Thursday, January 28, 2010

Web Resources for Bible Study

Now with the world wide web there are many educational resources available for Bible study. Some of these sites are text based while others are more interactive and allow you to take virtual tours of the Holy Land or search through pictures and maps. Take some time and look through some of these resources, hopefully you will learn something in the process!

If you have a website that you use regularly for Bible study let me know and maybe I'll include it in another post.

Online Bible Study Resources---Sites are linked

Felix Just, SJ is a Jesuit priest in California and has a comprehensive website with many documents for download and links to other sites.

This is an international Catholic association for Bible Study.

OCABS or the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies has both printed and online Bible resources, MP3 files for download, CD Bible commentaries and well as books.

Biblical Archeological Review is a monthly printed magazine

This is an interactive archeological website where you can take a virtual trip through ancient sites throughout the Holy Land. Has a new audio commentary as well.

This is the premiere international Bible association.

Most people do not realize that there are hundreds if not thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible. This site has many pictures and details about some of these wonderful pieces of history.

The Tantur institute is an ecumenical institute in Jerusalem for extended stays.

Bible Places has a lot of still photos of major Bible sites.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Good Reads for Pastors

I hope everyone is having a good 2010. So far it has been uneventful except for the tragedy in Haiti which is just awful. I have a friend who travels back and forth to Haiti and he said that at least six of his good friends have died. Many more are missing. A real tragedy. May God watch over everyone in Haiti as well as their families, especially the caregivers and doctors too.

With a new year comes some new books. I love to read and lately have found some great reads, especially for pastors. I say especially for pastors because many of these books have pastors as main characters and of course struggling with one spiritual issue or another. Some of these books are new and others are older, but they are all good and worth reading. If you have some good books that you are reading right now make sure to send the information to me and I'll post it later in the year. For now here are some of my favorites:

Elizabeth Strout Abide With Me (Random House 2006). Strout, is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge. Abide With Me is a story about a minister raising his two daughters after the death of his wife, a real page turner. Strout also has a key sense for parish life too! A must read.

Andre Dubus: Broken Vessels (Picador, 1999). Together with Anton Chekhov, Gail Godwin, and Frederick Buechner, Dubus is one of my all time favorite authors. In this collection of essays Dubus looks at the brokenness of humanity through the lens of his own brokenness. In the late 1980's Dubus was hurt in a car accident and was forced to live in a wheel chair. He noted that he only understood compassion after he lost the use of his two legs. His other book, Selected Stories is also worth reading.

Gail Godwin Unfinished Desires (Random House, 2010). Godwin is superb. I devoured her other books, Father Melancholy's Daugther and her follow-up book Evensong which are both page turners. Her sentences are beautifully written and most of her books take place in Western North Carolina which is a plus since I am familiar with the area. Unfinished Desires is about stories of life in a Catholic girls school in the 1950's as told through one of the nuns at the school.

Sara Miles Jesus Freak (Wiley, 2010). Miles is journalist and commentator on NPR and the other of Take This Bread which I also enjoyed reading. Here in Jesus Freak Miles continues her story about starting a soup kitchen in San Fransisco and the ins and outs of parish life. Miles is a new Christian, converting as an adult and she writes with verve. A full review will be forthcoming on the blog soon.

Maryilynne Robinson Home (Fararr, Straus, and Giroux, 2008). Robinson, like Godwin, is a writer of strong sentences and use of imagery. Her earlier book, Gilead was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Home is a continuation of the story line in Gilead.

Happy reading everyone!!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Monday Jan. 18 is dedicated to the life and legacy of MLK. He was born on January 15, 1929 and was shot and killed on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN. I grew up knowing very little about MLK, just that he was a great American leader, a pioneer in the equal rights movement, and a genuine human being. I didn't know much about his pastoral work in Montgomery, Alabama or his famous sermons. Everyone has heard bits and pieces of his famous "I have a dream speech" delivered before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, but there are hundreds of inspirational sermons and speeches, many of which are archived online and can be downloaded or found in various anthologies. One of the best anthologies is A Call To Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which I highly recommend.

Last summer I had the chance to visit the King Center in Atlanta. The King Center is part museum, part living history, and part memorial. The museum part has many pictures, television footage, and documents from the King era. There is a room dedicated to Rosa Parks as well as Mohandas Gandi, the one who inspired King in the area of radical peacemaking.

Both Martin and his wife Coretta Scott King are buried next to one another in the center of a large reflecting pool which is very moving. The King center is actually a compound which contains the original Ebeneezer Baptist Church where he preached as well as the King Library and other important places of interest.

I came across King's writings a few years ago while teaching a course in Contemporary Christian Spirituality. I was moved by his deep love of God and fellow human no matter what their race, religion, or background. Most of us learned about King as a political hero, but he was a pastor and the gospel was at the core of his teaching of love, justice, peace, and forgiveness.

Below are some resources to learn more about King's work. If you have time listen to a few of his speeches or sermons, if you don't want to listen, read a few, you will be moved. King was so young, yet so strong. People hated him with a vengence, his life was threatened numerous times and his house was bombed. We all know that his life was cut short on April 4, 1968 when James Earl Ray shot and killed him. A nation mourned his passing, he was only 39 years old leaving behind a wife and four young children.

I hope we never forget the life and legacy of MLK, I for one won't.

Below are a few quotes from MLK for you to reflect on as you go about your day.

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' "

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Resources for the life and legacy of Martin Luther King

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Review: Hidden Holiness by Michael Plekon

I was planning on reviewing this wonderful new book from my friend and author Michael Plekon, but I came across this following review in Commonweal Magazine by Lawrence S. Cunningham, who said what I wanted to say but much better! So here is Larry's review below. Believe me, Hidden Holiness is a great read and would make a great book for Lent or for a parish book club. Enjoy!

Michael Plekon Hidden Holiness (South Bend, IN: The University of Notre Dame Press, 2009) $25.00, 224 pages with pictures.

Michael Plekon’s 2002 book Living Icons was a wonderful survey of saintly men and women—some too little known in the Western Church—who exemplified the deep spirituality of the Eastern Church. Hidden Holiness, drawing again on Orthodox spirituality, but with an ecumenical sweep, discusses the holiness that can be attained by doing ordinary things. In seven meaty chapters, including an ecumenical cast of characters, Plekon searches for the strategies and resources that bring people close to God, for, as he rightly understands, holiness is a fundamental characteristic of God, and everyone else is holy to the degree that he or she is drawn closer to God. Plekon is particularly interested in how this holiness is most frequently hidden, even if he must use sources that are quite well known.

The persons and stories on which he meditates are varied. He writes about the outstanding Orthodox theologians Sergius Bulgakov and Elisabeth Behr-Sigel; about a Dutch victim of the Holocaust, Etty Hillesum; about the Episcopal servant of the poor Sara Miles in San Francisco; and about the wife of an Inuit Orthodox priest, Olga Arsamquq Michael. Of course, the usual suspects, such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, also feature in his pages.

What stands behind Plekon’s approach is his conviction, inspired by the late Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, that the church exists for the “life of the world.” Schmemann resisted the temptation (hardly peculiar to Orthodox believers) to sectarian inwardness. By framing much of his own analysis in terms drawn from the Orthodox tradition, especially from those great figures associated with the Russian Saint Sergius Institute in Paris, Plekon reinforces the judgment of the past two popes that the church must breathe “with two lungs.”

This book is especially recommended to those who are interested in solid work on spirituality but who have little knowledge of the Christian East in general or Russian thought in particular. The best of this thought roots itself in the deepest soil of the Christian life through an engagement with Scripture and the liturgy, while remaining aware of the larger world around it. Plekon helps the uninitiated into this thought with generous notes that highlight works in English.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Down By the Riverside --- The Jordan River

Well, its hard to believe that Christmas has already come and gone, the older I get the faster time flies! That's a scary thought. We still have our tree and decorations up but soon they will come down, put back in their boxes, and stored away in the attic till next December.

Earlier this week, on January 6, we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany or sometimes called Theopany. This is a very big celebration in the Orthodox Church. In the Greek language the name Epiphany means "manifestation" or "revelation" and in terms of this feast we celebrate the revelation of the Trinity in the baptism of Jesus.

During the Epiphany season Orthodox Christians have their home blessed by their parish priest. The priest comes over and celebrates a short prayer service and then goes around room by room sprinkling blessed water throughout the house. It is a very old custom and is done in many traditional Orthodox countries. People also have their cars and animals blessed as well. One year my wife and I were visiting a monastery in upper New York state, it was frigid cold and the nuns asked me to bless their barn. So in we went and I blessed the goats and the sheep, it was noisy in there!

To an outsider this blessing business might seem like a lot of hocus pocus, an act of magic. However, blessing objects like homes, cars, animals, boats and so forth is a reminder that God has given us material things for the good and to use to his glory. We are not making these objects holy or special, but the blessing is for us as a reminder of how good God has been to us.

The following hymn is sung as the priest goes around the house and it is also used during the season of Epiphany in our Church services:

When thou O Lord was baptized in the Jordan
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest
When the voice of the Father bear witness to thee
He called thee his beloved son
And the Spirit in the form of a dove
Has confirmed the truthfulness of his word
O Christ our God who has revealed thy self
And has enlightened the world glory to thee!

The picture above is a shot of the Jordan River. The Jordan River is not a very wide river but it is quite long. It originates in the north of Israel in an area called Caeserea Philipi and then snakes down to the Sea of Galilee and then down south. When our group of pastors went to the Holy Land we stopped along the Jordan River. To our suprise we heard a bunch of loud voices below us under the bridge and what did we see but a group of teenagers taking a rafting trip down the Jordan, go figure!

Happy home blessings!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Book Review: Introverts in the Church

Today is Jan. 2 and it is National Introverts Day, no joke, I actually googled it the other day and low and behold there is a such thing as a day for us introverts. Since today is National Introverts Day I thought I would share some thoughts about a new book that I just read by Adam S McHugh, an ordained Presbyterian minister and spiritual director.

The full title of the book is Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture and for me this subtitle tells the whole story of the book. As introverts (and I am an introvert myself) we live in an extroverted culture where reality TV and the media reign. Today we are more connected to one another through internet, cell phones, Blackberries, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of communication, than we ever were, but I wonder, how deep and real are these relationships? My gut feeling is probably not too deep at all! I laugh when I see people trying to multitask in the store, paying with their credit card and try to carry on a conversation with someone from a place far away.

Introverts in the Church tells the story about how introverts deal with the life of faith. The book is divided into nine chapters and includes an epilogue as well. I couldn't help but underline every other paragraph, because as an introverted pastor I thought I was just plan strange, after all, how can I as a pastor stand up in front of a congregation and preach the gospel, attend parish social functions, and be the talk of the weekly coffee hour? The answer is, I have a hard time doing all of this. Of course the introverted pastor has to compensate since we do have to engage our congregation on many levels, however, the truth is that most of us would rather take a long quiet walk in the woods, curl up and read a good book, or do some other solitude activity like gardening or cooking. I always thought that I was an oddball, I thought that as a pastor I was supposed to enjoy all of these things. Yet after reading Adam's book I realized that I wasn't strange at all, this is how typical introverts feel and act. I wish I knew this back in seminary!

Adam's book is backed up with secondary research and from the long list of endorsements from well known theologians, people such as Lauren Winner and Marva Dawn, and Dan Kimball you know that this book is worthy of reading at least once and perhaps even twice.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to better understand us introverts. Introverts in the Church should certainly be read by seminarians in who are in the ministerial formation process or for new pastors who want to better understand congregational culture.

You can learn more about Adam and his book here at his website ,which of course, is appropriately named Introverted Church