Signs of the times
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Date: 24 May, 2004

To buy the book, and raise money for Christian Aid, click on the cover above. Picture SCM Canterbury Press

'Each chapter is full of information and stories about its icon, followed by spiritual reflections for Christians about what we can learn from each icon.'

Steve Tomkins reviews Peter Graystone's book Signs of the Times. Peter is the author of surefish's daily readings

Icons. Once they were lovingly crafted religious artwork, designed to teach spiritual truths and open a window into heaven for worshippers who point and click their prayers on the image.

Today an icon is someone who gets on TV all the time because they're good at football. Now that's what I call a sign of the times.

The idea of Peter Graystone's book is to line up 12 things that are iconic in the sense that they are everywhere these days and so tell us something about the world we live in if we ask them nicely.

So there are chapters on the Nike swoosh, loyalty cards, tattoos, txt... (The chaptR on txt is writn Ntirely like this. 4tun8ly its v short.)

As one of the writers of Third Way's 'Icon of the Month' column, both the concept and cast are strikingly familiar, but we won't hold that against them.

Each chapter is full of information and stories about its icon, followed by spiritual reflections for Christians about what we can learn from each icon. It's aimed at young people and does a great job of getting them to take a critical look at their world and its values. The facts are fascinating and the writing is funny.

Surprising choices

Some of the choices are a little surprising. One wonders how Jamie Oliver beat Becks and Britney in the race for a place in the top 12 - though it turns out that half of his chapter is about that distinctly un-naked chef Ronald McDonald, which is more like it.

Some of Graystone's conclusions made me want to argue too. He is excited, as a Christian, by the popularity of tattoos because a tattoo is for life, showing that commitment is not so out of fashion after all.

But surely commitment is not just deciding to do something, it's sticking it out. It takes commitment to make a relationship last instead of jacking it in when you get bored of it. How are you supposed to jack in a tattoo?

Such disagreements do not much matter though, because the point of the book is to get readers to look twice at their world, and think twice too.

If you're disagreeing, then you're thinking. And it certainly makes a refreshing change from the expected "Tattoos? Didn't you know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?"

Further exploration

The book left me wishing it had gone further sometimes. The chapter on "Businesses that Change their Names", for example, is a great read, but it culminates by reminding us that Peter and Paul changed their names, and reflecting on what their new names say about the church.

It would make a good sermon illustration, and I'll bet Graystone preaches great sermons, but wouldn't it have told us more about today's world if the book had considered, say, whether the name changes reflect an obsession with image over substance?

Still, as your starter for ten, it's entertaining, informative and

Signs of the Times: The Secret Lives of Twelve Everyday Icons, by Peter Graystone, Canterbury Press, pp192

But the book and raise money for Christian Aid culture index