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Forbidden Fruit and Fig Leaves: Reading the Bible with the Shamed

Judith Rossall

SCM Press, 2020, ISBN 978-0334059202

Review by Bev Playle, Licensed Local Minister in the Diocese of Leeds

<strong><em>Forbidden Fruit and Fig Leaves: Reading the Bible with the Shamed</em></strong>

When a book clearly influences the very next sermon you preach after reading it, in that you alter your first draft significantly, you know it has exceptional qualities. ‘Who wants to talk about shame?’ asks Rossall. She then leads us through the reasons why we seem to have avoided this important question, to the detriment of those injured, those who cause injury and the wider church. It is clearly written, and it is also beautifully engaging, leading the reader through some often-complex issues with graceful ease. As I read, it was as if I was being accompanied by an informed and thoughtful friend in a revisiting of the Bible narrative.

In particular, I love the way that Rossall enables us to draw alongside those individuals who have been ‘shamed’, such as Abel and Bathsheba, allowing them to tell their side of the story and reflecting on how we can ‘recover’ and learn from them. Reflecting on the narrative of David’s treatment of Bathsheba, she presents a thorough and serious exploration of privilege and power. She helps us to ground the theory in practice telling the story of Anna, whose experiences prompted her to begin this exploration. Anna was asking ‘the very serious question about forgiveness and why the Church was so insistent that she needed to forgive’ but yet seemed to ignore her much of her pain and need for justice. It led me to reflect on how I personally have tackled sin and forgiveness when ministering to others and in my preaching. Do I speak of a Messiah who not only longs to forgive and to take on the burden of sin, but also stands in the place of the injured and shamed, welcoming them with open arms and desiring to see them healed and whole? How am I seeking to serve those who are ‘caught in the battle with shame-ache’?

I believe this provocative, yet deeply sensitive book is very timely for anyone involved in leadership, especially those who preach or offer pastoral ministry, as we seek to enable those wrestling with shame to recover and find wholeness. It is important that we do not preach only that all are forgiven but that those who are sinned against are not left to feel excluded as they struggle with feelings of unworthiness. Shame might be something we are afraid of tackling, but it is included in the Bible from its earliest stories right through to the cross and resurrection of Christ. That is the hope we surely proclaim: that our Redeemer who once was shamed in crucifixion and in death, rose again to give new life to all.


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