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.)
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!
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.