Saturday, August 19, 2023

Book 6 of 2023 -- Pure Colour

 At the beginning of the summer I heard a radio interview with the author of this book. I was intrigued by the concept that the world as we know it is God's first draft and is being assessed to see what would be changed in the next draft. So I bought it for summer reading.

Frankly, I was disappointed. While the book is a novel it does not have a really clear narrative structure. It often seemed more like a stream  of consciousness exploration of some intriguing philosophical questions than a narrative. I prefer a novel to be a narrative piece.

That being said, the philosophical questions raised about the nature of life and the nature of grieving and the nature of relationships were certainly intriguing. IT was worth reading for that piece, it just wasn't what I was expecting or the sort of book I was looking for at the time.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Book 5 of 2023 -- Leisure Resurrected

What does leisure mean to you? How do you use your leisure time? Social Media? Reading? Watching TV? What is the role of leisure in our world today?

I found out about this book while cruising through Facebook one day. It is written by a colleague of mine in Ontario.

Crittenden seeks to explore questions like the ones I listed above. He does so by looking at the roots of our traditions: Greek and Roman understandings, Jewish Sabbath, early Christian understandings. Then he muses about what these might mean for us today.

I appreciated that Crittenden took us deeper into what leisure could mean. I think that for many of us it is more of an entertainment category, or "wasted time" or even moving into the modern equivalent of "bread and circuses" rather than something intentionally life-enhancing. I found it challenging to re-think what leisure could mean. I wonder also how we can push the discussion into our wider circles.

Book 4 of 2023 -- Leadership On the Line

 This was a book recommended in a course I took earlier this year so I started working my way through it. Leadership is sometimes a challenging task within the church, where one is called to lead but also called to empower/allow congregants to do the leading. Part of leadership is vision-casting, part of it is vision-keeping, and I have long pondered whether the casting or the keeping should get the higher priority,

As many people have learned over the years leading in a time of change/transition/upheaval is probably the most challenging leadership. It is unquestioned that the church right now, at the local regional and denominational levels, is in a time of change/transitional/upheaval. How do we lead in a time when we are not entirely sure which direction we are going?  That is why I read the book.

It was a slow read. I found I often needed to stop and think through a passage. Heifetz and Linsky draw on many years of experience and share multiple stories to explicate what they are tying to describe. There were certainly things I will need to remember (and probably go back to re-read) as time carries forward. I did like that they were open about the fact that leading through change is a risky, even dangerous, task and that the book is designed to help manage the danger to lead to a more positive experience.

THis is one I probably should have in hard copy rather than as an e-book so it would be easier to use as a reference volume.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Book 3 of 2023 -- God Doesn't Live Here Anymore


With a title like this how could I resist?

Like many other leaders within the church I have spent much time over the years pondering the decline and struggles the church has been facing for several decades (statistically the decline actually seems to have started, or at least been seeded, as far back as the 1950's, even if it took time to become more noticeable in many local settings). So when I saw this one I knew I had to give it a read,

Over half of this book is history. History as in back to the beginning of the Christian movement. Now given that I have been a bit of a history dweeb since I was a pre-teen I certainly enjoyed the historical summary. But I would have been just as happy or happier if more of the book ws looking at the present/recent past and exploring how we might respond to a God who may not live in the institutional church anymore.

When we did get to that analysis I found it very thought provoking. Now that might be because Daly follows along the same track that my thoughts tend to go.  He does have the courage to name openly that the church as we know it is dying (some might say dead but has yet to fall down). He encourages us to seriously consider if God has gone elsewhere and we need to leave this thing we call church behind to catch up to where God has led.

This week I am preparing for Easter. We are a resurrection people. If this thing we call church is dying or dead, maybe we need to go for a walk in the garden. And since resurrection does not mean resuscitation we need to open our hearts to what a resurrected church might look like. AS the saying goes, you can't go home again. The future of the church is not going to be a return to what we once were. If God doesn't live here anymore, where is God? Can we join them there?

I am thinking that I should recommend this book to some of my colleagues and to members of our congregational council.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Thoughts on Life and Death and Life Again

 Two weeks from today is Easter Sunday, the day when Christians around the world will celebrate the triumph of life, hope, and love over fear, despair and death. And so I have started to ponder what the Easter message needs to be this year.(The title I have listed for that sermon is What Are You Looking For?)

At the same time, this morning in worship we read about Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones and the raising of Lazarus. A time to talk about whether we see the finality of death or the possibility of renewed life (or more likely both). In that sermon I talked about the need to actually face the reality of the death in order to be able to look for the possibility of life. I also talked about the reality of the church that has talked about dying, or its imminent demise for several decades and pondered if part of the issue is that in all that lamenting we have, due to our cultural discomfort with death, steadfastly refused to name the reality that a way of being the church has died. Has that left us unable to realistically look for the possibility of renewed or new life?

Also I am in the midst of reading this book. I am between half and two thirds of the way through it thus far. The chapter I finished this afternoon was looking at the rise of the "nones" and what the statistics tell us about that phenomenon. And I had a thought (which may make it into the Easter sermon yet).

Do we miss the possibility of new life because it is not what we expect or want it to be? I know this is hardly a new thought but in terms of the church I thought of a new twist. And it shaped in my head in relation to the Scriptural story of defeat and exile.

When the first temple fell the people went into exile. When in exile they mourned. When they returned from exile they wanted to rebuild what had been lost. Indeed there is a sense that there was a great deal of discomfort in how hard it was to rebuild what had been lost. And while the temple was eventually rebuilt as a grand edifice the glory days of David and Solomon never returned.

Then the second temple was destroyed and the people were sent into diaspora. This time the people responded differently. Out of this experience the Talmud was written and rabbinical Judaism grew. I suspect there may be outliers who expect/hope that some day the land will be reconquered and the temple will be rebuilt but that does not appear to be the general hope of Judaism (recognizing that the question of "reconquering" the land is a very complex one in relation to the nation of Israel and the reality of the Palestinians). New life after the Romans dispersed the people was not a return to what once had been, it was a new thing altogether.

Is that what resurrection for the church means?  [Personally I think it most definitely is.]. Even when we name that there is a death and loss, even when we lament we claim to b people of resurrection. But I think we see resurrection in the wrong way. I think we are making the choice that the people of Israel made after the first temple fell, a choice that, in the end, was not actually the path to a lasting future. WE think resurrection means finding the magic bullet that will give us back what we once were. That is in fact resuscitation.

Resurrection is new life out of death. It is new hope out of despair. It comes as a surprise. It is not what is expected. And most importantly, it is not the same as what was before. There is still something lost, even as there is something gained. In the Jesus story the relationship with Jesus is different before Easter than it is after Easter. The old relationship, the ability to walk the streets of Jerusalem and ask him questions has been lost forever. There is a continuing relationship, it is just different.

So what might resurrection mean for the church? What will be the points of continuity and what things are lost forever? Will we even know until after we have started to live into the resurrection? I think we can not predict the answers to those questions. I think we have to be willing to look for something different than what we know or what we want. I have no doubt those first disciples would have rather having Jesus walking amongst them as he had been before, instead they got resurrection and a transformed life.

Do we have the courage to name that our losses are in fact lost, not to be reclaimed? Do we have the courage to let go of what we dearly want and expect to leave room for God to work resurrection in our midst? Or are we still looking to rebuild and resuscitate what was comfortable and known?

I think I know what answer we have been giving over the years. Maybe it is time to change our answer and actually live as resurrection people...

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Book 2 of 2023 -- Following Jesus Today

 News about this little piece popped up in my Facebook feed one day and I thought I would buy it to read in Lent. As it turns out I started it before Lent and finished it just days into the season....

This collection of short pieces by various authors invites us to explore how we experience Jesus. Each author speaks from their experience and so each one is very different.Within the church we have a variety of different understandings of and experiences with Jesus and I think we are in fact enriched when we allow and encourage each other to share those various pictures.

As I was reading I found myself wondering what I might have written. My experience of the Divine presence has largely been more pneumo-centric (Spirit centered) than Christo-centrc (Christ centered) and my understanding of Jesus has always been shaped by a low Christology. Still, like so many others over the years, I ponder who Jesus is for me. I may yet take a stab at the question....

Monday, February 13, 2023

Book 1 of 2023 -- Models of the Church

 This is a title that came up in a clergy FB group when someone asked about good books on ecclesiology. So I went shopping....

THe book was originally written 40 years ago, with some expansion (the final chapter) added in 1987 and then an appendix (an essay about the ecclesiology of Pope John Paul II)  added in this version. I think it would be interesting to ask Cardinal Dulles how he sees the patterns he identified in the first decade following Vatican II developing and being lived out in the 21st century.

Given that the author is a Cardinal, the book tends to skew toward a Roman Catholic perspective. however the methodology that Dulles uses was quite helpful. The 5 basic models (or perhaps schools of thought) that he lays out for understanding the church open up a number of possibilities.

In the end I tend to suggest that none of those models is what any one congregation should aim for. Each model adds something to our understanding. As is the case for much of the life of faith, any of our descriptors are only partial. The Church is more than any of them. Dulles talks about the element of Mystery, something that always fits when we try to explain how God is at work in the world,

I suspect that many people will find themselves drawn more to one of the 5 models than another. Personally I found things I really appreciated in at least 3 of them (community, sacrament, and servant) but, as I suggested above, the church will be at its best when it is an amalgam of all 5 -- probably an amalgam that itself shifts which model gets emphasized as circumstances dictate and God touches the hearts of the members.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Book 13 of 2022 -- A New Kind of Church: Understanding Models of Ministry for the 21st Century


For some time now I have been becoming more and more aware that  the way we are doing/being church is not long term sustainable. But how is God calling us to be church differently? So I went shopping for books about ecclesiology. Actually I went looking for one that I had seen recommended and found this one along the way (I also found the one I was looking for and it is next in my reading queue). It looked interesting so I gave it a try.

To be honest I was a bit disappointed. Malphurs is so heavily embedded in an evangelical understanding of the church that much of the time he ends up denigrating other understandings of the church (I stopped counting how many times he described the "liberal" church as not really being true churches). So I spent a lot of the book trying to translate through that rhetoric.

There were some pieces about process that I think I might be able to make use of. However there are time I questioned if the author truly understands the wide variety of church structures and understandings that are out there. Certainly he shows little understanding of the how different church sizes actually operate (and tends to see a small church as a size that many places would consider large).

Doing it again, I may not buy this book. But I think that in the end I might get enough out of it to make it work.

Book 12 0f 2022 -- The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Original Crew

 This was a gift to me during Clergy Appreciation Month in October. Apparently over 12 years the congregation has gotten to know a bit about my tastes....

As a general rule I really enjoy these "Gospel According to..." style of books. If I recall correctly I have previously read them dealing with Peanuts (which was the first of the genre I believe), Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. I like how the authors engage simultaneously with the faith story and the contemporary text to find intersections.

Sometimes the connections are obvious. Sometimes the contemporary text is one that some/many people of faith have decried as being antagonistic to Christian faith (Harry Potter comes to mind), which often tells me that they have not really engaged those texts very well.

I have long found echoes of Christian values and questions in the world of Star Trek. At the same time I can see why some would see that world as being quite atheistic and devoid of much recognizable spirituality -- unless you look a bit deeper in some of the story lines. I think Neece has done a good job of pulling some of those threads out in this book. At the same time I think his desire to make Spock into a Christ figure, while having some merit, is a bit overdone. He stretches the metaphor a bit far for my taste.

Having never seen the Animated Series or the newer "Kelvin Timeline" movies I can not really speak to Neece's comments on those pieces of the canon. However his chapters on TOS and his explication of where he understands Roddenberry to be coming from are quite good. The chapters on the movies are uneven, as are the movies themselves. 

Al in all a good read, and one that has already influenced a couple of sermons this fall.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Book 11 of 2022 On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World

 I have been following Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on Twitter for some time now. And when I heard of this book coming out I was intrigued enough that I pre-ordered it and started waiting.

Rabbi Ruttenberg talks in the book about how it started with a Twittter thread speaking of Jewish thought in the area of repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation. While I do not remember exactly what was said in that thread I do remember reading it.

In this book Ruttenberg makes extensive use of the work of medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides. SHe explores an approach to repentance that is very different than the one I grew up with. To begin with, apology is something that happens near the END of the process, not at the beginning. Since the rationale for this is that we can not offer a true, meaningful apology until we have fully named and owned what we have to apologize for this makes much more sense than many apologies that I have heard over the years.

The other big difference is that there is a clear separation between the work of repentance and making amends and forgiveness. It also states that reconciliation may or may not be the end result of the process. The goal of repentance in this model is not necessarily to be forgiven, it is to name what has happened, understand what damage has been done, offer a true apology, and make amends as best one can. Forgiveness is something that may (or may not) be offered by the offended person, and even then forgiveness does not have to lead to reconciliation and a return to relationship. Compared to a common Christian teaching that expects forgiveness (and probably reconciliation) after every apology this made me think a lot. I think it many ways it is a healthier approach and avoids a cheap grace view of apology and forgiveness.

It is also worth naming that from a faith stance Ruttenberg makes clear that only the offended/victim can offer forgiveness to the offender. Threfore God can only forgive sin inasmuch as it is an offense to God, God can not forgive us for the ways we have hurt our neighbour -- that is up to the neighbour. This level of accountability would likely be helpful in a Christian sense (and is in accord with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:21-26). When we have to be held accountable by our neighbout and can not get a free pass from God it may push us to take the needs of our neighbour far more seriously.

This book addresses the topic at a personal level, at a community/organizational level, and at a national level. Each different piece carries different complications and obligations. THis discussion helped me sort out my misgivings about the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation  process and why we seem to be stuck and unable to move into true reconciliation.  I think we offered apology too soon in the process and there is still a reluctance to name and understand the harms done, which hampers the movement to true repentance and making of amends.

There is much in this book I could see myself using in the future. Now to see if I can remember it when the time comes....