Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book 28 0f 2016 -- Practicing Presence: Theory and Practice of Pastoral Care

This is one that I had purchased before/for my sabbatical but did not get read in the summer.

It is the sort of piece I was looking for in terms of Pastoral Care, possibly more than any of the other books on the topic I read this summer.

I found the first part of the book the most helpful in this regard, as an introduction to the topic.

Other than the fact that there were signs that a stronger editing/proofreading process was needed it is a well written book. I did find that there was a focus more on the hospital setting rather than the parish setting but that likely speaks to the author's experience.

It seems to me that this would be a helpful book for an introductory course in Pastoral Care, as well as a refresher on the topic

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book 27 of 2016 Tales of the Alhambra for children

This was a Christmas gift. So I thought I should probably read it before Christmas came around this year,

Apparently Washington Irving (of Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) spent some time in Grenada. And out of that came a book full of stories.  This volume takes 7 of his tales, adapts them to be a bit more child-friendly and adds illustrations.

I had no idea what to expect. Were the tales linked to each other? Were they horror-ish like Sleepy Hollow?

No (sort of) and no.

Overall I would classify these stories as romanticism, though usually with a twist at the end. And while there are a couple that refer back to other stories overall they are each independent pieces, at least in this subset.  It is possible that the larger collection does have more linkages.

These are good stories. Now I am really tempted to buy the originals....

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Book 26 of 2016 -- Searching for Sunday

This is the second book by Rachel Held Evans I have read this year.  Like Faith Unraveled it is in the genre of autobiography.

The book is structured around the 7 Sacraments of the faith (well in those traditions which recognize 7 sacraments -- many of us only name 2 as sacraments), which I found a really intriguing way of building it. Many of the stories touched on themes from more than one sacrament, because life is like that, but tying them to a specific part of faith life gives a lens through which to view the story.

My story is very different from the story shared by this author. And yet I find that some of the same questions she wrestles with are my questions (though I come from a faith tradition that always encouraged the questions). The honesty with which she engages and shares is wonderful.  This is a book I would recommend to a young adult trying to figure out if church is right for them.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book 25 of 2016-- The Sabbath World

Sometimes when looking for one thing you find something totally different and are so glad you did.  That, often, is the essence of book shopping (for me at least).

I forget what I was looking for when I found this volume but the title intrigued me and I bought it. It then sat in digital limbo for a few months until just after I returned from Sabbatical. In theory it would have made more sense to read a book about Sabbath before Sabbatical leave but who wants to be logical all the time?

In part the book is a history of Sabbath and Sabbatarianism.  In part it is the author's autobiographical account of her struggles with the Sabbath of her Jewish heritage. In part it is a reflection on what Sabbath does/could mean in a world that appears to have left the concept in the dust.

It is a really good read.

Sabbath is a topic I wrestle with a fair bit. I remember a couple of years ago when WalMart was moving to 24/7 hours for the Christmas season I posted in a FB discussion that this was not needed and that it was not healthy to think it was needed.  Suffice to say I was a minority in the discussion (You are really weird was one comment as I recall). It is very anti-cultural to suggest that Sabbath is a good idea these days.

I also remember as a young teen the debate in this province over Sunday shopping (trust me that ship has left port for so long the port has been dismantled).

Near the end of the book Shulevitz raises the question of whether Sabbath time should be legislated again. It is an interesting question.  I really do think that we would be a healthier culture if we turned the taps of commerce off for a day, or even a portion of a day each week. Not just as individuals but communally.

And yet how do you do it? I think that North American culture has gone to a place where it is no longer possible to get back the idea of Sabbath time. The wheel of commerce grinds on inexorably. And how would you choose which day? In a pluralistic culture we can't link it to any faith observance (which makes me also wonder how we still get away with making Statutory holidays of Christian observances).

I will continue to wrestle with Sabbath.  I will continue to wrestle with it on a personal level (because I rarely take a day of Sabbath time) and on a communal cultural level.

This book was a part of that wrestling.

Book 24 of 2016 Wenjack

Fifty years ago this month a 12 year old Ojibway boy named Chanie (Anglicized to Charlie) Wenjack ran away from an Indian Residential School in Kenora. He then died along a railway line a week later.

His death sparked a formal inquiry which condemned the IRS system.  And most of us had never heard of him until this year when this Heritage minute was released:

This book is a fictionalized/imaginative (and greatly compressed--into a couple of days) account of his fatal flight to freedom. It is narrated by the Manitous that accompany and watch Chanie on his trip.

The novella is a simple and quick read (my Kobo told me it took 0.7 hours). Which does not mean that it is an easy read. It is challenging as it forces us to acknowledge that this is based on an actual death. It forces us to ask what sort of a country would create situations where things like this would happen.

I am tempted to read it to my children (at least the older two) as a way to start to talk about this so difficult subject.

I am also tempted to suggest it as a book study for the congregation.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sabbatical report

AKA “How I spent my summer”

Going in to the Sabbatical Period I had three main goals:
1) Do a bunch of reading with two focal points to be Congregational/Community Development and Pastoral Care
2) have some “down time” and some family time
3) be intentional about physical activity
Other possibilities included watching some TED talk videos in conjunction with goal 1 (that did not happen) and getting some stuff done around the house and yard (which largely also did not happen).

Goal 1:
Books Read: 18 (11 in Hardcopy, 7 on KOBO)
Fiction – 4
General Spirituality – 1
Congregational/Community Development – 8
Pastoral Care – 5
Then there were some random articles on various topics that I read, usually as a result of them popping up on my Twitter or Facebook feed.

So I averaged roughly a book a week, which I am pleased with. As I finished each book I wrote a bit of a reflection on it as a way to help refer back to them as time progresses. Over time I need to synthesize the concepts in this reading and discern how best to apply them to congregational ministry. Some of the books I found very applicable and helpful, some of them were not quite what I thought they might be. I did find that in order to focus on reading I needed to go to another place (often Starbucks was where I ended up) where there were less distractions than at home. My book reflections can all be found at:

Goal 2:
There was certainly down time. And there was some extra family time – whether this is a good thing may depend on which members of the family you ask. The interesting thing was that I am still unsure if I ended the summer any more rested than I would in a regular summer. I think I was somewhat more refreshed at any rate. And I did a better job than I thought I would at leaving thoughts about what was happening at the church/with church people behind. The only time I really read and engaged with church e-mails that popped up on my phone was around the flood, the rest I deleted pretty much unread. At the same time I learned that it is likely I should have more contacts in town that are not work-related.

Goal 3:
I am satisfied with how well I did on this one. The weeks we were in town I was able to get over to Eastlink 2-3 times a week quite reliably with some other walks with the dog added in. I had hoped to get one or the other in every day but in reality that was probably overly optimistic. The challenge on a continuing basis is to find a way to continue this level of activity now that life is back to its normal busy-ness.

I went in to the sabbatical not knowing what exactly to expect. Now that I have taken one I am not sure I would do it again unless there was something specific I had to accomplish. I am glad I took it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pastoral Care....some rambling thoughts

From the beginning of my first internship I have found one thing to be true.  The part of ministry that I find the most challenging is Pastoral Care.

There are a variety of reasons for this I suppose, but it remains the truth. The biggest block is the so called "regular" visit. I am never really sure what the purpose of these visits is. For visits with a clearer purpose I am much less uncomfortable.

Further complicating matters is the fact that for many of those who are home-bound it often seems that the biggest need the visit is meeting is that of social companionship.  While that is certainly valued, I am not convinced it is the task of the clergy person to provide social companionship to people (interestingly when I asked one Board Chair that question the answer was a quick "yes" as if it was a strange question) -- particularly when said companionship can be provided better by people who have more of a shared history.

Then this summer I read two articles that were not helpful to someone who tends to do less visiting than he would like. One is called How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches and the other is Fifteen Reasons Why Your Pastor Should Not Visit Much. Both authors make some sound  arguments, though I believe they may overstate the case. And of course context is key in any of these sorts of discussions, what is a norm in one place may seem odd in another.

And at the same time a very common comment in many congregations is that the minister does not visit enough...

But it brings me back to a key question I have been wrestling with for 20 years now.

What is Pastoral Care? What is it not?  What parts of the broad topic are best taken on by the clergy and what parts are best taken on by the whole congregation?

I think that everything we do as a church has at least a touch of Pastoral Care to it. Worship, Christian Development/Faith Formation, Community Building events, Fundraisers (I always counted the many hours I spent helping make apple pies in my settlement charge as Pastoral Care time), even Council and Committee meetings are part of how we are "church" together and so how we care about each other. But obviously there is a more focused piece as well...

In a Facebook discussion this summer some clergy were discussing who in the congregation gets a monthly visit and why. Some said none except in exceptional circumstances, some (myself included) said that there were some (usually "shut-ins") who it was a priority to try and see monthly.

Whose job is it to maintain contact on behalf of the church?

At the same time there is a little matter of choice.

There are X number of hours in a week. And so a finite number of things that can be done.  How do people know who to go and visit? What responsibility is it of the visitor to know who needs a visit and what is the responsibility of the person wanting a visit to make that need known?

Coming back from Sabbatical it is my hope that I can only be in the office in the mornings and maybe one afternoon a week. This leaves the other afternoons available to visit folk. Mind you I have tried to get that going before and it has yet to be successful.

How do you define Pastoral Care?

What do you think the "Pastoral Care" piece of the ministerial job description should mean?

If you are clergy how do you define it?

Friday, September 02, 2016

Book 23 of 2016 -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

As a final book for the Sabbatical period, I decided to by myself this one when at the mall yesterday.

Then I had to read it quickly because the daughter really wants to read it. Well that and once you start reading you are drawn in and want to continue.

It is an interesting extension of the story. And I admit I do like stories that explore alternative histories, the "what if this had gone differently" plot device.

It largely fits well with what we know from the earlier books (unlike for example the Star Wars prequel movies which do not fit with what we learn in the original trilogy). As I was reading the first act I was trying to determine who the cursed child was (thinking of a curse as in a spell).  But I think really there are 3 cursed children in it -- and none of them because a spell was cast upon them. And of course, as with the original books, this play pushes us to think about relationships and choices.

Though I must say it seems like a really expensive script to put on stage....

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book 22 of 2016 -- Help, Thanks, Wow

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
Anne Lamott (New York, Riverhead Books)

Anne Lamott has a nice simple way of exploring issues of faith. In this volume she takes on prayer. And really it is fair to say that those are the three basic prayers.

Help. When life is challenging (for us or for others) we say help. When we don't know where to turn. When life doesn't seem fair. When there seems no way out. When we don't understand. We say help. Help with a decision, help change the circumstances, help understand, help find meaning. Just help. There was stuff in here that also underpins the act of Pastoral Care.

Thanks. The prayer we too often forget. What I liked was Lamott's recurrent reminder that gratitude is something we get better at the more we practice it. That we say thanks for the big things and the small things. That even when things are falling apart eyes accustomed to practising gratitude see something for which to say thanks.

Wow. How often do we miss the awesome in our lives? How often do we get focused on the mundane and the ugliness of life and miss the wow that is around us? How often do we take the awesomeness of the world around us for granted and forget to actually look? [I was reminded of this earlier this month when we went to Jasper and I got to see the mountains through the eyes of the girls who had never been there before.]

I am thinking that each week our prayers of the people (which generally already include thanks and help) need to intentionally include these three things. Maybe instead of asking for celebrations and concerns our order of worship also needs to ask for the wows....

The one piece of prayer that this book misses is that of confession/examintion of one's actions/attitudes. Though to be fair at one point Lamott does refer to a 4th standard prayer – something along the lines of “help me not to be an ass” which may sort of cover that.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book 21 of 2016 -- The Church, Change and Development

The Church, Change and Development  
Ivan Illich (Urban Training Center Press) 125 Pages

In the spring I was asking on Facebook for possible books around Community Development. One of my colleagues sent me to a PDF link of this (free) book. Free books are almost always worth the cost so....

Until downloading this book I had never heard the name Ivan Ilich. Then he ended up as one of the people discussed in the last book I read. So as I was reading this I had to look him up and learn more about him.

It was an interesting piece. The book itself is a selection of letters, papers and speeches from the 1960's. They largely focus on Catholic mission work in Latin America but there are insights that also fit a broader (and later in time) context. Indeed in reading the first paper (which is the on the book is named for) I was struck by how prescient Illich is in describing both the era of his writing and the eras that followed.

Illich does a good job of pushing the church-folk he is working with (or possibly against?) to consider seriously the context in which they act. He also pushes them to consider seriously the ways in which their actions might actually be damaging to the people with whom they are working. He challenges the assumptions made about mission work and actively calls the church to focus on the needs of the people.

In the end, for my purposes anyway I found the first paper the most useful. The others were interesting reading and had some good insights but were a bit to narrowly focused for me.

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. (https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-practice-of-pastoral-care/9780664226848-item.html?ikwid=doehring&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=1 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.

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.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book 7 of 2016 -- The Abundant Community

John McKnight and Peter Brock (San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler Publishers) 170 pages

What does it take to build a strong community? What gets in the way of that happening?

It occurs to me that these are two key questions that we, as churches and as communities in general, need to take seriously as we try to imagine what sort of a society we want to live in. Because, to be brutally honest, I am feeling more and more that the idea of community is falling more and more by the wayside with each passing decade. Maybe it is because of the drive to be “productive”. Maybe it is because we have decided to over-schedule ourselves. Maybe it is because we don't trust the people around us anymore (although arguably that is also a result of not having strong community-mindedness – bit of a chicken/egg spiral there) and so often believe that we are to live in a level of fear all the time. Maybe it is because we are so much more of a mobile (or even transient) society – building strong community often takes time and rootedness. Maybe it is because, as McKnight and Brock claim, we have moved from being 'citizens' to being 'consumers'.

At any rate, it is harder and harder to find people who live in a truly encompassing and supportive community. 20 years ago when I was working in a crisis nursery I quickly learned some of the costs of that lack of community. When I was growing up there were a number of people (largely from the church congregation in our case) who could care for my sister and I in case of emergency (or in the case of a planned trip) or people who could share each others' struggles and offer wisdom and support. The people I was talking to on a crisis line had no-one. The lack of community put them into an even deeper crisis. And even then, in the 1970's and 80's I think we could see that community was different than it had been for my grandparents' generation.

In this volume McKnight and Brock begin by outlining the difference between living as 'citizens' where we take ownership for issues, where we live in a more community-building mindset and living as 'consumers' where we go out to buy goods and services to resolve our issues (or possibly to hide from them), where we rely on professionals rather than the community. They suggest that in following the path into consumers we have put much of the strength and wisdom of the community behind us, that maybe we have even lost much that used to come naturally to us as people. They then lay out an alternative way of life, and start to give the readers a map that would take us back to living in the “abundant [and competent] community” where we re-learn that we have the gifts and tools and skills within our communities and associations to live healthy productive lives.

Over and over as I was reading this book two thoughts occurred to me. One was that this is the sort of book that municipal politicians need to read. If we want our communities to be stronger than our leaders need to see a different way of building them. The other is that these are the sorts of things that communities of faith should be doing almost automatically. The church can be a force for modelling a different for of interaction. Much of it we still do just because that is how we are. I fear that we are, even in the church, starting to lose the full sense of what community can be and accomplish.

One of the challenges of following this approach in this century, I think, is going to lie in how we define community. Is it the neighborhood in which we live? Yes, and much of what McNight and Brock talk about works well in that milieu. Is it the groups of which we are a part? Yes (they talk of these as our associations). BUT community today is also something different and broader when we consider the on-line world. In many ways the whole on-line phenomenon is a product of the consumer mindset. But can it also be placed into the paradigm of the abundant, caring community? And how? It would be interesting to ask the authors that question....