Tag Archives: Books

Out of Control: Book Review

I have to admit that I began reading Natalie Collins’ “Out of Control” with no small degree of trepidation. Not only is domestic abuse something outside the realm of my experience,  but it’s also something that the church has struggled to respond to well.

The first thing that struck me upon reading, however, is the gentleness with which Natalie writes. At the beginning and end of chapters the reader is given space to breathe and practice self-care which, when reading about something as harrowing as domestic abuse is not only important, but vital. She does not shy away from the horrors of abuse, including sharing her own story which enables the reader to understand the issues presented in a way that is more than theoretical.

The following sentence, quite literally took my breath away, and it’s as true for domestic abuse as it is for many other difficult issues that the church faces.

She writes:

“If we are to walk with people in their pain we have to be willing to witness the brutality, not shutting our ears when the stories are horrifying or the language offends us.”

Without doubt the strongest parts of the book are those which can be used to inform pastoral practice. First and foremost for the majority of churches is the recognition that domestic abuse is probably present in their congregations, as Natalie writes:

“Presuming that abuse is present without our congregation… is the only way to ensure that our communities become safe contexts for those subjected to abuse.”

Secondly, the importance of reviewing how our church practices and language can be used to keep women trapped in abuse. Her point about the language of redemption used is interesting; that it may help to collude with an abuser and allow them to continue their  behaviour is important, but I also think that our understanding of redemption needs to be greater. Redemption is not a free pass for what has gone before, but relies on the character of God; not an individual’s actions

Natalie’s understanding of the sociological and psychological effects of domestic abuse are incredibly useful to those wishing to understand how best to support sufferers. Her explanations of trauma theory enable us to get to grips with the way those subjected to abuse may act or respond in certain situations which we must be aware of in our churches. 

I did find one part of Natalie’s argument problematic. Chapter 3 can be seen to dismiss any reasons which may lead men to abuse women. It’s true that reasons are in no way excuses, and that they should not be used to keep women trapped in abusive situations or seen to be mitigation for their crimes; but to ignore men’s own backgrounds and the way their own life experiences have led to their behaviour is troubling to me.

Exerting power may be central to men’s abusive behaviours, but I can’t help but wonder how men’s own experiences of abuse or violence inform their later choices?

The book is worth buying for chapter 10 alone in my opinion; it’s intensely practical but also highlights the difficulties people face in accessing the help they so desperately need which must inform our pastoral care. It’s all very well knowing where to signpost, but we must also be prepared to wait with people until they get what they need, not as pseudo-professionals but as the body of Christ, family.

This is a book that every church leader should read. Not only for the knowledge it imparts, but the way in which Natalie tells her story and because it broke my heart for those affected by domestic abuse and highlighted how the Church can help.

 

 

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The Story Unfolds Guest Post by Luke Maxted

My friend Luke Maxted is the Children and Families minister for the Chalfont St Peter Parish Churches and has self-published an amazing fold out book with his own translation of the creation story. This post originally appeared on his blog – you can find it and buy his book “In The Beginning” here.


The process of designing, making, and sharing In the Beginning has been surprisingly painful and vulnerable.

Really I should have seen it coming. I should have known that it would be incredibly hard and gut-wrenchingly hurtful, but I didn’t.

It’s been nearly a year since I first received a completed copy of the book and it went live for sale online. It’s not been an easy journey. There was a long time in which I didn’t even look at it because I felt an overwhelming sense of shame.

How strange that something which I poured my heart and soul into, took a fair financial risk on, and has largely (although not completely) been received with resounding praise and positivity, could lead me to such self-loathing.

Now on the one hand I know this of myself, that I have always been hyper-critical of the things that I do. Anyone who has heard me preach knows that almost everything I say is couched in self-deprecation. It seems only natural that I would feel pain at the prospect of sharing something that I have made. On the other hand I think it might be deeper than that. There is an apparent trend of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt that pervades the creative community. I have found myself asking why that is.

Why are creativity and the paralysing sense of vulnerability so closely linked? And what can I do about it?

Creativity and Humanity

I believe that at the core of humanity we are creative and compassionate. We are fundamentally relational and seek to express ourselves and our experiences to our communities. That belief is a significant part of why the creation narrative is special to me and why I wanted to find a unique way to share it with others. Rather than being an historical account of how the world was made I think Genesis 1 is a poem of identity, it is a lyrical expression of our spiritual DNA.

In days 1-5 we see God’s joyful self-expression in bringing everything-ness out of nothingness. He speaks and everything starts, each time adding an extra layer and increasing the complexity. He loves what he makes and calls it good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, and 21). On day 6 God makes humanity and in doing so says that he is making men and women in his own image (v27), describing his creation finally as ‘very good’ (v31).

Now assuming that this is the start of the book and the first thing that you hear/learn about God you have to wonder what that image is. He hasn’t been described yet, we have no way of imagining his appearance, we only have his actions. His actions tell us that he is joyful, creative, and expressive. It seems to make sense that if that is all we know of God at this point and we are made in his image then that is what is true of us.

It makes little sense, however, if this creativity and joy of expression is inherent in us to find that it is also the cause of so much pain. So why is creativity so difficult?

Creativity, Vulnerability, and Risk

The clue to this, I think, is in in the rejection God experiences at the hands of his creation. Beginning in Genesis 3 and continuing throughout the Bible God is rejected by the ones he loves the most and is proudest of. We see it perhaps most strongly in the histories and the prophets where the people reject God and go their own way – Hosea is a great example of this.

Hosea is commissioned by God to marry a prostitute as a representation of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 1:2). This seems painful and cruel, but perhaps that’s the point. Whether using the metaphor of the unfaithful wife or that of the wandering child (Hosea 11:1-3)The pain of unfaithfulness and rejection is a pain that God feels as part of the result of his creativity. Worse for him is that his desire is to have her back. God is not giving up on the unfaithful wife but calls her back to himself (Hosea 2:14-3:1) and hopes for the return of the ungrateful child (Hosea 11:8-11).

Loving something, being proud of it, taking joy in it, comes with risk and vulnerability. If one cares about nothing one cannot be hurt. If one has no joy then one’s pain is reduced. Creativity, then, creates vulnerability and a possibility of hurt, pain, rejection, and all its accompanying emotions. We become anxious because we fear rejection, we feel ashamed because we experience ridicule. These feelings do not come because what we make has little value, but rather because we place such great value on them and the reflection that they are at the core of ourselves.

Perhaps, then, if the risk and fear are part and parcel of creativity then it really isn’t worth the effort…

Keeping Going

But that would make the word a really boring place…and there are a few good reasons that I can think of the keep going.

Firstly I think the prophets help us again. They were the great dramatists of their time and were incredibly creative (or are given creativity) in how they conveyed their messages. Ezekiel 4 is my favourite example of this. Ezekiel is asked:

  • to take a brick
  • make it into a city
  • put a frying pan as a wall between him and the city
  • lie on his side for ages – until it wastes away
  • prophesy to the brick with a dead arm
  • make bread baked on top of poop and eat that for over a year

After that he has to shave himself and scatter/burn his hair and other such very normal things.

As strange as this is it’s important because the prophets were willing to look ridiculous to convey their message. If creativity causes vulnerability then these were some of the most vulnerable people in human history. They suffered great hurt – both physically and emotionally, yet they also achieved incredible things and stood before the most powerful people of their time demanding justice and a fairer society.

Much of creativity comes from having something worth saying, whether because we are expressing love and joy, or because we are sharing our sorrow and hurt in light of the pain of those people or things we love and cherish. The prophets show us that the vulnerability of that pursuit is worthwhile in what it achieves.

Secondly it is worthwhile because it enables and empowers others who are seeking to share their passions and imaginations.

Seeing that others are creating and showing their loves, fears, passions, and dreams often allows us to realise that we are not alone, either in their own experience or endeavour. That sense of commonality and solidarity is a fundamental part of the relationality that we all experience in one way or another. Sharing your creativity and imagination allows others to know that it is ok for them to do so.

Finally it is worth being creative and taking those risks because without them we are not ourselves.

If it is true that being creative, sharing joy, and expressing love are a part of our spiritual DNA then not doing those things is akin to being something you are not. You might as well try to be a chair or a turnip, because once you start to hide those things about yourself then you run the risk of stopping being a human.

Now you might be reading this thinking “Yes, but I’m not actually creative, so maybe I am a turnip.” but all of us have an imagination and something inside that is there to say. It is entirely possible that you just haven’t found a way to let it out yet. I can’t draw or paint or act or dance or anything else really, but then one day I tried folding some paper and it worked for me. There are so many things left to try… and if you find it scary then it may well be exactly the right thing for you to do.

Best Books of 2018

As 2018 ends, I’ve linked* some of the books I’ve read in the last twelve months and included the standout quotes from each book which have stayed with me, challenged me and shaped my own thinking and writing.

Luminous Dark – Alain Emerson

“The wounded places in our hearts, the silent caverns of our souls, the dark tunnels of our minds, are the hiding place of God.”

I read this book near the beginning of the year as I was trying to come to terms with miscarrying our first baby, and the idea that it was in the darkness – not despite of it – that God could be found was a great comfort to me.

Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) – Kate Bowler

“Everyone is trying to Easter the crap out of my lent”

This book is worth reading for this one sentence – but it’s amazing throughout. How often do we rush people’s grief and lament because we want to get to their victory story?

The Girl Deconstruction Project – Rachel Gardner

“Our bodies matter because they are the place where are able to experience God.”

I read this book whilst I was pregnant and it made sense of my changing feelings about my body, it’s goodness and it’s purpose.

The Prodigal Prophet – Timothy Keller

“Jonah wants a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad people, for instance, the wicked Ninevites and blesses the good people, for instance, Jonah and his countrymen. When the real God—not Jonah’s counterfeit—keeps showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair.”

I re-read the story of Jonah as a part of my church doing the Bible Course and I was captivated by it in a way I’d never been before. The discomfort of our desire for justice against God’s lavish mercy challenged me to be less judgemental and more merciful.

Catching Contentment – Liz Carter

“Contentment is based not on our wholeness, but on God’s holiness.”

There were many things about Liz’s book that I loved, but these words summed it up for me. The idea that contentment really isn’t about me was one which has stayed with me.

The Language of Tears – David Runcorn

“Resilience is a gift learned in the wrestling and struggling with life. It is forged through our fiercest and most vulnerable tears.”

I’ve always been fascinated by tears; namely because I’ve cried many of them and this little book was a brilliant look at the science and theology of them. It shows resilience as something more hard-fought and less shiny that I’d thought it was previously.


*I’ve used Amazon affiliate links in this post, so if you click through my links I get a small percentage of the sale; if you’d rather not, then feel free to just open a new tab to purchase them 🙂

Replay and Regret? Responding to Shame #IThoughtThereWouldBeCake

When I first read Katharine’s book it was the chapter that had me crying “I do that too!!” So I wanted to explore a little deeper the idea of replaying conversations again and again, squirming with shame at what has been said.

Shame leaves us stuck in replaying and regretting what has gone before, preventing us from moving forward and dealing with what has passed.

Brene Brown writes that:

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

I’d go a step further, because I believe that shame corrodes our belief that God can restore and redeem us.

Shame tells us that we are worthless and unredeemable; it can make us think that the very worst parts of ourselves overshadow anything good about us.

Shame fails to live up to the standards of the law – but the gospels show a new way of looking at ourselves and our sin.

It doesn’t minimise or deny our sin, but reminds us that despite our sin we are still worth dying for!

I can’t help but think of Simon Peter here; his denial of Jesus was shameful; but Jesus neither denies his sin nor shames his sin – he confronts it and forgives it.

In John 21:15 we read that Jesus refers to him as Simon; and yet when he was called from his life as a fisherman, he’d been given a new name. No longer Simon – he was Peter, the Rock. Surely Jesus was reminding him here that his faith hadn’t been so rock-like recently.

But the conversation doesn’t end with Peter stripped of his new identity; Jesus redeems each of Peter’s denials by repeatedly asking, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me.”

Jesus restores Peter’s denials, and through that He’s showing Peter that he is forgiven.

Shame keeps us stuck in our sin – forgiveness and redemption move us on – and they moved Peter on.

The latter part of Jesus’s conversation with Peter is a re-commissioning. Jesus gives him a new role as a Pastor, the imagery shifting from fisherman to shepherd, giving a fairly succinct job description!

Feed my lambs.
Take care of my sheep.
Feed my sheep.

This is the calling for Peter’s next stage of ministry – to take up the role of a shepherd, a pastor – in spite and perhaps in part because of all he had done. I personally don’t know if I would have trusted the “top job” to someone who failed me so badly.

It’s a beautiful reminder that where shame sees only sin – Jesus sees through our sin straight to our identity as sons and daughters of God – redeemed and restored by Him.

Replay and Regret is a thing of the past because in Jesus we find our Redemption.