Archives For Wisdom


Wisdom Sprinkled Lavishly
A Brief Review of 

Love Big, Be Well:
Letters to a Small-Town Church

Winn Collier

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017.
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Reviewed by Rhodara Shreve

In this new novel by Winn Collier, you might think letters written by a pastor to his small church congregation would be irrelevant to the modern, urban churches in larger city areas but, you would be so wrong. In fact, reading this book is more about getting a chance to remember what we can be robbed of in this crazy high-tech, global world and why this has to do with our deepest need for friendships that matter as as we journey through life. In this book, a pastor finds himself called to a rural church, and as he writes these letters to his congregation, he shares so much wisdom through the stories of people he meets in this church as he gets to know them and the community they inhabit.

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Creating a More Sustainable, Just and Equitable World for all

A Review of 

The Wisest One in the Room: How you can benefit from social psychology’s most powerful insights
Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross

Hardback: Free Press, 2015
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Reviewed by Michelle Wilbert

Poet William Stafford wrote, “Wisdom is having things right in your life and knowing why…” and I’m sure his words could well serve as an epigraph for this fine and indeed, “wise” book by social psychologists, Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross.  Between them, they have over 80 years of experience in the two fields which define the scope of this book:  social psychology and judgment and discernment with both fields explored in depth and with precision in terms of both analysis and application.  Their exploration of what it means to be wise and to apply it in response to both ordinary and extraordinary questions and situations is both disciplined and practical. They persuasively make the case that what they consider the very heart of human psychology and, consequently, human folly–the reflexive belief that our perceptions bear a one-to-one correspondence to reality, often going a step further in the presumption that our own personal perceptions are especially accurate and objective—is malleable and amenable to alteration. This observation—one familiar to most of us however sheepishly we might respond to its veracity—forms the foundational thematic element of the book and is, then, a recurring point of reference throughout. Gilovich and Ross make a compelling case for understanding not only why we do what we do and how we can transform knowledge, experience and insight into wisdom, it offers direction in harnessing this powerful amalgam in personal, social and political situations towards the objective of creating a more sustainable, just and equitable world for all.  In this, they succeed admirably and while there are minor suggestions that can be made regarding the structure of the book, it is a compelling and worthwhile addition to the library of anyone interested in the pragmatics of applied social psychology.

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The Deep, Intensive Surgery Required

Learning Native Wisdom: What Traditional Cultures Teach Us about Subsistence, Sustainability, and Spirituality
Gary Holthaus

Culture of the Land Series.
Paperback: University Press of KY, 2013
(New Paperback Edition)
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Reviewed by Scot Martin

The pharmaceutical industry has made us good at treating symptoms, and once the pain has been ameliorated we tend to move on, ignoring the sickly roots that first caused the symptoms.  “The most important task in our time is not to protect the land or create social justice but to create a sustainable culture,” asserts Gary Holthaus against that kind of symptom-treating-only thinking in Learning Native Wisdom: What Traditional Cultures Teach Us about Subsistence, Sustainability, and Spirituality” (6).

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Christine Valters Paintner - Desert Fathers and MothersThe Act of Slowing Down.

A Feature Review of

Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, Annotated and Explained,

Christine Valters Paintner

Paperback: SkyLight Paths, 2012.
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Reviewed by Craig D. Katzenmiller

Often the very act of slowing down becomes countercultural. In today’s world, we find ourselves in a race to “hurry up and matter.”[i] Every now and then, however, we need to be reminded that life is not about accruing goods, but rather, life is about emptying ourselves in order to love. We need to hear again and again the radical call of the gospel: namely, to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.


Thus, reading Christine Valters Paintner’s recent book about desert spirituality reminds us of what life is about. I read this book over the course of a weekend, but even my hasty reading pricked me and told me to slow down, to reorient my focus. Nevertheless, speedy reading for the purpose of reviewing the book does miss the point. As Paintner writes, “This is not a book to sit down and read cover to cover. . . . A more effective approach is to allow some time each day to read one section at a time twice through slowly” (xxxii). The desert mothers and fathers leave us with a legacy for transformation. Transformation, as Paintner says, is a long process (see e.g., 106).


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459343: Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women

A Brief Review of

Plain Wisdom:
An Invitation into an Amish Home
and the Hearts of Two Women

By Cindy Woodsmall and Miriam Flaud.
Paperback: WaterBrook Press, 2011.

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Reviewed by Brittany Buczynski.

This delightful little volume of homespun anecdotes, recipes, and spiritual insights is full of more simplicity and charm than most books twice its size could manage. Two friends—one Amish housewife, one English (i.e., non-Amish) novelist—together narrate each chapter’s theme with their own experiences, and the reader gets the pleasure of learning a bit about the not-so-different lives of both lovely women.

Cindy and Miriam share more than a friendship. Their close bond ultimately grows out of their love for Jesus and their love for their families. As mothers and wives, they have gleaned much wisdom, and they are now eager to share it with their readers. Taking part in this fellowship, one feels rather privileged to have happened upon such a heartfelt pair of writers and friends.

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“Whither Wisdom?

A review of
Old Testament Wisdom Literature:
A Theological Introduction

by Craig Batholomew and Ryan O’Dowd.

Review by Mark Eckel.

Old Testament Wisdom LiteratureOld Testament Wisdom Literature:
A Theological Introduction

Craig Batholomew and Ryan O’Dowd.
Hardback: IVP Academic, 2011.
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Cloud watchers, unite!  Wonder, mystery, miracle, and marvel enfold us in God’s world.  All of life screams of The Creator.  Yet, we Westerners tend to disregard the wisdom resident in creation.  Comfortable in our homes, we forget that one look outside the window might refocus our attention on what matters most.  Daily life surrounds us with displays of Heaven’s call to humans everywhere.  And what is that “call”?  Order, rhythm, pattern, and wholeness bear silent testimony to what should be painfully obvious—because Truth exists, the world works.  Pragmatists that we are sometimes, we think the opposite; if it works it must be true.  Creation and Wisdom should be forever linked in First Testament studies.

Experiential wisdom can be providentially practical.  Biblical wisdom is tied to daily life and its connection to real-world experiences for every time and place.  So, it was with delight that I opened Bartholomew and O’Dowd’s Old Testament Wisdom Literature (OTWL). The authors invest time in obvious concerns: “the fear of The Lord,” poetic devices, theology of wisdom, etc.  But this text supersedes all others for its intersection with and excitement for God’s creation.  Continue Reading…


If That’s All There Is,
Then Let’s Keep Dancing

A review of

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
By Richard Rohr

Review by Margaret D’Anieri.

Richard Rohr - FALLING UPWARD Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
Richard Rohr.
Hardback: Jossey-Bass, 2011.
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“Learn and obey the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly” (The Dalai Lama).  The thesis of Richard Rohr’s latest book is that spiritual maturity comes only after we’ve lived with the rules and the categories and the knowledge that are necessary to the formation of a self – and then asked ourselves some version of “is that all there is?” The lyrics[i] of this great existential song capture the futility and emptiness of much modern, Western life: We continue to look to experiences, knowledge, status, religion, our own right opinions – even books – to give meaning to our lives. Richard Rohr argues that all of those things that establish our identity are but the starting gate for the spiritual life. Many people never get past establishing and holding on to their identity, and hence never make it past what he calls “the first half of life”. We learn to do only our survival dance, building what Rohr calls a container:

[T]he task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s live and answer the first essential questions: “What makes me significant?” “How can I support myself”? and “Who will go with me?” The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver… In other words, the container is not an end in itself, but exists for the sake of your deeper and fullest life, which you largely do not know about yourself! Far too many people just keep doing repair work on the container itself and never “throw their nets into the deep” to bring in the huge catch that awaits them. (emphasis original)

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“Wisdom for the Ages… And the Aging”

A review of
The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.

By Joan Chittister.

Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon.

The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.
Joan Chittister.

Hardback: BlueBridge, 2010.

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The Gift of Years - Joan ChittisterIf I had been born in 1900, my average life expectancy would have been forty-nine years. Statisticians tell me if I’d been born in 2000, I could expect to live to age eighty. We are living longer, but I’m not sure we understand how to use the gift of these additional years.

Many of us carry negative images of aging: Sunbelt residents living in sprawling condo developments who spend their days golfing and arguing about condo by-laws (think of Jerry’s parents on Seinfeld); sad, shriveled people trapped in permanent longing for their good old days and endlessly rehearsing the saga of their declining physical condition.

Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who writes and speaks on topics of spiritual formation, justice, and women’s issues, insists that old age is not any of those things. Instead, she explains in The Gift Of Years that old age is a developmental stage rich with both challenge and blessing. Thinking of the retirement years and beyond as the last stage of life presents an incomplete picture of what is happening both inside and around us. In fact, she says, we are entering a new stage of life. Old age is a time to grow, not wither. Chittister writes:

“What is the purpose of all these extra years, the ones out of the systems, beyond the corporate institutions. Is this the dying time? Is it only about waiting to be gone? And if so, how can we possibly face it with any kind of joy, any kind of dignity?…Each period of life has its own purpose. This later one gives me the time to assimilate all the others. The task of this period of life…is not simply to endure the coming of the end of time. It is to come alive in ways I have never been alive before.”

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A Brief Review of
Becoming Flame: Uncommon Mother-Daughter Wisdom
Isabel Anders.
Paperback:  Wipf and Stock, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Angela Adams

Becoming Flame is a collection of dialogical wisdom, formatted as short, edifying conversations between Mother and Daughter on topics such as the monotony of daily tasks, insomnia and its requisite self-reflection, life and loss, the anxiety of decision making, and waiting for love—all familiar ground for every woman who will read this thin volume. To elevate Becoming Flame from banal “inspirational” books (I’m thinking Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul here), Anders draws deeply from writings of the Desert Mothers, the tradition of Divine Feminine, her experience as a woman and mother, and her own deep connection to Wisdom. The result is that Becoming Flame goes before us as a sacred text, marking the way as we “are what [we] should be. . . ” so we “. . . will set the whole world on fire” (6).

While some might wish Becoming Flame incorporated more formal feminist theology, what Anders has offered instead is an unacademic and uncontroversial compilation of uniquely feminine dialogical wisdom. According to Anders, “the language and process of becoming flame are drawn from a feminine wisdom that includes three basic components: a healthy receptivity to what is; an openness to fullness of being; and active employment of “practical love” (55). Anders has an obvious knack for blending all three with grace and finesse, kneading and making Wisdom as if it were bread (6).

I doubt that Becoming Flame will bring huge revelations about God or self to readers. But what I do fully expect is that readers will experience minor epiphanies about their own behavior and the patterns of life, find inspiration to persist in their present circumstances, and that through Anders’ carefully crafted words, Wisdom will bring peace. Take, for example, my favorite excerpt (which calmed my anxiety in the midst of house hunting!):

“Is there truly a Plan,” asked the Daughter, “that can guide me in every decision and assure me that I am choosing rightly?”

“You must bring your whole self to that question. Then, at the point where your deepest conviction intersects the line of present opportunity, you will be shown the Way. That is all we can ask for on this Earth,” said her Mother (38).

Becoming Flame includes a moving afterword, insightful notes, and group study questions for those interested in going deeper, but to be frank, by the end of Becoming Flame’s 59 pages, I found myself just longing for more conversation. Yet at the same time, I was glad that Anders did not write more if she would have been relying on her own wisdom—or even worse, artificially forcing more to come.


A Brief Review of

Ostriches, Dung Beetles, and Other Spiritual Masters:
A Book of Wisdom from the Wild.

Janice McLaughlin.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Marilyn Matevia.

Maryknoll Sister Janice McLaughlin has written a delightful devotional, the modern equivalent of a medieval bestiary – but without the zoological flights of fancy.  Drawing on knowledge gained in years of missionary and humanitarian work in Africa, and friendships with park rangers and guides, Sister McLaughlin profiles 26 representatives of the continent’s indigenous animals and plants.   She highlights the unique adaptations, characteristics and virtues of each, and then – through rich, thoughtful, and personal vignettes – shows how these same virtues enhance human lives and communities.  Each chapter concludes with a few short readings from Scripture, and suggestions for further reflection and action.  Illustrations by Charles Chazike or Justin Gope accompany each profile.

The book is charming, and yet not at all “fluffy.”  Her vignettes are often poignant and sensitive.  While the connections to the animal profiles and virtues could be strained and simplistic, in Sister McLaughlin’s hands, they are perceptive and thoughtful.  Reminiscent of the poet’s tactic in Job 38-41, Sister McLaughlin celebrates some of God’s less alluring but no less remarkable creatures – the Dung Beetle illustrates perseverance, the Hammerkop (a 1-pound bird that constructs 100-pound nests!) exemplifies ambition, the Porcupine illustrates justice, and Warthog resourcefulness – along with the more charismatic representatives, such as the Cheetah (solitude), Elephant (communication and community), Hippopotamus (humility and self-acceptance), Lion (playfulness and leisure), and Rhinoceros (stability).  Her suggestions for reflection are, at times, probing, and the suggested actions can be challenging.  These make the book useful both for personal meditation and for small group (adult or young adult) discussion.