Saturday, December 19, 2015

Literary Lives of Inklings...

The Fellowship by Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski, new from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is a hefty book, 644 pages, but because its subtitle is The Literary Lives of the Inklings, we are immediately drawn in. Yes, we want to read about their literary growth but we would also like to hear about their families, their histories, their ups and downs throughout their own cultures and it's all here, thanks to the Zaleskis. who must have spent years tracking down all these details.

The authors concentrate on the four most prominent members of this group who called themselves the Inklings, and first they tell some of the stories about J. R. R. Tolkien, who was older than the others. Then they move to C. S. Lewis, then Owen Barfield, and finally Charles Williams. But the Zaleskis move back and forth, depending on who was doing what, alone or together, when the group began spending their Thursday evenings together at Lewis's at Magdalen College, or their Tuesday mornings at the pub they called the Bird and Baby. In both places, these men enjoyed sharing what they were writing or doing in their teaching and learning. Often two or three of them would go hiking and it's easy to imagine them throwing their words up into the sky, discussing and considering each other's opinions as they walked.

Tolkien thought the name Inklings was a pun, suggesting a group with half-formed ideas that dabbled in ink. But the Zaleskies remind us that in spite of the Inklings modest self-image, which was part of their charm, their ideas did not remain half-formed and their inkblots were not mere dabblings. Some of them became quite well known, even famous, and some of their work amounted to genius.

This was the time of the Great Depression and on through World War II and into the 1950s. The Inklings were in and around Oxford, a city in the English Midlands and some of them came and went for awhile during the two wars of those times. Several of them were professors, some were married and parents and some not.

Three Anglicans and a Catholic walked into a pub...

Let's look at what the Zaleskis said about Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield. Barfield was perhaps the most brilliant but the least published. His day job for 30 years was as a barrister in his father's firm. His fascination with words led him to see them as the clues to the development of history, indeed the evolution of human consciousness. Early fascination with music gave him an imaginative, less rational feeling for words.

Williams likewise held a day job outside of academia, as a London editor at Oxford University Press. He also dabbled in the occult while remaining a practicing Anglican. He was known perhaps best for his five imaginative/fantasy novels (Lewis especially liked Williams's The Place of the Lion and invited him to meet the Inklings). Williams also published poetry and wrote Outlines of Romantic Theology, not published in his lifetime, but now in print (Berkeley: Apocryphile, 2005).

We know Tolkien's Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but the Zaleskis also give us a look into their source: Tolkien's story-telling with his children on long Christmas evenings. This Oxford professor (philology and northern European mythology) would make up the stories as they talked, and later polish them. Father Christmas Letters is one example and the published version (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) includes a selection from the annual letters, with Tolkien's drawings. Tolkien was the Catholic in the group, his widowed mother having joined a local Catholic parish with her 8 and 6-year old boys.

Lewis was perhaps the central figure when the Inklings met in "the frayed comfort of [his] Magdalen digs" for long Thursday evenings with lots of tea and pipes (or in the Bird and Baby pub) to read drafts of their works in progress and to offer encouragement and critique to each other. The most rational, Lewis relished a vigorous debate with an atheist, having been one himself. He also was as imaginative as any of the others. Like Tolkien's discovery, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit," Lewis would claim that his Narnia Chronicles started with a mental picture of a fawn with an umbrella.

These four authors had a huge impact on each other as well as on their readers, who continue to search, study, read, share, and perhaps be inspired to write their own special words and works. Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield, might be pleased to know that.

---Larry and Lois Sibley,

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Begins the New Year!

Advent Presence, a new book from Melford "Bud" Holland begins the New Year for us and for Morehouse Publishing. Bud is a priest, storyteller, and photographer. He enjoys talking about "the big questions," and those who know him have been waiting for this book, I'm sure. Earlier, Bud served in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, where he learned much from his friend, Bishop Frank Turner, as they challenged each other with "the big questions." Retired as the Officer for Ministry Development for the Episcopal Church, Bud now serves as an interim priest, consultant, and EfM trainer. He lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Bud loves to tell stories, and he has a lot of them. It seems that wherever he has worked, or served, or encouraged, he has gathered some interesting stories about the people he has come to know there. Every chapter could begin or end with stories and what we can learn from them. There is a line of type across the book cover that says Kissed by the Past, Beckoned by the Future and it may draw you in to hear the stories.

Did you know, or did you recently hear that now, in the Old Year, before we move via Advent to the New Year, we have already begun to hear of incidents that happened many years ago in the New Year! Why? Does the Lord want us to know now! Yes, he probably does. So some of the stories happened  before January 1, and the stories and incidents were recorded earlier. The Lord wants us to know now! So we begin the New Year knowing what is coming, already praying about what will happen. We may be feeling the presence of God rising in his people.

Bud Holland says that "The yearning for the coming of Messiah was palpable in the hundreds of years leading up to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews felt assured that God would not abandon them." Along with them, we may be singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel on that day and we may be feeling God's presence "in the present moment, kissed by the past, and beckoned by the future."

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Friday, November 13, 2015

Facing Cancer and Death...

There are many who are facing cancer and death these days. It seems like every day we hear of another friend who has this possibility ahead. When Steve Hayner was diagnosed, he and his wife Sharol decided to begin sharing information with friends and asking for prayers by joining Caring Bridge, a service for those with computers.  And after years of ministry on both sides of the country, the two of them had many friends who wanted to know what was going on. Steve was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2014 and he died in early 2015.

That was a short time, but Steve and Sharol decided right away to be open with all who wanted to know: "how are you feeling?" and before they knew it, they had a book called Joy in the Journey, Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death, published by IVP Books, at There is a brief preface by co-author Sharol Hayner, who explains that their messages to family and friends on the Caring Bridge website were not intended to be a book, but somehow they grew. And we begin to read about the happenings of the days ahead for Steve and Sharol.

Perhaps I should warn you: this is an amazing, powerful book, in which two people who love each other, and who love Jesus, the Lord of all, share difficult health problems, deep feelings about each of their problems, better have tissues ready, that's all I can say just now....

Steve was serving as president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia at the time of his diagnosis in the spring of 2014 and Steve and Sharol were living in the president's house. Before that, he had served as pastor, preacher, teacher, and for a time as president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, He also served on several mission boards, including World Vision, Fuller Seminary, the Navigators, and others.Steve became "president emeritus" at Columbia Seminary, and they were given the privilege of remaining in the president's house, convenient to Emory Hospital.

Steve was known for signing  his letters "Joyfully," and he and Sharol continued to search for and find moments of being grateful to God and moments of joy in their daily experiences. Their book is unusual, so open in sharing their feelings. so trusting in God, a great example for each of us.

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Thursday, October 29, 2015

In a Class All Their Own.......

The Printer and the Preacher. That would be Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield, of course, Written by Randy Petersen and published by Thomas Nelson Books, it's good to be reminded that these two busy men shared a surprising but close friendship for over 30 years. And Randy thinks they "invented America." I don't know if I can go that far, but they certainly jumped in and had important parts in all that was going on. Franklin sparked so many important "social structures" in Philadelphia: the library, a fire brigade, a hospital, the militia, the college, and more. And Whitfield saw hundreds, maybe thousands of people listen to his preaching and come to believe in Jesus.

Ben Franklin grew up in Boston but moved to Philadelphia with his printing business. George Whitfield was from England, but he was so enthusiastic about America that he crossed the ocean 13 times. A well-known preacher in both nations, Whitfield traveled up and down our east coast, preaching indoors or outside, wherever he was invited.

When Franklin and Whitfield first met, it was over a business project and eventually Ben became the "primary printer" for Whitfield's sermons, articles, and books. Ben was already known and appreciated for his popular Poor Richard's Almanac as well as his newspaper called the Philadelphia Gazette. These two busy men kept in touch with each other, as Randy writes: "meeting on both sides of the Atlantic." Whitfield often encouraged Ben Franklin to "believe in Jesus," but Franklin was not interested. He said he believed in God, that was enough. But they did support each other often. As George traveled, Ben provided coverage in the Gazette for the news of what was happening where George was preaching. They were both finding success with what they wanted to do.

During some of his visits through New England, George was invited to Northampton, a guest of the pastor-scholar Jonathan Edwards. In the 1660s and 70s there were "glimmers of revival in the American colonies." In the 1740s the so-called "Great Awakening" spread throughout New England. Cotton Mather was one of the early preachers, followed by George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards. and John and Charles Wesley. All of them had a place in those important years. I found it a pleasure to read and find out more detail about their lives and circumstances. Maybe you would like it, too.

Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Living the Last Chapter...

Here are two touching books from Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, just published from Eerdmans. A Faithful Farewell, living your last chapter with love came out last April and A Long Letting Go, meditations on loving someone you love came out in July of this year (2015). They go together and I will certainly keep my two together as I think and pray about those last days that we all must face as we journey on toward our Lord Jesus Christ and "those we love but see no longer."

Marilyn is not about to die, I think, but she offers A Faithful Farewell for those who are now facing death. With her experience by "the bedsides of those who are living their dying" and with her own "reflection about my own aging and death," she offers these pages in the hope that they "will affirm a solidarity that makes every dying an opportunity to awaken and open the heart." Each short meditation concludes with a prayer "to lean into when finding your own words requires more energy than you have." And after the prayer, you may find a few lines from a favorite hymn to remind you "of the many ways songs and hymns have sustained the life of faith, especially in hard times."

In the second book, A Long Letting Go, Marilyn says "At some point in our lives, most of us will become caregivers." It may be for a short time, or for a longer period of chronic illness. Either way, it will involve us in another's preparation for death. It is preparation for "a letting go that draws upon our deepest spiritual resources in ways impossible to fully anticipate." Marilyn offers her "harvest of experiences and reflections that may provide some direction, hope, or consolation in a time when generosity, imagination, patience, and love may be stretched in unprecedented ways." Her suggestions are written in four sections: Accompanying, Stories of Letting Go, Mourning, and Words for Keeping Watch. She reminds us that we have only promises to help us imagine the next life, but they are a sound basis for hope.

In the section on Stories.... I found one of my own experiences: my friend Jessie, in her 90's, said: "Why? I'm ready. Why doesn't the Lord call me?" she asked me. "Jessie," I said, trying to comfort her: "the Lord must have a few more things for you to do while you are here." She laughed. But she probably will be helping and encouraging others as she has been doing for years, as she waits for the Lord's call. And we will miss her when she goes.

These two books are very helpful. I recommend them. And I think that those who are feeling the pain of loss will find comfort and encouragement here.

----Lois Sibley

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

First Evangelical in America?

Author Rick Kennedy offers The First American Evangelical, A Short Life of Cotton Mather, and his book on Cotton Mather is part of an Eerdmans series called the Library of Religious Biography, edited by Mark A. Noll and available at Kennedy says that Cotton Mather was "a family man, a pastor, and a scholar," and he is "warmly remembered by Benjamin Franklin as a generous man, eager to do good."

During those 16--1700s in Boston, Increase Mather was pastor of the North Church and his son Cotton was his associate. They worked together though they were very different personalities. Increase tended to be strict and sometimes preached "harsh" sermons while Cotton "was softer," and he preached "more about Heaven's call than God's judgment." He called for a Bible-oriented day-by-day relationship with a remarkably active and communicative God."

In those days, as churches were formed, the people wanted a meetinghouse for worship, and a home for their pastor where the pastor had an office in his home, not an office in the church, as we are used to now. People with concerns came to talk with the pastor in his home office, sharing his Bible and his library as they discussed  whatever their concerns were. Cotton Mather shared and modeled what he called "all day long faith." Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, prayer became an important part of it. He "took his role as shepherd of a flock very seriously, as he organized and led many neighborhood groups that met on a regular schedule."

What made him the first in a long tradition of evangelical scholar-pastors resulted from the circumstances, says Kennedy. While New England became ready for a broader, more moderate Protestantism, there were also many people with an "evangelical interest," who needed leadership. Cotton Mather was not shy and he offered himself  "for the role of leader" for the evangelical group. And so he was, until his death in 1728. For those who want more, there are several pages of bibliography with suggestions.

---Lois Sibley,

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Helping Children Protect Their Bodies

God Made All of Me  is a new book to help children learn to protect themselves from becoming victims of sexual abuse. Published by New Growth Press, it is written by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb and illustrated by Trish Mahoney. It's really a book for parents with helpful words to use as they talk to their children about what to do if someone threatens them with "unwanted touch" or other suggestions. This one is especially aimed at children who are between ages two and eight, but it can certainly be used in talks with older children as well. It is very important that parents should gently introduce such a conversation, helping children understand that God made every part of their bodies and "every part is good and worth protecting."

The story is of a Mom and Dad and two small children, daughter Kayla and son David. One page has a quote from the Bible, Genesis 1:31, and the opposite page, a drawing of the family as they begin a conversation, Kayla saying: "God made me," and Mom answering: "When God made people, he called it very good." The text then says God made all things and offers illustrations of body parts like eyes, hair, arms, and nose. Dad joins in with "some parts of your body are for sharing and some parts are not for sharing." They talk about sharing hugs and kisses, or maybe high fives. And that's how they get to "private parts....that should be covered and not touched by other people." It's important that even small children should learn the correct names, like penis, vagina, bottom, and breasts.

If someone touches inapropriately, the children are taught to say, "No," and "go ask for help right away." Parents can help children to have a list of friends who might help them feel safe. Dad asks if they know the difference between secrets and surprises and Mom explains that secrets may make people feel confused or sad, so if they need help they must find a friend who will help them feel safe.

This book is good, should be helpful, if parents will begin the conversations....maybe older children will bring their concerns and questions to their parents.

---Lois Sibley,

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pets and How They Teach Us...

Two Dogs and a Parrot, What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life is a new book from Joan Chittister, published by Blue Bridge and available at Chittester is a Benedictine nun in Erie, PA. One of her books, The Gift of Years (2008) was very popular. Her book called Happiness is another I appreciated and reviewed on this blog in 2013. Since 2008, she has written at least ten more books!

As busy as she is, who knew that Joan Chittester loves animals and often had a pet? In this book, she tells stories of three of her pets, an Irish Setter named Danny, a Golden Retriever named Duffy, and a Parrot named Lady Hildegard or Lady, as she was more popularly known. One at a time, each has seven mini-chapters in this book for their stories to be shared.

First came Danny, an Irish Setter described as "an absolute lexicon of lessons in life, the kind I was not expecting to learn. At least not from a dog." They went to a dog show and she expected Danny to perform as the other dogs did. Instead, she learned from Danny that "life is not about becoming someone else. Life is a matter of coming to be the best of what we are and allowing ourselves to enjoy being it, at the same time."

Next was Duffy, a Golden Retriever who was gentle, well-mannered, patient and quiet, also very large. Duffy "was a great, friendly bear of a dog." Love to Duffy "meant the willingness to do what he did not want to do, if it meant he could be with you." The nuns had their hands full with Duffy. When they went to the beach, he would not go into the water. Much disappointed, Chittester considered it the lesson of a lifetime as she wrote: "We can't make anyone else be what we want them to be---but we can let them be themselves. and love them for that and that alone."

And last but not least, we read about Lady. After the dogs died, Chittister remember that in her childhood her mother let her have a parakeet for a pet, and she thought, how about a parrot now? And so they had one and Lady taught them. One of the nuns tried to teach her to move quickly to prayer meeting by saying to Lady, "Step up." Repeatedly and not so kindly. Later, the parrot learned to say it to the nuns: "Step up," she barked, and not so kindly either.

In her Afterword, Chittister describes what a wonder it has been for the nuns to share their Monastery with these pets. There is also a poem Joan Chittister has written: "A Prayer for Animals."

---Lois Sibley            

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Walking with Jesus through His Word

Walking with Jesus through His Word, by Dennis E. Johnson has a subtitle as well: Discovering Christ in All the Scriptures, published by P&R Publishing. Johnson is professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and author of many books and commentaries. Johnson claims that the sixty-six books of the Christian Scriptures, the Bible, "are bound together by a central theme, a single plotline, and a unique Hero, Jesus the Messiah." His book attempts to prove this theory, using the names and stories, and incidents that happened throughout early biblical history. You might expect him then to begin with Adam, but no, he begins with two disciples walking home from a difficult day in Jerusalem, when a young man joins them on their way. They don't recognize Jesus and he begins to tell them of "all the things beginning with Moses and all the Prophets that concerned himself" (Luke 24:27).

And so the journey begins. Using the metaphor of going on a journey, Johnson tells it all in six parts. In the last part he discusses how walking with Jesus through his Word changes us. And, it's quite amazing how he weaves in the many leaders and their stories, such as Moses, David, Jeremiah, "the Torah-loving man of Psalm 1," and others who served as prophets, priests, and kings.

In the end, Johnson names Jesus as the Final Prophet, Perfect Priest, and King of Kings. He remembers who they were in ancient Israel and how they now come under the guidance of Jesus: "the Son who reveals to us the will of God for our salvation; the priest who reconciles us to God; and the king, who rules over all." Johnson hopes walking through God's Word with Jesus, "we will find that our living Savior is moving us to marvel and worship, to hope and trust, to become more like him."

I wonder if Jesus expected that those who served in the synagogue and temple, and those who were disciples and new believers, both Jew and Gentile, would now come together as God's people. In his Gospel, Luke writes that Jesus said, "'I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God....' so he continued proclaiming the message of God in the synagogues" (Luke 4:43, 44). And in Luke 24:44, Luke writes that Jesus said to the disciples: "'everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.' Then he opened their eyes to understand the Scriptures."

He must have been disappointed when the two groups did not and have not come together yet. Perhaps it will happen when he comes again! Be ready!

---Lois Sibley

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Richard Twiss, Native American Leader

This is an unusual book. Author Richard Twiss spent many years, preaching, talking, writing, trying to convince both Native American people and whites descended from Colonial times that both groups worship the same God, whether he be called Creator or Jesus. Twiss died in 2013 and his wife, Katherine gave all his printed material to a group of friends who were eager to finish this book that Triss had begun earlier. It's called Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys, a Native American Expression of the Jesus Way, and is published by and available from

Richard Twiss was born June 11, 1954 on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. His family moved to Denver and then to Oregon, where Richard attended school. After graduating from high school, Richard moved back to Rosebud and he became involved in the American Indian Movement (AIM),strengthening his connections with other family members and deepening his appreciation for Lakota culture. One night during Richard's prayer, Creator responded to him and from that moment in 1974, Twiss was on a spiritual journey to live a meaningful life as a Lakota follower of the Jesus Way.

He and Katherine founded the nonprofit ministry of Wiconi International, through which they became known and "touched many thousands of people." Richard also founded or co-founded other organizations. In 2011 Richard earned his doctorate in missiology from Asbury Theological Seminary. He continued his teaching and writing careers and his first book, One Church, Many Tribes reached many people with the message of an inculturated faith in Jesus.

Twiss writes that "as Native people, we are in between the worlds of yesterday and where we will be, between traditional worldviews and western rationalism, between community and individuality, between spirituality and religion. We are not what we used to be and we are still becoming what we are not yet. In this in-between time we experience confusion, deep loss, fear, the unknown, searching, and despair." In Native terms, he says, "our circle is broken." He describes Native people as "living in two very different worlds." And it is crucial, he believes, for Native people to live biculturally in the urban culture. He uses many technical terms as he describes the history of the white and Native groups, what they did to each other, and where they are today. Much forgiveness is needed on both sides, in my opinion. And while Colonial Christianity continues to be impressed on the cultures of Native North America, "contextualization innovations are being introduced across Indian Country. The winds of change are blowing."

---Lois Sibley

Friday, July 17, 2015

Luther, A Man of Wit and Wisdom...

Right off, author Carl R. Trueman admits he has "loved Luther almost since the moment I first grasped the gospel." Luther has been one of Trueman's "private theological companions," so he was pleased to be asked to write this volume, Luther on the Christian Life, Cross and Freedom,, part of Crossway's series called Theologians on the Christian Life. Trueman, who is not a Lutheran but a church history professor at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, welcomed Robert Kolb of Concordia Seminary, in Saint Louis to write a Forward, and Martin E. Marty, Emeritus Professor at the University of Chicago, to write an Afterword. So let's begin...

Trueman's layout is a bit different for telling the story of Martin Luther's life. He begins with a summary of what's happening in the European world of church history in about 1508 and on, and how Luther fits in with his education, his family, his service to the church. Trueman says that as a theologian and pastor, Luther "was continually wrestling with how his theological insights connected to the lives and experiences of the people under his care." Trueman has long studied and taught on Luther and he believes there was a "personal passion" in Luther that finds "no obvious counterpart in the writings" of other significant theologians of his time.

Next, Trueman begins to describe and study some of the happenings in Luther's life, such as The Indulgence Controversy, The Diet of Worms in 1521, Wartburg in 1522 and Luther's translation of the New Testament into German, Wittenberg in 1525, his marriage to Katharine von Bora. Trueman calls us to think of Luther "as one of us." He says that "at a deeper level, we should see Luther in the way he wrestled with the deepest perennial questions of human, Christian existence." For example: "How can I find a gracious God? What and where is grace? In what does true happiness consist?"

After the section on Luther's life, there are more chapters on events that became important for Lutheranism, in many of which Luther was involved. He may be most notably remembered for his view of justification by grace through faith. He is also considered to be "the man who started the Reformation," with nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517. Luther died in 1546 in Eisleben while on pastoral business. He has left  much of his writing for us to study and enjoy. I have a very nice copy of The Table Talk of Martin Luther, that I enjoy reading and which once belonged to the late Hal Rast, one of my favorite Lutherans.

---Lois Sibley

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Two, Three, and Four...

As Alister McGrath continues his series called The Heart of Christian Faith, this second volume in the series is called The Living God, and is published by  McGrath asks, "How do we know about God?" and he says that dictionaries offer definitions of  God as a "vague supreme being," He notes that Christian faith "stretches back to the dawn of civilization," and "we hold hands with millions who have known and loved our God and passed their wisdom on to us." Christians believe in the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob (Exodus 3:16), and when we read of those "with whom we are linked by faith we are absorbing our own family history."

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. He claims that our God is "a personal God," an "almighty God," as well as being creator of the universe. He uses images as "windows into God," such as light, rock, shepherd, father, mother, king, and friend to describe the personal relationship between God and those who believe and have faith in him. He explains the doctrine of the Trinity as mystery, yes, reminding us of the one in three: God is creator, redeemer, and sustainer. The Holy Spirit, as the third person in the Trinity, is with us daily in our minds and hearts, leading, guiding, encouraging, and often leading us to worship and thanksgiving for our Triune God who loves us.

Volume three in this series is called Jesus Christ, and McGrath focuses on "what is, in many ways, the centrepiece of the Christian faith." He explores "more thoroughly what Christians mean when they declare that they believe in Jesus Christ." Volume four is called The Spirit of Grace, and as McGrath continues his teaching on the Holy Spirit, he brings in once again C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers to share some of their opinions and writings.

While volumes three and four are now available, the fifth and final volume, titled The Christian Life and Hope, will be available from WestminsterJohnKnox in the Spring of 2016.

Lois Sibley,

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Life Before and After Winter

Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter again. It was Winter '07 when Al Groves left us. His wife, Elizabeth, or Libbie if you know her, chose those headings for sections of the story. The book is called grief undone, A Journey with God and Cancer, published by New Growth Press, and you will need some tissues nearby as you read this heart-breaking but somehow comforting tale. It is heart-breaking because it hurts to read of  this loving, happy, busy family as they deal with incurable illness. And it is both sad and comforting to know they are leaning on God, the Father; Jesus, the Good Shepherd; and the Holy Spirit, who guides us through each new day. This book is incredibly sad. But if you read it, I am sure you will be incredibly glad you did.

It was in the winter of '06 that Al was told that there was "a spot" on his chest X-ray. They had many scares before that and he had been through many doctors' appointments, exams, tests, biopsies, and X-rays. They were unloading groceries from the car when he told Libbie. They continued with the unloading while they were both thinking of the possibilities and not wanting to scare each other.

After talking it over, they decided to tell their children. "It's hard to tell your kids that their father has something that might turn out to be terminal cancer," Libbie wrote later. The younger two were twelve and fourteen. The older two were one in college and one graduated, married, and at work, both in other parts of the country.

I'm not sure when Libbie decided to write this book but early on she kept detailed notes and she tells us in mostly two-or-three-page-chapters all of the difficult, heart-breaking, and beautiful moments and days. A friend helped them start a blog and Al often wrote to friends in their local neighborhood and church and around the world to tell them what was happening, how they were dealing with it, and asking for prayers. More than seven years have passed since Al went to be with the Lord in the Winter of 2007. Libbie continued her education and is now a lecturer and teaching assistant at a nearby seminary and she has several grandchildren to love and enjoy. Thanks be to God.......

---Lois Sibley,

Friday, May 22, 2015

Remembering Mister Rogers

"War isn't nice," said Mister Rogers. ;He went on to explain his feelings about war and peace as he talked with the children in his Neighborhood of Make Believe on television. There is a new book, Peaceful Neighbor, Discovering the CounterCultural Mister Rogers, by Michael G. Long,who is associate professor of peace and conflict studies at Elizabethtown College, and author of several books on civil rights, religion, politics, and peacemaking. This book is published by WestminsterJohnKnox,

Many of our children grew up watching Mister Rogers on tv, listening to his opinions and stories, content in his Neighborhood of Make Believe, I wonder what those children who were watching remember and how it affected them as they grew up facing problems of their own day. One of those who remembers told me that her dad, as he was leaving for work, asked her to be sure to watch Mister Rogers and they would talk about it when he came back. So she did, and she remembers they sat down and talked about what Mister Rogers, with his puppets and friends, had been talking about that day.

"Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister....who believed in a God who accepts us as we are and loves us without condition, who is present to each person and all of creation, and who desires a world marked by peace and wholeness," writes Long, as he takes Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood seriously. "And why not? For more than three decades, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a national powerhouse that reached more than 3.5 million viewers weekly." 

Author Long has been digging through Rogers' papers at the Fred Rogers Archive at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Penn; reading his speeches at the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Archive at the University of Pittsburgh; studying numerous episodes of the tv run of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968--2001), listening to many interviews Rogers gave, and talking with people he knew well. Long calls him "a powerful, storytelling peacemaker, who taught us to practice deep listening, deep thinking, and deep understanding," antidotes to violence in any form,

Long says Mister Rogers "was a radical Christian pacifist, fervently committed to the end of violence and the presence of social justice in its full glory. The time has come to pull him out of the shadows so we can celebrate him just as he was---a fierce peacemaker."

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Psalms as Hymns of the Church

"The book of Psalms is not a theological textbook," writes Tremper Longman III in his author's preface for his new book  Psalms, which is volume 15 and 16 of the new version in Tyndale's Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) now available from IVPress. But rather, Longman writes: it is "the libretto of the most vibrant worship imaginable." He claims that the Psalms "not only want to inform our intellect, but to stimulate our imagination, arouse our emotions and stir us on to holy thoughts and actions." Is he right? Could 150 poetic hymns and songs, with laments firmly imbedded in their contents, do that for us? I wonder.......

Longman, who is Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA, quickly tells us that "even though the laments outnumber the hymns, the predominant note is praise." O.K., that caught my attention and he goes on to explain that each one has a title, Many of the titles include the name of the author, but some titles refer to historical events or liturgy or tunes, or for teaching. The 150 are offered as 5 books, each book having its title and purpose. Longman refers to Psalms 1 and 2 as the beginning or introduction with the closing 5 of the 150 in a doxology. He thinks that stepping back and looking at the way it begins with laments but ends with the last 5 poems in praise may bring us to think that God is "turning our wailing into dancing."

Longman studies each Psalm under the headings of Context, Comment, and Meaning. Readers may follow him through their favorite, maybe Ps. 117, the shortest; or the longest, Ps. 119; or perhaps Ps. 22 with its special application to the death of Christ, often remembered during Lent. Choose a favorite and you will soon be caught up in the lure, mystery, and love of God for his people.....

Tremper does believe there is theology in the Psalms but, as poetry they "arouse the readers' emotions, stimulate their imagination, and appeal to their will. For these purposes, poetry is most effective." He reminds us that as early as the fourth century, Athanasius was saying. 'the Psalms are an epitome of the whole Scriptures,'" And "Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, noted that 'the Psalms are a compendium of all theology.'" Some of today's theologians are following in the way.

A point that I like is that Longman thinks the "prominent mention of tora in Psalm 1 signals that the Psalter is to be read as tora [the 5 books of Moses]." In other words, David's tora is to be read "alongside the tora of Moses" and "this prompts the reader to expect tora in the rest of the Psalter and to be guided by it." Perhaps one could or should mentally fast-forward and think about possibilities for someday.....when Christians and Jewish believers  may be worshiping God together.

---Lois Sibley,

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Joni prays, but still in pain...

This is not a new book. Copyright date is 2010, but it is such an important book, I cannot skip by it. Many of you will remember Joni Eareckson Tada and her diving accident, which is now old news. It happened in the 1960s and she has survived to this point though still a quadriplegic---more than 40 years in a wheelchair! Joni has spoken to thousands of groups, written many books, started and continues to manage an organization that began as Joni and Friends, and now includes the International Disability Center, located in California.

Joni has strong faith in the Lord and his ability to heal and she knows the Bible stories to prove it. She prays often for herself and others who need and want healing, but so far it hasn't happened for her. In her new book, A Place of Healing, there are also two subtitles: Wrestling with the Mystery of Suffering, and Pain and God's Sovereignty. Published by David C. Cook, those subtitles will give you hints of what she is going to write. First, quadriplegics cannot wrestle, can they, and second, what does sovereignty mean anyway?  Joni knows the answers and she tells them, using Bible stories and the stories of people she knows and their struggles with pain, and especially her own struggles over the last five years when she has dealt with increasingly unbearable pain. Yes, this book is about pain, but once you start reading it you won't be able to stop until you read the last page. 

As you read through the book and learn more about the challenges and the happenings she has been going through, there is news of a new challenge and what it means for Joni and husband Ken Tada. Then, she remembers her growing up years in the Reformed Episcopal Church back east, and she picks up the BCP and finds the Psalter reading for the day. It's about kneeling, Psalm 95:6. And Joni cannot kneel. It says "Kneel before the Lord, your maker...." so she asks the reader to kneel for her. And she writes: "while you are down there, if you feel so inclined, thank Him for being so good to a paralyzed woman named Joni." It's an amazing, scary, comforting, leaning on Jesus book. Read it...

---Lois Sibley,

Thursday, April 2, 2015

How to Understand the Atonement

Donald Macleod is probably a common name, both in the U.K., and in Canada and the U.S, and maybe other countries as well. The Donald Macleod whose book I am reviewing here is the one who, from 1978--2011, was professor of systematic theology at the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh, Scotland. His new book, called Christ Crucified, Understanding the Atonement, is published by InterVarsity Press and available at Now that he is retired from teaching, maybe Macleod will honor us with more books in future.

His book is laid out in two parts: Part 1: The way of the cross, which is not a chronology of the life of Christ, but rather Macleod reports on what the Gospel writers describe as they focus on Christ's suffering and death, under these three headings: 1) A man of sorrows; 2) From the third to the ninth hour; and 3) The divine paradox: the crucified Son. Macleod reminds us that  while the teaching of Jesus was important it was not where "his primary significance lay. It lay in his death." Macleod points out that earlier the Gospel writers showed little interest in chronological happenings in Jesus' life, but now, from the Last Supper to his burial, only 24 hours, there is a detailed account of his last few hours and we read about what was happening at the 3rd hour (morning), the 6th hour (mid-day), and the 9th hour. Macleod says "such detail is remarkable, and serves to underline the evangelists' [Gospel writers] concentration on Jesus' death." Part 1 closes with Athanasius (c. 296--373), Augustine (354--430), Anselm (c. 1033--1109) and Aquinas (1224--74) all attesting to Christ's vicarious sacrifice with his death on the cross.

Part 2 is called The word of the cross, and it is longer and consists of 11 sections, each beginning with a theological word and phrase. For example: Substitution [Christ dying for us]; Expiation, Propitiation,  Reconciliation, Satisfaction, Vicarious, Redemption, Victory. But, after all that, Macleod says "The linguistic arguments are secondary. This is not a debate about words. It is a debate about something absolutely fundamental: the Christian doctrine of God." And Macleod brings up A.A. Hodge, who in his book The Atonement said that "the words 'expiation' and 'propitiation' represent the same Greek word and as far as he is concerned [Hodge] each has the same legitimacy." Sometimes it's fun to listen in on these discussions. I enjoyed this book and recommend it. Macleod imagines thoughts and conversations as we walk through Holy Week with those who were there, as well as the opinions of theologians from Paul on down to Warfield, McGrath and many others.

---Lois Sibley

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Instead of Worrying...?

Mindscape, What to Think About Instead of Worrying is by Timothy Z. Witmer, who is Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and pastor of a church in the area. Witmer is also author of several books on pastoral ministry. Mindscape is published by New Growth Press and is available at Witmer says his book is "written for everyone who has ever worried about anything." That would be quite a few of us, I think. And, being who Witmer is, it's also "written from a biblical perspective." He reminds us that the Bible is "not irrelevant to our current worries, struggles and desires." Lately I've been noticing that almost any story we read in the Bible sounds very much like struggles that are going on now. Anywhere in the world we might hear of similar struggles. That surprises me, and I am ready for some encouragement.

Witmer asks us to think about the "landscape of our minds---mindscape he calls it---and asks how do you deal with day-to-day anxieties? Do you worry? "Your condition is not hopeless," writes Witmer. And he has answers that may help. Witmer suggests that the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Paul the right words we need so that we will not be worrying. Those words come from Paul's Letter to the Philippians, and in English they sound like this: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable---if anything is excellent or praiseworthy---think about such things. (Phil. 4:8, NIV, 1985). Paul isn't saying "stop worrying," he is saying change directions. "Be anxious for nothing." Instead, stop, when something is worrying you, and bring it to God in prayer. Prayer, about everything, sounds like it is the answer.

In the next chapters Witmer discusses each of the qualities Paul has offered and meditation on each is suggested. Witmer claims a new mindscape will result. As you "think on these things," and practice, you will be changed. It will take time, but the Holy Spirit will guide if you ask. Witmer concludes that you will see progress in your mindscape, as you "replace worry with peace, as you replant hope in place of discouragement, as you weed out doubts, and as you grow in faith in the Gardener who is determined to transform you."

---Lois Sibley,

Thursday, March 12, 2015

One More for Lent...

Meeting God in Mark, Reflections for the Season of Lent,was  written by Rowan Williams when he was Archbishop of Canterbury. Actually, these are part of a short series of talks he gave at Canterbury when we were in Year B in 2010. I'm glad for the privilege of having them now and will enjoy them through the rest of this season of Lent. Published by WestminsterJohnKnox, the book is available at By this time in Lent, as usual I have gathered quite a collection of readings for Lent and I don't want to miss anything so I try to squeeze them all in.

Williams, who is now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, reminds us that Mark is a bit different from the other Gospels. Mark doesn't tell us much about "Jesus' early life nor his teaching ministry and resurrection appearances." But Mark does offer "deeply theological perspectives," and he includes "these insights in skillful storytelling techniques and turns of phrase." Williams says that "offering simple stories requires enormous skill, and Mark is a great artist in this respect."

Meeting God in Mark begins with "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God...."  and tells the stories of John, coming as an important messenger, and Jesus, who came to John to be baptized,while God himself introduced his beloved Son, with whom he was "well pleased." Williams says that Jesus came to bring "change." "Someone's new reign was about to be inaugurated," writes Williams. So in Mark's Gospel, suddenly Jesus is there---and he is bringing great change.

Williams cautions readers to read slowly and he hopes we will "go back and let it work afresh" on us so that we will find that Mark gives us "the sense of a living Presence at work," that is, Jesus. May it be so.

---Lois Sibley,

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lent, Year B

Lent for Everyone, Mark, Year B continues N. T. Wright's three-part series on Lent, published by WestminsterJohnKnox  ( Author of many books, Wright is also Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. His series on Lent begins with the Gospel stories found in Year A, on Matthew; Year B, Mark with a few portions from John; and Year C on the Gospel of Luke with some portions of Acts. This liturgical year, B, puts us right in the middle of Wright's series on Christ's ministry: calling disciples, teachings, healings, the arrest, trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our Lenten journey begins on Ash Wednesday, February 18, and concludes with Easter Saturday, April 11.Wright provides his translation of the Gospel stories as he guides readers, helping us to join in, be part of each story, and "make it our own." He suggests we "pause and pray" about any messages we may get from time to time on our journey. He gives a brief reflection on each story, and a sample prayer for each day. I love the prayers. They are simple, ordinary, and reaching out to Jesus.

Wright has us study a Psalm on most Sundays, and then each day we walk through the Gospel stories in Mark, and a few in John. He talks about biblical cultures and how they compare or contrast with each other and with our own. The contrasts he makes between the Old Testament culture of law and the New Testament culture of love are sometimes quite different. In our culture, as we try to put together both law and love in the midst of our world of wars, we may have similar challenges.

Wright has a gentle way of explaining the Gospel stories and what Jesus was doing as he went about "announcing God's kingdom and making it happen wherever he went" on his way to the Cross and Easter with its "shocking new beginning." And the story is not over yet.......

---Lois Sibley

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ben and Black History Month

On January 1, 1863, 152 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. A five-page document cherished by some, ignored by others, was a surprise to a young slave, apprenticed to a tailor in Charleston, South Carolina.  His father had taught him a few letters of the alphabet but he warned Ben not to let anyone know, as slaves were not allowed to read.

As Ben moved around the city on errands for his master, he looked at street signs and learned their names. In the market place, as he purchased items for his master's wife, he knew the names that went with boxes of fruit and produce that she asked him to get. He thought that he could teach himself to read, so he did, practicing on street signs, and fruit and vegetable signs.

Suddenly, the Civil War came to Charleston. There were gray uniforms everywhere and many residents were fleeing, including the tailor to whom Ben was apprenticed. Ben was sent to live in a slave prison. Other slaves, who knew he could read, often begged him to read to them, and to teach them how to read. One night they woke Ben up, brought him a torch, and several pages of a newspaper. "Read it, read it," they begged. "President Lincoln wrote it," they said.

Ben was surprised but he began to read. "Stand up." "Speak louder." And so he did. "All persons held as slaves.shall be thenceforward and forever free...." There was loud cheering all around Ben, but quiet comfort in his heart. He knew his mother would be proud of how he read that night.

Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation is a true story, well-written by Pat Sherman and beautifully illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, look for it at This continues to be one of my favorite books.

Sherman adds that Ben's name was Benjamin C. Holmes. He later worked in Tennessee, where he was drafted into the Confederate Army. After the war, he held several jobs, then attended the new Fisk University in Nashville. He sang with Fisk's Jubilee Singers and traveled with them in America and Europe. He died in the 1870s, possibly from tuberculosis. Ben is one of many men and women, boys and girls, we remember during Black History Month. Yes, this is repeated from Jan. 2013 in honor of Black History Month.
---Lois Sibley

Monday, January 26, 2015

Who Were the Beguines?

It was a mystery to me, so I was glad to receive a review copy from BlueBridge ( and have enjoyed reading it. The Wisdom of the Beguines, the Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women's Movement is by Laura Swan, who is adjunct professor of religious studies, Washington State, and a former prioress of a community of Benedictine women in the Pacific Northwest. I am impressed by the research and study she must have done to tell us about the Beguines, and am grateful to her for all of this history of an important woman's group I had not heard of previously. Yes, I have heard of some of the early women mystics, such as Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, but those are about all I knew of, until now.

The Beguines began to form in groups in Europe more than 800 years ago! That's in the early 1200s. They were not nuns, but laywomen. They did not take vows, nor live in monasteries. There was no founder or rule to live by. Some lived alone, some lived in groups, perhaps sharing a house. Swan writes: "They did share their common way of life: chastity and simplicity, their unusual business acumen, and their commitment to God and to the marginalized."

Beguines existed into the twenty-first century and some news media reported the death of "the last Beguine, Marcella Pattyn in 2013." She was in her 90s and had lived in Belgium. They thought she was the last but Swan says there are reports that young women are "making spiritual promises and seeking a beguines lifestyle today, both in Europe and in North America."

Swan gives much information about who was where and what they were doing, their ups and downs, problems with business guilds, church officials, and local politics, even while they were much involved in helping the poor and needy in their communities. Often their day included "prayer, fasts, physical labor, and works of charity," She says that the beguines were "united in their commitment to ministry," and they were also involved in local businesses to support their ministries. I think we have much to learn about the women who have gone before us and their ministries and The Wisdom of the Beguines is an important beginning.

---Lois Sibley

Friday, January 16, 2015

Special Prayer Book for Military

With sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters signing up and going off to represent our country in this world of wars, it might be helpful for them to have a prayer or two in their pockets. The Episcopal Church has provided A Prayer Book for the Armed Services, which looks to me like it could be very helpful. Published by Church Publishing, Inc., this is a small book of the size to fit into one's pocket or purse. Meant for chaplains, but it could be of benefit to anyone in the military.

The print is small but manageable, and the contents are perfect from my perspective. First, there is a brief  suggestion for daily prayers in the morning, noon, and evening. There is a special listing of Psalms that might fit nicely into one's daily devotions. Some of the Psalms and prayers are also in Spanish. Changes in wording can be chosen and fitted in as best provides for the pray-er and his or her situation at any moment. There are pages of brief readings and prayers that quote from those in The Book of Common Prayer, which is a basic resource for this small prayer book. And there are also appropriate, brief prayers for specific needs of someone in the military, including one "for a family farewell for a deployed member." There are prayers "for a spouse," and their children I assume, "for loved ones out of touch," "during night hours," "friends who are being deployed," and "a flight prayer" for those who are in the Air Force and taking "the wings of the morning" while praying for "fair weather, a clean landing, and a welcome home."

There is also a summary of the Bible, beginning with Creation, including God's promise to Abraham, God's covenant with Israel, the story of Jesus' birth, baptism, preaching, some of his teachings, healings, his summary of the law, his promises to those who believe in him, his last supper with his disciples, his death and resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit. and the promise that Christ will come again. Enough so that anyone who wonders may know the truth and believe.

A good selection of the Psalms and words of some hymns are also there, and information for services of baptism, communion, and others that might be helpful to chaplains, as well as informative to the curious. The Lord's Prayer is included as well as the Ten Commandments, Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed.

It occurs to me that parents and grandparents might appreciate having this little book. With it, they could pray some of the same prayers their children and grandchildren are praying. And that might be a comfort for all of them.

---Lois Sibley,

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Questions for the New Year...

As we begin the New Year 2015, let's read The Essential Question, How You Can Make a Difference for God by Whitney T. Kuniholm, and published by IVPress, ( Kuniholm, who is president of Scripture Union/USA is also author of several books on personal and group Bible study. In this one he invites readers to take a journey with him through the book of Acts as Luke tells us of the first century church, how it began and who were some of the people involved, like Peter and John and Stephen and Philip and Barnabus and Saul who became Paul, and Priscilla and others. These people knew that Jesus is Lord and it "changed their lives," as it continues to do for believers today.

After Jesus left it, the church began to grow. We might wonder how did the Christians function without him? Resolve conflicts? Manage day-to-day problems? Discern God's will for them and their church? Rely on the Holy Spirit as a guide? Remember Jesus's promise that he will come back one day? There were many questions in their minds and on their lips. Not unlike our own. For Christians, writes Kuniholm, "the real question is "How can I make a difference for God?" He is full of practical ideas and practices that might be helpful to readers who have that concern.

Other questions he brings up for discussion are: "Who are you, Lord?" and "What shall I do, Lord," Saul's questions on the Damascus Road (Acts 22:8-10). Kuniholm reminds us that once we have heard the story of Jesus and made our decision to follow him, that is our essential question: "What shall I do, Lord," and we may be asking it many times through our days and nights as we try to serve the Lord and share his life, death, and resurrection truth with others.

Kuniholm believes that God has a plan, an assignment, a mission for his people, whether it be in the home, school, military, marketplace or somewhere else, and Kuniholm is eager to help us "answer the essential question for ourselves---that is, to find and follow God's assignment for us today."

He recommends  readers follow the steps through his book with a friend, a group, or with their church. "Answering the essential question," he writes, "is not a one-time event. It's an everyday challenge. 'What shall I do, Lord?' is the question that will keep you focused on your God-given mission, whether great or small, for the rest of your life. And that's the way to change your world forever."

---Lois Sibley,