My Review of Bier and Bulkeley’s Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament

Later this month, I am planning to preach a sermon titled “Is it Okay to Complain to God?” I think that it is and, in my own faith journey, learning how to complain, lament, mourn is something that I am learning to properly (biblically, perhaps?) to do.

I am preaching this sermon in part due to the circumstances of my family life and of the loss and grief within members lives of the congregation I serve and…because I have recently read Miriam J Bier and Tim Bulkeley’s Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament  (Pickwick Publications: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014)

A selection of essays edited by Bier,  who is a Lecturer in Old Testament at London School of Theology and Bulkeley, who is a Freelance Biblical Scholar teaching at Laidlaw Graduate School and Colombo Theological Seminary,  Spiritual Complaint is the result of presentations given during a “colloquium at (then) Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School” in the aftermath of the Christchurch New Zealand earthquake in 2011.

Divided into four sections: foundations, reflections, explorations, and refraction, Spiritual Complaint first addresses “new contributions to scholarship on Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Job; and ongoing discussion of the discussion of the relationship between lament and penitential prayer in the Old Testament.”

Then in the second and third sections the book “offers a bridge between the foundations of biblical scholarship, and the contexts in which lament might be used and framed in contemporary society.” The final section, “Refraction,” features Yael Klangwisan’s autobiographical lament “in the land of Israel/Palestine.”

Wide ranging and yet focused in the pursuit of understanding and appropriately engaging in lament, this reviewer found some of the chapters very informative as to the practice of lament from the view of and in the practice a local church pastor.

For example, Bier’s study of Lamentations 4 and its relationship to the rest of the book, provided this reviewer with some new perspectives on the context of both the chapter and the book as she suggests that Lamentations 4 has a “unique position in the book of Lamentations as a transitional movement between the individual (yet representative) speaking voices of… Lam 1, 2, and 3; and the explicitly communal speaking voice of Lam 5.”

Robin Parry, Editor at Cascade Books and Pickwick publications for Wipf and Stock Publishers in the UK, cogently argues in a chapter titled,  “Wrestling with Lamentations in Christian Worship,” that “…Christians would be well advised to listen closely to the historic Jewish interpretations. Gentile believers in Jesus need to appreciate afresh that this is a book, in the first instance, addressing the sufferings of Israel.”

I appreciated this book and was glad to read it as it gave me  a perspective of other Christian scholars from another part of the world who wrestle with the implications of the Biblical text regarding the difficult and tragic times in life and how Holy Scripture speaks to us in those moments. It was challenging and a refreshing read and has given this reviewer much to consider.

Spiritual Complaint would be a great read in courses at least the seminary and graduate school level and perhaps in upper-level undergraduate courses in religion and biblical studies.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher at my request in exchange for an honest review.

 

My Danny Cahill’s Review of Aging Disgracefully

Danny Cahill was a top producing corporate recruiter who eventually bought the company he worked for and made it into a top performing company in its industry. But as he did, his personal life slid downhill to the point a personal training injury forced him to both look at and deal with his life and make some hard choices.

Aging Disgracefully (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2017) chronicles Cahill’s fast rise to the bottom even as he stood at the top of his company and field.

This book is 21st century living in America – ego driving, drug and alcohol fueled, and fear driven – that while celebrating success on the outside, often fails to deal with the inner failure and pain on the inside until it is too late (overdose or suicide) or the pain forces a crisis (physical as in Cahill’s case) that is emotional, spiritual, or existential.

This is a story of excess – excess wealth, consumption, power, ego, and control. It is also a story of coming into reality, ( dare we also say “sobriety and sanity?”) as the book concludes with Cahill’s desire to “make a friend” through the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapter as he moves away from his past and begins to rebuild his life.

Again Disgracefully is a candid work and the author notes in the introduction that “while all events are portrayed to the best of my memory, they are my memories.” It is also a work that I give a mature rating to because of language and subject matter.

This “work of creative nonfiction” is a great read for literature classes and I think business ethics classes given the relationship dynamic with one of his employees. I also think that classes for clergy would benefit from reading this book as Cahill’s story is an unfortunate common story in today’s culture and affects people who seek out clergy for help.

I liked this book and believe it to be a good read but it tells an all too familiar story, unfortunately, that we read of or see happening in life today. For that reason I gave it a three- star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received an e-book copy from Smith Publicity via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Matteo Bussola’s Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast

“My job is being a father. My profession is drawing comics. I write for fun.”

Matteo Bussola’s Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast (TarcherPerigree, 2017) is a delightful and wonderful piece about the joys of fatherhood no matter if you are the father of daughters (as he is) or sons…or both!

Developed, from what this reviewer understands, from his Facebook posts, Bussola takes us on an inside look of fatherhood, and life, as he helps his three young daughters navigate life and the wider work in which they lived.

Organized into the four seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall, Bussola chronicles the daily tasks of being a dad, a husband, and an adult as he unpacks insightful nuggets of wisdom from his daughters’ questions; reflects on the fleeting time he has with his daughters; and addresses contemporary issues such as racism and ageism.

Several stories I marked as my favorite and while I will not share their content, I list a few of them here:

Kids’ Party – A hilarious look at two dad’s (one of them being Bussola) at a kid’s birthday party.

Eyes like Andy Garcia – Probably my favorite of them all.  A reminder of many things, including that children have a way of bringing you down to earth with a sudden thud!

Pockets Full of Stones – A wonderful bittersweet reflection looking at the long term aspect of fatherhood that changes as children grow older.

Daughter to Go – A humorous look at what happens when you turn the tables on a telemarketer with your “dad card.”

This book is a wonderful gift for dads and dads-to-be.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received an uncorrected proof of this book from the Amazon Vine reviewer program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

My Review of Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls

Kate Moore has written a gritty, gut wrenching and gut retching, story about a group of young women that ninety years ago fought both for their lives, the lives of their equally young and promising co-workers, and for safety in the workplace. They had so much to look forward to – life, love, and all that is part of them. But, they, as did many others, succumbed to the hideous effects of a radioactive substance called Radium.

Known by the moniker, The Radium Girls, these women who lived in two disparate towns, urban Orange New Jersey and the Illinois prairie town of Ottawa, Illinois, have their names made known by Moore alongside their tragic story in her book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (Sourcebooks, 2017)

The fascination with the nature of radium in the second and third decades of the 1900’s included its use in paint that was applied on watch dials and then added to toothpaste, make-up, and other consumer products. But when young vibrant women such as Katherine Schaub, who began working for the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in 1917, began developing serious and incurable health issues – dental decay and loss, tumors, hip and leg issues, the truth about the radioactivity of radium and its devastating and deadly effects on the human body began to be seen and eventually investigated.

Divided into three sections – Part One: Knowledge; Part Two: Power; Part Three: Justice – Moore does what she sets out to do as noted in her introduction – to tell the stories of the individual women behind the moniker “The Radium Girls.” She does it well.

The Radium Girls is not an easy read at times.  It is graphic as Moore describes the facial decay of some of the women whose teeth and jaws disintegrate because they are trained to ‘lip’ their fine brushes in their mouths, then ‘dip’ their brush in the paint, and then ‘paint’ their dials.  “lip…dip…paint.”

But The Radium Girls is also essential reading. It is a story with profound implications for workplace safety, consumer protections, and corporate responsibilities. It is a history of American labor and business practices and law. It is a story about responsibility. It is a story about the delicate balance between jobs and profits against responsibility and worker safety.

The Radium Girls will be an excellent addition to classes in undergraduate and graduate courses in history, sociology,  business, and in even law and medical school classes.

I gave this this book a 4-Star review on Goodreads

Note: I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Shauna Shames’ Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why It Matters

This is the story of a multi-year investigation into why elite, well qualified young adults who are already on a path toward a career in policy or law are not more interested in running for office. 

Shauna Shames, a Political Scientist and researcher in American political behavior, has added a meaningful narrative to the discussion of contemporary American political life with an insightful and well-researched study of why a group of well-educated and qualified young adults are choosing to focus their attention on meaningful work into areas other than elected office with Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why It Matters (New York University Press, 2017)

This book combines thorough research  of a select group of young adults, primarily Harvard Law and Government School students of multiple races and both genders, who look at running for office as a negative and choose to put their energies elsewhere in either policy making or other similar efforts. Drawing on her significant research that is presented in numerous charts and tables throughout the book, she concludes among other things, that for some groups, such as women of color and especially African American women, the costs of running for office outweigh the potential rewards.

Out of the Running is not just a book about barriers to running in which a highly qualified segment of a significant generational group is looking the other way when it comes to politics. It is also a book that reveals the current challenges of contemporary American politics to court and cultivate the next generation of elected leaders.

One such challenge, Shames notes, is  that the current American-system,  is based, on a “candidate-centered system” today compared to a “party-centric” system where the party chooses the candidates to run.

“…our parties here, compared with their counterparts in other democracies, have relatively little control over who will run under their name…candidate selection…is “crowd-sourced” in the United States.”

Some readers may argue with Shames that such “crowd sourcing” is normal and part of the American political climate. However, Shames points out that the ambition needed to run in such a system is not there or is thwarted by many barriers in her subject’s views. Barriers she notes at length in the book.

Out of the Running is a very insightful and important, in this reviewer’s opinion, look at a variety of streams in not just American political life, but American life in general (especially as it relates to the still lingering affects of racism in the US that Shames notes in a significant passage in the book) and how they have merged in the current time to produce a low-view of politics and elected office.

I enjoyed this book because I think that Shames used solid research methods to bring out significant views and perspectives not based the “latest poll numbers.” This will make an excellent text book in both undergraduate and graduate political science classes as well as for those interested in growing the next generation of political leadership.

I gave this book a five-star rating on Goodreads

Note: I received an electronic ARC copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My Review of Richard P Hansen’s Paradox Lost

“Paradox stimulates our imagination by bringing the complexities of life and faith front and center so we cannot ignore them…Paradox stimulates our imagination to explore the mystery of God as a realm we inhabit.” from the epilogue

 

 

 

With scholarly precision and a pastoral perspective, Richard P Hansen delves into the mystery, complexity, and the perplexity of paradox in regards to the Christian faith in his book Paradox Lost:Rediscovering the Mystery of God (Zondervan, 2016)

Starting with a story about a woman named Cheryl who responded to an article Hansen had written about preaching biblical paradox and concluding with an afterword “Plea to contrarian preachers (and listeners),” Hansen takes us on a necessary journey of faith for the purpose, he writes,

“to reclaim and embrace biblical paradox as a means by which we can more fully experience the mystery of God. The essence of paradox is the tension created by bringing seemingly opposite ideas into relationship with each other, and such tensions are prominent throughout Scripture. What I hope to offer are ways we can recognize these paradoxical tensions, reflect on them, and ultimately harness them to open up new horizons in knowing God.”

This reviewer believes that Hansen accomplishes this task.

Divided into five parts:

A strange sort of comfort

Serious playfulness

The tuning fork

The two handles

The shell

Paradox Lost takes the reader on a journey to well-known Biblical phrases such as “Whoever wants to save his life must lose it,” then on into a discussing about the value and place of second order paradoxes as Hansen uses the image of a tuning fork to illustrate what he calls “harmonic tension” in the book’s third section, The Tuning Fork, in which phrases such as a classic one in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe used to describe Aslan “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good,” are used to think through and about a God who is just and also love.

In the fourth section of the book, The Two Handles, Hansen uses the image of the two-handed auger to address those paradoxes which, like the grip on the auger, must be kept well apart and in tension. Here he speaks of “third-order paradoxes”  which he notes “seems to express the mystery of being :  the nature of humankind, the nature of scripture, the nature of God as three in one, the nature of Jesus Christ as God and human.”

Finally, Hansen uses the image of a crab shell which must be discarded as a crab grows because it would otherwise be imprisoned in a smaller shell to discuss the issues of a changing worldview and the dangers of a faith which does not mature and could very easily notes Hansen, “slip into ideology, superstition, fanaticism, self-indulgence, and idolatry.” Here Hansen challenges the reader with the place of having an renewed imagination as part of a deepening and vibrant faith and notes the challenged posed by reason:

Reason is our mother’s milk in the Western world, and reason does not know what to do with mystery, especially the mystery of God. 

I loved this book for both its intellectual and spiritual stimulation as it has been a while since I have read a book that speaks to both mind, heart, and soul. I think that because of the discussion questions at the end of each chapter, Paradox Lost will make a great study book for congregational study groups as well as seminary and university classes.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

 

My Review of Jennifer Grant’s When Did Everybody Else Get So Old?

32758584Jennifer Grant has written a book  about aging and middle life that is, at times, gritty, humorous, sad, honest, but very, very much grace-filled. It is one that those who are about to enter mid-life, those who are in mid-life, and those, like me, who have passed through mid-life and are on the verge of senior adulthood should read.

Make that, “everybody should read.”

When Did Everybody Else Grow Old? : Indignities, Compromises, and the Unexpected Grace of Midlife (TBP 2017, Herald Press (VA)) is a wonderful set of reflections about the dynamics and realities of growing old(er) but within the gaze of God.

Beginning with an honest assessment: “Most of us have complicated relationship with our memories,” Grant journeys into the realities and possibilities of mid-life.  And, this reviewer believes, gets at the heart of a dynamic about middle life that perhaps has been ignored or failed to be noticed and which the successful resolution of can perhaps aid us in navigation this aspect of adulthood with greater clarity and peace. “We begin to believe that our biography is our identity. We forget that who we really are -that interplay between our bodies, minds, and spirits-is a beautiful mystery and not simply the sum total of our life events.”

Grant then takes us on an autobiographical review of her life, and this reviewer thinks, allows us to go along and do an autobiographical review of our own. (Much like being led through a museum tour with a guide who understands the art.)

Along the way,

…we are faced with the numerous dynamics of raising and then letting go of our children as they become adults and launch (hopefully) into a good trajectory.

…we are forced to deal with what Jung called our ‘shadow’ side and realize that we are not as good as we think we are.

… we go though the grief and pain regarding a loved one whose life comes to an end before one thinks that it is supposed to and we have many different loose-ends that we cannot tie up.

…the challenge of choosing to stay in a marriage and listening to a wise marital counselor say “We all think our marriages will heal our childhood injuries,” he said, leaning forward in his chair. “But in every marriage, husbands and wives must learn that instead of healing us, issues with our spouses actually open up our old wounds. The couples who last are the ones who work through that pain to a new place, a place of gratitude for what they really have together.”

…and learning to be satisfied in our life and work

The painting(s) that Grant leaves us with is a beautiful view of the middle of life with all of its cracks, imperfections, but a set of new hopes.

When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? would be a great book for discussion by couples, families, religious education groups, and in counseling. I really liked this book as it has given me a great deal to think about.

I gave this book a four star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.