Read More Books!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt a conference this past weekend, I caught a workshop by Byron Borger, of Hearts & Minds Bookstore. Reading promotes worship, discipleship, and community building we heard–and to drive such notions home, Byron talked about book clubs promoted by John Wesley and William Wilberforce.

strong and weakReading for the Common GoodByron’s enthusiasm for reading is infectious, as is his delight in books old and new. Following his recommendation, I picked up Andy Crouch’s new title; I was also caught by his glowing recommendations of Chris Smith’s Reading for the Common Good and Margot Starbuck’s Overplayed (two of the authors in this collaboration). And with all that (there was a certain insistence on J. K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love that probably should not go unheeded, either), my summer list is taking shape…

Earth, wind, and fire

Artwork by Aletheia Mellott

The Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost, Luke says, came with a sound like a violent wind, as fire atop the heads of gathered disciples (Acts 2). Pentecost? The word takes us back to Old Testament times, and one of the 3 great annual feasts to be celebrated by God’s people. Pentecost is the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23, Numbers 28, Deuteronomy 16), a harvest celebration of the produce coming, once again, from the earth. Each year, people would look at the ground to remember and rejoice in what God provided.

On the Pentecost following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, a great many people had assembled in Jerusalem (as had been the case 7 weeks earlier, for Passover–another of those 3 big feast days) to celebrate. Followers of Jesus had also gathered, to remember, ponder, worship, prepare. And then, a surprise: the Spirit, accompanied by the sound of a tornado and the sight of flames above each head. This Spirit fills hearts to overflowing and followers of Jesus spill into the streets, praising God. Luke says they spoke in a variety of languages, which caught the attention of those from other countries who were in Jerusalem for the holiday. What is this? they were asking. Continue reading

Connections

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In class yesterday, we ambled through Ephesians 1:1-14. I wanted to go slow through the text, in order to notice what Paul was doing: repeating words and phrases, confirming God’s work on behalf of people, setting up readers for what would follow. I’ve done this before–more than once–but it never fails to make me pause and reflect.

In Christ (or in Him) shows up several times–a seemingly ordinary phrase that hardly attracts attention, except for its repetition by Paul.  Why so often? To remind readers of the new ‘place’ they have entered as followers of Jesus. And what comes of being in this place–of being connected to the Lord like this? The ‘spiritual blessings’ Paul mentions and then lists.

It’s a long list, too, full of language about God’s awareness and intentionality. It impresses readers with the notion that being ‘in Christ’ is not accidental or automatic or without effect. Paul’s interest in blessings also takes us back to Jesus’ sermon on the mount (in Matthew 5-7), which begins with Jesus’ mention of blessings that accrue to those who live in God’s light. It’s another link suggesting that so much of what Paul writes follows on what Jesus said and did.

We looked more closely at those blessings Paul enumerates. The preacher in me couldn’t help but alliterate: the connection (being ‘in Christ’) leads to confidence and contentment. Confidence, because Jesus followers can know they have been sought out and drawn in by the Lord–which means they don’t have to be pushed around by fear or anxiety. Contentment, because God’s grace keeps pouring out, providing what is needed, and offering a sense of purpose in moving through life (this latter point springs from Paul’s remark in v. 12, where be can be understood as exist).

So it’s there–all this great teaching, all these fine ideas. And, as usual, Paul’s writing sparks the question: will these notions take hold in our hearts–my heart–and make a difference?

Pro wrestling

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The last time you were sick, emotionally raw, physically spent, broke, broken, or beleaguered in any of a number of wrenching, aggravating ways–did you consider strategies for prolonging that experience? Probably not.

To be fair, some/many of us are willing to soldier on, to keep the upper lip stiff. A surprising number of us have a high tolerance for difficult situations, too. But to choose such a place? To walk into it with a will? To stay there? Not at the top of the list for many of us.

Aversion to pain is hard-wired: we draw back from heat or laceration, we spit out what is poisonous, we flee or fight when there is an altercation (each is a way to mitigate the discomfort); we lean away from the edge. Continue reading

Exhausted by judgment

20150101_174802In commenting on the letters of Revelation, Craig Koester has this to say about the Ephesians’ cooling love:

The problem seems to be that their opposition to false teaching has led to a loss of love for other believers (p. 269).

Could it be, that in ‘defending the truth’ these folks have alienated their siblings in Christ? That they gave so much time and energy to maintaining strict adherence to what was right that they had nothing left for what was good?

The questions are loaded, to be sure–and part of unpacking them requires clarity with respect to the terms (defending, truth, right, good) being used. But the idea Koester proposes is startling for its implications, largely because he is saying that the problem at Ephesus was not too much false teaching but rather too much judgment.

As someone who struggles with rushing to judgment, I get this. I understand how easy it is to look at or hear about a situation and reach a determination; with hindsight (and too much experience), I get how a desire for justice leads to a quickness to judge.

I wonder if part of this inclination stems from the ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ mantra–a phrase that appears to cover the waterfront. Trouble is, it expects  that ‘sin’ can be easily discerned; it also opens space for hate to enter the picture (funny, what these sayings encourage…)–hate, which has a way of expanding to fill the frame, to the point that it can crowd God out. God, the One best suited to judge.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he commended their “faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all God’s people” (Eph 1:15). That juxtaposition of faith and love is interesting; it shows up again in 1 Corinthians 13, where this pair is joined by hope. Which makes me wonder if he’s saying what Jesus later calls attention to in Revelation’s letter–that if love is going to stay strong, it needs to be accompanied by faith and hope, rather than an urge to judge.

Revelations

We’re moving slowly through the last book of the Bible in a class I’m teaching this fall–so slowly that as we begin week 5, we have yet to get to the actual text.

Why the snail’s pace? It’s motivated by an effort to prepare for our exploration–to acclimate the way climbers attempting to summit Everest do when they move up that mountain in stages. That, and to give us enough time to sift through the baggage we’ve brought in light of what’s ahead.

I grew up among dispensationalists, saw A Thief in the Night (and sequels), read Hal Lindsey, sang songs by Larry Norman. The students I’m with read or watched Left Behind (and its sequels), sang other songs. We’re carrying a lot.

GormanThis time through, I’m reading Revelation more as a story that’s unfurling than a code to be cracked. It’s an approach encouraged by several–like Michael Gorman, whose Reading Revelation Responsibly has been an eye opener. Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation is another fine text. These are the books I consult routinely, but my shelf is bending under another dozen volumes that widen horizons and deepen wonder. One is Craig Koester’s commentary, an 800+page whale that so far has surprised and delighted on every page I’ve consulted.  Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination, indispensable when I’m reading in the OT, is close at hand, too, because John the revelator is self-consciously prophetic, and Brueggemann helps me make sense of that voice.

Theology of RevNext week, we’ll leave base camp for the rarefied air of chapter one, with its startling vision of the risen Christ. Consideration of Ezekiel’s vision–where that prophet sees the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God–has put a spring in our step. Ezekiel’s flat-out awe, his struggle for languaging the ineffable–these are swirling in the air like snow as we prepare for this next stage of the climb.

Rolling out…

University of Days Layout 2

University of Days launches this weekend. It’s my tenth book as an author/editor–and my third novel. Playa Perdida offered a straight ahead story about a pastor trying to start a church in a beach town. Prime Target took a swing at a soft-boiled mystery/thriller (chases, villains, puzzles). Now, with this latest novel, I’m trying another different style with a collection of loosely connected vignettes about a college year. But it resembles the others, too, in its small town setting and menagerie of characters who wrassle with the ups and downs of life–elements that for me make fiction fun.

The school in question sits on a parcel of land in coastal Georgia, caught between a rich heritage and an uncertain future. Offering a liberal arts curriculum with a Christian perspective, it’s a place like those where I–and a bunch of family & friends–have spent a lot of years (write what you know, they say…). The people there trying to figure things out might make you laugh, or wince.

Launching a book about college in the summer could be risky (do people want to think about school between the solstice and Labor Day?). On the other hand, if you don’t have to study for a test or give a presentation, wandering around campus can be a good time. So if you’re looking for something to read at the shore, in the mountains, or during a long car ride, check out University of Days. And if you’d like to get a feel for the book before committing to the paperback or electronic version, here’s a sample…

Finishing touches

new book coverIt appears that the new novel will finally make it out of the gate this month. A few last tweaks, some re-formatting so it can be an e-book, and then…

Mid- to late-June seems likely for the launch, and that’ll be a good day. It has a map (drawn by Alan Voelkel), Spanish (por supuesto!), and an assortment of characters (like an absentee librarian and a pyromaniac). Plus, who doesn’t think about school in the summer?

Here’s the current back cover copy:

A small town story told with with dry humor and laconic pacing about memorable characters, aggravating perplexities, and fond hopes.  For readers of Jan Karon, Alexander McCall Smith, and Blaise Pascal.
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Much has changed in the century since this Christian liberal arts college rose from the fertile imagination of a southern tobacco farmer. What’s less clear is how staff, students, faculty, and administrators with mixed motives and competing agendas will face what lies ahead. 

The writing prof who moonlights with pulp fiction; a one-handed potter; the Anglican chaplain who mystifies those raised in a different sort of church; a prankster desperate for notoriety; the provost struggling to herd cats; a first-year teacher with a dangerous reading list; a security officer who likes to climb—all these and more have questions to ask, choices to regret, fires to put out, and papers to grade. 

This year, the real world is getting awfully close to the ivory towers at University of Days.

 

Write, read, rewrite, read more…

udays edit

Createspace lets you order a hard copy proof–for which I am thankful. Seems no matter how often I comb through the text on a monitor, something slips by. Reading it on paper helps me spot problems (though gremlins still slip in unawares). Writing is great. Rewriting is necessary. Editing? Proof-reading? Still looking for just the right adjective…

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(This is a 2-page spread from the upcoming University of Days.
And yes, that’s coffee in the upper left corner
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After & Before: 5 thoughts about the space between jobs

mkt st bdrige

 

We talk about ‘the marketplace’ and how to do well there–and it’s an important topic of conversation. But what about those not currently on that turf, due to a choice that’s been made by or for them?

This space in between leaving (or losing) and finding a job is one many have occupied–and a place people around us (maybe even we ourselves) are in now. What happens here?

As one who’s familiar with this experience, I’ve been pondering that question. There’s a lot of good advice available about tweaking the resume, mining the network, and following up on leads–but I’ve also found that this season goes a bit better if I keep ideas like these close to hand:

1. Waiting is inevitable. Things don’t tend to move all that quickly when you’re ‘in between’. Inquiries can fly out from the keyboard and hurtle into the ether, with resumes attached, at a blistering rate–but replies? thoughtful responses? acknowledgement that what you sent arrived? decisions about your suitability for the position in question? A fair bit of this occurs at the speed of continental drift. Crafting a strategy for filling time while we wait is crucial.

2. Friends are invaluable. People between jobs are counseled to ‘run your networks’–and there’s some merit to this. But friends are not simply useful for getting you through doors or on another’s radar. Friends encourage. They keep us from settling into troughs, and demonstrate that ‘normal’ has a very wide range. Friends remind us that ‘work’ is not always life’s best investment. Continue reading