Thinking Thursday: The Faith of the Marginal


Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Michael and I are studying a book called Seeking Faith, Finding God by John Rackley, and this post is adapted from one of those studies. The study was called The Faith of the Marginal, and reminds us that the gospel and the love of God shown through us, is for everyone.

Even in parts of the world today, people with leprosy are excluded from society. Because of the fear of infection, they are not allowed to come anywhere near others.

We are told nothing about these men, only what they suffered from. Their condition defined them, created the borders of their life, forming an exclusion around them. They are within sight and sound in the story but beyond reach.

The ten men with leprosy knew their place. They kept their distance, isolated and out of reach. They were nothing else but lepers – a horrid-sounding word for a horrid disease.

Jesus too knows his place. He does not approach them. He stays put, for he is already on difficult territory. A Galilean Jew, he walks a border with Samaritan territory which, from his earliest days, he would have been warned not to enter. He is in neither one place nor another. He is ‘outside the camp’ and beyond the houses where others can be safe and secure.

The disciples also know their place, and it is not where Jesus has taken them! Jesus has done this before. He took them to Caesarea Philippi, a place of pagan worship. He went down to the coast, where they met a Syro-Phoenician woman who gave him a very difficult time.

It seems to have been Jesus’ policy to introduce his disciples to experiences and questions that were new, different and challenging. You remember he was criticized for healing on the Sabbath, for his disciples eating without washing first, and for associating with tax collectors and prostitutes.

Why did he do this? Why did he take them to the edge of their world? Here are some answers.

  • Going to the edge gives us a glimpse of something different.

  • Walking on the borders allows us to look in and out of a situation.

  • Going to the edge enables us to become a connection, a conductor for what is out of reach at the centre.

  • On the margins we are less in control, less certain of ourselves, more ready to learn.

Going back to the lepers, they beg Jesus to have pity on them. Then the healing starts. In a cleverly constructed account, Luke uses three different words to describe what happened.

  • On the way to show themselves to the priests, the lepers are ‘made clean’: Jesus releases them from the taboo of their disease so that they can rejoin society, family and synagogue.

  • Luke then says they saw they were healed: signs of ill health are no longer visible or distressing.

  • But only to one of them, the man who returned to give thanks and worship, can Jesus declare that he is ‘made well’. This is total transformation. This is an experience of harmony and integrity – a person no longer fragmented and out of sorts but at one with God, creation and self.


But the encounter takes an ominous turn. The one who is on his knees in a position of worship is a Samaritan. It would be easy to miss this seemingly innocuous piece of information, were it not for Luke’s continual references in his Gospel to the marginalised and the faith of the stranger.

The Samaritans were renegade Jews. They believed that Mount Gerizim (not the temple mount) was God’s holy mountain – remember, the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 asked Jesus about it. They respected only the first five books of the Hebrew scripture. Their origins were among the people who married non-Jewish colonists during the exile. For this they had suffered rejection by other Jewish tribes and clans. This was a blood feud that had gone on for centuries.

Nothing in this man would recommend itself to the background of Jesus and his disciples, except his need. As the other nine go on their way to the priest, he rushes to Jesus. He can no longer use his illness to hide his religious and cultural identity. Among the people with leprosy, he had a place. Where he had come from, what he believed, where he worshipped had not mattered. Why worry about that when an infectious disease kept you away from your critics but gave you companions in ill health?

He has nowhere to go but to Jesus. He is left behind by his erstwhile friends, who are ready to follow the path of their orthodoxy. He stands with the one who has nowhere to lay his head, the Christ who acts as the priest, going outside the camp to declare the healing done.

The man seeks more from the one who has healed his body – what can he do about his past, his culture, his position in society? Jesus does not mention any of that, but simply tells him that his trust has given him the freedom of being well. He would live on among his people, but be able to speak of an enemy who had healed him.

Two enemies became friends because each was prepared to walk on the edges of what was acceptable. A Samaritan, a representative of an apostate people, was able to see God at work for him in Jesus, despite his lack of suitable qualifications. Jesus welcomed the faith of the apostate because he was prepared to transcend it.

With his true identity revealed, he and Jesus create a prophetic community, one that challenges the conventions and traditions of both Jewish and Samaritan worlds.

In Jesus, we see that God will not dwell ‘within the camp’. God will not stay where we place our tent, temple, shrine, mausoleum, sanctuary, chapel or church. God will not reside in the certainties, correct language and proper belief that can inhibit us as much as shelter us.

Have you ever looked at someone and thought that they would not accept the gospel, before you even tried to tell it to them? I know I have. You should go to Zac’s Place, where bikers, addicts and rough sleepers are all welcomed and taught about Jesus. The leader of Zac’s, Sean Stillman is president of the British section of the God Squad, a Christian biker organisation. He dresses like a biker and wears his hair long and raises a few eyebrows in churches where he goes to speak. But when he tells stories of how God has worked powerfully in the hearts of bikers and Hell’s Angels, it raises your eyebrows for an entirely different reason!

When the church first began, the first Christians were all Jews. It took a dramatic vision to convince Peter that the gospel was for everyone. Remember? He saw all kinds of animals let down in a sheet and a voice commanded him to kill and eat. When he refused, because some of the food was unclean, he was told, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Three times this happened, and then Cornelius, the God-fearing Roman sent for him, and Peter knew the gospel was for everyone. (Acts 10:1-28; 11:1-18)

Going back to the ten lepers, the nine healed lepers were only following orders! They did what Jesus told them, which was the correct procedure, according to the rituals of purification. There seemed no joy in it, though – at least, none that they cared to share with Jesus. They may have been doing the right thing but it was not the complete picture. That day a choice was made: some were made better; one was made whole.

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Writing Wednesday: Inspiration and Perspiration

Thomas Edison is famous for saying ‘Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration’ and many people have applied it to writing. Along the same lines, I say that writing is art and craft.


Ernest Hemmingway

Ernest Hemmingway said ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’ I know what he meant, but it’s not a good expression. New writers sometimes expect to be able to sit down and write a work of literary genius straight off. In that respect, Hemmingway was right. Your first draft, no matter how good a writer you are, will need an awful lot of work before it can be presented to the world.

BUT your first draft is the most important part of the creative process. Without it, you have nothing to work with. You take your inspiration, your creativity, and produce a story. As you get more experienced, your initial story will be better, but even as a beginner, it’s important to get it down. Don’t lose that inspiration.

It’s easy to fill your head with all sorts of good advice about grammar, punctuation and style. It’s easy to get hung up on the need for a three act structure, the importance of subplots, telling not showing, or any other of a hundred techniques for crafting a good story. BUT the craft comes later.

Last month I wrote about the importance of the first idea, when you say ‘What if?’ and see where it goes. No one can do that for you, even if they give you the idea. You’re the one who has the vision to see the potential in pursuing that idea to create a story. So when it comes, don’t worry about structure or grammar, get it down, any way you can. Wrestle it to the ground and document it in full. THEN you have something to work with.


Once you have your first draft, whether it’s neatly typed or a mass of crossings out, extra notes, arrows and circles, then comes the craft, the perspiration. It’s probably best to have something neatly typed, because you might not remember later what the cryptic notes in the margin meant, or why you drew a circle round that passage. So by all means work on it until it’s in some sort of shape and you have captured all your ideas. Then put it down.

That may sound strange, but you need to get some objectivity, some distance. It’s easy to read what you meant to write, rather than what you actually wrote. So put it away for a few weeks until the first flush of excitement dies down and you no longer remember what you meant to write.


Come back to it with fresh eyes, the way a reader will, and see what you actually wrote. And ignore Hemmingway. Think of it more like a rough diamond with enormous potential, but you have to chip away at the rock to get at it, and then shape it until it’s brilliant. This is when you pay attention to the rules and the guidelines. Then get to work.

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Writing Wednesday: Beta Readers Here I Come!

I know I’ve said it before, but Intruders is finished! No, this time, it’s really finished. Well, finished for now, at any rate.

I’ve written it, tweaked it, scrapped it and rewritten it, workshopped it with my writers circle critique group, tweaked it some more, paid for a professional edit, and gone through it all over again. I’m sure I could fiddle with it for ever, but it’s time to bring in some actual readers.


Beta readers are those people who read the manuscript with a critical eye and let the author know how it reads. It’s a scary prospect, but thanks to my writers circle, I’m quietly confident.

There’s lots of advice online about how to work with beta readers. I’ve even shared a blog post about it before. It’s important that your beta readers know what you expect from them. It’s no good if they take months to read it, because you need feedback soon so you can prepare for publishing or submitting. It’s worse if they read it and say it was nice.

‘Nice’ is an awful word – it doesn’t mean anything. Don’t ever tell me my writing is ‘nice’. Tell me you loved it or hated it, and then tell me why – in detail. First of all, it shows me you actually paid attention. Secondly, I can feel good about the bits you loved (and do more of them next time) and hopefully I can fix the things you hated (and do less of them next time).

I’m actively looking for beta readers right now, so contact me if you’d like to offer. This is what the book’s about: In Intruders, when a hostile alien race are discovered, the Kestrel is sent to make contact, but the crew have problems with their friends as well as their enemies, and who is the mysterious injured woman?

This is the list of instructions I’ll be giving my beta readers along with the manuscript (which is 89,000 words by the way, just so you know what you’re taking on).


Thank you for reading this manuscript. Please read these instructions first.

  1. Please mark anywhere in the manuscript where something interrupts your reading. It could be something confusing, awkward, or a mistake.
  2. Please mark anywhere there’s too much description or not enough, too much dialog or not enough.
  3. Please mark anywhere else you feel you need to comment.

Please answer these questions afterwards.

  1. Did you find the story in general believable and absorbing?
  2. If you liked it or not, please say why – the more detail the better.
  3. Was any main character not well-drawn and believable?
  4. Did you understand Captain Darrow’s conflicts and how he dealt with them?
  5. Did you understand Tabitha Enns’ conflicts and how she dealt with them?
  6. What did you think of the tension between Tabitha Enns and Roy Stubbs?
  7. Did you sympathize with Anna?
  8. Does this book make you want to read more Kestrel adventures?

Thank you so much for your help. Please be aware that I won’t necessarily adopt all your suggestions but they will be seriously considered.


I hope that’s helpful to other writers who want their work read, and to readers who want to beta read.

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Thinking Thursday: Marked For Life

2014-10-27 15.41.18


Last year I had a tattoo on my hand. I am now marked for life. It was a deliberate choice, and I chose to put it where I can’t hide it. I want to say to the world that, although my right arm doesn’t work since my stroke, it’s still an important part of me. The dragon symbolises my fighting spirit.

People have preconceived ideas about people with tattoos. Some admire them and think they show toughness, some think it lowers their status. There are people who can’t get jobs because of tattoos – it can affect their whole life.

One way of marking people out is a uniform. But you can take a uniform off, and most uniforms don’t apply when they’re not being worn. Brownies are encouraged to always be helpful and kind, even when out of uniform.

Christians Marked For Life

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

You can’t see it, but if you’re a Christian, you are marked out as God’s possession. This mark is also a promise. God has given us a deposit in advance.

Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:5)

Guard Your Deposit

Paul told Timothy: Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:14)

How do you guard your deposit? Do you lock it away? Do you hold it tightly? Or do you show it off to other people? Women who get an engagement ring – which is a promise to marry – show it off to people. They are proud and exited. Are you proud and excited about the deposit you have been given? 

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15)

When this verse is used, it is usually to illustrate the importance of having an answer prepared. But it’s no good having an answer if no one asks you the question. Do you look the same as everyone else? Does your Christianity show?

Shining Like Stars

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life–in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (Phil 2:12-18)

Paul says you should continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. You should be submissive to God, as you allow him to work out in your life what he has put in you. You should “hold out the word of life” (the Greek literally means “hold forth” or “offer”). This means you will be sharing the gospel with your life and your lips.

Sometimes we think that evangelism is about preaching on street corners or challenging people to be saved. We worry that we will offend and alienate our neighbours and loved ones. There is a well-known saying: I can’t hear what you say because what you are shouts so loudly in my ears.

The strength of our witness to others depends upon us doing “everything without complaining or arguing”, being “blameless and pure”. Do we sometimes give people a reason to ignore our witness because our lives are not “blameless”?

If we do live “blameless and pure” lives, then we will “shine like stars” in what Paul calls “a crooked and depraved generation”. Today is crooked and depraved too. Things which are against the word of God are now law.

When God set his mark on us, he not only gave us a promise, he also gave us his help. God will make us stand out, if we let him.

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

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Writing Wednesday: The Tunnel (poem)

My book of 22 poems, My Stroke of Inspiration is out on ebook on Amazon UK and US. I wrote the poems while I was in hospital after a severe stroke, but they’re mostly positive – my determination not to give in to my condition. Here is a sample.

This was the first thing I wrote, very soon after my stroke, as I lay alone in the night. It did feel as if I was in a tunnel, but I felt safe and confident that there was a way out.

The Tunnel

I’ve driven down a tunnel
and I can’t get out.
I don’t know how I got here,
but there is no doubt,
although right now I feel lost,
I must work it out.

My right hand isn’t working,
that cannot be right.
I’ll make a joke but what’s this?
To speak is a fight.
My leg’s gone now, I’m in the
tunnel with no light.

But inside the hospital,
doctors get busy:
X-rays, Cat scans, and blood tests –
I’m in a tizzy.
Then at last it’s all over
and off to physi-o.

I’m still here in the tunnel,
but now I can see
the lie of the land and know
where I want to be.
There is a light that’s shining,
soon I will be free.

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Thinking Thursday: Self-Pity Is Idolatry

Self-pity is defined by as ‘pity for oneself, especially a self-indulgent attitude concerning one’s own difficulties, hardships, etc.’


When we are full of self-pity, ourselves and our situation is at the centre of our attention. If you’re a Christian, God should be at the centre of your attention. He should be on the throne of your life. If he’s not, then that’s idolatry.

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.” … Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:27,28,30,31,33b)

This is the story of the twelve spies Moses sent to check out the land of Canaan. Ten of them looked at the size and strength of the inhabitants and knew they could not beat them. Two, Caleb and Joshua, saw the same things but looked to God and not to themselves.

Self image is an important topic. The way we view ourselves is a combination of things our parents said when we were young and things friends, bosses and advertising have said to us since. If they are negative, we can be convinced that we’re stupid, or ugly, or useless. Hopefully our parents, teachers, friends etc. have been encouraging and supportive.

But no one is perfect. We are all sinners and all too aware of our limitations. If we look at our own strength, our self image will be poor. But God doesn’t look at us that way.

When Simon was first introduced to Jesus, Jesus said to him, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter ). (John 1:42) Peter means ‘rock’ and indicated the change that submission to Jesus would bring about. Simon was an uneducated fisherman. Peter became the first leader of the new church, preaching a sermon at Pentecost which converted 3000 people in one day.


When Gideon was hiding from the Midianites, God sent an angel to call him to lead Israel against them.  “But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:15) He was looking at himself. But the angel greeted him with the words  “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12) Gideon was not any sort of mighty warrior, but God made him one.

Paul had many weaknesses, but he didn’t concentrate on them. He took God’s point of view  for his self image. Where do you get your self image from? Who is on the throne in your life?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

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Writing Wednesday: Promotion for Authors

Tonight I’m giving a talk at the Swansea and District Writers Circle, which I belong to. Here is the gist of it:

Have you ever been accosted by someone in the street trying to sell you something? Did you buy? Why not? The main reasons are: 1. Not interested in the product or service. 2. Not trusting this stranger.


What about junk mail through the letterbox? Have you ever bought anything? Same reasons.

This type of advertising is scattershot – throwing it at everyone and hoping to find the one person who will buy. It’s time-consuming, expensive and not very effective.

How would we feel if a visitor turned up at the Writers Circle one month and immediately started trying to sell their books? That’s a bit more targeted – authors are usually readers. But the same reasons apply as above. We don’t know who they are, how good a writer they are, we don’t know what the book is about or if it’s any good.

Several people in the Circle bought my local history books, but not all. I’m not upset about it – not everyone is interested in local history. But at least they got the chance to know me a bit and know a bit about the books. I’m sending chapters of my science fiction novel to the Feedback Group and one poor lady wades through it every month even though she doesn’t like science fiction. I’m very grateful, but I wouldn’t expect her to buy the book when it’s published.

In the past, and today, publishers used advertising to try to find readers, but this was scattershot, like junk mail, totally untargeted. They would also contact any groups that might have an interest related to the book, or advertise in certain magazines, to try to target the marketing. But it was still very ineffective.

The internet today provides the opportunity to get the word out about your book to a lot more people, in a scattershot way, but more importantly, to target those people who are likely to actually be interested in the book. The object of online promotion is to introduce you and your book to people and get them interested in buying.

This means that the sooner you start, the better, even if you don’t have a single book yet. In the same way that it takes time to get to know people in the real world before you try to sell to them, you need to do the same online.

My previous talk on Self-Publishing and Self-Promotion was about all the sites and options available. My notes are available as a free PDF when you sign up to my mailing list. You need to decide where to start and take it slowly. Don’t take on too much and try to rush. All the sites have tutorials and help screens to show you how to work them, but you need to decide what you are actually going to do with them.

When I first started on social media I was excited and eager to get on. But I ran into a brick wall because I didn’t know what to say. Good advice is to watch and learn before you start, but also think ahead about what you want to say and how you want to portray yourself and your work.

Going back to the pushy visitor, the right way to do it is to come to the meetings, introduce yourself, get to know people a bit, and contribute to the meetings. Then you can talk about your book. It’s the same online. First you have to be there, have a presence. Then you have to interact and contribute. This will help you find your target audience. Then sell your book.

You may decide to go on Twitter, or start a blog, but as well as the technical know-how you have to know what you want to do with it. So I want to consider what you’re going to say.

1. How are you going to introduce yourself?
2. Who are your target audience?
3. What do you have to contribute?
4. What is your book about?

1. Who are you?

Everywhere you sign up for social media you are asked to fill in a profile. How are you going to describe yourself? Even if you’re not going to self-publish, you need a bio in your pitch to agents and publishers, and inside your book. If you write bios of various lengths you will be ready for every eventuality – just copy and paste.

Now, think of the book you’re currently working on, or thinking about. If you have not even an idea, pick a book you have read and know well. With the book in mind we’re going to look at the other questions. Your bios will just need tweaking over time, but the rest of the questions you need to answer for every book you publish.

2. Who is your target audience?

Think about your readers. Who are they – be specific. Hopefully a wider audience will also like your book, but who is the ideal reader? What do they like and do? Where will you find them – offline and online? That’s where you need to spend some time.

3. What do you have to contribute?

What could you write about that relates to your book? If you’re going to contribute to social media, or write a blog, you have to have something to say. Think of topics related to your book and that your target audience will be interested in. For fiction it could be a topic the story deals with, the locations, the science, the people.

4. What is your book about?

Find the dramatic or emotional hook. Tell the story just enough to attract interest. Why should I buy your book? Think of selling points, for example what would you put on a flyer? You need a longer version – blurb for the back for print or the Amazon description, and a shorter version – for example for your elevator pitch. Do you need to change your blurb to catch their attention?

Do this work now and save yourself a panic later.

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