My granddaughter stood looking at all the books on my shelves and said,”Which 3 books did you like the most granddad”? Books 1 and 2 came to mind quickly but number 3 took a bit longer. But not much – a few seconds. It’s an interesting exercise if, like me, you’ve spent a great deal of your life time consuming the words, ideas and perspectives of other people.
So, which 3 have you enjoyed most and why? Tell us about them. Now there’s a challenge – send a short article to Desleigh or me and we will include it in future editions of The Bulletin.
Here’s my answer to my granddaughter‘s very thought-provoking question.
Book number 1 is JRR Tolkien’s – The Lord of the Rings.
I have a 1 volume edition beautifully illustrated and heavy enough to hold a door closed on a windy day. It’s a great tale about courage and friendship, and many other themes. I’ve read the book several times and the character I love the most is Treebeard. Apparently, Tolkien based his deep booming voice; his hrum hroom, on the mannerism of his friend C. S. Lewis.
Book number 2 is The Bible.
I had bumped into bits of the bible at school and really did not understand it. To be honest, as a young person I didn’t like it all that much. Only later, when my life crossed paths with passionate scholars and teachers, did this ancient collection of books come alive for me. Each time I pick it up now and read a section, I feel like I’m drawing water from a very ancient well that is still fresh enough to quench my spiritual thirst.
Book number 3 is The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
by Robert Noonan writing under the name Robert Tressell. He died in 1911. His book was published after his death in 1915. Born in Ireland in 1870 he emigrated to South Africa when he was 16. He left home declaring he “would not live on the family income from absentee landlordism. He spent much of his adult working life in the Transvaal and was influenced by the politics of the Boer War. He returned to England in 1901.
This particular book underpinned 2 important decisions in my life: the decision to emigrate to Australia, and a few years later, my decision to go into Christian Ministry. I was 17 when I first read this book. Living in a city bluntly divided between those who were raised to think they were entitled to everything and those who were encouraged to abandon any aspiration beyond becoming a tradesman. Australia represented a different political culture and fresh opportunities. Christianity represented the possibility of an egalitarian community.
Robert Noonan was an Irish house painter and sign writer. Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was written in his spare time, and is a classic piece of working class literature. George Orwell described it as a book that everyone should read. The book has a cast of very real characters: hypocritical Christians, capitalists who know how to exploit and corrupt councillors. They all create the backdrop for his main audience — the workers who think that a better life is, as he puts it, ‘not for the likes of them’. They are the ragged trousered philanthropists who throw themselves into back-breaking work for poverty wages to generate profit for their masters. The central character is Frank Owen. He’s a socialist trying to convince his fellow workers that capitalism is the real source of the poverty that is all around them. But here’s the rub, their education has trained them to distrust their own thoughts and to rely on those of their ‘betters’.
Throughout my ministry, I have held in my mind an image of Jesus as the character of Frank Owen. I think of Jesus as having proclaimed the Gospel of The Ragged Trousered Rabbi. Perhaps that should be the title of my post-retirement novel!
I will leave these 3 books to my granddaughter who asked such a thought-provoking question.