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Beverly Lewis: Queen of ‘Amish Fiction’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChristian or ‘inspirational’ fiction is big business in the United States but has failed to catch on in the same way here in the UK. One author that has bucked that trend is Beverly Lewis. Her blend of romance and historical themes, with a focus on the Pennsylvanian Amish community, has created a dedicated following beyond the shores of the USA. Unlike her previous books her latest release, The River, is a standalone novel.

Buy The River for £10.44 (RRP £10.99)

What inspired The River?

Two years ago, while preparing for the final shoot of the last instalment of my documentary, “Glimpses of Lancaster County with Beverly Lewis,” we set up near the historic Hunsecker’s Mill Bridge. I walked down the grassy slope to the Conestoga River to review what I planned to say, when the rushing water captured my attention. In that powerful moment, Tilly’s dramatic story presented itself to me, and I knew I had to write The River, a story in which the river itself demanded a place among the cast of characters.

Buy 'The River' for just £10.44 (RRP £10.99)

Buy ‘The River’ for just £10.44 (RRP £10.99)

Tell us a little about the premise for this novel.

Tilly and Ruth are two formerly Old Order Amish sisters who have been living near each other in the ‘English’ world—near the harbour in Rockport, Massachusetts. After years apart from their family, they return to Lancaster County for their parents’ landmark wedding anniversary, a visit they undertake with no small amount of trepidation. Each sister comes face to face with the unresolved relationships she left behind: Tilly with her father and two brothers, and Ruth with the beau who broke her heart…a heartbreak she might not be over even now.

I love writing about sisters, and the bond between Tilly and Ruth is a particularly deep and memorable one. I found a real satisfaction in creating their story, with its many redemptive threads.

Many of your previous books have been part of a series. Why did you decide to make The River a stand-alone novel?

It’s true that many of my prior series have been continuing sagas, but my most recent series, Home to Hickory Hollow, is a collection of stand-alone novels tied together by the setting and some repeating secondary characters. My readers responded enthusiastically to those books and the idea of novels that could be read on their own or in any order. When the story for The River developed, I knew it required a unique setting of its own, one that didn’t fit under the Home to Hickory Hollow umbrella— this book is set in the 1970s, for instance. I’m really looking forward to introducing readers to these new characters—and to beautiful Eden Valley, a place I was fond of as a child!

You are a regular on bestseller lists, and your books have been published in eleven languages. What do you think of your widespread popularity?

Well, I certainly never imagined any of this when my first Amish novel, The Shunning, was released in 1997. What a blessing! Only God has made my amazing writing journey possible. The best part is that so many readers write to say that they truly connect with my characters and that my novels speak directly to their hearts, sharing the truth of God’s abundant love for them. That is a tremendous source of joy to me. Even my Plain relatives and friends have been surprised and delighted by the interest in their culture and a simpler, less chaotic way of life.

What are you working on right now?

Naturally I am busy at work on my next stand-alone novel, The Love Letters. Marlena Wenger has been sent to rural Brownstown, Pennsylvania, to assist her widowed Mennonite grandmother for the summer, a situation that takes her miles from her Old Order beau in Mifflinburg. Marlena’s responsibilities double when she also has to care for her infant niece, Angela Rose, after her older sister is in a terrible car accident. With her beloved beau so far away, Marlena turns to her grandmother’s neighbour Ellie Bitner and her family for friendship and assistance, a bond that brings them healing and hope through a most unexpected source.

Buy The River for £10.44 (RRP £10.99)

Drawing the Church

Dave Walker

Dave Walker

Dave Walker has carved himself a unique position in the Church. His cartoons have appeared in newsletters and on PowerPoint presentations in Churches across the UK and beyond. His blend of affectionate mocking and an eye for the ridiculous have helped many ordinary church-goers connect with his brand of humour. As well as a weekly cartoon in the Church Times, he has had several books f cartoons and his calendars have proved a particular hit. His Cartoon Church Advent Calendar has just been released and orders for his 2015 ‘Dave Walker Guide to the Church‘ calendar are proving the continued success of his insights and artistry.

Order the ‘Dave Walker Advent Calendar’ for just £5.69 (RRP £5.99) and the ‘Dave Walker Guide to the Church 2015 Calendar’ for just £5.99 (RRP £6.99)

Buy the 'Dave Walker Advent Calendar' for just £5.69 (RRP £5.99)

Buy the ‘Dave Walker Advent Calendar’ for just £5.69 (RRP £5.99)

Would you consider yourself creating cartoons about the Church as an insider or an outsider?

That’s a tricky one. I’m an insider really I suppose, as I’ve been involved with church goings-on for as long as I can remember. My attendance is a bit sporadic if I’m to be honest – I’m no longer on any rotas. I cartoon vicariously through the churchgoing of others 

Many cartoons these days have a sharply satirical edge to them, but yours seem more affectionate. Is that deliberate?

It’s just the way my work has developed. People seem to like what I do, so I’ve kept on doing it. On the other hand I do draw some cartoons when frustrated or angry, but even then the finished result may not come across that way. I suspect that often I’m too kind. But then again I have no desire to mock hardworking church people who are doing the best they can with limited resources, and I hope I don’t. I would like to be able to draw cartoons with more of an edge to them more often.

Buy the Dave Walker Guide to the Church calendar for just £5.99 (RRP £6.99)

Buy the Dave Walker Guide to the Church calendar for just £5.99 (RRP £6.99)

What would you say your aim was in the church-based cartoons you create (other than earning a living, of course!)?

Mainly to produce the best work I can and make people laugh. I hope I cheer the clergy up slightly on a Friday morning, and my aim is to produce books that people will reach for time and again –  as I do with books of cartoons from favourite cartoonists. But sometimes there’s a message there too.

Have you ever had any negative reactions to your cartoons?

Every now and then, yes. It makes me pleased when someone writes a letter of complaint as it shows that someone is noticing. I’ve been told off for not showing enough respect to church organists, and remain unpopular within the liturgical-dance community.

Where are some of the strangest places your cartoons have appeared?

People write to me all the time wanting to use my work and I lose track of where the cartoons have been used. Some get used as discussion starters within school text books, which always seems odd. A company paid me to put a cartoon on a snowboard, but I have never seen the results so I don’t know whether it happened. I rarely mingle in snowboarding circles.

Do you ever suffer a creative block when trying to think up new cartoons?

Continually. I’m forever one week away from running out of ideas entirely. I rely a lot on others to help me, and have friends who are good at sending me suggestions. This also helps me draw about topics that are beyond my own direct experience. I always welcome requests for subjects that people would like me to cover.

Order the ‘Dave Walker Advent Calendar’ for just £5.69 (RRP £5.99) and the ‘Dave Walker Guide to the Church 2015 Calendar’ for just £5.99 (RRP £6.99)

Vanishing Grace in the modern world?

In his latest book renowned author Philip Yancey considers the role of the Church in an increasingly hostile culture, asking how Christians can show grace in the modern world.

Pre-order ‘Vanishing Grace’ for just £9.99 (RRP £12.99) – released 11th September 2014

Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey

‘Vanishing Grace’ seems related to ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?’ – is there a connection between these two books?

You can’t cover a topic like grace in one book, you know!  The first book was a look at the nature of grace itself, exploring this great gift that God extends to us by offering forgiveness instead of revenge, love instead of wrath.  I had grown up in a church that often used the word grace, yet I never really experienced or encountered it there.  Instead the church seemed to add its own ranking system of spirituality to the broader world’s rankings based on things like race, economics, prestige.

This second book explores how Christians should relate to an increasingly post-Christian culture in which people of faith meet indifference or even hostility.  Europe and the U.K. have known this milieu for some time, of course, and the U.S. church is just now confronting it.  How is it that so few in the broader culture see Christians as bearers of good news?  And how should we be interacting with the world around us?

What do you think the role of the Church should be in addressing the big moral questions of our age?

We do have a role to play, and I wish the Church were seen as a more credible source.  Instead we’re often viewed as intolerant and narrow-minded.  You can’t really talk about “the Church” in this context.  Different people will have a different calling.  Some scholars and academics will carefully examine issues such as abortion and end-of-life.  Others will respond by adopting unwanted babies and working in hospices.  Still others might feel called to picket or lobby politicians as laws are being considered.  All should have in common, though, a commitment to use “the weapons of grace” in fulfilling their calling.  1 Peter 4:10 expresses this well: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Pre-order 'Vanishing Grace' for just £9.99 (RRP £12.99)

Pre-order ‘Vanishing Grace’ for just £9.99 (RRP £12.99)

In the second part of the book you talk about ‘pilgrims, activists and artists’. Is there any place today for the preacher?

The preacher has a huge role to play in leading the faithful, in providing inspiration and spiritual care for Jesus-followers.  When you think of the broader culture, however, preachers have a shrinking place.  I quote the Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, who says in the old days we communicated faith head-to-head, so that an evangelist like Billy Graham would say to a packed house at Wembley Stadium, “The Bible says…” and people would respond.  Not so much now.  Instead, says Volf, the most effective communication is hand to heart to head.  We reach out in acts of mercy: responding to disasters, feeding the hungry, serving the needy, freeing victims of sexual trafficking.  That touches a person’s heart, and in the last step the person wants to know, Why did you do this?  Why did you care?  I see the preacher’s role primarily in informing and motivating believers to do God’s work in the world.

Do you think the Church, as it stands today, is finished in the West?

No, I don’t.  In the U.S., almost half the population still attend church each week and we have a huge Christian infrastructure of publishing, education, and many charities.  Obviously, the proportion is much smaller in Europe, yet I find great signs of life.  Celtic spirituality has lively centres that attract people from all over the world.  I’ve rarely attended a more inspiring church than Holy Trinity Brompton in London.  Oddly enough, as a society’s Church shrinks in size it tends to become more unified, remembering its main calling to shine as a light in darkness.  And of course Jesus’ images of the kingdom were small things: a sprinkling of salt on meat, a bit of yeast that causes the whole loaf to rise, the smallest seed in the garden that grows into a great bush in which the birds of the air come to rest.

In many ways Europe is living off what I call “habits of the soul”: Christian assumptions and behaviours that linger on even after the beliefs have been largely abandoned.  That will catch up with society someday, and the blank soul will be exposed.  Alternatives rush in, as they do in extremist Islam now.  I hope and pray that the church will continue to hold up light that grows increasing bright in a darkening world.

Is there a way for Christians to engage in the spirituality of western culture?

I recommend seeking out common ground.  Some Christians think of something like New Age spirituality as worse than the devil, worse than atheism.  No, I find it encouraging when someone admits a spiritual thirst.  In a culture like ours, acknowledging the existence of an invisible world is the biggest gap to cross.  Once a person openly wonders about the existence of God and such issues—at that point I believe Christianity stands up rather well.  Francis Spufford’s book Unapologetic does a good job of demonstrating to nonbelievers how essential Christian beliefs can satisfy the ultimate questions.

Should the Church be hanging on to its claims of exclusivity?

I’ll leave the specifics of that question to the theologians.  I don’t really get into such issues.  My main concern is grace.  For those who do emphasise exclusivity, do we do so in a grace-filled manner?  How do we treat those who strongly disagree, the “cultured despisers” of faith?  That’s what I speak to.  Grace is put to the test when you’re around people who view you as bigoted and intolerant.  It takes little grace to relate to people who think and look like you.  What about people we morally disapprove of?  How do we show them grace?

What do you hope people take away from ‘Vanishing Grace’?

The book begins with the diagnosis of a problem.  Surveys show without question that Christians are increasingly perceived as irrelevant or a negative force in society.  Yet I did not want to write a scolding book.  I truly believe we do have Living Water that can quench thirst, that the gospel is truly Good News.  I hope a person who reads Vanishing Grace has an elevated sense that faith matters, to the individual and the entire society—and then is encouraged to put such a belief into practice.  Hebrews 12:15 says it simply, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.”  That’s a fine mission statement for the contemporary church.  We won’t clean up all evil, nor will we convert the whole world.  That’s not our job.  We can, however, see to it that no one misses God’s grace.

Pre-order ‘Vanishing Grace’ for just £9.99 (RRP £12.99) – released 11th September 2014

Assessing Rowan’s Rule

Rowan William’s tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury coincided with some of the most turbulent years in global Anglicanism with numerous ethical and moral issues threatening to tear the communion apart. Many wonder whether the thoughtful, softly-spoken academic was up to the task of handling the maelstrom of controversy. Now, 18 months on from his retirement as Archbishop, Rupert Shortt’s fully revised biography asks searching questions about the man behind numerous media caricatures.

Buy Rowan’s Rule for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

Buy 'Rowan's Rule' for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

Buy ‘Rowan’s Rule’ for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

How do you view the role of biographer, especially of a living person?

My impulse was to be more of a reporter and analyst than a strong advocate. Although I think it’s clear from the text that I admire Rowan Williams deeply in many ways, I don’t think he’s infallible and didn’t want to ram opinions down the reader’s throat. A range of verdicts on my subject is set out. The question is right in hinting that this can be especially tricky when one is writing about a living person. Fortunately, Dr Williams is not a back-seat driver.

Did you find a tension between being a sympathetic chronicler and objective biographer?

The second answer feeds into the first. I encountered some fairly strong criticism of my subject, especially regarding his work as a bishop, when strategy and day-to-day management in the Monmouth diocese left something to be desired. I felt that this had to be reported openly.

In the chapter ‘God and Mammon’ you describe a number of scenes in which he appears burdened by his office – would you say it is too strong to say he regrets accepting the appointment?

No. Although he hated the job in some ways, I think it was part of his understanding of his vocation to believe that God wanted him to carry this burden.

Rupert Shortt

Rupert Shortt

Do you think that his time as Archbishop of Canterbury has eclipsed his wider work in theology and Christian thought?

Being Archbishop was a good springboard for raising his profile as a thinker in my view. It was very good for the Church of England, and Anglicanism in general, to have a public intellectual capable of addressing a variety of constituencies – secularists; those of other faiths, and members of other churches (especially Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox).

How do you think history will judge Rowan’s time as Archbishop?

My book pivots on a fundamental question: whether it was right for a man of such transparent gentleness and godliness to hold such a political job as Archbishop of Canterbury. Some judge that he lacked the grit necessary for the job. Others would say that this misses the point, because he recast ideas about leadership, taking his models from the gospel, rather than from more conventional templates. On balance I feel that his tenure was a great blessing to the Church (I write as a Catholic with a lifelong admiration for Anglicanism), even if some mistakes – especially over the women-bishops legislation – were made along the way.

Buy Rowan’s Rule for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)