10 Books that Have Shaped My Life

Apologies to those readers of my blog for the absence of posts in recent months. There are issues of capacity and I have been posting on Facebook at fairly regular intervals. if you would like to follow me on Facebook, please feel free to send me a friend request.

see: http://facebook.com/northumbrianroy

Recently I was encouraged to complete the 10 books that have shaped my life challenge. It was more of a pleasure than a challenge and it has evoked hundreds of ‘likes’ ‘comments’ and ‘messages’ on Facebook. Several people have asked me to put the 10 books on my blog and so here they are. As some of the recommendations come with fairly lengthy explanations, I have spared readers of what appears like a long essay or short book, if I were to post all the 10 books posts in one blog.

So, they will come one at a time over the course of the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy reading about the books that have influenced my life. I read yesterday an article by Andy Goodliff in the latest Baptists Together magazine, in which he cited Francis Spuffords book, The Child that Books Built. I could preface this naming of the 10 books that have shaped my life as the life and faith that books built.

I hope you enjoy these next 10 blogs and find a source of enrichment and encouragement in your own life journey
DAY 1 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

The first book to make an impact on me as a teenager.A book that has definitely shaped my life and work. Obligatory reading at school, it captured my passion for what is instinctively right and wrong. The unconventional, non-conformist Atticus Finch is the hero due to his character and morality. Every time I read it I discover more layers of meaning that feed my own values and convictions. It was obligatory reading at school – everyone should read it, whatever age.

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The Good Friday Agreement

Remembering the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago.

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An agreement was ratified in a referendum,(where the issues and implications were clearly slept out and understood) on both sides of the Irish border. 71% backed the deal in Northern Ireland, with 94% supporting the agreement in the Irish Republic.


The Agreement promoted co-operation on both sides of the border on economic and social matters throughout Ireland. The Good Friday agreement is held up as a template for resolving political, especially rival ethnic, conflicts throughout the world. Hillary Clinton said yesterday, “These are difficult times for Northern Ireland, and for our world. As the Brexit debate wages on, I continue to believe in the value of the European Union, and of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.” Her husband, former US President Bill Clinton, supported the Agreement by committing US investment in Northern Ireland, thus shoring up the Peace Process which enabled prospects of hope to flourish and for the simmering fires of poverty, injustice, conflict and violence that had scarred Province for years to dampen. Speaking in Dublin this week, Bill Clinton said that the Good Friday agreement was still a beacon of hope to other people locked in conflict around the world. “It shows us how we might go forward together across the planet…. The architects of the agreement created ‘a fine piece of work’ that others in ethnic wars could learn from”. With the reemergence of tribalism, nationalism, sectarianism and national self-interest fracturing Europe and the wider world, we do well to heed the consequences of such attitudes, actions and policies.

On a day when the world watches the escalating bloodshed in the Middle East and the superpowers are led by men trumpeting their power, paranoia and personal ambition, we do well to pray for peace and for the emergence of men and women peacemakers who posses a different vision of the world, where the power of love conquers the love of power. Wasn’t the original Good Friday Agreement exactly that ~ the power of love as opposed to the love of power. God’s ways are the true paths to peace and reconciliation.


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Paradoxes ~ Endings and Beginnings: Hopes and Fears. Thoughts at the Turn of the Year.

To all my many friends, a hope-filled new year to you and your kin.

After eventually moving into our new home just before Christmas and enjoying a wonderful time of gathering the family to be together to share in the festivities, spending some quality, unrushed time together, relaxing and exploring our new but not unfamiliar surroundings.

I do however find Christmas such a paradoxical time. The Advent story echoes deep in the consciousness with its themes of light and darkness, despair and hope, birth and death, good and evil.

For us, the joy of celebrating Christmas with our sixth grandchild. The love, security, comfort and care with which she is wrapped contrasted with the millions of mothers around the world for whom there are no such things other than love to offer their children. For the babies for whom there is no breast to succour their empty stomachs and pain-filled cries. For us, the day playing in the snow and making a snowman brought lots of fun and laughter. The walk up the hill to deeper snow a pathway laden with pleasure, the only threats to us coming from an unsuspected snowball. A stark contrast to the millions of refugees for whom a journey escaping their homelands where war, genocide, famine and suffering holds so many dangers and fears. Where bullets and bombs threaten their very existence. Where their fears and hopes are often met with indifference and hatred. Where the longing for hope and help is met with hostility. Where their cry for help provides us with opportunities but are viewed instead as troubles we could do without, or feel no responsibility for. Where our indifference, busyness or accepted attitudes and policies would sooner reject and ignore the cry of the world’s poor and suffering.

As I look back on 2017 it was a paradoxical year and contemplating this new year, 2018, I do so with a mixture of some hopes and several fears.

After another lovely day with the family, as our time together draws to its conclusion and they will soon return to their own homes, we toast in the new year a little before midnight and I find myself listening in reflective mood to Radio 4’s Something Understood as the clock approached midnight.  I am delighted to listen Rowan Williams exploring the theme of Storms and Stillnesses. What a gift Rowan is and he put so perfectly what my heart and head were feeling and thinking:

Can we in a year that is about to begin hope to discover that balance of that deep stillness and trust in the centre of things and a ready willingness to act and support and build the confidence of our human neighbours? Storms literal and metaphorical are not likely to stop anytime soon and we aren’t likely to find any magic formula to make this world safer. But it is a start to make it saner, refusing the feverous pace of reactive emotions and the lies that tell us we can be secure at each others expense, without ever noticing the other. Challenge the lies, build the connections, walk forward trustfully with eyes and ears open , listen for the heartbeat… Unless we remember how much of a lie it is that we can make ourselves completely safe, we shall train ourselves not to notice how the majority in our world continue to live.

He tells us that at the heart of our experience of storms is a religious revelation that there is no guarantee of safety but a promise that we shall be held through it all and not defeated.

According to Dr Williams, “When we show ourselves ready to stand alongside those who face the worst upheavals, trials and pains, we reflect just a little of the steady presence at the root of everything that never disappears, the pulse that continues to beat even when we can hardly discern it – the presence we call God.”

Thank you Rowan. And thank you Lord for giving us hope to embrace the challenges and opportunities of this new year.

I pray this same God-given hope will be yours; my family, companions, friends and readers of this blog or post.

I turn soon to sleep with the words of Day 31’s Meditation, from our Northumbria Commmunity’s Celtic Daily Prayer in my mind:

We have to be candles,
burning between
hope and despair,
faith and doubt,
life and death,
all the opposites.
That is the disquieting place
where people must always find us.

And if our life means anything,
if what we are goes beyond the monastery walls and
does some good,
it is that somehow,
by being here,
at peace,
we help the world cope
with what it cannot understand.

William Brodrick



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Christmas Eve Reflection

I appreciate the rhythm of the monastic day and the seasons of the liturgical calendar. I’m indebted, not for the first time, to the writings of Tom Wright, who has provided me with a series of Advent Bible readings and commentary, journeying with the apostles Peter, Paul and John and linking his reflections to the Sunday readings in the Lectionary. They have provided me with an inspiring companion and comfort as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.

I have also enjoyed the wonderful Bethlehem Rhapsody video that is to my mind pure joy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW1pbuyGlQ0

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Having just returned from a Christingle service with some of our children and grandchildren I have grateful for the opportunity to have worshipped over the four Sundays of Advent in different church settings and sing with various congregations familiar yet still remarkably powerful Advent hymns, the words of which have enlightened, reminded and brought comfort and joy as I reflect on this last year:  O Come , O come Immanuel…O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer, our spirits by Thine advent here, disperse the gloomy clouds of night… and close the paths to misery….


They herald tidings of comfort and joy to a world that is troubled and turbulent.

No serious thinking person could surely doubt that we are living through some very turbulent times. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime that has been so disturbing or threatening. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we cannot speak peace, peace, when there is no peace. I believe that we are witnessing the emergence of a new dark age, with attitudes and actions, policies and programmes that run counter to the values of God’s kingdom, the consequences of which are fearful. Whilst Western consumerism continues to distract or blind us to many of the realities and issues facing the world, the choices and directions which have been taken in recent years, will, to my mind, reap a harvest of destruction that will bequeath to our children and our children’s children a terrible legacy. The narratives of protectionism, nationalism, sectarianism and racism, allied to the ‘post-truth’, ( last year’s Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year) have catapulted exploitative, deceitful and opportunist leaders into power and should send a shudder of fear and concern to anyone seriously contemplating what the future may look like. The narratives of the biblical story, in an age of post-truth lies and spin, escapist myths and fantasy legends, stand out in stark contrast for their graphic and real portrayal of truth. God’s story that goes to the heart of human nature and the consequences of living contrary to his loving purposes, not only records the historical happenings surrounding that first Christmas but remind us of the present realities of violence and brutality, power and the suppression of anyone who dares to resist or oppose, the lack of compassion meted out upon the world’s poorest, the vulnerable; children, orphans, disabled, refugees and asylum seekers and the scapegoating of people leading to their demonisation, exclusion and victimisation.


These are dark days, when, for example we can endorse the sale of British arms as export successes and then try to suppress the truth that British cluster bombs, banned by an international treaty, have been used by Saudi Arabia to kill innocent victims, including women and children in the Yemen.

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Dark days that have seen us turn a deaf ear to the cries of the child refugees and adopt a hardline attitude that has abandoned more than half of the 1900 children seeking refuge after the Calais jungle refugee camp was demolished.

It is a small measure but we look forward to helping the church where we will settle following our moving home last week, to participate in a Syrian refugee resettlement scheme. The town where we now live is taking 28 refugees from Syria in the new year. A small but important initiative which sadly has had to take into account the prospects of abuse and threats being made to refugees as they settle. A stark contrast to the remarkable welcoming and integration of over 4,000 refugees into Arnhem in the Netherlands, recognising the need to respond to the global refugee crisis. Lord have mercy upon us….


Dark days when we have added fuel to the poisonous politics of fear that will threaten to tear the heart out of Europe, divide its nations and give opportunities to extremist groups on the Left and Right, including neofascist parties who are able to capitalise on the decision here in Britain to leave the EU. I was with a Nigerian/ Scottish pastor recently who described Europe, not Africa, as a ‘Dark Continent’. Dark days when the President of the USA behaves as he does repeatedly threatening to undermine democracy, decency and efforts to resolve conflict by peaceful means.

Dark days that are seeing an alarming and increasing gap between the rich and the poor of the world. In the words of the late singer/ songwriter Leonard Cohen; Things are going to slide, slide in a directions. Won’t be nothing, Nothing you can measure anymore. The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul…… There’ be the breaking of the ancient western code. 


Turbulent days….. now and as in the days of the prophet Isaiah, who proclaimed a promise of hope; The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Never has there been the need to recapture the Good News of the Christian narrative that speaks of light amidst the darkness, hope to transform despair and peace to counter the violence of this emerging new age. Within that promise, revealed in Jesus, is the prospect and the call for a different way of living, where love reigns, where compassion motivates and determines attitudes and actions, where justice and mercy are extended to all, where gentleness, generosity, empathy and kindness govern our lives, neighbourhoods and nations. The reality of God’s love for the world and the coming of his Son to redeem, transform and heal enables us to hold a flickering but inextinguishable light in the ensuing darkness.


May the hope of Christ and his inextinguishable light illumine your paths throughout this Christmas and the coming year.

The peace of all peace be yours this night and throughoyt the coming year.


Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to its tune today. Peter Kuzmic, Croatian theologian

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Advent Horror and Hope

Advent Sunday: I woke and listened to Sunday Worship on Radio 4 from Cardiff, recognising the voices of friends Roy Jenkins and Susan Stevenson reflect on finding hope in the wilderness.

Remembering the words of John Muir, founder of the National Parks in the States that he would “rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains” we went for a lovely, quiet, reflective walk in the grounds of Conyngham Hall and by the River Nidd in Knaresborough.


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The winter in its stark beauty longs for spring and new life. The prophet Isaiah described the people of Israel walking in darkness who shall see a great light.


My heart and prayers reach out to all those who live in darkness. Like the 5,000 people who are locked up in one of the 11 UK detention centres; men, women and children, incarcerated in conditions that have repeatedly been condemned by the United Nations and other human rights groups. There is clear evidence that the present Government is creating a hostile environment, sweeping up, detaining and deporting hundreds of people with little regard for their basic human rights. Two thirds of those imprisoned have no criminal record and have been on average in the UK for over 10 years.

Brute exodusLUCYEDKINS

The barbaric attitudes, policies and actions sanctioned by the Government are a scar on conscience of Britain and described by Andrew Mitchell, the former International Development Secretary as a “dystopian stain on our democracy”. 5,321 EU nationals were forcibly removed in the first nine months of this year, a 13% increase and the highest since records began.

Marcin Gwozdzinski, a 28 year old Polish man, made a final plea for help. Begging with officials inside Harmondsworth immigration removal centre, he told them he could no longer cope. Distressed he asked for help from those who held him captive.

He was crying, begging for help from the guards, telling them to call an ambulance, that his mental health was an emergency,” said another detainee. His translator said, “They told him he would get no help and to stop calling for an ambulance….He broke down like a baby. Still they did nothing.” Within hours he had taken his own life. His death was one of several suicides in a month in our UK detention centres.

Tonight I went to an Advent carol service, ( and didn’t think about any mountains) led by young people who at one point in the service asked us focus on one of the lights in the church building and pray for someone. So I prayed for those whom I will probably never meet who we as a nation have forced to lanquish in detention centres, who are denied acccess to help and whose futures are bathed in fear and uncertainty.

For those who walk in today’s darkness, here and throughout the world, I pray that the light of Christ may dawn to dispel the misery, end the suffering and bring hope to all who despair.


O come. O come Emmanuel….. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night… and death’s dark shadows put to flight… and close the path to misery.



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For the beauty of the earth

I’m on the road again.

on the road again willie nelson

A preaching, teaching and conference speaking tour sees me for 10 days in the south of England and with it traffic congestion and hold-ups. Yesterday the M40 between Oxford and London suffered serious delays following a car fire on the southbound carriageway. Thanking God for satnav traffic reports I was able to divert my route and by doing so, altered the pattern of my day very positively. Instead of racing on down the motorway and joining the slow moving car park, the M25, I rerouted and as a consequence called in to see good friends and fellow Northumbria Community Companions Philip and Rosemary at Bridge House, Shillingford.


Following a brew and a delightful catch up, conversation and prayer around the farmhouse kitchen table I then drove through the beautiful towns, villages and countryside of Oxforshire, Berkshire and Surrey, arriving in Horley relaxed, interested and enthralled by the journey. It added 45 minutes to my drive but with no hold-ups and passing through spectacularly beautiful landscapes as summer gave way to autumn, the time spent in the car was very enjoyable.


As Gandhi said, There is more to life than increasing its speed, something I will take up and share this weekend at Ashburnham in Sussex where I am speaking. The relaxed nature of the journey allowed me the time and space to reflect, think through and pray about the many happenings and experiences that summer has presented.

Among the eclectic mix of songs on the playlist that accompanied my journey in southern England was John Rutter’s For the beauty of the earth and Louis Armstrong’s, What a beautiful world“. My spirit was lifted as I listened to the words and observed the beautiful surroundings I passed through on my journey around London, beyond yet parallel with the M25.


The only sadness came as I reflected on what I had been reading the night before, all of which reminded me of how we are scarring the beauty of the earth with our consumerist lifestyles and disregard for the consequences of the way we live and treat this sacred planet.


The remarkable photographs that were heralded on BBC Breakfast News on Tuesday, their beauty and fascination extolled by the presenters but who so singularly failed to see the tragedy in such images. The seahorse carying a cotton bud! Marine life is dying and the whole oceanic ecosystem is threatened. Plastic, so much a feature of contemporary life does not rot away. Every piece still exists on our planet’s surface, billions of tonnes of it ending up in the sea or on the ocean floor. Ocean currents gather to form ‘great nations’, masses of plastic. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an area of ocean roughly twice the size of France, is a mass of floating plastic waste, up to 10 metres deep, which has been collected by the currents.

There are beaches on Pacific islands that appear to be covered in multicoloured sands but under close observation, the blues, yellows and red grains are not sound at all but tiny fragments of plastic.


The plastic that gets dumped into the seas around the UK is carried to the Artcic within two years where it does enormous harm to the fragile polar environment. Plastic is frequently mistaken for food by fish and birds, causing damage to life throughout the seas.

As I pulled over the car and went for a short walk to take in the wonderful woodlands of leafy Surrey I recalled leading a group of family and friends on nightjar spotting walk on my cousins farm in Norfolk this summer as part of my special birthday weekend festival party. It was like leading a pilgrimage as we entered the dark wood and walked slowly to the Heath, stopping, ears cupped and eyes intently gazing out on the night sky. (On this ocassion we neither heard or saw any nightjars – perhaps the cool ssummer had triggred their early departure). But the walk in the woods at night felt special, sacred. It is an area designated as a site of ‘special scientific interest’ but that term doesn’t capture for me the beauty of the place and the awe and wonderment that accompanies it.




There is great power in words, in the vocabulary and language we use, including how we name and describe things. So for my bit, as a friend of heaven who should be at the forefront of being among the Friends of Earth, I think we should name those oceans that we have polluted as the ‘Great Polluted Artic Sea’, the ‘Plastic Killing Waters’ or the ‘Poisoned Plastic Drift’.

And for those areas that in contrast remind us of what the world could and should be, let’s not be too clinical and over technical in describing them as ‘areas of scientific interest’ but let’s put up signs describing them as; ‘You are now entering an area of outstanding beauty‘ with warning signs declaring, ‘keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared to be awed and wooed by the wonders before you


For the beauty of the earth…

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Aftermath of Election

I am intrigued, encouraged and challenged by the election results.
For the Prime Minister, it was a bad judgement call, exposing her weaknesses as a leader. She and her party got what they deserved and she should sack her manifesto and campaign advisors and the “dark master of political strategists” Lyndon Crosby whose attempts to portray and destroy Jeremy Corbyn’s character failed.
Corbyn has discovered that wearing a suit and tie makes him look more ‘prime ministerial’. Whatever people may think of his policies, he has had a remarkable campaign. The gathering of thousands at his rallies were in stark contrast to the orchestrated, ‘invitation only’ small meetings that Theresa May attended. Refusing to debate and being ruffled when scrutinised by journalist’s interviews exposed her fallibilities whereas Corbyn grew in confidence and was at ease with the public, interviewers and in debates.
Following the results, chaos now reigns but also the opportunity to change and find new ways of responding to the challenges facing Britain and the wider world.
There is undoubtedly a desire for change among many people.
The results are a wake-up call for politicians to listen to the public, particularly to those who have been adversely affected by seven years of austerity measures. Policies which have been unfair, some of them cruel and have disadvantaged the poorer members of society. The savage cuts to public services have been so damaging to the NHS, education, welfare and the environment.
I see in the results a call for a fairer, more compassionate, more collective society and a desire to realise that we are, to quote Scripture, “our brother’s keeper”.
I rejoice and give thanks for the demise of UKIP but remain concerned with the Conservative Party moving further to the right to accommodate UKIP sympathisers. Theresa May said several years ago that she was worried about the Tories being seen as the “nasty party“. If she and her party really do care we need to see some evidence of it. Her tough and emotionless speeches and hardline policies are being rejected by the public. Her assertion that she will be a “bloody difficult woman” when negotiating Brexit has done nothing in my eyes to commend her or her approach to what are going to be very difficult negotiations. Talks that will affect the lives of people for generations. Whoever advised her to keep going with the mantras, (weren’t we sick of “strong and stable leadership“, particularly when it wasn’t being seen) and the nauseous, “Brexit means Brexit” which engendered as much enthusiasm as saying “cardboard boxes mean cardboard boxes“!
Theresa May Seeks Queen's Permission To Form A UK Government
These are dark, disturbing and turbulent days.
The prospect of another election in the near future is wearisome as it will not be easy for the Conservatives to work with the DUP. They may fail to gain a majority of support in the House of Commons for the Queen’s speech. If they can’t formulate an agreeable proposed legislative programme, we would be forced into another general election before the summer is out.
I love the Rend Collectives song which includes the chorus:


Build Your kingdom here

Let the darkness fear

Show Your mighty hand

Heal our streets and land

Set Your church on fire

Win this nation back

Change the atmosphere

Build Your kingdom here

We pray

And in the words of a pray for those who govern us:


Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all humanity; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed.


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