Beacon Press: Souls in the Hands of a Tender God
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Souls in the Hands of a Tender God

Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets

Authors: Craig Rennebohm, David Paul

A minister’s stories about his work with homeless people who are suffering from mental illness and a discussion of our need for healing communities

Since 1987, Craig Rennebohm has ministered to people on the streets of Seattle who are homeless and struggling with mental illness. In Souls in the Hands of a Tender God, he tells the evocative stories of persons who desperately need psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual support-like Mary, who surrounds herself with huge trash bags for protection from a threatening world; Jerry, whose fits of rage get him barred from every shelter and meal program in Seattle; and others, abandoned and marginalized by their community, who need care and treatment to find their way back to a life of stability and meaning. As Rennebohm reaches out to each one, their stories become parables that explore mental illness and the spiritual heart of care and recovery, helping us understand what it means to be human, on a pilgrimage together toward wholeness.

As these stories unfold, we encounter Rennebohm’s powerful experiences with a God of kindness and compassion, drawn from his own life and the lives of those he has aided in their struggles with homelessness and with mental illness. Souls in the Hands of a Tender God offers a clear understanding of Spirit, faith, soul, and religion that will prove invaluable to individual conversations and to dialogue among congregations about how we can best serve “the least among us.”

Souls in the Hands of a Tender God follows the path of healing and the way of companionship to build communities of caring that welcome and include our most fragile and troubled neighbors. With gentleness and grace, solid knowledge and wisdom, Rennebohm lays down the foundations of healing communities in which all may have a home, safely rest, and be well.
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“Rarely has the lived experience of mental illness been expressed with such clarity and compassion. In deft, concise accounts of his relationships with people who endure mental illnesses and homelessness, Craig Rennebohm shares striking insights into their perceptions and realities. His outreach embodies a spirituality that complements and honors other approaches to homelessness and mental illness, but stands on its own as a great testament of faith. Souls in the Hands of a Tender God is an engrossing read for anyone who seeks to comprehend the needs of our brothers and sisters on the streets.
—John N. Lozier, executive director, National Health Care for the Homeless Council

“Here is a powerful testimonial to the work of community in healing the broken fragments of our lives. Rennebohm is focused, clear, mindful and exceedingly human in relating the medical to the religious in the care of souls.” —Bishop Cabell Tennis

“A deeply affecting mosaic of stories, Souls in the Hands of a Tender God unveils the tragedy of homelessness, mental illness, and estrangement, and reveals the power of hospitality and accompaniment in the daunting journey toward home, healing, and belonging. You’re unlikely to find a better portrayal of what it means to truly love your neighbor as yourself.” —Ken Kraybill, training specialist, National Health Care for the Homeless Council

“Like Jesus, Rennebohm uses the stories of ‘the least of these’ to break the silence about mental illness. He models a ministry of presence through companionship and embraces relationship to heal the soul and reveal God’s presence in the midst of our personal darkness.” —Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder, United Methodist minister and coordinator of mental health ministries, author of In the Shadow of God’s Wings: Grace in the Midst of Depression

“This beautifully written book is a must read for those personally affected by mental illness. It is of even greater value for those who are not.” —Gunnar Christiansen, M.D., founder, FaithNet NAMI

“This book was lived before it was written. Craig Rennebohm has gone to people and places that many Americans would prefer not to notice. In doing so, he has discovered that the light does yet shine in the darkness. Now he brings back stories of the light to show us all the way.” —Anthony B. Robinson, author of Transforming Congregational Culture and Common Grace and United Church of Christ Pastor

“This moving and personal story will be of great value to anyone working with people who struggle with mental illness. Rennebohm brings to life the compassion, grace, and justice in this spiritual approach, but also emphasizes the need to recognize the whole person—their social, psychological, and biological facets—as well as the stark reality of mental illness.” —David H. Avery, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine

“A masterpiece of storytelling that has tremendous potential to continue the transformation of our churches and society into a safety net of unbroken relationships.” —Reverend Patrick Howell, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry, Seattle University, and author of Reducing the Storm to a Whisper: The Story of a Breakdown


Review: Contemporary Psychology - December 24, 2008
"Souls delivers a multilayered and nuanced discussion of homelessness and mental illness…Rennebohm's hardfought-and-won insights… offer refreshing contact points for psychology and religion….both psychologically astute and theologically informed….Souls speaks the truth."
Review: Publishers Weekly starred review - March 10, 2008
For decades Rennebohm, a Protestant pastor, has walked the streets of Seattle, making contact with mentally ill homeless people and slowly drawing them into "circles of care" so they can find safe housing, receive medical and psychological help, and rejoin the human community. In this collaboration with Paul, Rennebohm interweaves themes of the Spirit working in desperate lives, the unshakable dignity of human souls and the necessity of companionship for healing as he vividly portrays the lost people he encounters. Always recognizing that medical treatment of mental illness is an essential part of the movement toward spiritual wholeness, Rennebohm is also sensitive to the vulnerability of the mentally ill to disordered religious ideas. The book's title, a response to Jonathan Edwards's famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," reflects Rennebohm's approach of gentle compassion toward people others reject. His call to find a better path leads him to Europe to study community-based approaches to treating mental illness and to initiate these in Seattle. As well as a guide to how others can help be healing presences to the mentally ill, this hopeful book is a meditation on faith in a broken world.

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Souls in the Hands of a Tender God

ISBN: 978-080700042-7
Publication Date: 5/1/2008
Pages: 224
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $23.95
Format: Cloth
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