Reviews – September 2015
Guide to finding balance
Christians are not immune from stress. In fact, says Middleton, Christians may have extra pressures because, in addition to the usual demands of employment, work around the home, family and recreation, they also strive to fit in time for worship and Christian service. As a psychologist, church leader and director of Mind and Soul, a Christian mental health organisation, Middleton knows the pressures and expectations that busy, active people, particularly high achievers, may experience.
This practical and positive book provides a medically up-to-date understanding of stress, what it is and how it affects our lives. Middleton acknowledges that stress is simply a part of life; it is not necessarily bad and can encourage productivity and creativity. But, if stress becomes excessive and chronic, it can damage our health and affect how we relate to others. Middleton gives practical suggestions on ways to better manage and reduce stress, with a section at the end of each chapter containing personal or group exercises to help put principles into practice.
As a minister of two congregations, I am glad that Middleton does not simply suggest that we do less, care less, or have less passion about what we do. Rather, she recommends that we pause and take stock of our lives, obtain renewal and refreshment where necessary, and then set reasonable priorities according to our Christian values, so that we don’t burn out. Using biblical examples throughout, Middleton speaks of healthy caring, with appropriate boundaries, so that the needs of others are balanced with our own and our families’ needs. I particularly liked her description of mindfulness as being in tune with what we are presently attending to, and thus not so preoccupied with noise around us that we miss what is of real importance.
This is not a book which breaks new ground, but it is a practical, accessible overview of an important topic that we ignore at our peril. It is a quick read and would be a useful book for church leaders, ministers, elders and anyone else who strives to be a faithful Christian in our high-tech, fast paced society. Enjoy!
The Revd Dr Catherine Ball is minister of The Free Church, St Ives and Fenstanton United Reformed Church in Cambridgeshire
Food for the faith journey
Immeasurably More was written as the accompanying guide for this year’s Spring Harvest conference. Although the multicoloured, modern pages betray that origin, this book has so much more to offer to the Christian explorer; it is a comprehensive, systematic challenge to all disciples to grow higher, closer, deeper, wider and further into our relationship “with him who is able to do immeasurably more” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Five key words (“higher”, “closer”, “deeper”, “wider” and “further”) form the theme threads of the book. The reader is encouraged to engage with reflections, anecdotes, biblical quotations and real-life stories – and be challenged by them, as well as give prayerful response. My journey through reading this book was enriched by the variety of content. Short, reflective and creative activities are suggested to practically unpack what “immeasurably more” that God – through Jesus, “according to his power that is at work within us” – is able to lead us into as we step forward in faith.
I personally treasure the biblical quotation around which this book is constructed and, having attended Spring Harvest myself this year, I found that this book was an excellent, jam-packed, resource that enabled me to delve deeper into my decades-long faith journey as a Christian, a learner and a follower. The appeal of Immeasurably More is its dynamic challenge to our faith. Through small group Bible study material provided at the end of the book’s sections, the book’s challenge can be shared. The book may also spark ideas for a congregational response to the themes discussed. If you would like a refreshingly different approach to exploring personal discipleship, or a resource for sparking deeper faith sharing conversations – with friends within or outside church – then this book is for you.
Catey Morrison is a church minister serving the East Cleveland Group of United Reformed churches
Spotlight on extremism
Andrew Marr described the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, as “probably Britain’s deepest and most interesting thinker on faith and extremism”. Sacks’ latest book seeks to unpack the theological DNA of the new religion-inspired violence of Islamist extremists. He does so from the awareness that this movement is not unique, but the latest manifestation of what he calls “altruistic evil” (murder in God’s name) – a phenomenon rooted deeply in the histories of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Sacks’ question is this: “How is it that people kill in the name of the God of life, wage war in the name of the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of love and practise cruelty in the name of the God of compassion?” Sacks examines this phenomenon through the lens of antisemitism – not because Jewish suffering is unique or more acute than that of others, but because of the unique ways in which Jews have functioned historically as scapegoats in genocidal movements, culminating in the Holocaust.
Antisemitism is the first warning sign of a culture in a state of cognitive collapse. What makes the legitimisation of such evil possible? Sacks argues that it is the pathological expression of monotheistic faith expressed in group processes of: Splitting, projection, pathological dualism, dehumanisation, demonisation, victimhood and the use of a scapegoat to escape moral responsibility.
Sacks’ analysis makes for compelling reading and his writing style is extraordinarily engaging and accessible. I found myself returning again and again to his exegesis of key Genesis narratives: The patriarchs, the flood, Babel, Lot, Cain and Abel; his argument is that these ought to be read as an intentional biblical alternative to the world of violence and its causes. Thus read, these texts become the theological engine to drive a new relationship between the three great faith communities.
I found myself longing for a conversation between Sacks and Brueggemann on the violence of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, and for Sacks to address the implications for his observations on land to Israeli Zionism. But that is because I want to learn further from him, not correct him!
Lawrence Moore is director of the Windermere Centre, Cumbria
Graham Sutherland: Life, work and ideas
The Lutterworth Press
Rosalind Thuillier first met Sutherland in 1970 and got to know him well before his death in 1980. This book, published just after the author’s death, brings us close to one of the great British artists of the 20th Century; it will appeal to anyone who wants to explore his art but also to those who want to get inside the artistic and imaginative process.
The book is a mixture of a chronology of the artist’s life and several in-depth analyses of particular areas of his art. The book begins by taking the reader for a walk with Sutherland around his beloved Pembrokeshire coast, as a conversation between Sutherland and the author unfolds; we then see how Sutherland increasingly understood colour and how to deploy it. We join him as a student at Goldsmiths College and are shown some beautifully detailed etchings and engravings which show his skill in capturing line. There is a thoughtful account of his work documenting and responding to the Second World War; his shattered buildings and gun emplacements evoking the losses.
Reform readers may be particularly drawn to the fascinating chapter on “Religious Subjects”. Sutherland produced such work steadily from 1944 until the 1970s. One motif constantly recurring was that of thorns. Another work many of us will have encountered is his great tapestry of Christ in Glory for the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, which was, at the time, the world’s largest such work. We are given tremendous insight into how Sutherland worked at the designs for this tapestry, depicting both decay and growth, and we are shown a host of the drawings and discussions that brought Christ in Glory into being in 1962. For this chapter alone, the book is worth buying!
Another important contribution is a chapter on Sutherland’s portraits. Again, we are able to discover not just the details of the final works but more of the artist’s exploration of how to depict human individuality and personality in paint.
This book is for anyone wanting to appreciate Sutherland as an artist. It bears witness to an artist deeply influenced by the world around him and its relationships; it is also a striking memorial to a thoughtful friendship.
The Revd Neil Thorogood is principal of Westminster College, Cambridge
This is an extract from the September 2015 edition of Reform.