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. ( 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.