Monday, March 27, 2023

The Care of Souls

The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart, Harold L. Senkbeil (Lexham, 2019)

Senkbiel writes with a very high view of pastoral ministry. He esteems it as an honour and privilege to be part of, and wants those in ministry to be well equipped by their love of God in Christ, and how that should impact every aspect of their lives.

He starts with a deeply encouraging definition of what a pastor is. He notes the benefit of developing habits and learning from ongoing practice, the work of the spirit in our own and other’s lives, and the joy that comes from the work of pastoring. I felt refreshed and spurred on, rather than overwhelmed at yet another definition of ministry. What was comforting was the reminder that it’s understandable that you will feel ill-equipped, but keep practicing. Yet this is a vocation to be taken seriously, for souls are at stake.

He has a strong view of the power of God’s word to comfort, heal, challenge and sustain. Those in ministry are to uphold his word, and speak it to others in a way that cares, comforts, and gives light. Turning to the specific concept of soul care he suggests that it has two phases - attentive diagnosis and intentional treatment, and that much of soul care operates in the realm of sanctification.

I found the early chapters to be encouraging, refreshing, and challenging. Unfortunately, I felt it dragged in the middle. Chapters and ideas began to feel repetitive, and the whole book was longer than it needed to be. He finished with wisdom for pastors on how to be pastored themselves, both through the ministry of others and by developing personal habits that grow, encourage and nurture. He had wise comments about current times compared to the past and how pastors need to understand the culture and climate they are in, without longing for previous days. Throughout the book he uses farming analogies, having grown up on a farm (in the 1950s) and seeing the links of between the life of a farmer on the land, and the habitus of ministry. I appreciated the analogies and they were well explained, but they won’t work for everyone, especially those who have had no rural exposure to anything.

Senkbeil is Lutheran, and this comes through strongly. He has a very high view of baptism and communion, elevating them to almost to be equal with the power of God’s word. That is, they are the illustrative elements of the power of the gospel to redeem and save. It was good to think this through further, for my tendency is to have a less exalted view of both. Yet, there were also areas that felt close to Catholicism: praying to a crucifix, considering the pastor as able to forgive sins, and the power of the bread and wine in the Lord's supper. In addition, he has a very high view of the pastor, and their power to proclaim the truths of God in people's lives. My guess is this partially comes from an elevated view of ordination and what it endows to the minister. I certainly remember feeling the weight of the promises Husband made before God at his ordinations. 

The other thing that stood out was the focus on male clergy. While the introduction says the book is for men or women, clergy or lay; functionally and linguistically it is written for ordained men. Chapters about sexual sin or temptation generally assumed that those challenges are faced only by men (whether clergy or the congregants). I really found this disappointing, for there are so many in pastoral ministry roles who could be helped by this book, but will likely be excluded by the narrow focus.

I can certainly see why this book has been so well received, being the 2019 Gospel Coalition Ministry Book of the Year and a Christianity Today Book Awards winner. It will certainly elevate your view of pastoral ministry and soul care. Yet, I wish it was more concise, and was written with a wider acknowledgement of the range of men and women in pastoral ministry roles today.

Monday, March 13, 2023


Exiles, Jane Harper 
This new Harper novel is the third with Federal Police Detective Aaron Falk as the main character. As with her other books, Harper has crafted an enjoyable and intriguing read. Falk has come to the vineyard town of Maralee in South Australia, for the baptism of his godson Henry, child of good friend Raco and his wife Rita. It’s a satisfying link for this friendship forged in The Dry to be continued here. A pall hangs over the whole Raco clan though, for it’s one year since the disappearance of their good friend Kim, who left her 6-week old baby Zoe behind at a town festival, and no-one is sure what happened. Yet again, Harper has woven the current and past stories so that you have hints along the way of the various relationships in town. While the reveal is sad, Falk is a very likeable character and it’s nice to see his further development. 

The Winners, Fredrik Backman 
This is the third in a series. Two years have passed since the events of Beartown and Us Against You, but the shadows and impacts remain. Backman’s writing is evocative and lyrical, and he weaves stories together in a way that slowly reveals and twists, each time you think you know what is going to happen, and then he changes the focus again and you reset your expectations. I love his writing. You definitely need to read the first two prior, but fans of those will surely enjoy this final instalment.

A Man Called Otto (movie) 

Keeping with the Backman theme, if you liked A Man Called Ove, I do recommend seeing this recent movie release with Otto played by Tom Hanks, and Mariana TreviƱo as Marisol. It’s a lovely
version of the book, probably because it follows it so very closely. And if you can’t be bothered with the book - that’s fine, try see the movie.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

This movie has just received numerous awards, but I couldn’t see the attraction. I appreciate that is
supposed to be ingenious, with clever sets, eye-catching costumes and skilled actors (including: Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis, & Ke Huy Yuan). I did like the prevalence of older actors in key roles. But it doesn’t make sense. We thought of giving up twice in the middle and should have. Weird premise, super violent at points, and unsatisfying. The website describes it as absurdist comedy drama. There was very little comedy, but it certainly was absurd. It’s shot to the top of the list of my least enjoyed movies.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Couples Therapy

I devoured all five series of this show - three of the US version, and then two of Couples Therapy Australia. They were all excellent, as a skilled therapist worked with different couples over a period of time. 

In the US edition, Dr Orna Guralnik works with couples in New York. The honesty and vulnerability of the couples is amazing as they share their conflicts, pain, past history, disappointments and dreams. What struck me was the therapist’s skill and gentleness with them all, all while trying to remain neutral, and guide the couples to explore their own challenges their own way. Included are some of her sessions with her supervisor, and her self-awareness about how she experiences what she does. As it was filmed over the last few years, it also gave an amazing picture into how Covid affected couples & the therapy process in New York during that first major lockdown (which must have been an absolutely unexpected gift to the producers!)

The Australian version follows the same format, with skilled psychotherapist Marryam Chehelnabi. Of course you have no idea how much editing has played a part, but all in all, the therapists display compassion, understanding and non-judgementalism (as to be expected). Each season includes people with different cultural backgrounds and sexual orientation, and one US season includes a transgender woman. People face the reality of alcohol addiction, racism, childhood abuse, and grief. So, the breadth of humanity’s current experience is explored in depth. On the other hand, you know that you have only seen a small portion of the actual therapy - perhaps 1-2 hours per couple over what must have been regular months of therapy. So it’s just a snippet and there aren’t many tools to take away for personal use (either as a couple or a therapist!)

I loved the production of both, they weren’t dramatic or sensational. Some things couples disclose are hard and painful, and some are wonderful, but nothing was overdone or caricatured. It was all very real. There was so much to learn about the human condition, and how relationships function. Engrossing.

All of these are currently on Paramount +