Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Prayer of St. Ephrem

If you are looking for some Lenten reading then look no further than my book The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian: A Biblical Commentary. 

This ancient prayer will help you through your daily walk of faith as you strive to become more faithful in your life.

For more information about this book and to order a copy click here 

May we all learn to love both God and neighbor each and every day.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review The Novel As Church

Books are like a meal, there are those which one consumes like candy or dessert at the beach, those page turning mystery novels which are big on action and romance but light on their literary quality generally. Then there are those more philosophical type books which one consumes slowly, like sipping a full bodied Bordeaux.

I must say that David Dickinson's new book, The Novel As Church: Preaching to Readers in Contemporary Fiction (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2013) is an entire meal! If you want to learn more about the rhetorical and homiletical nature of key works of fiction and you are interested in theology and ecclesial life then this book is for you. It is certainly not a quick beach read but it does inspire, entertain, and make one want to re-read it again, like a second trip to the dinner buffet.

Dickinson is the Director of the St. Albans Centre for Christian  Studies and the minister at the Marlborough Road Methodist Church in St. Albans, UK. This book is the fourth book in the Making of the Christian Imagination Series published by Baylor University Press.

The Novel as Church is intriguing. There are books that focus on the religious and spiritual nature of fiction and there are books which focus on preaching and homiletics and modern culture but to my knowledge there are very few, perhaps none so far which highlight the various and detailed nuances of the interplay between sermons and homilies that are imbedded within works of fiction and the many questions that arise from that such as the interplay between "authorial authority" vis a vis the sermon and the narrative as well as the reasons why the author chose to have the clergy character preach in the first place, the messages derived from the sermons, as well as the other questions that arise from that.

While reading The Novel as Church I was simply amazed at the vast material covered and the analysis that Dickinson provides. This book is not merely a synthesis of modern works of fiction and the role that clergy/pastors/priests play, but Dickinson really attempts to get at the many layers involved in having sermons in fiction in the first place and what role this plays in the spiritual life, in the relationship between Church and culture, as well as what the clergy characters reveal about spirituality today.

Ever since reading Douglas Alan Walrath's book Displacing the Divine: The Minister As Mirror in American Fiction  I have been keenly interested in clergy characters in fiction, especially modern fiction, of which there are many. Walrath's thesis is that across the centuries the "clergy character" reflects or serves as a foil or mirror of the society at large and how society envisions the Church. Yet Dickinson goes further because not only does he look at the roles of the clergy characters but in particular what role and function the sermon plays. He looks at some key works of fiction such as Geraldine Brooks' novel The Year of Wonder, Michael Addritti's saga Easter as well as others such as Jeanette Winterson's book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, as well as the many books by John Updike.  I found myself taking notes here and there highlighting works of fiction that I certainly have to read, and read soon!

I could easily write more about this book, but I hope that the reader find out on their own. If you are a pastor who enjoys fiction and culture then this book is for you. If you are a faculty member who teaches preaching and homiletics and want to learn more about the rhetorical and homiletical value of fiction then this book is for you. If you are just interested in the spirituality of modern fiction then this book is for you.

For more information about The Novel as Church: Preaching to Readers in Contemporary Fiction click here 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Review: The Graceful Exit

Pastors come and go. I was just talking to a pastor who was the 43rd pastor in a parishes' 84 year history, talking about a revolving door!  This is not too uncommon in some areas of the country. Some parishes are known for having many short term pastorates and others are known for much longer and extended pastorates. I know of one pastor who was in the same parish for 54 years!

Saying goodbye is a hard thing to do. Saying goodbye to a child when they leave for college is hard. Saying goodbye to a son or daughter who gets married and starts their own life is hard. Saying goodbye to a friend or loved one who died is hard. And saying goodbye to a parish when you are the pastor is hard. But thanks to the new book by Mary C. Lindberg, leaving a parish might be a little easier. Her knew book The Graceful Exit: A Pastor's Journey from Good-bye to Hello was recently published by the Alban Institute and is a wonderful resource for pastors who are transitioning from either full time ministry to retirement or from full time ministry in one parish to another parish or into some other form of ministry.

The book is a combination of personal narrative as well as well as stories of colleagues who have made these difficult decisions to leave ministry. Pastors are given special access to peoples lives. We visit them in the hospital. We visit them in their homes. We baptize their babies. We bury their dead. We marry them. We walk with them in their walk of faith. Leaving all of that must be terrible difficult. I have never left a parish before so I cannot speak of experience but I have had my own personal leavings of jobs and work and that is also traumatic at times.

Lindberg offers pastors a resource as to how we can better navigate and negotiate these leavings. The book is divided into three parts: The Good Good-bye, The Long Good-bye, and from Good-bye to Hello. Each chapter includes some questions for reflection which I found very helpful. The book is very short at only a little over a hundred pages, you can read it in a few hours. However if you read slowly and actually consider the points for reflection then this book is more of a work book rather than a book that you read once and put down. I encourage pastors to read through this book once quickly and then go back, with a journal in hand in the book in another and actually go through these questions. Even though I am not leaving parish ministry some of the questions for reflection are very enlightening and helpful, especially the ones which deal with lost hopes and fears, with "things left undone" as well as projects and plans which never got off the ground.

One thing pastors have to understand is that when you leave a parish their is grieving that will take place. Your grieving. The grieving of your parishioners. The grieving of your own family. The Graceful Exit will help in this process.

After reading The Graceful Exit I was very grateful to Mary Lindberg for writing this book. However, she now needs to write a complimentary volume on the The Graceful Entrance How Pastors Begin Ministry because so much is left unsaid about how pastors begin their new ministry and enter into a community of faith, how congregations welcome them, and how families can better navigate these issues too!

Kudos to Mary Lindberg for writing such a practical and pastoral book for us pastors out here.

For more information about The Graceful Exit click here