I read a lot! From Batman comics to works of theology, current events to historical reflections. Here is a sampling of what I have read over the last several months.
A former speechwriter for President Ronald Regan, Noonan has been a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Her book pulls many of her pieces together in one collection. A gifted writer, Noonan is able to share critical observations about current realities without being overly political. But don’t let that fool you. She praises Regan as one of the best presidents and is overly critical of the Clinton’s and Obama. That said, it is important to remember that this collection of essays is being read out of context. Weekly columns deal with the present. Perhaps the best part of this book is the introduction. Noonan offers a glimpse into her writing process. For any person whose main form of communication is the written word, Noonan provides a primer in writing. (3 out of 5 stars.)
by Rev. Beth Givens
This week I celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion twice in 24 hours. That’s not normal on a non-Sunday, and for a good United Methodist like me, I’m up to celebrating 4 times this week.
Seems we are needing a lot of Jesus.
Tuesday night, when I celebrated, it was a part of Election Day Communion. Election Day Communion is a movement among churches of different denominations to draw people together amidst the divisiveness of an election season here in the United States. We offered Election Day Communion in our congregation.
Every Season Prayers: Gospel-Centered Prayers for the Whole of Life, Scotty Smith, Baker Books, 2016.
When it comes to prayer, one of the comments I hear often from people of faith often is, “Sometimes I just don’t have the words.” You know what that’s like. You sit down to pray and you are so overwhelmed by life that you just cannot find the words. There are feelings that our words are not elegant enough. Even though we know that God knows what is on our hearts, we are overwhelmed with wanting to give God the best.
In those times we search for a guide to prayer.
“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” -Nathaniel Hawthrone
As I was preparing worship and a sermon for what would be my last Sunday at Peakland United Methodist as their Associate Minister, the communications coordinator, Kim, shared with me the bulletin cover she designed. It had a key verse from one of the scriptures I was using and a picture of a butterfly. It was perfect on all sorts of levels.
I hesitated to ask her to change anything. Finally, I asked if it would be possible to make the orange butterfly a yellow butterfly. She gave me one of those, “that’s an odd request” look, and then said, “Sure.”
Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, William H. Willimon, Abingdon Press, 2016.
True to form, Bishop Willimon approaches theological themes in a no-nonsense and gutsy matter. This little book (less than 100 pages) is the Bishop’s response to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. “If not for them,” Willimon writes, “I would not have been asked to write this book.”
Willimon shows no fear in addressing current social topics. He covers it all. The desire for a bigger wall across the border to keep out Hispanics. The call to keep Muslims out of the country. The exclusion of LGBT individuals in the life of the church. And, he even takes on Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus, Jerry Herships, Westminster John Knox Press, 2015.
Jerry Herships is unlike any minister you have met before. His experiences alone before receiving his call to ministry are enough to fill a book. But add to that what he is doing in Denver and it makes this memoir even more compelling.
A former altar boy who had vast dreams of being the next Johnny Carson, Herships tended bar as he worked to make ends meet with his various comedy and game show gigs. These aren’t the usual experiences that one who is called to ministry is expected to have. But Jerry isn’t your typical pastor. His book tells his story of moving to LA to chase his dream of becoming the Carson for a new generation to forming a new faith community – a bar church – known as AfterHours Denver.
AfterHours is more than just a church that meets in a bar, it has decided to focus on the homeless in Denver by gathering in community and fixing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to give out to the homeless. This affirms that traditional church and traditional worship is not for everyone. Herships found a way to be in ministry with those who otherwise would not darken a church sanctuary. In addition to handing out food and water, this church shares in communion with 700+ people a week in Civic Center Park.
The Sky is Falling, The Church is Dying, and Other False Alarms, Ted A. Campbell, Abingdon Press, 2015.
Ted Campbell, a United Methodist clergy person and professor at Southern Methodist University, uses his position in the church as a historian to examine the claim that the church is dying. He addresses the myth, as he calls it, focusing on the mainline churches – or old-line churches – that seem to be suffering from a membership hemorrhaging. All while it appears that the more contrastive, evangelical churches are growing.
This has been a commonly stated problem for the mainline church, which Campbell identifies as United Methodist, Presbyterian (USA), Episcopal in the USA, United Church of Christ, among others, since Dean Kelley’s Why Conservative Churches are Growing was published in 1972.
Below is my sermon from yesterday, on Christian Education Sunday. It is a sermon in rhyme. As requested, the text is provided as well (though I probably have a few commas in the wrong places). If you use the Podcast app, you can listen by subscribing here.
In her book, “For the Love,” Christian writer, blogger, and DIYer, Jen Hatmaker provides a collection of essays ranging from helicopter parenting to the future of Christianity. The idea for her book comes from a phrase she acknowledges she says a lot: “For the love.” It’s like saying, “Good grief,” or “WTF?” in different situations. Each essay (chapter) covers something that she has encountered that has caused her to utter the words, “For the love.”
The target audience for this book is the large number of women readers that have been congregating around Hatmaker for the last several years thanks to successes like her book “7.” Having said that, I enjoyed reading this book (there were some sections I skipped over). Haymaker comes from an evangelical background, which she explains at different points, highlighting the good things that came from that and the more challenging things. At her current place in life, a 40-something writer, mom, and pastor’s wife, she recognizes that church no longer needs to be the way it was.
The first Sherlock Holmes story was published in 1887. Ever since, the brilliant detective has fascinated readers and viewers. Trisha Priebe’s devotional attempts to draw from the Holmes canon spiritual truths to inspire the Christian’s life. The publisher states that “this book investigates the spiritual truths we can discern from this enigmatic fictional character – a brusque, stubborn, and arrogant man who also shows honor, trust, and self-sacrificing friendship.”
Unfortunately, Priebe’s investigation does not reveal all that it could reveal.
I liked the concept, which is what drew me to read the book. I’m always interested in how others make connections between faith and pop culture – and yes even though Sherlock Holmes’ first appearance was in 1887, he is just as part of our pop culture as James Bond or Bruce Wayne. The best parts of this book are the first half of each of the devotionals where Priebe shares information about the different stories or events leading up to the writing of those stories. Here she reveals interesting facts about the character, his legacy, and his creator Arthur Conan Doyle.