Brief Reviews

Anna Carter Florence – A is for Alabaster [Review]

A is for AlabasterScriptural Reflections, Resurreted

A Review of

A is for Alabaster: 52 Reflections on the Stories of Scripture
Anna Carter Florence

 
Paperback: Westminster John Knox Press, 2023
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Reviewed by Dawn Gentry

I was delighted to read another of Florence’s works, having been introduced to her Preaching as Testimony during my seminary years. This book, while a substantially different format, included many features I’d loved before – insightful exegesis, riveting storytelling, and artistically crafted descriptions that draw the reader in. 

The book is an abecedary, where each topic chosen begins with another letter in the alphabet. She walks through the alphabet twice – once for Old Testament stories, once for new, choosing narratives which may be familiar or not. But each one is told with a new slant, imaginative re-interpretations which surprise on nearly every page. As someone who has read scripture since my childhood and heard it preached every weekend of my sixty years of life, I had begun to think there was nothing new under the sun. Florence proved me wrong and rekindled my desire to dig into the text with renewed enthusiasm.

Men outnumber women (as they often do) in these stories, but Florence shares exegetical comments that were new to me about Abigail (1 Samuel 25), the woman with the longest recorded speech in the Hebrew Bible (10). She posits about the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10), that her unabashed directness “might be a surprising antidote to our social media age, where direct communication and open dialogue are sorely lacking…and skills we need to relearn and practice” (70). She describes Rahab (Joshua 2) as the “unseen, listening presence inside the walls of things we construct in the name of God…anything that delineates an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ anyone who claims to know who is chosen and who is not” (75). As Solomon did (1 Kings 4), we too are invited to spend our lives “in a state of wonder” (46) and pay close attention to the lessons – and people – God puts before us.


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Later, in the chapter about Mary Magdalene (John 20), we’re reminded that no one expected the resurrection. Florence applies this to our modern efforts to keep Jesus in a box (grave) and how our lives are easier when we imagine Jesus where he used to be, “before all the change and craziness happened” (164). In her passage about Rhoda (Acts 12), she reminds us that Rhoda was not just a “maid” (NRSV) but a “slave” (NASB) – someone who “works the edges of the story with dignity and grit” (185). The reality of human enslavement in first century culture brings new understanding to Paul’s writing, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

She deals with doubt and deconstruction with a deftness for turning a phrase that reminds us while the text is ancient, it’s more applicable than we imagine. Through all these reflections, Florence reminds us that “maybe we hear God best through a person we differ from most…maybe we speak about God best when we stop aiming for the conversion of others and start listening for our own conversions” (123). I experienced many of my own conversions through these stories and heartily recommend the book. Read it as a daily devotional alongside the biblical text. Or use it as a resource when preparing lessons – the scripture index at the back is extremely helpful. Better yet, use it as a new lectionary and preach through these stories for a whole year. You and your churches will benefit from new perspectives on these old texts.

Dawn Gentry

Dawn Gentry serves as the Executive Director of Adult Ministries at Christ Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska. She earned a Master of Divinity degree from Emmanuel Christian Seminary in 2016 and has taught classes at both Milligan University and Nebraska Christian College. You can find Dawn on Twitter @dgentry1905 and she blogs at www.followingGodanyway.com.

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