Changes to Book Review Availability

For a range of reasons, I will not go into, I have moved away from housing my book reviews on Goodreads.

As such, earlier reviews that have featured on my website may no longer be accessible using the links originally inserted on the website. Future book reviews will take a slightly different format from what has previously appeared.

I apologise for any inconvenience that is caused by this development.

Review: If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him

If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill himIf you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him by Justin Lewis-Anthony
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a book that I was meant to read at the time I read it, i.e. during my present sabbatical in between parish assignments. Recommended to me by a Dominican friar a little over twelve months ago, this book has languished on my ‘to read’ list in the time since. I knew I would get to it eventually, but that ‘eventually’ was a nebulous thing always subject to something else that needed reading first. Reading it now was both fortuitous and a profound blessing.

Drawing on his own experience as a priest in the Church of England, Justin Lewis-Anthony is at pains to explore what he believes to be the most significant challenge facing parish ministry in the present age. And the answer Lewis-Anthony produces centres on an overly romanticised and (all but) deified memory of George Herbert, a priest of the Church of England, who spent less than four years as a parish priest in a country setting in the early 17th century.

Because of his poetry and hymn writing, Herbert is well remembered within the Church of England – and rightly so for those reasons. His accounts of how to be a priest, however, while perfectly set out for his time and place, are not easily transferable to the modern context (or any context outsider his own) of parish ministry. Despite that unsuitability, Herbert is often held out as the example to be emulated by parish clergy in all times and places according to Lewis-Anthony.

For a Catholic comparison think of the Cure d’Ars…

Lewis-Anthony sets about describing how the Herbertian model of parish ministry is no longer applicable and attempts to ‘kill it off’ (hence the book’s title) to be replaced by something that is more relevant to contemporary times. In doing so, Lewis-Anthony believes that a model of parish ministry centres on the role of the clergy as Witness, Watchman, and Weaver (the author is fond of mnemonics starting with the same letter!), which must take into consideration the five R’s: Rule (as in Rule of Life), Role (what am I here for in this place), Responsibilities (to whom, for whom, with whom), Reckoning (how am I to manage this), and Reconciling (how to manage expectations and conflict). There is a lot of wisdom in Lewis-Anthony’s model, most of which I would argue comes because he has managed to ‘kill off’ Herbertianism (Lewis-Anthony labels his model as the KGH model, the ‘Kill George Herbert’ model).

As I’ve already mentioned, this book is written in the context of the Church of England. However, there is wisdom here that is equally applicable to other contexts, including my own Australian Catholic setting. I am glad I read this book while between parish assignments for no other reason than it requires me to contemplate how I might go about moving into my next assignment, i.e., will I simply repeat what I have done before in other settings which may or may not have been effective and appropriate, or will move forward open to a possibility of doing things differently in a new setting that I will discover only once I get there.

Time will be the ultimate judge on that score.

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Review: A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God’s Amazing Embrace

A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God's Amazing EmbraceA Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God’s Amazing Embrace by William A. Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The challenge of seeing one’s relationship with the Divine as one of intimate friendship is going to be difficult for many people, particularly those of a certain generation or a certain religious upbringing. It can be strange to see a relationship so often described in other terms like that. Yet William Barry, a member of the Jesuits, attempts to bring people to see the power and beauty of doing so in this book.

It should be clearly stated at the beginning, however, that the kind of friendship that Barry speaks of being possible to have with the Divine is radically different to that one might have with another human being. There is a world of difference between the two, yet the analogy of friendship is one that Barry argues is closer to what God intended for the relationship between the Divine and the created world.

Drawing on his own experience and the traditions of St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, Barry makes a wonderful contribution to the joy of seeking a fruitful, affirming, and life-giving relationship of the human being with the God who created them.

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Reviews: Truth Is Trouble: The strange case of Israel Folau, or How Free Speech Became So Complicated

Truth Is Trouble: The strange case of Israel Folau, or How Free Speech Became So ComplicatedTruth Is Trouble: The strange case of Israel Folau, or How Free Speech Became So Complicated by Malcolm Knox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book, which has been sitting on my ‘to read’ list for years, was well worth the wait before I got around to reading it.

Tackling the troubling case of Israel Folau and that disturbing Tweet from 2019, Malcolm Knox takes this particular occurrence as an entry into a deeper exploration of the numerous, and perhaps insurmountable, issues surrounding the question of “free speech”. It is an engaging, nuanced and balanced exploration of the issues. At the end of the book, this reader is left to wonder how the ongoing culture war issue of “free speech” can be addressed or managed civilly. Regrettably, the answer is as elusive as it is with many other points of contention in the ongoing culture wars.

Knox has an easy and accessible writing style that draws the reader into the commentary and exploration at the heart of this tome. The book is not designed to arrive at a conclusion, apart, that is, that the issues surrounding “free speech”, Israel Folau, and the progressive-conservative battles are not easily answered if only because they are, by definition, complex and not the simplistic struggle they are often portrayed as being. However, this contribution to understanding some of the complexities involved in the struggles is well worth reading if for no other reason than it attempts to give air to those complexities.

Well worth the time to read.

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Review: All the Beautiful Things: Finding Truth, Beauty and Goodness in a Fractured Church

All the Beautiful Things: Finding Truth, Beauty and Goodness in a Fractured ChurchAll the Beautiful Things: Finding Truth, Beauty and Goodness in a Fractured Church by Beth Doherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an intensely personal reflection on the nature of the Catholic Church in Australia as experienced by the author. Given all of her particular experiences and the results of a survey of family and friends, Beth Doherty writes passionately about a Church that she continues to love even as it occasionally causes her frustration and anger.

Much of what Doherty writes I can easily identify with. However, there are some parts that I cannot if only because my experiences of Church, my understanding of the way things are, are different to hers. Such should be no surprise given the very nature of the Church, an age difference, and the reality that I have been in a different role and place within the Church for the last fifteen years of my life. However, none of those differences diminishes the power of Doherty’s own experiences and how they are expressed in this book.

My only ‘criticism’ – and it has more to do with me than anything else, I suspect – is that I found some parts of the book difficult to grasp from the perspective of style and flow. These passages took me a little longer to grasp and comprehend than other parts, though they ultimately did not distract from the power of what was written.

Anyone who has even the slightest amount of care and concern for the Australian Church in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse would do well to read this book.

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Review: Aidan of Lindisfarne: Irish Flame Warms a New World

Aidan of Lindisfarne: Irish Flame Warms a New WorldAidan of Lindisfarne: Irish Flame Warms a New World by Ray Simpson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of St Aidan of Lindisfarne has always been of particular significance to me. It perhaps explains why I took ‘Aidan’ as my name when I became a Benedictine Oblate many years ago.

This book by Ray Simpson, someone who has ‘lived with’ Aidan on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, tells Aidan’s story in a fictionalised many, by which I mean as a story, not as a history. In that sense, this tome is entirely in keeping with Aidan’s Irish heritage, coming as he did from that country with many a great storyteller as a faithful daughter or son. In telling the tale of Aidan, Simpson manages to inspire the reader – or this reader at least – to take up Aidan’s mantle as one called to preach the Gospel in his time and place in ways that are responsive to the needs of the world then and there.

Reading this particular book and tale during my sabbatical leave has invigorated a desire to do as Aidan did wherever I end up when my leave concludes. Like Aidan when he started his journey from Ireland, I am not sure where that will be. However, the Good Lord will reveal that to me in God’s good time. My challenge, like Aidan, is to respond with an open and generous heart to God’s call.

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Review: Reformed Sacramentality

Reformed SacramentalityReformed Sacramentality by Graham R. Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has sadly been sitting on my ‘to read’ list for close to 5 years. I always knew that I would get around to reading it ‘one day’, but there was always something more pressing, more necessary, that usurped this tome’s place in the reading order. It has taken the rare opportunity of sabbatical leave for it finally to get to a place where it was ‘in order’ to read this fine contribution from the late Graham Hughes.

Although written from a different denominational tradition than my own, the scholarship of Hughes contained in this book has provided an impetus to give some time and thought to the nature of sacramentality from my own tradition. It may surprise some to know that there are many similarities between the two traditions of author and reader, as well as more than a few differences. And the interplay between traditions, between author and reader, is one of the many fruits of (finally) reading this text that directly examines the approach to sacramentality found in the Reformed Christian tradition.

Hughes’ scholarship is superb, and his ability to hold many different facets of his presentation together in a manner that is accessible makes this book one that anyone interested in sacramentality (and I think Hughes would argue that should be any and all Christians) should read at some point in their struggle to grapple with the challenge of sacramentality in their own tradition.

Highly recommended.

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