Friday, April 20, 2018

Book 3 of 2018 We Make the Road by Walking

A bit of an impulse purchase this time. Browsing through the lists and thought it looked interesting.

This book is set up as a support for small faith communities. I could see it being used in that setting, or as a small group ministry. Though I do wonder if a whole year of McLaren might be a little limiting for a faith community. After all even a congregation with resident clergy does not get a whole year of that clergy, what with vacation time and study leave and duties to the wider church (assuming the clergy in question makes use of those things).

I like the approach that McLaren takes in here. I would appreciate a chance to engage the discussion questions with a group.  I would not take a whole year to do the book, maybe do a quarter at a time.  At the same time reading this book has impacted my sermons over this winter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book 2 of 2018 -- The Lifesaving Church

One of the most challenging issues for a faith community to address is suicide. A few years back I was at a community meeting to discuss an uptick in suicidal ideation and behaviour in town and one of the local clergy said that he never knew how to prepare a sermon for someone who had died by suicide (because he said he did not know "where they were", had they died in good relation with God) [at the same meeting a supposed youth pastor in town said he did not understand why these kids were suicidal because they had no idea what actual suffering was, the ministry people at that meeting were somewhat less helpful than everybody else in the room].

How do we bring things like grace and mercy and forgiveness and love into a suicide situation?

This book by Rachael Keefe does just that. And does it really well. A large part of the power of the book is that it is memoir. Keefe is able to speak from her own experience after much self- and theological reflection on that experience.

AS a piece of writing the book is a light read. The whole volume is 102 pages, including 6 Appendices of resources for the church (clergy and layfolk) to consider in ministering to those who are struggling with issues around suicide and those who are on an arc that may take them to the brink of suicidal choices. The text is approachable and the memoir aspect makes it narrative, which draws the reader in.

At the same time there were times I found the book very challenging to read. At an emotional level that is.  If one is going to take seriously the challenges to the Body of Christ that Keefe raises up in these chapters (each of which is titled "The Body of Christ  ________"), if one is going to allow oneself to sit in and with her story, one is going to be struck to the heart.  More than once I had to take a break before moving to the next chapter, or the next section of a chapter, to stop and process what the story and reflection were bringing up within myself.

I almost didn't right this whole review. My first response as a review of this was to simply say "Read this book! Make sure there is a copy in the library of your church. Make sure there is a copy at the local Suicide Prevention office so they can lend it to church-folk. Read it as a group of care-ers and ask how ready we are to admit that the Body of Christ is all these things" Those sentences still stand. This is a very good book on a topic most of us do not want to talk about.

 DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of this book with the promise to post a review of it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Book 1 of 2018 -- Wildlands of the West

This looks terrible, beginning of March and I have only finished one book.  To be fair a good part of my time from January 10 to February 9 was spent reviewing material to prepare for the meeting that created this report. Well that and I have made great strides in Candy Crush....

At any rate this was a Christmas gift. It is a National Geographic product and so it has some wonderful photos in it.  I know not everyone likes National Geographic's editorial approach but it can not be denied that they get great photos (I am sure there are dozens that don't get chosen for each one that is).

I had heard of the Bureau of Land Management but did not really know what is responsibilities were. I would not say that I have a full understanding of the their work but this did give a picture. I also found that Allen gave a good stab at trying to lay out the difficult line between conservation and utilization (though it is apparent that historically the balance has been to preference utilization over conservation). Given the current occupant of the White House it would be interesting to learn what the priorities of BLM have become now, given that there had been more of a move towards conservation over the last few decades.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Book 10 of 2017 -- Preacher

Last fall I got an e-mail from a professor at my seminary asking if I would be willing to review a book for the journal Touchstone.  I agreed and so was sent a copy of this book.

Until it arrived I had, in fact, never heard of David Read and so had no expectation about what I would find in his sermons. I was pleasantly surprised.

The book does include a brief biographical sketch to introduce the reader to Read and then proceeds with the sermons.  These are divided into church seasons, leading the reader through the year from the Season of Creation through to Pentecost.

I found Read's sermons to be both timely for the era where they were first preached but also timeless in that often they also speak to the current situation. I may not follow to the same place as Read does theologically but found engaging with his texts a healthy exercise.

They say that one of the best ways to grow as a preacher is to be exposed to preaching.  Which is a challenge for many of us, what with being relatively busy on a Sunday morning.  Books like this can heelp to meet that need.

Now I just need to find the formatting information I was sent and write the actual review....

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Christmas Movie...

As a pre-Christmas treat yesterday (and because we did not go to the local Festival of Trees this weekend) we all  went to see The Star

As we have watched the commercials over the last few weeks one daughter told me, repeatedly, that she really wanted to see it. In part because she loves the Christmas story (every year she buys a Nativity scene tree ornament) but also (and related) in part because she wanted to see what they got wrong so she could tell them.

SHe has a bit of attitude that one, and is definitely a PK.

Anyway we took a wintry afternoon and went to the theater.  Lived here for 7.5 years and this  was the second time I had set foot in the movie complex -- we don't do movies very much.

It was good. Even the daughter who wanted to see what they got wrong only had one complaint -- that they told the story well enough that she had nothing to complain about (did I mention she has a bit of attitude?)

There are a lot of additions to the tale as told by Matthew and Luke, but you have to do that because there is not enough detail in the Biblical text to make a whole movie. And I really wish we would stop telling Christmas stories that try to pretend that  Matthew and Luke are telling the same story or try to merge them into one narrative. On the other hand I was impressed that they included Herod's murderous intentions --many people would try to ignore that part (though it did give a sense of conflict into the tale). But on the whole they stayed consistent with the Biblical text of the "greatest story ever told".

It would be interesting to watch the movie with children less schooled in the story.  Because of the chracterizations and the genre I am sure any child would like it but for our girls knowing the story made a lot of difference.

Might have to suggest that it become part of the church library if/when it comes out on DVD.

Book 9 of 2017 -- Man in the Iron Mask

IT is a tragedy.  Did not expect that.

This is of course a follow up to The Three Musketeers but unlike the movie the novel is undoubtedly a tragedy.  I mean the plot fails, the heroes are destroyed, there are deaths...

In fact other than the names and personality traits of the characters and the existence of a twin brother to the king of France the novel and the movie barely resemble each other.

In the end I think it is actually a better, certainly more believable story than the movie.  A good read, plodding in spots but that is the style of these old novels.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Of Rights, and Parents, and Children and GSA's and Confidentiality.

In the middle of October we had Municipal elections here in Alberta. That means the city/town/county councils were elected and so too were local school boards (both public and separate). And a significant subset of those running for school trustee were running on a concept of "protecting (or preserving or restoring) parental rights". Which might have made sense if those rights were somehow under attack, or if those rights automatically trumped the rights of their children.

Maybe a little bit of history first...

A few years ago there was a great uproar in Alberta about the presence or absence of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in schools.  Because in the minds of some having a GSA "promotes the Gay agenda". Out of those discussions it was made law that any school where a GSA was requested, presumably by the students, was required to facilitate and support the creation and operation of said group.

Then there came the issue of transgender students. Another uproar (started by the face that one of the largest Separate Boards n the province had a very public dispute over how to best serve the needs of a transgender student when it came to bathroom and change room issues. And so all school boards were required to submit a plan for how said needs would be met.

[SIDEBAR: Lost in this whole fight, which was really our equivalent of the "bathroom bill" argument that has happened in many places was the fact that school washrooms have been unsafe places for decades. How many people have been bullied in school washrooms over the years? A simple solution for new construction is to do away with multi stall washrooms altogether. Instead have a series of self-contained (full wall, full door) single user water closets with a set of sinks in the adjoining hallway. Then many issues around washrooms get resolved at once]

THe next salvo in the battle was teh supposed parental rights piece. SOmeone got it in their head that parents have a right to know everything their children do at school. And so the parents ave a right to know if their child joins a GSA, or expresses that they are questioning their sexuality or gender identity, or comes out as non-heterosexual or non gender conforming. Further this right somehow exists regardless of whether said child is comfortable with their parents being told.

Understandably there are some of us who find this understanding troubling, and potentially dangerous.

I  think parents do have a right (and duty and responsibility) to be involved in the lives of their children and teens. I also believe that those children and teens have rights about who knows what about their lives. And sometimes those rights will come into conflict. What do we do when rights conflict? Do we claim (as I see the parental rights lobby doing) that one set trumps the other? Or do we recognize that  rights are rarely absolute and that there is a need to negotiate how competing/conflicting rights will coexist? In the case of children and youth I think we will find that the balance point is going to vary based on the age/maturity/development of the child/youth. There are times when parents will need to be told something a child would rather they not hear but only when it is to protect the safety (physical, emotional or mental) of the child/youth. Not just because the parent thinks they need or want to know.

Besides, I am confused. In the recent leadership election for our official opposition one of the candidate stated that parent should be told if a child joins a GSA. To which others said he wanted to out LGBTQ children/youth (note that I am sure said candidate has few qualms about outing LGBTQ folk and he has a history of supporting heterosexist political positions). But simply joining a GSA says absolutely nothing about one's sexuality. It says that you believe all your classmates should be supported. If only LBGTQ folks joined a GSA it would 't exactly be a Gay Straight Alliance would it?

I am a parent, of 4. I have seen no sign that my rights as a parent are being threatened by the school system. If anything I think that we are over-accomodating in one instance. PArents have the authority (backed up by court rulings under parental rights clauses) to have their children exempted from sexuality education (which if done well not only includes the "facts of life" and contraception but also information around sexual orientation and consent and gender identity. No reason must be given just upon a request the child can be exempted (so the objection could be religious, or it cold be that the parent finds it "icky" or that the parent does not want to admit their child is ready.needs to learn the concept...). I am not sure that this is in the best interests of the child or of society as a whole.

I just don't get it. What I do maintain is that when these decisions are made the primary consideration is not what parents like/do not like. The primary consideration of educational decisions is what is best for the student. Sometimes that means keeping confidentiality (which is not the same as keeping a secret, it is recognizing that we each have our own story and need to have the right to share it as we are comfortable). SOmetimes it will mean helping a student get to teh point of being able to share that story for themself. And in very rare occasions it might mean breaking confidence to ensure the safety of the student. But the primary piece is the well-being and safety of the student. Parents are actually second in this discussion of rights.

Book 8 of 2017 -- Fishing Tips

Yet another book I would like to read with a group of congregational leaders and discuss where they see its wisdom intersecting and/or challenging the life of our faith community. That brings me to three now... (the other two are here and here)


I have been hearing about this book for some time now. Most often with good things being said. Some in my denomination seem to consider it a "must read" when it comes to the topic of revitalizing a congregation. So earlier this year I decided I would read it.

I have been hearing about Hillhurst United Church and their somewhat amazing revitalization for even longer. It is one of those success stories that  get passed around the denomination as something we should try to emulate or even outright copy. Which brings me to the first thing I most appreciate about the book. John is clear that he is writng a descritpion of what happened in one place in one church. He does not think the exact actions and programs are the answer for everybody. Instead he hopes that there is wisdom and principles that might transfer to other locales.

Some of what is in here is in many other books about growing healthy communities. And so to a degree it repeats (and therefore reminds and amplifies) some wisdom about best practices and foundational tasks. Then there are other things that are not exactly new and innovative, or at least not innovative outside the mainline church--which is rarely a place true innovation is found in my experience, but are put in a new "churchy" context with an accompanying spin.

One o the things I liked about the book, and something I think would make it easier to use with a group of leaders is the use of stories. Narrative tends to make a concept more real and accessible much of the time.

Is this book the saving of a congregation? Of course not. Even if the wisdom in it is to be useful more than one person in a community needs to read (and buy in to) it. But I think there are nuggets here that many congregations I have known would do well to learn.  WE are not all going to change teh way Hillhurst did (mainly because we are not Hillhurst and we each have our own context and challenges). We can not simply copy what they did. Nor should we try. But John is not writing a prescription of "do this and that will happen". Which is all too often what books on church growth start to sound like.

I am glad I read this one.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Book 7 of 2017 -- The Three Musketeers

Because sometimes you just need to read a classic...

I have actually been working on this for a couple of months now. After all these classic novels are not short. This one, mind you is much more of an escapist adventure tale than something as deep in social commentary as say Les Miserables or Tale of Two Cities.

I had previously seen the 1993 movie version  starring Charlie Sheen and have watched most of the episodes of this TV series. I greatly enjoyed the latter. So I had a familiarity with the characters. However, now that I have read the original novel I am not sure that the writers of those pieces ever read it.

OTOH, the novel lacks the grand climactic fight scene you want for a movie. And to limit oneself to the novel would hardly leave you enough material for an ongoing series...

Sometimes you have to read a classic. And this is a good one to choose.  Next on the list is Dumas' follow-up novel The Man in the Iron Mask.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Book 6 of 2017 -- The Wars

And now the third of my used book store purchases from earlier this year...

If I recall correctly, this book was one of the potential novels for high school English when I was, well, in high school. I know it was in that list at the turn of the century because the copy I bought was a school copy (which makes one wonder how it ended up in a used book store....). For all I know it may still be used in that context.

Timothy Findley is an interesting writer. his characters are complex and intriguing. While on my second internship one of the requirements was that you read at least one of a selection of novels, Findley's Not Wanted On the Voyage (a different approach to the Noah story) was the one I chose to read -- and I encourage folks to read it.

THis is a novel of the Great War. It takes on the horror of the war headfirst and the effects those horrors could have on people (at home and in the trenches). IT leaves you (or at least me) wanting to know more about Lt. Robert Ross, his family, and his comrades.