May went by in a blur of political fever. It says something of how chaotic May was that this post is almost a month late. In the middle, I escaped from the house on a cloudy day, and saw the sea. The boy, despite the fact that he was fully clothed and the sand was still damp from the previous night’s rain, ran full-pelt onto the beach and then flung himself down entirely into the sand, absolutely delighted. Bath-time took a little longer that night. It was a wonderful morning, and much-needed respite in a month of intensity.
Also, the boy moved on completely from Magic Man: this month his imaginary superhero of choice was Emery, a more complex character who moves from being a Baddy to becoming a Goody (the first two films are about his travels as a baddy, but the following two are about his conversion into a goody and subsequent travels as a goody). Emery has a sidekick called Defender. I played Defender for much of May – I suspect it was not as much fun as being Emery.
Launch of Compassionate Britain
The election happened, and everyone thought it would be a coalition government of some kind, but then the Conservatives won a majority. This means we are now looking at a £12 billion cut to the welfare budget, and as they are not touching the largest proportion of the welfare budget which is spent on pensions (over 55% spent on state pensions), the cuts will fall (yet again) on the poor, the sick, the disabled, the unemployed.
Something in me snapped, and I just had to do something, so I spent a week writing an open letter that went up on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog, and it exploded – 13,500 views in the first 36 hours. It launched Compassionate Britain – a grassroots campaigning organisation, seeking to unite Christians and others to speak up for disabled people, keeping the government accountable to uphold social justice and compassion in the light of the cuts disproportionately targeted at disabled people. I started replying to the comments (which I do not recommend reading, as many of them are offensive to disabled people and those with ME), but after the numbers got to 300 comments, I stepped back. Last time I looked, there were c. 650 comments on there.
Despite some unpleasantness, the vast majority of people, from across the whole political spectrum, got in touch with me to say how moved they were by my piece, and that they were writing to their MP as a result. I am hoping that, in the days before the expected emergency budget in the beginning of July, more people will write, and that MPs will start to listen. (Have you written yet?)
It was pretty much all about Compassionate Britain this month, but I did manage to finish two books I’d started reading earlier.
- Help My Unbelief – Barnabas Piper. I thought I would really enjoy this book about doubt by John Piper’s son Barnabas, but I was a little disappointed by it. The positives: he’s a great writer and his theological thinking is, much like his father’s, crystal clear and logical. He is also frank about his own weakness that led to his wrestling with doubt, which gives a sense of authenticity. The negatives: the main thrust of his book is that there are two ‘types’ of doubt: ‘good’ doubt, that leads to a realisation that you are too sinful to understand God, and ‘bad’ doubt, that leads to a questioning of God, idolatry, and then apostasy. The trouble I have with this premise is that, in practice, most garden-variety doubt looks like his definition of ‘bad doubt’, and yet it is not true that that necessarily leads to idolatry and apostasy. Despite his intention of giving people permission to doubt, I think this book would have the opposite effect for many people and push them farther away from feeling there is space for their questions and doubts.
The theology has a strong Puritan emphasis on our inherent sinfulness – and although it helps some people when they are doubting to remind them of their sinfulness, others, who are already feeling guilty about having doubts, would just drown with these kinds of exhortations. I think this book would be best for those who are comfortable with strong Conservative Evangelical/ Puritan theology and spirituality – I get the feeling Barnabas is targeting people who’ve never before thought anyone is allowed to question their faith. But for those who have felt bruised by an emphasis on the smallness and insignificance of their humanity, or those who doubt in a ‘I don’t know anymore if God is good or real’ way, I would hesitate to recommend this book to them, because it doesn’t provide enough ‘breathing space’ or ‘permission’ to voice their questions without condemnation.
If you want a ‘breathing space’ book, where the author is more sympathetic towards those who doubt, try something on the spectrum from Philip Yancey to Rachel Held Evans on the subject, and I would feel much more comfortable recommending these. If you want a ‘kick up the backside’ book (which some people find do helpful when they are wavering) then this would probably suit you better. (I received an advanced review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, which this is). Pre-order it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh. This is a long and beautiful story about India in the early 19th century, during the British rule and opium wars. It holds together a large cast of different characters from various parts of Indian life, which helps to feel like you’re utterly immersed in this world. It’s not an easy read – there is frequent use of Hindi words and the sailors speak their own semi-intelligible language – but it is a rewarding and beautiful one. This is well worth reading for a clearer understanding of 19th century India, three-dimensional characterisation, and above all, a playfulness and transparent joy in language and the way it’s used. I don’t normally like long and wide-ranging novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I can see why it was worthy of its Booker Prize Short-Listing. Now buying the others in the trilogy. (I received an advanced review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, which this is). Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
On my nightstand:
Musketeers. Some other books.
- Jane the Virgin – I didn’t want to watch this because of the title, which I thought would be patronising, but then Leigh Kramer recommended it, and i always do what she says, and she was completely on the money. Remember the whimsical cuteness of Ugly Betty when it first came out? This is what this is like. Premise: Latina girl, engaged to gorgeous police offer, gets accidentally artificially inseminated when she goes for a smear test, so is a pregnant virgin. The father of the baby turns out to be a distant ex-boyfriend, who is married to someone who may or may not be in a criminal drug ring. It’s so good. Trust me on this one.
- Empire – this is like the rap/R&B version of Nashville. Former star, now owner of a music empire, learns he has an incurable illness, and wants his three sons to prove which of them is good enough to take it over when he dies – cue drugs, murder, homophobia, betrayal – and music. High drama, but it pulls it off with the excellent acting and the amazing songs.
- Nashville – Season three! I am so happy.
- Indian Summers – If you missed this Channel Four series, it’s well worth watching. It starts off a little slowly, but is utterly compelling. Set in India, examines both sides of British occupation in the dying days of the empire. All the acting is excellent, and Julie Walters is outstanding. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or pre-order from Amazon.com.
Films – aka getting overly emotional for no good reason
- Born on 4th July – thought this was one of the ‘films to watch’ because oh-so-worthy. Terrible, terrible film. Almost completely unintelligible and virtually no story arc to speak of. Don’t bother.
- Bourne Ultimatum – Happiness is this: settling down for the final Bourne film, and thinking, ‘I can’t remember what happens in this one’, and then realising you’ve NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN IT BEFORE. So good.
Jon left me with a bunch of prepared meals for the whole week, a stocked mini-fridge upstairs, and people to look in on me, and then he and the boy went to stay with grandparents for half-term. This could only mean one thing: trashy romantic comedies. Whenever I’m on my own, this is my film genre of choice – even the bad ones I still like, even while I’m hating them. It has to be said, most of the following were BAD.
- Step Up 3 – this is all about the dance. The dance wasn’t perhaps as magnetic as Step Up 1, but I loved the singing in the rain montage – too cute. So cheesy it’s good.
- Exotic Best Marigold Hotel – this is a classic example of stellar, seasoned actors being made to play slightly humiliating parts, just because they are old, and Hollywood thinks it is funny to talk about old people using viagra in an exotic location. It’s almost good, because of the quality of the acting, but the racial stereotypes and contrived characterisation put me off. BAD.
- Bride Wars – Horrible, ridiculous premise, of two best friends wanting the perfect wedding in the Plaza in June, booking their wedding on the same day, and then trying to sabotage the other’s wedding. Terrible film, even though Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway are in it. BAD. Nevertheless, made me cry because I missed my best friend. Darn it.
- Leap Year – Utterly unplausible romance between a girl who is so desperate to marry her fiancé that she goes to Ireland to propose on the 29th February, and an Oirish lad who drives her to Dublin in three days. BAD. Almost entirely ruined by the entirely unconvincing Irish accent, and only has one truly good line in it:
American girl, seeing sad Irish boy: “Do you want to talk about it?”
Irish boy: “Look you’re not in America now. You’re in Ireland. So have a drink and shut up.”
Neverthless, made me cry because there was a proposal at sunset.
- Down to you – Set in the 90s, Freddie Prinze Junior falls in love with what’s-her-face from the Bourne Identity films, and they have a cute romance that then falls apart, and kind of works out again. Cute, but not amazing. Nevertheless, made me cry because I missed the 90s.
(Think I may have been a little over-emotional that week).
On the internet:
- I recommend this audio recording (45 mins) of Vince Vitale speaking on suffering. He is an apologist with a pastoral heart – I really liked his attitude.
- On the blog it was quieter this month (sorry – election!) but I was blown away by the support I was shown for ME Awareness Day, and honestly, I cried when I saw the notes of pledges of people who had given to Tom Whittingham’s fund who mentioned my name: ME Research UK is a wonderful charity, and it was great to see that Tom met and exceeded his target. I am humbled by your generosity, and immensely grateful. And thanks for the huge response to my post on the Mudroom this month – When you feel like you’re losing your faith – I’m so glad it resonated with so many.
I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her magnificent What I’m Into Linkup.
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Over to you:
- What about you – what were you into back in May?