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Call It Grace

In a world full of moral and spiritual challenges Rev Dr Serene Jones reveals a spiritual path open to all seekers who want real guidance through complicated issues that affect us allAs the president of the Union Theological Seminary Rev Dr Serene Jones is one of America's foremost theologians In this bracingly honest and practical book Rev Dr Jones takes us on an emotional and intellectual journey to bring spirituality back into our lives Reconnecting I couldn't put it down SJ is a gifted writer who made a theological memoir into a page turner As it happens I land in the same theological terrain as she and found a kindred spirit here

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Ic landscape Call It Grace provides us with a vision of a system for how to live how to suffer cherish endure and thrive and with a way to approach and understand our divine natures impulses and possibilitiesWritten for everyone men and women left and right skeptic and believer people of all backgrounds and persuasions Call It Grace is a book for today's radical age of anxiety a book as serious and socially critical as it is helpful and broadly accessib The exploration of her Oklahoma and family roots and how those relate to her theological journey is very interesting Particularly timely is her discussion of her connections to the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19 1995And I don't really want to be that kind of person but she says that the bombing happened the same day as her regular Tuesday lecture but April 19 1995 was a Wednesday I think the OKC Bombing has become linked in memory to 911's Tuesday morning Small details like that just make my brain spin The Legacy Chronicles: Chasing Ghosts right skeptic and believer people of all backgrounds and persuasions Call It Grace is a book for today's Deathcaster (Shattered Realms, radical age of anxiety a book as serious and socially critical as it is helpful and broadly accessib The exploration of her Oklahoma and family A Peoples Tragedy roots and how those Out of the Ashes (The Legacy Chronicles, relate to her theological journey is very interesting Particularly timely is her discussion of her connections to the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19 1995And I don't Sharks really want to be that kind of person but she says that the bombing happened the same day as her Inside Las Vegas regular Tuesday lecture but April 19 1995 was a Wednesday I think the OKC Bombing has become linked in memory to 911's Tuesday morning Small details like that just make my brain spin

Serene Jones Ù 3 summary

With our spirituality with a sense of the divine allows us all to live better together and answers many of the seemingly intractable problems we are facing todayDrawing from the work of Hegel Nietzsche and other great minds as well as from deeply moving and personal experiences Rev Dr Jones offers readers a rich guidebook for living a honest grace filled life In an era of increasing estrangement anxiety and gloom across the personal political and econom Had high hopes for this bookAfter listening to a recent interview of Serene Jones on NPR I eagerly looked forward to reading Call It Grace The book is part memoir part reflection part theological essay I'm not certain it really succeeds As memoir Jones weaves in family history and memories of her Oakie childhood and racist relatives I'm not understanding how she excoriates her racist child molesting grandfather on the one hand while also going on and on about how her background has molded and shaped her to be the conscious and committed person she's become She honors the hardscrabble lives of her forebears and acknowledges the profound impact they have on her Then there's her mother What a mother A hateful vicious selfish and disturbed woman that Serene Jones never uite gets around to seeing or understanding as mentally unstable The woman she describes sounds like a classic bipolar Jones writes about her pettiness jealousy vindictiveness and shallow self absorption amidst the tight societal confines of 1950's rural America Much than 1950’s s created the monster her mother became and remained throughout life that ended with deathbed cruelty Serene Jones tries to frame her mother’s actions against the context of theological ideas of mercy justice redemption and faith Yet spilling from the frame are un discussed never mentioned example after example of mental instability that screams mental illness It’s the elephant in the room that Serene Jones just doesn’t see acknowledge or mentionCall It Grace gets bogged down in many spots It drags and is wordy Chapters are overly long Jones attempts to peel back the layers of her own theological growth and those theologians and thinkers who influenced her She weaves back and forth traveling from the Midwest to India then Yale and Union Theological SeminaryAlthough her understanding of her own journey may be clear to Serene Jones she doesn’t always make it clear to the reader So although she offers tidbits of understanding about her family and the people who’ve influenced her I came away from the book still unclear about a lot


10 thoughts on “Call It Grace

  1. says:

    A few weeks ago I had never heard of Serene Jones or Union Theological Seminary I found out about both when Jones participated in a A with the New York Times In that piece she shared her doubts about the virgin birth and the resurrection among other things Her views weren't particularly shocking by themselves but I was fascinated because of Jones' position as president of a theological seminary I was raised to believe that a Christian is someone who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ Christian denominations exist for the sole purpose of clarifying communicating and protecting their clear ideas about the nature of God right? So how can a person who scoffs at the traditional premise of the faith find her way into a career as a theologian and administrator at one of the country's oldest seminaries?This book answers that uestion in detail explaining Jones' familial background and her spiritual journey And those parts of the book are extremely satisfying Jones carefully articulates her ideas and gives numerous examples of the theologians both famous and obscure that helped shape her outlook The structure of the book though feels a bit like a conversation with a stranger at a party or bar You start a casual conversation and soon you become keenly aware that this is a person of unusual depth You venture onto the topic of God and the next thing you know you've talked all night They closed down the bar and then the coffee shop and now it's dawn and you're in someone's kitchen listening as the conversation turns down yet another new path What I mean is that it's not an especially coherent polished presentation of ideas or story Rather it's an interesting narrative that at times wanders or gets stuck a little too long on one topic Like that interesting stranger at the bar the author needs to be occasionally nudged back on track or to be led back to a particularly interesting point The best parts are when she connects the dots and clearly applies her theological outlook to the big conflicts in her life Like how she coped with her community's racist past or how her ideas of God's grace and forgiveness were undermined by the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing as well as the subseuent trial and execution of McVeighOther parts like when she muses about her grandfather and her mother or to a lesser her extent her sisters ex husband and daughter are somewhat jumbled and felt muddier?Those muddy parts are where new details appear abruptly giving the conversation an ugly turn and completely changing the nature of the book When revelations about her mother are introduced late in the book for example it seems like the end of the memoir is an exercise in personal therapythe author working through her complex feelings rather than the objective theological treatise of earlier chaptersOverall it's a solid memoir that includes a lifetime of suggestions for further reading


  2. says:

    Not bad This coming from an atheist I have in common with SJ than I do some atheist friends She clearly has an open mind and a kind human spirit It’s a bit lightweight in the way it handles other factors besides theology in approaching how one ‘should’ live a good life There is an entire branch of philosophy kierkegaard aside devoted to this topic not to mention scads that can be learned from various psychological fields esp those dealing with motivation and loss Yes I know an ‘academic’ critiue but it can’t be helped Still there is one fatal area of disagreement—and that is the unwavering assumption that ‘god’ however framed here is the purveyor of grace and not it’s counterpart sin I disagree with this dichotomy as I can’t reconcile otherwise based on this single reading Otherwise a decent work with a human story


  3. says:

    I couldn't put it down SJ is a gifted writer who made a theological memoir into a page turner As it happens I land in the same theological terrain as she and found a kindred spirit here


  4. says:

    The first thing that strikes you about Serene Jones graceful memoir is its bold and unflinching honesty She is President of the Union Theological Seminary and the daughter of a minister who has fought all his life for civil rights and the rights of all people but she lets us know early on that her grandfather—that wonderful father’s father—was an overt racist and was also sexually abusive to the young women in the family Her mother though she was a striking beauty and nominally a Christian was a self centered woman who resented her children and treated them badly all their lives The tirade against her daughter that this woman goes on in her early seventies when Serene was assuming her post as President of Union was almost unbelievable in its pettiness and viciousness She seemed not to have learned a thing in her seventy years of lifeJones begins winningly with a Forward that announces her six core beliefs and even to me a man with a Christian background who now practices Zen they sound accurate and true to experience1 She organizes her book according to what she calls stations of the cross by which she means key moments that taught her something important and she tells the story of the early stations succinctly and gracefully This isn’t the kind of memoir that blathers on with a lot of detail She talks at some length about the theology of John Calvin who is apparently central to the thinking of her denomination the Disciples of Christ and almost but not uite convinces me I should look into his work she admits that others have a different take on Calvin2 And her foray into liberation theology when she travels to India and becomes very seriously ill with dysentery is not only an admirable if perhaps slightly foolish venture but she relates her experience to that of the mystic Teresa of Avila who described four stages of prayer and in that country where she was surrounded by Hindus and mystics of various kinds she has what seems very much like an experience of No Self That’s the good news The bad news is that she nearly died3I have to say that I found these early chapters thrilling and I haven’t really covered all their richness what she calls the prairie theology of Oklahoma reflected perhaps most notably in her grandmother her gradual education through other famous thinkers like Karl Barth Reinhold Niebuhr and Howard Thurman and her father’s bravery in the face of racism and bigotry But the book bogged down in the middle when she got into traditional Christian concerns in the second half of the book the stations are such things as forgiveness justice mercy love especially the long chapter about forgiveness In that chapter—surprisingly after all she’d been through and understood—she seemed to be trying to measure up to some standard of behavior instead of examining what was happening It was hard enough to try to forgive her husband after their divorce but she got terribly bogged down with the idea that she should be able to forgive Timothy McVeigh Talk about impossible tasksI happened right about the time I was reading that chapter of the book to read a teaching on forgiveness by the Buddhist teacher Susan Piver It’s well worth a listen but the gist of it is feel what you feel when you’re feeling it If you’re feeling anger toward Timothy McVeigh just feel that Don’t stifle it Don’t try to measure up to an ideal As a friend once said to me about a much trivial situation when you understand why the person did what they did you’ll automatically forgive them Until you do understand it you can’t forgive them It may be that we’ll never understand Timothy McVeigh but so it goes We’ll leave that to the saintsJones does have a chapter on Breath when she gives a harrowing account of her battle with cancer but even there I felt she was overintellectualizing uoting a Western philosopher named Luce Irigaray who somehow manages to turn that physiological function into something to think about when any meditator will tell you just to feel it It’s a miracle Jones largely recovers in her final two chapters when she gets back to the difficulties of her parents The closer she stays to her experience as it actually is the better her writingwwwdavidguyorg


  5. says:

    Serene Jones has written about the life of faith as a prominent theologian combining personal and family stories and experiences with the intellectual concepts of the great theological thinkers A beautiful exploration of how those of us who study Calvin Barth Kierdegaard Cone etc make sense of our lives and integrate the intellect with experience This book will be particularly good for those who don't understand theology not because it is an intro to theological thinking for it is not but becuase it describes how the theological imagination worksJones is a fellow Oklahoman so I was drawn to how central the Oklahoma experience is to her theological reflection I have been slowly working on a project for the last 13 years or so to develop a theology of plains first focused on Oklahoma but then expanded to include Nebraska when I moved in 2010 Her chapter on Prairie Theology was fun to readLarge parts of the book are memoiristic but they are not strictly memoir As someone who has published a memoir I felt there were places that her innovative genre allowed her to avoid some of the hard work of memoir One can't and shouldn't always move to lessons and morals from one's experience Also she was able to pick and choose from her experience in a way that papered over some probably because they didn't fit the genre she had created I also felt some experiences and relationships were insufficiently examined But many of these criticisms are somewhat nitpicky But I was bothered by two times when she got her facts wrong The first was when she described leaving her Tuesday morning class and then learning about the OKC bombing a key event in her narrative The bombing occurred on a Wednesday The second was the time of death for Timothy McVeigh She only got that one wrong by an hour But what puzzled me is that she didn't doublecheck her memory for these central stories Nor did any of her readers or editors correct her Nor did her editor look up all the look up able facts as my editor did StrangeWhile it suggest sloppy editing it also demonstrates the way trauma scrambles our brains


  6. says:

    Had high hopes for this bookAfter listening to a recent interview of Serene Jones on NPR I eagerly looked forward to reading Call It Grace The book is part memoir part reflection part theological essay I'm not certain it really succeeds As memoir Jones weaves in family history and memories of her Oakie childhood and racist relatives I'm not understanding how she excoriates her racist child molesting grandfather on the one hand while also going on and on about how her background has molded and shaped her to be the conscious and committed person she's become She honors the hardscrabble lives of her forebears and acknowledges the profound impact they have on her Then there's her mother What a mother A hateful vicious selfish and disturbed woman that Serene Jones never uite gets around to seeing or understanding as mentally unstable The woman she describes sounds like a classic bipolar Jones writes about her pettiness jealousy vindictiveness and shallow self absorption amidst the tight societal confines of 1950's rural America Much than 1950’s s created the monster her mother became and remained throughout life that ended with deathbed cruelty Serene Jones tries to frame her mother’s actions against the context of theological ideas of mercy justice redemption and faith Yet spilling from the frame are un discussed never mentioned example after example of mental instability that screams mental illness It’s the elephant in the room that Serene Jones just doesn’t see acknowledge or mentionCall It Grace gets bogged down in many spots It drags and is wordy Chapters are overly long Jones attempts to peel back the layers of her own theological growth and those theologians and thinkers who influenced her She weaves back and forth traveling from the Midwest to India then Yale and Union Theological SeminaryAlthough her understanding of her own journey may be clear to Serene Jones she doesn’t always make it clear to the reader So although she offers tidbits of understanding about her family and the people who’ve influenced her I came away from the book still unclear about a lot


  7. says:

    This was an outstanding book– I'm glad I looked it up after listening to Serene Jones being interviewed by Krista Tippett on On Being It's been a while since I read a book from the academic realm of theology that captured me like this probably because it so expertly weaves in narratives that are unflinching about the blend of sin and grace At times her Calvinist background struck me as a bit harsher than what I grew up with but in today's fractured national and global context I can see the wisdom and clarity of Calvin's thought as Jones distills it Her manner of reflecting upon various stages and events in her life theologically is profoundly inspiring and encourages me to do the same And her call for a renewed emphasis on public theology is inspiring and challenging I can see it as long overdue but grapple with how I might answer that call


  8. says:

    I first found about this author through her remarkable book Trauma and Grace Theology in a Ruptured World so I knew I wanted to read this one as well Hard to imagine a memoir written by a theologian being a page turner but that is exactly what this was for me I loved this book and was deeply moved by her honesty and humility in describing life events that challenged her theology and beliefs and how she struggled and often fell short in living them out


  9. says:

    The exploration of her Oklahoma and family roots and how those relate to her theological journey is very interesting Particularly timely is her discussion of her connections to the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19 1995And I don't really want to be that kind of person but she says that the bombing happened the same day as her regular Tuesday lecture but April 19 1995 was a Wednesday I think the OKC Bombing has become linked in memory to 911's Tuesday morning Small details like that just make my brain spin


  10. says:

    I heard Serene Jones the president of the Union Theological Seminary interviewed by Krista Tippet on the podcast On Being She was articulate thoughtful and engaging to the ear of agnostic like me She is able to transcend the parts of organized religion that have always made me avoid it and show how and why it's important to have a spiritual life in whatever form it takes I found this to be a very compelling book


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