Book Review-Searching for Sunday

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Searching for Sunday
Rachel Held Evans

Emotional Response-4

Scholarly Response-4

My husband surprised me by ordering this book for me after seeing it sitting in my amazon cart. I started reading this book the day it arrived, and I read it very quickly. It is easily readable and still contains so much depth. In the forward, Glennon Doyle Melton says, “Searching for Sunday helped me forgive the church and myself and fall in love with God all over again” (ix). With such high praise, who wouldn’t want to keep reading? I would agree with this statement even though I’m not at a place where I need to forgive the church. I love the church with all its bumps and bruises. This book helped me love the church even more.

This book is organized around seven sacraments. I appreciate the way she names the sacraments. This Protestant can get behind seven sacraments when they are described in this way. “The church tells us we are beloved (baptism). The church tells us we are broken (confession). The church tells us we are commissioned (holy orders). The church feeds us (communion). The church welcomes us (confirmation). The church anoints us (anointing of the sick). The church unites us (marriage)” (xvii).

Not surprisingly, my favorite sacrament remains communion. I love communion. One of the things I miss most is serving communion. I love presiding at the table. I love inviting all to Jesus’ table. I love inviting people to remember. I love serving communion by intinction to a faith community I know. I miss calling people by name as I say this is the cup of salvation or this is Christ’s blood shed for you. For now, I receive the elements from the hands of someone who doesn’t know me, and it is enough because God knows me.

I read the section on confirmation the night before seeing nine youth I did not know confirm their faith. We still do not know each other. And yet, we are bound together in the promises we made and our love of Jesus. I can faithfully say I will support them on their faith journey because I believe in the church universal and the brother and sisterhood of all of God’s children.

My least favorite sacrament, as presented in this book, was marriage. I want marriage to be open to all who love each other and until it is I struggle with seeing it as a sacrament. Not everyone gets married, and that makes this sacrament feel as if it is reserved for only some. (The same argument could be made for Holy Orders, however, I believe by commissioning mission trip participants, blessing those who serve, and thanking everyone who takes seriously the call to love all and serve all-the Holy Orders are open for everyone.) I worry that calling marriage a sacrament encourages people to stay in hurtful or abusive relationships. Also, I worry about feelings of guilt or shame when a marriage ends-sometimes without the consent of one spouse. Maybe, if marriage had been earlier in the book, I might have enjoyed it more. I wanted the book to end with the same energy I felt for the other sacraments. Sadly, I didn’t feel it.

I recommend this book for those wanting a new look at the sacraments. I recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t found a church home. Read this book before you stop your search. I recommend this book for those who love the church and those who wish they could love the church.

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A Summer Prayer

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A Summer Prayer

Creating God,

As the days grow warmer and longer, we give you thanks for summer.

As the smells and tastes of cook outs and campfires delight our senses, we give you thanks for summer.

As school days and work days are exchanged for vacations, we give you thanks for summer.

And we know that summer isn’t joyful for everyone.

We pray for –

everyone who works in the hot sun,

everyone who misses meals because school isn’t in session,

everyone who doesn’t have air conditioning or a cool, dry place to sleep at night,

everyone who doesn’t have vacation time.

Loving God, hear our prayer.

Faithful God, we pray for all who love summer and all who would like to love summer. Keep us safe this season. Open our eyes to the beauty of your creation this summer. Amen.

Book Review-Leaving Church

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Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith Barbara Brown Taylor

Emotional Response-5

Scholarly Response-3

What an interesting book and what an interesting time for me to read it. Since leaving my position in the church more than six months ago, I have been discerning what is next. For many reasons including geography, a full-time position in the church may not be where God is calling me next. This book is the story of an ordained woman feeling the call away from parish ministry and a call into teaching religion in a college. Our stories are not the same, and yet, there are similarities too.

Months ago while visiting a friend, she let me borrow this book. It has sat on my bookshelf for a bit. Once I began reading the book, it went very quickly. You could say I devoured it. Since I first read Barbara Brown Taylor (or BBT as my friends and I call her. Truth be told, the one time I met her I don’t think I said much of anything to her. Just hi. I was too awestruck. BBT is our kind and quick way of addressing her when discussing her books), I have always found something in her writing that resonated with me. I expected nothing less in this book and I was not disappointed.

This book made me wonder about the ways in which we support our clergy. I wonder if the author had reached out for help if she might have continued as a parish priest. What safe places exist for our clergy to express their doubts, failures, concerns, needs, and desires? This is not to say that I think she should have continued as a parish priest. I think moving on to a new things was the best choice for her. I just heard some pain in her words and wished that a better support system had been available to her or she had made use of it.

Toward the end of the book, the author raises some excellent questions about the church and how we are the church. I thought of this as I sat in a church on Sunday morning that needed weekly offerings of $9000 to support itself. And right down the street only two blocks away was another church of the same denomination. I wondered about the history of these two churches, and I wondered how we might create more partnerships between churches.

I would recommend this book for all clergy-even if you aren’t considering leaving your current call, this book may help you support someone who is leaving or it may offer you support to ask the question and share your own doubts. I recommend this book for church people who want an inside look at what life is like for clergy. I recommend this book for any faithful people who have doubted. I recommend this book for people who would like to look at faith in a new way.

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Charleston Tea Plantation

Recently I realized that it has been five years since our trip to the Charleston Tea Plantation. Before I dive into what that has to do with anything, I’d like to encourage everyone to plan a trip to Charleston, South Carolina because it is a wonderful city filled with history, beautiful buildings, delicious food, and so much to do. And, if you do plan this trip, go to the Charleston Tea Plantation. Tea lovers will enjoy seeing how tea is grown, harvested, and prepared to be enjoyed. Plus, you can enjoy a free cup of tea in their gift shop.

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I mentioned it has been five years since we visited the Charleston Tea Plantation. This means the tea I purchased there is at least five years old. I did some research on how long tea is “good”. My research was inconclusive. Some people believe tea is only good for a certain amount of time depending on type of tea, storage methods, and a variety of other factors. I decided to do my own experiment. I would drink my five year old tea and see how it tastes. I know that the scientists out there would find my methods to be less than perfect, but since my goal is a good cup of tea and not being written up in a scientific journal I’m going to share my results. I have enjoyed multiple cups of Charleston Breakfast Tea (their black tea). This tea has been stored in a tin for the past five years. The tea is flavorful. I like it better than any English Breakfast Tea that I have tried. It is not bitter as some black teas can be. I’m not recommending keeping your teas for years to do this experiment. If you find a long-lost tea in the back of your cabinet, give it a try. It might not be too bad.

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Worship Words for Pentecost

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A word about how this call to worship might work. This will require a bit of planning and knowing your congregation. I picture the congregation facing forward and the gifts of the Holy Spirit coming from behind the congregation toward the front of the sanctuary. I’d like to have the visuals stay where they are visible for the whole service. They may even be utilized while talking with the children or preaching the sermon. Be creative and have fun! I would suggest having multiple readers but not having the congregation read responsively. This will allow the visuals time to move around the sanctuary before the next line is read.

 

Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Live and move among us like a dove of peace!

(Enter the dove-possibly a fake dove on a stick that can “fly”, possibly a banner with a

dove on it that floats through the congregation, maybe even a real dove?!)

Swoop down. Surprise and delight us like a red kite.

(Enter someone flying a red kite through the sanctuary!)

Flash and flicker as our light of inspiration.

(Enter someone with flashlights or glow sticks or lanterns!)

Warm our hearts so we may be fire-filled followers.

(Enter someone carrying a lit candle!)

Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

 

Published on liturgy link on May 11, 2015.

Book Review-Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life

 

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Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life

Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Daniel Homan, OSB

Emotional Response-4

Scholarly Response-3

I didn’t want to hurry through this book that has lived unopened on my shelf for years. I decided to read one chapter a day and live with this book. And I’m glad I did. This is a book I’ll return to my “to read” pile. It deserves to be read again. I know I need to read it many more times before all the lessons sink in and become part of my life.

After introductions on retreat, St. Benedict, and the concept of a rule, this book has 30 chapters each highlighting a theme from the rule that is still very relevant today. Each chapter began with a quote from Benedict’s Rule. Next the authors selected quotes from other, often more modern voices that inspire further reflection. One of the authors does his or her reflection on the theme before asking us to go inward which is where all that has been said is applied to life today with suggestions for how we might live out the rule. Each chapter closes with a prayer.

This book is almost deceptively easy to read and understand. The challenge comes in living out what you are reading. I recommend this book as a great introduction to Benedict’s Rule. I recommend this book to anyone looking for an opportunity to strengthen one’s faith. I would recommend this book as a great Lenten book. (I know there are 40 days in Lent and only 30 chapters in this book. You could go back for the last 10 days and reread your favorite chapters or, if you are like me, having an extra 10 days to complete the book means you might get it done on time!). I highly recommend this book!

“A rule, in the sense used by St. Benedict, means a plan for living with others in a certain way…Despite personal differences, inclinations, and preferences, a rule determines how individuals will respond and behave and live together” (9).

“Regardless of what is happening, the monk shows up for prayer day after day, all the days of his life. There is nothing supernatural inside the monk that enables him to do so. He just puts his feet into his shoes and walks to the chapel. How he feels about it is not relevant. When it is time to pray, you pray. Period. You don’t have words? Don’t know how to address God? Not a problem. The psalms are full of words that we make ours when we pray them. This kind of prayer anchors us” (23).

“We do very ordinary things, and God breathes life into the act. God breathes life into us” (47).

I found the idea of Reasonable Balance (#13) inspiring. How can I live this? How can I help others live this way?
As one who is currently struggling to persevere, I took great comfort in #19 Perseverance. “Most often, perseverance simply means outlasting whatever is getting in the way” (157).

 

A Sabbatical of Sorts

For years I have been part of a group called The Young Clergy Women Project. We are clergy in our 20’s and 30’s who support, encourage, and journey with each other in our ministry. And yesterday, they published this piece that I wrote.

A Sabbatical of Sorts

While I was in seminary, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, The Preaching Life. In the chapter about call, she shares the story of asking God what she was supposed to do with her life. It is a question I’ve asked God multiple times in my life. The answer she heard and the part of this story that has stayed with me for years was “do anything that pleases you and belong to me.” This phrase has been a source of comfort and inspiration in my ten years of ordained ministry. It was easy for me to feel like I was applying this idea to my life and helping others apply it to their lives while I was serving congregations as their pastor.

Now, I find myself as a young clergy woman without a congregation. It’s been a sabbatical of sorts. There are days when I feel like I am wandering in the wilderness while wondering, Where is God calling me next? How will my gifts be used? What do I do in this time of waiting?

If God says “do anything that pleases you and belong to me,” what does this look like for those of us who are not employed? It can feel like freedom; no matter where we go God is there. Whatever we are doing—paid or not—we still belong to God. It can feel vast and overwhelming because nothing is limiting us except our imaginations, and that is scary. Add to this time of unemployment any other major life events like moving to another state, as I did, and it becomes even more perplexing. What does “do anything” look like when your whole landscape has changed, you need to find a new local support system, and you no longer have a church where you are expected to (and want to) be on Sunday mornings?

Barbara Brown Taylor tells this story again in An Altar in the World. And this version of her story includes these words, “Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did but how I did it that mattered. God had suggested an overall purpose, but was not going to supply the particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning, then I was going to have to apply the purpose for myself” (110).

For the last decade the meaning and purpose seemed easy enough to me. I worked for God (and about 300 church members). I journeyed with other disciples as they discovered God at work in their daily lives. I led Bible studies. I preached and led worship. I prayed with and for all ages of children of God. I laughed and cried with children, youth, and adults as we discerned together where God was calling them and how to faithfully follow God. For me, there was always so much to do that I had to make myself stop and think about why I was doing it.

Now, the opposite is true. I have so much time to think, ponder, and question. Most days, I’m using my time to do those things and I believe it will help me in whatever comes next. Other days, I want to do more and think less. As I search for ways to find a balance, I find myself reflecting on one of my favorite quotes. It is a memory that my favorite singer, Harry Chapin, shared about his grandfather, who said the following to Harry:

Harry, there are two kinds of tired: there’s good-tired, and there’s bad-tired. Ironically enough, bad-tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas, other people’s dreams and when it was all over there was very little “you” in there, and when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn—you don’t settle easy. Good-tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost. But you don’t have to tell yourself, ’cause you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days, and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy—you sleep the sleep of the just, and you can say “take me away.”

I first heard this on Harry’s The Gold Medal Collection album while I was in seminary and was inspired to live by this motto of good-tired. In fact, while in a liturgy class where we were to prepare an order of service for a funeral I requested that my friend include this quote in my funeral service.

During my time between calls, I’ve been tired, but it has been good-tired because I’ve been listening for God and focusing on using my God-given gifts. Working in the church will leave you tired. There is no doubt about that. The question is what type of tired?  I believe God is challenging me to find the balance, to take the time in whatever my ministry setting is to work so I’m good-tired with time to think and not just do. In our world, busyness leads quickly to bad-tired.

I’ve been calling this season of life my sabbatical. I’ve never had a sabbatical before, and I’m trying to use this time wisely and faithfully. My hope is that when my sabbatical ends I will have had time to rest and renew the most important relationships in my life. I hope to have learned more and slowed down enough to see more too. And, if I am tired, I want to be good-tired. My task now is to discover those deepest desires that God has given me: what I want to do and what I love to do. I hope that I can make a living doing these things. Most of all, I must remember in this time of discovery that I belong to God. I am God’s beloved and so are you.

 


Post Author: Susannah DeBenedetto

The Rev. Susannah DeBenedetto is ordained in the United Church of Christ. She has served churches in Missouri, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. Currently, she is between calls and discerning her next steps in ministry while exploring her new home, the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

You can learn more about the Young Clergy Women Project and read my article here.

 

Worship Words-Benediction Inspired by John 17:18

 

Jesus said, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

We are the ones Jesus sends out into the world. What are we sent to do in the world? We are sent out to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are sent out to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. We are sent out to feed those who are hungry, visit those who are lonely, and to love those who have no one to love them. We are sent out into the world as Jesus’ disciples to love as he loved. Do not fear! You are not sent out alone. As you go remember you are one of God’s beloved children and let the love of God bring you joy. You are one of Jesus’ disciples and let the teachings of the teacher live in your life. You are filled with the Holy Spirit and let the Comforter be your companion on your way. Go in peace!

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Book Review-A People’s History of Christianity

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A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story Diana Butler Bass

Emotional Response-3

Scholarly Response-5

Who knows the story of our ancestors in the faith? What happened after Jesus? The time I have most often taught this is in confirmation. Church history, as it is usually called, is often condensed to 30 to 45 minutes or one class. Only the highlights are mentioned. Much is overlooked, neglected, or skipped. It isn’t easy sharing 2000 years of history in less than one hour. I selected this book from my library because I wanted to see how someone else would condense it. “Unlike formalized church tradition, something that often appears as an approved list of what to believe and how to act, this is an open-ended history. Great Command Christianity invites us to participate in a living tradition, to reconsider faith as a community of people who practice God’s love and mercy through time” (11-12). She describes her quest like this, “A People’s History is a scrapbook of traditions that may have been forgotten, mislaid, or misinterpreted, rearranged on a page to evoke memories of the Christian God. It is an attempt to find the history of the prophetic Jesus in the church, the Jesus who spoke for the poor and the oppressed, who broke bread with sinners, who wanted his followers to give up all and follow him, and who believed–even when dying on a cross–in a world of justice, beauty, and love” (16-17). She searched for people being Christians throughout history and shared their stories. The book is divided into sections by historical periods much the same periods you would find in a church history class.

This book was not what I hoped it would be. I wanted the words and lives of my ancestors in the faith to come alive. I wanted to be introduced to people I did not know and reintroduced to others I had forgotten. This book didn’t give me that feeling. Was the problem my expectations or this book? I do not know.

After reading “Early Church: Devotion”, I knew I wanted more stories. I wanted more quotes from that time. I realize these may be hard to come by, but I had hoped to hear their own  words. “Jews and Muslims as Neighbors” beginning on page 122 is a reminder that we still have much to learn from the past. I loved “Inner Light” beginning on page 223. I am thankful for the Quakers who believed “women and men were equally enlightened by Christ” (225).

From this book I learned that Harriet Tubman was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (where I live). This geographical connection peaks my interest in learning more about Harriet Tubman. This fulfilled a hope of the book for me, I wanted to want to learn more about some of my ancestors in the faith. I wasn’t expecting it to be Harriet Tubman, but I do believe with our geographical proximities she might be the person with whom I need to deepen my connection.

This book was a slow read for me. I love history and wanted this book to be a page-turner. Sadly, it was not. It contained so much great information. Overall, I’m glad I read it and I believe it is a good, short history of Christianity. It is hard for me to recommend to all readers because I fear that many people would not finish it. If you are teaching a church history class at your church, this is a good read for you. If you love church history, this is a good read for you.

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Elderberry Herbal Tea

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Growing up elderberries were a part of our life. Elderberry pie was my Dad’s favorite pie. We scoured roadsides for elderberry bushes and got excited when it was elderberry season. I seem to remember my Mom getting poison ivy from an elderberry adventure. I used homemade elderberry jelly on toast. And one year, the elderberry jelly didn’t set. This new creation, which we called elderberry syrup, meant we could enjoy elderberry milkshakes.

With a childhood rooted in all things elderberry, whenever I see something elderberry I want to try it. My favorite tea shop, McNulty’s, has elderberry herbal tea. I had to try it.

I love it. It smells so sweet and fruity. The taste is not as sweet as the smell but still delicious. It brings back my childhood memories with every sip. I have a friend who is planning to use some of this tea to make a fun iced tea this summer. When I hear a report back on that, I’ll let you know. Overall, I’m huge fan of all things elderberry including this tea.