A quest for a tunnel, and beyond

One of my favourite cycling routes in Edinburgh involves a lap of Holyrood Park / Arthur's Seat. The long upwards incline is a struggle (I was once overtaken by a jogger) rewarded with breathtaking views (though I usually have little breath left at that point) and a sweeping slope back down again.

Considering this route for yesterday's ride I looked over the Spokes cyclists' map of Edinburgh and realised that on my many journeys to Holyrood I had unknowingly ridden over a tunnel that was part of the cycle network: the Innocent Railway Tunnel. Not entirely sure how I had managed this (although Edinburgh's ups and downs conceal a multitude of secrets), I decided to try to find it. After a couple of false turns in the intimate roads and residents' parking zones of East Parkside, there it was.

Stopping suddenly to take this photo I nearly invited a collision with a rider close behind me. My speed was soon similar to his as the smooth tarmac and my road tyres gripped each other and sent me racing along. The only thing that slowed me down was a desire to take more photos and get my bearings, worked out by considering the angle of the shoulders of Arthur's Seat from where I now was. A display board told me that the Innocent Railway was so called because it initially didn't use "dangerous" steam locomotives but was pulled by horses. A pheasant watched me as I read.

One small adventure completed, I carried on for more. Trusting that National Cycle Route 1 could not see me far wrong, I continued for several miles. Edinburgh has many photogenic locations but I was not in one now. The presence of water to the right of the path meant several small parks had been made to accommodate this block on building, whilst rudimentary geometric housing to accommodate the rest of us loomed on my left.

Further human intervention filled the water way too. Whilst noting another subaquatic shopping trolley, I saw a flash of white feathers. A bird I didn't recognise was perched in the stream, brown of hood and wing but with a bold white bib. Of course it resisted my advances to photograph it close up and skipped along the water, pausing only to give me false encouragement that I would be able to get nearer next time. Later research revealed that this was a Dipper.

On the path went, over and through the inappropriately-named Jewel and other places whose names I only vaguely recognised. On reaching a road crossing with a sign welcoming me to Edinburgh I decided I'd gone far enough and dutifully turned up a hill that promised to take me to the city centre. A glimpse to my right changed my mind. Boldly blue and enticingly close: the sea. Down a couple of side roads and I was in Edinburgh's beach district, Joppa and Portobello. Gangs of white gulls and smaller collections of oystercatchers with their orange blazes contrasted with the deep bright blue. I loved Edinburgh some more and thanked God for letting me live here.

The way home was now obvious and direct, uphill and into the wind. A price well worth paying for an unknown tunnel, an unseen bird, and the familiar joys of an extinct volcano and the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief and selective history of Christians loving their neighbours.

This is from some research I was doing as part of my preparation for a preach on God's care for the poorGod works in His people so that He can work through them. This is true in many different ways, including caring for those in need. The Bible shows us that from the Old Testament into the New, generosity and compassion were defining characteristics of God’s people. This has continued ever since…

Aristides of Athens, 125AD: “They do not despise the widow or grieve the orphan. He that has distributes liberally to him that has not… And if there is among them any man who is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast for two or three days so that they may supply the needy with the food they need.”

John Ortburg, Who Is This Man?: “The Council of Nyssa [Fourth Century] decreed that wherever a cathedral existed, there must be a hospice, a place of caring for the sick and poor.” This continued throughout the spread of Christianity across Europe, and often included centres of education as well.

Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor who tried to reverse the gains Christianity had made, 361AD: “It is disgraceful that while the impious Galileans support both their own poor and ours as well, everyone sees that our people lack aid from us.”

The practice of infanticide by exposure, which was common in the Roman Empire, was challenged and eventually outlawed by Christian influence, beginning with Christians rescuing the abandoned babies (often girls).

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536: “The Lord commands us to do ‘good to all men,’ universally, a great part of whom, estimated according to their own merits, are very undeserving; but here the Scripture assists us with an excellent rule, when it inculcates, that we must not regard the intrinsic merit or men, but must consider the image of God in them, to which we owe all possible honour and love… Whoever, therefore, is presented to you that needs your kind offices, you have no reason to refuse him your assistance.”

Jonathan Edwards, 18th Century: “It is better to give to several that are not objects of charity, than to send away one that is.”

Western colonialism of the 16th to 19th Centuries perpetrated many evils, and too many Christians collaborated with this, but research is emerging which shows that “Areas where [independent] Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, great literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental organisations.” (Christianity Today, January 2014)

William Wilberforce and the “Clapham sect” of evangelicals spearheaded the fight to abolish the transatlantic slave trade.

In the 19th Century, “ragged schools” were founded by Christians to give free basic education to poor street children.

Thomas Barnado taught at these schools, as well as preaching the gospel beneath Edinburgh Castle and elsewhere, and founding hostels for homeless children. By his death there were 96 of them caring for 8,000 children.

Around the same time, the Salvation Army was campaigning for better wages for workers, helped women out of prostitution, and opened a match factory in 1891 to help match-sellers who had previously only been able to use toxic materials, paying them double.

At the level of national policy, Lord Shaftesbury pushed bills through parliament to improve workers’ conditions.

The Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone and his wife were known to search the streets of London for prostitutes in order to take them to safe houses.

Compassion’s child sponsorship program is producing provable results: “sponsorship makes children 27 to 40 percent more likely to complete secondary school, and 50 to 80 percent more likely to complete a university education… when the child grows up, he is 14 to 18 percent more likely to obtain a salaried job, and 35 percent more likely to obtain a white-collar job.” (Christianity Today, June 2013)

Begun in 1983, Bethany Christian Trust now supports 6,000 homeless and vulnerable people in Scotland, from urgent assistance to long-term care and development.

Justice and Care has rescued hundreds of people from people trafficking and sex slavery in Asia, as well as bringing criminal prosecutions and training police officers and community leaders.

This week: MLK, Magna Carta, climbing, hope, teaching kids, space

If you read nothing else here, read Martin Luther King's letter from a Birmingham jail and marvel at how well he makes his righteous case.

The Government's event to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta has made Peter Oborne very, very angry. Though the barons who forced King John to agree it would probably have sided the people Oborne attacks, his point is still valid.

Andrew Bisharat reports on the successful attempt to climb a very big and difficult rock face. The two previous links should serve to temper the article headline's use of the word "historic" (as should common sense).

There's a lot wrong with the world and, as Philip Yancey reminds us, a lot that's being made right.

If you're trying to teach your kids theology, Aaron Earls has five brief suggestions.

The BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall started this week. It's a slow but faithful-to-the-book start, and the chemistry between Mark Rylance (Thomas Cromwell) and Damien Lewis (Henry VIII) at the end is worth the wait.

I preached on Galatians 1:13-24, "Free from a destructive lifestyle."

Finally, here's a video of the largest photo ever taken, NASA's 1.5 billion-pixel image of the Andromeda Galaxy. NB. "He also made the stars." (Genesis 1:16)

 

This week: hope in France, evangelicals in Russia, you in the election, rain in Edinburgh


The weather in Edinburgh is pretty brutal right now, the wind keeps shoving me around.

What has been happening in France recently is horrible and I'm not sure what can be helpfully written about it. So in contrast, here's an account by Maggie Fergusson of how one man's faith has brought hope to many people there.

With the UK's general election lumbering towards us, Gillan Scott issues a challenge for Christians to get involved and the Evangelical Alliance have a whole website's worth of resources to help with that.

The Christian response to politics in Russia is reported by Mark R. Elliott.

A typical night in Accident and Emergency as reported by a senior doctor sounds pretty dreadful.

The many shows that The Simpsons has been are described by Lightning Louie (possibly a pseudonym). They might have made more of the baleful influence of Family Guy but they do a good job is explaining why it isn't (or can no longer be) the wonder it once was.

Finally, what if being ordinary is more important to Jesus than trying to change the world?



This week: successful marriages, thinking clearly, Facebook nonsense, a leap second


We went to a wedding whose ceilidh was briefly kind-of heart-shaped.

If "thinking more clearly" is on your list of aims for 2015, turning down the digital noise in your life will probably help. Matt Simmonds gives some good suggestions for making this happen.

If "reading the Bible" is also on the list (good choice), David Mathis has some great advice on how to do this. A load of other practical tips are also available from me, and John Piper's Look At The Book could help you too.

And if "have a long and happy marriage" is on that list too, Emily Esfahani Smith reports on research which shows that "kindness" is what you need the most. As the person who pointed this out to me noted, kindness is one of the "fruits of the Spirit" listed in the Bible (Galatians 5:22), the kind of thing that God grows in you as you co-operate with Him.

There's still time to invite your MP to get involved in ending religious persecution.

Talking of time, James Vincent explains why we're getting an extra second this year, and how that could confuse a lot of machines.

You know when people put that thing on Facebook about having copyright over their photos and stuff? Gareth Rubin says it's nonsense.

Finally, Psalms sung in Gaelic, a cappella? Incredible...

Camera for sale


UPDATE: It's been sold!

Exciting news for me: I’m getting a new camera. Exciting news for you: you could be too!

After five years of faithful service, I’m replacing my Nikon D3000 camera (full specifications, brochure). It's a Digital SLR camera, which means that even though it’s an entry-level device, it will be a big step up for you if you’ve only used your phone or a pocket camera before. You’ll be able to control a lot more of the processes that go into taking a photo, and the camera mechanics will be bigger than what you’ve had before, which should result in better quality photos. My iPhone 5S takes good photos and is very convenient, but the D3000 is what I take when I want to bring great images back with me.

As well as the camera body, I’m including the 18-55mm lens which came with it, which gives you a good amount of zoom, and does that nice blurry background thing that makes portraits and arty close-ups look so good. It's great for both people and places. There’s a timer system so you can set up the shot and then run into it. The camera has a built-in Guide mode in the settings to walk you through all its features. (There are online guides to DSLR photography for beginners too.) The 4GB SD memory card which I'm also including will plug into almost any computer, and there are many free image-editing software packages available online if you want to make extra tweaks. I'll even give you a good-quality, hardly-used padded camera bag for it. There are a a few negatives: it doesn’t take video, you can’t use the screen on the back to compose your photos, and it struggles in dark settings when you don’t want to use the flash.

It was given a rating of 72% on its launch by Digital Photography Review, 86% by What Digital Camera, and 9/10 by Trusted Reviews. Of course it’s five years old so there’s a lot more up-to-date technology out there but if you’re not sure how much you want to get into photography I think this is a good place to start. Because it’s part of Nikon’s huge range, you can get other equipment for it which you can then transfer to another camera. I’m doing that with the couple of lenses, remote control, lens filters, tripod, and extra flash gun that I've bought in the last five years and can keep using with my new D5300.

Pretty much everything here is in a good condition and the rechargeable batteries will last for years (there are two of them, so you’ll never be caught short). There is a slight scuff and a small scratch on the back screen but apart from that it’s clean.

The D3000 with 18-55mm lens is available on Ebay for between £100 and £200. I’m looking for about £95 for the camera, lens, memory card, bag and everything else. If you’re interested, please get in touch.

Full list of stuff:

  • Nikon D3000 camera
  • Nikkor 18-55mm VR lens
  • SanDisk 4GB SD memory card
  • LowePro Rezo TLZ 20 camera bag
  • 2 original Nikon batteries, and mains charger
  • Original Nikon camera strap
  • Manual

Here are some of the photos I’ve taken with it, so you can see what it’s capable of...

 
 
 
 

 

MPs and religious persecution


"So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."
Galatians 6:10
That verse alone is enough to convince Christians that the suffering of their fellow-believers is their concern. Praying for them is essential, and so should be giving any other available support. With national newspapers and significant political figures bringing more attention to the suffering of Christians around the world, now is a great time to involve our local MPs.

Open Doors, the charity founded by "God's Smuggler" Brother Andrew, works with the persecuted church around the world, and advocates for freedom from persecution. On 20th January they will be presenting their latest report, Freedom of Religion and the Persecution of Christians, to MPs at the House of Commons. They promise that "this report will highlight the dynamics of persecution and is the perfect opportunity to equip MPs with the information they need to meaningfully engage with the issue of religious freedom". You can invite your MP to attend here.

Christmas Light



The video above is a poem by Jennifer Rawson, set to music by Stu Kennedy, filmed and edited by George Gibson. It was made for our church's carol service, after which I gave a talk about Christmas...

There are loads of things that make us feel like Christmas has started: advent calendars, John Lewis trying to make you cry, Christmas songs on the radio and in the shops, watching Elf, The Snowman, It’s A Wonderful Life, or whatever seasonal viewing is your favourite, wearing a festive jumper and/or a cracker crown… The list is seemingly endless of annual moments that make us think, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

The irony of Christmas being associated with so many repetitive things, which make us think about it in terms of ‘here it comes again,’ is that the event itself wasn’t at all like that. Rather than being regular and familiar, it was a dramatic intervention:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shone... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end...” (Isaiah 9:2,6-7)
Whenever in the year Jesus of Nazareth was actually born, it makes plenty of sense to celebrate His birth in the depths of winter, when we feel like we’re dwelling in a land of deep darkness. But we could be in South Africa or Australia in 30-degree heat and the description of our world as “dark” would still ring true. Any summary of the year’s news that you see will be full of darkness, and if this is true for us as a species, it’s also true for us as individuals. Christmas is also often the time of year when many of us audit how we’re doing – and unless you had a very low standard to start with, or you have very high self-esteem, the likelihood is that your assessment will be along the lines of “could do better.”

Now it might seem that by dwelling on this, I have strayed far from the Spirit of Christmas. Surely it’s a time for being as cheerful as possible, for forgetting all the mess. But actually the true spirit of Christmas is to recognise the mess, acknowledge the wrongdoing, see the darkness, and cry out for light.

This is why Christians celebrate: Not because they need cheering up but because healing came to our brokenness, hope came to despair, light came to darkness: Jesus came to us. “Light of the World” is one of His many titles. The four descriptions we just read tell us something about what this means:
  • Wonderful Counsellor. He is with us, guiding us when we don’t know the way, giving us wisdom when we’re desperate and don’t know what to do.
  • Mighty God. He is strong when we are weak, and as both God and man, He bridges the divide that our wrongdoing has caused between us and Him.
  • Everlasting Father. He is faithful and loving unlike any other relationship we’ve known.
  • Prince of Peace. He is secure, even when everything seems chaotic, and He shares His assurance with us, and will one day bring an end to all conflict.
In these and many other ways, Jesus brings light into darkness. Please notice, it’s God who does this. Christmas is His intervention, not our invention: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light... on them light has shone.” This is the Christian message, that God has come to get involved with us. Jesus is God’s help to us: bringing light to our darkness.

That is has been my daily experience this year, and for many other people I know. He has forgiven us, reconciled us to Himself and each other. He guides us with His counsel, strengthens us with His power, loves us faithfully, brings peace to our chaos. And that’s why we love to celebrate Christmas again and again: because it reminds us that God has come into our lives and stayed with us. This is the wonderful offer He makes to everyone.

A Lament for The Hobbit


"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
- Abraham Lincoln
Alas for lovers of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, Peter Jackson has failed this test. With The Lord of The Rings trilogy, Jackson made stories that were thought to be unfilmable into cinematic events of unsurpassed scale and imagination. The Hobbit has now concluded and seems likely to be ranked alongside the Star Wars prequels as the folly of a man overwhelmed with himself. Like Thorin in The Battle of The Five Armies, he has been ensnared by what he loved and will not listen to wiser counsels than his own.

Although my default expectation is that books are superior to film adaptations, I don't hold that with The Lord of The Rings. I had been read The Hobbit several times when I was young but found its successors' single-volume size too intimidating to approach. Years later I went along with some friends to see The Fellowship of The Ring and was transfixed. Spectacle, memory, nobility, and place were all abundant in this story I didn't know but immediately loved. I maintained plot ignorance for the following two years to preserve the thrill of discovery with each new instalment, and found myself deeply satisfied. Finally I opened the books themselves. Here I found a somewhat different version of events but a similar spirit, even if Jackson's movie-maker flair and Tolkien's love of languages* took them in different directions from time to time. Tolkien's history (as it he called it) surely allowed for different accounts to be made of it? True though I think this is, it seems hard to make the same case for The Hobbit.

The book these films were based on has a different character to that which followed it: it is more light-hearted (as much as Tolkien could be) and briefer. Jackson has added some slapstick to attempt the first of these, and ignored the second. He makes the heart of the story, the hobbit, incidental to all the side-shows, hoping to make them show-stoppers. The result is films that feel both too long and too short, an unhappy achievement.

Extra chase sequences merely slow the pace down, the added romantic/family tensions are shallow and facile, and therefore counterproductive. The battles are extended repeats of those in The Lord of The Rings but without the same wow factor because we've literally seen this sort of thing before. (As a friend commented, Jackson does not have the war fatigue that Tolkien himself did. He nailed it in The Return of The King with the doomed attempt to retake Osgiliath in which no actual fighting was shown; he never shows such smart restraint here.)

Whilst these elements heavy-handedly and heavy-footedly take up long hours, other vital ingredients are barely there. Characters and dramatic tension are rarely developed, dialogue (not Tolkien's forte either) is stunted and ponderous. The actors are almost incidental, though Martin Freeman's stock-in-trade mannerisms suit a hobbit perfectly. There is no equivalent to Sean Bean's proudly conflicted prince Boromir, or Viggo Mortensen's soulful Aragorn (arguably a more interesting character than Tolkien's version), let alone the twisted and twisting Gollum of Andy Serkis.  Ian McKellen has become a caricature of Gandalf and the corruption of Thorin by dragon's gold is too unprecedented and disjointed to encourage engagement. Continuity is missing in action - and most of the rest of the time too - as we are hurried on to the next scene in a desperate rush of Jackson's own making to fit everything in.

Also too brief to be successful are the forays into what the books only hint at: Gandalf and the White Council's discovery of Sauron. Tolkien was a writer of incredible organic power. His invented words and places were deeply rooted in British/Nordic mythology and geography, giving his tales a depth that only needed to be hinted at to be sensed. Jackson's Fellowship caught this perfectly with its suggestions and partial explanations. Less really was more, and this film proves it. Fans may have yearned to see the Council go in to battle but all we end up with is a sequence that looks like it came from a beat 'em up video game. Not for the first time in these films, Jackson incorporates this culture that is foreign to Tolkien's thought with tin-eared crudity.

Perhaps most distressing in this final film is the loss of Jackson's sense of place. The Lord of The Rings sometimes seemed like they were commissioned by the New Zealand tourist board but every wide-angle shot made Middle-Earth more whole. The Battle of The Five Armies is almost permanently fixed in one location, The Lonely Mountain, around which cameras relentlessly spin: it is stuck and disoriented.

It is a sad end to what began as a great series. I still love the first three films, and I regularly return to the books that they sent me to, enjoying the pleasure of walking familiar paths and seeing more along them each time. They reward repetition, but I have no desire to return to this second trilogy. It was a tale which grew in the telling - as should never have been allowed to be.

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* For a meditation on Tolkien's purpose in writing, read Jon Bloom's article.

Squeezing A Book Into A Stocking?


Still don't know what to ask for for Christmas? My answer, as always, is: go for books. All of these are pretty brief (less than 200 pages in every case) and therefore fairly cheap, but they pack a punch out of proportion to their size...

God
The Good God, Michael Reeves
Seeing and Savouring Jesus Christ, John Piper
Gagging Jesus, Phil Moore (reviewed here)

Prayer
Enjoying Your Prayer Life, Michael Reeves

The Bible
Unbreakable, Andrew Wilson (reviewed here)

Helping others
The Myth of The Undeserving Poor, Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams (reviewed here)

Making decisions
Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung (reviewed here)

How God deals with us
God's Lavish Grace, Terry Virgo

Believing Christianity
If God, Then What?, Andrew Wilson

If you're a new Christian
Beginnings, Lex Loizides

Christian living
Battle for the Mind, David Holden

Student life
First, Matt Carvel (reviewed here, and if you come to Edinburgh I'll give you a free copy)

Just Do Something


This book's full title also serves as its introduction: Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will. Or, How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc. This is typical of Kevin DeYoung's style which is forthright to the point of being blunt. His topic is one that requires urgency, however: the paralysis of many Christians who feel they don't know God's will for their lives and are therefore on-hold until they get further revelation. He writes with a pastor's concern/frustration that I recognise. Often when I speak to people about making decisions they have an assumption that God's will is a tightrope that can be easily fallen from; or that they are faced with countless doors, of which only one is the right one. This is instinctive to many of us, and reinforced by general Christian culture. DeYoung examines this thinking robustly, pointing out its faults and showing a better way to understand God's will and our lives.

Just Do Something presents what the Bible tells us about God's will, and describes the implication as seeking wisdom more than guidance. It deals with a lot of the anxieties and confusions in this emotive area of (western) Christian life and is full of practical, godly sense. DeYoung has no doubt that God's will will be done, what he challenges is the assumption that God always makes it clear to us before we get on with doing it. Most of the Bible's "Aha, this is God's plan" moments are retrospective:
"God has a wonderful plan for your life – a plan that will take you through trial and triumph as you are transformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). Of this we can be absolutely confident. But God’s normal way of operation is not to show this plan to us ahead of time – in retrospect, maybe; in advance, rarely."
As someone who believes in the work of the Holy Spirit through spiritual gifts today, I would disagree somewhat with his suggestions in chapter 6 that the descriptions of guidance in Acts are not at all normal (though he presents a more balanced perspective than others would). Several of the key life decisions I've made have been significantly shaped by personal prophetic words so I would not discount them or discourage people from seeking them. Where I do agree with him is that these words could never veto what the Bible says, and that they should always be considered prayerfully and in community. I often have decisions justified to me with the dreaded phrase, "God said to me..." As DeYoung points out, this is the end of all discussion and accountability, both of which are commended by God in His word as key to wisdom.

Many of us we need to think through what "walking by faith" means. DeYoung's presents it as a lifestyle of always listening to God (through reading His Word, praying, taking counsel, and - I would add - eagerly desiring prophecy) whilst getting on with doing good unhindered by indecision.

This book is brief and to the point. I found much to cheer here, and I will be encouraging people to read it in the hope that the paralysis of analysis and the tyranny of "God said..." will feature less prominently in our lives, to be replaced with wisdom and seeking first God's Kingdom.

The Myth of The Underserving Poor

This book should help Christians help others. It was written by Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams who serve Jubilee+, a Newfrontiers initiative to help churches serve their communities.

It starts with a potted history of care for the poor in the UK, then presents research which shows that where we get our perceptions of poverty from may not be the sources we expect. The great challenge of this section is to examine our assumptions/prejudices and bring them under the light of God's Word. Charlesworth and Williams then do this for us by presenting an indisputable case for Christian mercy from the Bible, followed by a description of key values and principles for practice. Among the recommended resources is The Cinnamon Network, which connects churches with social action enterprises.

The Myth of The Underserving Poor prefers data to individual stories, and the stunning truth of the gospel to emotional blackmail, making it challenging and hard to argue with. The risk of writing such a book is that it will only be read by those who already agree with it - though they will likely find in it fresh encouragement and ideas to work out their convictions. To those unconcerned, this is an opportunity to hear the strong words God has for those in need and those who neglect them.

Here are some quotes from it to get you thinking:
"God’s initial dealings with those in need are always characterised by unconditional mercy… We mustn’t slip into the temptation to ask people to change before we help them. That is a deeply unbiblical response."
"The nature of mercy is that has nothing to do with the recipient and everything to do with the one being merciful."
"When Christians think or talk about poverty in Britain, we must not let our minds lazily leap to stereotypes, to examples on the extreme needs of the spectrum, or to pithy but ill-conceived soundbites. When we do this, our mouths perpetrate myths, our hearts become hardened and our hands hang limply in inaction."

This week: bad weather, good ageing, The Apprentice


We were hit by a weather bomb, but we were not unprepared.

Few books have such a sense of place as J.R.R. Tolkien's. Rumeana Jahangir shows where he got his inspiration from.

North of the border, Chris Deerin has realised that Edinburgh is better than Glasgow.

What do you want to be like when you are old? James Russell Miller has some sound advice, with a final line worth waiting for.

Age seems to have caught up with Steven Gerrard but, as Simon Barnes suggests, that needn't be the end of his career.

Kirk Livingston highlights three things that won't help a Christian grow.

Mitchell and Webb show how we got The Apprentice as it is...


Unbreakable


A little while ago, Andrew Wilson sat down with a famous British church leader and had a series of discussions about what the Bible says and what it doesn't, what it means and what it doesn't. I think he got a bit frustrated by that, so he wrote this book.

He wrote this book so that you'd read the other Book, and not read it like any other book.

His main point here is that the place to start when considering the Bible is Jesus: what did He say and believe about it? As Christians are meant to be followers of Jesus this has a powerful logic that's easily lost on us. So he looks at what Jesus said about where (or rather, Who) the Bible came from, its authority, its coherence, its clarity, and its purposes.

Because this is a very short book, many of its arguments are summaries and starting points for further thinking and talking. (There is a list of longer books to consider at the end too, and the blog he contributes to often discusses this kind of thing.) Don't expect every question to be answered exhaustively, but you will be pointed in the right direction. As often with Andrew, you may feel like you're being moved at breakneck pace through a museum exhibition or court case, with him turning round every so often to say, "So, do you see?"

He's writing mostly for Christians, and I'd suggest if you're not a Christian but you want to think about whether the Bible could be true, you'd do well to start with Andrew's own If God Then What? or Timothy Keller's The Reason for God, both of which think carefully about this. If you're a Christian with concerns about the Bible, I think you should read this book. You'll be encouraged by its clarity and coherence, and probably also by the fact that you can read it very quickly. And then you might be able to try the rather longer book it points to with a bit more confidence than before.

This week: Christmas stuff, smeared MPs, smeared Christianity


Edinburgh is in the festive spirit.

If you want images for your blog but can't produce your own, Michelle Shaeffer has listed 21 places you can go to get some for free.

Taking time to actually think about Christmas is encouraged by John Piper in a series of Advent readings, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.

Why does Thierry Henry think he got so good at football?

Jason Byassee exlains why you can't be a follower of Jesus and not associate with "Christianity" and "the Church", however much you might want to.

Can anything good come from the word "submission"? Jennie Pollock thinks so.

The accusation that MPs only turn up to give themselves pay rises but never to debate what matters to the rest of us is given a debunking, of sorts, by Isabel Hardman.

You may not have heard about this, but there's a new Star Wars film coming out...