Tag Archives: books

Meditation and the Secret Life of Bees


Let me share with you a delightful extract from Sue Monk Kidd’s book, The Secret Life of Bees

“If the heat goes over 1040 in South Carolina, you have to go to bed.  It’s practically the law.  Some people might see it as shiftless behaviour, but really, when we’re lying down from the heat, we’re giving our minds time to browse around for new ideas, wondering at the true aim of life, and generally letting things pop into our heads that need to.  In the sixth grade there was a boy in my class who had a steel plate in his skull and was always complaining how test answers could never get through to him.  Our teacher would say, ‘Give me a break.’

“In a way, though, the boy was right.  Every human being on the face of the earth has a steel plate in his head, but if you lie down now and then and get still as you can, it will slide open like elevator doors, letting in all the secret thoughts that have been standing around so patiently, pushing the button for a ride to the top.  The real troubles in life happen when those hidden doors stay closed for too long.  But that’s just my opinion.”

How sad that our lives have become so crowded and busy; we chase frantically after the “next thing”; we strive for efficiency, effectiveness, relevance, or whatever it is we think we are missing—or our boss thinks we are missing, or our spouse thinks we are missing.  We don’t have time to stop and listen, to let in “all the secret thoughts that have been standing around so patiently”. 

Don’t wait for 1040 (400 C) to strike.  Make space in the busy schedule; take a deep breath; open those “elevator doors”, and start listening today.

(Extract from The Secret Life of Bees, Headline Publishing Group (London) 2008, pp 211f)

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Books for a Wedding Anniversary


Some time ago a friend said she wanted to give her husband some books for their wedding anniversary.  But instead of buying them, she asked some friends to recommend and review a couple of books that she could compile into a list.  Here were my two.

The first, a ‘commentary’:

Paul Borgman (2000), Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard.

It is a superb introduction to Genesis and its great themes. Genesis as we tend not to see it: a magnificent story.

Two things stand out for me. One is that, beginning with Abraham, God initiated a partnership with us: “God won’t change things without human cooperation, and humans can’t change without divine assistance. Only when choosing to grow in partnership with God will the human recover lost companionability with both God and fellow human. That is God’s fervent wish.”

The second is, that Borgman points out how normal the very human responses of the various actors on the Genesis stage are. Then he says, speaking of Abram at this point, “Abram must learn something better than being normal. His ordinary way of being in the world must change.” This has become a regular and fervent prayer of mine. “God, in this situation, on this day, help me be better than normal in all my interactions and responses.”

The second book is Mark Buchanan’s (2006), The Rest of God: Restoring your Faith by Restoring Sabbath.

A very human and very real look at our normal responses to Sabbath-keeping. It is a call to rediscover God’s rest and the rest of God—and to delight in the process.

One of the keys for Jen and me was an almost throwaway line in the introduction, which becomes a central theme. Of his workaholic, argumentative days, he writes, “I preferred rightness to intimacy.”

Another on-going prayer for me has been, “Lord, help me to seek intimacy and relationship, rather than rightness.” I especially try to pray it in heavy traffic!

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Messy Faith


Messy FaithIt was rather an ironic purchase from the book table of a Christian retreat: an Emmaus walk. It was ironic because this was a Men’s Walk (the men and women do separate walks). Many of the leaders and participants had been involved in Angus Buchan’s Mighty Man conference, so there were numerous books on being a “Mighty Man”: head-of-the-house stuff.

I have a little bit of a problem, not with the work being done, but with some of the understand­ing that sometimes comes out of it. I think that we men spend too much time worrying about our manhood, and about what to do in order to be head of the house, and too little time focused on how to love our wives, whereas love, for God, friends, enemies, and our wives, is the key demand of scripture.

Well, amongst these Mighty Men books, which challenge us mighty men to confident faith, was this little gem called Messy Faith. And, even more scandalous, it’s written by … a woman!

Introduction
In Messy Faith, AJ Gregory paints an extremely messy picture of her own very real faith struggle. But this isn’t her story; it’s about all of us. She writes in her introduction, “It’s about your journey with God. It’s about trying to reconcile your pains, your doubts, your questions, your imperfections, your vices, and your lapses with faith in an invisible God.”

Messy Faith,” she says, “addresses the muddled adventure that working out our faith in God can sometimes look like. It is being sure and unsure, whole and broken, warring, losing and winning. It is being right and being wrong and having no clue, but believing anyway. And it is trusting in God for perfecting the final product—our flawed, human selves.”

Confident Faith
It is an important subject. In the church, and especially from the pulpit, what we say and how we say it often suggests that being a Christian means being sure of everything all the time; it’s as if becoming a Christian involves being bad one day and perfectly good the next, with no flaws. We often give the impression (not intentionally) that we never have doubts. I think part of the problem is that we don’t know how to speak of doubts and failures. We are, after all, speaking about God, and about the hope in which we live. We don’t want to sound as if Christianity itself is in doubt, as if we don’t know what we believe or why.

And the doubts we have are not the only reality of our lives; there are often times when we are absolutely sure in whom we believe and we know, without any doubt, that God loves us and he loves the world he has made. We want to proclaim that too.

Proclaiming Good News
But we need to remember that we are called to proclaim the Gospel. And the Gospel, the good news, is that God meets us right in the middle of the mess that is our lives. He doesn’t wait for us to sort out the mess, he meets us right there. And when he meets us, and this is a scandalous thing to say and to believe, when he meets us he has no expectations of us, except that we should receive his deep love for us and learn to love him in return.

We struggle with this, especially in our preaching. We worry that if we don’t use the pulpit to teach people how Christians ought to live they won’t know. But our preaching then becomes law (full of ought’s) instead of grace, and we tend to come across as doubt-free, failure-proof, unwavering servants of God. And people outside of and ordinary Christians inside the church fear they will never be acceptable to God, never meet his high standards, and they drift further away from God and from God’s family.

Authentic Faith
Messy Faith reminds us that our daily struggle with authentic faith is real. Subjects include imperfection, judging others, brokenness, addiction, Is God enough? and Is God going to take care of me?

Gregory begins each chapter by looking at the reality of her own brokenness and messy life, or that of someone close to her. She challenges our trite responses and judgemental attitudes by taking us to scripture and revealing more and more of God’s love for us: for us, not as we might become, but as we are.

Faith and Doubt
She doesn’t bring us answers. She brings us face to face with the reality of our questions and the uncertainty of our doubts. But she does more. She helps us understand that it’s OK to ask the questions; God wants us to wrestle with them, not to ignore them or imagine that God hates our asking them. In the chapter, “Is God going to take care of me?” Gregory writes, “I wanted to believe that God would take care of me. For me, what this meant was that I would one day be free from a painful addiction and the thick residue of its emotional, mental and physical side effects…. In essence, my theme prayer was, ‘I believe, Lord. I believe sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I know you’re going to take care of me. Or at least I believe more than I don’t believe. At least for today.’ My faith wasn’t absolute by any stretch.” She goes on to say:

“I came to the point where I had to stop relying on stuff, on people, on religion, and on cute inspirational phrases to provide me with interim comfort…. I had to believe in God, in his goodness, in his power, and in his love. I had to trust and hope, even and especially in the presence of my mess, acknowledging the not-so-perfect in my life but believing anyway that he would somehow make things beautiful.”

And then: “I don’t know the formula for believing in times of doubt except to do it and pray that God, through his Spirit, will give us the faith to keep believing however much we can at that moment, because the Bible teaches us that even faith is a gift from him.”

And some words that should be part of the reality that informs our preaching:

“Is God going to take care of me…? If you can’t reply with a resounding yes just yet, you can simply allow the faith and doubt that’s clamouring for your attention to clasp hands and walk down the path together. Answer the question honestly: ‘My God, my God, I honestly don’t know if you’ll take care of me. I think you will. No, I hope you will. I’m going to believe you will. Somehow. Lord, I do believe. But help me overcome my unbelief.’ ”

The Pools of Tears
Gregory brings us face to face with the messiness of our faith. She challenges us to be honest with ourselves and with God (if no one else) about our own struggles and doubts and to recognise the real struggles and needs of people around us. In his book, Signposts to Spirituality, Trevor Hudson quotes Gordon Cosby who said, “Never forget, each time you stand up to preach each person in your congregation is sitting next to a pool of tears.” Gregory shows us those tears and helps us take seriously the questions people are asking deep in their souls: Will God take care of me? Is God enough?

It’s good to remember that we don’t, in fact, have the answers to those questions. And that trying to answer them (which we simply can’t do for someone else) is not our job. Proclaiming the Gospel means taking those (and other) questions seriously, encouraging people to ask them, and walking with them as they struggle to find the answers and struggle with their messy faith.

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