Review – The Artisan Heart

The Artisan Heart

Hayden Luschcombe is a brilliant paediatrician living in Adelaide with his wife Bernadette, an ambitious event planner. His life consists of soul-wrenching days at the hospital and tedious evenings attending the lavish parties organized by Bernadette.
When an act of betrayal coincides with a traumatic confrontation, Hayden flees Adelaide, his life in ruins. His destination is Walhalla, nestled in Australia’s southern mountains, where he finds his childhood home falling apart. With nothing to return to, he stays, and begins to pick up the pieces of his life by fixing up the house his parents left behind.
A chance encounter with a precocious and deaf young girl introduces Hayden to Isabelle Sampi, a struggling artisan baker. While single-handedly raising her daughter, Genevieve, and trying to resurrect a bakery, Isabelle has no time for matters of the heart. Yet the presence of the handsome doctor challenges her resolve. Likewise, Hayden, protective of his own fractured heart, finds something in Isabelle that awakens dormant feelings of his own.
As their attraction grows, and the past threatens their chance at happiness, both Hayden and Isabelle will have to confront long-buried truths if they are ever to embrace a future.

I have just finished reading ‘The Artisan Heart’ by Dean Mayes.  It’s a contemporary romance set mostly in the country Victoria town of Walhalla.  It is Dean’s fourth novel.  I should reveal that I’ve met Dean at Adelaide writers’ events, in various pubs, and he is a thoroughly nice guy!  (On this blog I have briefly reviewed his previous novel, ‘The Recipient’, which is a thriller with subtle supernatural elements.)

I was very pleased to be able to get a signed advanced copy (not a freebie, by the way), even though romance is not a genre that I would normally read.

Review

The novel opens in dramatic fashion with a betrayal, followed by a violent confrontation in the emergency room at Adelaide hospital.  The damaged protagonist returns to where he grew up.  He seeks shelter in a familiar place and with old family friends, but must also confront old pain and loss.  The romance at the core of the story grows slowly, but steadily, before the dramatic interventions of previous partners threaten to ruin everything.

One of the novel’s strengths, which it shares with ‘The Recipient’, is how it makes you care strongly for the characters, so strongly that I am reminded of novels by Neville Shute.  The two main characters are strong.  They are sympathetically drawn, but they are not without their faults, they carry scars from past relationships and they did not get on so well in the past.  These factors and many others mean that they are fully and satisfyingly realised on the page – and in the mind’s eye.

The cast of supporting characters is also vividly drawn, some at more length than others, but always to good effect on the plot and this reader.  The disability of a key supporting character is sensitively dealt with, heightening the sense of peril at times, but without being patronizing or clichéd.  The town of Walhalla and the surrounding hills also play their part and are well presented.  The slightly claustrophobic small town is hemmed in by the mountains, forming a cauldron for the romance and drama.  Economic use of description adds realism and atmosphere without getting in the way.

Dean adds his medical knowledge into the mix and several twists that stop the romantic story arc becoming predictable or too comfortable.  All these elements – plot, characters, setting, description and so on – are skilfully combined into a satisfying whole.

Conclusion

As I said at the start I would not normally read a romance, and this book is quite different from Dean’s previous novel.  Nevertheless, I was very pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen next Dean brought another element to the fore and kept me anxiously reading right to the end.  Thus fed and entertained, I shall be more open-minded in my future reading!

The Artisan Heart will be available in print and digital from September 1st, 2018.
See Dean’s website for details…

Sharing the Faith, Refining our Faith

‘Sharing the Faith, Refining our Faith’ – a sermon on Psalm 22/Mark 8:31-38 (Lent 2, Year B)

Aim

To show that we need to share the Good News that Jesus is the Christ – with each other and with unbelievers

Introduction – Sharing

‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’, ‘my faith is my business’, ‘you can’t share your faith in a secular society’.

Psalm 22 tells us that God intends everyone to hear the Good News. It cuts across all divisions: rich and poor; in the church and outside; Jews and non-Jews; those living, dead and yet to be born.

The Psalmist says that everyone will turn to God and be blessed. How will they know that they should do this? How will they know how to turn to God?

Message for the Time

Peter had already confessed that Jesus is the Christ, but he totally misunderstands Jesus’ mission.  No one knows this until Peter speaks out, then Jesus corrects Peter and asks people to gather round – then Jesus explains his mission and that of his disciples.

Notice that Peter was correct given the religious assumptions of the day – but still wrong. The other disciples probably thought the same thing – but no one knew they were wrong until Peter spoke up! We all make mistakes, but if we view our faith as our possession and never discuss it then we will never discover anything new – our faith is closed, dead. We must share our faith and our experiences, thoughts and doubts with each other.

Message for Today

Notice also that Jesus then told his followers that they must deny self, take up their cross and follow Jesus (to death).  He also says that if we are ashamed of Jesus message, he will be ashamed of us on judgment day.  Clearly, Jesus expects us to share our faith with the faithless, even if this is not easy and earns us hostility.

What odd ideas do people have about: God – superstition, “a deal with God”; Jesus – “a good man”, “a wise teacher”; and the Holy Spirit – something for weirdos only?

What odd ideas do people have about our faith?  Are they hostile to Jesus because they think we think ourselves superior and are judging them? We need to tell them the truth about how we don’t deserve salvation!

We need to share our faith with each other, and with non-Christians, in order to make it real, vital and alive. We need to share the Good News, that Jesus is the Christ, that he died for us and is alive today as if our lives and their lives depended on it. Because it’s true!

A God of Love Who Judges

A God of love who Judges – Sermon on John 15:1-8 (Easter 5, Year B)

John 15:1-8

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  John 15:1-8 [NIV]

A God of Love Who Judges

One of the other readings for today is 1John 4:7-21 on the theme ‘God is love’.  It’s a very popular reading with a nice cosy message.  The Gospel reading, quoting Jesus directly, is much more challenging.  Jesus says that we can be fruitful if we stay connected to Him, but he says that without Him we can do NOTHING, and will be fit only for burning.  Many struggle with this teaching.  How can a God of love reject, judge and punish people, they ask?

First…

…we must remember that such questions are self-centred.  God loves all people and wishes all to be saved, yet we know that many others are suffering because of our wealth.  Surely God will be angry with those who oppress and exploit the people He loves?  We can argue that it’s not our fault, but that doesn’t change the reality.

Second…

…I’m not sure that God does reject anyone.  Abraham said “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” when God was considering destroying Sodom [Gen 18:25].  God has sent Jesus to enable all to be saved, but will all accept Jesus?

Remember the ABC of becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus?

  • Admit your sin – many say and will say “I don’t need forgiveness, I’ve done nothing wrong”.
  • Believe in Christ – many reject Jesus as not the only way to God, not the Christ; they see Jesus as just a good man or a prophet or they don’t think him important.
    • I have little fear for the devout of other faiths; I think that someone who has sincerely sought God will have no trouble recognising the Christ.
    • I do worry that those who have ignored God all their lives will not be able to change their habits, that they won’t be able to look past themselves.
  • Commit your life to Him – many refuse to commit or surrender to Christ.  In the West, people see their own individuality as paramount and they will not give up control to anyone, will not be in debt to anyone (except those we exploit, of course!) and want to stay in control of their ‘own’ lives.

Third…

…let us be reassured of God’s mercy to us.  None of us is in God’s presence because we deserve to be, or because of our own righteousness.  We are ‘clean’ because the word from Jesus has made us so, and that word is ‘forgiveness’.

Conclusion 

We can trust in Jesus our saviour and Lord.  I have no need to say more.  I have no time to say any more as we need to thank God and lift so many in need to him.  Amen

Any Questions?

Any questions? A Sermon on Revelation 1:4b-8 (Proper 29 / Ordinary 34, Year B)

Introduction

Asked to cover the fifth Apprentice study on ‘Questioning’.

Scripture

Revelation: an odd choice?  John is expressing a revealed truth from a vision – surely no questions here?  I love its symbols and imagery, its faith, beauty and terror.  Have I blinded my intellect with emotion?  But this Book is not so crude, let’s look at this praise (doxology).

  • V4a. Personal testimony vs church tradition – safety in numbers, a moderating influence.
  • V4b. A personal Revelation from the Spirit – not to be kept to oneself, but tested.
  • V5.  The example of Jesus, whose credibility is his life, teaching, sacrifice and resurrection.
  • V6.  The experience, wisdom, witness and example of billions of people over 2,000 years.
  • V7.  Prophecy (this passage from Daniel, another apocalypse – literature).
  • V8.  God is sovereign over all time and space.  We can learn from creation and history.

Reason

  • Questioning is not looking for excuses not to commit,
  • Nor is questioning to win an argument (“are you asking me or telling me?”):
    • The emphasis on debate and winning arguments is a Western cultural obsession.
    • It comes from the Western Church – not God and our Eastern Religion!
  • It is not looking for a sign (Wood Allen quote, Desmond Tutu bio, naked men story).
  • Not to change God’s mind (or is it?), but to develop ours in His presence.
  • Not to get a perfect, rigid, unmerciful, human system of philosophy.
    • We are not looking for a neat theology that is divorced from a messy world.
    • God is perfectly holy and yet merciful, through the Trinity – our doctrine is not!

Practical/Application

Why ask Questions?

  • Rudyard Kipling (a journalist, writing a story for children) said:

“I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.”

  • If we ask questions rather than accept received (imposed?) wisdom, we ‘own’ it.
  • If asked, I can probably deal with a question that I have asked and answered … or not?
  • We question to try and make us more complete – this implies change.  Ouch!
  • Paradox: we ask questions expecting to possess less knowledge, but more wisdom & trust.

Conclusion – Any Questions?

Let’s put some perspective on this.

  • Better to ask questions than to assume  = makes an ass of you and me!
  • Questions should not worry us – the motives of those asking the questions should!
  • Equally, we should not be worried about not getting neat answers.
    • It’s still worth asking the questions, for all sorts of reasons.
    • Knowledge will pass away but faith, hope and love are eternal.
  • Jesus’ mission was to show Himself to all people, so they can say “who is this?” and answer “Jesus is Lord.”