Right - I've got quite a lot of catching up to do here. First couple of books here were ones I was inspired to read after Greenbelt this year, which as ever left me with plenty to think about.
One afternoon I ended up chatting with some people in the Angels Lounge, and they mentioned Brian McLaren. I've seen him speak in previous years, and I enjoyed what he had to say. The conversation I was having made me keen to read some of his stuff, so I took a walk over to the book tent and picked this one up. I found it a very well-argued and passionate plea for Christians to take a much more inclusive, loving and positive view of the world and to think very hard about a lot of sacred cows that are probably long overdue for slaughter. It makes the case that faith can be a very strong and positive force for change, but often sadly isn't. It was a good read and kept reminding me of another talk I heard years ago, by a guy called Dave Andrews. He argued very strongly in favour of a departure from binary ways of thinking, and instead looking at bigger pictures, thinking of nuances and in shades of grey. It certainly helped me feel a bit more positive about some things, although in others it made me very aware, and rather depressed about, the somewhat pointless battles some Christians insist on continuing to fight, and the defensive ghettoes they live in.
The Sparrow is a sci-fi novel I didn't know about until I went to a talk by Simon Morden. He spoke about books that do a good job of portraying faith issues without being specifically "Christian" books, and of the three he mentioned, this sounded the most interesting. It's about a small group of Jesuits who launch a mission to make first contact with an alien race, after picking up mysterious radio transmissions of great beauty. Initially everything goes well, but gradually the members of the party die, and the law of unintended consequences kicks in - the humans massively affect the social structure that exists on the planet. The last member of the party left undergoes a terrifying ordeal and returns back to Earth hugely traumatised by it all. It's an enthralling and very clever read that looks at guilt, forgiveness, faith, doubt, anger, relationships and a whole heap more. Really thought provoking, especially making me think that you can't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes.
And finally...a bit of geek interest! This last book is a history of the Edinburgh to Carlisle Waverley Line, and how it came to be controversially closed throughout in 1969. It took much hard work and a lot of campaigning to bring about its recent partial reopening, as the Borders Railway to Tweedbank. It's a lot like A Very Political Railway - going quite deeply into the wider history of the area and the politics involved, so it's more than just an enthusiast's book. My boss lent it to me - in his previous role at Network Rail he was quite involved in the Borders Railway project, and there's a picture of him in the book! Interesting story about all the challenges we transport pros face when trying to get stuff done...