Friday, April 30, 2010

Ramblings from My 2009 Readings

Bob Rakestraw
April 30, 2010

Here are some of the books I completed reading in 2009. Feel free to send your own lists (with or without annotations). I trust that you will find something useful in this posting. May God strengthen you always with his grace.

• Amy Carmichael, Rose from Briar. Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1973 (first published 1933), 200 pp., softcover.

This has to be one of the top five books in my entire life, from the standpoint of helping me live well. It is not an easy book to read, and was written over 75 years ago. It is not only difficult to read because of the tight, sometimes turgid English (British), but because of the depth—true profundity—of her acquaintance with suffering. Amy Carmichael lived from 1867-1951, most of her adult life as a missionary to the Dohnavur area of India. She had a serious fall and ended up as an invalid for 20 years. She came to know God intimately through her sufferings, and she expresses the most helpful thoughts about physical, emotional and spiritual suffering I have ever read. I keep this book close by my side. Ruth Bell Graham, wife of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, said, “By far the best I have found” on the subject of living with serious illness.

• Dr. Claire Weekes, Hope and Help for your Nerves. New York: Signet, 1969, afterword copyright 1990, 209 pp., softcover.

This has become another of the most helpful books to me in my illness of recent years. I had been suffering from serious depression in December, 2008, and severe anxiety during the first five days of the following month. This work came to my attention through two different doctors. I have written about this book on my two blog postings of January, 2009, so I will not repeat those remarks. Dr. Weekes’ work, from a secular perspective, and Amy Carmichael’s Rose from Briar from the Christian perspective have complemented each other remarkably in my recent life—especially in battling anxiety and depression. Very highly recommended. I must face, accept, float, and let time pass.

• Linda Hall, Island of Refuge. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1999, 308 pp., softcover.

One of the most captivating novels I’ve read. Not a work of “Christian fiction” as such, but an intriguing story by an author who is tuned-in to Christian realities. The subtitle is accurate: “A Novel of Suspense.” This multiple-murder mystery excels in the overall story-line and the outstanding character studies. Set on the easternmost island in the United States—off the coast of Maine. Hard to put down. A good change for me in these turbulent times of my life.

• N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperCollins, 2008, 332 pp., hardcover.

A stimulating study of end-time events (referred to by scholars as eschatology), although the book is equally concerned with how Christians and the church should live and serve until Christ returns. The middle third of the book (about 110 pages) discusses the standard topics of eschatology: life after death, heaven, hell, bodily resurrection, the second coming of Jesus, the new earth, judgment, purgatory, and the new earth. He has some fresh insights on these topics. The first and third parts of the book attempt to clear up confusion over the ideas of heaven and resurrection, and prompt Christians to work now toward establishing the new earth. Not as clear as he could be on the issues, but an interesting read by an acclaimed New Testament scholar.

• Gerald L. Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996, 181 pp., hardcover.

This is a truly remarkable and revealing first-person account from a professor of religion whose wife, mother and daughter were killed in a horrific nighttime car crash. The author was driving his family home, when, at a curve, an oncoming car jumped its lane and smashed head-on into their minivan. The other driver was drunk, traveling at 85 miles per hour. He was accompanied by his pregnant wife, also drunk, who was killed in the accident.

The subtitle says it all. This is a book for those who have experienced any kind of loss in their lives. Sittser writes that his aim “is not to provide quick and painless solutions but to point the way to a lifelong journey of growth.” He adds: “writing this book has turned out to be meaningful but not cathartic. It has not exacerbated the trauma, nor has it helped to heal it. Keeping a journal over the past three years did that. …[Writing] this book has not mitigated my sense of bewilderment and sadness.” The accident “remains a horrible, tragic, and evil event to me.” Truly this book is a classic. Speaking of Gerald Sittser, the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff writes: “To all, like him, who must live with loss and beyond, this book will be a true companion. I know of none better.” And, according to Pastor Bill Hybels, “this is the single most reflective and redemptive book on sorrow and loss that I have ever read.” It helped me significantly with my own loss of health and career.

• Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2006, 176 pp., softcover.

In her preface the author writes: “This project examines the distress caused and the Christian theological questions raised by a clinical mental illness, namely, mine.” It is a highly personal narrative of her struggles with mental illness (bipolar disorder), with accounts of poignant and raw episodes that illustrate her statements. She does not recount every episode, because, as she notes, “this book is finally not about my own mental illness but my theological reflections on mental illness.” She discusses sin and grace, creation and redemption, God’s discipline of the soul, and the dark night of the soul.

This is a very honest, fascinating, and encouraging account of one person’s serious mental condition and how, through God’s mercy, she found (and finds) life worth living. The author of Being Sick Well, Jeffrey H. Boyd, writes that this “is the first book to develop a coherent and practical theology of mental illness. It is easy to read, deeply moving, compassionate, authentic, practical, profound, and uplifting.” He is not exaggerating when he says, “This is a must-read for any Christian suffering from mental illness, or for a family member, minister or health professional caring for a disturbed Christian.” Greene-McCreight is assistant priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church and a college teacher in New Haven, Connecticut. I have been greatly helped by this outstanding work. The book title comes from the last verse of Psalm 88

• J. B. Phillips, The Price of Success: An Autobiography. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1984, 222 pp., softcover.

Especially from the late 1940’s through the 1960’s, J. B. Phillips (1906-1982) was a highly respected, much in-demand speaker and writer throughout Great Britain and beyond. He was a vicar in the Church of England, but came to prominence through his eminently readable contemporary translations of the New Testament writings. In 1958, The New Testament in Modern English was published (revised 1972), preceded by Your God is Too Small (1952) and other volumes, and followed by numerous works making biblical and theological scholarship accessible to eager lay readers.

I first read this book in 1986 or 1987. I had come to believe (and still do) that the most valuable form of reading for me was the autobiography. Here Phillips tells his life story in an interesting and quite readable fashion: his childhood, adolescence, ministerial training, marriage, parish ministry, and writing. The last twenty-two pages describe Phillips’ deep and enduring battle with depression. His account of depression was my primary reason for reading the book again in 2009. I too was suffering in this way. Riding at the crest of his illustrious career, he had a serious breakdown in the early 1960’s. Here are his own words: “I was tasting the sweets of success to an almost unimaginable degree.… I was not nearly so aware of the dangers of success. The subtle corrosion of character, the unconscious changing of values and the secret monstrous growth of a vastly inflated idea of myself seeped slowly into me….[It] is very plain to me now why my one man kingdom of power and glory had to stop.”

With refreshing candor and specificity, Phillips chronicles his depth of depression, lasting several years, and how he was helped and not helped. He writes: “Despite the use of drugs, which did me no good at all, there really can be no substitute for the healing of the mind by the encouragement and understanding of one who knows what he is talking about. The staff [in the clinic] were kindness itself, but as far as I was concerned the daily contact with others who were suffering as I was did me more good than anything.” Having suffered from depression, I profited greatly from Phillips’ account.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A Grace Disguised is one of the most helpful books I read in my own journey toward healing after my husband's death. I recommend it ALL the time to others who are suffering deeply.

Thanks, Bob, for spreading the word!