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!

porch stories button

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

Faithful :: Adam Hamilton

Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph by Adam Hamilton on Amazon

Faithful Joseph by Adam Hamilton coverWe're in the season of Advent that prepares us for Christmas, so why not learn more about Joseph, Jesus' earthly father (stepfather, adoptive father)—Joseph the spouse of Jesus' mother Miriam/Mary? Pastor Adam Hamilton has written another insightful and interesting scripture-related book; as usual, he doesn't talk down to readers, but also makes sure it's mostly easy to comprehend. I enjoyed the historical background at the start of this short book; it included information about non-canonical sources, and speculation on what might have been happening based upon that cultural context. Hamilton brings in some of his own experience as a pastor and a dad, but doesn't overwhelm the pages by making it too much about himself.

In retelling what we know of Joseph's story from scripture and imagining what might have happened, Faithful shows many ways people, events, creation's needs and God's mercy-filled love weave together to unsettle the status qho(s) and recreate a redemptive whole. Inspirational and reassuring, Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph is just in time for the longest night of the year, just in time to celebrate Jesus' nativity in the church and in the world, because this is one season the world out there has some idea of what the church happens to be about.

As for many books from Abingdon, you can purchase an entire series of products related to this book by Adam Hamilton to assist in your study of Joseph.

My Amazon Review: Inspirational and Reassuring

Friday, December 15, 2017

Prayer for Friday of Advent 2

advent 2 candles

Hello God! In the church we've been in the thick of Advent; out there in the world and in our partly in here / partly out there social media lives we've been hearing sounds of the season, glancing at shiny and even sometimes socially meaningful gift suggestions. Everywhere we go, we're still waiting for Christmas, for the rebirth of love and hope among us, for the light darkness cannot overcome. Everywhere we go, please help us be that love and that hope; help us live as the light that won't leave. Thank you, God! In Jesus' name, amen!

Written for Bruce Reyes-Chow's C4CW Facebook group

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Porch Stories :: Faithful Living

porch stories 13 December faithful living

Today for her Porch Story Kristin Hill Taylor's about service projects as a way of Living Out Our Faith.

The transformation and literal resurrection of the old into the new is a huge part of the witness of scripture, a major aspect of biblical religion. God named Abram/Abraham "faithful" or righteous {one of God's attributes!} because Abram walked out in trust toward the place God promised to show him later. In other words, Abraham had no destination in his imagination; he'd journey as in Rich Mullins' song "Step by Step":
Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach

God choosing and claiming us by grace and not because anything we do {or even because of a loving or generous attitude} is central to our theology, yet God's calling and enabling us to be his transformative presence in the world is fundamental to our identity as God's people. When she talks about living out faith, bringing faith or trust in God to life, Kristin writes about activities that help change people's lives. I've received tremendous satisfaction from serving at soup kitchens and at Thursday evening community dinner. I've helped with several aspects of Habitat for Humanity houses. The brightly colored art and design I do for church and community is a unique way I live out my faith in service. Any of those are small contributions almost any individual can make; they may seem tiny, but you know how many small deductions out of your wallet or your checking account it takes eventually to deplete the entire balance? In the exact same manner, small additions to needs of your workplace, community, family, or organization eventually add up to transformation so complete they amount to resurrection from death, re-filling the balance on the side of life.

Does acting as God's presence in the world redeem us? No, never, not at all. God in Christ Jesus already has saved us. But are those acts of service essential to our step by step trust in God? Absolutely! Theologian of grace Martin Luther said he loved good works so much he'd like to be called the Doctor of Good Works!

Maybe because I have a not unusual tendency to act more like a human doing than a human being a lot of the time {please notice me! Check out everything I've been doing! Let me show you my list!}, I could make lists of lists of help-filled activities I've enjoyed. But it's winter in the northern hemisphere and again it's that season of Chanukah-Nativity-New Year parties, gifts, and festivities that catapults many people into a deep blue funk, sometimes triggers serious depression. As much as I glory in making myself feel good by doing observable and quantifiable service projects and making physical gifts literally to present, one of the best ways anyone can live out their faith and make it tangible, audible, and visible is by simply being alongside others. Sometimes just sitting. Often listening and hearing their stories. Nothing spectacular, nothing anyone else ever will know about.

Kristin concludes by remaining herself, "Obviously, what we're able to do changes with seasons in life. Serving together has reminded me not to grow too comfortable in on stage because God is always working. I don't want to miss what He has for us because I'm growing too comfortable in my own ways." That next season in life might be three or four years from now, or it might be near as the season of spring 2018. God calls us faithful and righteous because we follow his call. That means putting aside all the noise and activity; it means being still and simply listening to God in order to hear and discern God's call and the next step toward that place God will show us—when we get there.

porch stories button

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Porch Stories :: Hope

porch stories 06 December hope

For her Porch Story this week, as Kristin Hill Taylor considers The Thrill & Pain of Hope, she tells us about a painful ear condition and anticipates {isn't anticipation a variety of hope?} celebrating the arrival of Jesus in our midst.

Last Sunday the church opened a new Year of Grace with the season of Advent, the nearly-winter month {in the northern hemisphere} we formally watch and wait for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. The word advent has roots in the Latin ad-venire, toward-coming—just like adventure! Every year Advent begins with a splash of scriptural apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it.

Churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary for their scripture readings started listening to and studying the gospel according to Mark for this new liturgical year. Most weeks in the lectionary we hear an Old Testament reading from one of the prophets; as I explained to my adult Sunday School class, people tend to think of Hebrew Bible prophets calling people to repentance {to some extent they did—they also lined out if-then alternatives}, but more than a change in human attitude, behavior, and outlook, prophecy proclaimed the inbreaking of the grace-filled reign of God, the end of the old, the birth of the new creation. They announced resurrection from actual death!

Blue is the color for Advent; blue is the color of hope. Advent with its hope is a harbinger of Easter, the great Trinitarian feast of resurrection we celebrate as the fulfillment of hope. "Advent" comes from the same root as adventure. Are we ready to trust God through the season of Advent and beyond as we anticipate the defeat of death, the adventure of resurrection, the reality of the new creation? I hope so!

porch stories button

Prayer for Thursday of Advent 1

Advent 1 candles

God of grace, God of unmediated presence, you don't need another news bulletin. You already know what's been happening on earth—you've been in the midst of it. We've entered another season of advent. Blue is advent's color for the hope of newness and rebirth; blue sometimes is advent's color because of sorrow. Because of grief. Loss. Waiting in the dark until days grow longer and events resolve can be tough. Please help us shine as your light and your hope for our neighbors who long for morning, our friends who yearn for resurrection. In the name of Jesus, Light of the World, amen.

Written for Bruce Reyes-Chow's C4CW Facebook group

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Five Minute Friday • Near

I've been playing and working catch-up, but I had to Five Minute Friday this week because Kate Motaung's near prompt aligns with my preparation for introducing the Gospel according to Mark on Sunday. Everyone already knows Mark's gospel quite well, but with the start of a new Revised Common Lectionary year B that's Mark's year, I needed to create a quick overview. I'm also Friday Fiving because of the beautiful illustration Kate provided; I took the liberty of decorating her banner photo for my header.

five minute friday near

A few minutes ago on urban wilderness I blogged a short overview of the Gospel According to Mark I'll use to open my adult SS class session tomorrow. Similar to many people today, back in those days of the Ancient Near East (love that ANE terminology!) people tended to think of God far away, unapproachable, distant, and uninvolved. Or if they believed God was a little closer, they imagined God contained and protected in a space or place like the Jerusalem temple they'd worked so hard to build. Particularly as we've studied a pericope or selection from one of the four gospels each week, we've been discovering and uncovering a God who's anything but distant and far away, anything but unapproachable and uninvolved in creation—and in our own sometimes difficult lives and pressing concerns, in our joys and everyday routines! Especially as God self-reveals in Jesus of Nazareth, God has drawn near to earth, to creation. So near that God has chosen to live as one of us, as a human, in a body formed from stuff of the earth. But paradoxically, God-with-us, close-to-us still is the God of the Hebrew scriptures who fills heaven and earth, who remains free, elusive, and can't remotely be contained in space or in time. But you already knew that!

Given that humans tend to be more mimetic than thoughtful, the temple concept partly imitated gods of other ANE religions that mostly were gods for a certain place. Not only Mark but all the gospels reveal God so near that in Jesus God becomes and lives as part of creation—yet we find actual "near" vocabulary more in the deutero-Pauline theology of Ephesians and Colossians than elsewhere in scripture. In any case, as another Advent dawns, literally breaks open this week, let's remember God's abiding passion for all of us. God incarnate as a baby in the Bethlehem manger. God embodied in each of us so we can live as God's presence very near to our neighbors, friends – and enemies.

disclaimer: I wrote this very quickly in a little less than five minutes, but unlike most weeks, I found too many discrepancies and discontinuities, and In the interest of overall coherence, I edited so it would make sense, so this represents closer to fifteen minutes than to five.

five minute friday near five minute friday new button

Friday, December 01, 2017

Damian Chandler • The Crooked Christmas Tree

crooked Christmas Tree book coverThe Crooked Christmas Tree by Damian Chandler is a nice book for seasoned Christians and possibly to help introduce newcomers to God's love and grace for each of us. Each mini-chapter is really really short; you could make this into an Advent season devotional book, follow the author's chronicle of purchasing, definitely not liking, gaining insight into, and then loving the Crooked Christmas Tree his kids chose. Pastor Damian Chandler parallels the less than perfect condition and appearance of the evergreen (not quite ever-eternally verdant, because in the end its needles turn brown) and his attempts to make it acceptable, then finally beautiful, with God's redemption of human sinfulness and our less than attractive traits and habits. I realize this is a very "slim volume," and nothing is comprehensive, but I'd have appreciated more emphasis on God's gracious redemptive activity in Jesus Christ restoring humanity's original Imago Dei (the image of the divine in which God created us) rather than what comes across as original sinfulness and depravity.

Pastor Chandler's interaction with the sex worker (strip teaser?) when he recognizes her vulnerability and essential beauty and then invites her to the revival he'll be preaching is a strong and stunning model for us to follow as it demonstrates one way he followed Jesus' example. And I love how he describes chopping the truly finished-for-Christmas tree into three pieces, taking it to the curb for recycling, and tells us how the tree will get shredded and return to the earth it grew from as mulch to become a life-giving matrix for other trees and vegetation that in turn will help restore life to humanity and the rest of God's natural creation. Jesus of Nazareth on the tree of the cross of Calvary?!

Bringing his three kids and his spouse into the story about the crooked Christmas tree is an excellent device, but I got confused. In the book his kids apparently are very young; they weren't a whole lot older and bigger in Chandler family pictures I found online. Yet the author refers to decorating the tree with years of stored school craft projects! I doubt the kids had gotten much beyond preschool at their ages in the book, not much further in their online photos, so maybe that could be revised? All in all, very well done!

my amazon review: very well done!