Thursday, November 28, 2013
If you are a pastor and need inspiration for preaching than look no further. Cornelius Plantinga Jr has just written an excellent easy to read book about "reading" for preaching, hence its name Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013)
This book is a must read for preachers. It is not really a how to manual but a series of thoughtful reflections on reading and literature. Basically Plantinga encourages preachers to read wide and deeply and to read all the time. Too often pastors are very busy, we have meetings, reports to write, sermons to prepare, parishioners to visit, and meetings to attend. Then of course they have their families to attend to as well as their own personal time. Many pastors complain that there is no time to read. However Plantinga says that even if you read five or six good books a year is better than nothing.
For more information about Reading for Preaching click here
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Most folks can't take 30 days away at a retreat hour or cabin in the woods, so why not take a retreat with you. Each chapter has a series of "Food for Thought" questions for you to contemplate and think about.
Click here to order the Kindle version of A 30 Day Retreat
Friday, November 1, 2013
If we take the gospel and our faith seriously then we will certainly talk about death and mortality and sickness and suffering. It's a part of the human condition and central in the gospel too. Jesus warns his disciples that eventually he will be arrested, put on trial, mocked, and finally crucified. Yet they too, like us, don't want to talk about that, it's too dark and gruesome. Give us more life they say. Talk about the flowers of the field and the birds of the air, anything but death!
If you want to learn more about death, grief, suffering, and community care then you must read The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox, 2013). Written by two very well known authors, Thomas Long who serves as the Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta and Thomas Lynch a longtime funeral director and author of many essays, poems, and memoir. I have been lucky enough to have read some of Long and Lynch's previous work which I enjoyed very much so I was looking forward to reading there new co-authored book. This book is really full of wisdom, humor, and God honest truth about the world and culture of the funeral industry as well as caring for the grieving.
The Good Funeral really deserves a longer review which cannot be done here in this blog post but needless to say if you are a pastor or a layperson who wants to learn more about funerals and having a good death then read this book. Both Long and Lynch are insiders. They are not afraid to speak the truth about how we as a society have lost touch with death. While reading this book I was thinking about my grandparents and great-grandparents generation and how death must have been so prevalent in their world, especially during the times of World War I and World War II where many families were touched by death due to wars but also to sickness: the Spanish flu, pneumonia, typhoid, premature child death, heart attacks, and so forth. I can imagine that in small towns and villages death was very common, not to mention of course the death of farm animals in the more rural areas. This is contrasted of course with our modern culture where I have met many adults who well into their 30's have gone to maybe one or two funerals in their entire lives! Seventy years ago the odds would have been very different.
If anything The Good Funeral might start good conversations in our parishes and congregations about living wills, end of life issues, planning ones funeral and so forth. This book may give pastors a door way into a very hot and often "avoided" topic in parish life. A few years ago a parishioner who was a lawyer and I gave an evening presentation at our parish about end of life issues and caring for the dead. People were very open to this sort of thing. They wanted to learn some of the ins and outs of the funeral service and funeral planning as well as how to obtain a living will and regular will. They wanted to learn more about helping the grieving and mourning. Hopefully The Good Death will spawn more conversations like the one we had in our parish about death.
For more information about The Good Funeral click here
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
His latest book Holy Luck (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's Publishing, 2013) is Peterson's newest contribution and it is a collection of poems. I cannot believe that Peterson still, after all of his years in teaching and parish ministry still has the stamina and the mind to keep creating.
Holy Luck is not a big book, its rather small at around 90 pages and is organized around three major parts: Holy Luck, The Rustling Grass, and Smooth Stones (Occasional poems). However, these poems are very much like prayers, short, reflective and meditative stanzas that deal with life, death, growing up, death, marriage, and the Church. One could read a few at at time, close the book and spend the rest of the day thinking about them. Poetry for me is a breath of fresh air, bringing new insights to the human condition. Below are just a few that spoke to me as I read them:
The pale winter sun slants
Across my iced mind
And promises a future thaw.
Four horses thunder through the storm
Of sin's hot hail
And splash apocalyptic colors
On my white-washed sepulcher.
Baptismal rains release blossom
Bursting shrubs and trees
From a cemetery winter
Into a resurrection spring.
Charismatic colors claim the earth.
Every fruit branch swings a censer
Through the air
Floating smells of praise.
Jesse's roots, composted with carcasses
Of dove and lamb, parchments of ox and goat,
Centuries of dried up prayers and bloody
Sacrifice, now bear me gospel fruit.
David's branch fed on kosher soil
Blossoms a messianic flower, and then
Ripen into a kingdom crop, conserving
The fragrance and warmth of spring for winter use.
Holy Spirit, shake our family tree;
Release your ripened fruit to our outstretched arms.
I'd like to see my children sink their teeth
Into promised land pomegranates
And Canaan grapes, bushel gifts of God,
While I skip a grace rope to a Christ tune.
If you like these there are plenty more. Most of his poems are rather short, only about a page or so but they are very beautiful. Poets are lovers of words and since Peterson is both a pastor and a writer he is a lover of words about The Word and how the Word can be expressed in words!
For more information about Holy Luck click here
Saturday, October 19, 2013
I recently came across the poetry of RS Thomas. I was reading a book about parochial ministry in England in which the author quoted several of Thomas' poems on the priesthood. I liked these poems because they focused on the challenges and doubts of pastors. After reading a few of his poems in this book I wanted to read more, so I purchased his Collected Poems 1945-2000 and was not disappointed. Many of his poems deal with farmers, day laborers, technology, and modernism, especially as it pertains to Wales where lived and ministered. However, many of his poems focus on the Church, Christ, ministry, parish life, and vocation. His poems are often dark and full of doubt sometimes bordering on despair. I felt drawn to Thomas because like him I am also a minister and have a small parish. While I do not live in the Welsh countryside I do live in a slightly rural area and enjoy the outdoors. Like Thomas I also question the problem of evil in this world, the interplay between faith and doubt, and the problems of the ministry.
Bloodaxe Books recently published a new collection of Thomas' poems called RS Thomas Uncollected Poems edited by Tony Brown and Jason Walford Davies. There are several volumes of Thomas' poetry that have already been published, a volume entitled Collected Poems 1945-1990 as well as a later edition of collected poems called Collected Later Poems 1988-2000. There are also individual compilations of his poems as well. Now we have a volume of previously uncollected poems that first appeared in magazines, journals, or magazines and now appear here together in this handsome volume.
These one hundred and seventy eight poems are arranged chronologically. The editors included a handy bibliography in the back of the book for readers who want to know where these poems first appeared. Like with his other books Thomas draws upon several religious and spiritual themes as we see in the poems below:
Llanddewi Brefi (1948)
One day this summer I will got to Llanddewi
And buy a cottage and stand at the door
In the long evenings, watching the moor
Where the sheep pasture and the shadows fall
Thick as swathes under the sun's blade.
And there I will see somewhere beyond the wall
Of the old church the moles lifting the ground,
And think of the saint's cunning and how he stood
Preaching to the people from his secret mound,
A head's breadth above them, and they silently around.
Sick Child (1993)
We prayed hard;
we believed true.
All I remember
is fair hair, blue
eyes, looking at us
We held hands.
He remained dumb,
the would-be conductor.
current was switched on.
We buried her smiling.
Coming True (1979)
Not God, but a feeling of belonging
all places. The water at the Poles
circulates in us as the light does
from the Great Bear. We remember
the future as we anticipate
the past. We watch the weevil
at work as we do the hand
of a great sculptor. We are at home
with violence, but sallying
forth we find ourselves under
a serene sky. We fly our experiments
in the sun's face and the wax does
not melt. The universe is
our parish, and each of us
in his own church with an altar
waiting for the sacrifice of the superstition.
After reading most of his poems now I can see that Thomas did not have an easy faith. His ministry in a small farming village in Wales with its harsh seasons and climate provided the backdrop for his writing ministry. His faith is the faith of Thomas in the Gospel of John a skeptic and doubter. He does not have a quiet faith, but a complex and complicated faith which wrestles with truth, justice, and modernism, very much like Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis. I can imagine Thomas standing at the altar in his parish Church early on a Sunday morning shaking his fist at God demanding answers to his questions!
However, like with most collections these poems are of uneven quality. Most artists create a substantive amount of work but not all of it is noteworthy or of the same value. Needless to say fans and readers of RS Thomas need to purchase a copy of this new volume of Uncollected Poems to round out their collection of Thomas' poetry. The front cover is also very beautiful showing Thomas' family above and then two pictures of him below, one younger dressed in his clerical attire and then one of him in a suit.
RS Thomas' Uncollected Poems is distributed by Dufour Editions in the United States.
For more information about RS Thomas and his books click here
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Sermons From the National Cathedral: Soundings For the Journey is a collection of sermons by Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III the former Dean of the Cathedral. His picture is on the cover which itself is simply gorgeous. He is standing in the pulpit which we are told in the book was a gift from the trustees of the Canterbury Cathedral in England. I learned that Lloyd was not only the Dean of the Cathedral but after a few years decided, after much prayer and reflection, that he was called back to parish life. He is now the priest in charge of Trinity Church in Boston. Ironically he served at Holy Trinity Church before going to the National Cathedral, so in many ways he returned back to his roots. Just that simple fact of saying no to the deanship and all that it entails; prestige, notoriety, media attention, and influence should tell us a lot about this pastor already. It takes a lot of humility and meekness to turn down a gig like being the Dean of a major cathedral, not just any cathedral but the National Cathedral!
Lloyd's humility comes through on the printed page as well. These are perhaps a selection of hundreds of sermons which he must have delivered and I assume these are probably the better ones or maybe ones that reflect his overarching pastoral ministry. The collection is divided into three parts: Reflections on Faith, Events and Issues, and The Church Year.
As someone who is both a full time pastor and preacher as well as writer I know full well how hard it is, seemingly impossible at times, to offer a word of hope, encouragement, and inspiration on a weekly basis. There are times when I feel high and dry yet I need to muster up a word about The Word to my congregation. Reading these sermons was an act of lectio divina for me, or slow divine or meditative reading. Sermons are not read like a novel or the front page of the newspaper. Rather, sermons are like poems or prayers. After reading each sermon I took a while and reflected on the words, images, and stories that he told. Serving as the dean of a major cathedral was probably very time consuming and his days were very busy, yet I was surprised at the sheer amount of poems, quotes, and anecdotes that were included in many of his homilies which is a testimony that even a dean of a cathedral still finds time to read and reflect, feeding his own soul so that he can feed others.
I do not have a favorite sermon or story but I did like the sermons in the first part the best. They seemed more immediate, more timely than the others somehow.
If you are a pastor and in need of some inspiration or a serious Christian who likes to read and reflect upon Scripture than look no further than Sermons From the National Cathedral. You won't be disappointed.
For more information about Sermons From the National Cathedral: Soundings for the Journey click here
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Without Apology is a breath of fresh air. As a longtime pastor and preacher I find myself digging in the same well of Scripture week after week. After a while I wonder how I can preach on this same text, especially Mark's story about Jesus' driving the pigs into the Sea of Galilee or Jesus' parable about the sower. I enjoy reading various sermon collections not only for their content but also how the preacher weaves his or her sermon together; to see how they understand a particular text. I read sermons to be fed too because even pastors need to be fed and nourished on the Word of God. We need to be reminded of our common calling as disciples.
Without Apology is a small book and when it came in the mail I said to myself, "This is it? Maybe there's a volume two coming soon?" But I was wrong. There is no volume two. This small book packs a punch. My mother always said good things come in small packages and a lot of good things come through in this smallish sermon collection.
The sermons are divided into five parts. The first two parts are the particular places where the sermons were preached; at Holy Family parish in Chapel Hill, NC and in Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, TN. The other three parts are sermons given at particular occasions such as sermons on the priesthood which were delivered at ordinations or during installations of a new pastor to a parish. The other part are sermons that deal with certain topics like repentance and so forth.
Since I am a parish priest and have worked in the Lord's Vineyard for a while I enjoyed his sermons on the priesthood the most. In his sermons on the priesthood he speaks about the priest working together with the people since we are all members of one another. It is all to often that parishes think that their priest is their hired hand, it's his job to "do the ministry" not ours. However that thinking is simply wrong. Jesus is our sole high priest who invites us to join his priesthood, the priesthood of all believers. Some of us are set apart or ordained to engage in more specific or intentional ministry such as preaching, teaching, and providing pastoral care. The Vineyard is often overgrown with weeds and needs pruning from time to time. There are times for planting and sowing and reaping. More often than not the work is boring, long, and often thankless. Yet we continue. We strive on. We push ahead. Sometimes we wonder whether or not there is an end to al of this since most of what we do is a "work in progress." Ministry is really never finished I guess. Stanley's sermons on the priesthood have kept me going these past few weeks. I thank him for it.
If you are looking for some "pearls of wisdom" to help your preaching or are a longtime fan of Stanley's and want to read more of his work than look no further. His new book Without Apology: Sermons for Christ's Church is just what you need.
For more information about Without Apology: Sermons for Christ's Church click here