Category: reading

The Yellow Birds

The Yellow Birds is a powerful, moving and poetic account of one young American’s experience as a solder in Iraq and his subsequent psychological breakdown.

The story is beautifully told, the language is exquisite and the power of the emotions conveyed is compelling.  I was enthralled reading this.

Powers details the gruesome brutality of conflict and the developing relationship of two young privates unable to cope with what they have seen, experienced, been part of, done.

The main character’s subsequent struggles are sparingly but effectively conveyed.  Powers’ authentic voice is maintained throughout the narrative.

I highly recommend this book to you.


Lonesome Dove

I have just finished reading Lonesome Dove.  It is an amazing story, beautifully crafted, vividly detailed.  It explores the beauty and brutality of life and the kindness and cruelty of the people who inhabit it.

Set in the American West, following a group of cowboys herding from Texas to Montana, Larry McMurtry skillfully rotates perspective among the characters as the tale unfolds.  It is brilliantly done.

It is the fatalism of the novel which impacted me most though.  The regular deaths, the cruel treatment of key characters, the fears and failings of ordinary and extraordinary people.  Woodrow Call, a natural leader of men who gives his life over to doing right, is challenged at the last that he has never been right.  It unsettles him and the  futility of his own life is joined to the hopelessness of so many others.  He is unable to do the single most important thing he has ever needed to do.

It is this sense of futility that resounds so deeply at the moment.  The sense that nothing really matters, nothing you do makes any real difference.  The sense that we count for nothing.  That our lives have no meaning.  That we have failed.

It seems to me that this fear is a common human experience.  Yet we struggle to face it.  It is too hard.

But it’s there.  Unchanging.  Unrelenting.  Is there any purpose or meaning to our lives?  For all we achieve, have we ultimately failed?

We need to engage in this conversation, to recognise and understand the fears that haunt so many people.  Christians have hope and purpose.  Life is not futile.  We have a different narrative to tell.

true grit

Another book that I’ve read recently is True Grit by Charles Portis.

True Grit tells the story of 14-year-old Mattie Ross as she seeks revenge for the murder of her father.  Mattie is uncomplicated and incredibly brave.  Her voice is clear and authentic and she wins over even the hardest of men with her clarity of mind and her unwavering determination.

“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”

The book naturally and beautifully re-creates the world of its time.  The danger and thrill of the American adventure.  The world of the native American, the outlaws, the marshalls and the ordinary families trying to make their honest way.  The dignity and the utter cruelty of men.  The longing for justice.  The love of a daughter.

It is one of those stories that I expect to revisit very soon.  Immensely enjoyable.

enjoy the meal!

In Psalm 23 David has been exploring the image of God as a good shepherd, drawing upon his experiences of God in times of restoration and testing.  In verses 5 and 6 he turns to the image of God as a generous host and draws upon his experiences of God in times of blessing.

Now we know that we live with the incredible blessings of God every day.  We have already received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Jesus.  We have grace and mercy and forgiveness of sins, we have the adoption as sons and the filling of His Spirit.  But there are still seasons of life in which God seems to bring special blessings.

And the table of blessings that God lays out before us in such times are there to be enjoyed.  If you have friends round for a meal and you go to a lot of trouble to prepare a fantastic meal, no expense spared and all the garnishing, you don’t really want to hear them say that they are on an onion diet and won’t eat anything but onions.  You want them to enjoy the meal you have prepared.

And God wants us to enjoy His blessings.  Enjoy them and accept the honour that He gives you in the process.

And in my view, it is in seasons of blessing that it is best to make decisions about the principles we will live by.  When things are good, decide how you will parent your children, use your money, serve your church and local community.  In a season of blessing, commit yourself to living whole-heartedly for God so that you can carry these things through when times are harder.

And in seasons of blessing, know that God is with you and will always be with you.  Goodness and love will follow you all the days of your life.  All the days of your eternal life.

a season of testing

Most followers of God know what it’s like to go through a season of testing.  If you don’t, you soon will.  I don’t say that because I have some morbid view of faith but because I know that God leads us through testing times in order to mature and strengthen us.  In my view, it’s pretty difficult to read the bible and not come to this conclusion.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4.

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7.

David experienced testing times which he likened to the “valley of the shadow of death.”  Severe indeed.  And the greatest danger in such a time?  It’s not the enemy, but fear.  That’s what David learned.  “I shall not fear”.

And the reason that fear is so dangerous is that we make very different decisions if we’re frightened.

Let’s take money for example.  If you are frightened of a pay cut, reduced hours, losing your job or not receiving your benefits your decisions about what to do with your money will be very different from if you are trusting God to provide, knowing that in Him “you shall not want”.

Fear and faith tend to pull us in opposite directions.  Fear says I will suffer and must take care of myself.  Faith says God is here, caring and providing for me, protecting me, leading me.  Fear undermines faith.

So if you are walking through a season of testing, even the valley of the shadow of death, keep trusting God.  Remain faithful.  He is with you.  His rod and staff will comfort you.  And he will lead you through the valley and into the season of blessing beyond.

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