Monday, May 28, 2012

Pre-orders being taken

I just found out that my publisher is now taking pre-orders for my new book Church, World, and Kingdom. It will be available on later in the Summer. If you know of anyone who is interested in the life and writings of Father Alexander Schmemann share the good news!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review My Journal of the Council

I assume Yves Congar is not a household name among my Eastern Orthodox friends, although he should be. Congar was one of the most important theologians in the 20th century and his work and writing helped form and shape not only the agenda for the Vatican II council but also for Church reform and renewal. Congar was a Dominican friar and was born in France. After his priestly formation and training he taught in numerous colleges and seminaries. He wrote on many subjects including the vocation and ministry of both clergy and laity as well as ecumenism, ecclesiology, and doctrine. While Congar was a member of the Catholic Church his connections in both Protestant and Eastern Catholic and Orthodox circles was formidable. His journals also show that Congar met with the late Orthodox theologian Father Alexander Schmemann in Oct. 1963 since Schmemann was an Observer at Vatican II. Congar also was acquainted with Patriarch Athenegoras as well as other Orthodox bishops and theologians.

Thankfully, after a long embargo, Congar's journal of the Vatican II council has finally reached English speaking readers. It was previously released in a French edition but only now has been translated into English and published by Liturgical Press. This journal is a must read for anyone interested not only in Vatican II but in ecclesiology and in modern Church history.

Congar's journal is not a deep introspective or reflective journal like that of the writings of Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day, but it is a real daily diary of the workings of Vatican II including people he met with, the various projects and writings he was working on, as well as the major themes of the council. Congar holds no punches either, he mentions people by name and also includes very personal anecdotal stories about them, bishops such as Pizzardo for example who had very little theological education but was put in charge of all the Catholic colleges and seminaries in Italy or the various "inner circle" of the Curia who protected the Pope's from the people.

I have read several overall accounts of Vatican II and some of the working documents which came out of the council such as Lumen Gentium as well as Sancrostanctum Concilium as well as others. However, Congar includes specific information on how these documents were created, the debates and dialogues that took place behind closed doors, and the infighting and arguing among bishops and theologians as well. I was intrigued that for every document the bishops had to vote on each section of these documents which also forced the theologians to return to their sub-groups and rewrite and rework the documents so that they could be accepted later on. This of course required much work, especially since Vatican II predated fax machines, email, and modern technology. Everything had to be typewritten and copies had to be made for all 3,000 bishops in attendance not including the priests, theologians, and other various people who attended the sessions of the council.

Congar had a rigorous daily schedule. He notes on many occasions rising before dawn and writing letters to friends and colleagues back in France, attending the morning Mass, meeting with bishops and theologians in the morning, having a working lunch with a friend or observer at the council, going back to work in the afternoon and then several times per week after dinner he was invited to speak or give a lecture at various colleges, seminaries, or episcopal gatherings in Rome. On several occasions these gatherings included several hundred people or more. On one particular occasion there were over 1,200 people in the audience.

This journal is also worth reading for the personal insight which Congar offers us. While he was a formidable theologian, Congar also suffered both physically and spiritually. He always had pains in his legs, he had difficultly having enough energy to get through the day, and his arms often ached. He also suffered personal attacks as well. Vatican II was split among the bishops, some wanted to maintain a more conservative and traditional route, barely making any changes in ecclesial life while others, inspired by the spirit and openess of Pope John XXIII wanted a more radical approach to reform.

Congar died in 1995 but his memory is very much alive. I found great consolation that while many things have changed they also are the same. Today there are still many people who want to return to a more authoritarian model of Church life, one that stifles and controls as well as others who want to see more openess, transparency, conciliarism, and freedom.

If you want to learn more about Vatican II and the writings of Yves Congar then go out and read My Journal of the Council, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Doing Less Not More

Cell phone

People say that technology is supposed to make our lives easier, less cumbersome. A decade ago I had to type a letter, print it out, stuff an envelope and mail it. Today I just send that same letter via email or maybe send a tweet. I can reach someone in China in less time then it takes me to brew a cup of coffee. Life has changed and every day it seems new technology is helping improve our lives from new and improved light bulbs to electric cars.

However, I find that now with more communication technology we can get more distracted. The other day I saw a young couple sitting at an outdoor cafe eating lunch, rather than sitting there talking to each other their heads were hunkered down checking the latest sports scores or an email. So much for a leisurely lunch! I am waiting for the day when I see a parishioner sending a tweet during Sunday services, maybe that will be a sign that I need to quit the ministry!

Call me cranky, call me old fashioned, but I do not tweet or use Facebook or have a Blackberry. I do maintain a website and blog but that's about it. My cell phone is used only for emergency calls. Life is short. I try to focus on building friendships and enjoying the creation around me. I check email when I want to and I dont' want to check it every five minutes either.

I am trying to do less, not more. I'd rather watch the bluebirds nest in my backyard or read a good book or take a walk or eat a meal with a friend rather than surf the web all day.

Maybe we all need a fast from technology for a day, wouldn't that be something!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Review: Christ the Stranger

I have been a big fan of Rowan Williams', especially his sermons and articles which can be found online. For those of you who don't know him, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams is currently the Archbishop of Canterbury and will be stepping down in Dec. 2012 to return to academic life. Williams has produced an abundance of material, including quite a bit on the Eastern Church. He has several very good books on praying with icons as well as an entire book on Dostoevsky which was published a few years ago. His doctoral dissertation at Oxford was on Eastern Orthodox Theology. Needless to say this man is a pastor's pastor and a scholar's scholar. His writing touches upon a wide range of thought from priesthood and vocation to ecology to ecumenism to faith and culture. As Williams transitions back into academic life one hopes that he continues to write and reflect on these themes.

Dr. Benjamin Myers has given us a little preview of Williams' corpus, producing a book called Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams (NY: Continuum, 2012). Myers looks at Williams' entire output, including his poetry as well, and shows us the various themes, images, and topics which Williams is interested in. The book is divided into fourteen chapters each focusing on a separate theme: desire, hope, prayer, fantasy, mission, growth, and so forth. Most people realize that this book is but a survey and one would hope that people would dive deep into the well of Williams' thought and theology. Myers includes not just an overview of Williams' thought but provides some sampling of his writing as well such as a letter to a girl named Lulu who asked him a question as well as short quotations from his writings.

One major theme which is a thread throughout this book is that Williams focuses on God's transcendence, that the Word became flesh and lived among us. Some writers in the Eastern Church such as Mother Maria Skobtsova, Father Sergius Bulgakov, and Paul Evdovkimov would call this personalism. We tend to push God away from us, back into the heavens, yet he continues to come to us through is Son. Christ does come to us as the title of this book states as a Stranger, as an outsider, and our acceptance of him is pure grace.

Myers provides a good survey of Williams' thought but I left wanting more. This slim book just skims the surface, Myers probably could have turned each chapter into an entire book by itself--alas that would have been too much of an undertaking! Christ the Stranger though provides an introduction, a road-map of sorts, for anyone who wants to read more.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Coming Soon!!!

I wanted to share some of my good news today; the cover of my new book: Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology (Hillenbrand Books, 2012). It will be available for sale beginning in late August and early September. Below is a general description of the book outlining some of the basic themes, etc....

Of course I am thrilled. After many drafts and rewrites it is finally done. I hope readers find it helpful, especially those interested in the intersection of Liturgy and Pastoral Theology.

Description from the publisher:

In Church, World and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology, author William C. Mills analyzes the pastoral and Eucharistic theology of the world-renowned Eastern Orthodox priest, pastor, professor, seminary dean, theologian, and author, Alexander Schmemann.
Schmemann's theological legacy has influenced all levels of Church life. His books, articles, essays, and sermons are known world-wide and translated into numerous languages and have been referenced by theologians in the East and the West. William C. Mills expertly reminds us that for Alexander Schmemann, the scriptures, doctrine, faith, teachings, practices, and prayers of the Church are expressed and fully realized in the Eucharistic gathering. Alexander Schmemann's theology was influential from the Second Vatican Council onward, not only on his own Orthodox tradition, but also on Roman Catholic and Protestant liturgical theology.
This new research has shed light on the importance of the liturgical and Eucharistic context for ministry, especially highlighting the spiritual, practical, and theological preparation of ordained clergy and the general ministry of the entire body of Christ, both clergy and laity.
This book is the only study that is primarily devoted to Schmemann's pastoral theology, and will be a welcome addition to the academic and popular understanding of ordained and lay ministry within Christendom, especially within the Orthodox and Roman Catholic sacramental tradition. This book features a comprehensive collection of Schmemann's theology, as well as previously unpublished material.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Church of the Holy Spirit

Those of us in the Eastern Church are still in the Paschal or Easter season which is quickly coming to a close. Soon we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This black and white picture is of the late Father Nicholas Afanasiev; priest, theologian, professor, and mentor to Fathers Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff. He spent most of his career teaching at the the St. Serge Orthodox Institute in Paris. Fr. Afanasiev wrote a lot about the Church emphasizing above all else the role of the Holy Spirit.

All too often I think we quash the Spirit by putting our own agendas, plans, and authority first. When I was in seminary a visiting bishop told us that our job as parish priests is go get out of the way of the Spirit! I never forgot that advice! Too often clergy abuse or over extend their authority in the Church, using their power for material or professional gain rather than using their gifts and talents for the good of the entire Church. Clergy and bishops sometimes overstep their bounds not allowing the laity to use their gifts for the good of all.

Afanasiev writes a lot about lay ministry and the fact that by virtue of our own baptism we are all members of the royal priesthood and have to use our time, talents, and treasures for the good of the whole.

I have been thinking about Afanasiev lately, especially since we are preparing for Pentecost soon.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Choosing Life

I hope everyone is having a good week. Tomorrow is Mother's Day and I wish all of the mothers, grandmothers, and Godmothers out in cyberspace a blessed and joyful Mother's Day.

I have been thinking a lot lately about life. So much of our life is challenging, difficult, and often downright hard!

A lot of people go through life just "existing" or "just getting by." They float through the stages of life without paying much attention to the people, events, and world around them. Have you met people like this? I have. It's sad really.

There are other people that choose to live a full life, who suck the marrow and juice out of every moment, who savor each day like it's their last. There are people who want to enjoy the people they meet and the events that they attend whether it is a movie, a play, or a trip. They want to explore and learn and grow.

Of course there are tough moments in life when we all feel like we're just "getting by" as we say. However, do we choose to really and fully live? Do we choose to enjoy all of God's creation?

I hope that this week you can choose life and to live it fully and abundantly.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review How God Became King

I was excited when hearing that that N.T Wright's new book How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (NY: Harper One, 2012) was being published. I had read his previous book Surprised by Hope (NY: Harper One, 2010) which focused on Jesus' death and resurrection and enjoyed that very much. I was looking forward to his new book too.

Wright was the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and currently serves as the Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at St. Andrews University. His training in the academy and his ministry as a bishop and teacher provide Wright the perfect balance for a book of this caliber; How God Became King is both solidly Scriptural yet very practical and pastoral.

When reading the title one may ask: do we need yet another book on Jesus and the Gospels? Just peruse the local bookstore, especially the larger chains, and you will find shelves upon shelves of books about Jesus, the early Christians, and the four gospels. Do we need another one?

Wrights' answer is YES!

Why? Because many modern Christians have either very little knowledge of the Scriptural story (from Eden to Revelation) or have encountered a very limited or narrow view of Jesus and his ministry (i.e the many "reductions" of Jesus that one finds in modern theological scholarship) and have missed the large picture. The academic study of the gospels have dissected, analyzed, and focused on various components Jesus and the gospels that they have forgotten the larger framework or context, i.e the rest of the Scriptures! It's like Humpty Dumpty fell but no one bothered to put him back together again!

How God Became King is divided into four sections:

1. The Empty Cloak
2. Adjusting the Volume
3. The Kingdom and the Cross
4. Creed, Canon, and Gospel

Wright has a easy to read writing style which is akin to listening to him speak, and as a matter of fact if feels like Wright is along side you guiding you through the Scriptural story itself, pointing out things along the way.

I found the last part the most stimulating since Wright sketches out how Christians can read and recite the Creed in a more scriptural fashion, going through the major sections. I found this part of the book to be the most practical. Every Sunday Sunday Christians recite the Creed (usually the Nicene or Apostles Creed) but probably do not fully understand what they are saying. I hope that one day Wright would write a book focusing on the Scriptural background of the Creed as well as how Christians today could use the Creed as our mission statement in terms as how the Church lives and conducts it's business in terms of pastoral ministry, vocation, mission, and life.

How God Became King would make an excellent book for a book club or parish adult study. As a pastor I always seek ways of bringing the Scriptural Jesus to life for my congregation, and this book is a perfect resource for clergy and lay leaders.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Enjoying God's Creation

This Spring has been very special for me. We've had two sets of bluebird families living in our backyard. During my coffee breaks I'll go on our back porch and watch the mommy and daddy birds fly in and out of the bird house bringing food to the babies. Once in a while the bird will perch on our bird feeder or on a small branch like this one here.

Watching these birds reminds me of enjoying God's creation. So often we run through life going from here to there, worrying about our errands and "what's next" on our to do list that we miss the beauty of creation right under our noses.

When was the last time you stopped and watched a bird flying around or noticed your neighbor's lovely roses or sat and took in a beautiful sunrise or sunset? When was the last time you sat in your yard and listened to the wind blowing through the rustling leaves or the pitter patter of rain dripping through your gutters?

Take some time this week to enjoy these small moments in life. They are gifts from God.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Journaling As A Spiritual Practice

For the past six years I have kept a spiritual journal. Many people keep diaries or journals where they write their innermost thoughts about their recent activities or events in their life, the people whom they meet and so forth. Many famous people have their diaries and journals published, many after their death. Anne Frank's diary comes to mind along with others.

Keeping a spiritual journal is a bit different. Of course I wind up writing other things in it too, but a spiritual journal is a way to keep in touch with how you are doing on your walk of faith, looking at the trials, tribulations, joys, and wonder of how God is working in your life. Some people use their spiritual journal along with scripture reading, writing reflections from what they read in scripture. Other people use it to write down problems that they are having or troubles that occur. Others use it as a way of thanking God for the many blessings that he provides them.

You don't have to write in your journal every day, a few days a week or a few times per month is okay too. If you do not currently keep a spiritual journal try doing it. You might be surprised at what you find out about yourself!

For Starters:

1. Write down all the key people in your life who have effected you either positively or negatively. Write down a few sentences about each person. Write down how your relationship has changed or altered over time.

2. Write down all the "graces" or "blessings" in your life. Some people do this every night before going to bed as a way of thanking God.

3. Write down a few sentences about the various books that have helped you along your spiritual path. What about those books inspired you?

These are just a few ways to get started. I wish you well as we all walk the hard long walk of faith.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review Coming Soon.......

I am looking forward to reviewing this new book by the late Catholic Dominican theologian Yves Congar which is being published this month by Liturgical Press. Congar was one of the most influential theologians in the Catholic Church and whose writings have continued to inspire both clergy and laity alike. His emphasis on the renewal of liturgy as well as a rethinking how power and authority are expressed are certainly food for thought as we seem to continually struggle against rampant clericalism, abuse of power and authority by bishops and clergy, and often get stuck in the quagmire of liturgical rites and rubrics which are in need of reform and renewal. My Orthodox brothers and sisters are encouraged to look to the writings of Congar too, since his love for Eastern liturgy and theology is found throughout his own writings as well.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and hopefully Congar's journals will feed and nourish us as we continue to deal with issues which Vatican II dealt with 50 years ago.

Below is information about the book:

At the beginning of the meeting Cardinal Ottaviani said that, to speed the work up, the experts will speak only if they are asked a question. At my side, Rahner was champing at the bit, and said to me ‘what are we doing here . . . ?’” (Wednesday 3 June 1964)

Yves Congar, OP, was one of the most important and influential theologians of the twentieth century. Much of this influence came as a result of his role as theological advisor to the bishops who participated at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). After working under a cloud of ecclesiastical censure and suspicion in the decade prior to its start, Congar was, from beginning to end, an influential day-to-day participant in the council’s work. He also managed to keep detailed personal notes throughout the time.

At long last, the council diaries of Yves Congar are available in English! This material is a treasure trove of information and insight for anyone interested in the history of that council and its remarkable and historic teaching. It provides a window into the council’s workings and the development of what would become a series of historic documents and declarations. It also offers Congar’s own down-to-earth and personal perspective on many of the other remarkable figures who played a role in the council.

Yves Congar, OP, who died in 1995, was a French Dominican widely recognized as one of the most important Roman Catholic theologians of the twentieth century and a major influence upon the theology of the documents of Vatican II. Congar drew from biblical, patristic, and medieval sources to revitalize the discipline of contemporary theology. He was an early advocate of ecumenism and also contributed to shaping the theological agenda of the twentieth-century liturgical movement. He was named a cardinal in 1994 by Pope John Paul II. Liturgical Press has also recently published At the Heart of Christian Worship: Liturgical Essays of Yves Congar and Congar’s classic work True and False Reform in the Church.