Books

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.

Books

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.