I have been off work for several weeks, recuperating from surgery. Before this started, I promised myself that I was going to get to some professional reading I have wanted to do for a while.

Didn’t exactly happen. At first, my brain seemed so ‘fuddled’ that I couldn’t concentrate on much of anything and my attention span was very brief. So much for reading.

Eventually, this all changed and I have done some reading, just not as much as I imagined.

One thing I did was finish two texts that I began reading together. The first was: “Zealot” by Resa Aslan. Along side this I was also reading: “Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was” by Gerhard Lofink. Being that Aslan is a historian, his text was rich with description of the ‘sitz em lieben’ (setting in life) of Jesus. I thought the book was well done, even though I did not agree with the conclusions that Aslan reached. You may remember that this author received a good bit of criticism about his authorship from some evangelicals, because he is a muslim. I did not share this concern as by all accounts he is a fine historian and this text intends to be a historical review, not dogmatics.

This is not true for Lohfink’s text. Because Lohfink is such a fine biblical scholar and ‘practitioner’ (he is a jesuit scholar), the book speaks not so much to history (although that is one lens used) but rather to the consequences of ‘what he wanted and who he was.’

I also read three other books about the church. The first one, recommended by a bookseller and friend, Byron Borger, was “Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient way of Jesus”. The second was “The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community.” The Third in this grouping was “Strangers and Pilgrims Once More” by Addisoin Hodges Hart.

“Slow Church” is basically an affirmation of what Byron Borger wrote: “We need courage to say no to “bigger is better” assumptions and the patience to see what better desires and habits will emerge among us.” What is most valuable about this book is that while it critiques our hectic lifestyles and our all too often capitalistic version of church, it also makes the case for an alternative. For me, at least, I usually slow down because I am exhausted or am forced to because of some other circumstance beyond my control. These authors make a case for the faithfulness of slowing down so that we might notice each other and the world around us and in so doing transform our lives. The final chapter is titled “Dinner Conversations.” I immediately thought Eucharist. But actually it is about that very practice of sitting around the table with old or new friends and enjoying food and conversation, only to realize much later, when the busboy is trying to mop around your chair, that the evening has flown by.

Dave Klundt reviews the book “A New Parish” On “The Burner,” a blog for Fuller Theological Seminary, saying:

As an alternative to the technique-driven, one-size-fits-all, packaged approach to ministry, The New Parish authors suggest faithful presence, entering “into a perpetual practice of careful responsiveness to the Holy Spirit speaking through your context” (72). Surveying four “modes of church” (seeker, heritage, community, and missional), they suggest each tends to disintegrate and distance people from place. In response, they envision New Parish leaders to find a new ecclesial center where “the love of God manifests itself in holistic love of neighbor” (90). Finally, the New Parish must engage the new commons – “all the dimensions of life for which everyone in your neighborhood shares a common concern” (specifically in the areas of education, civics, economy, and environment) (95). The New Parish church’s role in a particular place is to “exist as connective tissue between every issue” (111).

I am reminded of a much older book, ‘The Dynamics of Religion” by Bruce Reed. Like “A New Parish” it uses a sociological model to examine the church and its various ‘styles’. Because Reed was an Anglican, living in the UK, he uses the term Parish in a way that is foreign to most americans. Parish is a geographical region for which that particular church is ‘responsible,’ religiously speaking.

What is valuable about this text is that (perhaps) it takes up the heart of what ‘slow church’ is asking and encourages the Body of Christ to discern our ‘neighbors’ and their ‘needs’ and not just ‘how we get more people in the pew.’ Engagement with the ‘common concern’ is also a corrective to the otherworldly focus we often have. It answers the questions my adult children sometimes ask of the church: Why, and So What? This is what the authors believe is transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community.

One thing I particularly like about this book is that it forces ecumenism on us. To these authors, the “Church” is not a particular church or denomination, but rather “The Church(s)” in a place. The intentional connection between churches of various stripes, mission projects, and even business that cooperate for the ‘common concern’ is an essential element of this “New Parish” idea.

I also read “The Bible’s Yes to Same Sex Marriage: How an Evangelical’s Mind Was Changed.” This book was an important read for me. I appreciated it, not because it changed my mind on anything, or because I agreed (totally) with the author. I appreciated the honesty and clarity of thought that went into David Achtemeier’s changed mind.

Because the state I live in has now legalized same sex marriage, pastor’s no longer have the luxury of hiding behind the fact that, “it’s not legal here.” So, in my view, a conversation has to be had in the congregation to decide if ‘we will honor any marriage license and conduct a wedding for those holding it.”

Some years ago I realized that the for and against arguments are not rational. Mostly, they are emotional. That is why Achtemeier’s story is so compelling.

For me, though, I don’t believe that a church should honor every couple who wants to be married in the church by doing so. I believe that the acceptance or rejection has to do with the nature of the relationship. Is it abusive? Is there a strong commitment? Do they understand this as a ‘faith’ event and not a ‘civil’ event? Does the couple have some connection with the congregation? (in my case I don’t believe holding weddings is good evangelism and I don’t want to be a local ‘wedding chapel’). You may have noticed that none of these questions had to do with race, ethnicity, religion (as in interfaith), or sexual orientation. With Achtemeier, I ask the question, ‘does, and will, this covenant commitment glorify God.’

I also read Nadia Boltz Webber’s Autobiographt “Pastrix.” The title is her embrace of a derogatory term one person labeled her with. She has had quite a personal journey, from stand up comedy and addiction to the founding of a congregation in the ELCA, “House for All Sinners and Saints” in Denver. Although her story is quite unique, folks who have heard the call to ordained ministry will recognize the strange paths that God calls us to travel. We may not describe it with quite the same ‘ahem’ coarse language but the experience of discernment is similar. It is an excellent read (don’t let some of the language disturb you). She describes one way that the church can reach and bless folks who are usually on the margins of our congregations.

I also read two ‘narrative’ cookbooks. I say narrative because both are much more than a collection of recipes. The first is a book by someone i cam across who shares many of the interests I do, Hank Shaw. It is his book “Hunt Gather Cook.” I hovered over this book. For instance, in chapter 14 Shaw discusses the question “Why hunt?” See Shaw wasn’t always a hunter. As he says, “For most people, foraging for wild plants poses no moral problem.” He recognizes that the whole business of hunting can seem weird or alien to some folk. The reality is that all meat comes from somewhere, and some animal (with the possible exception of stone crabs) had to die in the process. But really, with stone crabs they catch them, lop off a claw and put them back…not all that civilized really. In this chapter he covers how to take some specific animals from the field to the table. This is, in my estimation, why so many people do not like wild game. First and for most, said game was handled improperly from the get go. And then Shaw offers some basic recipes. This covers the second reason some folks don’t like wild game; it wasn’t cooked properly. This summer I invited over a couple of friends who also guide upland hunts (and their wives). I prepared 3 kinds of sausages (2 fresh and 1 smoked), A grilled venison loin. One friend stared in disbelief as his wife went back for seconds saying, “She never eats wild game.” I treasure those moments of ‘conversion’ when someone tells me they don’t like wild game and then they are surprised when I tell them that’s what they are eating. Anyway, Shaw’s book is well written and was interesting.

The second cookbook is titled “Charcuterie: the Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.” This book was just what I was looking for! Last Christmas the family got me a smoker. I have used it for the normal stuff, but wanted to do it right. (it is quite easy to make people sick if your sausage or cured meat.) These Authors, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn are chefs from my home state, Michigan. Their credentials are stellar.

I got this book on the advice of Hank Shaw (mentioned above). It covers the waterfront speaking on such matters as pate to dry cure sausage, salted fish and confit. Part of the reason I wanted to read this book was its opening chapters where the authors address the question: “Why bother?” In the days of the refrigerator, dominoes pizza, and the 24 hour grocery store, These guys make a case for this labor of love called Carcuterie.

Well, maybe I did do some reading after all.

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