated, because it gives credence to myths about heaven and hell – that this is not needed now that we have a scientific understanding of the world.  Even as an evangelical Christian, this parable presents problems as it appears that it is the rich man’s works that sentence him to hell, rather than anything else.  No, let’s move on, to a more promising passage in Luke.  Or, better still, let’s find an entertaining novel – what’s everyone else reading at the moment?  How about some feel-good read instead?

But when reading Jesus, give Him some time.  We have to let it read us.  How about giving yourself just ten minutes, take a breath, and re-read the story slowly again and again.  Let the words sink in.  Allow the details of the story to detain you.  There is a ‘great gulf’ fixed between heaven and hell, and no one can cross it.  Which side of the gulf am I?  Which side do I feel I am on?  What should I do about it?

What about the first bit: the rich man lived in luxury every day.  Am I living luxuriously every day?  Is that what I spend my energies on, ensuring that I live in luxury?  When others have nothing?  How can that be okay?  And to allow God to change me, to have the poor on my heart, as they are surely on his.  God is angry with the wicked every day.  But he also never forgets the poor and needy.  Fear Him if you are wicked, and take heart, if you are poor.


Having recently stumbled on Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, one of the prayers moves the bottom of my spirit every time I consider it: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ?  What ought I be doing for Christ?  Reading fiction is always about how we as readers respond to what we have read.  There are as many views on great texts as there are readers of that text.  We can sometimes be shocked by our own responses, and if we are honest, we will inspect them and ask ourselves more questions.  It’s okay to do that.  But perhaps don’t do it in public, or you might get misunderstood.  Find a safe space.  Find a friend who understands.  Use a journal to jot your questions and thoughts down.

The Reading Public, like all of us, shy away from the painful truths that Jesus brings us.  But we all need them.  Next time, I’ll look at an even sterner text.

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The Worldview of Fiction


Thinking again about Terry Pratchett, and secular fiction.  This is important for me as an English teacher.  Is there spiritual value in reading deliberately secular fiction?  Or for that matter, secular poetry, or secular drama?  Yes, I would argue.

There is a school of thought that says Christians only need the Bible.  Sometimes I completely agree with that.  There are stages of our lives, there are moment, where nothing else will do.  Moments of every day, indeed.  The Bible needs daily attention, just like our hearts.

There is a purity, a power, a precision about the Bible that is like no other text.  But the paradox is, it is possible to read the Bible your whole life and it to have little effect on you.  It’s like holding a scalpel at arm’s length and never at any point letting it pierce your skin.  It can do you no harm, but it can do you no good either.  In 1 Timothy, of course, we read that ‘the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit’, slightly paraphrased perhaps.  But the Bible is a medicine, and like any medicine, it must be taken.  It must be swallowed.  It needs to be applied to our lives.  Parts of it, yes, are unpleasant.  But the whole of life is there.  Don’t forget that either!

Read the Bible, and go away and forget what it says, and you may as well not have read it in the first place.  The Bible must be read in a humble, a prayerful, an attentive way.

Young woman reading bible

Now, here is the thrilling and also the scary point about this post.  We can read ANY book like that.  Dare we to?  Ought we to?  Shouldn’t we keep everything at arm’s length, just in case it demonises us, or terrorises us, or subtly allows our souls to be conformed to the world, rather than transformed by God?

I would argue that there are many books penned by believers, that do much more damage to us than great literature.  Perhaps the first rule of thumb with books is know what NOT to read.  Know what is bad for the soul.

We read to stay alive, to know we’re not alone.  We can read great literature and be pierced to the soul.  And that is the same with the Bible.  In fact, much of western literature is saturated with biblical thought.  The noblest and the highest moments in western literature are frequently studded with God, and are either moving towards Him or moving away from Him. (25 out of this Goodreads list of classic novels AT LEAST engage with Christianity in profound and essential ways and could form the basis of a spiritual reading group – work out which ones; I’m happy to respond to comments). There are lessons to be learned in either case.

If you have not encountered great literature, you have missed out on some of the most profound thoughts about God and humanity.  For starters, the Bible is great literature.  David crying out: ‘O Absalom, my son, O my son Absalom!’  Paul arguing: ‘Whatever I do, I don’t want to do…. There is a war in my members….’ in Romans 7.  The stirring account of Christ riding out of heaven on a horse, Faithful and True, with a name written on his thigh, King of kings and Lord of Lords.’  I could go on…

Great literature is great because, often, it is true.  It may be true about man’s depravity, it may be true about human love, it may be authentic about the significance of a situation.  We are going way beyond the surface details of witches and wizards, of alternative universes.  The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, made him persona non grata (in a big way) with many Muslims.  Yet the novel was great literature, and it was a homage to Islam, not a desecration of it.  In the same way, The Lord of the Rings, written by a devout Catholic, has many powerful messages for the spiritual pilgrim.

Likewise, you cannot read Middlemarch, by George Eliot (herself an atheist), without asking some serious questions of yourself.  Allowing the text, that is, to hold a scalpel to your own heart and to divide between soul and spirit – to identify the parts of you that are like Casaubon, that are like Rosamond, or too close to Bulstrode for comfort.


Don’t tell me that reading Silas Marner (another Eliot piece) is not going to deeply edify and enrich you.  Don’t tell me that reading To Kill a Mockingbird is not going to change you in a way that only great literature can.  Don’t stand there and warn me that ‘The Reaper Man’ or ‘Mort’ by Terry Pratchett is not going to sneak in, even past the wordplay and the light touch, some pretty profound thoughts about Life and Death that might just make you a bit more humble, a bit more kind, a bit more reflective.  I might add for those who don’t know, that one of Pratchett’s immortal creations in his Discworld novels was the character of Death, who always spoke in capital letters (and rode a horse called Binky).  Here is an exchange from Reaper Man between a hapless victim and Death:

“That’s not fair, you know. If we knew when we were going to die, people would lead better lives.”


Or try this one, which has a nice ring when you put it alongside 1 Corinthians 15:55:

– “Yes, point taken, but do you have any particular skills?”

— Death consults a job broker (Terry Pratchett, Mort)

And there’s quite a lot more where that came from; I’m not necessarily equating Pratchett with great literature (for that’s another discussion and I’m not well-versed enough with his work to really try).  I know enough to class his writing AS literature, rather than as potboiler.  What I’m saying, is that there is some writing that, if approached in a devout, in a humble, in a prayerful spirit, will do you good.  Will move you closer to the Almighty.  Will change and transform you.  Why not stand on the shoulders of giants?  Why not show some respect and attribute some value to the greatest things that have been thought and written?  And even some of the more recent, too.

reading-great-literature (1)


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Jesus and Harry Potter


colour of magic

Can you read Harry Potter and be a Christian?  More importantly, can you read Terry Pratchett and still be a Christian?  These questions are perhaps a bit provocative.  There will be those who will argue fervently that reading such books is a compromise for a believer; in the same way that some will argue you should not be drinking beer, going to dances or mixing too much with the world.  The more I long to follow Jesus, the more He leads me in a very different direction.

Yet I can’t help thinking that the discussion needs to start further back.  What are the problems that Christians have with this sort of fiction?  One, it appears to be aimed at children, who are vulnerable.  Two, it tends to promote witchcraft and wizardry, which Christians know is real and has real power, and real danger.  There is indeed a large move afoot today to present witchcraft as a friendly and reasonable force.  There is nothing Satan likes so much as to seem to be friendly and an ‘angel of light’.  It is easy to be deceived.  I don’t have a problem with this sort of teaching and awareness at all.  There are two spiritual powers in the world: one is the prince of the power of the air, with a certain level of control in the world – he is a fallen angel, the enemy of those who follow Christ, and has a certain destiny ahead of him.   The other spiritual power is Yahweh: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if you like.  I only hunger for the second.

So coming back to the discussion regarding Christians reading this sort of fiction – does it function perhaps as a bridge across into the worlds of those who DON’T know Jesus?  Does it take the spiritual world seriously, in a way that other fiction doesn’t, and that many people today do not?  I know that I have had discussions with friends regarding the Book of Revelation in the Bible based on their reading of ‘Good Omens’ (which I have not read myself).

If anything, when children read Harry Potter they are convinced that witchcraft is not real, rather than encouraged to take up its practice.  Yes, they may know all the chants for the spells, they may possess their own wand… but they are playing.  Just like you might play with a light sabre, or with a shark costume (my son’s latest acquisition).  Play has a sacred quality to it.  It salutes and embraces the imagination.  Without imagination, very few of us can enter truly into what Jesus has done for us.  If the Force, or Dumbledore, or Granny Weatherwax, is one of the first times that a growing child recognises their desire for a hero, a Saviour; the danger of the world and the desperate, urgent need for someone persistently good, someone strong enough to help – then it has achieved something powerful.

Some things in this world are cut and dried, and for some of us, we will never be able to engage with Harry Potter or Pratchett, or someone more vigorously atheist and ‘poisoned’ like Philip Pullman without feeling contaminated, or underhand, or betraying our Lord.  I understand that (I myself remember feeling shocked as a teenager buried in Williams Horwood’s amazing Duncton Chronicles that it was the moles of the Word who were evil, and the moles of the Stone who were good – a deliberate, arch reversal of Christian faith and more than a nudge of approval towards Druidism).

amber spyglass

But we need to be ‘all things to all men’, and some of us are called to engage in those conversations, to meet people where they’re at, to take someone’s yearnings after a more passionate, more engaged, more meaningful life and help them to seek after God.  ‘Only connect’ was E.M. Forster’s dictum regarding writing novels.   Novels are not about doctrine.  They are not about religion and piety (although if you’re looking for a very thought-provoking novel in that direction, I recommend ‘Jane Eyre’ as a recent, stirring and sympathetic read).  They are about imagination, about identification, about quest, about society.  They shape us inadvertently (and perhaps this is what some of my friends are worried about), and we can allow them to shape us deliberately in a God-direction if we so choose.  Jesus pretty quickly shows us if we need to put certain books down – this is my experience.

Even the Psalms talk about taking wing and flying away – sometimes we (particularly children) love to be able to do that as well, and escape into a story.  We are reminded in Paul’s writings in the Testament that what is unseen is eternal, and that heaven is more real than the things we see.  Valuing the imagination, and universal human impulses that are schooled and ‘put through their paces’ in top quality story-telling, are part of building our character.  Sharing our reading experiences with others is part of helping others to get there too.

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Living His Testimonies

I want to explore Psalm 119.  Not all in one go!  But I have been appreciating it for some time now, and recently I bumped into someone who had gone one better than me and memorized the Psalm in Hebrew.  She was able to kindly give me some off-the-cuff definitions for some of the key terms used all through the Psalm.

Let’s start with what she told me about the word ‘testimony’.

Edah(Edot) is a testimony to the keeping of a covenant clause. It is a form of instruction which outlines the requirements on each party to the contract. When the contract is complete (or challenged) the parties can indicate how well they have achieved the contract. God’s testimonies are worshipped for both the wonder of promises he has made and the lenience of the terms placed on us. Also He deserves praise because he can be seen to be keeping His testament requirements.

Now this came as a surprise to me.  To associate ‘testimony’ with covenant seems a little strange.  I suppose that I see a ‘testimony’ as an example of something that God has done for me.  But this Hebrew meaning is more reciprocal; and this makes sense too.  We can only have a testimony of God’s grace in us, when we have responded to him.

Look at some of the places that ‘testimony’ pops up in Psalm 119, first in v.2: ‘Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with the whole heart.’  Then in the second section, v. 14 ‘I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies as much as in all riches’.  In both of these places, the testimonies are ascribed to God, not to us.

In v. 22 the speaker has ‘kept’ God’s testimonies, and in v. 31 he ‘clings’ to God’s testimonies.  Beautifully, in v. 36 the prayer is made: ‘Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to covetousness’.  Then in v.46 ‘I will speak of your testimonies also before kings and will not be ashamed’.  In v.59, again perhaps after a time away from God, ‘I thought about my ways, and turned my feet to your testimonies.’  It’s the human’s fragility, and how desirous God’s testimonies are, which is attractive here.  As in my friend’s definition, the terms are indeed ‘lenient’.  There is enough time and space to fail, and still amazingly to keep to God’s ways.

By v.79 (quite a few verses with no reference to testimony are jumped here) we appear to be in a different place, and the statement is made: ‘Let those who fear you turn to me, those who know Your testimonies’.  Here, being part of God’s covenant marks out the speaker, and in fact is a marker that sits on all those who follow the Lord.  It is almost a call to arms, certainly a call to brotherhood and sisterhood.  This is very precious.  v.88 at a low point in the Psalm: ‘Revive me according to your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of your mouth.’  The next usage again reflects the danger the Psalmist feels: ‘The wicked wait for me to destroy me, but I will consider your testimonies.’

It is possible to ignore the works of Satan, and the lure of the world, because the offer that God gives us is so much better.

I will complete ‘testimony’ and look at ‘precepts’ next time.


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How much do you need?


I will never forget a short children’s message I heard one Christmas, not when I was a child, but asking the question: How much do you need before you accept Christ?  All the wise men had was a star!

When you have seen what He has done.  When His irresistible grace has drawn you.  When you understand that ALL your guilt, ALL your faults, all your failings, have been washed away in the flow of the mighty love of Jesus, then not to come to Him leaves you condemned, until you decide!  Jesus said to Nicodemus that those who do not believe stand condemned already.  It’s an uncomfortable thing to find that we are condemned, and yet it’s a wonderful thing to know we can just as quickly be forgiven, and cleansed, and set right again.  Set me right today Lord, remind me today of the love you have set upon me so kindly and so undeservedly.

The star that led the wise men is a powerful image.  More about it here

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Bedside reading snapshot

Every now and again I have to do a cull as the piles of books by my bed topple over and I can’t fit a cup of tea there. (This is partly the reason why I have a couple of bookshelf units in my bedroom as well, as overflow).


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Enjoyed this excellent open letter: certainly the English Tripos ought to have moved on more from when I studied back in the last century. Sadly I didn’t even take the postcolonial paper, with too many other options in Part Two, and only read a handful of words by Said.



The following letter is the result of a meeting that took place amongst students about the need for the faculty to decolonize its reading lists and incorporate postcolonial thought alongside its existing curriculum:

Dear Peter De Bolla,

For too long, teaching English at Cambridge has encouraged a ‘traditional’ and ‘canonical’ approach that elevates white male authors at the expense of all others. Whilst some have argued that this approach has its merits and there have been welcome attempts to address the absence of women writers, there is more that can be done. What we can no longer ignore, however, is the fact that the curriculum, taken as a whole, risks perpetuating institutional racism. The history of the canon is a history that has wilfully ignored, misrepresented and sidelined authors from the global south. Sadly, the current syllabus is a result of this history; it is…

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Paradise Lost 2: Written in the Heart

Loved this post on Milton; it seems he was not in such a different situation to today. While he himself has complete confidence in his faith, there are many questions around him. When I first read Paradise Lost it made me see the biblical story in a different way and this blogger who I have been following recently is a thought-provoking guide.


garden at dawn.JPG Front Garden early morning 27 August

Last Sunday I started my online reading of Paradise Lost in honor of Milton’s Cottage celebratory reading aloud  of the whole poem – which they undertook in order to celebrate 350 years since the poem was first published.

Last week in Paradise Lost 1 I set out  my way of reading this poem, and the some of the reasons why  I  read it. I had  started to read the first sentence, thinking about Milton the writer, setting out to do this great thing, knowing it was or should be great, and consciously setting himself across two human cultural traditions, the Classical and Biblical :

OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful…

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My ten best things in all the world No. 6


Did you know that 25,000 people die every day from hunger and poverty?  Jesus in the gospels said: ‘The poor you will always have with you….”  This is not an excuse not to help them.  I completely identify with the Millennium Development Goals to end poverty – and even when we have done it, there will still be people who are relatively poor compared to us.  We can still help others.  We will always be able to do this.  The writer of ‘The Sceptic’s Guide to Global Poverty’ in his introduction says:

It takes not just money to defeat poverty, it takes moral will and personal sacrifice

According to UNICEF, more than 10 million children die every year from preventable causes, which is more than 30,000 children every day (the link gives you the book I have taken statistics from).    These causes include pneumonia, malaria and AIDS as well as malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, diarrhea and lack of sanitation. Diarrhea caused by dirty water and bad sanitation is the second biggest child killer worldwide.  3,000 children died of diarrhea in 2014 just in Ghana  alone. By the time a child living in extreme poverty is 5, they will have had on average 10 acute attacks of diarrhea.  In particular, diarrhea in the first six months of a child’s life irreparably stunts growth. Personally I have been lucky enough so far to only experience one acute attack, on a mission trip to Ecuador, as an adult – and that was appalling enough with a toilet on hand and proper sanitation.


Not having access to a decent toilet is bad enough for an able-bodied person, but what about the elderly and disabled – how do they live their life in dignity? Not only that, but girls and women can even be vulnerable to attack. This is not any way for people to live, and yet millions are forced to do this every day, particularly in India and Africa.

If that weren’t enough, there are some 246 million children worldwide who are engaged in child labour, and some 300,000 child soldiers worldwide. Nearly 3 million people a year die from AIDS, and every 30 seconds, a child in Africa dies of malaria. One of the major goals of charity organisations is to reduce the number of deaths of under 5 year-olds worldwide. 1.4 billion people in the world lack access to clean water. This is not one of my best things in all the world.


Clean water is something I believe every human has a right to have access to. And clean water, and the charity WaterAid (as an example) is my sixth best thing. I first became engaged properly in the importance of water ecologically and for health when I visited the Eden Project, down in Cornwall.  There is a fairly large and very quickly redundant literature on water issues globally, for example Fred Pearce, author of When the Rivers Run Dry reviews three recent books here.

Globally, we have a finite supply of clean water. As humans we do various things to the planet that endanger those supplies, and of course have knock-on effects for others. In developing countries where families are relying on the food that they can grow or sell, water becomes a ticket to life and a better future. There are many countries in Africa where women and children have to walk miles each day simply to get a bucket of clean water – and many use dirty or polluted water because that is their only option. Also, access to decent toilets is a problem in many countries, and this is a major reason why teenage girls will not attend school during their periods. Not only this, but often children spend so much time collecting water (two long trips per day) that they do not get time to attend school, and so miss out on an education which could transform their lives.

WaterAid focuses on changing these dreadful statistics, and is an excellent charity that answers all the typical objections about charities spending money in the wrong places, and not actually helping the people they’re supposed to help. They are one of the most switched-on global charities today working in 36 countries who have made a significant impact since it was founded in 1981.


The standard measure of poverty is that you live on 2 dollars a day – extreme poverty is less than a dollar a day.  By that measure, I am rich.  While it exists, it is important to keep poverty as a live issue in our daily lives. Probably, most individuals who can hold down a job in the UK (or other countries) could afford to sponsor a child with brilliant charities such as Compassion or World Vision. You then know that you are directly helping one child to focus on their health, education and future. As Mother Teresa said: If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one person. The knock-on effect on a community of helping just one person to secure their future is massive. Also, it really brings home the plight of people in other parts of the world.

We chose to sponsor a little girl in Haiti with Compassion after an appeal that I heard at a festival last year.  Haiti was on my mind because of the Haiti earthquake back in 2010 which killed 160,000 people, and also because I knew a couple who have adopted here in England some orphans from that earthquake.  But shortly after we began supporting her, Hurricane Matthew hit that country. As you can imagine, it gave a real focus to our prayers as reports came in on the news of many having lost their homes. Hundreds died.  We were relieved to discover that our sponsored child was okay, but this doesn’t make it easier for those who had been affected.  When you actively know people in poverty, it becomes your problem, rather than someone else’s.   There is more that we want to do for our sponsored child – we have written to her, but it would be my dream to visit her in Haiti and see first-hand how she is doing, perhaps when she is a little older. Compassion sponsors children in 25 different countries and argue that they focus on individual children, rather than the circumstances (like WaterAid) because:

We’ve discovered that changed circumstances rarely change people’s lives, while changed people inevitably change their circumstances.

To see these Millennium Development Goals achieved that the United Nations has targeted by 2030, it needs more than simply individuals giving small amounts that they can afford. It is quite possible to criticise large organisations such as WaterAid, for the amount they pay their chief executives, for their marketing (which I think is some of the best I have seen). But what is brilliant about a charity such as WaterAid, apart from targeting right where it will make the biggest difference, is that no one can argue with the aims of their charity (check out their website) and they attract many companies’ support. They run a project called ‘Voices on the Ground’ where they film the impact that the clean water is making in different places, and one worker from this project says: “When I explain to people that WaterAid raises funds from thousands of individual supporters and companies who are concerned about their welfare it almost confuses them to know that people from so far away care about others they have never met or seen.”


Let’s have a few more people living in extreme poverty confused that they have been helped. Every time I remember the shocking statistics on world poverty I realise that I could be doing a little more to help. I am delighted that our church is regularly supporting WaterAid.


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The ten best things in the world No. 5

I have included this next topic as ‘inessential’, as wacky or non-serious. It could go down as either. Take friendship too seriously, and it disappears in its own intensity. Friendship is about connections that last – chance encounters that lead to long-standing relationships. In a way, we cannot do too much about our friendships. Yet a light touch with them goes a long way.


We all like to be needed. We love it when someone else wants our company. Who cares why – let’s just meet up. It can be the shared topics of conversation; it can be the chance to air a view that you know is going to be accepted. It can be that critical update on a life decision. There are friends I see from time to time, and life marches on in between. I don’t sit down to list what has happened since I last saw them, but life always does things to us. It is both fun and sometimes shocking to discover what has taken place for someone else.

Friendship is a treasured idea in literature and popular culture. I remember reading a novel Light a Penny Candle, by Maeve Binchy, in my teens that was about the friendship between two women that outlasted the twists and turns of romantic relationships. The metaphor of the title was that the romantic relationships were the penny candle, as opposed to the steady burning light of their friendship. For my wife, a very happy moment on our wedding day was when a friend appeared after the service, as we were being photographed, and it made her cry – they had been estranged for some time, but since then their friendship has been renewed and it’s been a source of strength for her.

While we have to work, we have to eat, we have to keep certain obligations, friendship is a choice. That’s partly why I’ve made it a ‘wacky’ thing. I suppose we could get by without it. But I sure as anything would not want to. There are a few suggestions I would make in no particular order:

1. Friendship with older people is so rewarding

2. Encouragement is the basis of friendship

3. Be loyal to your friends

4. Speak highly of and honour your friends

5. Be sparing in criticism – don’t judge them. Words cannot be taken back.

6. Join clubs or groups and you will make friends

7. Highly value friendships that emerge at work

8. Treat everyone as a friend in acts of kindness

9. Acts of kindness will create new friendships

10. We often feel friendship connections with people we have just met, but that will require nurture and attention if that is to become a real friendship

Friendship disappears when it is looked at too closely. But a good friendship is not static – it develops. Friendship is about caring for someone else, but it needs to take place in a context. Shared interests are so important. If you want to develop a friendship with someone, work on things that you both like. Ask yourself whether what you are getting into (I don’t know, papier-mache, parkour, joyriding) is stretching you and growing you as a person, or if it’s better to call time on that relationship.

We think we know it all and we say to younger people (our children) “I don’t want you spending time with that boy”. But do we evaluate our relationships? If we spend time with those who are too much like us, our personal views will simply be reinforced. If we push the boat out, and build on time with people who are different, we will be more challenged. Once we trust that person that they like us enough, we can spend more time with them.

I don’t worry too much about friendships. I try to pray for my friends as God leads me to. When I feel that a friendship is a bit lacking, I pray that we will get to spend more time together. And if my friend has clear needs, I pray for them. Sometimes I worry that my friends don’t tell me the things they worry most about – and then I pray that God will sort those things, or show me if I need to be helping them.

Friends aren’t there to help each other out. They are there to be the froth, the fun, the space, the difference – the backdrop to our lives. Yes, we love to help our friends out when we can. There is an obligation to help family – but friends, it is a joy. But if you are cultivating friendships so that you can make use of a person; this is unhealthy.

Finally (yes, this is a short post!) without a doubt, friendship is one of the best things in all the world – I am always proud to call someone a friend, and I hesitate more and more to claim someone as a friend, as connections get ever more tenuous and fleeting in these days of virtual reality. Someone said that you can’t really have more than five good friends. There are many connections I have that could blossom into close friendships – I’m not sure I’ve got as many as five, but I’m so grateful for the ones I have.


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