Saturday, December 20, 2014

Roots and Renewal

Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage, a  Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal is by Marvin R. Wilson, who is Ockenga Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Gordon College in Massachusetts. This actually is his second book on the subject as in 1989 he wrote Our Father Abraham, Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith.  Both books are from Eerdmans, at I have often wondered why Jews and Christians are so against each other when they share the same God and the same Scriptures. It was definitely a mystery to me, but not so much now that I am reading Wilson's books.

Wilson lays this book out in five parts: Theological Sources and Methods; People of God: An Abrahamic  Family; God and His Ways; An Approaching God; and Moving into the Future. Each part has several chapters, broken down to explain Jewish history and opinion for their 4,000 years, as well as our 2,000 years of Christian history and opinion since the birth of Christ. Wilson claims that Christians need Jewish texts and stories of their culture, to learn what happened when. He offers a "call to explore and to learn more of the richness and depth of the roots of Christian faith."

Wilson believes and teaches that in order to "know and understand the Jewish origins of Christianity we must not limit ourselves to only Christian sources. We need the benefit of engaging Jewish commentaries of Scripture as well."

As the church began to grow in the early first and second centuries after Christ, differences occurred until there began to be "an adversarial relationship between church and synagogue." If we look back through history, we will see the results of that, even down to the Holocaust and on. Wilson urges us to remember that "despite our long and painful adversarial relationship from the close of the biblical era through most of the twentieth century...the areas we share in common are far greater than those teachings, beliefs, and practices that divide us." Christians and Jews do share much common ground, as Wilson points out, but both groups have been uninformed or unwilling to explore and consider these facts. Perhaps the times are changing, on both sides of this divide.

Wish I had more room but here are a few quotes from Wilson: "God owns the book." "There is a pattern throughout the Scriptures: "God initiates; man responds." And "it might be surprising to many Christians, to discover that the first five books of the Bible, the Law of Moses, is the place where Christians and Jews often find considerable common ground. Themes such as creation, covenant, redemption, revelation, worship, holiness, love, compassion, moral law, ethics, and social justice are central to the teaching of the Torah and are correspondingly foundational  to Christian biblical thought." Marvin Wilson, with his books and teachings for those who are listening, may continue to turn the tide and bring Christians and Jews together, as we should be.

---Lois Sibley,

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tolkien as Professor and Author...

Have you read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? If yes, you probably know that they have been acclaimed #1 in many polls and lists around the world. Current estimates put The Lord of the Rings as selling well over 150 million copies, with The Hobbit at over 100 million copies sold. It is amazing when you also read that these are books that "very nearly weren't."

The Hobbit was first published by Allen & Unwin in the UK. It so happened that Mr. Unwin liked to ask his son Rayner, who was 10 years old at the time, to give his opinion after reading a book they might publish. Rayner liked The Hobbit so it was published.

This book is called Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century. It is written by Devin Brown, who is a Lilly Scholar and a Professor of English at Asbury University, as well as an expert on both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. This new biography of Tolkien by Brown is published in the U.S. by Abingdon Press, at

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born January 3, 1892, not in England but in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, the former colony we now know as South Africa. His father. Arthur, was manager for a branch of the Bank of Africa. When Ronald was four, his homesick-for-England-mom, took Ronald and his brother Hilary (then two), back to England for family visits. While his family was in England, Arthur Tolkien died and was buried there in South Africa. This left the boys and their mother Mabel with family but what to do? Mabel was homeschooling for awhile but moved her little family several times in the Birmingham area, near schools she wanted the boys to attend. The boys loved living in the country and the scenery, woods and trees, a mill on a river, and other attractive scenes stayed in Ronald's mind when he began writing stories and eventually The Hobbit.

Schooling meant the need for scholarships.  Ronald admitted he was not a good student, often studying languages he loved instead of what was required to gain scholarship aid. He did eventually attend King Edward's School, then Exeter College, and then Oxford. And suddenly, there was World War I and he became a Second Lieut. in 1915. And in March 1916 he and his long-time love, Edith Bratt, were married. Tolkien had to go off to war, where he caught Trench Fever and was very ill, and finally returned to Birmingham Hospital for recuperation. As his health improved he was able to begin teaching, first at Leeds College, then back to Oxford, where he remained.

There, he met C. S. Lewis and the two professors-authors became good friends, sharing, critiqueing, and encouraging each other on their writings. Thus, the Inklings group began again, meeting each week to talk and share their work. Still, it was many years before Tolkien's The Hobbit, accepted by Allen & Unwin in 1930, was published in 1937; and even more years before his The Lord of the Rings, accepted in 1937, was finally published in 1954.

It took a long time, but eventually The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings "were translated into more than 40 different languages, and became beloved, best sellers all over the world."

---Lois Sibley

Monday, November 24, 2014

No Secrets Are Hid!

From Whom No Secrets Are Hid, Introducing the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann and edited by Brent A. Strawn is published by WestminsterJohnKnox at It is not Brueggemann's first on the Psalms, but he thinks of this one as "an invitation to growth in faith" and he hopes that it will "lead some to a deeper sense of worship in churches that read, sing, or chant the Psalms." I hope with him that this book will help expand the number of Psalms that are used in worship. He's right. Only a few of the Psalms among the 150 are a part of weekly worship and sometimes the Psalm of the day is skipped over with no comments.

The title of Brueggemann's book is part of a well-known and often used prayer in worship (BCP 355). God knows our secrets, even when we have not shared them with anyone else. Brueggemann reminds us that the Psalter includes the secrets of the human heart and community, and when spoken "out loud in speech and song in the midst of the community," these words are important, even "indispensable," he writes, "for the social and economic health of the body of faith and the body politic." The Psalter that was important for the Israelites, is important for Christians as well.

We may know only a few of the Psalms by heart, and Brueggemann notes that we are drawn to the Psalms, and yet we flee from them. Why? Perhaps because we are part of two worlds: our "closely held world," that is, our every day world that we both welcome and dread, and the other world, the Psalms' "counter world," where voices and words call us to a world in tension with our every day world. We want a new, improved world where the Good Shepherd will be near. And so we cling to the Psalms and the God who occupies that counter world "scripted for us in the Psalms."

Brueggemann looks at many groups of Psalms: 22 and 23, 29, 68, 104, 117, 140--150 to name a few, and he explains their meanings and uses by the people of ancient Israel, He says there is "a direct line of continuity from the old song of Moses (Exod. 15:18) through the Psalms to the prophetic declaration of Isaiah (52:7) to the announcement of Jesus and by Jesus, to the hope of the book of Revelation to the present." He reminds us that we are late participants in this "generative act of enthronement," but in our liturgies, we are like ancient Israel, regularly reasserting that the world is under the governance of the God of justice and righteousness, and the Psalms have "immediate implications for social practice and policy." Our singing and saying these poems is an act of hope that God's rule prevails and includes a resolve for us to participate. There is much more....find time to study it....

---Lois Sibley,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Shaping the Prayers...

Shaping the Prayers of the People, The Art of Intercession by Samuel Wells and Abigail Kocher offers many ideas and suggestions for both clergy and lay people who have the responsibility of preparing the prayers that are used in the worship services at their particular churches. Both Wells and Kocher have spent time planning and preparing specific prayers for use in congregations in both Duke University Chapel and the surrounding churches and neighborhoods in that part of North Carolina. Kocher mentions how God's people have been "insisting," that they needed a book like this and the pressure, almost nagging, she says, finally brought them to the task of improving worship services and especially the prayers of the people. Wells reminds readers that the ones who pray, who intercede for all who are present, know it is a duty to plan and prepare their prayers. He wants this book to show that intercession is not just a duty, but a joy, and he and Kocher are eager to explain why, and how to live it.

 Published by Eerdmans, more information can be found at To begin, Kocher and Wells give a little history of American churches, and how prayers were put together. Sometimes it was a Pastoral Prayer given by clergy, sometimes prayers were woven together from "revivalist traditions," and sometimes lay people were encouraged to just put together the cares and concerns of the members of the congregation. Among all the churches, there are many different styles of worship. Wells and Kocher are accepting differences and looking at them as opportunities for those intercessors who lead prayers to think carefully about what they are doing.

Their book has two parts: theory and practice. The authors say it is designed to answer the question: "Teach us to pray," and intercessors will take from it what they find helpful and that's good. The authors are offering "grace and joy" in planning prayers, "not new laws or rote" on how to do it. But I think that in the first five chapters, they cover just about every angle of how to plan and pray as intercessors. It shows, as they begin with words like: propose, suggest, explore, choose. And they remind us that Jesus described prayer as: "Ask, Seek, and Knock."

In the second part, Kocher and Wells offer samples of prayers under three headings: Seasons, Ordinary Time, and Occasions. Some of these prayers go back many years and some have been more recently prayed, remembered, and shared. These prayers take us through the church year and there are brief paragraphs suggesting how they might be used. The final two pages are a Checklist for Preparing the Prayers of the People that intercessors may find helpful.

---Lois Sibley,

Monday, October 27, 2014

Four Important Words for Christians

Being Christian is a new book from Rowan Williams, who recently served as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury (2002--2012) but now is Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge in the U.K. The subtitle is Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer and these are key words, important concepts, and what Williams calls activities, or, "the essence of Christian life." Published by Eerdmans Publishing Co., more information is available at

Only about 92 pages, you might call it a "quick read," but not if you want to stop and think about what Williams is saying and explaining. He tells us that these four chapters are based on talks he gave during Holy Week in Canterbury Cathedral. I admit I regret that I was not there to see and hear. It's lovely to be at Canterbury, making memories, at any time, but it is also nice to hold his texts in my hands, read, and think about them.

Williams' four important activities each has a chapter filled with biblical and cultural history and how they go together, and Old and New Testament stories, especially stories of Jesus. All of this reminds us of who we are, where we came from, how we fit into history and into God's plans, and the many gifts and responsibilities God has given believers down through the years. It's all bound up in these special activities that Williams explains so eloquently.

The chapters conclude with a few questions for the reader to think about in applying the text to his or her own situation. This is a helpful and encouraging book. Would be a nice gift. 

---Lois Sibley,

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Two books for Godly Play...

Jerome Berryman, with his late wife Thea, is the founder and director of a program for young children called Godly Play, and he has written two new stories for the program. The stories are: The Great Family, which tells the story of Abram and Sarai, their travels, and God's promises to them; and The Good Shepherd, about a shepherd and how he loves and cares for his sheep. Of course, it is Jesus, but the children have to guess that. Both books are published by Morehouse Education Resources, a division of Church Publishing Inc. The illustrator is Lois Mitchell, an artist as well as a Godly Play teacher. Though appropriate for small fingers, the books are large, 8 1/2" x 11" and very colorful. For more information visit

Last January, on this blog, I reviewed Berryman's book on the Godly Play program, called The Spiritual Guidance of Children. In it, he gives some of the history of early Sunday school programs as well as the work of Maria Montessori in Rome in 1907, and others who believed that children are "inherently spiritual." Teachers under Montessori's guidance were trained in how to guide children in their spirituality.

The Berrymans joined in the challenges of helping children to know God as they planned their Godly Play program. Berryman says there are similarities and differences in other programs and most are built on Montessori's earlier work in the Roman Catholic network. Godly Play was first marketed to the Episcopal Church but is now "in the mainstream of Christian education around the world." Berryman reminds us that none of these programs are finished, and they all "continue to try to find better ways to help children help themselves to know God."

 I can almost hear the children saying to each other: "I wonder...."

---Lois Sibley

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Lord's Prayer...Transforming?

A Transforming Vision is a new book by William Edgar and published by Christian Focus, Edgar describes the Lord’s Prayer as a guide, a model, and a defense of our faith. Dr. Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, as well as a jazz pianist.

Both catechisms, Heidelberg and Westminster, describe the prayer as having an opening statement followed by six petitions and a concluding statement. The prayer can be used as a way of teaching aspects of the Christian life and it does have that important function. But Edgar says it is more than that. More than a guide, it can be and often is thought of as an apologetic. In other words, it is a way of explaining one’s biblical worldview. Edgar calls it "a unique prayer that offers us a remarkable statement of faith, even as it stands opposed to a confused world." He hopes that as we study the Lord's Prayer, "we will be able to hear it and see it afresh."

But "why pray at all?" he asks, and goes on to explain the setting of the Prayer where Jesus was teaching the disciples how to pray and why and when, in the culture and atmosphere of the first century, in which they lived. The next chapters describe the phrases of the Lord's Prayer and the meanings one can find in each of the six petitions.

Dr. Edgar closes this thought-provoking study of the Lord’s Prayer by reminding us of the concluding words of the prayer: "Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen." He reminds us that "throughout the Scripture we learn that our God reigns." The Bible is full of affirmations of God’s great power.

Edgar calls the Lord’s Prayer "a transforming vision." It is not just for a worldview that sees the world right side up, but it is a prayer, a way of life that brings transformation. "Prayer is hard," he says. "It does not come easily to fallen creatures. It is a discipline to be practiced." Dr. Edgar calls us to our task: "pray and practice holiness" and "follow God's commandments."

—Lois Sibley

Monday, September 15, 2014

Phrases as little compositions...

What's in a Phrase? Pausing where Scripture gives you a pause is a new book from Marilyn Chandler McEntyre and published by Eerdmans, available at McEntyre caught me with the first sentence in her Introduction: “Phrases have lives of their own.” Yes, they do. And it’s often fun or maybe a challenge to stop and think about those few words and what they mean in that space and time. McEntyre calls them “little compositions that suggest and evoke and invite.” And she has been looking through the Scriptures to find phrases and think about what they mean in their particular context.

Author McEntyre is a fellow of the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts at Westmont College in California, and she teaches at UC Berkeley as well. She has other books and this one caught my eye and attention recently. She divides her book into three sections: Assurance; Invitation and Admonition; and Mystery and Surprise. There are 50 headline verses, each with pages of phrases to fathom.

McEntyre reminds us that the Benedictines called it lectio divina or holy reading, and when we stop and listen to a word or phrase, perhaps it is an act of faith, calling us to attention, and “we may assume,” she writes, that it is “a gift to be received.” Perhaps the Holy Spirit is about to teach us something that we need to know.

“Incline your ear, O Lord,” from Psalm 86 is the first phrase under the Assurance section.. She suggests that while we may be asking for answers to our prayer, we may have the answer in what we have been given already. And, “if we lift our gaze beyond anxieties, we may see that God has been listening.”

Under Invitation and Admonition, McEntyre reminds us of Micah 6:8 “...and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” She offers examples of doing each of these as we think of our own possibilities.

The final section, Mystery and Surprise begins with “in the fullness of time,” as in Galatians 4:4, and continues with “Praise him, you highest heavens,” Ps. 148 (NRSV). We are reminded that the highest heavens are moving, the universe expanding, stars exploding..... “What do the heavens have to do with us and our praises?” asks McEntyre. First, the visible heavenly bodies are daily evidence of the order and power of the Creator; second, the heavens have given helpful, practical navigational guidance “to wise men in the desert and sailors on the sea”; and third, the importance of statements in Scripture, such as “God is love,” and “God is light.” Could all of these, and more, be affirmations of  God’s own praises beside our praises? There is much to think about here.      

—Lois Sibley

Thursday, September 4, 2014

C. S. Lewis Again...

C. S. Lewis & Mere Christianity by Paul McCusker and published jointly by Tyndale and Focus on the Family continues the popularity of Lewis and his many books. But here we learn more about  how he became involved with providing scripts for radio talks, as well as sets of series on religious subjects that were very popular with BBC radio listeners during World War II.

There is much detail here, focusing on C. S. Lewis (called Jack by author McCusker) and his family situation; his friendships with and support from Eric Fenn and James Welch of the BBC; as well as his academic teaching at Oxford, Magdalen College and Cambridge; his long friendships with fellow authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and other members of The Inklings. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers were also friends and they appreciated each other’s writing.

The book is full of stories and incidents that tell us of Lewis’s care and concern for individuals as well as for his involvement in duty as a service person in both World Wars, I and II. At his home, the Kilns, they had evacuees from London staying with them during War II, as many families did. Usually three girls came together and stayed for a time. McCusker includes one of the girls’ appreciation for time she spent with Lewis and his family, when she was one of the “evacuees.”

Those familiar with Lewis’s history will recall that his mother died when he was nine years old, and he and his older brother Warnie were sent off to boarding school by their father. After their education years, both served in the military and both were authors during much of their adulthood. Among Jack’s many popular books are The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many others. Probably his most well-known book is Mere Christianity, most of which was first given as radio talks on BBC radio during WW II.

Lewis was a tutor and lecturer in English literature at Oxford. After his radio talks, he became quite well-known and was often invited to speak as an apologist for Christianity at meetings around the country. This was not appreciated by the Oxford dons, who thought he should stay in his own academic circle. Lewis described himself as a defender of the faith rather than “an apologist” and he encouraged his listeners to be the same.

McCusker includes so much of Lewis’s thoughts, decisions, actions, one wonders: how does he know this or that detail? Yet, it’s all there, in the vast amount of conversations, diaries, interviews, letters, speeches, books, referred to in the Notes section of this fascinating book.

—Lois Sibley

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Wailing and Loud Lamentations..." with our prayers? (Matt. 2:18)

The Psalms as Christian Lament, a Historical Commentary published by Eerdmans, is a mix of each of ten  “penitential psalms” with some history of what was happening when each was written and some advice from the authors as to how these psalms may ease us through our own pain and suffering. As we pray words of lament, we may also remember we are part of a whole, God’s people, who trust him while praising him and praying for his help and salvation. Our authors believe that lament is an important, though sometimes neglected, part of our prayers and they encourage readers to use lament as the psalmists did.

The authors are qualified to lead us on this journey: Bruce Waltke is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Knox Seminary in Fort Lauderdale and professor emeritus of biblical studies, Regent College, Vancouver; James Houston is founding principal and former chancellor of Regent College and their first professor of spiritual theology; Erika Moore is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

The Psalms they study here are: 5, 6, 7, 32, 38, 39, 44, 102, 130, and 143. The authors have put together a kind of grid by which to measure each of the chosen Psalms. Each grid contains these four Parts: Voice of the Church; Voice of the Psalmist: Translation; Commentary; and Conclusion.

One of the things I especially like about this book is that it moves down through history, and theological differences are in the public eye. Opinions of various well-known theologians are introduced and critiqued as to where they fit into the over-all picture. They start with Ambrose and go on to Augustine, Erasmus, Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome, John Chrysostom, Origen, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Paul, and others. It reminds me of current discussions and differences among today’s prominent theologians, professors, clergy and lay, and how they all stir up the church from time to time.

There is so much to read and consider here, but these are a few of the gems that I hope to keep in mind and memory: “In sum, the psalm (32) is a unique mixture of penitence, wisdom, and praise. It mixes addresses to God...with addresses to the congregation.”
“Some pastoral theologians are now arguing, it is time we began to make more use of lament as a renewed focus for hope,” (p. 2).
“If, the Psalms are the mirror of the soul,” as Calvin wrote, then lament is a “major element.” In fact, one-third of the Psalter consists of  “lament psalms.” There are 42 individual laments, and 16 corporate laments. One writer says that, “the predominance of laments at the very heart of Israel’s prayers means that the problems that give rise to lament are “central to the life of faith,” and “intrinsic to the very nature of faith.” I’ll buy that....
Erasmus (1469–1536), in his Conclusion on Psalm 39 suggests there are three petitions there: “Desire impels us to pray, need urges us to cry out, while tears cause us to get what we want by force.” Pleading, but unanswered, the pray-er may begin to sing “a new song,” as in “I waited patiently for the Lord and he heard me.”
Erasmus chose to tread the via media in the midst of his culture and situation, and that caused him “to lament like the psalmist for all the blows he received from both Reformers and from the conservative Catholic leaders.” (p. 155)
In his reflection on Augustine and the Psalms, Rowan Williams steps in here (p. 174) to ask and answer: “How can we understand words that imply alienation from God when they occur on the lips of Jesus? Only by reading them as spoken by the whole Christ, that is, Christ with all the members of his body. He speaks for us, makes his own the protesting or troubled way of the human being, so that his own proper and perfect prayer to the father may become ours.” And our authors add: “The believing community today can appropriate this [or any] psalm because of the finished work of Christ.”
Thus, we may pray, as in Psalm 143:

“I AM,” hear my prayer! Listen to my cry for mercy!
  in your faithfulness answer me;....

—Lois Sibley

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to Share Your Faith...

Faith Is Like Skydiving is the title of Rick Mattson’s recent book from IVP,  I think he means that if you want to share your faith in God, or anything, including skydiving, you better check out all the evidence before you get to the point of believing. Mattson started out 30 years ago as an IVCF staff worker at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is now an “apologetics specialist” for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and a frequent speaker on college campuses across the country. He can be reached at

Mattson offers “memorable images for dialogue with seekers and skeptics.” His goal is to help readers “get out of the trap of being unprepared...for seekers and skeptics,” who come with their questions and objections to Christianity. He regrets times when he was not ready for the skeptic’s question, and lost the opportunity to offer the “good news.”

I perceive that Mattson is an extrovert. And he has practiced and he has prayed and he is ready whatever the question may be. He loves dialogue and he is definitely ready to take on anyone who wanders into his path. And he wants his readers to do this also. Easy for him to say. Introverts would have more hesitancy, I know, but still, we could take his advice, practice, and pray. He suggests: tell yourself the story of Jesus. Make and learn in your own words a 5-minute talk, a 10-minute talk, a 20-minute talk, pray and be ready for any opportunities the Holy Spirit may slip into your conversations with a neighbor or friend, or stranger, anyone who comes along.

Mattson divides his book into four parts: Making Your Case, Responding to Tough Questions, Science and Faith, and How-To’s. He concludes with a word of encouragement, reminding us that he has tried to offer a balance between “maximum preparation and maximum reliance on God’s Spirit when it comes to conversations with seekers and skeptics.” He reminds us also of his friend and colleague Jim Sire’s good advice: “....begin with the stories of Jesus because the best reason to believe in Christianity is Jesus.”

—Lois Sibley

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

One for kids and one for teens

Bless This Way is a fun-filled book of poems and songs by Anne E. Kitch  that will bring smiles to any reader, any age, though it’s designed for kids. Published by Morehouse at, each double page is beautifully illustrated by Carolyn Digby Conahan. The poems are brief but memorable and easy to learn and remember. The pages of children having fun together are a good combination with the poems, expressing both joy and sadness. My favorites were Thanking, Walking with God, Singing, Quiet Time, and Safe in God’s Hands, but I like all of them really. I think children will, too.

Here’s a sample: God and I are going for a walk, We’ll pick up leaves  and step over puddles and probably jump in some....God and I are going for a talk....

Anglican Young People's Dictionary is an important book for older children and teens, especially for any who are becoming acolytes, or just for those sitting in the pews who wonder “what does that word mean?” Written by June A. English, with helpful illustrations by Dorothy Thompson Perez and again from Morehouse, the words are explained alphabetically. Author June English reminds us that many words used in the early church came from Latin and Greek. Some words still are remembered in that way, including “acolyte” which came from a Greek word meaning “one who serves.” I know some young acolytes who are pleased to be a part of that service.

Readers will learn the origin of many of the words in this dictionary, explaining the “why” and “how” of our use of them in our worship today. English notes that “on a deeper level, the words in this dictionary offer a history of the Anglican faith,” and for those who wonder, they will find helpful answers to their questions. Some of the words may seem ancient and cause us to wonder why we still use them, she says, but they “take us back to the time when Christ and his apostles walked the earth.” They “remind us of his message of hope” and they may serve as a key to young readers, helping them find a deeper understanding of their faith as they talk about it and practice it in the church and neighborhood where they are today.

—Lois Sibley

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A New Idea for Daily Devotions

Let’s pretend, with author Donald K. McKim, that we are about to have Coffee with Calvin, Daily Devotions, published by WestminsterJohnKnox and available at McKim has “long wanted to write a Calvin devotional book,” and now he has. Of course, we will also have to pretend Calvin can speak English with us. His first language was French, as he was born and brought up in France (1509–1564) and received much of his education there. He  knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but we will converse with him and McKim in English, just for now.

Calvin attended the University of Paris and he probably joined with activities of some of the Reformers there in about 1533 or 34. He was a shy person, definitely an introvert, though he was very involved in sharing his ideas, both theological and cultural, and he found many ways to express them with pen and ink. In 1534, there were some difficulties between evangelicals and Catholics, and the evangelicals demonstrated their protests with placards. This upset King Francis I and an investigation began, which forced Calvin to leave Paris. Shortly after that, his rooms were searched and his papers were taken, with the result that we do not have much reliable information about Calvin’s life up to then. He has been described as “elusive,” because he did not share much about his personal life at any time.

But McKim tell us that Calvin “was an eminently practical theologian who believed theology should be not just a matter of the head, but of the heart and the hands as well. McKim provides 84 one-page devotional guides. Each one begins with a short paragraph from Calvin’s famous two-volume work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. McKim has used the Latin, 1559 version, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, published by Westminster John Knox Press in 1960.

To give you an example: Prayer. Calvin says “The goal of prayer....namely, that hearts may be aroused and borne to God, whether to praise him or to beseech his help—from this we may understand that the essentials of prayer are set in the mind and heart, or rather that prayer itself is properly an emotion of the heart within, which is poured out and laid open before God, the searcher of hearts.” [cf. Rom. 8:27]. (Institutes 3.20.29) And McKim responds: “For all Calvin’s heavy theological discussions, the longest chapter in his Institutes is the one on prayer. Calvin sees prayer as absolutely essential for the Christian.”

Another of Calvin’s devotions is called: Doing Good Works, and Calvin says: “For we dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them....Faith and good works must cleave together.” (Institutes 3.16.1) And McKim reminds us: “Both Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasized that we are justified by faith alone and not by good works. This was a basic Protestant understanding during the sixteenth-century Reformation.” And he fills the page with other reminders, including this: “But while these Reformers stressed that salvation is by faith alone, they also recognized that justification is not by a faith that is alone. That is, those who are justified by faith will seek to do good works. This includes following God’s law and living by love.”

If you are looking for a new and interesting book of devotions, try Coffee with Calvin. It is filled with short paragraphs from John Calvin’s ideas and theology, as well as wisdom from Donald McKim who, in his comments and applications introduces readers to Calvin’s theological insights. McKim hopes that will help us discover that Calvin’s insights “strengthen, challenge, and nourish our Christian faith.” Highly recommended.

—Lois Sibley


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Joseph Haydn's Life and Work

Playing Before the Lord, The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn by Calvin R. Stapert and published by Eerdmans, is a treasure for both the professional musician and the ordinary person who knows a little about music from lessons learned earlier, and maybe from trying a bit of composing and writing poetry, but always eager to learn more. Stapert is professor emeritus of music at Calvin College in Michigan and he is more than qualified to teach and share his knowledge of music and Haydn.

Franz Joseph Haydn was baptized on April 1, 1732, perhaps born on March 31, 1732 (d.. 1809), in a village near the Austrian-Hungarian border. At age six, he was sent to live with the Franck family in a nearby town, where he would begin school. He was instructed in “reading, writing, catechism, singing, and almost all wind and string instruments, even in timpani.” Haydn said, “I shall owe it all to this man (Franck) even in my grave.” Haydn obviously had talent in music and soon (1740s) was sent to Vienna to be a choir boy.

Using dates and decades as subheads, Stapert follows Haydn from choir boy to freelance musician; music director in the 1750s; Vice-Kapellmeister and Kapellmeister at the Esterhazy Court in the town of Eisenstadt, Austria in 1761, where he describes himself as “composing, directs all music, helps rehearse everything, gives lessons, even tunes his own clavier.” Stapert analyzes how Haydn puts together the musical notes and phrases; how he plans for each instrument to join in at the appropriate moment, adding “solos integral to the whole.” He describes Haydn as a composer “with an unerring sense of musical form and an uncommon ability to recognize the developmental potential in simple musical materials.” And with diagrams and examples of notes on scales, Stapert shows the reader how Haydn did it.  

Stapert loves Haydn and his “huge and diverse output” of music, and Stapert’s book is biography, as well as a listener’s guide. At the end, there is an appendix outlining Haydn’s famous oratorio called The Creation; a glossary of technical terms; an impressive list of Haydn’s works, which include concertos, keyboard sonatas and trios, masses, operas, songs, string quartets, opus, symphonies, and more.

Haydn stayed with the Esterhazy Court for much of his adult life with trips back and forth to Paris, London, and Vienna, where he also composed, performed, and saw publishers and friends. He counted Mozart and Beethoven among his friends, lucky three! Haydn saw  his musical talent as a gift from God, and Stapert says that Haydn “often penned at the end of his scores: Laus Deo! – Praise to God!” Besides  The Creation, Haydn is famous for Stabat Mater, in honor of the Virgin Mary, still popular in music of the church year; and his symphonies called The Seasons, and Surprise. He is also known as composer of the tune for John Newton’s hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”(1779). Stapert would like to see Haydn’s work become popular again and it may happen. Stapert’s book is an excellent way to learn more about Haydn and his music. May it encourage musicians and other readers to “play it again.......”

—Lois Sibley

Friday, May 30, 2014

Saying NO to the Culture

For the past 20 years or more, Walter Brueggemann has been known for his theological exegesis. In his many books and articles, he has been looking at the Bible as a theological document showing us what God is doing throughout history. In Sabbath as Resistance. Saying NO to the CULTURE OF NOW, Brueggemann writes about God’s people in the context of the cultures around them. He points out that the Bible has a distinct message and a different theology than the cultures in which God’s people find themselves. He compares Israel’s early Old Testament situation to the cultures the disciples lived in according to New Testament stories and incidents, and then to our situation in our cultures today.

Published by WestminsterJohnKnox, and available at, Brueggemann has more than 20 books with WJK. In this one, Chapter One is on Sabbath and the First Commandment, and in the next five chapters, he discusses resistance to anxiety, coercion, exclusivism, and multitasking (all concerns that sound familiar), and offers alternative ideas, followed by a final chapter on Sabbath and the Tenth Commandment.

It looks like people of both the Old and New Testaments had some of the same problems we are coping with today. And what did they do about it? And what should we do about our situation? Two of his key words are resistance and alternative, as he explains how the celebration of Sabbath can be an act of both resistance and alternative. Think of your own situation: is there tension in the family over resisting requirements of soccer practice on the Sabbath, for example?

Brueggemann says his book is for those who are feeling “weary and heavy laden,” because of the many requirements of our culture. He assures us that keeping the Sabbath is both resistance and  alternative to the demands of advertising and the commercialism surrounding us. He is beginning to think the fourth commandment on the Sabbath “is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society.”

I like the way Brueggemann brings together God’s people in both the Old Testament and the New, with our current times. He combines essential portions of the teachings of both Moses and Jesus, with references to Scripture and the Psalms, reminding us “do not be anxious....God provides what is needed.” As he says, Brueggemann’s book offers readers  “a journey from the world of commodity to the world of communion.” Recalling an old hymn, he urges us to “take time...Sabbath is taking be holy.”

—Lois Sibley  

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Bio for the BCP

The Book of Common Prayer A Biography sounds like a book many of us would like to read. Written by Alan Jacobs, who is a professor at Baylor University in Texas and published by Princeton University Press at, this is part of their series called LIVES OF GREAT RELIGIOUS BOOKS. I didn't realize a book could have a bio, but this one has so much history packed around it that it needs a bio.

The story begins in 1543, with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer sitting in his study, looking around at his vast collection of books and thinking about how he might produce in English a book that would please not only King Henry VIII, whose moods were “hard to predict,” but would also be helpful to the people in the pews. Many of the people did not know Latin, which the priests had been using in their worship services for at least 1,000 years. To add to the challenges, in those days some of the people did not know how to read and write in English.

Cranmer chose to first produce a Litany in English, which was probably a wise decision. A litany consists of petitions to God, spoken by a priest, and affirmed by people in a brief refrain. First used in 1544, the Litany was part of church processions. After the opening words acknowledging God as Trinity, Cranmer included a prayer to God to keep Henry VIII safe as ruler, and went on with “various pieces,” and prayers on behalf of the people. This Litany was the beginning of The Book of Common Prayer, which is often referred to in the U.S. as the Prayer Book or the BCP.

For the next five years, Cranmer and his assistants worked on having one book in English with standard liturgies for worship in all the churches in the UK. It should include homilies, rites for Morning and Evening Prayer, prayers for the Daily Office, the administering of Communion and more. And this prayer book should partner with the Bible in English so that the people could be “stirred up to godliness.”

The first official copy of The Book of Common Prayer was printed in 1549 and there have been many revisions and updates since then. Professor Jacobs has followed carefully all that happened regarding the book and its changes. He is sensitive to the opinions of those on both sides of each controversy and his book is both informative and interesting. Be sure to read the final Notes section, lots of good info there, too.

Jacobs concludes: “Cranmer’s book and its direct successors, will always be acknowledged as historical documents of the first order, and masterpieces of English prose....but the goal—now as in 1549—is to be living words in the mouths of those who have a living faith.”

—Lois Sibley

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Poet's New Adventure

Luci Shaw is one of our favorite poets. We have followed her from Listen to the Green (1971) through A Widening Light (1984 in which she served as editor and poet), Polishing the Petoskey Stone (1990), and The Angles of Light (2000), as well as many other of her books of memorable poetry. At first, I thought her new book would be another enjoyable feast of poetry but the title invites us to an Adventure of Ascent, Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey, from “Ah, Luci, what are you planning for us today,” I thought as I opened this new treasure. And I soon found that it is that, a treasure to keep near, and to think about in our own situations, challenges, joys and sorrows, as we continue on our journeys to the end of our lives here on earth and in future.

Now in her eighties and as active as ever, Luci has a goal. She plans to keep on growing and to share her adventures with us, to “act as a scout” actually, and to move through new territory and to report back to all of us so that we may know what it’s like for her and for us, what to expect, and how to deal with whatever comes to us. Her poetry is there among her thoughts and plans and sharing of stories. Her purpose is to “document her life as it travels toward the summit.” To be really honest and to “shed a clean light on what it’s like to be edging, inevitably, toward....?” Who knows what?

She says she will be asking lots of questions, lots of whys, whens, wheres and hows. Not new questions but she will ask for her own personal answers, thinking maybe we will profit from thinking about them as well. I admit I did learn from this dear poet and woman I call friend because of her words, her concerns, her openness, her sharing. Some of her questions I hadn’t even begun to think about nor try to answer. But, I will. Thanks, Luci.

Her thoughts on “downsizing” were helpful. It’s something most of us probably need to do at a certain time. Hard to do though. What to do with favorite stones and pottery and books? She reminds us that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). Yes, and those we love are really our treasures. And “they are not going away,” Luci says.

Luci is guessing “about future possibilities.” She feels gratitude for all she has been given, and she quotes “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Ps. 103:1). Luci admits her “future is a surprise package full of questions without answers.” Her book ends with a poem, of course, as she asks: “when you go, will you go with a sizzle, or a sigh, will you leave with a bang, or quietly clinging, or will your bud of burning a wider light?”

—Lois Sibley

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Heart of Christian Faith

Alister E. McGrath is Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education and Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King’s College, London, and a prolific author. I have reviewed a number of his books over the last 20 years, and I have never been disappointed. Most recently, on November 1, 2013, on this blog, I reviewed McGrath’s bio of C. S. Lewis, published by Tyndale and called C. S. Lewis, a Life.

This time, McGrath is planning a five-book series to be called The Heart of Christian Faith. The first volume is called Faith and Creeds, A Guide for Study and Devotion, and is available now from McGrath begins by asking a basic question: What do Christians believe and why? And what difference does it make? He plans to explore basic themes of a “simple and genuinely Christian faith,” and he is writing primarily for “ordinary “ Christians like you and me. I know his writing and I am already convinced that I will like what he says and what he is doing with this series. And you may want to pay attention, too.

In this first volume, he plans to draw on the earlier writing of “three of the great lay theologians of the twentieth century.” That would be, of course, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy L. Sayers. But before he brings them in, he explains how he himself in his growing-up years, as one who loved science and still does, was drawn into an “inflexible atheism,” and he counted himself one of those “intellectual and cultural elite, who knew there was no God, no meaning, no purpose. Only fools believed otherwise,” he thought then.

But now he is learning to look at “the big picture,” to realize we are all on a journey, trying to make sense of the world we live in. Perhaps we could find a “core theme” that would help us realize that this world is not our home. “If nothing in this world really satisfies us,” maybe deep down we know “that our heart’s desire is anchored elsewhere.” Let’s look and see what we can discover, he says. Let’s look at the map, the lens and the light, he says, and see what we can learn. Then he talks about faith, belief, and creeds.

McGrath encourages us to “step into the big picture,” and ask ourselves: “Why do we think this is true; How can we make sense of it and best explain it; and What difference does it make in the way we live our lives? There is a lot to think about here. Alister McGrath is the guide we need as we consider together the opening words of the creeds: “I believe.... we believe.....” Come join us in McGrath’s new series, The Heart of Christian Faith. Volume 2 is called The Living God.

—Lois Sibley

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Story of Iona

The Story of Iona by Rosemary Power is a welcome and informative look at the long history of a famous location that is west of Glasgow in Scotland, and northeast of Ireland. A small island in the Inner Hebrides, surrounded by water, Iona can be reached by ferry from Oban in Scotland, to the Isle of Mull and then by bus to Fionnphort, and another ferry from there to Iona. It’s not a long distance, but it may be a wet day, or a very cold and windy day. Patient travelers will be rewarded.

Author Power begins with the early days of life on Iona, offering ideas and suggestionas as to who was there, what was their daily life like, were they farmers, what language was spoken, were they people who came from Ireland or from Scotland? Power has done her research and she is also a member of the current community there, knowledgeable and eager for visitors to know what she has learned about the history of Iona, a place of pilgrimage, as well as tourism.

She begins with describing Iona before the Irish Saint Columba arrived. He came to the island in the sixth century, in 563 AD, and began a monastery there. The monastery continued for many years, but Columba died in 597. So in chapters 1–8, Power describes changes that occurred in every hundred-year period. Using descriptions and photos of physical remains of the buildings and artifacts found, as well as written sources, she helps readers imagine life as it was on Iona.

After the Columban period, there were 350 years of Benedictine and Augustinian monastic life. The buildings changed and some were rebuilt by the monks of their time. Chapters 9 and 10 tell their stories. And in the Afterword, we hear of what happened during and after the Reformation, and the continuing life of the community that lives there. Power includes poetry, prose, and prayers of the early, medieval, and high medieval monastic communities.

A group called the Iona Community is not an official monastery but does live by a Rule, which includes daily prayer and Bible study, music and worship, as well as concern for justice and peace. There are other local residents who make a living by farming, fishing, and tourism. There are many visitors, some of whom are there for pilgrimage, some for historical interest, and some come as tourists. There are a few hotels, bed and breakfast places, a golf course. If you plan to go, The Story of Iona, published by Canterbury Press, would serve as a helpful guide.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Glastonbury Grail Series

Near Glastonbury Tor is the town where, in the 16th century, one of the monasteries of the Church of England, so named and claimed by King Henry, is located. Tor means hill. Glastonbury is the town. Glastonbury Tor is the first in a three-part series of fiction called the Glastonbury Grail Series. Author LeAnne Hardy begins her story in Wales, where Colin, a young man angry with his father, blaming him for his mother’s death, attacks his father and accidently wounds him. Colin thought he had killed his father, but not so. Yet, his brother Walter tells him he better leave, giving him a special ring to identify himself and a purse of money, advising Colin to go to the monastery at Glastonbury across the River Severn in England, where one of the monks is their cousin.

When he is almost there, he sees the Tor ahead of him. Colin meets Wilfrith Thatcher, a local farmer, who offers him a ride in his cart. Tired from many miles of walking, Colin accepts. When they reach Thatcher’s home, Colin is invited for supper and overnight. To his surprise, this family has a Tyndale Bible in English and several family members, including daughter Alice, can read it. They read a portion every night after supper. But that is against the law and Colin will be expected to report them. Of course, he does not. He is surprised and pleased to see and hear a Bible read in English rather than Latin.

Colin stays with them for two days and then finds his way into town and to the monastery, meets his cousin who is now known as Brother Arthur, meets the Abbot and explains his situation, and is granted permission to remain at the monastery for a time, not as an official novice, but just as a person who needs that kind of care for awhile. Colin’s mother had always wanted him to join the church, be involved in a monastery, so he takes his time to look at it and think about it.

King Henry is sending Lord Cromwell’s men around to all the monasteries to inventory goods that might be given or taken for the king’s coffers. Glastonbury Abbey is rich, and Colin is assigned to help secure, and perhaps hide, some items the monks do not want to have taken away from them. Colin soon finds other concerns as well. As monasteries are being closed, monks are being turned away though some want to stay in their areas and continue to help the poor and any who need help. There is talk of petitions to the king. Some of the monks want to march as pilgrims, thinking the king will then change his mind and keep them in their places. There is much more...I haven’t even told you about the special cup yet, the olivewood cup that may have come from Israel with Joseph of Arimathea, long ago when perhaps he came to Glastonbury.

There are many mysteries here. And there is a second volume available, called Honddu Vale, in which Colin returns to Wales to try to reconcile with his father and has further adventures there. And there will be a third book in this series. LeAnne Hardy has been a missionary in six countries on four continents. Her plots and settings are inspired by these locations. She has also  written for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Her books are available at

—Lois Sibley

Saturday, March 1, 2014

One Woman's Spiritual Life

Here it is the last day of Black History Month and I am trying to squeeze in a review of the biography of a famous American woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe. She was author of many short stories, articles, and books, but probably best known as author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a singularly influential work of fiction against the practice of slavery in the U.S. in the 1850s.

Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., the book title is Harriet Beecher Stowe, A Spiritual Life, and it is available at The author is Nancy Koester and she is an ordained Lutheran minister who teaches religion at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

Harriet Beecher was born June 14, 1811, the sixth child of Lyman and Roxana Beecher. Her father, Lyman, was known as a fiery, evangelical Calvinistic preacher. He was a Congregationalist and served a church in Litchfield, Connecticut. In those days, boys had access to formal education, girls, rarely. But next door to the manse was the Litchfield Female Academy, so Harriet began her education there. She and her sister became teachers though Harriet also knew she wanted to write. And she did: many articles, short stories, books and whatever she could, whenever she could along with her teaching and her rising interest in social action. She was active in helping her sister Catharine gather signed petitions in favor of the Cherokee Nation when they were threatened with removal from their territory. She also became more and more concerned for those who were slaves and she began gathering stories and experiences as she became acquainted with slaves and their stories.

In January 1836, Harriet married Calvin Stowe from Natick, Massachusetts. A graduate of Bowdoin College in ME, and Dartmouth in NH, Calvin taught at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lyman Beecher was president. Calvin had been married to Eliza, but when cholera swept through Cincinnati, she died and he then married Harriet.

Through correspondence with Editor Gamaliel Bailey, who started a new anti-slavery paper, called the National Era, Harriet began submitting articles to him. They agreed that attacking slaveholders was not helpful. It was better to show the effects of slavery more broadly, and to try to persuade those who were wavering to give up the practice of having slaves. Stowe’s articles in Bailey’s paper began in 1850 and continued weekly for some time.

In those days, women were not expected to speak in public, especially on issues like slavery, and those who did were shunned as fanatics. But Bailey encouraged Stowe to continue her writing and he continued to publish it.

 In June of 1851, when Stowe was in her 40s, Bailey began to advertise Stowe’s weekly installments in his paper as Uncle Tom's Cabin. She began with her own material, gradually weaving in appropriate Scripture passages, newspaper clippings, anti-slavery writings and other sources. The book was finally published on March 20, 1852. Within the first year, the book sold 300,00 copies in the U.S. and 1.5 million in Great Britain. Thousands of “Stowe’s readers were changed, converted to Christ and to anti-slavery at the same time.” Stowe said “she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin to ‘awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race.’” She wanted readers to know slaves as human beings in their own right. Slavery was a heavy subject, so Stowe decided to add humor and readers laughed and cried their way through the pages, unable to stop reading.

Reviews, reactions, discussions, disagreements went on for a long time. Stowe continued her writing. She also traveled abroad, first to Britain, then Scotland, and Paris. She and her husband, Calvin Stowe, made three trips to Europe before settling down at home. She continued to write until she suffered the effects of stroke. Author Koester says of her: “She changed the world with her pen.” Harriet Beecher Stowe died on July 1, 1896. Koester has given us Harriet's life in remarkable detail and I for one am grateful.

 —Lois Sibley

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lent, Year A

From Ash Wednesday through Easter Saturday, author N.T. Wright, who is Chair in New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, bids us follow Jesus, his friends, disciples, and enemies, through the Gospel of Matthew with its stories of love and redemption, deep sorrow and loss, but “victory unlike any other, love unlike any other, and a God unlike any other.”

Lent for Everyone, Matthew, Year A by N.T. Wright and published by www.westminsterjohnknox concludes Wright’s series called Lent for Everyone. The earlier two books were Mark, Year B and Luke, Year C. Wright provided his own translation of the Scriptures for each of the books, as well as a reflection on each passage and its application to the culture of that time as well as to our culture in these days. Each day’s reading ends with a brief prayer. I love the prayers. They are so simple, so ordinary, and so reaching out to Jesus.

In Year A, on Ash Wednesday, March 5 this year, Wright begins with his study of Matthew and except for Sundays, when he introduces and applies a Psalm, he continues, ending this Gospel on Easter Saturday. This is the story of “a king coming into his kingdom in a strange and unusual way.” Perhaps we misunderstood it earlier, but now Wright gives us opportunity to study it carefully and “to learn that the whole Gospel story of Matthew, from start to finish, is about the strange way in which Jesus became king.”

In the first three chapters, both Matthew and Wright are saying that “Jesus is the king from the line of David,” and in the close of this Gospel, it is clear that “Jesus, with his resurrection and ascension, has now come into his kingdom.” Jesus says, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” But maybe our problem is that, looking back, we do not see it. After all that has happened since then, perhaps we don’t see that Jesus IS king of the world. Do you? Do I? Do we live that way? Matthew and Wright and many others have been trying to explain that to us. We are hard-headed and in need of learning so that we may believe it is true, and may live in ways that show others that Jesus is King of all the world. The Gospel of Matthew and Lent, Year A should help us to know and to believe: Jesus is Lord and King of the Universe.

—Lois Sibley.   

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Godly Play Program

It’s about Christian education for children but Jerome W. Berryman calls his new book The Spiritual Guidance of Children. Subtitled Montessori, Godly Play, and the Future and published by Morehouse Publishing at, Berryman starts with early history of providing Christian education for children, both in the U.K. and the U.S.

Many of us may have heard of Robert Raikes and his first Sunday schools in England in 1780 and on. Children learned to read via Bible stories, learned the catechism and attended worship services. In America, the American Sunday School Union was begun in 1824 in Philadelphia, while the Sunday School Society began in Boston in 1831 and both spread across the country.

A little later, an alternative program for children’s spiritual quest and from a tradition outside the Sunday school movement, was being started by Dr. Maria Montessori in Rome in 1907. Montessori believed that children are “inherently spiritual,” and her teachers were trained to guide children in their spirituality. The assumption was that children have an inner faith from their beginning and they should be supported life long on their journey toward spiritual maturity.

Berryman provides a detailed history of the Montessori tradition and those who were searching  for teachers with the right combination of religious interest, educational talent, confidence and skill to express Montessori’s ideas, and realization of the importance of religion to a young child. When little children respond to something new or beautiful in nature, we may see on their faces that they believe and they want to know more.

A prominent name in this history is Sofia Cavalletti of Rome, author of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program and its teachings, plans, and helpful books. A little later in the U.S., Berryman and his wife Thea were putting together the Godly Play program. There are both similarities and differences in the two programs, though both built on Montessori’s earlier work in the Roman Catholic network. Berryman says that neither program is finished, and both continue to try to find better ways “to help children help themselves to know God.”

Begun in the Episcopalian community, the Godly Play program is quite ecumenical today. The final chapter provides information on ten examples of how Godly Play is being used and diffused into the mainstream of Christian education around the world.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Tale of Two Maps

Let’s begin the New Year with a fascinating book about maps called How Maps Change Things. A subtitle informs us that it is a “conversation about the maps we choose and the world we want.” Written by Ward L. Kaiser and published by Wood Lake Publishing Inc. under its imprint as Copper House, it is available at in Canada, or through WestminsterJohnKnox at, where I saw it in their catalog.

Author Kaiser asks “What’s a Map For? Keep an open mind. And keep asking. Maps send messages...” says Kaiser, and have always been, more or less, “propaganda.” An example of a map sending messages is the Mercator, which was first produced in 1569, a map for navigation. When used for navigation, the Mercator is a dependable and useful map. For other purposes, Kaiser and other map people claim it is not accurate. The Mercator “enlarges some parts of the world and diminishes others. (Greenland is the same size as Africa!) Where size is concerned, better not depend on the Mercator.”

This book is full of copies of maps of the world done from different perspectives, and it’s easy to see what Kaiser is saying about the Mercator. Even so, many teachers, schools, mapmakers are still using it. On the other hand, after years of growing discontent with the inaccuracies of the Mercator, in Germany in 1974, the Arno Peters map was first published, claiming to be an “equal area map...for the equal value of all peoples.” It was soon in English and is now “widely available in French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, and Danish.”

This new map produced by Peters has encountered “heated opposition as well as enthusiastic welcome.” The earlier Mercator map, “widely used, was often uncritically assumed to be ‘the truth.’” Peters claimed there was no fairness in it and there was great need for an equal area map. Kaiser has included quotes from many geographers and professional cartographers, who give cogent reasons for accepting and promoting the Peters map over the Mercator.

Included is a study guide for four sessions, providing material for discussion on:1) introduction to the conventions of map making; 2) how maps affect the user’s point of view; 3) what some demographics maps don’t show, such as poverty, energy use, water consumption, life expectancy, religion; and 4) new ideas, encouraging participants to dream about how they could get involved in creating a better world.

This is not a religious book, which is what I usually review on this blog. But....this book is about so much more than just maps. It is about politics, and faith and the values we hold dear. It is about human relations, about justice and peace and budgets and environmental concerns. I think we cannot look at this map book without looking carefully, each with our own worldview, or as the Germans say: Weltanschauung. Our value system will go with us, no matter what we are thinking, discussing, sharing, reading, reviewing. God bless you as you read through 2014.

—Lois Sibley