Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pre-publication comments

I just wanted to share some nice pre-publication comments about my new book. I am looking forward to it's publication in September 2012.

"Fr Alexander Schmemann was a man of tremendous theological and pastoral gifts, with uncanny insight into the world and church. In his writing, preaching and teaching he brought theology and life together in a Eucharistic approach that continues to question, critique, inspire and renew. Fr Mills shows convincingly that Schmemann’s work can be seen as pastoral theology. But in doing so, Mills has also beautifully introduced Schmemann to a new generation of Christian readers."

V. Rev. John A. Jillions

Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America

Associate Professor of Theology, Andrei Sheptytsky Institute

Ottawa, Canada

Alexander Schmemann continues to be a major voice in liturgical theology. He guided us back to liturgy as the "first" or "primary" source of theology and his work on Baptism and the Eucharist are required reading in liturgy courses. William Mills has another "first" in this discerning study--of Schmemann as an important voice in pastoral theology... Mills systematically yet very beautifully reveals another side of this great theologian of our time-- that of a wise and caring pastor.”

Rev. Michael Plekon
Professor, Sociology/Anthropology, Program in Religion & Culture
Baruch College, City University of New York
Associate, St Gregory the Theologian Orthodox Church, Wappingers Falls NY

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Review A Land More Kind Than Home

Once in a while I find a book that I can't simply put down. It is rare though and when I do find a book like that I just have to share it with friends and family. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash is one such book.

Cash is a professor of creative writing at Bethany College in West Virginia and this is his first book.

As many of you know most of the books reviewed on this blog fall under the realm of Christian theology or general spirituality and I don't recall whether or not I reviewed a work of fiction lately.

This book is literally a page turner (note: I read it in one day, getting up to get myself a cup of coffee a few times!) as Cash tells a tale of old time country Christian religion combined with murder, mayhem, and mystery. Rather than rely on a single narrator A Land More Kind Than Home has several; an older Church lady, the sheriff, and a young boy. The shift of narrator is refreshing allowing the reader to receive the information via various viewpoints which I enjoyed very much.

One of the main characters in the book is Pastor Chambliss, a man so mean you want to hate, hit, and run out of town. A man so full of evil and darkness that I was reminded of Woody Allen's famous quote, "If Jesus came back today and saw what was done in his name he would keep vomitting and never stop!" I agree. Take this passage for example:

I'd seen people I'd known just about my whole life pick up snakes and drink poison, hold fire to their faces just to see if it would burn them. Holy people too. God fearing folks that hadn't ever acted like that a day in their lives. But Chambliss convinced them it was safe to challenge the will of God. He made them think it was all right to take that dare if they believed. And just about the whole lot of them said, "Here I am, Lord. Come and take me if you mind to it. I'm ready if you are." (page 3)

The story gets better and once it gets going it doesn't stop. The last three or four pages are so beautiful that I underlined most of them and will go back and re-read them again and again and I assume some of this will come out in a sermon or two or maybe three! Unfortunately the truth of the gospel message gets lost on Pastor Chambliss and his ignorant flock, people who follow without discerning the Spirit of God and more unfortunately there are too many pastors today like Pastor Chambliss who preach and teach a similar message. And that's the scary part, that this type of teaching is still around. A teaching of secrecy, of signs, and miracles together with lies and hate and evil.

Cash tells a tall tale with superb narration. The Carolina country twang and dialogue is just enough without overdoing it and the characters are well rounded and real. There is a bit too much backstory on some of them, especially the older Church lady Adelaide which takes away a bit from the story, or at least provides a detour or two.

It is hard to believe that this is Cash's first novel, I cannot wait to read the second!

For all you pastors and priests and Church people go out and buy a copy of A Land More Kind Than Home you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Time of Pentecost

This is the Pentecost season for the Church. Those of us in the East celebrated it this past Sunday and those in the Western Church celebrated it a few Sunday's ago.

It is very easy to look around and see all the bad things that are happening in the Church, the lack of leadership, low memberships, even lower income (!!), lack of interest in Church activities, abuse of power and authority, shall I go on? You get the point.

Yet when you look again you also see some very good things happening. Babies are baptized, new members find God and join, people repent and change, in short, life goes on.

Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the world. The Spirit is the life-giver who inspires, encourages, leads, and draws all of us together.

Let's try to live by the Spirit this Pentecost season and see all the good things that are happening around us.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Review The Best of Will Willimon

This Spring has been a wonderful time for reading and if you skimmed a few of my recent blog posts you'll see that the reading list is theologically diverse from Yves Congar to NT Wright to Rowan Williams to Will Willimon!

Earlier this Spring I reviewed Bishop Willimon's other new book called Bishop: The Art of Questioning Authority by an Authority in Question which you can read if you click here. Therefore I am not going to repeat the introductory material about Bishop Willimon and his ministry which you can read in my earlier posting.

His other new book this Spring is called The Best of Will Willimon: Acting Up in Jesus' Name (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2012). This book is unlike his other monographs which deal with one particular theme such as preaching, vocation, or the role of the episcopate. Rather this book is a collection of short chapters on various themes which have interested Bishop Willimon. Some of the various topics are:

Good News
Following Jesus
The Church and the World

I'm not sure if these selections are from Bishop Willimon's blog which he regularly updates or if they are from his numerous books or essays. From a reading standpoint I wish the publisher included either a note or some information where these particular writings are from so that I can read the rest of them since I have a few of Willimon's books sitting on my shelf in my office. Needless to say I was drawn to his thoughts about pastoring, preaching, and of course following Jesus.

I was not disappointed either. Willimon has a pointed style, he draws you in with humor and then zaps you with the gospel message! I love it. Many pastors and bishops are not only good preachers but writers as well, since they are all servants of the Word; here I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloane Coffin, Frederick Buechner, Walter Brueggeman, and of course Will Willimon. Take the following for example:

"Sorry if you prefer your God to come at you in an exclusively spiritual, inflated, pale blue and fuzzy vagueness, hermetically sealed from where you actually live. In Jesus, divinity and humanity embrace." (p. 5)

or this one....

"Without humor, a bishop would be an insufferable bore, a district superintendent could be dangerous, and a pastor would be in a perpetual state of depression due to the state of the Church." (p. 164).

There are many more such poignant passages in this book. I caught myself laughing at several of them, especially ones about pastors, we are a messed up bunch and he knows it. The problem is that pastors don't know it and we walk around thinking that we know everything there is to know about the Church, humility seems to go out the door.

The Best of Will Willimon is not just a "greatest hits" type collection but a book that can be used as a daily devotional of sorts, taking one section per day and using it for reflection or journaling, or perhaps if it is read by a pastor for their clergy group. I also wish the publisher included a "Questions for Discussion" section or some questions for reflection as a way to get deeper into the chapters.

The wider Church is suffering from many things; dwindling membership, lack of funding, lack of vision, poor leadership, misuse of funds, but the Church is also grateful that there are prophets and preachers like Bishop Willimon and others who are faithful in their ministry which continues to feed and nourish us along our path to the Kingdom.