Why is being weak a good thing and what’s it got to do with The Archers?

I read this at a few minutes past Really Early today:

If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:6-10

I was awake way earlier than I wanted to be today. That's always a tad annoying. Don't know about you, but when I'm tired I'm prone to warped perspective syndrome. And no doubt the devil sees it as “prime time” for whispering unhelpful stuff in my ear. Slowly I've learnt a few “tactics” to combat this, like deciding to worship God come what may, or coming up with 10 things to be thankful for (yes, it's the old-fashioned “count your blessings” routine). This time I also thought about the passage above, and especially this bit:

My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.

We're taught that when we grow up we stop being dependent on our parents and stand on our own two feet. We also learn that, while God's plan is for us to work together and be inter-dependent, if we lean too much on another person or group of people we can become unhealthily dependent on them. This scripture reminds me that when it comes to my relationship with God, He absolutely wants me to be dependent on Him, and will use any means necessary to get me there and keep me there. So the annoyances, troubles, woes or outright evils of this life can sometimes be there to drive me back to God.

I say “sometimes” because some of this is just life, and I'm not immune to it – being human and all. On the other hand, I do believe that the Lord can engineer circumstances or permit stuff to happen. But really, when I'm tired, tempted to be anxious, feeling out of my depth, dissatisfied or just fed up for no particular reason, it makes no difference whether God brought it about or not. What He wants is that I should throw myself completely back on Him and remember just who is my Creator, my Provider, my heavenly Father and my Saviour. What He wants is that I be dependent on Him. And if that means life being inconvenient, difficult or even miserable – well, He'd rather have that than have me strutting around believing I'm OK by myself, that I have to “be a man” and deal with it, indeed that God's got far more pressing things to deal with than my little troubles.

In short, He'd rather have me weak so I have to look to His strength.

And so, having been back to bed for an hour or two and listened to a 1970 episode of The Men From the Ministry on Radio 4 Xtra and the first few minutes of The Archers Omnibus Edition on Radio 4, it's time to shower, dress and get on with the day, walking with Him. I may also yawn.

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Guest Post: Solomon Traycer’s postcard from Barcelona

In what we hope will be the first of many guest appearances, renowned author and musical newcomer Solomon Traycer takes time out from touring to reflect on his new experiences.

Barcelona's a gem; a great place for extra leisure time between shows (sorry – I know one ought to say “gigs”, but I'm a creature of a bygone age). While I may be a rookie in the music game, my modest success with the written word has given me a bit of influence – meaning I was able to put in special requests to the tour manager!

We seemed to go down well last night, despite breaking not one but two strings in the space of three songs. Astonishing how fast Jay can change them and tune them up. And the audience were very tolerant of my appalling Spanish. I was very moved when we came back out for the curtain call (sorry, encore) to hear them chanting – chanting! – for The Staircase. It's not as if it's sold that many copies; I suppose they must have heard it on YouTube. Anyway, it was a real high to end on; such a buzz, as they say!

The band and crew went out on the town till goodness knows what time but they understand that an old crock like me can't stand the pace after a couple of sweaty hours on stage. I preferred to get to sleep by midnight and have most of today to explore, so that's what I did. Don't get me wrong, we get on really well; in fact we're all out for dinner tonight to review the set before heading to Madrid tomorrow.

View from the bullring

I wandered round the Ramblas this morning and then headed across to the Montjuïc side where there's an old bullring that's been turned into a shopping centre. As I stood on the viewing gallery taking in the magnificent view it struck me that I ought to set one of my novels here, maybe back when the bullring was still used…there you go; if it's not lyrics it's plot lines!

Right, back to the glamorous rock star life. I've got sore fingers, the novelty of being “on the road” is a distant memory and I long for a certain quiet cottage in Sussex. No! This really will not do! I always used to despise musicians bemoaning their lot as they travelled around lapping up adulation and indulging in their favourite pastime, and look at me doing the same! Shameful.

Well, I hope that's OK. “Give us a bit of the real Sol,” they said, so I trust I've obliged. Having spent decades speaking through my characters it's rather novel (pardon the pun) to be speaking as myself. It remains to be seen whether I, and you, take to it.

 

“I’m paying someone to worry for me.”

I recently heard a brilliant talk about why (and how) Christians shouldn't worry. I thoroughly recommend the talk, and others by David Legge.

David included this illustration:

There was a man and he was terribly troubled with anxiety, and everybody knew him for it. One day he was walking along the town whistling and singing, and the people looked at him and said: 'That can't be the same man!'. They stopped him and said: 'What's wrong with you, that you're not worrying?'. He said: 'Well, I'm paying a man to worry for me' – that's right! 'You're doing what?'. 'Paying a man'. 'How much are you paying him?'. '£2000 a day'. 'Where are you getting that?'. He says: 'That's not my problem!'.

Friends, we're laughing at that, but there is a great truth there, isn't there? If God is in control, and God cares about you, why are you staying up all night late into the wee small hours, when He who neither slumbers nor sleeps is covering you? Now listen, we either believe it or we don't – and this is our problem: we don't!

The great thing is, we really can act like someone who has someone to worry for them – only it won't cost us £2,000 a day. I know this is true. Putting into practice consistently – ah, there's the challenge.

So next time you see me in the street, feel free to ask me why I'm not whistling 🙂

 

Photo Post: Curving steps at Williamson Park, Lancaster

Image

This is my blog “theme photo”, in case you're trying to remember where you've seen it. I'd like to tell you about the f-stop, exposure and focal length settings here, but I've really no idea. I shot it in 2009 in black and white, broke the rules, blah, blah, blah.
I just want to climb those steps. Well, I did climb them, at the time. What I mean is, when I look at the picture I want to climb them. I happen to know there's a good view from the top, so I recommend it if ever you're in the Lancaster area. If you've never been, just give in to the temptation, climb the steps in your imagination and let me know what you see.

 

Interview With Best-Selling Novelist Solomon Traycer

Recently we at Mark: My Words were fortunate enough to spend some time with renowned thriller writer Solomon Traycer. Although we’d hoped to catch up with him in his Hampshire cottage, his agent was adamant he would only talk to us at the M:MW offices.

 

Our first job was to find some offices. The best we could come up with was hiring the British Leyland Business Suite at the Travelodge just off junction 3 of the M42. Not exactly opulent surroundings, and having to nip to the Little Chef every time you wanted a Danish pastry was a pain. We just hoped Solomon would understand, having been a struggling artist in his time. In the end we needn’t have fretted, especially as Sol (as he’s known to his friends) brought a bag of six Morrisons croissants.

MMW: Thanks for giving us your time today; it’s a pleasure to meet you.

ST: You are absolutely welcome. The West Midlands is quite charming and grossly under-rated in my opinion. If you like that sort of thing.

MMW: Can we start by asking you where you were born?

ST: Of course.

MMW: So…where were you…born?

ST: Right, right. Well, to be honest, depends who you talk to. Been told everywhere from Barecelona to Huddersfield over the years. And I had a cousin who insisted I was born on another planet.

MMW: Nobody seems quite sure how old you are.

ST: Hah! You and me both. I have a lot of memories…so many…just not sure how far back they go.

MMW: Surely your birth certificate…?

ST: How about we talk about my books? I have one due out next month.

MMW: Absolutely. I know it’s the tenth in the Rider of the Ages series, but is it the last?

ST: I honestly can’t tell you. When we published Fury of the Ages four years ago it was designed to be the last. The loose ends were tied up and that was that. I had so many other projects on the go I was ready to move on, but the demand from the public for more was overwhelming. I left it for a couple of years while I worked on The Ash Pit but now here we are. I’ve learnt always to leave a little something in a novel so it can be picked up again should the opportunity arise, and this time I needed it! So, who knows? Never say never again, I say.

MMW: Those other projects included a venture into the music scene. What prompted that?

Traycer Band gig, 2011

ST: I like to surprise. Many authors take to writing later in life after doing other things. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, so why not do it the other way round?

MMW: And the indications so far are that fans love this latest surprise. You seem to be in more demand than ever. I’ve even heard it said that the papers want to know whose shirts you wear!

ST: It’s exciting and very humbling. Almost like being born again. Me, a guitar, a bunch of outstanding musicians and instant interaction with my audience. Out of this world and quite, quite cosmic. Oh, and mostly they’re BHS. The shirts.

MMW: Solomon, there’s so much more we’d love to ask you but unfortunately we could only get a morning’s booking of the British Leyland Business Suite as it’s needed by the Wolverhampton & Dudley Austin Allegro Preservation Society this afternoon. So, for now, thank you very much.

ST: No sweat.

MMW: Might we be able to persuade you to write guest posts on our blog?

ST: Call my agent.

Ziggy Stardust and the appeal of questioning reality

I'm of an age where documentaries about musicians and groups from the 70's are appealing, regardless of whether I am, or was, a fan. In the case of Pink Floyd and the making of Wish You Were Here, for example, I am most definitely a fan. Mott the Hoople, on the other hand, not so much. I knew some of their songs (All the Young Dudes probably being the best-known) but never owned any records (unless you count the presence of the said Dudes on a compilation album obtained by dutifully collecting coupons from Sounds magazine over several weeks; I think it was the original Sounds Like a Good Album to Us but can't find any track listings on the Web – only for SLAGATU Vol. II, which I also collected for, and had forgotten the tracks until researching for this post. I can't play it any more since discarding the turntable. This is a bit of a loss and a matter of some regret. And also a way-too-long diversion. Oops.)

To avoid further diversions on the way to the point, I'll say nothing of the Simon & Garfunkel documentary about the making of Bridge OverTroubled Water, which in any case was shown on BBC1 not BBC4 so doesn't count anyway. Anyhoo, the most recent one was the story of David Bowie and his temporary alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. We were told how Bowie struggled for success until he came up with the bright idea of inventing a rock star. Who happened to be an alien.

It seems his first plan was to get someone else to play the part and mime to his singing. Eventually he decided to adopt the persona himself and the rest is history: hit album (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars), sell-out tours and the like. If I've seen the iconic clip of Bowie draping his arm round Mick Ronson's shoulder while they played Starman on Top of the Pops once, I've seen it a thousand times. Well, more than five anyway.

The pretence went further. When Bowie went to the States to perform as Ziggy he was relatively unknown. His manager nevertheless adopted the tactic of demanding that the record company (RCA) cough up for all the trappings of celebrity – top-class hotels, limos and not one but two bodyguards. So now not only were they inviting the audiences to come see someone acting the part of a rock star, but they were also making out that the guy pretending to be a rock star on stage was himself a rock star off stage when in fact he wasn't. Or not yet. Or at least he was becoming one. Or…confused? Whatever. It seemingly worked.

At the time of writing you can still get the programme on BBC iPlayer. But if you don't get to see it I'm sure Google can send you to many a Web page telling the story.

I am still not a Bowie fan as such. I like some tracks but find others deadly dull. But I can appreciate the man's talent and ability to do the whole reinventing your image thing long before we'd heard of Madonna. What really struck me, though, was the sheer audacity of just deciding to pretend to be something he wasn't – yet – knowing that everyone knew it was a pretence. Nobody honestly believed that Ziggy and the band came from Mars. (OK, OK, no doubt some did, given the drug culture he was mingling with – and which sucked him into addiction until the late 70's.) It was an agreement to be deceived.

Bowie doesn't have the monopoly in on-stage personas, of course. One only has to think of that nice Mr Alice Cooper, for example. Now there's a guy who's been playing the same character on stage for 40-odd years. People say that in real life he's as nice as pie. In fact, he's a Bible-believing Christian and clearly has no problem squaring that with a show based around horror and violence – albeit one he dubs “Vaudeville”. The point is, the audience clearly buys in to the pretence, the fantasy.

Reality beyond reality

My mind wanders to films like The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor and, more recently, Inception. All built on the premise that there's more to reality than we thought; that there's reality (or realities) within, or beyond, what we experience day to day. These stories, like stage fantasies, must appeal to something universal in us. Or, at least, in me.

Two things come to mind.

The first is that, actually, there is indeed a reality beyond what we see day to day. This world isn't all there is. This life isn't all there is. There are forces beyond the visible. Forces for good and forces for evil. Forces that control us, one way or another. But this is no Hollywood script or a conspiracy theory. It's the spiritual reality of life as revealed in the Bible. That's why me and Alice Cooper believe we owe our lives to Jesus Christ. Unlike Alice I have failed to become a rock star (thus far), but then again God hasn't enabled Alice to be an IT manager. Get over it, Alice.

The second thing is that I'm considering “doing a Ziggy”. Not, regretfully, on stage, though. (I don't quite share Mr Bowie's taste in clothes – although I am thinking about spiky red hair.) No, it's more in the arena of words on the page. On, in fact, this blog.

To date, I have not scored notable success with the microphone or guitar. But my wordy things seem to work quite well, sometimes. I still want to write about faith, truth, teapots, Paddington Bear and the like. But, as they say, maybe I should stretch myself artistically, try a new wordsmithing direction – writing stuff that isn't actually true. Adopting, if you will, a persona.

Cue fanfare. And watch out for Ziggy.