• Book Review of Sacred Friendships by Ian F. Jones

    Posted on October 8th, 2009 admin No comments

    Review of Sacred Friendship by Robert W. Kellemen and Susan M. Ellis

    By Ian F. Jones


    Mark these names and remember them: Vibia Perpetua (181-203), Macrina the Elder (270-340), Gorgonia (325-375), Marcella (325-410), Dhuoda (803-843), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), Amelia Wilhelmina Siereking (1794-1858), Laura Smith Haviland (1808-1898), and Betsie ten Boom (1885-1944). These are ten members of an assemblage of over fifty women, formerly unknown to most of us, but now revealed in a remarkable book by Robert Kellemen and Susan Ellis.


    Sacred Friendships (BMH Books, 2009) reveals an area of church history that has been overlooked for too long—the important role that women have played in nurturing and preserving the faith and in teaching us today how to minister one another based upon their legacy.


    The subtitle of the book, Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith, captures the essence of the authors’ purpose. Kellemen and Ellis introduce us to each of these women by telling their stories in ways that are, at once, profound and moving. We read of Perpetua, who consoles and comforts her family and her fellow prisoners facing trial and martyrdom, and in her own dying shows us how to live.


    Macrina, the grandmother of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, demonstrates spiritual nurturing, particularly of her daughter Emmelia, and reveals to us the important influence that women have had over the centuries upon the Church Fathers, whose names hold greater familiarity.


    Gorgonia, mother to two bishops, is eulogized by her brother, Gregory of Nazianzus, as a woman of godly character offering wise counsel based on the Word of God.


    Marcella chooses a life of biblical meditation and spiritual mentoring that influences her tutor Jerome. Hildegard of Bingen reveals one of the greatest intellectual minds in her spiritual letters of truth, love, confrontation, and comfort.


    Julian of Norwich builds bridges of reconciliation in human relations, and Catherine of Siena provides spiritual consolation and compassion as she comforts people facing execution and death.


    In the nineteenth century, Laura Smith Haviland opened schools for indigent and African American children and participated in the Underground Railroad. In the twentieth century, Betsie ten Boom provided a model of Christlike hospitality, trust in God, comfort, inspiration, and forgiveness to her more well-known sister Corrie, up to the time of her death in a Nazi concentration camp.


    Kellemen and Ellis uncover a vast storehouse of wisdom, spiritual counsel, and practical direction in the lives of these women. In so doing, they provide a refreshing antidote to an empty feminism void of biblical content and to an equally unbiblical blind dismissal of the value of women. The stories, drawn from five continents and covering nearly two millennia, offer practical wisdom, biblical insight, and inspiration for current approaches to counseling and soul care. 


    There is no claim that these women are perfect; however, their stories and their lives resonate with a desire to know God and His Word. This is not a book to be consigned to the dusty corner of a library shelf, suitable only for reference in some esoteric research project on church history. Rather, it is a book to be read, studied, and applied in our daily walk of faith and ministry.


    To that end, the authors end each chapter with a discussion guide comprised of a series of questions designed to engage the reader in personal and/or group assessment and application drawn from the truths learned from these women.


    Read the book and you will be humbled by the spiritual strength, power, wisdom, and influence of these women.  Gone, but now no longer forgotten, these women teach us how to live godly lives and give spiritual counsel to others, as Kellemen and Ellis draw back the curtain of church history and tell us their stories.


    To learn more about Sacred Friendships and to order your copy, you can visit: http://bit.ly/MG1l5




  • Spiritual Formation: Through HER Eyes

    Posted on October 6th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments
    Much of the time we view spiritual formation through less than half the church–because we ignore the remarkable contribution of amazing women of the faith. A new book co-authored by myself and Susan Ellis addresses this imbalance. Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith gives voice to the voiceless. Bill Higley and Chelsea Huizing have posted a review of Sacred Friendships at Bill’s excellent web site: http://bit.ly/124G6n

    Here’s their review.

    The purpose of this stop of the “Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith” bog tour is to review chapters 1, 2, 10, 11, and 12. Before I begin, there are a few preliminary things I want to say: First, thank you to Bob and Susan for allowing me this opportunity, it is my (and Chelsea’s—see below) privilege to be invited to participate in the blog tour covering the release of Sacred Friendships. Second, I must confess I’m cheating a little in my assignment. I have asked one of my former college students, Chelsea Huizing, whom is now in our school’s graduate Counseling program (specifically, the Master of Arts with an emphasis on Counseling and Writing), to help me in this process. I think it only fitting that someone like Chelsea be a part of this process. For in her educational preparation for future vocational ministry, she is in many ways standing of the shoulders of the heroes of the faith highlighted in Sacred Friendships. Moreover, she is a talented writer with a keen mind and she does an outstanding job with her assignment. So, a big “thank you” to Chelsea

    Therefore, in the division of this task, I (Bill Higley) will introduce and review chapters 1 and 2, and Chelsea will cover chapters 10-12. Here goes . . .

    Chapter 1 – So Great a Cloud of Witnesses: In Her Own Words.

    Chapter 1 of Sacred Friendships is crucial to understanding not just the content of this text, but also its presentation. In this first chapter, Bob Kellemen and Susan Ellis introduce us: 1) to their research process and intent; 2) to what we might call their “hermeneutical process” or “paradigm” for interpreting that research; and, 3) to the format with which they will present their findings.

    To understand these three aspects fully, I would recommend you to go back and read Dr. Kellemen’s previous works, Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends, in which he carefully presents the foundation for his philosophy of counseling, and Beyond the Suffering , where he applies this counseling model to the spiritual history and contributions of the African American church in America. Sacred Friendships is built on this same philosophy of counseling and application model.

    That being said, it is necessary for the authors to reintroduce (or, first introduce) the Soul Care and Spiritual Directions counseling framework used for this book, and that is the purpose of chapter one. In their Introduction, they describe their approach as a: “. . . Cross-based, four-dimensional model (sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding) of soul care and spiritual direction as a grid to map the marvels of historical women’s ministry. This four-dimensional model is the traditional, time-tested, and widely-recognized pattern for understanding Christian spiritual care” (p. 2). Therefore, because it is so crucial to ones appreciation of this text, the authors dedicate chapter one as a sort of crash course in this counseling model.

    Without this brief introduction to the Soul Care and Spiritual Directions process the reader would be lost. As a matter of fact, Kellemen and Ellis call it the “Treasure Map” they will follow in their walk through the history of the contribution these women saints have made to the church (pp. 11-12).

    In presenting the model in this first chapter, Bob and Susan provide a helpful overview the Soul Care and Spiritual Direction on pages 14-15. The rest of the first chapter is a more careful unfolding of these concepts, through which they give further explanation of how they will use the model to decipher and apply the contributions the women heroes of the faith featured in Sacred Friendships, have made to the church.

    Most significantly, through this approach, Sacred Friendships combines the “grace and truth” perspective of Christian counseling and spiritual formation process, and skillfully uses it as an interpretive grid from which to read—and apply—these historical examples of the women they will introduce us to. Thus, chapter one introduces this quite helpful, “Treasure Map,” which will guide the reader through the rest of the text.

    Chapter 2 – Handmaids of the Lord: The Forgotten Church Mothers

    After the necessary introduction of the controlling metaphor of the book, chapter two wastes no time in taking us to the first line-up of the stars of this work. In this case, five “forgotten” (or maybe, more accurately, historically ignored) mothers of the church.

    First, in this chapter we meet Vibia Perpetua, whom is the author of “the earliest know document written by a Christian women” (p. 27). Perpetua was an early church martyr. But it is her example of persistence and boldness in Christ that marks her contribution to the church.

    Bob and Susan show the influence and power of their interpretive construct, when they conclude with this statement about Vibia Perpetua: “Here we witness not only Perpetua’s courageous example of persistence, but also her model of biblical confrontation. She provides riveting testimony to Christ’s power at work in the inner life of a Christian woman whose spirit could never be overpowered” (p. 30).

    Next we meet three women who demonstrated powerful spiritual influence towards three of the most significant early church Fathers: Macrina the Elder, grandmother of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa; the mother of Gregory of Nazianzus; and, Anthusa, the mother of John Chrysostom. The authors’ introduce us to the each of these special ladies, and in so doing, show us how each modedl

    Appropriately, the chapter closes with an introduction to the mother of the most influential of all the early church fathers, Augustine. In their writing, Bob and Susan give us a needed context from which to better understand Augustine. In Augustine’s work, “Confessions,” we learn that his mother Monica “…. stands out above all others as the spiritual guide and anchor, indeed, as the determinative relationship in his life” (quoting Ranft, p. 37). How influential was his mother Monica on Augustine? She was his “best spiritual friend” (p. 40).

    This chapter leads us right to the heart of the message of this book. And in it, we are introduced to five huge spiritual influencers in the lives of the early Church Fathers. In all these cases, the legacy of their contribution to our soul care and spiritual formation would eventually run through their sons or grandsons— who are all recognized as pillars of the early church. And each one of these men was influenced significantly in their spiritual development by the ladies featured in this chapter.

    We do well to learn more about each of these women, for in so doing; indeed, our own souls are care for.

    Chapters 10-12, Sacred Friendships (Reviewed by Chelsea Huizing)

    The careful consideration given to each woman of the faith in chapters 10 thru 12 of “Sacred Friendships” quickly makes the book personable yet informative to the reader. The authors touch on several names that the reader is probably not aware of directly, but the connections to famous men make the names at least vaguely familiar. There is no fooling around or unnecessary introductions; the reader delves directly to the ‘meat’ of the stories, learning more about these women who had their hands on the development of the impressive men they were connected to.

    Each woman is looked at in detail, starting with her own personal life growing up and the spiritual background from which she came. It almost feels like you are reading a history book, capitalizing on spiritual influences and educational background that each woman had. The familiarity this attention to detail gives quickly serves to bring the reader to a personal, self-searching level of connection with each character. If you do not see elements of yourself in each person described, you almost certainly know someone who is similar in character or circumstance to at least one of the women within these chapters. And these connections keep the reader going, eager to learn more about these women and the potential they have for teaching lessons even today.

    The authors make no attempt to hide the faults of these women; indeed, the faults are described in full, perhaps to help the reader understand that they were merely human, as well, simply living day to day as best as they could, and seeking God all the while.

    The hardworking mother with overwhelming duties; the happy and forgotten housewife; the woman who is constantly fretting over things she cannot control; the neglected friend; and the companion who never ceases to struggle for and serve others, all the while battling thoughts of uselessness and depression. Such faults in women of faith did not serve to hinder their ministries, but rather drove them closer to the Lord.

    Details about the circumstances of their Sacred Friendships, and the specific ways that the Lord used them in the lives they ministered to, serve as gentle nudges to the spirit as one reads the accounts. Not one of the women was the same as the other, and these differences are highlighted; yet not diminished. What the authors describe as “spiritual soul care” takes on many different faces, as different as the personalities that these women displayed, and as varied as the roles they played. These differences serve as encouragements as you read further into each story: if these women can be used, and be used so greatly, by the Lord, than anyone can be.

    At the end of each description, you feel as though you have sat down and read a letter from the life of each woman; there is no disguising of words, no mincing of emotions. Many sources are used to give color to the stories, both facts from history books and quotes from personal letters; they serve to paint ever clearer pictures of how these women lived, loved and ministered within their friendships and companionships.

    No matter the era, the culture or the background of each woman, God saw fit to use their humanness and His Grace in their lives to draw blueprints for what can rightfully be called Sacred Friendships. Chapters 10 through 12 serve as more of a challenge and exhortation to the reader than anything else: If God can use these women, with their faults and trials, in such a mighty way, perhaps anyone can be used. The authors’ challenge throughout the chapters is clear and valid. The women in these pages are not meant to be merely a history lesson or a sympathetic letter to whoever will take the time to read, but rather a nudge in the right direction on how to develop Sacred Friendships in our own lives.

    3 John 8
    Bill H.

  • Great Hearts Sorrowing

    Posted on August 26th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Voices of Healing: African American Women of Faith

    Part III: Elizabeth Keckley: Great Hearts Sorrowing


    Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this book, please visit: http://bit.ly/YmaM1


    Note: For Part I on Elizabeth Keckley, please visit my blog post at: http://bit.ly/FSNIt. For Part II, please visit: bit.ly/ENWjJ.


    Great Hearts Sorrowing: Permission to Grieve


    Through a series of sovereign appointments, Elizabeth finds herself in the role of dressmaker for the President’s wife. More than that, she finds herself in the relationship of sacred friend to the President’s wife—Mary Todd Lincoln.


    Over time, the emotional, turbulent Mary Lincoln came to love and even need “Lizabeth,” as she called her. The need exploded when Mrs. Lincoln’s son, Willie, became ill. “He was very sick,” Elizabeth reports, “and I was summoned to his bedside. It was sad to see the poor boy suffer. Always of a delicate constitution, he could not resist the strong inroads of disease.”


    According to Elizabeth, “He was his mother’s favorite child, and she doted on him. It grieved her heart sorely to see him suffer.”


    Willie worsened, lingering a few days, and then died. “God called the beautiful spirit home, and the house of joy was turned into the house of mourning.”


    Elizabeth was there when President Lincoln arrived. “I never saw a man so bowed down with grief. He came to the bed, lifted the cover from the face of his child, gazed at it long and earnestly, murmuring, ‘My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!’”


    The scene continues.


    “Great sobs choked his utterance. He buried his head in his hands, and his tall frame was convulsed with emotion. I stood at the foot of the bed, my eyes full of tears, looking at the man in silent, awe-stricken wonder. His grief unnerved him, and made him a weak, passive child. I did not dream that his rugged nature could be so moved. I shall never forget those solemn moments—genius and greatness weeping over love’s idol lost. There is a grandeur as well as a simplicity about the picture that will never fade.”


    Mrs. Lincoln’s grief was inconsolable.


    “The pale face of her dead boy threw her into convulsions. Around him love’s tendrils had been twined, and now that he was dressed for the tomb, it was like tearing the tendrils out of the heart by their roots. Willie, she often said, if spared by Providence, would be the hope and stay of her old age. But Providence had not spared him. The light faded from his eyes, and the death-dew had gathered on his brow.”


    Mrs. Lincoln was so completely overwhelmed with sorrow that she did not attend her son’s funeral.


    Elizabeth could empathize with a grieving mother’s broken heart.


    “Previous to this I had lost my son. Leaving Wilberforce, he went to the battle-field with the three months troops, and was killed in Missouri—found his grave on the battlefield where the gallant General Lyon fell. It was a sad blow to me, and the kind womanly letter that Mrs. Lincoln wrote to me when she heard of my bereavement was full of golden words of comfort.”


    Clearly, all were given permission to grieve. Speaking of President Lincoln and all the President’s men, Elizabeth describes the funeral scene.


    “And there sat the man, with a burden on his brain at which the world marvels—bent now with the load at both heart and brain—staggering under a blow like the taking from him of his child! His men of power sat around him—McClellan, with a moist eye when he bowed to the prayer, as I could see from where I stood; and Chase and Seward, with their austere features at work; and senators, and ambassadors, and soldiers, all struggling with their tears—great hearts sorrowing with the President as a stricken man and a brother.”


    The permission to grieve extended over time, as it should. “For two years after Willie’s death the White House was the scene of no fashionable display. The memory of the dead boy was duly respected. In some things Mrs. Lincoln was an altered woman.”


    From Elizabeth’s perspective, President Lincoln grieved as one who had found Christian hope.


    “Mr. Lincoln was reading that divine comforter, Job. He read with Christian eagerness, and the courage and hope that he derived from the inspired pages made him a new man.”


    Here Elizabeth records a profound Presidential example of scriptural exploration bringing hope to the hurting. In her words, “What a sublime picture was this! A ruler of a mighty nation going to the pages of the Bible with simple Christian earnestness for comfort and courage, and finding both in the darkest hours of a nation’s calamity. Ponder it, O ye scoffers at God’s Holy Word, and then hang your heads for very shame!”


    The Rest of the Story


    For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part four . . .


    Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu



  • Elizabeth Keckley: Acquainted with Grief

    Posted on August 24th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Voices of Healing: African American Women of Faith

    Part II: Elizabeth Keckley: All Silver in Heaven


    Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this stirring book, please visit: http://bit.ly/YmaM1


    Note: For Part I on Elizabeth Keckley, please visit my blog post at: http://bit.ly/FSNIt


    All Silver in Heaven: Acquainted with Grief


    Like her Savior, Elizabeth Keckley was a woman of sorrow acquainted with grief, and thus able to bring sustaining and healing spiritual care to Mrs. Lincoln. Though enslaved, her first few years were at least spent in the love of her intact family. However, soon her father was sold to another slaver and the golden dream faded all too soon.


    As Elizabeth poignantly recalls it:


    “The announcement fell upon the little circle in that rude log cabin like a thunderbolt. I can remember the scene as if it were but yesterday;—how my father cried out against the cruel separation; his last kiss; his wild straining of my mother to his bosom; the solemn prayer to Heaven; the tears and sobs—the fearful anguish of broken hearts. The last kiss, the last goodbye; and he, my father, was gone, gone forever.[1]


    Elizabeth’s earthly despair was all-encompasing; her longing for heaven all-embracing.


    “The shadow eclipsed the sunshine, and love brought despair. The parting was eternal. The cloud had no silver lining, but I trust that it will be all silver in heaven.”[1]


    As was typically the case in slavery, Elizabeth’s family was not given permission to grieve or the opportunity to hope.


    “Deep as was the distress of my mother in parting with my father, her sorrow did not screen her from insult. My old mistress said to her: ‘Stop your nonsense; there is no necessity for you putting on airs. Your husband is not the only slave that has been sold from his family, and you are not the only one that has had to part.”[1]


    To these unfeeling words, Elizabeth’s mother made no reply. “She turned away in stoical silence, with a curl of that loathing scorn upon her lips which swelled in her heart. My father and my mother never met again in this world.”[1]


    When she was fourteen, Elizabeth went to live with her master’s oldest son, a Presbyterian minister, married to “a helpless wife, a girl that he had married in the humble walks of life. She was morbidly sensitive. . .”[1] At eighteen, a Mr. Bingham, a village schoolmaster and member of her master’s church, said he would whip her naked. She refused. He subdued her. Tied her. Stripped her dress. Whipped her.


    “I could not sleep, for I was suffering mental as well as bodily torture. My spirit rebelled against the unjustness that had been inflicted upon me, and though I tried to smother my anger and to forgive those who had been so cruel to me, it was impossible.”[1]


    He again tried to conquer her, striking her with savage blows. “As I stood bleeding before him, nearly exhausted with his efforts, he burst into tears, and declared that it would be a sin to beat me any more. My suffering at last subdued his hard heart; he asked my forgiveness, and afterwards was an altered man.”[1]


    In her future ministry in the White House, Elizabeth would need her indomitable spirit in the face of unspeakable suffering.


    The Rest of the Story


    For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part three . . .


    Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/XvsTu