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Lifelines: Notes on life and love, faith and doubt, by Malcolm Doney and Martin Wroe

30 November 2018

Jennie Hogan reflects on ‘notes’ that have a male, non-alpha, feel

“THE best things in life are not things” is the title of the 30th “lifeline” out of 99 (all of which tenderly examine life and love, faith and doubt). The first sentence here announces that the IKEA catalogue has a print-run twice the size of that of the Bible. Pithy thoughts follow on how we put a value on objects, why we keep stuff, and what we treasure. In a bold fount, we are given some suggestions of things that we cannot possess but might own.

On the large opposite page is a photo of an empty, slightly dilapidated railway station. On the platform, two lovers kiss: are they saying hello or goodbye? It is evocative, not trite; trendy but not contrived. Many of the other full-page images that face the text of each lifeline are equally stylish. Some are humorous.

This may sound a little obvious, and such advice may jar; and yet it’s not written for the preacher, the philosopher — or even the Church Times reader. Half smart manual, half glossy coffee-table book, it is intended for the tentative searcher, the curious undergraduate, the weary middle-aged man who is afraid of quitting his unfulfilling job.

Simon Gunn © all rights reservedSimon Dunn’s photo accompanies the counsel “Remember that you are dust”

The authors explain that they are more interested in how we live than in what we believe, which will justifiably encourage many. The American writer and TEDx superstar Brené Brown offers a sound endorsement: “Beautiful, wise, and playful” — three fitting descriptions. Another superstar, Bono, deifies it: “Sacred text for the more earthy reader”, encouraging the cool rather than the keen soul-searcher to give it a go.

“Love is a verb” is a favourite lifeline; Jesus, Amos, and St Paul get a look in. “Live the questions” is another. Number 34, “Remember that you are dust”, sensitively explores our bodies’ relationship with creation and includes lines from Wordsworth. Facing is a dappled photo of a spade hanging by a string on a stone wall. Other lifelines, such as “Read the news”, or “Trust your instinct”, provoke, inspire, and amuse.

This seems a male-focused book, although that is not a criticism. It brilliantly manages to reject alpha-male assumptions and resist cringeworthy touchy-feelyness all at once. It would be a perfect gift for the bedside, especially for those who lie awake at night, wondering about what life is all about.

The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain at Goodenough College and Associate Priest of St George’s, Bloomsbury, London. Her book This Is My Body: A story of sickness and health is published by Canterbury Press.

Lifelines: Notes on life and love, faith and doubt
Malcolm Doney and Martin Wroe
Unbound £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.39

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