Books read June 2019

BOOKS READ JUNE 2019

Bob Slosser: Miracle in Darien, Plainfield, NJ, Logos International, 1979

New You journalist and writer Bob Slosser

New York journalist with the New York Times and the National Courier Bob Slosser has written a unique portrait of the creation of a megachurch, St Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Darien, Connecticut. Slosser was a member of this church prior to and throughout the 17 year tenure of Everett L. “Terry” Fullam and he writes with a journalist’s eye and with what could only be actual notes taken at the time of sermons, prayers and even Fullam’s expressions of humour and other characteristics.  

Terry Fullam was a Christian musician turned philosopher and theologian who graduated from Harvard with an MA and from Barrington College with a Doctorate in Theology and was a well-known speaker and song leader.  He attended a service lead by the Revd Dennis Bennett, Rector of St Mark’s Van Nuys and was baptised in the Holy Spirit and became committed to charismatic renewal in the Episcopalian Church. 

Called to be the new Rector of St Paul’s Darien in 1972 Fullam was ordained without attending a seminary program, by the Bishop of Rhode Island, and made an immediate impact on what was already a well-attended “standard” Episcopalian church.  Fullam’s ministry based on the model of “everyone in the church is a minister”  and his exceptional musical talents and with the help of his team exploded St Paul’s into a dynamic ministry with several pastors, major support staff who worked in counselling, welfare, finance for folk in trouble, youth and childrens ministry, prison ministry and a raft of other services.  Fullam himself spent up to fifty per cent of his time on speaking engagements and missions outside the parish and after retiring from the parish he spent nine years travelling overseas encouraging spiritual renewal including over fifty separate visits to Israel. It is reasonable to say that Fullam was widely regarded as the leader of charismatic renewal in the North American Episcopalian Church deeply strengthening the beleaguered evangelical minority in that denomination.

Slosser’s writing is measured, detailed, full of scriptural references but does not beatify Fullam and demonstrates his weaknesses and challenges as well as his successes. An up to date reprint has been re-set at a more general and less personal level as a handbook for church spiritual growth and is highly regarded.  

I was not sure what to expect from Miracle in Darien. In the end I could not put it down. It is a well – crafted, wise and spiritually thoughtful and uplifting read.   5 stars. 

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. New York & Canada, New Directions, 1972 (1962)

Thomas Merton American Trappist Monk and author

In spite of this non-speaking isolation Merton gained a wide reputation as a writer, social critic, and progressive thinker by the time of his death at fifty-two. He wrote more than seventy books, diaries, biographies, poetry, meditative writing and political essays as well as hundreds of journal articles.

Born in Prades, France, the son of artists who died when he was young, Merton lived in Bermuda and Britain before enrolling briefly in Cambridge University in England. In 1934 he entered Columbia University in New York City, where he earned a master’s degree in English, studying under Mark Van Doren. It was at this time that he went from agnostic to Roman Catholic.  In 1941 after teaching English in a Harlem settlement house, he entered the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani, a cloistered Trappist monastery in central Kentucky. 

New Seeds of Contemplation, is an impressive series of brief essays surrounding the “art” and process of Christian contemplation. It contains many profound and thought provoking ideas, theological insights, many practical suggestions and a number of warnings about the traps of leading a contemplative life. The chapter entitled “the moral theology of the Devil” is profound and chapter 15 “Sentences” contains wise advice including Sentence 1: To hope is to risk frustration. Therefore make up your mind to risk frustration, and sentence 7: If you want to help other people you have got to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn. Contemplation is a serious undertaking and not something one drifts into. There are salutary warnings and vast wisdom contained here but it is not all easy reading.  4 stars.

David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars, Maryborough Vic., Bloomsbury, 1994 (paperback film tie-in edition) originally published, UK, 1995.

Complex first novel by American writer, poet and journalist David Guterson and made into a major international movie success directed by Australian Scott Hicks.  The novel is set in the mid 1950’s in the bitter winter of the North West Pacific Puget Sound area of the Washington coast, in a  fishing and agricultural  town settled by a significant number of Japanese strawberry and raspberry crop growers.  Guterson has weaved an engrossing account of a murder trial centred on a death of a German/American fisherman at sea and a longstanding dispute over a land deal with the prime suspect being a Japanese man who had fought for the US in world war 11. The key players in the novel are Ishmail Chambers, a newspaper editor who lost an arm fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, Hatsue Imada, his Japanese childhood sweetheart whose relationship deepened into young adulthood and Kabuo Miyamoto the fisherman/farmer murderer suspect who was married to Hatsue Imada when all Japanese where interned in prison camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The snow falling on tall cedar forests in the midst of a violent storm is the constant visual and emotive backdrop of this visceral novel. Guterson also describes in some detail the trauma for interned Japanese families living in appalling conditions in remote camps in the USA  as well as the bitter hand to hand fighting in the Pacific islands as the US entered the war and began to win back territory occupied by the Japanese. An engrossing and challenging read with perhaps a need for stronger editing in parts.   4 stars.

John Julius Norwich: Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe, London, John Murray, 2017

author of “Four Princes”

It is an extraordinary coincidence that in the decade between 1491 and 1500 four of the most influential leaders ever to hold power in Europe should be born. In the same half century came the explosion of the Reformation, the invention of the printing press, the beginnings of modern science and the age of world exploration.  

John Julius Norwich has the remarkable gift of making history not only come alive but fascinating and enjoyable as well as informed. Henry VIII needs no introduction ..his six wives, mercurial temperament, lust for power and passion to win France for England, quite apart from his challenge to papal power and authority is a story often told but Norwich manages to introduce us to a more personal Henry ..his doubts and fears as well as his bombast. Francis 1, King of France,  lusted after his Italian possessions especially Milan as much as Henry wanted France. Francis 1 was sandwiched between the two flanks of the mighty Holy Roman Empire, with Spain to the west and Germany, the low countries and the Balkans to the east. Frequently in opposition to Papal authority as well as Henry V111 he had few friends and needed the support of the Ottoman Muslim leader Suleiman the Magnificent to even the scales of power. Charles V,  Hapsburg King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was certainly made in the tradition of Charlemagne.  Multi-lingual, a fierce warrior, cunning diplomat,  creative leader and fierce opponent of the Reformation,  he also had no qualms about sacking Rome and effectively imprisoning the Pope.

  Here were three high powered personalities indeed but the fourth was the greatest of all. Suleiman the Magnificent ruled the vast and complex Ottoman Empire with flair, intelligence and brutal power mercilessly quashing opposition from any quarter for over forty years. He was the only one of the four rulers to reach the age of 60, living into his 70s. The Ottoman rulers before him had already taken complete control of the Balkans and under Suleiman’s rule they annexed Hungary from the Hapsburgs  before laying siege to Vienna itself. In addition with the help of the naval pirate Barbarossa Suleiman controlled the Mediterranean and Aegean coast from the Barbary Coast in  North Africa in the South to Rhodes, the Balearic Islands  and even Nice and laying siege to Malta. Suleiman was a statesman, a patron of the arts, a legislator and first and foremost a soldier with unparalleled strategic skills and died with his troops in battle.

With superb skill Norwich integrates the stories of these four amazing leaders seamlessly interleaving his considerable knowledge of the role of the papacy throughout this whole period. It is difficult to find a paragraph that is not memorable in this account. The pace never weakens and it is an adventure narrative full of pathos, drama, extreme violence, political and religious intrigue as well as dirty dealing when needed. One of the saddest parts of the narrative is the appalling treatment and annihilation of Protestant Christians in both France and the Balkans…a terror whose results are still seen today.  I cannot think of a better entry to the study of  European history than this energetic and stylishly fluent account.  5 stars.

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