Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars – now revised to 4

I had heard ‘great things’ about his book so I confess that I was initially disappointed at the apparent lack of ‘big ideas’ or anything like a plot. Indeed I found it hard to grasp to begin with, so had to read the first 50 or so pages again to separate out in my mind the four generations – John Ames the narrator, his father, his grandfather and his own son, to whom he is writing his journal.

This book has the air of a reverie – it is the musings of a pastor in his late seventies, who has always lived in Gilead and who took on the ministry of his father (when he didn’t come back from a holiday.). So it is reflective and ‘slow’, and memories are teased out as a fuller of explanation of how things are is slowly built up.

The major ‘dramatic tension’ is the arrival of his best friend’s prodigal son late in the book- and the implicit threat to the affections of Ames’s wife and child. The author allows us to follow the wrestling in his spirit as he weighs how best to be gracious to the ne’er-do-well.

It is well-written with some lovely poetic passages; another book (like Olive Kitteridge – but even less dramatic) that captures the ebb and flow of everyday life. And this time with a decidedly Christian perspective.

I have just re-read Gilead (Feb 2021) and then this review. I entirely endorse what I previously wrote (!) but was struck on this reading how much ‘spiritual reflection’ there is in this; I expect a non-Christian / lay person might be impatient with the lack of plot and paucity of dialogue. Strangely I think the book reads better as a book than as an e-book.

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Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane C. Ortlund

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bought on the strength of glowing reviews, I am disappointed by the reading of this book. Perhaps it is me! The exposition of Christ’s affection and love for his people is careful and comprehensive. The author has a command of English that is admirable and regularly throws in striking metaphors. He has read well a range of theologians. His main resources are the Puritan who are quoted at length; this is not bad thing.

However I think this book is aimed for a Christian from a ‘dour’ background. He spends much of the book persuading the ‘head’ that Christ is gracious, and that he reflects the Father’s kindness. ‘Where I am’ that is almost self-evident, but communicating that to the ‘heart’ is another thing. And in this regard the book needs more ‘heart-warming’ stories – some more more ‘show’ alongside the ‘tell’.

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Rich in mercy

Christ was not sent to mend wounded people or wake sleepy people or advise confused people or inspire bored people or spur on lazy people or educate ignorant people but to raise dead people.

Gently and Lowly – Dane Ortlund p175

The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis by Robert MacSwain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a light read as it comprises a series of chapters written by ‘academics for academics’. It is not inaccessible but a fair amount of background knowledge of a wide range of fields is assumed. There are a number of chapters that deal with Lewis’s professional works in English studies. I think some of the strongest chapters were when authors critically engaged with works that the public still read: on love, violence, suffering, heaven and hell.

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John 5: 24-30 The hour is coming and now is

Truly, truly I tell you that the person who hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has resurrection life, and will not come under judgement but has passed from death to life.

Truly, truly I tell you that the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

For just as the Father has life in himself, in the same way he has given to the Son the right to life in himself.

And he gave authority to him to act as judge, because he is the Son of Man.

Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out: the ones who have done good things to resurrection for life, and the ones who have done evil things to resurrection for judgement.

I am able to do nothing by myself. As I hear, I judge. And my judgement is just. because I do not seek my will but the will of the one who sent me.

O Love, O God who created me, in your love recreate me.
O Love, who redeemed me,
fill up in me whatever part of your love
has fallen into neglect within me.
O Love, O God, who first loved me,
grant that with my whole heart,
and with my whole soul,
and with my whole strength,
I may love you.

Gertrude the Great

Angels according to CS Lewis

Fra Angelico’s angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of heaven.

The Annunciation: Fra Angelico

Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael,

Detail from Sistine Madonna: Raphael

finally the soft, slim girlish and consolatory angels of nineteenth-century art, shapes so feminine that they avoid being voluptuous only by their total insipidity – the frigid houris of a tea-table paradise.

Detail from the Adoration of the Magi: Edward Byrne Jones.

They are a pernicious symbol. In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying ‘Fear not’. The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say ‘There, there.’

CS Lewis – Preface to 1961 Screwtape Letters


“What looks like talent is often careful preparation.
What looks like skill is often persistent revision.”

James Clear


The problem is that psychotherapies took practices from ancient religions (Stoicism, Buddhism, Christianity), but ditched their idea that life is suffering. Instead, suffering became disorders, disorders became ‘epidemics’ which must be eradicated, therapies became industries…

Jules Evans on Twitter

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry – John Mark Comer

John Ortberg described one of his books as ‘Dallas for Dummies’, this book is ‘Ortberg for Millennials.’ Ortberg graciously provides a foreword to a book that takes its title from something Dallas Willard said to Ortberg. Ortberg rightly says that it almost unthinkable for modern people to adopt Jesus’s teaching to hurry and busyness. Comer then picks up the baton and shows how a. modernity is obsessed with achievement at speed b. how Jesus’s approach was very different c. how he amongst others has made a resolution to slow down.

The strength of this book is Comer’s own personality and intention to follow Jesus in his context. This is very much a book by a West Coast millennial for his people. The book is full of very specific references that will connect with his peers. He is self-revealing (we are told about his Myer’s Brigg temperament, how many books he reads a week and how he only answers email once a week…) But he has put into practise (with his family) a slower pace of life. He is honest that is probably much easier for him to do as senior pastor. This strength is of course partly a weakness: the writing style is often irritating (he has Ortberg’s weakness for jokey asides), many of the best observations are quotations from other people (especially Willard and Ortberg) and some of the cultural references are just baffling to ‘outsiders’. Good to read quickly (!) and be challenged by, but hard to recommend to the general reader.