Musings: December 2017

Chopping up the last of my garden carrots and sweeping them into a snowy-day soup, I marveled at their color and texture, so much brighter and more tender than any store-bought veggie, even though they were yanked out of the ground by my exuberant grandson back in October. It’s clear that these orange roots were once a living thing, and in these days of rest and family vacation following a tumultuous year, a busy semester, and a vibrant celebration of Christmas, I feel grateful to be among the “living things” who are able to enjoy the vivid blue of a winter sky, the sound of “single-digit snow” squeaking under my snowshoes, and the warm presence of a tiny person beside me on the couch as we turn pages and share stories together.

On My Mind

In the spring, I began a slow slog through the book of Jeremiah. The challenge has been to dwell in the encouragement of Jeremiah’s faithfulness while he carried out an overwhelming (and discouraging) assignment from God, particularly when he was required, time after time, to deliver the somber message of judgment and exile.

Even so, like daylight shining through the cracks around a slammed-shut door, the promises of God shine through Jeremiah’s prophetic words. Reading Jeremiah 21:8, I understood that God’s reprise of Deuteronomy 30 was a renewal of His vows. Then, flipping pages back to its first mention and reading onward, I found a warning against the subtle slippage that erodes faithfulness one grain at a time.

“But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them,  I announce to you today that you shall surely perish …” Deuteronomy 30:17

Year end is a fitting time for assessment and reflection, so I’m taking the temperature of my own following heart these days and using Moses’ cautionary words as a wake up call:

  • What is my heart turned toward, what is it beholding, that may deafen me to the voice of God?
  • Am I spreading my worship thin, deifying substitute gods who draw me away from a faithful following, and a single-eyed service?

On the Blog

If you haven’t already filled your heart with enough Christmas cheer to last until December 2018, here’s a list of my Christmas offerings from December:

On December 1, The Redbud Post shared a collection of my Christmas book reviews for their theme of The Sacred Amidst the Secular.

My Sunday School teaching on the well-loved carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, found its way into a blog post that has enhanced my singing and my worship throughout this Season of Listening.

And . . .

. . . turning the corner into the New Testament as my patient husband and I finish up our 2017 read-through landed my thinking with the Acts-One Faithful who were given a command to wait in Wait for the Spirit of Christmas. Wait for the promise to be fulfilled. Wait for power from on high. Because Christmas is a celebration of waiting fulfilled, I spent some time pondering the path of the impatient in what Tozer has described as these days of “the interim time.”

I reviewed four books in December, and am happy to be maintaining this one-book-per-week pace. My Goodreads goal for 2017 was 52 books, and I read 57, so I’ll likely stick with a 52 book goal for 2018.

Love Big, Be Well by Winn Collier is an epistolary novel based on the sweet correspondence between a fictional pastor and his flock. It’s guaranteed to make the reader fall in love all over again with ministry and with the church.

Sing! by Keith and Kristyn Getty emphasizes the importance of congregational singing — it’s not just something we do to fill up the time before the sermon. Martin Luther said it well:  “Let God speak directly to His people through the Scriptures, and let His people respond with grateful songs of praise.”

Karen Wright Marsh wrote a book that gathers in one place her reflections on the lives of historical figures in church history, delivered in talks at the Bonhoeffer House on the campus of the University of Virginia. Each chapter of Vintage Saints and Sinners stands alone, but together, they’ll remind you that even the most celebrated of the “saints” were sinners too, and modern day believers can also travel a pilgrimage of faith that is both gritty and joyful.

Alexandra Kuykendall wanted to make some changes that would bring joy back into her celebration of Jesus’ birthday. She conducted an experiment that she hoped would help her to capture the essence of the season, and Loving My Actual Christmas is her lab report. She longed to set her family up for success by lowering expectations, lightening their load, and limiting their activity level. If you’re doing a post-mortem on Christmas 2017 and vowing to do better next year, here’s a great place to begin. The Perennial Gen very kindly shared my review over at their place because I was writing from the perspective of Loving My Mid-Life Christmas.

On My Nightstand

It’s time for me to take another stab at G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and I’m planning to do a monthly pondering post about my reading here. More details to come in January!

 

 

On My Heart . . .

. . . is a load of thanksgiving for each one of you who reads, for you who faithfully comment, share posts, and encourage me along the way. I’m convinced that I’d be writing something somewhere whether anyone was reading it or not, but it’s so much more fun to know that others are with me in this faith journey, and that we are Living Our Days in community.

A Blessed Beginning of 2018 to You!

 


Join me over at Leigh Kramer’s place to read what others are sharing about their reading, writing, watching, thinking, and eating lives. The December musings are always the best!

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular ponderings, 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.

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A Bundle of Letters on the Church’s Doorstep

When a pastoral search goes well, everyone wins. Last year when a soft-spoken lobsterman rose to his feet and challenged us at Spruce Head Community to seek a shepherd who would lead us and love us, we began praying and seeking to that end. The seeking and the finding has united us, and we are blessed to have welcomed a godly man and woman who are living small-town life alongside us, all the while holding forth the Word of Truth.

Winn Collier is also a small-town pastor, but with Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church, he’s wearing his fiction-writer’s hat. Nonetheless, his heart for ministry comes shining through along with a clear-eyed affection for Christ’s body, communicated through the character of Pastor Jonas McAnn.

The pastoral search committee of Granby Presbyterian Church had grown tired of searching, weary of interviews, and fed up with the pretense when Amy Quitman, resident of Rural Route 28, took matters into her own capable handwriting and penned a letter that wrapped itself around one question:

“Do you actually want to be our pastor?”

Formalized by four signatures, the letter went forth to all future candidates.

In a half-hearted search of his own, Jonas McAnn saw in the letter a reason to reply with his own epistle, and finally, to leave behind his safe and predictable life in an insurance company cubicle, and to risk following his heart back into the trenches of pastoral ministry.

What follows is a bundle of letters from Pastor Jonas to his flock, randomly spaced and warmly personal. They have landed on my doorstep as well with their revelation of one side of a “spacious” conversation between a man who knows he was not called into the pastorate to fix anything or anybody and a group of people who have committed themselves to contributing “disruptive input” to each other’s lives.

With engaging characters and a page-turning narrative arc, Love Big, Be Well is a satisfying read for the story alone. Shades of John Ames of Gilead and Tim Kavanagh of Mitford made me hope for a sequel to follow Jonas’s return from sabbatical and future ministry at Granby Pres. However, at the risk of being banished to Wendell Berry’s desert island of exile for finding a subtext where none was intended, I will share that I came away with valuable insights — not in the form of a treatise on ministry, but rather more like thoughts overheard from a corner table at Stu’s Mud.

Thoughts on Calling

Jonas came to life in Granby with the settled conviction that he was committing himself to a web of relationships:

“So I committed my life to walking alongside people who I hoped to call friends. I committed to learning how to help people pray. I determined it would be my job to simply recount, over and again, that one beautiful story of how Love refused to tally the costs but came for us, came to be with us, came to heal us. . . “

Thoughts on the Role of a Pastor

Jonas McAnn came from a long line of pastors and proudly owned his heritage as one who fulfilled a unique and valuable role in the community:

  • to “live with people” (42);
  • to pray with them;
  • to ponder Scripture with them;
  • to “speak in good faith to other people who are trying very hard to listen in good faith” (47);
  • to receive the wisdom of God as “a slow drip, not a sudden knowing,” (60) and then to keep showing up where it will do the most good;
  • to “not take a position” when that is the most honest response;
  • to take cues from the farmer who “tend farms small enough to know and love, using tools and methods they know and love, in the company of neighbors they know and love.”

Thoughts on the Role of the Church

Amy ruefully described Granby Presbyterian to a friend and managed to capture every other church in the process:

“Unfortunately, if you’re looking for people to disappoint you, we will provide the material. In spades.”

Even so, under Jonas’s leadership, the church was called away from a shiny and boisterous presence into a resourceful availability to clean up messes — with the humble admission that the church is called to go first in admitting to our own messiness. “This is why we need the church all the more . . . [for] the only thing worse than our failing to inhabit mercy and holiness would be our making no attempt at all.”

On a practical note, the pastoral/congregational relationship gets off to a good start when the body is there en masse to greet and unload the moving van. From that point forward, the liturgy of even the most non-liturgical band of worshipers is one of “showing up, doing the work, being together.”

Thoughts on Love

Pastor McAnn’s eponymous “Big Love” comes down to “simply circling and staying near.” It was God’s big love that called Granby Pres. member Don Brady into the kingdom and that carried him through the rigors of cancer treatment as he wisely concluded:

“Love’s the main deal.”

Thoughts on Prayer

When elderly Miss Nelson prayed over Don’s cancer treatment, she reminded me that even when we do not know the will of God on a matter, there’s nothing wrong with reminding Him of how much we love and need someone in our community.

Given my own uneasy relationship with prayer, I collect wisdom to keep me in the game. Jonas related a homely parable on prayer from a fruitless fly fishing adventure with Luther that left him flat on fishing, but tutored him in the practice of prayer:

“‘Why would anyone torture themselves with this galling pastime?’

‘I like how you’re just in it. You’re in the water, in the woods. Everything’s happening around you.’

I’ve concluded that my problem (aside from how I have no idea what I’m doing on the river) is my focus on casting properly, on actually catching fish. Luther, however, comes to the river in a much different way. ‘I like being in the water,’ he explained, ‘with the breeze and the scent and the solitude. Even when I don’t catch anything, I come back different than when I left.‘”

Jonas McAnn wrote letters to his congregation from a desire to pay attention and to help his people do likewise. He wanted to remind his readers that life together is good and it consists of shared stories — shared experiences that call us toward the Light. For anyone who is committed to this calling over the long haul, Love Big, Be Well is a benediction, a reminder that ministry is “shot through with blessing,” and a celebration of the dignity of the slow work of ministry in community.

//

This book was provided by William B. Eerdman’s 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 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.