Friday, November 21, 2014

living thanks

living thanks Deuteronomy 8

Deuteronomy 8:7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.

10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. 11Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Barbara Mahany: Slowing Time

Barbara Mahany, Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door on Amazon

Slowing Time book coverIn this juncture of my own journey in faith, I don't need another creed, another confession, another article of faith, but I do need techniques and suggestions to bring those convictions into my every days. Like almost everyone, I need to learn to slow time, or at very least, to savor, appreciate, and fully live into every moment, rather than looking backwards or forewords―as important as those perspectives are.

Barbara Mahany's Slowing Time is a lovely, love-filled journal of seasonal nature and spirituality; she emphasizes how the church's liturgical year of grace and the Jewish festivals both have deep roots in earth and sky. Reflecting upon astronomical and meteorological seasons, she opens each new seasonal section with a lilting description of the literal nature of sun, shadows, light and dark at each solstice or equinox. Subtitle, "Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door" hints at Mahany's emphasis on perceiving with all your senses, not solely with the one of our five senses most engaged in a particular activity. A special recipe for each season, as well! I'm not majorly a meat-eater, but I'd love to try Beef Stew with Pomegranate Seeds Nestled beside Aromatic Rice; I've made something similar to Christmas Eve Elves' French Toast in the oven, and when I live with a working oven again, it will be time to bake that specialty again. Need I even mention summertime Blueberry Slump?! You know I'm a pushover for berries and for serving any dessert with vanilla ice cream! I like Rolled Cut-Out Cookies' ingredients, but definitely prefer chewy, soft, bar-type cookies to crispy ones.

Probably because it's mid-November, I love how Slowing Time begins with Winter as a "Season of Deepening" and ends with Winter as "Season of Stillness." Note: Amazon Vine sent me an uncorrected Advance Reader's Copy, and I'm going by the index, rather than by the actual section titles, both of which list Winter as "Deepening."

I've enjoyed peaking into the author's days and seasons along with her anecdotal reports. She gives us a "Count Your Blessings Calendar" for each season, and I've already started trying to blog blessings each week with my "week of grace" posts. Although I intend to keep Slowing Time the book, to reread it, and possibly loan it out (and hope to get it back), for me it's best as a model for journaling or blogging. As computer-intensive as my days have become, and despite my aversion to journaling in anything but a basic 70-page lined spiral bound notebook, in order to Slow Time I easily can imagine writing and drawing in one of those lovely journal books, maybe even making "field notes" along the the bottom of each page like a stream of news ticker, just as Barbara has done. Although the author lives in Wilmette, Illinois, I find it fascinating that reading Slowing Time gives little indication of a rural, urban, or suburban setting. In other words, these activities and observations can happen anywhere, so go chronicle your own experiences Slowing Time! Please? I'm going to do just that!

my amazon review: living into each moment

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mercy & Melons: Lisa Nichols Hickman

Mercy & Melons coverMercy & Melons by Lisa Nichols Hickman on Amazon.

Mercy & Melons: "Thanking God for All Good Gifts from A to Z" presents a memorable and rememberable way to "pray always" and to perceive God's hiddenness in the smallest, most mundane objects and events. Lisa Nichols Hickman Prays the Alphabet by pairing a clearly theological or scriptural concept with one not obviously immediately so. "Mercy & Melons" in the title, Grasshoppers and Glory for letter G, Yellow and Yahweh Y. The Hebrew bible book of Lamentations and several psalms model an acrostic approach to devotion, so this book and our practice in response to reading Mercy & Melons has scriptural precedent.

You could practice Praying the Alphabet in your head or in a notebook. You could visually (drawings, sketches, photographs, paintings) or poetically illustrate your own pairs of Praises & Pavements – Berries & Baptism – Rivers & Rhubarb. You could create a month of blog posts, either minus Sundays or simply allowing for any occasional skipped day or alternate topic. You could give Mercy & Melon to a seasoned, mature, highly theological Christian, to someone newly baptized, or to that person who's not quite sure about Christianity or religion, but who nonetheless savors every bit of life.

Cover Art and an illuminated letter for each chapter by Celia Marie Baker of The Bookwood help immensely to make Mercy & Melons an appealingly attractive handbook. Dark green type inside perfectly harmonizes with yellows and greens on the cover, but given that the cover also includes black lettering, for readability I'd prefer setting the book in black type.

my amazon review: "pray always" by praying the alphabet

Friday, November 14, 2014

Advent of Advent 5

It's mid-November, and MaryBeth hosts an Advent of Advent Friday 5.

I invite you to sit quietly ... and consider five things about Advent. They might be images, practices, hymns, anything you like. Just let the thoughts wash over you. Be peaceful with them. Be blessed with them.

1. I'm excited as we begin a New Year of Grace we'll again be in Mark's lectionary year and start out loud, clear, brazen, and pleading with one of my favourites, Isaiah 64:1-9—"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence!"

2. I love Michael Spyres' glorious interpretation of "Comfort, ye." As one of the commenters insisted, "It is supposed to ring above the hills like a clarion," as this performance does. Truly.

3. Angelo Musicante by Melozzo da ForlThe annual Lessons & Carols: A Festival in Word & Song to Prepare for Christmas at University of San Diego on Friday, 05 December 7:30 and Sunday, 07 December 2 pm. Two years ago I attended both days, because I had to hear Daniel Pinkham's (auto-corrected to "Pumpkin," but I caught it. Too bad?!) Christmas Cantata twice. The site hasn't yet listed this year's music.

4. A short list of fave Advent hymns includes "Prepare the Way, O Zion, "Lift up your heads, ye might gates," "Wake, Awake" (along with the many fabulous organ settings of «Wachet auf»), "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending." All those are super-fun to lead from the organ, too.

5. Shorter days, longer nights as we anticipate Winter Solstice and get to light more candles, wear lighter, brighter – sometimes funner – clothes... Why do some people think autumn and winter signal a time to begin wearing dark somber colours?

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Douglas Mann: Art of Helping Others

The Art of Helping Others: How Artists Can Serve God and Love the World

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Speakeasy with no requirement to write a positive review; the opinions in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR Part 255.

 art of helping others bookCreative Inciters in our midst! How interesting that The Speakeasy emailed me about this book months and months ago, but I finally decided I needed it after I noticed someone else's review, and for sure it is timely, apropos, and necessary for me at this time. Why? I sprung for this book because technically I'm an artist-designer and also a performing musician. I write some too, but I don't consider my writing a true aspect of my creativity. As happens to most people at one time or several, I've found myself too socially isolated for too long. I've almost entirely drained the stored value from prior life experiences and previous relationships. This is running on empty. Trying to crawl without essentials. Need refueling, refilling, and revitalizing! I'm dreaming of and trying to regenerate some creativity in my life and throughout my days.

In any case. please check out this short, useful, inspiring handbook because most likely you also need – or can use – Douglas C. Mann's exciting information and challenging ideas. I love the intriguing section and chapter titles, as well sub-sections with their own descriptive headings within each chapter. Each chapter concludes with two or three questions you can ask yourself, ask each other in almost any kind of group―formally creative or not, because everyone can become a creative inciter. Maybe discuss them with your therapist? Counselor? Life Coach? So many provocative, disturbing, life changing, world-impacting questions, ideas, and challenges. Sometimes church-impacting and changing, too.

Mann is a visual artist/painter and a songwriter; he previously has worked as a book publishing and as a music industry executive. The appealing temptation of Being Zen benefits self and others, but as Christians we need to be engaged and involved. In church? Sometimes. But most of the time in the world. "to... flourish requires others. To find contentment by being connected in relationships. God made us this way." (page 48)

[page 59] How about the earbud lifestyle? Always plugged into social media. Recently claiming a pair of really good (as in $100++) headphones via amazon vine excited me mightily, because that means I can do without those little earbuds in some times and some places. But "earbud" here is metaphor at least as much as earbud describes many folks' self-sheltered, selfie-documented, non-interactive, uncommunicative, isolated existences.

How will we live as creatives? How will I live as a creative? You know a reflective zen lifestyle could be tempting, but you also realize (page 88) "Life, like art, is a shared experience." (pages 92-93) And we need to follow Jesus' examples of occasional retreats into prayer-filled solitude. Discovering my own supplies manifesto page 126) will be my best and greatest challenge from this book. Douglas Mann creates through an intentionally Christian lens, but if you are not from or currently within a religious or spiritual tradition, please get this book. Important note: what a fabulous cover design!

Although the content of The Art of Helping Others rates five stars, I've removed a star because the writing could be a lot better and livelier. Too, too many passive voices that make too many sentences simply lie down and almost die. The book includes black and whites of some of Mann's paintings, so of course I wanted to view the full-colour versions. However, neither the author's self-titled website nor his Danko Art Studio site were live the times I tried to visit them, but I found Douglas Mann's Danko Art Studio page and his Art of Helping Others on fb.

my amazon review: inspiration for creative inciters

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Samuel Torvend: Daily Bread, Holy Meal

Daily Bread, Holy Meal: Opening the Gifts of Holy Communion

Daily Bread coverDaily Bread, Holy Meal is chronologically the earlier of Samuel Torvend's pair of books about the sacraments. In his short book about baptism, Flowing Water, Uncommon Birth, (among other details) Torvend describes the sober intentionality of preparation for baptism in some communities – particularly in those days of yore – and the expansive size of some baptismal fonts that helped emphasize its importance. In this second notebook, (also among other details) he gives us various meanings of The Meal: thanksgiving; inclusion; lives poured out; forgiveness, reconciliation... just as in his short book on baptism, the author draws upon the life of Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples, Pauline epistles, and passages from the Hebrew Bible. In fact, he brings us everything you've ever read, learned, heard, or experienced about HC—and then some: so very many possible images and realities related to the Holy Meal, not a single one exclusive of any of the others.

At the end of each chapter, Flowing Water and Daily Bread both include a few questions for the reader, and at the end of the book, a chapter-by-chapter bibliography. An excellent resource if you're a pastor, seminarian, deacon, preacher, theology geek, or liturgy aficionado. Useful and enlightening, too, for an occasional pew-sitter, or an outsider who wonders what on earth it's all about.

I love that Samuel Torvend includes his grandmother's recipe for Molasses Raisin Bread!

my amazon review: about the eucharist

Samuel Torvend: Flowing Water, Uncommon Birth

Flowing Water, Uncommon Birth: Christian Baptism in a post-Christian Culture

Flowing Water coverAlthough the publication date is later, I'll review Samuel Torvend's notebook on baptismal practices and baptismal theology before I say a little about his companion book about the other dominical sacrament, the eucharist. With fewer than 100 pages, physically this indeed is a "slim volume," yet Torvend has gathered much of the interpretive and practical riches of Christians world wide over the centuries. Flowing Water, Uncommon Birth will help you remember all the various images, symbolisms, and scripture passages (both Hebrew Bible and New Covenant scriptures) related to the baptismal event, and nudge you mightily regarding the nature and demand of God's call to live out our baptism in the world around and about us. As the author emphasizes, although we don't have group baptisms in the sense of herding dozens of candidates into the font and then pouring water over them, but rather baptize each person individually, the baptismal reality is a communal we, us, our, and ours. There's an excellent but short bibliography at the end.

my amazon review: about baptism

Monday, November 03, 2014

Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: review/blog

Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things on Amazon

"The satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to the hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet." Proverbs 27:7, NKJV

every bitter thing is sweet coverI loved reading Sara Hagerty's story, learning a little about the yearnings of her heart, and appreciating the model she provides for very slowly, randomly, surprisingly learning to trust God. Maybe Sara teaches us how ultimately to tell about our own struggles in ways that will benefit others?

Some reviewers interpreted Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things as mostly about the author's more than a dozen years' long inability to conceive and birth a biological child, but I feel that part of the book's all but peripheral. Like most of us, Sara had major problems with openness and vulnerability, and she tells us about sometimes intentionally, at other times almost accidentally opening herself to her husband, her kids, to God.

Everyone carries with them yearnings and questions of "Lord, how long? When, Lord? I know you have called me [to a particular task, ministry, role] but how will it happen? I'm out of options!" If you've gone to church much, Just as Sara did, you totally have noticed all the young married 20-somethings who are pregnant, nursing, trailing a toddler behind them, or maybe both PG and with a toddler or two in tow. Though Every Bitter Thing is far more about Sara's experiences waiting on God's faithfulness with increasing trust, needless to say, her expectation that she'd get pregnant shortly after she and Nate got married (in other words, many years before she actually conceived) interweaves through her story. One cannot humanly avoid trying to figuring out why their own well-prepared readiness for a particular task, ministry or role isn't causing it to happen.

Several times Sara refers to the covenant relationship she has with her husband. We live in the mercy-filled, loving sovereignty of the God who covenants, the God who remembers, and this includes God remembering that we humans frequently forget. In the copy of the book I received, chapter 14 is all about "The One Who Remembers."

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet demonstrates Sara's daily solid grounding in scripture―in my theological tradition, that would include a close parallel of being grounded in the sacraments. Theologies not only spoken but also worn with (and within) our entire beings!

Please let me assure you, this isn't about maintaining a "Praise the Lord anyway" mindset while disappoints engulf you type of book. This isn't about someone who fantasizes she's imitating the apostle Paul and becoming sanctified by glorying in her sufferings. How wonderful the book title isn't (for example) an über-difficult to untangle theological sentence from Romans or Galatians, or one of Jesus of Nazareth's charges to us that more often than not feels impossible, but rather an everyday observation from Proverbs, a book included in what we sometimes call scripture's "wisdom" literature.

In the interest of getting this blog post finished and published, I'll mention the way God has brought me back to my original aspiration (from all the way back before kindergarten!) of being a designer as both very sweet and sometimes too too bitter. I've tried to begin telling some of my back story to disappointingly few blog post hits, but the short version of bittersweet includes I've even won awards for my design in recent years, yet no one has been there to celebrate with me, least of all the now former friends I'd truly love to observe my comeback.

A snippet of scripture heads each chapter; scripture passages "For Your Continued Pursuit" conclude each chapter. I hope you'll visit Sara's Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet site and blog, and maybe watch her video on her amazon page, too!

Because amazon vine sent me a prepublication copy that's missing the foreword by Katie Davis – and possibly other features – I only have been able to comment on Sara's own words.

"Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see―how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him." Psalm 34:8, MSG

my amazon review: grounded in scripture and in God's love


#everybitterthingissweet

Friday, October 17, 2014

jury duty 5

Jury Duty Friday 5 on the Rev Gals Blog

1-2. I've been called to jury duty by getting a letter in the snail mail quite a few times. The very first time I was excited and wanted to serve, but since I was in school plus working as an unlicensed home health care aide a couple days a week in a setting where I couldn't be replaced, I couldn't. A couple times after that some thing or another thing disqualified me. Later on, at least twice I've spent most of the day sitting in the courthouse lounge; one of those times I got called and screened in the courtroom, and then dismissed. The last two times I got a letter I had to excuse myself since I was freelancing as a designer and couldn't afford days or weeks off.

3. I understand that California gets their names from voter registration and driver's license lists.

4. Referring to #1-2, I've never actually gotten picked to serve on a jury.

5. No one ever has summoned me to a US/Federal Court. I'd be happy to serve locally, but The Feds sound a bit intimidating.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

blog action day 2014: inequality

Blog Action Day central, where inequality is the topic for this year 2014.

blog action day logo

For this year's blog action day subject of Inequality, I'm writing about aspects of life in the larger, more extended church and in the local churches. By now everyone knows separate (accommodations, considerations, requirements, opportunities) inherently is unequal. Justice and equality are at least first cousins, probably siblings, and anyone who's reached a certain age – ten years old?! – can cite countless instances of retributive and distributive injustice and inequality.

On to inequality...

For quite a few decades, many mostly mainline denominations / church bodies have been ordaining women as deacons / elders (presbyters, priests) / ministers of word and sacrament. Historically and practically, there are different configurations and permutations in terms of ordination. In some churches the diaconate is a rank of ordination; others consecrate rather than ordain deacons /diaconal ministers. Besides churches where woman deacons and pastors have become routine and expected, several other large denominations, most publicly LDS (Latter-day Saints), LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod), and RC (Roman Catholic) recently again have reaffirmed their positions. In those church bodies, maybe mostly in response to grass roots ferment and restlessness, study of scripture on every participatory level has reopened the question of women's role and rank in church leadership. Reopened the question followed by closing the discussion. Current official position in those three church bodies – and probably in some I haven't been following – remains according in their interpretation of scripture, women cannot be ordained. On a side note, women freely preach and teach in both LDS and RC churches, though the LCMS is guarded and circumspect regarding those activities.

We absolutely need to contextualize the gospel into our current cultural and geographical setting, so what worked for someone as recently as a decade ago when they were a student at an urban New Zealand university won't be a good fit for their current living situation in rural Canadian Prairie Land. In their studies of scripture and their affirmations of Jesus Christ as the ultimate authority, some church bodies have agreed to ordain women, others haven't. No one truly can separate culture and style from history, tradition, and (even!) scripture, and a few recently publicized events regarding women's ordination vis-à-vis church have looked suspiciously (to me and others, as well) like a focus on style rather than on substance―but whatever. Although my own reading comes out on the side of allowing and encouraging women's ordination and full participation in all levels of church leadership, it truly is "complicated," and culture, psychology, and even prejudice aside, I appreciate that some people may disagree with me.

I'm far more concerned by unequal treatment accorded to richer, more prominent, more famous church leaders regarding morality and ethics. "Unequal" in the sense of well-connected, more affluent, household names not being held fully accountable for bad behavior. There's a recently revealed case of a newly installed president of a mainline seminary where the guy had admitted to at least two extra-marital affairs whilst serving Big Steeple Churches. So he apologized and somehow gets to stay in his presidency position. In a smaller church with a lesser-known pastor, the pastor would have been expected to resign, would have quit, and would have agreed to counseling before returning to professional service in the church―or the pastor possibly would have left church altogether.

Regarding another too common example of ecclesiastical inequality, an article I read last winter spoke of the high personal, professional, financial cost of pastoral firings for any reason (not only moral misconduct) in the typical local church. The article admitted in that particular Episcopal Church tradition, bishops generally got a golden parachute no matter how severe their failings and shenanigans. Financial and sexual improprieties may be most common, but other ethical violations too frequently happen, with resulting fallout that extends far beyond the person's family, the local church "family," that town, or the denomination/tradition in question.

Not a single person can achieve the absolute obedience that is God's standard for every Christian, and most of us need to rely upon repentance, forgiveness, and grace more often than we wish were necessary. But why the double standard? Why such inequality?