“Be Still!” reviews

 

 

Be Still! cover

“Be Still! cover: Van Gogh’s “Prisoner’s Round”.

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and  Stock) reviews, interviews, and endorsements are posted here in reverse chronological order.

Click The World as a Waiting Room to read The Edgewood Review of Book’s review, published September 7, 2017.

The Presbyterian Outlook (Sept. 4, 2017) published the following review by Donald Shriver. Click HERE to read it in The Presbyterian Outlook online edition.

             Occasionally I finish reading a book by a fellow Presbyterian minister with a deep pride in sharing that profession.  This is one of those books, composed of some fifty short essays, many for broadcast over Minnesota Public Radio.   The range of topics here reminded me of the famous line from the Roman poet, “I deem nothing human alien to me;” for Gordon Stewart’s mind is furnished with ideas drawn from philosophy, ecology, history, theology, the Bible, and an array of  details from his own experience as a pastor.   He blends it all into prose that warms the heart and stretches the mind.   Such essays are an eloquent rebuke to the prejudice that theological writing is abstraction from the concretions of life.  I think of Stewart as an incarnational theologian like Bonhoeffer, who insisted that we pay attention to God’s presence in the concretions of our history. 

          The book’s connections with my own life immediately drew me to these pages, e.g. my connection since birth with the oysters of Chesapeake Bay, which “can filter and clean up to 50 gallons of water per  day.” Then there is Stewart’s dedication of his book to the memory of my late faculty colleague Kosuke Koyama, whom he celebrates with haiku written by my wife Peggy: “Smiling East-West spirit/ You move with sun and Son/Shining peace on us.”

                  War and peace haunt and grace these pages.  With both Koyama and a member of his parish, Stewart mourns  the  battles of the Pacific War, including the firebombing of Tokyo that almost killed that fifteen-year old future Christian theologian, whose minister asked his young church members in the early 1940s, “Remember that the God of Jesus loves Americans as well as the Japanese.”  Stewart’s meditation on war could help any of us to prepare  sober sermons for Memorial Day.  It is time, he suggests, that we remember with sorrow the soldiers of other countries who died in our wars.

                  The noise of war is only one of the sounds that distract many of us moderns from a wisdom and a peace that come to us only when we observe the biblical imperative of the title, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Sitting on a beach in Florida, Stewart ponders the scampering of a crab into an abandoned shell, in “a flight of hubris washed away by the tides of time.”  He remembers our society’s  “race to  nowhere, the myths of ownership, invulnerability, control, and superiority that race through the minds of low and high estates alike.”

             The depth and breadth of Gordon Stewart’s mind and his eloquence in expressing all of these things make this a book to digest in small gulps, as the  time-disciplines of radio and television require and as do the disciplines of preaching, too.   Minds and spirits will be refreshed in readers and quoters  of  Be Still.  The calming gifts of this practicing minister are worth imitating.  

  • Donald W. Shriver, a native of Norfolk, Virginia, was the 13TH president of Union Theological Seminary, New York, 1975-96, and most recently author of Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds (Oxford, 2005).

The Anglican Journal and Currents in Theology and Mission reviews are coming soon.

Byron Borger, Travels with Hearts & Mindsowner of Hearts & Minds, the bookstore chosen for the Annual Pennsylvania Pastors Conference.

Oh, how I wish I had had time to read some of these short pieces out loud during my “show and tell” workshops about books these days. They were all written by a Presbyterian pastor – his brother is a UCC pastor, and I flubbed a joke about God calling one of them to a better denomination – but were crafted to be spoken out loud on “All Things Considered” and an NPR feature on Minnesota public radio.  Can you imagine someone trained in the best tradition of mainline Protestant seminaries, reading the likes of Augustine and Aquinas,  Luther and Calvin, Barth and Niebuhr, spicing up their radio op ed ruminations with contemporary writers and poets like Buechner and Updike, Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry?  Stewart is nearly what one might call a public intellectual (if only he were better known.) In these well-crafted short pieces, designed for a public listenership, he draws connections from the things that matter most to the things most on our mind these days.  He writes about racial injustice experienced by urban youth, and hospital ministry with the dying.  He writes about fear and doubt and goodness and hope.  The title might make you think it is mostly about politics — it was written before the resist Trump movement, I might add — and there is plenty of public theology for the common good in here. But these thought-provoking pieces are more than just a sane rant again the “collective madness” of our contentious discourse these days. It may be more like Thoreau, short reflection on what he sees, what he deeply knows, and what we can do as we ponder together ways to make our lives more sane.  I’ve appreciated these calm reflections a lot and have been taken to re-reading a few for the sheer joy of spending time with a well-crafted essay.  Nicely done.

Leave it to Walt Brueggemann to come up with a really nice blurb, and then the prayer-maker poet J. Barrie Shepherd:

“This wondrous collection of rich snippets would be of interest and value if only for the rich source material that Gordon Stewart quotes from, as it must be an inexhaustible memory and/or file. But the many words he quotes are no more than launching pads for Stewart’s expansive imagination and agile mind that take us, over and over, into fresh discernment, new territory, unanticipated demands, and open-ended opportunity. All of that adds up to grace, and Stewart is a daring witness to grace that occupies all of our territory.”

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

“Gordon Stewart has a way with words, a clean, clear, concise, and yet still creative way with words, a way that can set the reader almost simultaneously at the blood-stained center of the timely–the urgent issues of our day–and also at the deep heart of the timeless, those eternal questions that have forever challenged the human mind. Stewart looks at terror, Isis, and all their kin, from the perspective of Paul Tillich and, yes, John Lennon. He moves from Paris, Maine, by way of the town drunk, toward the City of God. This is strong medicine, to be taken in small, but serious doses. Wear a crash helmet!”

J. Barrie Shepherd, author of Between Mirage and Miracle

John M. Miller, Chapel without Walls, Hilton Head, North Carolina:

In Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, Gordon C. Stewart shows himself to be a Michel de Montaigne of the 21st century. His collection of essays addresses many of the issues which have created great problems in contemporary life, but he does ever so much more; he proposes ways for us to overcome these problems.

The titles of his essays hint at the breadth of his mind. The Man Who Loved Graves; Mysterium Tremendum: Little Boys with Toys; Religion and Politics: Cain and Abel; Being Human: Nothing Less and Nothing More; Creating Hell in the Name of Heaven; Jacob Miller’s Amish Rocking Chair; Only One Sin: Exceptionalism; The American Oligarchy – 4/29/10. Who could allow titles such as those to go unread?

The Rev. Stewart has been an extraordinary preacher and pastor in the congregations he has served. His theological and philosophical insights are indeed rare in someone whose life was dedicated to pastoral ministry. He would be an outstanding teacher at any university, seminary or divinity school in the country.

It is evident that Gordon Stewart has drunk deeply of the truths of the Bible, the news media, and of life itself. His prose is virtually poetry. His words flow like lilting waters over the round rocks of a clear mountain stream. To read his book is to experience joy and to be moved to the very depths of one’s own being. Every pastor and serious lay member of any church will find fulfilling spiritual nourishment in these masterful essays. Be still, and then prepare to live life as one born anew.

Midwest Book Review, April 2017:

“Critique: Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, inspired and inspiring, “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is a consistently engaging and impressively memorable read from cover to cover. Thoroughly ‘reader friendly’ in organization and presentation, “Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness” is unreservedly recommended and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community and academic library Religion/Spirituality collections and supplemental studies reading lists.” 

INTERVIEW by Dave Ellis, Too Full to Write 

Bill Tammeus, Faith Matters blog: “When the Forces of Fear Rule” (April 18, 2017)

Bill Tammeus, Faith Matters blog: “Essays to Explain Our Collective Madness” (April 19, 2017).

Marilyn Armstrong, SERENDIPITY:

It is beautifully written. Elegant. …[E]ach section is complete — a story, an anecdote, a parable unto itself. …. If there is a criticism to level, it is simply that there is so much to think about, it’s hard to keep reading. I need to stop, think. And wonder!

ENDORSERS:

Bill McKibben, Author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Plane

”These are lovely, powerful, centering essays–messages from and for a fragile but beautiful planet.”

Lucy A. Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain, Senior Minister in the Memorial Church, Harvard University

”As a person who navigates the pleasures and perils of the twenty-first-century campus, having Be Still! at my fingertips will be like having a counselor, a guide, a very present help in these times. This volume touches the pulse of our times with the rare combination of unwavering candor and tender mercy.”

J. Barrie Shepherd, Author, Between Mirage and Miracle

”Gordon Stewart has a way with words, a clean, clear, concise, and yet still creative way with words, a way that can set the reader almost simultaneously at the blood-stained center of the timely–the urgent issues of our day–and also at the deep heart of the timeless, those eternal questions that have forever challenged the human mind. Stewart looks at terror, Isis, and all their kin, from the perspective of Paul Tillich and, yes, John Lennon. He moves from Paris, Maine, by way of the town drunk, toward the City of God. This is strong medicine, to be taken in small, but serious doses. Wear a crash helmet!

Michael McNally, Ph.D, Professor of Religion, Carleton College; Author of Honoring Elders

Be Still! is needed at this American moment of collective madness even more than the moments that occasioned many of the essays originally airing on public radio and other venues. With a keen eye and a knack for telling the right story at the right time, Rev. Stewart speaks to the pressing issues in our politics, economy, and culture, and consistently, often poignantly, puts them in ethical and theological perspective that clarifies what too often mystifies. Great bedside reading for those of us who stay up at night concerned about where our world is heading!”

Joyce Sutphen, Minnesota Poet Laureate; Professor in English, Gustavus Adolphus College

Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness, is exactly what its title proclaims: a departure from the frenzy and folly of our times. Each essay offers the reader an opportunity to breathe deep, to fall into the story or idea and consider what it means to be a citizen, a friend, a human being. The topics covered are both particular and universal (usually both at the same time), and the writing is wonderfully concise and open–much like poetry! This is a book you will want to open again and again; it s what the world needs now, more than ever.”

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

“This wondrous collection of rich snippets would be of interest and value if only for the rich source material that Gordon Stewart quotes from, as it must be an inexhaustible memory and/or file. But the many words he quotes are no more than launching pads for Stewart’s expansive imagination and agile mind that take us, over and over, into fresh discernment, new territory, unanticipated demands, and open-ended opportunity. All of that adds up to grace, and Stewart is a daring witness to grace that occupies all of our territory.”