This week: getting paid more, avoiding disaster, an angry gay atheist, good inequality


King's hosted a wonderful conference with New Ground - much of the chatter can be found at #MiCon2015. Then I went along to Ten8, which students from King's have helped to set up and serve in order to bless Edinburgh. There are many good things happening, some of which are recorded on Instagram.

The work of Assemble in helping to bring life to Toxteth has earned them a Turner Prize nomination. Oliver Wainwright reports on what they've done.

Adrian Chiles spent 46 consecutive days visiting Catholic churches. Maybe that's what you need to do after working with Roy Keane.

In an excerpt from his latest book, Phil Moore looks at why refueling is so important for Christians. As if to emphasise Phil's point, Garrett Kell considers the research on what characterises pastors who fall into sin, which is no doubt as true for all the other believers.

"Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change?" Matthew Parris wins Sentence of the Week, whilst arguing as a gay atheist that the church should oppose same-sex marriage.

If you want your boss to pay you more, show them Tim Weinhold's article. He explains how paying workers better wages is both biblical and smart business sense. In yet another parallel piece, James K.A. Smith ponders what's right with inequality, as well as what's wrong. The last line is brilliant.

Finally, here's the story of King's so far...

This week: stupid Christians, pushy parents, philistine socialists, interactive maps, embroidery


We went to a very picturesque wedding.

The reasons why young Christians (guys especially) can be so stupid sometimes, even when they have plenty of knowledge, are explored by Darren Carlson.

Jonathan Jones explains why our architectural heritage is so important to understanding who we are.

The true source of exam pressure is parents, suggests Janice Turner (£).

Ten lessons that Ray Ortlund's father taught him.

Without wishing to blow our trumpet, this reflection by Anna Delamerced on her time at King's shows what's at stake in church student work.

If you've ever wanted to see an interactive map of the world's major mass transit systems, say thank you to GeOps and the University of Freiburg.

Finally, a celebration of Magna Carta in emboidery...

 

This week: consequences of the ascension, the election, and the making of bread


We celebrated my sister-in-law Maria's birthday by watching the sun set from Blackford Hill. It was chilly but worth it.

In a beautiful essay, Gerrit Dawson explains why the ascension of Jesus is so wonderful and important.

Andrew Marr considers what the UK election means for politicians and reporters and Martin Charlesworth gives his thoughts on what it means for churches.

How do a Christian husband and wife think about their service? Hannah Anderson has a good metaphor.

The evils of mass produced bread are exposed by Liam Thatcher.

There are some amazing pictures of sharks on the BBC's advert article for its new series, unimaginatively entitled Shark.

Election Reflections


The diagram above represents the views of many people I know, and realising this should help many of us grow up a bit. Social media is a great enforcer of prejudice: we supply ourselves with a steady stream of content we already agree with, plus occasional horrified links to Terrible Things That No-one Like Us Would Like (usually from the Daily Mail or Crazy America). Satirical website The Onion nails it. This is a childish way to behave: it encourages self-satisfaction, and the demonization of those who are different from us. It’s also profoundly intolerant, when you think about it. I like being agreed with as much as the next person, so I force myself to read well-written articles that I might not like in order to understand other viewpoints and maybe learn something. News digest magazine The Week is excellent for this, I also follow the Spectator and New Statesman blogs, and of the daily newspapers I think The Times has the best standard of writing and broadest range of opinion - some of which I strongly dislike.

Part of the reason I say this is because I know good people who voted for Ukip*. Raised eyebrows always follow my mentioning this, sometimes accompanied by gasps of astonishment. I have to admit that anti-immigration rhetoric gets me more angry than most of the other policies I disagree with across the political spectrum. This is because I wouldn’t exist if this country didn’t let immigrants like my granddad in. He came here to escape, he came without skills, and Britain welcomed him in. That’s greatness. Many people, probably most, have one issue that is especially emotive for them – it’s understandable that this could define their perspective on everything else, and it shouldn’t be surprising that some of these will be different to what matters to you, or even what you believe to be right.

Talking of personal narratives and the power they have, I didn’t see many of the victory speeches on election night but two of them were almost identical. Both successful candidates recalled how they were the first in their family to go to university, and that their educational and career success had grown in them a love for Britain as a nation of opportunity, and caused them to get involved in politics so that others could benefit as they had. The only difference was the conclusion they made from their life stories: one was Labour and one was Conservative. Each saw the same journey as justification of a totally different political perspective.

Are matters more black and white in Scotland? I’m not sure that they are. The SNP are geopolitically blessed in a way that Ukip and the Greens can only dream of, yet voting for them is not exactly the same as wanting (full) independence. Brian Taylor explains:
“People in Scotland have been looking for Scottish champions. They have sought politicians who would evince the Scottish standpoint, who would strengthen the Scottish voice in the UK and global discourse. They have sought politicians who owed their allegiance, primarily if not solely, to Scottish concerns... That demand is inchoate and imprecise - in that it is not pegged directly or solely to a demand for particular devolved powers or a particular economic strategy. It is, nevertheless, powerful and all-consuming. Perhaps all the more potent in that it is wide-ranging, rather than narrowly driven. It is an aggregate feeling of remoteness from the concerns of a metropolitan elite, a feeling of physical and cultural distance from the Westminster centre of UK political life. A shout of anger, a yell of anguish, a demand to be heard.”
The nationalists have been in a great situation for a while: devolution has allowed them to claim that any success Scotland experiences is due to them being in government here, and any failures are the fault of Westminster. Heads “we” win, tails “they” lose. It will be interesting to see whether the new UK Government gives it enough financial rope to hang itself. If this were to happen, the charismatic Ruth Davidson could make the Conservatives the party of opposition. Weirder things have happened, although not many.

My mother-in-law has encouraged us that we may be able to take the title of “foreign missionaries” soon. Apart from that, how do I respond as a follower of Jesus to everything that’s going on? I’m content that Jesus is ultimately in charge, a situation that isn’t affected by who currently occupies 10 Downing Street or Bute House. Political paranoia seems unbecoming for people who have assurances as great as ours, however serious the present difficulties.

What should matter to a Christian voter? One organisation will tell you how your MP voted on "moral" issues that have been debated in parliament, but not on issues of justice and welfare, which even a cursory glance at the Old Testament will show matter a great deal to God. Thankfully, many churches have responded with great compassion and help for those in deep trouble, from establishing foodbanks and debt advice centres to taking on loan sharks and even the government. There will probably more pain ahead, and "the poor you will always have with you", so each of us should look to do what we can to help others. This is far better than posturing, as Libby Purves scathingly points out:
“The most savage, bilious, self-righteous rants are from people living affluent self-pleasing lives in comfortable homes, doing lucky and rewarding jobs with like-minded friends. What they are doing (I risk losing a friend or two) is ‘virtue-signalling’: competing to seem compassionate. Few are notably open-handed: St Matthew would need a rewrite of Chapter 19. ‘Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. So he went on Twitter instead and called Michael Gove a ‘vile reptilian evil tory scumbag’, and linked to a cartoon of Iain Duncan Smith stealing a paralysed woman’s wheelchair. And lo, he felt better and went for a £3.50 caramel macchiato with some mates from the BBC.’”
Talking of Matthew 19, the Bible verses that spring quickest to my mind are the same that did last week:
“You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) 
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118:8-9)
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) 
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement... Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:1-8)
That last one sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? It sounds even crazier when you know that Paul was referring to the Emperor Nero, whose crimes against Christians were many and horrible, and when you consider how much trouble Paul’s declaration that Jesus was Lord had got him in. King’s Church Eastbourne are currently doing a teaching series called Citizens and the first talk deals with this passage more comprehensively than I can here. Just one thing, though: it's funny how we think it's hard to be subject to rulers (verse 1) and easy to love everyone (verse 8). As always for Paul, real love must triumph. No government can stop me living this way, nor can any fellow voter’s preference.


* Ukip, not UKIP, say the newspaper style guides.

This week: wisdom on voting, social media, gap years, and storing photos


We went to a wild wild west birthday party.

How do you vote when "None of the above" seems like the most honest option? Andrew Wilson has a sensible suggestion.

One of my favourite bloggers and tweeters is Ray Ortlund so I'd suggest that his perspective on speaking online is worth listening to (although the Unsubscribe function on Facebook undermines his first point somewhat).

Writing in 1905, G.K. Chesterton has an excellent challenge for people considering gap years.

If you think that children are worthy of love and respect, you've possibly got Christianity to thank for that, claims Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

If you've got lots of digital photos you might want some advice on where to store them. Casey Newton gives the low-down on the best contenders.

The secrets behind many movie sound effects are revealed by Owen Williams.

No to Notifications


Do you really want to be a slave of something which is supposed to be a tool for you to use? Notifications on your phone distract you from what’s happening in front of you (which might be important, or personal, or possibly really boring and therefore a chance to think), and they feed an unhealthy desire to seek attention from others.

Distraction isn’t a modern disease, in 1640 John Donne confessed that he neglected more important matters “for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door.” Feeding off the attention of others isn’t new either. We’ve just got more technology that encourages both of those unhelpful habits now.

More people are realising this, which is why I’ve got several good articles to recommend to convince you. Some friends of mine have got rid of their smartphones altogether to escape from all of this but I like how smoothly my iPhone works, and its camera, and the convenience of internet access and GPS when I need it, so I didn’t go that far but I did significantly alter how I interact with my phone. I deleted the apps for Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Flipboard, hid Instagram away in a folder (because I can’t use it elsewhere), and have tried to keep my phone away from my hand more often. Sometimes I get phone calls or texts. All other interruptions are by my choice. I use Pocket to read articles that I’ve saved elsewhere, and Simplenote to process my thoughts in writing*. Hopefully I'll pick up books more often. I'm still very distractible but I think my ability to focus on the tasks and people in front of me is slowly improving, and that whatever it is that gives us a tremor of minor elation when we're notified about someone online paying us attention is getting the beating it deserves.

Here’s who helped me:
  • Matt Simmonds was the first person whose thoughts on this I read, as he got to work on removing habitual time-wasters from his life.
  • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is blunt: “Literally no one is going to die if you wait five freaking minutes to check your text messages and your Twitter replies.”
  • Julian Baggini is concerned that the Apple Watch is the next stage in reducing our conception of ourselves to machines.
  • Andy Crouch writes wisely, beautifully and at length about a full-on fast from screens. “I was more free to pay attention to the world I am called to love.”
* I've written a list of four helpful productivity apps that aren't distracting.

This week: Bible contradictions, relationship wisdom, food packaging, sports commentating, volcano erupting


Deb didn't buy any of these shoes. Nor did I.

Does the Bible contradict itself? Preston Sprinkle makes a case for clarity and charity.

Russell Moore brings vital wisdom and perspective to the debate about religious freedom.

If you're in a relationship but not yet married, you should read the advice of Jared C. Wilson. (By the way, is it only Christian writers who involve their initials so much?)

Did the 1960s change the western world? David Brooks thinks the real shift happened twenty years earlier.

The stupid way that our food packaging tries to talk to us is given a blast of Steven Poole's righteous anger.

The late Richie Benaud had eight rules that shaped his sports commentary. Read them and weep for how ignored they are by almost everyone in the business he mastered.

Finally, this volcano erupting is all that an erupting volcano should be...

This week: identity, shepherds, rich people, reading music


Here's London looking moody and murky.

How does God see you if you are a Christian? Mark Galli illustrates this wonderful truth beautifully.

It's a brave man who suggests that the richest 1% are doing the rest of the country good, and Fraser Nelson is that man, armed with stats that say the wealthiest have never contributed more to the public purse.

The life of a Twenty-First Century shepherd is investigated by Caroline Crampton.

The value of reading things that seem to be irrelevant your interests or studies is praised by Wesley Hill.

I rather like Colours In The Dark by Tongues:


Crossway have redesigned their excellent Bible app, which now includes for free all the resources of the ESV Global Study Bible...

This week: lament, grief, pens, albums, rights wisdom


Yet another photo from Monday's beautiful day at the Botanics.

Western Christians often seem unprepared for suffering, so Derek Rishmawy welcomes the publication of Rejoicing In Lament by Todd Billings and gives some advice on how to get ready for it.

On a related theme, Mark Galli suggests what we can do with the grief we feel for all the evils happening in the world.

Doug Wilson meditates on how Jesus is both there and here, and how He gives the Christian life.

The difference between race rights and gay rights is considered by Ross Douthat.

The fountain pen I was bought for my 18th birthday is one of my favourite things; Stephen Robinson is more obsessed with his and heralds the return of these beautiful tools.

The future of music albums suddenly looks a lot brighter than it used to, argues Micah Singleton.

Here's some advice from three wise men on getting wisdom...

Beautiful Botanics

 

It being a warm and sunny day, an event never to be taken for granted round here, I decided to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, initially to see a display of the International Garden Photographer of the Year finalists. It was the right choice, though having a sore neck and not bringing my new camera were two nagging sources of regret.

Many were making the most of a weather: a belated Easter egg hunt seemed to be in progress and I overheard an expectation-adjusting mother explaining to her charge that the eggs on offer were likely to be very small. "They might be massive" was the indefatigable reply.

The child seemed to be more in tune with God's attitude, given the abundance of creation on offer here. Flora was wonderfully represented but fauna made a couple of appearances too. A full-throated robin let me get very close, and a bumble bee took up residence on my jeans. Not quite knowing how to usher him on his way without distressing both of us, I eventually introduced him to my handkerchief. For once it was not very colourful, so with nothing on it worth his while, he flew off.

On and on the gardens went, and any reticence about taking photos with my phone (a discipline I sometimes practice) was soon discarded.

It was a beautiful day in a beautiful place.

 

 

This week: choose your policy, illiberal liberalism, confirming what you believe, VHS, flat-pack


We went to Melrose. Most of it was closed but the river was slick and lovely.

You may have noticed there's a lot of politics around at the moment. If you're curious about whose policies you support, rather than which party leader you dislike the least, Vote For Policies is a helpful tool.

When does liberalism become illiberal? Sometimes when Christianity is involved, suggests Tim Montgomerie (£).

Why do Christians value spontaneity above craftsmanship? asks Jonny Mellor.

The unnoticed power of confirmation bias and how it affects all of us is explored by George Yancey.

Amar Toor reports on how Ikea have put their flat-pack skills to brilliant use: creating safer refugee camps.

Less significant but also good skills: Julien Knez has made VHS covers for some of today's films and TV shows.

This is Easter weekend: the most important and hopeful event in history. Karsten Piper shares a great poem by Mary Karr about the resurrection and explains its power.

The key to it all, of course, is whether Jesus really did rise from the dead. Professor N.T. Wright's documentary for Channel 4 from 2004 gives a clear answer...

This week: collapsing middles, preaching and singing, simple judgements, world photos

I'm still going through the photos of our time in Paris - can you guess where I was when I took this one?

Andrew Marr describes why the centre has collapsed in British politics, and what the future may look like in consequence. In Scotland, Alex Massie reports on business as usual among nationalists.

Why do Christians preach and sing? John Piper explains.

Timothy Keller helps us see how what our culture thinks about relationships isn't what marriage really is.

The difference between what a piece of culture says and how it says it is explored by Ailssa Wilkinson - which enables her to show that God's Not Dead and Fifty Shades of Grey are essentially the same story. An important read for those of us who like to make simplistic judgements.

Talking of simplistic judgements, David Aaronovitch resists them and instead speaks sense about the Jeremy Clarkson thing.

Some of the photos shortlisted for the 2015 Sony World Photography Award are shared by Alice Yoo.

 

This week: reviving London, shampooing hair, teaching kids, avoiding burnout, burning matches


The weather in Edinburgh wasn't always this clear.

Don’t let anyone tell you Christianity is finished in the UK: Erasmus reports on what’s happening in London.

Shampooed hair can be made into great photos by Lo Cheuk Lun.

If you want to teach children the story of Christianity and not merely its morality, Ed Stetzer has some advice for you.

Adrian Wooldridge laments the influence of PPE degree courses in British politics.

How do you avoid burnout if you’re serving in a church, particularly as a leader? Paul Tripp gives eleven principles to keep you in the grace of God.

They’re sort of making a star in France: Alok Jha reports on the hope of future energy.

Talking of burnout and reactions, here’s my mate Dave Hill’s pyramid of matches...

A letter to our students with mid-term blues


I went to the Tollcross end of The Meadows knowing what I was going to see. Just as they do every year, crocuses have arrived and are bringing their colours to the drab greens, browns and greys of Edinburgh. It always happens, it always makes me hopeful: better weather is on its way.

There’s still a lot of winter still around though, isn’t there? The afternoons are less dark but your flats are still cold. This can be a tricky time. The excitement of Christmas has passed and the path to the warm delights of summer are taking you through the steep mountains of exams and assignments. You may also be experiencing tensions with the people you’re currently living with, or in your search for people to live with (and where you’ll live) next year. There are probably other things going on too that make this time of year feel like a dull, hard slog. It’s OK to feel this way, totally natural. I did. But don’t let this be the definitive word for you this term.

I’ve got great, if familiar, news for you: your strength is not enough, and it needn’t be the only strength you have. The Bible is full of people struggling and finding that God is willing and able to provide for their needs. Psalm 121 and Isaiah 40 are two places that tell us this; I’d encourage you to read them in full for yourself but here’s a summary of what they say:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)
God knows that you are weak, fragile, fatigued – He’s not surprised or disappointed by that, even if you are. He knew this would happen and He has what you need at this time. The quote above describes the solution as: “they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” How does this happen? God provides ways by which He supplies us with His strength. They are characterised here by the word “waiting” because they involve us relying on Him and not ourselves. I want to mention a few of them to you.

Spending time alone with God may be a struggle for some of you but I promise that this is a major way in which God does us good. Describing someone who studies God’s word diligently, Psalm 1 says: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” The Bible gives strength to us like water does to a tree. It might not be very spectacular but it does happen. Alongside reading the Bible, praying gives God the chance to shape your thoughts, and allows you to take your worries and frustrations to Him. Repenting of the things you’ve done wrong releases the cleansing power of God’s forgiveness. In all this, God’s Holy Spirit is able to move in you and on you, bringing you His presence, peace, and power.

God also does us good through other people – and He wants to use you to do others good as well. Your church family is where encouragement and love and wisdom are shared, as well as lots of food! Our Sunday meetings and small groups are where we help each other receive God’s strength. Worship and teaching do this. Sharing communion reminds us of what Jesus has done for us, and the real hope we have. Chatting with people can bless us, and meeting with a friend or two from church to confess weakness and pray for strength will also do you good.

If you aren’t making time for these things, don’t be surprised if you’re feeling vulnerable – you are missing out on what God has designed to be life-giving for you. Allowing other stuff (accidentally or otherwise) to get in the way of receiving what God has provided for strengthening you is like someone who is starving failing to attend a feast that they’ve been invited to.

These things – Bible reading, prayer, repentance, community, worship, teaching, the Spirit’s power – are the supernatural provision of God for His children’s strength to be renewed. The results may be amazing (“mount up with wings like eagles”) or just enough to get you through another day (“walk and not faint”). However God does it, He will do it.

There is also natural wisdom which you shouldn’t ignore. Good sleep, healthy food, and a bit of exercise will do your body good, and this will impact how you feel. God designed us to need a day’s Sabbath rest every week so don’t think that you’re an exception to this. Some people get energised by being around others, others need quality time by themselves: work out which of these types you are and make time to recharge in the way you need. I think there’s a difference between amusement and refreshment – the internet has a lot of the first but we need more of the second. Find things that refresh you and do them.

With all this to help, you’re now able to get God’s perspective on some of the things you’re going through. Here are some very brief summaries...

It helps to remember that you’re not working for yourself, your tutors, your parents, or anyone’s expectations:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
Learning how to get on with others is an important life skill, and flat-sharing is one of the ways we learn it:
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:16-18)
You will not stay faithful to God and to others unless you learn discipline. Nothing develops this like slogging through a hard time:
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
This isn’t just about you. You have friends whose only hope currently is the coming summer – you have something much better than that. Ask God to use you to show them this:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
I hope that all of this will be helpful for you. I’m praying for you, confident that our loving Father will supply what you need. I know it feels hard right now but be encouraged: as the crocuses coming through the ground remind us, God is an expert at making life from mud.

Don't watch that, watch these



“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
(Ephesians 4:28-29)
Christians have a reputation for being against things. This is fair enough – the world is presently full of evil – but not far enough. As Paul told the Ephesians, ceasing from doing something wrong is only the beginning of the Christian journey. The thief not only stops robbing, he starts earning fairly – and this is so that he can give what he earns away, a complete transformation. Similarly, corrupting talk is not replaced with silence but with encouraging words.

As I read articles bemoaning Fifty Shades of Grey last week and pondered whether to write anything about it myself, one of things that stopped me was a nagging concern that my comments could only be negative. So let me instead suggest some good things to put before your eyes, rather than just advocating avoidance of the bad…

It’s already being marginalised in the cinemas but Selma is a good film telling a great story. Christians are likely to be astonished by how generously God is portrayed in it. Those who flocked to see “biblical” films such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings should pack out the theatres where Selma is being shown for it portrays the God of the Bible more accurately than either of those films. There has been much comment on the Academy’s decision not to nominate David Oyelowo for its Best Actor Oscar, but I suspect his subject would prefer to be in the Best Supporting Actor category. Although Martin Luther King’s character has greater depth than anyone else in the film, it is God who is repeatedly credited with leading the civil rights movement. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a film depict Christian faith so normally. There is no cynicism or mockery, and the faith of racists is not used as a counterpoint to undermine the significance of Christianity to the story, as it might easily have been. It is God’s Word which comforts King as he languishes in jail, it is God’s leading after prayer that causes him to make an unpopular decision which is ultimately vindicated, it is Christian ministers who fight fairly for justice (weak and sinful though they are), and it is God who is explicitly given the glory as the story concludes.

Faith is one of several volcanic undercurrents in Wolf Hall, the BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels about Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell. I’ve been watching each episode twice: first for the story, second to appreciate the themes and details, both times for enjoyment. I haven’t loved a TV show this much since The West Wing. Life for Cromwell and almost everyone else here is lived on the edge of an axe blade, fraught and ever at risk from the hurricane of a king’s will. For a story so familiar and far away, Wolf Hall feels remarkably real. Scenes are set like Renaissance paintings (literally when we see Holbein making Cromwell’s portrait), and lit only by sunlight and candles, as they would have been. Mantel told the director to remember that no-one in it knows that they’re in history: they are people wearing clothes, not characters wearing costumes. Close-ups abound – we are with them. As in the novels, explanations are not always given and the action can feel disorienting. It takes its time. In other words, it’s like real life. All of this is excellent, but is eclipsed by Mark Rylance as Cromwell. He and Mantel have made their man a Machiavelli we might cheer for, jousting without a lance, on the rise but always at risk of being destroyed in a society that isn't yet our meritocracy but is slowly, grudgingly, moving that way. The best at living on that axe’s edge, he is a lawyer, a fighter, a Renaissance man, a believer, a pragmatist, an avenger, a servant, a master, an awkward father, a scarred son, a lover, a widow, a hunter, the prey, an ally, an enemy - often several of these at once. Rylance can show you which by the angle of an eyebrow, or an intake of breath. It’s an astonishing performance.

No doubt there are many other good things around to be received and appreciated but these are two that I am particularly grateful for.