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Diary: Chine McDonald

23 February 2024


Military glory

STANDING in Lambeth Palace Library in December, alongside my dad and my husband, was one of my proudest moments. My book God Is Not a White Man: And other revelations was a finalist in the Michael Ramsey Prize. Although I didn’t win, I couldn’t help but feel a surreal pride as I pictured my childhood self in Nigeria, and remembered all the times when I felt completely inadequate, or out of place, during theology lectures.

I also felt out of place last month as I stood addressing 17 new generals of the British Army at Sandhurst. We had been invited to talk about Theos’s perspectives on the changing religious demographics in the UK. I wasn’t expecting the Chaplain General to hold up my book and recommend it to the generals before I spoke. Another surreal moment.


Pushing the envelope

EACH year, I set myself a reading goal. Each year, I fail. But this year has got off to a flying start. I’m devouring books and audio books — never wasting an opportunity to read a few pages.

Books are piled high at my bedside; books greet me on my desk at work. I optimistically carry round at least three at a time in my new Mary Poppins-style backpack. It’s a roll-top and so, unlike my previous bag which definitely had a limit, and whose zip kept breaking because I stuffed too much into it, this one will — surely — never break under the strain of the contents of my life. I previously wrote about the spine of my bullet journal breaking for similar reasons (Diary, 18 August 2023). It seems I have yet to learn my lesson.

Anyway, I’ve realised that the reason that I am reading so many books is because I am supposed to be writing my own. The deadline for the delivery of my manuscript is looming, and perhaps I am finding comfort — and some inspiration — in other people’s words. Or perhaps it is a classic form of procrastination.


Joined-up thinking

IT WAS not merely because of my reading target that I instituted the first Reading Week at Theos. We cleared the diary and made space to read books individually, and spent a team day discussing three texts: Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination; Luke Bretherton’s newest, A Primer in Christian Ethics; and, alongside those, Acts 17. All helped us to think through how we as a Christian think tank engage in culture creatively, winsomely, and wisely.

St Paul, in Athens, is engaging with a culture that is “very religious”, seeking God in different ways. One of the things that I love about this passage is the sense of connectivity. Paul speaks about a God who made the whole world and everything in it, and in whom we — all of us — live and move, and have our being.


Don’t judge a book. . .

DURING our Reading Week, I was sitting on a busy commuter train home, reading Motherhood and God by the Roman Catholic journalist and theologian Margaret Hebblethwaite. I couldn’t put it down. I sensed a profound connection to it.

Hebblethwaite wrote the book in 1984 — the year I was born — and yet I deeply resonated with her theological perspective on being a parent. I have been writing similar words in my own forthcoming book.

Despite being enthralled by Hebblethwaite’s, I was somewhat self-conscious about the very 1980s front cover. Yet, a few minutes before I was going to get off the train, the woman next to me struck up a conversation about it. She confessed that she had been reading over my shoulder, as she too had an interest in being a Christian and a mother. She, too, was both. After a quick exchange, we swapped numbers, and, in the past few weeks, have spoken regularly, introduced our families — four sons and two husbands between us — and gone to the cinema together.

The similarities are striking — we live a few minutes from each other, and yet we had never met but were drawn together over a book published four decades earlier. I’ve written previously about my fascination with divine encounters — or, as they are more generally described, coincidences. It is in moments like these that I feel a sense of profound connectivity, both to God and to other people; this sense of connection that I read about in Paul’s words in Acts 17.

The world feels a little less random and full of threat and catastrophe when you meet a kindred spirit on the train; when you are reminded that, in God, all things hold together.


Life begins

BY THE time you read this, I will be 40. In recent weeks, I’ve found myself calculating how many days I have left of my thirties. I’m pleased that the dread that I felt about turning 30 has not followed me as I begin this new decade.

I’m thankful for so much: for getting to do a job I love, for being surrounded by people I love — my family, my church community, and my friends. My birthday celebrations this year will yet again have multiple parts, but I am enjoying planning the main celebration, in which I will bring together lots of friends, whom I’ve met in different walks of life: schoolfriends, university friends, ex-colleagues, strangers who have become friends by complete coincidence. We’ll be gathering for afternoon tea by the Globe Theatre.

Perhaps Shakespeare’s quote from Richard II is fitting here: “I count myself in nothing else so happy, as in a soul remembering my good friends.” Happy birthday to me.


Chine McDonald is a writer, broadcaster, and director of Theos.

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