Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review of Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Sometimes church is difficult.  Not God, but church.  Not church per se, but the struggle for community and an authentic expression of worship and engagement with God.  Despite our best hopes an intentions it is full of human beings, each with their own needs, gifts and foibles.   And my heart breaks at some of the things we do or say in the name of ‘faith’.  So, when I saw this book, I was very keen to read it.

The blurb says

Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals—church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

I can’t say that I don’t want to go to church anymore, I desperately want to hang on in there, but at times I struggle to find my place in it, for many reasons that are probably another blog post. (oh and I cannot by any stretch of the imagination claim to be a millennial sadly, but if the cap fits – read the book)

The book is set out around the seven sacraments: baptism, confession, Holy Orders, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick and marriage.  Each section contains stories that will break your heart and then some to gladden it.  It looks at church through people’s stories – true community and a large part of what church, imho, is all about.

The basic premise of the book is ‘why are people leaving the church?’

On reading Searching for Sunday it transpires that many of Rachel Held Evan’s questions are about God, and the struggle for an adult faith after a childhood following him and sharing all about him.  But if that wasn’t enough, the church and it’s attitudes get in the way of her finding the answer to those questions – however much she longs to be part of it. So Rachel’s story is about

growing up evangelical, about doubting everything I believed about God, about loving, leaving and longing for church, about searching for it and finding it in unexpected places (p15)

Rachel tells her story, but one that I’m sure many of us can identify with.

Much of the gist of this book is about putting aside cynicism.  Rachel suggests that if we want to heal our wounds, we have to

kick the cynicism habit first.

We have to allow ourselves to feel the pain and joy and heartache of being in relationship with other human beings.  In the end it’s the only way to really live… even if it means taking a risk and losing it all. (p207)

There are many other gems and food for thought, but you need to read the book to get the full picture.

There is a lot of sense in this book.  A lot of despair, but also a lot of hope.

The finger is also pointed back at me –  what am I doing to help or hinder the faith and church life of others?

If you’ve ever wondered about leaving church, or about why others do, this will give you some insight.  Stories of how others might see the church we have become so entrenched in that perhaps we don’t see some things any more.   Perhaps it might give us another perspective on what we see as ‘normal’.  And if you are searching for Sunday, perhaps it will help you find it – or at least make you feel that you are not alone.  Perhaps it will take you to the place where you can embrace church – flaws and all. For as Rachel concludes,

All we have is this church – this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church – which, by God’s grace, is enough (p235)

We are after all a resurrection people.

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Review of Angels and Men by Catherine Fox

small_9780281072309_angels and men.jpgMara Johns has arrived in ‘a great northern cathedral city’ to continue her studies.  She is a daughter of the Vicarage, but anti-church – and interesting position in an institution that also trains Priests.  Mara wants to be left alone to get on with her research, but would-be friends persist and she lets them in, becoming good friends with Maddy and May; intrigued by her corridor neighbour ‘The Polecat’; and caught between Rupert and Johnny, who both pursue her.

So unfolds Angels and Men by Catherine Fox from SPCK Publishing.

We discover why Mara has chosen the research subject she has and why she is so determined to keep people at bay.  Slowly the barriers are challenged and Mara faces up to herself – though still remaining romantically confused!  She also, eventually manages to find out the truth about a situation that has been hanging over her.

This is a good read, a story with enough twists and turns to keep you turning pages.  If you feel the need for a romance, set loosely around those training for ministry (though it wasn’t like that when I trained – or not that I noticed) or exploring church, with all its different characters, as well as family life and how it affects you, then this is for you.

I enjoyed it (but I do like my stories to be fully resolved at the end and not left hanging!).

Pondering Sane New World by Ruby Wax

I saw a review of Sane New World a while ago and thought it looked worth a read.  I have finally got round to it!

This book is set out in five sections:  What’s Wrong With Us? For the Normal-Mad; What’s Wrong With Us? For the Mad-Mad; What’s in Your Brain/What’s on Your Mind?; Mindfulness – Taming Your Mind; and Alternative Suggestions for Peace of Mind.

The book is entirely evangelical in its approach.  Ruby has clearly found something that works for her and wants the rest of us to know about it. This book is very honest.  If you’d been wondering where Ruby Wax was and what she has been doing, the answer is here.  With wit, humour and searing honesty she explains how she came to be where she is now, and how what she is writing about is not just theory, but what she has found to work for her.

Ruby’s says that she doesn’t think people of faith will agree – I disagree.  Obviously my starting place is different to hers, but I see nothing at odds with faith, and some elements of mindfulness are not at all dissimilar to prayer.  And I believe some of the research has come to similar conclusions.

Ruby backs up everything she says with plenty of research results, though I did feel slightly bombarded and wondered if there was any negative research that we aren’t being told.

I’m not sure about the usefulness of practicing mindfulness, I guess only time and experience would tell in that.  What I particularly want to pick up on is some of her comments in the first section, most of which made me shout ‘yes’, ‘exactly’ etc – my poor husband had most of it read out to him.  It is pertinent and insightful to where we are we are today in our society, and offers much sense.

Ruby is battling clinical depression, but we are all in our way battling our inner selves and how we respond to life – well I am anyway!  She is looking to regulate her mind, again, perhaps we all are – or should be.

Ruby begins by looking at where we are and what we’re doing.  She speaks of the “insatiable drive for more” – money, fame, more tweets – you name it, we want it (p7).  How right she is.  There is pressure in the world, many of us don’t know who we are, so we try to seek it in ‘getting’, as if that justifies our existence because nothing else does.

She speaks of us being unable to understand our emotional landscapes;

our hearts bleed because we hear of a beached whale while the next minute we’re baying for the blood of someone who stole the last shopping trolley (p8)

Seriously, what is that all about?  I certainly recognise it in myself!  It certainly seems worth some pondering.

Ruby acknowledges our penchant for staying busy, suggesting that we use it to distract ourselves from the bigger, deeper questions – no time to rest, no time to think – and that is how we like it.  Alongside that she suggests an undercurrent of uselessness.  She has some interesting things to say on social media (particularly Twitter) and how we use it.  I have long been interested in the internet and how we use it well, so I was fascinated by what she had to say.

That’s why we have Twitter so we can check how many followers we’ve got.  We can count them; 100, 1000 people you’ve never met, telling you what they had for lunch, now knowing you exist.  That’s how we see if we matter.  We’re like little birds, newly hatched from out eggs… looking for a little attention, a little love, maybe even a worm – anything will do, as long as they notice we’re here (p16)

We’ve all seen that kind of behaviour on social media, the ‘look at me’ syndrome.  Seeking strokes, however we can get them.  Oversharing, making ourselves the Twitter Police, giving a running commentary of our lives – all perhaps symptoms of needing attention and not knowing where or how to get it.  This ties in with the section on the need to be special.

Another theme she looks at is that of negative thinking, no longer having to worry so much about our survival, with minds working overtime.

Those of us who aren’t on the brink of starvation or elimination or living in squalor are condemned to a life of worrying about trivia (p21)

We have our basic needs, but it’s like we’re hard-wired to worry, to be alert, to be providing and so our minds go on and do it. We all live in our own world.  We have our point of view, and do what we can to back it up.  We don’t like uncertainty, so work hard at making our vision of the world reality:

We never see the world as it really is but only how we see it.  And because we’re trapped in our own interpretation, we are prepared to go to war with other people caught in their view of reality – and never the twain shall meet.  All this is the sound of people embedded in their own lives, believing their reality is the only reality, thinking the things they think matter (p28).

And how social media is an excellent vehicle for living that out!  Or we could perhaps use it as a tool to listen, learn and grow…

That’s all I’ll say for now.  That’s probably a lot of quotes, but it really made me think.  In my ongoing love/hate struggles with social media it took my thinking a bit further.  I noticed whilst without wi-fi on holiday how much less stressed my life is without it.  I have got to think how much of that is me.  I have got right back into boring everyone with the minutiae of my life.  To show off?  To look for sympathy?  To try to be a part of?  Because my life has nothing else in it, I need something to do, somewhere to say, and in the process have things to worry about and get upset about that really don’t matter in my life.

Anyway, fascinating book – read it and see what you think.  I have just picked up here on the Twitter bits, something else might grab you.