|Subline||Stories and sketches|
|Author(s)||Neil Paynter & Iain Campbell (illustrator)|
|Date Added||17 May 2009|
- ReviewReview by Ron Ferguson
It's interesting that in his teaching, Jesus of Nazareth never really preached long sermons. He preferred to tell stories. Even the Sermon on the Mount is regarded by biblical scholars as a compendium of teaching given at a variety of times in a variety of situations.
Christs stories stay in the mind. Who could possibly forget the Prodigal Son, or the Good Samaritan? They are subversive visual events, told with economy of words. Yet these two parables alone encapsulate the core of the gospel message.
We need good storytellers, and Neil Paynter is one such person. His tales are vivid and compelling, thankfully without the anxious need to tack on moralistic endings. The stories come from Neil's experience of life, as well as from reflection on scripture. The author has been a farm labourer, a fruitpicker, a teacher, a security guard, a bookseller, a hospital cleaner, a stand-up comedian, a musician and an editor.
Apart from that, he's lived a fairly boring life.
The stories in this book come out of Neils experience of working in homeless shelters in North America and Britain, as a nurses aide with the elderly and as a mental health worker.
I don't want to romanticise people, but so many of the folk I met in my work, so many of the discarded people, were to me the most prophetic and Christ-like. It was a privilege to know them. I wanted to live in a world where heart matters, not money. Where richness is measured in stories. Where people are valued for their life experience. That was naive, I guess. Still, we move further and further away from that human world, don't we?
Neil explains that he didn't think of himself as a Christian when he started this work. That's the reason, he says, why some of the stories are more religious than others. Some of the stories don't seem Christian at all. But I don't believe Jesus lives in a church, or is very dogmatic about the language he wants us to use I think of him as very down to earth, open and understanding. I think he cares that we use language well though he was a poet. I think he wants us to tell good stories.
There are plenty of good stories in this powerful book. Some of them are sagas, others are dialogues, and others again are fragments. Take this short piece called
What cha doin, Katherine? She sits in the living room with a box of hairpins on her lap. She keeps sticking hairpins in her hair. I'm putting hairpins in my hair, she answers, irritated, like I'm stupid. If I keep on doing this it will be all right, she says.
Oh, I answer and I stand and watch her trying to keep herself together. Trying to keep time from unravelling and her life from falling apart.
Like Jean Vanier, Neil finds his Christ in the poor, the dispossessed and the vulnerable. He concludes by asking: Why do we spend £53 billion a year on armaments and death (UK statistic) and segregate elderly people in boring, sterile, impersonal surroundings? Why not instead use the money to help create and support communities where the elderly and children and young people and others can all live together and share a life and journey?
This rich book, with its prayers and meditations as well as stories, could be used in public worship or private devotion. It is a resource for a living church, in which the teachers are vulnerable and sometimes bewildered people and also Neil himself, whose craftsmanship is never obtrusive. And Iain Campbell's illustrations are very powerful. (Posted on 05/12/2012)
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