Archives For *Brief Reviews*

 

Being Rather Than Doing
 
A Brief Review of 
 

Mindfulness and
Christian Spirituality:
Making Space for God
.

Tim Stead

Paperback: WJK Books, 2017.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  
 
Reviewed by Leslie Starasta
 
 
 
Recently the topic of mindfulness is heralded on magazine covers, news sources, social media and may even be present in your local school classrooms.  All of this talk about mindfulness may leave a Christian wondering what is this and is this something that I can practice as a Christian? Tim Stead, Vicar of Holy Trinity in Headington Quarry, Oxford and a mindfulness instructor with the Oxford Mindfulness Center, answers these questions and others in his 2017 book Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality: Making Space for God.

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The Soul Damage of 
Fundamentalist Culture
 
A Review of
 

I Will Shout Your Name
John Matthew Fox

Paperback: Press 53, 2017
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Reviewed by C.S. Boyll

 

Using humor and tragedy, John Matthew Fox has published his first short story collection that inspects the foibles of fundamentalist culture and its soul damage.

 Fox is gentle with his characters’ psyches, although he doesn’t offer much, if any, spiritual power and solace. These believers make decisions with little awareness that Jesus will and does stick closer than a brother. I can’t deny that such outliers are among the Bride of Christ. Many readers have known at least one irritating person like “God’s Guerrilla” Randolf Hamilton. A retired missionary, Randolf still gives hellfire-infused speeches to youth groups, hooking their attention with stories about Bible-smuggling and snakebite survival.  Unfortunately, Randolf suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s. Ironically, losing his memories makes Randolf a better father and grandfather.

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The Genesis of a Hymnal
 
A Review of 
 

Auden, the Psalms, and Me
J. Chester Johnson

Paperback: Church Publishing, 2017
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Reviewed by David E. Anderson

 
 

Choosing a new hymnal is controversial enough for many congregations, so consider the emotions that surround revising a centuries-old Psalter. In the late 1960s the Episcopal Church (the U.S. member of the Anglican Communion) undertook a revision of their Psalter in parallel with revising their Book of Common Prayer. Work on the Psalter, which had been used with minor tweaks since the 1500s, began around 1968 and was completed in 1971, and work on the BCP concluded in 1979.

One of the original members of the committee charged with revising the Psalter was the English poet W. H. Auden (1907–1973), whose winter home was New York City in the late 1960s. Auden was intimately familiar with the Psalms from his childhood in the north of England, but as importantly (and not noted in the book reviewed here), he had written librettos, with his partner Chester Kallman, to be set to music for composers including Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky, and Hans Werner Henze.

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The Light Breaks Through.
 
A Review of

Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace
Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Hardback: Zondervan, 2017
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Reviewed by Alexander Steward
 

[ Our Recent Interview with Wangerin ]

 
Walter Wangerin has become one of the quintessential story tellers of this day and age. His stories break through the mundane and add a personal touch to everything that he shares. Whether his stories are based upon scripture or from his own personal collection reflecting upon his own experiences, he can connect with his readers and listeners as he offers the opportunity to enter the story as well.

In his newest collection of stories, Wangerin shares stories from his own family. Stories that helped shape him as a person of God. In these stories, the reader witnesses humanity. A humanity that resides in the ordinary. A humanity that resides in the sin and the brokenness of life. The stories are endearing and are a witness that Walter Wangerin is a human being just like anyone else. Too often, pastors are put upon pedestals in the eyes of their parishioners, forgetting that they too sin just like everyone else.

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Looking to Christ

A Brief Review of

The Spirit of Simplicity
Jean Baptiste Chautard

 

Translated by Thomas Merton
Paperback: Ave Maria Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Josh Morgan
 
 

The Spirit of Simplicity has a compelling backstory: a 70 year old hidden text written by a famed French Cistercian, Jean-Baptiste Chautard, translated with notes by Trappist (a Cistercian branch) monk, Thomas Merton. In a world of complexity and loudness, simplicity for our lives and souls is compelling and increasingly popular.

The text itself is short: 114 pages of content, including 14 illustrations of monasteries, and 23 pages of notes from Merton. It is broken into two parts: The first being the aforementioned translation of Chautard’s The Spirit of Simplicity and the second excerpts from writings and speeches of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a leader of the Cistercian order, on the topic of interior simplicity, with added commentary by Merton. From a readability standpoint, the reader must remember this text’s place in history: Part 1 was written in 1920s French, translated into 1940s English, both with a target audience of the theologically trained monastic community. Bernard died in 1153. For readers familiar with dense mystical and theological texts, this time will seem familiar and accessible. For those looking for a simplicity self-help book, it will be a grind.

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Humble Confessions
 
A Review of

Presence and Process:
A Path Toward Transformative Faith and Inclusive Community
Daniel P. Coleman

Paperback: Barclay Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Josina Guess
 
 
 

First Confession:  I did not know that Process Theology was a thing until I read this book. In an interview with Tripp York on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast, Daniel Coleman said that he was looking for “Process Theology for Dummies” when he set out to write this book. Presence and Process does a concise job of introducing and distilling thoughts and concepts that are usually confined to academic circles. Coleman’s thorough research and careful gleaning of a wide variety of quotes from monks, nuns and masters throughout the ages offer lay readers lots of helpful nuggets of truth and could whet a reader’s appetite for deeper exploration. I still got a bit bogged down by the jargon, but appreciated that there were practical suggestions rooted in Christian teaching.

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Contagious Joy and Contentedness
 
A Brief Review of

The Round of a Country Year:
A Farmer’s Day Book
David Kline

 
Paperback: Counterpoint, 2017
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Reviewed by Bailey Shannon

 

When I first started reading The Round of a Country Year by David Kline I thought, “This is just an Amish man’s diary…”. Kline writes a short entry almost every day for a full year about life on his farm in Holmes County Ohio. I thought I would become bored after the first few pages.  However, I was quickly absorbed into this farmer’s poetic and meditative observations.

I never realized know how many birds visited rural northeast Ohio. Now, I know that there are at least the following species: towhees, cardinals, sparrows, rough-legged hawks, horned owls, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens, blue jays, Cooper’s hawks, mocking birds, and cliff swallows. And as far as firewood goes, I learned a helpful poem that informs you which firewood to burn in the wood stove. The list of firewood include: beech-wood, chestnut, birch, ash, oak, poplar, apple wood, pear wood, and, as the poem warns, never use elm.

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Stirring Our Imaginations

A Brief Review of

Divergent Church:
The Bright Promise of Alternative Faith Communities

Tim Shapiro and Kara Faris

Paperback: Abingdon, 2017
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
 
 

It is easy for churches to rest in the comfortable clutches of tradition, and many churches that do so for years, or even decades, may eventually find themselves teetering on the brink of death. Throughout the history of the Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit has rejuvenated the people of God through communities that embodied their faith in imaginative ways outside the prevailing tradition and convention of their day (e.g., the monasteries that took shape in the desert, the Benedictines, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Catholic Workers, etc.) The witness of these communities has echoed through the intervening centuries, well beyond the particular traditions that formed in their wake, reminding us of God’s continuing desire to renew and refine the people of God.

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Monastics, Mystics, and More

A Review of

A Course in Christian Mysticism
Thomas Merton

 
Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Alexander Steward
 
 
 

If you have never had the pleasure of visiting Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, I would recommend you take the time to do so. My visit to Gethsemani several years ago was one of my first true encounters with the work of Thomas Merton. Staying for a week at the Abbey allows one to hear Merton’s lectures during meal time. His voice coming through the speakers with an air of authority yet a playfulness that exudes an openness.

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Foundational Justice

A Review of

A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict
Naim Stifan Ateek

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2017

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Reviewed by Leroy Seat
 
 

Naim Stifan Ateek (b. 1937) is an ethnic Arab Palestinian, a citizen of Israel, and an Anglican priest. His slim but highly significant book is the fruit of decades of theological thought and praxis.

Nearly thirty years ago Ateek wrote a closely related book, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. In that same year, 1989, he founded Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. That organization has continued to grow in influence through the years with chapters in several countries. One such chapter is FOSNA (Friends of Sabeel North America).
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