Man Alive! Some thoughts on Easter morning

snowIt’s Easter Sunday and I am looking out at the snow here in North Wales. The past week of snow and cold in the UK has been truly breath-taking in its beauty, but it has also served to remind us that the world is still a place of pain and suffering. A number of people have died caught up in the worst March snowstorms in living memory, while nature itself, battling to welcome in Spring, has been ravaged and left stunned. My brother has lost a number of lambs over the past few days, as they froze to death in his field, while a friend of his fared much worse, losing over 100 sheep and lambs in one day. Furthermore, for most of us at least, the suffering which has resulted from the recent weather pales into comparison to the countless tears of pain, illness, and grief which echo daily throughout the world. Easter Sunday certainly doesn’t erase our passionate cries of ‘My God, why have you forsaken us?’

resurrectionThe resurrection of Jesus almost 2000 years ago does, however, still bring amazing, new hope to our feelings of hopelessness. After all, this wonderful event, which not one of us will ever be able to truly comprehend, guarantees both resurrection in this life and the next. ‘Every man dies, but not every man really lives’, asserts Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

In the context of this life, resurrection is when God redeems even the most dreadful situations. From stormy beginning, life bursts forth. Without winter there would be no spring, without rain there would be no growth, without crucifixion there would be no resurrection. Easter Sunday holds on to the fact that morning will break through, no matter how long, and no matter how dark, is the night. Many of us will, in time, be liberated from our present darkness, whatever we are going through personally, and find ourselves transformed in the light of the new day. ‘The cross we bear precedes the crown we wear’, claimed Martin Luther King.


When it seems to us that there really is no light at the end of our earthly tunnel, the resurrection still guarantees us hope in the next life. Easter Sunday reassures us of the sure and certain hope of eternal life. No matter what their theology, the contemplative thinkers all agree on one thing – that, in the end, all will be well. Although everything is a mess, in the context of eternity, all is well.

In Oscar Wilde’s poem ‘The Doer of Good’, Christ sees a man crying at the roadside and recognises him as someone who, a few days earlier, he had raised from the dead to live this life again. He naturally asks him why he is crying. ‘I was dead once, and you raised me from the dead;’ he answers, ‘what else should I do but weep?’ We live in a beautiful and uplifting world, and we should always value the wonderful gift of life, but Oscar Wilde’s tale still expresses something of the wonder of the next life. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”’ (Revelation 21:4-5).

“Who else has ever invited Charles de Foucauld, Margaret Thatcher, Philip Pullman and Nick Cave to the same party?” The Compassion Quest’s first month

I will post a “proper” blog-post very soon, but I just wanted to update you on The Compassion Quest. It’s been nearly 4 weeks since it was published, and sales for the book have, in the first month, already surpassed sales of my first book Winds of Change, published nearly 14 years ago now. Thanks for all your support! Reviews have been great, with 11 reviews on Amazon (nine giving 5 stars and two giving 4 stars), a number of very positive reviews in blogs (including from poet and author Gerard Kelly), and a very good review in Christianity magazine.

Here are some of the comments in the reviews, with links: (NB I have updated these to include also more recent reviews)

The Compassion Quest (SPCK 2013)

The Compassion Quest (SPCK 2013)

“Very readable book… [Hughes] writes with compelling passion and authority. 4 out of 5 stars” (Christianity magazine)

“Highly readable style… The writing is fast-paced but has real depth. Alongside the high-brow theologians and writers, Hughes’ text is peppered with film references, song lyrics and news stories from around the world.  Who else has ever invited Charles de Foucauld, Margaret Thatcher, Philip Pullman and Nick Cave to the same party? You won’t be bored. You will be challenged. Highly recommended.” (Gerard Kelly’s blog)

“This is a brilliant book by someone who knows what they’re talking about and knows how to communicate in a clear, contemporary way… This book will help you to see how life works in a different way, and I highly recommend it… 100 pages of wonderful writing, great content and many challenges that we all need to think about” (Dean Roberts’ award-winning blog)

“Some books baptise us with both tears and smiles. And make us stop, look, listen. And make us turn around” (Simon Marsh’s blog)

“In the week that has seen the Church lose the wonderful gift of the author Brennan Manning whose seminal text ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ has touched the lives of so many, it’s refreshing to read another voice that gets the true simplicity of the Gospel and can articulate it to a modern audience. 8 out of 10 stars” (Pete Ould’s An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy blog)

“A powerful and compelling vision of compassion and stewardship for all of creation… A challenging and engaging call to be Christ’s people of compassion… [Hughes’s] view of the Incarnation is stunning… An interesting and unique perspective on Christian compassion that bears careful scrutiny, and its overarching challenge is one the Church would do well to read” (Thomas Creedy’s blog)

“Brilliant and accessible theology for real people… Confident, humble wisdom grounded in good scholarship and expressed in beautiful, accessible prose. 5 out of 5 stars” (David Meldrum’s blog from South Africa)

“There is much food for thought in this book” (The Church Times)

“A worthwhile drawing together of spiritual wisdom from an impressively wide range of sources. The author presents a persuasive and often moving case for the interconnectivity of all things under God… None of the illustrations feels forced or clumsy and some of Hughes’s personal and family asides are genuinely charming” (The Church of Ireland Gazette)

“If someone were to ask me which two books, beside the Bible, they should read in order to assist their Christian journey, I would suggest The Shack by William Paul Young and The Compassion Quest by Trystan Owain Hughes. The Compassion Quest is, in my view, the ultimate manual on compassion” (Croeso)

“A deeply thoughtful and introspective book… accessible… reflective… It doesn’t feel like a work of popular theology, or a pious sermon, but an honest reflection on what it means to be Christian… The book made me stop and think, and it has forced me to reconsider the way I view myself and my relationships” (On Religion)

“The Compassion Quest is a beautiful book inviting us to humble awe, to find God and each other in the everyday and to rescue us from lazy, culturally skewed discipleship which has the powerful lording it over the powerless” (Dave Meldrum blog lists The Compassion Quest as one of his Books of the Year)

Compassion Quest launch

Article in Croeso newspaper about the launch of The Compassion Quest

“Get down off the cross Jesus, we could use the wood!”: Speaking for those with no voice

crucifixBritish weather is certainly strange. Every time there is a hint that spring is about to burst through, another cold spell brings us right back down to earth! In one of the recent cold spells, I was on a retreat with a friend in a small house in the grounds of a convent outside Monmouth in South Wales. The house was beautiful, but it was freezing cold. I even took to wearing blankets around the house, which I imagine seemed a bit strange to those also on retreat there! At one point, my friend and I were desperately trying to light the fire in the large, icy living room, but the logs and kindling were cold and damp. In a cry for help, my friend looked up at the large crucifix above the fireplace and exclaimed, “get down off the cross Jesus, we could use the wood!”


Over supper that evening, I asked my friend about his somewhat inappropriate remark. He explained that it was a quotation from a Tom Waits song, later covered by Willie Nelson, and, far from being disrespectful, he maintained that, for him, this little phrase summed up the heart of his faith. After all, he continued, far too often we Christians get too uptight about our worship and our theology. Jesus, on the other hand, would be the first to give up a lofty, privileged view above a beautiful mantelpiece, to help the freezing cold, hungry, poverty-stricken families across the world. As he munched on his cheese-on-toast, my friend lamented that the Church overemphasises the importance of “good” theology and “correct” worship, but forgets how absolutely central our everyday actions should be in our Christian life.

I certainly wouldn’t want to diminish and devalue the centrality of prayer and worship in our faith, and, as a theology lecturer of almost twenty years now, I know that a solid theological underpinning of our beliefs is essential. I can’t help thinking, however, that my friend was making a crucially important point. Both of us agreed that if Jesus were here in front of us in physical form, he would do anything for those who are struggling and suffering. Perhaps we should be adapting the oft-used phrase “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD) to “What would Jesus do for others?” Admittedly, WWJDFO would not be as catchy(!), but the answer would be much more simple. What would Jesus do for others? He would do everything for them… even die for them.

Still Not Love Politics?This should inspire Christians to see it as their duty to speak out for those who have no voice in our society. In the Sunday Telegraph last weekend, 42 Church of England bishops signed an open letter protesting against the Government’s proposed changes to the benefit system – changes that will drive children and families into poverty. This is not an example of a Church interfering with politics, but, rather, is an example of the body of Christ doing exactly what Christ’s literal body would be doing if it were around today in flesh and blood. “We have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need,” stated the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Devotion to Christ, then, does not mean we become imprisoned behind stained-glass windows, worshipping Christ the King. Rather, it means we minister to those people, broken and impoverished, who need us the most and whom we regard as Christ (Matthew 25:34-45).

BeggingMartin Luther urged his readers to draw Christ into flesh. In other words, we must not spiritualise Jesus into something powerful and ethereal, but we must bring him into even the most mundane and troubling aspects of our everyday lives and of our society. He must be allowed to inject new life into people and structures and to transform individuals and societies. And the only way he can do this is by getting down off his cross of glory, giving the wood to those in need of warmth, and living among us in the hurt, grime, and mess of our everyday lives.

“I was walking down 125th Street, and suddenly I stopped. I looked at everything in amazement. It was like I’d just woken up from a dream that lasted my whole life. And I realised that, if God isn’t somewhere out there in heaven, he’s right here, in the dirt” (Jack Kerouac On the Road)

For more on this theme, see chapter 4 “Bringing Jesus Down to Earth” in The Compassion Quest.

Horses with no Names: What’s Faith got to do with Horsemeat?

‘We have seemed to ask – is it profitable? God is saying what we ought to have been asking – is it right?’ (Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the World Economic Forum, Switzerland 2009)

horse 1This morning I received an e-mail from my son’s secondary school informing us that all beef products were off their menu until further notice. The horsemeat scandal will certainly continue for many more months. In many ways it has led to a strange paradox of disgust and humour in the UK. Feelings of shock and revulsion are mixed with laughter and mirth, shown in the myriad of comments on facebook, from genuine concern at the huge issue of public trust in labeling to comments about people feeling “a little hoarse” after eating Tesco lasagne. In a small way, my own children are reflecting this dichotomy. On the one hand, they are palpably upset that they may have been unwittingly eating “My Little Ponies” at school. On the other hand, they have adapted UB40’s 1980s hit “There a Rat in Mi Kitchen (what am I gonna do?!)” and are presently jumping around downstairs singing “There’s a Horse in Mi Burger (what am I gonna do?!)”.

horse 4As a person of faith, my real concern is that, once the labelling issue is put to rest and once the public is given a guarantee that they will no more be eating intelligent (pigs?) and cute (lambs?) animals like horses, the whole scandal will fade into a distant memory. The whole situation, though, points to a disturbing issue that we should be facing as a society, but is being conveniently ignored as the “flesh we so fancifully fry”, to use the words of 80s icons The Smiths, is served on our plates. What the horsemeat scandal should be doing for us is reminding us exactly where our food comes from, so, if we do decide to eat meat, we truly appreciate the gift of life that has been taken to give strength to our own bodies.

For the most part, of course, our society has little or no respect for the wonderful plethora of animals that are around us. In our global economy, just as we de-humanise humans so that we can exploit the poor and oppressed without feeling ashamed, we also de-animalise animals so that we can eat as cheap food as possible without feelings of guilt. Animals literally become, to adapt the title of America’s huge hit of the 1970s, “horses with no names”. Rarely are farmed animals now treated with the respect and dignity that the farmers of old used to treat their livestock. Especially in the large, global corporations that dominate the food industry, livestock (such as cows, hens, and sheep) are viewed as simply a product to be reared for the fast-food outlet. They are bred specifically for death.

Perhaps the indigenous hunting communities of our world can teach us something of the respect and gratitude towards the “calves that we carve with a smile” (The Smiths) for which we should be aiming. Many of these communities hold a great affinity for the prey they hunt and they recognise their utter dependence on the animals that are sacrificed so that their people might live. Compassionate ceremonies and rituals are often performed to show gratitude to the animals for the gift of their lives.

kalahari bushmen huntingThe tribesmen of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa will, for example, symbolically enter the suffering of their hunt by re-enacting the final death throes of their prey. This is a marked contrast to our own food system, which is largely controlled by a small group of multi-national corporations, who attempt to hide the truth about what we are eating and the abuse of animals and workers in their factories. ‘In the meat aisle, there are no bones anymore;’ comments the Oscar-nominated film Food, Inc. [2008], ‘there is this deliberate veil, this curtain, drawn between us and where our food is coming from’.

Yet, Christians especially should recognise that all parts of creation, in life or in death, are equally worthy of our attention, respect, and love. After all, while Christ has an independent identity from his creation, he is also ‘all, and in all’ (Colossians 3:11). Embracing this view should have huge implications on moral and ethical matters – not least on our attitudes towards environmental matters, food production, health care, emerging technologies, animal care, energy development, environmentalism, and so on. ‘Do not do any injury, if you can possibly avoid it’, the great Welsh Celtic monastic St Teilo is purported to have said while reflecting on creation.

yelena cherkasova the deliverance of creation 1997The old anthropocentric, human-centred paradigm does not reflect a truly Christian worldview. God looked at creation and saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1), not because it was useful or beneficial to us humans, but simply because it is “very good”! We must never forget that the whole web of life is valued and loved by God, not merely one strand of it. ‘I tell you, my friend,’ writes Michael Morpurgo in his bestselling War Horse, ‘there’s divinity in a horse. God got it right the day he created them’.

For more on this subject, see my book The Compassion Quest (Chapter 7 “Reverence for Life”).