Book Review – Reclaiming the Sealskin

Reclaiming the Sealskin: Meditations in the Celtic SpiritReclaiming the Sealskin: Meditations in the Celtic Spirit by Annie Heppenstall-West is a series of meditations on themes that are mostly drawn from the natural world (eg Ripples, Deer, Fire, Otter). Each theme has a beautifully drawn card that comes ready to be pressed out of the book. The idea is to take a theme and carry the card with you to meditate on for a period of time. Each theme has a biblical text, something for mind, body and spirit and a simple prayer. The book might be used with groups or by individuals. Those making a retreat would find much to ponder in these pages. The whole thing is tinged with a post-modern Celtic aura. Little more needs to be said – those who like post-modern Celtic auras will love it.

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Published in inspires the magazine of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Book Review – Mission Implausible

Mission Implausible: Restoring Credibility to the ChurchMission Implausible – Restoring Credibility to the Church (Paternoster Press £15.99)
Duncan MacLaren’s new book Mission Implausible should be required reading for all those formulating mission strategies and schemes in the church, as well as for students of the mission of God’s people in the world.

Contemporary sociological analysis of society is used by the author to illuminate questions which are more often easier to formulate than to answer. Why do people struggle to believe? How can we explain the decline in church attendance in some parts of the world church?
MacLaren refuses to accept that society is inevitably moving towards secularisation. He writes in a Britain in which people claim to believe yet who rarely connect with church life. Perhaps surprisingly, hope springs from deep and ancient wells, not least models of thinking which come from the Columban mission in Scotland – a missiological community which is at once distinctive, inculturated and engaged.

This is a book which will sit on this reviewer’s bookshelf next to David Bosch’s Transforming Mission. It is a more accessible book and a more entertaining book even though it is never an entirely comfortable read. It can hold its own in lofty company.

Duncan MacLaren is Associate Rector of St Paul’s and St George’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh.

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Published in inspires, the magazine of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Book Review – You've Got to Have a Dream

You've Got to Have a Dream: The Message of the MusicalYou’ve Got To Have a Dream – the message of the musical by Ian Bradley (SCM Press £16.99)
What will we have a theology of next? Ian Bradley’s book is a theological reflection on musical theatre.

We’ll start at the very beginning. Despite cheerfully admitting that it is rather difficult to locate references to God in the Savoy Operas, the author (Hon Life President of the St Andrews University Gilbert and Sullivan Society) chooses them as the starting point on his quest through some of the most ubiquitous and dominant cultural icons of modern times.

Ian Bradley makes grand claims about the importance of musicals. In particular, he makes the suggestion that musicals have taken over from late night Sunday television drama as the primary vehicle for portraying contemporary conflict and debate in the sphere of religion. This seems a bold claim. If true, it suggests that serious debate has become more and not less the province and domain of those with ready access to metropolitan theatre.

The dominant theme in this book is of the dream motif which runs through much musical theatre. The suggestion here is that the musical has at times proposed that if you follow your dream, then all will be well and more recently, that dreams do not always come true.
In recent months, the debate about the power of musical theatre reached a new high point with the intensely moral and utterly controversial Jerry Springer the Opera. Sadly this book was completed before that debacle. Should the book run to a second edition, a further chapter about this more recent controversy would be welcome.

This book will appeal to fans of musical theatre interested in probing under the surface of their favourite shows as well as to all those interested in the relationship between religion and popular culture. It will also appeal to liturgists, who need to know what they are up against.

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Published in inspires, the magazine of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Book Review – eucharist with a small e

Eucharist with a Small eucharist with a small “e” by miriam therese winter (Orbis Books £8.99)
Miriam Therese Winter is a professor of liturgy, worship and spirituality, but does not let that get in the way of asking us to imagine a spirituality rooted in doing what Jesus did. In this imaginative book, she challenges those who look to Jesus for inspiration to do as he did rather that, perhaps, what they churches have taught us to do.

This is a book which starts out with an agenda – to imagine and enact eucharist with a small “e”. For the author, this means being empowed to continue what Jesus began, identifying with those who are hungry and thirsty or who are sick and in prison and then working with and for them as thanksgiving to God. She is a woman who knows that eucharist comes from a common Greek word (meaning thank you) that can be heard at every table and not only at the altar of God. Indeed, one can guess that she sees every table as the altar of God. Or god.

This basic idea is very rich. Eucharist is to be seen in the ordinary. Eucharisticness is a way of being, not something that one receives packed into a taste of bread and a sup of wine. Eucharist for Jesus, as for Professor Winter is so much more than that, and in this book that is explored with great imagination and creativity. This is spirituality at its most imaginative and as such to be welcomed by all who long for a Godly understanding of the here and the now.
Review by Miriam Western

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Published in inspires the magazine of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Book Review – Changing Rural Life

Changing Rural Life: A Christian Response to Life and Work in the CountrysideThis new book addresses a number of different themes facing rural life, which we are assured is changing in particular and distinctive ways. Drawing together essays by many contributors, the editors attempt to stimulate reflection on the rural economy, the environment and community issues.

Of particular interest is a chapter by the Most Rev Bruce Cameron, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church who writes about the particular experience of isolated communities. This leads into a description of local collaborative ministry as a process by which ‘…“being church” is transformed from a community gathered round its priest to being “ministering” communities exploring and putting into practise the ministry of the baptized.’

If only we could untangle the idea of every member ministry from our need to review the patterns and structures of ordained ministry. Perhaps then we could all agree what local collaborative ministry is and subsequently agree on whether or not we think it is a good thing. Only after such a period of reflection will the church be able to ask the questions about deployment of resources which seem so often to be behind the LCM projects. However, this chapter does provide a helpful insight into Bruce Cameron’s Local Collaborative Ministry. Whether this is the same as everyone else’s Local Collaborative Ministry remains to be seen.

Also in the book are contributions from John Saxbee on the urban use of the countryside, John Olive on biodiversity, James Jones on eating well and Richard Clarke on globalisation and local autonomy. Rowan Williams provides a thoughtful afterword bringing the collection to a close.

Changing Rural Life: A Christian Response to Life and Work in the Countryside

Book Review – Disclosures: Conversations Gay and Spiritual

Disclosures: Conversations Gay and SpiritualThe issue of homosexuality continues to polarise the churches, but what are gay people themselves actually saying? Michael Ford meets gay and lesbian Christians from the US, US and Africa and documents their own voices and their own views on current events. This is an engaging and readable book which explores the dynamics of being gay and spiritual in the 20th Century.

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Book Review – Lectionary Reflections Year B

Lectionary Reflections: Year BLike a number of improving books (Bridget Jones and Tales of the City come to mind), this book began as a newspaper column. Jane Williams’ thoughtful reflections on the lectionary readings first appeared in the Church Times in the ‘Sunday Readings’ slot which is surely designed to prompt desperate preachers who have not made their minds up by Friday as to what they are going to say on Sunday morning.

The pieces here are intelligently written and useful for any preacher. One of the truly great achievements of the ecumenical movement in recent years is the number of churches which have moved to a common lectionary so that on most Sundays people from different traditions will be hearing the same scripture readings. For this reason, books like this have an appeal across the denominations. For those who need to know, the readings studied here are those of the thematic strand in the lectionary.

Books of this kind are also useful for anyone who regularly attends a church in which they fear that they might not appreciate the preacher of the day. Simply buy this book, sneak it in under your hat and slip it out during the gradual hymn ready for a good read during the sermon slot.

It is clear that Jane Williams is an engaging theologian and these pieces make me want to hear her preach herself. Until recently, she was a lecturer and doctrine tutor at Trinity College, Bristol. Now, living on the south bank of the River Thames, she is Visiting Lecturer in Theology at King’s College, London. As the introduction to the book rather coyly states, she is married, and has two school-aged children.

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Published in inspires, the magazine of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Book Review – Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Means of Grace, Hope of Glory: An Anglican AnthologyWhat do Anglicans think? At a time when it is becoming increasingly uncertain who Anglicans actually are, Raymond Chapman’s compendium is a helpful contribution. He takes a dozen big themes (Holy Orders, Authority, Holy Communion, Preaching etc) and then offers snippets of Anglican thought through the ages on each topic. Over a hundred voices can be heard in these pages. They are mostly white, and mostly male and of course, mostly English – could we, should we expect otherwise?

The collection spans six centuries of spiritual writings. Reflections on many different aspects of the Christian tradition are present here, including the Evangelical Revival and the traditions of the Early Church. One of the themes which emerges is of Anglicans tolerating those amongst themselves with whom they disagree. However, it would need more rigorous historical understanding to determine whether this is indeed a dominant Anglican theme or wishful thinking in the mind of the compiler. That said, it is always interesting to see those who have gone before us wrestling with some of the same questions that arise today. Is that really Richard Hooker going into contortions to convince people the Confirmation should not be neglected and should best be performed by a bishop? He could have been speaking at Synod.

Means of Grace, Hope of Glory is a rich collection of titbits to mull over. It is perhaps more useful as something to dip into from time to time as a resource than as a textbook. As such it would be a handy book for anyone wanting to do some thoughtful reflection about what the Anglican churches are about and who Anglicans are.

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Published in inspires, the magazine of the Scottish Episcopal Church

The Queer Bible Commentary – Book Review

This book brings together the work of many different writers who are known for their interest in the area of gender, sexuality and Biblical Studies. Whilst the Anglican Communion ties itself in knots over one gay bishop, gay theologians, writers and pastors are at work all over the world reading biblical texts in both radically orthodox and in radically new ways. It is clear within this work that the authors of the articles presented here have a fascination with the biblical witnesses and a commitment to engage deeply with the biblical texts.

Each book of the bible has its own chapter in this commentary, with the chapters on the larger books subdivided to allow different voices to engage with different aspects of the texts. Of particular note is the gentle enquiry into the motives of Saul/Paul of Tarsus. This is no better expressed than by Robert Goss who questions just exactly what it was that Saul/Paul was feeling as he held the cloaks of the mob who stoned beautiful Stephen, who had the face of an angel.

In method and mood, this book owes a great debt to feminist scholarship, a debt that is freely acknowledged. Alternate and diverse readings of texts abound. This is theology that is challenging, subversive and above all playful. It is unusual to find such a serious theological work which contains so much humour.

There is no doubt that the title of this commentary is a provocative one. The title alone will divide potential readers. The text itself is highly recommended reading for anyone not put off by the title. It is essential reading for anyone who is.

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