What I’m Into (Jan 2014)


Well, it’s midway through Feburary, but I’m writing this January review post anyway, even though I’m too late to link with Leigh Kramer. January was a fun month, with lots of catching up with friends via Skype/at my house, and lots of resting. But Christmas takes up three months of the year (at least) – one month to prepare, and two months to recover from, and I have slid into February with a bit of a relapse. I have read a whole STACK of books over December and January, so there’s loads of good stuff!

**Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and then buy anything from Amazon, you will donate a few pennies to me, at no extra cost to you.**




  • Best Taizé Album in the World Ever. I got a great new Taizé chant CD for Christmas! It’s a great compilation and good quality recording. I find it really relaxing to listen to it – my breath slows down in time to the sung Bible verses. Get it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

  • Audrey Assad – Fortunate Fall. On my quest to find ‘Christian music that doesn’t sound too Christian’ I heard her singing at the RELEVANT magazine sessions, and I was hooked. Her voice is beautiful and melancholy, and she sings beautiful songs of the goodness of God, but in a minor key. My friend commented: ‘it takes a mature Christian to sing of the goodness of God in a minor key’, and I love the theological depth and the sense of holding on to God when you don’t understand. This is really worth listening to – I find it really moving. Get it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

  • Ghosts upon the earth – Gungor. This is Gungor’s second album. I’ve had this album for a while – probably a year, but initially I was quite disappointed with it. It’s not very easy listening, and I found it all a bit too much for putting on in the car or singing along to. And then one day in January I put it on and listened to it whilst lying down and doing nothing else, and it was a complete REVELATION. These guys are geniuses (genii?) This is straight-up amazing. One of my friends who is something of a poet-artist-monk said this is her favourite album of all time, and now I understand why. If you are something of a poet-artist-monk and want to listen to Christian music that celebrates creativity and is very different to the mainstream, this may well end up as your favourite too. Get it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

  • Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More and Babel. Okay, okay, I know. I am SO late to the whole Mumford & Sons phenomenon, and embarrassingly, it was The X Factor that finally pushed me to ask for them for Christmas. I loved Luke Friend’s version of ‘I will wait’, and then when I heard Gary Barlow’s latest song I thought I really ought to catch up with music trends. Gary Barlow may not be the best singer or musician in the world, but he is a genius at remarketing and rebranding. When Take That relaunched, they had dropped the boy band sound and were all ‘Coldplay’-esque at a time when Coldplay was huge. This time, relaunching as a solo artist, he was all folky and Mumford and Sons-y. That’s how big they are. I’ll admit, I can see what all the fuss is about. The two albums are both brilliant, and I reckon I like Babel even better than the first. My lateness also means they are now ridiculously cheap, so that’s all good. Get Sigh No More on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com, and Babel from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

  • Noah Gunderson – Saints and Liars; Family. Cara at Little Did She Know recommended this singer, who is a bit like Damian Rice, though not quite so miserable. I think he is a former Christian turned agnostic (I have a vague recollection of having read this in an interview…) and his lyrics are thoughtful and yearning. I downloaded a free EP of songs from both his albums from Noisetrade, and I really want both albums now. Gorgeous voice with acoustic vibe. Get his latest album, Ledges, on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

  • Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng. I had to read this Booker Prize nominated novel for a book group, which is about the after-effects of the Second World War in Malaysia. We were a little divided – it’s either exquisitely written or just too darn slow for its own good, depending on your perspective. I was in the ‘too slow’ camp, as it only really got going halfway through, but it was a fascinating insight on a country and a slice of history I didn’t know well, and raised some important questions about forgiveness and living in a country with differing races and cultures. Get it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

    Christian books:

  • Seeking God’s face (Praying with the Bible through the Year) – Philip F Reinders. I was looking for something for a daily ‘quiet time’ that would be very gentle, and this is perfect. It is a little like doing a ‘daily office’, with set readings and prayers, following the church year (e.g. at the moment we’re in Epiphany), and it’s just done really well. There’s a great introduction suggesting ways of doing ‘lectio divina’, letting the word sit in your spirit, and every day there is a reminder to stay quiet and prompts for reflection. So many evangelical commentaries are a little ‘noisy’ and busy, and I love how this slows me down. There is also only scripture (already printed out on the page so you don’t have to look it up separately in your Bible) and his prayers (traditional prayers from creeds or catechisms which he has modernised to read more fluently). This book is totally saving me at the moment – thank you, Mr Reinders. Love it. Get it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

  • The Good News of Revelation – Ed Cyzewski and Larry Helyer. This is a ‘commentary’ on the main themes of Revelation, and I put commentary in inverted commas, because ‘commentary’ always sounds theological, academic and dry, but this is written for the average church person, and is much more accessible (and short!) than a standard commentary. I love the emphasis of this commentary that Revelation is good news of those who are suffering. As the blurb on the back says: “Rather than saying, ‘Watch out! The Anti-Christ is coming,’ Revelation tells its readers, ‘Hold on, Jesus is Lord!'” Sometimes we get so distracted by the mysterious end times elements to Revelation that we miss the fact it is essentially written as a comfort to a suffering church.
    But by far the best thing about this commentary is Ed Cyzewski’s contribution – a series of fictional scenes telling the story of life in the time of the recipients of Revelation. (It was this book that inspired me to do my own series using fiction as a vehicle to explore the context of 1 Peter.) For the first time I felt like I was walking around in the world of the recipients of Revelation, and it makes such a difference to your understanding of Revelation. The fiction chapters (which alternate with the more traditional commentary chapters) were utterly engaging and compelling, and had me in tears twice because they were so moving and beautifully written. I thoroughly recommend this book – it’s worth getting if only to read the fiction part, and it’s so gripping I reckon you could read it in one sitting and have a really good understanding of Revelation by the end of it. A creative and engaging book which takes much of the mysteriousness out of Revelation, and puts Revelation back into the context of the suffering church. (I received a free e-copy of this from Ed Cyzewski, and this is my honest review.) Get it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

  • The Meaning of Marriage – Tim Keller (with Kathy Keller). I read this for a clergy wives book group, and I thought I would love it because I loved Prodigal God and Generous Justice, but I only liked rather than loving it. This is a book that focuses on the ‘theology’ of marriage and tries to minimise specific application. In some ways this is good, because there are so many Christian books on marriage that say ‘this is our marriage and what we’ve learnt, so all marriages should be like this’, so it is good to have more of a focus on the theology. I found most of the Bible stuff helpful but familiar material. He and his wife believe the Bible teaches differing gender roles (ie men as ‘head’ over wife), so this may be difficult for people who disagree with this interpretation and I wasn’t completely sold on their application of these verses, although they steer clear from being overly prescriptive about what this would look like in individual marriages, and the examples they give from their own marriage indicate that the application they envisage is far from a 1950s stereotype. For me, the great strength of this book for me was the vision it gave of what a Christian marriage could be like: I liked that they took Ephesians 5:25-27 “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, making her holy” (p.120) as an injunction for both partners in a marriage to “help each other to become our future glory-selves” – to see the person that God created us to be and helping one another become that person in the context of great friendship and sacrificial love. This did what Keller does best: present an apologetic for Christianity that is truly attractive.
    However, I do wish he had said more about the possibility of abuse. We had an animated discussion about this issue in our book club – it is difficult to describe what abuse looks like, because there is a sliding scale, and it can seem obvious to outsiders that hitting or raping someone is abuse (in an appendix the Kellers say that the loving response of a wife who is being beaten continually would be to get her husband arrested). Yet most people who are victims of abuse don’t realise their relationship is abusive for a long time, because it builds up insidiously and has become normalised. They reason: “yes, he hit me, but it was my fault for provoking him. He’s always warning me he has a bad temper. If I had submitted maybe I wouldn’t have provoked him”, or “well, I did say I didn’t want to, and that it hurt, but he said I was his wife and I had taken a vow to give him my body, so – that’s not really rape…is it?’ For this reason I wish Tim and Kathy had dealt with the issue of consent and not assumed that abusive relationships were self-evident. For example, the Kellers say that loving someone means having sex with them even when you don’t feel like it. When they say this, I imagine they have in mind the husband or wife who just feels a bit tired and would rather watch TV that night but agrees to put their tiredness aside and make love even though they don’t really feel like it at first, (and probably assumes that once they embark on it, it will be enjoyable for them as well). I do wish they had specified that particular situation instead of leaving it open for victims of abuse to assume that the Kellers are saying you shouldn’t complain about being raped in a marriage. Violence against women is frighteningly common, even in church communities, and I think increasingly Christian books on marriage and sex need to take this into consideration. Overall, it is a good book for someone wanting a somewhat dense theology of marriage (with a thoughtful complementarian approach to gender roles in marriage), but not for those who are looking for more practical application. Get it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

  • Julian of Norwich – Amy Frykholm. This was a pleasant surprise. I would never have read this book if it hadn’t been given to me by a trusted friend, but boy, was I glad I did. It is a biography of Julian of Norwich which reads like a novel, and brings to life the sights and smells of medieval England. This means that it can gently explore her theology, with a few quotes from her writings, putting it into the context of a church that was fearful of doomsday and a society that was recovering from the trauma of multiple deaths from the plague. Before, I had always secretly thought that the quotes I had heard from Julian of Norwich were, frankly, a little bit bonkers, but this book reminded me that you should always read someone in the context of their time. I found this insight into her life and theology absolutely fascinating and a pleasure to read. Julian of Norwich was a remarkable woman who was the first woman to have a book published in English (she lived around the time of Chaucer, and Latin was typically the language of the church, but she wrote in the language of the people), and whose theology of unity with God rather than distance from Him stood in refreshing contrast to the “God is furious with you” message of much of medieval theology. Despite living a solitary life, she impacted many people beyond her small cell. This slim book brought medieval England and Julian’s theology to life for me, and by the end of the book I felt like a had found a friend and kindred spirit in Julian of Norwich. This book was an intelligent, gripping, and utterly charming glimpse of the theology and person of Julian of Norwich – highly recommended. Get it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.


  • The 7.39 – David Nicholls – really good BBC two-parter about a couple who have an affair after getting to know each other on their daily commute to work. Really interesting to see the slide into adultery, and the impact of that affair on them and their relationships.

  • Sherlock Season 3 – hurrah! I can never get enough of Sherlock. Everyone in the world loves Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, right?

  • The Musketeers – I loved the cartoon series of Dogtanion and the Three Muskehounds, and this is basically the same, but with actual people instead of cartoon dogs. And real swords. What’s not to love? Swashbuckle-tastic.

    Books on my nightstand:

  • Wild Mind – Natalie Goldberg. This book on writing freely is SO inspiring.
  • How to be sick – Toni Bernhardt.
  • The Artists rule – Christine Valters Paintner – I’m going through this book again as with some Story 201 friends, and I’m loving it even more the second time around).

    (You may have noticed there are more books here than usual. I am trying to use my cognitive energy to read books rather than blogs, but that means I have been hanging around the blogosphere less, and feeling insanely guilty for all the great blog posts I’m missing. But books are good, right?)

    Writing update – I’ve been too tired to look at writing the book for last 3 months, but two weeks ago I got two A3 sheets and a bunch of post-it notes and blitzed the big picture for a couple of hours. It’s morphing and clarifying at each stage, but it feels a long process. The words are coming back to me and building up in me again, and I will return to that painful first draft process for the remaining quarter/third of the book. I will. Honestly.

    And – randomly – this was an interesting article – how to name a baby

    At home:
    Last year I made a habit of tweeting my #3goodthings, so that I would become more accustomed to thanking God for the everyday blessings I found. In January I came to the end of the excellent Advent – Epiphany course led by Tara Owens, and one of the creative exercises she suggested was to make a treasure box containing a description of all the blessings throughout the year. Traditionally people would put pennies in a box (like a piggy bank) and on St Stephen’s Day they would break open the box and give the money to the poor as a blessing to them. This is a fun improvisation on this idea, and I’m looking forward to breaking open the box on St Stephen’s Day this year (26 Dec 2014) and holding all the blessings of the year in my hands.

    (This January round-up is decidedly late because my health has been slipping somewhat, and I am having to rest a lot more than normal. Apologies!)
    **Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and then buy anything from Amazon, you will donate a few pennies to me, at no extra cost to you.**
    Over to you:

  • What have you been into this January?

    27 Responses to What I’m Into (Jan 2014)

    1. Laur 21st February, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      I forget how much I like your writing and your perspective, and I’m so happy when you have a fresh update. I’m def checking out that Julian of Norwich book.

      I think you’d like Josh Garrels. He’s the best musician we’ve found in ages (and we like Mumford, too). His latest cd is “Love and War and the Sea in Between,” and the best songs on it, in my opinion, are “Beyond the Blue,” “Flood Waters,” and “Farther Along.” Easy to find on Youtube.

      I pray you’re having a good day.

      And yes, Sherlock! Woot woot!

      • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 10:20 am #

        Thanks, Laur – and you are a very good music-matchmaker, because I LOVE Josh Garrels, and I often blog whilst listening to Love and War and the Sea in Between. I like your thinking!

    2. christministries 20th February, 2014 at 10:52 am #

      It’s not that I want to duplicate your website, but I really like the pattern. Could you tell me which theme are you using? Or was it tailor made?

      • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 10:08 am #

        My blog theme is Woo Canvas (customised).

    3. Rebecka 18th February, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      What a great list, lots of good music on it!
      I’m feeling really inspired now, to make myself a treasure box (brilliant idea!), to listen to Taizé during my afternoon rest (why have I never thought of that?) and to watch the last episode of Sherlock today. 🙂

      • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 10:08 am #

        hurray! hope you enjoy all these things!

    4. Cathy 18th February, 2014 at 12:32 am #

      I feel silly sometimes about commenting on most of your posts, but I think this one is so lyrically beautiful and hauntingly peaceful that I wish you would read yourself like a good friend. It seems like this relapse, though frustrating I’m sure, has been helpful for slowing down (can’t tell you how many times you said that). My grandmother always used to say that when she needed slowing down, she would usually break a bone or have another illness. You are even more beautiful “slowed down” and I so appreciate all of your musings even though in my very speeded up life at this moment (so far from what I believe but truly apparently out of my control), I cannot think of trying to emulate you. I am going to save your suggestions, however, and see 🙂 Grace and peace back to you and thanks again for sharing your spirit with all of us.

      • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 10:07 am #

        Oh, please don’t feel silly commenting! I always love reading your comments. It’s such a nice thought to consider that ‘slowed down’ is also beautiful. Thank you.

        • Cathy Fischer 4th March, 2014 at 12:21 am #

          Ok, I won’t. Ah, but I see slowed down as MORE beautiful than speeded up. (Think Mary vs Martha.) That must say a lot about our need to trust God in whatever place we find ourselves 🙂 I will say that I loved your “ask anyway” bit in today’s post. I have been trying to practice that after years of asking (people, usually) were met with “no” for an answer (over and over). Made it hard to learn how to ask God for anything. So this week I was thrilled when unexpectedly, graciously, I received a 2-wk respite from my speedy life. (And I can’t remember whether I asked for it or not!)

          • Cathy Fischer 4th March, 2014 at 12:44 am #

            PS–See I can’t just use one word! I realized that for several years, I have asked for help, which is always answered, and that this past year, I have been asking for wisdom in various situations. Again, always answered…

    5. Tricia 17th February, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

      Only part way through this but have already downloaded a sample of the Revelation book to look at. Just about finished reading Revelation and was thinking I really need a good commentary on this!
      Thanks Tanya 🙂

      • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 10:06 am #

        Brill! I’m so glad that the timing was serendipitous!

    6. Mark Allman 16th February, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

      I don’t think you ever need to apologize for being late. It is always grand to see a post by you. I continue to pray that your health will improve and for more sunsets and sea. I really appreciate how in all your post you do such a wonderful job responding to your comments. I watch the US show Elementary but I have heard great things about Sherlock and shall try to find it perhaps on Amazon to watch. We have been fighting cold weather and snow here for a while. 14 inch snow storm here this week. On TV I am also enjoying Blacklist and Person of Interest and recently became a big fan of Dr Who which I am watching episodes that include Dr Who and Amy now. I’m surprised how much those shows move me. I’ve decided to try to run a half marathon in June so starting preparations for that. I hope Jon is doing well and the new assistant is on site. I always look forward to your post like I look forward to new episodes of my favorite shows! 🙂 I have just been reading fiction this year so far.

      • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 10:05 am #

        Thanks so much for your kind words. can’t believe all the snow you’ve had!
        You MUST seek out Sherlock. It is brilliant. You will love it, I am sure.
        And i’m so impressed you’re training for a half marathon! I had always wanted to run a marathon. They say a half one is quite do-able, but it still sounds like quite a challenge to me! Much respect!

    7. Ruth Norbury 16th February, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

      I read Garden of Evening Mists recently too – it was slow, but I did think it was really well written and was great for bedtime reading when I was shattered! And v interesting history as well. We’re enjoying chilling with The Musketeers too!
      Think I might try to get hold of Seeking God’s Face – it sounds like it could be just what I need at the moment 🙂
      Enjoy slowing down and reading lots of books – books are great! xx

      • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 10:03 am #

        Books are indeed great!
        And i find myself conflicted about Garden of Evening Mists, because I was frustrated with it while I was reading it, but it has stayed with me, and I now find myself recommending it to others…
        I’ll think of you the next time we watch the Musketeers!

    8. Leigh Kramer 16th February, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

      Better late than never, Tanya! I always enjoy reading about what you’re in to. I love Audrey Assad! I actually saw her lead Vespers at a local church last year and then she played a small show in the basement afterward. It was such a neat experience. If you’re looking for other good Christian artists, give All Sons & Daughters and Brooke Fraser a try. Ed’s new book is definitely on my To Read list, especially after hearing more about it. I haven’t read Meaning of Marriage yet but I imagine I’ll echo your thoughts once I do. If there are people who don’t love Benedict and Martin, they are not worth knowing. I cannot wait for series 4!

      • Stephanie 27th February, 2014 at 12:49 am #

        “If there are people who don’t love Benedict and Martin, they are not worth knowing.”
        Laughing and nodding. 🙂

        • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

          and a hearty amen to that…!

      • Tanya 3rd March, 2014 at 10:02 am #

        Thanks so much for coming by, even though it’s so late! I love Brooke Fraser – have one of her albums, and ‘flags’ is on my wishlist. I’ve heard bits and pieces of All Sons & Daughters and really like them – which album should I start with?

        And i am SOOOO jealous you saw Audrey Assad live. That is way cool

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