I am reading. Well, I am always reading something. But recently I was laid up and so part of that time was spent reading.
Here is what I have been reading lately.
First, I read a book on Sabbath keeping. I have read many books on this subject. Long ago I read Marva Dawn’s “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly” and Eugene Peterson’s work that is sprinkled throughout with his view of the essential relationship between Sabbath keeping and pastoral work. I know about sabbath keeping. I am not so great at doing it.
So the when I was referred to MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s text “Sabbath in the Suburb” I was not expecting anything radically new. What I did expect was a very different perspective. Dana is a young, married, Pastor, with small children. Any one of these qualities can be what stops sabbath keeping in its tracks. I am painfully aware of the calendar most of our young families at church keep. The attraction for this book is MaryAnn’s voice. She shares a year in the life of her family, struggling to keep the sabbath. It was good to read, but I expect it would be ever better for some folks who find themselves at the same place in life that she is. The children complicate it, spouses complicate it, responsibilities complicate it, and technology becomes a leash with a very long reach. Dana deals with it all in her own way with timeless wisdom.
Too often I find books on sabbath keeping to seem unrealistic. When I read Peterson I wondered ‘why his church didn’t fire him.’ Some seep appropriate to the cloister but not to ‘real life.’ Dana’s book is real life through and through.
Another book I have been reading is Brian McLaren’s, “We Make the Road by Walking.” This text is a bit different than some of his other books. This one is designed and structured for groups. He calls it a ‘catechism’ but I wouldn’t classify it that way. Most catechisms I know about are prescriptive, or at least descriptive of the faith. I would categorize this as evocative. Brian says, straight out, that he is trying to introduce folks to the variant in Christianity that he believes is emerging now. And, if it is possible to introduce this post denominationalism, post modernity, post institutional, Christianity then I guess it should be through this kind of conversational style. There are fifty two chapters in this book. No coincidence. This would be a good resource for a small group ministry, or a prayer group.
One word of caution. This devotional will not be acceptable to some folks because in it McLaren seems unorthodox. For UCC folks his writing isn’t too threatening. Challenging, perhaps. Threatening, no. Apparently I am more ‘traditional’ than I thought, because I think this is a resource for folk whose faith has moved along on the journey. Developmentally, it would be helpful to have some Christian basics in your pocket before struggling with what may appear as a lot of ambiguity.
Another book I have been ‘nibbling’ at for some months is “Real Good Church” by Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette. Baskette was called to a small, urban, New England, church that was on hospice care. Surprisingly, they didn’t die. They went from a small, dozenish, gathering to a congregation of about 100 that can now support a solo pastor. What Baskette offers is not unique or new in the world of church development. What she does is get specific in terms of their experience and that makes it easier to translate into your situation. Is the space welcoming? Specifically, is the woman’s bathroom spotless and bright? Statistics suggest that it is women who decide if they will come back. She does not surprise in describing how attention to space, updated signs that make it seem like we’re alive, an ‘open and affirming’ welcome, and opportunity for participation (ownership, really).
This book is a whirlwind. Ok, an organized whirlwind, but a whirlwind none the less. Baskette lists items that deserve notation in every paragraph. That’s because she said she doesn’t like ‘swirly’ language but concrete language. So, plenty of examples are offered. Most importantly, epic failures. It is a comfortable read without technical ‘church-ease’ that is approachable by anyone.
One last book. Another friend recommended to me “A Center in the Cyclone: Twenty-First Century Clergy Self Care” by Bruce Epperly. The author addresses contemporary issues such as technology, our calendars, and the changing expectations for the pastoral ministry. Still, he describes practices for self-care that have been around for hundreds of years. While I think that Epperly is masterful in his treatment of various practices, and his use of ‘real life’ conversations with pastors is helpful, I am not sure what makes this particularly contemporary. Compared to Molly Phinney Baskette’s chapter, “Pastoral Self-Care and Administration” in her book Really Good Church; Epperly’s treatment is plain ancient. Don’t misunderstand me, I really appreciate the way Bruce pulls together the classic areas of spiritual and physical care and his suggestions are absolutely practical. I am all about most of the spiritual and physical practices he suggests. But unlike Epperly, Baskette offers specific ways to deal with twenty-first century issues like email, social networking, and voice messages. No ‘swirly’ language there.
Finally, there are two liturgical resources. The first is a new volume by John Knox. It is a “Feasting On the Word” resource for Advent. I use the commentaries and the ‘worship companions’ and i find both very helpful. I expected this to be new material, but it seems to be a compilation of the other two resources in to a single, seasonal, text.
The other text was a joyous surprise. Here at church we have a children’s sermon every Sunday. Any preacher knows that those 3 minutes are dangerous territory. Say too much, over the kids head. Distill a complex text down to next to nothing and don’t do it justice. So I ordered “Feasting on the Word: Guide to Children’s Sermons.” For some reason I thought that this book would be a collection of children’s sermons that I could cut and paste from, modifying to suit my situation. Imagine my surprise when I opened it to see one of the first chapters: “Who Are the Children We Invite to the Feast?: Language Acquisition and Cognitive Development.” It was a great reminder for me that the Children’s sermon must take into account an entirely different world than the ‘other’ sermon. I knew that. But I have been fed a steady diet of ‘canned’ and ‘cutesy’ children’s sermons for a long time. It was good to remember some solid theory that underlies the ‘teaching moment’ in a children’s sermon.