Saturday, April 18, 2015

Book Review: Wearing God

There is a common saying that goes, "You shouldn't judge a book by it's cover." I admit if I saw this book on a store shelf I would most likely not pick it up. I'm not quite sure I understand the connection between the flying birds and the woman in the middle. However, that being said, I was intrigued by the title: Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (Harper One, 2015) 

I was first introduced to Laura Winner's writing when she published When Girl Meets God. I've read a few of her other books and was interested in what she has to say about vocation, God, the Church, and our life in Christ. She is a professor at Duke Divinity School and has published many books on the spiritual life.

The Bible is full of metaphors. When we read the gospels for example we read that Jesus refers to himself as a vine, as a shepherd taking care of his sheep, as the bread of life. These metaphors are so common sometimes we tend to glance over them and don't realize their power. We don't spend time with each metaphor and say to ourselves, "Gee how is Jesus like a shepherd for me?" or "How is Jesus like a vine and I'm one of the branches." Metaphors are powerful for they put the indescribable into something tangible and real for us. They make what is ethereal and put them into a concrete image so that we can better understand the meaning of the text.

 Winner's aim in this book is to unpack some of the major metaphors in the Bible that speak of Jesus and God. She delineates her topics into a few sections:



Bread and Vine 

Laboring Women 



Of course there are additional metaphors that she could have included but the book would have been over five hundred pages! The Bible is full of wonderful metaphors but one cannot write about all of them in a book like this.

Winner is a fine writer. She writes as if she is sitting with you over a cup of coffee or tea, explaining the meaning of these metaphors to us. She has a casual tone, a result of many years preaching and teaching seminary students. Throughout the book she includes several quotations from major writers, both modern and ancient, as well as prayers and hymns from the liturgical year. A few of these would have been fine, however I did get distracted with the over abundance of them. Sometimes less is more. Yet throughout the book I did pause and read the quotations allowing them to speak to me as well.

Two of them caught my eye:

"In every culture, clothing not only is utilitarian but also symbolizes a person's or group's identity." Sarah A Chase

"The Lord Jesus Christ himself…is said to be the clothing of the saints." Origen

I never thought about clothing as identity. One day I may wear blue jeans and another day I may wear my khaki pants and polo shirt. Yet how many people wear uniforms to work, police officers, fire men, postal workers, janitors. When I see a UPS man in his brown shirt and pants I know immediately that he is a UPS man without having to see the sign on the truck.

If anything, Wearing God will help the reader return back to the Bible again and take a slow read, allowing the metaphors unpack their meaning. I found that all too often I read the Bible too quickly and miss some of the major points!

If you are interested in reading more about some of the metaphors that speak about our life in Christ than Wearing God is a book for you.

For more information about Wearing God click here 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann

I came across the writings of Walter Brueggemann several years ago and I'm so happy that I did! Brueggemann is a committed Christian, pastor, and for many years served as the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. I enjoy his writings because they have both depth and breadth and while he has a scholar eyes and mind he also has a pastors' heart. I rank Brueggemann up there with Eugene Peterson, Fred Craddock, Thomas Long, among others.

When I saw his second volume of collected sermons I knew that I had to review it. A few years ago I read and reviewed the first volume of sermons and the second volume, very much like the first, doesn't disappoint.

As a longtime pastor I have found that I need to fill up my wells so that I can continue in my preaching and teaching ministry. It's certainly challenging to preach sermons week after week, month after month, season after season for many years. It can be downright tiring. However, I need to continually read, study, and pray the Scriptures as well as read books like this collection of sermons. It is food for the journey. If you're a pastor or a teacher in the Church I encourage you to read this collection too, you won't be disappointed.

The sermon collection is arranged according to the Church Year:

Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany 

Lent and Easter 

Pentecost and Ordinary Time 

What I like about Brueggemann is that since he knows the cultural and religious world view of the Old Testament he brings that to light in his preaching. His sermons weave both the Scriptural as well as personal as he finds no problem mentioning a book, movie, or personal anecdote as we would a story about King David or Abraham. The Old Testament comes to life in his sermons and while reading one could just imagine Adam or Eve just walking into the room. I don't get a chance to hear many preachers because I have a parish myself, however I hear from some folks that too many sermons are like dry bones, dusty and old, stories told and re-told without much imagination from the preacher. However, Brueggemann is far from dry, these dry dusty bones come to life as he refashions them into the life-giving story of God's salvation for us in Jesus.

If you want a book that will feed heart, mind, and spirit then look no further than Walter Brueggemann's Second Volume of Sermons, you'll be happy that you did!

Since reading this book I have read several other of his books too, his books on the prophets for example is excellent. I hope you will find Brueggemann as inspiring as I have!

For more information about the sermon collection click here 

For Walter Brueggemann's Website click here 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: Torah to the Gentiles

Children usually think that bigger is better; Joey has a bigger bike than Johnny, Suzy has a better doll house than Mary, Cade has a larger tree house than Jackson. However I was taught as a child not to judge a book by its cover, or size for that matter. Some of the most important pieces of writing were not long at all, here I think of the Magna Carta, Luther's 95 Theses, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation.  Short pieces of writing but extremely important. The same pertains to the Scriptures. Paul's letter to the Galatians is very short at 6 chapters but extremely important and essential for faithful followers of Christ to fully understand not only what the gospel means but how we are to live together as one body of Christ in the Spirit.

Fr. Marc Boulos is the pastor of St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church (OCA) in Eagan, MN and the co-host of The Bible as Literature podcast.

I applaud Fr. Boulos for his recent contribution for our understanding of perhaps Paul's most important letter in his corpus, the epistle to the Galatians. Boulos' many years as a pastor, teacher, and preacher, together with his pastoral experience has provided him the language to translate Paul's teachings on how we must live according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It might be easy to discount this small book, but good things come in small packages. The introduction and conclusion are worth the price of the book for in them Boulos lays out the practical implications of living as one body; living by the rule of love, "Learning how to love is like learning to swim. It requires endless practice in the real world-endless hours in the pool-dealing with the primary data. In the case of love, this data is the wisdom gained from the shame of the cross." (p. 123). It is the crucified Christ which draws Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, into one body. Although we all know that living as one body is not easy, yet it is the command of love that is the glue that binds us together.

The book is divided into six chapters, each chapter includes both the original Greek and English so the reader can see both. What is important about this book is that Boulos uses "scripture to interpret scripture." In other words unlike some biblical commentaries that has various "theological lenses" in which they view the text Boulos uses the ancient teaching technique of using the scriptures to unlock the meaning of the scriptural text in which he is using. While reading Torah to the Gentiles I immediately thought that this would be an excellent resource for a Bible study or small book study since it includes both the scriptural text as well as commentary.

Paul is not an easy read. Most people prefer the gospels since they are straight narratives with characters, plot, setting, and drama. Paul's letters are dense as he primarily uses Graeco-Roman religious, military, and legal language in his argument and after a while many people stop reading Paul because they don't "get it." Yet Boulos takes this dense language and unpacks it, allowing the reader insight into Paul's writing itself. This is not an easy task, yet Boulos manages to do it with ease.

If you want a basic introductory to Paul's "epistle of epistles" then go out and buy yourself a copy of Torah to the Gentiles. No. Buy a few copies, give them to your pastor and to your local prayer group or Bible study. You won't be disappointed.

For more information about Fr. Boulos and his parish click here 

For more information about OCABS Press click here 

To purchase a copy of the book click here 

For an interview with Fr. Boulos click here 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Review: Yoked Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry

I've been a pastor for while now and it's challenging enough having a parish AND a family. Thankfully my parish isn't too big but there are times when I feel torn between parish responsibilities and also supporting my family, especially regarding my daughter's school and sports activities.

However, my wife is not a pastor, she is a school teacher. She has her own friends and her own life apart from our parish. I cannot fathom how difficult the stresses, strains, challenges, and choices that need to be made in a clergy couple family, a family where both spouses serve as pastors. I don't have any clergy couple friends either so I do not know first-hand what life is like for them, but now, after reading Andrew and Mihee's book Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2014) I have some insight. After reading this book I thought, wow, there is no way I could do what they do!

This book is a wonderful resource for couples who either are already in ministry or who are contemplating having a joint ministry. It's also good reading for any pastor in ministry since many of the stories which Andrew and Mihee include are apropos to ministry in general.

Yoked is divided into ten easy to read chapters:

Church on Sundays 

What is nice about this book is that for each chapter both Andrew and Mihee made their own contributions rather than one person writing one chapter and then alternating them. Thus we get their combined insights into the various parts of parish ministry. To make matters even more complicated they are in a mixed race marriage Mihee is Korean-American and has her own cultural, racial, lingual, and sociological background to bring into the mix. They also have three children too. After reading a few pages I kept thinking to myself, how do they manage with all of the responsibilities and challenges of parish ministry.

Without going into too much detail I can say that at the end, after all is said and done the reader comes away with a radical honest and truthful confession about how pastors struggle with their personal faults and foibles, with negotiating marriage and child-rearing, and the difficulty and joys of parish life. Much of what they say does not just reflect the life of a two pastor family but is really applicable to every pastor; the need for sabbath and rest, the need for connection and community, and the need for established boundaries.

I commend Andrew and Mihee for writing this book and hope that other pastors, whether they are married to a pastor or not will read this book and learn something from it.

For more information about Yoked click here 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: A Life of Daring Simplicity

Once in a while a book comes along that is interesting, out of the ordinary. I read a lot of books on the priesthood, on pastoral care, and ministry so I'm quite familiar with the terrain. Recently Liturgical Press published a book by Michael A. Becker called A Life of Daring Simplicity: Daily Devotions on the Priesthood (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014). 

This book is identical to the many Year in the Life Books that are published, A Year in the Life with Thomas Merton or a Year in the Life of Dorothy Day. Each day devoted to a saying or quotation from a particular person. This book is basically a years worth of daily devotions for priests. Each day opens with a short scripture verse, a selection from numerous contemporary and ancient authors, and then a very short prayer or reflection.

I really wanted to enjoy this book. The cover is inviting and the topic is a great one especially for people like me who are pastors. Yet I found the book very uneven. Becker draws upon a variety of writers such as Pope Francis, Saint Pope John Paul II, and the former Pope Benedict as he does others such as Thomas Merton and Gordon Lathrop.  I didn't count but it seemed like at least sixty to seventy percent of the daily devotions were from Cardinal Bernadin, Pope John II and Benedict. I only counted two or three from Gordon Lathrop a very well known liturgical pastoral theologian, and maybe two or three from Thomas Merton. There were two from John Chrysostom and then a few others.

Yet within the Christian Tradition, both ancient and modern, Catholic and non Catholic are a whole host of wonderful sayings from so many other writers that could have been included but were not: Ignatius of Antioch, Gregory the Great, Augustine, Frank Senn, Eugene Peterson, Will Willimon, and others. They have wonderful insights and sayings about pastoral care which pastors would enjoy reading. Perhaps this is a book that Liturgical Press could put together for the future.

For more information about this book click here 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: Resilient Ministry

Once in a while  book comes across my desk that I know I have to read. Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told us About Surviving and Thriving (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2013)  is one of those books. This is a book that all pastors both young and old need to read, especially those who are coming right out of seminary. It is that good, trust me.

The co-authors: Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie are well seasoned pastors and academics in the field of ministry and are well equipped to publish a book such as this. Resilient Ministry is chock full of information about the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of pastoral ministry. As I read through it the first time I knew that at some point I'd have to return again and re-read key sections as well as use the questions included in each chapter as key points for my journaling time.

The book originated out of the Pastors Summit which was a series of conferences on the life of the minister and his family. Included in the back of the book are a series of appendices such as research methods, questions, and various checklists that were used. It is great information since some of the information can be used by the reader such as creating your own Genogram as well as various checklists about emotions and other best practice type things.

Resilient Ministry is not a quick read. I generally read fast but I found that the organization of the book requires slow meditative reading especially since the authors include many quotations from pastors themselves about the parish life, the pastor and his family, and the challenges and choices that we make in congregational life. As a pastor who has served a single parish for fifteen years I really enjoyed reading many of these comments since so many of them validated either what I have experienced myself for what some of my co-pastors have experienced. These quotations stirred up a lot of memories for me, many that were not so good!

The book is organized into fifteen short chapters many of which are based on various themes such as: pastoral formation, self care of the pastor, marriage and family life, and leadership issues.  I found each chapter engaging, informative and really solid. As I was reading I thought, "Where was this book when I graduated seminary, I could have used it!" Alas, I realize that things come to us when we need them. I guess Resilient Ministry was meant for me now as I passed through my own desert experiences questioning my own vocation as a pastor. Not only have I survived but through the course of the years I've learned how to thrive.

I highly recommend Resilient Ministry for pastors who want to not only survive but thrive.

For more information about Resilient Ministry click here 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review Eager to Love

Father Richard Rohr is one of my recently favorite authors. A friend of mine suggested that I read two of his previous books, Immortal Diamond and Falling Upward. I read both in two days! They are great books for personal reflection, small group discussion, and for sermons. So when I saw his latest offering, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media, 2014) I knew I had to read it too.

Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and the director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico as well as the author of over twenty books on Christian spirituality. Do yourself a favor and if you have not read anything by Father Rohr yet go out and get a few books, you won't be disappointed.

Eager to Love certainly does not disappoint. In the every-so-noisy world in which we live it's hard to hear God's small gentle voice. Father Rohr recommend that we listen to God's voice in the Bible (this is always the best place to start!) but also through the words of St. Francis.

Eager to Love is not a biography of Francis. You are more than welcome to read one of those on your own. However the book is a primer on what I guess we could call Franciscan spirituality a spirituality of poverty of spirit and of continual love. The book is divided into thirteen chapters which are not too long as well as two appendices. Each chapter includes teachings of St. Francis as well as some good stories by Father Rohr. I found myself underlining almost every other sentence so I can go back and re-read and reflect on it for future sermons and teachings in the parish.

The sub title of the book is also meaningful since it is "the alternative way" of Francis. Francis was a reformer and in many ways a revolutionary and a reactionary towards what he considered an abomination of the institutional Church with all its money, materialism, power, control, and authority. Francis reminded folks that the Jesus way was the humble way, the poor way, the way of the neighbor and unconditional love and support. Many folks called Francis a fool because he walked around Assisi begging and wearing simple clothes and preaching a gospel of peace while the wealthy bishops and priests lived in mansions and ate gourmet food! Ironically in many ways the Church has not changed much. That is perhaps one of the reasons why the new pope, Pope Francis, is beloved by many, because he is a simple man who seems to live the life of Francis while at the same time serving as the spiritual head of the Catholic Church.

I've never met Father Rohr but judging from his simple writing style, singular thematic approach to the subject, and story telling abilities he must be a good preacher too! The one thing that shines throughout Eager to Love is the continual calling to question what it means to follow Jesus, especially those of us who are pastors. It's too easy to get sucked into the ways of the institutional Church that are often sinful and not worthy of Jesus. We fall into the trap of success in the eyes of the world (butts in the pews, bucks, and budgets) rather than on success in the eyes of God (love, mercy, and forgiveness). We tend to focus on rules rather than on love, on the proper protocol versus the person who stands right in front of us.

I could go on and on about Eager to Love, but I won't. I'll let you, the reader, see for yourself how the ancient words of a crazy foolish vagabond named Francis changed the Church and hopefully will help change us.

Go out and get yourself a copy of Eager to Love!

For more information about Eager to Love click here 

For more information about the Center for Action and Contemplation click here