Writing about books, I try to talk about what I loved as well as the parts that I haven’t liked as much. But it’s one of those things where the squeakWriting about books, I try to talk about what I loved as well as the parts that I haven’t liked as much. But it’s one of those things where the squeaky wheel gets the grease: it’s the ways in which a book annoyed me, or disappointed me, that tend to stick in my head, especially when I start out with very high expectations for a book – as I didn’t with The Rock that is Higher. A dear friend recommended it to me, so I expected to love it. I think I expected it to be written just for me – to unfold perfectly before me, the way Letters to Malcolm (CS Lewis) did, or Grace Jantzen’s book on Julian of Norwich. L’Engle is a classic author, even if I hadn’t read any of her novels when I read The Rock that is Higher. She’s supposed to be the natural progression from C.S. Lewis, and you know what I think of him. And so I came to this book expecting a lot.
There are truly wonderful moments in this book. L’Engle’s discussion on the difference between Facts and Truth; the snippets you get of the novel she was writing at the same time that she was working on this book (Certain Women, which unfortunately the local library doesn’t have).
But at the same time it seemed either dated, or written in a completely different world. She talks about the New Age movement as being the threat to the church, whereas to me, these days, (fifteen years after the book was published) that it’s militant atheists, and ‘our own’ fundamentalists. And as I complained while I was reading it, the most off-putting thing about the whole book was L’Engle’s certainty. It was a book of reflections that contained seemingly no doubts. She seemed never to have doubted God’s love for her, whereas I was reading it (and if I was re-reading it now, still would be) at a time when it took very little for me to doubt that God possibly loved me. She writes about her large family, and her life on a farm in Connecticut and an apartment in Manhattan not as though she has been incredibly fortunate, but as though this is what everyone strives for. It was a little like when I choose to read a Greeley book when I really shouldn’t: sometimes I can cope with ‘romantic love mirrors God’s love for us’ and sometimes my reaction is ‘well, where does leave those of us who have never experienced romantic love?’ The mood I was in when I read this book led me to read it as L’Engle shoving her husband and children and grandchildren in my face, so to speak. Shoving her wisdom and experience, her Episcopalian upbringing and her life at home as a writer and homemaker, and above all her certainty in my face, and saying “If this is not your life, you can’t be a good Christian, like me.”
I do think, despite my issues with the book, that it will become one of my annual-or-close-to-it reads. Like the Susan Howatch Starbridge books: something that I read when I want to be challenged, want to be drawn out of my comfortable understandings into something deeper. I might even re-read it again before the end of the year, and I’d definitely say that it’s a good book for other people to read. I just wish I could read it fresh, without the expectation that I would love it. ...more
August 28 - This is going to be one of those "on the way" reviews. Having read the introduction, I have the following thoughts: Must track down the AbAugust 28 - This is going to be one of those "on the way" reviews. Having read the introduction, I have the following thoughts: Must track down the Abraham Lincoln quote Wallis refers to, because that sounds like good stuff. I hope he doesn't entirely handwave the issue of how to deal with those who don't want to deal with religion. I know he's writing about the US where that's a minority opinion, but I'm reading this in Australia, where even getting religion into the conversation can be hugely difficult. I'm going into this knowing that I don't agree with him on "consistent life ethic": I recall a conversation with a friend when she was reading this book soon after its publication - she *wanted* to have a "consistent life ethic" but couldn't. I just know I can't in good conscience.
September 30 - having taken quite a break I'm trying to finish this book before the end of the school holidays. But if anyone wants to know why I'm finding it a difficult book to read, look no further than that Wallis appears to see rising abortion rates, increased availability of pornography, and expanding gay civil rights as equivalent.
October 7 - So. Longer comments in a few days once I've digested my thoughts etc, but I do think this is the most challenging book I've read since Richard Butler's Saddam Defiant, which turned me from anti-war into reluctantly-supportive-of-war-with-Iraq. Which, given the emphasis on the war with Iraq in this book (in light of later events etc) is interesting. I want to get my own copy of this book so that I can continue to digest. I find it unfortunate, though, that the chapters of "family values" were so short. It meant that I never had a chance to feel what Wallis was saying, and that as a result, I had to go with what the words said, and what the words say goes almost directly against most of my beliefs. Many more comments to be made. But not tonight.
October 18 - I guess in some way I'm never quite going to be able to review this book properly. I found a secondhand copy and bought it, and when I told my mother, she was surprised, because I reacted so negatively to the final chapter. (My reaction, by the way, was "when all's said and done, he's still an evangelical". "Evangelical" cannot be reclaimed in my mind, as some people believe. Wallis still seems unable to totally accept the fundamental humanity of a) queerfolk and b) pro-choice people. Especially when people who are either or both of a) and b) are also Christian.
By the time I finished the final chapter, I was fighting a bout of depression. Yes, I was tired, but that chapter was the trigger of a two-day struggle. I need him to accept that I am a human being, beloved of God. Which I'm not convinced says more about me than him.
Still an incredibly challenging book. I've already borrowed "Seven Ways to Change the World" from the library.
(Also, the problem with the star system here on Goodreads is that it doesn't allow for books that are high quality but not necessarily liked.)...more
My mother brought this book back from a bookstall at the Rural School of Theology, and with my more-than-passing interest in monasticism these days, IMy mother brought this book back from a bookstall at the Rural School of Theology, and with my more-than-passing interest in monasticism these days, I pretty much started reading it then and there.
It’s about the Community of Aidan and Hilda, centred in Lindisfarne, and following a Way of Life, or a Rule. Most of the book explains the way the Rule works: their ten elements, as well as the three principles.
Sometimes the author, Ray Simpson, just seems kooky. He goes beyond mystic into some almost-pagan-seeming Celtic spirituality that I’m personally not comfortable with. Simpson (and the Community as a whole) clearly have attitudes on sexuality that I’m not comfortable with. (The three principles include ‘purity’, which he describes as being about sexuality, and that the only form of acceptable sexual expression is man-and-woman-in-church-sanctioned-marriage. Personally, I’d prefer to look at “purity” in not exclusively sexual terms, and talk about integrity instead.) Every so often there are words and phrases in the sections on interfaith communication etc that just… rang wrong. Patronising, maybe.
And yet, this book did for me what The Rock that is Higher didn’t. It opened out, challenging me without belittling me; making me think through things I didn’t agree with, without leaving me feeling humiliated. If it wasn’t for the fact that I actually take some of the opening passages of Benedict’s rule (particularly about hermits) quite seriously (it dovetails quite nicely with my approach to corporate worship – an approach I wish I didn’t have, but I *do* and I can’t just *stop* simply because it’s not convenient for me or may not be in the future), I’d take a great deal of this book, and the Rule within it, and see how I could adapt it to my own life.
The other thing this book did for me was to reignite my interest in the idea of community. I’ve got the outline of a major piece of work on that sitting in my GoogleDocs, and in amongst everything else I’m doing (do you ever get the feeling I do too much) I’d really like to start working on that, too. And it will be thanks to A Pilgrim Way that I’m feeling prodded back in that direction....more
The Cloister Walk is not a linear book, although it has some organisation by date. In many ways it is like an incredibly reflective journal: not a diaThe Cloister Walk is not a linear book, although it has some organisation by date. In many ways it is like an incredibly reflective journal: not a diary or a daybook, but the journal of someone who sits down to write and simply lets their thoughts go.
I felt an initial connection to this book because of its major setting: the Benedictine Community of St John's Collegeville, Minnesota. It's a town I've driven through; I've seen their belltower from the car. I've read stories set in the University in Collegeville, and each September 11 I re-post a prayer written by one of the monks at St John's.
St John's also hosted a short-lived experimental Methodist monastic community, one whose Short-lived-ness was a huge disappointment to me. In some ways, Norris has managed to do what I wish I could do: have close links with a Benedictine community, and yet still remain a Protestant.
Despite the immediate ties I felt to this book from when I first picked it up, it took me two goes to read it. I kept getting hung up on various things, sometimes the author's attitudes (for example, a chapter I read as being an attack on the teaching profession), sometimes by the subject matter (a chapter on the Virgin Martyrs, for example).
But ultimately, I've both enjoyed it and *appreciated* it. It is now on my "want my own copy" list, because I think this is the sort of book that I could re-read frequently, and get a lot from each time.
Well, I'm in the process of typing out swathes of the text that I want to have on hand to keep contemplating (no pun intended) once the book goes backWell, I'm in the process of typing out swathes of the text that I want to have on hand to keep contemplating (no pun intended) once the book goes back to the library. I've also decided that I need to, at minimum, read more Merton, The Cloud of Unknowing and some of the work of St John of the Cross in the not-too-distant future.
So those two things are both positives.
At times this book went over my head. But at other times it hit me right in the gut, and even the heart.
In the end, it's one of those things where I think it is important that I've read it, even if I haven't yet quite processed it all, yet....more
Every so often you see an interview question - or an internet meme - that asks what books have stayed with a person throughout their life.
I hope thatEvery so often you see an interview question - or an internet meme - that asks what books have stayed with a person throughout their life.
I hope that this is one of mine.
I hope that what I think I've learned from reading this book stays with me: that God is the color of water; that there's always more to someone else than you think. I hope that the lyricism, the simple beauty of McBride's writing stays with me. I hope that the image of Ruth McBride, riding her bike through Brooklyn, tall and proud and indomitable stays with me.
The back of the book explains the bones of this memoir: James McBride's mother tells her story, of growing up an Orthodox Jew in the American South, running away from an abusive father to Harlem and the man she met there, the man she married. And while Ruth tells her story, her son tells his - a meditation on race and America; on religion and growing up; on challenge and opportunity.
Both stories are important. There isn't the one without the other. And in the end, McBride clings as strongly to Christianity as his mother comes to do, and from my point of view, that's a wonderful, inspiring thing to read.
This is the story of outcasts, and the ways they coped (and didn't). And it's the story of a mixed-race family, a mixed-faith family in America. None of it is easy, but there's also no doubt but that McBride's beautiful writing - I keep returning to the word "lyrical", as I have since the very first chapter - both smooths the path and makes it all the more poignant and painful. There is such real, penetrating truth in this book that it almost leaves me speechless (all evidence to the contrary). ...more
A book of quotes, plus two short essays, one by Tutu, one on him. The white space around the quotes begs for decoration, to which temptation I may yetA book of quotes, plus two short essays, one by Tutu, one on him. The white space around the quotes begs for decoration, to which temptation I may yet succumb....more
Read this in the space of a few hours sitting in the City of Sydney Library on 10 July 2009. I began flicking through it and decided it looked sensiblRead this in the space of a few hours sitting in the City of Sydney Library on 10 July 2009. I began flicking through it and decided it looked sensible enough to read, so I settled down to it.
From my perspective, the major plus of this book (and Smedes’) is the Christian perspective. Both books (I really shouldn’t be writing the review of both at once, especially as I haven’t yet finished Smedes) acknowledge that one can find oneself shamed by the church: in other words, the church is part of the problem. It’s because of these books that I’ve begun to be able to identify when I’m having a “guilt attack” – I don’t yet have good ways of dealing with those attacks, but I do at least know when they’re happening.
This book is one of the many good, serendipitous moments of this holiday. ...more
The points that weren't made in that post: Chris is a friend and mentor of mine
WFor my reflections on this book, see the post at my discernment blog.
The points that weren't made in that post: Chris is a friend and mentor of mine
While he was writing this book, he and I were working together on another, related project
In reaction to this book, I decided that I needed to pick up Dorothy McRae-McMahon's Everyday Passions A Conversation on Living to get a queer, feminist perspective from another member of the same denomination as Chris. (And me.)
When I picked up this book I wasn't expecting what I got. What I got was - in a number of ways, a treatise on prayer; not unlike, and yet diametricallWhen I picked up this book I wasn't expecting what I got. What I got was - in a number of ways, a treatise on prayer; not unlike, and yet diametrically opposite to, CS Lewis' "Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer". (The title of that book has changed multiple times: I stick with the one I first encountered.)
"Mistaken Identity" is the story of two young women involved in a fatal car accident in the midwest of the USA. One girl is identified as a survivor, and for a long time remains in a coma. While she is in the coma, and for a few weeks after she is once again concious, she is cared for by the family she is told she is hers. But she has been misidentified, and after five weeks she is properly identified and her actual family are informed. Meanwhile, the family who have been caring for her are informed that their daughter, sister, girlfriend in fact died in the accident more than a month ago.
What doesn't come across on the book jacket is the extent to which both families where evangelical Christians, comfortable with evangelical language, with extemporised prayer, with asking others for prayers. The girls were at Taylor University, a conservative Christian college where anyone involved with the University must sign a "life together covenant" that bans pre-marital and homosexual sex, drinking alcohol, smoking, and dancing (other than choreographed or folk dancing), which covers behaviour off-campus as well as on-campus.
This is not the sort of theology, the sort of ecclesiology or the theology of prayer that I am comfortable with. What the Cerack and Van Ryn families were willing to post on the blog and publish in their book about Whitney and their prayers and the way they viewed God's actions in their lives are things that I simply don't express in the same way. And yet reading this book not only gave me a non-terrifying insight to this approach to life, but a sense of the strength that this approach gives to some. I know that if you looked in my private journal entries from various points in my life, you would see similar emotions, although not expressed in quite the same way. But seeing the way that these families appealed to the strength they saw in God's love and care for them: there's something really important in that.
I've grown up in a different environment to these families. It really is very different in the US, particularly in communities that are particularly Evangelical (which doesn't even describe my own home town in the USA.) As much as I identify as an American, I've been brought up in Australia, and as much as people here think that there are too many religious conservatives around, they ain't seen nothing like it can be elsewhere.
The language isn't the same, and my language certainly isn't theirs. But I think there's value in understanding where that language comes from, and the value it has for those who use it, and that's what I really value about the fact that I picked this book up from the returns and decided to read it....more
Knowing the author's husband - considering him a friend - made this an exceedingly odd read. A good one, never doubt that, but an odd one, nonethelessKnowing the author's husband - considering him a friend - made this an exceedingly odd read. A good one, never doubt that, but an odd one, nonetheless.
It's a book of Boyd-Macrae's columns from The Age, many of which I remember reading at the time. If I don't remember reading them, I remember hearing about the events from other points of view.
The writing is beautiful. I thought I owned my own copy of this book, it seems that I don't and I'm kicking myself for it. I want to put this book beside Madeline L'Engle's The Rock That Is Higher: Story as Truth: to use it in meditation and prayer, to quote bits of it in sermons that I'm yet to preach.
This is a book of beauty. Of calm, solemn faith; of family life, of the heat of India and the cool of a Melbourne winter. Of contemplation, of conviction, of certainty and doubt. Of the warmth of a hearth and the chill of a football ground.
I am so glad to have read this, and feel privileged. I feel bereft without my own copy to read and re-read: to contemplate and to soak into my soul. To listen, to argue with, and to ponder.
This is a book that makes the world better. This is a treasure.
I first heard of Parkminster when I watched the BBC show "The Monastery". Christopher Jamieson took his reality TV parI loved this book in many ways.
I first heard of Parkminster when I watched the BBC show "The Monastery". Christopher Jamieson took his reality TV participants to St Hugh's to show them a more austere side of monasticism. And then I found this book in a discount book store.
I've written elsewhere and will likely write again of my fascination - healthy or otherwise - with monasticsm, and this book didn't change that one iota. Maguire follows five young men who join the Carthusian monks at Parkminster at the height of the "Golden Age" of Roman Catholic vocations in the early 60s, through their first five years of the noviciate to the point at which they must make their decision to take final vows or not. The Carthusians are often referred to as an "extreme" order: most of their day is spent in silence, and alone. Essentially, the monks have individual hermitages, from which they emerge only for prayer multiple times a day, and for their weekly walk (during which they may converse if they wish.)
As a good Benedictine, Joan Chittester (author of my current reflective reading book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today, would disapprove of the hermit-like life of the monks of Parkminster, but I really enjoyed reading about them. The author, Nancy Klein Maguire, is the wife of one of the men that is followed through this book (he having not remained within the monastery, obviously). But there is the greatest respect given to those who remained, and to the faith of these men, and to their giftedness for that particular vocation. That's a detail Maguire never misses, the fact that some people have the gift for this life, and some don't.
It gave me a LOT to ponder as I read it, and although it's not going to become one of my automatic go-to books the way Clare Boyd-Macrae's or Joan Chittester's will be, but it's not about to be packed away in a box any time soon either. ...more
I will be giving this book to my mother and asking her to read it. I will be offering it to my PoD mentor if he's interested. I'll be recommending thiI will be giving this book to my mother and asking her to read it. I will be offering it to my PoD mentor if he's interested. I'll be recommending this one generally.
I think it's the zeal of a convert: because when it first arrived I wasn't entirely certain about it. I felt like I was beyond it. I felt like because my church is mostly-sorta accepting, I wasn't the sort of person that Chellew-Hodge was talking about. But the truth is, I am. And I needed to read this book, and I will need the methods of maintaining mental and spiritual strength. This book, for me, is on the level of Stephanie Dowrick in terms of its importance to me, only this is written for people so much like me. This is written for those of us who "don't exist" - queer Christians. People who have to keep standing up and saying "Here I am" because so many people think we don't or shouldn't exist.
Like Susan Howatch's books, it's going on an annual rotation: I *know* I am going to need to re-read this regularly. This book has been key in my discernment and I think it will be key in my ongoing wellbeing. And God bless Candace Chellew-Hodge for writing it....more