Book review

Faith in the fool

“Faith in the Fool”, by Angela Ashwin. Published by Darton Longman and Todd Publishers;

I was on a Quiet Day at Edenham towards the end of last year where the leader was to be Angela Ashwin and, having read several of her books, I was looking forward to it. The theme of the day was based around the new book she has had published, called Faith in the Fool. The subtitle of the book was “Risk and Delight in the Christian Adventure.” In conversation over lunch, I spoke to her about Broken Rites and she had heard of us and had seen our publication. She asked if I would write a review of her book for Rite Lines – something I have never done before, so here goes!

It has taken a long time to read this book and this is in no way a negative comment, indeed it is positive. There is such richness in the content, and the way the book is set out enabled me to read it in small chunks at a time and digest the contents slowly. The book is in five parts, several chapters making up each part, so I will take each in turn and then sum up at the end.

Part 1: “The Value of Uselessness” – The sub-title being You cannot measure the value of people and things according to how useful they are. These chapters of the book are challenging to my thinking by giving a value to uselessness and what uselessness means. I enjoyed the biblical and spiritual reflection and things to ponder and apply to life.

Part 2: In the chapters entitled“ – The Delighted Fool” Angela writes, “There is a God given capacity for childlike delight, laughter and playfulness in us all.” Having recently done a course on play therapy and now working with children and families using play, I found this chapter resonating within me of the power of play and playfulness. It was pleasurable reading and brought a sense of joy in reflecting on creativity, delight, childlikeness, gratitude and laughter. Angela then goes on to look at the enemies of delight, discouragement, duty, disapproval and cynicism. How negativity can quickly and easily crush and spoil the life affirming gift of creativity.

Part 3: “The Problem of Not Being Perfect” – expanded as “Unconditionally loved by God, we are safe enough to face the truth of our failings and see them as growth points.” This part looked at guilt, making mistakes, forgiveness, judgment, a lot of which could make challenging and uncomfortable reading. But Angela takes serious and difficult aspects of our humanity, gives lots of stories from life, peppered with biblical and literary quotes and lovely quirky things like “The Banana Skin Blues!”

Part 4: “The Cluttered Fool” – some chaptersthatneed to look at again and again. The question that accompanies the title of this section is, “What is the clutter that stops us being our true selves? The clutter is out possessions and the beliefs or inner baggage that hinders our true living. There is such a lot to reflect on in these chapters, and ones that I will revisit many times.

Part 5: brings us to “The Vulnerable Fool” and the summary to accompany this section is “The point where we feel most raw and broken is the point where God is pressing most keenly to love and remake us.” Reading about difficult topics such as “growth through suffering” , “faith against the odds”, “darkness and doubt,” – subjects that I am sure will resonate with many of us in Broken Rites, is deeply moving. We have surely felt brokenness and vulnerability keenly.

“Foolish generosity”, “foolish forgiveness” and the final chapter of “The Fool on the Hill” lead to the Epilogue and superb words of encouragement from Jim Cotter.

This book has been a treasure, one that has accompanied me on many of my travels and will continue to do so. It is full of quotes, written with deep sensitivity, experience of life and informed by theological study, yet also written with a light touch and humour that makes it a joy to read. It is set out in a way that can make it usable as a book to dip randomly into, one that could be used by a group or fellowship, or to read through in small sections at a time. There are also helpful practical suggestions and tips for using the book as well as some suggested further reading.

When I do come to de-clutter, which I will undoubtedly need to do before too long, then this will be one of the books that will remain on my bookshelves so that it can be dipped into regularly and go where I go.I thank Angela for risking asking me to write a review, and for giving me the opportunity to read this super book.

Published by Darton Longman and Todd. ISBN 978-0-232-52770-4.

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