Christmas has knocked me out a little, as it does each year, which is why this December edition comes as it does in the heartlands of January. Indulge me with a little Christmas remembrance…
Honest Longings – Tara Owens’ Advent Course
One highlight of December was doing Tara Owens’ Advent course. Two years ago her Advent course was the spiritual highlight of my year, and though this was a fresh course, with a different slant, it was still the spiritual highlight of my year. Advent is my favourite liturgical season, and it was a real treat to be walking through it with such a wise spiritual director.
Doing Christmas with M.E.
Christmas itself was a delight. I had one good, clear evening with my parents on the 23rd, where I was able to be my ever-witty and scintillating self – then the next day I was utterly wiped, and good only for watching Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. I ate all my meals from bed and rested hard. That meant that on Christmas Day itself I couldn’t really interact, but I was well enough to witness, and as one friend pointed out to me, that’s mainly what Christmas Day is about, anyway – watching the youngest member of the family rip open gifts in excitement. I received some really thoughtful gifts, and felt very loved, and remembered Jesus’ gift to humanity of his own humanity.
(Are you ready for a bumper-load of December books?)
- Luke: The Gospel of Amazement – Michael Card. I’ve been reading this slowly, over the course of a year, as a devotional, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s more like a commentary than a devotional, but a more succinct one than an average commentary. It’s broken up into very short sections, which makes it easy to read in bite-size pieces. I was surprised to discover that there details about the context he pointed out that I hadn’t yet absorbed, and thoroughly enjoyed this slow walk through the gospel of Luke. Get it from Amazon.com for $14.36, Amazon.co.uk from $7.34 or Wordery for £9.49
- The Hardest Peace – Kara Tippetts. I was interested in this memoir by a woman with terminal cancer after reading ‘Just Show Up’ by Jill Lynn Buteyn and Kara Tippetts. What struck me from this memoir was the unshakeable trust she had in the goodness and power of God, despite her sorrow at having to leave her husband and young children. My only quibble about this book was that it skimped a little over the harder details of the cancer, and concentrated on what she hoped would be a legacy for her children. For me, that felt a little like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation for her family, and although there is much to commend this book, I suspect that it would be more meaningful for anyone who already knew her or had followed her blog. Get it from Amazon.com – $10.62, Amazon.co.uk – £9.99, or Wordery – £8.22
- Accidental Saints – Nadia Bolz-Weber. This book follows the liturgical year in the life of one church, and is peppered with interesting stories of messy and messed-up people who love Jesus. There is much to love about this book – Bolz-Weber is a fine writer and has a dry wit, combined with a deep love for Jesus and people, and it was this raw, joyful love that often left me in tears. My only hesitation with this book is that she writes about other people’s messes, not just her own. Though I’m sure she would have done, I found myself wishing she had made it explicit that she had permission to share these stories – memoir is always tricky when you’re sharing others’ stories, but particularly when you are a pastor sharing the stories of your congregation. There are points where I would differ from her theologically, as with anyone, but Jesus shines as the silent hero of this beautiful, messy community, and it’s beautiful to see. It was a fabulous reminder to me of how powerful church can be, as a family who loves well despite the pain and messes we cause each other. It is a collection of wittily and poignantly-told stories of people who are honest about their messes, and honest about finding Jesus to be bigger than those messes, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read. Get it from Amazon.com – $15.58 (Hardback), Amazon.co.uk – £12.59 or Wordery – £8.95 but released in Sep 2016
Books for Writers
- Book Launch Blueprint – Tim Grahl. This is a read-in-one-sitting book about how to launch your book successfully. I went to a book launch seminar by Tim Grahl and found it absolutely genius, so I thought I might not gain anything by reading this book, but it was full of great tips and sound analysis. Tim Grahl is the very best type of self-help writer, teaching clearly, whilst providing plenty of encouragement and motivation. If you are a writer looking to find some good marketing sense, I thoroughly recommend everything Tim Grahl has written. Get it from Amazon.com – $9.65, or Amazon.co.uk – £6.56
- Write Without Crushing Your Soul – Ed Cyzewski. I always enjoy Ed’s writing on writing, and this book was no exception. He spends a lot of the book taking a useful realistic look at what it means to have a career in writing (hint: it’s not glamorous), and towards the end of the book he offers some brilliant advice on how to write for the long-term, so that your rhythm of work is sustainable and feeds your soul. I have read many of Ed’s books, and yet I still find fresh gems of wisdom in each new book he releases. For those who are starting out, I would recommend his book, ‘A Path to Publishing’; for those more seasoned, I would opt for this book. Get it from Amazon.com – just $1.93 on Kindle, Amazon.co.uk – just £1.31 on Kindle
- Waiting on the Word – Malcolm Guite. This was my Christmas devotional this year – a carefully curated collection of Christmas poetry, with Malcolm Guite’s superb theological and literary commentary. It was absolutely delicious; I didn’t miss a single day because it was so good. Get it from Amazon.com – $15.99, Amazon.co.uk – £10.99. N.B. He has a similar book for Lent, Word in the Wilderness, which I’ve promptly put on my wishlist for this year. I’m a fan. Get it from Amazon.com – $17.74 or Amazon.co.uk – £12.08
- A Widening Light – Ed. Luci Shaw. Addie Zierman and Kelley Nikondeha both recommended this book, which meant that I had to get it. It was excellent – a beautiful collection of contemporary poets, including C.S Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, writing on Advent and the incarnation. Lovely to dip into for Advent. Get it from Amazon.com – $16.67, Amazon.co.uk – £11.00 or Wordery – £8.13
- U. A. Fanthorpe – Christmas Poems. I have long been a fan of the late UA Fanthorpe’s poetry, and knew that she had written a couple of more well-known poems about Christmas and Advent. What I didn’t know was that these poems were the fruit of her annual tradition of sending her friends a Christmas poem in place of a usual Christmas card. This has the whole witty collection, together with the hand-drawn illustrations that would have accompanied them each year. Get it from Amazon.com – $7.68, Amazon.co.uk – £9.98 or Wordery – £7.07
- Secret life of four, five and six-year-olds – This Channel 4 series, made up of recorded conversations of what children say to each other when left alone made me cry buckets. SO good. It also featured educational psychiatrists to point out the blindingly obvious (e.g. ‘oh, they nearly kissed then! So sweet!’) Highlights include asking a five-year-old what is the biggest number in the world (Ans: 101?) and what the fastest animal in the world was (Ans: Lighting!)
- Miss Fisher Mysteries – 1920s murder mystery series set in Australia with a jovial and beautiful detective heroine. (Netflix)
- Chuck – Still enjoying this series. (Netflix)
- Arthur with Clive Owen. Pretty mediocre film, but enjoyable enough to see Clive Owen snarling and pouting as King Arthur.
- Frozen – I know! I’m the last person on earth to see this film. Turns out it was very good. Someone should tell children about it.
- Jack Reacher – Tom Cruise doing his Tom Cruise stuff, just with more psycho-violent-heroics. Great film.
- Date Night – watched this before, but still so good. Love this romantic comedy, that is both comedic and married-romantic.
- Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Tom Cruise doing his Tom Cruise stuff, but with explosions and underwater swimming.
- Funny Face – Audrey Hepburn. Slightly odd romance, but so great to see Audrey Hepburn dancing.
Favourite Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt quotes:
(Posh woman on confronting rich husband about an affair): My husband denied everything. I may as well have been Congress.
Kimmy: I need Dong. He’s a Vietnamese student in my class who’s good at Math.
Titus: That’s racist.
Kimmy: But he is good at Math.
Titus: I don’t make the rules.
(Dong, a Vietnamese student talking about American TV): My favourite show is called Six White Complainers.
(Kimmy looks blank)
Dong: Oh – in America I think it’s called ‘Friends’.
(Posh woman looks around Kimmy’s humble flat) URGH. I need to get out of here before I get airborne diabetes
Boyfriend: I should warn you, they just announced a new iPhone is coming out which means all our phones will stop… (phone spontaneously combusts in his hands) Damnit.
ME News – Research
- Study finds evidence of down-regulated immune system in ME/CFS patients
- Important (though small) study shows that exercise in M.E. patients triggers bacteria-release from the gut into the blood
- Great news that the USA’s CDC has reinstated funding for ME/CF research
- Harvard neuroscientist Dr Michael Van ElZakker proposes an interesting theory about the cause of ME/CFS – the Vagus Nerve. More research definitely needs to be done in this area.
- Possible cause of chronic illness for some (like me) who had their ME started by the Epstein Barr Virus (mononucleosis, glandular fever) – Study shows EPV can infect neurons
- Useful guide by Sally Burch for ME patients on how to pace themselves using a heart-rate monitor to guard against over-exertion
ME News – Stigma and Mistreatment of ME Patients
- Brilliant piece by Catherine Hale on the peculiar stigma of M.E. (and medical/insurance politics) – The politics of stigma with ME/CFS
- “Are you having a hard time with the posh boys at Oxford?” So many assumptions about the cause of ME in that one question… Natalie Wright tells of the battle to get her M.E. taken seriously by doctors
- Charles Shepherd in The Telegraph (though sadly only online, not in the print version) It’s time for doctors to apologise to their ME patients
ME News – The PACE Trial scandal
Does the PACE trial have the right to withhold data? The PACE trial is a very influential trial in the UK that has been used to justify the NHS’ ongoing recommendation that ME patients be treated with ever-increasing exercise. Recently the dubious methods they used to justify their conclusions have come to the attention of several journalists and academics. One particular academic has requested some of the raw data under the Freedom of Information Act – but the PACE trial authors are refusing to release the data, claiming any request for data as necessarily ‘vexatious’.
What makes this particularly surprising is that this particular trial was funded by UK taxpayers (the Department of Work and Pensions – not the Department of Health – funded it, perhaps because they were concerned by how many M.E. patients are unable to work), so one would have thought that transparency was all the more important. Read some of these articles to get a sense of the drama:
- Erica Verillo – Scientific Misconduct and the PACE trial
- Clark Ellis – PACE trial’s forbidden fruit – why we must be allowed a look inside
Over to you:
- What were you into in December?
NB – a special thanks to everyone who responded to my request to leave a short review on Amazon or Goodreads. Every single review – no matter how positive – makes a huge difference in Amazon’s marketing, so I’m massively grateful for all your kind words.
I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her magnificent What I’m Into Linkup.
This post contains Amazon and Wordery affiliate links, which means if you click through to Amazon.co.uk Wordery.com or Amazon.com from this site and buy absolutely anything in the world, you help this site, at no extra cost to you. I received a free advanced copy of some of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are.