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Customer reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
Dazzling Darkness
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on 2 November 2012
I thought this book was excellent! To start I feel it only fair to admit I am not a complete book worm but due to this I only read books that are highly recommended and are sold as life changing, impacting or affirming, and this book does all of that. Its confessional nature is intriguing and results in the reader wanting to find out more. The personal way in which it is written helps the reader to identify with not only the authors' story, but also encourages them to reflect on their own personal experience and the gifts that they indeed may posses. I found this book both revelatory and celebratory and it gave me hope to see issues often swept under the carpet by the various churches being discussed in such an unashamed, real and somewhat public way. This is a must-read for anyone interested in theology in relation to identity or personal experience, the hope that can be found in darkness and the true awesomeness of God.
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on 4 November 2012
It's rare that I rave about a book containing theology and even rarer that I post a comment about it, but this book is definitely worth a mention.

Rachel Mann writes honestly and openly about her struggles with identity, sexuality and illness. The content to some may be controversial, but it is not a book that seeks to provoke. It is simply a brutally open account of a very painful personal journey, and an exploration of where God is in the darkness. It challenges us all to visit those places within us we least like or seek to avoid becase it makes us uncomfortable or causes pain. It challenges us to be brave enough to be honest about who we are and lay that before God, a challenge made all the more potent due to the writer's own deep exploration that is laid out in the book.

As I've said, I do find reading books containing theology difficult to plough through at times, but found this book very readable and would highly recommend it.
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on 1 December 2012
Who could resist a book which brings together Greek philosophy, atonement theory, gender stereotypes and poetry? The owner of our local bookshop wasn't so sure, though. When my husband went to collect the copy I'd ordered, she interrogated him to make sure it was the correct book. `There are several Browns who have ordered stuff,' she said, `So I just need to make sure it's the right one. You see, I read the back cover, and it does all sound rather.... peculiar!'

If Rachel Mann's Dazzling Darkness is considered too much for residents of rural Aberdeenshire to cope with, it's their loss, as it sets out an understanding of the real message of Jesus which is far more genuine, generous and life-affirming than many theological tomes which are twice as long. As Rachel stresses - in a completely non self-pitying way - Jesus didn't come for the respectable folk but society's outcasts, the `freaks, the half-mad, the second-rate yet glorious bunch' as Rachel describes them, as they have no vested interests and are prepared to take the risks needed to create the kingdom of Heaven on earth. Her own journey from spaced out hippy to committed priest is told with complete honesty; she discusses her mistakes, her hormonal mood swings, and her ongoing accommodation with the nastier aspects of Crohn's disease quite dispassionately, thankfully sparing the reader the `misery memoir' type of gory detail. Her focus is not on the problem but the solution. Hers is the liberal, generous and imaginative version of Christianity which is so attractive to those of us who love Jesus but don't care for the church much, especially when it gets its teeth into the nasty stuff about atonement theory, which Rachel rapidly sees off without a backward glance. She is equally effective at zapping all the other pernicious rubbish which passes for `Christian' belief: homophobia, misogyny and that entire `bag'.

If it is to survive in a wholesome form, Jesus' message in a post-Christian world needs more people like Rachel to tell it out. I am convinced that so many of us turn away from the traditional churches because we don't see others there like ourselves. We do see there the conventional, the traditional, and the rule followers, who (assuming they are truthful about their actions!) may be very nice people but have nothing to say to those of us who rage against the injustices of the world, who challenge, question and wonder. Even worse, many of these `nice' people are quite happy to consign those of us who don't accept their own rigid and cruel take on Christianity to eternal damnation - a church local to me even states this openly on its website. They see themselves getting into Heaven on a free ticket - but won't they be surprised when they get there to see Rachel and her friends have arrived already and are enjoying the party! I hope Rachel's work continues to grow and develop for as Jesus would put it `hers in the kingdom of Heaven'. If you thought Jesus' message was all about not doing things and toeing the party line, Dazzling Darkness will quickly disabuse you of that one!

As an ex-university lecturer who is forever grumbling about the decline of literacy standards, I was delighted to find I never needed my red pen on this text - the book is beautifully written and expresses complex ideas in simple and elegant form, as you might expect from a poet. My only minor quibble is about the slightly weird cover design. It might be intended to represent alpha and omega, but as my (admittedly unpoetic) husband pointed out, it rather looks like a pink florescent toilet, and for a book which refers to the challenges of living with Crohn's disease this is possibly not the best image! But ignore the cover and enjoy the book!

Dr Mary Brown
Freelance Education Consultant
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on 9 February 2013
Once I had started this book I couldn't put it down. When I'd finished it I couldn't stop myself telling others they should read it. Rachel Mann writes honestly about gender and human sexuality in a manner which is engaging, thought-provoking and compassionate, sharing with us her own experiences and struggles. I found what she said useful and challenging with regard to my own response to these issues.
Even more profound are the chapters where Rachel speaks about the God she knows to be at the centre of her life, who can't be slotted into the God box and brought out when we feel like it and who is not the masculine God, who is the creation of the Church, not the God of faith in whom we live and move and have our being.
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on 12 November 2012
Dazzling Darkness, the sequel to Edge of Darkness, is a TRIUMPH. This book deserves 5 stars, it's better than any bed 'n' breakfast. It had me dancing in the aisle of my local church. Rachel Mann's philosophical tour de force combines her extensive knowledge, wisdom and experience of the diverse matters of gender, sexuality, illness and God. Buy now to avoid a life of disapppointment.
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on 16 July 2016
Picked up Dazzling Darkness by Rachel Mann on Thursday, and decided to read it Friday - drawn in by the intro from Andrew Shanks from Manchester Cathedral

What else, indeed, is the basic purpose of God's primordial kenosis, or self-emptying in the Incarnation, if not to invite a similar response from us: our being emptied of the all too easy, earthbound identities that the world confers on us from birth?

Rachel starts by saying this is not the story that she particularly wanted to tell about herself, but that is what she feels she has to offer... and it's a story of meeting God in the Dark places - where failure, loss and brokenness are.

Trained as a secular philosopher, teaching in academia, Rachel started a journey to find 'her true self' - with Thomas Merton suggestion that we can give no greater glory to God than being ourselves - and only God can hold us in our incompleteness - as we lose the selves we think we are and find the one that we truly are...

Alongside the big stories of gender change, identifying sexuality, and long term chronic illness, we hear how faith has grown and woven throughout life, even when it was pushed from life, but just how disruptive the choice to become a Christian was as control was lost, the need to pray by 'being' rather than 'doing', and a deepening relationship with God - past the 'first flush of love'. There's the challenge of finding a church, especially one that is made up of broken humans, and the rules that so many of us have put around the abundant, unconditional welcome that God gives - a death to self rather than the common call for correct behaviour. There is also comment on how the church has identified a particular style for God - which is often limiting, but so normative, they go unchallenged. On p78 - Rachel deals with the enculturation of academia - which trains one into a particular style, rather than an encouragement to find one's own true voice - not something that happens immediately. There's also discussion of the importance of embodied selves, and how the church has sought to regulate and manage this - as though aware of the dangerous pleasures available through our embodied selves! On p96, we look at the notion of 'abundant living' as promised by God, that so many Christians seem unwilling to to grasp (often confusing it with hedonistic living). Chapter 8 made me laugh - having spent 3 years working with vicars in training at Cranmer Hall - the notion that anyone who wants to be a priest is a pillock had to be shared - long hours, little head space, low pay ... hence a vocation... but also a vocation which requires a 'yes' from those who are called - and that yes is as important as the calling. The notion of 'The Other' is tackled, and also the question of suffering - how are we a people of hope in situations that not only appear helpless, but are?

Even if you don't agree with what Rachel says, there's plenty there to challenge our comfortable Christians lives.
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on 22 July 2015
I first came across Rachel a few years ago via Twitter. Since then I think she’s published two books, of which this is the first (The Risen Dust being the other). Opening with the full trio of a foreword, an introduction and a preface, we get to see that this is a work of testimony, intertwined with theological musings.

We begin with the tonka truck Christmas, where, as a 5 year old boy who was struggling with their gender identity, a decision was made to try to embrace masculinity. But this didn’t last and as one could tell from simply reading the back cover, Rachel underwent a sex change. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Citizen Kane and the role of rosebud, only the tonker truck had the opposite effect if anything.

The book has a certain flow to it, but it doesn’t feel like a sequential memoir. It is quite confessional in tone, almost as though we are hearing Rachel tell her story a little after after she had first recounted it painfully and fragmentary to family, a close friend or psychologist. But by now the story has been thought through in whole, seen afresh and told with a purpose. So although the reader is taken along a journey, the author knows in advance where we are going, even if the reader doesn’t.

At times, particularly early on, one feels as though Rachel is beating us over the head with an array of philosophers who are name-dropped by way of referencing how they viewed things and how aspects of their thinking were adopted. Being relatively poorly read in philosophy, I struggled to get a grip of the points being made. But given philosophy was the subject Rachel studied at university and lectured on for a while, this is a forgivable point. I mention it here so that any potential reader may consider themselves duly warned that there will be some mental exercise needed.

One thing you cannot do is read through it at a jaunt. For all the way through the reader is made to stop and think. It’s not that Rachel implores us to do but her writing compels us to. It varies from page to page, either where she looks at something in a different light, sometimes implicitly asking the question “[have you seen things this way]” or “[how does your church deal with this]”. So as I read it, mostly on public transport, I couldn’t help but keep looking out of the window at the world going slowly by and trying to marry up the grotty end of south London that I pass through with the world as Rachel see it.

One of the reflections that was always going to capture my attention was Rachel’s take on the evangelical church, for this is the broad end of the spectrum where I find home within the larger Church. Now I read various takes on the evangelical churches, some of which are fiercely defensive, overlooking the flaws (both historical and present) and some which are wholly condemnatory, with a haughty “older brother” attitude, presenting evangelicalism as something that one ought to grow out of. Neither are views I find helpful, but thankfully Rachel doesn’t go too far into either one. Rather, there is critique that is carefully measured and an acknowledgement of the good the evangelical churches have had in her life.

One of the aspects that I confess I struggled with was the appeal to poetry. It’s an art form I’ve never really “got” and, aside from the war poets (who she does cite), those parts of the book that rely on an appreciation of poetry were rather lost on me. I guess I’m too much of a rationalist. But if poetry is your thing, then you’ll get more out of this book than me and you may well want to follow up with The Risen Dust.

One phrase that I don’t think Rachel used but that came to mind more than once as I was reading was the phrase “an incomplete gospel”. In her critique of evangelicalism, one of the concerns that comes across is that the gospel preached by the churches she visited or was a part of didn’t quite reach the place where she was. As someone who had undergone a sex change and who was also a lesbian, I hope it’s not transphobic or homophobic to say that that’s a fairly niche place that isn’t too well populated. Regardless, any gospel preached by any church must be one for all. That’s a message of Rachel’s that I wholeheartedly agree with.

One of the running themes of the book is the idea of the “dark God”. Coming again at the incomplete gospel from another angle, we often speak of God as light, not least in reference to John 1. Yet Rachel’s contention is that God has a dark side. This isn’t an assertion of dystheism, but rather saying that when we speak of gospel bringing people out of darkness into light, Rachel contends that sometimes God will stay with us in the darkness. I may have misunderstood, and while I could see some merit to it, I wasn’t wholly convinced. I did wonder if, as many do (myself included), God is envisaged as a projection of ourselves and that the dark God was Rachel’s expression of such a projection. I might be wrong about that. While I would certainly agree that God does meet us in dark places, what I was less sure about was the idea that he would stay with us there and not lift us into the light.

There’s much more to the book than I have space for here. For example, I’ve not mentioned her health struggles – especially with Crohn’s disease or her call to be ordained (although she uses the term priesthood, I wouldn’t echo this, holding as I do a priesthood of all believers). I will leave that for you to discover. As I said in the introduction, this is a work of testimony. I conclude then with an amendment to that: it is a work of testimony that I recommend you read, listen to, think on and grow with.
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on 27 November 2013
This deeply honest confession and reflection provides a probing look at the rose-tinted view of faith we are often offered.
Of what happens when life gets difficult and simple answers don't cut it. Through this Rachel offers an inspiring journey in which no situation is beyond the reach of God.
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on 29 October 2014
A deep expression of personal faith. The poetry expresses where humanity and faith come together in hope for the future.
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on 13 April 2016
Absolutely fabulous book for Christians questioning their identity. Loved it!
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