Revd Sam McBratney is a Research Officer with the Susanna Wesley Foundation. Here he reviews Joanne Cox-Darling’s 2019 book ‘Finding God in a Culture of Fear: discovering hope in God’s kingdom’. Jo is a Methodist Presbyter and Trustee of Southlands Methodist Trust
This book describes itself as a ‘survival handbook’ and it landed on my desk at just the right time. So much of its contents resonated with my recent experience and gave me fresh language to shape my reflections upon it. The author has made herself incredibly vulnerable through the telling of her own story in these pages whilst also weaving in the hope and promise of scripture. I discovered a new side to someone I thought I knew and felt privileged to share something of her anxieties and meltdowns, as well as her joys and triumphs.
The work itself is relatively short and is intended, it seems, for small study groups, with each chapter ending with some questions to aid reflection on what has just been read. In six chapters, some of the great themes of the Bible are tackled, from exile to the crucifixion and the work of the Spirit. The author’s superb gift for story-telling draws the reader into each theme effortlessly and offers visions of hope and faith that are so vivid and real that they can be almost tasted. The way she is able to play with language is joyful to behold and provides a rich fare for those in need of spiritual sustenance. Each chapter needs to be savoured to gain the maximum from it.
For me, chapter three’s engagement with the theme of exile was particularly powerful. The description of the four responses to the experience of exile – subversion, assimilation, exclusivism and vision – offers much to reflect upon, especially for those who feel exiled from the contemporary Church. Whilst the focus was on those who are outside the Church, it felt equally relevant for those of us who feel increasingly placed in some kind of ‘internal exile’. Rather than judging particular responses, or privileging one over others, it felt that we were being given a toolkit from which to draw to meet the challenges of exile. In the complex set of emotions evoked by the experience of exile, this diversity of approach is both timely and welcome. Personally, I felt I emerged from this chapter with some new vocabulary to interpret my situation and I believe others will too.
If I had any criticisms, they would be minor. I know how difficult it is to phrase suitable questions for small groups to engage with but didn’t feel the insertion of questions added to the work. I wonder, instead, whether a challenge to live differently and come back to share insights might have been more in tune with the overall tenor of the book. I would also have liked to hear more stories! There is such a talent on display in these pages that I would want to encourage the author to give freer rein to its expression in her future works.
I recommend this book very highly to any in need of a word of hope.
Cox-Darling, Joanne. Finding God in a Culture of Fear – discovering hope in God’s kingdom. Abingdon: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2019, pp143, ISBN: 9780857466464