Book of the Month: February 2018

Say it to God by Luigi Gioia

My immediate reaction to this book was – goodness not another book on prayer. My familiarity and complacency were soon dispelled by this compelling exploration of the nature of prayer. Written by a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk and teacher it is steeped in a deep inhabiting of the tradition and an honest struggle with this key element of the Christian life.

You will appreciate the quality of writing, short chapters, attention to the prayer in Scripture and a grounded approach about what is really means to pray. We are asked to examine our priorities, be honest about the distractions and boredom present in our discipleship and break into a different attitude to God. It is fresh, humane, grounded and real! Your sense of God and view of what God is like and how God is present will be broken open and reshaped.

This book will be my guide this Lent. Those of us who teach should learn from Gioia how to capture truth and express it with authenticity and love.  This book is my best BOM so far ……. Fresh and enlarging. Another book on prayer – yes and one of the best.

Reviewed by Canon James Woodward, Principle of Sarum College.

Say it to God is just £8.49 until 28th February 2018 (RRP £9.99). Available from our online shop + £2.50 postage, or mail order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

Book of the Month: January 2018

The Indecent Death of a Madam by Simon Parke

Stormhaven, the least Trip Advised bit of beach in Sussex, has another corpse; and the members of the Etiquette Society, who people the list of suspects, are down by one. One of those still alive is a retired Desert Father.

In this, the darkest of his Abbot Peter murder stories, Simon Parke appears almost, if not entirely, to disconnect his principal protagonist from whatever ties he previously had with God, who is only mentioned twice throughout the book and then not by Peter himself.

If Peter’s monastic past and presumed vocation are in retreat, if his outline is now more uncertain than in any of the preceding books, he is not alone.  Nowhere, nothing, is what they seemed at first.  Stormhaven is no haven against the storm, rather (Parke’s readers know by now) its very denial of them appears to attract them: who would suspect this deed, in this place? Indeed its worst detritus, the abandoned place of refuge – the asylum – ‘became a crime scene the moment they decided to close it down …’

Parke is, in his own words, an introvert: this is not a story written purely to entertain. The subtext is polemic and the choice of site for the murder is important. Explicitly or otherwise, most of Parke’s characters have points to make: through their fictional existence he makes his own point.  The feeling in each that the world needs him, her, to put it right has its roots in early years leaving variously poisoned sap in judge, editor, retired Army officer – even Peter, even Tamsin, his Detective Inspector niece.  Equally in the past is the root cause of the murder itself: it was called Care in the Community.

Not an easy book – none of this series is particularly easy – but if you prefer a who dunnit to have depth, to be more than a clever puzzle, this is for you.

Reviewed by Julia Taylor 

The Indecent Death of a Madam is just £8.49 until 31st January 2018 (RRP £9.99). Available from our online shop + £2.50 postage, or mail order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

Book of the Month: December 2017

Unearthly Beauty by Magdalen Smith

Too often the church and our faith seem preoccupied with our own rather incomprehensible narratives as the energy seems to draw us inwards. These are difficult and demanding times with great change as some churches struggle to survive. So easily can we become anxious and distracted. This is a really wonderfully realistic and outward looking exploration of 24 Saints – some familiar and some less known – whose lives and faith are narrated for us and for the expanding of our spiritual horizons. The short chapters are readable, practical and profoundly grounded in the world as we experience it. You will be enlightened and enriched by a range of stories as we are challenged to glimpse holiness in a new and different way.

I specially appreciated the way in which each of the chapters draw the reader into prayer – taking us out of our own world into a passionate affirmation of grace and hope. I really love this book and especially enjoyed getting to know (amongst the other saints) Ambrose, Lucy, Elizabeth, the Innkeeper and Thomas Becket. It is beautifully written and captures so much of why we need to keep faithful and know always in the ups and downs of our modern world that the kingdom of God is near.

Reviewed by James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College

Unearthly Beauty is just £8 until 31 December 2017 (RRP £8.99). Available from our online shop + £2.50 postage, or mail order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

N.B. The bookshop is closed from 4:45pm on Friday 22nd December 2017 and will reopen at 9am on Tuesday 2nd January 2018. Any orders placed after 12 noon on Friday 22nd December will be sent out in early January 2018.

Book of the Month: November 2017

Christmas Through the Keyhole by Derek Tidball

Human beings need to tell their stories and often the best of these are put to music. Sometimes we need help to see beyond the immediate into a wider and more imaginative horizon. Too easily we find ourselves distracted and even bored by religion and its meaning for us. This is as true for those of us who belong to the Church as for those who sit curiously on the outside straining their eyes to look, perhaps at what the Gospel may have to say about their human flourishing.

Derek Tidball is a skilled, creative and innovative communicator. All these skills are put to work in this book of meditations that run from 3 December through to 6 January. The focus is Luke’s songs recorded in that narrative as the songs of Mary, Zechariah, Simeon and the Angels at Bethlehem.

The themes of: the hope of the needy, the Redeemer of the world, the joy of the earth, the light of the nations and the splendour of creation are taken and explored within five sections each with a daily reflection. The book invites the reader to see and hear the songs of the birth of Christ as keyholes through which we can glimpse extraordinary and transformative things. Scripture is attended to carefully and broken open within the context of our complex and contradictory lives. We are challenged to consider and reconsider what kind of love might lie behind the doors which need opening for our illumination- to fill our minds with truth from God and put that love to work in our life.

You will be refreshed and enlarged through these pages. Read them carefully and explore how attention to the gracious promise of God might nurture wisdom and thankfulness.

Reviewed by Canon James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College

Christmas Through the Keyhole is just £6 until November 30th 2017 (RRP £6.99), available from our online shop + £2.50 postage, or mail order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

Book of the Month: October 2017

I Thought There Would be Cake by Katharine Welby-Roberts

This is rather a brave book. It takes courage to offer the kind of transparency with which Katherine Welby-Roberts writes about her inner vulnerability and turmoil. Rather than turning into one long party, adult life has meant daily negotiation with depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome. Katherine has been blogging about her perspectives for several years and I found that a glance at her blog helped to put the book into context. In ‘I thought there would be cake’, Katherine’s style is open and conversational, she could be sitting down with the reader over a cup of tea. She describes with honesty and considerable insight how the convoluted processes of her thinking and emotions disrupt her self-confidence and  sense of worth. Katherine speaks from a place of dissonance between what she knows and trusts as a Christian, and the inner doubts and questions which assail her relentlessly. Sheer physical exhaustion compounds the uphill task of loving and living with herself, her husband and baby son and her friends.

Katherine offers lots of examples from her daily life of the many ways she has lived with the dialogue inside her, as self-doubt, comparison with others, and the agonies of what others may think, rage within her. Yet in sharing these struggles, she speaks with humour and with an absence of self-indulgence or sanctimonious piety. Ironically, perhaps, to write in this way requires exactly the kind of self-acceptance she finds so elusive.

Who is this book for? Being so accessible, anyone who identifies with Katherine’s particular version of inner quicksand will find a friend here. Others, who find the account of such internal chaos mystifying, might do well to listen. Katherine invites us into her world, and her words offer an implicit challenge. How might we respond to those, including our very own inner selves, who bear the illogicality, yet bitter reality, of inner torment?  The invitation is to live with honesty, hope and a capacity for generous humour.

Reviewed by Julia Mourant, Scholar in Residence at Sarum College

I Thought There Would be Cake is just £6.99 until October 31st 2017 (RRP £7.99), available from our online shop + £2.50 postage, or mail order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

Book of the Month: September 2017

The Naked God: Wrestling for a Grace-ful Humanity by Vincent Strudwick

I ought to declare a historical interest in this wonderfully and creatively written book which is part autobiography, part history and part extremely good theology! I first met Vincent in 1987 as a newly appointed chaplain to Bishop Richard Harries and experienced it first-hand his presence as a teacher and educator in the Diocese of Oxford. He was a skilled and wise teacher with a heart for prayer and people. There was a warm humanity to his work; above all those who worked with him felt loved, encouraged and enriched.

All these qualities and more come into play in this refreshing narrative. Eight chapters, carefully crafted and organised tackle questions head-on about the Bible, our experience of God, the nature of spirituality and the Church. There is a faithful commitment to those of us who wish to be honest about the struggles present in how we make sense of life and especially living with paradox, ambiguity and contradiction. The text urges us on into a deeper questioning that we must ask of ourselves, the societies we shape and the religion we share. Vincent’s honesty, experience and refusal to take refuge in irrelevance or superficiality make this a hopeful but also demanding read.

I recommend it as an Autumn read and possibly to be read together with friends or in home groups. You will not be disappointed and your intellectual horizons broadened into why theology can be a tool for human flourishing enabling us to understand our present religious situation and live with compassion and imagination.

Vincent’s humanity, his outward looking perspective combined with a sense of depth, his sense of fun and his deep love shine through this very original book. We are indebted for his perseverance and for Jane Shaw and her encouraging support.

Reviewed by James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College

The Naked God is just £11.50 until September 30th 2017 (RRP £12.99), available from our online shop + £2.50 postage, or mail order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

Book of the Month: August 2017

Cycling Out of the Comfort Zone by Charles Guilhamon

Cycling out of the Comfort Zone is a travelogue with a difference. Charles Guilhamon (the author) and Gabriel de Lepinau spent a year travelling to isolated and often persecuted Christian communities. The aim of this trip ? To discover their Christian brothers. It seems such a simple premise and, on one level, it is simple but there are so many layers to their mission that this book is far from a simple travel story.

I’m not sure which aspect of the book I enjoyed the most. It provides glimpses of different forms of Christian community and worship throughout the world. It is in many ways a spiritual diary; chronicling the effect of the journey and friends made along on the way. It really opened my eyes to persecution happening in areas that I thought to be fundamentally peaceful. And finally it is a snapshot of the Middle East and other areas in 2009-2010 before political developments changed and displaced the communities visited.

The author Charles and his friend Gabriel started in Paris and made their way through Europe, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, India, Nepal, China, Tibet, Thailand, the Amazon, Senegal, Mauritania, Algeria and back to France. A diverse and fascinating route around the world to areas that for many people are unreachable, that being the point.

I have to mention it was hard to keep hold of this book. I take whatever book I am reading everywhere I go and everywhere I went someone would inevitably pick it up say “this looks really interesting” and ask to borrow it. You will find in this book something that fascinates and inspires you. I really loved this book, it is quite hard to describe how and why and I’m very confident that everyone picking it up will enjoy it for different reasons. However I will definitely read it again and I suggest anyone reads it at least once.

Reviewed by Lynette White, Duty Manager at Sarum College

Cycling Out of the Comfort Zone is just £8.99 until August 31st 2017 (RRP £9.99) and POST FREE from the shop or £6.49 from our online shop + £2.50 postage. Order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

Book of the Month: July 2017

Cancer: A Pilgrim Companion By Gillian Straine

I was going to write that this is a book about beginnings and endings: the impact of cancer on health, confidence, identity and faith. But the great gift of this book is its confidence that endings always contain the seeds of beginnings; this book is as much, if not more, about hope as it is about cancer.

You may think that’s not easy given the subject matter, but Gillian Straine has found a way: including some good, practical material about what cancer is – and is not – which provides a useful medical and social context. Moreover, she has been able to place her pilgrimage within the liturgical and spiritual context of Holy Week: contemplation of Christ’s passion provides insight into her own suffering and of Christ’s compassionate companionship within it. We sense His presence wherever the eyes of those who give and those who receive meet.

I suspect Gillian would not thank me for describing this as a brave book: she is (rightly) unhappy with the military metaphors which so often surround serious illness. Bravery, she says, usually involves an element of choice – and so often choice is the first thing to go after diagnosis. But she did have a choice about writing this guide for others on their pilgrimage, deliberately revisiting some dark and difficult places en route. Personally, I think that was brave. Brave, too, to acknowledge that recovery and remission are not necessarily a fairy tale return to the status quo; but if we are to help pilgrims, we can’t make assumptions about how they feel. We need to understand that there is a new normality: a quest narrative which neither lets the cancer be ignored nor allows it to overcome.

I’ll be honest, initially this wasn’t the easiest of books to read, but I have come to see it as a psalm to read prayerfully. And I do recommend it whole heartedly. If you find yourself accompanying someone on their pilgrimage through cancer or other serious illness, it will help you both.

Reviewed by the Revd Norma Fergusson, Volunteer Chaplain, Dorothy House Hospice

Cancer: A Pilgrim Companion is just £8.99 until July 31st 2017 (RRP £9.99) and POST FREE from the shop or £6.49 from our online shop + £2.50 postage. Order by phoning 01722 326899 or by emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

Author Gillian Straine will be running a day course at Sarum College on Saturday 7 July 2018 based on her book Cancer: A Pilgrim Companion. See the course page for full details.

Book of the Month: June 2017

God Curious: Exploring Eternal Questions by Stephen Cherry

 Over 30 years ago I trained for Ministry alongside Stephen at Westcott House in Cambridge. There were three particular things that I remember about Stephen. The first was his reflective intelligence. The second was his readiness always to look beyond the immediate into a broader and wider horizon. The third was his ability as a wordsmith and poet.

Now the Dean of King’s College Cambridge he brings these gifts to bear upon theology and offers us an exploration of the history, shape and relevance of this discipline for our understanding of the world, God and human flourishing. I promise you that these pages will stimulate, irritate and enlarge your thinking. Stephen asks us to go beyond the surface of the soundbite, the sentimental and even trivial world of religious narrative into a compelling and adventurous exploration of religious truth. He shows us in these 10 short chapters what imagination, religious literacy and enthusiasm for God might look like.

Theology is a subject for study in higher education continues to diminish and change much as classics did over the last couple of decades. What we need to do is to recapture commitment and energy for a subject that might equip us to move beyond reductionism and fundamentalism into a way of knowing that enables us to understand and interpret the world. To do this Stephen demonstrates how the Christian tradition can be put to work in a way which is both serious and enjoyable.

Congratulations to Jessica Kingsley for publishing this book and at a reasonable price. I already have a list of people who will receive a copy in due course.

Reviewed by James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College

God Curious is just £7.99 until June 30th 2017 and can be ordered online, by phoning 01722 326899 or by emailing bookshop@dev.sarum.ac.uk.

Book of the Month: May 2017

Fierce Imaginings by Rachel Mann

It is rare in my experience that a book lives up to its tantalising title. Rachel Mann begins by inveigling us in by telling us ‘This is a book about ghosts.’ These are not ‘ghouls’ or figures of fantasy but ‘spectres raised by the Great War’ who ‘continue to exercise an influence and power over us.’ These ‘spectres’ are in the first place personal ones for the author; relatives, notably grandparents, parents ,family and herself. But profoundly it is ‘a search of the human’, as Rowan Williams observes in his introduction.

The structure of the book is simple, yet profound. In something of the spirit of Alan Bennet’s The History Boys Rachel Mann warns of ‘How public monuments make it easier to forget.’ More challengingly, she asks: ‘Did the Great War leave God ‘Hanging on the old barbed wire…?’ This chapter courageously faces the behaviour of the Church of England as the State Religion ‘caught up in interests often tangential to serving men.’ ‘Who is God, then, which emerges out of broken myth?’ Mann enquires. It serves as a powerful question now, as then.

The Battle of the Somme deeply impacted upon the author’s family, and she reflects upon it with a question and a unique memorial. The question: ‘What exactly was ‘lost’ in the catastrophe of the Somme?’ The memorial: a street of terraced houses in Trafford Road, Stretford in Manchester. These, constructed after the war bear the sixty names of men from those streets killed at the Somme.

Further questions: ‘Who and What are worthy of remembrance?’ ‘How ‘The Land’ holds the memory of war’, are coupled with reflections on ‘shell shock’ and masculinity, the ‘feminist’ aspect of war – and ‘Poppies, Silence and the Broken Word.’ No review can adequately serve the poetry, imagination, and challenge of this book. For me a reflection on Christian liturgy near the middle of the book, sums up its message. ‘To use God is to kill him’, said Meister Eckhart, and concludes Mann: ‘When we put God to our ends and uses…..what we are left with is not God, but an idol or simulacrum shaped in our own image.’ I’m already reading it again..and again.

Reviewed by Rt Rev Peter B Price

Published by Darton, Longman and Todd, Fierce Imaginings is just £11.50 until 31st May 2017 (RRP £12.99) and POST FREE from the shop, or £9 from our online shop + £2.50 postage.