Posts Tagged ‘Bible study’

“Listening to God’s echo in our lives, approaching Scripture as if God were speaking to us, is the beginning of midrash.”
For a fresh and vibrant experience of reading Scripture, open Sandy Eisenberg Sasso‘s highly readable Midrash: Reading the Bible with question marks. In this book Rabbi Sasso provides a straightforward discussion of the Jewish tradition of midrash —interpretation of Scripture— and how this practice can nourish one’s spiritual life.

Rabbinical tradition teaches that the revelation of scripture is the beginning of a conversation, a process of seeking and listening for meaning. As Rabbi Sasso writes, “By dwelling in the text, by interpreting it and making it come alive, the people came to encounter the divine and continue a conversation begun long ago at Sinai.”

To guide readers through the process of reading and creating midrash,Rabbi Sasso shares ten examples from the tradition, each followed by a personal story. Readers experience the ongoing conversation with Scripture, and the importance of our contemporary stories. A particularly helpful section reflects on midrashim on the theme “God was in this place and I did not know it,” where Rabbi Sasso engages with Scripture related to finding glimpses of the holy in ordinary places.

Why should we read and practice midrash? “Midrash lets us glimpse the light of the old souls who saw the glow of the holy in the words of Scripture. It invites us to find that light within our own souls and bring it to illumine the sacred narratives.” We come to see the value of our own stories, and the many ways that Scripture can speak into our lives, as it did for our ancestors.

A lovely, rich, and inspiring read, Midrash: Reading the Bible with question marks would benefit Christian and Jewish readers, as well as secular individuals interested in the many ways to understand the Bible.

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.


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In Reconcile: Conflict transformation for ordinary Christians, John Paul Lederach has updated and expanded upon the work he presented in The Journey toward Reconciliation (Herald Press, 1999). The writing integrates biblical lessons and stories from Lederach’s work in conflict transformation. This carefully written book could be beneficial to any individual or congregation willing to take seriously the healing message of reconciliation.

The vision presented in Reconcile has grown out of years of work with people in conflict, and out of careful reading of the gospel message of Jesus. With an Anabaptist theological perspective, Lederach expresses a commitment to following the example of Jesus in his actions. We might theoretically accept a call to be peacemakers, but shy away from the steps required to create healing. However, if we are to follow the lead of Jesus, “we move toward human troubles and choose to live in the messiness.” In order to build relationships, we must first move toward one another, rather than put up walls.

Practical steps are provided throughout the book, many of which are drawn directly from the Bible. A helpful chapter on Matthew 18 sheds light on commonly overlooked advice given by Jesus that would benefit church communities immensely.

An exciting discussion of Paul’s letters leads to the powerful observation, “True atonement and holiness place us on the journey to make real the reconciling love of God in our lives and to heal our broken communities across the globe.” Our journey toward God is not meant to be a solo journey, but a journey undertaken in community, and for the benefit of others.

With its clear and compelling message, Reconcile is ideal for church Sunday school classes, which could take one of the nine chapters each week for in-depth discussion. The resource section provides tools to help carry the message into community, including prayers, suggestions for further reading, and experiential activities.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided for review purposes. No fee was received.

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Let justice roll down like a mighty river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. —Amos 5:24

When I read this verse, I hear it in the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As Dr. King well knew, the call of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible continues to have powerful resonance and compelling relevance for our needy world. We need to be challenged and pushed, because continually turning to God is hard work. Remembering to show mercy to the vulnerable is not always easy; complacency and busyness get in the way.

How would it feel to hear this verse read by a woman, calling other women to work together and to examine their hearts? With Rebecca Seiling’s new book, I have an opportunity to explore this question. In Let Justice Roll Down: Women engaging the world, Rebecca Seiling has prepared a beautiful study of the book of Amos, demonstrating the importance of this text for our times and empowering women to live the message of Amos. She asks the urgent question, “How can we use our hands and our bodies to worship God during the week, after our corporate worship is over?”

Commissioned by Mennonite Women Canada and Mennonite Women USA, Let Justice Roll Down conveys the message of Amos through the lens of the Mennonite commitment to peacemaking, nonviolence, and reconciliation. The author makes clear her status as a woman from one of the wealthier countries of North America, and her writing carries reminders to be aware of one’s social position and cultural identity. The words of Amos will reach the ears of those with material wealth in a different way than it reaches those who suffer material deprivations.

The book is very useful for personal reflection, but ideal for a women’s gathering, small group, or class, where women together can explore what the cry of Amos means for their lives. Each chapter includes a suggested reading from Amos, an overview that contextualizes the verse, questions to ask oneself or discuss in a group, suggestions for songs, and a closing prayer. While written from a perspective of Mennonite Anabaptist theology, women from across denominational lines will find the writing speaks to them.

I encourage you to read Let Justice Roll Down. Let Amos inspire you, and the prayer of Rebecca Seiling fill your heart: “God of justice, come and be light for our eyes.”

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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As a guide for exploring and reflecting on intercessory prayer, I recommend “Pray for Me”: The power in praying for others by Kenneth H. Carter Jr.

To me, prayer fundamentally is a mysterious experience. There is no way to explain it to someone who does not pray, or who thinks prayer is unnecessary. Prayer is something that has to be experienced. As for intercessory prayer, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams describes intercession simply as “thinking of someone or something in the presence of God.”

Over the years I have heard a wide range of questions about prayer from non-religious people: If God knows everything, why would God need you to pray for someone who is sick?; if God knows best, won’t God either heal or not heal, according to God’s own wishes?; why would God listen to one person’s prayer but not another’s? After reading “Pray for Me,” I feel better equipped to answer these questions—even though some of the answers remain very open-ended, grounded in mystery.

I agree with Carter that prayer is not asking God to fulfill wishes. Rather, prayer offers a path for growing in love for one another, for deepening our compassion, for learning to trust the outcomes to God and trust in God’s grace. If I say I will pray for someone, I am agreeing to enter into their pain or suffering, to stand with them, to cultivate a larger heart. On the spiritual path  we are called to live in community and care for one another. Prayer can help us remember our interconnectedness. Ultimately, prayer is not for God, but a way of reminding ourselves to put God at the center, and to put the needs of others before our own needs.

As I read this helpful book, I kept hearing a lyric from U2’s “One”: We get to carry each other.” It is the short answer to why I gladly will pray for others. May we grow in love for one another, and not lose heart.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book gratis from Upper Room Books.

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“Fasting that does not lead to consideration of the poverty of others misses the whole point.”

Fasting by Scot McKnight is part of the Ancient Practices series from Thomas Nelson. In this helpful and interesting volume, McKnight emphasizes that in the Biblical tradition and in the early Christian church fasting was “a response to a sacred moment and not just an instrumental act used to get what we want.” He makes a convincing case for restoring this view, and renewing a powerful, embodied practice of responding to God.

Throughout the book, McKnight includes perspectives on fasting from Christian writers across the centuries, including Athanasius, Jerome, John Chrysostom, John Wesley, and many others. There are detailed footnotes for those who wish to read the original sources.

Thankfully, McKnight’s work does not romanticize a saintly vision of living without bodily needs. I am grateful that McKnight addresses some of the dangers of fasting, and that he repeatedly returns to the concept of holistic spirituality. We live in bodies created by God, and through our bodies we serve God and one another. While we should rightly resist gluttony and hedonism, we also must feed our bodies nourishing food.

McKnight writes with awareness of anorexia nervosa, a deadly disease rooted in unhealthy perceptions of one’s body, in which sufferers subject themselves to extreme fasting. He acknowledges that fasting undertaken for the wrong purpose is undesirable and potentially very harmful.

In McKnight’s understanding, fasting can be a valuable practice if undertaken for the right reasons, because it brings our whole selves into awareness and attentiveness before God. One might fast out of grief, a deep longing for closeness to God, a deep need for social justice and change. However, fasting cannot be the end of one’s practice. “If you go in prayer to the God who wants to bring justice, then you should be willing to spend your energies working for that same justice,” McKnight writes. Ideally one should come away from a fast with a renewed desire to love and serve others.

Recently I was made aware of the exciting work of 58, “a global initiative to end extreme poverty by living out Isaiah 58.” In this verse of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Isaiah calls upon listeners “to loose the chains of injustice….to set the oppressed free….to share your food with the hungry…to provide the poor wanderer with shelter….when you see the naked, to clothe them.”

May all of us find a way, every day, to think of the needs of others and to work for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision.

This review was based on a volume from my public library. Hopefully my library system will obtain some of the other books in this series.

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