Monday, October 28, 2019

Book 11 of 2019 -- Speaking Church

The title of this intrigued me.  So did the subtitle A New Vision for the Sub/Urban Congregation.  Serving in a congregation that is mainly urbanized with some still strong rural roots and links I wondered what Ross had to say.

It was a good read.  The major part of one chapter is a series of case studies/reflections using the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation. And that has me seriously pondering a sermon series on those letters, because I suspect all 7 have something to say to most churches.

I also liked where Ross challenged/counselled sub/urban churches both to look at what the needs of the community actually are and what other groups in the community are doing. Both of these are, I think the way to do good contextual ministry and avoid the "well when we did this it worked (30 or 40 years ago) trap. It also helps us remember that the church can work with other agencies and groups rather than only go it alone.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Book 10 of 2019 -- This I Know

At first glance a book about marketing seems an odd thing for a minister to read for continuing education but really...

Terry O'Reilly is a CBC Radio One personality. I first listened to his show Age of Persuasion and now listen each season for Under the Influence. With the result that there were a number of times in the book that I started reading a story , recognized/remembered it from the show and could "hear" Terry telling it as I read.

I chose this book for two reasons.  First off was because I really enjoy the radio show. The other was that I in fact think a marketing book is a very good thing to read for work in the church. Because, to be blunt, the church often sucks at marketing. Possibly in part because we don't think we should be worrying about marketing.

So as I read and enjoyed the book I was constantly asking myself "how does this translate to the church?". ANd there were a number of places. There were things I should consider in sermon prep, things to consider in Council visioning discussions, thing to think about in what advertising we do (which is very little).  I think the place to start is the basics.  What is our brand? What is our key purpose? Our Elevator pitch?

I need to give more thought. I need to find a way to share the thoughts with others, because marketing the church is not (just) my job.

Good book. entertaining but also thought provoking.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Book 9 of 2019 -- The Gospel According to Star Wars

My daughter saw this one on a book table at Presbytery and told me I had to buy it (although she is not a Star Wars fan at all). So I did.

Like many of my generation, those of us who grew up with the original trilogy, I have long seen God-talk in the Star Wars story.

In this book I found that McDowell does a good job of exploring theological themes (most doing with the nature of evil and the nature of power) in the original trilogy and the prequels. One place I would have enjoyed more discussion was how did the politics of the day shape the movies themselves.  Lucas has spoken at great length about how that helped shape the first movie but where did that impact the later movies?  McDowell does this to a degree but I would want to look at it some more (admittedly Lucas had the broad strokes of the story in mind well before the movies came out so it is a challenging line to draw).

I appreciated the depth to which McDowell takes the look. There are some interesting ways to look at the movies many have said are pure escapism.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Book 8 of 2019 -- Birth of Jesus for Progressive Christians

'Tis the time of year to be thinking of fall studies.  This book was suggested as a possible late fall/Advent study.  Earlier this year I read another book by the same author, that one was on Revelation.

I think it would work as a study.  I disagree with some of the comments Schmidt makes about the Scripture he  is discussing but that just makes for more opportunities to discuss.... right?

THough part of me wonders if a study group reading Borg/Crossan's The First Christmas might be better....

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Book 7 of 2019 -- The Theology of The United Church of Canada

I was very excited when I saw advance news that this book was being released. Often those of us in the United Church have met with accusations that we have no theological principles, or that our theology is not "Christian enough" (we are a denomination that has been accused of being "Christianity Lite") or that we really just allow ourselves to get blown around by the winds of popular opinion. On the other hand an academic theologian within our midst has suggested that one of our issues, likely growing from our 'big-tent' reality and our practice of having theology and polity heavily influenced by local contexts, is that we are awash in theology.

At any rate this book is a systematic attempt to lay out what the United Church's theology is on a variety of topics and how it has developed. Each chapter is written by a different person and so there are a variety of points of view present in the book -- as is only appropriate for the United Church. Generally speaking the authors track the development of Theological thought through our 4 statements of faith that we term subordinate statements because our primary source for theology (whether some of my colleagues agree/like it or not) remains Scripture. When relevant they will also refer to other reports/studies/commissions that the church has produced since 1925.

Some of the chapters were more engaging than others (as one would expect). The chapter on the Holy Spirit, written by an indigenous person is a masterpiece. The chapters on Foreign and Home missions work were also striking in their willingness to name where the church grew in understanding of this cross-cultural work and where it remained stuck in very colonial attitudes for many decades.

The nature of the UCCan is that we do not always agree. And so there are interpretations here I found myself arguing with. (Again this may be part of why we are awash in theology because I am sure I am not alone.) However this is a book that needs to be widely read across the church  And plausibly hand delivered to some of our detractors, not to convince the we are right but to help them see who we are and how we got here.  In seminary I took a course called the History and Theology of the United Church. I think this volume would be a good reading for such a course, and then augmented by some of the studies and reports it alludes to.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book 6 of 2019 -- Growing Pains

In a discussion recently about the state of the world and the Donald Trump effect one of the people mentioned this book and offered to lend it to me.

It is a good read, unsettling at times but thought-provoking. While I have never read any of Dyer's books I did generally appreciate his syndicated columns. He is able to take what could be relatively dry material (the book contains analysis of voting patterns and economic data) and present it in an engaging manner.

Dyer offers an alternate interpretation of the populism espoused by Trumpsters and Brexiteers, one I find much more logical than the rhetoric from the populist side. I found myself wondering what he would have to say about the rhetoric from our recent provincial elections in Alberta and Ontario where populism has made a definite impact.

I especially appreciated the case Dyer makes for an Universal Basic Income. I have long believed a Gauranteed Annual Income would be a good idea, though of course the devil is in the details. I really liked Dyer's contention that it should be universal where many proposals have seen it solely as a piece of the social safety net. The idea of universality and therefore removing stigma of receiving it makes sense. And of course if Dyer is right (and I think he largely is) that the future changes to the global economy will bring on massive shifts in employment then UBI becomes a good way to avoid the revolution.  Coincidentally I was reading an article earlier today outlining the link between income inequality and social and physical health. Dyer highlights the dangers of this as well

Another interesting take in the book is Dyer's suggestion that humans are somehow hard-wired to seek a more equitable society, even as humans are also apparently hard-wired to seek dominance. This would be a good book for a discussion group.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Book 5 of 2019 -- The Power of Kindness

I have listened to Brian Goldman's radio show White Coat, Black Art for many years and so when a colleague of mine posted that she was reading his latest book I had to take a look.

While the book title is about kindness the book itself is about empathy. Goldman talks about his quest to learn about empathy as he seeks to learn how empathetic he is.

In his search we learn about some biological markers of empathy that show up in an MRI. We explore some psychology around empathy, and the lack thereof. We meet people who have the ability to connect with others, often because of a shared woundedness but sometimes just because they are good at connecting. We see how roboticists are trying to program empathy. We explore a program that is trying to teach empathy, or maybe plant the seeds of empathy, in school children by bringing infants into the classroom.

Possibly my favourite story in the book was the chapter that discussed working with dementia patients. That one was a real eyeopener about the possibilities.

Like Goldman, I often wonder how empathic I am. This book did not answer that question for me. But it did give me some more insight into the question. It is one I would readily suggest to others.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Book 4 of 2019 -- The Sacrament of Interruption

For Lent I am preparing a series called "The Practices of the Church". Actually I did the first one in the series on Baptism of Christ Sunday since that was an opportune time to talk about Baptism and the other parts of the series will be: Prayer, Marriage/Relationships, Funerals/End of Life, and Communion. This book was suggested as a possible resource for the series.

It is a quick easy read, though I will likely re-read any relevant chapters while prepping for the sermons in the series. I tend not to follow where Schaper goes  much of the time but she does present some sparking thoughts about what it means to be sacramental.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book 3 of 2019 -- TheMerchant of Venice

Because sometimes you just need to read a classic.

To be honest I do not think I have read any Shakespeare since I was in University, which would mean either Richard III or Othello is the last play I read.  I might have looked up a sonnet or two in the interim but certainly the last play was for a drama class. Which puts it pretty close to 30 years ago.

It took me a scene or two for me to get the rhythm and get my language back under me. All the more so since this is one I have never read before. I have heard some passages like Shylock's contention that as a Jew he is much the same as other men "if you prick us do we not bleed" and Portia's plea for mercy "the quality of mercy is not strained" but had little more than a passing understanding of the plot.

Interesting play. To read it in an English class today would not only lead to discussions of love and mercy and revenge (definite themes of the piece) but also to the racial dynamics of how Shylock is written and described.

And I need to read such things more often.

Book 2 of 2019 -- Out Of Sorts

In her book The Great Emergence the late Phyllis Tickle spoke of the idea that every 500 years or so the Church has a great rummage sale as a part of a grand reset. I found the idea intriguing, even if I think it fit the Reformation better than her other historical exemplars, and only time will tell how the current era will math that image. In this book Sarah Bessey takes a similar tack to discussing her own faith journey.

Bessey uses the image of gathering to sort through a loved one's 'stuff' after the funeral. What gets kept? What gets donated? What gets tossed out? She then uses this image in terms of how our faith changes over the years, a process in which we once again ask what to keep and what to toss, along with deciding whether or not or how to integrate new insights and understandings.

This book is largely a memoir, but in the act or writing a memoir Bessey invites us to consider the questions we bring to faith.

I think Tickle is right. I think the church is once more at that time where we need to investigate what needs to get put out to sale.  I am not sure the church is yet willing to do it. I like Bessey's approach.  When we go through the belongings it often takes a few goes. Some stuff gets tossed immediately. Some gets put in a box because we just can't deal with it yet. Some survives one or two cullings before eventually being put out to sale or toss. I suspect that is how the church will move into what Tickle called the great emergence.