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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

C.S. Lewis – The Problem of Pain

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For centuries people have been tormented by one question above all: If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?

This is the question that C.S. Lewis is attempting to answer in this book, The Problem of Pain. And if you’ve ever read a C.S. Lewis book before, you’ll know that he is very good about writing the book he wants to write (unlike the last book I read).

Splitting the book up into small sections, Lewis unravels the answer to this oft-asked question in such a way that you can’t doubt that he is right. He writes in such a considerd way, I found myself nodding along with what he was saying constantly.

That said, Lewis is a very clever man. And in some places, I found myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over again because I just couldn’t get what he was trying to say. Obviously the fault there is entirely mine, but I would definitely not recommend you try and read this book when you’re tired or just before bed when your mind has a tendency to drift.

I feel like this is the kind of book you can read again and again and get something new from it each time. I’d say that if you’re new to Christianity and you want the ‘problem of pain’ to be answered, there are probably books out there that are easier to read, but I doubt any of them are as coherently put together and in such detail as this.

As with all Lewis books, there are so many quotes that I could pick as my ‘favourites’, but I have managed to narrow it down to two which made me put the book down and think ‘wow’.

“The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you – you, the individual reader.”

“In all discussions of Hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends (since both these disturb the reason) but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot, it is about you and me.”

I’ll definitely be coming back to this book again in the future, probably many many times.

Jonathan Falwell – 1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ

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I’m in two minds on this book. On one hand, I feel like when I was reading it, I did find myself nodding in agreement with things that were said. But on the other hand, I started reading this book in July last year and have only just finished it. Usually if I really get into a book, I read it pretty quickly, especially one like this that wasn’t very long.

The book professes to take us on a journey through the roughly 1000 days of Christ’s ministry on earth, from his baptism in the River Jordan, through to his death and resurrection.

And I guess it did what it said , my only complaint would be that we spent less time actually ‘in the Bible’ and studying the readings than we did reading anecdotes that didn’t to me always seem related to the part of the Bible we were talking about.

The book assured us that we would ‘study’ and ‘look closer’, but I felt like we were barely scratching the surface. I expected a more in depth study on some of the subtleties that we may not notice on first (or second or third) read, but I just didn’t get that.

If you’re looking to learn about Christ’s ministry on earth, I’d say you would probably be better off reading it directly from the gospels than hoping you would get much more insight here.

Paul Williams & Barry Cooper – If You Could Ask God One Question

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I’ve had this book on my Amazon wishlist for ages, and my lovely sister bought it for me for Christmas. It’s something that I’ve been asked a few times this year on the various courses I’ve done at Church – If you could ask God one question, what would it be? I always struggle with this to find a question that doesn’t sound stupid, but a lot of the questions I think of are included in this book.

The questions include things like ‘If you are there, why don’t you just prove it?’ and ‘What about people who believe in other religions?’.

The book is intended to be read as a book, not just to skip to your particular question and then leave it, as some answers refer to previous questions in order to be answered fully.

All the questions were answered with a strong grounding in the Bible, with references provided for all the points that the authors made, which I loved as it felt like they’d properly researched the book and weren’t just making it up as they went along, which is always a worry when buying a book like this from authors you’ve never heard of.

I did feel like some of the questions weren’t answered fully; if I was coming to this as a brand new Christian, or even someone with no faith at all, I might have felt a little disappointed by a couple of the answers. But most questions were answered very sufficiently, and I did find myself nodding my head and saying ‘ahhhhh yes’ at certain points.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has questions about their faith that they haven’t been able to find the answer to, as this could definitely help. You can pick up a copy very cheaply on Amazon – just check out the links at the right!

C.S. Lewis – The Great Divorce

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I don’t think I’ll ever fail to be amazed by the imagination of C.S. Lewis. The ideas that he has and the way that he approaches them are simply genius.

I took this book with me on our recent Church Parish Weekend away at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick. I couldn’t think of a better place to read, sitting by the side of the lake and being surrounded by nature, it was perfect!

Reading CS Lewis - The Great Divorce

It’s quite a brief book at only 146 pages, taking us on a journey through heaven and hell and demonstrating our power to choose between our selfish selves, and salvation and eternal life. We, along with the narrator, overhear many conversations between those that live in heaven and those that have come up on a journey from hell to decide if they are to change enough to take their place there.

The conversation that resonated most with me was one where the ‘visitor’ realises that the heavenly person that had come to meet him was a murderer while he was living on earth. The visitor couldn’t believe that the murderer had made it to heaven, and he was unwilling to go to heaven if this man was there, as he didn’t believe that he belonged in the same place or that the ‘murderer’ should be forgiven. It’s really easy to judge people by their actions, but it’s also really easy to forget that you don’t know their heart or their circumstances. God doesn’t condemn us for bad decisions; as long as we truly repent, we can be forgiven. I think not judging people is much easier said than done, but this was a good reminder that God loves us all the same.

I had so many favourite quotes that I probably couldn’t write them all here for fear of publishing the whole book, but I’ve picked a couple that really stood out to me.

The first is when a ‘visitor’ to heaven can’t believe that people that were famous on earth are no longer distinguished in the same way in heaven. The reply he gets is as follows:

“But they aren’t distinguished – no more than anyone else. Don’t you understand? The Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors. But the light’s the thing. They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognised by the only Mind that can give a perfect judgement.”

The second is when another visitor is trying to defend her feelings towards her son, with “What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature”. The response is this:

“No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods”.

A stark reminder that we need to make sure that God is the centre of our lives and that we let him guide our actions and our feelings. If we let our feelings take the reins instead of God, things will go bad.

What I liked most about this book that it didn’t feel preachy or like it was pushing morals in your face. It was more gentle and subtle reminders of unhealthy behaviours that we need to keep in check. If you weren’t a Christian, you could probably enjoy this book as a fantasy about heaven and hell, but as a Christian, it set off sparks in my mind that have continued long after I finished reading.

Confirmation and First Communion

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Today was my confirmation at Church. Since coming back into my faith last year and starting attending Pudsey Parish Church, I’ve done lots of things that have made my life so much better, I’ve started going to a weekly Cell group, I’ve been through the Alpha Course, and I’ve met loads of wonderful people.

So at the end of the Alpha Course when the Vicar said he’d be running weekly sessions at the Vicarage to prepare for Confirmation, I knew this was the right time. Since the beginning of January, I’ve been going to these classes with a small group of people, and tonight the Bishop of Richmond, Paul Slater, came to conduct the service, which started with our confirmation and then we all took Communion together, which was absolutely great.

I can still say that my decision to go to see Archbishop Sentamu at the Civic Hall last year was one of the best I’ve made, my life is so much better now!

Review: Michael Mayne – A Year Lost and Found

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Michael Mayne - A Year Lost and FoundSometimes, a book comes into your life at just the right time, and this was so perfectly timed it’s untrue.

I only picked it up by a random choice when I was browsing the religion section at the library. It stuck out to me for some reason so I checked it out. And it turned out to be completely perfect for what is going on in my life right now.

Michael Mayne was a priest struck down with a seemingly mysterious illness. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong and he spent most of his days in bed, unable to summon the energy to move. Eventually, after being shunted from doctor to doctor for test after test, the doctors told him it was probably some kind of post-viral syndrome, which could clear up in days, or it could take up to a year.

This is quite similar to my dad. He’s been spending the majority of his time in bed since last August, when he suddenly lost all energy and found it extremely comfortable to sit up for any long period of time. He’s not asleep when he’s in bed, just completely lethargic – like the author. And the doctors have diagnosed ‘extreme jet lag’, one of the things that was suggested to Michael.

The first half of the book took you through Michael’s year of illness, the highs (not many) and the lows (a lot). The second half of the book is the Michael talking about how he relates this to his experience of God, and how he doesn’t lay the blame for his illness, how suffering has a higher purpose. The book was a great (and very personal) story about illness and hope, perfectly timed to give me the hope I needed.

My favourite quote from this book was:

“Nowhere is Jesus more powerful than in his passive suffering on the Cross. Nowhere does he show more clearly the truth of the passive, suffering God whose hands are tied by love.”

4/5