Thursday, March 29, 2018

Annie's Lists :: Kristin Mahoney :: blog & review

Annie /Andromeda

Annie's Life in Lists by Kristin Mahoney on Amazon

Annie's Life in Lists book cover
Usually my blog post replicates my Amazon book review; this time my blog is longer and includes material not appropriate {I consider inappropriate} for a review.

I chose Annie's Life in Lists the book because:

1. I love middle school novels
2. I like the name Annie
3. I can be quite the list-maker

In Annie's story I discovered:

1. complex, real-life family dynamics
2. real and ideal
3. lack of human control over many aspects of life
4. making the best of circumstances
5. friendship anxieties
6. friendship resolutions
7. uncertain futures


Not long into the narrative, Annie – whose full name is the star-struck Andromeda – and her family move seven hours' drive north of Brooklyn to the town of Clover Gap, population around 8,000. Annie's highway engineer dad lost his job because of lack of contracts mostly caused by the fed's diminishing funding for all aspects of transportation, so they relocated because of lack of nearby jobs in his professional field. Although I do my best severely to limit my use of the word "should," in an ideal world, highway engineers should be constantly hired rather than frequently fired; as conduits of communication and connection, streets and roads should be expanding and improving, with older freeways and thoroughfares getting repairs and environmental impact enhancements as often as needed. None of those "shoulds" have been happening! I often ponder how roads in my Previous City of San Diego never freeze or thaw, yet statistically their condition ranks among the worst in all first world countries combined (only slight exaggeration). The trouble's their extreme age and near-total lack of maintenance.

Some Backstory

How much information can anyone of any age handle? By not telling Annie and her brother Ted their dad had lost his job, their parents made a major mistake. Due to Annie's exceptional memory of his brother the dry cleaner and his cat, her school principal discovers Annie's family had moved out of that school district but continued getting mail elsewhere than their new apartment so she and her brother could remain at that school. Brooklyn's tightly circumscribed school boundaries meant she'd need to attend a different school for her last year of elementary; after that, Annie began obsessively imagining they were moving to another part of the state because of her innocent revelation to the principal. Almost without a doubt the kids had attained enough years and (especially as a girl Annie had insight and sensitivity) could have understood and compensated with their own behaviors to help the entire family deal with circumstances and move onto the next phase.


As soon as I began to read Annie's Life in Lists I felt anxiety and expectation. I'm a city lover and city dweller; I love that I need to Mind the Gap between door and platform when I ride the subway or light rail. I wouldn't have life any other way than amongst LA's truly incredible ethnic and cultural panorama—by many estimates the most diverse human settlement that ever has existed anywhere. Except for its unfortunate east coast weather, Brooklyn borough sounds every bit as wonderful as LA in terms of culture, diversity, and opportunities—maybe more exciting in terms of allover energy and excitement. In Southern California, the second-largest USA city knows how to doze off and snooze whenever it feels convenient. Because of my passion for the city and cities, I didn't want Annie to leave Brooklyn, or if she had to, I wanted her to go back there to live, or at least to another densely populated urban place. I completely agree with my late mom that cities in general are the best places to raise kids, which also partly accounts for my desire to have Annie and family return to Brooklyn or some major metropolitan area. But especially in a compromised economy, our desires often cannot happen, at least not right now at this very moment.


"Lack of human control over many aspects of life" is #3 in my second numbered list at the beginning of this post. Lack of human control, yet there still are many things a person can do to increase their chances of achieving a desired outcome: get as much education as possible; become friends with kind people, even if they're not in high places; schedule at least a little time for recreation and working out; follow your dreams, however remote they may appear from here.

Annie's fam arrives in Clover Gap, where Dad will be working on a road construction project of uncertain length and they'll be living in an older house with lots more space than they had in their city apartment had. Almost from the start everyone begins rationalizing why Clover Gap will be a good place; a big kitchen where they have room to creatively cook will be especially great for engineer dad who loves claiming his creative side as a chef—mom will like the kitchen, too. Mom the graphic designer now will have her own dedicated workspace that's so much better than staking out a small corner in their Brooklyn flat. She grew up in a less urban place, though Dad's pretty much city to the core—just as I am. The tension and expectation I felt when I started reading quickly radiated into concern for Annie's friendship with Brooklyn classmate and very close friend Millie. Upstate in Clover Gap, Annie wondered if lack of communication meant lack of continuing friendship will Millie. Close to the book's conclusion I learned it was anything but, yet real life friendships fade, change, and sometimes end, and real people need to deal with and grieve those realities.

No one reaches any age at all before realizing we need to put the best construction on people's behavior along with making the best of our own circumstances. "Bloom where you're planted" the adage reminds us; scripture counsels us to contribute to the well-being of wherever we find ourselves, because the welfare of our neighbors becomes our health and bounty, too. By book's end that's exactly what Annie's family does, even fancying themselves true residents of Clover Gap, at least for a while.

And Now?

Brooklyn to Clover Gap is my story; is it your story, too? I've spent incalculable energy, time, hope, and sorrow affirming what's okay; current kitchen doesn't have enough space for comfortable dicing and slicing, but this month's weather happens to be perfect for walking from here to there and getting a necessary dose of sunshine. This is not a hunter-gatherer society, nor is it a third world country, yet part of my plans and desires remain stuck because it's not what you know, it's not who you know, it's who knows you. This next thing will work, this next thing, this next... yet none of them have. I've done my best to acknowledge the tangled circumstance that got me to the year 2018 and Current City, with a few humanly necessary "if only" and "no one knows what might have happened" observations thrown into my analysis every so often. Current overall everything may not excel at providing opportunities to teach art I crave and need, but like Annie's mom {who, like me, works from wherever she is at the moment as a graphic designer with physical location not a major consideration, and {like myself} may have been working in industry before the crash of the economy and housing market sent jobs overseas, with internet growth contributing to the situation}, I've gradually been getting design gigs not only online, but also because of Current City. When does rationalization stop? Where do excuses end? When do dreams reawaken? Hope rebound? I need to write contextual liturgy again, yet no one is stopping me from putting together a few more prayers that may never be heard in public. No one is stopping me, but like most of this blog except for my recent monthly "What I Learned," writing prayers and liturgy pieces just for the exercise would be more of the talking to myself that pervades this blog. I tell myself that's no longer enough; in fact it never was, but like practicing music in private, like hours spent sketching into results that never will see light of day or screened online, the practice remains essential.

The doors only can be opened from the other side. How do I find face-to-face direct service opps I expected always would be there?

More Review Notes

Annie's Life in Lists is Kristin Mahoney's first ever published book. She develops the story's characters and describes physical settings extremely well. Illustrator Rebecca Crane's cover portrait of Annie could be a fifth grader in almost Any Town or Any City in North America. I wish Crane's black and white sketches scattered throughout the book could have been full color, but production and selling costs likely made that not realistically possible. BTW, Rebecca Crane illustrated My Very Own Space a young kids' book I ordered from Amazon Vine because of the wonderful art! This chronologically mature adult who loves middle school novels will be on the lookout for Mahoney's next book.

My Amazon Review: Annie, Family, Friends

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Porch Stories :: March 2018 So Far

porch stories March 2018 so far


Again this month Kristin Taylor's Stories from the Porch comes in categories! The month of March on the Left Coast also had variety, mostly featuring renewal and restoration. At the start of the month the church's year of grace was about one-third into the slowed-down season of Lent with its focus on repentance, spring cleaning all aspects of our lives (the word lent means slow, and is an old word for spring derived from days getting longer or lengthening in the northern hemisphere), Jesus' relentless journey to Jerusalem and the cross... and the indescribable surprise of resurrection we never truly expect. Today, Wednesday of Holy Week is the last day of Lent! The Triduum or Three Day liturgy of Maundy Thursday – Good Friday – Easter (Vigil, Sunrise, Day) begins tomorrow.

RecycLA rally 07 March RecyLA rally 07 March
RecyLA rally 07 March RecyLA rally 07 March


Mist permeated the air outside City Hall on the morning of Wednesday 07 March, but many of us delighted to brave the {dramatic?} southern California weather – partly to demonstrate, majorly to celebrate – that multi-unit residential dwellings finally having an easy recycling option as a result of the public/ private partnership of RecycLA known en espaƱol as RecycLA.

World Water Day 2018

Due to my being bone-weary, heavily into discernment and letting go, I won't post more pictures or another description, but also related to redeeming planet earth, you can read about World Water Day 2018 by the Los Angeles River and maybe imagine the river that owns this city that owns that river being sufficiently cleaned-up and free-flowing year round for churches to begin regularly celebrating baptisms in the river! At our August Green Team meeting illustrated in my August & Summer 2017 Porch Story Chronicle, Lisa Dahill, one of our guests whose university classes usually don't allow her to attend our meetings, talked about being baptized (or renewing your baptism) in your local river, and then owning again those particular waters every day as you pray and work toward justice, renewal, and resurrection for all creation that emphatically includes the well-being of that city, its river, its headwaters, and its watersheds. Many times, as in Los Angeles' situation, the city and the river even claim the same name! A couple weeks ago I finished reading the book about Eco-Reformation Lisa Dahill joint-edited and contributed a chapter to, and hope to review it in a week or to. So please watch this space!


Lent ends today. On Palm-Passion Sunday, the Sunday school hour was disorganized and a bit chaotic with regular participants coming and going back and forth from here to there. Originally I'd hoped to pull together and print a few key scriptures to discuss but didn't because I simply couldn't. Instead, in my intro I mentioned the church over the centuries has brought many interpretations to Jesus' trial, conviction, crucifixion, and resurrection, some of them not very faithful human imaginings, some with scriptural grounding, but in essence Jesus died because that's what happens when a person acts like God. I suggested let's not even attempt to analyze or explain Holy Week or Easter: let it engulf us; let us embrace it.

This is the last day of Lent 2018. I'm not trying to explain or describe the mercy, grace, love, and hope Holy Week and Easter bring to all creation. I'm so tired all I can do is allow it to surround me. Amen? Amen!

porch stories button

Saturday, March 24, 2018

World Water Day 2018

United Nations World Water Day occurs a calendar month before Earth Day; for this year's 25th anniversary, The Answer Is In Nature – "How can we reduce floods, droughts, and water pollution? By using the solutions we already find in nature."

world water day 2018 Los Angeles Southwest California synod ELCA

As part of the denominational judicatory's Green Faith Team (committee), I helped plan this year's WWD event and I designed a save the date card, flyer/poster, and program for our outdoor gathering by the Los Angeles Riverside two days ago. It gloriously rained almost all day long! Overcast skies and the gift of heaven-sent water made our gathering with prayer, scripture, song, a history of the river, and a simply delicious lunch even more memorable. We heard the musical debut of the duo Bartlett & Herder, a subset of Water Is Sacred band that got its name faster than any other musical group in history.

This year I'm blogging a few of my photographs.

world water day 2018 stones along the way
world water day 2018 looking out at the river from the ramada
world water day 2018 setting up for the event world water day 2018 guitar, river graphic, umbrella world water day 2018 water print by John August Swanson

After the short program, everyone walked down to visit the river that was full of surging water for the first time ever in my limited experience. Besides freely flowing water, our river contained too much visible plastic pollution; End Plastic Pollution is this year's Earth Day theme. I'll mention we also need to reduce the production of paper that's a process indescribably toxic to waterways and all of Planet Earth, and uses too much water for the results we get.

world water day 2018 view of the Los Angeles River looking left
world water day 2018 view of the Los Angeles River looking right

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wisdom Walking :: Gil Stafford

Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life by Gil Stafford on Amazon

Wisdom Walking by Gil Stafford book coverWell-worn hiking boots filling over half the front cover enticed me to order Wisdom Walking. I've long resonated with the concept of life as pilgrimage or peregrination, so the title also helped. From the start I knew I'd love to meet author Gil Stafford, converse over lunch with him and a few other kindred pilgrims. However, when I realized how much of the content focused on actual walking pilgrimages of days or weeks over vast distances, I knew that wasn't for me and wondered how useful the book would be. I'm more into trekking up an easy urban hill, exploring a nearby canyon, spending an afternoon along an ocean shore.

But I had enough wisdom to think beyond other aspects of the book I couldn't relate to:

(1) Stafford frequently refers to Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist that has become somewhat of a cult book in a positive way. At the strong suggestion of one of my first ever online friends I met long before Facebook was a reality in any format, I read The Alchemist, didn't get its message at all, and donated it to the library book sale.

(2) Gil references James Hillman many times. When I returned to the east coast at the end of the last century and temporarily was staying in extremely sparse circumstances, an acquaintance stopped by with a copy of one of Hillman's books so I'd have something to do. I read whatever book it was slowly and thoughtfully, didn't get what it said, and returned it to the owner with polite thanks.

(3) Carl Jung is a third author who's influenced Gil Stafford. I'm only barely familiar with his work, though I have a slight claim to fame with a paper I wrote on a chapter from Jung's The Tower for my school's version of a Varieties of Religious Experience course. The instructor liked my paper a (whole) lot, commented I hadn't developed a couple of points well enough, but then admitted I'd had a limit of "only 15 pages," since she'd specified maximum length in order to deal with many undergrads going on endlessly and aimlessly while in the end saying nothing at all.

The central idea of Wisdom Walking is similar to an alchemist's literal trials to convert base metal into gold; each person's trials, disappointments, struggles, and surprises during their years walking this earth help transmute more base, unhelpful characteristics into refined, polished, traits in service to all creation. I know I complained about the chapters including so much about people's experiences on their own formal pilgrimages, yet a reader can learn how trudging through nature alone or with a group transformed those individuals.

Gil Stafford is an Episcopal priest and therefore Christian. Like many in the general tradition of Anglicanism, he's far from doctrinally orthodox, but open, enquiring, and convinced no single spiritual or religious tradition or practice has the corner of every possible way to connect with the divine. Although I describe my theology as "reformational," I easily relate to paganism, Celtic spirituality, and other ways of being and living that at first glance appear to be more earth-oriented than Christianity does (at first glance). Yet Christianity envisions the possibility and the hope that encourage us to live as co-creators of a new creation. Martin Luther insisted the Divine Presence was everywhere—in, with, and under every blade of grass, each drop of water, grain of sand. I've been informed neither ubiquity nor panentheism quite describes Luther's position, but human words always have limits, and they're probably close enough.

Of necessity the 16th century Reformers emphasized redemption of human creatures, but in time probably would have moved on to emphasizing the integrity of all creation, as many within mainline Christianity now are doing in an urgent attempt to revitalize, reclaim, and resurrect planet earth, not for its utility to humanity, but to celebrate its inherent worthiness and worth. In baptism we participate in the first birth and the rebirth of creation; the Eucharist is a microcosm of all creation fully restored, completely redeemed.

Blog only note: Stafford more than suggests our daily lives need four anchors: prayer; exercise (not necessarily a major workout—walking is excellent); a spiritual companion. That makes three. The fourth might be a practice of yoga, kabbalah, tarot reading, herbs, essential oils... Why four and not the biblical number three? Four compass directions. Four earthly elements. Four arms of the cross. Four gates of the mandala.

My Wisdom Walking ratings: for relevance to where I find myself today, 3 stars. For possibilities I discovered after I got over my initial disappointment and opened my eyes, 5 stars. Average: 4 stars.

You might enjoy Gil Stafford's blog, Peregrini: for those on life's pilgrimage.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from The Speakeasy with no obligation to write a positive review. As always, my opinions are my very own and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My Amazon review: Living as Pilgrims

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Miracles of Jesus :: Jessica LaGrone

Miracles of Jesus Jessica LaGrone, book coverOriginally and/or (maybe) ideally intended for group study, this 6-weeks of weekdays consideration of Jesus of Nazareth's miracles in 30 short chapters was sheer excellence for my individual study at this stage of my journey. I spent about 3 weeks with The Miracles of Jesus; some days I'd study more than one chapter, occasionally skip over a day and not open the book at all.

Classic definition of a true miracle of God probably would be a suspension or even a reversal of humanly expected rules of nature, but trying to describe the divine and subsequently limit God's grace and activity with humanity and the rest of creation has led to far too many unfaithful expressions of biblical religion, so I'll leave it at that.

"Desperate moments" refers to physical, spiritual, social, and/or cultural situations of extreme need. "Cultural?" Yes, of course—had the hosts of the first of Jesus' signs we find in the gospel according to John, the Wedding at Cana, run out of wine, it would have been complete cultural embarrassment and true disaster that would have cascaded down through subsequent generations. (If you're familiar with differences between synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke and the fourth canonical gospel, you probably remember John's community refers not to miracles but to signs human senses can perceive.) "Cultural" of course, because by definition Christianity always is incarnational, embodied within a particular culture. Including yours, including mine, including and encompassing theirs and ours. I love how the author brings in a few of her own experiences related to the miracle under discussion, but rather than making everything about her life and testimony she does it in a way that encourages readers to search their own daily lives, helps a reader trust God's paradoxical activity to meet their needs, as well. I also appreciate her intelligently referencing critical biblical scholarship in a manner that demonstrates the scriptural text itself comes to us in, with, and under the apparent accidentals of daily earthbound life.

Book size and layout is very attractive with plenty of room to write your own notes if you desire. This is part of a series of studies from the United Methodist Church's Abingdon Women, which is almost too bad and very sad, because nothing at all in The Miracles of Jesus is gender-specific, and that information might discourage a few guys from checking it out and benefiting from it. Though I'd be willing to loan out Jessica LaGrone's Miracles of Jesus, I plan to keep this book and work my way through it again. I'd also be open to participating in a group study focused on these chapters. What else? I'm curious about the content of the accompanying video.

my Amazon Review: Outstanding in Every Way

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

winter • february • 2018 • ventures

winter 2018 events list

This summary features the month of February and the meteorological season of Winter—here are my chronicles for December and January. It's time to link up again with Emily P. Freeman's What I Learned in...

porch stories 28 February

Today is Wednesday, so it's Porch Stories. Kristin Hill Taylor's blogging about winter learnings, too.

south central LA February graphic

Railroad tracks around the corner from where I've been staying form the background for my February graphic; my February story includes still learning patience, still learning to wait, still discerning future moves during this meantime. February has meant acknowledging my marginal level of everyday functioning that's nothing to worry about, but serves as a signal a lot's not okay with my current situation. Having explained that, one of the best February surprises has been newly emerged monarch butterflies in the milkweed planters at church. As caterpillars they got very greedy, munching all the milkweed down to bare stalks!

butterfly 04 February butterfly 04 February

Sunday 04 February

butterfly 11 February butterfly 11 February butterfly 11 February

Sunday 11 February – Transfiguration

milkweed monarch butterfly monarch butterflies

Sunday 18 February –Lent 1

Glendale Green Team pictures

The Green Faith Team met again in Glendale during late February mostly to finish planning for the 22 March World Water Day event we're hosting down by the LA River riverside {watch this space!}. I created a scrapbook page to collage my photos; for some reason it's been a long while since kids in the on-campus school displayed their art in the windows, but their bulletin board displays were like scrapbook pages within my scrapbook page.

young. gifted. black. program cover

February is Black History Month. On the last Sunday of February I attended a fabulous Young. Gifted. Black. A Fundraiser Showcasing our Talent Allowing our Young Voice to be Heard to benefit urban kids who'll be traveling to Houston to participate in their denomination's This Changes Everything youth gathering. They insisted, "we are current black history." It was so wonderful words can't describe it; I captured quite a few excellent photos, but don't have permission to use them, so the event program's my only illustration.

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Kristin's porch stories button

Emily P Freeman winter graphic

Friday, February 23, 2018

Star Word 2018 :: Freedom

star word 2018 freedom

2018 is the fourth year in a row I've had a star word to guide me through the months to come. Typically people choose a star word during the season of epiphany in order to reflect and maybe mimic the visitors from the east who reached the young Jesus by following a star. Only Matthew includes that story in his gospel account. Professionally, those magi were stargazers and astrologers who knew sky signs well, so they recognized the bright star that arose at Jesus' birth as a special signal. In 2015 and 2016 someone from Facebook bestowed my star words: grace for 2015; daring in 2016. A Facebook friend suggested faith for 2017 and I ran with that one.

Readers of this blog know I facilitate the mostly Revised Common Lectionary adult Sunday School at my church. When we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany on Sunday 07 January (festival moved to closest Sunday), I told my class about star words and several people chose one.... to live around and trust throughout 2018.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Porch Stories :: January 2018

desert spirit's fire riverside January

porch stories 31 January

Today's the last day of the first calendar month of the new year 2018! Kristin Hill Taylor features a guest porch story from Lauren Sparks, Waiting for Refreshment. As usual, my last porch story of the month is a mostly activities recap; I'm still seriously discerning, still needing to sort out what has worked in the past few years, what hasn't—and maybe even figure out some reasons for both those outcomes.

The Day of Epiphany

Feast of Epiphany 2018

On the thirteenth day of Christmas every year the church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, and then goes on to number and observe Sundays in the season of Epiphany {for however many there will be that all depends on the date of Easter on a given year}. Epiphany especially reveals Jesus as light for all people and all creation everywhere—not only for ethnic, religious, and geographical people like him! Scripture readings bring us images of light and also a series of call stories that remind us of God's call to everyone to live as light to the world. Since 06 January was a Saturday, the church I attend epiphany feasted on the following day. The traditional manger scene still on display provided an opportunity for several of our middle-eastern folks to carry in statues of the magi and place them near the holy family. Scripture is clear they didn't really visit the Bethlehem manger, but having people of a different religion, another ethnicity, a foreign culture follow the Christ child's star to find him is such good theology, who'd not want to claim that vision?

Martin Luther King, Jr., Renewer of Society

Martin Luther King, Jr. program cover

On the afternoon of 14 January, I attended a festive commemoration and celebration of the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr.; the liturgical calendar calls him a "renewer of society." I've included only a picture of the program cover since my photos weren't the best. Sermon title was "What Would MLK Do?" The preacher assured us MLK would have asked, "What Would Jesus Do," because Jesus is our ultimate model and guide.

By the LA Riverside

graffiti by the river Marsh Skate Park
WWD venue Los Angeles River Sign World Water Day venue

In preparation for United Nations World Water Day on 22 March {exactly one month before Earth Day}, our monthly meeting Green Faith Team gathered alongside the LA River to continue planning our third annual WWD event. I got a lot of excellent pictures; I've blogged a sample of graffiti on the way to the park; signage for the skateboard park that came to life later in the day when a bunch of kids came by to enjoy it; two tall pics of the pavilion where we'll meet; and one of many Los Angeles River-related signs. "Our River." We enjoyed a fabulous opening devotional about John Muir and an excellent picnic lunch prepared by one of our team (committee) members. I've used one of my pictures for the January banner on this post.

porch stories button

Friday, January 19, 2018

Meg Salter :: Mind Your Life

Mind Your LIfe book coverBy Meg Salter, Mind Your Life: How Mindfulness Can Build Resilience and Reveal Your Extraordinary on Amazon

For over a dozen years I've been practicing mindfulness meditation on and off and on again. Since relocating to Current City over two years ago, I've practiced more regularly and intentionally because I serendipitously discovered a weekly meditation group. As one of our regular facilitators describes it, mindfulness is "showing up for your own life!" Given my interest, I was more than pleased to acquire Meg Salter's new and fairly comprehensive guidebook that explains some of the history, details varied mindfulness practices, and includes vignettes of regular people whose lives have benefited from practicing mindfulness. You notice I said "practice"—although disciplines such as sports and music include both preliminary practice and an actual exhibition or performance, others – such as prayer and meditation – always are in process and being practiced rather than finished. Mindfulness entails greater awareness of all of a person's emotions, body, and mind in a way that makes the entire person wholly present in that moment rather than lost in a past that's over or lost in a future that hasn't yet arrived.

Besides her engaging explanations of various aspects of mindfulness, Salter suggests actual exercises a person can try out. She assures us achieving more awareness and less anxiety doesn't happen instantly, and she makes achieving moment to moment mindfulness seem entirely possible. One of my facilitators mentioned how some elementary schools now offer mindfulness to the kids—what a great idea!

Page 190 summarizes Mind Your Life: "Congratulations! If you've made it this far, you have all the tools you need to develop your own sustainable mindfulness practice."

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from The Speakeasy with no requirement to write a positive review. As always everywhere, opinions are my own.

my amazon review: excellent resource

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!

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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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