When God Asks for More but it Looks Like Less

For long years, I have ridden the bucking bronco of calling, leaning into the tension of being a fairly ambitious woman in a life that leaves little room for goals beyond laundry management and remembering to thaw something for dinner. Anyone with a Facebook account or a presence on Instagram knows that there are people out there doing huge things for Jesus that bring income sources to third-world women, put shoes on the feet of trash-picking children in hidden corners of the lands to our south, and shine the light of biblical truth into thousands of shadowed lives with the click of a well-read blog post.

Shannan Martin thought she had figured out her path toward impact when the bottom fell out of her well-ordered life-plan and the balance of her carefully curated bank account began nose-diving its way toward zero. Her writing ministry as the “Flower Patch Farmgirl” seemed incongruous alongside a new calling that God was sending through shock waves of vivid detour messages:  a new vocation in a startling urban zip code alongside people with messy lives and unimpressive resumes who would ultimately become family instead of just neighbors.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You is Martin’s anthem to God’s goodness in shrinking her world and her calling “down to a pinhole, one solitary shaft of light.” (16) She learned that although the problems that come to us in our news feed are large and insoluble, there are people just around the corner who need a glimpse of hope and maybe a ride to visit their dentist–or their parole officer.

The Ministry of Paying Attention

When my eyes are focused far ahead or high above my life here on a country hill in Maine, I’m likely to miss God’s calling in the present moment. When Shannan remembered that Jesus admonished us to “pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given,” she became serious about forging relationships with the people who stood outside her church smoking between services. She also knew she would need deeper and wider wisdom to respond in meaningful ways to the voices of her multi-racial, adopted children when they posed questions about skin color.

Even though the truth of the Gospel puts tools in our hands for managing the complexity of life on this planet, it turns out that complexity is an acquired taste. I’d much rather trumpet the goodness of God against a backdrop of success and answered prayer than to cling to the knowledge of His goodness in the context of cancer diagnoses and stories of wayward teens and heartbroken parents, and yet Jesus entered time and space to rescue us “from the things we think we want by giving a face to the heart of God.” (39) He alone is equal to this ministry.

The Ministry of Flattening Divisions

Shannan shares a story from her neighborhood about a woman whose power was about to be shut off in error, but she had no phone to make the necessary calls. With no option but to ask for help, she showed up at the Martin family door asking to use a phone, but finding friendship in the long run. Of course, things could have been very different with Shannan in the “have” seat and her neighbor firmly fixed in the “have nots,” but Shannan’s goal was to defuse this dynamic. By allowing this shy and lonely woman to be the giver at times, she models a redemptive and counter-cultural approach to helping that is sadly lacking in existing welfare systems and charitable efforts.

“Most of us want the kind of friendship that is defined by mutuality, where we’re too busy enjoying each other to watch for pecking orders or power rankings. We don’t need more colleagues or service providers. We want two-way streets paved with the truth that life is more bearable when we walk in the same direction.”

The Ministry of Sticking Around

Five  years into their urban neighborhood commitment, the Martin family makes very modest claims for impact or outcome. This rings true for me, a practitioner of mundane faithfulness that looks like showing up with a mediocre casserole for a friend who’s had surgery or opening the Bible in a corner rocking chair in someone’s cozy living room. When God calls us to “the ministry of ordinary places,” we give up the luxury of life from a safe distance in exchange for a discipleship that Eugene Peterson famously defined as “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Sticking around in faithfulness to the call of God may look like “less,” but if it is the “more” that God is calling you toward, He has made strong promises that look like abundance to carry us into and through those ordinary places:

The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring. 

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes.  (Isaiah 58:11, 12)

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for my own “ordinary places,”

Michele Morin

 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You ,simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Musings: October 2018

When jets fly overhead, stitching up the airspace between Boston’s Logan and somewhere-in-Europe, by the time they reach the sky over Mid-coast Maine they are barely visible, nothing but contrails. My roots are deep here on this country hill, thirty thousand feet below, so I’m no globetrotter, but over the years, visitors from around the world have eaten apple pie, soaked up their gravy with warm yeast rolls, and responded in grace to the imperfections and barely managed chaos of this busy household.

At the same time, they have enlivened my family’s vision of an international, border-crossing Gospel and a God with room in His heart and in His plan for everyone He has created. It turns out that missionaries are some of God’s best warriors against small-minded belief, because they put flesh and bone around this truth:

“Biblical religion is aggressively internationalist.”

In Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, Eugene Peterson writes about Jeremiah, the “prophet to the nations” (1:5) who barely ever left home. Since October is missions emphasis month at my church, it is well and good that I am deep into Jeremiah’s letters to “the nations.” By “nations,” God meant foreigners, in the same way that people around here might describe you, if you happen to come “from away.”  You see, folded into Jeremiah’s job description–along with carrying to Judah’s kings all the bad news about Nebuchadnezzar– was the task of writing ten oracles to ten different nations comprising an area of about 750,000 square miles. He was “the prophet to the nations” who only left Jerusalem at the end of his life because he was carted off to Egypt, probably against his will.

Hand-Carried Judgment

The letters Jeremiah wrote were hand-carried–but not by him. We know the identity of one courier, Seraiah, the messenger to Babylon with the news  that she would “sink to rise no more because of the disaster [God] will bring on her. And her people will fall.” By way of Jeremiah’s tethered pen, God’s message was delivered to nations that could have been written off as hopeless pagans. Eugene Peterson notes that letters of condemnation employed “judgment in the service of salvation.” Read for yourself:

This is what the Lord Almighty says:

“See, I will break the bow of Elam,
the mainstay of their might.
 I will bring against Elam the four winds
from the four quarters of heaven;
I will scatter them to the four winds,
and there will not be a nation
where Elam’s exiles do not go.

“Yet . . .

I will restore the fortunes of Elam
in days to come,”
declares the Lord.  (Jeremiah 49:35-36, 39)

God extends a glimmer of hope, not in all ten oracles, but then, He went on record with some stern words to Israel as well, and He did not relent.

This Month at Living Our Days

We’ve run the gamut from poetry to memoir to biblical exegesis in October, and I love offering resources here and sharing my reading with you.

First poetry:

As Christians, we have no light of our own, but the nature of our Borrowed Light is so compelling that others are drawn to its warmth and luminosity, just as we are drawn to the borrowed light of the moon against an inky sky.  In her poetry collection (The Consequence of Moonlight: Poems), Sofia Starnes has expressed this exact quality of sainthood, the here-ness or there-ness of a life that “orbits the earth but [is] not of the earth.”  It is the discipline of recalling the source of our Light that keeps the underlying Presence in proper view. And maybe it’s because of Mr. Roger’s influence, but when I reviewed the book, my takeaway was that the believer’s right response to our borrowed light is to run toward the darkness with it.

That same week, I shared one of my own poems, inspired by a sermon series on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount from my excellent pastor. If His warning to “beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” has ever jarred you into pondering your motives, you can read my own reflections on it here.

Bring Me a Vision: A Story of Redeeming Hope is the true unfolding of BeckyReview of Bring Me a Vision: A Story of Redeeming Hope Moreland’s story. Founder of RAHAB Ministries, she lived a miracle of turn-around and her co-author Pam Ecrement bore witness to it, first as her counselor and then, later, as her friend and colleague in ministry. When Becky first approached Pam for counseling, she was seeking help for her children, but Pam soon learned that Becky’s own traumatic childhood was impacting her mothering in ways that were detrimental, in spite of her best intentions. The glory of God is put on display as His story runs its course in the life of an ordinary woman who has been impacted by the love of an extraordinary God. Purchasing details and a link to RAHAB’s website are available here, as all proceeds for the book will be turned over to RAHAB ministries.

Nancy Guthrie picked up her pen, gathered up the tangled threads of the earliest story set in a garden, and then she moves forward in hope through the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan in her latest book, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story. On her meandering way from the thunderous God-force of creation to the end of the ages, she shares stunning truth about “what the original garden has to show us about the more secure, more satisfying, and more glorious garden we’re destined to live in forever, which will be even better than Eden.” (14)  This was one of those books that I can’t stop thinking about. If you’ve read it, too, I’d love to have a conversation with you. Here’s a link to more details.

As a long-time journal-keeper, I was happy to review Deborah Haddix’s is Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul), a handbook of journaling methods that goes beyond pen and paper and invites readers to span the spectrum of spiritual disciplines in their walk with God. Deborah explores the use of drawing, paper crafting, photography, and even decorative lettering as an expression of her heart to a God who is NOT in the business of putting His children in ill-fitting boxes.

In The Gift of Prophetic Encouragement: Hearing the Words of God for Others, we find Kitterman’s confidence and fervor flow from years of learning alongside biblical characters like little Samuel that the voice of God in our ears and in our hearts requires action on our part.   We are built for connection, for relationship with God and with each other. Living in harmony with the example of Jesus means embracing a lifestyle of encouragement. “Jesus had radical encounters with ordinary people every day. By listening to the Father’s voice and doing what the Father said, Jesus was able to release heaven into the situations and lives of those He encountered.” (21) You’re invited to read more about Debbie’s bridge-building ministry of encouragement here.

News from the Hill

The garden has exhausted itself just in time for our kitchen to be torn apart and put back together again. The new cabinets arrived on the 15th in a very impressive truck, and since that day we have been moving toward the goal of peace and order. Let us live in awe of the Lord our GodNonetheless, homeschooling, enjoying the grandchildren, the comings and goings of turkey hunting and trumpet playing sons, and a glorious fanfare of fall color have filled this month with plenty of joy.

Crossing to Safety (Modern Library Classics) by Wallace Stegner is the book I used to re-read every fall. It’s a story in which a friendship is so front-and-center that it seems to become one of the characters in the book. I’ve been luxuriating in Stegner’s gorgeous prose this month, so I will leave you with his rich definition of friendship, and with the prayer that you have people like this in your life.

Friendship:
“It is a relationship that has no formal shape,
there are no rules or obligations or bonds
as in marriage or the family,
it is held together by neither law nor property nor blood,
there is no glue in it but mutual liking.

It is therefore rare.”

Blessings and love to you,

Michele Morin

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase any of the resources mentioned in this post, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Image credit:  Jason Leung of Unsplash

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Musings: June 2018

My favorite hoe was a gift from a friend. Its blade is just the right size for scooping up the dirt to support a growing plant or for upending the roots of pesky weeds. While it’s making a difference in the lay of the land and the weed-to-wanted-plant-ratio in my garden, its familiar feel in my hand makes a difference in my attitude toward the task at hand.

In a world where change is inevitable, I want to pay attention to the manner of change that’s at work:

A field becomes a garden.
A jumble of weeds yields to the hoe and a straight row of corn seedlings becomes visible.

Reading Jeremiah’s prophetic words, however, I find a different sort of change:

In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem, and besieged it.  In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was penetrated.  (Jeremiah 39:1, 2)

These are the “setting” verses that we hurry through on our way to the action, but there’s a good reason to slow down and notice them, because it is in this manner that a garden returns to being a field and the straight, seeded row succumbs to weeds and is no more.

One day it’s the siege ramps.
Two years later, Jerusalem has a Babylonian zip code.
The people of Israel had stopped using their hoes.

By this same alchemy of slow transformation, I will not be the same person when I harvest my cucumbers as I am today in this season of weeding.
And neither will you.
Let us use our hoes with care.

Summer Reading 

When school takes a vacation and the gardening season begins and the lawn mowing business flourishes, the wheels come off my reading, writing, and studying routines. Things may be a bit erratic over the summer, so I’m hoping to stay in touch via the blog’s Facebook Page.   If you pop over and gave it a like or a follow, you’ll be able to stay on top of content here — along with other thoughts that don’t necessarily make it all the way into a blog post.

June has been a delightful month for reading and writing, and I shared four reviews with readers:

A Leopard Tamed by Eleanor Vandevort is a missionary story in the very best way, because the author was a woman ahead of her time, asking questions few in the golden age of U.S. missions were asking and even fewer wanted to entertain. In my review, I spent some time reflecting on the challenging history of missions here in the United States and the startling truth that even heroes of the faith struggle in their understanding of the ways of God:

“Try, if you can, to fathom Him, to draw His picture with clear, solid lines, to pin Him down. Just when you think you have God in focus, He moves, and the picture blurs.”

A more modern-day missionary story finds Rachel Marie Stone serving in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. As she leaned into the risks of motherhood in a third world country, she also supported women at the beginning of their mothering journeys in her role as doula. Birth is the metaphor that runs throughout Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light as it binds memoir to meditation and bears witness to the journey that has left its mark on the author.

 

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson is an older book, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s a classic work on the importance of spiritual reading in the life of a believer. A full-bodied entering into a text, essentially chewing on it, is the kind of reading that takes time and a lot more thought and focused attention than most of us are currently investing in our spiritual reading, and yet it is the words of Scripture, the sentences and paragraphs and trains of thought through which God has chosen to communicate His holiness, His wisdom, and His love to mankind. I invite you to read more here about God’s intention to speak with clarity to His people through a written Word.

I don’t read many parenting books anymore. Often they come across as “answer books,” and it’s hard not to detect a smug, formulaic success story behind their perky narrative, but I was happy to read and review Kristen Welch’s second parenting book in which she has woven her experience of establishing and operating Mercy House,”a ministry that exists to engage, empower, and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name.” with her realization that the grace of God has placed us in a country with clean running water and a solid infrastructure so that we can share our bounty with others. In Raising World Changers in a Changing World: How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving, she shares the impact that being a World Changer can make upon an entire family.

Fall.Stand.Orthodoxy

The journey through G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy continues with this month’s post focusing on the challenge of living a balanced Christian life when Christianity itself is characterized by wild paradox and “furious opposites.” Chesterton’s thoughts leave so much room for pondering and challenge:

“We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”

And finally, if you want to have your prayer life turned upside down (in a good way), join me in reading through A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller. I haven’t finished it yet, but took a stab here at sharing the best book I’ve ever found on prayer.

Summer Writing

Transition into Hope, G.K. ChestertonIt’s always a joy to write about grace I’m receiving in this middle-aged following life. When God pours it out as a beacon that helps annoyance finds its grumpy way back to gratitude, I’m grateful. When He uses His Word in the jumbled synapses of my brain, at rest in summer afternoon weeding, to shed light on my path or to put His finger on an attitude or action that needs fixing, it’s a gift, and occasionally the lesson finds its way into a blog post here.

My account of Following the Trail Back to Hope was, by far, the post in June that stimulated the most conversation here, and it left me with the thought that I want to do a better job of balancing this kind of writing and thinking with the book reviews that show up at least weekly in these parts.

Exercising

I know.
You’d think that with all the weeding and tending of the garden and the walking that goes with our summer mowing business, I’d be fit and trim, but the reality is that my muscles need strengthening and my metabolism needs a kick start, so I’ve started exercising almost every day. A friend shared the link to Faithful Workouts, and so I’m going to be that kind of friend to you. The videos are free on You Tube, and the tone is encouraging and spiritually uplifting. I actually look forward to working out!

Summer Gatherings

When our third son turned 19 in June, the crew landed here for pulled pork sandwiches and Frito pie. My husband and I both declare that these gatherings are our new favorite thing as we transition into parenting adults who have busy lives elsewhere.

A virtual gathering in June was initiated by an online friend, Jody Lee Collins. After her April visit to the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College (Grand Rapids MI), she came home resolved to champion the voices of women faith writers over the age of 50. She compiled a resource post listing ten of us and sharing our bios and links to our online presence, and it was a great surprise and gift to be included. I’ll share the link  in case you are looking for more inspiration here on the web.

My heartfelt thanks go out to YOU at the end of this month and the beginning of summer for your faithful encouragement here as you have read, shared, and added your words to mine in the comments section. Blessings to you as you apply the hoe of Truth to the weeds and as you are strengthened by Truth for positive change,

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase any of the books listed in this post, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

The books mentioned in this post have been provided by the publishers to facilitate my reviews, which were, of course, offered freely and with complete honesty.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

How to Read the Bible without Dealing with God

If you want to live well and to share wisdom with your children and your neighbors about how they can also live well, the Bible will chart a sound course.

If you are looking for inspiration or comfort or if you are preparing a speech, you will certainly want to lift some of the soaring phrases from the Psalms or a stirring descriptive passage from Isaiah to adorn your thinking.

If you are curious about the future or have strong ideas about politics, you’ll find gasoline-words in the Bible to support your position and to throw on any conversation to keep the flames dancing high.

It’s clear that we can add the Bible to our rhetorical tool-belt and never once be singed by its fiery truth. However, this is not the reason the Word has been given, and in Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Eugene Peterson has written a practical guide for those who want to approach Scripture in the manner suggested to the Apostle John in his Revelation:

The voice out of Heaven spoke to me again: “Go, take the book held open in the hand of the Angel astride sea and earth.” I went up to the Angel and said, “Give me the little book.” He said, “Take it, then eat it.”

Ingesting the Truth

John was not the first man in history to eat a book. Apparently, Jeremiah and Ezekiel also ingested truth, and like John, their words reveal the metabolized essence of having been in the presence of God.

In an era in which English-speaking people can select from a menu of Scripture texts, the challenge is for us to begin reading them–and then, to take the next step and begin “reading the Scriptures formatively, reading in order to live.” (xi) To illustrate the kind of reading he’s advocating, Peterson employs the delightful imagery of a dog working with fortitude on a bone superimposed upon an image from the book of Isaiah of a “lion growling over its prey.” Apparently, that Hebrew word for “growling” is usually rendered as “meditate,” as in Psalm 1 where the righteous meditate on the Law of the Lord “day and night.”

As readers of Truth, we are called to take the Word into our being in a way that changes us. In John’s case, we can see from the text that eating the Bible was not an entirely pleasant experience. His stomachache is an important reminder that we may not find everything to our liking as we try to digest the hard truths of Scripture or the parts that seem strange to us.

Scripture in Service to My Needs, Wants, and Feelings

This full-bodied entering into a text, essentially chewing on it, is the kind of reading that takes time and a lot more thought and focused attention than most of us are currently investing in our spiritual reading, and yet it is the words of Scripture, the sentences and paragraphs and trains of thought through which God has chosen to communicate His holiness, His wisdom, and His love to mankind.

Peterson floats a very plausible theory that readers of Scripture have replaced the inspired text with a new text of “the sovereign self.” Rather than taking the Truth of God’s Word into our jaws, and ultimately into “the tissues of our lives,” (20) we have replaced Father, Son, and Spirit with a new Holy Trinity.

The New Holy Trinity, Eugene Peterson, Eat This BookIf my needs become non-negotiable, if my wants have taken on the weight and urgency of a need, and if my feelings have become the sum total of who I am, then the Real Trinity and their communication to me through the Bible become nothing more than a tool in “service of [those] needs, wants, and feelings.” (33)

Rather than “privatizing” (46) Scripture by controlling and fragmenting its message, the believer is called to personalize its words and then to submit to their revelation of God’s character and will. The truth is that we are gathered into the narrative of Scripture; our story is enfolded into the overarching story of God’s people; and the “stories” that we share to illustrate a point are best seen as elements of one huge and coherent narrative.

Approaching the Bible with this in mind effects the way we read, teach, and apply its truth. I appreciated the clarity Peterson brought to five specific topics:

1.  The Reader as Exegete

Exegesis is a pretty intense term for “the discipline of attending to the text and listening to it rightly and well.” (50) In her role as exegete, the reader will pay rigorous attention to the words and their intent, proceeding with caution in order to get it right.

“Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what He says.” (55)

2.  The Obedient Reader

Peterson compares his reading of Scripture to his reading of a running magazine. When he was actively involved in running as a habit, he never tired of reading about it. However, when a pulled muscle interrupted his running routine, he noticed that his reading came to a halt. In the same way, spiritual reading is “participatory reading.” If we are not participating in the reality of the Bible, we will not have as much interest in reading.  Our reading should be formed around this question:  “What can I obey?” (71)

“All right knowledge of God is born of obedience.”    ~John Calvin (69)

3.  Let the Reader Beware!

As the residents of Narnia warned that Aslan is “not like a tame lion,” Peterson warns that the Word of God will not be tamed by the reader. It is a living Word, and it was first spoken into a particular context, a specific time and place and language. It was not given to make our lives more convenient or more manageable.

“We want to get in on the great invisibles of the Trinity, the soaring adorations of the angels, the quirky cragginess of the prophets, and . . . Jesus.”  (87)

4.  Reading as a Way of Living

Peterson’s thoughts about lectio divina with its four components (reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating) rescue the concept from the ethereal and impractical by acknowledging that “they are not four discrete items that we engage in one after another in stair-step fashion. Rather than linear, the process is more like a looping spiral in which all four elements are repeated, but in various sequences and configurations.”  Tying all our spiritual disciplines back to the Truth of Scripture grounds us in a true living out of their essence rather than a self-conscious performance mentality.

5.  Reading in the Company of Translators

The story behind Eugene Peterson’s translation of The Message Bible links every teacher, preacher, and student of the Word to the role of translator. Against the backdrop of historical translations from Hebrew into Aramaic, Greek, and all the various English translations, Peterson found himself having to translate again, from the pulpit, into “American English.” The formal process that resulted in The Message Bible took ten years and formed his thinking about the importance of remembering the humble origins of the Bible in its original writing. Since the days of Tyndale’s translation which was intended for “the boy that driveth the plough,” many traditional and more modern translations left Tyndale’s plow boy in a cloud of dust with a kind of language that obscured the Spirit-given perspicuity of the text.

Dealing with God is Not Optional

God intends to speak with clarity to His people through a written Word. Therefore, in reading His Word in the way He intends, dealing with God is not optional. Participatory reading, reading that is formative, hands over all preconceived ideas about God and eats, chews, gnaws and receives, with humble delight the wild and untamed words of Scripture so that reading and living become one offering and one way of being with God in this world.

Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you for taking part in this conversation in the art of spiritual reading,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Life, Life, and More Life

We picked raspberries a couple of weeks ago — the free kind that grow along the edges of fields and in the company of thistles.  They were succulent.  I could wrap words around a description of raspberry picking:  the gentle encompassing pressure that releases a perfectly ripe berry from its stem; the empty white cone that is left behind on the bush; the scratches on hands and forearms;  the sticky red fingertips that carry home the smell of summer and bee-buzzing sweetness.  But — there is no literary technique, no class in horticulture that comes close to the essence of picking raspberries.  For this, one must go into the bushes and experience life in the raspberry patch.

This is the nature of knowing God as well, for Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and to live from the heart what we know in our heads, we must go crashing into the bushes with the thistles, thorns, and mosquitoes.  This is the message of this first volume (2003) of Eugene Peterson’s classic series of five conversations on spiritual theology.  The term “spiritual theology” refers to “the specifically Christian attempt to address the lived experience revealed in our Holy Scriptures and the rich understandings and practices of our ancestors as we work this experience out in our contemporary world of diffused and unfocused ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness.'” (5)

Peterson borrows a theme from Gerard Manley Hopkins and expands upon it with engaging examples and sharp Scriptural observations that argue for this truth:

“The end of all Christian belief and obedience, witness and teaching, marriage and family, leisure and work life, preaching and pastoral work is the living of everything we know about God:  life, life, and more life.” (1)

He goes on to support his argument through beautifully detailed exposition of three of those “ten thousand places” in which Christ plays and in which we all go about the business of living our days.

Christ Plays in Creation

Creation’s Firstborn  invites believers into a life of wonder.  The Greek word kerygmaa “public proclamation that brings what it proclaims into historical reality,” (53) frames the impact of His miraculous birth and sends readers looking to the two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 for help in shaping a Christ-following life.  Firmly grounded in time and space, we find that the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are also gifts marked by the sacredness of creation.  John’s Gospel affirms in “theological poetry” (87) that Jesus was indeed “at play” in the Genesis creation.

Christ Plays in History

As creation points our thoughts toward life, history outside the Garden of Eden has been characterized by a series of deaths.  Even so kerygma — good news! — appears in the midst of the mess because the death of Jesus redeems the mess of history and takes the edge off the truth that one day death will come to each of us.

“This conjunction of death, Jesus’ and mine, is where I begin to understand and receive salvation.” (143)

Peterson takes his readers to Exodus as a grounding text, rich in the history of God’s people, but particularly in the action of a holy (and often wholly inexplicable) God.  The Gospel of Mark also deals in history, for with his succinct and economical style, Mark pioneered a new genre in which Jesus is the subject, but the content — rather than focusing on the background, emotions, or internal dialogue of the main character — is all about salvation, the redemption of every part of history:  the world’s and my own.

Christ Plays in Community

If the birth of Jesus and the creation of the world ground us in life; and if Jesus’ death has redeemed history from the stench of meaningless death; then the resurrection of Jesus is the basis for a life lived in community.  “Jesus’ resurrection is the final kerygmatic ‘piece’ that, together with his birth and death, sets the good news, the gospel, in motion and creates the Christian life.” (230)

The spiritual formation that makes community possible is the work of the Spirit, and this is nowhere more clear than in Luke’s New Testament writing about the ministry of Christ and the early church with 17 references to the Holy Spirit in his Gospel and 57 in the book of Acts.  In spite of persecution and imprisonment, Luke uses the word “unhindered” (akoluto) to describe Paul’s ministry under house arrest.  This irony minimizes the obstacles and invites present-day believers, who are “constantly tempted to use the world’s means to do Jesus’ work,” (299) into the unhindered life of prayerful obedience, hospitality, and submission to the means and methods of kingdom living. Perfection is the enemy of community and love is the fuel, a I John 4:21-style love that “purg[es] [the] imagination of the barnacles, parasites, and grime that have accumulated around the word ‘love’ so that Jesus and the Jesus story becomes clear.” (328)

Eugene Peterson and Gerard Manley Hopkins harmonize in the challenge to seek Christ in creation, history, and community and in any of the ten thousand places in which He plays.  Finding Christ in all of life is the single unifying experience that brings wholeness to our theology and moves us toward a faith that honors the risen Christ and puts His resurrection life on display.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you are interested in pursuing the topic of spiritual theology through more of Eugene Peterson’s writing, I can recommend book five in the series, Practice Resurrection, through my review here.  And his most recent book expands Peterson’s thoughts on the writing of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire along with a collection of Eugene Peterson’s sermons.  I’ve shared my thoughts on the book here.

And . . .. . . stay tuned for details and a reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a discussion here each Thursday from September 7 through November 16.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Grow Up! (The Practice of Resurrection)

One of my favorite fringe benefits in this mothering life is the broadening of my world.  I routinely listen to conversations about welding and truck repair, have sat through hours and hours of livestock shows, and a few weekends ago, I witnessed my first triathlon.  I watched in awe as, one by one, the participants crossed the finish line after a grueling half mile swim, 11 mile bike ride, and 3 mile run, and I asked myself this question:

“What would happen if I put one tenth of that kind of effort and focused attention into the areas of my life where God has put His finger and said, “Grow up!”

I’m working on that in a small and quiet way by memorizing Colossians 3.  Paul begins the chapter with a reminder that it matters what we think about, and that the resurrection of Christ from the dead resonates today in every decision to purposefully focus on the “things over which Christ presides.”  And since I do not hold to dualism between the secular and the sacred, that includes everything!  This mindset celebrates the largeness of God and invites me to exercise my imagination in a discovery of the beautiful and the sacred in my everyday routine.

Community and accountability are always key for me in a memorization project, so I’m enjoying the fellowship around Colossians 3 at Do Not Depart.  I invite you to join with us in memorizing and meditating on this important passage of Scripture.  Lisa has developed a variety of helpful resources to get you started, and they’re all available here.  There’s also a Hide His Word Facebook gathering where the focus is on encouragement to memorize Scripture in community.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Paul’s opening words in Colossians 3 remind his readers that the basis for all our right thinking and right behavior is the resurrection of Christ and the believer’s participation in resurrection living.  Eugene Peterson has been helping me in my understanding of this as I have read and pondered Practice Resurrection:  A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.  “Jesus alive and present” changes everything, and “a lively sense of Jesus’ resurrection, which took place without any help or comment from us, keeps us from attempting to take charge of our own development and growth.”  (8)

Understanding the Practice of Resurrection Living

Mining truth from the book of Ephesians and laying it down beside the words of poets, novelists, and theologians, Peterson said-without-saying-it that a wide and rich reading life will enhance ones ability to read and learn from Scripture. Continually making “organic connection[s] from what you can see to what you can’t see,” he employs vivid metaphors to invite readers into Paul’s exhortation to practice resurrection:

  •  “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to live [or walk] a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (4:1)  In the Greek, the word “worthy” comes embedded with a picture of a set of balancing scales.  Does my life demonstrate a balance between my walk and my calling?  It is interesting that the entire structure of Ephesians models this balance with chapters 1-3 focusing on God’s calling and chapters 4-6 examining the believer’s walk.
  • Paul’s body of Christ metaphor emphasizes the homeliness of the church gathered.  On one level, we see a building; on another level, we witness the reality of people and relationships that make up the family of God; on a “spiritual” level there is the truth of the believer as the “dwelling place for God.”  With thirty plus years as a pastor on his resume, Peterson urges believers that “when we consider church, we must not be more spiritual than God.”
  • In the practice of resurrection, we work, but it is far more accurate to think that “we are God’s work and doing God’s work.”  This takes the focus off me (and all my valiant efforts to rescue God) and puts the spotlight on the truth that the entire revelation of God is the story of God at work alongside the invitation to join Him.

Understanding Prayer and the Church

When the Apostle Paul calls the church at Ephesus to grow up, his exhortation reverberates through the centuries, incorporating a call to live in fellowship with a local body of believers and to spend plenty of time speaking “the primary language that we use as we grow up in Christ” — this is prayer.  Ephesians resonates with prayer language and comprises some of the richest and most fluently theological material in Paul’s writings.  When my children began to reach the age when my own prayers for them seemed shallow and limiting, I memorized Ephesians 1 and the prayer in Ephesians 3 so that I could join Paul on our “knees before the Father” — instead of prescribing to God a plan of action that suited me.

The more I enjoy a book, the more difficulty I have in writing a review. Therefore, after having dog-eared pages and made a list of books that I need to read in follow-up, I feel as if I’ve only just begun to understand the words of Paul the Apostle and Peterson the Pastor on the practice of resurrection.  This may be the best possible outcome, for I’m seeing that “growing up in Christ means growing up to a stature adequate to respond heart and soul to the largeness of God.” (130)

This, of course, we know is a process that will take all the long leisure of eternity to realize.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you were part of this year’s book discussion group around C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, you’ll be interested to know that Eugene Peterson references the book in his appendix as recommended reading on the practice of resurrection with these words:
“The last novel [C.S. Lewis] wrote, Till We Have Faces, he thought was his best.  I agree.  But it is also the most difficult, the most demanding.  The root of the difficulty is that it is about the most demanding of human tasks, becoming mature, growing up to the measure of the stature of Jesus Christ.”

As with all of Peterson’s Conversations in Spiritual Theology, this volume is best read in concert with the text.  When I read through and later taught the book of Revelation, I used Peterson’s Reversed Thunder to help my understanding and then wrote about it here.   Currently, I’m reading a leisurely path through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah alongside Run with the Horses.  And . . .one last thought:  if you are ever curious about what it might have been like to sit under Eugene Peterson’s preaching ministry for a series of decades, he has released a collection of his sermons this year, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, and I happily reviewed that book here on the blog.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Attending to the Details of Congruence

No one has to remind the forsythia bush outside my dining room window to break forth into yellow luminescence as an announcement that spring has come.  The sassy gray squirrel steals shamelessly from the bird feeder “according to his kind,” and the chickadee scolds and stitches up the air behind her — because that is what chickadees do.  Of all God’s creation, it is only humanity that struggles toward congruence of our inside with our outside, of our calling and our walking.  Gerard Manley Hopkins captures the beautiful true-to-essence behaviors of stones and dragonflies, of violin strings and bells in his classic poem As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire and nodding in agreement with his conclusion, Eugene Peterson has borrowed the title for his 2017 compilation of sermons taken from 29 years of preaching from a pulpit in Maryland.

Peterson concludes that part of spiritual formation is living into this congruence between “the means by which we live” and “the ends for which we live.”  For humans, this is not a mindless outcome of biology and physics, but rather a living out of the Christ life, one glorious manifestation of Hopkins’ “ten thousand places” in which Christ plays.

This witness from a poem — along with his realization that there was a disconnect between his preaching and his deepest convictions of what he should be doing as a pastor — marked the beginning of a new way of viewing ministry for Eugene Peterson.  He began to see his congregation “just as they were, not how [he] wanted them to be.”  He stopped viewing them as “either problems to be fixed or resources to be exploited.”  The new collaborative relationship, in worship and in life, is reflected in this collection of forty-nine sermons arranged in seven sections:

Part 1:  Preaching in the Company of Moses

Although Peterson addresses his introductory material to those who preach for a living, those of us who teach or write (for a life) will be enriched by insights like this:

“Is it possible to take the Torah apart historically and then put it back together again as a book of faith with theological and literary integrity?  I think it is.  It is not only possible but worth any effort it might take.”  (6)

With that in mind, the seven sermons in this section are designed to “nourish the storytelling imagination” (7) through stories in Genesis that reveal the nature and character of God.  Abraham, the friend of God; Moses, the signpost pointing to Christ; and a stunning analysis of Leviticus 19:18 that takes the focus off the law and the lists and puts it on love:  “the primary verb in our Scriptures.” (37)

Part 2:  Preaching in the Company of David

Sermons based on the Bible’s prayer book, the Psalms, drive home the truth that “prayer is an act of attention.”  Reading through the Old Testament right now with my patient husband, we are hopping back and forth between David-on-the-run and David the lyricist.  Since “everything that happened in David’s life became prayer,” I am encouraged to let my own context flow seamlessly into conversation with God.  Seven sermons from the Psalms bridge Old and New Testaments with surprising connections that encourage me to look for ways in which  my own story is woven around and through listening prayer.

Part 3:  Preaching in the Company of Isaiah

I saved this chapter for last (like dessert) because Isaiah is my favorite prophet, and I was not disappointed.  The jarring realism of the prophetic word gets ample play in Peterson’s analysis:

“Prophets insist that God is the sovereign center, not off in the wings awaiting our beck and call.  And prophets insist that we deal with God as God reveals himself, not as we imagine him to be.”

A right reading of the prophets protects us from dividing the secular from the sacred, setting off a safe place for a tame God to act, and then tending to our own business in the “real life” category.  “Prophets will have none of this.”  Everything is God’s, and the flood of His holiness knocks down the dividing walls and brings everything under His scrutiny and jurisdiction.

Part 4:  Preaching in the Company of Solomon

I doubt if I’ve heard seven sermons in my whole life taken from Old Testament Wisdom literature, so I’m in dire need of the enhanced “quotidian imagination” Peterson writes of: an “imagination soaked in the ordinary, the everyday.”  With characteristic clarity, Peterson notes a “polarity” among these books in which the Song of Solomon and Job contrast ecstasy with devastation while the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes contrast the sacredness of the everyday round with the determination to persevere in spite of the mundane details.

“In these books, human experience as the arena in which God is present and working is placed front and center.”

Part 5:  Preaching in the Company of Peter

In addition to his letters, Peter’s voice vibrates behind Mark’s in the second gospel.  With this in mind, the “incarnational storytelling” of the New Testament takes on an electrical quality.  Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ” arises from three years of intimate research, meals on the road, sharing of daily space. While we may struggle to embrace the human side of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels, Peter would have had no doubt.

When he made his insightful statement that Jesus is “the Christ,” what Peter was really saying was this:  “You are God among us.”  And no sooner had he come to this elaborate conclusion, but God the Son began the process of introducing the notion that He would die.  Nowhere else do we witness this degree of conceptual whiplash between the idea of Jesus as “God through and through” and “human through and through.”

Peterson’s inclusion of his sermon on “the manure story” feels almost like bonus content, for it presents a four verse parable about an unproductive fig tree as an invitation to join God in the slow (and sometimes messy) solution to a presenting problem:  Be quiet in the presence of death while waiting for new life to emerge.

Part 6:  Preaching in the Company of Paul

Prolific Paul is described as “the gold standard in the world of theology,” and Peterson dips his brush into seven of Paul’s letters to illustrate four elements of Paul’s “theological imagination:

  1.  His submission to Scripture —  “Paul is not an independent thinker figuring things out on his own. . . As he writes his letters, Paul’s mind is entirely harnessed to Scripture.” (269)
  2. His extravagant embrace of mystery — “There is a kind of mind, too common among us, that is impatient of mystery.  We want to know what is going on.  But such impatience short-circuits maturity.” (271)
  3. His use of language — “Ivory tower intellectuals and rubber-hits-the-road pragmatists like things organized and orderly.  That is not the kind of language we find in Paul.  Paul uses words not to define but to evoke.” (272)
  4. His words came to us through letters in accessible terms – “Theology is not talking about God but living in community with persons in relationships . . . [Paul’s} theology was written in community with a host of people in the context of living out the faith.”  (273)

Part 7:  Preaching in the Company of John of Patmos

John’s writing emphasizes Jesus’ conversations and His prayers.  As a lover of the Word, Peterson throws the spotlight on John’s easy familiarity with the Old Testament:  in Revelation’s 404 verses, there are 518 references to earlier scriptures.  John wrote in three different genres, but all with the heart and soul of a pastor, communicating in love to a group of believers.  Perhaps it is for this reason that Eugene Peterson’s pastoral heart is apparent in this final section:

“As it turns out, in this business of living the Christian life, one of the most neglected aspects in reading the Scriptures is reading them formatively and imaginatively, reading in order to live.

“Worship God. . . Worship gathers everything in our common lives that has been dispersed by sin and brings it to attention before God.”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire captures the heart and wisdom of a pastor with a sense of calling and a deep knowledge of Scripture.

With an overwhelming volume of content available online and so many new books being published every month, these “kingfisher sermons” stand by themselves in their timeless application of Scriptural truth to boots-on-the- ground living.  I can’t think of a thing on Netflix or anywhere else that I would bother to “binge watch,” but I most heartily enjoyed (and highly recommend) the “binge-reading” of Eugene Peterson’s sermons.

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This book was provided by Waterbrook, a division of Penguin Random House via Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Read more about Eugene Peterson and As Kingfishers Catch Fire at these sites provided by Multnomah.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.