Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Jen Lee :: Garbage Night

Garbage Night by Jen Lee on Amazon

garbage night book coverIn an interview with publisher No Brow, author-illustrator Jen Lee explains:
"Recurring themes in my work are animals, teens, abandonment and the supernatural. I love exploring the way animals think; how they may internalise their environment changing. Abandoned and destroyed areas (whether from nature or people) and the unknown that may stem from this can create a paranormal element."
What would a real garbage night be? Enough dumpster leftovers outside retailers and restaurants to lead to good pickings to lead to full bellies and satisfying sleep. Tight and reasonably trusting with each other, Simon the dog, Reynaud a deer, and Cliff raccoon ransack their devastated city, hoping for another garbage night. No human inhabitants left? Why would that matter? They'd found good eats before. Along the way they sort of admit Barnaby pooch into their circle. For a while. Then rationalize why of course it's good he's gone.

Back cover description tells is, "Juvenile animals strive to survive across a post-apocalyptic wasteland in this striking parable about the nature of freedom and friendship." The popular sense of apocalyptic is an end of the world scenario with earth emptied of everything that sustains life; an apocalypse literally is an uncovering, unveiling, revealing. Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures include many apocalyptic passages that point toward the end of apparently hopeless circumstances, assurance for a world rebirthed from the ashes of the old.

Final scene: the trio of friends overlook night lights of a city that must have human residents (because of city lights, right?) that likely would lead to more Garbage Nights. At least if there's "a good cat population down there – where there's cats, there's banquets." But what'll Simon do when he gets there? "I want to find home." Home? Where the people who dumped him ("dropped him off") maybe still reside? But what is home? Hasn't Simon found safety and security with his deer and raccoon companions? Is belonging and trust the measure of home? Or is settled shelter essential? Both?

Is wandering at will without permanent housing too high a price for not always having a meal at hand? Is food for the body the ultimate safety and security? [I'm a theologian and will comment] the biblical witness shows us true freedom has limits and boundaries. And constraints that usually include living as part of a community of others, constantly considering what impact our actions and decisions could have on their well-being. Is this a coming of age story? Or is it about twenty-first century anomie and rootlessness? About the unknown on the other side of any risk-taking? About the terror of abandoning a comfortable known for an unknown future? All of the above, plus anything else you want to read into it. I mentioned apocalyptic reveals the end of the status quo of "the world as we have known it" along with the surprising beginning of something very other than. On the right front endpaper of Garbage Night, a voice speaks from the sky, "today will be great, Simon."

Illustrator-author Jen Lee sure knows how to convey mood with a color palette; her zero-human population "post-apocalyptic wasteland" city excites the imagination more than any movie set, yet leaves some room for a reader to create even more. To quote its cover, now I'm ready for "Jen Lee's original comic Vacancy" that's tucked in at the back of Garbage Night. One reviewer suggested reading Vacancy first, but I didn't want it to interfere with my perception of Garbage Night.

My Amazon Review: Garbage Night by Jen Lee

Garbage Night page 06   Garbage Night page 07   Garbage Night page 09

Friday, September 15, 2017

Porch Stories: Friends

porch stories: friends

Our Porch Stories host Kristin provides outstanding email content that's so worth another sign-up; this week she write about the category of Email Friends and asks us to "Join me on my {email} porch."

With the ascendancy of Facebook and other social media connections we often call "friends," friendship has become controversial topic. Is a FB friend a "real" friend? Is it ok to unfriend someone on social media or even in real life? The few times I've mentioned to a current friend how all my former friends abandoned me {now that one's very complicated}, their instant response was "then they weren't real friends! As a matter of fact, most of them had been very good friends who shared long histories, joys, and expectations for futures together.

Churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary are almost four months into the green and growing time of the Season of {the Holy Spirit of} Pentecost that we often call the Season of the Church. We've been studying and considering Jesus' examples and instructions via the gospel writer Matthew on how to be church coupled with related passages from the epistles that over the past few weeks have been from the letter to the church at Rome. Last Sunday we heard the apostle Paul's exhortation about owing and obligation – oughtness – debt and obedience summarized into love, followed by his explanation of why we love:

8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments ... are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Romans 13

From Jesus's famous Johannine discourse on friendship and friends:

15I don't call you servants any longer, because servants don't know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16You didn't choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. 17I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.
John 15

Three variations of Proverbs 17:17:

• Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.
The Message

• Friends always show their love. What are relatives for if not to share trouble?
Good News Bible

• Friends love all the time, and kinsfolk are born for times of trouble.
Common English Bible

porch stories button

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rose Pacatte: Corita Kent

Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart by Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP on Amazon

I'm writing some reflections instead of my typical book review.

corita kent book coverCorita Kent's art and design have inspired me all my adult life, so you can imagine how excited I am to be living in the same city as the Corita Art Center! At the center's August Open House I met Sister Rose, author of a very recent, short, easy to read Corita biography.

To be human is to be political; (almost) everyone knows about church politics on every level, but I first need to mention the human and ecclesiastical tragedy of the late Los Angeles Archbishop Cardinal McIntyre's impoverished grasp of essential theology and his apparent unresponsiveness to the Spirit of Pentecost that's the Holy Spirit of life, change, resurrection—the power and promise behind the European Reformation movements that changed church and world over the centuries, the wind that inspired particularly USA-based awakenings, revivals, and restorations in the protestant churches. The Spirit that brooded over the canonization of scripture and the transformations of Vatican II, that presides over ecumenical and interfaith exchanges, the Spirit that quickens all creation from death back into life. That's my list to remind my readers how human creatures truly have responded to the stirrings of the HS, so Cardinal McIntyre's extreme unresponsiveness was exceptional. I also made the list because I wonder how Corita's post-Vatican II life and the ministry of the Immaculate Heart Community in general could have been different, but as one of the Narnia characters reminds us, no one ever has been told what might have been.

Continuing more specifically with Corita...

My review title is "Incarnational Artist," because her art and design revealed Corita's profound sense of God's embodied presence everywhere. In Word and Sacrament? In, with, and under nature's fragility, need, and resilience? Of course, but also in commerce, in advertising, in local and international politics—the scandal of a holy God still choosing to accompany us everywhere, to sanctify the routine and the mundane.

Sr. Rose includes some of Corita's family's story, along with general historical and political influences on Corita's life and art. That she decided so early to become an Immaculate Heart sister doesn't surprise me; many young people find personal and career inspiration from teachers and other mentors, but even way back then, how astonishing and unwise that she entered the order immediately after high school with no real discernment time. Corita's journey and that of other Immaculate Heart sisters closely became intertwined because they were a community, individuals with a common call, a common purpose that became a true common union. Sr. Rose documents thoroughly and sadly many of the events that led to the dissolution (not sure if that's the correct word) of the Immaculate Heart community Corita joined. I hadn't realized the new Immaculate Heart community is ecumenical in the fullest sense! That makes my own heart sing, and I need to trust Cardinal McIntyre now comprehends more fully.

Corita most likely means little heart, though I don't know that the artist whose baptismal name was Frances Kent ever explained her choice of what at first was her professed name and later the only name the world knew for her. Each chapter title includes "Heart" as a unifying device. A few examples: Heart in the City; Heart of Hollywood; Heavy Heart; Heart of the World. The book concludes with End Notes, Bibliography, and an Index—helpful features you usually don't find in a book this short. The physical size, type size, and overall feel of the book are attractive and appealing. I plan to read some of the so far almost two dozen other books in this People of God series from Liturgical Press.

My Amazon Review: Corita: Incarnational Artist

Monday, September 11, 2017

Kristin Hill Taylor: Peace in the Process

peace in the process book coverI've had the honor of being on the launch team for Peace in the Process: How Adoption Built my Faith & my Family by Kristin Hill Taylor of Wednesday Porch Stories testimony linkup renown. This blog and my reviews are from a pre-publication pdf I received to read and enjoy before the official launch date of Tuesday, September 19 that's the 2nd birthday of Kristin and Greg's daughter Rachel.

In Kristin's own words:
"I didn't dream of being a mom. I just assumed I would eventually have kids. A people-pleasing, first-born child, I was a good student who went to college and never changed my major. I worked as a newspaper reporter, just as my print journalism degree would have me do. I married my college boyfriend and we started our life together. I went through life as I assumed lives were supposed to be lived.

"Nearly two years went by and for various reasons we were still childless. Yes, I cried out to God when friends announced pregnancies: 'I told you I was ready!' I just wanted to have a baby. That was the next step in life. But it wasn't the next step in my life. I did eventually become a mom, never expecting adoption to be our story. But it's a story I tell over and over again because it's the one that changed me. Adoption built my faith and gave me a family."
Peace in the Process reveals intricacies, expectations, disappointments, and excitements of the trio of private adoptions Greg and Kristin opted for. Although Kristin's story might encourage people to consider adoption as a way to begin a journey into parenthood or to expand an existing family, even more than about parenting, this beautifully written account of moving from anticipation through infertility to becoming a 3-person family and finally adding a son and another daughter is about Kristin's own grace-filled growth from fledgling faith into mature, responsive shalom—peace and well-being in the broadest, most inclusive sense. The book testifies to God's faithfulness; it's also very much a testimony of Kristin's gradual passage from going "through life as [she] assumed lives were supposed to be lived" to grounded, abiding trust in the Creator of life who wills and loves us into better than we ever would have chosen for ourselves.

Whatever your familial status or hopes, wherever the Spirit has led you, especially if you're bright, educated, and ambitious, you'll resonate with this not very long narrative and probably gain greater trust in God's ongoing process after you've read Kristin's story. This would be an excellent book for a skeptic or non-religious person, since the details and particulars of each of the Taylor kids' adoptions story clearly could not have happened by accidental serendipity. I first read Kristin's entire story and then returned to the sixteen In Their Words vignettes from other adoptive moms Peace in the Process includes. Every one is different; each worthy of a book of its own.

My Amazon review: Growing a Family; Growing Faith

Peace in the Process launch team book button

Friday, September 08, 2017

Porch Stories: Hope

porch stories: daring to hope

For her Porch Stories Kristin Hill Taylor blogs about Katie Davis Majors' Daring to Hope. "Hope" means it's time to revisit at least some stories of God's past faithfulness, God's surprises. Recite them. Relive them. Trust them to happen again? No, not quite exactly, but something similar in terms of surprise, creation's need, and apparent human impossibility.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1 Corinthians 13:13

"These three"—we teach, preach, and testify to God's requiring only that we trust (believe, have faith, walk with) him. Even non-Christians know love is supposed to be the central teaching and action of Christianity. But isn't hope the most essential? I considered writing using the gerund hoping to indicate an ongoing process. I pondered the indicative or imperative "hope." In the Exodus narrative, the reality of the Day of Resurrection, God frees us – liberates us – and God claims us as newly-created people.

At least eighteen months ago I was emailing with someone who attended Thursday community dinners I helped prepare and serve at Church Around the Corner in Previous City. At her request I still email her the link to my notes from my adult SS class and usually add a note asking how she is, but I haven't heard back in over a year. Her late dad was a pastor, yet she imagines all kinds of hopeless-sounding scenarios. At one point I asked, "What's Christianity about?" She replied, "to acquire a Christ-like character." I responded—"that's the goal of every religion. It's the goal of atheistic humanism, of humanistic atheism. How about "practice resurrection?!" I quoted from Wendell Berry's Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. Friend then asked, "What? Have I been missing something?" Yes. She had been.

What do I say about hope for today? I've consistently remembered God's saving acts and unmediated presence over the eons. The testimony of scripture that includes the Exodus from empire and the entry into the Promised Land. Homecomings from exile in Babylon and other places more than hinted at—fully promised by the middle section of the long book of Isaiah (chapters 40-55) that we refer to as 2nd Isaiah. Jesus' resurrection from death to new life. {For the most part, haha} I've lived as if loss and grief do not define me. In the power of the Holy Spirit of life, of resurrection, of newness, I've done my human best to practice resurrection. But behind my own hopes, even beyond the witness of scripture, God creates futures for humanity and for planet earth none of us can imagine. Unimaginable? Yes, despite our acquaintance with scripture and our own histories with the God whose "final answer" always is resurrection. You know that question we sometimes ask: what condition needs to be present in order to have resurrection? Answer? You need to be dead.

It took me a couple days to get to writing this Porch Story that's a little about past events, but even more about my own future. In the same way God's people Israel could not regard The Exodus from Egypt as a completely finished event, we cannot act as if Easter was a long ago happening, but need to continue living into both. This Porch Story is about my hope for my own future, and just as much about hope for friend from Previous City. I hope she'll answer an email soon, but even more I hope God will surprise her with newness she never imagined.

porch stories button

Monday, September 04, 2017

James Kugel: The Great Shift

The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times by James L Kugel on Amazon

The Great Shift book coverIt's impossible to guess how interesting or helpful someone not well-acquainted with the bible would find The Great Shift. It's also impossible briefly to describe the basic content of James Kugel's most recent book: is it about the gradual development of the concept of the individual (I, id, person, ego, self, soul), or does it describe humanity's slow recognition of the nature and essence of the God of the bible? Yes.

When a person studies scripture seriously, they learn something about sources, a fair amount about historical, cultural, political, and economic context. After some time and a lot of study, they can make educated and often accurate conjectures about where a passage might have originated, to what degree and how – sometimes even where – it could have been edited. For people of church or synagogue, making the witness of scripture a vital part of everyday family, community, and civic life is the ultimate goal.

Like the author, I claim membership in a faith community that affirms the authority of scripture as a testimony of the life together of God with the people of God and as a guide for daily life. If I'm teaching or presenting to a group that doesn't already know me, in order to defer some questions and concerns I usually explain, "I have a very high view of scripture as the word of God; I have an equally high view of scripture as a human word, with all the ambiguity that implies."

Kugel reveals new aspects of some passages many of us thought we knew. He enhances many of his observations regarding the texts of [mostly] the Hebrew bible with parallel and similar instances in extra-biblical and non-canonical literature from the same periods. It's interesting how Hebrews (later known as Israelites and then Jews) imagined and then created a religion with gods that reflected characteristics, preferences, and habits of divinities belonging to their neighbors; we're learning more and more about the strong human tendency toward mimesis or imitation, so not surprisingly, that's what they did. Or... was the original modality of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the rest a real religion as we define religion? Or not? A thread that weaves through The Great Shift reminds us how early on, in many instances the god or the god's emissaries appeared or spoke in a form similar to a human person's, though communication and from the great outside, from heaven, or from elsewhere than here hardly astonished those early hearers and observers. You remember God's charge to Abram in Genesis 12? Abraham's visitors in Genesis 18? Jacob/Israel's wrestling into an out of joint hip and a new identity in Genesis 32? Those types of encounters seem to have stopped happening; the "why" belongs to some of the book's trajectory.

With a centuries-long history that ultimately becoming codified in the words of a book that at first was a neuter plural, later feminine singular, among all the deities of the ancient near east, the God Whose people would be His prized possession if they obeyed uniquely was a god of commandments (ordinances, laws, ways, statues, precepts, testimonies) spoken and given – and written down – as grace-filled gift not for the glory of God, but for the well-being of all creation. A long time arriving at an understanding of a Divinity who does not require extravagant tribute, whose first concern is the integrity of the creation He even chooses to inhabit!

This is a thick, heavy book; chapters average about twenty pages each. Kugel writes extremely well, without any of those annoying habits we all know about and wish people would forget about using. Although he's also a person of religious conviction, Professor Kugel presents the material like the scholar and the teacher he is. Because of my familiarity with the biblical texts and my theological background, I found none of it tough or rough-going, but again I'd caution whether or not you're religious or even somewhat spiritual, The Great Shift may or may not be for you. It has shifted my broad perspective on the story of the God and the people of the bible and sparked my interest in reading a little more anthropology. In the end, James Kugel agrees with a quote from the late Flannery O'Connor "I do not know You, God because I am in the way. Please help me push myself aside." That's where I find myself.

My Amazon Review: Revelatory!

season of creation 2017 eucharistic prayer

Season of Creation 1A, Forest Sunday Season of Creation 2A, Land Sunday Season of Creation 3A, Wilderness/Outback Sunday Season of Creation 4A, River Sunday

Six years ago I wrote this Eucharistic Prayer for another Season of Creation Year A. Since it got quite a few hits, good stewardship and wise recycling suggests I post it again. You are welcome to use the prayer as is, or any section you desire without my permission. However, if you substantially print it in bulletin or post it online, please credit Leah Chang / www.desertspiritsfire.com.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to God.
It is joy to offer thanks and praise!
Holy God, Mighty Lord, Breather of Life, all creation reveals your glory and magnifies your love! When your Word created the heavens and the earth, you provided everything needful for health and happiness, and called creation into covenant with yourself. You divided night from day, waters from dry land. You planted a garden and trees; a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. With bread from heaven and water from the rock you sustained the wanderers in the exodus desert. In the land of exile you charged your people to plant gardens and cultivate crops. You sent Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, to live as your presence among us.

And so with the saints and angels of heaven and with all creation in every time and every place we sing:

Holy are you, God of mercy, glory and love, and blessed is Jesus your son, who lived among us in a body made from stuff of the earth.
Jesus died for the redemption of all creation,
and was raised from death for the life of the world.
He ascended to reign in justice and righteousness over everything his Word created.

With the Church in every time and every place we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Dying you destroyed our death;
Rising you restored our life;
Lord Jesus, come in glory!
On the night of betrayal and desertion, our Lord Jesus took bread; when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
"This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way after supper, he also took the cup, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes again in glory.
Come, Spirit of Holiness; come upon all creation everywhere and upon this assembly of saints;
Come, Holy Spirit; sanctify these gifts of grain and grape uniting us with all creation in every time and every place;
Come, Spirit of Life and bless our feasting at this table of reconciliation and renewal,
That baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Spirit we may daily live in covenant with all creation as the gracious presence of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Glory and thanks
wisdom, acclaim
dominion and righteousness be to God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
endlessly throughout eternity,

© 2011 leah chang