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Fathomless Riches: Or How I Went From Pop to Pulpit
Fathomless Riches: Or How I Went From Pop to Pulpit
by Reverend Richard Coles
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest unmasking of previous pomposity, 20 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I’ve met Fr. Coles twice, before he was ordained, and thought he was pompous and snobby. I read this book too quickly and felt sad when there was no more to read (a sequel, please?) and I now realise that his outward manner was hiding insecurity so I have warmed to him. Pun intended, ‘never judge a book by its cover.’ (Though, literally, the cover is an unsuccessful attempt to imitate Gilbert and George – or, less likely, Pierre et Gilles.)

As a teenager ambling along the sea front on a Sunday night, I remember the Salvation Army starting up around 8.00 and people giving their personal testimony. One was a prostitute with a drug habit until she got converted. I always felt they were more interesting before they got God. This book is written in that style. However, the absorbing, non-pious bits are quite a large section which deals with the Communards and Red Wedge. There is a harrowing section about the era of AIDS called ‘Auntie Ada’. It includes a good funeral conducted by the Salvation Army where there is no coy cover up of gayness nor the cause of the death – which was rare back then. A poignant account of another funeral: coffin carried by friends who did not have much to lift by the time the virus had finished with him.

However, there is much that is life-affirming in the recounting of AIDS stories, such as the real goodness of so many people.

Someone in my book group is thinking of suggesting this book for one of our future meetings. I wondered whether some people might be put off my the amount of religion but it’s not until page 197 (of a total of 278 pages) that it starts in earnest and, even then, there are plenty of other topics like being a radio presenter.

Pete Bennett of Big Brother fame, gets a mention as he was bought by his mother on one of their tours.

The author’s childhood is revealing. At age 6 he had a reading age of 12 and his mother told him off for showing off. He was an accomplished liar and referred to as a ‘peculiar little boy.’ He was the last to be chosen for team games, like me, and, also like me, had plaster busts of Bach and Beethoven.

Like me, he stayed up late at night until into his forties.

As a choirboy, he sang canticles by Dyson, Stanford and Noble which were also in our repertoire when I was in a choir. His choirmaster insisted that the Oxford Easy Anthem book was hidden behind a cover so that the word ‘easy’ wasn’t on display.

I think I was an atheist before he was. It seems to be a good rehearsal for doing theology later on. Indeed, people who believe in everything tend to make mediocre theologians.

He has good taste in men, judging by the photo of Matthew. (Though his first sex was late, at age eighteen)
He mentions Jennings and Darbishire, of whom I had never heard, which shows that he’s more middle class than me.

When he is warned that masturbation can make you go blind, his eyesight is so poor that he decides to risk it.

There are various allusions to Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer (a couple didn’t simply get married, they were ‘joined together in Holy matrimony.) and the King James Bible (her son was ‘not as other men are’) throughout, which will probably be lost to younger readers.

There’s a few good literary allusions, like ‘feasting with panthers’ (Oscar Wilde, for those who don’t recognise the phrase.) And ‘the melancholy, long, withdrawing roar (of Communism.) - Matthew Arnold.

I loved this account of a drag queen nicking a vacuum cleaner.

I had to look up ‘Mivvi’ – ice lolly. Not posh, though I later had to look up croque-en-bouche = a French dessert consisting of choux pastry balls piled into a cone and bound with threads of caramel. I’d never heard of Boden but I now know that it is a brand name for a certain type of clothing.

He narrowly missed the pleasure boat Marchionness, which sank, because of a serious water leak in his flat.
His experience of High Mass at S. Alban’s Holborn is almost exactly the same as mine, though I was an adolescent in a small town anglo-catholic church when I had mine. The elevation of the consecrated host, by sacred ministers wearing damask vestments, surrounded by clouds of incense and attended to by torchbearers is wonderful for those of us who love drama. It was John Wesley who said that Holy Communion was ‘a converting ordinance’ though he was only used to Cranmer’s rite conducted from the north end of the table. I’m not sure that Coles is right to describe it as a ‘protestant’ conversion, not least because it was a shared experience in community rather than an individual surrender in a private room or a ‘going forward’ at some evangelistic rally.

Some people that I know personally feature. The diligent master of ceremonies at S. Alban’s is remarkably patient despite his perfectionism. (And I loved this bit: On Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of the week that culminates with Easter, there was a procession round the parish, everyone carrying palm crosses as a reminder of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our triumphal progress round Holborn was led by the Master of Ceremonies, who used a special stick to indicate piles of dog s*** imperilling our seemly progress.) Sara Maitland is exactly the sort of person to point Coles in the right direction (once she has stopped talking) and Fr. Gaskell has been a blessing to countless numbers of people.

I am not sure I liked his ‘outing’ of some gay clergy (unless they were already out and/or had given him permission to do so. Coles tells his own story built I am not so sure that he should tell stories that belong to others.

I have an atheist friend who regularly goes on retreat to Buckfast Abbey and who will scream with laughter when I tell him that it is nicknamed, because of its business acumen, ‘Fastbuck Abbey.

The recent synod on the family, which voted against welcoming homosexuals into the church, will lead to a perpetuation of his experience in confession of a priest focussing on homosexual ‘genital acts’ rather than in helping him ‘to be more attentive, more forbearing, more clear-sighted, more just, more loving, in my relationships with other people’.

I think that we Anglicans do confession better – maybe because there are fewer punters so we can take more time on it and go into more depth than just a shopping list of misdemeanours.

I was aware that Ephesians was probably not written by S. Paul but not that is it probably not an epistle, nor that it wasn’t meant for Ephesus. Now that I think about it, it lacks the traditional salutations and some manuscripts omit reference to that city.

I didn’t know there was a gay porn star called Harry Enfield in addition to the bloke on the telly.

Coles was unfortunate in having a migraine at his selection conference (he describes the procedure by which would-be ordinands are screened very well) and a heavy cold just before his ordination.

His descriptions of Mirfield, especially during Holy Week, brought back fond memories for me, though I don’t think Peter Allen would like to be described as ‘short and silky’. I was sad to see that a coterie choose ‘names in religion’ (drag names) for new students. I thought that only happened at St. Stephen’s House, Oxford. Same with alcohol – but now I can see why Coles thought that a cocktail cabinet was essential equipment for a seminarian.

I can better his account of a student and guest noisily having sex on Good Friday. When I was there, some years previously, a couple had sex on a single bed on the guest wing. The legs collapsed and the bed crashed on to the stone floor during the greater silence before the Easter Vigil and the whole wing was awake.

I had forgotten how liturgically fussy the place was, where errors of choreography or speech/singing were jumped on. I remember the late Brother Dunstan interjecting, ‘That’s the wrong reading’. And it’s not as if anyone was going to preach on the text during a weekday evensong.

I had an interesting interlude finding about what a Dieux du Stade calendar was.

His feelings about Uganda and the Anglican Communion are a lesson for some of us. Despite Uganda’s vilification of may people , the Mirfield fathers vigorously fought. (I remember reading, in the 1960s) about the boy Hugh Masekela getting a trumpet from Fr. Trevor Huddleston and hadn’t realised he was still alive. Reading about Steve Biko’s widow was also good. So maybe the Communion is worth preserving after all.)

Coles was the first to visit the vestment sellers setting up stalls in the college. Why doesn’t that surprise me?

After an unsuccessful religious broadcast, someone denounced Coles as ‘the worst thing to happen to Christendom since Charles Darwin.’ That’s very far from the mark since a friend of mine who works in schools says that the only priest that most of the kids approve of is Richard Coles. Whither mission to a new generation if clergy like him are to be demonised?

The C of E‘s most vociferous killjoys, a group ironically called ‘Reform’ have stated, ‘The promiscuous behaviour, it seems, was not seen as sin leading to lostness from which he needed salvation, but a positive part of Coles’ spiritual journey, affirming him as a good and attractive person, from where he felt able to move towards God to satisfy the hunger in his soul. He says this: “Do I think it was consistent with a Christian calling? No. We are called upon to be faithful. But it was extremely healing for me. Would I repudiate it? No…I can’t.”….. A much more serious problem is the ‘Gospel’ he is promoting, whereby sexual excess liberates the soul and affirms the believer in his or her identity and self worth, leading to closer encounter with God and eventual settling into domestic “faithfulness”. Some are no doubt thinking that this Gospel could become popular and even arrest the decline of the C of E, asking why we haven’t thought of it before. Will Church leaders, ‘faithful’ in the true sense of the word, dare to speak and act against what is an ancient and destructive heresy?

Well, the ‘destructive heresy’ is that promoted by Reform – they seem completely unaware of the spiritual classics’ take on desire. They are also aware of the lives of the great saints. Reform, need to repent of the false god, which is an idol that they have created in its own image.

There are a few errors in memory – Gay Sweatshop did not precede but succeeded Consenting Adults. Gay News was monthly, not weekly.

Compline does not come from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Its English form is from the ‘deposited book’ of 1928
I wish there was an index. I wanted to find mention of bassist David Renwick (pp. 81, 104)

The book ends with his diaconal ordination with a lovely anecdote: Nicky, vicar of the church down on the estate, where lives could be as rough as any lives anywhere. … told me that the bishop had been recently to confirm some of her kids and asked them before the service if they had any questions. There was silence, apart from one girl who said, 'I've nicked this top from me nan, but do you think it shows too much tit for church?'

A wonderful book that made me reflect upon my own life; a life and experiences similar in some ways and different in others. I was moved to tears after reading some chapters and one of those who rarely ‘allows’ tears.


Outside Eden
Outside Eden
by Peter Fisher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.81

3.0 out of 5 stars not my cup of tea, 12 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Outside Eden (Paperback)
I am not really into poetry so I thought this book might give me a way in through theology.

God creates order out of chaos, out of things we regard as absurd = out of tune

Like me, the author wonders about the dynamics and emphases of sacramental confession.

I was baffled by a reference to T. S. Elliott wearing a four-piece-suit. What is the fourth piece? The internet doesn’t seem to know the answer.

This book didn’t do much for me but it may well do so for others.


Knowing Jesus
Knowing Jesus
by James Alison
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars the creepy evangelists are missing out, 11 Oct 2014
This review is from: Knowing Jesus (Paperback)
Sometimes, a creepy person comes up to you and asks if you ‘know Jesus’. Worse, do you know him ‘as your personal saviour’. In an age of individualism, that takes no account of the Church as community, of the dynamic at work in the relational Trinity, this type of person believes himself to be offering some ‘get out of jail free’ card for life after death. So the title of this book is timely.

‘Justification by faith’ is incapable of an individualistic interpretation because it means ‘being in a right relationship with God’. As God is Trinity and loves humanity, justification implies and involves a change relationship with all humanity.
Becoming a Christian is the result of taking on trust the experiences of other people. If you read the Bible, you are engaging with the experiences of others: some people treat the gospels, for instance, as if they were biographies of Jesus, sort of primitive history books. They are nothing of the sort. They are witnesses to the apostolic experience of the resurrection, and the rewriting of their experience of the last years before the resurrection in its light. Some people treat the Old Testament as though it were a manual of laws and practices. Again, that won't do. We receive the Old Testament because it reveals the pattern of God's dealings with his chosen people, dealings which give models for understanding what God really wanted to reveal when he raised Jesus from the dead.

The resurrection is not a continuation of life after death. Our resurrection is incorporated in his and is part of the transforming of our lives here and now, not in some after-life. Without going into technical detail, Alison applies Girard’s mimetic theory to Jesus

The Sermon on the Mount pointed to a way of life which threatened the status quo and would lead to persecution. Society scapegoats those it doesn’t understand. Jesus showed the way by his own victimhood and his resurrection showed that it was alright.

What happened once and for all is to be repeated in our everyday lives. Jews tell the Passover story in their present tense – WE are free, not merely THEY were freed.

The New Testament does not do away with the old, it fulfils it. Christians are now freed to live as if the new covenant had already begun. Our right relationship with God must spill out into all our other relationships.

The notion that catholics are ‘the real thing’ can produce an unhealthy, sectarian belonging’. Henri de Lubac stated that "the Eucharist makes the Church.” Our author asserts that ‘the Eucharist is ‘pivotal for knowing Jesus’….Knowing Jesus is inseparable from knowing Jesus in the Eucharist’. (Without falling into the trap of sectarian belonging which Alison criticises, I cannot help but notice that protestants seem to regard the eucharist as some sort of optional extra instead of the central act of worship. Also, that whereas the ‘wee frees’ in Scotland used to advertise the eucharist well in advance so that people could prepare for it, some protestants seem to decide, on the spur of the moment, to ‘do communion’. You might miss it for months if you happen not to be there on a particular Sunday or you might come unprepared when it is sprung on you.

Echoing Paul, the only Jesus that there is available to be known, is the crucified and risen victim and he is known by many more that those who think they are the church (maybe what Karl Rahner called ‘anonymous Christians’.


Spirituality in the City
Spirituality in the City
by Andrew Walker
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars too much theory, 10 Oct 2014
This book got off to a good start by Richard Chartres comparing using a spiritual director or companion as ‘creative for the Christian as going to the gym and having a personal trainer.’

Mark Oakley suggests that: If Gandhi was right in saying that before we try to meet God anywhere else, we should try to meet him in the next person we meet, then the city is full of spiritual potential.

On church as a place for everyone, however far that are on their faith journey: I once heard someone who was talking about Australian farming say that it differs from other sorts because the aren't fenced in; they simply gather together around the watering hole.

Rowan Williams quotes Francis de Sales to the effect that spiritual direction begins when people are helped to walk more slowly, talk more slowly and eat more slowly. He also welcomes the idea of celebrating the festivals of religions other than Christianity into our calendar.

Rosalind Brown was a town planner and she compares Victorians hymns, which demonises the city, with modern hymns that celebrate it.

Clare Herbert is honest and helpful, as usual.

Philip Sheldrake has long reflected on the theology of the city and sees children as our hope, because they make play areas out of places built to serve capitalism and nothing else.

Bernadette Flanagan is a nun living in the inner city. She writes about those who choose to live among the poor.

My main feeling about this book is that it is too theoretical.


Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco
Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco
by Stephen J. Hunt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.51

4.0 out of 5 stars orthodox or lunatic?, 2 Oct 2014
The second coming of Christ, at the end of time, to wind uip time is supposed to be a central belief of Christians. After all, it is asserted at the end of the Creed and repeated in the silly ditty in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer ‘Christ will come again..

But I don’t believe it (at least not as a literal event).

But millions do. We saw that during the run up to World War One and, again, as the year 2000 approached.

Karl Bath said that: a 'Christianity that is not entirely and altogether eschatological has entirely and altogether nothing to do with Christ'.'

Judaism probably got the ideas from Zoroastrianism in ancient Persia and it was developed in the Christian New Testament. 'Millennium' is defined by The Concise Oxford Dictionary as 'A period of a thousand years, especially that of Christ's reign in person on earth'.”

Sociologist Malcolm Hamilton observes that millenarianism can accommodate itself to normal and highly practical concerns and routines of daily life and he cites Seventh-day Adventist and Pentecostal groups in the United States as examples of this.

Martyn Percy, former principal of Ripon Hall/Cuddestron Theological College, now dean of Christ Church, Oxford, points to alternative Evangelical readings `Dispensationalism' teaches that the millennium is not so much a redemptive work of Christ as a fulfilment of Israel's history. Post-millennialists go even further, and look for the kingdom of God to be realised in this age, and therefore ' postpone the parousia almost indefinitely, holding that Christ will not return until society has been thoroughly Christianised.

Orestis Lindermayer observes that in the 1970s, fundamentalists opposing the EU thought that the Antichrist will dominate world economy. Revelation 17:13 states that the kings of the earth 'shall give their power ... unto the beast' - not only their armies but also their economic power. A one-world government would be expected to have one-world economy. The European Common Market has explored a common currency. For pre-millennialists, the Darwinian idea of 'survival of the fittest', suggests 'that the earth will be ruled by those who fight to win the ceaseless competition that exists in all jungles — including those of concrete in our urban societies'

Stephen Hunt says that Post-millenarianism in the nineteenth century believed in supernatural events, and mirrored ideas of secular progress, optimism and rationalism. Post-millenarianism took from the liberals an emphasis on progress and the moral responsibility of the individual but it demythologise scripture in an attempt to retain any plausibility.

New Testament scholar Stanley E. Porter notes that many of the writings about the second coming are highly disputed, e.g. Revelation and the Letter to Hebrews.

Andrew Bradstock is an RS lecturer and says that 300 years before Luther, millenarian hopes surfaced in different parts of Europe - not surprising, given the Black Death, popular uprisings, and the gradual break-up of religious and political unity.

The Bohemian Adamites, believed themselves to be specially indwelt by God in these Last Days, incapable of sinning and as innocent as Adam and Eve before the Fall. Free love and nakedness were encouraged and they interpreted the concept of common ownership so radically that marriage to one partner was positively eschewed.

The so-called magisterial reformers like Luther and Zwingli mostly believed either that the millennium had already occurred or was in some spiritual sense still in existence.

Others, like Thomas Muntzer, took a more militant line by calling men and women to strike down the godless in order to speed the arrival of the momentous day

In England, equating the papacy with the Antichrist was common during the reign of Elizabeth I.The defeat of the Armada in 1588 convinced many that England might be God's elect nation. However, the failure of her successors, kings James I and Charles I, to embrace Protestantism fully, and economic and social upheavals during the reign of Charles, led many Puritans to fear that God's judgment upon them might not be long delayed. There was also a millenarian dimension to the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 to found a new society in America, because the spread of the Gospel to all parts of the world was a prerequisite for the return of Christ

Under Cromwell, the conversion of the Jews was linked to the spreading of Christianity throughout the world . Many millenarians thought that, as long as the Jews remained untouched by the gospel, Christ's Second Coming must be delayed. Jews not been formally permitted to reside in England since the thirteenth century, and concern about reaching them with the Gospel, together with more straightforward commercial interests, led to a successful campaign for their re-admittance in the 1650s.

Ian Maclean, in The Renaissance Notion of Woman women were seen as superior to men in prophecy. In the Bible, a number of women are described as prophetesses… Private revelations to women were acknowledged if not authorised throughout the Middle Ages.

Edward Irving was a strange character who, according to Mark Pattison, was the father of modern dispensationalism, rather than Darby. He was a pastor to the poor but also a Tory who believed in the divine right of kings.

The editor looks at the sociology behind the T'aiping Rebellion and suggests that man developments like industrialisation, urbanisation, colonialism and interference by foreign powers led economic deprivation and marginality for the poor. The insurrection expressed desperation. Protestant missions did little to dispel the fear of the Chinese that Christianity encouraged rebellion and immo¬rality as defined by the Confucian philosophers. In turn, the missionaries identified the long-established religions of China as so much idolatrous superstition.

Kenneth Newport looks at Seventh-day Adventism, a successful movement with lots of members, running educational and relief agencies. According to the pre-millennialist, a new dawn will break, but it will be God's, not humanity's doing. This world is so wicked that only God can ever bring on the millennium. The faithful's task to sound the trumpet alarm, not to waste time and energy patching up a world that has already passed the point of no return and is spiralling headlong into the abyss. If the millennium is around the next corner one should spend one's time telling people to get ready for it rather than wasting time building hospitals and establishing schools. Earthquakes should be greeted not with humanitarian aid, but rather with We told you so'. Jehovah's Witnesses hold this view but Seventh-day Adventists don’t. Matthew 25:31-46 states that the standard by which people will be judged 'when the Son of man shall come in his glory' will be the way one has responded to the needs of other individuals. Then again, the Seventh-day Adventist emphasis upon hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, retirement and nursing homes, is an attempt to build a parallel society in which the Seventh-day Adventist faithful can remain secure and safe from the outside world.

We sometimes talk of ‘building God’s kingdom here on earth. Both Marxist Christians and Zionists tend to think that way. But The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that: The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realise within history that messianic hope which can only be realised beyond history through the eschatological judgement. It calls 'intrinsically perverse' political form of a secular messianism.' Here, 'intrinsically perverse' is actually a quote from an earlier formula used to condemn Marxist communism. So liberation theology was suspect.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, Pentecostalists mobilised resources 'for a brief and intense spurt of activity they thought would usher Christ's return. Pentecostals shared their restorationist worldview with other fundamentalists but they differed by believing that the birth of Pentecostalism with the fresh outpouring of the Spirit was 'itself a fulfilment of end-time prophecy' Although speaking in tongues is well-known, prophecy has always been an integral part of Pentecostalism's beliefs and practices

One of the most well-known millenarian sect was at Waco and Koresh's most effective recruiting was done among Seventh-day Adventists. On 15 April he appropriated two titles associated with Jesus. He told the negotiator, 'Look. If the seven seals are true, yes, I'm the Lamb of God. Yes, I'm Christ….. Koresh frequently told his followers and the outside world that his message had to be measured against the evidence of the Bible.

Susan J. Palmer looks at what looks likes a cult of Messianic Judaism: The Tribes consider themselves the 'lost and scattered tribes' of the ancient Jews and members are often given Hebrew names. They renounce the world and share all things in common. They teach that Christianity's unholy alliance with the political powers when Constantine was converted in 312 CE when Christianity became a state religion fulfilled Daniel's prophecy 'it is in the lifetime of those kings that the Stone will be hewn'. The ten toes of this statue are identified with the ten kings arising out of the fourth kingdom (which the Tribes understand to be 'probably Europe'). Though they are seen as a cult, when 112 children were taken from their communal homes in Island Pond, Vermont, by police and social workers, the judge dismissed all charges and deemed the raid 'unconstitutional' and 'unwarranted'. Weddings are like morality plays or the 'millennium in miniature' . The bride assumes the role of the 'pure and spotless bride' of Revelation, who is also the 'church'. The groom is the `king', who represents the Second Coming or Yahshua, and wears a white linen shirt and trousers with a red sash and cloak to symbolise the sacrificial blood. Rooms are furnished with carved and polished wood, tooled leather, Victorian wallpaper and lit by candles and oil lamps. This too is a sort of restoration.

‘New Age’ is thought to be a phenomenon leading up to the year 2000 but it was around in the run up to World War One according to Philip Jenkins in his book ‘The Great and Holy War’. Michael York deals with more recent events but the movement is disparate and manifests contrasting beliefs and practices. The New Age goal is to 'return' to a primary state of grace, Teilhard de Chardin's 'omega point'. Paganism, Platonism and the Kabbala may be involved and supernatural, even UFO intervention is behind the new world order. If humanity rejected the scientific world view, Armageddon could be by-passed.

Matthew Fox is mentioned as one of its prophets. I am not sure that this is fair, though his book ‘Original Blessing’ can be read to support the view that the New Age eschews the Christian notion of intrinsic evil and original sin. But it rejects the Gnostic duality between cos¬mic good and cosmic evil.

Christianity and Japanese religion was syncretised e.g. in Aum Shinrikyo, which became infamous March 1995 because of its nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, Aum publications spoke repeatedly about the imminence of Armageddon Asahara Shola studied acupuncture and other healing techniques, and ran a clinic near Tokyo. To attain salvation after death, disciples had to sever all ties with their families and former lives. If people did not respond to his initial message, Asahara came to believe that they did not merit the salvation he offered and so deserved punishment because they chosen to reject the salvation offered and would inevitably go to hell after death Matthew 7:13-14 talked of the wide gate to destruction and the narrow gate of salvation.

Nichiren Buddhism preached imminent salvation in an age of perceived decay.”

So the Millennium may be an important Christian doctrine but it has produced much harm and lunacy.


From My Sisters' Lips
From My Sisters' Lips
by Na'ima B Robert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars a testimony, 1 Oct 2014
This review is from: From My Sisters' Lips (Paperback)
Teaching RE for over thirty years, I have tried to make teenagers in the Western world aware of how women are oppressed in our culture and how Islam liberates, rather than represses women. This book would have helped me to be more convincing.

A glimpse into the lives of a community of women reverts/converts to Islam,

Her story about covering and being empowered because she felt no longer judged on physical appearances alone, no longer seeking the approval to feel beautiful - or using her looks to wield power over men affected her greatly. Before long she grew in confidence and courage. As she says, 'Something just clicked. I thought, "Good, don't look; don't compare me with your latest squeeze, don't try and guess my measurements - my body is my own business!"'

Some reverts DO seek the sort of certainties that aren’t on offer elsewhere, however, reverts come from a variety of backgrounds – they weren’t all abused or neglected. Reversion is not undertaken merely in order to marry. Nor is it the result of brainwashing

Jesus predicted splitting families. The same is true in Islam.

Some of it repetitive, e.g. on hijab, but the feminist case for it is made quite well.

I had to look up ‘snood’ = a sort of scarf which acts as a hood and ‘Riot Grrrl’ = an underground feminist punk rock movement.

For all that people like me try to explain Islam, there is nothing like a real life human story as testimony.


Prayer in the Morning: A Book for Day's Beginning
Prayer in the Morning: A Book for Day's Beginning
by Jim Cotter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.02

4.0 out of 5 stars refreshing for the jaded, 26 Sep 2014
For those jaded by frequent repetition in the daily offices, this is a refreshing change.

However, the first ten days or so of psalmody consists mainly of the misery and cursing psalms which isn’t a good start to the day.

Also, the psalms are labelled only by the date of the month on which they are to be used. There are no footnotes to tell you which psalm number is being paraphrased.

There are enough psalms for 31 days, unlike the Book of Common Prayer where you have to repeat day 30.

The short bible readings seem to bear little connection with the psalm just recited.

I wish the author wouldn’t spell out YHWH. It is offensive to Jews.

The Divined Praises (known to those of us who attend Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament) are used as a canticle but Jim censors to bits about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why?

The Advent section includes the anti-semitic hymn which says that the Jews, ‘Deeply wailing, shall the true Messiah see’. That’s shameful, given that he alters words in other hymns. However, he does draw attention to the shameful vilification of Jews by the Christian Church in his Remembrance section.

There’s a refreshing translation – “You have softened the wax in my ears.” (Ps. 40:6 mine ears hast thou opened)

The author is aware, ahead of his time, of ecology issues – back then in 1987 he wrote of the ‘fragile earth’.


Father Faber
Father Faber
by Ronald Chapman
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars mercy not as wide as liberals would wish, 25 Sep 2014
This review is from: Father Faber (Hardcover)
When I was a teenager, confused as most of us were with sexual matters, my confessor told me that I would learn much from Fr. Faber. I always wondered what he meant.

The next time I encountered the man was to sing his seemingly inclusive hymn ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.’

As a child, Faber seems to have had an intuitive sense of God and strong sense of self-discipline, rising every morning at 6 a.m.

This asceticism continued into his adult life. The latter was to stand him in good stead when he went to harrow, where discipline was in decline, the boys were treated like men and offered wine at meals. He continued to be self-willed.

His mother died while he was still in his teens and his father not long after.

He was attracted to the evangelical Clapham Sect and the only boy to attend Sunday Communion.

At Oxford, he was attracted to Arnold’s liberalism and the Whigs and also to Newman’s Tractarianism.

I was amused that the tractarians nicknamed evangelicals ‘Peculiars.’

He didn’t get on with anyone who disagreed with him.

He wrote poems to Dora Harrison but believed that the best priests were celibate. Some ‘suspect’ him of being gay..

He was deeply agitated by what many called ‘Roman fever’. Like most tractarians, he wasn’t merely ‘high church’ obsessed with tat. He became a very successful (still Anglican) parish priest at Elton. ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ continued to rack him. Also, he needed his stipend to pay of debts incurred in his parish building projects so didn’t see how he could afford to ‘go over to Rome’ but a friend paid them off.

Unlike some Anglican priests who continued to celebrate Anglican sacraments after they had made their mind up to secede, Faber stopped celebrating Holy Communion except in order to give the sacrament to a dying woman. His leaving evoked considerable sadness.

Once he had crossed the Tiber, he pointed out the inconsistencies of his former position.

After conversion, unlike the Ordinariate converts who claim to take their ‘Anglican patrimony’ with them, Faber went in for the more exotic Roman prayers and saints. Is this high camp or a distancing himself from the past? Many argue that it was an integration of his former evangelical piety. He certainly made ultramontane practices popular in a rather over-rational England.

He was a fan of natural theology

Those liberals who sing his hymn ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ may be surprised that he believed in Hell


Faber Poet and Priest
Faber Poet and Priest
by Raleigh Addington
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars a dash of colour in a foggy London, 25 Sep 2014
This review is from: Faber Poet and Priest (Hardcover)
Ex-Anglican Faber was the founder of Brompton Oratory, bringing a bit of colour into the fog and gloom described by Dickens.

As a confessor, he was particularly good with cases of neurosis and nervous breakdown.

He is famous for his hymn ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ but I didn’t know, before, that he also wrote ‘Sweet Saviour bless us e’er we go’ and ‘Oh come and mourn with me a while.’ Many argue that his hymns are too sentimental but they were a gift to those working amongst the poor and ill-educated.
However, the former is beloved by liberals, who probably twist its intentions. While it is good to bask in the sunshine of God’s love, Faber was well aware of the effects of sin and also wrote the verses not usually seen in our hymnals. Catholics see this in the light of his teaching on purificatory suffering that widened the bounds of purgatory.

This book is a collection of his letters. They survived because the recipients treasured them.

Faber struggled to be free of God and (or because of) he was infatuated with a young man. He says that he avoided swearing, drunkenness and impurity, claiming that the latter was unknown to him. His father’s death led to his getting only (?) a second-class degree.

While Newman was converted through the study of the Fathers, Faber was converted through reading the lives of the saints. He did, however, read current scientific journals so we can’t write him of as being anti-intellectual. He was, however, child-like and called Our Lady ‘Mama’.

Maisie Ward criticises Faber's spiritual direction as `rather extreme' and speaks of the 'terrible earnestness' of the Oxford . True, he could be quite challenging but he became less demanding and more accepting of human nature later on.

The book includes his interesting family tree.

Like many Anglicans, he found much bad taste in the Roman Catholic Church.

Nowadays, people are familiar with Alton Towers as a theme park for amusements but it was designed by Pugin and housed aristocratic Roman Catholic families with whom Faber regularly met and from whom he received funding to educate poor catholic children.

His bishop counselled him to avoid confusing the faithful by sticking to simple preaching.


John's Gospel and the Renewal of the Church
John's Gospel and the Renewal of the Church
by Wesley Howard-Brook
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars If you don't know what 'the scrutinies' are about, 21 Sep 2014
I first read this book about 1998 and I didn’t rate it very much. However, having reread it some 16 years later, I have come to see how useful it is. It relates modern scholarship(:In our world of e-mail and junk mail, of thou¬sand-page pieces of legislation and multimillion-copy novels, words can be simply a cheap resource for taking care of busi¬ness. We skim more often than we actually read. We scan for the key point that we need to know, then move on to the next dis¬posable text. One of the first principles helpful to our encounter with John's gospel is that every word counts. Many passages turn on the subtle echo of a previously sounded theme. Others find their key in the presence or absence of the smallest and seemingly most insignificant words. To discover the message of John for the church today, we must discipline ourselves to become careful readers.) to the life of the Church, especially to the liturgical context in which much of John’s Gospel is proclaimed. Churchgoers will have noticed that the gospel readings during Sundays during Lent are excessively long, even if the shortened versions are used. You especially notice it because you are having to stand for so long. And you ask yourself why, if this is Year A (of the three year lectionary cycle), the year of Matthew, you are suddenly getting long chunks of John’s text.

Perhaps an intelligent and helpful preacher tells you that this is because of the “Scrutinies”. The scrutinies are not a newfangled contraption of liturgical experimentation but go back to the days of the very early church when candidates were given their final preparation before their baptism at the Easter Vigil.

In the New Testament. Paul preached that in order to be baptized one had to repent. But what exactly did one repent of? Some were enslaved to sin. Others trusted in cosmic forces. Still others worshiped pagan idols. In all these cases, becoming a Christian meant turning from former belief to acceptance of Christ as the core of one's being.

Baptism was the only action that clearly ritualized this conversion from one allegiance to another. (candidates for baptism in the early church had to look at their alliegences – soldiers making oaths to the emperor, teachers teaching about Roman gods) But candidates were expected to undergo change before then. Gradually the church developed additional ritual structures that helped people on the road to this conversion, and which also helped the church discern if the conversion was sincere. Those structures involved exorcism and scrutiny.

Origen of Alexandria (c. 183-253) mentions the practice of exorcisms in his community, but their scope was broader than baptism. He said Christians proclaimed the scriptures.

The Gelasian Sacramentary (c. 645) does not report which lectionary readings enhanced these celebrations. Popular theory holds that the gospels of the woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus accompanied the Sunday scrutinies.

Ultimately, scrutinies are about conversion. They are about leaving behind one way of life and taking up another. A well-prepared celebration of all three Sundays will clear the path toward the font of rebirth.
So our author explains that conversion is not just a personal turning to Christ but a turning to the church. And the church as a whole should be engaged in continuous conversion.

The author is a Roman Catholic lay theologian (yes, the RCC does have lay theologians) and I assume that he is related to (married to?) Rita Nakashima Brock, a great feminist theologian. He offers suggestions for preaching and questions for Lent discussion groups.

He sets the fourth gospel in the context of in creasing animosity between Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity.

He comments in detail bout the woman of Samaria, the man born blind, foot washing, the trial of Jesus and Peter’s denial, the piercing, finding the risen Christ in community and the miraculous catch of fish.


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