Friday, February 05, 2016

I Will Follow Jesus: Judah & Chelsea Smith

I Will Follow Jesus by Judah and Chelsea Smith on Amazon

Disclosure of Material Connection in accordance with FTC 16 CFR Part 255: I received this book free from publicist, (author, publisher, distributor, or agent) with no requirement or expectation of a positive review; as always, opinions in this review are my own.

The title "I Will Follow Jesus" describes the focus of this collection of stories from the Old and Testament. This is a Bible Storybook, not a Children's Bible, with emphasis on story, so we don't have Psalms in kidstyle, or Romans after the manner of the elementary school playground.

Most of the narrative accounts that are familiar to most churchgoers start with an introduction from the life experience of pastor Judah or Chelsea Smith. At the end of the story we get an "I will follow Jesus" page with ideas and suggestions about ways to follow Jesus right now. Those pages conclude with a short prayer.

So disappointing almost right at the start! On page 10, "God had to punish Adam and Eve because they disobeyed Him." No, the God of the bible, God and Father of Jesus the Christ does not punish! If you read this with your kid(s), you'd need to explain God doesn't punish, but it sometimes looks that way to humans, and attributing the fallout from disobedience, sin, and natural disasters to God's wrath or punishment is a human habit.

Author Judah Smith is lead pastor of the multi-campus The City Church in Seattle. Artist Alexandra Ball designed the engaging brightly natural full-color illustrations. In events from the OT and NT, most everyone would be an Ancient Near Easterner as they are in the scripture stories themselves, but otherwise ethnicities of kids in the pictures literally are from all over the map. Presenting this wide human variety helps people understand that Jesus loves everyone.

The book designers formatted pages with too much black text against background colors that make the text difficult to read. On a few pages the background is so dark reading's close to impossible. Text background doesn't need to be bright white, but a very light tint of the same color would be in keeping with the colorful sensibility of the entire book. There's plenty of space to increase the size of the text boxes to accommodate a larger typeface and provide an easier parental reading experience as well as easier reading for kids who have reached that age when they want to read on their own for themselves. The book is printed on thick coated paper, bound with boards and easily stays open. There's even a presentation page just as with many real bibles, even a ribbon to mark where you left off last time!

Despite my reservations, I Will Follow Jesus is a nicely done book I'd definitely consider giving as a gift to almost anyone in the age range from kindergarten through grades 5 or 6.

Amazon review to follow! Book release date is Tuesday, 09 February, and since this wasn't a pre-publication amazon vine offering, Amazon wouldn't let me post a review... but goodreads did.

Friday 5: Mardi Gras Edition

3dogmom hosts today's Friday Five: Mardi Gras Edition on Rev Gal Blog Pals

pancakes stack

Stack of Pancakes via morgueFile, "by creatives for creatives"

1. What type of Fat Tuesday celebration your church will hold next week...

Church I've mostly been attending in Current City since July isn't having anything special for Fat Tuesday. One of my churches in Former City always had a pancakes and sausage and butter (and assorted greases, fats, etc) party with an admission/attendance fee to benefit the local ecumenical multi-service center.

2. Are there other ways of acknowledging the roots of Mardi Gras that you’d like to employ (a possible title for this subject might be, “Beyond Pancakes”)? (Note: this is a trick question.)

"Beyond pancakes?" Because it's still winter, I've been indulging more often than usual in tempting, tasty foods and treats to take the sorrow-filled edge off a season where most people have at least a touch of seasonal depression, even if it doesn't meet DSM criteria.

3. Have you found ways to weave the playful nature of Carnival into the preseason observances of Lent?

I've been facilitating Sunday morning lectionary study and last Sunday I briefly recapped where we've journeyed since Advent as we anticipate upcoming T-Fig (day after tomorrow), then I reminded everyone we're getting ready for baptism and resurrection. Isaiah's "feast of fat (again!) things" is the first reading for Easter afternoon /evening! Please note current signature scripture on this blog.

4. What kind of celebratory breather would you enjoy for your own sanity before the solemnity of Lent takes hold?

"Celebratory breather" is the same answer as my #2.

5. Speaking of sanity, what works for you as a means of sustaining your spirit through the Forty Days and Triduum?

During Lent 2015 instead of attempting multiple Lenten Disciplines and doing only a couple only partly halfway, most days I followed the daily lectionary readings on It's a two-year cycle not related to the RCL, and I love that it takes us through the psalter multiple times each year.

Five Minute Friday: Focus

five minute friday desert spirit's fire focus five minute friday focus

Friday 05 February: Focus at Kate Motaung's. FMF? Write unedited for five minutes―a brain dump, a few carefully crafted sentences, your own creative style, whatever "other" pleases you.

Camera in hand, most times we want a clean clear focus on the subject at hand. When you take pictures with something more sophisticated than your phone or point-and-shoot, you can specify depth of field and range of focus; it can be desirable to blur the background in order to focus on the foreground subject. Sometimes the entire image ends up blurry and not-in-focus—probably because the camera was not quite exactly stable and steady. Lately in photography and in graphic design (I'm a working graphic designer-illustrator) we've seen a trend toward bokeh in entire photographs or parts of photos, sometimes added during post-production editing. Bokeh superimposes artificial blur, sometime with color or other styles. Many online image editors offer ways to add out-of-focus blur to your images; these days you can find quite a few photoshop tutorials for effectively blurring your too-focused pics. I strongly suspect Photoshop soon will have a bokeh filter.

production note: my header photo already was out of focus blurred and part of a wonderful image pack from Creative Market I used to help create my designs for Season of Creation 2014. This time I added a bokeh effect, border, and website sig.

five minute friday button five minute friday focus

Sunday, January 31, 2016

some January experiences

emily freeman learned in january 2016 desert spirit's fire january 2016 experiences

Again this month I'm joining Emily Freeman and Friends with What We Learned in January

Some of what I learned in January, some of what January taught me, experiences in January―learning experiences, maybe? Make that plain and simple January experiences.

el palmar restaurant

1. El Palmar – Comida Salvadoreña – on New Year's Day, food so good the menu didn't need any English, and neither did the staff.

2. I lined out my ongoing practice of limiting and consolidating online and social media activity. It's pretty much where it needs to be now.

3. Second Sunday of the month Evensong at Saint-James-in-the-City (-on-Wilshire)—phenomenal vocal sounds in a lively space. Another step along the way of my reconciling some with Canterbury?

4. Blog pal Marci gave me Daring! as my star word for this year.

citrus group

5.nothing like a gift of dozens of fresh juicy local citrus – orange, grapefruit, lemon – for all to enjoy.

6. Yo puedo hacer la transacción completa en español.

¡si puedo!

¡y lo hice!

road to emmaus

7. Still loving teaching the Sunday morning class! I've been sitting underneath He Qi's Road to Emmaus painting from Luke 24:13-31 (one of my all-time signature scriptures) so I can see the clock.


8. I'm learning to trust nature and not resist sleep quite as much (nearly as much) as I naturally tend to do.

9. Finally, 02 February will be Candlemas, Imbolc, Saint Brigid's Day, Groundhog Day—we're halfway through winter. I've learned? I know! spring is on its way! yay!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Five Minute Friday: Quiet

five minute friday button five minute friday quiet

Friday 29 January: Quiet at Kate Motaung's. For FMF we write for 5 minutes.

Scripture and our experience demonstrate God communicates with us in many and various ways, but how striking that sometimes we need to be quiet, relatively silent, and calm in order to hear and heed God's voice, whether that "speech" is something we see, hear, touch—or remember? There's a famous passage about Elijah at Horeb expecting God in noisier, messier, more spectacular manifestations, but God finally got through to Elijah in a "still small voice," as the most famous translation expresses it.

a few translations and versions from 1 Kings 19:12:
• RSV: still small voice.

• Geneva Bible: still, soft voice.

• Complete Jewish Bible: quiet, subdued voice.

• Living Bible: gentle whisper

• The Message: gentle and quiet whisper

• NASB: A sound of gentle blowing

• NIV: a gentle whisper

• NRSV: a sound of sheer silence

• Common English Bible: ...a sound. Thin. Quiet.

• Hebrew: literally "voice of stillness"

So true God typically approaches us and works through our own habits, propensities, gifts, and vulnerabilities, but scripture, saints, mystics, and poets all show us there's something sanctifying about cultivating a quiet body, mind, and spirit. Israel, Jesus, and the Church all encounter the Spirit in most transformative ways in the apparent quietness of the desert. Yet we know life teems and abounds beneath that surface stillness. How about us?

Besides Elijah's witness, quiet immediately reminded me of the Service of Light that opens Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer setting of vespers::

In the stars that grace the darkness, in the blazing sun of dawn,
in the light of peace and wisdom, we can hear your quiet song.
Love that fills the night with wonder, love that warms the weary soul,
Love that bursts all chains asunder, set us free and make us whole.

Also, Adrian Snell's song "Like a child that is quieted is my soul" setting of Psalm 131.

Quiet especially speaks to me today because I'm anything but loud and noisy, but I have a lot of natural energy, almost excessive physical, emotional, and mental restlessness—all of which are gifts that often lead to high creativity. I still need and want to find ways to be more quiet, more still, attend more completely to God's communications with me, whether God's voice speaks in sound, sight, touch, smell, or taste.

arizona desert in the sun

PS Needless to say, I didn't have those translations and versions of the scripture passage in my head, so out of curiosity I checked out different ones after I'd written for five minutes. Quite and quietly revealing!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Five Minute Friday: Present

presentfive minute friday button

Friday 22 January: Present at Kate Motaung's. For FMF we write unedited for 5 minutes; I usually spend a few minutes beforehand considering my own own topical approach to the word prompt, but that's not always the case.

Present in the English language has at least three plus meanings:

1a. "present" the noun with accent on first syllable – a gift you give that in some sense must mean you are there alongside the recipient; and then the closely related, 1b. "present" the verb with accent on second syllable, conveying that gift to a person or pet or other entity (foundation, church, etc.) or delivering your talk, workshop, or other presentation as a gift or present to the gathering.

2. being there in that space with and for a person or an event―hopefully physically and emotionally, or these days of virtual but real online friendships, hopefully both electronically and emotionally.

3. right now, this current contemporary day and moment.

Maybe you've heard about "practicing the presence of God"; maybe it's one of your regular spiritual practices. Wherever we may be. we know God always is here, there, and present all the time, but what a cool idea to remind yourself in whatever manner fits your own personal style. Or maybe by starting to adapt a different style from your usual one.

PS I spent so much time figuring out meanings of present, I didn't write much, but that's okay today. My longest 5 minutes writes have been on topics I regularly write about anyway. Otherwise they seem to be about the same length.
gift box heather

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Barbara Cameron: Twice Blessed

Twice Blessed: Two Amish Christmas Stories by Barbara Cameron on Amazon

twice blessed From the two of Barbara Cameron's books I've read so far, I've enjoyed my visits into very present-day Pennsylvania Amish life and culture. Amazon Vine offered me her upcoming Return to Paradise, that's Book 1 of a new Coming Home series, and I look forward to reading it and learning more. These two Christmastime novellas also reveal a little of what it's like to be a twin – zwillingbopplin – almost anywhere. Her Sister's Shadow features a pair of young adult women Katie and Rosie; His Brother's Keeper, Ben and Mark, two young guys. Surprisingly, the parents of both sets of twins recently have died. The reader accompanies each set of twins through a couple of weeks and learns something about cooking and baking, what's on the menu, problem and conflict resolution, degree and types of interaction with non-Amish, "Englisch" neighbors, the place and authority of church.

Amish in these stories have cell phones, eat at regular sit-down restaurants, carefully prepare and display their own home-baked and homespun goods in their shops with tourist tastes in mind. Yet they farm the land, build most of their own furniture and houses, defer not only to scripture but to the ecclesiastical Ordnung that rules and regulates their public social and more private familial interactions. Amish Christians are from the anabaptist traditions that grew out of the radical reformation that believed Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al. did not take their church reforms (nearly) far enough.

At the end of the stories you get five Pennsylvania Dutch recipes to try in your own kitchen, a group discussion guide that would be helpful for a book club or church group, and a teaser of the first chapter of Return to Paradise that interested me enough to order it. As with Barbara Cameron's Crossroads I longed for photographs or other illustrations, but happily I discovered and started following Pinecraft-Sarasota, a blog that fills that need.

comments not in my review

The place and the authority of the church in contemporary Amish life especially interested me. Whether technically mainline protestant, more conservative evangelical, Roman Catholic, Latter-day saint, non-denominational, or "other not listed here," more mainstream Christians who spend their lives mostly out there in the world could take time to ponder their own engagement with consumer society, trending styles and gadgets. Amish or not, everyone inevitably and invariably depends on globally interdependent markets that trade stocks, bonds, commodities, vehicles, fabric, electronics, farm implements... I can't envision a time when mainline church people won't attend colleges, universities, and professional schools, won't consider and respond to the world's callings and claims on their gifts and education—as Martin Luther insisted, every job is a calling, a vocation. However, without a doubt we can moderate our level of consumerism and simplify our existence. We also need to consider how many unscriptural rules and regulations (human-made commandments?!) we sometimes lay on, both inside the church building and outside the physical bounds of the church campus. We need to find ways to rely far less on the power grid, on goods and bads imported from less-developed economies. Whether suburban, urban, inner city or rural, we can learn to live more locally, closer to the land and the sky. To be more countercultural – more Christian! – without taking it to the Amish extreme that also might mean not filling the surrounding world with as much salt, leaven, and light.

my amazon review: view into contemporary Amish culture