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Ten of the best: 13th August 2015

Live Love LeadSome books are proving to be popular, remaining here in the bestseller lists for some time. This includes the Encyclical on the environment from Pope Francis, David Wilkinson’s examination of just what happens when we pray, When I Pray, What Does God Do?, and fiction titles The Rosemary Tree and Unseen Things Above. However there are notable new entries including the Australian mega-church pastor Brian Houston – Live, Love, Lead – following the highly successful Hillsongs Conference held in London last month.

 

 

When I Pray, What Does God Do? by David Wilkinson (Monarch)
The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge (Hendrickson) 
Second Intercessions Handbook by John Pritchard (SPCK)  
Live, Love, Lead by Brian Houston (Hodder & Stoughton) 
The Shed that Fed a Million Children by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow (William Collins) 
The Awesome Journey by David Adam (SPCK)
There are no Ordinary People by Jeff Lucas (CWR) 
Unseen Things Above by Catherine Fox (SPCK)
My Burden is Light by John Woolley (Circle Books)  
Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis (CTS) 

 

 

Finding God in the workplace

William Morris

William Morris

Navigating the ethical and moral issues found in the modern workplace can be challenging for everyone, not just Christians. Deciding when to speak up, how to manage a difficult situation, how to make good decisions – these are the questions that William Morris, Anglican priest and corporate tax lawyer addresses in his new book, ‘Where is God at Work’.

Buy Where is God at Work for just £6.15 (RRP £8.99)

What motivated you to write Where is God at Work?

As a Christian (and for the past five years a priest) in the workplace, there have always been work-related issues that have concerned me. But while there’s motivational writing about being God’s disciple in the workplace, I could never find much about the nitty-gritty, the day-to-day dilemmas. What if I’m asked to work harder? What if I’m asked to lie? What about competition? How should I treat difficult colleagues? How do I deal with all that; and where might God be in those situations? So I decided to ask myself the questions, and then try to answer them!

For some Christians the world of ‘big business’ and the Christian discipleship are incompatible – how would you respond?

I don’t doubt the sincerity of that point of view in any way, but I always ask a couple of questions. First, if we believe in a God that made the whole world, not just Sundays, shouldn’t we be open to the possibility that he is actually interested in work – and in all aspects of the world of work? Second, “big business” has brought us computers, mobile phones, advanced medical equipment, cures for diseases and many other things that have made the world a better place – as well as allowing people to put food on their tables and care for their families. While there are downsides to some aspects of big business – and we should be cleared-eyed about those – as Christians we should be looking for the godly potential of big (or indeed any) business, rather than assuming that we’re just better than all that.

Buy Where is God at Work for just £6.15 (RRP £8.99)

Buy Where is God at Work for just £6.15 (RRP £8.99)

Are there some jobs and professions that are more ‘Christian’ than others?

In popular perception certainly! Teachers, doctors and nurses are good. Lawyers and bankers are bad. Church work is good, and for-profit work is less good. But there are a couple of problems with this. First, what I said before about God making the whole world, not just what we regard as the “good” bits. We need to look everywhere for godly potential in work, not just in the expected places.

And there are two related points. To start with, it can be insensitive to tell someone – or a whole group of people – that they are wasting their lives in “bad”, less Christian jobs. Second, we often confuse ourselves with our jobs. Jesus spends a lot of time telling the Scribes and Pharisees that just because in their jobs they are associated with the temple, and are very observant, that does not make them “good”. Most “goodness” will lie in the way we do our job, the way we live our lives. So, you can do a “bad” job very well, and a “good” job very badly. It’s how we act out our love for God and for our neighbour in our job that ultimately truly makes that job good or bad.

As a corporate tax lawyer, do you see taxation as a moral good, a necessary evil or the imposition of the state?

Difficult question! I don’t think paying tax is a “moral” good – it’s a question of doing what the (secular) law requires. Second, in a technical sense tax is an “imposition of the state” – but “imposition” has an inappropriately negative connotation, that I’ll deal with in a moment. “Necessary evil” is clearly not right either, firstly, because it is no more evil than good – although some people feel very strongly about being parted from “their” money. But additionally it’s not an “evil” because reasonable taxes help support our welfare state, pay for schools, roads and so on. So taxes are not a “moral good”, but, as a famous American judge once said, “taxes are what we pay for a civilised society”.

The second part of the book is structured around dealing with the many dilemmas people face at work. How should the Christian discern when the pressure is such that they should refuse to do something, even if it means losing their job (and the risk of a poor reference)?

I make very clear that I believe that point can arise in almost all of the dilemmas I describe. And it requires real courage to say no at that point. But I also make clear that I believe we should only get to that point at the end of a (sometimes long) process of trying to improve the situation. Why? Well, again, because if God is present, there may be inventive ways of solving the issue, resolving the conflict, and improving the workplace not just for ourselves, but also for others – rather than potentially walking away from it prematurely.

In the pressure of the modern work environment, how do we strike the right balance between working hard and making space for faith, friends and family?

It’s really tough – and I’m not terribly good at it! I do talk about this in the book, and part of the answer is routine and rhythm. Building time into each and every day, in addition to work, when we spend time with family, with friends, and with God. Sometimes those get squeezed by work, but if we give them each some time every day, and significant time regularly, then that will help maintain a balance. The other important thing is to give those other elements “quality” time – so no multitasking with emails when you’re with your kids; no trying to solve a work problem when you’re reading the Bible. Give those things, even if it’s only 15-30 minutes a day, your full attention. And occasionally take a proper holiday.

What do you hope people will take away from Where is God at Work?

A couple of things. First, that God can be present in the for-profit workplace, and that we can work with him there to improve that workplace (and, thus, just a little, our world). Second, following on from the first, that there are in fact amazing opportunities to do God’s work, whether, for example, it’s for our neighbour who’s hurting, or through making goods and services that make other people’s lives easier or better. Third, no Christian in the workplace should feel they are alone, or facing dilemmas that no other Christian faces. Fourth (essentially repeating the first), that the Worker God who created this world really cares about work and about us at work.

Buy Where is God at Work for just £6.15 (RRP £8.99)

“Doubt and uncertainty are now beautiful, easy companions”

David Hayward

David Hayward

For 30 years David Hayward worked in Church ministry in his native Canada before giving it all up in 2010. He had already developed a reputation for drawing cartoons that provoked and deconstructed much of the artifice in religion. Since then, as well as finding success as an artist, he has helped many people deconstruct the harmful affects of religion and spiritual abuse. One of the enduring themes in his work is the need for the freedom to ask questions, something that developed into his latest book ‘Questions are the Answer’.

Buy Questions are the Answer for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

What was your motivation to write Questions are the Answer?

Hayward Cartoon 2I have been journaling for most of my adult life. Once in a while I would go back and read them. It didn’t take me long to realise that there were two major themes in my story. One is that I’ve gone through some pretty incredible experiences and transformations. The other is that I’m the same person I always have been. So I came to the conclusion that this mysterious paradox is in itself a key to my personal growth. 

A lot of my spiritual and theological life was rife with strife. It was always an incredibly intense struggle. I was always searching for the answer. When I finally had a profound dream in May of 2009, it didn’t bring an answer, but instead brought immediate peace of mind. And it hasn’t gone away. This made it clear to me that it isn’t certainty that brings peace of mind, but the embrace of mystery.

I’ve been cartooning about questions and doubt for many years. They’ve always been valuable to me. Curiosity was always considered a positive thing by me. Breaking out of the confines and exploring outside the box was always something I personally embraced and encouraged as a pastor. I have a lot of writing and cartooning on the subject. So when an opportunity came to write another book, this topic of Questions are the Answer was the logical one.

Buy 'Questions are the Answer' for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Buy ‘Questions are the Answer’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Why are some Churches afraid of asking the really difficult questions?

I can speak to this because I was a pastor of churches for about 30 years. I know first hand what I’m talking about. I think there are a few factors:

Theological certainty is a valued commodity in the Church. In fact, I can honestly say I struggled and searched for decades to find it. I never did. But I do believe many churches like to think that they possess this certainty and that it should be a reality for their members.

Another strong impulse of many churches is growing and keeping its membership. So gathering members around a common belief and praxis is key. I’ve come to believe that compatibility isn’t a requirement for unity, but love. But this is too messy. It’s easier to achieve the appearance of unity by circling people around theological certainties.

It really comes down to control. Most institutions and organisations, businesses, etc., are about the control of their people. And the first and last domain of control is in the mind. If the minds of the people can be controlled, everything else follows.

Do you see doubt and uncertainty as an essential part of a faith journey?

Yes! Even though I’m reluctant to use the word “faith” in reference to spirituality because of the baggage around it, I will use it here. But in fact, isn’t this what “faith” means? It’s not a part of the faith journey. It is the journey! Not seeing. Not knowing. Not understanding. Doesn’t faith mean walking forward in a kind of rich darkness, growing in a deep soil, moving along a densely covered path where the next step is uncertain? I think so. And like I said, the peace of mind that came to me from a simple dream on May 9 of 2009 did not arrive with certainty, but with a profound embrace of mystery. So now I’m unwilling to view doubt and uncertainty as necessary steps along the way, but in fact as the destination. Even though I have peace of mind, doubt and uncertainty are now beautiful, easy companions.

As a former pastor, have you come across many people asking similar questions?

Hayward Cartoon1There are lots of people asking questions. Perhaps not so many loudly or externally, but certainly internally. This is what I’ve discovered through the many years of writing and cartooning at nakedpastor.com. There are so many people asking questions, plagued by doubt, uncertainty, and fear. Fear because religion has taught them that doubt and uncertainty are a lack of faith punishable, sometimes, by Hell. Oh my, the fear so many people live under! I’ve been doing this for so many years that it is now second nature to me. I am completely unafraid to ask questions, especially now that I am self-employed and am a kind of freelancer. But there are so many people who private message me or email me to inform me that they loved my cartoon or post but wouldn’t dare say anything or even “like” it on Facebook because of their fear of the ramifications that would ensue from their family, friends, and churches. I believe millions of believers are asking questions. But they are trapped inside their head. So I provide places online for people to feel free to ask them out loud.

You also run an online community, The Lasting Supper. What is the aim of this?

The Lasting Supper was launched in 2012 to help people deconstruct their beliefs and change so that they could achieve their own spiritual health, freedom, and independence. There are different kinds of people that join TLS, which now has over 400 members. A quarter are women who are looking for a non-patriarchal setting in which to be spiritually independent. Another quarter marginalised people, like from the LGBTQ community who want a place where they are accepted without judgment. A third quarter would be those who have suffered spiritual abuse in the Church and desire fellowship and support in a protected and facilitated group. The final quarter would be rebels… people who are turned off by the control and manipulation they experience in the Church and the world and who want to be a part of a group in which they are free to be themselves without judgment. The common thread in this diversity of people is a strong desire for a closed forum where people can be open – with open questions, open minds, open hearts – a place to privately be themselves to better publicly face their world. You can read our rights and responsibilities as well as our values and principles. We also have our own Manifesto that gives a good summary of what we’re about.

Are the any beliefs that you would see as essential to retain in order to call a belief system ‘Christian’?

I have a couple of thoughts about this.

The first one is that, as a result of the dream I had, I started contemplating, developing, and writing about what I call the Z-Theory. You can read about it in the book. I do realise this is only provisional, and that it has helped me incredibly. So it is my personal paradigm that I hope might help others. Essentially it describes Reality as trinitarian in structure that can be articulated through Christian theology and language.

On the other hand, what this did for me was that I suddenly realised we are all One, deeply united at a fundamental level, and that the only thing that seems to separate us are ideas and words. That is, we are all experiencing the same trinitarian structure of Reality, but we each perceive it through our own paradigms or world views, then we each attempt to articulate our experience through our own language. 

What do you hope people will take away from Questions are the Answer?

The book is basically a telling of my story through this lens, and the cartoons are sometimes serious, sometimes silly, illustrations of this journey. So I would be very happy if more people found their personal courage to take risks and raise their questions, embrace doubt and uncertainty as friends, and come to their own healthy place of spiritual independence. As often happens when new members come into The Lasting Supper, I hope my readers will realise they are not strange or weird, but entirely normal, and that their journeys are completely valid. Further, I would hope from this that we would see more people walking away from limiting and oppressive systems, and that more systems would change to make room for doubt, uncertainty, and questions as a part of a healthy ethos. 

Buy Questions are the Answer for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Follow David Hayward aka The ‘Naked Pastor’ on Twitter

Ten of the best: 20th July 2015

Laudato SiChanges galore in the best-sellers from Aslan Books. As well as two excellent books from renowned scientists – David Wilkerson looking at just how God answers prater and Amir Aczel argues that the ‘new atheists’ have overreached themselves in their claims for science and the search for the existence of God – we also have the highly discussed latest encyclical from the Pope, Laudate Si’, in which he issues a call for creation care from all Christians.

Fiction continues to prove popular with The Rosemary Tree set in aftermath of World War II and Unseen Things Above from Catherie Fox set in the fictional diocese of Lindchester, a follow up to her novel last year, Acts and Omissions.

When I Pray, What Does God Do? by David Wilkinson (Monarch)
Transformed by the Holy Spirit by Liz Babbs (CWR)
 The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge (Hendrickson) 
Second Intercessions Handbook by John Pritchard (SPCK) 
The Shed that Fed a Million Children by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow (William Collins) 
The Awesome Journey by David Adam (SPCK)
There are no Ordinary People by Jeff Lucas (CWR) 
Unseen Things Above by Catherine Fox (SPCK)
Why Science Does Not Disprove God by Amir Aczel (Harper One)  
Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis (CTS)