Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Book Reviews and a Question

posted by Rhiannon

For the third time this year, I'm blogging from Woodbrooke. However, this time I'm doing art and poetry which I can't really share, so here's a post I've been meaning to make for a while: book reviews.

Beginning Again, John Pritchard

Writing for those on the edges of Christianity-either on the way out or the way in-John Pritchard gives very simple and down-to-earth advice about experimenting with different methods of prayer, Bible study, and ways of coping with church communities. There's a lot of highly approachable and adaptable material; for example, things to pray about during a boring sermon can easily be taken as prompts to consider when faced with ministry of any kind which doesn't, to use the Quaker phrase, speak to your condition. Even the section on lifestyles choices is non-abrasive (so often modern Christian works on such matters have little to say beyond 'Don't be gay!'). For myself, the most valuable part is the material on prayer methods, as I'd heard of, for example, the Benedictine method without ever being told what it actually was. It hasn't solved all my problems with Christian prayer (I don't like confession and I'm not sure about that Christ thing) but I've taken a lot away to adapt, use, or store for occassions when it might be useful-perhaps one day I'll find a Quaker Bible study group who are accessible and don't mind experimenting, and be able to put some of that section to use.

Praying Like A Woman, Nicola Slee

A mixture of prose, poems, and liturgy, this book is deeply feminist, at times intensely personal, and brought me to the edge of tears more than once. It does not shy away from the dark things in life, AIDs and winter featuring as themes, but also has space for enjoyment of life, with an especial knack for bringing to the fore very simple material things: summer fruits, for example, get a short and lovely grace. It remains firmly Christian, drawing from Biblical sources, but bringing new and modern readings, both in the form of letting women speak, and of letting God be female. I have only had a copy for twenty-two hours as I write this, and I am already beginning to see that I'll be turning back to this book for readings and meditations.

Quakerism: A Theology for Our Time, Patricia A. Williams

Setting out to take Barclay's Quaker theology and hold it up against modern science, this book is quite clear that Quakerism is the way to go (and not just any kind of Quakerism, but conservative (unprogrammed) Quakerism: the rest, it is implied, are only calling themselves Friends). Her descriptions of the testimonies are clear without over-simplfying; they have room to overlap each other. Because she needs to set Quakerism and science against 'orthodox' Christianity, she has to give very brief overviews of Catholic and Protestant postions-this is ok for me, but may be too short for someone new to the field; I'm in no position to critique the science, though I suspect that those better versed in it may find those summaries very brief, too. Generally, however, I think this is an accessible book on what is often hidden in Quakerism: what we actually think. Perhaps this is an inevitable offshoot of the fact that what we think is most important is not analysing but experiencing. On the other hand, I find analysis both fascinating and enjoyable, so this book was right up my street.

An Introduction to Quakerism, Pink Dandelion

This book also deals somewhat with Quaker theology, but what it actually does best is introduce Quaker history, all the tangled branches of it, alongside a snapshot of where some of those branches are now. At times I found myself a little impatient with bits I already knew, as it has the flavour of being aimed at non-Quakers; on the other hand, I discovered a good many things I didn't know and probably should, so evidently a mere twenty-odd years mixing with Quakers isn't enough to teach everything. A few months after reading this, what stands out are the quotes from various Quaker bodies worldwide. It brings me rather more compassion than I would otherwise have for the Anglican Communion to think that were Quakers to try and have the same kind of centralised meeting we would have as many or more problems than they do! I suppose the Friends World Committee for Consultation are the closest we get to a Lambeth Conference.

My question is this: what books have you been reading lately which have spoken to your condition? What do you read when you want to improve your prayer life, adjust your image of God/dess, or deepen your knowledge of your religion?


Jim said...

I’ve just finished reading “Beyond Belief The secret Gospel of Thomas” by Elaine Pagels. For me a really good read: much about the conflict between truth as written down in the accepted gospels and personal revelation. What a Quaker might call listening to the inner light. I had not realized how far back this conflict goes. Seems like right back to Paul’s letters being written and so on so certainly before 90 C.E.! The book is a nice mix of deep personal experience blended with Elaine’s professional expertise as a historian of religion. I certainly ended up finding out more about the early church than I expected to. The down side to this book is that it could be quite heavy, I am glad I read it while life was fairly easy and there are some irritating printer’s errors with a few references. I was a bit of a swot and followed nearly all of them up but where on page 47 I got referred to Thomas’s gospel saying 50 the whole thing made no sense. Google shows that this should have been saying 13. I suppose anyone could sort out the other errors but I’m not quite that keen. If you have any church/bible based bit this book will probably make you think, if you don’t but get fed up with fundamentalists this could be a happy hunting ground for questions to ask them.

Stephanie said...

I've been reading parts of Nicola Slee's 'Praying like a Woman' - lent back to me by Rhiannon (I was responsible for giving it to her - after I heard Nicola Slee at a poetry reading at Woodbrooke recently).
It strikes me that it offers something for everybody, in that it is fundamentally about standing before God (whatever you understand by that) as we truly are. Naked and totally visible to God and to ourselves - which means we have to be totally honest with ourselves as well as with God. Since, ultimately, God is fully aware of the truth about us anyway, this, perhaps, shouldn't be as difficult as it is. I use the word 'stand' deliberately. Nicola is clear that we need to be proud of what we are, look God in the eye, argue and anger at her/him/it, not cower in subjection and acceptance.
Anyway, having come to the conclusion that what God wants me to do is to be fully and truly who I am, this book is going to be a help in achieving that aim, because it challenges me on many different levels. I think I may need another copy - sharing with Rhiannon between Watford and Beeston won't be easy! Highly recommended.