Wisdom is Made By Walking: a book review

I like a good pilgrimage. I’ve read books on it and have friends who have gone a sojourning.   But despite my interest, I have never gone on such a pilgrimage, outside of a couple of backpacking trips in the mountains.

9780819233493In Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, Gil Stafford weaves together a story of a pilgrimage across Ireland coast-to-coast along the Wicklow Way. Stafford was a guide for a group of singing pilgrims, the Vox Peregrini. He weaves together his experience of walking, his own life journey from Conservative Southern Baptist College president to Episcopal priest-spiritual-wanderer, his family of origin, insights of Carl Jung’s depth psychology and alchemy as an archetype for spiritual transformation. Stafford writes, “To be on pilgrimage is to embrace the mission of a personal renaissance, to claim the inner beauty, the haunting, the frightening, the hated, the adored, the soft, the cruel, the humorous, the damaged, the hilarious, the pitiful—every sliver of conscious and unconscious—and a claim our self as our own who we are who we are becoming transformed into” (28).

Stafford invites us to this sort of journey toward spiritual transformation.  Chapters 1 through 4. Chapter 1 is about preparation and how the pilgrimage begins before we begin our walking, Chapter 2 describes the movement from the exuberant beginning of a pilgrimage to the ‘mundane ways of walking’ as the issues we carry come with us on our journey(18). Chapter 3 explores the experience of the pilgrim community, and how after 3 or 4 days of walking our defenses are down and we are vulnerable. Chapter four discusses the pilgrim at their most fragile when they feel like quitting (and this is the moment where spiritual transformation can happen).

These four chapters are broken up with ‘Interludes’—suggestions for equipment and physical, mental, and spiritual preparation of pilgrimage;  Ahmad, imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe, Arizona relates the story of his pilgrimage to Mecca; Crystal, (Stafford’s wife’s friend from high school), describes her Pilgrimage in Nepal; Greg’s transgendered pilgrimage as he journeyed toward becoming a transgendered woman (now Gwen).

In chapter 5, Stafford relates the story of his sister Dinah and his family’s pilgrimage with her as she lives with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Chapter 6 explores the experience of life, post-pilgrimage (Stafford describes this as a cross between a lovely afterglow and a bad-hangover), and the continuing journey of inner transformation.

Through the lens of Jungian psychology, Stafford’s description of pilgrimage focuses on this inner work of pilgrimage. The outer journey—tiredness and blisters, hunger and thirst and mundane walking, gives a context for a similar inner pilgrimage of transformation. Alchemy and the transmutation of base elements to gold become a poignant metaphor for the type of spiritual transformation envisioned by the pilgrim way. Stafford notes also, as a repeat pilgrim, that the inner process starts over with each pilgrimage because the process is cyclical. Though like a spiral staircase, we begin each journey upward at the same coordinates but with a new vantage point.

This was an enjoyable read. Stafford is a priest and a Christian and writes from a perspective of faith; however because the focus is on spiritual transformation, archetypes and inner work in a Jungian key, much of the insights that he explores here, are broadly applicable to anyone on a spiritual journey. You don’t actually have to go to Ireland (or wherever) to go on this sort of pilgrimage. I give this four stars -★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from the Publisher or Author via SpeakEasy in exchange for my meandering review.

Beyond Ableist Missions: a book review

The discipleship model I was taught as a young Christian, was to invest my time and energy in those who were FAT—Faithful, Available, Teachable. They were the people going places and investing in them would give us the greatest return on our personal investment. The funny thing was that when I picked up my Bible I was repeatedly exhorted to invest my time and energy in caring for the wounded, the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. And I discovered that a sign of God’s Kingdom was the inclusion of those who had been marginalized, excluded and oppressed.

5102The Disabled community is often marginalized and excluded from Church life. While churches have had to accommodate people with disabilities because of the Americans with Disability Act (1990), that has often meant, providing handicapped bathrooms, and wheelchair ramps. Far less thought has been given to how disabled people fit within the mission of the whole church and the gifts they offer to the community. Benjamin Connor (Ph.D., Princeton), professor of Practical Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland Michigan, and director of their Graduate Certificate in Disabled Ministry,  aims at enlarging the church’s vision to see the inclusion of disabled people as a ‘sign, agent and foretaste of God’s Kingdom.’

In Disabling Mission: Exploring Missiology Through the Lens of Disability StudiesConner strives to stimulate a conversation between disability studies and missiology on what it means for the entire body of Christ to share in the witness of the church (7). He also helps us reimagine “how we might [dis]able Christian theology, discipleship and theological education for the sake of enabling congregational witness” (7).

In Part 1 of the book, Conner describes his chief dialogue partners, disability studies, and missiological studies. Chapter 1 is an ‘introduction to Disability Studies for Missions.’ Conner rehearses issues which face people with disabilities such as unemployment, abuse, violence, poverty homelessness, and incarceration (28-33) and ways that the church may move intersectionally to minister to the needs of people with disabilities. In chapter examines the field of Mission studies to see what it has to offer disabled communities. Ideas that are particularly fruitful for framing Christian mission to people with disabilities are the Missio Dei (that the church participates in the Mission that God initiated), indigenous appropriation and contextualization, and Christian Witness (39-47). While much of missiological studies have not specifically engaged issues around disability, Cooper draws on insights from two missiologists that addressed disability explicitly (he’s drawing on Amos Yong, and more critically, the work of Lesslie Newbigin).

Part 2 introduces the practical outworking of this discussion between disability and mission. Using Robert Schreiter’s “Teaching Theology from an Intercultural Perspective,”  Conner observes how disability cultures are homogenized (treated like they are the same), colonized (dominated by the dominant culture), demonized, romanticized, or pluralized (i.e. “we are all disabled”) However these approaches to disability (and other cultures) prevent us from seeing the gifts that disabled cultures offer the whole church. Connor examines first the deaf community (chapter 3), and those with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) (chapter 4).

By highlighting the d/Deaf community, Connor acknowledges that many in the deaf community would not regard the d/Deaf experience as  a “disability.” Many d/Deaf people regard hearing people as disabled because of our limited perception visually, our manual language and our limited visual capacities (68). Nevertheless the d/Deaf culture (schools, societies. etc) developed in the context of 19th Century missions to deaf people’s. The deaf community has historically (and concurrently) marginalized by the audist (ableist community). Using Schreiter’s categories Connor points how while deaf culture has been homogenized and dismissed and their contributions devalued, colonized and dominated by audist culture, demonized (their deafness is seen as evidence of fallenness), romanticized, and pluralized (their different experience and contributions relativized to a non-meaning (89-92). Through a missiological lens (Missio Dei, contextualization and witness), Conner points to the gifts that the d/Deaf community has to offer the whole church, “enhanced communication, embodiment, different and more relational ways of arranging space, visual-kinetic ways of communicating the gospel” (101).

In discussing Intellectual Disabilities (ID), Conner notes the similar ways that those with ID are marginalized by the Ableist community. Through the lens of Orthodox iconography, Conner points to a way to understand personhood (and the Imago Dei) in a way that does not privilege rationality, and values the contributions of all to the total witness of the church:

People with intellectual disabilities expose the limitations of our words for conveying truth. They remind the church that truth is “not as a product of the mind” but “a ‘visit’ and a ‘dwelling’ of an eschatological reality entering history to open it up as a communion -event.” The goal of our iconic evangelism is, ultimately, communion with those whom we are bearing witness—and that communion is in Christ (130).

and:

A faithful Christian anthropology embraces the limitations and contingency of all human existence, and it recognizes that the image of God we bear  is expressed together in Christ and animated in us collectively by the Holy Spirit. People with intellectual disabilities are indispensable to their faith communities because among the other gifts and trials they offer, they remind their communities that our abilit to image God is externally grounded. All personhood—able and disabled,  in all its diversity—is grounded in gift, animated by the Spirit and eschatological in nature. Stated succinctly, and borrowing Amos Yong’s phrasing: “People with disabilities are created int he image of God that is measured according to the person of Christ” just like everyone else. Our iconic witness doesn’t exclude anyone because it is not dependent on a strategy or capacity that is intrinsic to us (140-141).

While the focus of chapter 4 is on ID, the concept of iconic witness is applicable to other forms as a disability as well.

In chapter 5, Conner discusses ways to [Dis]able theological education by disabling constructs, disrupting myths of self-sufficiency, and dis-locating narratives (151-152), After sharing a couple of examples of ways in which disabled students have enriched the community of Western Theological Seminary, Conner challenges us to reconfigure our learning communities by including disabled students, being intentional about their participation in life, and the dimension they bring to the theological community (159-64).

Conner points to a more inclusive vision for missiology, that values the abilities and contributions of all, regardless of their physical abilities or mental capacities. The concept of iconic witness doesn’t place the responsibility for Christian witness on the autonomous individual—able or disabled. It instead, lays emphasis on the church as a witnessing community where all are included. This means that while disabled people (or, other-abled people) have a crucial place in enriching the witness of the church. Conners approach honors the unique contributions that disabled people offer to our ecclesial and missional life.

I highly recommend this book.  Part and parcel to the church’s witness is the care for the vulnerable in society (James 1:27). As Christians make space to minister to and care for the vulnerable, they participate in God’s mission of redemption of the world. This book is valuable for an academic context (he envisions some changes for theological education), but as he traces the implications of disability for missiology, anyone who seeks to minister in the name of Christ will find this valuable. I give this five stars and think this book may be a real game changer. – ★★★★★

Notice of material connection I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

42 Seconds to Talk Like Jesus: a book review

I  read a book by Carl Medearis half a dozen years ago on the art of Not-Evangelism (Speaking of Jesus, David Cook, 2011).  It was a breath of fresh air. Medearis didn’t advocate manipulative techniques to talk about your faith. He said to not get stuck trying to defend the faith but he pointed at talking about our experience of Jesus in ways that were winsome, inviting and authentic. That was the only one of Medearis’s books I’ve read, though I’d hear him as a podcast guest occasionally, talking about his work as a peacemaker and his advocacy for Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. He is very much evangelical, but he has sought to respond to terror and Islam in ways that reflect the manner and character of Jesus.

978-1-63146-489-8His newest book, 42 seconds, was birthed after a casual conversation he had with his neighbor as they both were working in their yards. Afterward, he emailed his assistant Jesse and asked him to look up every conversation Jesus ever had in the gospels. Hesse compiled a list, and the two of them read through each conversation, out loud, discovering the average conversation Jesus got in was 42 seconds long (ix, at least the portion of the conversation recorded in the Gospels). Medearis notes, “Because Jesus being Jesus, his conversations were typically anything but normal. and when I realized this—when I realized Jesus managed to turn otherwise everyday conversations into something profound—I knew I had to figure out how he did it” (ix).

So Medearis compiled a month’s worth of meditations on Jesus’ conversations, to be read for the course of four weeks. Each week has five readings on a theme, plus ‘a final word’ which tie it together with some reflections and suggestions for practice. These reflections are organized under the headings: “Be Kind,” “Be Present,” “Be Brave,
and, putting it all together, “Be Jesus.” Sorry, Melania, No “Be Best.”

Each daily entry has some practical reflections for engaging people in conversation about things that matter. The “Be Kind” section begins by exhorting us to say hi to people and acknowledge the people we fail to see (e.g. like the waiter or busboy filling your water). Medearis encourages us to ask questions, find some small act of service to do,  to pay attention to children (the way Jesus did). The “Be Present” section describes cultivating attention to the person we are talking to, and what may really be going on with them (instead of rushing to some strategic end, letting conversations go where they go).

The “Be Brave” section presses into the challenging things that Jesus said. Jesus says hard things, but not to everybody, and not always (religious insiders bore the brunt of his criticisms). The final section, “Be Jesus” prompts us to make sure our words and life are consistent with the life and witness of Jesus.

Medearis weaves stories of his own interactions with strangers and friends—evangelistic conversations or otherwise—with  Jesus’ conversations with people in the Bible. Medearis is winsome and this book is pretty accessible. If you read it over the course of a month, there are small challenges to be more like Jesus in our conversations and make every 42 seconds count. This isn’t a book on evangelism but on entering into more significant conversations (which includes evangelism or something like it). I give this four stars. -★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from NavPress through the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review.

 

Let Go and Let GOP: a book review

Every wonder why the Republican party is the party that self-consciously allies itself with the Christian Faith, even as its leadership has suspect moral values and betrays the OR Book Going Rougebiblical call to care for the vulnerable? According to Terry Heaton, the answer is Pat Robertson, the 700 Club, and his CBN empire.  Heaton writes:

When I worked with him the 1980s, we practiced and promoted a brand of Charismatic Christianity that was seen as a breath of fresh air to a faith that had grown stale in every aspect from its music to its preaching, and we worked long, hard hours to move hearts and souls in the way we felt was right. In so doing, we altered the course of political power in the United States, and it was as natural as our Christian calling. Taking positions on social issues formerly held by conservative Democrats such as the sanctity of life, religious liberties, patriotism, family, school prayer, and respect for individualism and tradition, we spoke to primarily rural and suburban Christians on behalf of the Republican Party. We presented as Biblical mandates or “laws” economic views that catered to a culture, teaching that being one of the haves was available for everybody. Our arguments and teaching helped move the GOP to the right on the political spectrum and created a following that continues to baffle even the smartest political analysts in the country who are confounded by how such people would act against their own interests in giving power to Republicans. (2-3)

Jesus joined the GOP because as Pat Robertson wagged on about God, he wagged the dog, diverting evangelicals toward partisan politics and Republicanism. Heaton tells this story in The Gospel of SelfHe had a front-row seat for most of this. In the 1980s, he was the executive producer of The 700 club, helping to transform it to its news-style format which would, in turn, influence the shape of conservative politics. Heaton sees their work at CBN as pioneering the sort of point-of-view-journalism which prefigured the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Conservative Talk Radio, and Fox news.

History will record that The 700 Club was the tap-root of that which moved the Republican Party to the right and provided the political support today for a man like Donald Trump.  A 2015 Harvard report concluded that right-wing media was driving the GOP, not Republican leadership, but this assumes that in order for people to behave as cultural radicals, they must be manipulated into doing so. This is a misleading interpretation of human nature and the power of personal faith. (12-13).

Heaton sees the work of CBN, and later right-wing media outlets, as instrumental in manufacturing political opinion.  Much of the book recounts the story of CBN’s success in the 1980s and the political genius of Pat Robertson. The book is called the Gospel of Self because of the evangelistic emphasis on self-interest in Robertson (and other evangelicals) which dovetailed with fiscal conservative concerns for personal, economic prosperity. Heaton describes the growth of Robertson’s empire, his influence, his nearly successful bid for the GOP nomination, before being investigated by the IRS (Heaton suggests the government pressure came because George H W Bush was Vice President and Robertson’s chief opponent).  In the final two chapters,  Heaton offers his critique of media manipulation and the return of real independent journalism, and his suggestions for the emerging church in the post-Christian/postmodern era.

This is a critical look at Pat Robertson and his influence, but Heaton is not vindictive or bitter about his experience at CBN. Like Robertson, he was convinced they were doing the Lord’s work. So even as he talks about the way The 700 Club’s sometimes exaggerated or manipulative claims of healing, or Robertson’s overstated prophesies,  Heaton also extolls the good. The ways Robertson and CBN impacted real lives and made a difference, Robertson’s genius, and fundraising and commitment to Christian mission. Heaton now advocates a brand of Christianity that is less top-down, more relational and less manipulative (204), but I didn’t feel like this book is out to smear Robertson’s character (even as he points at some glaring problems).

The real value of the book is the insider perspective that Heaton offers on Robertson. Robertson and his impact on Evangelicals in politics are highly significant for understanding American political landscape. Of course, Robertson was not alone. There was also Falwell’s Moral Majority, Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson, and a host of other voices. Heaton doesn’t really tell their story (he briefly mentions Falwell, or segments Colson did on The 700 Club), but he was too close to the sun all other luminaries paled in comparison. Heaton linking Robertson’s 1980s empire to Trump did seem a bit tenuous, other than to point out ways in which conservative politics and Evangelical sociopolitical identity became entangled.  Though he does make some interesting suggestions on how motivated conservatives and evangelicals are by self-interest, and the ways social-care, a gospel prerogative, was short-shrifted by evangelicals (and the GOP).   A book like Francis FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals (Simon & Schuster, 2017) does a better job of tracing the movement of Evangelicalism towards the GOP and the rise of Trumpism, but Heaton’s perspective is interesting as one. I give this three-and-a-half-stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Do Story (There is No Try): a book review.

 

I am a storyteller. It is what I try to do when I blog, when I write and when I preach sermons.  I don’t always tell good sermons. Or write good blogs. But I am always amazed that the things that I write that resonate with people are often snapshots of my own vulnerable experience. A job interview where I felt exposed, a hard ending to a pastoral position, angst and worry about my vocation, and me feeling stuck. When I write a book review or musings on faith or the lectionary, I make far less impact than when people find themselves in my story. Not that all my stories are well crafted, and I can learn to do this better.

9781452171463_1Do/ Story/ How to Tell Your Story So The World Listens is a short book on telling stories in a way that is compelling and engaging, regardless of the context. The author, Bobette Buster, hails from Kentucky (and the storied south),  is the professor of Storytelling at Northeastern University in Boston, teaches and consults on storytelling all over the world, including with studios like Pixar, Disney and Sony Animations. Additionally, she has been awarded grants to collect the stories of Appalachia. She know storytelling and she reveals some of the tricks here.

The substance of  Buster’s approach to storytelling is captured in her 10 principles of Story Telling.  

1) Tell your story as if you’re telling it to a friend: this applies no matter where you are who your audience is.
2) Set the GPS: give the place, time, setting and any relevant context. Keep it factual, short, and sweet. 
3) Action! Use active verbs or, as I like to say, “Think Hemmingway”: spice up your verb choice but kept them succinct. . . .
4) Juxtapose: take two ideas, images, or thoughts and place them together. let them collide. Remeber German philosopher Fredriech Hegel here: that in posing two opposing ideas, a whole new idea is created (thesis + antithesis = synthesis). This tool wakes up your audience and it is the root of all successful stories. 
5) Gleaming detail: choose one ordinary moment or object that becomes the “gleaming detail,” something that captures and best embodies the essence of the story. Make the ordinary extraordinary.
6) “Hand over the Spark”: reflect on the experience or the idea that originally captivated you and simply hand it to your audience as if it were a flame. 
7) Be vulnerable: dare to share the emotion of your story. . . .
8) Tune into your sense memory: choose the strongest of the five senses in your story and use it to make a deeper connection with your audience.
9) Bring yourself: a story is as much about you as about anything else. 
10) Let go: hand over your story, letting it build to its natural emotional punchline, and then end it and get out fast. Leave the audience wanting more. (from page 22-23)

In the  rest of the book, Buster fleshes these out with stories and illustrations and exercises for practice. Some of these stories she tells come from her workshops. Other stories are from compelling individuals  (e.g. Alice Waters, Steve Jobs, Doug Tompkins and Yvon Choinard, etc.

I liked this book a lot. Buster’s approach to storytelling is simple and straightforward.  It is short and not pretentious. It focuses on the elements of the story that best communicate truth (vulnerability, craft, the ‘spark.’). I definitely will hang on to this one. I give it four stars.

Note: I received a copy of this book from a Library Thing giveaway in exchange for my honest review.

Children’s Ministry Without Burnout: a book review

I first became aware of Mark DeVries and the work of his organization Ministry Architects and his books on Youth Ministry like Sustainable Youth Ministry (IVP 2005), Family-Based Youth Ministry (IVP 2004), and Build A Volunteer Team (IVP 2015). I’ve long been convinced that the best practical theology being done anywhere, begins in the youth ministry world and Brandon Mckoy, Andrew Root, Kara Powell, Pamela Erwin, have transformed my thoughts, not only on youth ministry but on ministry and mission in general. Devries work is less theological than some of these other folks, but he’s eminently practical, promoting systems and structures (e.g. a functional database organization, delegation, and systemic plan for volunteer recruitment and management).

8847I’ve often thought that most of what he says about youth ministry is broadly applicable to other ministries. When I read Building Your Volunteer Ministry: A 30 Day Change Project for Youth Ministry, I was pasoring a small church. The most natural application I saw for Devries (and Nate Stratman’s) wisdom was in our children’s ministry. Sustainable Children’s Ministry: From Last-minute Scrambling to Long-Term Solutions. Is essentially the wisdom of Sustainable Youth Ministry adjusted and applied to the realm of children’s ministry. While Mark DeVries is still the headliner, his co-star author, Annette Safstrom, is the children’s ministry consultant for Ministry Architects and the narrative voice throughout the book.  She took Devries ideas, adjusted them, and shows how they work in a children’s ministry context.

The book has 14 chapters. In Chapters 1 and 2, Safstrom tells of her shift to a more systemic approach to children’s ministry. When she first entered the children’s ministry world, she put in lots of hours and lots of ideas but no systems in place. She got burned out by the ministry. Her second foray as a children’s minister had more structure, and when she handed off her children’s director job, she left the church in a good stead.

Chapters 3 through 7 describe the systems approach to children’s ministry.  While many children’s and youth ministries focus on the fun event, like VBS and fun activities, an overemphasis on ‘the icing’ without attention to the whole cake, leaves children’s ministries with nothing but a sticky blob (31-32). Saftstrom and Devries argue that in order for ministry to thrive, Children’s ministers need to be as attentive to maintaining the dancefloor as they are in doing the dance (33).  Chapter 4 describes the staffing, resources, and investment needed for Children’s ministry to thrive. Safstrom and Devries have observed several factors common to  healthy children’s ministries: $1000 annual investment in children’s ministry per child attending, 1 full-time staff person per seventy-five children in the children’s ministry (or the equivalent staff hours), 1 adult volunteer for every 5 children, and a children’s ministry which makes up about 15% of the worshipping congregation. Safstrom notes:

I’m not saying you should spend more money on your children’s minsitry. I’m saying you should match your expectations to your investment. If you’ve only got the fund to faithfully engage ten children, then your church’s leadership needs to be crystal clear that they have decided to have ten children involved (and be happy about it). One surefire way to suck the energy out of a children’s ministry is to invest at one level and expect results that are twice (or ten times) as much as the investment would merit (46).

This is a key insight. Children’s ministry is like any other ministry. You get out what you have invested. Not more.

In chapter 5 and 6, Safstrom and Devries point at the particular ‘machines’ which serve children’s ministry—databases, calendars, volunteer recruiting and equipping plans, communication, attendance tracking, visitor and MIA follow-up, safety and security plans, check-in systems, facilities, and equipment maintenance. Chapter 7 describes creating visioning and mission statements, goals and plans.

Chapters 8 and 9 tackle the practical challenges of delegating tasks, managing a volunteer team and developing a volunteer rotation plan. Chapter’s 10 and 11 help Children’s ministers navigate (and see their role) in the realm of wider church politics, and how to partner with parents and families. Chapters 12 through 14 focus on self-management for children’s ministers (e.g. self-care, support structures and mentoring, maintaining spiritual health, and ways to stay emotionally healthy).

There are also several appendices with helpful plans, checklists and sample statements for putting Devries and Safstrom’s systemic approach to action.

This is a really practical book which will serve Children’s ministers well. Like the Sustainable Youth Ministry counterpart, the principles are broadly applicable, though it is nice to see the attention given to the particular context of children’s ministry. I recommend this book, especially for children’s ministers that are feeling overwhelmed by their ministry and are looking for ways to make this more sustainable. I give this 4½ stars. ★★★★½

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

 

Having the Horse Sense to Hear the Divine: a ★★★★★ book review.

One of my earliest memories involves a horse. I would have been 2. My family lived on an acreage underneath the big sky of central Alberta. We had two horses, a mare, and her yearling colt. Cinnabar. One afternoon I was in the sandbox behind our house and decided to go down the hill and visit with the horses. They watched me disinterestedly from behind their barbwire fence, glancing sideways at me, munching the pasture grass. I crawled under the fence to get closer to them. The yearling turned and ran and kicked me in the face. His rear hoofs scraped across my cheeks, just below my temples. Had I been one step closer, or the horse a little older, I may not be here today.  My mom tells me that I ran up the hill with more rage than pain screaming, “Cinnabar kicked me!”

 horses-speak-of-godMy family moved to the city and we didn’t have horses after that, but I would ride them, some, at the nearby dude ranch, or on my grandparent’s farm in the summertime if they happened to be watching their neighbors’ horses.  I love horses. They are majestic creatures, and I’ve since learned to not climb under fences and walk behind them, to respect their size and give them a wide berth.

Laurie Brock, an Episcopal priest and crisis chaplain, has a better relationship to horses than I ever had. In Horses Speak of God: How Horses Can Teach Us to Listen and Be Transformed, she shares the things she has learned from the horses she rides: balance, steadfastness, vocation, trust, routine, love. Brock writes, “I began to ride as a hobby. I did not expect to learn a language that spoke of God” (9).

Throughout these seventeen mediations, Brock weaves together stories of riding lessons, the horses she’s ridden, ministry, the church calendar, Scripture and the liturgy.  She is the student and she honors horses as her teacher. She learns from them. Sometimes the horses teach her about losing control, about having courage, and empathy:

As I reflected on the moment when I’d walked away from my dirty dishes and into the midst of tragedy in the aftermath of a death, I knew they were the same emoitions similar experineces. I could be in the presence of  grief and its wildness because I rode Izzy. And suddenly, I realized that the rearranging that hapened inside of my soul had to do with the words that horses had opened to me. (5).

Sometimes a particular horse would reveal something for Brock about facing fear, or discovering vocation. Sometimes the process of learning to ride illuminates an aspect of her own faith journey. For example, ‘collecting’ a horse—raising the horse’s head while keeping it’s weight slightly on its hind legs so that its movements are focused and directed—becomes a metaphor for own soul, as she finds for her soul the balance between control, energy, and direction in the Collect of the Eucharistic liturgy. (67-71).

Brock is both priest and chaplain but this is not a book about discovering God in the church. It is a book about wrestling with God and learning faith while learning to ride, It is about experiencing the grace of God in the face of a horse, and seeing the face of God in the grace of a horse. This is poetic prose. I highly recommend this book, especially for animal lovers and for those who connect with God outside of the church. Brock does a great job of translating the wisdom of the Christian experience into the language of horse and rider. The lessons she learned from horses are kinder and more generative than getting kicked in the face by a horse. God’s grandeur and grace. The divine and the equine. I give this five stars. – ★★★★★

I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review