Good times, Stories, Travel Stories, Uncategorized, Writers/writing

To the High Desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico, we journey…

 

… At the B19 Gate in the Phoenix Airport- American Airlines. Waiting for the flight to Santa Fe to arrive, then from the Santa Fe airport to a shuttle for a ride to St John’s College and check-in for The Glen Workshop. Never expected to be here too early to get into the dorms 😳but it just might happen! (Hope to include pictures of the Glen Workshop experience, but the WordPress mobile platform just crashed! Maybe pics can be edited in later…)

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Summer surprises…

plums-1605582_960_720My friend Jean once told me about the time that she had come home after a full day at the clinic, then an hour’s drive to a hospital in the city to visit her daughter and her ill, newly born grandchild. The preemie boy, her only daughter’s only child, born to Nancy and Greg who were in their forties, was a complete surprise, an unfathomable blessing… and now, would he live?

When Jean turned into her driveway late on that full-mooned, humid, summer night, she was tired and discouraged. She looked toward her long-time home and saw an oddly shaped form hanging from the doorknob of her old, brick, country house. “Oh, bother – what now? Kids pulling pranks?” She sighed and opened the car door. As she wearily walked down the shadowy stone path, a sweet fragrance filled the air. She recognized the scent: “Plums!” she thought with surprise. “Has someone brought me some plums, God bless them?” From the path, she looked carefully at her moonlit door. Yes! Someone had left a paper bag full of plums hanging on her door handle.

With this sudden understanding, Jean’s energy returned. She walked quickly to the door and eagerly reached into the bag of fruit. Her hand found the smooth skinned, soft, fragrant fruit, and she immediately popped a plum into her mouth, remembering only then that she had eaten nothing since lunch. Now she stood there on the mat in front of her locked door eating plums, the spurting juice staining her mouth, her hands, and dripping freely to her feet on the welcome mat.

With the sticky, fragrant, red plum juice clinging to her from chin to toe, Jean let herself into the house. Hope, viscous and sweetly scented, filled her heart.

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Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

What comes to your mind when you read the word liturgy? The term unquestionably carries with it images of clerical vestments, brightly burning candles in sacred spaces, repeated prayers, and the fragrance of incense. The word liturgy also rings of church history. It has a backstory that includes the Protestant Reformation which saw the implementation of many changes in the church, including a massive revision of the liturgy. In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (2016, InterVarsity Press), Tish Harrison Warren, releases the ancient word from its traditional roots and refurbishes the idea of theliturgy-of-the-ordinary liturgy into a heartfelt pursuit of integrating Christ into daily activities. Warren, an Anglican priest, writes: “If I am to spend my whole life being transformed by the good news of Jesus, I must learn how grand, sweeping truths — doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, Christology — rub against the texture of an average day. How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life.”

In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Warren, whose childhood faith experience was in the Baptist tradition, freely declares her love of the Anglican church’s use of ancient liturgical practices. She also writes that she thoroughly enjoyed her time in seminary, which she describes as an interval of rigorous study and vibrant discussions. Moreover, it was in seminary that she realized the Christian life was not an odyssey to “get the right ideas in my head.” She eventually rejected the kind of Christianity which required that only her intellect be involved. She began to ask, “What would it mean to believe the gospel, not just in my brain, but also in my body?”

Drawing on James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom, Warren writes: “We are shaped every day, whether we know it or not, by practices — rituals and liturgies that make us who we are. We receive these practices — which are often rote — not only from the church or the Scriptures but from the culture… The question is, ‘What kind of Christian is our liturgy forming us to be?’ ” (29)

As she chronicles the events of a single day in her life, Warren shows in Liturgy of the Ordinary that several of her own quotidian routines and responses had become a liturgy adopted from the influences of the current culture rather than thoughtful actions originating from her life in Christ. The author candidly investigates her desire to check-in with social media before she gets out of bed, acknowledges her lack of patience in coping with the frustrations of having small children, and admits to her anger when events at home seem to conspire to disrupt her work schedule. Warren then invites the reader into this question: “Could these menial tasks and trials be the place where one exchanges a faulty liturgy for a better one?”

Throughout the book, the author unselfconsciously writes of her less than glamorous life as a parish priest and mother of two youngsters. As she describes her daily routines Warren employs various liturgical filters to view each activity: the rituals of standing, kneeling, bowing are used to observe the lowly act of brushing her teeth; the presence of scripture and communion are her frames for a meal of leftovers; the practices of blessing and sending come to her aid as she struggles to face the daily irritation of answering emails. By linking liturgical practices with common routines Warren offers a way to transfigure tedious occupations into meaningful actions

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Places in Everyday Life is not a How-To collection of guidelines, it is a What-If conversation starter for creative changes. What if we brought the liturgy of Sunday worship into our weekday world? What if the fragrance of brewing coffee were the incense that turned our attention to God? What if the ringing of our cell phone were a reminder to pray? What if Jesus took precedence in our regular rituals?

Warren tests the typical understanding of liturgy throughout her book. She asserts the power of liturgy to help reshape daily drudgery into the delight of a Jesus-glorifying life while also dispelling the stiff and formal aura that can surround the traditional notion of the liturgy. The reader’s opinion of what liturgy is and how it intersects with everyday routines is likely to be wonderfully challenged and beautifully changed after considering Tish Harrison Warren’s refreshing book, Liturgy of the Ordinary.

Christianity, Uncategorized

The Bad Habits of Jesus : a book review

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The Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing Us the Way to Live Right in a World Gone Wrong

by Leonard Sweet

 

Happy New Year! Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet? If not, maybe this is the year to think about initiating some “bad habits.” The Bad Habits of Jesus (Tyndale, 2016) by Leonard Sweet is a fascinating commentary on this very edgy aspect of Jesus’ ministry style. Sweet’s cliché-crushing book is captivating and provocative: while it extols Jesus’ reputation as a remarkable teacher, it also addresses many questions about Jesus’ radical approach to life. Sweet, with his sagacious wordsmithing skills, has given readers a world-tilting look at the way in which Jesus, through his unorthodox bad habits, refracted, refashioned, and redirected the Jewish lifestyle of his day.

Written in short, fast-paced chapters, Sweet has chosen to present fifteen of Jesus’ surprising behaviors — activities that would probably raise eyebrows in polite society even now. Jesus frequently did and said things in his ministry that pushed past well-established societal and religious boundaries. As Sweet reviews these controversial events he brushes back familiar notions about the accounts as though they were cobwebs and presents to the reader fresh and culturally perceptive impressions of the incidents.

One insightful chapter in The Bad Habits of Jesus is “Jesus Spent Too Much Time With Children.” Sweet explains that children in Jesus’ day were considered, at best, to be nuisances. With that in mind, one can imagine the confusion and irritation of those who heard Jesus proclaim that to enter the Kingdom of God one must become like a little child! Sweet asks, “Why was Jesus’ sensitivity to children so heightened, which was so strikingly out of sync with the dominant cultural norm of his day? Maybe Jesus was stalked by the nightmarish Massacre of the Innocents that attended his birth… The Prince of Peace entered this world only to prompt the piercing cries of innocent children being slaughtered. It was a soundtrack surely his soul could never mute.” (115,124)

Another chapter that I value highly is “Jesus Enjoyed the Company of Women (Not Just Men).” Jesus, who was unmarried and had an inner circle of twelve male disciples, was unfailingly kind and compassionate to the women who came to hear him. Sweet writes, “In the Scriptures, we see numerous encounters Jesus had with women. In addition to the woman at the well, Jesus did not scold the woman who touched his robe as he traveled, but commended her faith. He did not automatically condemn an adulteress but spoke with her and forgave her sins. He healed a woman with demons, believed to be Mary of Magdala, who then became one of his most trusted disciples. We know of women who funded Jesus ministry…” (151-152) Jesus’ association with women astonished everybody, says Sweet, “even his own disciples.”

As the consummate rabbi, the deeds and words of Jesus — including the disturbing ones — were intended to teach about God and God’s Kingdom. The subtitle of Sweet’s book points this out telling us that Jesus’ bad habits are meant for “Showing Us The Way to Live Right in a World Gone Wrong.” Here is the counterintuitive, paradoxical outcome for Jesus’ startling conduct: undeniably good results came from what was judged to be bad behavior at the time.

It might seem that a book about Jesus’ bad habits could leave a poor impression of Jesus on the reader, but rather, in giving us the lowdown on Jesus’ bad habits, Sweet has lifted Christ high revealing his love and compassion for the marginalized, the penalized and the disenfranchised.

The Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing Us the Way to Live Right in a World Gone Wrong by Leonard Sweet is crisp and refreshing; it will certainly prompt the reader to reconsider the well known and often quoted stories about Jesus. The book’s short, stand-alone sections make it a great volume to read on the run; it would also be a great book to read with friends, especially so because a discussion guide is included in the final chapter. Treat yourself to a copy of The Bad Habits of Jesus and meet the passionate, spirited Messiah who amazed the masses and scandalized the religious authorities of first-century Jerusalem. It’s the perfect book to start the new year — you might even find a few bad habits of Jesus that you want to develop as you enter 2017.

Christianity, Reviews, Uncategorized, Writers/writing

Giving Blood – A Book Review

41HXk4yhp2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_“There’s no blood on the pulpit this morning.”This is what Mabel Boggs Sweet, mother of Leonard Sweet, the author of Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching, would say if she were listening to a bad sermon. Mabel Boggs Sweet was a preacher herself and, therefore, had earned the right to make such an assessment. But then, don’t all of us who listen to a preacher’s message make a judgement every week about what we have heard? What makes a sermon bad or good? Why is it some preachers can make us levitate with joy as we listen to them, and some make us want to leave the building through the closest exit? And especially in this visual age, how can a preacher deliver a dazzling, image rich message? Is there a way to preach to and reach this generation of sermon listeners?

Giving Blood (2014 Zondervan) was written to offer a fresh transfusion of life to those who have been called to write and deliver sermons. Dr. Leonard Sweet, who is one of the most creative and engaging preachers you will ever hear, has written over 1500 sermons and understands the process, pain and passion of this vocation. He also understands that it is way past time that preachers were equipped with skills to interact in the TGIF – Twitter, Google, Instagram, Facebook – world. Drawing on his background in semiotics, preaching and teaching,  and incorporating the use of narraphor (narrative + metaphor),  Sweet expertly and invitingly encourages preachers to review, rethink  and renew their approach to telling the story of Jesus. “Semiotic preaching differs from traditional sermon building in its insistence on seeing the sermon itself as an incarnational medium..In semiotic preaching we return to the roots of our faith, and to a form of conveying truth favored by Jesus himself.”

A word about the organization of the book. Sweet uses blood as a metaphor throughout his book as the framework for the content. The title, sections, chapters and “labs” are all identified with names that are related to blood: blood types, streams, flow, cells, vessels, thinners, poisoning, etc. Rarely does a metaphor lend itself to such broad use without breaking down somewhere. Yet in Giving Blood the metaphor of blood holds up throughout the book’s entirety, and in all its applications.

Many people consider the use of the word “blood” to be politically incorrect and offensive, and therefore to be avoided at all cost. Sweet mentions in the Introduction that he did his best to come up with another more suitable less controversial metaphor for preaching, but could not find one. “Something kept pulling me back to this biological symbol for life and the organizing symbol of the Christian faith. The metaphor kept me in its grip no matter how hard I tried to wrestle free. What you hold in your hands is my surrender and my limping free of that street fight.” I believe the reader will see that using blood as the metaphor for preaching in Giving Blood was not only the right choice but its use brings unity to the many facets of the topic in an ingenious way.

For anyone who is interested in sermons and preaching for any reason, including critiquing a weekly sermon, I recommend reading Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching. Even as a layperson, it was a fascinating and enlightening book.

Full disclosure: I am not a preacher, pastor, elder or deacon, but I do participate in a weekly church service. I read an early version of this book. My opinions are my own.

 

Christianity, Reviews, Uncategorized

Book review:ME and WE – God’s New Social Gospel by Leonard Sweet

Book Review

ME and WE — God’s New Social Gospel  is a lively and lovely introduction to a re-imagined, metaphorically rich  present/future church. This church, Dr. Sweet contends,  must learn how to face three of the biggest challenges of today’s culture: individualism, racism and consumerism.

The title of the book does not prepare the reader for the beauty contained within it. I must say the book is beautiful, in many ways.  First, the book is beautifully planned: It is presented in three short parts. Part I is about the Me/We Gospel – A Biblical Story; Part II is about  Me/We Creation – A Birthing Story; and Part III is about the Me/We Economy – A Garden Story.

Second, the book is  beautifully written, especially Part II, which is a deep and meditative look at the need to sever the identification of black with evil and white with good. This imagery runs through the “whole range of human behavior”, according to Dr. Sweet, and deserves our honest attention as well as our best, prayerful efforts at correction.

Third, the book is beautiful in its application. Using the symbol of the menorah, Part III offers a seven-branched view to incarnating light and life giving practices. The emphasis is on relational theology and individual responsibility as we live together in God’s House and Garden communities — our churches.

Dr. Sweet notes early in the book that 19th century efforts at implementing a social gospel were a dismal failure. He warns, “Any attempt to see Jesus’s understanding of the kingdom of God as a political movement, an apocalyptic regime or social justice program– anything other than the revelation of God with a trinitarian personality and path to the heart — is to put ideology in the place of faith.”

My favorite description of Me/We social gospel living is the section on “Conserve and Conceive”. In Genesis, God asked Adam to “till and keep” the garden. Dr. Sweet prefers to use the phrase “conserve and conceive”. This term is then used to refer to a broad scope of holiness-living activities, beginning with conserving and conceiving “God’s creative identity in our current relationships and (to) conceive God’s creativity in new relationships. It starts with Me and moves to We… When Christ is in control and the body is being re-formed by the Spirit into wholeness and harmony, the body remains organic, living, growing, healthy. A Me/We gospel is a salvation gospel.”

I have been reading Dr. Sweet’s books for many years. He is a brilliant thinker and writer, and there is no missing the fact that the Lord Jesus is preeminent in everything he produces. But this book took me by surprise. I believe it is not only one of the most beautiful books he has written, but it may also be one of the most important.

 

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The Wedding Guest – Part 3

Cake topper courtesy Amy Cloutier Photography
Cake topper photo courtesy Amy C Photography

 

The day of the wedding finally arrived, and wouldn’t you know, after weeks of beautiful weather, it was pouring down rain. And yet, the excitement of the day couldn’t be washed away by the deluge.  All of the wedding party went to the church early in the morning to make final touches to the decorations in the sanctuary and the reception hall, which was adjacent to the sanctuary. Flowers, candles, punch bowl, tea service and candy bowls (filled with pastel M&M’s) were all in their places, looking elegant and joyful and completely ready. When Bailey checked on the wedding cake – a very large, beautifully frosted and decorated confection –  she saw Sheila’s solution to the cake topper dilemma. At the bridal table, directly in front of the bride and groom’s places, was a miniature wedding cake, an exact replica of the one made for the reception, and on that marvelous little cake sat the wedding gift from Mara. The cake topper with the plastic figures of the bride and groom in front of a plastic lace heart looked lovely. Sheila had indeed found the best answer to Bailey’s dilemma. There might not have been any sunshine in the Michigan sky at that moment, but when they saw the miniature wedding cake crowned with Maya’s gift, there was plenty of sunshine in the hearts of the wedding party.

The wedding, which was at 5:00 pm, was beautiful. The sun had made its glorious appearance just after 1:00 o’clock, and showed itself in all its summer finery for the rest of the day. Mara, who walked proudly down the aisle with the mother of the bride, had a front row view of Bailey and Thad as they, through their wedding vows, pledged their love to each other.   At the reception, Mara’s chair was placed very close to her special friends. From that vantage point she was able to see and enjoy her gift to the newlyweds throughout the reception,  as did all the other guests at Bailey and Thad’s wedding that happy summer afternoon.

The crescendo of excitement for the wedding slowly descended into a general buzz of talk, laughter and best wishes for the couple. Some hours later the newlyweds made their way to the airport to leave for their honeymoon – destination, Hawaii! Those left behind after the plane’s departure spoke of the beauty of the wedding, the joy of seeing family and friends who had come from near and far.  The guests also shared anecdotes from the day, one of which explained that Sheila’s beautifully decorated miniature wedding cake with topper had been given free of charge to Bailey and Thad!  The energy and creativity that had been on display for the special gathering had been captured, as much as it was possible to do so, in pictures and stories and memories. The family and friends of the newly married couple returned to their homes having fulfilled their congenial duty as loving witnesses to a marriage.

Soon, life slipped  back to an identifiable rhythm for the families of Bailey and Thad, and everyday  happenings came back into focus. The honeymooners had been gone for three days and would not return for another week.   Jan, Bailey’s mom, was concerned about Mara, and wondered how she was dealing with her new  home, but understood that the little girl would probably not come to visit until Bailey and Thad came back from Hawaii.  One morning, though, as Jan went out the front door of her home to go grocery shopping, she found a little figurine and a message written on notebook paper. The figurine was a small Hawaiian hula girl with wings – a Hawaiian angel? Maybe another gift found at the Community Free Store? The message said: “Dear Bailey and Thad, I Hope You Had a Great Time at Your Honey-Moon in Hawiia. LOVE! Mara”.

The little emblem of angelic protection and message of love to Bailey and Thad acted as a form of reassurance to Jan, and others, that Bailey was doing well – and perhaps this was the best possible gift that the young couple received for  their wedding.

“Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it” Hebrews 13:2

Hula girl angel