Thursday, 30 November 2017


'And' is a little word that we use a lot in speech, but should we use it so much in our writing? There are alternatives for some situations.

While - Instead of writing 'Terry played guitar and Andy the drums', try 'Terry played the guitar while Andy played the drums'. 'While' cannot be used all the time, but it's useful in some situations.

Punctuation - No, not the word, those little bits of magic that divide sentences, paragraphs, phrases etc. You could use a comma, a colon or a dash as in the following:
Terry played the guitar, Andy the drums.
Terry played a tuneful riff on the guitar: Andy hit the drums hard.

Ampersand - Okay, I know this is the same as an and, but when written it helps disinguish between an 'and' as a join and an 'and' as part of a name. 'Marks & Spencers and Dobbins & Sons played 'Land of Hope & Glory' over their tannoys at closing time.' It can cover a number of things that help make the writing look a little more pleasant and readable, even if in the reader's mind it still makes the same sound.

As well as - One to be used sparingly. It's not appropriate all the time, but is useful to keep in mind, while making reading a little easier.

With some imagination I'm sure you can come up with a few more of these. (That is now your homework)

I'll leave you with a few old words that need to be resurrected.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Joys in the Christian Life

Image Credit:  All images are from Pixabay

What are the special moments in your Christian life?  Your welcome into church membership?  Your baptism?  The first time you read a lesson in church and especially if you got through it without stumbling over the words?  Your realising over time more of just what agonies our Lord went through for you?
Reading the Lesson
I think as you go through painful experiences in life, it can open your eyes up more to what He must have gone through and so to a deeper appreciation of His sacrifice.  Maybe that is part of the point of painful experiences.  (In a way I hope so.  I’ve always found suffering that seems pointless to be especially difficult to bear.  Where something good can come out of a situation… well there is comfort to be had there and usually at a time when you need it).

Baptism of Jesus by John

My special moments include my full immersion baptism as I was a member of a Baptist church for a long time.  The water was cold incidentally and our minister at the time came down with a nasty chill shortly afterwards.  There were, I think, three of us being “done” at the time.  Happy memories for us, less so for our then minister perhaps! Then there was the new NIV Bible my parents gave me, which is now looking rather worn, and the more recent one given to me by my son.  There is a real sense of the generations here.

This pool is similar to the one in which I was baptised.
Other special moments include my church wedding (by then I’d gone to the C of E) and, later still, rejoining what had been my late in-laws’ URC chapel.  My late father-in-law had been church secretary for years (and we think our current secretary is hoping a Symes will take up the role again at some point - not me incidentally!).

A verse that has been on my mind for the last few days, and one we usually only hear about as part of the forthcoming Nativity story, is that “Mary treasured all of these things in her heart”.  If anything conjures up an image of a mother, that is it for me.  I also think of her at Easter time when the prophecy “a sword will pierce your own soul too” did come true.  She must have had that reverberating around her mind as she saw her son on the cross.

Mary treasured these things in her heart - joyous memories and agonising ones.
But on Sunday, 19th November, I was in the “treasuring things in the heart” zone of life and happily so as, with my husband, I watched our 21 year old son, Daniel, being welcomed into membership of our church.  My only regret was his late grandparents weren’t there to watch it (especially my husband’s parents with their strong links to our church), though our  Minister’s wife reminded me that, from where they were, they had a better view of the proceedings!

Joy expressed in flowers.  Image taken by Allison Symes.

My (and now my son's!) church at Braishfield in Hampshire.  Image taken by Allison Symes.

The great thing then is your special moments can be a real joy to others.  So can theirs to you.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

When Words Simply Fail to Convey by Trevor Thorn

Just at the end of last week, we  caught up with friends in Dominica. They are living in a wasteland brought about by Hurricane Marie on 18th September. For a considerable time after the hurricane’s devastating and terrifying passage over the island, there were no communications with the outside world at all. Every radio mast, like many, many buildings had been smashed to pieces by the brute force of the wind and horrific rain.

Slowly, painfully slowly, some aspects of normality are creeping back: but nine weeks after that most horrific night the hurricane struck, the only available WiFi link in Roseau, the capital, is in the local hotel.

Our friends, who have been through experiences of  previous hurricanes and tropical storm Erica in 2015, from which the island was still recovering, are extremely resourceful but this catastrophe has massively traumatized them and they are living among a completely traumatised population. Everyone has a hideous story they can tell of that night – so who will hear them amidst the devastation, the pain and the perplexity that is endemic. What does being resourceful mean in a land so full of sorrows? Dominica was a poor island before being laid waste. Its prospects are now abysmal, as every banana tree has been pulverized and the primeval woodlands, which are home to the vanishingly rare sisserou parrot, one of the few visitor attractions, has had its habitat demolished.

There are now ambitious hopes being expressed by the island’s leaders. Those are a necessary prelude to encourage reconstruction but since, after all this time, basic services have still not been restored it may be that resilience is at a low ebb. One of the very few beneficiaries of the nightmare are the local mosquitos – with all the added risk they bring to a place where heat makes the use of a mosquito net at night a stifling experience.

So I write this with a deep sense of my inadequacy to be able to convey what our friends and their neighbours have been through and are still going through. There are no words that can truly evoke the horror of it all. All I can really do is invite you to take a look at stories and pictures from the island itself. Start at
Then and be prepared to weep.

Monday, 27 November 2017

(Not so) Great Expectations? by Lucy Mills

Encouragement can come in unexpected ways from unexpected places.  Have you found that?

But have you also discovered its opposite - that discouragement can come from places where you would presume to have found encouragement?

This can feel particularly tough. There are those in our lives who we simply assume will support us. They love us, don't they?  Of course they will be interested in our lives.

It can cut very deeply when we find, instead, that they are very disinterested. At least, this is how it feels.

We writers can experience this as we practise our craft. And the craft can feel much harder when we are dampened by discouragement - from those we care about.

We have to do a rapid re-ordering of our expectations in order to cope, build defences where we never thought they would be necessary.

But what I find equally astonishing is that there are those who balance this out. Those who pull out all stops to support us, when we hardly feel our relationship with them merits it. Those who cheer us on, buy our books just because we wrote them, those who follow our news eagerly... and, I don't know about you, sometimes I have invested not nearly so much in them. But they don't 'quid-quo-pro' things. It's humbling. Just as I never assumed they would support me, they always assume they will. They seem to support me by default.

Yet often I don't see them properly, so caught up in the disappointment of not feeling that support from those 'others' in my life. I often don't see these hearty little cheerleaders because I get distracted by someone else dropping their pom poms (when surely they should have particularly gorgeous pom poms to wave, owing to their placement in my life or the history of our friendship).

After enduring these disappointments from unexpected places at different parts of my life, I have managed to re-qualify my expectations. I could choose to get gloomy over it, to resent it, to think, why?Why don't you want to read what I write? Why don't you even want to know how I am?  But you know what? That does me no good.

Nudge, nudge. There's God, getting my attention, tipping his head towards those unexpected encouragers, the ones going the extra mile. I may not know them so well; I may not be in any way related to them; I may not feel we particularly 'click' but there they are, the shining lights, doggedly continuing to support me even without much input - dare I say encouragement? - from me myself.

And that, of course, leads me to the most pointed question of all - which one am I? Do I go all out in supporting my friends and family, or do I not get round to it? Do I assume they will find support elsewhere?  Do I start weighing people's responses and judging them (without knowing what aspects of life may be discouraging them, for that matter) - even subconsciously?  Have I got into a system of merit and reward, instead of grace?

I tell myself - as a writer and as a whole person - stop with the expectations. Just treasure what you are given.  Someone not interested? Well, someone else is.

You are not doing this to please people. To bless them, yes, absolutely.

To want to bless is so different from seeking approval or applause.  Which are we doing, when we write?  Do we get exasperated when people don't respond?

Perhaps we need to rearrange our own priorities. I want to bless you. I am not asking you to wave your pom poms for me - although I really want to notice when you do, and say thank you. But that's not the motive I want to hold in my heart.

At the end of the day, only one person's approval matters. And those divine pom poms are extraordinary (!).

Are you discouraged? Remember that for that one person who rains on your parade, who makes you second-guess yourself, there will be others - others who want to encourage you, who consider you - and your words - a blessing.


Note/caveat: I should say that most of my nearest and dearest are wonderfully supportive!

Lucy Mills
Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT). Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ is OUT NOW!

Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine.

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page
Lucy on Instagram: @lucymillswriter

More than Writer posts in 2017:

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Writing With a 'Message' in Fiction

There is an ongoing debate in Christian writing circles about how appropriate it is to consciously have a ‘message’ to communicate through fictional stories. Some writers of overtly Christian Fiction readily admit they write in order to share God’s love and to hopefully lead readers to salvation. Then there are writers of Christian Fiction who want to write stories for other Christians that reflect Biblical values and standards that aren’t found in ‘secular’ novels.

Further along the spectrum are authors like me* who prefer to describe ourselves as writing general fiction from a ‘Christian worldview,’ where themes of forgiveness and redemption are subtly woven into the plot but are never the main point of the story, and the thought of proselytizing our readers is not something we are comfortable with. Then there are writers who are Christians who write completely secular novels and their lives – not their books – are their witness. (*This relates to my adult books. My children’s books are stories from the Bible so by definition overtly Christian).

The question I’d like to ask is: is it wrong to start writing a book with a conscious message in mind? 

A few months ago I spent a lovely weekend at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, listening to ‘big name’ crime authors being interviewed. I was struck by how many of them had no qualms in saying they were trying to say this or that through their books. Others said they hadn’t decided on what their next book would be, not because they didn’t have an idea for a plot, but because they didn’t yet have ‘anything to say’ through it.

A panel of authors who wrote legal thrillers – all of them former lawyers – were unanimous that they wrote novels because they wanted to say something about injustice or the failings of the criminal justice system. None of them seemed to get their knickers in a knot about whether or not it was ‘right’ to have a message in their books.

In addition, those of us who studied English Literature at school or university will remember writing essays on ‘themes’ and asking the question ‘what is the author trying to say?’ There is a reason love stories like Jane Eyre are set works for academic study whereas Mills & Boon novels are not – the former are trying to say something about society or the human condition and the latter generally are not trying to say much beyond: finding someone to love and love you back makes your life better. This does not mean Mills & Boon novels don’t perform a function and that it’s wrong to enjoy them, but there would not be much scope to write an A Level paper on the deeper meaning of one of them. So, hopefully you accept my point that many books DO have messages and themes consciously written into them and that it is perfectly acceptable to do so.

The question I believe is not whether we SHOULD have a message, but if we do, how do we weave it into the narrative? I would like to suggest three things:

  1. Story first, message second. The story must always be fore-grounded. Allow the story to entertain and be true to itself. If the message gets in the way of the story, chuck it out or find a more subtle way to tell it.
  2. Don’t have your characters ‘telling’ the reader what the message of the book is in dialogue or internal monologue. Allow their actions to ‘live out’ the message.
  3. Don’t write ‘on the nose’. When I did my MA in Creative Writing 12 years ago, my tutor was an atheist. My final submission was a theatre play. The play wasn’t ‘Christian’ but it did have spiritual themes and it helped me no end when my tutor wrote ‘OTN’ in the margin. He meant ‘on the nose’ and he did so when he felt I was being too preachy or overt in the ‘message’ of the play. With his help I eventually got a distinction.
So now, with anything I write, I always ask myself: is this too OTN? Or better still I ask my editor or a non-Christian friend to read it and tell me if they think I’ve laid it on too thick. What tips do you have about not writing too ‘on the nose’? Feel free to add them to the comments section below.

Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing tutor, based in Newcastle upon Tyne.. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction) was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger award in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee was a finalist for the Foreword Review mystery novel of the year 2016/17, and the third, The Death Beat, is out now. Her novel Pilate’s Daughter  a historical love story set in Roman Palestine, is published by Endeavour Press and her coming-of-age literary thriller about apartheid South Africa, The Peace Garden, is self-published under the Crafty Publishing imprint. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series  are published by SPCK.

Staying out of range, by Eve Lockett

Recently, we were offered the chance to stay in a Welsh cottage on the Pembrokeshire coast. The house was among trees, and a short walk to a secluded bay. Wonderful and refreshing. What I hadn’t anticipated was the effect on me of being out of internet and mobile phone range. I don’t have a smart phone, so I had no alternative access to my emails, and nor could I do any research on the internet.
To begin with, I felt anxious, even irresponsible. What if someone set up a Doodle and needed to know my availability? What if something happened to a friend, and we didn’t hear about it? What if I wanted to buy a book on Kindle?
Embracing the situation positively, I set out a pattern of writing, walking, cooking and visiting local sites of interest. I turned to the revision of a story I’d written a few years ago and had begun to reshape. After two hours of uninterrupted work, I realised that my imaginative concentration had improved, and also my joy in creative writing had returned.
Not only that, the process of sifting, critiquing and problem solving continued whatever else I was doing, instead of the usual mental disconnection on closing the document file.
After four days, I had no wish to go home. My husband, who is an artist, was equally content in our simplified world. Impossible to remain, sadly. But what I had rediscovered were the conditions I need to work imaginatively, and how even the possibility of an email ping or a phonecall reduces the flow of the imagination and is distracting.
I’m sure there is a spiritual lesson to be drawn here. Jesus managed to cope with the demands of an unpredictable, chaotic and volatile world with grace, wisdom and compassion. But he also took time to get well out of earshot of everything except the soaring cry of the eagles and the loving voice of his heavenly Father.
It’s always a bit daunting to be told to be like Jesus. But there are others who give us the same example. Perhaps the most obvious example is the contrast between Martha and Mary. Martha, busy, anxious, pulled this way and that by her desire to serve her guests. And her sister, sitting and listening to the voice of Jesus. I often hear conscientious Christians endorse Martha’s disgruntlement with what she saw as her sister’s idleness. But Jesus would not allow her to spoil her sister’s choice. Martha’s brisk, righteous diligence was threatening the precious joy of having Jesus in their midst. How daft of us if we keep so busy, so noisy, so distracted that we miss the inner communion of our deepest selves with God.
I’m not saying that creative writing is the same thing as prayer, but we can probably draw parallel lessons. Once again, I know what I need to do, and how rewarding it is if I do it. Mary chose the better way. I would like to choose the same.

(I wrote this before reading Wendy Jones’ spot-on article Motivation Matters – 10 Tips for Writers. Her fifth point: 5. Step away from the phone. Okay a bit of a joke, but seriously switch off social media. Everywhere. Switch off notifications on any device you are using. I will, Wendy, I will!)

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Reversing into Advent

To my mind, one of the most important questions on any conference booking form is the one about any special dietary requirements. I confess that my instinctive answer is always: Yes, food – and lots of it! When I was growing up, my dad, my brother and I used to have heated debates about who got to eat the most roast potatoes at Sunday lunch. Which is probably why, 30 years and three children later, I’m no longer as slim as I used to be.

Calories? What calories?
However, for the past couple of years or so, I’ve been trying to think more carefully about what I eat. (Apart from when we went to Brittany this summer, where the lure of cheese, crêpes and French cider was too much for my feeble will power.) So, I’ve felt rather exasperated for the past few weeks as our local supermarket has insisted on stacking huge tins of chocolates right by the entrance.

This week, when I went in, the confectionery goodies had been moved. Hurrah! In their place were rows and rows of Advent calendars…or, to put it more accurately, boxes and boxes of Advent calendars. These days, having a double-thickness piece of card with a traditional nativity scene and little doors which open to reveal pictures of baubles, tinsel and grumpy-looking camels is apparently not enough. My local supermarket is now selling beer Advent calendars. (I really hope that’s not aimed at people who like to open their calendars first thing in the morning.)

And it’s not just beer that’s on offer: an article I read recently mentioned Advent calendars full of beauty products, a selection of cheeses and – if you have ten grand to spare – one containing 24 limited edition whiskies. Advent calendars are no longer aimed primarily at children, but are targeted at adults with plenty of disposable income and a desire to treat themselves in the run-up to Christmas.

For some years, December 25th has become synonymous in many people’s minds with excessive spending, extravagant gifts and over-eating; and now the Advent season is getting the same treatment. It’s a far cry from the simplicity – not to mention poverty – of Jesus’ birth. So, this year, I’m challenging myself to do something positive to counteract the over-indulgence of the season.

We're going to need a bigger box...
There’s a concept called the Reverse Advent Calendar which has been growing in popularity over the past couple of years. On the first of December, you start with an empty cardboard box. Then, for every day up to the 24th, you add a useful item, such as a tin of beans or a bottle of shampoo. By the time Christmas arrives, you should have a box full of practical goodies which can then be donated to a foodbank or local charity.

If the idea of a reverse Advent calendar doesn’t appeal, you could try the Bible Society’s AdventChallenge, which offers suggestions each day for ways to bless others (similar to the 40 Acts challenge run by Stewardship in Lent). There are also numerous Advent devotionals available – I’m planning to re-read Tanya Marlow’s Those Who Wait. And as writers, maybe we could look for ways in which to use our words to encourage others during the Advent period.

So, what about you? I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts about alternative ways to celebrate Advent this year.

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona blogs at and at You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, will be published by Instant Apostle in January 2018. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Hidden Stories 4—Desire and Slander

I’ve been digging buried stories out of the Letter of James, but I have to admit that this is not really a hidden story. I have invented it as an imaginary background to the teaching of  chapters 3 and 4. I hope that you will enjoy it as part of the continuing saga of Sophron the follower of Mashiach Yeshua. If you missed it, the last episode was here.

Part 1

Next door to Sophron’s expanding business in the Jerusalem market there’s a tiny shop, not much bigger than a cupboard. It belongs to Hannah the widow of Talmai, who also worships at the synagogue of Mashiach Yeshua where Sophron is an assistant pastor. Hannah scrapes a living making and selling baskets, and she’s not well off at all.
‘It’s hard on Widow Hannah,’ thinks Sophron, ‘because I also sell baskets, which, to be honest, are better than Hannah’s, since I don’t make them myself—I wouldn’t have the time or the skill—but purchase them from specialists. So we are in competition, definitely to her disadvantage. Wouldn’t it make sense for Widow Hannah to come into a business partnership with me? She could manage the supply of baskets (which she obviously knows a bit about) and I could devote more time to developing the rest of my business. Which I need to do, now that the deal with the Yehuda brothers has fallen through—smashed to pieces by Elder Yakob. And I could make good use of that little bit of extra space next door.’
Although she’s old enough to be enrolled among the synagogue’s widows, Hannah doesn’t seem old, and she’s remarkably good-looking. ‘If she felt like marrying again, I could bring her security and, well, a decent dinner every day. One day she’ll be too old to make baskets and then she’ll be totally dependent on the daily distribution. There’s a slight obstacle: among the enrolled widows, at least the older ones, there’s a convention that you don’t get married again. They see themselves as a kind of order of celibate Levites. That’s splendid, and they do fantastic work, washing the feet of the saints (as the saying goes!), tending the sick, and teaching the faith to the younger women and children. But it’s not as if it were a commandment. We aren’t under Torah but under Grace, after all!’
So Sophron makes a point of having a few words each day with Widow Hannah when they’re opening their shops, or shutting up in the evening. It’s remarkable how much mileage there is in the subject of baskets, when one is chatting with an attractive widow.
By a remarkable coincidence, on the other side of Hannah’s basket business is another business owned by a follower of the Way of Mashiach Yeshua: the shop of Shimon the lamp dealer. Shimon is also Sophron’s fellow assistant pastor. He’s quite friendly with Widow Hannah too. Like her he’s widowed, but he has a kind of slightly sneering look and talks with irritating mannerisms acquired from his education in the scribal schools. His lamps sell well, but oddly enough the shop’s dark and forbidding (much like its proprietor really, thinks Sophron). It’s hard to believe that there’s much to attract Widow Hannah on that side of the wall! But one should never count one’s chickens. Sophron decides to devote himself to prayer—and even a day’s fasting—to seek the Lord’s mind on this important prospect.
A week later, he’s delighted when Widow Hannah approaches him deferentially: ‘Brother Sophron, I always think of you as—well, my pastor in particular, and, like the rest of us, I greatly value your wisdom. May I have the benefit of that wisdom—in complete confidence.’
‘My dear Widow Hannah, of course. How can I help?’
‘It’s a matter of our faith, Brother Sophron. Now, our neighbour, your colleague Brother Shimon, seems to have rather strict views. In his last word of instruction, he said “Let everyone remain in the state in which he or she was called”. Do you agree with him?’
Sophron is even more delighted. Hannah is evidently not wedded to widowhood! He replies carefully.
‘As a well-trained pastor, Widow Hannah, Shimon has good grounds for his position. I think he would like us all to be free from worldly concerns. But many of us—you and I, and he too—are inevitably entrusted with such concerns, our businesses for example. So I do think his position a little over-strict. After all, we are not under the Torah, but under Grace! You know, he was a very zealous Pharisee before the Lord called him. I do not think he has entirely shaken that off. He’s inclined to be a little superior, a bit forbidding, don’t you feel? And those mannerisms of the scribes, all those ‘seven things are found in the wise man’ and ‘four things are something else’, well, I find them rather vain and repetitious. But as Elder Yakob reminds me, a person who makes no mistakes in what he says is a perfect being!’
‘Thank you, Brother Sophron, that is very helpful. I feel clearer in my heart about what I am to do.’ And there is a bright flash from her very attractive eyes as she turns away to open up her shop. Sophron feels that his prayers are being answered.
So it’s a shock when a few moments later, Pastor Shimon strides out of his shop and marches up to him. ‘So, Master Sophron, I am an unreconstructed Pharisee! Well, better that than a complete Epicurean*. I at least do not spend my time in idle chat with women! Am I not right that you have certain designs…?’
‘You are after her yourself. I’ve seen your looks. Well, I can assure you she’s more inclined to my way of thinking!’
Some hard words are exchanged, but they are cut short by Hannah popping back out of her doorway. ‘Pastor Shimon! Pastor Sophron! I am astonished at you. If what you’re arguing about is what I suspect, you are certainly not going to get it!’
‘Shimon, I could murder you!’
‘Just you try! I’ll give you vain repetition!’
*Epicurean: a person who rejects Jewish teaching; an unbeliever.

Part 2
Three days later, Sophron gets a message. News of the fracas has reached Elder Yakob, and he’s to present himself at once. He enters the little vestry at the back of the synagogue. There’s Yakob, looking grim. And oh dear, there’s Pastor Shimon too. The two of them avoid each other’s eyes.
Yakob opens the dialogue quite unexpectedly.
‘Brothers, our sister Widow Hannah, your neighbour, is in great need of all our prayers.’
Sophron and Shimon gaze at him in puzzlement.
‘Thanks to your combined wisdom, brothers, she has made a momentous decision. She has deserted our widows’ roll and betrothed herself to a man who does not follow the Way.’
‘But… I thought…’
‘What was your fight about, my brothers? What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill.’
‘Brother Yakob, we did not kill each other!’
‘I say kill, because Sister Hannah is, effectively, dead to us, her brothers and sisters. She is not following the Way.’
‘Heaven forbid…’ Sophron and Shimon turn pale.
‘You both covet her—and her nice little business. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.’
Sophron grasps at a straw. ‘Brother Yakob, I prayed and fasted…’
‘Yes, and when you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you can spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people!’
‘Elder Yakob, to court Widow Hannah was not adultery!’
‘Adultery of the spirit, brothers! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.’
Shimon says, quite angrily, ‘I do not consider myself a friend of the world. My teaching is quite the opposite. It’s this man—this Epicurean—who teaches friendship with the world!’
‘How dare you! You just want to put the burden of Torah back on our shoulders!’ retorts Sophron.
Yakob looks at each of them in turn.
‘My brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?’
Yakob’s tone, surprisingly, becomes gentle. ‘Sit down, my brothers. Together, on this bench.’
He sits on a stool in front of them. ‘Listen, brothers. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.’
Yakob takes one of their hands in each of his hands. ‘I want you to consider what the wisdom that comes from heaven is like.  First of all, it is pure. What does that mean?’
‘Unmixed. Not double-minded, I guess, brother,’ says Sophron, feeling like a schoolchild.
‘Correct. Then what?’
There’s a short silence. They make suggestions in turn. ‘Peace-loving.’ ‘Considerate.’ ‘Submissive.’ ‘Full of mercy and good fruit.’ ‘Impartial.’ ‘Sincere.’
‘That’s right. And peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. Be at peace among yourselves, brothers.’
Yakob joins the two men’s hands. Sophron can’t repress a shudder. ‘What does it say in Scripture about God’s jealousy, Brother Sophron?’
‘God jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us.’
‘Do you think Scripture says that without reason? But, my brothers, he gives us more grace. Brother Shimon, whom does Scripture say God opposes?
‘God opposes the proud. But he shows favor to the humble.’
‘Quite right. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash these hands, you sinners, and purify those hearts, you double-minded men. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.’
That’s pretty much how Sophron now feels! But Elder Yakob smiles. ‘If you humble yourselves before the Lord, my brothers, in good time he will lift you up, I promise.’