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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Book 11 of 2016 -- Studying Congregations

edited by: Nancy T. Ammerman, Jackson W. Carroll, Carl S. Dudley, and William McKinney (USA: Abingdon Press) 256 pages

This book was recommended by a classmate 15 years ago. So I guess it was time to read it.

One of the realities of ministry is that in order to provide leadership you need to constantly be gauging who and where the congregation is (both in their self-understanding and in reality – because those two are not always the same thing).

This book gives tools and perspectives on how we do that analysis. Sometimes you do it intentionally to deal with a specific issue or problem (or “mess” as one quote in the book suggests we do not solve problems – we handle messes). Sometimes you do it intentionally as part of a visioning/re-visioning and mission/goal setting process. You are always doing it at an unconscious level.

I liked that the authors gave a variety of frames or lenses to use in this process of studying. How we look at a situation will often change what we see. Years ago, in my first year theology class I remember the prof saying that the questions are far more important than the answers. Same with choosing what way you will look at a situation. Those things shape the answers we gain. I also appreciated the constant reminder that this sort of study is NOT best done by one person. You need a variety of eyes to get the clearest look at the picture.

But I have a major concern. It is my sense that organizations, perhaps particularly the church sometimes tend to act unreflectively. And so taking time to reflect and study is a good thing. But organizations, and certainly churches, sometimes swing too far the other way. Study and reflection can become the endpoint. We go too far into navel-gazing and never quite get to the action portion (admittedly I recognize this because it is a trap I personally can fall into). Sometimes it feels that the study has not quite given us the magic information that we need to know exactly what action to take.

This book is helpful in giving tools and methods and perspectives as to how we study our congregations. But at the same time I am not about to put it into practice immediately (at least as a formal study process). Sometimes we need to act so that we have something new to reflect upon....

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book 10 of 2016 -- The Guardian

I first met Jack Whyte's writing 20 years ago when (along with much of the rest of my family) I read through the Dream of Eagles cycle (his series positing how the Arthurian myth could have begun in post-Roman Britain). And then years later I read the three parts of his Templar trilogy. Then I have worked through this trilogy.  The first one was about the formation of William Wallace, the second was about the upbringing of Robert the Bruce, and then this one is about Andrew de Moray (or Murray), the partner of William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge -- which, by the way, looked NOTHING like how Mel Gibson portrayed it in his movie. [Which did surprise me a touch since I was expecting the trilogy to close with the Black Douglas, I am sure I had read that somewhere]

I really enjoy historical epic fiction. To be fair I really enjoy straight on history as well. But historical fiction in an interesting genre.  You can't outright contradict the historical record. But you can't just reiterate it either. Luckily official historical records often have lots of holes. Enter historical fiction, the chance to play "what if" and fill in the holes. It is sort of like the Jewish practice of midrash.

The first two books ended at roughly the same point in time. This book starts where they ended as we continue into the Scottish war of Independence (or rebellion if you follow the English logic of Edward).  And for a novel of Andrew Murray, there are about a dozen chapters before we actually cross north of the Forth and head up to Moray and meet the supposed protagonist.  Really, as with the book about Wallace, we are reading the account as told by Father James Wallace, cousin of William, seeing the events through his eyes.

I like Whyte's writing.  It serves as a nice escape from time to time.  I wonder what he might take on next....

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Book 9 of 2016 -- Volume 5 of Les Miserables

It is Finished.

And I am so glad I chose to read it (and persevered as I waded through the heavy bits).  Then again the musical is one of my favourite shows ever so I was predisposed to push myself through the text.

The ending of the musical, with Cossette and Marius rushing in to Valjean just before he dies is touching.  The original scene as written by Hugo is far more deeply moving.

This version included as an appendix a letter from Hugo to the publisher of the Italian version of the book.  In this epistle he explains why the book is not just a French historical fiction. He explains that it touches on social issues that are universal across Europe.  So the book is, at least in Hugo's vision, a social commentary (and a fairly powerful one at that). Some (or even much) of this comes through in the Musical, but not nearly as deeply.

THere are books that deserve to be read more widely. This is one of them.  On the other hand, I suspect that in its full form many current readers would give up in those long descriptive and extraneous parts. Which is a pity (though I still believe there could have been a bit more heavy editing--because I still don't know why we needed  long in-depth description of Waterloo just so we can meet Colonel Pontmercy and see him rescued by Thenardier).  Some of those long descriptive passages are truly beautiful. And without some of them the depth of understanding of the characters would be lost.

There is one other thought. Hugo writes assuming that we have a deep knowledge of the history to which her refers, refers in great detail.  The novel works without that knowledge. But I suspect there are bits that would make far more sense and have far more meaning if I were much more familiar with French history of the early 19th century.

If you have the time....I encourage the reading of this book.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Book 8 of 2016 -- Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents

Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents: How to Help, How to Survive
Claire Berman (New York: Henry Holt Publishers) 255 pages.

Statisticians and demographers keep telling us that we are going to have a massive number of frail elderly in a few years. The oldest of the Baby Boomers are now 70. What does this mean for us as a society? What might it mean for the church?

It means that there are going to be more and more people developing diseases and conditions of old age. It means that there are going to be more and more family and friends challenged with the task of helping to care for someone who was, once, a caregiver him or herself.

This book (published in 1996) was given to me some years ago. Insides there is a note that reminds me it came from one of my “more mature” moms. [One of the benefits of having grown up in one congregation is that I have a number of surrogate parents, and as we were the youngest family in that particular circle (mainly choir families) all the surrogate parents are “more mature”]. I had never made myself read it. My official reason is that I have never gotten around to it. Unofficially I suspect it is because it is always challenging to think of one's parents (surrogate and actual) as getting to that point of needing care.

The beauty of this book is that it does not grow out of some “expert” deciding to tell people what they need to know. Instead it grows out of the author's own experience, buttressed by research and interview both with caregivers and with professionals in the field. It is inherently practical and down to earth and honest. It names tasks but also talks about the emotional and mental toll that comes with this new way of being with your parent.

In these pages we find tips and resources, a “where to look” sort of thing (though as a US publication these “where to look” type tips are of less direct use for us in Canada). We find stories that show us where some of the greatest rewards and challenges come from. We find warnings about what could go “wrong”. We find reassurance that there is no right way to do this caregiving. And at the end of each chapter we find a bulleted summary of what was just discussed.

In the future the church is going to be filled with both the “frail elderly” and the family and friends who are helping them. As leaders in the church we need to develop tools to help support these people. Or maybe redevelop/reawaken those tools and skills because I think once upon a time we (as a community) had them. With each new generation there are new wrinkles – distance between family members in a much more mobile culture being a big one. But we have the tools within our communities to do it.

My biggest quibble with the book was that, being 20 years old, it was missing a big piece of the resource side – the online world. Then today I was looking at the Chapters website and found that the bookhas been reissued in 2005 with that piece added in.

Our parents will age. (So will we). Most of them (and us) will lose functioning to one degree or another for one reason or another. Some faster, some slower, some sooner, some later. We (and those who will care for us) will all have to adapt to a new reality. It is good to have resources that will help us make the shift.