Thursday, 31 March 2016

Surprising Things by Susan sanderson

On Sunday afternoon - with Storm Henry forecast for the following day - we looked out of the window at 2.30pm and saw a barn owl flying in (not very bright) daylight. About four gulls were providing a menacing escort too close to it for comfort. Barn owls need dry weather to hunt, usually at dusk. This one must have been desperate to run the gauntlet of daytime scavengers.

A few weeks ago I noticed that my favourite sweater had gone missing. I looked everywhere. It was unlikely that I could have failed to put it back on if I had removed it away from home. (I had had my blood pressure taken at the doctor’s and been in other places, where I had felt too warm.) I began to ask people whether they had seen it. I had the opportunity to replace it and bought a similarly coloured tunic in the sales. I was glad to wear it at the writing group as I was over-heating in the jumper I had worn to travel and too cool in a blouse.

Losing things is very time-consuming. No, that’s not quite right. It is the work of a moment. Looking for lost items is what takes time. Procrastination is not the only thief of time. No wonder there is an old saying, ‘The devil will put it back when he’s finished with it!’

After about a month my jumper turned up under the mattress. No-one was looking for it. The regular turning of the mattress was due and hubby began the job. I was alerted by a cry of, “Look what’s here!”

At about 9:30 the same evening with Storm Henry raging, I was walking home from a choir practice with a friend. “Are those birds?” she asked.

Sure enough a flock of vociferous seabirds was flying across the road towards the sea (or some rainwater in a nearby field). “Oystercatchers,” she observed. Their white (tinged orange by a sodium-light) showed up against the dark sky. They were beautiful as they flew in close formation.

The only link between the owl and the jumper is that they were out of context. That is an expression borrowed from the literary world. As for the oystercatchers, they were a beautiful sight and I intend to research their habits. They too may have been out of context. Storm Henry has brought beautiful skies with nacreous clouds - as well as much disruption. Perhaps we should always look out for blessings even in troubled times and be thankful.

Have you ever found something in an unlikely place after you had given up any hope of finding it? Do you have a place for everything and everything in its place? Or perhaps, like me, you favour organised chaos…

The morning after the oystercatchers I shared the story about the lost jumper at our ladies’ Bible study on Luke chapter 15. Does anyone know whether oystercatchers regularly fly at night?

Previous Guest Posts by Susan Sanderson on More than Writers:

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Bloxham Festival of Faith and Literature 2016: ‘All the World’s a Stage’ by Eve Lockett

Shakespeare and Jungian analysis, sleuthing vicars and the poetry of e. e. cummings… the Bloxham Festival of Faith and Literature 2016 managed to combine these and other such varied subjects in a fascinating three-day event. Speakers were drawn from the worlds of literature, theatre, politics, science, conservation and church ministry; with many Christian writers giving insights into their craft and the sources of their inspiration.

This year’s theme commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, providing a fruitful supply of titles, quotes and subjects. Neatly meshed with these was the connection between crime and clergy, murder mystery and ministry, and the many whodunnits given ecclesiastical settings or clerical detectives.

Sponsored mainly by SPCK, the Festival is an annual event held in the pleasant, comfortable surrounds of Bloxham School, Oxfordshire. Sarah Meyrick, Festival Director, says that the Festival’s aim ‘is to encourage a love of literature as it relates to faith, and to create a thoughtful and relaxing space in which to consider works of literature and their religious and moral themes. It's for anyone who is interested in the big questions of life.’

For those grappling with the task of writing within the compass of Christian faith, there was much to guide, encourage and inspire: how to portray goodness and faith in a hostile culture; how novels might better say ‘come and listen in on my curious world’ rather than ‘here’s what to believe’; and the issue of swearing when writing for a secular market.

There was also helpful general advice for writers, chiefly inspired by the comments of published authors such as Salley Vickers, Richard Beard, Sarah Meyrick, Catherine Fox and Kate Charles. For instance, it might be either a source of comfort or dismay to hear that it does not get easier after the first novel – each novel brings fresh problems and uncertainties! Disciplined, dedicated writing time seems a must. The best of the day given to novel writing might appear a hard choice, but it makes a difference. And at each stage there will be setbacks as well as encouragements, so hang on to the encouragements!

Other speakers included the poet Malcolm Guite, who brilliantly unpacked a range of well-known sonnets and some of his own; Baroness Butler-Sloss talking about justice and mercy; Michael Northcott with radical views on politics, the established church, and the sacredness of land; and Bishop Stephen Cottrell reflecting on the way Psalms and great poems can live in our hearts.

On the Sunday there was worship in St Mary’s Bloxham, ending with a Songs of Praise service. David Winter spoke about his book ‘At the End of the Day: Enjoying Life in the Departure Lounge’, and in the afternoon a tour of Stratford-upon-Avon was on offer.

For those interested in attending future festivals, there is more information on the website at

About the Author

I am a licensed lay minister in Oxfordshire. I have published 3 books with Barnabas for Children – Tales of Grace, Tales for the Prayer Journey and Story Box Bible Tales. I have a website,, showcasing my nativity craft project and meditational writing. My next project is to rework a children's novel I wrote a few years ago and which still engages my heart.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Authentic Fantasy by Trevor Stubbs

‘Th-rump, th-rump, th-rump, th-rump. Something new had entered Tabitha's dream’...

“You can’t do that!”


“Start your story with a made up word like ‘th-rump’. What kind of a word is that?”

I had allowed an acquaintance (shall we say?) to read an unpublished manuscript after they had pleaded to become a beta-reader. It was a mistake, I decided. I recalled Jesus and prophets in home-towns.

“It’s for children,” I protested, “not for your generation. And besides, I can make up as many words as I like. I’m the author. Shakespeare introduced thousands of new words into English.”

Yes, I am the author. I can use words as I want, and make up a world out of my own imagination. The plot is mine, and so are the characters. They do what I want... or do they?

In theory I could get my characters doing anything – but they just won’t. Sure they exist only in my head, but they have minds of their own. Sometimes it amazes me to think that the characters of my White Gates Adventures series don’t actually exist. They aren’t based on any living persons, but somehow they have become real people, each with their own characteristics and traits. They have their hang-ups and short-comings, as well as strengths and caring hearts. They amaze. They make mistakes, and they hurt. (I hate it when they hurt.) When I put them into a setting, they tell me what they are going to do. They even get up to things that never actually get written down, because they wouldn’t want me to; some things should remain private.

There are writers who write only for their readers; they tease, intrigue, arouse and titillate them. They twist, turn and astonish. I don’t seem to be able to do that. Is it strange to say that I write for my characters? For example, Kakko – feisty and extrovert, and always impetuous – demands more adventures in which she can save a significant chunk of the universe. I am dreading what she is going to say when I get to end of the series... It maybe she’ll grow out of her impatience – I don’t know, she hasn’t told me yet.

The thing is, for me, the story has be authentic. I mean, even though the setting is fantasy, the characters and events have to have integrity. I can’t make them do anything I like. Integrity and authenticity – could these be essential for a Christian writer?

Too many people feel that freedom means the ability to do whatever they like, with their own lives as well as in their writing. But we can’t – not if we want to be truly authentic. We can only be a pale shadow of something or someone we are not; yet we are richly authentic when we are genuinely ourselves. That’s true freedom.

And as for ‘th-rump’ – it’s the onomatopoeic sound of a helicopter hovering overhead – and I’m sticking to it!

Monday, 28 March 2016

New Life! A Celebration

Nothing like a new member of the family to put one in reflective mode! Welcome Rowan - our most recent grandchild.

There are few greater joys
than to share in the welcome of a child, new-born.
A miracle, many will say,
Or, better perhaps, an abundance of miracles
that now lies helpless, vulnerable and seemingly forlorn,
likely at the loss of its safe, dark womb.

This scrap of body can be rested entire
in the marvelling crook of my arm.
A rapid pulse at the temples, 
fingers with miniscule nails
and silk-soft skin conjoin to disarm
any who, sadly, might wish
this beauteous new-life untimely harm.

Lips and eyelids, active keep 
whenever this babe is awake.
Snubbed miniature nostrils
already, the chilly air, fluently take.
Smell, hearing, touch, and taste develop
with unseen advances of tissue and nerves
to meet the multiple challenges 
the world, at this child, will serve.

The palm of my hand can cradle
this tiny head, so utterly uncontrolled.
Soft shapely skull, a wonder itself,
for within that fragile, beautiful mould,
a myriad of cells are learning their parts,
as the brain gently expands
and its phenomenal potential begins to unfold.

Other family events/ rites of passage on Trevor Thorns blog,
The Cross and The Cosmos include
Wedding Song
Poppies & Nebula (Life, Death and Cosmic Rhythms)

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Resurrection Day, by Lucy Mills

Today is what I like to call Resurrection Day. This is it - the hinge point, the moment when our faith becomes reality, where death can not hold the Son of God, where all he has said and done is vindicated, validated, underlined and given several exclamation marks.

I'm not a fan of lots of exclamation marks, but I allow extra on Resurrection Day.

He is risen!!!

This is our good news - not only that Jesus died but that in his dying he defeated death. That the end of the story is not the end at all but a vast new beginning.  That to be a Christian means to follow a risen Lord.

How can we even begin to put this into words? Sometimes in our eagerness, we end up writing too many words, using too many adjectives and adverbs and purple prose in our desperation to create an impact.  And sometimes we are too sparing - we forget to celebrate with our writing, neglect to let our excitement flow through.

Because today of all days is one when we are called to 'Go, tell!' just as the women who found the empty tomb ran to tell the other disciples.

How are we using our words to 'go, tell!'?

Words are funny little creatures; they hold within them shades of meaning, and these meanings can shift over time.  Some words absorb associations that weren't there before, or only fit in certain contexts.

Our challenge as writers and as Christians - and therefore 'Good News people' - is to use these ever-changing words to tell our turbulent world about the never-changing Word.  The Word who is made flesh, flesh which suffered and died.


How shall we tell of him? For some of us the call will be to write.  For others of us, perhaps we need to listen more carefully.  Is God asking us to share the Good News in a different way?  There's no one-size-fits-all template. We need to revisit our 'call' to writing sometimes - to test it, to see if it is still true in this moment at this time. Not everyone is called to write a book!   Sometimes we mishear - but just because one person has done it that way, doesn't mean we all need to do it. Let's examine our lives and our calling on a regular basis.

I ask myself - what is the most effective way I can share this Good News today? Who needs to hear it, and how can I tell them?

Lord, on this Resurrection Day, 
in many ways I am left speechless.
Who can tell of your glory?
Yet this is what we are called to do.
Give us the right words, by the power of your Holy Spirit,
in whatever way you want us to use them.

Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 by Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT). She's written articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is an editor at magnet magazine.

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page

Previous More than Writer posts:

Friday, 25 March 2016

A Place of Hope, by Fiona Lloyd

(This story was first published in the ACW book, Write the Vision)

I’ll never forget that day. The cruelty of the soldiers, the mocking of the crowds. The sickening metallic clunk of hammer against nail, swiftly drowned out by piercing screams of agony. Endless hours in the searing heat, watching as the life slowly drained from his bruised and battered body. Oh yes, I was there right through to the bitter end – which was more than some of his so-called friends could manage. It was the least I could do for him; even though it broke my heart to see him up there, covered in blood and gasping for breath. 
I thought back to his childhood. To me he was the most beautiful baby ever. Of course, all mothers say that about their firstborn - but I still remember the pride I felt at his birth, and the overwhelming sense of gratitude to God as we took him to the temple to be dedicated. Our faith has always been a central part of our family life, and my son loved it when we went to visit the temple on feast days. He was always full of questions, often ones that we his parents couldn't answer! Who would have thought that such childish innocence would one day end up here?
The first I knew of his arrest was when one of his friends burst in through the doorway, eyes wide with terror. It was all too obvious from the look on his face what had happened: the verdict was inevitable.
Friday dawned bright and clear. Jerusalem was full of visitors, come to celebrate the Passover Festival, and so there were plenty of witnesses to mark his faltering steps out of the city towards the place of execution. Clearly exhausted, he stumbled several times along the route. There were two others with him destined for the same fate, but I confess that I scarcely gave them a second glance: I only had eyes for my son.
The execution was efficiently – and brutally – carried out. The soldiers joked amongst themselves as they shared out the belongings of the condemned, while a large part of the crowd  hung around to watch the grisly spectacle. Some were even enjoying taunting the slowly dying figures. Gradually their words filtered through to my brain. Most of their attention seemed to be focused on the central cross.
“Look at you now!” they jeered. “You saved others – why don’t you save yourself?”
Obviously I’d heard of this man – he was some sort of preacher, I believe. He’d been unpopular with the authorities for some time, but had a tremendous following amongst the ordinary people. Some of them had even claimed that he was the long-awaited Messiah. Personally I thought that this was rather far-fetched and that he should have been more discreet – no point in stirring up trouble. Besides, no one was ever going to achieve anything by getting on the wrong side of the Sanhedrin. Still, it seemed a shame that he had ended up here.
And my son? I confess I still don’t know where we went wrong with that boy. He’d always seemed so sweet-natured – mischievous, maybe – but a son to delight any mother’s heart. And yet, with hindsight, I can see that gradually over time he changed, became harder and more distant. The younger ones began to complain of things going missing – but then children are always losing things. It seems so obvious now, but at the time I never suspected that my son was the culprit. 
I finally woke up to the truth when I found him examining a beautiful brooch, set with a precious stone. Nobody of our acquaintance could possibly afford to own such a costly thing. My son, my precious son, was nothing more than a thief! How could he have done such a thing? And how could I not have realised what was going on? I felt so ashamed, so humiliated. I was also scared. What if he got caught? Roman punishments were always swift and severe. I had seen too many examples of their justice to hope for any leniency there. And I knew – as he knew – that what he was doing was wrong. It was clearly written in the laws that Moses passed down to us, laws that he’d heard expounded every Sabbath since childhood. 
I guess that deep down I knew it was only a matter of time. Then, last month, he and his friends foolishly laid an ambush for a Roman official travelling to Jerusalem. They knew – don’t ask me how – that he was carrying gold to Pilate, the governor. What they hadn’t counted on was the size of his escort. They were hugely outnumbered. My son and another were captured and thrown into prison to await the sentence of Rome. There was never any doubt about what that sentence would be.
And so here he was, paying a heavy price for his folly. The abuse from the onlookers was getting louder now, and the thief on the cross furthest from me was joining in.
“If you’re who you claim to be, you should rescue yourself – and us!” he shouted, his voice full of bitterness. The crowd cheered, clearly thinking this was good entertainment. And then my son spoke.
“We are only getting what we deserve,” he said wretchedly, “but this man...he’s done nothing wrong!” He twisted his head awkwardly towards the central cross.
“Jesus,” he whispered – it was an effort now for him to get the words out - “Jesus, remember me when you return as King.”
“I tell you,” came the gentle reply, “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I’ll never forget that day. People are saying now that the preacher is alive again. Perhaps his claims about himself were true after all. One thing I do know: only God could have turned an execution ground into a place of hope. 

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. She enjoys writing short stories, and is working on her first novel. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013, and blogs at She is married with three grown-up children. Fiona is ACW's membership secretary.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Knox and Foxe get knocks from Cox

If you’ve read C. S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, you’ll know that the Northern Irish Presbyterianism of his childhood was rather forbidding. Now, pretty much the main founding father of Scottish Presbyterianism was, of course, John Knox (1513–1572). When Lewis comes to discuss John Knox in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, he gives Knox a very fair hearing: showing as always his ability to set aside his own preferences and imagine his way into the minds of writers in the past, even ones with whom he might not entirely sympathize. Knox is so interesting that I think I shall need two blogs for him. Let’s start, then, with a list of six little known facts about Knox.

1. Knox is famous for writing The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstruous Regiment of Women. I hope it’s not a little known fact that monstruous (yes, with a U in the middle) means ‘contrary to the natural order’ and regiment means ‘the action of ruling over other people’: so it doesn’t mean ‘the huge army of females’.

2. Did you know that Knox was once a galley slave? On 31 July 1547 a French force captured the castle of St Andrew’s where Knox was chaplain to the Protestant garrison and he and the defeated Scottish noblemen were chained to benches in the French galleys and forced to row to France, where they were imprisoned.

3. Did you know that during Edward VI’s reign (1549–53), Knox, then in exile in England, engaged in a controversy with Archbishop Cranmer? Knox and others wanted Holy Communion to be received sitting: they regarded kneeling as idolatrous. As a result the once (in)famous ‘Black Rubric’ (explaining why kneeling was OK) was added to the Second Prayer Book. Elizabeth I left it out of her Prayer Book (1559), and debate about what theologians called the ‘table gesture’ went on throughout the seventeenth century.

4. During Queen Mary’s reign, numerous Protestant leaders went into exile on the Continent. When John Foxe (of Book of Martyrs fame) came to Frankfurt in 1554 to serve as preacher for the English church he found himself unwillingly drawn into an acrimonious controversy. One faction favoured the Book of Common Prayer, the other advocated worship similar to that of Calvin’s Genevan church. Did you know that the latter group, supported by Foxe, was led by John Knox, while the former was led by Richard Cox? Eventually, Cox & co. forced the departure of Knox & Foxe & co. Really Dr Seuss should have been there!

5. Did you know that Knox wrote his First Blast in Geneva? He spent two and a half very happy years (1556–9) there, and described it as ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles’.

6. Did you know that Knox was one of the ‘six Johns’ appointed by the Scottish Parliament in 1560 to draw up a plan for church governance called the First Book of Discipline? The scheme was to be funded from the revenues confiscated from the old church, but these were now in the hands of the nobles, and unfortunately they did not want to give them up, so the new church was drastically underfunded. Plus ├ža change…
John Knox’s House, Edinburgh

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A little rumty-tum offering for Easter - by Helen Murray

The other day I was humming a little tune and I was thinking about Easter and I having a little conversation with God while writing in my journal. How's that for multi-tasking?  Anyway, I wrote a little poem. If you add your own bit of humming, it can be a song.

All those of you who know lots about poetry, please forgive the lack of sophistication; I always had a soft spot for John Betjeman and his rumty-tum kind of poems and I don't think I ever grew out of it.

Still, clever or not, (and I think perhaps not) this is my Easter offering:

You knew what it would take to save your people
To give us all a chance of being free
You knew how great the price that needed paying
You sent your Son to earth so we would see.

You came to us; you lived and died among us
But even then we would not bow the knee
Despite it all you never ceased to love us
How can I thank the God who died for me?

The story doesn’t end with Jesus dying
The story isn’t one of loss and pain
For you defeated all the powers of evil
When Jesus conquered death and rose again.

You are my love, the one who showed love to me
How can I give you all that's in my heart?
I know there is no way for me to tell you
I have no words at all to make a start.

For you are my beloved Friend and Saviour
Your love will never weaken, fail or cease
And when my days are done, my race is ended
Alive with you my joy will be complete.

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and has ninety three Aloe Vera plants at the last count. It's getting ridiculous.

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. It's been a while since there was anything to report. 

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray

Twitter: @helenmurray01

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Speaking With Our Gifts

I’ve been mega busy lately. I'm in the middle of a campaign to stop a huge three or four storey secondary school being built on our playing field, right next to a primary school on our narrow residential street. The people in charge of setting it up have been very underhand about the whole thing, and given places to year sevens for this September before they've even applied for planning permission, leading parents to believe they have the go ahead. It's all about money and it stinks.

My children on the field we might lose
I must admit, a lot of the process is way over my head. There are conversations about planning, intricate details about moving bridleways and changing boundaries, and all sorts of things that, if I’m honest, just get me even more confused. So I have to figure out, in and amongst all this detail, what my role is going to be.

It turns out that my role and my gifts marry closely in this instance - I do anything that involves writing, which means putting points across in a way that people can understand. One job was to write a leaflet that went to over a thousand houses, explaining the development and the effects it would have on the area. Informing people of what’s going to happen literally in their back gardens is something I can do.

There are so many battles in this world that need fighting, and only a finite number of people who can act on behalf of those who have no voice. Those of us who have a God-given talent for writing can be on the front line of change, advocating for those who are vulnerable in our society. Our words don't have to be published in books in order to do good - writing to our MPs, to newspapers and to friends can bring about change too. 

I think it becomes the duty of people like us who have a good understanding of words and the ability to put things clearly to fight for those who don't have that gift. For every one of us who can make our voice heard there are many more who don't have that ability. So I speak for them too, by using the gift I have.

Going back to our school - we have had so many comments about these school plans on our petition (we have a one if you’d like to know more details about the plans), but a huge number of people are without a basic grasp of written English, even if it's their first language. So by writing I'm not just arguing for myself and my children, but for all those who can't formulate their thoughts and therefore have their feelings discounted.

Anything that makes us angry in our world can be a prompt for us to write and use our words in service of others. If we don't use our words to express solidarity and outrage then who will?

Abbie has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil - her first self-published work was a short story about a magic key, which was displayed on the fridge. After struggling with self harm and eating disorders for a number of years she went on to write a memoir ‘Secret Scars’ published by Authentic in 2007, and later ‘Insight Into Self-Harm’ published by CWR in 2014. In 2007 she launched Adullam Ministries, an information and support website and forum on self-harm and related issues. She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland and tweets as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm. She lives in Rugby with husband John, two demanding children, and two even more demanding cats.

Book cover: Insight into Self-Harm by Helena Wilkinson and Abbie RobsonCover of book: Secret Scars by Abbie Robson


Monday, 21 March 2016

A Case of Cancer vs Christ...Part II - Ruth Johnson

" He (Abraham) did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.  
Romans 4:20-21

Last month I wrote of my belief the Lord had a plan and strategy to overcome my breast cancer diagnosis.  After a scan of my nodes it was time to take the pills.  By God’s design it was the night my friend and I seek and pray what is on His heart. When we finished my friend touched my knee as she suggested we should ask for my healing.  Immediately heat surged through me from my waist to the top of my head.  Astonished, her only words were: “You’ve gone bright red.”  I've never had hot flushes.  The invisible gift of faith arose to believe that despite lack of evidence the Lord’s healing power had removed the cancer. So should I take the pills?  Finally, the Lord broke in to ask, “Ruth, who organised for you to take pills?”  I answered, “You did Lord.”  My answer was in the silence.

A week later I developed cramping pains limiting where and what I could do.  After five days I left a message for the Care Nurse.  Unexpectedly friends who didn’t know the situation arrived.  They asked, “And how are you?”  My reply, “I’ve had a cancer diagnosis, but believe Jesus’ healed me.  But I'm taking pills and in pain, but believe Jesus will heal me of that too.”  I put the kettle on, and realized the pain had gone!  After an hour with them, I walked to the shops and back. The Care Nurse rang, I explained the problem and was about to say, “But Jesus healed me” when the pain returned with a vengeance.  She insisted I go the doctor who informed me my gut was inflamed, but that I should persevere as my body might adjust to the tablets. 

A hot water bottle helped, that night I slept until the early hours and awoke with 10:10 in my mind.  My response: “Yes I know the devil comes to maim, steal and destroy….”   Amused the Lord interrupted, “Not John, Romans 10:10”.  I didn't want to wake my husband so next morning I read: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation, for the scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame…the Lord is rich to all who call upon Him.”

The word ‘confession’ highlighted.  Had my saying, Jesus would heal me released the power for Him to do so?   I told my husband and continued to declare “Jesus has healed me”.  Half an hour later the pain disappeared never to return. 

It showed me the importance of speaking out that which is not into being.  Our incredible salvation package contains the Holy Spirit, the divine nature of God within us. When we declare His Word, His Spirit is released to change, reveal and open up truth to us, bringing peace, love and joy flowing over us.  The verdict:  "Taste and see the Lord is good!"

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Culture professional? by Veronica Zundel

In a fit of joinery (ie the urge to join things - I get these fits), I signed up not long ago to regular emails from the Guardian Culture Professionals network. Being a Guardianista since my youth when my parents read the then Manchester Guardian, it seemed like a good thing. Now I am being bombarded with networking events, advice on arts management and the role of culture in society. None of it seems very relevant to my so-called career as a writer for the Christian market. Admittedly, in the last week my husband has been interviewed by the Guardian and myself by the Independent, all to do with the imminent closure of our Mennonite church (if only they'd shown this much interest when it was going strong), but I'm still not sure that makes me a card carrying culture professional. Maybe a Tate membership and a Freedom Pass will count?

Is what we do, as Christian writers, culture? Writing is certainly one of the arts, and I hope we've got beyond the idea that the only thing Christian writers do is 'Christian writing', ie writing with a specific faith-based theme and purpose. Graham Greene was a Christian writer, so is J K Rowling. And in both cases, I think their faith shows through clearly in their writing - what could be more theological than the 'death and rising' of Harry Potter in the seventh book?

But culture? Yes, in a sense I think what we do, as writers of everything from Bible notes to sci-fi, is indeed a contribution to our culture. Many years ago I briefly met a writer (I can't even remember her name, but what she said has stayed with me for ever), who said that her aim was to write 'healing stories'. What an extraordinary phrase. I know exactly what it is to read a 'healing story' - I find healing, for instance, in the novels of Jane Gardam, Anne Tyler and Barbara Trapido (strangely, I find it harder to see in works by men). To write a healing story, however, is a much greater challenge.

What this means for me is that when I compose a sermon, a Bible note, a column, I don't want it to leave the reader, as so many Christian writings sadly do, feeling guilty and inadequate. I want to open their eyes to a wider view of God's salvation, but I want to do it in a way that encourages, inspires, even causes laughter or healing tears. I don't always succeed, but this is my aim. Perhaps you as a journalist want to tell stories of hope; or as a writer of crime novels, stories of justice and redemption. When we do this, are we not throwing a little pinch of flavoursome salt into the culture that surrounds us, Christian or not, to enliven it, preserve what is good in it, fertilize it? (salt was used as fertilizer in Jesus' day). So perhaps we are 'culture professionals' after all.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for New Daylight. Veronica belongs (until tomorrow) to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and also blogs at

Friday, 18 March 2016

On clinging, releasing and relinquishing by Joy Lenton

Trying, puffing and panting a bit, he rocks back, grinning with pride, eyes wide at the achievement. He examines the wonder of a pair of rubber boots on his feet, each somehow on the correct foot, all shiny and new. Look at me, his eyes smile. I did it!

We smile indulgently as toddlers discover how to achieve new skills. Putting on (and taking off) their own clothes and footwear by themselves is a sign of burgeoning independence.

Life is all about trying new things, especially for toddlers. They have many obstacles before them on the path to becoming able and capable of helping themselves.

As adults, we can cling too tenaciously to the safe and familiar, afraid of the very real risk of failure. Or hold too tightly to what we know instead of opening ourselves up to things beyond our comprehension.

Much of life consists of aspects of trying, holding and releasing. The key thing is having wisdom and insight to see what to hold onto and what to relinquish. Thankfully, God gives them to us freely when we ask Him.

My grandson's latest pet phrase is, "You do it; I can't do it!" His weary parents may sigh at times because of his perceived need of help, while steeling themselves for the next likely stage whereby he will insist on doing everything himself whether competent or not.

What I love about the way he seeks help is his utter confidence in his parents' ability to meet his requests. There's no hesitation as he approaches them, only an expectation of being received with wisdom, guidance, kindness, love - and hopefully, patience!

How does this relate to our grown-up world? I see a tendency in me to cling tightly to safe and familiar, to hold hard onto God as my soul's anchor and refuge, and to struggle sometimes to know when to release and let go of things. Maybe you do too?

Reassuringly, we can have every confidence in approaching our heavenly Father and being met with His unconditional love.

And His infinite patience and calm.


I'm toddler-tyrant,
clinging tightly to the things
I believe I have a right

to keep; little knowing
that the harder I hold
onto my joys and sorrows

as I sift sands of today,
the more difficult
it will be to prise

my hands free, away
from creating castles
in the air of tomorrow

As Christian believers, faith writers and creatives, generosity is meant to be our hallmark as we learn what and when to share.

Timidity or fear can make us toddler-tyrant, unwilling to lose perceived control, making us cling harder to our own ways instead of surrendering swiftly to God's.

God wants us to be open to trying new ways of living more fully and freely by His grace. He desires heart obedience and willingness to release and relinquish what doesn't fit who we are now in Christ.

When we hold onto Him, cling to His word and the promise and potential it brings, we gradually learn how dependence on God is the most restful and freeing way to live.

And as we seek wisdom in sharing our words and deeds, confidence will grow as we live into our calling as writers and disciples of Jesus.

Joy Lenton is a grateful grace dweller, contemplative Christian writer, poet and blogger, author of 'Seeking Solace: Discovering grace in life's hard places'

She enjoys encouraging others on their journey of life and faith at her blogs and as she seeks to discover the poetic in the prosaic and the eternal in the temporal. You can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Wearing different hats by Claire Musters

The last few months have seen me wearing the two distinctive hats of writer and editor. While I’m co-writing a book and writing my usual columns I’m also juggling the editorship of Families First for three issues.

As a freelance writer and editor, I do regularly take on both types of jobs, but the experience of having such finely delineated roles for an extended period of time has been quite fraught at times.

I’ve been deep into making editorial decisions and endlessly chasing up text and pictures while all the time longing to get my teeth back into the chapters piled up on my desk. At other moments I’ve been sluggishly working through amendments on the manuscript, longing to get back to the easier, and quicker, checklist of jobs to do on the magazine.

The overall process has made me reflect afresh on how one area of my working life (and indeed wider life) can inform the other. Lessons on making headlines snappy can make me look at extended writing in a more critical way, not settling for sloppy sentences for example.

I know many of you write in your spare time and so I wonder how your ‘day job’ informs your writing. So much of what I do (as a mother, church leader, musician etc) is reflected in my writing as I feel every element works together to make me who I am – and I’m not good at compartmentalising!

We’ve also had discussions about what being a Christian writer means – writers who happen to be Christians or writers of distinctly Christian material? Even if you are purposefully trying to engage with the secular rather than Christian market, how does being a Christian inform what you do? Surely our faith should never be another ‘hat’ that we take off when we are writing?

Then again, I am reminded of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9: ‘I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel’ (v22–23). I find that really challenging as it forces me to ask: do I ever actually make a distinct effort to wear a different hat in order to reach people with the gospel?

One of my passions is encouraging people to be who they are truly are – but have I ever subconsciously used that as an excuse not to step out of my comfort zone to engage with people who aren’t like me?

I am so glad that God sometimes gives us opportunities out of the blue. Most of my writing is aimed specifically at Christians and, while I do feel called to be doing what I am doing, at times I am frustrated that I rarely reach non-believers through my work. But last week I felt I had to write a piece about the struggles I was having with my daughter – not something I do often. The response was overwhelming – and 90% from those who would say they do not have a faith. I was so taken aback – and encouraged.

While I may be juggling different ‘hats’, and feeling like they don’t give me much opportunity to engage with those without a faith, last week was a good reminder that God can always use our small offerings to further His plans…

Claire is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include David: A man after God's own heartTaking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Guide: Managing Conflict and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today as well as Bible study notes and is currently standing in as editor for Families First magazine. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.