Just have faith. Yea right. Easier said than done. The word faith means trust as in if you trust someone very deeply. Faith is like walking in the dark putting one foot in front of the other hoping that you will keep going forward. Faith is the story of the Israelites wandering around in the desert for forty years not knowing whether or not they'll get the promised land, but they kept going anyway. Faith is tricky. It is also a life-long process too.
In his new book called Believing (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), Eugene Kennedy takes up the mantle of faith and creates an extended essay of sorts on this notion of faith and belief. Kennedy is a professor emeritus from Loyola University in Chicago and the author of over fifty books in psychology and religion and has won many awards as well.
Believing is organized around nine chapters, each taking up a different aspect of faith such as incarnational faith, doubting, creative faith, and faith and life.
After reading this book one is left with more questions than answers, something which Kennedy notes is not a bad thing. A healthy dose of doubt is actually good for us! He warns us about people who think that they have all the answers, they are filled with hubris! Unfortunately the institutional Church, which also comes up from time to time in this book, often does seem to have all the answers to our questions and leaves little room for doubt. Doubt says Kennedy, allows humans to grow and expand and keep asking questions which propels us forward. Doubt is not bad, it just is what it is. He mentions that one of the major problems with the institutional Church is that it has not left enough room for doubters, people like theologians, artists, writers, poets who keep pushing the limits of knowledge. Very often these people are pushed aside and their voices are not heard. Kennedy calls for a new and vigorous support of these people since it is this creativity that is needed now more than ever.
Believing is a book which is short enough to read in a few hours but a book which will make you think for several weeks! It seems when we read the gospels for examples Jesus more often than not does not answer every question but he actually answers by asking a question himself, passing the ball into the inquirers court. If Jesus himself does not answer all questions why should be think different.
If you are interested in faith and the many aspects of it than read Kennedy's new book, you might leave scratching your head in the end and that's okay too, it just shows that you are a thinking person.
For more information about this book click here
Friday, April 19, 2013
Richard Lischer, professor at Duke Divinity School, and former pastor in the Lutheran Church, has recently written a very moving and inspirational memoir Stations of the Heart: Parting With a Son (NY: Knopf, 2013). He writes with candor and honesty revealing the many details of both the life and tragic loss of his son Adam.
We meet Adam in the beginning of the book as he tells his father that his cancer has returned in a simple way by saying, "Hey dad..." and that "Hey dad...." changes everything. It is a "Hey dad..." that no dad wants to hear.
Lischer provides some rich insight into his relationship with Adam as we see vignettes of their relationship from Adam's happy go lucky childhood dealing with a mysterious neurological disorder to his enrolling in law school to his work as a district attorney. The memoir takes the reader back and forth from the present to the past to the present again. We know Adam is going to die in the beginning of the book, yet Lischer shows his readers that this is not just any person, it's his son. Lischer takes us through is PET and MRI scans, to his regular chemo treatments. He even reveals the very intimate details of dying such as the lack of humanity of the dying, the hair loss, the hospital gowns, and yes, the vomiting. After reading Stations of the Heart I really felt, in a small way perhaps, that I knew Adam a bit.
The title of Lischer's memoir is taken from the Stations of the Cross, a regular spiritual prayer ritual used in the Catholic spiritual tradition. Most Catholic churches have the stations of the cross on the walls alongside the interior of the Church building or sometimes in a garden area next to or behind the Church. Parishioners use the Stations of the Cross as a way to follow Jesus during the final moments of his life, from his betrayal all the way through is crucifixion. As a young adult Adam joins the Catholic Church in order to worship with his wife Jennifer and they together do the stations of the cross especially during his terminal illness. The Stations of the Cross become embedded in Richard as he walks the long walk towards the inevitable with Adam. The pain and suffering of Jesus becomes embedded in both Adam and father as they deal with Adams cancer.
I don't want to give to much away. This memoir is rich with emotion yet not sentimental. We see the tragic loss of a son yet we also see how Adam's death forces his father, a professor of theology, to deal with his own faith. As a pastor I have dealt with much suffering in my parish but also in my personal life. I confess that pain, suffering, and death does indeed call to question ones faith in the Almighty God whom we adore and worship. It also reminds us of the rich grace that he continues to pour out on us, like he did with Adam in his final days.
I congratulate Dr. Lischer for writing such a tender book. Surely it must have been cathartic putting on the page very tender and intimate moments of a father's love for his son. Adam's life and death surely changed his parents and his family and in a vicarious way it has changed mine too. I hope it will change yours as well.
For more information about Stations of the Heart click here
To learn more about Dr. Richard Lischer click here
Monday, April 8, 2013
Cozzens is a writer in residence at John Carroll University and has been a guest on NPR as well as Meet the Press. In many ways he is a "pastors pastor" as he served many years in the priesthood, taught college and seminary classes, and has authored several books.
Notes From the Underground is not so much a theology of ministry or of the Church neither is it a textbook. Rather it is what the subtitle states, a sort of journal or series of personal reflections on what the Church has become over the years, especially in the past thirty years or so. Cozzens has seen deep changes in the Church, first the major liturgical and theological changes at Vatican II and more recently the stronger conservative push coming from the Vatican. While this book is aimed more at Catholic audiences, those of us in the Eastern Church would benefit from this book as well. It is not hard reading, but it is certainly thought provoking to say the least.
Cozzens laments the fact that even after the wonderful documents coming from Vatican II such as Sancrosanctum Concilium as well as Lumen Gentium, the Church is still pretty much clerical, authority and power flows from the top down. Yet when one read the Sacred Scriptures as well as the major writings of the Patristic Fathers and Mothers and the Tradition, one finds that the opposite is true, the Church is the entire people of God, not just the bishops or priests, but everyone all together gathered around the Lord's Table.
Notes From the Underground is a prophetic book. He calls into question the lack of pastoral care of bishops and other clergy regarding the recent sexual abuse scandals as well as not listening to the laity. Our parishes are full of wonderful gifted lay men and women whose voices are never heard. No one asks what they think. At one point Cozzens says that the presbyters are supposed to be a "presbyteral council" to the bishop yet the bishop usually never asks what his priests think! So true. While reading this book I kept underlining sentence after sentence as his writing rang true for this reader.
Notes From the Underground is certainly not a feel good book, but it is a good book. It is short but yet it is packed with plenty of food for thought for later reading.
I highly recommend this book to clergy and lay leaders who want to be challenged and to hear a true "voice in the wilderness" aka Father Donald Cozzens.
For more information about this book click here
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
This ancient prayer will help you through your daily walk of faith as you strive to become more faithful in your life.
For more information about this book and to order a copy click here
May we all learn to love both God and neighbor each and every day.
Friday, February 22, 2013
I must say that David Dickinson's new book, The Novel As Church: Preaching to Readers in Contemporary Fiction (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2013) is an entire meal! If you want to learn more about the rhetorical and homiletical nature of key works of fiction and you are interested in theology and ecclesial life then this book is for you. It is certainly not a quick beach read but it does inspire, entertain, and make one want to re-read it again, like a second trip to the dinner buffet.
Dickinson is the Director of the St. Albans Centre for Christian Studies and the minister at the Marlborough Road Methodist Church in St. Albans, UK. This book is the fourth book in the Making of the Christian Imagination Series published by Baylor University Press.
The Novel as Church is intriguing. There are books that focus on the religious and spiritual nature of fiction and there are books which focus on preaching and homiletics and modern culture but to my knowledge there are very few, perhaps none so far which highlight the various and detailed nuances of the interplay between sermons and homilies that are imbedded within works of fiction and the many questions that arise from that such as the interplay between "authorial authority" vis a vis the sermon and the narrative as well as the reasons why the author chose to have the clergy character preach in the first place, the messages derived from the sermons, as well as the other questions that arise from that.
While reading The Novel as Church I was simply amazed at the vast material covered and the analysis that Dickinson provides. This book is not merely a synthesis of modern works of fiction and the role that clergy/pastors/priests play, but Dickinson really attempts to get at the many layers involved in having sermons in fiction in the first place and what role this plays in the spiritual life, in the relationship between Church and culture, as well as what the clergy characters reveal about spirituality today.
Ever since reading Douglas Alan Walrath's book Displacing the Divine: The Minister As Mirror in American Fiction I have been keenly interested in clergy characters in fiction, especially modern fiction, of which there are many. Walrath's thesis is that across the centuries the "clergy character" reflects or serves as a foil or mirror of the society at large and how society envisions the Church. Yet Dickinson goes further because not only does he look at the roles of the clergy characters but in particular what role and function the sermon plays. He looks at some key works of fiction such as Geraldine Brooks' novel The Year of Wonder, Michael Addritti's saga Easter as well as others such as Jeanette Winterson's book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, as well as the many books by John Updike. I found myself taking notes here and there highlighting works of fiction that I certainly have to read, and read soon!
I could easily write more about this book, but I hope that the reader find out on their own. If you are a pastor who enjoys fiction and culture then this book is for you. If you are a faculty member who teaches preaching and homiletics and want to learn more about the rhetorical and homiletical value of fiction then this book is for you. If you are just interested in the spirituality of modern fiction then this book is for you.
For more information about The Novel as Church: Preaching to Readers in Contemporary Fiction click here
Friday, February 8, 2013
Saying goodbye is a hard thing to do. Saying goodbye to a child when they leave for college is hard. Saying goodbye to a son or daughter who gets married and starts their own life is hard. Saying goodbye to a friend or loved one who died is hard. And saying goodbye to a parish when you are the pastor is hard. But thanks to the new book by Mary C. Lindberg, leaving a parish might be a little easier. Her knew book The Graceful Exit: A Pastor's Journey from Good-bye to Hello was recently published by the Alban Institute and is a wonderful resource for pastors who are transitioning from either full time ministry to retirement or from full time ministry in one parish to another parish or into some other form of ministry.
The book is a combination of personal narrative as well as well as stories of colleagues who have made these difficult decisions to leave ministry. Pastors are given special access to peoples lives. We visit them in the hospital. We visit them in their homes. We baptize their babies. We bury their dead. We marry them. We walk with them in their walk of faith. Leaving all of that must be terrible difficult. I have never left a parish before so I cannot speak of experience but I have had my own personal leavings of jobs and work and that is also traumatic at times.
Lindberg offers pastors a resource as to how we can better navigate and negotiate these leavings. The book is divided into three parts: The Good Good-bye, The Long Good-bye, and from Good-bye to Hello. Each chapter includes some questions for reflection which I found very helpful. The book is very short at only a little over a hundred pages, you can read it in a few hours. However if you read slowly and actually consider the points for reflection then this book is more of a work book rather than a book that you read once and put down. I encourage pastors to read through this book once quickly and then go back, with a journal in hand in the book in another and actually go through these questions. Even though I am not leaving parish ministry some of the questions for reflection are very enlightening and helpful, especially the ones which deal with lost hopes and fears, with "things left undone" as well as projects and plans which never got off the ground.
One thing pastors have to understand is that when you leave a parish their is grieving that will take place. Your grieving. The grieving of your parishioners. The grieving of your own family. The Graceful Exit will help in this process.
After reading The Graceful Exit I was very grateful to Mary Lindberg for writing this book. However, she now needs to write a complimentary volume on the The Graceful Entrance How Pastors Begin Ministry because so much is left unsaid about how pastors begin their new ministry and enter into a community of faith, how congregations welcome them, and how families can better navigate these issues too!
Kudos to Mary Lindberg for writing such a practical and pastoral book for us pastors out here.
For more information about The Graceful Exit click here
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Kaya Oakes' new book, Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2012) is a story of leaving and finding, of searching and finding and of faithlessness and hope. While reading Oakes memoir I kept on thinking of Mary Karr's Lit or Nora Gallagher's Resurrection both which deal with similar themes and issues, and both of whom are extremely honest about the Church.
While reading Radical Reinvention we learn that Oakes, like thousands if not millions of people is a "lapsed Catholic." As a pastor I have met many lapsed Catholics, Orthodox, Methodists, and on and on and on. It's really not that uncommon these days for apples to fall from the tree and roll down the hill, and if lucky, to maybe roll back closer to the tree again. Oakes was raised in a Oakland in an Irish Catholic family. Her family of origin sounds very colorful to say the least and while reading I wish she included more of her mother's and father's background and personality. However when writing memoir authors must navigate between the personal and the private.
Yet late in life, during her adult years Oakes finds her way back to the Church. She finds that running away from God can be a difficult thing, just read the book of Jonah or the beginning of Jeremiah if you want some insight! Needless to say she returns to a Church which is unlike her Church of origins. With the reforms of Vatican II and some very pastoral priests she finds her home again. Not only does she join the RCIA group in her parish but she also goes on a short Ignatian Spiritual retreat as well as make a pilgrimage to Italy. She even joins a "pray and bitch" group at Church, all women who spend time in prayer, fellowship, and bitching. I've heard of stitch and bitch groups before but not this type of group.
Oakes has a great writing style. She speaks to the average Joe or Jane, taking time to explain theological terms like creed, confession, retreats, communion, and so forth. Her self-deprecating humor is hillarious and I caught myself laughing out loud in my office especially the stories about her father and grandfather's "theological cursing" --- I'll leave it at that and let the reader find out later!
I was also saddened though because Oakes is very truthful and honest about her return, not is all wonderful. While on the one hand her parish priest is open and welcoming and warm and she meets some hospitable parishioners and even joins a 5am Food Bank outreach program, she also finds a Church that is still in the 19th or even 17th century to say the least. She includes thoughts about ordained ministry, bishops, and gender issues along the way. Yet somehow her faith transcends those issues and she still realizes that the Church is bigger than her. That Jesus called her back home.
I am glad that Oakes wrote this book, although I must say I was mad that I didn't find it sooner! I hope that other "lapsed anybody" will, as St. Augustine heard from the heavens, "take and read" Radical Reinvention. You won't be disappointed. I also hope that clergy read this book too. Some may have a knee-jerk reaction and want to throw it away perhaps, but her insight into the younger generation (Generation Xer's and Millenials) and their thoughts about theology, parish life, and the Church is important. If anything it will make a priest stop and think for a while, which of course is a good thing!
For more information about Radical Reinvention click here
To visit Kaya's website click here