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.

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.

Book Giveaway: Love Never Fails

Just in time for a Mother’s Day gift.

Just in time for love that’s in need of encouragement.

Whatever reason you need to reach for a new book to bless your spirit: Love Never Fails: A Journal to be Inspired by the Power of Love.

Love-Never-FailsAs I wrote in an earlier book review, Love Never Fails is a touchstone of love to hold fast in a landslide of fear; a stimulus toward generosity amidst the temptation of selfishness; a reminder to be faithfully diligent in the work the changes the world: listening, caring, connecting.

Give yourself (or someone you know) the gift of this beautiful book! To enter this week’s drawing for a free copy of Love Never Fails, simply drop me an email with the subject “Love Never Fails.”

All submitted names will be placed in a hat for a random drawing at 5:00pm eastern on Sunday, May 14. I’ll contact the winner for a mailing address to send the free copy of Love Never Fails. None of the email addresses received 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.

So take a chance that you might be inspired to greater love-filled living, and send me an email to enter the drawing!

Deliberate Acts of Kindness

Meredith Gould’s writing and wit — combined with her overall brilliance — produce books that are relevant, purposeful and compelling, including the newly-updated and re-released Deliberate Acts of Kindness: A Field Guide to Service as a Spiritual Practice.

deliberate-acts-of-kindnessBeautiful to hold and easy* to put into action, Deliberate Acts of Kindness is a resource for such a time as this, equipping a new generation of socially-conscious-and-eager-to-change-the-world folks with discernment tools for spiritual grounding & a hearty dose of wisdom for guarding against burn-out.

For those who have already burned out once (or twice or thrice) in their commitment to serve others, Deliberate Acts of Kindness offers a knowing head tilt and a friendly raised eyebrow to encourage deeper, more honest self-examination about one’s engagement in service:

“How will you know your call to service is … not merely something your ego deeply desires?”
(DAK 21)

“Got trust issues? These may need attention…”
(DAK 19)

And this reality check:

“You’ll need to learn how to deal with the jerks, scoundrels, incompetents, and frauds you encounter along the way.”
(DAK 74)

Personal testimony: As someone in a helping profession (hello, ministry) my copy of Deliberate Acts of Kindness is highlighted, margin-scribbled and dog-eared every time Gould prods — I mean, prompts — my self-candor and clarity. Which pretty much means that every page of DAK is marked up.

Cover to cover, Deliberate Acts of Kindness provides concrete guidance and frames important questions for engaging service as a practice of faith: starting with the whys that compel kindness (Chapter 1), attending to the Spirit of discernment (Chapter 2), scoping out opportunities and ideas for kindness-in-action (Chapter 3), emphasizing the importance of serving well (Chapter 4), and preparing for inevitable disappointments and disillusionments (Chapter 5).

In addition to Gould’s own wisdom, especially useful throughout Deliberate Acts of Kindness is the wisdom she invites each reader to find on their own through contemplative writing exercises. I’m a great believer in the pen’s honesty: when we don’t write for perfection or worry about words, writing or journaling often has the result of putting truth on paper before our brains have the opportunity to reconsider it.

The writing exercises, assorted prayers and sayings from varied wisdom traditions, and Meredith Gould’s practical expertise make Deliberate Acts of Kindness a rich resource for volunteer veterans and humanitarian hopefuls alike — not just to be read once, but to be returned to again and again.

Deliberate Acts of Kindness is a book well worth your time and practice, for the sake of a more equitable, more kind world.

Bonus tips:

  • When reading a book by Meredith Gould, always read the endnotes. Seriously. Always.
  • Consider treating Deliberate Acts of Kindness as a devotional tool, not just a practical guide. When you find a quotation or question that resonates with you, hold onto it, take your time with it, meditate over it. Your spiritual groundedness for service will benefit your works of kindness.
  • Don’t assume that Deliberate Acts of Kindness is only a book about helping others. Chapter 4 is basically a guide for interacting with any human system/relationship (familial, professional, religious, romantic), demonstrated through the lens of service organizations. If people are driving you up a wall, whether generally or specifically, take a deep breath and read DAK. See also: adulting.
  • In addition to recommending Deliberate Acts of Kindness for your personal involvement in goodwill, I highly recommend DAK for those considering a profession in service. For example, my current job relates to folks who seek to become ministers, who are ministers, and (sometimes) who need to no longer be ministers. I would gladly put DAK into the hands of many a candidate & minister and require its study (along with therapy) for the work of collective discernment.

*If we call soul-searching, gifts-testing, energy-draining, pouring-life-into-love, burning-out, soul-reexamining, compassion-into-action-converting, giving-a-damn, and praying-to-God-to-save-the-world-from-itself work “easy.”

P.S. Meredith, I might totally steal/borrow/use “ad majorem Dei gloriam” (to the greater glory of God) with my next book, because it’s true, because it’s beautiful, and because I’m not adept enough with Latin to have thought of it myself. Thank you for your commitment to a more just & generous world.

Book Giveaway: Sacred Pause

Dear clergy colleagues,

Congratulations, you made it through the Lenten marathon and across the Easter finish line!

Thank you for the many ways in which you led and journeyed alongside others through this sacred season: in congregations and on blogs, in hospitals and on campuses, by protesting and by preaching, in coffee shop presence and in the quiet of your own heart. Thank you for your faithful attention to the experiences of life & death & renewal in scripture and the world.

In gratitude and as a gift for your own renewal in bearing the Word Made Flesh into the world, I’m delighted to announce a drawing for the free giveaway of a signed copy of my book Sacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-Weary Christian! If you’ve not yet perused its pages, Sacred Pause is a book that will surprise your spirit and encourage your faith, a book that RevGalBlogPals’ reviewer said “will change your life. Not might. Not could. Not may. Will. Change. Your. Life.”

So if you’re a minister, drop me a message with the subject “Sacred Pause Giveaway” and tell me your name & place of ministry. If you’re not a minister but there’s a minister in your life you’d like to gift Sacred Pause to, send me a message with the same subject and tell me your name as well as the name & place of ministry of the minister who you hope might receive this book.

sacred-pauseAll submitted names will be placed in a hat for a random drawing at 5:00pm eastern on Sunday, April 23. I’ll contact the winner for a mailing address to send the free signed copy of Sacred Pause.

Send me an email to enter!

(None of the email addresses received 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.)