I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:
Sometimes I really have to force myself to break away from theology, ministry, and spirituality types of books. So I finally got around to reading “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance. It was relatable to my own experience of being an Appalachian “hillbilly”, but different enough that I didn’t feel as if I was reading my own story back to me.
Vance tells about being part of the “working class” in the Appalachian hills of Ohio. His family was poor, hard working, profane, fist fighters. Marriages were often unhappy, full of yelling and sometimes hitting. Working class people often battled poverty, drug addiction, and alcohol. Tempers were high and people struggled to make ends meet. Vance faced numerous divorces, abandonment, physical abuse, school yard fights, and being moved from house to house. While my own family wasn’t violent or drug addicted, I can understand tempers and financial struggle.
Vance was a smart kid who broke out of the culture he was used to. He went to the marines, then college, then law school. He had to learn how to be in relationship with friends and his girlfriend without exploding or shutting down. He had to learn etiquette to survive in the white collar world. I can relate with breaking away from the culture I was raised in and feeling as if it is still part of me, but no longer my own culture.
Questions arise around how much of who we are is from our own choices and how much dysfunction is passed down through family lines. Questions also arise at how much government policies can help poverty and how much culture is on our shoulders to change ourselves. It’s an honest look at how much cultural dysfunction (not limited to Appalachia, but in this case defined by it) can damage people and be passed on through families, but also how those negative patterns can be broken and changed. It’s also an honest look at working class Appalachian families and the prevailing culture that has defined families based on survival tactics.
I appreciate this honest, but no elite and belittling look at Appalachia. I have often struggled to articulate my experience of being raised in the working class to my more comfortable middle class friends, and this memoir provides valuable insight. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about Appalachian culture, white working poor, domestic violence, and drug addiction. It sounds dark, but in a divided nation we perceive there to be a constant divide between uneducated and educated people, blue collar and white collar, city and country, when really varying cultural understandings based on isolation and family heritage are what separate us. Perhaps with some insight into these cultural differences we can bridge the gap between us all.
Barbara Brown Taylor knows the way to our hearts…that’s why she is so popular. Her writing and preaching keep her in the list of top influential preachers each year. I have not had the privilege of learning under her, but I’m certain that she’s an incredible teacher as well.
“Leaving the Church” was a timely read for me. As someone who needed out of the fast-paced Atlanta and looking to move somewhere a little slower-paced, I could identify with Taylor’s situation. She begins the memoir in Atlanta where the traffic, the constant sirens, and the fast paced life have become too much. She has loved the work she has been able to do with outreach and homeless ministry, but she practically lives at her church because there is always so much to do. She want to step out of the city into a slower-paced life.
Taylor visits the mountains and countryside of north Georgia and falls in love with a small country Episcopal church. She prays for God to give her the church, and months later she becomes the rector and priest there.
However, she finds that it wasn’t just Atlanta she needed to step away from, but she needed to step away from parish ministry. Taylor sees flocks of geese flying away, wishing that she could be free and fly away with them.
Taylor explains that the dividing line that elevates someone as “priest” or “pastor” can be exhausting. Pastors want love and community and acceptance just like every other person, but being called to be a leader can be isolating. Taylor describes a pool party where she finally felt at home among all the people she was serving, after she had turned in her resignation. At the pool party she was not wearing her collar, just average street clothes. At some point people started throwing other people in the pool, but would stop short of throwing her, their priest, into the water as if it would be sacrilegious. Missing out on this fun was hurtful and only intensified her loneliness. Suddenly someone grabbed her from behind and threw her into the pool with everyone else. Here she was, soaking wet, laughing and gasping for air just like everyone else. For a moment, the dividing line was down between them all, and that’s exactly what she wanted.
The book ends with her receiving a job offer at a college to be a professor or religion. Her story isn’t finished, so that this book is left open ended as to what will come next in her life.
This book is for everyone: church-goers, pastors, seminarians, professors, and anyone who just likes good writing. Most people can relate to Taylor at some point in the story, even if it’s just by understanding her fatigue and desire for freedom.
This is just a brief overview. Please, go read it and enjoy the way she tells her own story. Her attention to detail and ability to paint a picture with words will have you reading this book in just a couple sittings (or one really dedicated sitting.)
I came in just under the wire and finished the Bible in 90 days.
So here’s what I have learned from doing a challenge like this one:
- You get behind so easily. Life doesn’t stop in these 90 days. I graduated, traveled out of the country, moved states, started a new job, and got ordained in these 90 days (life has been wild, I know.) While about 13 chapters a day sounds manageable, when having entire days committed to other things and being way from home without time to do much else other than wake up, spending the entire day doing what you need to do, then going to bed, it is easy to miss a day…or three…or five. And then 13 chapters a day for the five days you missed really stacks up. So skimming becomes a go-to.
- You’re not going to absorb much. If you get behind (and you probably will) and you start desperately skimming to catch up and meet your goal, it’s easy to miss a lot…or everything. Just scanning words on a page doesn’t enhance your biblical knowledge.
- It’s more about “bragging rights” than anything. So now I can say that I finished the Bible in 90 days, but that’s about it. I’m not a better Biblical scholar by any means. However, I did get a lot of Biblical words ingrained my mind. I got to soak in the language of the Bible, and I believe that has been imprinted in my brain.
- Listening to the Bible is not cheating. When people talk about listening to the Bible, it is usually sheepishly, as if they are cutting corners when it comes to devotional time. While this can be true if you’re doing other tasks while listening, it was a saving grace when I got hopelessly behind in my reading. Listening to the Bible was no worse than skimming the pages. In fact, I caught more phrases while listening than I would have by skimming. I found myself looking up words, phrases, and going back to the scripture itself and re-reading it. Listening engaged a different part of my brain and helped me latch onto somethings I might have missed while reading.
- It set me up for personal devotion later on. I now have a list of devotional studies I want to go back to and spend more time with. I missed so much here and there, and my interest was peaked in certain passages, so now I will set a new goal to go back and dig in.
- If you want to absorb more, use other tools. I am creating a curriculum that goes through the whole Bible for my youth group, and the Bible Project Youtube series has really enhanced my reading of scripture while helping me build my curriculum. These videos broke down the tougher scripture passages that I didn’t have time to struggle with, while sewing together scripture into a bigger picture. The Essential Bible Companion is an easy read that can be completed in a couple hours, and gives a summary of each book of the Bible. I also read “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans, which you can read more about in a previous blog. It helped me combat some of the fundamentalism that has been ingrained in my scripture reading and re-frame my understanding of the Bible. I am now reading “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell. When I finish, I will write a blog about that, so keep an eye out.
So there it is! I am glad I went for this challenge and completed the Bible is 90 days. Again, it’s not for scholarship, but it has exposed me to more tools that have enhanced my understanding of scripture and has peaked my interested for further study. If you are interested in taking on such a challenge, be prepared! It is no easy feat, but it may be a gateway into a deeper desire to understand scripture.
Typically in the summer I pleasure read and cram 10+ books in 3 months before school starts and I don’t have time to read anymore.
Now I have graduated and I have time to pleasure read! All year! Instead of cramming, I am trying to get through a book a month as a realistic goal. Books are great for continuing to form my theology, educate myself, and provide insights and stories for sermons. I am so glad that I have a career where my love of books comes in handy!
I am not qualified to write an official review by any means, but I thought I might share my thoughts on my books when I finish.
This month I read Rachel Held Evans’ new book called “Inspired.”
I always love RHE’s work, and this one definitely delivered. If you’re like me and you struggle with some of the darker parts of scripture or have difficulty hearing scripture in oppressive ways, then this book offers a fresh take on different genres in the Bible. She offers short chapters where she takes a Bible story (like creation, or Job, or Jesus walking on water) and retells it from another perspective or in a modern setting. Then she writes a longer following chapter about that specific genre. The genres are Origin Stories, Deliverance Stories, War Stories, Wisdom Stories, Resistance Stories, Gospel Stories, Fish Stories, and Church Stories. She writes about her own changing perspective of reading scripture and how she has struggled with loving the Bible. She has gone from a literalist, to a cynic, to a reader who is culturally and historically informed that can appreciate the texts for what they are and what they offer. It’s her path to loving the Bible again.
For seminarians and pastors, this may not be a revelatory work, but can be insightful and affirming. For a casual reader, this could provide information that can change someone’s mind about the contents of the Bible and look at scripture with new eyes. I recommend any and all of RHE’s writing, but this is a great resource for anyone who has felt Bible-thumped, or who has been a Bible-thumper (and I have been both!) Happy book worming!
So, I am still planning on finishing the Bible in 90 days.
I’m just ridiculously behind.
I got behind during graduation, but caught up.
Only to get behind while traveling to Canada, immediately followed by our apartment hunting trip to Florida.
Then I started to catch up. But we had 2 weeks to pack everything and get out of our apartment.
And now we’ve been living in Florida almost a week.
Where am I in my study?
Where should I be?
But I can and will catch up! I will finish on schedule! I am finally getting into the rhythm of life again (more about life in Florida later. I have too much to figure out and get a handle on before I can write about it all!)
Anyway, the read through is tough. There is a lot of skimming. I am running into troubling passages about genocide, rape, and murder, and I can’t really sit in the pain of those passages. They trouble me but I must keep moving on to meet my goal. I knew going into this project that I would get frustrated by breezing through the Bible, so I was ready for this. It’s a good reminder how important it is to really delve into scripture instead of just reading it at face value.
Despite the challenges, I am glad to be doing this. I am absorbing the stories and the language, even if I’m missing the details. It’s also really helping me as I am writing a (fairly) comprehensive Biblical curriculum for the youth group this coming school year. We’re going through the whole Bible; we might miss a couple books and we can’t hit all the stories, but we’re studying scripture as a whole story. We’re talking about God’s covenantal faithfulness, sin and restoration, justice and community, as one story woven together. Right now I’m working with the title “The Holy Story,” but we’ll see if I stick with that. Biblical literacy is not only important for me in my life, but also for my ministry and the people I teach. I will be using music, movie clips, acting, and other creative activities to engage scripture. I’ll hit some tough topics and important topics so that the youth will see just how relevant scripture is. We’ll talk about mental health, vocation, pain and suffering, consent, abuse, self love and celebrating gifts, etc. I will also be using The Bible Project youtube videos to break down these books and the complex ideas represented in them. We’re learning about the whole Bible in numerous ways through media, activities, creativity, and the reading of scripture. While I am breezing through scripture now, we won’t be this upcoming year.
Between my read through, reading The Essential Bible Companion, creating this curriculum, and watching all of the Bible Project videos, I feel like scripture is truly sinking in and providing the firm foundation I need. I hope to be one of those people who just “know” scripture. I have a long way to go, but I’m on my way.
For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young—
let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. -Proverbs 1:2-7
So I know that I have prepared all that I can from seminary. I have learned from the best! (I could name drop here, but I’ll play it cool.) I also know that ministry is full of surprises and improvisations that you really can’t plan much for. You just jump in and hope the grace of God makes it work out! And if it doesn’t work out….then rely on grace to shine through anyway.
I know I don’t really know what’s coming. I’m fine with this. I learn better in the field anyway.
But as I prepare to jump into my first pastoral role, I am doing something for myself. I have made my own mini boot camp. This is to simply re-ground me in the foundations of my faith. I have studied, and studied, and studied. But I just want to be refreshed by the basics so that going forward, whatever is thrown at me, I have the basic foundation under my feet.
I am reading “Christian Doctrine” by Shirley Guthrie. I want to have the basics of reformed theology fresh in my mind, and I am pairing this with doing a brief look over of “Introducing the Reformed Faith” by Donald McKim (I’m not reading the whole book, just the “reformed emphasis” portions of each chapter.) I am doing a Bible-in-90-Days read-through to have scripture on the brain, paired with a read-through of “The Essential Bible Companion.” And I am going back through the Confessions.
These are just the basics. Please, don’t tell me that, “The work is just beginning”; “You have no idea what’s ahead of you”; “This won’t matter when you’re at someone’s deathbed.” I know these things, and they have been repeated to me ad nauseam. Those phrases simply aren’t helpful. This is for myself, for own personal spiritual practice that will refresh the foundation in me so that is may help in my ministry.
As for the work just beginning, not knowing what is coming next, and being next to someone in need of pastoral care, I am looking forward to continuing my studies as a pastor learning from the church and the people.