Book Review: Richard Rohr’s latest offers true Christian wisdom

By Diana Holbert, Special Contributor…

Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self
Richard Rohr
Jossey-Bass, 2013
Hardcover, 288 pages

Editor’s note: The Rev. Diana Holbert, a retired pastor in the North Texas Conference, wrote this review in the form of a letter to a former parishioner.

Dear Tom,

I so enjoyed catching up with you at Frances’ memorial service this afternoon. Even under the sad circumstances, coming back to my former church was pure joy. What better way to greet old friends than under the canopy of celebrating a life lived in love as Frances lived hers.

In addition, to meet you at the reception and hear you talk about Richard Rohr, one of my all-time heroes in the faith, was an added bonus. I’m so glad you are reading Falling Upward and taking care to understand each paragraph. Richard has depth, doesn’t he? And he makes it so simple. Well, simple to read, but challenging to live.

I’m studying his most recent book, Immortal Diamond, and I highly recommend it.

As a pastor himself, Richard draws abiding wisdom and warning from his years of dealing with others, himself and God. He provides first aid to folks who are recovering from religion, and he offers it with an openness one doesn’t often see in church leadership. What vibrancy!

Diana Holbert

I love this line: “[I refuse to] wait for, or give false comfort to, the many Christians who are forever ‘deepening their personal relationship’ with a very tiny American Jesus—who looks an awful lot like them.”

I know you would love this book. I think it’s his finest. He confronts dangerous religious myths without being confrontational, and is strong in his urgent appeal to look beneath ego and façade, without being aggressive. I picture Gandhi when I read Rohr. Gandhi, but Americanized. I also see a contemporary St. Francis.

We want to make a name for ourselves, Rohr notices, but then he asks, why not instead try to discern what our true name is? “I have met many who appear to know themselves and do at some good levels, but not at the largest and divine level; they have to keep scrambling for private and public significance by themselves and in their mental ego. They still live in a separate and very fragile self. . . . True religion ‘insults’ your ego and does not give it easy comfort.”

Our culture entices us into thinking of ourselves first, middle and last. This False Self is the self that we believe we are. We know no other way to act in this world except in our ego-driven relationships with others and ourselves. But Rohr is quick to point out that if we begin a conscious divesting of our False Self, the yoke turns out to be easy and the burden becomes light: “I promise you that the discovery of your True Self will feel like a thousand pounds of weight have fallen from your back.”

I wonder how many children or partners/spouses we have stopped in their tracks by our blunt force as we declare who that child or partner really is or needs to be. I wonder what would happen in our churches if congregations and leaders could encourage the True Self of the congregants to come forth. I wonder if pastors would last longer in their churches if congregations could encourage the pastor’s True Self to shine forth.

Rohr doesn’t skimp on his critique of the industrial Church, often expressing how much we dupe ourselves as church leaders and members into believing the myths about what it means to be a Christian community. These myths are based on a collective False Self. Why else do we worry so much about membership numbers, money, buildings and tradition? Why else do we put so much energy into our bickering, our trivialities, our competition and empire? The Church is pushy in its False Self, often striving hard to be Number One, to the exclusion of others. “. . . The False Self would rather have very few ‘wins’ than let God win with everybody.”

Richard Rohr

Yet, by the energy and reverence in his critique, it is obvious that Rohr loves the Church. He writes, “Religion can significantly delay the emergence of our True Self. . . . The True Self includes everybody who wants to join in. . . . Wherever there is faith, hope, and charity, there is the church and there is God, and that is the primary church I believe in.”

Perhaps one of Rohr’s biggest contributions to theological study is his take on the “problem” of theodicy. He concludes that God is the Great Allower: God permits rapes and hurricanes and cancer to happen. And this makes some of us crazy. “God is both a scandal and a supreme disappointment to most of us. We would prefer a God of domination and control to a God of allowing, as most official prayers make clear.”

There is so much more dealt with in this book: evil and beauty, heroism flowing through us and not from us, objective truth and enduring meaning, prayer as bringing your thinking down into your heart, and Rohr’s appendices that contain “Twelve Ways to Practice Resurrection Now.”

I am delighted to write to you about Immortal Diamond. Consider teaching it. It’s that good. And it may take you on a journey to what sparkles inside. As your pastor, I certainly saw that Christ-treasure in you. I pray you will reveal it more and more.

“Never doubt that it is all about love in the end.”

Breathe peace,

Diana

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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