Sunday, June 26, 2011

Coming Soon--Encountering Jesus in the Gospels!!!

I am finishing up last minute touches on my latest book, Encountering Jesus in the Gospels, a book that I have been wanting to write for some time now. Many people have a very narrow or limited view of Jesus' life and ministry. When reading the gospels we encounter many different very diverse images of Jesus:

Jesus the Wanderer

Jesus the Friend of the Poor

Jesus the Bread

Jesus the Prophet

Jesus the Teacher

Jesus the Light

Jesus the Son of God

as well as many others. This small little book will hopefully help people get a more well rounded vision of Jesus' teaching, preaching, and ministry. Each section will also include a Food for Thought series of questions for small group discussion, personal reflection, and/or journaling.

The book will be available towards the end of the Summer.

Keep an eye out for it on and I will be updating you from time to time on the publication date.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Need Some Summer Spiritual Reading????

Are you down in the dumps?

Do you need some spiritual renewal?

Do you need direction?

Are you spiritually tired?

If you find yourself down in the dumps and need some spiritual renewal this summer I recommend Our Father: A Prayer for Christian Living. I wrote this book several years ago as a way to introduce lay people to the message of the Lord's Prayer. The chapters are very short and easy to read. Each chapter includes a Food for Thought section where the reader can stop and take a few moments and reflect on several key questions about the Lord's Prayer. If you want to learn more about the Lord's Prayer and Christian discipleship pick up a copy of Our Father: A Prayer for Christian Living today!

Many people have found this book helpful on their spiritual journey and hopefully so will you.

Buy one for yourself, for your pastor, and for a friend!!!! Pass the word around too!!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Author Interview: Bishop Seraphim of Sendai

My friend Bishop Seraphim, former bishop of Sendai in Japan just wrote a lovely new book called A Life Together which I reviewed here on this blog a few weeks ago. Here is an author interview, enjoy!!!

Tell us why you wrote this book:

This book A Life Together: Wisdom of Community from the Christian East began with a talk in Moscow and with a British man from BP actually who was present asking if I would consider writing more on the idea of 'sobornost' because (himself a member of a renewal community in Britain) it seemed important to him... So began to my way which is rather recursive...or perhaps it is as Ingmar Bergman says one throws a spear as far into the forest as one can and then goes and finds it. I tend to write in paragraphs circling the topic and then draw them together. This has analogy to the 'centuries' of St Maximus or of course the Temple of Thomas Traherne. But I have gotten into mechanics... as to why? It is my little offering to the Church, might be an answer...? To try to suggest ways forward...ways of elan and even a little romanticism (Chesterton and Merton and Lax were romantics werent they) to the extent that I could... ways of hope in the work of the Spirit...And of course what I might have to offer includes my being a Christian of the Eastern Orthodox tradition and my experience in life and so on...

2. What about your own background led you to the writing of this book?

Well the subject of sobornost is of a meditation of unity, sobornost being a Russian word whose root means 'gathering'. I am an American and for years I served in Japan and then returned to the United States where I live now. But my deepest experience of community perhaps came in visits to Russia beginning in 1994 and contact with disciples and spiritual heirs of Fr Alexander Men. Fr Men was a great leader of renewal of life and mission in the church at the end of the Soviet period, who baptized many thousands, wrote many books, and had an ever widening ministry through lectures and the media cut short by his assassination in 1990. However these works, including house meetings and all sorts of ministries to the poor,to prisoners, to youth and so on continue in the Church through those who learned from him...and with these people I felt a very deep sense of community and I have remained in contact with and sharing in this work until now...however paradoxical it may be, myself an American separated usually by many miles and also speaking little Russian and so on. But this experience and other experiences of community, and of what the theologian Antoine Arjakowsky calls 'the ecumenism of friendship' form a background for my feeling that the mystery of the church is indeed the mystery of community, and that the meditation of it and the opening out of the experience and reality of deep community and unity in Christ is ongoing in the Church and is something to which we are called...

3.For whom was the book written—was there a particular audience you had in mind?

I did not, and would not, conceive the appropriate readership to be narrowly limited. Of course the subject of community, or of sobornost, can be of particular interest to people interested in the Eastern Church, as to sobornost, or in the new communities. But also when we speak of unity we must start with inner unity, which is something which all people need, and all of us are involved with others in in the interweave of relationswhich is the ground of community. Certainly any Christian who takes seriously John 17 where the Lord says that the unity of the disciples can be and ought be of the order of that of the persons of the Trinity, will find it important to consider where we stand now, so many years after that high priestly prayer and after Pentecost and how this sort of depth of unity still comes to us as a call from the future...

4.Were there any surprises you discovered in the writing?

Well as I said earlier I started with discussing the meaning of the idea of sobornost, unity if you will, for the Russian thinkers of the 19th century. And then like the man throwing a spear into the woods and following to its place, I found many connections that opened out...For example to the idea of co-inherence developed quite independently by the novelist Charles Williams, and then beyond my initial intention there came the question of what spiritual disciplines can be ways of unity? The final three sections of the book propose a new discipline of attention, of 'watchfulness', not simply inwardly as in some monastic writing but to the world and to the times that are coming and to the coming Lord which we suggest recovers the original sense of the command to 'watch', secondly in complementarity the principle of opposites completing each other in physics associated with Nils Bohr we propose an important inner orientation also deeply related to unity and only beginning to be applied in religious thought, and thirdly that external mission which is dialogic, on the model of the conversation on the road to Emmaus, and is necessarily grounded in prayer...These are some of the ideas which came together as I worked with this theme.

5. Are there similar books out there, and if so, how is yours different?

I am honored by comparisons to
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I do cite Bonhoeffer in one place, but I think for one thing my discussion is more broadly focused... and, apart from simmilarity of title, the books quite different. The only book I know on simply sobornost is Sobornost by Catherine de Hueck Doherty. It is an admirable little book but again its scope is really the spirituality of her Madonna House and it is part of a trilogy (Poustinia--hermitage--and Molchanie or silence being the other two.) It is rather surprising fact that there are really no books giving a broad consideration just to Sobornost, and this in spite of the importance of the word and its currency in Eastern Christian circles. The more I looked into the subject the more I felt that something further ought be said and in A Life Together I attempted to at least open the discussion in a new way...

6. Sum up briefly the main themes/ideas/insights of the book

That the Mystery of Unity our Lord spoke of, should appear as fresh and unheard of in the 19th century, shows how the history of the Church is not finished...rather it seems we are only beginning to enter the depth of the experience of Pentecost...

This unity is, as the Russians felt, the necessary way between the loss of the person in collectivism and on the other hand the loss of the human family and of the Church in individualism...

The journey into unity is a spiritual calling to the Church but also to persons and we can become,as we are called to be, men and women of unity... We can live the sign of unity. It is a deeper question than that of 'ecumenism' and yet it is also of course the way forward for external church unity.

Christianity is in its infancy, Fr Alexander Men said. This is opposite to the current feeling which even enters the churches that Christianity is played out, exhausted... but as we enter the way of community and inner and outer unity we see how deeply true it is that the journey is only begun.. This realization I think is deeply liberating and renewing...

In this renewed journey is there not also a renewal of spirit and elan and of the sense of boundless possibility which we and, if we may say so, the Church so need?

+Seraphim Joseph Sigrist
Bishop, Orthodox Church in America
formerly of Sendai and East Japan

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: Breaking Up With God by Sarah Sentilles

I was at the pool today finishing up Sarah Sentilles' new book Breaking Up With God (Harper One, 2011) and a lady walked by, saw the cover and said, "wow, that must be a powerful book" and my response "yep, you got that right!"

Breaking Up With God is indeed powerful. It's also brutally truthful and honest, just the type of book that I enjoy reading! I cannot stand sacherine spirituality, you know, the "just believe in Jesus and you'll be okay" or "just have Jesus in your heart" type of spirituality. Trust me, after 11 years in parish ministry and talking with a lot of people I can smell fake spirituality and faith a mile away. People often reduce Christianity to simple formulae or ideas (also called theology or doctrine) and that is that, forget about actually "thinking" or "reflecting" on what you believe! Breaking Up With God is the perfect antidote for a reader who wants to read an honest memoir about a spiritual journey. Breaking Up With God IS NOT a "feel good" type of book.

Sentilles started her life as a regular Church goer, first in the Catholic Church where her parents brought her and then later on in the Episcopal Church. At one point in her life she finds a very healthy and vibrant Episcopal Church in Pasedena, CA called All Saints. They are deep into social justice, radical hospitality, friendly to gays and lesbians, and committed to serving the hungry and homeless. Sentilles finds her home there. She finds God there. She finds holiness and goodness there. The people in the pew actually believe what they say in the prayers rather than just mouthing them week after week. But then things change. They change in big ways.

Through various by-ways and highways Sentilles persues graduate work and later an MDiv. and Ph.D at Harvard Divinity School. Soon after she enters into the ordination process in the Episcopal Church but then has a major crises of faith. I don't want to give out too much, so you'll just have to buy the book and see for yourself what happens to her! The title may give you some hints!

While reading Breaking Up With God I felt as if she were in the room speaking to me from her heart, that is how honest Sarah is. Surely there is some more to the story, something in her childhood faith upbringing or parents that may have precipitated her faith crises which she has later in life. A few times she confesses that she wanted God to love her and tried to change her life to make that happen. She does mention that she was seeing a therapist but never explains details as to why she is doing this.

Yet we do get some glimpses of what pastor's hear all the time: simplistic and often infantile images of God. A long time ago I was frustrated with some people about their notions and ideas about God, the Church, and spirituality in general and I told a friend about it, who happened to be a class mate of mine at seminary. She turned to me and said, "Bill, unfortunately most people have a 10 year old image of God and they stop learning, we have 50 year olds in parishes thinking like 10 year olds!" She was 100% correct. I had to laugh when reading a portion of the book where Sarah outlines a Church School Version of God: one God, three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, 7 Sacraments, and so forth.

Throughout her story Sentilles questions the real problems in Church life these days, parishes that worship on Sunday but have very little to do with the local community, parishes that do not engage in radical hospitality and philanthropy, and Christians who would as soon send a prisoner to the electric chair rather than follow the command of Jesus to love and forgive, which does not mean let back on the street but it certainly means not killing another human. Christians tend to set aside the scriptures that they don't like for ones that they do; enough said.

While I don't agree with everything in the book, I do agree that those of us in parish life and in the Christian Church, need to continually take the Gospel for what it is and no sugar coat Jesus, turn him into a puppet and tell him how to act or say. We often do this to make our life easier, yet Jesus never promises that discipleship is easy. Jesus always got himself in trouble because he questioned the religious authorities, hung out with prostitutes and sinners, and challenged the status quo. This is the Jesus that I want. This is the Jesus that Sarah is searching for.

I commend Sarah for her brutal honesty and truthfulness. Breaking Up With God would certainly create a lot of good conversation and dialogue in the greater Church. I hope others agree.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Happy Pentecost!!!

Those of us in the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican traditions celebrated the Feast of Pentecost yesterday. Pentecost is recorded in Acts chapter 2 where the first disciples were gathered together and a rush of a mighty wind came through the upper room in Jerusalem and tongues of fire rested on the disciples and they began preaching the Word of God in many languages.

Pentecost is also called the "birthday" of the Church because it is the beginning of the preaching ministry of the disciples. Pentecost celebrates the sending of the Holy Spirit into the world, which is the Spirit of unit, the Spirit of love, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of wisdom. This the same Holy Spirit that was given to us at our baptism and chrismation (or confirmation as they say in the Western Churches), the same Holy Spirit given to clergy at their ordination, and the same Holy Spirit that comes upon us at every Divine Liturgy or Mass.

I wish everyone a good Pentecost season. I hope that you realize that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the world, in the Church, and in your life. Each one of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, don't forget that.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Book Coming Soon!!!!!!

I am excited about a new book that I am currently working on called Images of Jesus. The book is a collection of New Testament images or allusions to Jesus such as Jesus the Bread, Jesus the Prophet, Jesus the Judge, Jesus the Vine, and so forth. Through the course of preaching, teaching, and reading the gospels it occurred to me that we have a plethora of various types of images of Jesus. The book will hopefully be complete by the end of the summer and ready for purchase in early Fall. Images of Jesus will be very similar to my previous books, Our Father: A Prayer for Christian Living and A 30 Day Retreat: A Personal Guide to Spiritual Renewal in that the chapters are short, easy to read, and have questions for further discussion and reflection.

Make sure to check back often for more information about the book.

Hopefully you can purchase a copy for yourself, for your pastor, for your friends!!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Abbey of Gethsemani

Another one of my favorite retreat places in the United States is the Abbey of Gethsemeni in Kentucky. This monastery is where Thomas Merton, the famous monk and writer lived. Merton was a prolific author, his most famous was his autobiography called A Seven Storey Mountain which sold thousands if not millions of copies.

The monastery is located not to far from Louisville, where the Merton Center is located. Gently rolling hills or knobs as they call them dot the land. Kentucky is bluegrass country and there is plenty of bluegrass around! The area around the monastery is very peaceful and you can take plenty of healthy walks, up and down those knobs!

The monastery is very quiet and peaceful. The monks keep a regular rule of prayer and liturgical services and guests are welcome to join in worship if they are able to do that. The rooms are simple and there is a library and quiet area for reading and rest. Meals are taken in the cafeteria and if I recall all meals are silent, which means, no talking. The only sound you'll hear are forks hitting plates and people sipping tea or coffee. There is also a large bookstore where the monks sell their famous cheese products, books, icons, and music.

If you want a semi-silent retreat or time away from the craziness plan a visit to the Abbey of Gethsameni. However you need to call in advance since they have literally thousands of pilgrims and retreat participants throughout the year.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Monks of New Skete

Summer is a time for rest and relaxation but also for retreat. Monasteries make a great retreat destination. They usually have a guest house as well as plenty of space for walking and hiking and quiet places for introspection and reflection. One of my favorite monasteries in North America is the New Skete Communities in Cambridge, NY. The Monks of New Skete are famous for their dog training and just last week they were featured on Good Morning America. I included the link to that short video below.

When visiting the New Skete community you will find rest and relaxation, plenty of nature, and hopefully you will find inner stillness and peace. The monastery chapel is gorgeous, the colorful painted frescoes are breathtaking and the singing is heavenly.

Do yourself a favor and visit the Monks of New Skete.

On the way home make sure to buy one of their gourmet cheesecakes, or maybe two of them, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Coming Soon: Review of Orthodoxy by Paul Evdokimov

This new volume by the late French Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov is being published by New City Press, a full review will be forthcoming shortly. Below is a blurb from the Preface of the book:

“The appearance in 1965 of Orthodoxy, a masterpiece of synthesis, was a landmark in religious publishing and earned for its author a doctorate of theology from the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris. Paul Evdokimov here circumvents all scholastic theology on the one hand, and the traditional approach of the ‘Dogmatic’ theologians on the other, to develop an original synthesis of Orthodox theological thinking. Although he constantly quotes the Fathers, he does so creatively, so as not simply to repeat them, but to incarnate their spirit in our own time and for our future. In addition, he enriches Patristic thought by bringing to bear on it the two great movements that have occurred in Eastern Christianity: the theology of the divine energies in the 14th century which enlightened our understanding of the material world and human culture; and the Russian religious philosophy of the first half of the 20th century with its prophetic intuitions, its Pentecostal understanding of the modern world, and its vital eschatology. A theological approach in which the human intelligence progresses by an ascesis of repentance, of the great conversion of the heart, metanoia, is here set forth so as to show, or rather celebrate, the theosis or deification of the whole human person.... An understanding we might call eucharistic, gathering together and clarifying the experience of life in the Church, an understanding inseparable from the golden chain of holiness, including the holiness of intelligence, which the Church venerates in those whom she calls the ‘Fathers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Happy Ascension!!!

Today those of us in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate the feast of the Ascension as recorded in the Book of Acts chapter 1 and Luke 24. Those of you in the Roman Catholic Church will celebrate this feast on Sunday since the Vatican II reforms moved the feast to the following Sunday.

Wishing you a good day and wonderful weekend.

I hope you are all finding God in the small daily stuff of life, in carpools, in taking out the garbage, in listening to a friend or family member. Try to find God in both big and small ways.

Be well!!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Book Review: This Our Exile by James Martin, SJ

You can't go wrong with a book by James Martin, SJ! If you haven't heard of James Martin, well, you haven't read much! Martin is an editor at America Magazine as well as a commentator for NPR and the Huffington Post. He is often interviewed my national media when the Catholic Church is in the news. He is also the author of numerous books, most recently The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything (Harper Collins).

This Our Exile: A Spiritual Journey with the Refugees of East Africa (Orbis Publishers) is a re-issued book. The book was first published in 1999.

This Our Exile is part theology, part travelogue, part memoir, part guide on vocation and ministry. Since Martin is a Jesuit he was assigned to a special ministry, in his case, Kenya. For two years Martin spent time in Kenya assisting the local peoples, Kenyans as well as refugees from Rwanda in their daily survival. We hear about their poverty, lack of resources, poor education, and lack of care. Missionaries from around the world try to help the people by digging wells and assisting with basic life skills.

Yet Martin goes deeper. This is not just a "I did this and then I did that...." type of book. He weaves personal stories and anecdotes into the narrative. Most people think that missionaries bring God to the un-Churched. Martin found out that actually his role was to witness what God was doing already. God was in Kenya way before Martin arrived back in the early 1990's.

If you want to learn more about missionaries in Africa and how we, as baptized Christians, are all called to be missionaries to the people around us, then take and read This Our Exile. You won't be disappointed!!!

For those who want to read more from James Martin, make sure to order his new book Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are At the Heart of the Spiritual Life (Harper Colllins, 2011). Just from reading this title I can see that it's probably going to be a great read!