Bible Sisters (a book review and giveaway)

I am always looking for devotional material. I particularly like books that will carry me through a season, whether in my life or from the liturgical calendar. Looking back I remember that I read a particular book in a Lent of discouragement or during a summer of discernment. A good devotional can be a support and a partner in the walk of faith. Bible Sisters: A Year of Devotions with the Women of the Bible (Abingdon Press) offers a year of companionship, and because it is undated, the reader can begin at any point on the calendar and have a companion for the 365 days to come.

Scroll down to enter the giveaway!

The author, the Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks, brings her scholarship and life experience to bear in each of the brief reflections on a short scripture passage, tailoring the material to the lives of women today. I’ll confess I immediately thumbed to the back to look for indexes and liked what I found, listings both by scripture and by name (or “The woman who…” in the case of unnamed women). Some women who appear in major Biblical stories appear on more than one day, giving both the author and the reader a chance to look at the same story from different vantage points.

Having recently led a retreat on the stories of the women who anoint Jesus in all four gospels, I was interested to see how Brooks included them, and from there I skipped around to find other favorite Bible women. I especially appreciated Brooks’ take on Martha in Luke 10:40, where she begins, “I have always felt that in the telling of the incident, Martha was not treated fairly.” She brings us into the moment with Martha, whose efforts to bring order out of chaos are unaided by her sister.

If you don’t know your Hebrew Bible women well, the book will be an education.

I would recommend the book for anyone curious to learn more about women in scripture as a devotional practice, and ready to learn from a scholar. This is not a “Jesus Calling” book that tries to speak for God but rather like talking with a smart friend about women long ago who faced the same kinds of challenges we strive to meet with faith today.

To enter a giveaway of the book leave a comment here or on my Facebook page, or retweet the post link, before 9 p.m. Eastern on Monday, May 22nd. I will use a random number generator to choose a winner.

Brooks is Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Preaching and director of the Styberg Preaching Institute, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, and she is an elder in full connection, New York Conference, The United Methodist Church.

Many thanks to Abingdon Press for reaching out to RevGalBlogPals with copies of the book for review. I received two copies (one to give away) in return for my honest review.

Books, Enneagram

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Understanding – a review

Get the book at Amazon!
Get the book at Amazon!

This is the book I’ve been wanting and waiting for since January, 2014, when I spent five days on a cruise ship with co-author Suzanne Stabile and 39 of my best friends, learning about the Enneagram. Today is the launch for The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (InterVarsity Press, 2016). Suzanne and Ian Morgan Cron have created an elegant and informative primer perfect for the beginner, but also helpful for those who have studied this ancient system, the aim of which is the care of our souls.

Dubious about systems that compartmentalize humankind? Wondering how anything could be better than good old Myers-Briggs?

The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box. It shows you the box you’re already in and how to get out of it.

The book begins with an overview of the system and the nine numbers, or types,  and the “sins” (the Seven Deadly Plus Two) that illustrate the challenge for each type. The truth is that most people recognize their type when they hear or read a description that makes them cringe. I know I did.

(There is one exception, and while I will let you figure that out for yourselves, I will say I’m married to that number.)

Each chapter begins with twenty statements identifying what it’s like to be that number. For my own I found many of the twenty rang true, although some are characteristics I see in the rear view mirror. It’s good to recognize that many years of spiritual and psychological work can shift things that came naturally to us either via genetic predisposition or the effects of early nurture. Here are the first two “what it’s likes” for #2, the Helper, which is my number.

  1. When it comes to taking care of others, I don’t know how or when to say no.
  2. I am a great listener, and I remember the stories that make up people’s lives.

I identify strongly with the second, and, well, I’m always at work on the first. I do better with it in my professional life than my personal life. It’s accurate to say I’m a work-in-progress. And the Enneagram would say that about all of us. Each chapter describes the number at its best, as well as in average and unhealthy psychological and spiritual condition. (While each number has a pathological expression, that’s not a focus of this book.) Each chapter includes a story about a person of that type, often a little funny, unless you can see yourself in the tale, to your chagrin. You will also find sections about the numbers as seen in children, in relationships, and in the workplace.

cd_knowyournumber-2-300x300-1There is a brief explanation of wings (the number found on either side of yours; we all lean toward one or the other) and the way we move in times of stress or when we feel secure.

Finally, each chapter brings us back to the purpose of the Enneagram, which goes beyond defining personality to lead its students to a deeper spiritual understanding. The chapter on 2s offered an exegesis of Luke 10:38-42, the story of the sisters, Martha and Mary. Each chapter concludes with “Ten Paths to Transformation.” They are a helpful reminder that in addition to contemplative practices, there are practical actions (see? practical/practices) that help us go deeper, too. Here’s a great one for me.

When the urge to rescue or help overwhelms you, ask yourself, Is this mine to do? If you’re not sure, talk it over with a trusted friend.

Whether you are a spouse or parent or friend, in a struggle with a co-worker or trying to understand a relationship’s dynamics, a seeker or a longtime churchgoer, Stabile and Cron and the Enneagram have something for you. Their work is rooted in their Christian faith. Ian is an Episcopal priest; Suzanne is married to the great teacher of Centering Prayer, Rev. Joe Stabile, a United Methodist pastor.

Every number on the Enneagram teaches us something about the nature and character of the God who made us. Inside each number is a hidden gift that reveals something about God’s heart.

The only critique I can offer is that having heard Suzanne teach both in 2014 and again last month, I was sorry that her contributions might be assessed by readers who don’t know her as asides. Much more of the book comes from her teaching than the mentions of “Suzanne tells this story” you will see along the way might suggest.

Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

I highly recommend this book, which launches today. It is a great introduction or refresher on the Enneagram. I received an advance digital copy for review with no obligation. (I pre-ordered a copy months ago and will be watching eagerly for the UPS driver!)

If you want to know more about the Enneagram, you can listen to the podcast Ian and Suzanne are hosting, in which they talk to some great representatives of the 9 numbers. It’s also called The Road Back to You.


Sparrow (book review)

Jennifer DurantA wife and mother of two teenagers, recently ordained in the Episcopal Church, receives the worst kind of bad news: she has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The Rev. Jennifer Durant tells her own story in Sparrow: A Journey of Grace and Miracles While Battling ALS (Morehouse, 2016), a book published just a year after her death. It was her hope that telling this story would build on the increasing public recognition of ALS developed by the Ice Bucket Challenge, and she pushed through to finish the book using assistive devices.

Called as an Associate Rector, she shared her diagnosis with her new colleague, David M. Stoddart, the Rector of Church of the Saviour in Charlottesville, Virginia. When she offered to resign, he recommended keeping her condition quiet as long as possible, so the congregation could learn to love her. She writes:

He assured me my gifts — my God-given, Christ-blessed gifts — had not changed. That is a message for every person who feels they are less than whole. God sees us as whole and perfect. Our Got talents are not lost simply because our muscles don’t work like everyone else’s, or because we are bling. Or deaf. Or old. Or weak or broken. (p. 31)

Durant goes on to share the painful truth of her loss of ability and her faith that God was with her all along the way. She owns that the loss of her capacity to function as a mother and a wife hurt deeply. She names the things she will miss and the parenting role she has surrendered to her husband, Matt. She compares her children to baby sparrows, raised “in a nest of God’s love.”

And so my sparrow-darlings, though I can no longer speak, I can pray. (p. 85)

Readers may well weep at this point, as this reviewer did.

Sparrow_rgb (1)As a pastor, I am delighted to read a book in which the church does not fail a person who is suffering through challenges. Church of the Saviour made numerous accommodations for Durant, including buying a lighter-weight paten to use at the Eucharist, carpooling while Durant rode shotgun, and literally feeding her at church potlucks when she could no longer manage utensils herself. When a church member expressed concern that her deteriorating condition might upset the children, Father David supported her continuing presence. Parishioners read her sermons aloud. At the end of the book, Durant includes her final sermon, delivered ten days before her death.

It’s worth noting that Durant writes strictly from her own context, including the use of fairly traditional descriptions of men and women and their family roles.

Sparrow is a brave, honest book. Durant writes in simple terms about her faith and her life experiences. This is a book accessible to all readers. It could serve as an encouragement to those suffering terminal illness and as a helpful guide to their family, friends and caregivers. The book contains a Bible Study guide with readings to accompany each of the short chapters and could be used readily by a group.


I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review, which originally appeared at RevGalBlogPals.


Book Review: Wearing God by Lauren Winner

The pages I've marked.
The pages I’ve marked.

I read most of Lauren Winner’s new book while traveling by plane, when I didn’t have post-it notes or even a pen handy, so I unashamedly dog-eared the pages to be able to find sections I wanted to quote in this review. As you can see from the picture, there are many. I came to Winner’s work when she offered to share copies of her last book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, with members of RevGalBlogPals. Through her generosity, literally hundreds of clergywomen received free copies of the book. I knew of her only by reputation – in other words, at that time, I knew she was a writer and somehow famous, but I didn’t know why or what her other books had been about except for having a vague sense that she might be evangelical or at least in some way affiliated with Christianity Today magazine. I’ve since learned more about her journey from Judaism to Christianity, her writings on celibacy and the period of reflection following her divorce.

Those biographical and literary facts are only a part of Winner’s story. She is a scholar, a teacher, a priest and a lover of scripture, all characteristics that inform her beautiful new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. Winner brings both a depth of research and an imaginative mind to her exploration of images we tend to forget in worship and devotions.

Clothing ~ Are we clothed in Christ? It’s an old idea, but a challenging one. It means a change in our inner appearance, a change in who we are. And what does it mean when she teaches a class to incarcerated women in green uniforms sitting alongside Duke students in sweater sets? Sometimes we forget what our outer garments say about whose we are.

Smell ~ I found the story of her friend Maisie (beginning on p. 81) particularly – well, what is the olfactory version of resonant? Aromatic? I found the story aromatic. Maisie wore the shirts of her late husband for many months because they held his smell. Having held onto the t-shirt of a long-distance love, I knew exactly what she meant. In scripture, God perceives sacrificial odors as good, and Jesus himself is a sweet smelling offering to God. I find the latter a strange challenge to my discomfort with atonement theology, but I’m fascinated by the ideas Winner collects.

Bread and Vine ~ Here’s where I began dog-earing in earnest. All these spoke to me: the image (p. 108) of an exhausted God “hand(ing) a can of SpaghettiOs to the saints,” the sacrament of box lunches packed for African-Americans traveling outside safe territory, Jesus himself as manna, as “journeying bread” (pp. 111-112), the writings of Mechthild (p. 116) as a reverse Communion image in which we place our difficulties like bread crumbs into God’s hand, the making of rosilio, an eccentric liqueur (well, eccentric to me) as a counterpoint to excess (p. 126), and the idea of being intoxicated by God, something that as a childhood Baptist is a stretch for me, and yet something I understand quite well in other ways.

There is so much more, sections on God as laboring woman and laughter  (Sarah is transformed by it! p. 186) and flame, and a beautiful if admittedly incomplete reflection on violent, even abusive, images of God as found in scripture. Winer intersperses both classical and contemporary quotes and prayers, many of them jewels, but I sometimes found their placement to be a distraction from her writing. I identified with Winner’s identification of her biases of interpretation and the challenge she offers the reader to see with different eyes, and frankly with her nerdy highbrow tendencies as well. While this is a book you could easily read one section at a time, I did not want to put it down.

I hope I’ve provided enough fragrant crumbs to make you yearn for a copy.


Full disclosure: I received a free copy of Wearing God from the publisher, but there was no requirement to offer a favorable review in return.

#amwriting, Books, Ministry, RevGalBlogPals

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

RevGals book coverI’m excited to announce the publication in April of There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths Publishing)

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

It was a joy to edit this collection of stories and prayers written by me and over 50 of my colleagues who are members of RevGalBlogPals. We represent 14 denominations, 5 countries, and more than a dozen seminaries. Our stories will bring both laughter and tears as well as a unique perspective on the number and kind of plates clergywomen keep spinning in amazing fashion.

“In ministry, we constantly balance the sacred and the ordinary, juggling the two as expertly as we manage a chalice and a [baby] bottle. Even as we do things as simple as light the candles, set the table, break the bread and pour the wine, we invite people into a holy moment…. The women [in this book] not only have a wellspring of deep wisdom, but they also have the ability to dish out their knowledge with side-aching humor…. I am thrilled that their great wisdom and intelligence will be bound into the pages that I can turn to, lend and appreciate for years to come.”

—from the Foreword by Rev. Carol Howard Merritt

Intended for laypeople, women hearing a call to ministry and clergy of all denominations, these stories and prayers will resonate with, challenge, encourage and amuse anyone who has a passion for their work and faith. A group reading guide will be available on the SkyLight Paths Publishing website – consider choosing it for your book group!


Reading is FUNdamental

I hate to admit it, but since the fall program year began, I have not finished reading a book. Please don't take this as one of those "I'm so busy and important I can't read a book!!!" boasts. I'm actually puzzled and a bit ashamed at my fall off the reading rainbow.

At the beginning of 2008 I decided to take on Beso Mami's reading challenge. I've always been a reader, but there's no question that in recent years I let other things take the place of books, and because I spend so much time multi-tasking it can be hard to find the focused time to disappear between the pages and let the words work on me.

I made it easy on myself and started by re-reading some favorites, just as when I returned to knitting after a long gap, I began with a simple pattern. When I developed RA that same spring, Pure Luck bought the Kindle for me as a piece of adaptive equipment. It's sitting on my bedside table, loaded with books I'm not reading right now, some I've started but not finished ("A Passage to India," "A People's History of Christianity") and others entirely unread and seemingly unappealing.

I'm interested to know how other busy people, and especially pastors, find the time to start and finish books. There's no question that my schedule now is more demanding than in my other ministry jobs, but I don't want that to be my excuse for reading nothing more challenging than the Huffington Post! There are books that would be helpful, fruitful, even needful. There are books that might even be fun.

Maybe I need a happy novel, a little more Precious Ramotswe–or maybe a mystery.

But first I need a block of time to get started. And I guess the only way to get that is to give it to myself.


We Have Winners!

Thank you to everyone who left a comment here or on Twitter! There were 34 entrants. I used a Random Number Generator to choose the winners, and the following ten will receive a paperback copy of Marilynne Robinson's "Home" —



Sherry Thomas

Lisa V

Ali (a lurker!)


Vicar of Hogsmeade

sherry (the MD)

Tour Guide Pastor



Please send me an email ( with your name and snail mail address. Macmillan/Picador will mail the book to you directly.

After you read the book, I hope you'll let me know if you enjoyed it!