Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book 20 of 2016 -- Looking Back to Look Forward

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD): Looking Back to Look Forward: In conversation with John McKnight about the intellectual and practical heritage of ABCD and its place in the world today.
                  Cormac Russell

This is a short little read. The majority of it is transcribed (and one would assume edited) conversations with John McKnight about the people who have influenced him in his work around Asset Based Community Development.

And yet in this short little read I made 37 highlights. The print version is 80 pages so that would be roughly one every 2 pages. It is a short book with a wealth of insight into community and social development and systemic reform.

I like the idea of the Asset Based approach. It pushes us to ask what we have rather than what we lack. It pushes us to realize that we do in fact have what we need to change and develop our communities. And in this book the reader is challenged to rethink their understanding of how the systems around them work and the whole “it has to be like this” idea that often accompanies systems.

In the church we are often unaware of the systems we have built. We are also good at insisting we do not have any resources with which to make change. For some time now I have thought we need a new way of looking at things. Our systems are not working. We are not aware of all the resources we have (or –more importantly– how they might be used in new and innovative ways). If the present system/way of being is not producing the results we want, why do we want to keep tweaking it instead of building a new system?

I see myself referring back to this book in the near future.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Book 19 of 2016 -- Tale of Two Cities

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."  One of the best known beginnings to a novel in English literature (even if upon hearing the first paragraph read aloud the gang at Cheers responded that " Boy, this Dickens guy really liked to keep his butt covered, didn't he? ")

Many ears ago (Grade 6?) we read an abridged version of this book at school. This summer I thought it was time to read the original.  And so I knew the basic story line.  I knew how it would end. ANd I had heard the final sentences (though to be honest I tend to also hear how Frasier Crane adapted those sentences in the episode named above).

Really this is a love story. Of a sort. It is a story set in the midst of social turmoil but not about the social turmoil. Sure Dicken's politico-social sensibilities flood through the descriptions and the plot lines but that is not, in the end what the novel is about. It is about love, a variety of loves, and the sacrifice that love can cause.

Some novels deserve to be read generations after they were written. This is one of them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Book 18 or 2016 -- The Practice of Pastoral Care

The Practice of Pastoral Care: A Postmodern Approach
Carrie Doehring (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press) 184 Pages

From the Chapters web site...
Drawing upon psychological, theological, and cultural studies on suffering, Carrie Doehring has developed an approach to religiously based care for clergy and caregivers who take a postmodern, or social-constructionist, approach to knowledge. Encouraging counselors to view their ministry through trifocal lenses that include approaches that are premodern (where God can be apprehended through religious rituals and traditions), modern (where rational and empirical sources are consulted), and postmodern (where the provisional and contextual nature of knowledge is realized), Doehring shows how pastoral caregivers can draw upon all of the historical and contemporary resources of their religious, intellectual, and cultural traditions...Utilizing case studies, offering student exercises, and concluding with an in depth look at a family situation in the novel Affliction to demonstrate her method, The Practice of Pastoral Care is accessibly written for students yet thought-provoking for seasoned caregivers. ( accessed August 10, 2016)

This is an easy read. It is also a very good read. It is the sort of book I wish we had been assigned when I was in seminary and I was trying to grapple with what Pastoral Care is and how it is done. [Though to be fair it likely would not have been as useful to me at that time since I was a less than stellar student in my first two years and also had not done a lot of work on my own issues – to the extent that I was unaware how those issues got (and still get at times) in my way.] I found the theory fascinating and helpful and at the same time the use of case studies/examples helped make it a much more practical book.

The piece that is missing is the “ordinary time” visits. As with much Pastoral Care writing I have read this volume focuses on the visiting in a time of crisis. And that is valuable, indeed there were many things I thought “I should do more of that” as I was reading. But one of the pieces I find more challenging is the visiting when there is no obvious reason for the visit, the more social visits. That is what I am really wanting to explore. And those are the visits I need to make roe of – largely because they lay the base for when the crisis arises.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Book 17 of 2016 -- The Emerging Christian Way

The Emerging Christian Way: Thoughts, Stories, & Wisdom for a Faith of Transformation
Edited by Michael Schwartzentruber (Kelowna, Copperhouse) 256 Pages

This book is a collection of essays looking at one vision of the future path or the Christian church (perhaps particularly the mainline church). It begins with a chapter by Marcus Borg where he outlines his understanding of an emerging paradigmatic understanding – which he calls Transformation Centered – of how to be the church (as opposed to an earlier paradigm which he calls Belief Centered). This lays out a basis for the “Emerging Christian Way” that the rest of the writers discuss. It is also not new to readers of Borg's work, particularly Heart of Christianity. In reading this chapter I was reminded how much I like Borg. The other chapter in Part One of the book is by Tim Scorer, who invites the reader to participate in an exercise that looks at five ways that faith can help us embrace transformation in looking at a key dilemma or issue in our lives. Interestingly when I was invited to name that key dilemma the first things that came to mind were issues of identity and belonging and acceptance. Some things never change apparently.

Part Two of the book is called “Key Perspectives”.The writers in this section look at creeds (Tom Harpur), the “great work” of our era (Thomas Berry), relationships to nature (Sallie McFague), post-denominationalism (Matthew Fox), multi-faith issues (Bruce Sanguin), inclusion (Anne Squires), and social justice (Bill Phipps). Some were very good – I was surprised how well the Tom Harpur piece resonated with me and could easily affirm his draft creed. Some were disappointing, in particular the last two. Squires' piece on inclusion was very familiar in this United Church that has made inclusion/inclusivity an idol. I agree that we are called to be a place where all are welcome, but that does not mean we need to be a place where everyone will be able to find a spiritual home. But in UCCan circles it is almost a heresy to point out that we are not called to be a spiritual home for every one. Phipps' piece was not something I disagreed with, but was also not new to me and so I had a “been there” feeling.

The third and final part of the book is “Emerging Forms” and is, I think, intended to give some practical advice for living into the emerging Christian way. The chapters here look at worship styles and liturgy (Mark McLean), singing in worship (Bruce Harding), Christian education (Susan Burt), pastoral care –though really focused on spiritual formation not crisis care – (Donald Grayston), and spiritual discernment (Nancy Reeves) before a short concluding essay by the editor to wrap things up. The most challenging piece in here was the chapter by Donald Grayston and his ideas about providing rites of passage (separate from confirmation) for youth. The Bruce Harding piece was good but again not new to me as I have hear Bruce say many of those things before.

All told this was a good read. Probably would make a better read within a group context, preferably with a leadership group/team of a Christian community, so then the group could discuss “what does this mean about how we are a community of faith?” in response to the various chapters.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book 16 or 2016 -- A Pastor in Every Pew

A Pastor in Every Pew: equipping laity for pastoral care
Leroy Howe (Valley Forge: Judson Press) 179 Pages

What is Pastoral Care? Whose “job” is it?

To answer the first question, in the end I think that Pastoral Care is part of everything we do as a church – and everything we do as a church needs to be part of how we offer care to each other's souls/spirits. Worship, Christian Education/Faith Development, proclaiming the Kingdom, sacraments, Scripture study, social/political action, polity & administration – everything we do as the church needs to be about caring for ourselves and our neighbours and helping us grow a deeper faithful relationship with God. Or, as some wise fellow said a few centuries ago “...“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself(Matthew 22:37-39). As we live out those verses we are doing Pastoral Care.

And so the task of Pastoral Care lies with all people of faith. We all have a calling to care for each other and to help each other grow in faith.

That being said, that is not what this book is about.

This book is about the more general understood meaning of Pastoral Care. It talks about the people who are specifically called to walk with those who are hurting or struggling, to listen to them to (to use the term the author prefers) be their shepherd. This is more than just friendly visiting and spiritual chit chat. Some of the examples Howe uses are pretty deep stuff (some deeper than I suspect many lay Pastoral Care teams are really expecting to go). But Howe is clear that his vision of this care does not rely on the person who is paid to do it. He is clear that this is a ministry in which many could, should, and need to be involved. It is part of the work of the Church, not the Pastor alone.

This book is set up to be used as a training manual. And as a person for whom Pastoral Care is the most challenging part of ministry I appreciated it as such. It had some helpful insights that I had not heard before (it is equally likely that either they had not been shared with me or that I was not able to hear them at the time).

There are some things missing in the book. Things around the art of pastoral conversation, the “how to go deeper” piece could have been helpful. Some discussion of what I have heard referred to as pastoral diagnosis, the picking up what is really happening, would have been helpful in a training manual (especially since there was a phrase in the chapter on homework which reads “...had Betty not given the homework, she might not have unearthed some valuable clues...” (p.100)). But the biggest exclusion was in the chapter on confidentiality where he spends the whole time talking about the need to break confidence in issues of imminent harm to self or others and not once mentions the ethical (and usually legal) requirement to break confidence if child abuse and/or neglect (past, present or future) is named or reasonably suspected. This appears to me to be a big miss. In the same chapter he speaks as if shepherds (lay or clergy) can claim the “seal of the confessional” in that he never speaks to the possibility of being called upon in court (admittedly this is likely a more detailed discussion than a introductory piece would contain).

On the whole this is a good book. It got me thinking about how pastoral care as a church-wide piece might work and why it does not seem to happen as readily as (I think) it used to.

Sensio Divina

Last week we went to a midweek service. The church where I grew up is having once a month services of Forest Church. These are services to encourage connection with the natural world (I note that the next one at the end of August is to celebrate the coming harvest). The July service was held out at a wetland area at this park and invited participants to an experience of Sensio Divina.

Sensio Divina?

Some readers will have heard of (and/or experienced) Lectio Divina, a Spiritual Practice that allows one to sink into a piece of Scripture. Sensio Divina is the same basic idea, except instead of a piece of text one uses some sensory input as the focus of meditation and reflection. Here are JPEG scans of the order of service, which includes a description of the process:

BEfore and after we went out for a walk we paused to center ourselves while listeing to the singing of Galai Star. Then we went out to walk the boardwalk (or other trails in the area) and see what drew us in and drew us to God's PResence.

Some pictures from the evening:

There were two things that I took away from the worship.
1) I would love to do something similar here. Every once in a while someone expresses the thought (which I have had and shared more than once) that it would be nice to do a "different" type of worship once in a while. My vision is an evening worship once a month that uses a variety of different worship experiences. This could be one of them,

2) I had forgotten how wonderful it is to have quiet time by the water. When I worked at Camp I would frequently go out and stroll/sit/pray/sing on the beach in the late evening, after all were in their cabins. When I was in seminary I would periodically go for a walk or a bike ride (season dependent) along the South Saskatchewan River. There is something about water that just holds me (which is a little odd since I am not a swimmer by any means -- I float somewhat like a rock). It reminded me that I need to be better/more intentional at making time to be outdoors in the quiet and allow myself to feel the presence of God.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Book 15 of 2016 -- Getting To Maybe

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed
Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, Michael Quinn Patton (Canada: Vintage Canada) 258 Pages

Change, they say, is the only constant in life. But managing (and possibly even directing) change is a really challenging piece of work.

The first thing I really liked about this book is that it is so honest. It is honest that social change/innovation is about complex systems. Not simple. Not just complicated. But complex, intertwined, always changing. This is a piece that we often miss in trying to start or direct change. We treat the system as if it is much more straight-line than human interactions ever are.

Another thing that makes this book so approachable is that it uses lots and lots of stories. Stories make it so much more real.

The title is an interesting choice for a book about change. In our results-driven, success-oriented culture maybe, at first glance, seems to be a mid-point at best. Shouldn't this be about getting to success? Or getting to completion? Or getting to yes? But the authors are clear that in a complex system where uncertainty is a given that maybe is the actual goal. Success is not a given ever, and in fact that methodology outlined in the book points out that learning from things that do not go according to plan is part of how social innovation works.

One of the things that struck me while reading this book was that we spend a lot of time in the United Church talking about the need to be innovative, to try new ways of being the church. And I agree. But more than once as I was reading this very well-laid out description of how social innovation works my thought was (and we in the church do just the opposite”. As an example, the authors talk a lot about the best way to approach evaluation in social innovation – not results oriented, not about meeting indicators, not goal oriented, more about what is learned in each step of trial But in the church, as in so much of the rest of society, we are results and goal oriented, we want to see obvious and measurable results (preferably immediately). Unfortunately, the authors suggest, (and I agree) focusing on those sorts of things too soon is a great way to kill actual innovation, which is about risk-taking. Or on the other side, there are those in the church who are great at hope and vision but not so great at actually looking at the world around the realistically – another way to kill effective social innovation the authors point out. I think the church could learn from these people.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Book 14 of 2016 -- 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting

10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting: Nurturing Your Child's Soul
Mimi Doe with Marsha Walch (United States: HarperCollins) 375 Pages

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, how do we, as parents, honor the spirituality of our children? As we shuttle between school, soccer practice, piano lessons, ballet lessons, birthday parties, and doctors' appointments, how do we find the time to encourage our children, through the ups and downs of growing up, to turn to God for guidance?” (from the back cover)

In this book Doe and Walch outline 10 ways to answer those questions. At times the way they explicate their principles seems very grounded. At others they sound a little “New Ageish” or “airy fairy”. But each to their own. You take what works and leave the rest. And of course this book is aimed at Spiritual parenting in a more generic sense (though one clearly gets the sense that the authors write from a Judeo-Christian mindset) and not specifically aimed at any one faith tradition. Which means that there will need to be a variety of images used.

The 10 principles themselves are:
  1. Know God Cares for You
  2. Trust and Teach That All Life Is Connected and Has a Purpose
  3. Listen to Your Child
  4. Words Are Important, Use Them with Care
  5. Allow and Encourage Dreams, Wishes, Hopes
  6. Add Magic to the Ordinary
  7. Create a Flexible Structure
  8. Be a Positive Mirror for Your Child
  9. Release the Struggle
  10. Make Each Day a New Beginning

This is a well written and helpful book. There were times that would encourage most parents. There are times that would convict most parents. And both of those are needed. There are suggestions that make a lot of sense and seem (in theory at least) easy to put into practise. And, as noted above, the reader is free to pick and choose what works for them and what does not.

Each principle gets its own chapter. At the end of each chapter are 5 things that make the book very worthwhile. There is a section called “Parents' Insight Building Exercise” which invites the parent to reflect (in the form of a guided meditation) on the principle that has just been discussed. There is a set of “Parents' Check-In Questions” which also push for reflection both on their own life and in their relationship with their child(ren) and partner. There is a “Children's Guided Journey”, a guided meditation to use with your child(ren). There is a set of “Children's Check-In Questions” to help encourage discussion with the child about the principle. And finally there are “Affirmations” both for Adults and Children.

I am glad I read this book. Truly there were passages that were difficult to read because I knew that what I do in practice is far less helpful than what was being described (Principles 3, 4, 8, and 9 come to mind). But we need to read those things too. At the same time, there were plenty of good suggestions.

One of the reading goals for this Sabbatical was to do some reading and reflecting on Pastoral Care. I chose to read the book because while Pastoral Care is about dealing with all generations. Much of our talk about Pastoral Care is about elderly individuals and/or people struggling with illness/change/mourning. But Pastoral Care is really about helping people grow in their Spiritual life. These principles are ones that the whole church could take on, not only as parents and grandparents but as part of the village that it takes to raise children. When we baptize a child in the United Church of Canada the gathered congregation makes a promise. Paying attention to books such as this would help us live out that promise.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book 13 of 2016 -- Making Neighborhoods Whole

Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development
Wayne Gordon and John M. Perkins (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press)

8 years ago New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani scoffed at Presidential candidate Barack Obama for being a “community organizer”. Which annoyed many clergy because we know the value of community organizers.

You could easily say that helping to develop healthy communities is a vital part of what it means to be the church in the world. It is Scriptural. It is faithful to the Law and the Prophets. It is also what Gordon and Perkins (and their many other contributors) talk about in this book.

The first part of the book is a bit of history about how the authors came into the world of Christian Community Development and the formation of the CCDA in the United States. The last 2/3 are the handbook. The CCDA has 8 principles for Christian community development and each is given a chapter. In each chapter the principle is explicated, both in terms of rationale and in terms of how it is lived out. But then is the best part.

Each chapter includes at least one story (this is wehre the any other contributors come in) relating to the principle [though of course the various principles inter-relate and it is not always easy to only talk about one]. Story, as any of us know well, is a wonderful teaching tool.

The community development discussed in this book is specifically geared to areas such as under-resourced American inner-city areas or possibly some less developed parts of the world. And so it is not a direct line to use the concepts as described in many congregations (to develop them) or other communities. But there is a lot of cross-over and places where one can extrapolate from the descriptions offered here.

To be in church leadership is to be in the business of developing community. A big part of that is developing the community of/within the local congregation. But we are also called to work and pray for the welfare of the communities in which our congregations are set. Sometimes we are better at that than others. But if we are to flourish as communities of faith we have to live it out. The ideas in this book are a help in figuring out how we might do that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book 12 of 2016 -- Aging, Spirituality and Pastoral Care

Edited by: Elizabeth MacKinlay, James W. Ellor, and Stephen Pickard (Binghamton: Haworth Pastoral Press) [Co-published simultaneously as Journal of Religious Gerontology Volume 12, Numbers 3/4, 2001]

This is a collection of papers related to the topic of the title. And as one often finds in such a work, some papers are more enjoyable than others. It is in two sections.

Section 1: Ethical, Theological and Ethical Dimensions
There are 5 papers in this section. The first looks specifically at ethical issues. It is very dense and was not my favourite. The other 4 were much more readable and accessible. In particular I liked the fourth, a paper co-written by a philosopher and a theologian discussing what wholeness means in relation to ageing – particularly in a culture where frailty and failing health tend to contradict understandings of wholeness. The third essay was also a very interesting read. It dissected a section of 2 Corinthians as a way of discussion “outward decay and inward renewal. The one issue I had with it was that there was relatively little overt discussion of ageing...which seemed odd given the topic of the book. The second paper challenged us to create a new way of looking at aging and gerontology, pointing out that much of the current work is based on biology and medicine and therefore misses some of the less tangible pieces of the puzzle.

Section 2: Issues of Ageing and Pastoral Care
This section has 7 papers. These tend to be a bit more practical in nature than the first section. They address issues as varied as isolation to sexuality to ritual to spiritual development to parish nursing. There are two authors who have submitted 2 papers each in this section. One talks about a dialogue between faith and dementia followed by a discussion of the importance of ritual in the life of faith. The other is a series of two articles relating to spiritual development and ageing (though it appears that these two are in the wrong order). I found both these sets of papers quite useful, though in terms of practical use the first set were more helpful. The last article, dealing with parish nursing (or as termed in this book “Faith Care Nursing”) reminded me of discussions in the United Church about 20 years ago. It struck me as an intriguing idea then bu one that would be harder to sell in financial terms. Still on the whole these papers have planted some seeds about how a faith community can provide optimal support for an ageing population – and in the process provide more support for all generations.

One of the gifts that faith communities have to offer to life is that we are one of the few places in society that are truly intergenerational. There are few places where people can share the energy and wisdom of multiple life stages. If we do it well we will all benefit.