Nick Hornby is the founding father of a certain kind of bloke, who likes football and music and is modest but honest about his emotional life.
Nicky Gumbel heads up the Alpha Course, the most successful Christian introduction around today.
If you crossed the two of them together, you'd get something like Nick Baines - he's a Bishop in the Church of England, but he's a child of the Sixties. He knows his Pauline letters, but he also knows which Van Morrison album he'd choose to take on a desert island.
And this is in a sense a Christian version of "31 Songs"31 Songs
, Hornby's brilliant analysis of himself through the songs that have meant the most to him at different times of his life.
Baines grew up as a Christian of the more conservative sort and then has deconstructed and reconstructed himself as a a kind of open evangelical: he's rooted in the Bible (his own faith commitment stemmed from sitting and reading the Gospel of John straight through, aged 11) but he's tired of who's in-who's out, doctrinaire Christianity, and more focussed on the wider church and letting God speak to him rather than him speaking to God.
This book is a kind of illustration of his journey, taking in different songs along the way that speak to him, as well as different life experiences: growing up as an odd teenager, because he was a Christian and most others at school weren't, working in GCHQ during the Cold War and struggling with morality, calling to priesthood and a troubled period at theological college, marriage and children...
Now, I loved this book. But then I'm a prime target. Of the songs he has chosen, there were five I know and love (Penny Lane, Graceland, Imagine, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, The Times They Are a Changin') and I was interested enough to buy the CDs of the others. From which, Clapton's amazing late album, Pilgrim PILGRIM
comes particularly recommended, even though I'd never heard it till now: the chosen song, "River of Tears" is utterly brilliant.
I don't know this, but I suspect that Baines has got his CD collection in alphabetical order, has kept the match programmes from football matches he went to as a kid, and that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of his favourite theologians. I say that because that's why I do, and I suspect there's a lot of overlap.
But don't let it put you off if you don't feel such a connection. I suspect the best audience for this is Christians who are feeling a bit stale with their current Christian tradition, and want someone to give a fresh perspective about God. But I think it would also work for agnostics who like listening to Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Paul Simon - you know who you are - and are open to seeing what a Christian might make of them.
It's honest and insightful. If being critical, it occasionally feels a bit smug ("a famous opera singer was coming over for dinner", "when I was in Zimbabwe seeing the painful reality of life there", "after I'd finished my sermon in German"...), but this is being picky. (And, I suppose, what are you supposed to say if you are friends with a famous opera singer, did go to Zimbabwe and do give sermons in German?)
This is refreshing spiritual input, easy reading, but consistently funny and challenging.