[Review] #ForgetfulHeart by @lucymills

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Another book that I was given in 2014 … and has taken until late 2015 to read – but which I enjoyed reading on my #Staycation … I read it on the train journey on the way back from Winchester to my new home in Manchester!

Lucy draws on a mix of prose, poetry and Biblical reasoning to question how fully we throw ourselves into our Christian lives, or how often we forget God! As in yesterday’s book review, we are reminded that God wants all of our hearts, minds and soul! Lucy doesn’t preach, but speaks from her own experience (as with all the best writing, offering up vulnerability) … with some strong challenges accompanying many tongue-in-cheek moments … and lots of encouragement to keep stepping forward.

As I wrote in my PhD thesis:

Tosh claims that history is ‘collective memory, the storehouse of experience through which people develop a sense of their social identity and their future prospects’.[1]

Lucy weaves in a range of thinking about memory – how it creates our identity – both as individuals and as a group. The Biblical cultural context adds insight around the themes of memory. I noted that Lucy said she doesn’t put God on her ‘to-do’ list, as that seems rather demeaning … I actually do – with ToDoIst – along with other friends who I want to intentionally arrange to see! Helps me remember – along with other technological tools! On p18, Lucy engages in a discussion about modern technology/retaining information – but as I teach in my workshops – right back to Socrates – there have been worries that technology (in that case pencil/paper) would lead people to rely upon outside support rather than their own memories – does technology maybe even free up our minds/memories to be more creative? Discuss?! 

Lucy has written frequently for BigBible, so I know she’s got an interest in online interactions too. I loved her description of how grace shaped an online conversation with an atheist:

I once had an intriguing Twitter exchange with an atheist who was convinced I was delusional and that religion was the root of evil. I didn’t rise to his comments and conversation progressed. I asked questions; he replied. I challenged him; he challenged me. We even thanked each other for being respectful. ‘I still think you’re wrong’, he said at the end. But in one of his last tweets he added a smiley face. That little emoticon indicated that it was indeed a gracious disagreement. Even if he thought I was deluded. Even if I thought him misinformed. Even if neither of us changed our minds (p126).

This is part of a larger chapter considering how grace shapes our reactions: “Trying to focus on God and what he wants of us in moments of hurtful negativity takes a great deal of strength and practice.” The word practice is important here – we need to practice so in the more difficult times we are more naturally able to respond grace-fully.

In our world – western culture has told us we can only rely on ourselves, we place too many hopes in frail humans, we spend too much time working to society’s definition of success, rather than God’s – not understanding that our greatest times of growth are often in our times of waiting. We spend so much time waiting to be noticed, that we fail to notice others. We question what our hopes are in … because that is what we will become subject to – whether that is the world, or God’s way of being. Tiredness and fear are two of our biggest enemies – skewing things out of shape and messing up our priorities. We have grown used to the idea that we are all ‘tired’ – how do we challenge that and stop living in cycles of energy boom and bust? Fear often swamps our mind with trivial, mundane things that don’t allow us to face up to the bigger issues fighting around inside of us – forgetting that God is our refuge and strength. Encouragingly Lucy says “There is nothing flimsy about our faith, even if we’re clinging to it by a single thread.”

Lucy tackles the dark times with compassion – reminding us of the Psalmists who doggedly stuck with it despite difficulties – we have become so used to things being easy that we forget how to cope in the more difficult times – forget to listen out for God’s voice, and forgetting that he’s bigger than we are. In times of darkness we are left with “the honesty of who we are now and how we feel now.” New memories are formed – which can be difficult – but profound. On p47 the topic of anger is raised … something that we are often discouraged from acknowledging, but expressing it in the wrong way – or stuffing it down – can both be unhealthy!

The first section of the book had focused upon us and our culture, whilst the second section ‘An Ancient Dilemma’ draws our attention to the life of Biblical communities, especially the Israelites – who required a collective memory/identity to remind them that they were a rescued/special people. As I noted with the British and wartime propaganda posters, the Israelites were given “ownership of old memories, even though they had not experienced the original event themselves.” Lucy doesn’t shy away from the difficult bits – including dealing with cultural clashes – which reminds me of contemporary debates about immigration, assimilation and globalised culture! We hear of the Woman at the Well, and of course the ultimate act of remembrance – the bread and the wine. We are asked how much of God’s message we are sharing – and how much that reflects our preoccupations, rather than those of God!

The third section considers the ‘ripples of forgetfulness’ – what do our actions demonstrate about our beliefs? The importance is not that we succeed, but that we try, right? If we no longer care about our ‘fruitfulness’, is that when to worry… we just need to ‘plug back in’. Rather than seeing ‘fruitfulness’ as a tick-list of things to achieve – for ourselves – are we seeking the values and fruits of the Kingdom/Spirit – reflecting the character of Christ – even in our limitations? Lucy tackles the question of compassion fatigue – the need for memory to shut down because it’s necessary for our sanity – but to ensure that this doesn’t mean that we become hard-hearted and un-compassionate – it may all seem a little overwhelming – but start with something – it’s not about the numbers – it’s about the attitude of heart behind it… and I would say that social media can make at least raising awareness key – don’t sniff at clicktivism says Simon Willis of Change.org!  Love the end of this poem:

remind me.
that on a painting
composed
entirely of black
one tiny streak
of brilliant white
can change the whole
picture.

By the way – I tend to look at the fruits as kind of individual forms of ‘fruitfulness’ – Lucy reminds us that the flavours are designed to complement each other, rather than to be seen individually! Just before I read this book I had seen Disney’s Inside Out, in which the importance of memories, especially key memories, and the place of sad memories are so important (as I scribbled on p117). We are asked – what does our worship look like – and how do our memories inspire this?

The fourth section looks at ‘the art of remembering’. I found chapter 17 on Faith and Familiarity particularly helpful – lots of nodding, yes and underlining going on there (sorry if you hate people who write in books!)! We are not all knowing (that is God), we live in a time-poor society in which we worship ‘busy’, where faith seems to be something ‘extra’ that we try and squeeze in – rather than central to our lives. Lucy, in suffering from CFS/ME, has had to learn to manage her time and energy in different ways. There’s lots of helpful advice for things to experiment with (as I have learnt to do with Beyond Chocolate – try something (small), if it works, try it again, if it doesn’t, try something different) – acknowledging that we’re all unique. As Lucy says on p.141

Habits are hard to break. We need to start small, find the most manageable thing and not be tempted to overdo it. This tiny moment of space may feel like a huge challenge, yet even when being climbed on by a toddler, pausing between tasks in the office, or sitting in a busy waiting room, we can try and allow our thoughts to focus on God. This will be in a way that we, as individuals, find helpful – be it through running a phrase through our heads, looking at an object or picture, or simply becoming aware of our breathing. It’s not easy. We may not succeed, but we are beginning to try. How can it be worst to try than never to try at all?

productiveIronically, I was reading this on my #staycation. Too tired to book a trip overseas (also rather ££ in August), I wanted to sleep without an alarm clock for 2 weeks, and once unpacked in the new flat, see a few (relaxing) people, catch up on a few books I’d been wanting to read for a while (fiction and non-fiction). Slow our hearts, minds – learn how to rest! See p26:

Resting is not as passive as it sounds. It takes practice. Addictions take some time to overcome, and stress or busyness addictions are no exception. When we go cold turkey, withdrawal symptoms are inevitable. But it’s important, because stress has a negative effect on remembering. Constant stress leads to the release of flurries of stress hormones, and these interfere with the processes of memory. Even at a chemical level, stress is bad for remembering effectively.

Plenty of challenging material in this book, accompanied by lots of gentle encouragement and suggestions for action!

BUY THE BOOK

[1] Tosh, J., The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods & New Directions in the Study of Modern History, 1991 (Second Edition), p.1. Tosh, J., The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods & New Directions in the Study of Modern History, 2002 (Third Edition, Revised), p.1 rephrases this as: ‘All societies have a collective memory, a storehouse of experience which is drawn on for a sense of identity and a sense of direction’. At first glance this appears to make the same point, but is no longer noting that this is history, making the further point that ‘professional historians commonly deplore the superficiality of popular historical knowledge’.

[Review] Let Me Fall by @bethpensinger

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I met Beth at the Revolution Conference in 2013, picked up the book, and read it fairly quickly. I kept meaning to write a book review – as Beth says in her book (and as reflected in this Facebook post) – reviews (especially on Amazon – see US reviews), make a huge difference to who Amazon highlights the book to, and the exposure it’s given … as well, of course, as one’s friends getting to see a book that you’ve appreciated and ‘trusting’ your judgement!

On my #staycation week last week I re-read it, and enjoyed it afresh! Beth presents a mix of ‘real-life’ vulnerability in the first half of each chapter, and a figurative journey with God in the second half of each chapter, as she visualises what it means to truly ‘let go’ and fall into the full life that Jesus promised. There’s an incredibly patient Holy Spirit accompanying her on her journey as she learns to submit her thoughts and actions in a way that is incredibly freeing.

I have always been fascinated by how we create our images of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – often deeply influenced by our cultural context. One of my favourite @bigbible posts was this one by Rev Kate Bruce, in which she takes the time to sit still and allow her vision of God to make its way onto paper – what would (s)he look like for you? This was something Sheridan Voysey and I addressed in our culture sessions at Spring Harvest in 2014 also! The Holy Spirit in particular can be difficult for people to picture in any way, so I loved Beth’s image of an adventurous abseiler!

Another particularly strong image is that of the devil (p82), who has managed to side-track her with a beautifully comfortable bed, her favourite films, activities and food, but is suddenly exposed:

The devil acts very much like the snapping turtle. He is as patient as he is deceptive. This is easy to understand considering he’s the quintessential predator. He fights dirty. Below the belt is the only place he aims. He is so good he has some people convinced the prison in which he’s entrapped them is far better than what is outside. They’re aware of their captivity, but it’s what they’ve always known. So they fear anything else.

The Holy Spirit is gently, but deeply, challenging … on page 121, as in many others pages, he draws upon Biblical passages, reminding us that what God wants is all of our hearts, minds and souls, not the formal religious actions that look good to the world, but are meaningless to God. There’s a challenge to those of us who tend to over-intellectualise our faith. As Beth seeks to understand grace, the Holy Spirit asks, if someone gave you a watch, would you figure out how it worked before you would accept it? Why, therefore, do we insist on trying to understand grace before we will accept it… and there’s no need to continue living like “an escaped convict in hiding” (Les Mis!) fearing punishment from God.

The text is full of contemporary cultural references including Disney, the Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings. We get a sense of a difficult journey full of mistakes and redemptions, but the bottom of the cliff is not the end of the journey, but the start of further adventures together! On the surface an ‘easy’ read, but many challenges about what our journey with God looks like.

BUY A COPY OF THE BOOK

[REVIEW] Babe’s Bible: Gorgeous Grace @DLT_Ed

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Well, I was sent these books last year for review (not with a specific deadline), and I’d been avoiding them as I haven’t really found much Christian fiction I like, and the title Babe’s Bible grated somewhat, and the cover art gave the sense that they’d be a bit Mills & Boon like…

Well, there’s definitely some romance in the first book, which I’ve just read this morning, but it’s not M&B! In the middle of clearing out the house, I decided to have a read of the first couple of chapters to see what I thought of it … and I read the whole book! I need to put down the other two, as I have other things to do, but knowing that several of my friends had thought the same thing …

The book has as it’s central character, Grace, who’s in her first curacy, and her friendship with Chloe, the youth-worker, who has just had an affair with the vicar, which has had a range of ramifications. So – we start with adultery, and in seeking to understand this, Grace refers to her Bible, and the story of the woman charged with adultery, and creates a fictionalised account of Lila (the woman charged with adultery), making very clear the man’s part in the adultery. As the book continues, weaving stories between the past and the present, we get to see Lila’s friendship with Mary, the woman who poured perfume on Jesus. What I really loved, knowing that this is fictionalised, but coming from the perspective of someone who’s ordained (and therefore had extensive theological training), is that we really get to see the – often well known – stories of Jesus, through the perspective of women – something we often don’t see in the Bible.

The book deals with difficult topics including unfaithfulness, porn, abortion, sexual abuse, rape, healing, poor church leadership, busyness (the Mary we see is Martha’s sister), angelic visions, speaking in tongues, barrenness, and at one point something reminded me of Saying Goodbye. There’s lots to chew on, and lots of well-woven storylines. I’m glad I gave it a chance, as it’s always good to find new ways of re-engaging with Bible stories (why do you think I’ve worked with bigbible.org.uk for so long!)

[ENDORSEMENT] “Don’t Beat Yourself Up” by @TarnBright

tarn-bookThanks to Tarn (who I met at Spring Harvest in 2014) for writing this book, and inviting endorsement. The book’s out in August. I wrote:

Within the church, there are a number of topics that are often avoided, and a tendency not to admit that we are humans living imperfect lives, and struggling with difficult times. No one could accuse Tarn of this in this book, which mixes humour, insights, gentle challenges and a sense of support and encouragement as we learn from Tarn’s journey, and other voices that she has drawn upon! No one should finish reading this book feeling chastised, but rather have learnt to practice ‘kindsight’: an ability to learn to be kind to ourselves (and others) in our past, present and future. Tarn is an engaging public speaker, and this translates well into this book. Anyone who can get the phrase ‘codswallop’ naturally into a book, and recommends that “it is better to eat a Mars Bar with good friends, than to eat Broccoli alone” gets my vote!

Dr Bex Lewis, Director, Digital Fingerprint

Purchase the book.

[REVIEW] ‘In the Shelter’, by @duanalla, for @thirdway

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If you have a subscription, you can read the full article online here.

In the Shelter: Finding a home in the world by Pádraig Ó Tuama, Hodder & Stoughton, 261pp

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet, storyteller, theologian and speaker, who I first encountered at a tenx9 storytelling session at Greenbelt, which encourages people to tell their real stories, in their own words. That session left me keen to read this book: part-theology, part-poetry and part-memoir.

The book title draws on an old Irish proverb: ‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live’, and the book draws richly upon characters, their stories, and interactions upon journeys. As someone who has travelled extensively, Ó Tuama identifies that in travelling, we still bring ourselves with us, and no city is big enough to hide that. Instead, with echoes of Brian Draper for me, “it requires us to resist dreaming of where we should be, and look around where we are.”

The book deals with some complex themes including death, anger, power, homosexuality, body image, and the mix of science and religion. Accessible, but nonetheless challenging, theology is used, whilst topics are dealt with often in a gentle, poetic ways. Creativity and calls to imagination are heavily drawn upon in the book, as we question what it means to be human in lives that are not always straightforward. Vivid pictures are presented, and humour scattered throughout.

Ó Tuama is devastatingly honest about his own struggles and experiences within the church. His Irish heritage, particularly ‘the troubles’, and coming to terms with his own homosexuality are common threads throughout the book, without dominating the text. Of his journey with faith, he talks of feeling in a place of rules, burden, guilt fear and prison, until he understood that “The Glory of God is found in a human being fully alive.” He asks us whether we are in a ‘time of storm’, or whether we have ‘bread to share’, and indicates that our picture of God will deeply affect how we respond to the big questions of life.

The book emphasizes the power of language, the power of words, and the power of naming things: to some God is too powerful to be named; Mary’s barren cousin Elizabeth’s name would be whispered only, because of shame; and Pádraig remembers the names that he used to be called, and how he had even begun to adopt some for himself. Language defines us, but as we own our own names, we can change ourselves and those around us. We are called to tell stories gently, remembering, “upon whom is the burden of words”. Ó Tuama shares some of the exercises that he uses in storytelling sessions, including – if you were asked to write the story of your life, what would your first sentence be?

To be human means to be made in the image of God. Our everyday stories are tied to an exhortation to understand the whole story of Jesus, and his humanness: “in order to understand the death of Jesus, we must understand the birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the friendships of Jesus, and the tensions of Jesus.” Ó Tuama has been amazed at the ease with which some of the young that he has met undertake conversation with Jesus, including describing chats with him as being like ‘being next to a cosy fire’. Their imaginations draw upon the wisdom of friends and family, encouraging when too often theology encourages us to debate ideology, rather than engagement with Jesus.

In reading the Bible, we often glide over the familiar. Quoting Oscar Wilde we find that “endless repetition, in and out of season, has spoiled for us the freshness, the naiveté, the simple romantic charm of the gospels.” Ó Tuama found that reading the Bible caused him discomfort, and questioned why he read it, but found that his heart was swelling with courage. We see that within British Sign Language there is a close relationship between the symbols of fear and courage, and that it’s all about the choices that we make when it comes to decision time. We are asked to consider the complexity of human emotions, to think more deeply about the over-simplifications: “it is usually fruitful to assume that most people do what seems reasonable to them at the time, most of the time.” For example, consider Judas, did he ‘betray’ Jesus because he believed that the people needed a revolution, a hero, and that Jesus resisting arrest would have helped the cause? He repented afterwards, but his story is told as that of the betrayer, rather than of the repenter.

The text encourages us to think about the questions that we ask. What untold stories are behind the questions that people ask? Should we draw upon the Japanese idea of Mu, which encourages us to unask the question and ask another one? Should we take the Bible literally, or see it as a composite of a range of styles? Should we always assume that “Jesus is the answer”, as if that finishes the question, rather than seeing that he is a help along the way? We need to embrace doubt as ‘the teachers of truth’. Written into science is to embrace the gift of being wrong, as this opens up other avenues of discovery. If we answer “Hello to changing out minds” “it should mean that Christianity would be known as the faith that regularly announces that it has, hitherto, been wrong, and is neither frightened nor undone by discovering error, or misdirection.”

Change is described as the fruit of responsibility, whether that be change for self (including allow others reactions to have less power), or change for society. People sought to silence Jesus because he was saying unpopular things “and we’ve been silencing him ever since.” If you’re thinking about your own story, and your place in the world, and you appreciate a poetic, imaginative style, you’ll enjoy, and be challenged by, this text.

[BOOK REVIEW] This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (re online trolling)

30596_This-is-Why-We-Cant-Have-Nice-Things-Mapping-the-Relationship-Between-Online-Trolling-and-Mainstream-Culture-by-Whitney-PhillipsThis looks really interesting:

Why do trolls exist? How can such hostile online behaviour be understood intellectually, culturally and socially? Put another way: is the notorious Pedobear character “lulz” (hilarious) or an ambivalent tour guide through child pornography?

For her recent doctorate, communications scholar Whitney Phillips conducted an ethnography of these groups by entering the trolling subculture. Drawing on that research, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things considers whether trolling is a deviant subculture or a more universalised online practice. As is common in digital media studies, while Phillips argues for the generalisability of trolling attitudes and practices, her dataset is restricted to the US.

Her book, which will be useful for theorists of digital ethnography, considers the subcultural origins of trolling (2003-07), its golden years (2008-11) as well as a transitional period (2012-15). Phillips is concerned with “the self-identifying, subcultural troll”, drawing a distinction between these practices and simple online cyberbullying. Her challenge was to study this community but not to “replicate trolls’ racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist output”, which prompts a wider intellectual question about how to create a space for researching social patterns that cause harm to others

Read full review, and see piece I wrote on social media trolling last year.

[ENDORSEMENT] Bible Intro by @ChrisJuby

bibleintro_cover_120Pleased to have endorsed Chris Juby’s book: a “user-friendly Bible overview, written as an introduction for those new to Scripture and as a useful reference for experienced readers.”

“You’ve never been able to get a solid overview of the Bible so quickly. Juby clearly draws on a deep and passionate knowledge of the material, and clearly hopes to encourage us both back to the original text, and to transformational living.”

Dr Bex Lewis, Director of The BIGBible Project and author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’

Watch Chris introduce the book here: