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Holiday Reading

I have noticed that friends have been posting pictures of their holiday reading on social media.

Some of these lists are full of worthy Christian books (one pastor had even packed my God is in the House to read on the beach!) While I do read Christian books on holiday, my main reading matter is secular. One of the books I packed this year was a fascinating history book: Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad: A Family Memoir of Miraculous Survival by Daniel Finkelstein.

It is an enthralling story of how the author’s Jewish parents managed to get through the Second World War and eventually end up living in North London. This book is storytelling at its very best.

In one of the photograph sections there is a photograph of the author’s mother next to a photograph of Anne Frank. They are sitting behind what looks like identical desks in a very similar classroom. They were in fact in the same school together. Later in the war they saw each other through a fence at the Belsen concentration camp. His mother tried to throw some food over to Anne and her sister Margot, but it was intercepted by another inmate. The author’s mother survived; Anne did not.

Stories like this are full of life, love and loss. Survival turns on a knife’s edge as life-determining events turn in or against our favour. At times it seems that those who live and die relies on a simple twist of fate, or the whim of a sadistic official.

I find that books like this are important for me to read as a human being. It is essential that we remember these stories and try to learn from them. As a preacher they remind me of the importance having a robust theology of evil and hope, sin and redemption.

One of the other books I packed was the novel Yellowface by Rebecca F. Fuang. This literary thriller begins with a meeting between two writers who studied creative together at university. Both have been published but one has experienced phenomenal success. They have a few drinks at the apartment of Athena, the more successful author, followed by homemade pancakes. Athena chokes on her pancake. June, the other author, tries unsuccessfully to administer the Heimlich Manoeuvre and Athena dies.

While waiting for the police to arrive June finds a completed first draft of Athena’s latest novel next to her typewriter. Because Athena used a conventional typewriter rather than a computer, this was the only copy. June puts the manuscript and some other papers in her backpack. June then revises and publishes the book as her own. The book is an instant success, but then internet trolls begin to suggest that the work has been stolen from Athena. The story relates how June’s life slowly unravels after this.

Like all preachers I am a furious borrower. I try to acknowledge my borrowings but sometimes a turn of phrase or an illustration becomes so embedded in our memory that it becomes so much a part of us that it seems like ours.

Preachers: read stories that stimulate and feed the imagination. Your congregations will be grateful when they hear sermons that are sprinkled with stories that serve the proclamation of the gospel.

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