Category: community

Reading Together: How Communities of Readers Can Transform the World

reading-togetherBooks are one of the most powerful tools in the world.

Books change the world by offering a new perspective.

Books inspire people to step out and take risks.

Books allow people to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, increasing a reader’s capacity for empathy.

Books explain, they instruct, they motivate.

Books offer another way forward, and get people talking.

Most of my favorite books inspire me towards action. And they are always ones I want to talk about with someone else. (more…)

Money

 

I feel like any good soul shaping series would include something about money, right?

Money is a subject that no one really likes to talk about. We don’t talk about how much money we make or how much we spend. We don’t talk about our debt or our generosity. I think I understand why. Maybe we feel like we will be judged for making too much money or too little. We feel embarrassed or ashamed by the amount of debt we have.

So, our money troubles stay inside; it remains a secret. We worry about it alone or perhaps with our partner.

Secrets often make our souls sick. (more…)

Review: Searching for Sunday

I’ve been reading Rachel’s blog from the early days. I mean, probably not the EARLY early days, but as soon as her first book came out, I was subscribing. I mostly started subscribing because I was then friends with a guy who was friends with her in college, and he insisted on how great she was. Okay, I’m in.

I think her blog’s content has really evolved from when I first began reading. The topics got a bit weightier, she became more vocal in what she was for and what she was against. I know from personal conversations that some of you really enjoy her blog, and others of you really don’t. I think that’s fair. Either way. This book.

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Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church interweaves Rachel’s navigation of church life through the lens of the sacraments: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. In some ways I felt like I was reading two separate books: one about her relationship with the local church and one about the relationship of the local church and the sacraments.

Rachel shares her story of how her relationship to the body of Christ changed as she went through a faith shift. What was once fantastic now annoyed her. What was once secure now unsettled her. Growing up in a fundamentalist church, Rachel began to push back, ask questions, and eventually realized that the faith of her childhood was no longer the faith that she could own anymore.

I thought this passage was hilarious, because THIS IS MY MIND. I’ve been getting a lot better about trying to tame it, but it will rear it’s ugly head if I let it:

On Sunday mornings, my doubt came to church like a third member of the family, toddling along behind me with clenched fists and disheveled hair, throwing wild tantrums after each offhanded political joke or casual reference to hell…

‘America is a Christian nation,’ said the man making the announcements.

Is it?

‘Those who do not know Christ will be separated from God for eternity in hill,’ said Pastor Doug.

Will they?

‘If the Bible is the inspired Word of God then we must accept this as historic fact.’

Must we?

‘God has called us to pave the parking lot.’

Has he?

But.

She also shares about how she’s grown. How her faith has become deeper, richer, and also more speckled with doubt.

This book is more than a memoir. It’s also a book about the Sacraments, and how these elements of our faith calls us to a deep, rich, holy relationship with Christ. I learned quite a bit in these pages.

I’ve read (and liked) all of Rachel’s books, and this is by far the most maturely written, both as a Christ-follower and as a writer. She shows her deep appreciation for the church that raised her and introduced her to Jesus. She also shows a deep appreciation for the variety of local churches who are doing things differently, experimenting with different ways of connecting with God in a way that makes sense to them. It’s a unifying type of book.

I think Rachel has an important perspective for all of us to listen to, whether we agree with it or not.

 

Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for the free book in exchange for an honest review! 

Simplicity: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Tiny house, less stuff, minimalism– simple living is a booming industry these days. When looking for an image for this post, I searched “live simply” in google images. I came across a large number of totes, pillows, posters, necklaces, coffee mugs, cell phone covers, etc. encouraging others to “live simply” (you know, because we definitely need more totes, more jewelry and certainly more coffee mugs!).

Everywhere we look, someone wants to tell us how we can live more simply. Oddly enough, we like those kinds of articles and posts, even if we really don’t WANT to live simply. I guess because we know in our heart of hearts that less is more, but getting “one more thing” feels so good (at least for the moment).

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One of my personal struggles with simplicity as it is espoused in popular culture is that simplicity still says that it’s okay to buy whatever we want– just make sure that when we buy something, we get rid of something else. So, I have a drawer full of sweaters. I see another one that I really like. I don’t need it, but go ahead and buy it. Just make sure I get rid of another and I’m still “living simply.”

I see the cutest “live simply” poster on sale for $116.90. Buy it, put it up, but just be sure I take something else down first and give it away or sell it or something.

Does this unsettle anyone else?

To me, this sound like consumerism dressed in disguise. Continue to buy. Continue to give in to the new, the fashionable, the whatever. But just be sure to get rid of the old so it doesn’t look like I have a lot.

I have a different kind of simplicity challenge:

Just don’t buy anything we don’t need. 

When we see a new scarf that we like, but don’t need, we say to ourselves and others around us, “I really like that scarf!” and keep on walking. It’s a strategy that I use with my kids, and have found it to work with myself too. We are acknowledging the scarf’s beauty, admiring its uniqueness, and then we get to recognize that we don’t have to own it just because it’s beautiful. We have enough. I also try to thank God, in that moment (Because often I REALLY WANT to take that scarf home with me.). I express my gratitude for the scarves in my closet that keep me warm and that I enjoy wearing.

It’s a different kind of simplicity, but perhaps a more honest one, especially for those of us who really want to own less, give more, and wriggle free from the grip of consumerism that we all struggle with.

 

 

Review: Lean on Me

Community has been an incredibly important part of my spiritual formation. I believe with all of my heart that no person is an island, and that to be healthy human beings, we have to find people and places where we can both be known and also really know others.

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Perhaps reading Anne Marie Miller‘s newest book, Lean On Me, is a no-brainer for me. Yes, community! Yes, vulnerability! Yes, availability! I wondered at first if I really even should read this book since I’m already convinced of these things, but I’m really glad I gave this book a shot.

Anne shares part of her journey with us. She weaves together an honest story about a community that held her up in the midst and in the aftershocks of divorce, anxiety, kinda depression and just struggling to find herself again after the loss of her marriage.  She reveals the good times and the bad times, and also shares what she has learned about community lived out, even in the not-so-perfect situations in life.

This book is part memoir, part pastoral. I think I expected it to bit heavier on the details of her story (I’m super interested in knowing more about her life), but I bet there’s more of that in her book from a few years ago called Mad Church Disease. I felt like some parts of the book felt really overgeneralized and didn’t offer much depth, but then other sections were really poignant.

Thanks to Anne for sharing part of her story with the world- so brave and so needed!

 

Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for providing this book in exchange for an honest review! 

Developing friendships at ages 5 and 35

A couple days ago, my daughter walked all the way home from school holding hands with another Kindergartener that she met only a month or two ago. They quietly hung back behind the rest of us, talking, holding hands, and examining all of the interesting nature trinkets they could find.

It got me thinking about childhood relationships and how easy they were, generally. You meet someone and just start playing. You have fun, run around, chase each other, tell each other secrets, and decide that you are Best Friends Forever after an afternoon of play.

It’s not always so easy as we get older huh? Not only do you have to decide if you and potential friend have enough in common to get along, but there’s also those other subtle, unspoken “tests” that friends have to pass.

Tonight I was reading a great article about making friends over at The Art of Simple. The author shared a part of a New York Times article that described a few of the secrets of making close friends:

“As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.”

It’s pretty hard to accidentally do that these days, especially for stay-at-home parents. Let’s be honest, there’s not too many “unplanned interactions” for moms of multiple young children. Even going to the bathroom can be a calculated decision! So what does it look like to invest in others at this stage in life?

I think the author of the article brought up some great ideas (eating together, texting one another throughout the day, meeting needs before they’re spoken, teach each other things, etc.)… what would you add to the list?

 

Super Christian Parenting Myths

No matter which way you slice it, parenting is hard. For those of us who are parents and are also an active part of a Christian community, you would think it’d be easier. We have a village to help us raise our children.We have the Holy Spirit to give us strength and wisdom. We have a constant stream of advice and encouragement as we make the tough decisions in discipline. While this is the case for some of us, the Christian subculture also comes with its own set of additional challenges. One of those are what I’m calling the Super Christian Parenting Myths.

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Over at Graham Blanchard, the Mom Mentors are sharing what they think are the biggest myths that we as parents have to deal with. Here’s my contribution to the conversation:

The biggest myth about Christian parenting is that if we “do it correctly”, we’ll have good kids who respect us and love God. If our kids are not “good” kids, then it must be something we as parents are doing wrong.

However, I see in scripture, throughout history, and in my everyday life that there are a lot of people who reject or disobey God. Does their disobedience and lack of respect mean that God didn’t parent them well? Does it mean that He did something wrong? Of course not! So then, why do I think that I can do better at parenting than He, the Perfect Parent?

Once I really understood that, I began to ease up on myself. I still parent my kids with all the prayer, love, respect, and consistency that I can muster and while I certainly get discouraged when they choose to disobey me, I also know that at the end of the day, I’ve done the best that I know how to do.

How about you? What do you think is the biggest Christian parenting myth that you have to face on a regular basis?

 

 

When We ‘Share’ Tragedy

I’m a big fan of the internet. I love reading stories about people from all over the world. I think it has opened my eyes to both incredible stories of love while also exposing my heart to a sizable amount of tragedies and injustices.

It’s because of the latter that I find myself struggling in my faith at times. Today I learned that a homeless woman in Arizona left her two children in the car in incredibly hot temperatures while she was in a job interview for an hour. Even as I type it, my heart hurts. I feel sick to my stomach for the woman AND for the kids.

I think we’re exposed to more hurt, suffering, and tragedy in the world than our souls were designed to carry.

Back in the day, you heard mostly about suffering and tragedy in your own community, and while very difficult because it happened to family or friends, it was manageable. We could grieve, serve, comfort, and share the burden as a community. Now, we hear about horrible things all the time. The tragedy comes in the form of a 500 word news article or blog post. Perhaps for some, it’s easy to read and move on. For others, you sit and think and pray and maybe even cry as you think about these REAL people with REAL hurt.

I think it can do real damage to our souls…..even when our souls are fixed on Jesus.

The questions start coming — too hard and too often. Why did God let this happen? Why is this situation so helpless? Who is coming alongside that family? What can I do (probably nothing)? Where is God? Why is there so much pain? Suffering? Horrible tragedy? It’s the age old question that continues to come up because our hearts are never quite satisfied with the answers we receive.

God begins to look more absent and powerless when we’re bombarded with story after story after story of hopelessness. pain. real peoples lives. many of them without Jesus.

Sometimes I just decide to refuse to click- I will not read one more sad story that I can’t do a thing about. But, the damage is done. I’ve already been exposed a lifetime worth of others’ tragedies.

I don’t think there is an easy way out of this situation. Doubt and fear and questioning have always been a part of the spiritual journey. We press in, cry out to God with our fears and doubts and questions, and then hold on tightly to the stories of faith, hope, and love.

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Review: Strangers at My Door- An Experiment in Radical Hospitality

Every now and then I read a book that I can’t put down. The stories not only capture my full attention, but I’m left thinking about the characters long after the book is over. Strangers at my Door: An Experiment in Radical Hospitality, written by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, is a book that sucked me into the beautiful mess of living in a hospitality house.

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For those unfamiliar with that term, hospitality houses are homes that always have open doors for whoever may need it. There are people in these homes who are long-term community members, but they also have people who come and go. The purpose of the hospitality house is to welcome the stranger, just as Jesus welcomed us. For many, this sounds like an awful, terrifying idea. It goes against everything we believe in- what about the issues of safety and privacy and nuclear family , etc etc? In this book, Jonathan talks about some of those through the stories of people and situations that he has experienced in the hospitality house that he started in Durham, North Carolina.

More than this, however, he tells the stories of the strangers who have taught him more about God than what he could have learned by sitting through a sermon or listening to a podcast of a great preacher. He tells stories of the strangers who have turned into close friends and second family. How does a Washington-bound twenty-something end up raising a small family in a house full of people who are very unlike him?

Jonathan also does a fantastic job of weaving the theological foundation of welcoming the stranger throughout this book. The book is more than stories in that way that it makes the reader confront his or her thoughts and feelings towards the type of hospitality that goes beyond the idea of inviting a new family in the neighborhood over for pot roast. It’s a challenging book in that way.

I’ve always been really interested in learning more about how some of these new monastic communities have started, and what they are actually like (instead of what they are designed to be like). Jake and I have lived in community-ish settings a time or two, and have experienced the ups and downs. We know that it is so not easy, but that it is also so rewarding at times. I enjoyed reading about someone elses’ experiences too.

Take a look at this book trailer for more: www.jonathanwilsonhartgrove.com

Strangers at my Door releases on November 5th, but you can pre-order on amazon.com!

 

Thank you Jonathan and Blogging for Books for providing a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Jonathan, I am encouraged by you and your community. The Kingdom of God is being built little-by-little through each one of you. Thanks to all of you for sharing!

Review: Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with recipes

_140_245_Book.855.coverWhile I have a couple other books by Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine is the first book that I’ve actually read by her. Friends, it was good.

Bread and Wine is a mixture of the genres of memoir, cookbook, and christian living. We learn a little about Shauna’s post-college life- struggles and joys relating to friendship, marriage, children, miscarriage, infertility. Interwoven into these stories are also stories of cooking, recipes, and eating. I think Shauna captures something that many of us feel- that magic can happen when sitting around a kitchen table. Friendships are created. Tears are shed. Games are played. Prayers are prayed.

For Shauna, cooking and feeding people is a spiritual act of worship. She writes, “What makes me feel alive and connected to God’s voice and spirit in this world is creating opportunities for the people I love to rest and connect and be fed at my table” (p.15). What I love is that while she thoroughly enjoys food and cooking, she is quick to express that the act of hospitality is not about a presentation (take that, pinterest culture), but an act of opening her home and her heart and helping people to feel loved and welcome. It makes me want to come to her house for a meal!

She also shares some of her struggles with food as it relates to our physical bodies. “I’ve always been hungry. Always. I remember being hungry as a small child, as an adolescent girl, as an adult, and just after I locate those feelings and memories of hunger, in my peripheral vision another thing buzzes up, like a flash of heat or pain: shame. Hunger, then shame. Hunger, then shame. Always hungry, always ashamed.” She goes on to say, “My appetite is strong, powerful, precise, but for years and years, I tried to pretend I couldn’t hear it screaming in my ears. It wasn’t ladylike. It wasn’t proper. So I pretended I wasn’t hungry, pretended I’d already eaten, murmured something about not caring one way or the other, because I was afraid that my appetites would get the best of me, that they would expose my wild and powerful hunger.” Her chapter about hunger was one that I think many women would connect with.

At the end of most chapters, Shauna shares one of her favorite recipes. I love that she shares ones that are actually included in the story she tells-  it helps make her story come alive. For example, when she talks about the seasons of feasting and fasting, she shares a simple, healthy lentil soup recipe that she likes to eat when she feels like she’s been doing too much feasting. I can imagine the taste and the simplicity that comes through a lentil soup, and it helps me to remember that after feasting comes fasting. She shares recipes as simple as macaroni and cheese and as complex as steak au poivre with cognac pan sauce. But what I love most about the recipes is that they are actually do-able. They typically have few ingredients and pretty simple directions. They may have one ingredient that I’m not really used to, but almost all of them seem like something I could make on an ordinary day.

Bread and Wine was an enjoyable, relaxing read. I would definitely recommend it to people who love food, cooking and community! You’ll find yourself caught up in her stories, and encouraged to call a few friends over for an evening of dining.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255. Thank you BookSneeze.