‘The Creaking On The Stairs’ by Mez McConnell – A Recommendation

This is an absolutely brilliant book – I need to say that right from the start.

‘The Creaking On The Stairs’ Mez McConnell. Christian Focus, 2019.

This isn’t merely another testimony book. Please don’t think of it that way. It’s not a ‘things were really awful, but now  everything is wonderful’ book either. And, be prepared, it’s a harrowing read – in places it is utterly horrific! Mez’s life has been turned round  and ‘upside down’ in the most extraordinary way by the Lord Jesus Christ. But, and this, I believe, is very important to understand – it is NOT a book only about recovering from child abuse. It is about that. And that is amazing. But there’s a wider application as well.

If you have suffered any form of abuse this book will hopefully be very helpful. He writes TO the reader, especially to the abused reader. If that’s you – please read it. And to the abuser as well. And if that’s you – please read it! And if you’re wondering what Christianity is all about or has to offer – then you need to read it. As you can tell, I’m blown away by this book.

A brief word then about the book. There are 49 chapters, which given the content, are mercifully short, Mez doesn’t shy away from stating things as they are (and were). He’s brutally honest. I’m sure things were actually much much worse than he describes them but we, the reader, get the picture full on. He’s also honest about how he feels now.

Alarming perhaps to our Christian sentimentalities, but the honesty is shocking yet devastatingly refreshing.

It’s written really well. I like the way he’s structured it. It works. It’s easy to read as a book (the content is quite gruelling though). The book is full of Reformed theology. It’s not cold and lifeless. It’s warm and life-changing. Creation – Fall – Redemption. The reality, the factualness of sin, of the sinful nature and the cost of Redemption, the love of God in Christ, the Cross is all here. It’s a book of HOPE. Mez has been delivered by Christ the great deliverer. But the fact is we all need that deliverance. Respectable sinners are still sinners and just as lost as the drug addict, the abused, and the abuser.

If ‘The Problem of Evil’ is a problem for you then you may well find this book to be very helpful indeed. If you want an answer, you won’t do any better than to read this book. People are looking for answers. Especially about why the world and their lives are the way they are. Some say there are no answers. But there are. This book is one. The real problem is people don’t like the answers. The answer means handing authority over to another. And we won’t have that at any price, even if that means our own lives suffer. Sin is such an awful master!

In case you wondered, there’s no redemptive merit in what Mez suffered. There’s no balancing of the universe. But, unlike in a humanistic system, it isn’t without purpose either.

I like the way he’ll take a subject based on his awful experience and then contrast it in the following chapter with the suffering of Christ which is redemptive – for and on behalf of sinners, not himself. This, I think, works really well. For example he does this with chapters on humiliation, rejection and pain & suffering. Christ is humiliated. Christ is rejected. Christ undergoes pain & suffering.

Every chapter was either Jaw – Dropping in its description of evil or in the Amazing Grace of God in Christ.

These chapters stood out to me: Hell on Earth; The Glorious Wonderful Reality of Hell; The Terrible Reality of Heaven; The Bittersweet Pill of God’s Sovereignty.

Like I said this isn’t ‘merely’ a testimony book so at the end there is a section of Helpful Resources:

  • Worshipping with the enemy? – Interview with a child abuser
  • Interview with the Pastor of a child abuser
  • FAQs from Child Abuse Sufferers
  • A Response to this Book from an Abuse Sufferer
  • Next Steps

I was going to put loads of quotes in but instead I will end with a plea to read it. If you are a Church Officer, Elder or Pastor / Minister you MUST read it. I hope you will.

Four Christian Books & Booklets on Grieving

There are many many Christian books and booklets on grieving. Some are more helpful than others. I was given seven to review. Having read them I’ve ended with the four below. These are my thoughts.

Reviewing them is difficult because grieving is such an individual thing but most of us are going to go through this process sooner or later to some degree or another. There is no getting round that. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that the grieving person needs friends that know them well. This came out in one of the books:

“After my tragedy, a lot of people wanted to minister to me, and in some cases they were people I didn’t know well. But this just isn’t the time to be making new friends. It’s a time you want to be surrounded by the people you are already close with.” For All Who Grieve, p. 89 & 90.

Booklets can be quite helpful, especially if you don’t know what to say. They let us express our sorrow for the grieving person without having to say anything. Just don’t keep asking them if they’ve read the one you gave them as if it’s the most important one of all. It isn’t. They might never read it but they’ll still appreciate it and remember the kindness.

People mean well. But they don’t always say or do helpful things. Booklets are the same. They won’t all be suitable for everyone and it may be that a combination of books or booklets will be most helpful. No one book can say it all. If you are going to give someone that’s grieving a book then make sure you read it first. For example, I’d appreciate the kindness, but giving me something that was full of things I didn’t believe wouldn’t be helpful, I’d only find it annoying. But then, it might provoke useful thought. There you go. Is there a right or wrong – no idea. Just try not to batter people.

The reality of church life means there will be Christians at various stages of grief. That is true of any church and is true where I’m a member. Death doesn’t come in a neat packaged order. You don’t have to be old to ‘go the way of all the earth’ as Joshua said and is shown so well in ‘For All Who Grieve.’ So there is wisdom in preparing for what all of us will eventually experience. Nothing, apart from God himself, can prepare us for it. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it and just stoically get on with life. No, we are Christians, so we can and should prepare as best we can with the resources God has given us. These, and books like them can help us. There’s a lot of doctrine in the following books. So don’t let anyone tell you doctrine is of no practical use! Here are the four books then, in no particular order.


‘How Can I Grieve to God’s Glory?’ by Ryan M. McGraw, Reformation Heritage Books, 2019. (£2.50) This little booklet of 28 pages is based on Lamentations ch 3 where the sin of Israel has brought judgement. Because of Adam’s sin, and our own sin, we live in a fallen world. But on page 4 it’s not clear if it’s a specific personal sin that causes the death of a loved one. This could, I think, have been phrased differently. It was unhelpful and I nearly didn’t read on. However, by the end I thought the booklet had many good points and in several places is very helpful. For example,

‘Like him (Jeremiah) Christians must walk by faith in their grief (Lam. 3:19-38). We are thinking and believing Christians, and how we think and what we meditate on during our trials largely determines how we bear them by faith in Christ.’ p.9.

Another good point is that the author doesn’t shy away from God’s Sovereignty. If The Lord is truly Lord of all, He’s Lord of what’s happening to us, including the death of our loved ones. This is an important point. The booklet is doctrinally correct but some might think it lacks warmth. That said, it is very well worth reading. There’s a lot in this that we need to hear but in the wrong hands it could be used as a cudgel.

The grieving believer needs these truths but like some medicines they need to be administered with care. I would recommend reading this, but with caution. Would I give it to someone in the depths of grief? I’m not sure.


‘Grief: Finding Hope Again’ by Paul David Tripp, New Growth Press, 2010. (£3.99) This booklet by Paul Tripp is helpful and is the shortest at 24 pages. And short can be really helpful. I would have no problem giving this to a Christian. He’s quite straight, but is perhaps a little more compassionate. For example, this sort of honesty is good to bear in mind,

‘Whether death results from a sudden accident or a long illness, it catches us unprepared. Death is so deeply emotional and stunningly final that there is nothing you can do ahead of time to sail through your moment of loss.’ p. 5.

There are some good, but brief, strategies for dealing with the peculiar temptations grief brings with it. It doesn’t go into much depth, so that alone could be helpful when your grief-stricken brain isn’t working correctly. This booklet is a good place to start.


‘Grief: Walking with Jesus’, Bob Kellemen, P & R Publishing, 2018. (£7.99) This is a 31 day devotional reading plan.

I struggled at first with this book but then I warmed to it. I wasn’t overly keen on some aspects but by the end I was personally glad to have read it, and thought how useful it could be. It’s real and warm but also challenging. I could see it helping to maintain or establish a regular time in the scriptures. I would have no problem giving this away. The three studies each on Lazarus and Gethsemane for example were excellent. At the end of each reading there are items for reflection or things to do. For some, in the midst of raw grief, giving them stuff to do too soon might not be helpful. But then, for others, maybe they need to stop for a few minutes to reflect. It really helps to know the person.

‘Grief is a journey. But you and I know that it’s not a straight line from one point to another. The messy, mixed-up journey of grief that zigs and zags from hills to valleys, from valleys to hills, is not a nice, neat process.’  P.17.

This is the sort of honesty that is so helpful because there isn’t a magic bullet that suddenly makes everything well. There just isn’t. But The Lord Jesus is with us in it. No matter how messy it gets.

One reading was on justice and at first it seemed strange for that to be in here. But if the death of your loved one came about through medical incompetence or violence or a myriad of other issues the desire for justice is understandably going to be very strong. And it might be just to peruse it. The author doesn’t by-pass these emotions but we are helped and challenged to deal with them by bringing them to the Lord.

When is the best time to give it to someone in the midst of their grief? I don’t know. It wouldn’t do any harm even if they didn’t get round to reading it until some time later.

One other use for this could be to read it through as a group or even as a church.


‘For All Who Grieve: Navigating the Valley of Sorrow and Loss’ by Colin S. Smith, 10 Publishing, 2020. (£9.99) Hardback 140 pages. This last one is the longest and looked formidable. Would I have tackled it in the midst of grief? I don’t know. But the text is easy to read with breaks and headings and text boxes that keep it from becoming just a wall of text. I opened it with a bit of trepidation and I was hooked. I didn’t want to put it down.

This book is also based on the book of Lamentations. He (the author) was called out to a couple whose son was suddenly killed and from this he started a group that met to discuss together their grief – some from 18 years previous. The book is made up of shared experiences (testimonies) of (mainly) couples from the group with comments and exposition after each testimony by the author.

The six chapter titles are TEARS, TALK, GUILT, GRIEVANCE, HOPE & HEALING with a Postscript and an Appendix on ‘Children who die in infancy. (The testimonies are mostly about the death of children – one of 27 days.) After each chapter there’s a page of ‘Questions for Reflection and Discussion.’ Scary. There is raw honesty here. We don’t get all our questions answered and even after many years the grief is still painful. I found it helpful. The testimony to the love and faithfulness of God is wonderful. Christ really is the answer. But it’s through many many tears. The chapter on ‘Grievance’ is actually about having a grievance with God. The care of God is unbelievable. So amazing!

‘Why did God breathe out a book filled with complaints and grievances against Himself? Surely it is because He wants us to bring our grievance to Him’ p. 76.

One section in the Grievance chapter is on ‘Did God Cause This or Did He Just Let it Happen?’ The book tackles hard questions.

Would a ‘sharing’ group like this work in every church? I don’t know. Would it work in our church in the UK? Again, I don’t know. I do think ministers and elders should read it though. Or if you want to try and understand grief then you should read it. I found it refreshing and encouraging.

It’s a book with great heartache and sadness but it’s not a gloomy book. There’s grief and there’s hope together.

I highly recommend this book.


There are some topics that are interesting to read but may have little relevance to our lives. Death and grieving isn’t one of them. Frankly, it could do us all a lot of good to read books like these in order to further prepare us and our churches for the difficult days ahead that will surely come.

‘Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle

Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle. Evangelical Press.

As it says on the cover of this small booklet or ‘Tract’ it is ‘Lightly edited & updated by Mary Davis’ so it doesn’t read as a 19th Century text but it certainly addresses a 21st Century issue. It’s nicely laid out with easy to read text and isn’t very long at 51 pages.

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Ryle gives us the essentials of true happiness followed by common mistakes about what will make us happy. ‘To be truly happy, a person must have sources of gladness which do not depend on anything in this world’ (p. 15). He brings out several witnesses to show how wealth, fame, education and several other things will not make a person happy. Well then, how to be really happy? He tells us. Here’s just the first thing, ‘Be a real, thorough-going, true-hearted Christian.’

He doesn’t ignore the fact that Christians can go through much pain and sorrow. ‘Do I say that all true Christians are equally happy at all times? No, not for a moment!’ (p. 35) He goes through several objections before making a final plea. ‘Next, let me beg all readers of this book who are not yet happy to seek happiness in the only place it can be found’ (p. 48). ‘If you want to be happy, Come to Christ!’ (p.49)

As you would expect Ryle is plain in saying salvation is found only through the blood of Christ. The book challenges both believer and unbeliever. As a book it may not suit all but could be a good one to give away.

Ryles original tracts, along with this one can be found here: http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/john_charles_ryle.htm

Review – ‘If God is so good why are things so bad?’ by Melvin Tinker

This is the second book I’ve read by Melvin Tinker. It’s published by EP Books and dated 2019 so it’s a recent book. I like the way he writes. That is just a personal preference. The book is laid out nicely with easy to read type with headings throughout each one of its 8 chapters. At 156 pages it’s not a long book, and that includes several pages of end notes (I prefer footnotes), a foreword (by Tim Chester) and a preface. It isn’t a cheap book for its size with a retail price of £8.99 (what I paid), but you’ll probably find it for less.

Tim Chester describes the book as an invite ‘to walk with Job through the confusion suffering creates (p. 10).’ The author writes that ‘What follows iis a series of expositions which attempt to walk the way of wisdom with Job so that we might learn to think and speak of God aright when hard times come our way (p.15).’ As it says on the cover it’s a discussion of the problem of suffering. I have personally found the book of Job to be a great help. Suffering in some shape, mental or physical, will come upon us all and so books that deal with suffering will continue to be produced. Dealing with the problem and dealing with the suffering might be two separate but connected issues. This book does what it says on the tin and deals more with the problem. But it also deals with the suffering in the sense that it equips us to help others rather than batter them as Job’s friends did

One more minor gripe (the other is end notes – worth reading) is that he sometimes, for whatever reason, doesn’t given a reference. On page 49 & 50 he gives a lengthy quote from John Owen and I really wanted to see where it was from – alas, it was not given. He does this in another book as well as I recall. Maybe it’s just me.

Does he answer the question of the book title? You’ll have to answer that. I think he does, but whether you’re satisfied with his answer is another thing. In the Preface Melvin Tinker compares two men, Primo Levi and Victor Frankl, both prisoners in Auschwitz, who survive with two different views. He quotes Frankl saying, ‘The truth is that amongst those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz, the number of those whose religious life was deepened – in spite, not to say because of this experience – by far exceeds those who gave up their belief (p. 14).’ That is quite telling. To use modern parlance then, Job is a survivor. And we should listen to what his book has to say. As Jesus said ‘He that has an ear let him hear (Mat 11:15).’

Chapter one introduces us to Job where we see that his ‘religious and moral credentials are established as impeccable from the very beginning (p. 22).’ On page 24 Melvin asks ‘What could possibly go wrong?‘ Job is afflicted as we may know. Satan is given permission to attack Job in the most horrendous manner. And so ‘Here was a man suffering alright, suffering which was heightened, not lessoned, by his faith in God (p. 28).’ Job is set up as one of the good people so ‘how is one to go about explaining what is happening to Job who is one of the good people (p. 28)?’ This is what faces us in the book of Job and what Melvin Tinker seeks to explain in his book.

Chapter two introduces us to Job’s three friends. I believe what Melvin says of them is correct that ‘no matter how crass, misleading and insensitive’ they ‘prove to be, their intentions were nonetheless sincere.’ And then we read ‘In their own way they represent a certain type of Christian today (p.35).’ We may have met that Christian, maybe we are or have been that Christian! The longest section in this chapter has the heading ‘How not to be a ‘comforter’ (p. 43).

Chapter three is a more detailed exposition of Job 9. Here, two profound questions have to be faced. The first question revolves around God’s power and sovereignty and whether he is good? ‘That is the question found lingering on Job’s lips (p. 52).’ The second question is found in Job 9:24 The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges— if it is not he, who then is it? That is an incredibly powerful question for anyone to ask. If some form of disaster comes into your life ‘if it is not he, who then is it?‘ Melvin discusses this very helpfully, I think, through the rest of the chapter. The materialist really has to face the consequences of how they answer this.

Chapter four sees Elihu step up, Job’s three friends having finished their speeches. Elihu brings a different perspective, suggesting, writes Melvin, ‘that it might be more helpful to look forward to try and identify a purpose in suffering (p. 70).’ it doesn’t mean Elihu hasn’t bought into the retributive principle (p.37), as most people have, but that ‘… it is too narrow a view to think of all suffering as retribution… (p. 70).’

In Chapter five God speaks. The chapter opens with the comment by C. S. Lewis about God being in the dock. Because the book of Job is an ancient courtroom setting Melvin quotes G. K. Chesterton that ‘He [God] is quite willing to be prosecuted (p. 86).’ But ‘God’s defence wasn’t quite as Job had anticipated (p.90).’ The courtroom setting makes sense, and in that context Job’s eventual response fits in with ancient customs. ‘Job finally realised his mistake, which is often ours, namely, to think we are privy to all the facts, when we are not (p. 92).’ Like previous chapters there are helpful testimonies here about how God and His word are known in ways that would have been impossible but for the suffering.

Chapter six explains the Behemoth as death and the Leviathan as the Satan and we are therefore introduced to the reality of death and of supernatural evil. There’s opposition to God and all his works. There’s a war on in the heavenly realm, and we (Christians) are in it.

In Chapter seven I appreciated Melvin’s comment on Job’s end. I mean, it’s a fairy tale ending isn’t it (p. 121, also endnote 3 p. 155). This isn’t a Disney film. Apart from the great loss he sustained materially, all his children were killed. I don’t think it ended with a plastic Christian smile on his face. Why ever do we think it did. There is restoration, but I believe Job’s heart continued for the rest of his life to ache for his dead children. The end is that he meets with God. ‘Job had his hearts desire fulfilled, he met with God. That encounter changed everything, his blessings and his trials, in a new light because he saw God (p. 128).’

In the final Chapter eight Melvin writes, ‘We have been following the trials of one who is ‘victim and hero’; subject to ‘the worst horrors of pain and humiliation,’ the man Job (p. 133).’ We are then taken typologically (and powerfully) from Job to Jesus. As I was reading the book I had confirmed, I think, that the answer to the why of evil has to be found in God himself. I haven’t quite thought all this through but it seems to me that it’s in Christ that we see the why of evil. For me then, the book has been extremely helpful. And the final chapter in particular. At one point I did wonder if I could in all honesty recommend it, but this chapter sold it to me. Here, we are taken to the cross of Christ. This, is where we must all come.

The book is sprinkled throughout with ‘testimonies’ of the suffering that have both rejected God, and those that have found him to be their all in all. I think it would be helpful if you were to read the book (this book, and Job) but most probably will not do that. The question that cannot be avoided though, is where do you find yourself? As the rejector of God? Or the one who finds God in Christ to be their all in all?

This a very helpful book and Christians will find much benefit in reading it. I’m not sure it will answer some of the deeper questions non-Christians might have or even of some Christians (although see above on Ch 8). Some answers will never be found in a book but only in an encounter with God himself. Let’s not forget, that is what happened to Job in the end. His questions – if I can put it that way – weren’t answered by his three friends, nor Elihu, or even Job but by God himself. Books are good, but they aren’t a substitute for meeting with God. There is only one book where God meets us, and that’s his own word The Bible. The book of Job, in the end is in the Bible for that very reason – so we can meet with the living God.

 

‘the heart of the problem’ by Alun Ebenezer

‘the heart of the problem’ Alun Ebenezer, EP Books, 2019. The author is Headmaster at a school in London. The book is primarily an evangelistic book. It isn’t complicated. It isn’t fancy. And it isn’t long at just 58 pages. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. I enjoyed reading it. This book is written in a style that doesn’t mince words. The one aim of the book is to encourage and persuade you to go to the doctor (The Lord Jesus Christ). He is passionate about the task in hand. ‘Don’t mince your words doctor. Tell me the truth.’ This is what Alun does. You are in good hands. Rarely does an evangelistic book come along that I can unreservedly recommend. This is one of them. ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men‘ says the Apostle Paul. This is written in that spirit.

It’s a good book to give away. It might not suit everyone. But if you want to know what the problem is, and the answer, this book does that. Ten of Those are selling it for £1.99.

There are five chapters:

1. The Problem: In just 2 pages he lays out the problem in no uncertain terms saying ‘…. the one thing we can all agree on is that something is wrong with the world we live in (p.1.).’

2. The Diagnosis: When you have a problem with your health you go to the doctor. Why? You want to know what’s wrong. So what’s wrong:

‘To get a diagnosis, …. we need a reliable understanding of our deepest problem. The Bible provides that level of understanding because it is God’s Word …. the problem is not ‘out there’ but rather in us; …. The fundamental problem is not bad parents, bad schools, bad friends, bad circumstances, corrupt politicians or a broken society. The fundamental problem is we all have a bad heart. (p.3.).’

He then. goes on to demonstrate this under eight brief headings, culminating in a Verdict on page 14:

The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are around us and the diagnosis is that we are sinners, every one of us (Romans 3:23).

3. The Prognosis: ‘…. where does this condition I have lead? What will happen if it carries on?’ ‘…. the Bible goes on to show us the prognosis, which tells us just how serious things are and why the diagnosis cannot be ignored (p. 15.).’

Just now people are scared they will catch the CoronaVirus because they know it can lead to death. Although some might brush it off thinking it only applies to people with underlying conditions. This isn’t something we can brush off because all of us have the underlying condition (the diagnosis) of a sinful nature. The author goes on to briefly show what that means under three heads: Death, The Judgement, and Hell. He says this:

‘All the things we enjoy on earth will be gone forever. It is impossible to imagine how awful it will be…. The anger of God hanging over you forever. There is no escape, no emergency exit, no prospect of getting out (p. 20).’

4. The Cure: The condition we have can’t be more serious. But ‘…. God doesn’t tell us about hell because he is nasty and horrible and wants to frighten us and spoil our enjoyment; rather, out of love and kindness, he warns us about it so that we don’t end up there (p. 21).’ A serious condition then, needs a serious cure. Not the prospect of a cure. Not a ‘What are my odds Doctor’ kind of cure. But a certain cure. Millions of people through the ages have received this cure. The author goes on to explain what that involves.

Remarkably, the cure doesn’t involve something we have to do. Some cures are quite radical and involve a great deal of effort by the patient. Not this cure. All the effort, all the hard work, is done for us by another. Such is our condition the cure cannot come from within. Neither our effort, nor our resolve will do it. Alun, throughout what is the longest chapter, explains what it is the Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners.

Trying to grasp what Christ suffered for sinners on the cross is difficult to comprehend. Alun explained the suffering of The Lord Jesus on the cross in a way I’d not heard, or at least not quite appreciated before. He explained it by referring to the way time changed in the Narnia books. So while Christ was on the cross for those three hours he somehow entered another (eternal?) dimension where his suffering was of such a nature that here on earth we only get to see a fraction of what Salvation actually cost.

‘On earth it was hours but as Christ went into the darkness he left time and entered eternity and suffered an eternal hell (p. 34.).’

You might think all this is far-fetched, but seeing the things in the world and maybe your own experience convinces you that something is radically wrong. The Bible explains what’s wrong, and gives an answer. Jesus said to his disciples at one stage, ‘Will you also leave me? They said there’s nowhere else we can go, you alone have the words of eternal life (John 6: 66-69).’

Indeed, there’s nowhere else to go. And so to the final chapter.

5. The Doctor: Not convinced? It’s amazing that people, even with a serious condition, will not go to the doctor. There are a few reasons given why they just will not avail themselves of the cure. We are then given some of these are why they are no reason not to come. He gives five reasons and ends with this final heading: ‘Come to the doctor!.’

‘Just come to the doctor! The way you come to him is in repentance and faith (p. 54).’

In the penultimate paragraph he encapsulates the whole book when he writes:

‘The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are serious. The diagnosis spot on. The prognosis is terrifying. The cure sublime. And the doctor is ready and willing to see you… Come to him now! (p. 58.).’

Just in case you missed it, the doctor is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. The same Lord Jesus that said ‘Only the sick need a doctor (Mark 2:17).’ Have you seen that you are sick. Not everyone does. Some see it, but do nothing. They don’t come. Don’t be like them. Especially when the Lord Jesus says:

‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).’

 

More Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!

I’d been reading this for a while in between dipping into other books but I have now finished it. It is absolutely brilliant! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. And I do recommend reading it, not just for the plot itself but to understand the times. I’m not sure who said it but before reading anything from the past you should chant to yourself this phrase: ‘The past is another country, they do things differently there.’ Or do they?

To the book. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot by (Lady) Antonia Fraser. I have it in paperback. I bought it used via Amazon. The print is small and dense. There are two sections of pictures – that are great. There’s a detailed index, endnotes (I do not like endnotes), and a list of Reference Books (quite a few). There are also helpful footnotes (thumbs up) throughout the chapters. To be fair, the endnotes are mostly references with only the occasional note, and I scanned through them first so I didn’t need to refer to them while reading. The book is very detailed. She gives a great overview of the earlier reigns to set the scene for the arrival of James 1. In setting the scene though she doesn’t tell us about the St Bartholomew’s day massacre (1572) and I don’t remember any mention of the people Queen Mary (Bloody Mary, Queen in 1552) burnt at the stake. Fifty years or so isn’t that long, so it isn’t surprising sympathy for Catholics from some quarters is lacking.

Antonia Fraser wrote the book in 1996. This is significant. She wrote the book before 9/11 but I’m reading it post 9/11. Reading the book with that in mind the parallels are quite incredible. The author is obviously unaware when of writing and this makes it very interesting to read. I should mention the author is a Catholic. I’ve no idea how committed she is to her faith, but the bias I think is there. I knew this before reading so I wasn’t put off by this at all. She is a brilliant writer. And I think for the most part gives a fair account.

Robert Catesby and his band of terrorists wanted to blow up a mostly Protestant Parliament. That included the King and Queen and their children. Had they pulled it off this would have been a catastrophe for the country. There were to be Catholic Lords in ‘The House’ at the time, friends of his, but this was no deterrent to him. But it would have been uncharted territory and from that perspective, we are left with a lot of ‘what if’s.’ He was a fanatic. Not just any fanatic. He was a Catholic fanatic. He didn’t bring the Houses of Parliament down but he did bring down the wrath of the government and the ire of the King upon the Catholics in the country. The Toleration that Catholics wanted probably would have happened in time. As it eventually did in fact. But their cause had a huge setback.

What did the Government know? In the last chapter, she goes through a few views ranging from a Government plot instigated by Salisbury to complete ignorance. For me, Salisbury knew a lot, but it wasn’t a Government plot. They did need to catch them in the act. And so they caught Guido Fawkes preparing to set the thing off. It seems the powder had separated and might have been useless anyway but who knows.

Some of the questions the book raises are; The Power of The State, Freedom of Religion, Torture, Capital Punishment, and Fanaticism. All the conspirators that were caught were put to death in a horrible way. Father Garnet, the Jesuit leader in England was also put to death but mercifully died at the hanging stage. But here’s the thing about Father Garnet, he did know about the plot. He hid behind the confessional and kept quiet. But he definitely knew beforehand. Here’s something else to think about, should a Priest (or counselor) upon finding out about a crime, or possible crime report it to the authorities? She (the author) dwells upon the Catholic doctrine of Equivocation. (There’s a similar Islamic doctrine – do you get the parallels?) So initially when Father Garnet was being questioned he continued to equivocate. That is, he made it seem he knew nothing. When it finally comes out that he knew, the council rightly ask ‘why did you leave it till now to tell us?’ A fair question. We don’t know if he was tortured. Was Father Garnet, a Jesuit, the instigator of the plot. It was convenient to lay it all at the Jesuit door, but we don’t know. Robert Catesby was (conveniently some say) killed at Holbeach House and so was never questioned.

In the first three pages of the ‘Author’s Note,’ she provides a framework for the book, her aims and some questions she would like to see answered. Assuming the episode is a tragedy (it is) ‘Who was it a tragedy for?’ she asks. Other themes she cites are ‘Terror’ and ‘Terrorism’ thinking primarily of Northern Ireland and the Palestine / Israel conflict with no idea, as I said before, of what was to come. And by terror, she includes the terror of The State. She’s also keen to give a prominent place to women and so, for example, we read a lot about Ann Vaux.

Assuming then, a plot at all, she is ‘… concerned to convey actuality: that is to say, a sense of what an extraordinarily dramatic story it was, with all its elements of tragedy, brutality, [and] heroism …’ You may not, of course, agree with her answers, but whatever point of view you take on The Plot it’s still a brilliant book and a great read – I thought so anyway.

It’s quite a story and full of intrigue. I’m familiar with some of the places which made it more exciting to read. I was in Dunchurch and Ashby St Ledgers last November so I’ll try to post a few pictures.

 

‘Slowhand’ Eric Clapton Biography – Brief ‘Kind of’ Review

This year I’m trying to read a few non-Christian books. ‘Slowhand’ was on display at the local library, so I decided that it would be a good book to read. Slowhand: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton by Philip Norman was published last year (2018), so is nicely up to date. I finished it a few weeks ago but as far as the readability goes, it’s easy going and I enjoyed reading it. The text is a nice size and the chapters divide up into easy chunks and are not too long. There’s even an Index (and I used it). As I go through the book I note the dates and think how old I was and what was going on at the time. For example, I was at the Rainbow Concert after just turning nineteen. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 25.

I’ve not picked a guitar up for nearly 40 years, and most likely won’t again, but I remember back then having very heated discussions in the pub over who was the greatest guitarist. At the time (early 1970’s), for me, it was Jan Akkerman (Focus). There were a lot of contenders, so Clapton was probably one of them. I do recall the ‘Clapton is God’ label. There are several songs that I really like. For example White Room, Bell Bottom Blues, Crossroads, and Sunshine of Your Love and even though I heard a lot of his music I never actually owned any of his albums (including Cream) until I recently bought a Best of Eric Clapton CD. I suppose, for me, and it is a matter of taste, the Blues is not my favourite style of music, although I appreciate it when it’s done well. In the Blues genre, Clapton is definitely one of its great exponents and I do like a lot of it.

The book starts with Eric in a Service Station with George Harrison. Initially, I thought it was going to miss his childhood but the author then takes us back to when Eric was born in Ripley. His early childhood, or the effects of it anyway, feature throughout his life. His mother left him when he was two. He thought his mother was his sister and his grandmother was his mother. He found out the terrible deception when he was nine. His grandmother Rose, spoilt him rotten (and continued to do so) and so consequently spoilt him.

Thankfully, there are no graphic descriptions but pretty much everybody, perhaps especially Clapton, lived totally promiscuous lifestyles: even when they were in ‘proper’ relationships or were married. It becomes a bit wearisome to continually read about his constant state of drunkenness or drug abuse. But that was how it was and the author faithfully records it all, while (most of the time) avoiding too many value judgments. There is some strong language in the book but It’s kept to a minimum and isn’t gratuitous. My language was quite extreme before becoming a Christian so to me it’s all quite tame.

I wondered if Clapton came into contact with Christians. He was brought up in a culturally Christian environment, as I was, so he would have some vague knowledge of the Christian faith. Vague knowledge, however, is most often completely wrong. After thinking about that the very next chapter found him undergoing radical treatment for his drug addiction by Christian doctors. The nurse was fired though because her evangelism was a bit too ‘full on’.

The temptation is to be judgemental about him and think of him as a spoilt brat (which he was) who seemed to get away with just about anything and everything (which he mostly did) whilst in the main avoiding the carnage he created for others around him. The way he treated the women in is his life is appalling. So appalling that it becomes impossible for the author not to say something. As the saying goes, however, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ No matter how much money or talent he had, ultimately, it couldn’t protect him from himself or later tragedy. It’s quite amazing that he has survived as long as he has. So many of his musical peers died while young.

He becomes a father and this finally begins to wake him up to some responsibility. And then tragedy strikes. In just one short paragraph (one sentence really) Norman writes about the death of Connor, Clapton’s four-year-old son. What happened is jaw-dropping. It stopped me in my tracks. So, so, sad.  The service was held in Ripley. I’ve no idea what Christian content there was at the funeral apart from the set C of E service.

In Christian circles, you hear the phrase ‘I don’t know how I’d cope if I weren’t a Christian. But people do. And sometimes they cope rather well. It’s not a phrase I like, even though I understand what’s meant. Clapton appears to change after this. He quits the drugs and the drink and takes control of his life. The last two chapters, I thought, were a bit rushed as we read that his grandmother Rose eventually dies, as does his mother, probably the two most influential people in his life. And so here we are in 2019 and Clapton is still playing. He survived. That is remarkable.

I’d definitely recommend reading it. Especially if you are a fan. I think it was good for me to read it.

 

 

 

That Hideous Strength – How the West Was Lost – Melvin Tinker Part 1

via That Hideous Strength – How the West Was Lost – Melvin Tinker Part 1

That Hideous Strength – Part 2 – The Gender Agenda

via That Hideous Strength – Part 2 – The Gender Agenda

Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact by Michael Haykin – Brief Overview

Now I have visited Ireland (RoI and NI) I wanted to read about Patrick (Circa 390-Circa 460 AD). So I decided to read Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact by Michael A. G. Haykin. For such a small book there is an awful lot packed into it yet avoids being a dense read. Probably too short at 102 pages (total) for an index but each of the chapters has easy to follow headings. There are quite extensive footnotes throughout each chapter, mainly references to other works with the occasional helpful comment. The text is small but not difficult to read. There are a few pages at the end of the book with recommended further reading with helpful summaries of each work should you wish to research further into the life and times of Patrick.

The book is easy to read and not overly concerned about the historical difficulties: although at first, I thought it might overshadow Patrick Himself. However, Dr Haykin doesn’t shy away from the problems so the book isn’t a hagiography. The two primary sources are his ‘Confession’ and ‘Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.’

The explanatory boxes throughout the book, I thought, are a nice touch and help the context. For example: ‘The fall of the Roman Empire’, ‘On The Teaching of Arius’ and ‘Celtic Paganism.’ Not all the pages are so full of page notes (see example below) but if notes are not your thing you can easily read through without referencing them. Unfortunately, I like to read them so it can break the flow a bit. Very helpful if I wanted to look into the life of Patrick in more detail. His Confession and Letter are referenced throughout.

After being captured by a party of Irish raiders Patrick is taken to Ireland. Patrick interprets this as a judgment for ignoring the Word of God. After coming to know Christ he escapes back to Britain and some 20 years later (after theological training) returns full of missionary zeal to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the very same people who kidnapped him!

There are quotes from his Confession and Letter throughout – all referenced. Embedded in the test the words of Patrick really brings the man alive. There were huge controversies in Patrick’s day, not the least of these was the Trinity. What comes over very clearly is a man committed theologically to The Triune God, The Gospel of Christ and a fearless missionary burden to bring the Gospel to the unreached no matter what the cost to himself. Patrick’s life challenges us in these areas: Theological commitment, Love for Christ and the Gospel and Missionary Zeal.

After a brief chronology and preface there are five chapters:

  1. ‘I Am Patrick’: The Life and Historical Context of Patrick.
  2. ‘One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name’: The divine foundation of Patrick’s theology
  3. ‘I am bound by the Spirit’: Patrick and his Irish Mission
  4. ‘God has spoken’: Word and Spirit in Patrick’s piety
  5. An Evangelical reflects on Patrick – Very brief

This a great introduction to Patrick. It gives a flavour of the man and his time. I enjoyed it very much and thoroughly recommend it. I bought it for a £1.00 with another book plus postage on 10 of Those (still £1). It normally sells for £7.99. Buy it anyway, you won’t be disappointed.