Browsed by
Category: Book Reviews

Bishop Michael Perham

Bishop Michael Perham

It will be a great privilege to welcome guests to the  Sarum College Bookshop for the launch of Michael Perham’s latest book, The Way of Christ-Likeness.

This practical and theological companion to Lent, Holy Week and Easter offers advice on creatively using the church’s most dramatic and transformative liturgies. It explores how commemorating Jesus’ death and resurrection is more than a reminder of the essentials of our faith, but also enables us to enter the familiar stories and discover their power to make us more Christlike in the painful events of life.

Michael Perham was Bishop of Gloucester until 2014. He is a former member of The Church of England Liturgical Commission, and is now Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Salisbury, and Visiting Scholar at Sarum College. He is the author of a number of books on the study and practice of liturgy.

Here is my introduction to this remarkable writer and liturgist.

Michael Perham

Michael has a lifelong love of liturgy and has published very widely. His books are among the most popular of their genre. Michael has embraced the remarkable developments born of the liturgical movement and translated them into pastoral and practically rooted support for clergy and laity alike. A new book from Michael is always a cause for excitement – he has been at the forefront of the liturgical revolution.

We talk a lot about pilgrimage and journey we know it is a helpful metaphor. Michael is the person who knows why and how it matters.  For him, following the way of Christ is not a misty eyed commitment to the far horizon, but a deeply practical commitment to the liturgy and rhythms of the church.  He loves and understand those routines and, using them, he rehearses the life of Christ and fits his own life into the gospel.  It gives him a confidence and a grace that we admire.

He is an accomplished teacher. He is a visiting scholar of Sarum College, holds the Presidency of the Alcuin Club and has recently received the Cranmer award from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Michael welcome to Sarum College and we look forward to hearing more about this work.

James Woodward
Principal Sarum College

Better Disagreement? Public Debate and Dialogue

Better Disagreement? Public Debate and Dialogue

Towards Better Disagreement: Religion and Atheism
Paul Hedges JKP 2016

I happen just to have returned from the Swindon office of BBC Wiltshire where I was tasked to review the Sunday papers. I turn now to catching up on some pieces of writing but especially book reviews that have been sat on my desk for too long.

Reading the Sunday newspapers reminds me that we live in a complex world struggling to make sense of itself and easily distracted by trivia and gossip. On a morning that saw the devastation of many lives in Istanbul and continues to grieve over Syria and the prospect for world peace we learn of celebrities and their unfaithfulness and there is extensive coverage of the Prime Minister and her dress sense. Much of the excitement that is being generated around Christmas is inevitably preoccupied with the commercial necessity of selling and buying gifts alongside a great deal of speculation about the relative popularity of each of our TV stations competing for viewing figures.

It is against this background that I offer this short review of very important book that explores the narratives and differences between those who find some spiritual sense and meaning to existence and those that do not. Paul Hedges is an extraordinarily fluent, courteous and wise writer. He covers a great deal of ground with admirable brevity and clarity. In particular the text is shot through with examples and theories that ground the discussion and debate over eight chapters.

Hedges in Chapter 1 sets the debates inner broad context and this is followed in Chapter 2 by the important subject of how we read and give authority to particular texts and the beliefs contained therein. Chapter 3 deals with authority figures in religion, but, in particular the figure of Jesus. We note that history is not just simply about their lives but the way in which their lives have been understood both inside and outside of their traditions. Chapter 4 looks at the variety of beliefs and non-beliefs which exist and asks how far we can give any credibility to such beliefs in a historical and contemporary context. In particular Hedges tackles head-on the problem of evil.

Chapter 5 attempts a balanced view about whether religion is in the end of force for good. Hedges deals with the legacy, both positive and negative of our religious heritage. Chapter 6 deals with the vexed question of women, sexuality and for many the negative views of much of religion around the Body. Chapter 7 deals with a variety of disputes between science and religion as well as environmental concerns. Finally Chapter 8 addresses the number a number of factors in our contemporary world with a realistic hope that humankind might  wish to live together for the common good. This world might be characterised by a maturity that can to embrace difference and disagreement.

The result is a readable and accessible book that I shall be commending to my students here at Sarum College. In particular I think that it would be of practical use to A-level students or undergraduates wanting to explore the nature of religion. This text will certainly inform the development of our learning life here in Sarum College.

Understanding Dementia (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Understanding Dementia (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

I am gathering together a small collection of books all published by Jessica Kingsley who is certainly one of the most innovative and ground-breaking publishers working in this field.

Their list covering a range of books on dementia is well worth examining.

These first two books handle at first hand the experience of living with dementia.

People with Dementia Speak Out
Lucy Whitman  2015 JKP 304 pages £14.99

Whatever the hell happened to my brain? Living beyond dementia
Kate Swaffer 2016 JKP 391 pages £13.99

Whitman has gathered together 23 people from diverse backgrounds and in a well-organised book there is a deeply moving range of accounts of experiences of living with dementia. There is honesty and a searing articulation of frustration and fear. The cumulative effect of the devastating impact of memory loss on people’s lives is both moving and disturbing. The individual accounts of how identity is broken down and reframed service as a reminder of the life changing effects of dementia on people and their families.

My only regret about this text is that it probably will not receive as wide a readership as it might. We need surely to embrace this devastating condition as belonging to the whole community as we attempt to work out what makes the human flourishing as we hold all those who are vulnerable. It demands that we refashion what it might mean to be human and limited and bounded by our bodies and brains. In other words all of us can learn about how to live well as we attend to those who struggle to maintain well-being. There is a quality, integrity and life to these accounts which we can all learn from.

I should also add that there is a comprehensive and helpful range of resources and further reading at the back of the book along with a clear glossary. Let Prof Graham Stokes have the final word (global director of dementia care at BUPA)

“for some who read this book the experience will be an epiphany. Therefore might it be possible that what we do to help a person with dementia, in some way to be kind to them, is diminished only by the limits we place on our ambition, imagination and humanity’ ( page 259).

Kate Swaffer  was 49 years old when she was diagnosed with dementia. In this book, she
describes  her experiences of living with dementia, exploring the effects of memory difficulties, loss of independence, leaving long-term employment, the impact on her teenage sons, and the enormous impact of the dementia diagnosis on her sense of self.

There is a profoundly challenging honesty about the experience and especially the stigma associated with dementia and the many inadequacies in care and support. Kate wants to change the way we both think about and respond to dementia and offers some radical suggestions about how a community might hold all those who because of dementia are taken into the difficult area of needing to develop a new and meaningful personal identity.
Let Kate have the final word here: and as I share it I hope to that this book will be very widely read.

These two books remind us that as well as listening to the experiences of people living with dementia there are significant political, economic and social challenges to improving and developing care.

I picked up the first book (Qigong for well-being in dementia and ageing by Stephen Rath JKP 2015 168 pages £15.99) with some ambivalence and curiosity but soon moved beyond misunderstanding and prejudice to see how traditional Chinese medicine can support emotional and physical well-being in people with dementia. This book presents a set of exercises and breathing techniques which I tried and found them to be very restorative! The book is carefully illustrated and deserves some careful attention amidst our reductionist and medicalized  approach to care.

Person Centred Dementia Care (by Dawn Brooker and Isabel Latham JKP 2015 224pages £17.99) has very quickly established itself as a leading textbook in guiding healthcare professionals to improve care from diagnosis to the end of life for people with dementia. It embraces a range of contexts and offers guidelines for practice. It is well written, carefully organised and accessible for a busy healthcare professional. The text is clearly earthed in reflective practice and draws upon up-to-date research and development in this area.

Although at first glance a technical book with a limited market the authors open up a refreshingly broad grasp of an individual living with dementia and each of the chapters lead us into a richer understanding of what person centred care should look like. There are many places in my own experience where I should like to take this book and ask that it be used to change care.

Amazing Love : Theology for understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission

Amazing Love : Theology for understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission

Amazing Love: Theology for understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission
Andrew Davison, DLT 2016, 114pp pbk

This book has been with me over the past few weeks and my reading of it has been shaped by a number of events and experiences. First I attended a celebration of 35 years of a LGBTI support group that had been running in Southampton. It was a rich mixture of looking backwards and forwards in relation to inclusivity and equality. It was particularly important to be reminded of the long struggle that many LGBTI people have had in relation both of coming to terms with their identity but also especially some recognition and affirmation by church and society. Sometimes it is very important for theology to listen carefully to the marginalised and those whose voices have struggled to be heard and understood.

As I write (November 2016) Anglican bishops are gathering for ongoing conversations about sexuality within the Church of England. This meeting is set against ongoing serious concerns about discipline in these matters expressed by the group GAFCON. You can read more about the debates via the Thinking Anglican website (

This is a carefully written book. It is reflective, open, biblically and theologically informed with a real desire to see the church as a place of wisdom and openness to all human beings. Amazing Love has been written by Davison, in collaboration with Duncan Dormer, Ruth Harley, Rosie Harper, Elizabeth Phillips, Jeff Phillips, Simon Sarmiento, Jane Shaw and Alan Wilson. Mark Russell provides an illuminating and insightful preface.

The question that should continue to perplex us is this: how are we to resolve the seemingly impossibly irreconcilable views amongst Christians on the subject of human sexuality. The debate some conversations have become toxic in their intensity. There is an obvious struggle for power and a deep distrust of voices and perspectives that differ or contradict one’s own. Put another way how progressive can Christianity afford to be? How are we to understand the growth in those churches that continue to base their moral teaching on what might be described as a Conservative and scriptural base? How are we to belong together and live together with such diversity and contestation?

The authors of Amazing Love offer a balanced and moderate discussion of some of these issues and questions in a real desire to hold a common ground where all can participate and belong. However there is a political dimension to this short text as the book is part of the wider programme of LGBTI Mission, whose goals are same-sex marriage in churches, and full access to all in such marriages. The need for change is “urgent”, it says. “Dragging our feet is neither sensible, nor ethical.”

I have recommended this book to a number of people who are both confused and distressed by this ongoing debate. It handles the question of the relationship between theology and science with care and reflectiveness. It points to a more intelligent handling of Scripture as the basis for our moral decision-making. Scripture needs to be interpreted in the light of our understanding of humankind, personality and sexual orientation. We need also, the book argues, to see how Christian moral thinking has changed. We see a picture of Christianity here as an unfolding and developing framework of truth. For example on slavery:  “It took time — far too much time — for Christians to connect their understanding of the good news with their views on slavery.”

The authors are not unsympathetic to the way in which people argue around difference. We are reminded that many of the loudest voices constantly argue in a one-dimensional way. We need both Scripture and experience to engage dialogically in order to provide a firm foundation upon which sustainable Christian community can be built.

The most persuasive and perhaps even heartbreaking chapter is the final one which focuses on mission. We are reminded that equality and diversity are normative values in all public contexts apart from the Church. We are losing whole generations of young people who believe that the church is not only irrelevant but dangerous in its prejudice and exclusion. This damage is potentially irreparable. It is no wonder that there is so much hurt and pain around! Fundamentalist extremism is bedding itself within the public imagination and religion runs the risk of being part of such a negative picture.

And so the debate continues in this book is a genuinely helpful contribution to the literature.

Blessed are the Poor? By Laurie Green

Blessed are the Poor? By Laurie Green

It has taken me some time to digest this book and so commend it to others for both reflection and action.

Laurie Green has established a well-deserved reputation for his ministry amongst the poor and voiceless but also for his ability to think theologically. The book took me backwards into my story but also catapulted me forwards ainto imagining what kind of society we are building. Within the tension between history and the future lies the key element in Greens persuasive, compelling and radical arguments in these nine chapters. I shall say more about that in a moment but one point at the outset is worth making. There is a quality to this narrative that is borne out of a life well lived and a text written in ‘retirement’ which leads me to feel that older people reflecting on their experience should have a much more honoured place and voice in our spiritual economy. There is some maturation and deep wisdom present in the way in which Green listens to the cry of the poor. Valuing Age might also mean moving older people voices into the forefront of social action.

Why should such a text take me backwards? Well, in the mid-1980s and after theological education in London and Cambridge I was ordained in the Diocese of Durham to serve my curacy in Consett. You may remember that it one stage in our economic history (1985)Winchester was regarded as the wealthiest place in the country and Consett the poorest – this was the case because of the closure of the steelworks and the catastrophic consequences for thousands of workers across the area. By the time I had arrived many of the more entrepreneurial families had taken their redundancy money and relocated either in different parts of the country or across the north-east in new jobs. Some had resolutely stayed in the town that they were born in and felt inextricably connected with and thereby presenting a real picture of economic, social, cultural and spiritual poverty. It was a cold and bleak place and a living or dying reminder of the results of political policy that devastated huge sections of the industrial north. An example, quite simply, of the power and persuasiveness of economics over individuals and families. Money talks – people should listen!

Green reflects on this and takes us inside many stories of hardship and dismay. Green acts as an advocate for the forgotten residents of Britain’s housing estates and their devaluing marginalisation. At the centre of all of this are the experience and stories of poor people.

And what of the future trajectory? The advantage of having this book on my desk for so long before I dispatch it to the library for wider readership and use is that it has seen and experienced the decision of this country to remove itself as a member of the European Union. We live in uncertain times and it remains to be seen which parts of the community will bear the inevitable (perhaps?) consequences of our post Brexit world. I suspect that it will be the poor again who will pay some of the price of the economic and social uncertainty that faces this democratic position. We are faced again with Greens plea outlined in chapter 5 about how we challenge the present culture by seeking to lead a kingdom orientated life together. This book demands that we explore what are kingdom values might look like and how we challenge those things that contradict and undermine equality, justice, decency, faithfulness and goodness.

This book draws upon what Laurie Green has learnt – in a kind of long meditation on the beatitude ‘bless are you who are poor’. It stands in a noble tradition of Anglican antagonists who long to develop a new tradition that seeks to learn from the poor and so offer a new theology that might enable the merging our past and our future into a more sustainable present. It is nothing short of a tragedy that we continue to tolerate such significant levels of poverty in our country today. While there are churches involved in social action and care of the marginalised and vulnerable we continue to live with an economic system that forces some people to live in the most appalling conditions. Not to keep on articulating the contradictions and paradoxes of this reality is, to return to an earlier analogy, to move Greens book from desk to library. Put another : way what is to be done now? Are we listening to the voices of the Poor? Are they to be our teachers? Perhaps it is the case that as long as we ignore these complex realities we ourselves become poorer as individuals and as communities.

Green is at his most creative in showing his reader how to be confident in theology and how, above all, to put it to work. It should become a core textbook for all those interested in enabling individuals and groups to become reflective practitioners.

Vulnerability and Care: Christian Reflections on the Philosophy of Medicine

Vulnerability and Care: Christian Reflections on the Philosophy of Medicine

Vulnerability and Care: Christian Reflections on the Philosophy of Medicine
Andrew Sloane, T and T Clark, 2016, 211pp, hbk, £84.99

I have recently seen at close hand the work a busy acute hospital having to deal with an older person suffering multiple challenges to well-being caused in the main by intense confusion as a result of the Alzheimer’s disease. The result was shocking and frustrating. Although, of course, a one-off situation which was intensified by my own sense of powerlessness and my personal pain at the way this person was treated – I suspect that this experience is not uncommon and may well be replicated across the National Health Service. We keep on being told that the NHS is in crisis principally for financial reasons but the central organizing question this book suggests that there challenges are also moral : it asks is how we care for vulnerable people in such a way as to deepen compassion and alleviate suffering.

For this reader the book came at the right time. It offers wisdom and a wider theological view. Andrew Sloane deserves gratitude and praise for a powerful narrative that asked this question: can the focus of modern medicine change? The implication is that if it does not its very soul is in jeopardy. In the light of my own experience the reader will understand why this plea resonated so deeply and profoundly in my soul.

To return to the anecdotal – I remember during my time teaching at the Birmingham University medical school exploring with groups of students how far their ethical teaching and curriculum help them make decisions. Since those teaching days a great deal of attention has been given to public and academic debate about medical and bioethical issues. Those groups of students and young doctors taught me that they relied as much on intuition (I need to respond quickly and so do what I feel is right) as much as the body of knowledge classified as medical ethics.  Sloane takes one step back from the issue of the relationship between theory and practice and asks his reader to explore the nature of medicine and its role in human community.

The nine chapters seek to put theology to work by offering a framework of Christian philosophical and theological thinking which might enable us to understand the nature and purposes of medicine and its role in a Christian understanding of human society.

So what does the book do?

First it presents a description of the contexts in which medicine is practiced in the early 21st century, identifying key problems and challenges that medicine must address. It then turns to issues in contemporary bioethics, demonstrating how the debate is rooted in conflicting visions of the nature of medicine (and so human existence). This leads to a discussion of some of the philosophical and theological resources currently available for those who would reflect ‘Christianly’ on medicine.

The core of the text attempts to articulate a Christian view of medicine as a moral practice which might be shaped by a Christian social vision and a number of key theological commitments.

The book concludes with some powerful pedagogical reflections (pp 178 ff ). First Sloane asks that if it is the case that medicine is an expression of community solidarity with those whose vulnerability is exposed and if its goal is to express appropriate forms of care for the frail then we should rethink how we train doctors. In terms of medical epistemology, the internal goods of medicine and their relationship to other goals always threaten to distort or corrupt the practice of medicine. And in this we all need to take responsibility in relation to our wildly unrealistic expectations about what medicine can deliver.

A final theme, and possibly to be developed in his future writing lies, in the embodied nature of medicine. If we are ‘knowing bodies’ then doctors in partnership with their patients need to understand what is going on in the body: to listen carefully to the story of our bodies as to discern both what matters and how we might embrace frailty and nurture wholeness. The undue focus on investigations, the obsession with tasks and performance  both detract from the human element of the clinical encounter and (in Sloane’s view) wrongly understand the nature and goals of medical knowledge. This reflects an ongoing interest in a number of public bodies in the UK concerning the medical humanities and how these might be built into a more holistic approach of nurturing both medicine and the medical profession. Medical paternalism and powerful self protecting professionalism needs to be challenged if the world of medicine is to be re-engaged and transformed. However this will require from us that we reconfigure what medicine can and cannot do for us.

This is a stimulating and enriching book. It is inevitably stronger on theory rather than practice but its call and argument is clear and convincing. It deserves to be picked up and developed by those of us who seek wholeness and all those professional groups that are tasked to care for those in need.

Understanding Spiritual Accompaniment

Understanding Spiritual Accompaniment

Spiritual Accompaniment and Counselling: Journeying with psyche and soul
Edited by Peter Masden Gubi
Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2015  paperback 192 pages  £16.99

Here at Sarum College (  our two year certificate in spiritual direction is very popular to a wide variety of individuals who wish to build upon, reflect and improve their practice. In a world dominated by individualism, consumerism and materialism all of us need places and people we can draw upon for support, friendship and direction. This is particularly the case when we face crossroads, choices or crises.

As I write (10th July 2016) the General Synod of the Church of England has gone into private session to continue its deliberations about how far and to what extent it can embrace the agenda of inclusivity around gender and sexuality. While there are strong feelings on all sides there are far too many individuals and groups who regard Christianity with suspicion and even would want to place a significant health warning to its ability to embrace the ever wider and sometimes more complex horizons of people’s identity and experience. One might argue that there is a great deal that is lost in this political marginalisation. Put another way – who do we turn to when life becomes difficult and perplexing? The danger for the church is that its spiritual wisdom is overlooked in favour of therapy and therapeutic practice.

This volume of essays, nine in all, attempts very successfully to explore what it might be like to attune to the spiritual processes  of other people especially in the area of crisis, abuse, grief and pain. The essays intelligently explore the lifespan and how forgiveness and wholeness might be embedded into practice. The Christian tradition has a great deal to learn from the way in which psychotherapy and counselling seek to embrace a spiritual dimension. One might argue that if one wants to look for creativity and life in matters of the soul and spirit then it is to the liminal edges that one might look. These essays represent the very best of that creative liminal margin.

These are carefully written and skilfully edited essays. They deal with relationship, forgiveness, spiritual crisis, pain, suffering, lifespan development, grief and spiritual abuse. There is an excellent essay by Lynette Harborne on the importance of supervision and as ever with Jessica Kingsley books the book is attractively printed with a clear index and bibliography. Clarity and skilfulness in presenting complex material is one of this book’s key strengths.

Gubi writes in his introduction that this book is written to heighten practitioners awareness of the spiritual dimension in listening (page 22) – what follows in the subsequent  170 pages will stimulate, illuminate and expand horizons in such a way that we might all be challenged to work for human flourishing and societal well-being.

Loving Later Life An Ethics of Ageing

Loving Later Life An Ethics of Ageing

Loving Later Life An Ethics of Ageing
Frits de Lange Eerdmans, 2015, 169 pages, pbk, £12.99

If asked to name one of the urgent ethical priorities for academics and practioners working across a number of sectors it would be to deal with this question ‘what are older people for?’

We are all familiar with the demography – over the past decades we can all expect to live longer and the impact of this is a steady increase in the number of older people. We see the statistics translate into our personal lives as we look around in our neighbourhoods. Older people are a visible part of our communities and, indeed many of us are having to deal with older relatives. To take this further, whatever our birth age, in our own bodies we live with the experience of ageing as the days run into months and years. Ageing takes a variety of shapes in self and others.

In the UK there has been a catastrophic failure of political and economic policy to deal adequately with how we might best organise ourselves to support, affirm and respond to older people. We constantly learn about the inadequacy of health and social care services for older people particularly those facing dementia. Churches seem to demonstrate, at best, a kind of corporate denial about older people but sadly at worst, prejudice and ageism that reinforces the isolation of older people and a deep sense of their marginalisation. Recent commentaries on statistics about church attendance as they relate to the push towards enabling church growth almost all indicate the profile, presence and number of older people in congregations as a problem.

This is the background within which I have read this book. De Lange offers us a very different story which engages with skill and wisdom the shape of growing old. Its distinctiveness lies in his use of theology and ethics and his deeply creative conviction that older people can indeed be beautiful.

The book accepts and articulates some of the many vulnerabilities and fragility will inevitably take shape in old age. There is therefore a realism and groundedness in each of the five chapters. Chapter 1 makes a case for the need for an appropriate ethics for later life. The reader is warned of the dangerous assumptions of individualism and activism as they impact upon the moral shape of relationality, dependence and vulnerability. This leads, in chapter 2, to exploring an ethics of love, grounded in the biblical narrative, and especially the puzzling relationship between self-love and the love of neighbour. We are called not only to care for older people but to attend to our ageing selves. De Lange argues that caring for and about ourselves as we grow older functions as a stepping stone toward love of the older other.

Chapter 3 digs a little more deeply into why we have an inbuilt aversion towards ageing in our natural make up. Older people remind younger people of their own mortality. None of us want to face some of the challenges of change and dependency that take such different shape in old age. Mental decline is a particular fear. These all form part of a kind of terror management strategy that helps silence our fear of decay and death and feeds into ageism.

Chapter 4 asks the reader to say yes to life as we care for our own frailties, befriending our humanity and valuing all seasons of life but especially the final one. This part of the book is shot through with optimism and a real sense of age as opportunity and gift. It is a celebration of the deepest values of dignity and the abundance of life that perhaps only older people can show us.

The final chapter is focused on the love of neighbour as it discusses what it is in older age we can celebrate and see as valuable and beautiful. Some of our shallowness shaped as it is by the prevalent culture of individualism and materialism is laid bare here. There is an ethical imperative, this chapter argues, to move beyond the care of family into the support and encouragement of all older people across our communities. This is a deeply compassionate call to human connectivity and inter-relatedness.

This text is an important contribution to the literature as it suggests that there are many fundamental theological questions about human nature, the nature of life itself, what it might mean to survive and what the future holds for us in terms of hope and purpose posed by the age and ageing agenda. If one of the organising ethical questions of our age is ‘What are older people for?‘ then bound up with this should be the question, ‘What kind of theological questions should we ask?’

The profit motive, the mass media’s love affair with the new, and the anxiety provoked by growing old in a youth obsessed culture has led millions to surrender their faces to the war on wrinkles. We are being asked to unmake what we have spent a life time making. What do we receive in return for this sacrifice? Not youth. Instead we are given, at best, the facsimile of youth. Expressionless, passion, and history are pillages in the pursuit of youth’s fresh blankness. People fear wrinkles because of what they seem to say about us. They are the sum of all our days we have lived and will never live again. They tell us our story even when we do not want that story told. Even the attempt to raise them becomes part of what is written on our faces. We – the doers, the movers, the shakers, the achievers, the rocks of our families and communities – are being written upon. It shocks us to see ourselves, for the first time as paper and not the pen we imagine ourselves to be. Wrinkles are painless and harmless. They are us and we are them. What would it be like to live in a society that adored wrinkles? The idea may seem laughable at first, but for millennia, living to a ripe old age was an exceptional achievement and was often recognised as such by society. All this self induced anguish might serve some purpose if it prodded us towards a re-examination of our longevity. Wrinkles give us a way to begin such a conversation, but it is just a start. Grey hair and facial lines are only the first signs of something much more menacing. Finding a new wrinkle on wrinkles is one thing; plumbing the true nature of our longevity present a much more exciting and demanding challenge.

This playing around with words asks us to imagine growing into an old age defined by full development, maturity, awareness readiness and advancement – this really would be an opportune time. Instead we are mired in a highly negative view of ageing that envisions a one-way trip down the long road towards disease, dementia, disability and death. Peaches but ripen, but human beings, it seems, cannot. Though we are all aware that of the real and often unpleasant changes that come with advancing years, we lack a concept that fully recognises the positive elements of ageing. It is as if our longevity consists solely of deep, forbidding shadows. This emphasis is perhaps the most damaging consequence of contemporary society’s glorification of youth. Those who seek a more complete understanding of longevity, an understanding capable of embracing both light and shadow, conduct their search within a culture that rarely misses an opportunity to emphasise the negative aspect of ageing. The positive dimensions of our longevity remain, for now, present but unseen.

The decline that accompanies ageing is real and important (it helps explain why we die when we get old) but it is much less than the whole story. The danger is that we allow a thoughtless acceptance of what seems obvious to obscure deeper, more meaningful insights into age and ageing. Even though more than half of the normal human life span is spent ageing, we understand very little about the potential of the ageing process. The powers of old age remain too often devalued or outright hidden from us.

De Lange in this carefully written book understands the theological agenda and offers an important start in opening up a theological and ethical dimension of the meaning and shape of age.

The reader is resourced with a detailed index and an interesting and varied bibliography. This text deserves to be widely used and reflected upon. The challenge, as always, for practitioners is to translate the theory into a culture change that can inform social and economic policy that is shaped by a distinctive theological ethic.

Andrew Walker, Notes From A Wayward Son: A Miscellany

Andrew Walker, Notes From A Wayward Son: A Miscellany

Andrew Walker, Notes From A Wayward Son: A Miscellany,
ed. by Andrew D. Kinsey (Cascade, 2015)

This is an intriguing, stimulating and rewarding book that offers a space within which Andrew Walkers rather original and distinctive voice can be heard. Some will know Walker through his groundbreaking study of the 1970s and 80s house church movement Restoring the Kingdom (Guildford Eagle, 1998). Others will have been influenced by him through his teaching and oversight of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College London.

For over 45 years, Walker has witnessed the church change, die, move and grow – and the central question for him (and for us) is this ‘what kind of church will survive and flourish in the twenty-first century?’ For Walker only a ‘deep church’ will suffice and one that is attuned to the impact of modernity and therefore appropriately and suitably able to resist it. You will find in these chapters astute observation and intelligent interpretation of both church and culture. These gifts and skills are very often absent in contemporary ecclesiological strategy.

The book is divided into five probing and chapters. Part I: “Journey into the Spirit: Pentecostalism, Charismatic, and Restorationist Christianity” offers history and sociology in an analysis of self-styled renewal Christianity. The piercing questions about such approaches to the gospel provide the reader and reviewer with endless opportunity for marking the text. Walker speaks as an insider and an outsider within such the particular Christian tribe.

Part II: “Mere Christianity and the Search for Orthodoxy” offers pieces on C.S. Lewis, potential affinities between Lewis and Orthodoxy. The pieces on Lewis are especially good and offer shape to the ambition and shape of what a deep church might be.

Part III: “Orthodox Perspectives”, takes us inside Walker’s own denomination and as an orthodox Walker argues for the prophetic contribution Orthodoxy can give to our culture. The highlight of this part is the interview with Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.

Part IV: “Ecumenical Thoughts on Church and Culture” includes an

interview with Bishop Leslie Newbigin. Walker is unafraid to distinguish between good and bad religion and points out the distortions of a faddish, privatised, pop church that simply distorts both religion and Christianity. Trendy and attractive but in the end failing to nurture a deep wisdom.

Part V: “Shorter Pieces” offers a number of articles that continue to demonstrate the thinness of much modern Christianity. Here we have a lifetime of study, prayer, theological adventure that shape Walker’s questions about has so much of modern religion masks the face of God.

Do not be deceived by this book – it is as radical and searching a narrative as my desk has seen for some time. It will demand a disciplined to pay attention and listen to its voices. We need more wayward sons and daughters to offer to both church and world a maturity of presence and engagement that can deconstruct our fetishisms and build a deeper well from which our thirst for the mystery and knowledge of God can be quenched.

How Do We Access the Spiritual?

How Do We Access the Spiritual?

How Do We Access The Spiritual
Edited by Jonathan Pye, Peter Sedgwick and Andrew Todd, Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2015; 280 pages; £19.99

I review this book (the second week of July 2016) when two particular conversations were at the forefront of my mind. The first was the smooth transition between Cameron and May into 10 Downing Street and the office of Prime Minister. What followed was much speculation about who would hold some of the key offices of state including the office of health secretary. This speculation triggered a great deal of social media interest in the health service and especially some of the frustrations on the part of healthcare professionals particularly about the culture of change, resource and the over politicisation   of care in the NHS.

The second was a conversation about church growth and how we face the reality of diminishing numbers (and perhaps even confidence) in religion today. Both of these areas of thought might take up many pages of a blog but they certainly shaped by appreciation and admiration of this book of 16 essays that explore issues of how we think about and deliver healthcare chaplaincy.

Let me give you an outline of book. Its editors are leading academics in the area of health, practical theology and chaplaincy studies. In particular Andrew Todd’s work in the Cardiff Centre the Chaplaincy Studies deserves particular respect and admiration for its quality and professionalism.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part (constructing spiritual care) explores models of spiritual care; discourses of spiritual health care; models of healthcare chaplaincy and how chaplains use the Bible as interpreters in their work. The second part (negotiating spiritual care in public) explores the value of spiritual care and the need for negotiation and persuasion for its value in the public domain; some legal and policy frameworks for spiritual care; the work of chaplaincy in a multi-faith and secular environment and the particular relationship between chaplaincy and nursing.

The third part (researching spiritual care) offers an overview of methodologies for research in spiritual care; deals with the particularities of research health context; looks at the significance of volunteers in the culture of the NHS and offers a particular process of observing, recording and analysing spiritual care in an acute setting. Finally part four discusses the practice of the spiritual care in the context of suffering; opens up the much vexed question of assisted suicide; digs deep into the care of those living with mild cognitive impairment and offers experience of spiritual care in a children’s hospice.

The editors provide a comprehensive subject and author index and throughout the work there is a careful structure and system of referencing. While it is almost impossible to provide consistency across a wide range of essays and chapters the editors have succeeded in providing a very useful and significant addition to the literature in this field.

So this leads to my to opening areas of discussion. The first is developed a little in this book that needs further work. How do we deal with our expectations around care and our experience of care in the NHS? With it’s ever developing technology and increased skill and professionalism is the health service nurturing a culture within which people feel valued, understood and responded to? Put more simply – is the health service looking after people as well as it might ? Are there  some indications that despite our increased investment in resources people feel dissatisfied with the quality of engagement, support and compassion. Perhaps it is inconceivable and impossible to deliver but should we always try to start with the patient and the patient voice when developing a narrative for care? This is of course where chaplaincy is at its absolute strongest – it engagement, understanding and transformative presence in and through the attentive and caring relationship. Chaplaincy needs to beware  of its tendency to detach itself from the patient experience in the ever understandable necessity for organisational security and affirmation. The power is  with the patient! Professionalism is always grounded in the narrative of the experience of illness.

The second and I admit a less obvious area of church growth is yet another area where chaplaincy may be critical in turning around the way in which individuals and groups access the spiritual (hence my organising title).Chaplains meet people where they are and on their terms within their life experience. This is an opportunity to illuminate, enlarge and connect with the spiritual – especially in times of crisis and difficulty. It may be that chaplains are altogether best placed to keep the rumour of Angels alive through their presence and engagement. Investment in agency and chaplaincy should be a key element to the churches strategy for recovering the pastoral as part of deepening spiritual connectivity and faith.

This is a very good book and I commend it as a stimulating, resourceful and informed collection of essays on care.

Performing Pastoral Care

Performing Pastoral Care

Making the case for the relevance of pastoral care today, this book explores the role of pastoral care through the prism of music. Using musical analogies, the author provides a new way of understanding and practising pastoral care, grounded in practical theology. Challenging overemphasis on mission, he shows that pastoral care remains essential to the life of the church, especially when engaging with extreme situations such as dying, suffering or war, and considers the role of pastoral carers in the specific pastoral encounter and in the life of the church in general.

Here is my commendation:

‘We live in interesting and complex times. Modernity has given us choice and freedom to shape our destiny in many, often competing, directions. The Church is only one place where the shape of human experience is opened up and attended to in our struggle to flourish. This context provides us an opportunity to reimagine how theology and its practice might contribute to well-being. Performing Pastoral Care is a serious and substantial contribution to our understanding of this practice as it calls us all to rediscover our pastoral heart with imagination and creativity. Interdisciplinary in its focus – music and theology both blend and dialogue to provide a stimulating, intelligent and well-organised narrative. The reader is asked to look outwards through a number of lenses and using a variety of methods to engage with the paradoxes and ambiguities of human experience. It succeeds in providing a significant contribution to the literature around music and pastoral theology and its carefully organised chapters offer practical tools for the resourcing of the shapes of pastoral activity and performance. I hope that it will be widely used as part of the ongoing conversation about what might need to be transformed in and through us as we seek to reach out and serve our world and its peoples. I shall be adding it to core reading lists for my students.’

Good Disagreement? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church

Good Disagreement? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church

Good Disagreement? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church
Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard (Editors) Lion Hudson 2015

There is a little bit of the playground and its visceral realities still in all of us. We prefer to get our own way and sometimes go to some lengths to achieve that. We easily dismiss, obstruct, even ostracise those who do not  suit our world view. Indeed if no one is looking any one of us have it within us to inflict harm on others who inconveniently do not see the world as we do. This playground politics is played out at almost every level of our living and loving. We still go to war. We still have a dark capacity for destruction. Political dialogue is fraught with conflict and contestation. In the world of journalism it’s sometimes impossible to know who is telling the truth.

It is not surprising therefore that the turmoil that comes from failure to live in harmony is a reality at every level of church life. Archbishop Justin Welby has asked us to seek to transform bad disagreement into good disagreement. This is the core subject matter for this book.

There are ten chapters. There is a distinctly evangelical bias but what holds the persuasiveness of the narrative together is the illustration of how Christians can engage with one another and their profound (and destructive) differences. Chapters Two, three and four deal with the new Testament. Ian Paul looks at reconciliation; Michael Thompson at division and discipline; and Tom Wright at Paul. Chapter Four opens up the disagreements that stand at the heart of the Reformation and there are  subsequent chapters on ecumenical disagreement and disagreement between religions. The final three chapters move into some personal material as a number of authors look at how good disagreement might take shape between people and in various contexts.

It is absolutely inevitable that such a book should raise more questions than it answers. This is a mark of its skill and intelligence. We do not find out whether there is something deep within the religious psyche that disables us from a different sort of harmony. Again and again we are confronted with the gap between theory and practice in the nurture of peace. This is a fundamental need is at every level of society and this book makes a good start in introducing some of the questions and opportunities that lie ahead of us. I would recommend it to a Christian community seeking to explore reconciliation. All of us will need some help in putting some of the questions at the end of each chapter to work. The editors are to be congratulated on drawing together some interesting and stimulating essays.

Chaplaincy Ministry and the Mission of the Church

Chaplaincy Ministry and the Mission of the Church

Chaplaincy Ministry and the Mission of the Church
Victoria Slater, SCM Press 2015, 160 pages, pbk

There are three distinctive and attractive characteristics of this book. The first is the authors’ skilful ability to open up her research in an accessible and stimulating way. The second is the quality of theological reflection based, thirdly, in the reflective practice of her experience as a healthcare chaplain.

Six chapters work together towards a conclusion in responding two questions: ‘What is chaplaincy?’ and ‘What is the significance of chaplaincy within the ministry and mission of the church?’ These questions are discussed within the context of the extensive social reach of chaplaincy and in its ability to connect with a range of people beyond the traditional reach of the church. We are reminded of the growth and development of chaplaincy in recent years but also of the need for ongoing theological reflection on practice. Slater shows how critical theological reflection is for the illuminating of our wisdom about mission, the nature of God’s involvement in the world and how discipleship and vocation might be nurtured. This narrative takes seriously the significant and seemingly irreversible decline in numbers across church congregations but also challenges some of the marginalisation of chaplaincy present within church structures and discourse.

Chapter 1 offers some historical perspective in the context of our pluralistic and ever-changing culture. Chapter 2 models a practical theological approach with a careful use of experience through three case studies. It deals with role, relationship, self understanding and practice within a theological framework. Chapter 3 looks at the relationship between chaplaincy and mission opening up some of the tensions that are present in the ways in which we value some ministry above others. Chapter 4 deals with the identity of chaplaincy, necessary Slater makes clear for an understanding of good practice. Throughout there is an articulation of the distinctiveness of chaplaincy. With this in mind chapter 5 offers some challenges to the institutional church and the range of ecclesiologies always present when we explore the nature of mission. Chapter 6 keeps an eye on the future as it offers some guidance and frameworks within which to develop practice. It aspires to wanting to support further chaplaincy research and indeed encourage innovation through the setting up of new chaplaincy roles. Dialogue, presence, openness, reflection, faithfulness and transformation are key words fleshed out in and through the shape of the six chapters.

This reviewer shares the authors conviction that part of the future of church will lie in its moving beyond traditional models and boundaries into an engagement that meets and connects with people where they are and through what they are experiencing. This book, therefore, deserves to be used by all those who might want to explore ways in which we might be faithful to the gospel and share its grace. Our structures need this voice to inform this urgent task of reflection on the future shape of being church.

Writing Methods in Theological Reflection

Writing Methods in Theological Reflection

Writing Methods in Theological Reflection
Heather Walton, London: SCM Press, 2014

Most readers of this journal will be book collectors. They are necessary tools of our trade as teachers, seekers after wisdom, researchers and writers. Having recently moved house the task of downsizing a library is certainly a demanding judgement. For example it was relatively easy to let go some of my cookery books. With very few exceptions most of these books were simply not useful. Some of the recipes looked attractive but were much more complicated to prepare and deliver in ever increasingly busy lives.

Apply this analogy to our theology library. Which of these books have abiding value? How many of the books organised on our shelves are of any practical use? There are some indications in the developing culture of the church that theology is not tool to be drawn on for the enlarging of our minds and the nurture of human flourishing.

Heather Walton is one of the most innovative of our practical theologians and this volume of collected pieces of writing comes out of her teaching in the University of Glasgow but especially influential (I think) as co-director of the Centre for Literature, Theology and the Arts.

The book begins by acknowledging a wide range of influences (including especially the development of the multi-centred Doctorate in Practical Theology) and offers an excellent introduction on reflective theological writing. Four parts follow dealing with Autoethnography; Journalling; Life writing and finally Poetics, Theology and Practice. There are seventeen chapters which are completed with a bibliography and name and subject index.

It is Walton’s ability to craft words and organise theory which give this text a particular quality. The writing is engaged, earthed and seriously reflective as it grounds itself in the vulnerabilities and strengths of Walton’s own life (infertility, motherhood, politics, teaching and writing). In ecclesial communities whose focus seems to be ever self preoccupied and inward looking Walton demands that we consider the validity of religious discourse within an understanding of the complexities and ambiguities of faith. Above all she shows her reader how to integrate some of these uncertainties through creative writing. She both models and embodies a truthfulness which has an energy and life affirming vibrancy. If the church has a future it may be that the shape of a poetic which is incarnational, public and subversive may be part of a reshaping of an integrity and validity which might be prophetic and transformative.

This is a good book and deserves its place on a carefully selected bookshelf of key volumes in practical theology. In all texts relating to theological reflection there is a significant ‘so what?’ factor. Despite the development of the discipline over the past 10 years there remains some disconnect as far as putting theology into practice through an integrated approach to the interrelationships between life experience, reflection and theology. Without skilled presence and facilitation we may run into the danger of sending the discipline into an enforced early retirement. To return to my analogy theology runs the risk of remaining a tempting set of recipes which seem incapable of being ‘cook-able’ into nourishing meals.

Unrealistically therefore what might be needed is the empowering and releasing educational skill of Walton in the room to bring the book alive. Accompaniment and facilitation become key parts of the enabling of the practice of theological reflection. Walton offers us a guide but there is a great deal further work to be done to empower a wiser, creative, and integrated practical theology.

Between Dark and Daylight by Joan Chittister

Between Dark and Daylight by Joan Chittister

Between Dark and Daylight by Joan Chittister

I am busy at the moment embarking upon a major exercise of downsizing in preparation for my move to Sarum. This must include books! The process is illuminating. What do we attach ourselves to? All this ‘stuff’ faces me with the paradoxes and contradictions of living and even confronts me with some quite disturbing questions about attachment, loss and the inevitability of change.

This is the context within which I read this book. Some books emerge as offering us just what we might need when a life faces us with deeper questions, our frustrations and fears. We ignore this at our peril! Embracing the essential contradictoriness of life is the essence of what it might mean to flourish.

Chittister is a wise, humane and honest spiritual guide. In 32 short chapters she faces her reader with life as it is; materialism, loneliness, doubt, insecurity, failure, noise, distraction and much more. Faith offers no escape but a deeper wrestling with life. The book draws deeply upon the Christian tradition to enable and empower the search for wisdom in the geography of our loving. She describes those liminal spaces where human beings best grow with   disarming common sense. Optimism is rooted deep within the soil of a realism about the journey into those darker places of what makes us hurt. In this struggle prayer lies at the heart of the transformation.

This really is an extraordinary book and no reader will be disappointed. However I am challenged to ask how far the community of the Church can live and share this wisdom when so much of its organisational life seems so unfocused and distracted. Can we recover our pastoral heart and listen more carefully to our questions and experiences? Indeed how might we work together in imaginative ways of nourishing the human spirit?

In this task Chittisher is a voice we shall want to listen to.

What shapes us for happiness?

What shapes us for happiness?

These bricks form part of the place where I live – well over 300 years old – and in need of some repair – history is fascinating. Imagine what life and change they have experienced!

Andrew Marr has turned his pen to writing history A History of Modern Britain ( Macmillan 2007). The pages are easy to turn – all 630 of them – as Marr energetically moves the reader through the decades since 1945. Marr is clever – a populist who can make connections and who is unafraid to draw conclusions. He wants to entertain and inform and succeeds with this reader!

So what is it a story about? The victory of shopping over politics? A new Jerusalem of a second Elizabethan Age? How a thin, religious, homogenous nation became fat, sceptical and diverse? Or how we all are defeated by a culture of celebrity, consumerism and self gratification?! Take your pick!!

Marr is a liberal and persuasive as he marches us through Atlee, the self destruction of Labour, the birth of the SDP, War ( lots of war), AIDS, Scargill and the miners, boom and bust in the city, privatisation and so on.

‘Always’ he writes ‘we have been a country on the edge’. And what are we on the edge of today I wonder?

We are a strange lot the British – hard to herd – unpredictable and full of undigested half truths – disatisified somehow with the shape of life? What’s our character ? Can we define it? Marr looks to other areas for this discussion – style, fashion, comedy, cars, anarchists, oil men and punks. Are we happier though – thats what I want to know? We are more individual and connected, but feel more isolated. Our children grow up too quickly. Religion is largely irrrelevant. We shop on Sundays. We take consolation from our large plasma television sets. But we search for something real – where do you find your reality?

Are we happier? Perhaps only the panel of Pop Idol or the X factor know!!

Wise Politicians?

Wise Politicians?

( )

Most biography falls into the danger of self justification as we attempt to explain, defend or excuse ourselves. Only the very honest or deluded dare to tell it as it is! An official biography must attempt some balance and objectivity and that can be a problem when the subjest is still alive! Kenneth Morgan brings all his skill as a historian to bear upon Foot and the result is impressive – an evaluation of a man who made some spectacular mistakes.

I admire Foot’s passion and intelligence – he followed his heart without fear. He refused to collude with trends or to entertain popularity as most politicians do. In the 1950’s Foot was an icon of the left – an agitator of protest, not a man hungry for power.

He had to endure leading the Labour party at a time when it suffered a split that was worse than anything else in its history, except possibly the schism led by Ramsey MacDonald in 1931. It was to keep them out of power for many years. A great man became a lousy leader in impossible circumstances.

Voices like Foot’s are lacking in the modern political scene where the machinery of politics draws opions into line for the sake of good media coverage. Foot’s world was informed by a wider interest in literature, conversation, love and marriage, and writing. His constant conviction in peace, his support of CND and his horror at the Iraq war are all radical threads that fired and inspired him. I wonder what an honest conversation between Balir and Foot might have sounded like?

Foot’s incurable romanticism runs through his life – an attribute that makes him an attractive human being but one that can be disastrous in a politician. What Morgan allows to emerge is a man who can see – both the inside and outside of politics! This hinterland gives us all a measure of civilisation and it is a quality much lacking in public life.

You may not agree with the politics but this volume is an enriching read. You will discover something about yourself through the life of this good and honorable man.