RECENT REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
- Friday's Child
Friday’s Child: Poems of suffering and redemption by Brian Mountford
16 MARCH 2018
BRIAN MOUNTFORD’s Friday’s Child: Poems of suffering and redemption (Christian Alternative, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-1-78535-741-1) is a literary anthology of 40 items for Good Friday, with commentary: e.g. famous hymns and prayers, poems by Donne, Hopkins, Larkin, and Carol Ann Duffy, and prose by Lancelot Andrewes and T. S. Eliot. ~ , church times
- Heart of Oneness
This meditation by a British Quaker may be modest in size, but the subject it addresses is a dauntingly ambitious one; in fact it’s one that could risk a bit of superficiality: the paradox of a world of incredible diversity in creative tension with a mutual interconnectedness. The author wisely does not attempt a head-on tackle of this matter that such volumes have been written about, but merely invites us to think with her about where within ourselves we can learn to find underlying unity. “It is this series of paradoxes that this book will seek to address.”
As the narrative gets underway, her detailed review of the wide reach of this dividedness in the world (colonialism, nationalism, segregation, injustices, social divisions, prejudice, thoughtless exploitation of the environment, and more) could tempt the reader to think, “All right, I really don’t need to be reminded once again of all the world’s familiar disconnections,” but Kavanagh soon begins to introduce examples of the underlying unity shining through in endeavors such as the United Nations and European Union, Alternatives to Violence Programs, and a long list of others down to the personal level. And this is only the beginning: her sweeping journey through various challenges to recognize connectedness also includes learning “shared creatureliness” with other animals, another—by way of the challenge of sustainability—of our relationships to the planet, and our “vertical” oneness across time, manifested compellingly in care for future generations.
Then, as a step toward understanding this tugging of opposites, she brings in the incredible diversity of the natural world, and reminds us of our all-too-recent—and still far from complete—realization that all this is interconnected down to the last atom (in fact, “interconnectedness” shows signs of becoming a fashionable buzzword). The question, as she has posed at the outset, is how then do we find our way to this same unity in our social world? Here we deal with the time dimension just mentioned, and even more strongly with the space dimension. The connectedness we experience in various ways (group performance, Skype, group meditation, and so on) is a “field” that surrounds us, and Friends’ meeting for worship stands for us as a potent distillation of this. It is this consciousness of others’ inner lives and minds that makes for depth of worship. We are seeking unity in the Divine, and this leads the author to the final step (I’ve been rearranging her thoughts a bit to reflect my perception of how one idea develops into another).
God is often defined as no more but also no less than the pure relational act itself: God is “the ultimate oneness,” and oneness with God is oneness with all being. So we need to find oneness with our true self, and finding unity means becoming a unity within ourselves. How do we do this? “Living within ourselves requires allowing enough space … for the Spirit to enter in.” We hold within ourselves balances of disconnection such as light–dark and diversity–unity, and balance is at the core of a unified life. My finding oneness in the world must inevitably be preceded by finding oneness in myself. She reminds us that this—formulated in endless different ways—is to be found at the center of all religious traditions.
But achieving a glimpse of the oneness at the heart of existence and then in oneself is not really the goal here, but merely the gateway to insight. The really crucial step each one of us must take is discerning how this insight guides our living and acting in the world. Within the cramped space of only 66 pages, Friend Kavanagh’s meditation offers a direction. ~ William Shetter, Friends Journal
- Authority of Service and Love, The
This is the second book by Roger Payne, a Reader in the Church of England. His first, A Different Way: A human approach to the Divine, explored the use of language and the meaning of words. From that book, he believed the word 'authority' needed reassessment, particularly when applied to 'religious authority'. The Authority of Service and Love seeks to show that our understanding of authority must change if we are to be true to the message of Jesus.
The early chapters summarize the roots of the word 'authority' and move to a thumbnail sketch of Augustine and Aquinas and early Christian understandings, through to the Reformation and Richard Hooker. Payne uses reflections from contemporary commentators including Paul Avis, N.T. Wright, Martyn Percy and Alister McGrath to punctuate the historical narrative. Payne concludes:
as the Christian Church grew in size and
influence, it also claimed increasing
authority and wielded greater power.
It is the abuse of power, and the crisis of authority in the Church, including the publication in 1968 of
Humanae Vitae and the 'Monkey Trial' debates of creationism verses evolutionism in the USA, that leads
Payne into exploring responses to religious authority.
Our responses, Payne concludes, are drawn from our psychological foundations, including fear and anxiety,
need and dependence, habit and herd instinct; and lead into growth, creativity and being. The rationale and conclusions are again drawn from a plethora of authors from Jung, Freud, Maslow and Tillich.
I found the concluding section on extremism in religious authority connecting with our concerns
around the contemporary debate on radicalization, and fundamentalism in religious teaching and
authority. This, together with recent media interest in spiritual abuse by clergy, focused my attention on
Payne's coverage of authoritarianism, dogmatism and fundamentalism. Payne draws from Jack Dominian,
who I confess I'd not read since studying marriage preparation at theological college thirty years ago!
Dominian has some interesting thoughts around authority and personality.
Payne concludes his book by underlining and unpacking the book's title. He suggests authority is a
hierarchical top-down approach, whereas service is bottom-up. He quotes Dominian and Jesus Christ to
remind us that service is the hallmark of the use of authority in the New Testament:
For the Son of Man came not to be served,
but to serve.
The polarization of both extreme religious teaching, and the rise of militant atheism, calls for a solution to
this new but not so new, crisis.
The solution, Payne cleverly sets out from his first book, A Different Way: A human approach to the Divine, is
to explore further what it means to be human. Payne states [p.165],
Progress will not be made in tackling the
'crisis of authority' until our image of God is
worthy of the authority we ascribe to him.
The book is an easy read, and offers a number of questions for the reader, Christian or not. The text
challenges us to reflect, as we seek to understand the authority entrusted to us, and how that authority is
given and received. It would make a useful tool for a book group, especially for clergy and lay ministers, as
they explore this unavoidable topic.
~ Alan Jeans, Archdeacon of Sarum in the Diocese of Salisbury, Signs of the Times, Modern Church's quarterly members' newsletter April 2018 Issue 69.
- Psychedelic Christianity
Jack Call’s Psychedelic Christianity is a carefully written journey of a soul, chronicling the development of the author’s thought over the last ten years. As a Baby Boomer who experimented with LSD and spent much of his adult life as a secular humanist, he has now returned to Christianity but has had trouble finding a congregation that is neither too politically progressive nor dogmatically fundamentalist. Echoing Huxley, he describes his youthful psychedelic experiences as having an “absolutely fresh newness, as on the day of Creation.” But now as a self-identified Protestant Christian, he believes that Christianity offers “the best religious expression” of his psychedelic experiences. As with psychedelics, Christianity reveals truths that are “forgotten, ignored, [and] . . . hidden,” and although some view psychedelics to be the domain of hippies, the author contends that “Psychedelic Christianity is as fresh as the tender shoots of spring . . . [because the] psychedelic experience is a way of learning how to be in the right relationship to God.” To skeptics, he encourages them to try psychedelics and find out for themselves. He has considered the possibility of starting his own congregation but thinks he lacks “the talent for it.” He wants a church that does not use “shame, fear, and guilt as tools to enforce social conformity.” People instead should be “acting from love . . . [and not] because one has been forced.” With utopian fervor, he asserts that “the kingdom of God happens when everyone . . . freely chooses to be fair and just, full of pity and love for the next person.” The author has already established the Institute for the Advancement of Psychedelic Christianity and manages a website for the organization. Perhaps the next step will be to take the plunge and start a new denomination. ~ David Overly, Ph.D., Professor of English, Citrus College
- Psychedelic Christianity
Psychedelic Christianity tackles the deepest questions we all ask of ourselves: Why are we here? What, if anything, is our purpose? What is God’s plan for each of us? Using the words of Jesus and Paul as his jumping off point, Jack Call merges teachings from the New Testament with insights from history’s greatest philosophers to build his own philosophical argument that seeks to answer those very questions. Always logical, and often deeply personal, Psychedelic Christianity is a book that helps the reader reconsider his or her assumptions about the nature of God, free will, the Golden Rule, social justice, and the relationship between psychedelics and the divine. ~ Jason Lambert, Executive Director, Content Licensing & Metadata, Sony Pictures Entertainment
- Psychedelic Christianity
Psychedelic Christianity is not a book about Christian information, it is more of a transformational reading experience. The term “all in all” is explored in how a psychedelic trip can bring you towards an experience in the truth of the Word and remain in the Word. Psychedelic Christianity may be a book ahead of its time! This is a read that has a Divine lure which includes and transcends the tradition; a bold view of the Kingdom of God. ~ James F. Skalicky, Ph.D., Psychotherapist, Professor of Psychology, Citrus College (ret.)
- Christian Middle Way, The
Robert M. Ellis
‘The Christian Middle Way’ deploys three main tools: the notion of brain lateralisation, a clear distinction between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ and, coupled with that, a distinction between ‘absolute’ and ‘provisional’. These tools are used to re-describe the history of Christian doctrine not only in some fine detail, but also providing illustrations of the re-description of possible Christian practice. These tasks are effected in considerable detail.
Hardly a page is turned that does not provide an occasion for some questioning, or for some ‘internal conversation’ with the writer. Perhaps here lies its value: it is written, largely, in a manner congruent with its claims: it is not an attempt to declare ultimate truths, but is rather the story of part of a life accompanied by rich reflections, giving rise to provisional conclusions as how one might think, and speak, about one’s actions. If one was looking for a thoroughgoing intellectual work-out for one's current faith and practice as understood in the context of one's actual experience over the years, then this might be the place to do it.
David Lambourn, former clergyman and now member of the ‘Sea of Faith’ network
~ David Lambourn, correspondence
- Friday's Child
After leaving Christ Church Southgate in 1986, Reverend Brian Mountford became Vicar of the University Church in Oxford - the country’s most visited parish church. He retired in 2016 after thirty years of ministry there and is currently Acting Chaplain of Corpus Christi College.
In the first years of his time in Oxford, the doors of the church were closed on Good Friday - left ajar for all but the devout few to squeeze through and attend The Three Hours service, while the cafe in the courtyard outside continued to do a roaring trade. A groundswell of letters and comments from visitors - (particularly from Catholic countries) - saying how surprised they were not to see the church open, led to a change of heart. The gates were flung wide. Passiontide and Easter music was performed by the city’s choirs and orchestras. The Stations of the Cross were walked. Visitors could come and go as they pleased. More people, no less piety.
During the day, Brian invited senior students from local secondary schools to read aloud poems, which he has collated in this anthology, published last week under the title “Friday’s Child.”
Containing 35 poems and concluding with 5 prayers, this anthology is a perfect size for use to aid daily reflections in Lent - but also a wonderful book to enjoy at other times (sometimes I find anthologies can be cumbersome to hold and too dense to engage with). In Friday’s Child, Brian has done the excavating for us and presents well known and not so well known works (to me at least!) including poems not obviously associated with Lent or Passiontide (such as the Corpus Christi Carol, which I can’t read without thinking of the music Britten composed and the version of the carol sung by Jeff Buckley).
Each poem is clearly set out and followed by a commentary written by Brian. This was particularly helpful to gain an insight into some of the more complicated pieces - such as John Donne’s “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward.” I preferred it when the commentary was printed overleaf rather than on the facing page - because, despite trying to exercise Lenten self-control, I am very naughty (and lazy!) and if I got stuck trying to ponder the meaning of a poem I glanced over to see what Brian thought rather than stretch my mind to think for myself! A page turn somehow made me less inclined to do that!
I tried reading aloud several of the poems (an action we now associate with illiteracy - “silent reading” is a relatively modern innovation in the scheme of things) - imagining the young voices reciting the poems in the church. There are some wonderful quotes from the students at the beginning of the book sharing the power of this experience;
“Reading these poems was always an important part of my year. They opened up discussions about doubt, religious doctrine, and human nature for me. This is how young people want to be treated; we never felt patronized, but our voices were, in every sense, heard.”
The poems certainly do open up discussion and inspire further thought. The anthology is subtitled “Poems of suffering and redemption” and I wondered if it would be valuable to those in a process of meaning-making in grief, when coming to terms with loss?
There is much to take away from this little book. Friday’s Child is, as the saying goes, loving and giving. ~ Phillip Dawson, Quam dilecta blog
- Questioning the Incarnation
‘Questioning the Incarnation’ is then a book with a wealth of knowledge revealing the author’s passion to offer a new approach to Christology and shows clearly a lifetime’s commitment to learning and to a loyalty to much of the historic claims of the Christian faith. ~ Adrian Alker, Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain.
- Authority of Service and Love, The
This is a very interesting book about the crisis of authority in the Christian Church. It begins with a discussion of the relationship between authority, tradition, power and legitimacy as they relate to scripture and the church as an institution. There is always a balance to be struck between revelation and reason and the relative emphasis between tradition and the Bible varies, with reformers tipping the balance towards the latter and a literal interpretation that itself has partly created the crisis of authority. The author discusses exercise of authority in the early years of the Church and the exercise of power in the Middle Ages. He then examines how we respond to religious authority and why we do so in psychological terms. Living as we do in an age of extremes, it is instructive to look at authoritarianism, dogmatism and kind of blind obedience characteristic of fundamentalism. This leads him to a new understanding of authority as service and love, as indicated in the title. A well informed and timely discussion. ~ David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer Issue 125
- Friday's Child
Congratulations on 'Friday's Child'. It provides my nightly meditation before I go to bed. It is a wonderful choice of poems, many of which would be too difficult to understand, were it not for the excellent introductions. You will be pleased to know that I shall be purchasing copies this afternoon for the children. ~ Richard Pring , Professor of Education
- Friday's Child
Just a line to say how much I am enjoying Friday's Child - I have read a couple of poems and commentary in bed each night. and have loved the experience: Blake, Duffy, Heaney, Herbert, Larkin, Donne....and in so many cases poems I hadn't known or read before. It's been (and will continue to be) a genuinely uplifting, thought-provoking and rewarding experience.
Once it's readily available I shall be giving it to friends....
~ David Kewley, Independent Publisher
- Energizing Love
Phil Philosofree Cheney
This book is about UILE, or Universal Intentional Love Energy where, fortuitously, the acronym is the old Irish for all or whole. The book provides a roadmap for accessing this energy in life and removing the obstacles to it. We can only change ourselves and must discover our own path or philosophy. Phil uses the neologism philosofree to denote the direction of travel. Dreams can be an important gateway into a wider imaginative awareness, and he provides guidance along the way in terms of altering our patterns of thought and feeling and reaching a deeper level of enjoyment. However, pain, sorrow and grief can also turn out to be the seeds of later joy. He recommends a balanced life where we choose love as our centre of gravity and remain alert to the present moment. This also means being authentic and acting in love. He is right about the education system lacking an underlying model of the human being and assuming, wrongly, that knowledge is what we need to succeed. He adds: ‘it does not know how to teach virtues, spirit and friendship, and ways to interpret what is ethical life instead of pushing the materialism barrow.’ Ultimately, we do have our own universal spiritual GPS, and this book is a timely reminder of this fact. ~ David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer
- Psychedelic Christianity
This is not an easy read yet the rewards are worth the perseverance, particularly if the reader is not used to the mental gymnastics required. The work is undoubtedly more at home in the domain of the philosopher rather than the theologian in the first few chapters, but it seems a wordy way of saying 'It is better to travel in hope than to finally arrive' or that 'it is human to strive for "something", otherwise there is only a form of death'.
One thing it cannot fail to achieve, however, is to stretch the reader's understanding of spirituality and the soul's growth. In its working of logical arguments it highlights the dissatisfaction of a classic position leading to either an exciting train of thought that explores many other possibilities or be a trap of monumental mental proportions that ensnares the reader in a spirituality that is essentially Gnostic.
In time the initial inference of the title is made plain with the assumption and encouragement that one takes mind expanding assistance of some kind or other to experience a form of transcendence that will ultimately change all who partake of such things in a positive spiritual way and open themselves up to love. Although words such as 'grace' are used there is no mention, however, of the traditional spiritual discipline and understanding of prayer in relation to Grace, Redemption and Faith but an underlying concept of reaching out for an 'ultimate' goal through experience.
This book will not be everybody's cup of tea nor rest easily with their way of thinking. Having been a psychiatric nurse, am an ordained priest, a psychic and a Counsellor/Psychologist I am not attracted to try this route for myself for I have seen too many adverse reactions, but before there be any words of condemnation I suggest the reader attempts to place their religious scruples and prejudices to one side to consider just what Jack Call is saying alongside the suggestion of psychedelic chemical use and evaluate where the practice has led him. It might surprise them.
~ Rev John Littlewood, BSc (Hons), Cert Pastoral Theology (Cambs), Cert Theology (Cambs)
- Psychedelic Christianity
A challenging read but worth it. A philosophical inquiry into the nature of God, with the author’s experiences with psychedelic assistance in opening to the wonder of the Divine. ~ Cathy Dehaven, hospice RN (ret.)
- Meeting Evil with Mercy
There are some Christian teachers who, for reasons hard to define, attract an unusual personal following. One thinks of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in the Orthodox tradition; Frank Lake, another Anglican psychotherapist, and Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones in the reformed tradition. The grateful students of such teachers sometimes become disciples. Martin Israel drew that kind of following, and Philip Pegler, who personally owes much to him, is of their company. That is not a criticism of his work - Pegler does not skate over his subject’s foibles - but it does perhaps explain the tenor of the book. Dedicated to the memory of a possibly saintly and certainly extremely complicated man, it is sometimes almost devotional in tone. And none the worse for that.
(excerpt from a review in the January 2018 issue of The Way magazine) ~ John Pridmore, The Way magazine
- Heart of Oneness
Those of our readers who already know Jennifer Kavanagh’s work will be pleased to see a new publication. This short book is an essay on interconnectedness and is intended in as an antidote to the depressing news we see on our screens every day. She writes: We need to remember that alongside the horrors there exists a parallel reality of compassion, love, daily acts of kindness and selflessness, expressions of what we know in our hearts to be the true: our essential interconnectedness. Most of the ills of the world stem from our departure from this reality.
In 10 chapters she explores the political and personal implications of interconnectedness. She describes how when she first volunteered for a homeless project she was sent on a tea run. She was nervous: I walked over to a young man in a sleeping bag and asked if he would like a cup of tea or coffee and whether he took sugar. I found myself forming a relationship with another human being. Instead of passing a bundle in a doorway with embarrassment and guilt, I was doing something, however small, and my preconceptions fell away. It was an epiphany, and I realised in that moment that that bundle in the doorway could have been me. She notes that genetically we are more connected than we realise. Going back only 600 years, the common ancestry of Europeans can be traced to a single individual. Looking beyond the human species, the natural world has numerous examples of mutuality. Indeed, DNA shows that the composition of the human body is remarkably similar to the earth’s crust. Given these connections is it not in order
for us to respond to the world and to others with a sense of love and kinship? Going beyond the material to the inner world, Kavanagh notes the commonality of faith expressed by many writers, especially in relation to mystical experience, a fact noted by the Quaker, William Penn in the 17th century: The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers. She concludes: From religion, in science, and from our own daily experience we can see that separation and division are human distortions.
The book is unashamedly partisan. Although the author recognises that there is much in human life and history that emphasises the contrary, our competiveness and tribalism, she wishes us to turn in a different direction. Maybe if enough of us turned the world might become a happier and more generous place. Such an attitude is not unfamiliar in Quaker circles, though the sceptic may say that only a few have ever been convinced. Kavanagh counters this with the observation: The first thing to recognise is that there is no such thing as a small piece of work. . . . . All we can do and are, I believe, asked to do is inform ourselves and to foster love in our hearts and actions.
The sentiments expressed in this book are unlikely to surprise universalists though they may appreciate their clear and wellwritten presentation. The ideal audience would be those who have never questioned the divisions of species, religion and nationality which separate us and who might be prepared to look afresh at the values they hold.
~ the Universalist, Dorothy Buglass
- Psychedelic Christianity
Psychedelic Christianity is an entertaining and lucid evaluation of the usefulness of hallucinogens on achieving insights into key questions that underlie a spiritual quest. These include our relationship to a higher deity and what is expected of us. The argument leads us to examine the ultimate question concerning the goal of existence. Jack Call argues that while this goal has already been reached, it is not the end of the road. All in all, a fresh examination of the overlap between substance-induced spiritual experiences and Christian teachings, and the revelations that one may have on the other. Psychedelic Christianity is an innovative and provocative read that feeds the inquiring mind. ~ Rick Brown, Ph.D., Psychology Dept., Citrus College
- Friday's Child
Thank you for your book, which I am enjoying enormously. It fits my attention span perfectly and is making me look again at things I had long taken for granted or never thought about at all. ~ Nigel Hamway, email
- Psychedelic Christianity
I was brought up with little religion. My mom and dad are non practicing Christians, and my stepfather is most likely an atheist. What little I know regarding Christianity, I have learned from my grandmothers and I have picked things up here and there. I admit, I am an agnostic and am still trying to figure this all out. That's part of the reason why I wanted to read this book. The other being I've never taken an LSD trip. As someone who is afraid of death and what happens after, this book has brought some comfort. If anything it has taught me a little more about Christianity from a completely different viewpoint. As a scientist, I like things that make logical sense. Not everything does, but the author did an excellent job of using logic in many of his arguments. I enjoyed this, as I felt the author was using more than blind faith to justify his views and to me that is important. Evidence and thought. As a philosopher the author has a way of keeping the reader intrigued by using evidence and logic, some may find the reading a bit dense at times, but others will also appreciate the preciseness of the language used. ~ Paul Swatzel, Professor of Mathematics, Citrus College, Glendora, California