Thursday, January 11, 2018

Book by Book

The New York Times Book Review has a regular feature, By the Book. I've often thought it would be fun to riff on it. My professional specialties are liturgy and biblical studies, and I have varied avocational interests. As a guest on this blog, here's my take:

What books are on your night stand? Actually, it’s a footstool by my rocking/reading chair. Bit by bit, I’ve been reading Bobby Kennedy, by Larry Tye and Maine’s Golden Road, John Gould’s memoir about annual summer retreats in the Great Northen Maine wilderness. Over on the table across the room, are Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems, This Day; often I read a few to start my Sunday.

Who is your favorite novelist of all time? Probably Flannery O’Connor. Wise Blood (1952), and The Violent Bear It Away (1960) showed that deep Christian commitment is no barrier to creative writing, indeed, it drives the best. Her letters (The Habit of Being, 1979) and her A Prayer Journal (2013) reveal the person who did the writing.

Who are your favorite writers working today? Wendell Berry, for fiction and poetry; Jeanne Murray Walker—Helping the Morning—for poetry; Marilynne Robinson for cultural comment; Jamie Smith on the competing loves in our world; Tom Wright for seeing the big picture in the biblical story; and Richard Hays for interpretive strategies.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? I re-read three of Berry’s Port William novels this summer: The Memory of Old Jack, Jayber Crow, and Hannah Coulter. His Port William community in Kentucky takes me back to high school days in a hill farm community in Vermont. There’s more than nostalgia here, because Berry has tapped into the biblical motif of responsible care for the earth and its creatures; and the role of inter-generational families and the wider community in this caring.

Tell us about your favorite poetry books and short stories. For poetry, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Wendell Berry and Jeannie Walker. Short story collections by Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories; Wendell Berry, That Distant Land and A Place in Time; and William Trevor, A Bit on the Side and Cheating at Canasta.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited? I’d like to see John Calvin and Marilynne Robinson at the same table (since she quotes him from time to time), along with perhaps my friend Gordon Lathrop, a Lutheran writer. A potpourri of wit and dialog across the centuries.

What do you plan to read next? I’ve just begun Saving Images, by Lathrop and Awaiting the King, by Jamie Smith; so add those to the footstool. —Larry Sibley

Friday, December 29, 2017

Getting to the cure

Michael Emlet, in his new book, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications (New Growth), understands and explains two big words that are important to those who are ministry people, and he applies these words and functions to those who need them.

These are the important words and terms: Psychiatric Diagnosis, and Psychoactive Medications. Emlet is on the faculty at Christian Counseling and Education (CCEF) in Glenside, PA, and he has excellent experience to discuss these important and often helpful words and terms.

Emlet divides his book into two sections, on Psychiatric Diagnosis and on Psychoactive Medications. There are twenty-two short chapters. He wrote his book primarily for helpers in the church, pastors, counselors, elders, deacons, youth workers; whoever needs this kind of help in their ministry will appreciate Michael Emlet and his book.

Along the way, he discusses specific hazards to spiritual growth, whether using diagnosis and medications as gifts or gods. Basic to his approach is his understanding of the human person with both a spiritual aspect and a physical aspect. Psychoactive Medications may be necessary and effective, but they will not address the person’s relationship to God. On the other hand, to treat a person’s struggles as only spiritual will deny the physical needs. God made us embodied spirits and both aspects will be involved in the counselor’s ministry.

One of the most helpful chapters in the book is the fourth, "The problems and pitfalls of psychiatric diagnosis: description not explanation." Emlet’s point is that a list of symptoms does not explain why they exist. An unacknowledged assumption sometimes is the key to the difference. He illustrates: "this assumption of biological root cause is widespread in our culture." This assumption can lead to normalizing behavior that stems from our fallen condition, treating some temptations as alternate lifestyles.

For example, assuming that various sexual orientations are biologically rooted and therefore normal (and should be expressed as alternate lifestyles) is very different from the biblical assumption that, whatever their biological or social source, some sexual expressions are sinful and therefore should, and can, be resisted, encouraged by the promise of the mercy and grace of God. Transformation of the whole person, including behavior, is the biblical goal.

Emlet writes, "we must acknowledge the complex interaction of multiple factors—physical, spiritual, relational, situational, and cultural—that combine in causative ways for a given individual." He proposes a balanced approach to helping someone who’s suffering emotionally. A psychiatric diagnosis might help, but it’s only a starting point towards healing, not a life sentence.

—Lois & Larry Sibley

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Safeguarding Children

I almost cannot read this book.I may need to back-up and make a turn....
Yes, our churches, ministries, parents, teachers---so many adults, must know about terrible, abusive experiences children sometimes participate in for the sake of adults and children they love.

How can grown-ups do this to children? How can children participate...for those they love? Do many churches and ministries have policies to help control this, as soon as they know of such adult/childhood behavior? Or is it sometimes known and ignored?

This book: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, published by New Growth Press (NGP) "is a comprehensive, concrete resource that will aid churches in keeping children safe, holding offenders accountable, and witnessing their commitment to care for the least of these." This quote, and many like it, is accompanied by encouraging words, the stories and details of such happenings among our children and adults and how we can protect our children as we hear of incidents of abuse.

Perhaps we did not know. Perhaps we have not heard. Perhaps the children are afraid to tell us. But here we have an important Policy Guide for safety regarding our children.

Authors Basyle Tchividjian and Shira M. Berkovits and their team have provided us, parents, churches, ministries---all who need to know about these horrible demands sometimes forced on our children. Who knew? some may say. But now we can know and we know what to do to protect our children.

From Getting Started to using a Child Safeguarding Certification (p. 3), which provides necessary resources and support, and concludes with a chapter on Empowering Children, a good beginning. Educational programs for the children will help them learn what the rules are and how they can have "general body safety." An educator, even a parent, can encourage the children to become involved in their own education. For example, a youth group could have a discussion on "creating safe spaces" or, asking "what would make them feel safe" that could be helpful. Such conversations would help them feel safer, wherever they are.

I recommend this book. My children are all grown-up and past all the good and helpful ideas to be found in it. But I have grandchildren, even great-grandchildren who might like to talk with Grammie about people and spaces and kindness, and maybe even talk with the teacher.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Searching for hope..

Perhaps Author Albert Y. Hsu has written the book we have finally found: the right book for us, the one we have been looking for. We need it. Our whole family needs it. We grieve in the midst of our pain. Our precious grandson Jacob, killed himself, with a gun. Where would he even get a gun? We cannot believe it. He seemed so happy. He spent six years in the Air Force, then back to his classes in NOLA. He had many friends there and he was helping out at two churches near his apartment. Recently he sent a note to his mother, saying "Now I get it..." (about God). Later, the message came, on May 11, 2017....It's hard to say it....he killed hmself....hard to believe....

The first edition of Albert Hsu's book is called Grieving a Suicide, A loved one's search for comfort, answers, and hope. Published by InterVarsityPress, Hsu's book has been revised and expanded, at least twice, and a number of its readers share a paragraph or two, telling of their own painful experiences. Hsu has written his book in memory of his father, Terry Tsai-Yuan Hsu, 1939--1998, and he includes some of his family stories. Part 1 begins with a special word to begin each thought, such as denial, anger, shock, turmoil, lament, depression, and acceptance. In his Introduction, Hsu compares the weather in Minnesota, a state he knows "for frigid winters and heavy snowfall." And he tells survivers of suicide how "they could be caught in a winter storm of epic proportions in the road ahead, and he hopes his book will "guard your heart and soul during a time of terrible agony. May it provide you with some tracks to follow to make your way through."

Part  2 Includes Several Lingering Questions for the Reader:
            Why Did This Happen? Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin? Where is God When It Hurts?

Part : 3  Life After Suicide; The Spirituality of Grief, The Healing Community, and Lessons.

If you are reading this, and trying to cope with the struggle, relax and have a pen and pencil ready. There is much to think about here and you will want to take notes.
Many thanks to Albert Hsu and to God. I have learned some important facts for grieving. May it help you all in your grieving.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Children's books are fun to read A new one coming out May 20 is about Pentecost. Many children have no idea what that word Pentecost means. Some grown-ups don't either. So Paraclete Press in Brewster, MA decided to help those who care about mysterious words they don't know, but are eager to learn.

This book is called The Day When God Made Church and the subtitle is A Child's First Book About Pentecost. Children won't know the word Pentecost until someone shows or explains it to them. The person who wrote this book is Ms. Rebekah and the person who drew all the pictures is Ms. Stephanie They made a wonderful book for children to read or see or hear.

It begins with telling that Jesus, God's Son, is gone. Where did he go and why, and when will he come back, or who will he send? Those who are waiting are nervous and curious and eager to know who Jesus will send to them. After awhile, the animals become excited, the people are eager, and suddenly they hear words! The Holy Spirit has arrived! And who is that?

Peter arrives and stands up to preach and he tells the people how Jesus loves them, how Jesus healed some of the people, and how he told stories and shared good news with them, too. Then Peter tells them of how Jesus was hung on the cross and he died. All the people who loved Jesus were sad. But Jesus did come back!

God, his Father, raised him from the dead and gave New Life to him and to all who believe in Jesus. Peter tells them that God sends the Holy Spirit, good news, baptism, and we are a new family together. We call that the Day of Pentecost, "the day when church was born." It is for men and women, boys and girls, and for all those who are filled with the Holy Spirit, for all who "are Alive and Risen, as we worship Jesus."


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Children's Guide to Lent and Easter

Here it is: Make Room, and it's not only beautifully illustrated but also clearly written and Kids who read this book are going to Know and they won't forget it. Author Laura Alary has a plan. She begins with what Lent and Easter are all about: how it tells the stories of Jesus, how we all are reminded of these stories in our families, churches, and friends, and how Jesus' stories might fit into our lives and theirs as we grow and remember what we are learning. Published by Paraclete Press, and illustrated by Ann Bovajian, it is a pleasure to read and think about how these stories might fit into kids' lives.

They begin with three about Jesus: Making Time, Space, Room and then about Holy Week. Readers will learn that Jesus is the Son of God, and what he did and why. Readers will be encouraged to "make time to be with God" during Lent. They will find that many people came to hear Jesus and to ask him questions, some expressing desire for healing. And in our own day, people are listening and hearing and growing into the kind of people Jesus wants them to be as we wait for the day when the Kingdom of God comes and Jesus is known as Lord of All.  He also taught the people how to pray what we call "The Lord's Prayer." He taught them to be kind to all, not just the ones they like, and to help those who need help.

Author Alary reminds us that when the 40 days of Lent come, usually in March or April, people tend to make their lives more simple. They are learning what the Lord wants them to do and they get ready for Holy Week, which comes at the end of the 40 days. The people who lived long ago, with God and his kings and prophets heard about the Kingdom of God and that they would live there with God some day.  Those people were reminded that they were once slaves in Egypt, but now they should remember how God saved them and what he wants them to do next. Now-a-days kids hear about Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and wonder what that's all about. They may hear about the Last Supper (Jesus with his disciples) and how he knelt down and washed their dusty feet,

Friday is the hardest day to read about and to know what happened to Jesus. He was mistreated and hanged on the Cross. Very painful to watch for those who loved him. But then, as he promised, after three days Jesus rose from the dead. Our Heavenly Father, God and the Holy Spirit prepared him for it. On a special day, called Easter, the people come to church to pray and to worship and to thank God together. The people call "Hallelujah," "Jesus is risen... the Lord is risen indeed." And God has "done A WONDERFUL thing." Thanks be to God! May many children read this book.

Lois Sibley,

Friday, December 9, 2016

Advent with Coloring and Music...

Here we are at Advent again! I took a peek at what I suggested for reading a good book during our last Advent, and it was Bud Holland's book of stories, called Advent Presence, from Morehouse Publishing.  We enjoyed Bud's stories as we began Advent, and learning more of the biblical stories and the people who lived through those times.

With this Advent, we have new possibilities to add to our preparations for the coming of the Lord. It may sound strange or funny to you, but a Coloring Book? Am I kidding you? No, because I am actually used to the idea of coloring books to relieve stress. I worked in a company that produced just-passed new laws for local, small-town officials. These books had to be perfect. Changing where a comma was could change the law and that thought was stressful. So if our boss saw we were upset and stressed, he would say, "Take a break, and do a page in the coloring book," (thanks, Bill) and it usually worked.

Today, there are new ideas and combinations of helpful materials to guide and teach us as we think over the biblical stories we know, or are learning. As we think about the angel speaking to Mary and saying, "Be not afraid." And Joseph, rethinking his plan about caring for and helping Mary with her news, and his being told by an angel to take her as his wife. Could that be real, he thought, and he decided "yes," it was real, and he began his plan for a new life.

In our minds, thinking of what happened, I'm sure we could use a 24-day Advent Coloring Calendar from Paraclete Publishing, and also two cds, one called Keeping Christmas: Beloved Carols and the Christmas Story; and for those who are interested in Gregorian Chant, they offer The Coming of Christ: A Celebration of Faith in His Name. I am impressed by the idea of doing this, especially putting the coloring together with the music as we remember the biblical stories. Try it! And see if it works for you!

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks