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APC Forum Resource Reviews July 2017


APC Forum, July 2017, Vol. 19 No. 5


Blue Note Preaching In a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair
Otis Moss III (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, 127 pages, softcover)
 
Otis Moss III is senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL. He writes from an African-American perspective and divides his book into two sections.  The first half is based on the Lyman Beecher Lectures that Moss delivered at Yale in 2014. Scan codes are included at the end of each chapter which will take the reader to YouTube recordings of the actual lectures. The second half of the book consists of four sermons Moss preached at
Trinity Church. The intended audience is anyone who engages in preaching or who is interested in the homiletic arts. Its appeal is broader than that, however; this is a book that speaks to all who are committed to speaking truth in difficult situations, as well as bringing a message of faith and hope. Moss defines his topic in these words: “Blue Note preaching, or preaching with Blues sensibilities, is prophetic preaching—preaching about tragedy, but refusing to fall into despair” (6).
 
Moss’s writing and lectures are elegant and rich, rooted in scripture, steeped in African-American history and culture, and laced with literary quotes and allusions. The sermons are based in the particularities of the local congregation, yet speak to the depths of the human condition.
 
The author tells a story early in the book. Both he and his church had received threats, and the situation was fraught with fear and tension. One night there was a noise in the house, and he went to investigate. He heard the sound again and went to his young daughter’s room. Peeking through the door, he saw his six-year old child dancing in the darkness. He intended to scold her and send her back to bed when God spoke to him, “Look at your daughter! She’s dancing in the dark. The darkness is around her but not in her. But she’s dancing in the dark” (20-21).
 
This book is about preaching, but as I reflected on its value to chaplains, this story seemed to encapsulate the message of the author. Moss calls us to speak truth, to articulate the Blues and not to gloss over the darkness or minimize its power or effects. He also calls us to speak the word of hope that darkness will not triumph. It is a powerful reminder of our calling to help people who are faced with darkness and adversity to resist being overcome by it and to help them learn to dance in the midst of it.
 
Reviewed by Vicki G. Lumpkin PhD BCC, Chaplain and Bereavement Coordinator, Hospice of Rockingham County, Reidsville, NC.


 
Combat Chaplain:  A Thirty-Year Vietnam Battle
James D. Johnson (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 294 pages, softcover)
 
Combat Chaplain is a meticulously-kept journal of a chaplain’s work during the Vietnam War. Over nearly a year’s time, the author did a remarkable job of recording his work, his feelings and the events he experienced in combat. From the outset his deepest desire was to be with his men, which clearly had an impact on them in relation to his leadership. The work he did was not from an office or a tent but walking and flying with troops in the swamps of Vietnam.
 
The accounts are very poignant and graphic, which at time makes reading difficult. One cannot read this work without having some feelings of conflict, horror and empathy for the men who fought the war and the many that lost their lives. The vivid description of bloodshed, mangled bodies and death really shows that war is hell. The author profoundly records the impact on himself as he encounters bloodshed, armed conflicts and even the enemy. He deeply reflects on the big picture and the effect of death of family and loved ones. As a pastor in an impossible situation, he records his own grief and emotions about the loss of friends and comrades.
 
Obviously, the author is a deep man of faith, but the severity of the conflict at times even shakes this foundation. The author reveals himself to be vulnerable, authentic and honest about his experiences and encounters, especially about some of the politics involved with the conflict. He senses acutely the disconnect between upper echelon leadership and those who walked and fought in the rice fields of Vietnam.
 
In the last part of the book his accounts about post-war life show how deep he carried the scars of his experience and how the effects are long-lasting on those who participate in armed conflicts. Some are physical, but many are emotional and spiritual. Coping with the experience of war is difficult. He understood the triggers and situations that would cause the stress to rise and exacerbate itself. The subtitle, A Thirty Year Vietnam Battle, reflects this recognition.
 
In CPE we were taught that chaplaincy care is about presence, having empathy and sharing in the deep painful experiences of patients and family. Combat Chaplain gives deeper meaning to this concept. As chaplains we have all walked in difficult situations, especially those that work in trauma centers and emergency rooms. To witness the trauma firsthand and see it inflicted upon human beings is a whole different story. One must admire his strength and tenacity to consistently go into the field and have these encounters firsthand.
 
Even though few of us will encounter this depth of human misery, the book will help us to understand and appreciate what military chaplains encounter and the difficult work they do, especially with recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It helps us understand trauma and its impact on so many different systems. Being present in difficult situations doesn’t come without a price personally and emotionally. In reading Combat Chaplain, one can appreciate the level of connection that the author made with so many on different levels. One cannot read this book and not be impressed, at times scared, astonished at what so many encountered during this conflict.
 
Reviewed by Allan Jenkins MDiv BCC, Staff Chaplain, Memorial Hermann Hospital, Texas Medical Center, Houston, Texas. 
   
 


Rising Strong
Brené Brown (New York: Random House, 2015, 301 pages, hardcover, paperback, Audio CD)
 
Brené Brown’s Rising Strong is a book about the truth within our stories.  It is a powerful exhortation to embrace vulnerability while “owning our story and loving ourselves through that process” (40).  Brown has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years, thanks in part to her TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability,” which is one of the ten most popular TED talks of all time.  Her most recent three books can be summarized as: “The Gifts of Imperfection: Be you.  Daring Greatly: Be all in. Rising Strong: Fall.  Get up.  Try again” (xix).  Brown notes in her introduction: “The thread that runs through all three of these books is our yearning to live a wholehearted life” (xix). 
 
Brown shows the reader how to recognize moments when we are, as she calls it, “facedown in the arena” (xxi), and how to develop curiosity and understanding about the emotions that arise in such moments.  She offers a framework for this curiosity and awareness, not denying the power of the emotions we experience, but providing a way to more calmly and effectively journey through them.
 
Rising Strong’s content is inspiring on a personal as well as professional level.  Brown’s stories of challenges and triumphs will easily resonate with most readers.  She encourages readers to reflect on their own life moments of so-called failure and resilience.  Brown tells her stories with self-effacing humor.  She reinforces the importance of healthy boundaries, and asserts that people with the best boundaries are also the most compassionate: “Compassionate people ask for what they need,” she says.  “They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it” (115).  Chaplains can always benefit from a reminder about healthy boundaries and self-care.
 
In terms of chaplaincy practice, Brown’s work resonates in many areas.  Her emphasis on stories is a key point of connection.  As chaplains we hear, interpret, honor, and sometimes compassionately “reframe” the stories of those in our care.  Recognizing the areas of “reckoning, rumble and revolution” (41) can help us clarify the rich points of meaning within our patients’ stories.  We can better see the key emotions and points of vulnerability and bravery in those we meet.  We can embrace the calm curiosity discussed by Brown.  And just as importantly, we can empower those we care for to see their own stories as meaningful and dynamic.  As Brown notes, “When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling” (xx).  Using the tools that Brown identifies may help our chaplaincy practice and grant clarity to the beautiful “messiness” of the stories we live.
 
Reviewed by Sarah Byrne-Martelli MDiv BCC, Chaplain, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA.

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