Archive for December, 2009

Books of the Year: 31 December 2009

December 31, 2009

Books of the Year 2009

Reading the Bible with the Damned Bob Ekblad Westminster John Knox 2005

How do you see the God of the Old Testament? Fierce judge, capricious tyrant, jealous tribal head? Bob Ekblad will help you to see a truer picture of the God of Grace.

What was God’s first command? ‘Don’t eat from that tree?’ Until I read Reading the Bible with the Damned that would probably have been my answer. Bob points out that there is a prior command: ‘Eat, eat, of all the trees in the garden.’ So reads the Hebrew, often translated as ‘You may freely eat…’ Somehow the traditional translation relegates this first command of all, to a permission, a suggestion. The focus is on the second, negative command. ‘Whatever you do, don’t eat that tree, but, if you really want to, you can eat from the rest.’ The image of God is mean, restricting. Read it again. ‘Eat, eat of every tree in the garden. I want you to eat freely, all over the garden. Don’t just stay in the banana grove because you like bananas. Wander, travel, keep trying new foods. Enjoy all the foods I give you. And don’t eat the fruit of that one tree. It’s deadly poisonous.’ What image of God comes to mind? A Jewish mother pressing her children and guests to eat more.

Bob Ekblad points this wonderful truth out gently to groups of in-mates at Skagit County Jail, Washington State, where he is Chaplain. He keeps pointing them to the text, asking relevant questions. ‘Was that really God’s first command?’ ‘Why would God want people to eat from every tree? How does God seem to you now?’ Sometimes Bob leads up to the Bible Study with genuinely interested questions about their own lives. Through Reading the Bible with the Damned new discoveries are made about the Grace of the God of the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Bob charts his Bible Studies of the whole of Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Psalms, the Gospels and Paul’s letters.

Bob’s first chapter outlines in some detail his Bible Study process and its rationale. This chapter is hard going and only comes alive when he gives examples. Keep reading, take time to mull over the Bible passages, enjoy the heart-warming stories, and allow your preconceptions to be challenged and changed.

Life with God: A life-transforming new approach to Bible reading Richard Foster, Hodder and Stoughton, 2008 / 2009

Richard Foster has written several books that feature on many people’s ‘best ever’ lists. His Prayer, the Heart’s True Home is the best book on prayer ever written. Richard F spent years reading every book concerning prayer ever written, especially ALL the Fathers and Mothers of previous generations. He then distilled their wisdom in his own warm and fluent style. He is a Master Distiller.

One of Richard’s great themes is of valuing and drawing from all the varied traditions or ‘streams’ of Christianity. He has found treasure in many different places. In Life with God Richard explains, as if for the first time, his rationale, his inclusive Christian approach. Some of this seems to be a reply to critics who find him too liberal in his tastes, It is also a good introduction to his life-thinking, showing how he is truly anchored in the Bible.

With this foundation of years, and with respect for all the traditions of Christianity, Richard then dares to state that, in the end, the whole message of the Bible, the whole message of God through centuries of Christianity can be summed up in one question. It is an audacious claim, an outrageous claim. Richard, more than anyone else, knows the centuries-long complexity of Christianity and Judaism. How can he possibly distil it all down to one Great Question?    

I hesitate to state what Richard’s overarching question is. I want you to go and read the book. But I don’t think Richard would approve this game-playing. He points to the question in his title. God says ‘I want to live with you. Will you live with me?’ That’s it. The Bible in a nutshell. The secret and challenge of life, from a Master Distiller. Living with the true God of Grace is real life, eternal life. Living without the true God is death. That is the central message of the Bible. So will you live fully with God, with Emmanuel? Easier said than done.

Now I’m reading the marvellous Practice of the Presence of God by and about Brother Lawrence. More of that in a little while.

May 2010 bring more treasures to light for us all!


Life, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Afghanistan: 7 December

December 7, 2009

Sorry for missing a posting. We’ve moved house for the sixth time in seven years. I’m no longer Interim Minister in Bilston, but a Writer in Derbyshire, looking for Anglican parish church jobs.

One American friend replied to my change of address notification asking if I was to become a Roman Catholic. That’s where I began my Christian life, as a child. I slipped into teenage Deism and came back to Christian faith through Anglicans. Then I had to decide whether to continue as a Catholic or to keep with my new Anglican friends. The Anglican Church won because it is more English – an important root for the son of an immigrant.

A lovely lady from the church in Bilston was praying for me in my last week. She saw me standing upright in a shower of bright light, wearing my cream coloured robe, with a stole (priestly scarf) round my neck. The stole was white with yellow crosses at the ends. She hadn’t seen me wearing my real white stole, which does have yellow crosses on the ends, with red embroidery on top. She was amazed when I showed it to her, just as she had seen, except for the red embroidery. The yellow cross is a Canterbury, Anglican, cross. Her vision confirms for me that I am to continue a priestly, Anglican, ministry.

Will there be a large exodus from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholics? No, only a small one. Call me cynical, but the price of transfer is too high. Congregations will have to move out of their buildings, or rent them at a market rate from the Anglican Diocese. They will have to pay the costs of their own bishops and 25% more for their priests, having moved out of Church Commissioners subsidies. In the end, few will find they can afford it. But their traditional Anglo Catholic views and wishes will not be tolerated in the C of E as much as they have been, because they have a good Christian alternative home available. Strangely, the Pope’s offer may work out to be the death knell of Anglo Catholicism, unable to live on either the Roman rock or the Anglican hard place.

More troops in Afghanistan! Our grandchildren will be paying for this folly for years to come, both in national debt and in increased Muslim militancy. Our troops will not come out ‘soon, when the Afghan army and police force are strong enough.’ They will either stay for 20 more years or scuttle out as the Americans left Vietnam. This is not the way to defeat terrorism.

Our politicians have allowed themselves to be terrorised. The government say that Afghanistan must not become a ‘safe haven for terrorists again.’ The whole policy is based on fear of what Bin Laden etc could do next. This is precisely the attitude that Bin Laden wanted Western governments to adopt. As long as our leaders act out of fear of him, he is winning. Instead we need to say: ‘A free society, a free world, is a vulnerable world. The terrorists will not make us afraid. We will not use their military tactics against them, as they want. We will act according to justice, patiently seeking out and bringing to trial ‘terrorist’ criminals.’

Sensible thinking on Afghanistan can be read, as usual, on the Tikkun website.

Roger Harper

PS I’ve just read my Bible reading notes for the day. Jeff Lucas, in Life Every Day, writes: ‘Fear is normal. But may we not be dominated by it.’ Amen.