Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Purchase Washed and Welcome: A Baptism Sourcebook

Here are the top ten reasons why Washed and Welcome: A Baptism Sourcebook is different from other baptismal resources, appealing for pastors and Christian educators, impressive in its scope and format, and needed in our churches:

1) Many pastors have not been in the habit of providing pre-baptismal instruction, and this resource makes the process accessible. The resource should be assigned as a textbook in every seminary.
2) Washed and Welcome puts all the resources needed for pre-baptismal instruction together as a set of core resources.
3) The lessons offer various entry points into the significance of baptism: the liturgy itself, the catechism, the metaphorical meanings of baptism, and Daniel Erlander's books.
4) Young parents are totally in love with their babies, and taking time together with them to go over the meaning of baptism prior to the baptism will help develop a deeper relationship between pastor, parents, and infant.
5) Using these materials will deepen the pastor's or educator's faith and remembrance of their own baptism.
6) Resources in many of the sections are completely unique and new, and appeal to a wide range of teaching and learning styles.
7) Additionally, there's some deep baptismal theology on offer, important looks at liturgical and biblical texts, and an abiding playfulness about the role of baptism.
8) As I was writing and developing these lessons, it enriched and renewed my own preparation for working with families in preparation for the baptism of their child. You also will experience renewal when you make use of the resource.
9) The sourcebook includes a CD-ROM with take-home pages and all resources available as pdfs and RTFs for easy adaption to your context.
10) Pre-baptismal instruction can function as a covert form of faith formation-adults who might not otherwise attend an adult education class will attend in order to learn on behalf of their child.

I know that for many readers of this blog, December 1st, 2010 is not a signal day just because of the release of the Augsburg Fortress sourcebook for baptism, Washed and Welcome and companion resources. I hope this top ten list has convinced you that it should be, and that you should go directly to the AF web site and order the new material.

Full disclosure: Since I am the primary author for the lesson plans that form the core of the resource, I'm biased. I'm proud of what we have produced, and hope it will be used widely in congregations. 

Finally, let me tell one story that illustrates both the importance and power of this resource. About two months ago, maybe about the same time the Washed and Welcome resources had gone to the printers, I brought together five families for a pre-baptismal class. In this case, we had ten parents and seven infants present for the class, including two sets of twins! You would think that a group of ten parents and seven infants (plus one older sibling) would be a challenging educational context (altogether in September-October-November, nine infants and children were baptized into Christ in our open-country congregation in South Central Wisconsin). 

In fact, bringing the families together for such a learning event was not only enlivening and fun, it also built a sense of community between those present. It illustrated to the families in very tangible ways that baptism is not simply an inoculation, something they and the church do together to make sure the baby goes to heaven. Instead, by taking time to study, pray, reflect, and rehearse, the families learned that baptism is incredibly important to me as a pastor, and a central commitment and sacrament of the church. We discovered in new ways how it is a washing in the name of Jesus, a new birth, dying and rising with Christ, being clothed as a prince or princess for the kingdom of God, the gifting of the Holy Spirit, and bodying into the body of Christ, the church.

I am convinced that on the day of the baptism of their child, all the liturgical actions we performed took on heightened significance for them. It is worth the time. I am also convinced that part of the reason our congregation (in a rural context) was having increasing numbers of baptism, and increasing participation on the part of younger families with children, was precisely because we took pre-baptismal instruction seriously, and then followed up intentionally with families over the long haul helping them live into the promises they made at the baptism of their child, together with sponsors and the congregation.

I encourage you to purchase a copy of the sourcebook right away, and then consider gathering with neighboring pastors and Christian educators to discuss how you will make use of the resource to deepen pre-baptismal formation in your contexts. Thank you.

How to think about Black Friday theologically

It seems to be a general trend on Black Friday for hoardes of us to go out and shop, but then flagellate ourselves for being so conspicuous in our consumption. Other folks avoid shopping on that day (they don't like the crowds, they wish to remain morally superior, etc.). In all likelihood millions participate in it without even pondering the moral or spiritual implications of the day. They just want to go out and accomplish their holiday shopping list on a day with big discounts, and they enjoy the drama of late night/early morning shopping.

This blog post is specifically challenging those who reflect on Black Friday from a spiritual (and perhaps especially a Christian) perspective. Here's my assumption: that many of us are secretly judgmental of such a day, find something problematic with the Advent season opening with such a secular and consumptive event, and think something ought to be done to remember the "reason for the season," bringing renewed focus to the spiritual dimensions of the season rather than such a crass practice of shopping till we drop.

Here's where I think this secret judgmentalism goes astray. First, it strays in being so quickly judgmental, almost hypocritical, for even those of us who don't shop on Black Friday still do consume plenty of material goods. The true ascetics among us are few in number.

Second, it strays because it lifts up a particular spirituality as being a Christian and theologically astute one when in point of fact it is not. It is helpful to remember that it is the assumption of Geek paganism and philosophy, not Christianity, that all knowledge of God comes through the activity of the mind purged of impressions received by the senses. Ancient philosophers believed that "only when freed from the perception of tangible objects can the mind lift itself to God" (The Spirit of Early Christian Thought).

One of the more famous and quoted versions of this comes from Celsus in his criticism of the Christianity he encountered in his studies:

If you shut your eyes to the world of sense and look up with the mind, if you turn away from the flesh and raise the eyes of the soul, only then will you see God.
However, Christianity does not approach spirituality in this way. Christianity is earthy, materialistic, tangible, precisely because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down to earth in Nazareth, born of the Virgin Mary. There is absolutely nothing in the entire Christmas narrative that expresses spirituality according to the view of it espoused in ancient philosophy. Just the opposite, Christianity was so earthy that it was roundly condemned by all early ancient philosophers who encountered it.

So, what this means is that whenever we preach sermons or lift up laments against days like Black Friday in a way that buys into the detachment philosophy, completely misses the point, and drifts from classical Christianity.

This does not mean that Black Friday is a crypto-Christian liturgy. Christians do have something to say about Black Friday; it's just that what we have to say about the day isn't what we typically say about it.

What we should say about Black Friday is that God is active in and through Black Friday. God is at the mall on Black Friday. It is much more interesting to try to read the biblical narrative while at the mall on Black Friday than to sit apart from it, detached, and express condemnation of all those fools who went out shopping at 3 a.m.

How precisely, or where precisely, is God on Black Friday? Well, for one, God is working in and through all the craftspersons who have designed, with love and fidelity, art and goods that serve their neighbor. Stores all over the world have lots of material goods we can purchase that honor God as a material creator who has given the vocation of craft and art to those created in God's image. We fail to honor our neighbors who work in factories and design items for the holiday season when we simply scoff at holiday shopping without realizing that this is how they make an honest and meaningful living.

Second, God is concerned for the poor who are suffering because we have not attended to how and what we purchase with more care. God is concerned for the underpaid workers at the kiosks. God is concerned about how we treat each other and speak to each other while we're at the mall together. God may be especially concerned for those who are unseen, working in the background, who clean the floors, repair the shelves, and in every way do the hard work of making sure we can celebrate this holiday season. God is certainly concerned for any underpaid or unjustly employed workers who made the items we purchase, and God cares about the quality of the items we purchase. God made a beautiful and wonderful creation, and the "stuff" that we make should echo God's creativity and beauty.

Finally, from a theological perspective, there actually is something appropriate about buying stuff in honor of Christmas. God in Christ "bought" into material creation. We participate in this in some small ways through our own purchasing and gifting. We should not overlook this, and we so seldom say it that it's almost like we all go shopping without ever believing that shopping is an appropriate and faithful activity, within proper limits and according to ethical norms we can learn in Christian community.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Proclamation of Thanksgiving

Washington, D.C.

October 3, 1863

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America's national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." She explained, "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution."

Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale's request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book.

The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Arkansas?

As we prepare to move to Arkansas from Wisconsin, the most frequent question I get is, "Why Arkansas?" Sometimes there is an exclamation point added after the question mark. 

Some friends and parishioners wonder if we have family in Arkansas (we don't), or if there was some special connection that drew us there--it's a good question, how do you get from Wisconsin to Arkansas? Still others are simply curious about the call process for pastors. Do you get assigned? Did you ask to go there? How is the connection made? Arkansas isn't typical Lutheran country, and in fact, I had only really been through Arkansas, never to Arkansas, until the interview process there. So it is a fair question.

I've considered offering some literary or cultural genesis for the move to Arkansas, such as: Oh, my favorite photographer is from there (Disfarmer), my favorite novelist (Richard Ford), one of my favorite musicians (Johnny Cash), as well as one of my favorite presidents (Bill Clinton). Then add on a kind of local color connection, that Gracia Grindal, my rhetoric professor at Luther Seminary and a great living hymn writer and translator in the Lutheran tradition, did her M.F.A. at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. And it's true, these are attractive hints answering the question: "Why Arkansas?"

However, this would be to present the case ex post facto. I've only accumulated this list of interesting Arkansas connections as we have begun to move there. It's a true list, but it's organization after the fact simply doesn't tell the whole story.

The longer story of "why Arkansas" remains to be told and discovered. In many ways we won't know the "why" until we move there. There's a whole congregation of people to meet and get to know, not to mention a whole city and part of the US that is new to us. It would be premature to announce grand answers to the question as if we already knew the answer and the whole future were already marked out and awaiting us.

I know enough of the biblical narrative to know that God calls us on ventures untrodden, to lands promised and not yet seen, and I assume that is true of each of our own lives. The journey is the destination itself, and not vice versa. God will keep cluing us in as we go along as to why this call, and now. There's that line in Genesis, where the Lord says to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you" (12:1). Well, here we are, on the way. I certainly don't want to claim this call to Fayetteville is as momentous or dramatic as Abram's call. I do think I should read my own (and all of our) call stories in light of Abram's call story, and see how they stand up.

The particulars of this call are interesting. When the bishop of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod first called on the phone and asked if I was interested in interviewing at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, I said a polite "no thank you." It was in very unfamiliar territory, and farther from family than we had hoped. At that point, other possibilities for call were coming in from a variety of directions, one of the strongest of which was simply staying in place at a congregation we loved. We weren't interested in moving simply for the sake of moving. It needed to be a call.

That's it, that's why I need to answer the question, "Why Arkansas?" I'm trying to describe a call, God's call, in this blog post, or at least offer one description of one particular call, and how it has played out.

I kept drifting back to the congregational profile of GSLC, and my interest grew. Lots of positives emerged, including the beautiful location in vibrant Fayetteville, proximity to a university, high quality lay leadership, a strong and vital staff, the chance to travel to a new cultural context, as well as a certain je ne sais quoi I'm still puzzling out. It's a neat congregation.

We had to think through some major factors, such as saying goodbye to East Koshkonong Lutheran Church, a congregation and community we truly love and identify with, leaving Wisconsin, a great state, leaving specifically Madison and Stoughton, cities we love, greater distance from family, and many unknowns. These were not negligible factors. Visit Stoughton or Madison some time, and you'll see why we love it here. Visit East Koshkonong some Sunday morning or Wednesday night, and you'll see even more clearly. Note: to any neighbors or former parishioners reading this, we miss you already.

Even with those reservations, Fayetteville kept calling (or I should say God kept calling) more and more clearly. There was a rising energy, a synergy between my own sense of call as a pastor and GSLC's sense of where they were heading as a congregation and the kind of pastor and leader they sought. We have already been welcomed warmly, supported in our preparations to move, blessed with the energy of the synod visioning mission development and joint ministries in Northwest Arkansas, and in every way God is preparing a way for us. Note: to any future parishioners and neighbors, I hope I'm portraying this well, we're still very new to the neighborhood, and this is written with the passion of a novice.

I should add as a very simple caveat, something I know has come up frequently in conversation both with  those from Arkansas and those outside Arkansas. There's an unfriendly stereotype of Arkansas, at least in some circles. I happen never to have pigeonholed Arkansas in this way, and I have thus far found Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas a wonderful place not simply to visit, but to live. I'm reminded of that great question Nathanael asked Philip when Philip announced the Messiah to him. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Remember that Philip said to him, “Come and see.” If you wonder, "Why Arkansas?" then I answer, "Come and see."

That being said, I should end by answering the question. Why Arkansas? Best answer so far: God. We're trying to be faithful to God's call on our lives, and believe and trust that this includes living in Fayetteville and my serving as pastor at GSLC. When a congregation issues a call to a pastor, they believe and trust that it is truly God's call. I do, too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cohabitation Reduces Relationship Quality for Dating and Engaged Couples

Almost everyone I know lives together before they're engaged, but this finding from Prepare/Enrich should make us re-consider. If you are dating and hope to build a healthy relationship, read on. Prepare/Enrich also has some great tools for learning about your relationship.

Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Revised Common Lectionary site. Nice crisp layout and easy to follow design. Thanks, Vanderbilt!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blessing for Leaving a Home (adapted by the Reverend Clint Schnekloth)

Farewell to a Home

In preparation for leaving a home, family and friends (C for "community") gather at the main entrances to homes or apartments (nursing home quarters, extended care facility, hospital rooms!), and ask God's blessing on their dwellings and on all who live or visit there, especially as they travel to a new location.

Leadership may be shared with a change of voice at each Leader's part (L).

L Peace be to this house and to all who enter here.

L A reading from Proverbs: "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures."

L Let us pray: Gracious God, as a shining star once guided the magi to the birthplace of the infant Jesus, so enable those who dwell here to be your light in the world as we leave and prepare to move to a new home; through Jesus Christ we pray.

C Amen.

L May Christ bless the next family that lives here. (Make the sign of the cross)

Each person is afforded time to say something about the house and leave-taking.

People may join hands or extend their hands outward and upward (orans) for the prayers.

L Lord God,
you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

C Amen.

L Lord, remember your children and teach us to pray (pray the Lord's Prayer from memory):

C Our Father...

People may make the sign of the cross in remembrance of their baptism.

L May the Lord watch + over our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.

C Amen.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thanks to Lindsay for her Thanks!

Lindsay Stolen, a member of East Koshkonong who is completed her studies at Luther Seminary in anticipation of a call into ordained ministry, recently posted a thank you letter at her blog, There's no place like gnome.

It's an exercise in being thankful on paper. I love it! It's very Pauline (I was recently reading a dissertation on Paul that studied how Paul gave thanks--he was unique in the Greco-Roman world for his frequent lifting up of thanksgivings!)

I'm proud that Lindsay is in seminary. Since one of the calls of a pastor is to identify and lift up servant leaders for service in the ministry of the church, I'm particularly glad this year as we have three who I have mentored and supported who are preparing for ministry, two interns I've supervised from Luther Seminary, and Lindsay who is a daughter of our congregation.

Lindsay has a quiet and faithful leadership style. It's awesome to watch. She comes alongside people and supports them, and is awesome at maintaining and developing friendships. She's going to make a great pastor, and delivered a superb sermon this past October.

So thank you, Lindsay, for posting the blog of thanks. It added to an already emotional and full day as we transition to a new call and place.

Why the NY Times is too cool for school

Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lutherans and the New Perspective on Paul

For quite some time now I've been both attracted by, and frustrated with, the New Perspective on Paul. It's primary proponents, including James Dunn, N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders, and Krister Stendahl, do biblical interpretation that is fresh and faithful, and I have gained much reading their work.

On the other hand, their constant reference to the "Lutheran" understanding of justification and the law betrays a lack of nuanced understanding of the development of Lutheran theology and the living voice of Lutheranism within the Christian eocumene.

So, it has been a joy to read Erik M. Heen's essay in the Autumn 2010 issue of Lutheran Quarterly, "A Lutheran Response to the New Perspective on Paul." I appreciate his essay for at least the following reasons:

1) He has done his research, reading thoroughly the work of all the main proponents of the NPP. Having read only some of each of their work, I've had the suspicions and reactions he has, but not the time or energy to engage them all critically and carefully.

2) He offers a nuanced view of the law and justification in contemporary Lutheran perspective. 

3) He has helped me see precisely where and in what ways the NPP veers from the understanding of justification Lutherans have learned from Paul.

While reading the essay, I kept hoping Wright, Dunn, and others would read Heen's essay. I think they would find him a friendly reader of their work who could help them clear up some of their misunderstandings of Lutheran theology. He might not convince them to re-think Second Temple Judaism and Paul, but I hope they would understand Lutheran theology in a new way, and perhaps use a different term to label the kind of misunderstanding of Pauline justification they are lamenting.

What do I hope they would understand concerning Lutheran theology. First, that Lutherans approach the law not from the perspective of what it is or says, but what it does. Lutherans tend to talk about the "uses" of the law (I tend to think there are two, Melanchthon thought there were three, the Lutheran orthodox thought there were four).

Second, that Lutherans do not (at least in general) tip towards the kind of antinomian understanding of the law that Wright and others lament. Lutherans steeped in their tradition will tend towards the dialectic Luther offers in his The Freedom of the Christian (1520). “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

Finally, if they spent some time reading Lutheran theology, they would find out that Lutherans have never, even during the period of Lutheran orthodoxy, only held to a narrowly construed "forensic" justification. I especially wish they'd read more material from the Luther renaissance, what Heen dubs "The New Perspective on Luther." 

I think what is at issue, at least for Wright, who is the scholar I have read the most closely, is the shape or nature of sanctification in relation to justification. For Luther, justification simply IS sanctification.However, many Lutheran scholars have moved to understandings of the relationship between the two that develop it, such as the Finnish interpretation of Luther and the emphasis on participation in Christ.

I love this quote in Heen: "At least for this Lutheran, when I read NPP characterizations of Lutheranism or the 'old perspective,' I do not recognize them as adequate, even for paraphrases. Often, the proposed alternatives to the Lutheran position on any number of issues seem more Lutheran than what they presumably critique" (285). 


Friday, November 12, 2010

My favorite winter soup

Garlic Soup (Cesnakov Polievka) recipe - Slovak Cooking

Augsburg Fortress | Washed and Welcome

The new baptismal sourcebook from Augsburg Fortress | Washed and Welcome is now available for pre-order. I authored the four lesson plans and take-home pages that are the core of the resources in the sourcebook. I hope you can pre-order and make use of this resource, and I'd love to hear stories of how folks respond to the lesson plans!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The art of saying goodbye

Saying goodbye is an art I think I'm always learning, and still trying to exercise well. I recently took the time to find a way to say goodbye to colleagues in the South Central Synod of Wisconsin, and this is the letter. Maybe it will be of service to others trying to find the words to say goodbye, and I welcome comments on the ministry of farewell and godspeed. 

Dear colleagues in ministry,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It has been an honor and a privilege to be partners in ministry in the gospel of Jesus Christ over these past eight years that we have been in the South Central Synod of Wisconsin. I have consistently looked forward to being present with you at synod assemblies, clergy gatherings, and joint ministry opportunities of the synod. Thank you.

I have often been proud to tell others outside of our synod about our cooperative ministries. I have encountered many vibrant faith communities and social service organizations. This is a unique and beautiful part of God's world. We are blessed.

As we soon travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for a call at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in the Arkansas-Oklahoma synod, please know that we will keep you and your ministries in our prayers. Especially we will pray, in these days of change and transition, that all of us will trust in the ever creating power of God the Father, the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, and the enlivening and energizing presence of the Spirit. Trust the Holy Spirit to lead and strengthen your ministries. 

I would like to especially encourage this synod to continue to support through welcome committees and other means the work of LSS Refugee Resettlement. Iraqi and Bhutanese refugees will continue to arrive over these next few years, and work with LSS is a potentially enriching opportunity for all our congregations to serve in God's mission. Please put it on the agenda of your next council meeting, evangelism or social ministry committee, and begin forming a group that will work with and get to know a newly arrived refugee family. Call the synod office to learn how you can serve on the newly formed immigration and refugee task force.

God bless you in your ministries. God is faithful.


Sunday, November 07, 2010

Do the math...

How are we doing at mentoring the next generation and growing exponentially as a church?

Church Leader Insights with Nelson Searcy

Church Leader Insights with Nelson Searcy

Daylight Savings Time Poems

The New York Times published an awesome collection of poems today in their opinion section, titled Falling Back. It includes some of my favorite contemporary poets, such as W.S. Merwin, James Tate, Mary Oliver, Derek Walcott, and this selection:


First divesting ourselves of worldly goods, as St. Francis teaches,
in order that our souls not be distracted
by gain and loss, and in order also
that our bodies be free to move
easily at the mountain passes, we had then to discuss
whither or where we might travel, with the second question being
should we have a purpose, against which
many of us argued fiercely that such purpose
corresponded to worldly goods, meaning a limitation or constriction,
whereas others said it was by this word we were consecrated
pilgrims rather than wanderers: in our minds, the word translated as
a dream, a something-sought, so that by concentrating we might see it
glimmering among the stones, and not
pass blindly by; each
further issue we debated equally fully, the arguments going back and forth,
so that we grew, some said, less flexible and more resigned,
like soldiers in a useless war. And snow fell upon us, and wind blew,
which in time abated — where the snow had been, many flowers appeared,
and where the stars had shone, the sun rose over the tree line
so that we had shadows again; many times this happened.
Also rain, also flooding sometimes, also avalanches, in which
some of us were lost, and periodically we would seem
to have achieved an agreement; our canteens
hoisted upon our shoulders, but always that moment passed, so
(after many years) we were still at that first stage, still
preparing to begin a journey, but we were changed nevertheless;
we could see this in one another; we had changed although
we never moved, and one said, ah, behold how we have aged, traveling
from day to night only, neither forward nor sideward, and this seemed
in a strange way miraculous. And those who believed we should have a purpose
believed this was the purpose, and those who felt we must remain free
in order to encounter truth, felt it had been revealed.

— LOUISE GL√úCK, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author, most recently, of “A Village Life”

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Scriptural Reasoning

Not only religious traditions can pray or worship together, but almost all traditions can study texts across religious or denominational lines. Scriptural Reasoning is a methodology for doing this. It seems to be a spectacular format for campus ministry study contexts, or for clergy groups and lay groups interested in interfaith conversation.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

From Eight Day Books

Dear Friends,

We couldn't do it without you, so to celebrate another year of great books with us, we are offering you 15% off your entire order, now through next Monday, November 8.

Just enter the code 22YEARS in the coupon field at checkout.

While you're on our site, be sure to check out and bookmark our new blog (blog.eighthdaybooks.com). We'll be updating it regularly with news of our travels, in-store events, and reviews of new books. We're excited to finally have this means of communicating with you more immediately and directly, and hope you'll follow us.

Speaking of following, we are on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/eighthdaybooks) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/eighthdaybooks), too.

We hope you find some books you've been wanting, and some surprise bargains among our thousands of Used Books. Please let us know if you have any questions.


The Eighth Day Books Staff

Monday, November 01, 2010

Churches Hitting Bottom

In Isaiah we read that God could best use Israel when it was in its most weakened state. The cross reveals that this is how God works, transforming weakness into power. In the recovery subculture we hear about the potential that is unleashed when a person "finally hits bottom". The painter Matisse would look at his painting after completing a stage of the work and look for the weakness in it. He would then deliberately reengage the work through that weakness and reconceive the painting.

Many of our congregations are in weakened conditions, some acutely so. Does this make them even better suited to receive the Spirit than before when they were strong and vibrant? The psychology and spirituality of hitting bottom, of being weak and vulnerable, can give hope. At that point, transformation is possible if one has learned to no longer trust themselves but instead looks beyond themselves for strength and direction. Will the weakened congregations turn their trust from the old familiar ways to trust in the Spirit, who then may breathe new life into them and have even greater things in store for them to do?

(excerpt from Psyche and Spirit)

Americans Say Serving the Needy is Christianity’s Biggest Contribution to Society

The Barna Group conducted a phone poll recently descriving Christianity's contributions to society, and the positives are good, but the negatives are bad. Who woulda thunk it?

The Paul Page

The Paul Page is a rocking cool tool, and one of the reasons why, increasingly, we don't even need to buy books in order to do intensive study. This is a really full resource.

Janet Hagberg resources

I learned a lot reading Janet Hagberg's A Critical Journey in a class a few years ago, and just recently discovered her Personal Power Products Home page, with resources for doing assessments using her methodology. Anyone else made use of these resources or commend them?

Bound Conscience

Once again the Journal of Lutheran Ethics - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a stellar line-up of essays, including material on the bound conscience, spectacular book reviews, and an essay in the series I'm editing, Preaching on Social Issues.

In this issue, JLE also lamentably says goodbye to their founding editor, Kaari Reierson. I consider Kaari a great colleague and good friend, and I am saddened that her position at ELCA was eliminated. I'm praying for the Spirit's leading in her study and work, and pray also that our church will not need to continue laying off such fine leaders and editors.