Barbara J. Blodgett and Matthew Floding (eds.), Brimming with God: Reflecting Theologically on Cases in Ministry. Pickwick Publications. 2015. 176 pp. $23
By Ruth Anne Friesen
What a beautiful, appealing title this book has! It sets up expectation for seeing God at work in each of the 12 cases it presents. The reader is invited to witness how our human actions and reactions affect others and perhaps could have been different or better.
There are quite simple, down-to-earth situations. In the midst of a simple description of what happened, uncertainties or questions sometimes arise in the hearts and minds of pastoral-aspiring people. That seems pretty normal as folks are experimenting in pastoral roles, wondering whether they fit in this role and how competencies are reached. Surrounding these cases are reflections — applauding some of the actions and offering suggestions for how the situation might have been different. Before each case there are two scholarly presentations of various reflection methods used to evaluate that case. These seem to indicate to the reader that reflection possibilities are endless.
However, I found it tedious to read several methods of reflection before reading the case. Don’t get me wrong; the action/reflection/action model is important in ministry everywhere, and often consultation with colleagues or supervisors is helpful. But this book made reflection seem to be a laborious process, which I don’t think it needs to be. In my own CPE experience, the most fun and exciting part was when each of us presented a story. Then we found it quite engaging to work with the imagery, our own experiences, Biblical reflections, and implications for our work.
I appreciated very much the creativity in the titles of each case and in the different approaches to reflection, which take seriously — while still sometimes offering a little humor — the students’ real questions and wonderings. The practical work put into the individual cases in the book is outstanding!
I identified with many of the cases presented. I have often been asked for money on the streets of Chicago (“To Give or Not to Give?”). I have experienced life abroad, and I agree that relating to cultural differences and building trust through listening and accompanying are important skills that always seem to need consultation (“The African Connection: Reflecting on a Mission Trip”). I work in a very diverse hospital with people of different faith heritages and no faith tradition. I often hear patients talk about having one and the same God, but do we? (“Which Religion Is Better?”) It’s clear to me that grief can be very raw, even coming quite by surprise. It’s important to realize that grief is real and needs to be faced so that ongoing listening becomes possible again (“Robert in the Clutch of Grief” and “First Take the Log Out of Your Own Eye”).
Clearly this book is brimming with real ministry situations. Opening ourselves to the action/reflection cycle is so important to bring our best ministry to each person and each group. May we all find ways to be engaged in appropriate reflections as we go about our daily tasks!
Ruth Anne Friesen, BCC, is a chaplain at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago.