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Dealing with bad stuff

by
16 August 2013

Jennie Hogan reads books drawing on experience

Growing Into Life: Living by design
Janine Fair
Circle Books £11.99
(978-1-78099-411-6)
Church Times Bookshop £10.80 (Use code CT567)

Stumbling Blocks: Conquering the stuff that holds you back
Gavin and Anne Calver
Monarch £7.99
(978-0-85721-200-9)
ChurchTimes Bookshop £7.20 (Use code CT567)

"THIS is a love story," Noel Moules writes on the inside cover, commending Janine Fair's offering on change and spiritual growth. He is not wrong, although there are three persons in this relationship: the author, her deceased husband, and God. Fair, a GP, is used to listening to patients' troubles. Here, with great candour, she shares her own heartbreak, despair, and awakening.

It is fitting that this slim book's cover shows the transformation of a seed into a thriving plant, because proactivity, perseverance, and enthusiasm are claimed to be the key to both a recovery from trauma, and a discovery of God. Such action, Fair suggests throughout, demands honesty about our emotions. She is keen to emphasise the importance of "decoding" them. Well-chosen anecdotes contribute towards her own narrative of growth. A confessional spirit runs throughout, which prevents her story from turning into a self-help manual.

Clearly a woman well-versed in the Bible, she makes references regularly; lists of chapter and verse are at times overwhelming. Such abundance, however, attests to Fair's intensive quest for peace and understanding. While her book may be read as an elegy, it is primarily the fruit of suffering and prayer. Fair speaks to the reader, urging and encouraging transformation. In short chapters and jargon-free language,Growing into Lifemay well suit others struggling to work God's purpose out.

Anne and Gavin Calver know a lot about struggling. Eleven chapters confront head-on the "stuff that holds you back". With Evangelical verve, the husband-and-wife team shift the stumbling-blocks that get in the way of developing a better relationship with God. These range from "I hate church," which tackles boring services. The Calvers gain inspiration from IKEA: which, we are told, is experiential, participatory, image-driven, and connected. Now there's a challenge.

Another stumbling-block blasted apart is "Where are all the men?" Gavin laments that none of his footballing mates wants to come to church. Anne worries that her recently divorced neighbour, Becky, won't find a new partner at church, because there are no men there. It is sometimes hard to identify who is writing, but one of them writes: "Perhaps we should look more seriously at whether we have over-feminised the gospel and the Church." Perhaps it doesn't matter.

Upfront, frank, and funny,Stumbling Blocksfaces up to genuine problems facing the Church. There is no doubt that it is particularly suited to Evangelical churches. Chatty language such as "footy with Gav's mates", and the "girls having a 'cuppa'", proves that the Calvers have made a real effort to reach a popular, unchurched audience. Indeed, the danger of being a cradle Christian is compared to the reality of growing up as a child of the Beckhams, where fame and fortune are as familiar as the Alpha course.

Questions are asked and challenges are offered at the end of each chapter. All of it provides meaty food for thought for frustrated church leaders or a house group keen to make inroads.

The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain to Goodenough College, London, and Assistant Curate at St Giles's, Cripplegate, in London.

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