Prophets so rarely speak words I actually want to hear.

sunlight on 100s of stairs web

I huffed and puffed up this massive flight of stairs. I dripped sweat, my calves burned, but the exercise was physically good for me, and the view at the end of the journey was worth the difficulty. But, still, the process to get there was painful. I think examining our stories is somewhat like this hiking experience.

Perhaps the more accurate title for the post is “Best Books Read in 2017: Third Quarter Edition.” But, there’s a theme running through what struck me in each of these books: the role of stories in shaping the way we engage the world. Continue reading

Top Five Books Read in 2017: Second Quarter Edition

062917 book list

Just a few of the library books I’ve been reading my way through…

Hey friends, it’s good to be back blogging! I finally caught up on completing my paid gigs and family commitments — just in time to write my second quarter reading highlights. I need to get back to a once a week posting schedule around here.

What’s your favorite book or blog right now? Or what’s on your bookshelf that you’re waiting to find time to read?

I could use some fiction recommendations, as I need a bit of a break from serious reading! Also, if you’ve got a favorite (or least helpful) parenting book, particularly on raising infants, I’d love to hear it.

Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go by Richard Rohr

Some books soothe my spirit and calm my anxieties. Others shake up my assumptions, forcing me to take a good look at myself. I expected the former, and I got the latter. Turns out, the voice of challenge was what my soul actually needed. Yet again with Rohr (just like when I read Everything Belongs), I filled my bullet journal with quotes and reflections on his words. I wanted the god who will protect me FROM pain and sorrow, and I’d forgotten Jesus who sits WITH us in pain and sorrow. I’d looked for escapism rather than solidarity, but that is not really the way of God.

By Little and By Little by Dorothy Day

I’ve respected Dorothy Day as an influential figure in 20th century Christianity, but I had only read minimal pieces of her work. As I read By Little and By Little, I wept. I learned. I found myself inspired and challenged. Her stories about living in community reflect both the profound beauty and deep challenges of seeing Jesus in others and herself. Her connection to a faith lived out bodily resonated with me, who great up with a more cerebral faith. Last, her writing about poverty and social justice made me feel less like a lone weirdo, and I found a sense of solidarity with her. And now, I’m eager to read more of her work.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

I saw nuggets from this book popping up over social media on Facebook and Twitter, and after a bit of a wait at the library, I dug into this book. I couldn’t put it down. Oxenreider and her husband took their three young children on a journey around the world, and this book contains reflections on their travel experiences. Oxenreider’s description of meeting with a spiritual director in Thailand was particularly poignant. She wrote of concerns, fears and struggles that resonate with me as I work out my own mid-30s identity issues. A note she wrote to her future traveling self in her journal before leaving on the trip stayed with me, and I wrote it down and colored it in my own journal.

“But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. This month is the foundation for the year. Lean in to the struggles; give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path.”

I needed that reminder. As I keep leaping this year and trying new challenges, I needed the reminder: I actually CAN do hard things, and hard doesn’t mean wrong.

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pastrix is not for everyone; if cussing puts you off, then perhaps skip over this one. Reading Accidental Saints reminded me again of what I love best about church and the liturgical calendar; Pastrix reminds me of what I love about Jesus and how Jesus works through unlikely people who show up. Bolz-Weber has a way of reinvigorating the Jesus  I already love, and she points to Jesus in people and stories I might otherwise overlook. And as I work on my perfectionist tendencies, I needed her reminder:

“New doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy. … New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway.”

And this happens to be paired with Oxenreider’s quote in my journal, and I still keep coming back to these words a month after I wrote them.

Ruby & Custard Crochet by Millie Masterton

And for a completely different kind of book, I loved Ruby & Custard Crochet! Full of cute patterns I would make as gifts (or, let’s be honest, I’d wear myself), I loved the bright colors and whimsy. I’ve got plans to make some mittens and owl hats for kiddos!

Boats, Mushrooms and Jump Starting an Adventure

Sailboat at SunsetI think God is pushing me away from what’s comfortable.  “Jump out of the boat, Beth.  Leap.”

I, sadly, think to myself, “No, thanks.” I like predictable.  I like stasis. And doing things where I feel confident about my skills.

I don’t want risk, weirdness and feeling adrift at sea.

But, what wild rides am I missing while I mutinously hunker down into the boat?  How much life am I missing out on while I cheat myself?

Continue reading

What’s the Point of Theology?

Earlier this summer, I noted on Facebook that Chung Hyun Kyung’s book Struggle to Be the Sun Again upset my theological worldview.  I found myself asking what it might mean to do theology in my context.

I thought other people “did” theology.  They wrote it.  I consumed it, looking for “right,” bright and shiny ideas about God.  I approached theology as my own reflection about the nature of God.  Grounded in the Bible, of course.  But largely a private enterprise.  Personal. And predominantly, right thinking about God — orthodoxy if you will.

Continue reading

For the Love of Books

I try not to do the super geek thing here too often.  I’m making an exception today.  As I’m starting to wind down from seminary, I’ve been trying to process the total experience.  Part of that processing is reflection about what books and authors impacted me the most as part of my seminary journey.

So, here they are (and they’re not in any particular order either… except that the first half were books from the library and the second half reside on my shelf).

Three Mile an Hour God and No Handle on the Cross by Kosuke Koyama:  Koyama came up as a brief reference in my first systematic theology class back in 2012. Feeling curious, I dug a little deeper into his writing. In the process, I discovered an appreciation for Asian theology and challenges to my white middle class American perspective about God. He was a lifeline as I was trying to process my infertility journey my first year of seminary and was instrumental in my learning how to hope anew.

Choosing Life and Creative Disobedience by Dorothee Soelle.  Soelle challenges my comfort and security; she reminds me that the Good News of Jesus does indeed have political ramifications. She also made me question my values of objectivity and non-partisanship. Her introduction in Creative Disobedience was a balm to my soul while I worked my gender roles project for my social ethics class; she made me realize that I’m not a lone crazy person in some of my objections to traditional Western male theology. I don’t always agree with her, but I respect her a lot.

The Crucified God and The Spirit of Life by Jurgen Moltmann. Jesus stands in solidarity with those who are suffering and brings their oppressors to repentance.  In this way, Moltmann offers hope to both victim and oppressor.

The Silence of God by Helmut Thielicke.  I loved this collection of sermons; they brought me hope and comfort as I fought for sanity after the ectopic pregnancy. They helped me white-knuckle it through that dark, dark season. (Also, I’m grateful for Dr. Lawrence introducing me to Thielicke through the required reading of A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, which proved comforting and formative as I came back to seminary in 2012.)

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf. I read this based on a recommendation from Thorsten Moritz. I find Volf’s points about the willingness to embrace the one who is different than me and his approach to forgiveness come up again and again. It’s one of the books that I tend to recommend the most to other people.

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin by Cornelius Plantinga.  Plantinga offers a metaphor for sin that was new and quite helpful for me.  Sin at its essence is a violation of the shalom that God intended.  Sin isn’t simply law-breaking, but at its core is the destruction of relationship with ourselves, God, each other, and the world.

Living in Color by Randy Woodley. Woodley asks the question, “Do I have a responsibility to protect my brother’s culture?” It’s a question I’d never thought about and has haunted me since I read his book. His work challenged the way that I think about ministry and what it means to welcome people of different cultures — particularly in being creative and theologically intentional about adopting different forms of worship practice.

Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality by Richard Beck.  Beck scientifically articulates things that I intuited, but didn’t have language to describe.  While I find his conclusion ultimately unsatisfying, he raises significant issues and questions that the Church should be addressing. This is a book that I highly recommend to everybody as his writing style is fairly accessible and the questions he raises are so critical!

The Gospel of Luke by Joel B. Green (from the New International Commentary series).  Green’s narrative approach to interpretation in conjunction with Dr. Jeannine Brown’s teaching on Luke in the course I took with her were highly formative in the way that I approach the Bible.  Hands down this is my favorite commentary on my bookshelf.   (Though I should also admit, Luke is also my favorite Gospel, so I’m also already biased.)

Re-imagining Dreams

In the past few weeks, I’ve been contemplating new beginnings a lot.  Maybe it’s the hope of spring with crocuses starting to pop up in spite of snow.  Maybe it’s Lent. Or maybe with the attempt to die to my anxious self, I’m beginning to dream about what life could be like now that I’m not tightly gripping the anxious baggage.  And along those lines, Jurgen Moltmann writes, in In the End – The Beginning, “We <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} @font-face {font-family:”Chalkboard SE Bold”; panose-1:3 5 6 2 4 2 2 2 2 5; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Sectishall only become capable of new beginnings if we are prepared to let go of the things that torment us and the things we lack.” I’ve been realizing more and more lately that I’m letting go of my desire to go on and immediately pursue a Ph.D. after finishing my Masters of Divinity.  As I think about what I like to read and how I like to spend my time, the thought of pursuing more and more study seems less life-giving. I don’t want to pursue the Ph. D. just so folks can call me Dr. and think I’m smart.  And maybe the dream of being Dr. McGrew-King was trumping my personality formation goals.  

On another front, I need more time to spend living out my theology before I spend more time thinking and writing about it.  I’m hungry for a balance.  Kosuke Koyama, in No Handle on the Cross, writes “Academic excellence refers to the ability to use particular skills and tools.  But academic excellence must not be appreciated by itself in isolation.  Its value must be brought out in terms of excellence in serving man.”  I can do academic excellence.  I can write great theology and great papers on what the Bible means in various passages. I can do the school bit.  But, the school bit is no longer what feeds me. I’m no longer sustained on the ideas alone.  Instead, I’m on a quest for a truth that I live out in relationship with others.  I need time for the reading and the study to mature and bring fruit in me.  I need testing grounds for trying out my beliefs about the world, and seeing what happens.  I need space to practice justice and mercy till I live them out as part of my own breathing. So that they aren’t just professed values – but the way I conduct my life. If I do a Ph.D., I want it to be about a truth that I actually live, rather than an abstract, out-there thing.  

And we’re beginning to talk about and pray about adoption and how that works once I’m done with my masters. To go on to pursue my Ph.D. puts another time delay on that plan since I don’t want to be trying to become a mom and doing a Ph.D. all at once.  I applaud people, particularly women, who can do it all.  But, I am not one of them.  I can’t work, study, be a parent, be involved in my church, all at the same time without feeling like I’m failing at everything.   In any case, giving up the Ph.D. for now feels like taking a hefty, little used book out of my totebag to free up space for things that I actually need.  I feel lighter and with more space to breathe and move. I may still go back for the Ph.D., but I’ve come to recognize that in the meantime there are things that I want more than letters after my name.