Wounded In Spirit: an Advent Devotional (p)review and GIVEAWAY!!!

The secular and liturgical calendars nearly converge this year, so whether you mark the start of Advent with those calendars of chalky, cheap chocolate from your local supermarket, or through participation in Sunday worship, the season begins this weekend. During Advent I always look for a devotional to read through, as I attempt to wait well. Friends at Paraclete Press were nice enough to share with me Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, a new devotional by David Bannon. Bannon combines reflections on grief, hope, wounds and waiting with beautiful works of art. It is an exquisite book!

9781640601451But Advent is the season of waiting. To wait is to note that things are not yet as they should be. And so, this is a difficult season for a lot of us. For all the promise of holiday cheer, these are long dark nights, often touched by heartache, loneliness, estrangement, deep wounds, and mourning. Bannon is no stranger to grief and heartache. In 2006 he was convicted for criminal impersonation. In 2015 his daughter died of a heroin overdose (introduction,¬†XVI).¬† He know what it means to be broken and bereaved, to long for wholeness, healing and the coming of God’s¬†shalom.¬†He doesn’t speak explicitly about his own story in these meditations. He focuses instead on the stories of the artists‚ÄĒtheir stories, wounds and the works they produced.

The art in this book is varied in style, though exclusively Western European,ranging from the Renaissance era to about mid 20th Century. There are works by celebrated artists like Gauguin, Tissot, Caravaggio, Tanner, Delacroix, Van Gogh and D√ľrer, as well as notable pieces from artists with less household name recognition. Bannon describes the artist’s life, and the ways their wounds bleed onto the canvas. He invites us to stop and pay attention, to really see the artist and their work, to experience healing and perchance commune. Each daily meditation includes quotations for reflection from notable artists, writers, philosophers or theologians.

Art is something that has been healing for me on my own spiritual journey so I am looking forward to sitting with these artists and their work. I have not read the whole book yet, just introduction and several entries, though Bannon appears to be a good guide.

Waiting is painful. Things are not yet as they should be. But waiting doesn’t have to be dull and dreary, it can be a sensory experience, a time of entering more fully into Life. A time to grieve, yes, but joy comes in the morning.

Paraclete Press, has graciously allowed me to run a giveaway on my blog of 3 copies of the book? Yeah, James, but how can I win? 

There are 2 ways to enter:

  1. Comment below and tell me what do you find most difficult about this time of year.
  2. Share this giveaway on Social Media by hitting the share button below, Be sure to comment and share the link in the comment section, so I see your entry!

Winners will be chosen Thursday, 11/29 at 9pm Pacific Time.

Rediscover and Recover Paul: a book review

I previously reviewed¬†David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards’¬†Rediscovering Jesus¬†¬†(IVP Academic, 2015) That book was an evocative and whimsical look at both biblical images of Jesus in the New Testament and later cultural portrayals of Jesus (e.g. Gnostic Jesus, Jesus in Islam, Mormon Jesus, the cinematic Jesus, and American Jesus, etc).

5191However, that book was not Capes, Reeves and Richard’s first collaboration. Way back in 2007 they published¬†Rediscovering Paul: an Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology.¬† I did not have the privilege of reading the first edition, but there is now a second edition (Nov 2017), which has been expanded to include recent Pauline research, and new material for the “So What?” and “What’s More?” sections (I’ll explain what these are below). This is a non-technical, introductory¬†textbook which examines the life and thought of the Apostle Paul.

Capes is the associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of¬†New Testament at Wheaton, Reeves is the dean and biblical studies professor at the Court Redford College of Theology and Ministry, and Randolph is provost and professor of biblical studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University.¬† In addition to their collaboration, each has penned monographs on Paul (Capes’s¬†The Divine Christ: Paul, the Lord Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel, forthcoming from Baker Academic; Reeves’s¬†Spirituality According to Paul, IVP Academic, 2011; and Randolph’s¬†Paul Behaving Badly,¬†IVP 2015).¬†

Each of the book’s twelve chapters includes two types of text boxes. The “So What?” discusses why the topic being discussed (e.g. an aspect of Paul’s life, theology or interpretation of his letters) should matter to us. The “What’s More” sections provide supplementary¬†information to aid our rediscovery of Paul. Additionally, each chapter (except for the last one), closes with suggestions for further reading, and there is a Pauline studies glossary and bibliography at the back of the book.

Chapter 1 describes Paul’s thought world‚ÄĒhis Jewish Diaspora, Mediterranean Greco-Roman context and his understanding and his use of Greek Rhetoric. Chapter 2 delves deeper into Paul’s biography and his ‘Christophany’ as described in Acts and Galatians. Chapter 3 discusses Paul’s letter writing (i.e. his format, literary devices and writing process). Chapters 4 through 9 provide brief overviews of each of Paul’s letters. Chapter 10 describes the influences on, and influence of Paul’s theology and spirituality. Chapter 11 explores Paul’s literary legacy and the journey his writings took toward canonization. Chapter 12, concludes the book with reflections on how Paul has been read through church history and what contemporary issues he peculiarly speaks to.

Because this is an introductory textbook, Capes, Randolph and Richards do not break a lot of new ground. However, they give you an overview of Pauline studies from a scholarly, confessional perspective. That doesn’t mean they don’t engage critical scholarship though they tend to favor a more traditional and New Perspective sympathetic approach to Pauline research (though they will critique both traditional and New Perspective approaches gently along the way)

One of the places where it may matter is in terms of Pauline authorship. They begin their survey of Paul’s letters with the uncontested books: Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans before turning to more contested Prison letters (Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians) and pastorals (Timothy and Titus). (Philemon is also clearly Pauline, but discussed with the later Prison letters because of its relationship to Colossians). However, Capes, Reeves, and Randolph argue, along traditional lines, that Paul is indeed the author of all the books in the New Testament which bear his name. They account for the stylistic and grammatical differences between the various books by the occasional nature of each letter, the communal process of ancient letter writing and Paul’s use of secretaries for preparing each of his letters (103-105). They note:

Apollonarius’s secretaries clearly accounted for the considerable stylistic differences in his letters. Scholars of Cicero indicate that Cicero’s letters varied considerably in vocabulary and style. In fact, some letters are stylistically more similar to the letters of others than to his own. Since secretaries often caused minor differences in the letters of other writers, we should allow this for Paul’s letters. Letters may vary because the secreatries varied. (106).

They review some of the arguments against Pauline authorship in their discussion of the Prison and pastoral letters, as it relates to each of the letters, but they maintain Pauline authorship in each case.

Critics of Paul malign him as chauvinist, sexist, homophobic and judgmental. Capes, Reeves and Randolph note that “Caricaturing Jesus as loving and Paul as judgmental is incredibly misleading because they are so distorted: for example, more than anyone else, Jesus is the one who preached about hell. Paul never mentions it” (402). They note Paul’s opposition to homosexuality but note the differences between Ancient Rome’s sexual practices and our own (and that Paul doesn’t signal same-sex practice out in particular but lists it alongside other sins, like gossiping). They contextualize Paul’s comments about women. This book doesn’t answer any of these questions to my satisfaction, but the authors take care to read Paul well and point at some of the inherent issues in interpreting the text.

In general, this is a pretty solid introduction to the writing and thought of Paul, appropriate for college undergrads. It leaves off the more technical discussions and summarizes the contours of debates. The surveys of the letters may also be useful for those who are preaching or teaching through one of Paul’s epistles and would like a birds-eye-view of the letter and its theology. Unfortunately, at 462 pages, this book is likely to scare off the general reader, though it is certainly accessible enough.

It is unsurprising that I liked¬†Rediscovering Jesus¬†more than¬†Rediscovering Paul. After all, if I had to choose between those two, it would be Jesus every time. Still, while this book lacks some of the whimsy of¬†their Jesus volume, this book does a great job of describing Paul’s thought and impact. I give this four stars. ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Theology Gone Wyld: a book review

5202Rich Wyld is an Anglican priest with a PhD from Durham University in theology.¬† He is the brain behind the Theologygrams blog where he has created hundreds of ‘theology diagrams’ which describe the world of the Bible, theology, church history, ethics and life in the church. With Vin diagrams, pie charts, tables, graphs and just a bit of cheek, helps us visualize the world of theology.

Theologygrams: Theology explained in diagrams¬†(IVP, 2017, previously published in the UK by Darton, Longman & Todd) collects a number of Wyld’s reflections on the Old Testament, the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament, the Life of the Church and Theology. Wyld has a gift for being silly without being wholly irreverent. He describes this as “quite a silly book about some quite serious stuff” and says his “intention is never to mock or belittle God, theology, the Bible or the Church” (4). So this isn’t a book making fun of faith, though Wyld does give us a fair share of good-natured¬†ribbing.

Because it doesn’t seem fair to review a book of diagrams without sharing some of them, here are a few pictures previously published on Wyld’s blog and included in the book:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is a fun little book. A perfect stocking stuffer for a theology buff. Some diagrams are more serious and content heavy than others. Some are mostly silly with a side of theological reflection. I give this book four stars – ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

Directing My Kid’s Spiritual Formation: a book review.

As an erstwhile pastor and a full-time parent, I have a vested interest in my kids’ spiritual formation. So I was excited to dig into Jared Patrick Boyd’s book,¬†Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide¬†For Your Child’s Spiritual Formation.¬†

4625Boyd is a Vineyard pastor, spiritual director and founder of The Order of Sustainable Faith (a missional monastic expression). He has previously authored a book on composing a rule of life (Invitations & Commitments: a Rule of Life, The Order of Sustainable Faith,  2014).

In¬†Imaginative Prayer,¬†Boyd provides a template for leading your children through a year-long transformative prayer practice (actually 42 weeks). ¬†The book begins with a six-stanza¬† ‘Imaginative Prayer Creedal Poem (11-12). ¬†Each week has an Ignatian style imaginative prayer designed for kids ages 9-12, reflections for parents and mentors, suggestions for pressing deeper into each theme with your children (through activities, research, and conversation), and suggestions to get your children to journal¬†about. Even seven-week cycle includes a week of review which¬†incorporates questions, activities and memorizing of the section of ¬†Boyd’s creedal poem that corresponds to that section. The 42 weeks cover the topics of God’s Love, Loving Others, Forgiveness, Jesus the King, The Good News of God, and The Mission of God.

I read through this book a couple of weeks ago and took an atypical amount of time sitting down to write this review. Part of it is, this book came out in July, so me, or anyone reviewing it now, has not used the book as it was intended (a 42-week spiritual journey with kids). I actually have not used this with my own children, though I spoke with my daughters about it and they are super excited to try this out and I think it is a great way to harness their imagination to deepen their connection to God in Christ.

Essentially what Boyd provides, is a roadmap¬†for us parents to slow down and become spiritual directors for our kids. Boyd tested the material with kids ages 9-12 because children these ages¬†are old enough to grapple with significant questions and abstract concepts but also young enough to have a ‘sense of playfulness’ which makes the material more engaging (303-304). However, I plan to use this with my 8 and my 10-year-old. Having previewed the material, I like Boyd’s sense of the larger Christian story and the way he employs contemplative practices in an engaging way for kids.

On the topic, I have a big problem with a lot of Christian children’s curriculum because they focus almost exclusively on getting kids to behave better, promoting a form of moralism. Or they impart a faith formula that kids ought to believe. What is refreshing about Boyd’s approach is that is a transformative invitation to prayer.

I may revisit this later, but for now, I give this an enthusiastic 5 stars. Now for the practice of prayer. . .

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review

Open Heart Surgery to Open Heart Life: a book review

Struck is Russ Ramsey’s story of his brush with death. He was struck with a bacterial infection which destroyed his mitral valve, the heart valve which prevents backflow in the left ventricle of the heart. He required open-heart surgery and gained a new perspective through his struggle with sickness, depression, chemical addiction to painkillers, a brush with death and his recovery. ¬†As a father of four, pastor of Christ Presbyterian¬†Church in Nashville and author he reflects on how his brush with mortality affected his family and his faith.

4494Ramsey’s story unfolds in four acts. Part one describes the affliction, his diagnosis, operation and first month of treatment. Part two,¬†Recovery, explores month 2-5, the early days of recovery, depression, and rehabilitation. Part three,¬†Lament¬†(months 6-22) describes Ramsey’s movement back into the ministry of soul care, with fresh insights and empathy from his own struggle. Part 4,¬†Doxology, ¬†shows death and suffering swallowed up in hope and praise, as Ramsey looks ahead to life and resurrection. An afterward, written by Lisa Ramsey, Russ Ramsey’s wife, tells of her journey as she stood by her husband in sickness, diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. There are ways in which her afterward is my favorite part of the book because she refuses to make a ‘life lesson’ out of her husband’s infirmity. She marks the time as significant and is grateful for the ways God sustained them. It is enough.

I love memoirs because they open up the reality of another’s experience. I appreciate Ramsey’s sometimes raw honesty and the way his diagnosis enabled him to forge deep friendships with and offer hope to co-strugglers (like Barbara, a woman he and his wife knew dying of cancer). There is no sentimentality here. There is pain, grief, depression, loss and sadness. There is also an enduring faith. Ramsey opens up about the depths of his experience. He underwent open heart surgery and learned to live open-heartedly. ¬†I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP in exchange for my honest review

Creative Creep Weirdo Troubadour: a book review.

Jacob Nordby is an author, a teacher of writing and a host of a creative writing podcast. ¬†He previously wrote The Divine Arsonist. ¬†His new book aims at inspiring creativity for those on the margins.¬†The name of Nordby’s manifesto for creatives, Blessed are the Weird,¬†¬†is drawn from his poem, “Beatitudes for the Weird.” The poem provides a good summary of his vision of creativity:

Blessed are the weird people

‚ÄĒpoets, misfits, writers, mystics

heretics, painters & troubadours‚ÄĒ

for they teach us to see the world through different eyes

Blessed are those who embrace the intensity of life’s pain and pleasure,

for they shall be rewarded with uncommon ecstasy.

Blessed are ye who see beauty in ugliness,

for you shall transform our vision of how the world might be.

Blessed are ye who are mocked for unbridled expression

of love in all its forms,

because your kind of crazy is exactly that freedom f

or which the world is uncousciously begging.

Blessed are those who have endured breaking by life,

for they are the resplendent cracks through which the light shines. (8)

The people who¬†don’t fit¬†the mold (i.e. a 9-to-5 ¬†job, white picket fences and 2.5 kids) have something special to contribute to society. They buck against the status quo and make our world beautiful, and provide us a vision of new possibilities for the future. Nordby celebrates poets, prophetic truth-tellers, comedians, writers, mystics, heretical iconoclasts,¬†activists, painters, filmmakers, rebels, magicians, and songsters. Whatever is in you, Nordby tells you to listen¬†to your heart and become that special snowflake you were always meant to be. If you do, you will live more fully, have a greater degree of satisfaction and a better sex life.

debut-releaseNordby’s encouragement for creative types is for us to ¬†“become what we are.” Rather than apologizing for the weirdo vibe people get from us, we ought to pay attention to what gifts our difference brings to the table (cue Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful). Life and art (and activism) on our own terms. ¬†Of course, creativity is more than just following your bliss and being true to yourself. Nordby offers practical advice about facing our fears of failure.

I appreciate Nordby’s encouraging tone. He does get a little¬†too weird¬†for me in places (i.e. a vague spirituality and magicky-talk always gets my Christian hackles up). ¬†I also wish Nordby said something more substantive than he does. This felt less like a manifesto and more like a motivational speaker vibe (“Young lady, what are you gonna do with your life?!).”

However, I think he gets a couple things really right. First, if we are going to ever do what we were put on this earth for (draw, write, create, lead change, etc), we have to pay attention to who we are and what unique gifts we have to offer. Second, he highlights the¬†weird‚ÄĒthe ones that don’t fit in our society’s mold. If something new and creative is going to happen, it will come from the margins, not the center.

I give this book three stars and recommend it for weirdos.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

Praying the Psalms Toward Easter: a book review

It is through the psalmists’ syntax, imagery, and bold cries that we learn to pray. With laments and petitions and songs of thanksgiving and gratitude, the Psalms name dimensions of the spiritual life. My devotional life has been enriched by praying psalms. After all, Psalms is the prayer book of the church and source of Jesus’ own prayers. ¬†according-to-your-mercy

¬†According to Your Mercy¬†by Martin Shannon, CJ is a Lenten devotional with daily readings from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Shannon, is an Episcopal priest, liturgist, author and member of the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, MA. In each of the forty-seven daily readings, ¬†Shannon offers a brief commentary, a quotation from one of the Church Fathers, and a short poetic, prayerful response to the daily psalm. While the entries follow the Lenten calendar, most of the psalms he uses aren’t placed in a particular order (with the exception the psalms for Holy Week). “They are simply a collection of prayers that reflect various twists and turns on the Lenten Journey. ¬†As a season of penitence, Lent lends itself to such meandering for, when all is said and done, we know where we will end up” (introduction,¬†xi).

The first reading begins with Psalm 121 (“I lift my eyes unto the¬†mountains? Where does my help come from?), reflecting on the pilgrims’ journey to Jerusalem (one of the Songs of Ascent). A quotation from Augustine reflects on the promise of Divine protection. The selection of other Church Fathers cited includes saints from the third to eighth centuries, both East and West.¬†Paraclete

I am excited to delve into this devotional. Shannon is a thoughtful reader of the Psalms and his selections, reflections and quotations seem well suited for Lent. The book shall be my companion in the days ahead.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.