Review: Grateful: The transformative power of giving thanks

By Diana Butler-Bass, Harper One 2018.

Reading small chunks of Grateful has been my morning reading for the last month. Gratitude, I learnt, is often missing as a spiritual practice in a selffocused world.

More and more people are finding this experience of God beyond the walls of traditional religious institutions, but often miss the church community itself and its shared spiritual practices such as gratitude. Gratitude can easily get buried in rote liturgy with religious words that have lost their meaning. Many claim gratitude in their daily lives, but Bass finds that claim to be at odds with the discontent that permeates modern society and dominates our political discourse.

This highlighted a gap, she argues, between our desire to be grateful and our ability to behave gratefully—a divide that influences our understanding of morality, worship, and institutional religion itself. In Grateful, Bass challenges readers to think about the impact gratitude has in our spiritual lives, and encourages them to make gratitude a “difficult and much-needed spiritual practice for   our personal lives and to inspire us to work together for a better world.” Continue Reading

Review: Summer in the Forest

Directed by Randall Wright, Heritage Films, 2018

This review was published in the April 2019 hardcopy edition of Revive. Sadly, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, passed away yesterday. We keep all those who knew and loved him in our thoughts.

In this heartfelt documentary, we are invited to spend time in a L’Arche community. This film is not so much the life story of Jean Vanier, but a peek into his everyday life and the community he founded.

The L’Arche community was founded in France in 1964 and aimed to do away with institutions for people living with disability and build life together instead. People with varying levels of ability live together in community, sharing day-to-day activities and becoming friends – equals – rather than residents and staff.

After visiting an institution for people living with disabilities in 1963 France, Jean was deeply affected by the suffering of those who lived there. He left his job teaching at the University of Toronto and moved to France to live with the people he met, helping to revolutionise the care system in the western world.

The violence, he says, was hard at first, but over time it became a place of peace. Continue Reading

Review: Outspoken: The life and work of the man behind those signs

By Father Rod Bower, Penguin Books, 2018.

Born to a young unmarried mother through to his adoption, Father Rod Bower shares his struggles to establish his identity in the midst of bullying and his stepfather’s early death. He finds acceptance within Anglo-Catholicism, eventually going to seminary, ordination and appointment to the Gosford Parish with a deep passion for social justice.

His theology of billboard signs reveals a deep empathy for Jesus’ mission to the marginalised which in the modern context involves challenging attitudes towards ‘illegal’ asylum seekers, Islam, LGBTQ and climate change. Fr Rod Bower demonstrates how billboards gives the church a platform for sharing the Gospel in the public square, exposing the ethical failings of Parliament. Continue Reading

Review: Burke and Wills: The triumph and tragedy of Australia’s most famous explorers

By Peter FitzSimons, Hatchette Australia, 2018

When the Murray-Darling River system is news, raising questions about how well we know our own environment, Peter FitzSimons’ Burke and Wills has particular relevance. FitzSimons tells of their expedition from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1860–1861. He makes it possible to have an empathetic response to the participants, with their strengths and weaknesses, hubris and  blindness.

Australia is a very urbanised nation, despite traditions about the ‘bush’. Part of the romance of the bush is that others go there and we did not have to learn the hard lessons about the  environment they faced. Europeans also mostly had closed minds to what Indigenous Australians could teach them. It remains so.

Given the jealousies and characters of the participants, it is amazing that the expedition managed to achieve its goal. The party had separated and established a base camp at Cooper’s Creek, so a  smaller group could travel faster and reach the goal. It was tragic to miss the rendezvous (by hours) which led to the deaths of Burke and Wills. They were so close. Continue Reading

Review: Christmas: Myth, Magic and Legend, by John Queripel

Morningstar Press, 2018.

Rev John Queripel is a retired Uniting Church minister in NSW with a varied career in congregations and chaplaincies. He is known for his social justice concerns and his scholarly approach to understanding Christianity today.

His latest book is informed by scholarly understanding of the differences between factual writing about what happened and the power of metaphor and myth to convey deep meaning. For many modern readers it will be a new experience to read the chapters that describe conditions in Judea when the
gospels were written and which show the very different agendas of the only two New Testament writers who provide more than passing reference to the birth of Jesus.

The chapters guide the reader through the strange world of first century story and myth to an appreciation of the meaning of the stories about Jesus’ birth for us today. We may also reflect, sadly, on the way many churches celebrate Christmas giving prominence to magical stories of a baby, but little focus on the transformative life and teachings of the man who gave rise to such stories.

For more about other publications by John Queripel at www.facebook.com/JohnHenryQueripel/

David Merritt