Happy New Year! Here are my film, book and music discoveries of 2016

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img_20170104_100937I like making lists. I thought I would have a look back over the films, books and music I enjoyed in 2016 so here are my top 5 of each:

Books

View my year in books on Goodreads

  1. The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley – a great gothic novel, creepy and affecting.
  2. Different Class – Joanne Harris – an evocative book about scandal in a boys’ school.
  3. Enders Game – Orson Scott Card – this was recommended to me by a friend ages ago. It’s a great science fiction story – you can see how much it has influenced subsequent books and films.
  4. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – best thriller I read all year – really worth a read. The film is also a great adaptation – but read the book first!
  5. Conclave – Robert Harris – really enjoyed this detailed look inside the Vatican and a fun story.

Films

  1. Arrival – my film of the year. A long time since I’ve seen such an intelligent film, an alien invasion which is a really clever thought experiment.
  2. The Martian – a good solid science fiction film, very entertaining.
  3. I Daniel Blake – a must watch about the current state of affairs in the UK and what this government is doing to oppress people.
  4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – I really enjoyed this return to the wizarding universe.
  5. Rogue One – a fab prequel for Star Wars.

Music

I consume music so differently these days. I have a subscription to Spotify – the streaming service – and have enjoyed their weekly discover playlist – which is a list of music that they think I’ll like based on my listening history (old and new tracks). I have also enjoyed buying second hand vinyl to play on my record player. Most of my new discoveries have come from listening to BBC 6 Music in my car. I often use the Shazam app to find out what the track is and this automatically creates a playlist in Spotify for me.

To get an idea of what I’ve been listening to this year, here is my most listened to playlist:

My top 5 songs of 2016 (which are a mixture of vinyl discoveries and others) are:

  1. The Pusher – Steppenwolf (from the Easy Rider soundtrack – sounds amazing on vinyl)
  2. This Year – The Mountain Goats (the refrain ‘I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me’ was very 2016!)
  3. Trouble – Girl Ray (great new band discovery)
  4. Lo, the full final sacrifice – Gerald Finzi (I heard this on Radio 3, a beautiful piece of sacred music)
  5. Heroes – David Bowie (obviously listened to a lot of Bowie this year and I think this is my favourite of his!)

Do you have any recommendations for me for 2017?

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Hammy and hokey but fun, my review of ITV’s Midwinter of the Spirit

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This autumn saw ITV release a new drama with a clerical lead, Midwinter of the Spirit, based on the popular books by Phil Rickman. Of course, I had to tune in, given that the main character, Merrily Watkins (bit of a daft name) is a woman priest recently trained in the art of Deliverance Ministry (or what-we-used-to-call exorcism).


During my training I had more than one person ask me if I would get to ‘go ghost hunting’ as a priest. Because of films like the Exorcist the whole area of priests and demons is a source of much fascination – the two often go together, although in the popular imagination, the exorcist priest is always a man and always Roman Catholic. So Phil Rickman, in creating a woman priest exorcist character is tapping directly into this fascination by adding a further layer of interest: what, a woman exorcist? Does the Church of England get involved in that?

Well yes it does as it happens and this TV mini series pulled out all the stops in this dark horror, complete with creepy music and the evil lady’s maid from Downton Abbey playing a sinister occult leader.

Friends of mine that have read the books have said that the character of Merrily was not how they’d imagined her. I haven’t read the books so can’t comment on that. I thought she was quite well-drawn, shown to be a vulnerable woman, a single mother having moved to a new place to help her get over her abusive (?) husband’s death in a car crash. Merrily’s bishop, played by Nicholas Pinnock, is young, black and handsome. So far, so good.

There are a few flaws in the production, however. The horror set ups are a little hammy, the music warning you about each jump (although it is quite genuinely scary, the scene in the hospital will make me nervous about night visits for a while!) The most irritating flaws, however, are down to the costume department. The bishop wears a black cassock over his purple shirt that clearly looks like it’s come from the bottom of a dressing up box. It doesn’t fit him and looks all wrong. It kind of clashes with his character who is sharply dressed and dynamic. Merrily is seen at one point coming out of a baptism service wearing a chasuble with a stole over the top – totally wrong. She also, although this is more a matter of taste than anything, wears a really hideous denim clerical shirt! Why is this an issue? Well you could argue that people watching Casualty or The Bill would point out similar errors (my husband is always pointing out the cheap stethoscopes doctors use on Casualty that you’d never be seen dead using). Make a programme about a particular profession and people are always going to point out mistakes. However, for me, it is important to get these things right – and not that difficult. Many people will have watched Midwinter of the Spirit and found out for the first time that Church of England vicars do get involved with deliverance ministry. The programme will have had a lot of curious viewers. So to get some of the basics wrong just lent the whole thing an air of inauthenticity, and perhaps, incompetence. This was frustrating as it somewhat diluted the thrill of having a black bishop and a single mum priest on prime time television.

For the sake of the drama/plot quite a few rules are broken. I can’t imagine someone being made Diocesan Exorcist by a bishop when they’ve barely completed the training. But then, rules and regulations (especially those of the Byzantine Church of England) certainly do not make for compelling television!

That said, I predicted when interviewed about my book earlier this year that we would see more vicar characters on TV precisely because ministry in the Church is an area alien to a lot of people, and therefore arouses curiosity. Coupling this with a bit of horror tapped right into people’s fascination with the darker edges of ministry today.

On the whole I enjoyed this new thriller, I liked the fact that the lead character was a woman priest and was well-rounded and realistically portrayed, experiencing the same challenges as any other single parent might. I enjoyed the exploration of the occult and the hokey historical storyline of saints and demons. Roll on series 2!

More TV Vicar? Christians on the Telly: The Good, the Bad and the Quirky by Bryony Taylor, is available now in paperback and eBook priced £9.99.

This review first appeared on the DLT Blog.

Video blurb and full interview with Bryony Taylor about the book More TV Vicar?

Cartoon by Chris Bambrough in More TV Vicar? Book
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Here’s a short video blurb explaining what my book, ‘More TV Vicar?‘ is about. This is part of a much longer interview with me about my faith and the book on Breakout Radio which is available as a podcast here.

I get by with a little help from my friends – response to “which books should I read before theological college?”

Me with the one book on the list I already have!
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Me with the one book on the list I already have!Yesterday I shared my pre-college reading list here asking advice of friends on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks to everyone who responded.

I thought it would be good to try and summarise the advice I got here – I’m sure I’ll end up adding to this over the months to come but I hope it serves as a resource for others and also a tribute to how fabulous all my friends on Twitter and Facebook are!

General advice

Further recommended reading

So far, from the list I had been given I have had Steven Croft & Roger Walton’s Learning for Ministry recommended but actually ended up having some other books recommended which I have put on an Amazon wish list here.

Here are the recommendations, an ‘alternative’ reading list, if you will:

1.
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Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths (Author)

2.
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Honourably Wounded by Marjory F. Foyle (Author)

3.
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The Bible Makes Sense by Walter Bruggemann (Author)

4.
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PROPHETIC DIALOGUE by BEVANS (Author)

5.
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TRANSFORMING MISSION (American Society of Missiology) by BOSCH (Author)

6.
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Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron (Author)

7.
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A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke (Author), Charles L. Taylor (Translator)

8.
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A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology by Kelly M. Kapic (Author)

9.
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Can These Dry Bones Live? by Frances Young (Author)

10.
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Reading the Bible with the Damned (Interpretation Bible Studies) by B Ekblad (Author)

11.
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What They Don’t Teach You at Theological College: A Practical Guide to Life in the Ministry by Malcolm Grundy (Author)

Thanks to everyone who’s contributed so far. I’ll keep this post updated so feel free to keep adding your thoughts and suggestions.

Just in:

Which books should I read before going to Theological College?

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Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry aka Durham Cathedral CloistersSo, I’ve been recommended for training for ordination in the Anglican Church and I’m going to be studying a BA in Theology and Ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham from this Autumn. All exciting stuff! I’ve been sent a pre-course reading list to work my way through this summer.

This is where you might be able to help me:

  • Which of the books on the list below do you think are essential reading?
  • Which one book would you recommend I read before starting my course? (it doesn’t have to be on the list!)
  • Do you have any of the books on the list that you’d be willing to lend or give to me?
  • Do you have any other tips on what to do before I go or even what to take with me? (I’ll be a weekly boarder)

Feel free to leave a comment below this post or email me. Thanks so much for your help. Now, which looks the easiest to read on that list…

The List

View on Amazon here (I made a wish list in case a random stranger wanted to buy any of them for me!): http://www.amazon.co.uk/registry/wishlist/2SCFN5BXYKNU4/ref=cm_wl_rlist_go_o

Steve Croft & Roger Walton, Learning for Ministry (Church House Publishing, 2005)

Steven Croft, Ministry in Three Dimensions. Ordination and Leadership in the Local Church (DLT, 1999) – READ THIS ALREADY! YAY!

Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved with God : Rediscovering the Old Testament (Cowley , 2001)

Richard S. Briggs, Reading the Bible Wisely: An Introduction to Taking Scripture Seriously (Revised edition; Wipf and Stock, 2011)

Michael Lloyd Café Theology (Alpha, 2005)

Rowan Williams, Why Study the Past? (DLT, 2003)

Jean Comby, How to Read Church History (2 vols, SCM, 1985, 1989)

Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Eerdmans, 1993)

John Pritchard, The Life and Work of a Priest (SPCK, 2007)  – READ THIS ALREADY! YAY!

John Barton & Julia Bowden, The Original Story: God, Israel and the World (DLT, 2004)

Richard A. Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus? (2nd ed, SPCK, 2005)

N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (SPCK, 2000) – I’VE ALREADY GOT THIS ONE, HAVEN’T READ IT YET THOUGH

T. Grass, Modern Church History, (London: SCM Press 2008)

Mark Mckintosh, Divine Teaching (Blackwell, 2008)

Bob Jackson, Hope for the Church: Contemporary Strategies for Growth (Church House, 2002)

Stephen Spencer, SCM Studyguide to Christian Mission (SCM Press, 2007)

David Day, Embodying the Word: A Preacher’s Guide (SPCK, 2005)

Paul Goodliff, Care in a Confused Climate (DLT, 1998)

Judy Hirst, Struggling to be Holy (DLT, 2006)

David Runcorn, Spirituality Workbook. A Guide for Explorers, Pilgrims and Seekers (SPCK, 2006)

I capture the castle by Dodie Smith

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An excerpt from I capture the castle by Dodie Smith

I thought that this passage which I’ve shared below is a master class in sharing one’s faith. I’ve no idea if the author was a Christian, but it is simply just a beautiful account of a vicar talking to a young girl about religion.  Don’t worry, this excerpt doesn’t contain any spoilers should you want to read the novel.

After that, we got started on religion, which surprised me rather, as the Vicar so seldom mentions it I mean, to our family; naturally it must come up in his daily life.

“You ought to try it, one of these days,” he said. ”I believe you’d like it.”

I said: “But I have tried it, haven’t I? I’ve been to church. It never seems to take.” He laughed and said he knew I’d exposed myself to infection occasionally.

“But catching things depends so much on one’s state of health. You should look in on the church if ever you’re mentally run down.”

I remembered my thoughts on the way to the village. “Oh, it wouldn’t be fair to rush to church because one was miserable” I said taking care to look particularly cheerful.

“It’d be most unfair not to, you’d be doing religion out of its very best chance.”

“You mean ‘Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity’?”

“Exactly. Of course, there are extremities at either end; extreme happiness invites religion almost as much as extreme misery.”

I told him I’d never thought of that. He helped me to some more madeira, then said: “In addition, I think religion has a chance of a look-in whenever the mind craves solace in music or poetry in any form of art at all. Personally, I think it is an art, the greatest one; an extension of the communion all the other arts attempt.”

“I suppose you mean communion with God.”

He gave such a snort of laughter that his madeira went the wrong way.

“What on earth did I say that was funny?” I asked, while he was mopping his eyes.

“It was the utter blankness of your tone. God might have been a long, wet week… which He’s certainly treating us to.”

He glanced at the window. The rain had started again, so heavily that the garden beyond the streaming panes was just a blur of green. “How the intelligent young do fight shy of the mention of God! It makes them feel both bored and superior.”

I tried to explain: “Well, once you stop believing in an old gentleman with a beard . . . It’s only the word God, you know it makes such a conventional noise.”

“It’s merely shorthand for where we come from, where we’re going, and what it’s all about.”

“And do religious people find out what it’s all about? Do they really get the answer to the riddle?”

“They get just a whiff of an answer sometimes.”

He smiled at me and I smiled back and we both drank our madeira. Then he went on: “I suppose church services make a conventional noise to you, too and I rather understand it. Oh, they’re all right for the old hands and they make for sociability, but I sometimes think their main use is to help weather churches like smoking pipes to colour them, you know. If any well, unreligious person, needed consolation from religion, I’d advise him or her to sit in an empty church. Sit, not kneel. And listen, not pray. Prayer’s a very tricky business.”

“Goodness, is it?”

“Well, for inexperienced pray-ers it sometimes is. You see, they’re apt to think of God as a slot-machine. If nothing comes out they say ‘I knew dashed well it was empty’ when the whole secret of prayer is knowing the machine’s full.”

“But how can one know?”

“By filling it oneself.”

“With faith?”

“With faith. I expect you find that another boring word. And I warn you this slot-machine metaphor is going to break down at any moment. But if ever you’re feeling very unhappy which you obviously aren’t at present, after all the good fortune that’s come to your family recently well, try sitting in an empty church.”

“And listening for a whiff?”

We both laughed and then he said that it was just as reasonable to talk of smelling or tasting God as of seeing or hearing Him.

“If one ever has any luck, one will know with all one’s senses and none of them. Probably as good a way as any of describing it is that we shall ‘come over all queer’.”

“But haven’t you already?”

He sighed and said the whiffs were few and far between. “But the memory of them everlasting,” he added softly. Then we fell silent, both of us staring at the fire. Rain kept falling down the chimney, making little hissing noises. I thought what a good man he is, yet never annoyingly holy. And it struck me for the first time that if such a clever, highly educated man can believe in religion, it is almost impudent of an ignorant person like me to feel bored and superior about it for I realized that it wasn’t only the word “God” that made me feel like that.

 

Text taken from here

 

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

A classic children’s book, this is a delightful tale of a boy who goes on an adventure to another world, learning all sorts about words, numbers and points of view along the way.

I was really moved by the scene near the end (slight spoiler alert here), when the Princesses Rhyme and Reason share some wisdom with the boy Milo about learning. I want to reproduce it here for you.

I think that children always ask the questions that matter. We should never stop seeing ourselves as children really. Indeed, Jesus totally had a point when he said ‘”I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 18:3

Here is an excerpt from the book which I hope you will get as much from as I did. Enjoy!

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes,” explained Reason, quietly, “as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

“But there’s so much to learn, ” he said, with a thoughtful frown.

“Yes, that’s true,” admitted Rhyme, “but it’s not just learning things that’s important. It’s learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn at all that matters.”

“That’s just what I mean,” explained Milo, as Tock and the exhausted bug drifted quietly off to sleep. “Many of the things I’m supposed to know seem so useless that I can’t see the purpose in learning them at all.”

“You may not see it now,” said the Princess of Pure Reason, looking knowingly at Milo’s puzzled face, “but whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way. Why, when a housefly flaps his wings, a breeze goes round the world; when a speck of dust falls to the ground, the entire planet weighs a little more; and when you stamp your foot, the earth moves slightly off its course. Whenever you laugh, gladness spreads like ripples in a pond; and whenever you’re sad, no one anywhere can be really happy. And it’s much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes richer.”

“And remember, also,” added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, “that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But one day you’ll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.”

“I think I understand,” he said, still full of questions and thoughts; “but which is the most important–”