Two books have come across my desk recently which I believe are worth sharing. I must confess at the outset that I have only read a small part of the first - No Mercy, No Justice. The second book Faithful and Fractured: Responding to the Clergy Health Crisis I have not read at all. It came across my desk as complimentary copy from the publishers.
No Mercy, No Justice: The Dominant Narrative of America versus The Counter-Narrative of Jesus’s Parables challenges us to move beyond partisan divide to a place of faithfulness under the Lordship and reign of Christ. Written by Rev. Brooks Harrington, a clergy member of the Central Texas Conference, the book emerges from the work of Methodist Justice Ministry (MJM) which is a legal ministry and non-profit owned by First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth that protects indigent women and children victims of family violence and sexual abuse and provides them financial and pastoral support.
MJM is in its 14th year ministering in the legal system to protect and help abused children and women. As a part of this “Great Commandment” ministry, MJM has obtained more than 1,800 court orders protecting abused women and children and counselled more than 5,000. Rev. Harrington draws on more than 40 years of experience as a criminal prosecutor, a pastor of an inner-city church in an impoverished neighborhood and the founder of MJM.
I was privileged to write a pre-publication endorsement. In that endorsement I stated: “With the vivid illumination of personal experience, Brooks Harrington offers a trenchant connection between the twin pillars of justice and mercy. He shines a light on Christian witness which challenges even as it educates . . . The passion for ministry to children in desperate need will take the attentive reader to new depths of both justice and mercy in the Lord." Brooks offers Christians hope with new and startling insights into God’s justice and mercy revealed in the parables of Jesus. No Mercy, No Justice takes us both deeper into the Holy Scriptures and deeper into the life of faithfulness exemplified by the deeds of love, justice and mercy. My episcopal colleague and friend Bishop Will Willimon perceptively noted in his endorsement, “This book will change how you look at our criminal justice system, the parables of Jesus, and the Christian life.” On a more personal level, I find the stories in the book disturbing, moving and hopeful all at same time.
Jolynn and I are privileged to support Methodist Justice Ministry. (It is worth noting that 100% of the net proceeds of the book go directly to fund the Methodist Justice Ministry.) In answer to my inquiry, Rev. Harrington wrote that MJM is “now receiving between 25 and 35 NEW requests for help every week with crises of family violence and child abuse. About 80% of those applicants are deserving of our help and within our income ceiling. But because we only have three lawyers, one of whom is effectively unpaid, and because these cases are so demanding (I filed one case last week about nine abused children), we can only take about 20% of those cases.
The subtitle of Faithful and Fractured conveys the theme of the book – Responding to the Clergy Health Crisis. One of the great privileges of being the bishop of the Central Texas is getting to know and work with the clergy members of the conference. As part of this adventure, I have been blessed by Rev. Ray Bailey, who currently serves as Deputy General Secretary for the General Board of High Education and Ministry (GBHEM). Previously, Ray had served with noticeable distinction as an Army Chaplain and finished his military service as Deputy Chief of Chaplains (Brigadier General). In our correspondence, Brigadier General Chaplain Baily shared some of the advice given to new promoted Army generals. Many insights of that advice merit both reflection and action. One reads as follows: “Stay physically fit.” In follow on conversations, Ray added both spiritual and mental health. Faithful and Fractured focuses on these crucial issues. It has moved up high on my reading list.
Faithful and Fractured chapter headings tell the tale:
- When Work is Holy: Highs and Lows of Ministry Work
- Slowed Down and Overwhelmed: Clergy and Depressive Symptoms
- A Practical Guide to Combating Stress Symptoms
The list continues but this brief taste indicates importance of both the subject and the book itself. The authors, Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell (Associate Research Professor of Global Health at Duke) and Jason Byassee (Professor of Homiletics and Biblical Hermeneutics at Vancouver School of Theology along with serving as a contributing editor of Christian Century) have offered us an important contribution to continuing Christian ministry in the twenty-first century.
Here too I find myself in confession. Anyone who knows me knows that I have battled weight gain most of my life. I am not an exercise champion. Like most clergy, I tend to take care of others more than I take care of myself. I am still struggling with better habits of self-care physically, mentally and spiritually. I wish I had this book in my hands much sooner both for myself personally and for my work as Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry (in the old Southwest Texas Conference) prior to my election to the episcopacy and in my ministry as a Bishop over the last eleven years.
In various presentations around the Central Texas Conference and in the larger United Methodist Church, I have repeatedly stated that it is harder to be a pastor today than it was when I entered ministry in the 1970s. As the pace of modern living accelerates and the culture moves more deeply into a post-Christendom mindset, this truth is becoming a tautology. Faithful and Fractured looks like a significant contribution to the wider understanding and health of Christian pastors and ministry.