views, reviews and previews

DAVID HOCKNEY R.A.

A Bigger Picture

Royal Academy

21 January–9 April 2012

Admission £14, concessions available

AND NOT just a bigger picture, but a loud and colourful picture too. And one which has been brought to us reverentially by the artist’s acolytes in the media, and pooh-poohed by less favoured journalists. David Hockney O.M., R.A., is good at fame. By common consent he is also a fine draughtsman. But in this show of more than a hundred and fifty works, some of which are very big indeed, there are hardly any drawings. What we do have are sketches in acrylic and on iPad and iPhone, first drafts and final drafts, and films shot simultaneously on eighteen cameras. Most of the works were made in the last eight years.

The show starts with Thixendale Trees, a set of four paintings showing the said trees in each of the four seasons. Each painting is made up of eight canvasses. They introduce us to what will be the preoccupations of the artist: Yorkshire, size, trees, time and atmosphere. But, before we get into the Yorkshire paintings proper, there is a brief retrospective of earlier landscapes. These include some of Hockney’s first works, such as the 1956 Bolton Junction, Eccles~eld which tells you all you need to know about why Hockney moved to California. The earlier works are dominated by the 1998 A Closer Grand Canyon, a huge painting whose subtlety is hidden by its size and garishness. Fortunately you can view it from two galleries distance and then the warmth of the red stone and the delicate skyline blue are very appealing. Altogether easier to see is the 1986 photomontage, Pear Blossom Highway, which with its multiple viewpoints anticipates the later films.

Viewpoint is important in this show. Hockney explored the possibility that some of the Old Masters used optical aids for their single viewpoint works in his 2001 book Secret Knowledge. Many of his works here are a post-2001 explosion of energy centred on multiple viewpoints. The strongest of these are the films but many of the paintings

take on the skewed perspectives which the Fauves learnt from Japanese woodcuts. Further influence from that period is found in the largest painting in the show, the 32 canvas The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven). Here Hockney has painted a tight line of trees in leaf, each cut off at the top border in the Japanese style. The warehouse gigantism, what James Bond might have described as a typically Oriental disregard for the human, is modified by Pop Art colours and playfulness but it is not an easy picture to warm to. Judged by what people were looking at, big does not equal beautiful.

The crowds – and this is a very popular show – go for the films and the iPads. And why not? Hockney enjoys new technology and it is interesting to see how he has moved from first impressions to final thoughts. Whether or not these sketches will be treated like other artists’ sketches and become the preserve of connoisseurs, time will tell. For now, as a daughter put it, it is surprising Hockney hasn’t spotted the commercial gap and started selling Hockney Apps.

As well as the fun of it, the technology is also a tool to help Hockney look. Sometimes this does not work out. On visits to the Frick he has had the chance to see how Claude Lorrain’s The Sermon on the Mount might appear if cleaned up. One room is devoted to his own versions of this work, first in sketches and finally in the large A Bigger Message. The guide to the show assures offended viewers that this picture does not represent anything religious. Rather it is an exploration of Claude’s techniques of space and placing. Which it may be, but when the Pop Art transposition puts Our Lord and Saviour on a cut down Ayer’s Rock it doesn’t work.

What does work are some – though not all since quality is compromised by quantity – of the paintings where Hockney has studied a view intensively en plein air almost day by day, month by month. Here the size of the canvas fits the Yorkshire countryside. If you have ever been for walks in Forestry Commission woods or along country roads you will find pictures here where the colours and the atmosphere and the composition suddenly bring home past memories and reconfigure them anew. This is where Hockney really succeeds. These paintings show warmth, light, damp, the isolation of a trunk amongst cut down wood, and the sense of seasons and lives passing. They need time to be appreciated. Give them that time because these paintings are what make the show worth visiting.

Owen Higgs

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Radio 4

9 February 2012

THOUGHT FOR the Day is one of those little oases of calm in a busy and troubled world. It is a reminder that we still live in a civilized country, making use of a wide range of contributors from a variety of faiths to offer a religious perspective on some aspect of society, culture or faith on a daily basis. Some time ago now, I caught a minute or two of the Bishop of Norwich’s Thought. He mentioned that country parishioner of the Curé d’Ars, who when asked how he prayed before the Blessed Sacrament every day responded, ‘I just look at him, and he looks back at me’. The story was not new to me, but it was good to be reminded of it as I scrabbled to eat my breakfast and put my shoes on simultaneously in order to be in time for Morning Prayer. Thought for the Day is a priceless gem of British broadcasting because it has the capacity to set one up for the entire day, and it is one of the reasons why the BBC is still the best broadcaster in the world. Or it was.

Imagine my surprise when I tuned in the day after the General Synod debated the Manchester motion to hear Lucy Winkett describe the composition and mechanics of the Synod and explain in forceful terms why women should – must? – be bishops. ‘Church politics are a murky business’, she began. It was the last uncontroversial statement that she made. The Church of England is ‘episcopally led, synodically governed’, she continued. True enough, except for when the House of Clergy decided to disobey their Archbishops by voting down an amendment tabled by them. No mention of that, of course. After some helpful (but hardly spiritual, or even Thoughtful) information about how the General Synod is composed, she went on to observe that for most people in the UK the issue is ‘not only incomprehensible, but corrosive to the Church’s reputation.’ I wondered here, as I have done many times before, how on this logic the Church has managed to survive for two thousand years without the ministry of ordained women, and how the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches continue to do so. There was then a diversion onto the subject of pink-coloured toy shops and the ‘fetishising of femininity’ which I must confess left me, humble provincial curate as I am, somewhat confused. But no matter: Lucy Winkett finished by reminding her listeners what the most pressing issues facing the Church might be: poverty, peacemaking, and the welfare of the planet. This is not the first time that this magazine has noted that the complete absence of reference to Christ, the Gospel or the salvation of souls from these priorities might have rather more to do with the increasing irrelevance of the Church of England than the absence of women among its episcopal ranks. In the prevailing world view, the way forward is not to dwell on such divisive topics as doctrine and Truth, but to work on the basis of ‘trust and living with difference’. From a leading proponent of legislation which will break promises and repeal supposedly permanent legislation, the appeal to trust rings a little hollow. There was also a factual inaccuracy in the broadcast: the Synod vote did not, as was claimed, ‘delay’ legislation until the summer: the legislation has not yet been properly drafted and so could not have been voted on at the February Synod (as set out in the document GS Misc 1012). So in a sense, this vote did quite the reverse, committing the Church of England to run forward like a bewildered lemming to the edge of the precipice instead of finding a way of avoiding the need for anyone to jump into oblivion.

But such details are irrelevant. Lucy Winkett is well known for her views, and she is entitled to them. The BBC is entitled to report those views through its news programmes. The issue here is the hijacking of a spiritual and religious item for nakedly political and self-interested purposes. The editors of the Today programme should be ashamed.

Ian McCormack

 

REJOICE N SING

Volume 3: Mass Settings for the Revised Translation

CJM Music, £10.99


THE BISHOP of London may not care for it, but the new translation of the Roman Rite of the Mass has unleashed a new wave of creativity among Church composers and musicians, as well as being a thing of great beauty in and of itself (rumours of a reworking of Dom Gregory Murray need not detain us too long). Among the best of these new settings must be some of those from CJM music, the Birmingham-based Roman Catholic liturgists and worship band.

This new CD contains six of their new Mass settings approved for use with the revised translation, including the Mass of St Bernadette, parts of which have been used to great acclaim at the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage for the past two years. This is, to my mind, everything that contemporary liturgical music ought to be: fun to sing, catchy, uplifting, and supportive of the important words which the music supports. In particular, the ‘Gloria’ is a wonderful piece of music.

The Mass is rendered here in a less ‘rocky’ version than that familiar to Walsingham youth pilgrims, with flute and mixed voices carrying the melody in most places. This means that it is less energetic, but this is useful in a sense, as it gives more idea of what it might sound like in the context of a Parish Mass without the resources of a full praise band. Indeed, with a little preparation, all of these settings are capable of being adopted for congregational use even where an organ is the only accompaniment available.

The other Masses included here were unknown to me before I received the CD. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Festive Mass’, which includes a simple, haunting melody for the penitential act (though with spoken ‘kyrie’ sentences, a device of which I am not particularly fond and which features in all six settings here) and an upbeat, march-like chorus to the Gloria, with the verses functioning like a trio.

This is not a CD to listen through in one sitting. EachMass setting is included in its entirety, including several options for the Memorial Acclamations and (in some cases) the Penitential Rite. So in one sense there is a lot of repetition; but the flip- side is that if a parish decides to use one or more of these new settings, then every possible combination which might be used will be found on this CD. None of the settings includes Gospel Acclamations for Lent; but one, the Mass of St Jude (which has something of a country and western feel to it!) does include music to accompany the Asperges – though not with the traditional words!

Rejoice ’n’ Sing Volume 3 will appeal to fans of CJM’s music, and will be useful to clergy and musicians considering what new settings to introduce as the new translation beds in and comes to feel normative. It is an essential accessory for those who decide to make use of one of the settings included here, and is in itself a wonderful advert for those settings.

Peter Westfield

 

A GRATEFUL HEART

Romantic Twentieth Century British Song Simon Lumby – tenor;

Helen Davies – piano

£10, available from Saint Aidan’s Church, Saint Oswald Road,

New Parks, Leicester, LE3 6RJ.

See also <www.saintaidansnewparks.com>

THIS COLLECTION of some of the best-known British songs of the last century has been re-released by Fr Simon Lumby as part of the fundraising efforts of St Aidan’s New Parks for works to their much-used parish hall. As such, readers of ND will no doubt be flocking to purchase their copies, and further comment seems unnecessary. However, should any need persuading; read on, ye hard of heart!

This is a superb selection of some of the very best that the genre and the period produced: Elgar’s Shepherd’s Song, Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel and Silent Noon and John Ireland’s Spring are well matched with Peter Warlock’s Sleep and Pretty Ring Time, Frank Bridge’s Love Went Ariding and Go Not Happy Day, the ever-boyish Roger Quilter’s Dream Valley and Love’s Philosophy and the tragic Ivor Gurney’s Down by the Sally Gardens and In Flanders. Less well known, but no less deserving of mention, are Michael Head’s Sweet Chance and Mary Plumstead’s A Grateful Heart.

Fresh out of college, the youthful Fr Lumby gives an impressive and versatile performance, harking back to best tradition of the great English tenors. His rendering of the songs is simultaneously warm, lyric and human, and – lest this reviewer forget the dues owed the accompanist – he is supported by some superb accompanying from Helen Davies.

It is, of course, inevitable that we should speculate what might have been had the young Fr Lumby taken a different path: on the strength of this disc there can be little doubt that a career in professional music would have been his for the taking. And so with that in mind, buy this disc and enjoy it; pray for the people of St Aidan’s New Parks, and give thanks to God for their priest.

Ambrose Goodall

 

THE LATIN CLERK

The Life, Work, and Travels of Adrian Fortescue

Aidan Nichols

The Lutterworth Press, 308pp, pbk

978 0718892746, £25

ADRIAN FORTESCUE is now remembered best as the cynosure of rubricians, whose Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described had a samizdat thrill in the theological colleges and seminaries of the 1980s, and is now once again the definitive vade mecum for every MC’s Extraordinary Form needs. The short Memoir published by his friend and fellow priest John Vance in 1924 told us that there was much more to Fortescue than sacristy pedantry: a prodigious learner of languages, traveller and scholar, he managed to live a singular intellectual and cultural life in the unpromising setting of English Catholicism during the pontificate of St Pius X.

Aidan Nichols’ new book is a comprehensive overview of Fortescue’s writings, and of his liturgical work at the mission for which he was responsible in Letchworth Garden City, or Rivalis Villa as he called it. Although he shared the name of the recusant martyr Blessed Adrian Fortescue, he was in fact the child of two Tractarian converts: his father the former Provost of Perth Cathedral, his mother once mother superior of one of Father Ignatius’ sisterhoods, who had the good fortune to inherit the estate of the last Earl of Thanet.

Both parents died when Fortescue was young, and his education at the Scots College in Rome and then in Innsbruck gave him an intellectual formation that enabled his scholarly enthusiasms to develop in happy isolation from those of his social and clerical peers in England.

What was important about his work? Firstly, he was an enterprising traveller in the Levant, who used his first-hand experience there to write and teach about the Oriental churches, particularly those in communion with Rome. Secondly, he was a well-informed liturgical scholar whose writings on the history of the Roman Rite, if not particularly original, did a lot to introduce

English readers to contemporary research, especially from the German-speaking world. Thirdly, he was a man of attractive (if sometimes rather faddish) cultural tastes, whose opinions on church architecture, chant, calligraphy, heraldry, the cut of vestments and so forth are an interesting counterpoint to those of his Anglican contemporary Percy Dearmer, and evidently fitted in well with the garden city ethos in which he found himself.

He affected to dislike his rubrical studies and claimed he only undertook them for money; the hints in the original foreword and footnotes of the Ceremonies that he did not find the atmosphere of the Roman Curia congenial are amply borne out here by testy correspondence about Monsignori who ‘lurk around the backyards and latrines of the Vatican, their greasy palms out-stretched for tips’.

This dislike for the atmosphere of the Roman court does not preclude some polemical writing, chiefly directed towards Anglicans, upholding the dogmatic claims of the Roman see. However, the most interesting chapter of the book deals with the acute difficulties that Fortescue experienced in submitting to the anti-modernist oath imposed by St Pius X in 1910. Influenced by the liberal Catholicism of St George Mivart, Fortescue found subscription to the condemnations of the historical-critical method of biblical study in the Papal decree Lamentabili particularly problematic, and he expresses himself frankly: ‘Does it really mean that one cannot be a member of the Church of Christ without being, as we are, absolutely at the mercy of an Italian Lunatic?’

Fortescue died at the beginning of 1923 after a brief and painful illness at the age of forty-nine, with neither his work on the Uniate churches nor his new edition of Boethius complete. Nichols reminds us that in his scholarship, his culture and his Englishness he is a significant contributor to the reviviscence of English Catholicism in the dull days of Cardinal Bourne. I would have appreciated some more colour in places: Vance’s Memoir mentions Fortescue’s pugilistic tendencies, and Nichols rather skates over the admission in a letter that he shot a man dead on one of his oriental holidays.

Apart from the ceremonial book, ploddingly revised by the dreary O’Connell, Fortescue’s writings are now nearly all superseded. An exception to this is his charming and sympathetic account of the Italo-Greeks, the little oriental ‘ordinariate’ in Sicily and Calabria, with its married priests and carefully nurtured liturgical patrimony, united with but not absorbed by the Latins who surround them.

Robin Ward

 

THE MOST HUMAN HUMAN

A Defence of Humanity in the Age of the Computer

Brian Christian

Viking, 310pp, hbk

978 0670920808, £18.99

THE TURING Test comes from a 1950 academic paper, entitled ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’, by the famous codebreaker and computer scientist, Alan Turing. Why do I tell you this? Because you will be hearing a great deal more about him, and the whole subject of Artificial Intelligence, when the centenary of his birth is celebrated later this year.

There is now an annual competition, for the Loebner Prize, which will be awarded to the first computer that passes this so-called Turing Test. The answer to the question, ‘Can a machine think?’ will not, so the great man argued, come from some complex philosophical explanation on the nature of thought. Instead, there should be a simple, practical test that deliberately avoids these distracting philosophical questions. Put humans and machines behind a suitable screen, ask a bunch of people to hold conversations with them, and then ask whether they can tell which were the humans and which were the machines. Turing’s prediction was that by the year 2000, computers would be able to fool 30% of the human judges after five minutes of conversation, and that as a result ‘one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted’.

OK, so that hasn’t happened, yet. But the pattern of the test is in place, and it is a severe test. Five hours, and we humans could be confident of winning every time. Five minutes, however, is not long. Especially when there is no such thing as cheating. In 2008, the computers failed to win by only a single vote.

Expectations are high, therefore, that the Turing Test will be passed some day soon. This is like General Synod on women bishops or a European Union referendum: the contest is repeated endlessly until the right answer is attained – eventually.

One year – maybe even as soon as 15 May 2012 – we will wake to shock horror headlines, telling us that it has now been proved that computers can think, that machines are more intelligent than we are, that we are only machines ourselves and not very good ones at that, and so on. As old-fashioned believing humans, we shall be swamped by a tidal wave of NeoDarwinian, crypto-atheist, anarchosceptical nonsense designed to undermine any notions of free will and intelligence we might still cling to. You think I exaggerate? We’ll see.

Will this book help you prepare for this pseudo-scientific cynicism? Yes, rather well. It is a lightly written and most entertaining gallop through the entire range of experiments on artificial intelligence and computer language generation.

This is fun, bed-time reading rather than deep philosophy, and all the more persuasive for being so. This does mean, however, it is frustrating at times, when he stumbles upon a new subject, only to rush on before he has unearthed the jewel.

Perhaps his most insightful and entertaining writing is about mistakes in language, and how crucially human they are – misspellings, hesitations, certain grammatical errors and some forms of nonsense (but significantly not all) can cause more problems for machines than the most serious academic argument. Mistakes are central.

For example, when recording or transcribing speech, we would all omit the ‘uh’s and ‘um’s, would we not? Wrong. There are, he tells us from some Californian research, two distinct terms. ‘If they are simply errors, why would there be two, and why in every language?’

This suggests ‘(1) that the words are far from interchangeable and in fact play distinct roles, and (2) that because these words are made before the pauses, speakers must be anticipating in advance how long the following pause will be.’ Fascinating; but I wanted more.

The title of the book? The computer that gains the highest score in each year’s competition is awarded the prize of ‘the most human computer’, so inevitably there is a corresponding prize for the human who is least often taken for a computer, in other words ‘the most human human’. This prize our author won in 2009. Why? Because he has an undoubted flair for the idiosyncrasies of language.

And why should this be of interest to Christians? I think we have a more than usual interest in, and commitment to, the word as the source of our humanity. Language matters. And, as this entertaining book shows, this means conversation with all its hesitation, repetition and deviation. Spoken language in all its confusion and clumsiness, and not merely the written word, polished and corrected. The language of life.

Anthony Saville

 

HISTORICAL VIGNETTES

David Newsome,

ed. Serenhedd James

Lulu Publications, 192pp, pbk

978 1470922009, £9.99

DAVID NEWSOME DIED in 2004. He was among the best historians writing about the Victorian Age. His academic career began as a medievalist but turned to the nineteenth century where his authoritative, elegant writing established a high reputation.

In a characteristically graceful note of appreciation Dr Geoffrey Rowell, once his pupil, describes Newsome as ‘an enthusiast...an historian with a deep empathy for the people whose lives and ideas he studied... blessed with a rare felicity of style and an eye for detail’. Historical Vignettes may seem, at first blush, a slight volume. It may be so in length, containing some nine lectures, papers or articles, but it shows in full measure all the attractive aspects of Newsome’s writing, work and stylistic grace.

Here was an historian who could write! Only Hugh Trevor-Roper, of recent historians, could rival his prose. Before his death, Newsome had prepared a manuscript of these essays. Written between 1963 and 2001, three have never been published. Others were published in academic journals or elsewhere not readily accessible to a general reader. His family and editor have done great service to his memory and greatly benefited us.

Although it may appeal to a limited audience, an article on two Cambridge historians, both of whom taught Newsome, is a vivid character sketch of two suitably eccentric dons who saw teaching as a higher vocation than publication. He is not blind to their limitations but is alert to, and grateful for, their many qualities.

Similarly, he finds fascinating details in his study of the children of Archbishop Benson, an agreeably odd ménage. His consideration of the novels of Charles Dickens show fine literary judgement and close reading of the texts which can be read with profit in this year of his 200th anniversary. He points out the almost complete absence of a religious dimension and the religious ferment of the age.

A piece on the nature of Victorian prose pinpoints its euphoria, cadences and unconscious devices that inform the best of English stylists and compares them with that of an age of instant gratification that requires a shorthand, etiolated prose. There are four outstanding essays. A sympathetic study of the antiTractarian Thomas Arnold nicely brings together his love of playing leap-frog and forebodings of imminent cataclysm.

Newsome’s 1965 article on Charles Gore, Neville Figgis and their different conceptions of Christian social engagement is masterly; and is one of the early pieces to bring Figgis, an historian taught by Mandell Creighton, Lord Acton and F.W. Maitland and (as with Newsome himself), worthy to be mentioned in the same breath, back to mind.

A lecture on Newman and the Oxford Movement was delivered in 1968 a little before the torrent of books on Newman began. Given the current state of Newmania and the beginnings of a backlash, it may seem dated but it contains much epigrammatic sense and draws out, with acute and subtle insights, the difference between Keble and Newman that gave Tractarianism and later AngloCatholicism its bifocation, still much in evidence.

‘In Defence of History’ expounds his conviction that the first duty of the historian is to attempt to recreate a faithful and lively picture of the past: the flesh and blood of past ages. Such dispassionate history would be a barrier against myth-making and totalitarianism.

Newsome says in his introduction that he found himself selecting the pieces which ‘at the time, gave me most enjoyment in writing’. They are equally enjoyable in the reading and bear out his comment that trifles are the source of life, and they are the very stuff of history too.

William Davage

 

LINCOLNSHIRE CAMEOS

A Christian Appreciation

Barry Shucksmith

Write Good Books, 212pp, pbk

978 1905295159, £7.95

MY ONLY personal acquaintanceship with Lincolnshire is with Scunthorpe, mentioned only once in this book as ‘the steel town’, the gaudy seaside resort of Cleethorpes, and some beautiful, nearly flat countryside between the two; and that was a very long time ago. Bishop Shucksmith’s book gives some sense of the landscape and its beautiful churches, though he does not make any particular connection between landscape and people. Naturally enough, he might say, because the book is a collection of twenty previously published ‘cameos’ of ‘worthies’. There is a commonplace, loose meaning attached to the noun ‘worthy’ as well as the specialized one which, very properly, the author defines as he chooses to use it. The everyday usage may be patronizing (‘this rustic worthy’) or more literally denote a person of some distinction. The special use in this book has a more specific religious denotation, however, and at times the reader may be confused as to whether the commonplace sense is intended or the religious one. The specialized sense is said to refer to the Book of Revelation, in which no one but Jesus was worthy to open the book. By extension we are told that all true believers in Jesus are accounted worthy too, and that is the basis – not the everyday one – on which the men and women in the cameos are called worthies.

Indeed, the whole point of these brief portraits is to make judgements about their subjects, and I find this quite perplexing. Much of this perplexity is the consequence of imprecise language. It would be tempting to say that quite obviously Chaplain Hardy VC was a fine example of a loving, committed Christian and that Charles Wesley was obviously a great hymn writer. Of course; yet what makes it obvious in each case is works; but the author is most insistent that we are saved not by works but by faith and grace. This is easy to say but less easy to understand. My faith or lack of it is in the hidden part of me: it is my works that may be observed, but Bishop Shucksmith seems ever willing to make judgements about spiritual states.

What else? I am pleased that the author does actually use the Book of Common Prayer and not just praise it, including its catechism; that he opposes abortion, the priesting of women (as his portrait of Margaret Thatcher suggests), and a ‘liberal’ understanding of gay rights.

Even so, I find I cannot share either the author’s dislike of Rome and its priesthood or his apparently uncritical esteem for the Pilgrim Fathers, against whose intention to institute a society practising religious freedom I understand there remains quite a question mark. I think I detect, too, some inconsistency in counting Tennyson among the worthies in this book’s sense of the word; since he seems to express doubt rather than faith; yet he must surely be agreed to be a great poet. Are we to mix poetry criticism with religious? Are different standards of judgement appropriate? There is a suggestion, in the Thatcher cameo, that a politician might be judged by political rather than strictly religious criteria. My own view is that a politician should make his influence directly felt in the world of affairs. We are told, for example, that Thatcher acquired her theology from the writings of C.S. Lewis, but Lewis pointed out that we have a financial and commercial system based on unbiblical usury. I have yet to hear of a politician who has attempted to alter that and in doing so do something effective about poverty.

Still, there is much of interest in this book, and above all it gives a good idea of the mindset of a Protestant Evangelical, as well as supplying the reader with interesting material about the lives of notable Christians. Some, like the Wesleys, are well-known; others less so now, such as Thresher Richardson – a rustic worthy indeed.

Dewi Hopkins

 

THE PARENTING BOOK Nicky and Sila Lee

Alpha, 500pp, pbk

978 1905887361, £8.99

CHILDREN THRIVE when parenting includes encouragement, is light-handed and humorous, and makes space for them to be themselves. They wither under parenting that is over-full of criticism, heavy-handed, intense and controlling.

In 500 pages Nicky and Sila Lee resource parents who want to build a more spacious family life, equipped to school their children in the science of building good relationships, which sits lightly to multiplying rules and aims at getting heart into things.

The book is thick but it has got a spacious feel and amusing sketches make it an easy read to help mums and dads have fruitful conversations on improving their parenting. I liked the cartoons of children with square screen faces, or being pulled out of screens, illustrating the major inter-generational tension of loss of real life to virtual online relationships. There is good practical advice on dealing graciously with internet, TV, alcohol, sex, drugs, money and eating habit related issues.

Unconditional love is a recurring theme and there is an un-spelled implication that parents who welcome it from God in Christ should be well equipped to offer it to their children. This writer was a little bit convicted of the opposite! Sometimes Christian parents can take more pride in setting distinct boundaries than building the space necessary in a family for the unconditional love they say they believe in to be expressed and experienced.

The Lees speak into an area that makes or breaks people and they do so graciously, amusingly and with rigour. I liked the idea of teenagers out late having to cancel an alarm clock set for their curfew placed outside their bedroom door so mum and dad sleep without worry, unless their offspring misses the deadline, of which fact all in the house are then notified, to the shame of the miscreant!

Dealing with hurt and anger is an essential family and life skill. In the book opposite types of unhealthy reaction are labelled graphically: rhinos are volatile and charge around letting you know how they feel; hedgehogs withdraw, burying their feelings from view. Once we are aware of the way family members express anger we can help one another, not least in ‘pressing the pause button’, another graphic analogy.

The book concludes with sections on passing on values and building a child’s spiritual life recommending the light use of possessions, kindness, forgiveness and trust in God.

John Twisleton ND

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