Category: Review

Book Review:The All-Inclusive Christ by Witness Lee ~ The Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI


The All Inclusive Christ, by Witness Lee,  is a must read for anyone who truly wishes to have a fuller relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ.  This book is both very eye- opening and thought provoking.

It takes us on a wonderfully descriptive journey through the New Testament in the style of the good land and links it with the Gospels and the writings of Paul and shows us in depth of the many parts of Christ, and that to truly have a fuller and true relationship with him, we must live and relate to him and all these wonderful parts in every aspect of our lives. Jesus is the very valleys, hills and mountains of our lives. He is our constant refreshment through being the streams,  fountains and deep waters of our lives.  He is our food upon which we continually feed in him and t+e the food with which we feed all those that we serve.  This book gives plenty of examples of the All inclusive Christ in action in every stage of our lives. There is no situation however bad it may be, that cannot be lived with joy if we apply the All inclusive Christ to each and every single part of our lives.

Living the Call to Greatness – 25th Sunday of Kingdomtide ~ Br. Michael Marshall, Novice

8531186_origWisdom 2:12, 17-20

The wicked say:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him.

James 3:16-4:3

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Donald Trump… Bill Gates… They are probably the most well-known extremely wealthy people in the world. They are where they are because they worked hard and possibly made extremely risky decisions, yet both are necessarily the most popular people with some socio-economic classes of folks. Donald Trump has been thought to have trampled upon others to acquire more and more of his wealth, and his arrogance shows he is not concerned for anybody but himself. On the other hand, Bill Gates is a little different. He has taken a computer software company from infancy to becoming the only real competitor to Apple; to the point that a PC not only runs Windows but other programs are so integrated into Windows, where Microsoft essentially has a monopoly within the computer world. In light of the success of Bill Gates, he has given to charity. He has been part of community service, helping those in need. Both individuals possess success because of what they have accomplished, yet what sets them apart is what they have done with that success.

We read in the Gospel that Jesus has been listening into the conversation between his Apostles; a conversation about who is the greatest, yet Jesus does not scold them for having the conversation. He does not tell his Apostles that it is wrong to strive for greatness and success, wanting to excel. He says it is only human nature to possess those desires, but it is what they do, or how they carry out actions, that truly determine greatness. He explains that following what God has instructed is what greatness is all about. One is to make a positive difference in the world by being a witness of God’s love, to give of oneself rather than focusing on the material and stature greatness.

How many times have we dreamt about wanting a little more money, wanting a better job with distinction, thinking that we would be happier in life? It is human nature to have those thoughts, and it is not wrong or sinful to have those things. It is just what we do in life with what resources we DO have that truly brings happiness, happiness to us AND God. Is it our purpose to be like Donald Trump, to acquire more and more, and to push others around? Or should we help our neighbor in need, using part of what we have for others? God commanded us to love one another, and that living that way is where greatness lies.

So… How can we go about doing this???  Here are some examples… Volunteer to read to home-bound folks, buy lunch for the next person in line at McDonald’s, be the ear for someone who needs to talk about tough issues in their life, but even better yet, it can be a smile and a hello as you walk past someone one on the sidewalk.  We are called to greatness through actions such as these!

The Desert of the Soul ~ Fr. Ken Nelan, Novice

9 March, 2014 – 1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19(20-21)
Matthew 4:1-11

We live a simple life of a simple love of a God who gives all good things.

Today we celebrate the first Sunday of Lent – a time of purification and introspection in preparation for not only our own renewal, but also that of the world around us. The sleep of winter is giving way to new life and we are again emerging from our cocoons and deep hibernation. It is during this time we often call out to our God to help us transition from old to new; from death to life – transformation in its truest sense.

Since the earliest moments in Church history we have prayed, fasted and given alms as a way of entering into the spirit of the Lenten season. It is no mistake that the Gospel text for Ash Wednesday every single year is Jesus’ advice on prayer, fasting and alms-giving (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18). During Lent that’s just what we do and we do it out of habit and because “we should”. But Lent is not just about helping others or about doing something because we must. It is about doing something which calls us to a higher form of renewal and healing.

Our first reading today reminds us not only that we owe our lives to the Creator, but that we are connected to everything around us in some way. “God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life…” We are formed from everything that surrounds us and as such deeply connected to one another and the world. But how often do we take time out of our busy schedules to recognize those/our connections? How often do we think about how my bad mood is going to affect those around me, or how my smile might impact the life of another person? How often do we pause to take notice that what we think, say and do affect the world around us? And so it was with Adam and Eve, what affected one affected them both and eventually the entire ecosystem of the Garden of Eden.

The Responsorial this week invites us into deep introspection. Yeah, it is easy to get caught up in the “Mea Culpa” and I’m a sinner, but even here we are invited to renewal and transformation: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” We’re not beating ourselves up here folks – we’re giving up old ways and committing ourselves to greatness. We are overcoming and moving beyond our infirmity through healing. It is easy to be sorry, but another thing altogether to work on ourselves so we do not keep committing the same grievous behavior time after time. It’s great to be sorry, don’t get me wrong, but during Lent we should instead try to discover why we do what we do so that we can transform.

I have a problem with the second reading – no surprise there really as I’m not one for browbeating or bacon-strips type theology, but if you get beyond initial impression of the reading you can see there is again the concept of connectedness coming from Paul’s assertion that through the Christ we are given a gift of rebirth and renewal – “…just as a single offense brought condemnation to all men, a single righteous act brought all men acquittal and life.” Yes, we do sin, but through the Christ we are born again. We’re again talking transformation here folks. Through Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection we are reborn.

But… the Gospel today shows us we’re in for it deep. Man oh man, when we pray we attach strings and try to connive our way into grace. We spread the banquet before the God and BEG for an equitable exchange much like the “Tempter” did with our Christ in the desert. “Turn these stones into bread and we’ll have a feast.” But Jesus knew exactly what was going on. In a way, and I know it’s a bit of a stretch here; we are looking at a mirror of our lives when we read Matthew’s account of the Temptation in the Desert. During our moments of crisis we do exactly the same thing. “oh God… Just this one hangover God… If you get rid of this hangover I’ll do ANYTHING! I’ll even go back to Church!” “God, please, let me get out of this ticket and I promise to be good for the rest of my life.” “Oh My God, please don’t let my child die… I’ll do anything… Please God – take me instead.” The more serious the things about which we pray the more we seem willing to give up in exchange.

We are not devils and we don’t really tempt the Christ, but it can be easy to make deals in exchange for good things. Such prayers can become manipulative if there isn’t real substantive change behind the prayers. Remember the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves”? If we ask God to do all the work and don’t lift a finger ourselves, then are we really willing to commit to change or do we want God to do all the work for us?

When we pray, rather than asking favors in exchange for something else, let our Prayer reflect a thirst for the ability to overcome – “Dear Lord, help me discover why I do what I do, so that I don’t do it again.” “Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of life. Help me to renew and change the lives of others around me.” Our Christ gave us the greatest example of prayer – “Father, I love you and I feel Your love for me. I will strive to be like the angels and saints. I will work hard for what you give me and share with those around me. Please forgive me of any wrong doing. I will forgive those who wrong me too. Protect me. Amen+”

When we Fast, instead of giving up the usual sugar and candy we should give up those things which are not in our best interest: greed, anxiety, gossip, hate, and so on. Give up the negative things so that we may be filled with love.

And in Alms giving, let us remember that even a smile can change the world of those we encounter. Alms isn’t so much about giving to the poor as it is about changing the lives of others, and ourselves, for the better.

Lent – a time of purification and introspection, a desert time in our spirituality where we can either wither away and dry up, or transform through relieving of ourselves those things which no longer serve our greatest good.

R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

In the name of the +Father, the +Son, and the +Holy Spirit, Amen.

God’s Tattoos ~ Br. Igor Kalinski, Novice


Isaiah 49: 14-18  Zion   said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the   Lord has forgotten me.”15 “Can a   mother forget the baby at her breast
and   have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I   will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of   my hands;
your   walls are ever before me.
17 Your children hasten back,
and   those who laid you waste depart from you.
18 Lift up your eyes and look around;
all   your children gather and come to you.
As surely as I live,” declares the Lord,
“you   will wear them all as ornaments;
you   will put them on, like a bride.

Israel was in trouble.  Again.  It seems that “God’s people” would never learn that they were, indeed, God’s people.  Like many people today who ignore God, pretend God doesn’t exist, or simply don’t care whether God is around or not until something goes terribly wrong and then they start praying and asking for prayer, the Israelites had come to their senses and had started asking God for help……and this time they were truly concerned that God had given up on them.  Forgot about them.  Isaiah speaks to the people and assures them that God will deliver his people.

Isaiah assures the people that the Redeemer of Israel will come in the day of salvation for his people.   He reminds them that in times of captivity, in times of terror by kings and princes, if they but worship God, who is faithful, a very powerful word will be placed in their hearts.  He reminds them that God is faithful, and that in the past they escaped from one place to another.   When the nation is faced with devastation , occupation, and deportation by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his army, the people of Israel thought “Has God has forgot us?” but God says through the prophet Isaiah ‘me forget you?”

Have you ever seen someone with a loved one’s name tattooed on their arm?  What about the guy with his children’s picture tattooed on his shoulder?  Verses 15 and 16 of today’s passage tell us that God has US tattooed in the palms of His hands.  We are ever with God and he cannot forget about us.

Any storm shows us God’s voice and demonstrates His power.   We might ask, “Lord, have you forgot?”  We wonder how He can be present in the middle of your trials and in the midst of the intensity of the storm.  You, however, remain first in God’s thoughts.  He thinks of you, maintains you, gives comfort, and gives you strength.  When you are going through the worst that can you can go through, know that God has not forgotten you, and will never forget you.




New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church: A Review

New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Monasticism conjures up images of monks quietly moving through dark monasteries, sequestered from the “real” world as they seek God’s will through meditation, prayer and communal living.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove brings fresh perspective to the age-old concept of living in Christian community in “New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church”. Starting with a strong historical foundation, the author explores ancient concepts of community through an informative study of the early church at Antioch, as well as more contemporary figures in the monastic movement such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Benedict, and Mother Teresa.

This book forced me to honestly examine the Bible’s radical ideas and how its teachings should impact my choices as a 21st Century American. Wilson-Hartgrove begins with the convincing concept, beginning with Genesis and moving through Biblical history, that God’s plan to save the world was not one person at a time, but through a people. From this premise, he boldly states, “If the Bible is a story about God’s plan to save the world through a people, then my salvation and sanctification depends on finding my true home with God’s people. Apart from the story of this people, I can’t have a relationship with God. Without the church, there is no chance of becoming holy.”

The focus of the book then shifts to an examination of the movement’s current marks of distinction including: sharing economic resources; geographical proximity to other community members; peacemaking; and the active pursuit of “just reconciliation”. While Wilson-Hartgrove shares intimate details of his own monastic experiences and gives an abundance of examples of practical community living from other groups, he wisely avoids prescribing a specific formula for an ascetic, communal-driven lifestyle. Instead, he challenges his readers to shift their own ways of thinking, and allows them to imagine life from a Kingdom perspective. The author writes beautifully of his experiences with relocation, Earth’s scarcity versus God’s abundance, what it means to be a peacemaker in our war-ravaged culture, and how to live with others in a “culture of grace and truth.”

This small, easily read book, covers a lot of ground, delving into the heart of Jesus’ mission to live in relationship with others. When you pick up “New Monasticism”, be prepared to have your old ways of thinking challenged and re-worked, for you may find yourself wondering how to become a more integral part of God’s “peculiar people”.

Proof of Heaven~ a review by Fr. Bryan Wolf

Proof of Heaven is a 2012 New York Times bestseller written by Eben Alexander,MD and publihsed by Simon and Schuster. Dr. Alexander is an academic researcher, scientist and a practicing neurosurgeon. With degrees in Chemistry, from the University of South Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a medical degree from the Duke University Medical School; Dr. Alexander chaired staff at Massachusetts General Hospital and is faculty at the Harvard Medical School. His credentials and standing within the medical community and specifically in the field of medical neuroscience, practice and surgery; is beyond question. He is frequently a television guest and commentator.

During November of 2008, Dr. Alexander suffered a serious medical emergency from an extremely rare attack of Infectious Bacterial E.Coli Meningitis. So rare is this condition and powerfully resistant to aggressive treatment, that the mortality rate is above 90% according to the Center for Disease Control; who also record less than one case in 10 million annually. Unbeknowst as to the cause of Eben’s infection, he deteriorated quickly into coma. So bleak was his prognosis that family gathered and last rights administrered, even as fellow doctors and researchers from around the world worked, albeit without success, to remedy his condition. As he records in his book, with supportive documentation from medical doctors who treated him, he lacked even the slightest registration of any brain activity, even with deep cerebral probe. Spinal taps revealed more pus than fluid, and death was considered imminent. Miraculously and without warning, Eben awoke from a week long coma; even to the surprising degree of having immediate speech and recognition.

Fully recovered, Dr. Alexander writes in Proof of Heaven of his experiences on “the other side.” He references near death experiences (NDE) in his research. However what makes his story so compelling, is he cites the medical evidence to demonstrate that his brain activity was so neutralized by his condition. Most doctors and researchers today explain away NDE as the brain’s attempt to create hallucination, in order to function in extreme adverse situations. As Dr. Alexander explains, “a person in coma is actually in both worlds- physically here and spiritually there.” He hold his case up as Proof of Heaven, in that his brain was so damaged it was medically and literally without thought, consciousness or activity.

Why I write this and why I am so moved, is that Dr. Alexander does indeed offer Proof of Heaven. He recounts a spiritual being (more on “her” later) who eventually greets him and tells him three great things he remembers to this day- “1) You are loved, 2) You have nothing to fear and 3) You can do nothing wrong.” This is repeated to him time and time again, during his “visits to the other side” while in his coma.

While there is much that can be written here to explain his “vision of the other side”, I will limit myself to a few profound theological concepts Dr. Alexander shares. These will either inspire you to read the book or- at the very least, to pray.

Dr. Alexander states he was shared knowledge, though he admits he is not sure why he out of everyone else who enoyed a NDE should be chosen- perhaps because of his crendentials and his initial scientific disbelief of such experiences. He confesses to a Divine Being (God) who, by His power, blocks our complete understanding of Him. To use the old adage- our souls are here for school. We can be, if allowed by the Creator, aware of our spiritual existence- which is where we were before we were born into this physical life. Here to learn and make right choices, we would be less apt to do so, Dr. Alexander theorizes, if we knew we would ultimately be returing to paradise. He goes on to state in his book that God “knows what we have forgotten (of the spiritual side) and understand the terrible burden it is to live with amnesia (of God’s existence) for even a moment.”

The gift of free will is given to us to accomplish our choices, and evil and injustice permitted in the world because, being right and just would loose their significance and beauty if they were carte blanche. Dr. Alexander writes; “While our life down here may seem insignificant, it is hugely important for our role here to grow towards the Divine- and that growth is closely watched by beings in the world above. Lucent souls, which I believe are the origin of our culture’s concept of angels.”

Is this to say there is a hell? Dr. Alexander shares of first being exposed to a “murky darkness, like being submerged in mud but still being able to see through it.” Not conscious of having a body, he states he “was aware of something beyond” this environment and “fought to move to it.” Breaking free of this “murky darkness” he is met by her. “You are loved. You have nothing to fear. You can do nothing wrong.”

Her? I have mentioned her before. But who is she? Therein lies, in the final chapter of his book, what he considers- and perhaps rightly so, Proof of Heaven.

An editorial comment here. The book can slow down a bit, as a Doctor, Eben does get involved and go into detail of his medical condition, diagnosis, tests and treatment. These however, are all served up to the reader to build his case that his NDE was not hallucinatory or medically possbile. There are of course skeptics to his account. But for religious persons, we build on faith not labratory conditions. Oh, and of course for argument sake- there is Her.