BOOK FOUR of Ten that have shaped my life. The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler

Following three years in Bible College, which was brilliant for spiritual formation and a missional outlook but was fairly confined and prescriptive in its theological outlook, I spent a year at Cardiff University, (a very different theological arena) doing a diploma in Pastoral Studies. I appreciated both places, Bible College grounded me in Scripture and university introduced me to philosophy, sociology and psychology. It was during the course of that year I came across Alvin Toffler’s book and remember reading it in a greasy spoon cafe in Splott, a less salubrious, (in those days) area of Cardiff. An area in the constituency represented by Jim Callaghan, who the year before had lost the General Election to Margaret Thatcher. Interestingly, Callaghan’s biographer, the historian and Labour peer Kenneth O. Morgan, noted his readers of Callaghan’s childhood poverty. His father died when he was nine years old and his mother had no pension. “They were very, very poor,” wrote Morgan. “They were reliant on bread and margarine supplied by the Baptist Church.
Toffler’s book fascinated me for it seemed to give a language to what I was observing in a changing world. Writing as a sociologist and futurologist, (great career with prospects!) he charted the influences and changes brought about through the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions and argued that the Technological revolution, further advanced now by Information Technology, was having a profound impact on the changing the world. The impact upon individuals, communities and nations was stark as people were undergoing considerable stress and confusion in the struggle to adapt quickly to the seismic changes taking place within society. These changes came like a tidal wave, battering existing institutions and have huge implications for home and family life, the workplace, economics, politics, Western democracy and international relations.
I found the book both fascinating and disturbing and it certainly provided a backdrop for thinking about what faith meant in a changing world and how we were to live out the gospel in a culture where not only society was changing but the church was being disturbed and challenged.

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BOOK THREE of Ten that have shaped my life. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

A young believer in the faith, at Bible College, reading theology, learning about the Bible and church history, much emphasis on mission and evangelism and exhortation to love God and the world. Knowing what you should and what you desire to do was different from actually doing it. How? Then into my possession came this book. A revelation that was transformative. The preface captured my attention, “Superficiality is the curse of our age”.
The book covers 12 classic disciplines of the spiritual life, classic both because they are ancient and also because they are central to experiential and applied faith. Foster invites us, through the disciplines to move beyond surface living into the depths. He writes about the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission and service and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance and celebration.
Its power and influence continues to shape my life and faith, revisiting the book during Lent most years since its publication in 1978. What adds weight to the writings of this and other books by Richard is that we have become good friends and I can testify that he is a writer who lives what he teaches. It’s been my privilege and joy to have helped set up and serve on the Renovare Board here in Britain for over 20 years, drawing richly from the friendships and resources of that spirituality movement, seeking to serve the renewal of the church.
I was tempted to include his “Streams of Living Water” and at least one of his great friend Dallas Willards books but I’ve chosen Celebration of Discipline because it was the book in those early days of spiritual formation that was to lead me as a new believer, a passionate evangelical and soon to be charismatic, into a deep appreciation of the spiritual disciplines, the need of the transformation of the heart and a valuing of streams of spirituality outside of my own and at times preferred expressions of faith. Still a classic.
2 Quotes from the book:
“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”…. “A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain…This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit… By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.”

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Book Two of Ten

BOOK TWO of Ten that have shaped my life.
Strength to Love by Martin Luther King.
Sent to me, by a former schoolfriend, when I was in the Cairngorms of Scotland training to be an Outward Bound instructor. The book awakened me to the place of faith and its relevance to society. Published in 1963, the same year MLK delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech, the book is a collection of Kings sermons, with each chapter steeped in Scripture, revealing the passion of this Baptist pastor and prophet, whose faith led him to a philosophy of nonviolence.
He speaks out against war, injustice, racism and exploitation and the belief that America is not blessed above any other nation. He was an advocate for nonviolence and peace, a stance deemed treasonous by most Americans at the time. He urged citizens to embrace peaceableness, wise restraint and calm reasonableness, arguing that hate and hysteria are no answer to the problems of the world.
So proud of my ‘home town’, Newcastle University (where I did my MA) that was the first British university to give him an honorary degree, as a Doctor of Civil Law.
In one of the chapters in Strength to Love King wrote: “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood… In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!”
The seeds of nonconformity were being formed in me and were to flourish when soon after reading the book I came to faith, beginning the journey of following the radical, life-giving nonconformist, Christ.

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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.


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:

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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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