James’s Blog: The Stone & The Seed.

James’s Blog:  The Stone & The Seed.

(I had an idea, which became this little poem.  If I was an illustrator of any talent I would probably turn it into a children’s picture book.)

 

The paving stone,

set hard and set proud,

said, “I can’t be moved

from my home in the ground.”

 

“Beneath me the earth,

I crush all the life,

no root can take hold

with no hope and no light.”

 

But a small, humble seed

a challenge did make:

“Heavy you may be,

but you’ve made a mistake.”

 

The stone laughed out loud

at the tiny thing’s cheek,

“You can’t lift me up!

You’re too small and too weak!”

 

“It may take some time,”

the seed did reply,

“but I’m not stuck here,

for my goal is the sky!”

 

The years went on by

while the seed sought a gap,

the stone did not know

of the tiny thing’s trap.

 

And go visit now,

this is what you will see,

a humbled, broke stone

that’s been split by a tree.

James’s Blog: Anyone for Seconds?

James’s Blog:  Anyone for Seconds?

Daisy wiped the tear from her cheek with a perfect white handkerchief.

“I know you all understand my struggle. It’s just so…so hard,” she said. “Oh, that sounds silly. To say it’s ‘hard’. I just don’t know any other word.”

“It’s a perfectly good word,” said Thomas, reaching out and patting her on the shoulder.

“And it’s perfectly accurate,” said Maureen, her lips stretched in a thin line. Daisy nodded glumly.

Maureen continued. “That’s why we’re here. To support and help one another. We all understand. We ‘re all in the same boat here at the Over Eighteens.”

The Over Eighteens had been meeting weekly at Thomas’s house for the past year. There were seven of them. Daisy, Maureen and, of course, Thomas were the founding members. Billy (no-one called him William) and his wife Trish joined soon after, shortly followed by George. Jayne (yes, that was how she spelled it) was new to the group. This was her first meeting.

Every Thursday morning they gathered around the coffee table in Thomas’s lounge, squeezed on sofas (and chairs brought in from the dining room) and encouraged one another. That was the purpose of the group, to share and encourage, and to share and encourage in one particular struggle. The name Over Eighteens referred not to age, but to weight. The only thing in the group that could be called thin was Maureen’s lips. Everyone bore the same burden, of struggling with their size.

Thomas glanced at his watch.

“I think that’s enough for today.” He looked over at Jayne. “It’s been excellent to have you here this morning, Jayne. We always finish with a…well, I guess you could call it a creed of sorts. We say it together, you know, to make us all feel like we’re united in this.”

Jayne nodded nervously.

“Just listen, and you’ll pick it up soon enough,” Thomas said, nodding at the rest of the group.

“We agree that we’re overweight,” the group said, in unison. “But we don’t want to be. We’d like to be thin. In the meantime, we will support each other, listen to each other’s struggles without judgement, encourage each other and look forward to the day when we are all our perfect weight.”

Silence settled on the thoughtful group.

“Now,” said Thomas, clapping his hands together, “who wants a cup of tea?”

There was a chorus of responses as Thomas stood up and moved through to the kitchen.

“You should come over for dinner sometime, love,” said Trish, smiling at Jayne.

“That would be nice, “ said Jayne, smiling back.

“Cor, yes, I love it when we have guests,” said Billy. “Trish always goes to town with the deserts!”

“I’m surprised you have any room left for desert,” interjected George. “After all, I saw how much you put away at the All You Can Eat Pizza Buffet yesterday!”

“You can talk!” said Billy, laughing.

Thomas returned from kitchen.

“Kettle’s on,” he said, placing a huge, heavy plate on the coffee table. On the plate was the biggest chocolate cake that Jayne had ever seen. “Who wants a slice?”

Hands shot up around the room. Jayne kept her hand down.

“Ummmmm,” she said, as though she wanted to say something but wasn’t sure how to begin.

“Go on,” said Maureen, smiling with those thin lips. “Have some. Thomas is a fantastic baker.”

“I’m sure he is, but…” Jayne stopped.

“But what?” said Daisy.

“Well, shouldn’t we…well, I’m trying to diet.” Jayne bowed her head, as though she’d confessed to some awful crime.

“Oh, of course you are,” said George. “We’re all trying to diet, aren’t we?”

Ernest nods and grunts of agreement.

“The thing is,” said Daisy. Jayne looked up to see her wiping a thick smear of chocolate icing from her cheek with that no-longer perfect white handkerchief. “The thing is, that it’s difficult, isn’t it?”

More nods and grunts.

“After all, that’s why we’re here. Because it’s hard, as Daisy said earlier,” said Thomas.

“We’re all in favour of diets. That’s what we’re all after – the ultimate goal is losing weight – but it’s not quite that simple, is it?” said Daisy.

“I don’t know what I’d do without this group,” said Trish, through a mouthful of smushed chocolate cake, “to lift my spirits and help me feel better about things.”

“That’s right,” said Thomas, nodding. “That’s absolutely right.”

Jayne looked around at the group, as they grinned at her, encouragingly. She knew that she would feel more encouraged if they didn’t all have chocolate-stained teeth. She made a decision.

“It’s been lovely to meet you all,” Jayne said, standing up. “But I have to go now. The truth is, I think I’m in the wrong group.”

The gathering sat in silence as she left the room. After a short moment they heard the front door slam.

“That’s a shame,” said Thomas. “Now, who’s for seconds?”

James’s Blog: Death by Watching.

James’s Blog:  Death by Watching.

Above the waist Philip oozed calm confidence, but underneath the desk his foot tapped like a woodpecker. Opposite him, the young executive leaned back in his swivel chair, Philip’s CV in one hand and a twirling pen in the other.

“I see that you’ve got plenty of experience in television, Mr Hendrickson.” Read more

James’s Blog: The Sermon as Art.

James’s Blog:  The Sermon as Art.

Over the years, the line between writing a story and preparing a sermon has become blurred. These days, I tend to take the same approach with both, which means that I spend longer editing a sermon than writing it in the first place. I revisit it frequently, toying with the order of paragraphs, or searching for exactly the right image or turn of phrase.

It’s not about ‘trying to be clever’.  The sermon – like every effort to communicate – is actually a work of art, and needs to be treated as such.

Art can be a spiritual experience for people. A poem, painting, story, film or sculpture has the power to give people a taste of what lies beyond themselves. This is one of the ways in which God has weaved revelation into the fabric of what it means to be human. The sermon is unique among art in that the explicit contract between artist and audience is that God is front and centre. Some people turn hostile if they suspect that you’re trying to sneak God into areas where He’s forbidden, but with the sermon you’re allowed to be blunt.

Because of this, I find myself squirming in the pew if I suspect that I’m listening to a preacher who takes more care over constructing e-mails than he does over sermons.

“It’s about God. It’s got nothing to do with me” is an excuse used by sometimes well-meaning, sometimes lazy preachers who think that God is a KitchenAid mixer – you just throw in the ingredients, and leave Him to it. This approach denies one of the fundamental concepts of the Bible, namely that God, as an act of love, freely delegates to us responsibility for His reputation and message.

It’s got nothing to do with human effort or creative manipulation, rather it recognises that art and communication have divinely-ordained rules. Don’t tell me that Jesus, who painted pictures of plank-eyed people, camels squeezing through needles, and angry vineyard workers didn’t take how he communicated at least as seriously as what he communicated.

I’m not saying that every preacher needs to be a poet, or that clever structure is an adequate substitute for a vibrant relationship with God. What I am saying is that every preacher needs to realise that things like language and format actually matter. A preacher doesn’t need to succeed in creating art, but a preacher needs to at least try.

James’s Blog: Creating Life.

James’s Blog:  Creating Life.

I really needed my character to make that phone call, but it just wasn’t working. The story demanded that he pick up the phone and dial those numbers, but it didn’t feel right. So what do I do now, when I have a story, but a character who doesn’t want to play ball? “All right,” I said to my character, “what do you want to do then?” You can imagine my shock and disappointment when he took that scrap of paper with the phone number on it, scrunched it up and threw it in the bin. “What are you doing?” I said, “I need you to phone that number!” But it was no good. He wasn’t going to make the call. Read more

James’s Blog: The Road to Hell.

James’s Blog:  The Road to Hell.

I saw a man throwing a child at the sun.

“Why are you doing that?” I said.

“I’m helping him. He told me that he was cold,” the man said.

I looked at the bruised child on the floor.

“I think he needs to go to the hospital,” I said.

“Sure,” said the man, lifting the child above his head once more.  “Which direction is the hospital?”

James’s Blog: A Metaphor.

James’s Blog:  A Metaphor.

There was once a boy who wanted to make a difference. He worked hard at this, but was often left frustrated by how little change he saw. On one particularly frustrating day, he took a scrap of paper, wrote on it TRUST IN JESUS, rolled it up and put it in an empty glass bottle. Then he took that bottle down to the beach and threw it into the sea as hard as he could.  It didn’t really make him feel any better, but at least, he thought, he was doing something. Read more

James’s Blog: For Sale.

James’s Blog:  For Sale.

I’ve written briefly about the concept of Christian horror in my blog on Charles Williams and I’ve also mentioned my dalliance with Microfiction.  The two intersect on a website that I occasionally contributed to – MicroHorror.

MicroHorror is now no longer live, and I hadn’t written anything for it in nearly four years, but buried on there is my one attempt to communicate something meaningful through horror.  It’s a mere 200 words, and it’s called ‘For Sale’.

Come… on… MOVE… you… son… of… a…

Muscles bulged but the jar lid remained unrepentant. This was getting embarrassing. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, such a simple idea. Offer to open the new jar for the girl in the kitchen. Impress the girl of his dreams. She didn’t look impressed right now. She looked bored.

I… can’t… believe… this… is… happening…

Still no movement. Not even a fraction of a fraction. The girl had stopped looking bored and was now beginning to look faintly amused. He didn’t know which was worse.

She’s… laughing… at… me… please… open… please… I’ll… do… anything…

Suddenly a hissing, slithering voice whispered in the silence, in the deepest backdrop of his mind.

“Anything?”

***
In the darkness of the under realm, the two demons put the finishing touches to the contract.

“…for the ability to open a jar of sun-dried tomatoes? Really?”

The first demon sounded shocked and a little disgusted. The second demon nodded dolefully.

“There’s no challenge these days. It’s just not fun anymore,” he moaned. The first demon finished the document with a flourish of his pen, and slowly shook his head.

“You know what I reckon? I reckon those humans have stopped taking their souls seriously.”

James’s Blog: Tolstoy’s Greedy Farmer.

James’s Blog:  Tolstoy’s Greedy Farmer.

There’s a story by Leo Tolstoy about a peasant farmer who had done well in life, but wanted more. One day someone made him an offer. For 1000 Roubles the farmer could have as much land as he wanted, provided that he was able to walk around it in a day. The only condition of the deal was that he must be back where he started from by the time that the sun set.

Of course, he set out early the next morning moving as quickly as he could. At midday he decided that he would keep walking, and simply make sure that he moved faster on his return journey. By mid afternoon he had walked a great distance, but he realised that he would lose it all if he didn’t get back and that he hadn’t left himself much time. He retraced his steps, running and running, trying to return to the starting line before the sun went down.

Just as the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon he came within sight of where he had started, so he pushed himself for the final few minutes, despite his complaining body. He staggered across the line, just as the sun set, and then promptly collapsed and died of exhaustion.

His servants dug him a grave, about six feet long by three feet wide. Tolstoy called his story ‘How Much Land Does a Man Need?’

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