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I’m a bit of a fits and starts reader when it comes to ‘proper’ books. My mother says I have ‘narrative hunger’, which means I will read a crisp packet just to keep words flowing through my head. These days the internet seems to fill that gap, and my reading of books has dropped off. But this summer I really enjoyed getting back to real reading and I’m hoping to continue this pattern as the holidays become a dim memory.

The Lord must have known my need to read, and not just read escapist fiction, and so somehow I have ended up convening a small study group of women from our church, two of whom were confirmed just the other weekend. Looking around for a confirmation gift for them, I came across a fairly new book by Australian evangelist John Chapman.

‘Chappo’ is a wonderfully engaging and straightforward communicator and I’ve loved listening to him (sermon tapes on holiness and evangelism) and reading his books (especially ‘Know and Tell the Gospel’) over the years. The book I chose for our friends – and then this little group – is called ‘A Foot in Two Worlds’. Its subtitle is ‘The Joy and Struggle of the Normal Christian Life’.

I’m now two chapters in, and I thought I’d try and summarise my reading on the blog, so I can be really clear when I lead our discussion tonight. The book very helpfully comes with a discussion guide at the back, which is a great boon for my fuzzy head.

The book has only seven chapters, and with the first and last chapters being introduction and summary. This means we should be able to finish it over five sessions, which I think is a manageable course length.

Chapter 1: Christianity is not for wimps

Chappo begins with the joys of the Christian life, reminding us that when we become Christians, God forgets our past, giving us continuous forgiveness and sending the Holy Spirit to live with us.

But he also gives us the full picture:

Right from the beginning, I also found living as a Christian much more difficult than I had imagined… Some days I felt overwhelmed. It seemed an endless grind…

He describes us as ‘people with a foot in two worlds’:

We have one foot firmly planted in this world and, at the same time, one foot planted in the world to come, where everything is perfect.

Chapter 2: This Present World

In his second chapter, Chappo helps us to think about the fallen world we live in, remembering how it is good but fallen, firstly with a brief sweep through Genesis 1-3. He also has a good section on the devil, giving some nicely alliterating points about the Father of Lies:

  1. He deludes us
  2. He discourages us
  3. He denounces us
  4. He diverts us
  5. His demise is sure

So he summarises

This…world. While it is good, it isn’t good enough. I am meant to be dissatisfied. Thankfully that isn’t all there is.

I am very much looking forward to discussing this with our little group. Chappo doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of the Christian life, but nor does he ignore its joys. There’s lots to talk about here.

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Home from Abroad is that lovely poem by Laurie Lee that I learnt by heart for O Level Eng Lit. And here I am, skin not so much ‘well oiled by wines of the Levant’ as lightly tanned by Brittany sun… and rain.

I didn’t advertise my absence, though the more eagle eyed of you may have noticed a reduction in tweeting. I was a little concerned about alerting people on the internet to an empty(ish) Vicarage. As it happens, the internet was not what people were looking at.

Ha! He didn't get in.

It seems that some dodgy characters were observing a car with a roof box disappearing from our drive. And hadn’t noticed that our Ministry Trainee/lodger Happy was late back the day we left and out early the next. He had church folk over to dinner that evening and as they were leaving, there was a loud banging noise at our family room window.

Happy went into the room and was able to see at close hand a man with a hammer and chisel attempting to get in through the sash windows. When he saw Happy he seemed rather surprised. He had an accomplice with him in the garden and they both bolted off immediately.

They wouldn’t have had much luck getting in, as the windows are securely locked, so they’d have had to dismantle the structure of the window to fit through. But obviously it was pretty alarming for Happy. Thankfully, church family have been brilliant – our thoughtful Lay Reader parked her car in the drive for the remainder of our absence, and lots of folk have been phoning and calling in.

Although Happy got a good look at the chap at the window, he didn’t recognise him from our locality, and the police said the information would just remain on file.

Happy has also had Gone on the doorstep singing loudly at 6am, although he left and hasn’t returned. Not as bad as when we were on hols last year and Polly was confronted by a very nasty mess left by Gone on the doorstep, two days in a row. Our poor lodgers seem to really have a rough time when we go away.

We are grateful to God that the burglars didn’t get in, and that Happy was okay. We are also praying for our neighbourhood as crime levels seem to be increasing – this week a lady in our congregation was burgled by men who came to the door pretending to be from the council. We are hearing more and more about this type of crime. We are praying that people would be made new and stop stealing. Do pray with us.

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What with my first school volunteering sessions and tummy bugs (the Joker had it and then gave it to me – yuck) last week, posting has been a bit slack and now I’m off on a minister’s wives’ conference for most of this week. I’m looking forward to spending the next few days thinking about God and catching up with some old friends. So all the stuff I’ve been thinking about posting will have to wait a few days. I had thought I might blog from the last conference I was on, but once I was there I remembered that there’s far too much encouraging and interesting talking to do.

In the meantime, just wanted to note that a Home Office report issued last week agrees with me about Lads’ Mags (see my sidebox on the subject). Mind you, it’s funny how the Times is happy to link to the smutty mag Nuts on their webpage. Maybe they get advertising money for click throughs.

Don't shop here unless you want an eyeful

The supermarkets seem to have already clocked that these mags are unsuitable for kids and are now shielding them and placing them on the top shelves. Not, alas, the music and media chain HMV, it seems.

The Vicar and I were in their Birmingham Bullring shop recently and were confronted by a display of Zoo etc as we queued to pay up. I complained to the assistant who served us, but was rather batted off as he agreed with me but didn’t offer to refer the matter to the manager.

HMV is a shop much used by teenagers, and in Birmingham they force their customers to confront this porn – it’s not an option since the mags are right by the tills. I’ve not written to them yet, but I guess I should take the step. They don’t make it easy – there’s no customer service complaints email address on their website (rather like HMRC, but that’s another story). I like shopping at HMV, but I’ll not be able to until the porn is removed from the checkout.

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Last night the lovely Doctor came and had tea with us. She’s on a placement in Community Paediatrics at the moment, where a lot of her time is spent with children with behavioural problems. Many are diagnosed with ADHD.

The Doctor had much sympathy with my theory about the high prevalence of ADHD diagnoses in the inner city. Round here almost every other child seems to have ADHD. I know that it is a real problem for some kids. But I also see a big issue with sleep that I think needs fixing.

A good few mums I’ve talked to don’t ‘do bedtime’ with their children. They ‘send them up to bed’ where they watch the telly until they fall asleep. Or they let them keep going until they conk out. And often that’s 9 or 10 o’clock – for a five year old. There seems to be an inclination to let the children direct their own sleep patterns.

But my kids would never go to bed by themselves if I didn’t force them to. And all three, including the now eight year old Queen, need Mum or Dad up at their bedside tucking them in and saying goodnight and a blessing before they’ll give up the fight. I’ve tried it with the Queen recently. ‘Up you go to bed’ I say. And there she is again, lurking at the bottom of the stairs.

My kids seem to need lots of sleep – 11 1/2 hours for the Queen (age 8 1/2), 12 hours for the Joker (age 7) and 12 1/2 hours for the Engineer (age 5). That looks like it’s more than what seems to be recommended. And you know what trouble I have getting them up in the mornings, even when I have put them to bed at an approximately appropriate time. So I wonder if the lateness issue with many kids at our school is actually a bedtime issue. They say that ‘the battle of the blankets is won the night before’ (that’s the same people who told me about Christians on their way to heaven btw).

In many Asian and African cultures, the late bedtime seems to be a norm. Kids often go to bed at the same time as their parents. So it’s not always obvious how to change that in a multi cultural area. But they must be growing up sleep deprived and a recent article I read indicates that a lack of sleep has a severe effect on intelligence, behaviour and obesity – which are just the problems we see all too frequently in the inner city.

Time for everyone to go to bed, I think.

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A Happy 2010 to everyone. All is vaguely peaceful in the Vicarage this morning, although the Queen has just declared herself ‘bored’. Christmas as a Vicar (and family) is a lot more full on than as a Curate. The Vicar had seven (or was it eight? I rather lost track) talks to prepare and deliver in the space of about ten days. My days were filled with baking, wrapping and tidying – we were out at events (nativity plays, school fairs etc) and hosting them too.

So in the space between Christmas and New Year, we’ve taken some downtime. The Vicar led and preached at a service on 27th December, but other than that we’ve been on holiday at home. It’s been made special this year by old friends visiting from Australia who have children around the same age as ours.

Borneo Girl and I were in the Brownies together so we go waaaay back. Her daughter and the Queen are the same age and have played together intensively for four days. Hence the boredness of the Queen. Our friends left a whole hour ago. Borneo Girl has promised me some Aussie recipes, so I’ll be blogging those this year.

Now everything is quiet here I am going to get my devotional life back in the groove. When I read that there was a bible reading plan for shirkers and slackers, I knew it was for me. So I’ve printed it out and I’m off to read some Matthew (it is Friday, isn’t it?).

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