Book of the month
Following Jesus in Turbulent Times: Disciple-Marking in the Arab World (Langham Partnership, Cumbria. 130pp: £8.36 from Amazon) by Hikmat Kashouh is a remarkable book by a remarkable author. The author is a serious academic who teaches part-time at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut; he is also a pastor with a passion for evangelism and under his leadership his church has grown from less than seventy members on a Sunday to over one thousand three-hundred spread over three sites, with seventy percent of those attending being refugees! The book focusses on the issues involved in integrating believers from a Muslim background into church life – and is full of practical insights based on a holistic understanding of mission. It is full too of more general insights regarding Christian leadership – for instance:
You can’t lead a church well unless you are a man or woman of prayer, enjoy reading and love people. Prayer moulds your character, reading sharpens your skills and expands your mind, and love transforms you and those you are working with.
There is no doubt that Jesus in Turbulent Times will prove to be essential reading for pastors and others wanting to serve Christ among Muslims, and not least Muslim refugees; it is a story full of testimonies of lives transformed in the most challenging of situations and in that respect will appeal to a much wider audience.
Books about dying
In the last two months I have read four books on death and dying. Although highly recommended by a friend, for me the most disappointing was Waiting for the Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death (Cannon Gate, London 2018. 166pp: £14.99 hardback) by Richard Holloway, a former Bishop of Edinburgh, who writes about the anguish of death and the need for fortitude – “the ability to endure the reality of our condition without flinching” – but has nothing to say about the Christian hope of life with Christ. Death for Holloway is all about ‘loss’, but not about ‘gain’.
With the End in Mind: Dying, death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial (William Collins, London 2017. 341pp: £16.99 hardback) by Kathryn Mannix, a palliative care specialist who started the UK’s first Cognitive Behaviour Therapy clinic exclusively for palliative care patients, does not pretend to be a religious book: instead this well-written and highly informative book consists of many varied stories of what happens when people are approaching the ends of their lives, to enable people to become familiar with the process of dying. The author writes: “By encountering death many thousands of times, I have come to a view there is usually little to fear and much to prepare for”. Interestingly Mannix too talks about courage: “Rather than performing brave deeds, courage may involve living bravely, as life ebbs. Or it may involve embarking on a conversation that feels very uncomfortable, and yet enables someone to feel accompanied in their darkness”.
My third book by contrast is distinctively Christian: Talking about Dying: Help in Facing Death and Dying (Wilberforce Publications, London 2017. 182pp: £8) consists of thirteen very practical essays by Philip Giddings (a retired lecturer in politics who has been very involved in the Church of England’s General Synod), Martin Down (a retired Anglican vicar), Elaine Sugden (a retired oncologist) and Gareth Tuckwell (a former medical director of Burrswood Christian Hospital) on a range of issues relating to coping with terminal illness and the process of dying. I particularly appreciated the insights of Elaine Sugden (for instance in the context of a terminal illness, “Rather than think about loss of hope, think instead of purpose and opportunity”) and of Martin Down on facing up to fear (“I know of no real remedy for fear of any sort other than faith… It is God alone who can both say to us ‘Fear not’ and give us good reason not to fear”).
However, the best book by far is Dying Well (IVP, London 2018. 168pp: £9.99) by John Wyatt, Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at UCL, which looks at the opportunities and the challenges which dying well may bring. Full of wisdom, it abounds in quotable quotes. For instance:
If our hope is in the power of medical technology to overcome every obstacle, we are doomed to ultimate disappointment. What is worse, this kind of hope may stand in the way of godly acceptance of God’s will for the last phase of our life, impeding the possibility of strengthening or ‘completing’ our relationships in a healthy and faithful way.…
It seems sadly ironic that the effect of Christian convictions about miraculous healing can lead unintentionally to death in an intensive care unit, sedated or anaesthetized, surrounded by machinery and cared for by anonymous professionals – above all, tragically isolated from loved ones and all the possible sources of human and spiritual consolation…
Dying is not a journey to be taken alone. It is to be taken with those who are closest to us, with our heart companions and loved ones, with those who will stay and watch and pray.
Other books to make us think
Walking to Jerusalem: Blisters, hope and other facts on the ground (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 302pp: £16.99 hardback) by Justin Butcher, tells the riveting story of the ‘Just Walk’ to Jerusalem, in which a small group of pilgrims marked the centenary of the Balfour Declaration by walking all the way from London to Jerusalem, delivering a message to the Palestinians to say “we’re sorry this happened to you, it was wrong”, and calling for “equal rights for all who call the Holy Land home”. This is a controversial book. However, as Robert Cohen, a trustee of the Amos Trust which sponsored the ‘Just Walk’, observes in his introduction:
The Palestinian people have had, to quote their most articulate advocate, Edward Said, ‘the extraordinarily bad luck’ to have as their adversary the Jewish people, ‘the most morally complex of all opponents’ with ‘a long history of victimization and terror behind them’. In other words, the Palestinians have paid a very high price for the rest of the world’s anti-Semitism.
Following the Way of Jesus: a clarion call to join the Jesus movement (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 88pp: £6.99) by Bishop Michael Curry – who married Harry & Meghan – together with six other leading thinkers in the American Episcopal Church, set out a ‘clarion call’ to fellow Episcopalians to “change the face of the earth from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends”. Each chapter ends with two challenging ‘Questions for the Road’. If I were still a pastor of a local church, I would buy a copy for all my lay leaders (whether they be Anglican members of the PCC, Baptist deacons, Methodist stewards, or URC elders) and ask them not just to read it but come up with some proposals in the light of their reading!
A Shaking Reality: Daily Reflections for Advent (DLT, London 2018. 132pp: £9.99) by Peter Price, formerly Bishop of Bath & Wells, alas arrived too late for review in the November edition of ‘Books for Today’. It is a super devotional resource. The title is taken from a description of Advent by the German ‘martyr’ Alfred Delp, who described Advent as a ‘time when we all ought to be shaken and brought to a realisation of ourselves’. In this challenging and horizon-broadening book we are introduced to people of faith who have been ‘shaken’ and ‘brought to realisation of themselves’. Buy the book and keep it for next Advent!
A Daily Dose of Mercy: 365 Reflections (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 388pp: £12.99 hardback) by Don Stephens, founder of the charity Mercy Ships, offers a daily reflection on the theme of mercy followed by one verse of Scripture. To my mind, a short passage of Scripture would have been preferable!
Booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp in length and £3.95 in price, include Leading One Church At a Time: From Multi-Church Ministers to Focal Ministers (Leadership 34, 2019) by Bob Jackson, an Anglican church growth ‘guru’, who argues convincingly that if churches are to grow, then instead of a stipendiary minister attempting to lead several churches at once, each church should have its own local leader (full or part-time, paid or unpaid, ordained or lay) who is the focal point of its community and embedded within it. Reimagining Resourcing Churches: A Minster Model (Mission & Evangelism 124, 2019) by Alan Bing, minister of Ulverston Parish Church, who makes a good argument for some of the stronger Anglican churches to become like the early ‘minsters’ (from the Latin monasterium) from which people were sent to evangelize and disciple across a wider area – Bing’s particular interest it to see how this might be applicable to a parish church in a market town in a mainly rural diocese.