As I wrap this little sequence of ruthless self-exposure up, various omissions and oddities have occurred to me, so the easiest thing is probably to string them together in a miscellany that’s almost Pauline in its randomness (though naturally without his claims to authority). Read more
It’s been very moving to have messages in the last few days about my black dog posts. Thank you! At least it shows that it’s been worth it. As I mentioned in the first post, I’m genuinely not motivated by the kind of confessional culture that is all around us; still less am I trying to elicit sympathy. And I’m definitely not seeking advice or support (kind though some offers have been!). It is only to help those who don’t quite have the words for this yet. But I do realise that it’s raised lots of questions for some… Read more
I touched on the surprisingly physical reality of the black dog yesterday. It’s surprising, because, of course, depression is as much about emotional pain and scars as anything else. But here’s the really weird thing: the emotional anguish actually feels physical at times. I think I really get now why people talk about feeling heart-sick. It is a piercing constant, perhaps a little like having emotional toothache. Read more
The thing about volcanoes is that they’re as immovable as mountains. Rock solid in fact. But of course that’s the deception of appearances. And in geological terms, they’re savage beasts, easily provoked to ire by invisible tectonic interference.
It probably seems a totally incongruous metaphor for the Black Dog – but probably only to those whom he’s never pursued. Because there is something so irrational, so mysterious, so dark even about so-called depression that it is as destabilising as a major geological event. Read more
Poets and artists have had it. Leaders and teachers have had it. Normal and extraordinary people have had it. For all I know, even educated fleas have had it.
All kinds of stats get flung around about the black dog (1 in 4 so they say??) but who knows? What matters is not the exact numbers but how commonplace it is – and yet how extraordinarily varied. Read more
Well, you work on one book for 5 years, and another one for 5 months, and whaddaya know – they appear on the same day! Well in the UK at least. Tim, the noble overlord of the Good Book Co had asked me to contribute to their little series, Questions Christians Ask a while back. But because a big annual conference in London had the issue of human nature as its main theme, the plan was to work on getting this out in time. Read more
We could call them the ‘pastor’s power pitfalls.’ There are many. Too many. It’s actually scary how much power a pastor wields – for good… and ill. It’s one of the key issues that has preoccupied me a lot about in the last few years while writing my culture of suspicion book (out VERY soon at all GOOD bookshops!). And I’ve witnessed (and struggled) under power-trip pastors. The worst thing, though, is how blissfully unaware they are of it. As one friend said of a church boss he struggled under for several years, “he’s like a drunk driver who never looks in the rear-view mirror.” Read more
Depression isolates and introverts. It’s a brutally vicious circle. And so when one occasionally gets swept up by outbreaks of energy, they are often focused on desperately trying to make connections beyond oneself. It might be music; it might be a conversation with someone who gets it with minimal explanation; it might be words on a page. I love that line from Shadowlands, William Nicholson’s TV play (turned into a stage play and then feature film) about C. S. Lewis’s grief for his late wife Joy (though bear in mind that the film really misses a lot of the theological nuance of the play, inevitably): Read more
It wasn’t a plan particularly, but then that’s part of the joy of books – I never have a plan for what I’m going to sink my teeth into next. It is usually just a matter of wanting something different from the one before.
But a couple of books recently have done that self-referential thing: they’re books about books (a bit like U2’s recent self-referential album, I suppose). And it got me thinking about the other books I’ve loved that have done this. Read more
There’s a surprising amount of the natural world on Songs of Innocence, just as there was in fact in No Line on the Horizon (the title kind of gives that away, I suppose). Nature has always provided poetic inspiration, but perhaps it’s not the most common imagery for rock ‘n roll. (Though having said that, you can no doubt think of countless counter-examples. Please don’t all write at once.)
So here’s just a quick thumbnail sketch of some of the key nature metaphors: Read more
I have stood at the very spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot by Gavrilo Princip 100 years ago. And the impossible “What If” question occurred to me even then. So when I noticed that eminent historian Ned Lebow had published an examination of the issue, I leapt at it. The assassination was such a fluke, so preventable, so absurd that the yearning for a different outcome of that moment is great. As he says at the start (having summarised some of the counterfactual options),
None of these what-ifs strains our understanding of the world because most royal processions do not stray from their intended routes, and most security details would have rushed the archduke and his wife to safety at the first signs of violence. In this instance, the so-called factual, not the counterfactual, is what strikes us as unrealistic and incredible. (p16) Read more
This is one of my favourite short, and true, stories. It comes from the pen of the wondrous Douglas Adams, he of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame. It needs little explanation or introduction. But it is the perfect illustration of all kinds of self-delusions and self-righteousness. Read more
C. S. Lewis was a great burster of pride’s balloons. His Screwtape Letters are a masterful model in how to do that. But he was only able to take aim with such accuracy that because he had come face to face with his own pride. And these two poems illustrate that perfectly. They take seriously the distorting effects of our own self-centredness, which warp our perception of reality and God, even when we pray. Read more
I sometimes wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far. People are too quick to reduce societies to guilt- or shame-cultures, on the convenient premise that both concepts are relative and subjective. Thus we can evolve beyond such antediluvian notions. However, while it’s true that in western Protestantism we spend a great deal of time facing up to the realities of guilt (and rightly so, where it is genuine rather than subjective or self-imagined), what of shame? We can’t hide behind not being a shame-culture. Read more
It’s easy to forget the psychobabble jargon that is now so part of everyday parlance had its origins in serious academic discourse. It’s pretty obvious when you stop to think about it, because all terms, metaphors and concepts must have their origins somewhere. It only takes a few decades or even years before what starts confined to the lecture room ends up on the street (whether the discipline be philosophy, theology, or psychology). What is scary is how many of the psychological assumptions that we take for granted today are built on such flimsy foundations. That is the main thrust of the first half of Glynn Harrison‘s important new book, The Big Ego Trip. Read more
Tom Wright wrote a bit of a blinder in the Guardian last week on the media’s apparent hypocrisy about hypocrisy – and he made some fair points. It certainly chimed with me at a number of levels, and I could certainly feel a post brewing. Jennie Pollock, however, gave a very thoughtful riposte on her blog, simply pointing out that church and media are not on a level playing field – the Church has an obligation to the Spirit to produce His fruit. She’s onto something there; I’m pretty sure she’s right to challenge Wright.
We’ve all had that frustration of suddenly realising the mot juste to clinch an argument … long after it has been lost and forgotten. ‘If only I’d thought of saying …’ or words to that effect. (And as Don Carson once pointed out, we never lose arguments during their mental rerun.) Well, this is essential what Chris Russell has done in his Ten Letters: to be delivered in the event of my death (DLT, 2012). Though I’m being harsh – to reduce this extraordinary book to argument-clinching zingers after the event is very unfair. These letters are more like deep pastoral meditations after encounters, events, conversations which subsequently required extended reflection and heart-searching
It’s been a germ of an idea for ages, but at last it’s finally come about. Q now has a podcast. Hurrah. I can just sense the infectious excitement simply oozing throughout cyberspace. But there are loads of fascinating people out there: hearing how a few live out their lives and passions ought to be fun. Doncha think?
Well, whatever you feel about the prospect of Q podcasts in general, the inaugural episode in particular is definitely exciting because last week, I had the chance to record a conversation with the very talented and thought-provoking Dutch filmmaker, Jaap van Heusden. Here is the link on iTunes (or if you don’t have that, direct through Jellycast) Read more
I’d heard good things of this book: Rowan Williams’ surprisingly readable appreciation of CS Lewis’ Narnia, The Lion’s World. It seemed appropriate to move on to this having relished Francis Spufford’s recreation of his childhood delight in Narnia. And there are loads of good things about it for he is simply seeking to be an exegete of Lewis’ creativity. I especially appreciated this comment on how the whole experiment works (and thus why it is inappropriate to squeeze details too much into an allegorical mould).