Review: Opening Doors

A seeker’s reflections on the rooms of Christian living, by Kevin Treston, Coventry Press, 2019

Kevin Treston, based in Brisbane, has written many books to assist adult faith formation within the Australian Catholic church. This is a short, readable book that is ideal for any Christian discussion group or for individual reflection.

The eleven ‘doors’ are different aspects of Christian living. Each chapter opens with a key question, such as “how does your faith life touch your everyday happenings?” “How might our Christian  faith be fully integrated within the whole web of life in the universe?” “What are key issues in Christian moral teachings today?” “How is your membership of the church significant or not significant in your faith life now?” And “How do you see the role of a Christian in the world today?”

Each chapter ends with group conversation starters and is well written and bound to provoke discussion. Indeed, it is amazing how much content is packed into each short chapter. Continue Reading

Review: Gift of Music, Songbook and CD

by Nelson Varcoe, Adelaide Congress Ministry, 2020

Nelson Varcoe remembers his Uncles singing old gospel songs around the camp fires at Point Pearce Mission, Yorke Peninsula, the music echoing across the plains on hot summer nights. As a 12-year-old, he salvaged choke wires from an old Model T-Ford to cobble together his first guitar. “It sounded pretty good,” he says.

Now, after a lifetime of ministry and service, Nelson has published his first collection of 25 original ‘Godinspired’ songs in country-gospel style, dedicated to his mentors: “Aboriginal Christian Pioneers who travelled all across this country on the smell of an oily rag, to bring the gospel to our people.”

Melody lines, guitar chords and full lyrics are included in the book, but the CD brings the songs to life and makes the music accessible to all people, regardless of their musical skills. Nelson’s lyrics arise from a range of faith experiences: a retelling of the story of Nehemiah, or the disciples in a storm, a longing for ‘a Moses-moment’ on the mountain, the reassurance of the ‘Shield [of the] Most High’ for someone running ‘like a rabbit in the field’ or the call to stop and meditate in the quiet beauty of ‘Meroo’.

The title song: ‘Gift of Music’ – a catchy tune like so many of the others – expresses Nelson’s personal joy and gratitude for the gifts God has given. These songs have grown out of Nelson’s ministry as a pastor and chaplain, educator and artist. In the Foreword, his colleague writes, “Nelson has the capacity to tune into what is going on in the atmosphere of a certain event, confrontation or encounter, and to find music and words which somehow embody, enunciate or express the deep things of that moment.” Continue Reading

Review: Metanoia

A Memoir of a body, born again, by Anna McGahan, Bible Society Australia, 2019

Anna McGahan’s book, Metanoia, is a gift to Australia and the Australian church.

The first recorded words of Jesus’ ministry included the command to ‘turn’, ‘change’ or ‘repent’. The Greek noun for this is ‘metanoia’. In her book, Anna tells of her own metanioa – a transformative change of heart. Her story is raw, engaging, exciting, true and above all, real.

Anna tells us how she arrived at “the safest place” and “the most dangerous place” she has ever been. She tells not only of the pain of sickness, loneliness, alienation, relationship breakdowns, missteps and of the right and wrong choices in her life, but also of her story of commitment, empathy, love, and her yearning for, and finding, ‘something more’.

Anna tells of how she eventually heard and responded to the Spirit’s gentle call. Anna learned to trust Jesus, and was, like all of us, loved into the discovery of the peace, joy and hope for which she was made. Continue Reading

Review: The Struggle for Justice

The Struggle for Justice: Conversations with John Bottomley about transforming church community services, by Kate Dempsey, Coventry Press 2020

The Uniting Church, according to this book, is both “shrinking and ageing”. The congregational side of it certainly is. But the community services side is expanding. I have argued in my PhD on the Uniting Church’s future that if the Uniting Church’s community services were amalgamated and “quoted” on the Australian Stock Exchange, the new Uniting entity would be one of the exchange’s largest companies. As governments continue to privatise their welfare services, so the Uniting Church will be among the not-for-profits scooping up the additional work. Continue Reading

Review: Saint Judy

Directed by Sean Hanish, 2020, Cannonball Productions

Saint Judy is a film based  on real life events of lawyer, Judy Wood, who’s thrown in the deep end in her  first immigration law case. Her belief that the truth and doing what’s right can overcome almost  insurmountable obstacles to forever change asylum law in the United States of America, as well as the lives of those around her.

Judy represents an Afghani woman, Asefa Ashwari who’s betrayed by her Tribal Leader father,  persecuted by the Taliban for ‘Crimes against God.’ She faces the certainty of being murdered by her  own brothers in an honour killing if her fight for asylum in the United States is unsuccessful, because she encouraged girls to think for themselves and to get an education by opening a school for girls in her  village. Continue Reading

Review: Climate Church Climate World

How people of faith must work for change, by Rev Jim Antal, 2018, Rowman and Littlefield

The national synod of the United Church of Christ, USA, passed a motion in 2017 that: “The climate crisis is the opportunity for which the Church was born.”

Jim Antal’s book opens with historian Lynn White’s words from 1967: “More science and technology are  not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion or rethink our old  one.” Continue Reading

Review: Gondwana Theology

A Trawloolway man reflects on Christian faith, by Garry Deverell

The Uniting Church has come a long way in its walk with Aboriginal people, but how deeply have we contextualised our theology in the full history of this place called Australia?

What colonial lenses do we still look at God and church through? What have we missed about our understanding of Jesus and the gospel by not fully appreciating Aboriginal perspectives?

These are some of the questions that Garry Worete Deverell, a Trawloolway man from northern Tasmania, has asked in this important contribution, to guide our reflection and practice of what being Christian means in the colonised land of Australia.

Deverell invites us, with a sometimes courageous vulnerability, to consider his own reconciling of Aboriginal spirituality and Christian  scripture. He offers both profound insights and confronting challenges. Deverell turns a revealing light not only on our subtle and often unrealised Western dualism that can separate spirit from earth, but also on the reality of doing theology on invaded land. Continue Reading

Review – Red Alert: Does the future have a church?

By Gil Cann, 2018, Albatross Books

‘People don’t need more information, but more affirmation; not more training, but more recognition of the gifts God has already given them. They don’t need to be recruited, but released. They don’t need more courses, but more opportunities for ministry. They need to be valued and appreciated – they need your encouragement and prayer” (pg 121).

Based in Melbourne, Pastor Gil Cann is a frequent preacher and evangelist across Australia, including rural WA and speaking at CampFIRE, an annual camp run by the Pastoral Network of Evangelicals Uniting in Mission Action (PNEUMA).

His exploration of the most pressing issues facing the church and our society are both challenging and encouraging, making this a highly recommended read for anyone who continues to hope, pray and work for a future where the church is relevant and effective. My personal copy of this book is underlined and highlighted throughout, as Gil raises our gaze from the church as an organisation, where we are all about the same thing, to church as an organism – the body of Christ – where the same thing is in us… the Holy Spirit. Continue Reading

Review: Stories from the Inside

2019, a podcast from Social Reinvestment WA

Stories from the Inside is a podcast from Social Reinvestment WA, a coalition of WA organisations, including the Uniting Church WA, working to fix our broken justice system. Each episode features one person’s story from inside that system and how the people around them – their children, partners, parents and siblings – have been affected.

Storytellers are honest and open about their experiences, and not afraid to own up to their own behaviour. The real impact though, is the stories of how they ended up on the journey towards the justice system in the first place. Stories of trauma, violence and neglect.

There’s Tyronne, who grew up in foster homes and when reported sexual abuse was ignored, and was then punished by his abusers. Or Theresa, with almost her entire family spending time in prison. Or Jennifer, whose son was incarcerated for something as simple as unpaid fines.

Hearing Renna’s story in the first episode really made me think about just how terrifying her situation was. Renna was homeless and abusing alcohol. She needed assistance and support, but  instead was met with aggression – something she’d come to expect from authorities. Continue Reading

Review: Survivor Memorials: Remembering trauma and loss in contemporary Australia

by Dr Alison Atkinson-Phillips, 2019, University of WA Press

I was surprised by this book. I know Atkinson-Phillips’ work from previous associations, so it wasn’t the high quality readability that surprised me. It flows beautifully and carefully.

I also knew it would be compassionate. As she travels to survivor memorials around Australia, Alison records the persons involved with empathy and the aesthetics of each site with sympathy. I often found myself quite moved, not because of any journalistic milking of my sympathy, but in the competent record of the story.

Why was I surprised? I just didn’t think that I would like the book all that much. It is a survey of record and I thought it would be laborious in detail and philosophy. Yes, it records in detail who did what and why, as a good researcher should. Yet it is skilfully framed within a history of memorials.

I half expected that the subject of memorials might be irrelevant to where I am at. However, as the story was placed out and the distinction between memorial and monument emerged more clearly, I found parts of myself. Continue Reading