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A place for the lost

24 May 2010

Thaddeus Birchard is impressed by biblical, passionate thought


A Spirituality of Survival: Enabling a response to trauma and abuse
Barbara Glasson
Continuum £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

WHEN I first opened this book, I thought: here we go again, another contribution to the overwrought literature on sexual abuse. This will be another chronicle of stories about how dreadful are the abusers, and how helpless and scarred are their victims. How wrong I was.

This is, indeed, a rare book. It is far more than my initial thought. The book is repeatedly filled with illustrations of power and power­less­ness drawn from political as well as individual stories. It is richly theological. It is deeply biblical, with interesting and insightful interpre­tations of scripture. Most of all, the book is passionate about justice, and the rights and inclusion of the excluded. From time to time, it left me in tears.

The main thrust of the book is survival, taken from the French root sur-vivre, to live above, as opposed to sous-vivre, which means to live below. It goes on to examine this theme of “living above” from a variety of angles — the importance of telling the story. There are im­mensely moving passages on the silence of God, a listening silence, part of the life-giving longing of God.

There is a section on the “threshold”, and recognition that the power to enter and to leave, as we choose, is an important human need. The author discusses a frequently overlooked part of Luke 2.41-52. Jesus began his ministry being lost and goes on to note, in this Gospel, the importance of the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son. In this way, she says, Luke expresses the crucial place of the lost in the story of salvation.

She writes with a warning about substitution theology and the portrayal of Christ as the sacrificial victim promoting the Lordship of Christ within a framework of op­pressive male dominance. Finally, she writes about the surviving church-power “with” rather than “over”.

All of this is set against a range of contemporary backdrops: Liverpool the Capital of Culture (whose capital and whose culture?); Alison, who jumped from a bridge into traffic; Dave, the Big Issue salesman who lived under a bush at the Anglican Cathedral; Laura’s beauti­ful allotment, where “the first frosts are drawing patterns on the shrivel­ling leaves of the raspberry canes.”

The stories and illustrations do not stay at home. They go abroad to Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa, to Chile, and to Argentina.

There is nothing to criticise about this intelligent book. She writes easily, effortlessly, but seriously, with the deftness of the preacher. But will the book make an impact on the weight of the Church? Will the bigwig Bishops listen as they amend the equality legislation in the House of Lords?

I should hardly think so. After all, the author is a woman and a Methodist minister. Not much status in either.

The Revd Dr Thaddeus Birchard is a psychotherapist in central London.

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