Friday, 4 December 2015

Fathomless Riches by Richard Coles and Beatrice by Fiona Joseph Reviewed

Fathomless Riches by Richard Coles and Beatrice: The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune by Fiona Joseph may not sound like the most obvious Advent reading. Yet, they’ve been what I’ve been delving into in recent days.

Why? Well part of it relates to the comments I picked up from one of the Queen’s lecturers whilst I was sitting in college communion (something I tend to do on Tuesday evening). He was talking about Advent being a time to examine our history and look for evidence of God breaking through. It is a time for looking back and looking forward whilst focusing on the difference Christ’s coming makes.

Both books enable you to reflect on the ways in which God’s kingdom breaks through and how this occurs in ways in which you might not expect. They also both, in their own ways, provide challenges for the reader because they show that ethics and actions are not simple.
Beatrice was a book I first heard about when the author gave a talk at Greenbelt a few years ago which I found absolutely fascinating. Somehow, though I never got round to reading the book until this week. It is a biography of Beatrice Boekes (nee Cadbury) whose Quaker roots and understanding of Marxist theory saw her adopt an increasingly radical lifestyle during much of her life. This included outdoors preaching which saw here frequently arrested and at one point giving up the use of money amongst other things. She was also responsible with her husband Kees for setting up a school and helping Jewish children escaping persecution in the Second World War.

This sounds admirable and it might be easy for one to get overly romantic about the world of Beatrice and her family. However, the book veers away from uncritical praise of her actions. Rather it details the difficulties this caused to her family and others who were seeking to ensure the welfare of the family.

Thus it shows that we need to think about our actions. God uses those who are willing to take risks and work beyond the status quo to help build his kingdom but those people have a duty of care towards those around them too.

Before I’d turned my attention to Beatrice and a Brum based book I had read Richard Coles Fathomless Riches or How I Went from Pop to Pulpit. This was a book I had pretty much avoided for a year. I suspect part of it was that I didn’t quite trust what I was going to get from it. I’m not entirely sure why but I didn’t. Then there was the fact the only comments I had heard about it seemed to focus on dogging, (suggesting people had not really gotten past the first few pages).

My view on the book changed in when I went to an event at the Birmingham Literature Festival where Coles was interviewed by Catherine Ogle, a Dean at Birmingham Cathedral. This previous post from my  blog explains something about why that evening changed things.

So it was I read the book, a memoir which does what it says on the cover and tells how a former pop star ended up training for ministry.

The book talks of his family and youth and then moves on to his life within the early 80’s gay scene in London before looking at his life post-fame and his involvement with the rave culture. It then moves on to exploring his interest in religion and the tensions he encountered between an Anglican and Catholic identity. Within this sex and drug use are a part but there is far more within this text.

First is one of the most moving accounts of the impact of the Aids crisis on the ‘80’s gay community I have read. This is something in the Literature Festival talk Coles had said he had not found cathartic to write. The pain within what he writes is clear and it is movingly described.

Scattered throughout the book are accounts of how he messed up and the regrets he has. It’s a book which seems scattered with references to repentance and gives some examples of what this might look like in practice.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading both books. They were both highly readable whilst subtly challenging. They also in their own way did show a real picture of God’s Kingdom breaking in on the margins as well as within the establishment. 

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