Posts Tagged ‘Barefoot Disciple’

One of the more shameful things you can do as an author is look your book up on Amazon to see how well it is selling.  As the ratings change every hour you can waste a lot of time like that.

If the book is doing well it is good fun.  You see it rising from the hundred thousands to a five figure number. You begin to wonder, maybe it will get into the top 10,000. It does. Will it do better? Yes, inside the top 5,000. Then one day, Amazon mentions it in a promotion and it breaks into three figures.  We are cooking on gas now. There’s only Jamie Oliver between us and the very top. Well, Jamie and about a thousand other books. That’s quite a lot, actually.

It is very childish, of course.  I have no idea how Amazon’s algorithm works and it was only after a while that I realized that just a few sales could lead to very significant changes.  And those sales might well be of other books.

Someone told me that the number of ‘likes’ makes a difference too. Which is good if you want to be kind but don’t want to bother reading it.  The other day a student told me she liked my first book. I was astonished. ‘You’ve read it?’ I asked. ‘I read the back cover’ she replied. ‘It was nice.’ Fair enough. A like is a like.

With two books published there is even more juvenile fun to be had. It’s a race. Which book is in the lead?  One day I looked them up to find they were only a few places apart – one was 9,248 and the other 9,254. Neck and neck. I wanted to photograph the moment. An hour later they had moved apart. Don’t ask me how I know.

Both have tumbled down over the last few days.  One was mentioned in the Church Times as a ‘recently published’ book last Friday, It was around 5,000 then. Now, less than a week later, it is ranked 144,559.  And, no thank you, Mr Amazon, I will not take the trouble to look up the top 100 books right now. I am not quite in the mood.

This is innocent sport, of course.  But there are is a real danger lurking. A new review could pop up any moment.

In fact, one just has. I must be getting old as it made me laugh out loud. It’s short enough to tweet:  ‘An interesting little book, a bit disjointed, but makes better sense reading it for the second time. It was very thought provoking especially during lent (sic).’

It was for Barefoot Disciple. Healing Agony has not been reviewed yet. Though you never know…Maybe I had better check.

I am not sure about Amazon reviews. You just don’t know who the reviewer is. But you can work out a few things by looking at their other reviews.  So I looked ‘jrc’ up.

There were six other reviews, all as succinct.  Two were for Bibles, (‘this is a neat bible, although the print is a bit small’.)  One was for Majestic Rainbow Bible Tabs (‘these bible tabs are so useful. they help finding the books of the bible so much quicker. They are a bit fiddly to put on but still useful.)

And one was for a ladies watch strap. (‘I am a bit disappointed, a good price, a lovely colour, and a nice looking watch strap, but no spring loaded pins included to fit watchstrap to watch. SO had to buy them as well.’)

Reviewers also award stars.  jrc had given several five-star reviews. The watch strap minus pins only got three stars – which for some illogical reason made me feel better about getting four for my disjointed ramblings. The neat Bible only got two. Even more disjointed, perhaps.

Must stop. It’s time to check the rankings.

But why not be radical and shop in a real bookshop, say the Durham Cathedral Shop. There is no fear of stumbling across a ranking or review in there. Check it out at Nice staff too.


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These ideas all all based on my book Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2011

The original plan was to include these ideas in the book but in the end we decided not to. Just as well, probably. Now you can get them without troubling to read it.

Have a great Lent! And if you do nothing else, try number 6.

1. Take Off Your Shoes

We have all walked barefoot and felt the earth beneath our feet. And we all played barefoot when we were children. But have you ever prayed barefoot? Do it once and you won’t forget it. It will touch your imagination. Try it out of doors. As you feel the world through the soles of your feet, you will begin to realise the spiritual relevance of the material world. As a barefoot disciple living in a northern country you will, most of the time, be well shod. But if spiritually your feet are bare, you will tread carefully and walk differently. You and your prayer will be earthed, real, humble.

2. Admit a Recent Mistake

Just one will do. Notice when you have made a mistake and own up to it quickly, simply and honestly. And then let it go. Do not seek forgiveness unless the mistake has really hurt someone. If you say ‘sorry’ as a habit, stop it now. You are devaluing the currency. The idea is to acknowledge that you are a mistake-maker for much of the time. This is an exercise in realism and true modesty. Once you have mastered it, you will no longer try to cover up the mistakes you make in daily living. Rather you will find them to be opportunities to learn humility. After a while you might even develop the confidence to begin to address the mistakes for which you really do need to ask forgiveness.

3. Pocket an Insult

The phrase is Ghandi’s. He is a barefoot walker who can speak to us from another faith. It means: ‘do not take an insult personally’, ‘do not take it to heart’, ‘do not react’. But, equally, it does not mean ‘ignore it and it will go away’. Rather, if you are on the receiving end of an insult, it is rarely going to be helpful to react. Instead, pop it into your pocket and, after a while, take it out to see whether it is worth responding to carefully and humbly. Such humility can be determined and powerful, but it is never hot-headed or full of smouldering resentment.

4. Behave as a Child

Jesus says that children are at home in the kingdom of God. And so he wants adults to be childlike. What could be more fun than that! This is your the invitation to let the child within out to play. The child in you is naïve, impulsive, direct, simple, trusting, vulnerable, unsophisticated and unpretentious. Jesus tells us that this is a really most important part of who we are. If the inner child does not thrive then nor do we. Let your inner child out to play. It knows how to live.

5. Step across a Boundary

Visit somewhere that feels a bit scary, uncomfortable or even provocative to you. For many Christian people, a visit to the place of worship of people of another faith is uncomfortable and disorienting enough to wake them up to the fascination, depth and quality of their own faith. So visit a Mosque, Synagogue, Hindu Temple or Sikh Gurdwara. Risk putting yourself in a situation where you know that you will not fully understand what is going on and feel like an outsider. Pay attention to your feelings and let your bewilderment and confusion enhance your learning, your wonder and your enjoyment of the experience. Afterwards try to describe your experiences in a notebook or perhaps to a friend who agrees to step out of his or her comfort zone too.

6. Give up Grumbling

Do you remember Terry Waite’s vow when taken into captivity: ‘no self-pity’? It is a good one but it is far more difficult than we realise. So take the trouble to tune in to the grumbling that you hear around you (and which sometimes comes from your own mouth). It will be difficult to give up grumbling for good, so start by giving it up for Lent. After you have done without it you will wonder why you ever bothered with it. And if you can’t give it up, try to transform it into protest, penitence or petition. You will soon find you have a new passion for both justice and prayer.

7. Practise Hospitality

Take the trouble to notice the people you don’t usually notice. Offer a greeting when others are locked in silence. Learn how to wave in an affirming, positive way. Learn how to smile across a room or make eye-contact across a meeting to support someone who is struggling. You can’t be friends with everyone, but by being friendly you can touch, and perhaps change, many people’s lives and even have an impact on the whole social environment of a neighbourhood. Don’t think that you need to turn your home into a refuge for ex-prisoners in order to exercise true hospitality. Simply take one small but deliberate step in the direction of being more hospitable.

8. Do Something for Someone Else

Do something simple, modest but practical for someone else. It might involve giving someone an unexpected gift or offering to help lift something. Such gratuitous and caring action can touch the heart and imagination and have untold positive repercussions. But don’t be excessive. Don’t take over. Don’t create dependency. Lend a hand but try not to ‘make a suggestion’. It is modest, humble, practical generosity that is called for. Not grand projects or patronising performances.

9. Be Proud of Yourself

Surprised by this suggestion? While bad pride is to be avoided there is such an experience as good pride. It is a very down to earth feeling and we have it when we allow ourselves to look at work well done with kind and straightforward eyes. It is childlike to have good pride, because there is nothing arrogant or conceited in it. Good pride accepts praise gratefully but humbly and allows you to recognise that your efforts are worthwhile and achievements valid. Good pride is not pushy and might be expressed modestly: ‘hmmm, not bad’. It is a good feeling and not only consistent with healthy humility – but a sign of it. Meanwhile try to shake off all forms of bad pride: arrogance, conceitedness and chauvinism. But also try to do away with false modesty. No more ‘little me’, thank you.

10. Encourage Others

Encouraging others is the opposite of criticising them. Whereas criticism comes from meanness of spirit encouragement comes from generosity of spirit. As such it reflects something of God’s love. Also, whereas criticism often comes from envy, encouragement comes from a desire to see others thrive and flourish. Criticism can come from a spirit of competition or fear, whereas to encourage people involves noticing what they are contributing. Tell people you have noticed the difference that their effort has made or let them see that you acknowledge their difficulty or suffering. We are often a bit stingy with our encouragement, for fear of causing others to swell in pride. The truth is that when encouragement is sincere and appropriately expressed, it nurtures genuine humility. Allow people the joy of feeling truly humbled and really encouraged by what you say.

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You learn a lot if you write a book. And some of what you learn is about the subject matter. Putting it all down coherently makes you see the gaps in your knowledge.

But you learn more about yourself.  You discover new levels of self-doubt.  ‘Why did I ever think I could do this?’

You are soon back at school, thinking of excuses for not handing in your homework on time. You learn how very easily distracted you can be. And how easily pleased. Only to be disappointed again when you read your genius passage through the next morning.

The process of writing involves self-discovery of the most humbling kind. ‘Now I know why there are so few books on this subject’ you say to yourself – again, and again and again.

And you learn about others. You learn about the people you share your life with and their capacity to be loving and supportive and encouraging. You marvel as you see them express an interest in yet another micro-iteration of an idea that lost its shine some while ago. And you learn about your editor’s tact and wisdom and patience.  Well, how do they put up with writers??

It’s when you try to write that other authors, real ones, rocket in your estimation. Anyone who has published something longer than 4,000 words is your hero.  You read other people’s books with eyes open wide in stunned disbelief – ‘how did they do that!’ You read a single chapter – ‘wow!’ You read sentences and wonder at how so much was crafted into so few words so elegantly.  And then you return to your own lumpen, tired and turgid prose and blush with the anticipated embarrassment that one day people might read this stuff.

My first book, Barefoot Disicple, had been commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury as his Lent Book for 2011.  No pressure, then.  Sooner or later the archiepiscopal eye would be cast over the whole thing and the Foreword written. Of course it felt like waiting for an essay to be marked.

I read the Foreword on a computer terminal in a cupboard in a London retreat house. I remember walking away afterwards; my feet hardly touching the ground. Heavy irony here: the book was about having your bare feet firmly on the ground. Hubris was just down the corridor. I thought myself out of it.  ‘What about the reviewers?’ I asked myself. ‘What about the real readers? What will they think?’  I was down to earth again with a bump. The right place to be.

Six months later it was published. Then there was the launch. It was a celebration.  But none of it was about the content, the words.  It was about the existence of the book.  Suddenly, it was born. Da-da!

As if. The struggle forgotten, I had to learn how to sign copies. Signing it seemed like cutting an umbilical cord. No wonder my signature was shaky.

After a while emails and cards from readers, strangers to me mostly, began to arrive. Now it began to feel real. People writing back. People taking part.  The book was living its own life. Not only born but grown-up and wandering free. We were both liberated.

Someone sent me the notes she had written after each session her Lent group had spent with the book. A few days later she emailed again. ‘I forgot to send you the prayer,’ she wrote.  And there is was,  A Prayer for Barefoot Disciples.  Astonishing.  The heart of the book transposed to the language of prayer. What better fulfilment might any text have?

Here is the prayer. The whole book in one sentence,  fourteen short lines. How did she do that!  I don’t know. But I am delighted, Sue Page, that you did.  Thank you.

A Prayer for Barefoot Disciples

Lord Jesus Christ,
we follow you
as you empty yourself of power,
gaze into the eyes of need and pain,
and tread the way of humility
all the way to the Cross.
Teach us how to walk,
shedding the shoes of pride and conceit,
ceasing to complain,
delighting in the life you offer
and learning more of what it is to be humbly open
and alive in your love.
We ask this in the name of Your Father
and the power of Your Spirit.

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