March 11, 2005

Return from Tomorrow

Ritchie, George G., M.D., with Elizabeth Sherrill: Return From Tomorrow, Fleming H. Revell, 1978.

For the past 20 years, or more, George G. Ritchie's little book Return From Tomorrow has enabled me to see better some of the mysterious, and the down-right practical Truths encompassed in God's gift of Easter. The fact that our life on Earth is but a part of our journey to God, is portrayed in "one of the most startling and hopeful descriptions of the realm beyond", in the words of Dr. Raymond A. Moody, Jr. Dr. Moody was so affected by George Ritchie's story, that he spent five years in research that culminated in his book Life After Life. The many diverse 'life after death' experiences that have been recorded, speak to me of their validity. Life on earth has the same diversity.

George G. Ritchie, M.D., at the time of the publishing of his book, was a practicing psychiatrist living in Virginia. He held positions as president of the Richmond Academy of General Practice, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry of Towers Hospital, and founder and president of the Universal Youth Corps, Inc. World War II interrupted the beginning of his education to become a doctor. At 20 years of age, he found himself in basic training at Camp Berkely, Texas. He was pronounced clinically dead during a severe case of influenza. Nine minutes later, he returned to life.

Catherine Marshall, the popular Christian author, widow of former Senate chaplain Peter Marshall and George's personal friend, was the one who first urged him to write down the story that all the rest of his life was about.

(The excerpts and comments which follow should help to give the reader of this review a good sense of the book itself.)

"I got to my feet, glanced back at the bed. Someone who looked like me was still lying there--and this one looked dead. I looked at my own hands. If I were to be a doctor, I would need my hands. But I couldn't touch things. That decided it. No man in this fix could become a doctor! Then suddenly I was no longer alone. Someone stood there. I knew it was Christ, though my chief impression was of dazzling, blinding light." He asked "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE?" Thoughts replaced speech in this strange dimension, with no re-considering possible. "Well, I got to be an Eagle Scout" "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO TELL ABOUT ME?" I changed the subject. "I'm too young to die." Very kindly He said, "NOBODY IS TOO YOUNG TO DIE. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE?" Total recalling, detailed and perfect. No horrendous depths but no heights either, only an endless, short-sighted, clamorous concern for myself. Then the rage! It wasn't fair! "How could you judge a person who hadn't even started?! What about the insurance money coming when I'm seventy?!" The Presence beside me seemed to vibrate and shimmer with holy laughter, not at me and my silliness, not a mocking laughter, but a mirth that seemed to say that in spite of all error and tragedy, joy was more lasting still. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE TO SHOW ME?HOW MUCH HAVE YOU LOVED WITH YOUR LIFE? HAVE YOU LOVED OTHERS AS I AM LOVING YOU? TOTALLY? UNCONDITIONALLY?" "Why, I didn't know Love like this was possible! Someone should have told me! This was a fine time to discover what life is all about. Why hadn't someone told me?!" The answering thought held not on rebuke, only that hint of heavenly laughter, "I DID TELL YOU. BY THE LIFE I LIVED. BY THE DEATH I DIED." I noticed we were moving...

After George's initial introduction to Christ and to what was happening, he then was taken, with Jesus as his tour guide, to and through many traumatic, astounding, and awesome sights and experiences. They included, in George's own words (and my own deep impressions in parentheses) :
· A hideous, vast plain, full of shrieking, howling, disembodied men and women, exchanging bites, kicks sexual abuses, hurling their thoughts, "I told you so!", "I always knew!", "Didn't I warn you?!" (This transforms for me, the "simple" attitudes we encounter in others and ourselves each day. These expressions of superior knowledge of the speaker, and God's Love, I see, cannot inhabit the same personality forever. We must choose.)
· Suicides, chained to every consequence of their acts.
· Alcoholics, cut off from the thing they could never stop craving.

That's the negative side. But most of the story is positive. Even each of these wretched beings in each of these circumstances was being watched over by huge, brilliant presences, who were bending over them; maybe even conversing with them, though the miserable little beings seemed oblivious to them. They were too full of their fury, their guilt, and their cravings. Other negative experiences, and even very positive experiences, showed a common denominator: Whether it was a physical appetite, an earthly concern, an absorption with self, whatever got in the way of His Light created the separation into which we stepped at death. (It all begins here in our Today. Jesus' words, "Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened" mean more and more as I apply the truths George Ritchie was exposed to and shared.) One experience comes to mind:

In one great campus, a tremendous study center, humming with the excitement of great discovery, hooded beings in the wide halls and stairwells seemed to be clothed in total concentration, supremely self-forgetful, absorbed in some vast purpose beyond themselves. Through open doors, he glimpsed enormous rooms, some with complex equipment, intricate charts and diagrams. Then in another building, George and his Guide entered a studio where the music of a complexity he couldn't begin to follow was being composed and followed. He found himself thinking, "Why, Bach is only the beginning!" He asked Jesus if this was heaven. The reply was "THEY GREW AND KEPT ON GROWING." Knowing flamed from Jesus like fire, and communicated the fact that every activity on this enormous 'campus' had it's source in God. His answer to George's question was His communication of love: the compassion for George's ignorance, understanding that encompassed all his non-understanding, and, in spite of His obvious delight in the beings around, George sensed that this was still not the ultimate. What if even a thirst for truth could distract from the Truth Himself, standing here in their midst while they searched for Him in books and test tubes?

Perhaps, George concluded at last, He cannot tell me more than I can see. Perhaps there is nothing in me yet that could understand an explanation. Maybe that was why he had to re-enter his lump-like body in that cell-like room, just as he glimpsed a city of light far away, desperately crying for the most perfect belonging, in Jesus, that he'd ever known.

What kind of effect did this experience have on George Ritchie? In Raymond Moody's words, "Unfortunately, only those of us who know him as friend can truly sense the depth of kindness, understanding, and loving concern for others which characterize this remarkable man."

Joan Fulcher
April 19, 2002

Posted by FBC Staff at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

Old Turtle

Wood, Douglas. Old Turtle / text by Douglas Wood; watercolors by Cheng-Khee Chee. Duluth, MN: Pfeifer-Hamilton, 1992.

Douglas Wood won the 1993 "ABBY" for book of the year from the American Booksellers Association and also achieved a Children’s Book Award from the International Reading Association in that same year. These awards were garnered by his first book Old Turtle. Wood, of Sartell, Minnesota, is an author, musician, and poet with a great concern for the environment.

As well written as many children’s books are, there is something that must also be said for the illustrator. Old Turtle is a very creative story that gives its illustrator freedom to paint with expression, imagination , and beauty. Cheng-Khee Chee managed to do this very well in Old Turtle. The story makes a wonderful point, but the book is worth much more because of the pictures.

Old Turtle is a very good children’s book for readers of all ages. In the book, every part of creation has its own particular point of view about who God is and what God is like. The differences in opinion spark a debate that soon turns to argument. Old Turtle steps in to mediate and resolves the conflict with wisdom and insight that might only be possible coming from one of earth’s oldest creatures. This sage also reminds creation that people are coming to inhabit the earth as "reminders of all that God is."

The people do come. Soon after their arrival, they forget who they are and why they are on the earth. They neglect their creation in the image of God and thus neglect the earth. All of nature speaks up, repeating the important lesson they learned earlier from Old Turtle. The humans pay attention and change.

Yes, Old Turtle does have am environmental slant, but that does not erase its massage of hope. Wood passes on a story that is important for the Christian to hear on many levels. According to the creation story in Genesis, humans are commissioned to be caretakers of creation, to "till the garden." The story points out how devastating it could be if we were to neglect that assignment. It is environmental and biblical. There is another story here as well. The arguments about who God is and what God is like grow into a very loud argument. It takes a little wisdom to restore order as creation’s debate rages. Nature later testifies to lessons learned, saving creation from destruction. This might serve well as an important lesson for anyone who has their mind made up about who God is. There just might be room in describing God for another’s point of view. Old Turtle’s best wise saying is a very short verse, "God IS."

This book may be a very helpful tool in talking with children about God. For that matter, it may be very helpful in theology with any age group. Before anyone decides they have defined God completely, they might want to read Old Turtle.

–Chip Reeves
March 8, 2002

Posted by FBC Staff at 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

Godric: A Novel

Buechner, Frederick. Godric: A Novel. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco Publishing, 1983.

Frederick Buechner has been praised by many as a remarkable preacher, teacher and writer. There is hardly a seminarian of any denomination who has not at least heard of him, and those who have not are missing a treasure. Buechner may best be known for his books of theological alphabets Wishful Thinking, Whistling In The Dark, and others. He has several other titles to his credit ranging from theology to autobiography to novels, many of which marry artistry and humor with spirituality.

Godric is a novel which retells the life of a 12th century holy man. Godric of Finchale tells the story of his life to a young monk who has been assigned to write his biography. It does not take this youthful scribe very long to discover that his subject fancies himself more human than holy. Nevertheless, the writer knows the true Godric and desires to tell that tale despite what obstacles reality might place along the path of its communication.

Godric acquiesces to tell his life story. It is a report that fluctuates between pilgrimage and piracy, sinfulness and sainthood. The story ends with Godric on his deathbed hearing his life reread to him. He becomes flabbergasted with the author because he is referred to as Saint Godric. He does not desire to be remembered as a saint, but a recipient of unmerited grace. To Godric, that is his life’s story. Nevertheless, his writing companion publishes the account the way he sees it.

This book is not for everyone. One of the criticisms regarding Buechner’s work is that some of his books, the novels in particular, contain embarrassing elements too real for Christian literature (i.e. sex and four-letter words). As scandalous as that may seem, it is far outweighed by the deepness of faith that underlies the work.

Godric is a story that speaks to our realities. The saint himself would remind us that we all are human. As the story zig-zags between sanctity and scandal, it, in a sense, parallels our own stories. Given the chance, how many of us would tell our stories in the same fashion? That is, how many of us would tell the whole truth? If we did, we might chronicle the adventures of bigger scoundrels than the pirate Deric (Godric’s alter ego).

The book is a novel, but the story is real. It’s your story, and it’s my story, too. This story presents an honest portrayal of life, with several eye-popping details. It is of life lived to extremes, but beyond the extremes is God who accepts us and by grace moves us from pirate to pilgrim.

–Chip Reeves
March 8, 2002

Posted by FBC Staff at 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

Living a Life That Matters

Kushner, Harold S., Living a Life That Matters. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, division of Random House, Inc., 2001.)

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner is best known as the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, but he has written several other books based on his experiences over forty years as a rabbi. They include How Good Do We Have to Be?, When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, and When Children Ask About God.

Writing from a background of four decades of helping persons to weather the storms of life, Rabbi Kushner begins this book with a simple premise, that the greatest fear of many persons approaching the end is that their life will not have mattered. It is not death that these persons fear, the Rabbi says, for many have lived long and fulfilling lives and others yearn to be freed from pain and disease. Rather, it is the fear of having lived an insignificant life that strikes terror in the hearts of many.

Kushner suggests that we live in two worlds- the world of work and the world of faith. We face a dilemma in balancing the needs that are put upon us in these two worlds, needs that are basic to the human condition. We need to know that our lives matter to the world, and so we are driven to be successful. At the same time we need to know that we are good people, and that the world will be a better place for our having lived.

While we accept the message that God loves us in spite of our shortcomings, we want to believe that God loves us because we deserve to be loved. Kushner suggests that God speaks to us in two voices, one of which is stern and demanding, the other kind and forgiving. The first encourages us to be the best we can be, while the second assures us we are still loved in spite of our failures.

In addition to citing many stories from his years as a Rabbi, Kushner uses the biblical character of Jacob as an example of someone who continually faced the conflict between these two worlds. Perhaps the only person whom we see in the Bible as a child, a young man, a husband and father, and an old man near death, Jacob continually struggled to resolve the conflict between success and conscience in his life.

Kushner's latest book is easy to read and re-read because of his engaging style and use of many anecdotes. Much of what he says is common sense, but just as in Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, Living a Life That Matters draws common sense, new ideas, and scriptural truths together in a manner that provides comfort and sustenance to the reader.

I am fortunate to have been in the same ministerial position for over thirty years. But much of my professional life these three decades has consisted of tasks very "daily" and "weekly." It is fairly easy to look back and wonder how much of that has mattered. Reading Rabbi Kushner's latest book has been helpful to me in examining that question. I would suspect that it would be equally helpful to many who are interested in examining their lives, and being sure they are on the right path.

-James Richardson (2-11-02)

Posted by FBC Staff at 09:28 AM | Comments (0)

Walking the Bible

Feiler, Bruce. Walking The Bible:A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. 2001)

Bruce Feiler was born in Savannah, Georgia to a Jewish family. He was nurtured academically and spiritually. His college majors were history and international relations. Upon moving to New York, Feiler became a successful writer contributing to many publications and publishing five books.

Feiler’s purpose for walking the desert was to verify the stories of the Bible. It was also a quest to identify his heritage with the dessert and the Israelites.

Avner Goren, a renowned archeologist, was his guide who knew the desert and its people. He arranged important interviews and the traveling itinerary.

I was immediately pulled into the enthusiasm and adventure of this book. Feiler’s command of language and intuitive insight made for fascinating reading. Two themes emerged for me. First, everyone needs a guide and second, they need a place to reassure their faith. Moses, a central character, convinced his brother-in-law Hobab (Numbers 10:29-32) to lead the Israelites. Feiler had the capable and willing Avner Goren to guide him. Their place was the desert.

As for me, I realized how fortunate I have been to be led and encouraged by so many. Certainly, my place has not been the dessert. Nonetheless, faith has sustained me in some very ordinary and unexpected places.

--Joan Usher (2-06-02)

Posted by FBC Staff at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

Building Materials for Life

Fuller, Millard. Building Materials for Life. Macon, Georgia: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2002.

Millard Fuller is the founder, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. As a younger man, he became very wealthy running his own business. He and his wife Linda then decided that it was important to rededicate their lives and family to God. They followed Jesus’ radical advice to the rich young ruler, sold their possessions and gave to the poor. They joined Clarence Jordan at Koinonia Farms (near Americus, Georgia), they spent time in Africa on missions, and returned to Americus to found Habitat for Humanity. Fuller has received much recognition for his work with Habitat for Humanity and its worthy goal of working to eliminate poverty housing around the world. He has even been awarded several honorary doctorates from colleges and universities celebrating his efforts.

Building Materials for Life is a collection of 40 essays written by Fuller. Most of these writings are filled with memories, wisdom, anecdotes and advice from the author. They range in subject from spirituality to personal health to humor and common sense. All of the essays are based on many years of experience in the business of helping people, living out faith, or learning difficult lessons. On several occasions, Fuller calls on memories and lessons he learned from Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms. Jordan’s wit, wisdom, and own radical lifestyle of living out the Sermon on the Mount have deeply impacted Fuller. He passes on to the reader what he learned himself.

This book would serve quite well as a companion to just about anyone’s daily devotional time. The lesson’s that Fuller is passing along are meant to be wrestled with or at least considered at length. He provokes thought in his audience and dares them not only toward introspection but action as well. These 40 essays would be very useful for devotional study and the book’s format lends itself toward just that. To read straight through this brief text (145 pages), might not be the right way to relate to this work. It is better advised to read Building Materials for Life one essay at a time with the reader taking as much time between readings as he or she might need. Fuller’s work, coupled with daily Bible reading, prayer and meditation, may prove helpful to anyone hoping for success in "life’s building project."

Profits and royalties from the sale of Building Materials for Life will be used to purchase supplies for Habitat for Humanity houses. You can purchase your own copy from the Smyth and Helwys web site.

–Chip Reeves
December 1, 2002

Posted by FBC Staff at 09:26 AM