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Book review on 'Talking God' by Jacci Bulman

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Book review on 'Talking God' by Jacci Bulman
Talking God, Daring to Listen - Book review by Anne Rogers

Recently I’ve been contemplating the fact that the longer I’ve been a Christian, the less certain I am of some elements of what that means. Reading Talking God provoked more thoughtful pondering on this subject.

The book is based around interviews with eleven people, with contributors from several Christian church backgrounds as well as those with mystic or contemplative spiritual viewpoints. The reader is challenged to read each interview with an open mind, taking time to consider what each raises and seeking what we can relate to rather than immediately getting hung up on areas we disagree with or are challenged by. That, I found, was not always easy!

Although this is a book largely talking about God, you may well find Him speaking to you through its pages. We’re asked ‘Do any of us really know the absolute truth of God? And more importantly, perhaps, do we even need to be this certain of our complete ‘rightness’? Can we let go a bit, and just trust in One far greater than us knowing best?’ The issue here, for me at least, is what to let go of (a bit), and why.

While undoubtedly an interesting read with much to say about belief and spirituality more widely in today’s world, this is also a book which highlights big differences in Christian faith and practice. The struggles some experienced in explaining some of the specifics of their faith made me consider how well I understood parts of my own beliefs.

Some way into the book, Jacci asks ‘How much do we fail to learn or grow when we do not listen because we are so sure only ‘our’ way is the ‘right’ way?’ This is a good point to ponder while reading Talking God. Perhaps, in addition to considering what to loosen our grip on in terms of what and how we believe, there is room here to reach out to some different expressions of faith, and perhaps to talk to God about them in terms of our own experience of living out our faith in a way which honours Him.

Like everyone who reads the book, I imagine, there were some interviews which struck me more forcibly than others. Probably my favourite is Richard’s, and the post-interview note about his view of the cross. I also particularly enjoyed the illustration on perspective. Or ‘Do all beans jump?’ My perspective may say yes, they do, if I’m in a box with them. But someone looking from above, seeing all sorts of other beans around the box but outside it, will think differently!

Jacci’s boxed-out comments and responses to various elements of her interviews make for thoughtful reading. She is open about some of the issues which have been raised for her by asking her questions of such a wide spectrum of people. There were times I didn’t agree with her remarks, but they acknowledge that Jacci, like me, often finds herself without clear answers.

The second section opens with an interesting list of what each person interviewed taught Jacci through their answers. These include pilgrimage, justice, the meaning of prayer and grace, looking for fresh ways of understanding God’s universe and purpose for us, and service. This list underlined how if we ‘listen’ rather than immediately dismiss, God can speak to us through sometimes surprising channels. It also made me aware of much of what I had missed in the interviews!

Jacci then gives her own answers to the same interview questions she asked the others. This section, which expresses some of Jacci’s faith path with its various questions and viewpoints is a brave insight into her thoughts and fears, and is at least as thought-provoking as the earlier interviews.

For the individual reader this is a book which challenges what we believe, and in some cases why we believe it. For example, whether parts of how we believe and therefore act are down to cultural and historical influences. This is also an insightful look into the wider spiritual landscape around us and what we can learn from it whether in terms of deepening our own faith and better understanding it, or understanding those who think differently from us, and how we can connect with them with respect.

I found this a difficult book to read, certainly much of the first half, but it’s one I will return to, asking God to help me to listen better. ‘Am I a Christian?’ Jacci asks the reader. Yes, I believe that I am. Though very much a work in progress.

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