Friday, January 12, 2018

Together: Community as a Means of Grace :: Larry Duggins

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from The Speakeasy in exchange for an unbiased review. As always everywhere, my opinions are my very own.

Larry Duggins, Together: Community as a Means of Grace on Amazon.

Larry Duggins, Together book coverAuthor Larry Duggins is co-founder and Executive Director of the Missional Wisdom Foundation. Missional wisdom?! Missio / mittere = send. In the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, God sends all of us out into the world to proclaim the gospeled good news. Wisdom = knowledge, discernment, insight. Everyone may be sent, but is everyone wise?

In the church we affirm God's grace frequently comes to us through tangible, earthbound, physical "means" rather than nebulous, free-floating spiritual currents. In the Reformation traditions we refer to (Preaching (and reading) of the) Word and Sacraments as ordinary means of grace. The Westminster Catechism describes sacraments as "sensible," or accessible via our five physical senses. Duggins writes Together from a Wesleyan perspective that distinguishes instituted and prudential means of grace. Instituted would refer to the dominical sacraments or ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper we celebrate because Jesus commanded or instituted them them; in addition, they employ stuff of creation, and are available to all people. John Wesley being the well-ordered, methodical guy he was, thought through and more-or-less codified many aspects of life you might call sacramental if not technically a sacrament—not far at all from Martin Luther's insistence we find God hidden yet apparent in, with, and under the commonest, most mundane activities and things that became a means or a vehicle of grace. From page 22: " means of grace includes activities and actions that lead to interactions with God's grace that are not directly attributable to examples from the life of Jesus." In the church we confess grace came to earth in a unique way through God's embodiment or incarnation in the human Jesus of Nazareth. By definition, Christianity is incarnational, celebrating God's presence on earth, in a body, in Jesus of Nazareth and also in the church he founded that bears his name.

Together leads to community that leads to God's presence and action in unique ways that otherwise would not happen. Community: "a group of people gathered together under some unifying principle or for some particular purpose" (page 28). The book's basic premise is look around, use your imagination and you'll discover ways grace, hope, and life are making inroads into previously unhappy and unpromising settings. Use your imagination! Your church, school, or other organization may be able to renovate and restore an unused room or space that in its turn and time will help restore and renovate lives. But as important as a place to meet can be, it's not only about physical locations. It's about wisely perceiving the needs to receive and needs to contribute of people in your midst. You get the idea! Together the book is packed with real-life ideas and examples the author knows have worked. It's short and not theologically overwhelming, so it even could help a church outsider realize how down to earth and real-world Christians and Christianity can be.

I often explain sacraments as models that help us recognize God's everyday activity in everyday lives and events. In the power of the Spirit of Pentecost, ideas in Larry Duggins' small book can help all of us – wise or not – become a part of community whose everyday, ordinary body together becomes holy in the world, for the world. That's incarnation! That's God with us!

My Amazon Review: Ordinary Holiness Everywhere

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Porch Stories :: Living Rescued

porch stories 10 January Living Rescued

Porch Story time! Our host Kristin Hill Taylor brings us Five Practical Ways to Live Rescued. Her ideas include: Show myself grace; Make time for rest; Invite others in; Say "yes" when I want to and "no" when I need to; Recognize {your own and others} strengths and weaknesses.

This living rescued concept aligns well with my Freedom word for 2018. On Kristin's Porch Stories FB page I explained, "Last Sunday I did StarWords / word for your year with my adult SS students. When they asked about my word, I told them freedom for me is a gift of grace {without cost to me, not a transaction} from Jesus; the commandments describe the limits and boundaries of freedom in Christ, so I'm not talking about license to behave any way I want."

Here's a trio of my own ways better to live rescued:

1. Don't sweat the small stuff.

Specifically—like many people, my spending habits tend to be penny wise, pound {USD} foolish. I can become very unhappy when I discover an item I paid $1.19 for at Bargain Center {more convenient for me at that time} is only $1.00 at Dollar Tree {of course}. Either one's inexpensive, and isn't saving time usually saving money? On the other hand, why do I think I need a fourth or fifth plain white classic long-sleeved cotton shirt? On sale, of course, but there goes $20 I didn't need to spend because I didn't truly need what I bought with it. Rescued by having more $$$ to spend on good food and to stash away as a deposit on the healthy affordable housing I know will happen.

2. Sleep more if and when necessary.

If it's not an obligatory early morning and I'm drowsy, why not stay in bed another 30 minutes?! That's the best way to be rescued from early afternoon brain fog and bodily weariness. At the other end of the day, there's usually no reason not to turn in early if I've slowed way down and accomplished only ten minutes' worth in the past hour.

3. Don't even imagine trying to balance how much anyone contributes or takes—anytime, anywhere.

God has rescued us from trudging through every day with a works-righteousness mindset; claim that freedom and enjoy life first as grace-filled gift and not an economic transaction. Make freedom and joy a way of life!

porch stories button

Friday, January 05, 2018

Books :: 2017

books of 2017

You can friend me and my books on goodreads and follow me on Amazon.

Here are my twenty-three books for 2017 with links to my amazon reviews; I've finished four more that will start my review series for 2018.

Return to Paradise: The Coming Home Series — Book 3 – Barbara Cameron

Holding Up Your Corner: Talking about Race in Your Community – F. Willis Johnson

My Very Own Space – Pippa Goodhart

Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving – Barbara Mahany

The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict – Jeff DeGraff

Once You Know This – Emily Blejwas

Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud – Katie Harnett

The Crooked Christmas Tree: The Beautiful Meaning of Jesus' Birth – Damian Chandler

The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times – James L. Kugel

Peace in the Process: How Adoption Built My Faith & My Family – Kristin Hill Taylor

Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart – Rose Pacatte, FSP

Paris for Two – Phoebe Stone

Garbage Night – Jen Lee

Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth: Spiritual Conversations Inspired by the Life and Lyrics of Rich Mullins – Andrew Greer & Randy Cox

Sled Dog School – Terry Lynn Johnson

Lily's Mountain – Hannah Moderow

All Three Stooges – Erica S. Perl

A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Hopeful, and Authentic Spiritual Community – John Pavlovitz

A World Ablaze: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation – Craig Harline

Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph – Adam Hamilton

Living For Another: More of Others, Less of You – Brent Gambrell

Being Brave: A 40-Day Journey to the Life God Dreams for You – Kelly Johnson

Walking with Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life – Eric O'Grey

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Porch Stories :: A New Calendar Year!

porch stories 20 December broken and sanctified

First Porch Story of this new year 2018 for everyone! Freedom is my word for 2018; two weeks ago, again my blog wasn't ready in time for the linkup, so I claimed Kristin's advice from a previous time–write more and link up in the future. Moving away from my tendency to plan everything and instead letting myself be surprised sounds like an excellent beginning to this blogging year, a very good initial tryout for a year focused on freedom.

Late last year, Kristin told us I'm nearly sanctified; I'm nearly broken, with a narrative about her experiences with "first-ever counseling" and the value of having someone else affirm what she basically already knew. I've discovered many times I don't need to re-hash all that stuff from the long-ago past one more time or ten more times, but I seriously need another human to admit it was terrible, disappointing, discouraging, freeing, or however it happened to affect me.

I'm nearly sanctified, I'm nearly broken, I'm down the river, I'm nearly open, I'm down the river, to where I'm going comes from Needtobreathe's "More Heart, Less Attack," that's been Kristin's soundtrack for the last few years.

This week? Kristin talks about Living Rescued {by grace}.

God calls us to be broken {not whole}; God calls us to be sanctified {made holy or whole}.

Moving Godward toward sanctification in the grace-filled power of the Spirit of holiness is a major rescue from typical human over-attachment to institutions, styles, habits, and idolatries that surround us. After God led the people out of slavery to Egypt's imperial powers and into that rich agricultural land of promise, Israel had to learn to thrive in obedience to God's commandments {Walter Brueggemann styles the commandments "the working papers for life in covenantal community"}, yet surrounded by constant temptations to be like and act like everyone else. It was about learning to live in community rather than in isolation, in the kind of commonality and common-wealth that would provide support and fill each other's needs on almost every level.

Historically, the church building – the physical church structure – was a place of refuge, a place of sanctuary; you even could call it a place of rescue! Although the church's designated gathering place is almost accidental and incidental, it still serves as a location where God's people can be fed and strengthened by Word and Sacrament, where they can practice loving, merciful, compassion and kindness to one another. During worship and during other activities, we can try out breaking ourselves open in trust to each other—taking time to listen, telling parts of our story we find scary to reveal but we know well might reveal similarities with others and help them; staying a little later against our own druthers because the kitchen needs cleaning again. You can't fill a closed bottle or box or other container—to put anything into it, you need to open it up: break it open! At least a little! Same with our own lives. Risking to break open our carefully planned schedules, to re-open our tender/stubborn hearts; simply considering a different perspective... about anything. Getting rescued from the most insular, frightened parts of ourselves, experiencing the relief of being rescued by grace. Living as God's people still is about learning to live in community rather than in isolation, in the kind of commonality that provides support and fills each other's needs on almost every level.

As people of the Good Book we affirm wherever God meets the people is holy, sacred ground—sanctuary. In biblical – in covenantal – terms, God indwelling the people, God's encounters with all creation sanctifies life. That means a dedicated church structure isn't technically any more {sacred, holy} sanctuary than any other spot on planet earth, yet we can use what we receive, learn, and practice there as starting point and model for interactions elsewhere throughout the week.

With freedom! my word for this new year 2018, I expect to spend the next twelve months breaking myself open, emptying out tendencies to become too attached to styles, habits, and literal idolatries around me. Possibly twenty-first century empires of Monsanto and Bayer and Nestle aren't our greatest danger; maybe consumerism and individualism are greater concerns?

Freedom is my word for 2018. In freedom I hope to let myself be filled with the good stuff God and the people of God are waiting to provide—moving Godward beyond basically surviving to fully thriving. So what? Then what? In the paradoxical gentle power of the Holy Spirit of life, then I can be and act as a sanctuary, a place of refuge and rescue, a grace-filled holy place for people in need. A place and a person of sanctuary to help rescue, fill, and heal a broken creation, too. Me? Yes! And all of you, too!

God calls us to be broken {not whole}; God calls us to be sanctified {made holy or whole}. By grace we've started down that baptismal river to where we're going {to where God is leading us but probably won't show us this is the place until we actually reach that place}; in freedom and trust, let's live out God's baptismal call–nearly sanctified and nearly broken! Amen? Amen!

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Being Brave :: Kelly Johnson

Being Brave: A 40-Day Journey to the Life God Dreams for You by Kelly Johnson on Amazon

Being Brave coverHeader on the back cover: Are you sick of your fears holding you back, and weary of pretending that you have it all together?

What's a brave state of being? Of acting? Clich├ęs include going into military battle without showing trepidation, going to the dentist if dentists terrify you, standing up to bullies or to your overbearing boss. People often use the heart-word "courageous" to mean brave. Although heart in the Hebrew scriptures is somewhat polyvalent yet more than anything refers to a person's will, both courage and heart imply full emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual participation. So I'd say it sure is brave to put your whole life into a situation.

With three major sections of Power, Love, and Self-Discipline, the idea is to use Being Brave as a daily devotionally-focused guidebook over the course of a calendar month, although I read it straight through in several sittings over a couple of days. SInce it's a keeper, I'll refer to Being Brave again, but again likely not as a daily reference.

Kelly Johnson includes nothing in her book I didn't already know, but how reassuring confirmation from someone else can be! Johnson particularly addresses the ongoing quandary of outward appearances that includes how (cosmetically and otherwise) we present ourselves to others and the usual human tendency to want others to see us as perfect, flawless, other than any human really is. The author reminds us of the impropriety of laying our whole entire trip and revealing everything to everyone everywhere in virtual life or in real life; I keep wondering why so many people constantly do that. Then I do my best to excuse them and not get embarrassed for them, because everyone knows how anonymous the world has become, how everyone needs to be noticed and appreciated, how fractured connections in-between humanity and between humans and nature tend to be. Many people do not have the intimacy and safety of close friends or family they can confide in and be themselves with.

Being Brave is not a major theological endeavor or a typical devotional book, yet it's scripturally solid. I especially love how the writing style comes across as a conversation with Kelly, the Kelly who knows she doesn't have life all together, yet who's learned to trust God moment-to-moment. Each day opens with scripture verses and concludes with a prayer; at the end you'll find a list of three dozen scripture references related to fear (is fear the opposite of brave?) and courage (is courage synonymous with brave?) to look up on your own. Lovely cover design, too!

My Amazon Review: Wise Life Advice

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Porch Stories :: December Events

Here's a second version of essentially the same post. Strange things happened with the original, including its not showing up on this blog! Too crazy to go into details, but I trust this will take and last a while.
December 2017 highlights

On her Porch Story this week, Kristin Hill Taylor tells us she learned the biblical number of seven things in December. Oh, how I love summer, and it won't be long, because the 21st graced the northern hemisphere with another winter solstice; on both psychological and physical levels I already sense days growing longer and lighter. If winter's here, can next summer be far behind? Meanwhile, let's visit on my porch overlooking the city and remember our Decembers—including this one!

porch stories December highlights

December 2017 1000 Oaks Concert
December 2017 Thousand Oaks Concert
December 2017 Thousand Oaks Concert December 2017 Thousand Oaks Concert

• To open the new calendar month and the new liturgical year of grace Advent brings, a dozen of us attended a choral and orchestral concert in Thousand Oaks.

December 2017 AGO dinner December 2017 AGO dinner
December 2017 AGO dinner

• Each year Current City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists gifts members with a holiday dinner and concert; not surprisingly, it's always in early December. This year featured another elegant classic turkey dinner served on the church patio {it's winter – and it's frequently balmy southern California}. I don't seriously follow any music scenes – not even radio top 40 – but I was delighted to experience the church's resident organist, Christoph Bull, who hosted the musical part of the evening.

December 2017 swap meet December 2017 swap meet
December 2017 swap meet December 2017 swap meet

• It had been sooooo long—since Suzanne left town! At last I made a way back to the world-renowned City College swap meet for a few hours of fun. Not going alone is funner, but the noise, energy, and possibilities always engage me.

December 2017 Lessons & Carols

• The church choir presented another astonishing Service of Lessons & Carols. Well, everything the choir and music director does is amazing... I'm breaking my policy of not including pictures that include people, but I doubt anyone can recognize anyone in this group {though I know who they are}.

December 2017 ordination December 2017 ordination December 2017 ordination

• Here's a trilogy of church pictures from the ordination and installation of a friend I serve with on the judicatory's Green Faith Team. She'll be a wonderful pastor; she's already spent most of her life with a pastoral perspective.

December 2017 Christmas Eve worship bulletin cover December 2017 Christmas tree

• Although I have a {profound and probing} "life stuff" label on some blog posts from the past, I don't say much about what's happening with me. Despite staying functional enough to keep up with client design, I'd been majorly distressed not to get any design done for Advent or Christmas this year... {that's not quite true, since on Advent 3 I found some excellent candlelight photographs and added seasonal scriptures to them for my Facebook, and added three of the designs to the Advent prayers on this blog}. Our music director must have been inspired, because during an email exchange about music for the last Sunday of December when I'll be playing guest keyboards, he told me to update the Christmas Eve bulletin cover I designed for last year. I cannot describe how redemptive that was!

• I may have mentioned I'm seriously discerning what's next for me. I spend every day surrounded by a past that prepared me, a future ready to break wide open, so this day, right now, always is God's fullness of time, a year of light-filled grace {O day full of grace that now we see appearing on earth's horizon}, a day of redemption. So what's next? Follow this blog!

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Prayer for Tuesday of Advent 3

advent 2 candles

God of the covenants, God of love, God of resurrection hope, soon we'll experience another Longest Night. As we've been waiting for daylight to increase and to celebrate Jesus' birth, we've been considering scriptures that promise everything that hinders life soon will be turned around, upside down, redeemed and restored. No more people who have too much, who don't have enough? Food and shelter for everyone? A healthy planet? All that and more will be a brand new day! We'll know the fullness of your power and your rule when we know the baby Jesus in the manger? Yes, amen! Thanks in advance, amen!

Written for Bruce Reyes-Chow's C4CW Facebook group