Tuesday, September 27, 2016
The volume of essays is titled: Questions Preachers Ask: Essays in Honor of Thomas G. Long edited by Scott Black Johnston, Ted A. Smith, and Lenora Tubbs Tisdale (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2016).
If you want to learn more about the current state of preaching than look no further than this book. The book is divided into five major sections:
Changing Congregational Contexts
Church and Culture
The eleven chapters are organized around specific questions that have been asked of preachers today. Of all the essays I enjoyed the third section the most: Changing Congregational Contexts.
This section was the most interesting I think because the Church today, and all aspects of Church life today, are going through monumental shifts: lover Sunday attendance, decrease of financial offerings, shifting trends in full time ministry, differing expectations of parish life from older generations and millennials, changing the way we train and form future pastors, the list goes on and one. Then of course there is the rise of the "Nones" as the recent Pew Research report has stated, the rise of people who say that they have no religious affiliation at all. Richard Lischer's contribution, Prophesy to the Bones was a very insightful essay: what do you say to a parish and Church body that is indeed dying, yet it too needs to hear the Word of God? How do you preach to a congregational that sees the writing not the wall but is not completely dead yet? How do you preach the Good News to a parish who only has Bad News? I think a lot of pastors would benefit from this chapter alone!
Actually ALL preachers would benefit from reading Questions Preachers Ask. Even a well seasoned pastor who has preached for a long time needs to hear the Word of God fresh again and what a better way than to read a wonderful inspirational collection of sermons from some top notch practitioners in the field? Actually, one should not just read Questions Preachers Ask but also return to the writings of Rev. Tom Long. His magnum opus, Witness to Preaching is now in its 3rd edition, perhaps you can re-read that one again? Or maybe turn to his other books and articles in order to get some fresh words about The Word again? I know I do.
While I never had Rev. Long as a teacher and only heard him preach one time I want to re-read his books as a way to learn how I can preach better, preach deeper, and preach more truthfully and honestly. I commend the editors and Westminster John Knox press for publishing such a volume. Kudos!
For more information about Questions Preachers Ask click here
For more information about Rev. Tom Long click here
Thursday, September 22, 2016
2002) which recalls his time as a Lutheran pastor in a small town. Lischer is a preacher's preacher, teaching preaching and homiletics at Duke for 37 years. He will be retiring at the end of the Spring 2017 semester.
This volume of essays is a tribute to Prof. Lischer's long and industrious career. The seventeen essays are from former students and colleagues as well as from a diverse Christian spectrum. Each touch on an important aspect of the proclaimed word, and highlight Prof. Lischer's contribution to the field of homiletics. This is not a dry academic assortment of essays which one often finds in volumes such as these. Some of the essays such as Profs. Stanley Hauerwas and Ellen Davis include not just an essay but sermons as well. As I was reading I thought what a wonderful way to honor a professor of homiletics than by including a few sermons too!
The essays include a wide variety of topics: preaching the Old Testament, social justice and the gospel, the gospel and spirituals, the gospel in the public arena, as well as others.
While some books of essays are arranged topically, this one is not, it would be very hard to do so, given the wide variety and range. Yet they all do share a common thread; every Sunday human preachers with human words help make the Word real and alive for people in the pews, and we do this Sunday after Sunday, year after year, season after season, and it's hard work. However, this work, according to Richard Lischer is not a burden, but a blessing, since we know in the Gospel of John that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. After reading Preaching Gospel I have a lot of gratitude for Prof. Lischer and all of his labors. I never heard Richard Lischer preach in person nor did I have him as a teacher, but I do know that after reading this volume of essays, as well as his own writings and sermons, that I have gained a lot for doing so, and for this I am grateful.
I congratulate the editors who put together this volume of essays and I commend and congratulate Prof. Lischer for his long teaching career. It has born fruit and we are all grateful for that.
For more information about Preaching Gospel: Essays in Honor of Richard Lischer click here
Friday, April 22, 2016
Josh Packard, together with his research assistant Ashleigh Hope have written a short but very good book on the "Dones" as they call them, folks who are done with Church. This is a play on the recent Pew Religion report that speak about the new wave of Millennials and Gen-X'ers who say that they have no religious affiliation. The media have labeled them the "Nones."
Dr. Packard is a professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and co-director of the Social Research Lab. Ms. Hope is a graduate student at Vanderbilt University and one of Dr. Packard's former students.
Packard and Hope focus their attention on the Dones, the people who were once very faithful, very generous with their time, talent, and treasure, but as the word says, are "done" with Church. At least done with the institutional Church. These are the folks who attended prayer meetings and Bible studies, folks who volunteered for committees and worked with youth groups, but for numerous reasons are done with their local parishes and congregations and done with the institutional Church. These are not overly angry people are bitter, but they are tired of either being yelled at, scolded, or cajoled by clergy and lay leaders. They are tired of giving endlessly yet not being appreciated or affirmed. I guess many of these people are burned out on Church, at least with some aspects of Church life.
A short book review cannot delve into the numerous details which this book provides. However every pastor in ministry needs to read this book since it highlights many reasons why folks leave. Some of which are:
1. Not being valued by their pastors and lay leaders.
2. Being scolded about their Church attendance or lack of giving (One person said that they were even called up years after they left their congregation and the Church was soliciting a donation from them!!!)
3. Being overworked
4. Not being listened to
5. Being scolded and judged
There are more reasons too, but these are the basic ones.
While reading this book I felt sad, sad for those who left, sad of the good things that could have been done if these people stayed.
One would hope that both pastors and lay leaders, seminary faculty and national Church boards could read Church Refugees and learn something. We cannot fix everything that is broken, so much which is broken is systemic to institutional life in general, but we can, take a few helpful hints from Church Refugees and at least be a place of generosity and welcome, a place where folks can find the balm of Gilead and find both holiness and wholeness.
I congratulate Dr. Packard and Ms. Hope for conducting this research and for writing such a fine book. I hope clergy will read it and take heed. There are still folks in our pews and parishes who maybe are on their way to being done with Church, but their not done yet, at least not for now.
For more information about Church Refugees click here
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Yet don't let an ongoing debate fool you. Yes Jo Page is a minister. Yes this book deals with the ups and downs, trials and tribulations of a woman pastor. Yes this book has a dress on the cover. And yes, this book is worth reading, especially if you are a pastor and have been one for a long time.
For years Jo Page has served various Lutheran parishes in upstate New York. She has an MFA from the University of Virginia and is a regular contributor to the Albany Times Union newspaper.
Preaching in My Yes Dress provides the reader with short vignettes from her life. We see her a young girl who grows up Catholic to a woman who seeks ordination in the Lutheran Church, to a woman and mom of two young girls trying to navigate the pastoral life and still maintain a normal family at home.
I found her life to be intriguing since she is not one of the many pastors who think they have the "God-thing" settled, as in a deep certitude. No. Jo Page is a pastor with a healthy amount of doubt, even questioning why she became a pastor in the first place. One of the funniest chapters is when she meets a mom at a band concert at her daughter's school. Here we see two women, two Christians, yet so very apart from one another, one a woman pastor who is trying to live authentically and a mom who seems to know it all, I found myself chuckling out loud because I have met plenty of people like this in my life. These are the folks who has God in a box.
While Jo Page is a fine writer and the book is worth reading I kept wondering why she didn't go deeper into her own life? I felt that she skimmed the surface a bit, providing some details but keeping the rest of her life hidden. I wanted to know more about why she became a pastor, I wanted to know more about her marriage and why she got divorced, I wanted to know more about her struggles in the parish and at seminary. I realize that she probably wanted to protect her former husband and former parishioners but one can do this and at the same time provide some background and context to her life. One of my writing teachers always said that one has to dig deep into the marrow of life, allowing the pain and darkness to reach the surface. I thought Ms. Page could have gone deeper at parts.
If you are interested in the ups and downs of a parish minister then this book is for you.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
The Cities That Built the Bible (Harper One, 2016) provides the reader with a tour of the important locations that are not only mentioned in the Scriptures but that helped form and shaped the Judeo-Christian texts, namely the Old and New Testaments. The author, Robert R. Cargill is an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and is the author of several books and many articles on various aspects of the early Christian world.
This book is not a dry boring historical book about ancient cities but a lively almost modern tour through the various locations that are important to the Bible: Nineveh, Babylon, Rome, Alexandria, Athens, Jerusalem, and others just to name a few. Cargill is a great tour guide as he gently leads his readers through the cities, villages, and towns that are important to Sacred Scripture. However, one of the most important things in the book is the historical and cultural world in which the Bible was written. In the opening pages he discusses the various deities, the gods and goddesses mentioned in the Old Testament and where they came from. He also mentions the many languages and language groups that helped shape and form ancient Hebrew and Greek as well as the land and the people from which the Bible was written and whose texts were read.
While reading this book I came across numerous factoids such as the following: that in the entire book of Jonah, we only have one statement from Jonah himself, the rest of the book is about Jonah, but not Jonah's words like we have in Isaiah or Ezekiel for example. While I've read the Book of Jonah many times the fact that Jonah only has one line in the entire four chapters surprised me. Now I'll have to go back and read the entire thing again in a new light.
If you are a serious student of Sacred Scripture and you want to know more about the culture, religion, and politics of the ancient Middle East and don't know where to turn, then go out and get a copy of The Cities That Built the Bible, not only will you learn something, you will certainly want to learn more. Cargill includes a lengthy Bibliography for those who want to dig deep into the sands of time to learn more about the people who wrote these very important texts. He also includes both color and black and white pictures of key places mentioned in the book and which are a very nice addition.
For more information about Prof. Cargill click here
For more information about The Cities That Built the Bible click here
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Being Bread is a collection of articles which Stephen wrote for his local newspaper in Columbus as well as articles and talks that he has given in previous venues. Since this book is not a full narrative you can pick it up and at any point find some gems worth reading. The chapter titles alone should tell you something about the book:
Shark Tooth Grace
Pascha in July
Birds on a Wire
Rose of Sharing
Gurus, Stars, and Superheroes
I had the chance to meet Stephen only briefly on two occasions but his warmth, sense of humor, and most importantly, his humanity shines through this book. The theme that connects the chapters is the theme of bread. In the Divine Liturgy we are given the broken bread of Christ and we are given it so that we can become bread for others or as St. John Chrysostom said that we are to live the liturgy after the Liturgy. At the end of the Liturgy we are sent out to do the work of Christ, to be His hands and feet and to share our bread which we have been given with the rest of the world. Our bread multiplies too, while reading the various chapters I kept thinking of Jesus' miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. This miracle is found in all four gospels and in Matthew's version there are 12 baskets of leftovers, not only did Jesus feed the 5,000 but there was an abundance of bread for later. Jesus gives us so much and yet there is still more!
Being Bread is a quick read, mostly because Stephen is a good writer. Each story flows nicely and is appropriate for the subject matter. One could easily read two or three stories at a time and put the book down for later. The stories end with some questions for reflection which can be used for a small group discussion or for some quality spiritual journaling time. I plan on going back and using the questions for my own journaling time, thinking and ruminating over how I can become bread for others and to be grateful for the bread that I have been given.
Reading this book has reminded me that God is so generous with us that he gives us much more than we need, He gives it so that we can share our abundance with others and even have some leftovers for later.
For more information about Being Bread click here
To read an interview with Stephen Muse on the Eastern Christian Book Blog click here
Saturday, February 13, 2016
The latest sermon collection that has reached my desk is Martin Copenhaver's new book Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2015). If you are a pastor and have never heard of Copenhaver before take a few minutes and look him up online. He is a wonderful writer and storyteller and my hunch is that he's a good preacher in person as he is on the page. Copenhaver has written and co-authored a few books the most recent one Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered (Abingdon, 2014).
In Room to Grow Martin manages to weave together the Biblical narrative at hand with meaningful stories that bring the gospel to life. The writing flows like a river flowing down stream and I found myself turning page. As a writer I know full well how hard this can be but Copenhaver makes it feel effortless. I often felt like I was sitting in a pew listening to him. Many pastors simply provide an exegesis of the Biblical text thinking that this is a sermon but as one of my seminary professors of Scripture reminded us that the exegesis takes place Monday through Friday, but the sermon on Sunday is not exegesis. I couldn't agree more.
The meditations run the gamut from Psalms, Exodus, Isaiah, Matthew, as well as numerous letters from Paul and also from Acts and Revelation. The book is not organized around a specific theme or themes and neither does it follow the Church year but it is a selection of reflections on how we as sheep can follow the Good Shepherd.
If you are interested in digging deep into the Christian life and thinking about how you can live a life of faith than take and read Room to Grow, hopefully you too will grow into the image and likeness of Christ.
For more information about Room to Grow click here