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Michael Riddell  - Even Realer Than The Real Thing
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After I finished Michael Riddell's novel The Insatiable Moon, my immediate reaction was to go and bury it so far beneath the earth that none of my friends would ever get a chance to read it. Prophetically provocative about how the Church should deal with the coming of postmodernism, I knew that most of my peers would have ample excuse to dismiss Riddell after a novel of such scandalous proportions. It was the most outrageous tale of a community of mentally disintegrated, alcoholic misfits who take the symbolic place of the disciples and Christ and show the sane upright Christian folk a thing or two about spirituality. There is one classic moment when a young, enthusiastic Christian goes on some "outreach" and falls in with one of the motley crew who, in his drunken stupor, teaches the naive kid more about the Bible than the local youth leaders ever dreamed. In the end, the disheveled down-and-out becomes a bit of a guru to the boy.

I will tell you no more and avoid spoiling the story. However, it is enough to say that after a few days of reflection, I realized that this book was not to be hidden but to be heralded as the most profound parable of how the Gospel was before we hid it beneath our sanitized, middle-class interpretations. What really should be buried from my peers are the obscenely scandalized accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, God revealing himself in an illegitimate birth, and Jesus picking a bunch of unbelieving, bad-tempered losers as the rock on which to build a Church! I still do not think that my comrades in the Church should read _Insatiable Moon_. Not because of any quirky, left-field heresy but because of its down-the-line accuracy. I am not sure that the modern Church is ready for the truth of the Gospel.

If my friends are not ready for Insatiable Moon, then Masks and Shadows needs to be encased in the earth's crust! Again, it is not because Riddell strays towards inaccuracy but because he is so close to the truth that we are just not ready for it. This book put me in a bad mood. It tore at my anger and drove me to fears that no other book has ever conjured. It made me want to turn away and ignore it but gripped me with its revelation of honesty and the stark reality of the state of man and the innate weakness at the heart of us all. If you saw the movie Shawshank Redemption, you will remember the little moment of light in the dark and bleakest places. The prison scenes in Masks and Shadows make that film an obvious comparison but here the setting is full of light, people being good, parents and children seeking hard after God, love, and a better world. Into such light the darkest imaginable shadows fall.

It is easy to understand why Riddell gave up his pastorate when he felt the need to write novels. He has, of course, written spiritual books, none better than the inspirational God Zone, but his novels are perhaps a bigger challenge to the believer. For a minister to write such stuff would be preposterous and never allowed. Again, an artist has to step outside the Church to say prophetic things about the scandal of the Gospel and the obscenity of the reality of this life on earth. In Insatiable Moon, we are brought face to face with who Jesus concentrated his ministry around and the shock of the Christ story. In Masks and Shadows, we are brought face to face with the most uncomfortable truth that no matter how well you seek God and pray you are always a hairs-breadth away from being a victim or a criminal of the vilest and cruelest events of a very fallen 

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has just finished a book on U2 --Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2; is the poetic half of Stevenson and Samuel, who just released the debut album Gracenotes ; and has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ He has his own web page-- Rhythms of Redemption at He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine. 



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