Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review Being Bread

If you are looking for some inspirational reading this spring then you need to read Being Bread by Stephen Muse. Muse is an ordained deacon in the Orthodox Church and is also a licensed pastoral counselor and directs the Pastoral Counselor Training Program and Clinical Services for the D.A and Elizabeth Turner Ministry Resource Center of the Pastoral Institute, Inc. in Columbus, Georgia. Stephen is also the author of numerous books and articles on mental well being and clergy self-care and is a a lecturer and teacher. Needless to say Stephen's own spiritual journey which is fraught with pain and suffering, combined with his many years as a mental health counselor has provided him the background to write this book.

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

Book Review Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian

Preaching is hard. Actually preaching can be downright impossible at times. Ask any pastor and he will tell you that after a while preaching can be an uphill battle. It can also be a joy, but I've found after many years of ministry it's a lot of work trying to create an inspiring, Biblical, clear, and interesting sermon week after week, month after month, and year after year. There are times when I feel like my words are dry as dust. There are other times when I feel like they are seasoned with salt. Several years ago I got into the habit of reading sermon collections. I have a lot of them, I mean, a lot. I figured if I'm surrounded by great preaching by Will Willimon, Walter Brueggemann, William Sloane Coffin, and others how could I go wrong?  But I've found that if I am going to preach the Word of God that I must hear the Word of God too.

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