Friday, May 11, 2012

Mom Thoughts

I love Timothy Egan's writing. His book, The Worst Hard Time, is a remarkable portrayal of the Dust Bowl. This piece from the NY Times tugged at me. My maternal grandmother was born on May 11, 1906. She was a feisty person who loved baseball, politics and good food. My mother did, too. New Yorkers both, my mother and grandmother were passionate women with twinkly eyes and no shortage of opinions on a variety of topics. I was raised by both women and most days, I am the better for having been the recipient of so much love and spunk and wisdom. If apples don't fall far from trees, I am an apple. I am their kin. I am my grandmother and my mother. It has been thirty five years since I've lived in New York. I've been very influenced by the decade I lived in North Carolina and the nearly two decades that I've lived in the Midwest. I still talk fast and walk quickly, but I am a softer version of my New York matriarchs. Over the years, people important to me who did not know my family of origin have called me "fiercely loyal" and "intellectually honest." I treasure those labels because I value what they stand for and they link me with my foremothers, because they were, too. I like that. Timothy Eagan writes that our mothers are the "scrapbooks of our enthusiasms." I like that, too. And I am grateful that, though it has been thirty years since my grandmother's death and only four since my mom's, I am the scrapbook of theirs.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Crafting a Rule of Life: A review

Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way
Stephen A. Macchia
InterVarsity Press, 2012
Reviewed for the Englewood Review of Books

I am devouring books on Benedictine practices like they're ice cream flavors at my local store. As one who has explored oblate programs affiliated with Benedictine orders, I am enthusiastic about every opportunity to learn more about the Rule of St. Benedict and the myriad options to put into daily practice the simple, beautiful, practical guidance the Rule offers for the living of our days. Crafting a Rule of Life provides wisdom, guidance, resources galore and beautiful thoughts about living one's faith with integrity, but only provides one of those tiny, pink sample spoon tastes of Benedictine thought.

Crafting a Rule of Life is a very orderly work. Divided into twelve session for groups or individuals, the cover proclaims it to be a "contemporary approach to St. Benedict's Rule." Indeed, there are wonderful suggestions for crafting a rule for a communal way of life, but the bulk of the book is geared toward the personal and only makes passing reference to St. Benedict as it seeks to offer signposts to spiritual reflection and invites some deeper diving into what it means to live one's faith.

Part one, which composes the first five sessions for study, invites us to frame our personal rule of life. Wonderful questions about primary relationships, gifts and talents, desires, longings and core values, a sense of vision and mission are all strong chapters with thoughtful framing questions that would work well in a group or individual study session. One of the strengths of Macchia's book is his ability to weave in a wide array of quotations and references from classic to contemporary theologians, providing a fascinating assortment of conversation starters, sermon illustrations or simply offering food for thought that is nourishing and satisfying.

Part two is entitled "Forming Your Personal Rule of Life." These next five chapters offer clear and practical ways to prioritize one's sense of personal time, trust, temple (meaning physical), financial (treasure), and missional (talent) strategies. Again, while there are only fleeting tastes of commentary about Benedictine thought, there's not shortage of reflection offered from others. Most especially, each lesson has a strong bible study which might prove to be the most effective and interesting part of either a group or individual study. Macchia's style is not overly formal, but it is thorough and detailed. Any middle of the road to conservative theologian would find much food for thought and guidance in these lessons.

Part three is a two chapter section called "Fulfilling Your Personal Rule of Life" and invited the reader or student to commit oneself (or recommit) to a local congregation. Macchia approaches this section with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, gently reminding the reader of the vitality of faith that springs from being connected to and active within a local congregation. So many studies appeal to the reader's individualism and personal journey, but Macchia is thoughtful and consistent in balancing the ten sessions on crafting a personal rule with strong presentations on community life and spiritual practice within the body of Christ.

The final section of the book offers four examples of individuals who have crafted personal rules of life. They're interesting to read, but I imagine that it would be even more interesting to take up this study with a group of friends and acquaintances, with the resulting deepened relationships providing the whipped cream on the sundae.

Macchia's book will be very helpful to individuals and groups who are looking for a study that accomplishes several things in a very balanced way. In Crafting a Rule of Life, students will find probing questions, solid biblical reflection, a really good guide to reformed church history, and a few sprinkles of Benedictine thought. It's easy to imagine Crafting a Rule of Life serving as a wonderful study for those new to the Christian faith or for those who would like to know their own Christian faith more intimately. Easy to read, clearly organized and perfectly adaptable to a variety of settings, Crafting a Rule of Life would be an effective adult education study, seasonal endeavor, or personal exercise in pausing to organize one's thoughts and feelings around a central calling from God. While it provides a taste of Benedictine thought, the Rule of St. Benedict is not the featured flavor of the month. Instead, it is a quiet, historic partner in the background and is accompanied by other classic and traditional flavors meant to provide accompaniment for a modern person of faith's journey.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sally at Eternal Echoes offers this Friday Five:
OK I'll admit it, right now I am exhausted, there is so much going on and so much to do that I fell like I am running around in small circles, add to that the fact that there is so much that I'd like to do ....

What I need to do is give myself permission (make myself) to stop and to refocus, to breath the air and smell the roses to get perspective and to rest in God's presence, and sometimes that can be hard to achieve but I know that the harder it gets, the more essential it becomes. Somewhere deep inside I hear the Spirit whispering to my soul:

Live in me, make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself, but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined to me... (John 15: 4)

So I want to ask you

1. How do you intentionally make a vital daily connection with God? What roots you and gives you life?
I use the Book of Common Worship and pray the lectionary. It's been my practice for the past nine years. I find it fruitful. I also take a daily walk, not always at the same time or in the same place. I find this fruitful, too.

2. Do you have a favourite space/ place that you go to?
For sedentary praying, I can be found in my office. For the walking prayer, I'm all over the neighborhood.
3. Is there a particular passage, phrase or prayer that brings you immediately into God's presence?
Psalm 46:10.
4. Music- essential ingredient or distraction- discuss
Sometimes essential, if that makes sense. I often pray with music in the background, but sometimes appreciate silence.
5. Silence and solitude or engagement with like minded others?
Yes, and yes. I guess I'm an eclectic connector.
Bonus, a poem, piece of inspirational prose or music that speaks to you of that vital connection...
Wendell Berry's sabbath poems.

a marathon versus a sprint

It's all about patience and perseverance and hanging onto hope, I think.
And by "it", I mean life.
I've got nothing very shiny and new here,only a reminder to myself, I suppose, that while our culture seems to delight in things that are swift and shiny and not terribly demanding,life is anything but that. Life is messy,not simple, and the healthy responses to life often take time and patience and endurance and hope.

The past few months have been filled with lots and lots of pastoral care issues that are not going to resolve themselves with rapid and complete healing. They are the marathons of life, the long, slow runs that have hills and water stations set too far apart. They are the mountain climbing expeditions, replete with switchbacks and shaky footing and some rock slides.

In the past few months I've been called to work with some congregations that have slowly been fading because of their inability to cope with change in and around them, and now they're looking for help in the form of instant answers and quick fixes, of which there are few to none. It reminds me of folks who talk about instant weight loss to combat weight that took years to put on.

I'm in the midst of reading One Hundred Names for Lovee by Diane Ackerman, a writer whose work I've long admired. No stranger to the endurance road of relationship with a partner with chronic health conditions, Ackerman is a great guide for those who are called to accompany loved ones, parishoners, friends or neighbors on their marathon excursions. She writes that as she learned more about her spouse's diagnosis, she "grasped the implications well enough to half extinguish hope."

I'm also in the midst of reading Diana Butler Bass' new book, Christianity After Religion as I get ready for an upcoming meeting with the Book Group that Fills My Heart With Joy. I'm only a little way into this book, but like Ackerman, Bass writes with her usual straightforwardness of the realities of mainline Protestant congregations in the 21st century. Perhaps as religion "ebbs away" as Butler describes, we will be willing to run the long race in ways that make sense for the times in which we live.

The vibrant congregation I serve is forging some new pathways, fully recognizing that traditional responses really don't fit new situations. It's taking time, but we're working on patiently providing a variety of entry points for life and programming at the church so that mission and ministry can have some sprinty moments along with the marathon ones. More important, though, are the changes that are taking place so that we can discover new ways to humbly make a difference by truly living the gospel. In this I find the energy that fuels the marathon.

Image from here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Five: Lateness

My friend Jan at Yearning for God writes:

"All day I have looked repeatedly at RevGals to see where today's Friday Five is. . . . AND only right now, at 2 pm in Texas, do I realize I am the one in charge! I am sorry I am so late and forgetful.

That brings forth all the times I've been late or forgot something. How about you?

When have you been late or a no-show? When have you forgotten something or someone?"

1. at church:
I'm feeling anxious just thinking about this. I really detest being late or a no-show.
I can't think of a time, but people are probably too kind to remind me.
My stomach hurts just imagining it.
2. at home:
I'm late more often than I'd care to admit. I think it has something to do with #1....
3. at work:
Well, for me work is church. So, see #1.
4. with friends: I'm behind on all sorts of contact with friends. #1.
(You're catching on, aren't you?)
5. ? where else? I think I'm pretty prompt and on the ball when it comes to my kids.
(Oh, dear. I wonder if this is some kind of a quiz about priorities.
If time is a treasure, then this certainly reveals where my heart is.
Feeling rather indicted....)

The White Rabbit from here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Emptiness Antidote: Friday Five

Today's prompt from the RevGals is this: What do you do when you feel empty of all creativity and unable to make/do anything? This is a completely open question, the only rule is name 5 things that fill/ inspire you.

I read. A lot. I love to read poetry to fill my cup (Dickinson, Oliver, Berry and more). I love to read blogs(A Church for Starving Artists and Marge's Next Meal come to mind).I love to read magazines (this one and this one and this one are some of my favorites.

I am energized by walking.

I am energized by a cup of tea with good friends and colleagues.

My creativity is sparked by being with others.

I am energized by listening to or being directed to videos of my second born child's musical interests. A person of eclectic musical taste, SBC inspires me all the time, without even meaning to!

Walking image from here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oh, Lent.

I received an e-mail from a friend from a congregation I served some years ago.

"I get it!" my friend wrote. "I finally get why you said you liked Lent/Easter more than Easter."
I don't remember saying that, but I'm sure somewhere along the line I talked (and talked and talked and talked) about taking the journey to the cross and what that adds to one's Easter joy.

I'm glad my friend feels like she's off to an enriching start to the Lenten season.
I feel as though I've been living in Lent for such a long time.
Months and months and months of Lent.

I have felt penitential, somber and sad for what feels like forever. I know of God's grace. I feel sheltered by God's love. I can even convincingly proclaim the Good News.

I think I'm tired as much as anything else.
Nothing new there, either.

Oh, Lent. Help me find a wellspring in this desert.