Reviews: Denial Is My Spiritual Practice

Since the release of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice (and Other Failures of Faith) earlier this year, my new book co-authored with Martha Spong, I’ve been touched by the messages of appreciation for the book from readers who find in its pages a sense of companionship through their difficult days. Their messages remind me, too, that I’m not alone in struggling to make sense of God when life is difficult.

Many messages from readers are personal and private — a DM or an in-person conversation — but some of the feedback from readers is also public in the form of book reviews. I’m grateful for the reviews being written about Denial, including:

  • RevGalBlogPals’ book reviewer and Lutheran pastor Julia Seymour writes, “If there was such a thing as a spiritual grief group, this would be the book I would recommend. The grappling with scripture, where its promises deliver and where they don’t, is simultaneously consoling and provocative.” Here is her full review.

 

  • Blogger and Episcopal priest Rosalind Hughes encourages, “I recommend that you acquire yourself a copy, read it, savour it, and then keep it close for those moments when, for the sake of faith or sanity, you need once more to find yourself reflected in the mirror of another soul, another spirit, one that has wrestled with God, and, against all expectations, lived to see dawn’s light limping across the valley.” Read her review written for Episcopal Café.

 

  • Jennifer Burns Lewis reviewed Denial for The Presbyterian Outlook: “The authors’ facility in providing a biblical frame for their doubts and denials and dance with God is a striking feature of this book. With strong and graceful articulation, they connect their own journeys of faith with the biblical narrative, informing the reader’s understanding of their lives and of Scripture as well. I’m so glad that the authors chose to present their lives with such candor and honest reflection. The essays in Denial is My Spiritual Practice are a breath of fresh air and good for the church.”

 

  • Author and blogger Laurie Brock wrote about Denial, “[The] deft narratives of love, hate, fear, fragility, gratitude, doubt, frustration, joy, and more love are excellent reflections for any person of faith who needs to hear the words of God that life is hard, hurtful, and messy and is glorious, joyful, and loving and all of these are necessary.”

 

  • Joanna Harader, a Mennonite pastor and blogger at Spacious Faith, notes, “This book, for all its honesty, has a misleading subtitle. While the stories they tell may indeed reveal the ‘failures of faith’ to operate in the ways we churchy people might expect, it is ultimately a book about the success of faith. Not that faith is successful because Martha or Rachel or any of us are spectacularly faithful, spiritual, people; but that faith is successful—it abides with us, it pushes us, it carries us through hard times.”

 

  • Author and Presbyterian minister MaryAnn McKibben Dana writes of Denial, “Read this now.” Her review continues: “Here is a book that deeply resonates and that I gratefully admire. I’ve been on somewhat of a personal crusade to embody ‘World’s Okayest’ lately, and this work shares a similar ethos: life is messy, grief-riddled, traumatic even. It is also beautiful, interesting, and grace-soaked.”

Thanks to these reviewers and to other reviewers whose feedback I’ve not linked here, and certainly to readers who have shared their affirmations and their stories in response to Denial.

Horses Speak of God

I’ve seen horses change lives. I’ve seen books change lives. A book about horses that reminds us to “sit centered and deeply” in God is sure to foster miracles.

In Horses Speak of God: How Horses Can Teach Us to Listen and Be Transformed, author Laurie M. Brock (and her horse Nina) demonstrate the importance of nurturing faith with our whole selves — in mind and body and spirit, in work and play and relationships. Like horseback riding, our lives and our faith require ongoing reflection, a willingness to listen, and the humility to stay engaged. When we neglect these spiritual disciplines, horses (among other friends) remind us:

“Relax your grip.”

“Work with me.”

“Try again.”

It could be a horse making its opinion known to a rider. It could be God nudging any one of us. The message could tell us something about our posture in the saddle … or about our fears in life. The experience might be a pleasant canter … or a hard fall.

In all, through all, is life. In all and through all is holiness.

Whether you ride or walk, love horses or prefer a nice indoor plant, Horses Speak of God is a beautiful book that will gently invite your self-reflection and encourage your spirit to (re)attune itself to God’s leading.

Go easy.

Trust the discomfort of unlearning and relearning.

Give up a little bit of control.

And let the intuition of horses teach you the good news of God’s mysteries.

(For more from Laurie Brock, follow her fabulous blog.)

Raising White Kids (Book Giveaway)

If you’re a white parent of white children and you’ve been wondering how to begin equipping your children (and yourself) to understand & resist racism, Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey is a good, non-intimidating starting point … and I have two copies of Raising White Kids to give away, courtesy of Abingdon Press. Check out the details at the end of this blogpost.

Jennifer Harvey offers informative, non-anxious space for white parents of white children to understand the development of racial identity, to experience grace for the mistakes that inevitably accompany parenting, and to be attentive to the ongoing work of equipping white children to resist racism. White parents who find themselves wondering how to raise race-conscious white children will find Raising White Kids to be a helpful and practical starting point.

But it truly is only a starting point. If you’ve been digging into critical race theories and engaging anti-bias material, some of Raising White Kids will feel rudimentary — such as understanding the difference between individual bias and systemic racism.

If basic tips & practical encouragement are precisely what you’re seeking to help you put your convictions about the importance of anti-racism together with the importance of parenting, Raising White Kids can help you begin the work of race-conscious parenting … but then be sure to keep going. There are additional critical conversations for white parents to have with their white kids that Raising White Kids doesn’t resource. Two in particular that come to mind for me:

1. Relationships: Raising White Kids doesn’t explicitly encourage self-reflection on white families’ choices of social spaces, circles, and relationships. A variety of research on anti-bias suggests that relationships across lines of race are critical to lessening racial bias, and many of Jennifer Harvey’s own stories reflect this impact. (My daughter, in her 50% Black – 50% white high school, would promptly debunk those studies by telling you about the racism on display from her white peers despite their daily engagement with students of color.) The types of relationships that can lead toward lessened bias have deeper roots than simply “parallel play,” and so as parents it’s important to ask ourselves, “Who do our kids see us loving and who do our kids see us choosing as our neighbors?” Raising our kids to understand race & racism is intellectual work, but demonstrating anti-racist commitments through our daily habits & relationships is spiritual-emotional-corporate work. (Sidebar: choosing to move into a predominantly non-white neighborhood as part of that location’s gentrifying “flip” is not a demonstration of anti-racist commitments.)

2. Faith: Raising White Kids isn’t written with an explicitly religious perspective, which is perfectly fine, but if you’re a white parent of white kids and you’re raising your kids in a predominantly white church, the hard truth is that the whiteness of your theology will need some intentional work and prayerful exorcism. The white Jesus in your children’s Bibles, the pale Jesus in your church’s stained glass, the framed & faded picture of white Jesus knocking at the door, even a beloved crucifix — all of these and the theologies they represent are literally & figuratively enmeshed with colonialism, with racism, with chauvinistic saviorism. And sometimes the faith-filled desire to teach our white kids that they are urgently needed for anti-racism dances on the line of white saviorism. Jennifer Harvey acknowledges briefly that the work of anti-racism is a work that whites join, not start, but I wish she had asked of her readers, “How do white parents teach white kids to resist racism while not inadvertently teaching their kids that they are (or should be) the heroes of anti-racism?” For a closer look at the problem of white saviorism and an excavation of white faith, I recommend James Perkinson’s White Theology.

I am a white parent of Black children, so Raising White Kids isn’t for me. I’m not the intended audience. I wanted to read the book for that reason. I also didn’t want to read the book for that reason. But whites talking to whites is essential anti-racist work, and it’s a task Raising White Kids undertakes. As Ijeoma Oluo wrote last year, “As much as I’d like you to see me — as much as I’d like systemic racism to simply be a problem of different groups not seeing each other  — I need you to see yourself, really see yourself, first. This is the top priority.” Raising White Kids takes this priority seriously and meets parents on the landscape and in the language of the white privilege of their children. White privilege talks to white privilege.

Unfortunately in my experience, white privilege talking to white privilege has a bad habit of tiptoeing around white comfort, and it’s the privileging of white comfort that makes me uncomfortable with this book.

Several years ago, I wrote that “conversations about race that do not result in conversions about race miss the urgency of the Gospel.” While I assume that Jennifer Harvey aims to achieve conversions about race as it relates to the parenting of white children, I fear that Raising White Kids spends so much time & tone on treating white parents of white children gently that it threatens to be yet another uneventful conversation about race. For heaven’s sake, the book handholds parents through the work of understanding that it’s not disastrous to say the “R” word (racism) and not “prophetic” to talk nicely about MLK once a year.

White comfort is presumed to be the route to white conversion.

The lack of de-centering discomfort in Raising White Kids is practically the definition of white privilege. Harvey illustrates her own employment of such privilege when she shares the story of deciding whether to take her kids to a #BlackLivesMatter protest following the killing of Michael Brown: “We have to make careful judgments about whether or how to engage our children in dialogues about realities so serious, heavy, and frightening that they may be simply too much for them.” As a parent of Black children, whether and when to have those dialogues are not optional.

Of course, we whites all need to start learning somewhere, somehow, sometime. My own learning has included some massive & public missteps, and it’s still not done. It is never done.

So after Raising White Kids helps you get started, I encourage you to seek out books about race & racism that don’t center whiteness or white comfort. Dig deeper into white discomfort by engaging the sociological, theological, fictional, poetic works of authors of color. And for a better understanding of the development of racial identity, don’t just read Raising White Kids‘ summary of Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Go and read Tatum’s book in full.

But first, if Raising White Kids can be useful to you, drop me an email with the subject “Raising White Kids” by Thursday, March 1st at 5:00pm eastern. All names will be placed in a hat for a random drawing, and I’ll contact two winners for their mailing addresses to send the free copies of Raising White Kids. None of the email addresses that I receive as a result of folks entering the book giveaway will be shared, and you won’t receive unsolicited emails from me after the giveaway has ended.

All Creation Waits: Book Review

“Every single creature is full of God. …
Every creature is a word of God.”
Meister Eckhart

For those who love Prayers from the Ark; for those who connect deeply to God through the delight and observation of nature; for those lamenting the commercialization of Christmas that drowns the quiet stirrings to Advent; for those wondering how to teach the children in their lives (or how to practice themselves) the patience of waiting; for those seeking a spiritual supplement to the daily-piece-of-chocolate Advent calendar: you’ll absolutely want to check out All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings (written by Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein).

A gorgeous book of engraving prints and gleaned wisdom from North American wildlife, All Creation Waits pays attention to creatures’ instinctive & radical practices for waiting through winter. The muskrat maintains a shelter in the middle of its pond where it can rest from the work of scouring the frigid waters for vegetation. The honey bees shiver together inside their hive, and their trembling muscles generate heat for survival. The red fox chases shadows across snow, studying the long shadows of its prey as cast by the low sun’s light in order to successfully hunt.

For every day of Advent, another animal: the lake trout, the raccoon, the turkey, the garter snake. Gayle Boss’s study of each animal is refreshingly free from overt theological proverbs or “Jesus is the Reason” lessons. (After all, Jesus doesn’t arrive until Christmas.) There is no pretense that waiting is easy as All Creation Waits immerses the reader in each animal’s winter habits: the stark choices that must be made for the sake of survival, the reality of hovering near death until life returns with the warmth of spring, the drastic shift in nourishment options that require each creature to make do with less.

What is it we need to survive in seasons when life’s harvest fades and hope dims?

What choices do we make when the spirit’s nourishment is sparse and the frigid storms of evil pound against us?

When death draws close, do we lose all wonder and capitulate to fear?

What does it take for us to hold on fiercely to joy and imagination through stark days?

These days may feel like an end, a fading of sunlight into a long season of scarcity and injustice, but even in the deepest night of winter, God’s work is just beginning. All of creation waits with trust in the return of Life and the restoration of Peace. All Creation Waits offers the exquisite Advent reminder that we can wait too.

Prayers from the Ark: Book Review

In one of her books (I love them all and don’t remember which one), Madeleine L’Engle reflected on the challenges of convincing publishers that A Wrinkle in Time was a children’s novel. It was too complex, too scientific, too fantastical, too emotionally heavy, too emotionally fragile. Adults — publishers — thought it would be difficult for children. What they meant was that it was difficult for themselves. Children had the imagination for A Wrinkle in Time. Adults did not.

Prayers from the Ark is described as a children’s book of prayers. I wonder if some adults might find the prayers too fantastical, too poetically complex, too emotionally provocative for children, which suggests to me that Prayers from the Ark is precisely the kind of book that adults should read too — to challenge our imaginations, to provoke our wonder, to surprise our hearts, to unsettled our spiritual settledness.

Written by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold during World War II and translated by Rumer Godden for English publication in 1962, with illustrations by Jean Primrose, Prayers from the Ark gives devotional voice to a congregation of animals, each in their own unique style & perspective:

The tortoise prays,
“A little patience,
O God,
I am coming.”
Aren’t we all working our way toward God, slowly, slowly?

The giraffe confesses,
“I feed on exalted things
and I rather like
to see myself so close to Your heaven.
Humility!”
Shouldn’t we all confess such a diet?

The donkey pleads,
“Give me great courage and gentleness.
One day let somebody understand me–
that I may no longer want to weep.”
And my heart breaks: for me, for the donkey, for all of us.

I wonder where Prayers from the Ark has been all my life: such a gem of inspiration, such an exploration of emotion, such a simple invitation to prayerful honesty. I feel blessed to have a copy now, passed along to me by way of several familiar & treasured hands. It’s the kind of book (along with its companion The Creatures’ Choir from the same talented trio) that doesn’t live on my bookshelves but on my bedstand, where I can read it often to comfort & inspire my spirit.

Give Prayers from the Ark to the children in your life, yes — their imaginations will delight in the animals’ voices — but give it too to the adults in your life whose spirits might be running a little dry, whose imagination for the goodness of God might be struggling these days, and/or whose love of creation informs their love of God.