Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Book Review: Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1991, 106 p.

Overview—Give a brief overview of the book, including its theme, perspective and approach.

"Telling Secrets" would be placed in the genre of "spiritual memoir". In it Buechner takes the reader though some of the significant, though traumatic events of his life. He talks about his beautiful, yet fragile mother, his father's suicide when he was a boy, growing up in Bermuda, his daughters traumatic anorexia, and his surprising stay at Wheaton College. As a spiritual memoir, Buechner writes for himself, yet with an eye to encouraging the reader to go deeper into the investigation of how the events of our lives shape us. In "telling our secrets" we become more whole people.

Critique—Offer a brief critique of the book, including elements of strength and weakness.

After the recent spate of young authors bent on spiritual musings, I found it refreshing to read a spiritual memoir written by someone past his twenties! Buechner writes well, and I have enjoyed everything I have read by him ("Godric", to name a noteworthy volume). He is frank and honest about his experiences, even the unflattering ones. Yet he never strays into the emotional exhibitionism some writers seem to exploit. The book is very subtle – Buechner never seeks to preach, yet almost subliminally urges his readers to great self-discovery and self-disclosure.

Application—Offer some specific application to your own ministry— demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book.

The most probing sections of "Telling Secrets" were those in which Buechner challenges ministers to become witnesses of the presence of God in their own lives. Sadly many ministers become "professionals who have mastered all the techniques of institutional religion and who speak on religious matters with what often seems a maximum of authority and a minimum of personal involvement". As a result our sermons are "as bland as they are bloodless". I was challenged to a more moment by moment awareness of the work of God in my own life and an authentic disclosure of that to others.

Best Quote—Be sure to include the page number where the quote can be found.

p. 38 "In these pages I tell secrets about my parents, my children, myself because that is one way of keeping track and because I believe that it is not only more honest but also vastly more interesting that to pretend that I have no such secrets to tell. I not only have my secrets, I am my secrets. And you are your secrets. Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it means to be human."

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