Friday, February 04, 2011

Where are the sages?

If you have time to listen to the first ten minutes of United with Christ in life and death-Part 1 you will be asked the question "Where are the sages?" It has been in my head all week and it is worth each one of us mulling on. How do I become one? Is there anything that I could be doing now that might make my life deep and wise and fruitful in years to come for God's glory? I am not yet wise but maybe one day I might be. We are meant to be redwood's, that is, people with deep, strong and lasting roots living the sort of lives that you can drive a car though and are still able to stand (Jer 17:7-8). Lives that in thirty years time might have some things to impart to another. Imagine that. Make some decisions today for that. Set your sails for it. 

This thought has combined with me being asked in a staff meeting what books I would recommend to my church as resources. Now that's quite a question. Thinking about reading prompts me to reflect so much on God's grace. You see, as a child I was no reader. I was a bottom-set man, never made the top-set for anything and never got an A in any of my exams, ever. The top-setters were always the readers. I was the one looking out of the window wondering what biscuit we might get at break time. I was 'thick', 'dim' and 'lacking potential' and other delightful descriptors we give each other at school. I can recall reading not many more than fifteen or twenty books in my first 20 years. The Hardy Boys, a few Agatha Christie's, Cider with Rosie, Kim, The Hobbit , My family and other animals, Pride and prejudice, To kill a mocking bird, The Moons' a balloon and Bleak House (most of which I was forced to read as compulsory 'holiday books'). I am still not sure what Shakespeare was all about though by good fortune my allocated play was 'The Merchant of Venice' which I loved. I still only managed a C.

I started to follow Jesus at the age of twenty two and read probably twenty 'Christian' books in the first 2 years following my conversion-mainly biographies of the Charismatic-evangelical saints (Brother Andrew, Pullinger, Wilkerson, Rees Howells etc). Anyway, not long after that I found myself living in Moscow working for a tobacco company trading cigarettes with the Russian mafia and rather went off reading God-books. Now there's a surprise. However, I do now have a few stories that if I told you them would make your hair curl. Sin doesn't shock or surprise me which is I suppose good considering how things have turned out. Sometimes I meet posh BCP 8-o'clock types who say "Oh, I think it's frightfully good to have had a life before one goes into the Church". A life.....you've no idea.

I was cold in Moscow inside and outside. I remember asking my colleague Lisa who was something of a reader to 'bring me some books' from England which she duly did. I have a memory of my flat in Moscow reading my way through the pile she gave me-there was not much else to do. One of them was Peter the Great which is, I think, the book that unlocked a desire in me to read. I worked my way through its 980 pages listening to the Counting Crows on repeat.  I then don't think I read a Christian book for over a decade- I read novels, biographies, business books, politics and some history but it was mainly novels as I recall. I did most of my reading as I travelled on business, often spending time delayed in various international airports.

Then at some point eight or nine years ago I had an encounter with the gospel of the grace of God listening to these. From that moment on, I started reading books that I hoped might set me along the way of the disciple. I felt I needed to catch up on the time I had wasted. I started to read enjoyably and relentlessly and have been doing so ever since which has been a wonderful treasure hunt through thousands and thousands of words. 
So, over about four hours one afternoon/evening this week I scanned my shelves and memory to draw up a list that I have called 'Books in the rather slow making of a Jesus follower' which is now on my sidebar. If you want one book to unlock your own list then start with Indelible ink (it has the most extraordinary appendix). There is a whole other list of the ten 'lukewarm' years which is probably equally, if not more important and interesting reading. I think I have forgotten as many books as I have on this list. I have a habit of giving books away and never remembering who I have given them to. I haven't included any theology-wonk books I read at Vicar Factory and have only included books that I have read cover to cover. Anyway, all this to say I hope there might be something you find that you might enjoy. 

So will I one day be a sage? I have no idea and fear I am a long way off, but I do intend to keep reading a few things in the hope that perhaps in my old age I might have something to impart to my grandchildren. As to whether that will ever happen, well that's a whole other story.

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