Monday, February 08, 2016

what I read in January [from the book pile 2016]


01  Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (Harper Perennial, 2005. 432 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book set in Europe (Ireland)

This book has been included on so many of the recommend reading lists I've seen through the years. I had it in my head that this book was melodramatic and depressing.  In some ways, it's both of those things.  Except, somehow, it's also not those things.  I think it helps to know that the author and two of his brothers make it through the horrific poverty (of all sorts) of their Irish childhood to lead make good stories and to continue loving each other.  Mr. McCourt is a skilled writer - causing us to both love and agonize over his parents' choices, his home country's bleak era, and his own awkward acceptance of the good and the bad in each.  In this way, he is all of us as children - in one way or another.  We root for him, and in front of our eyes he grows in wisdom and favor with God (the God of both his Catholic and Protestant forebears) and man.   


02 The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time by David Sloan Wilson (Little, Brown and Company, 2011. 448 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book set in your home state (actually set in my hometown of Binghamton!)

This book is not really what I thought it would be, but I found it interesting -- in a scannable sort of way.  I first noticed it because of the lovely cover illustration from Gina & Matt.  I'm also a sucker for any title with the words "neighborhood" and/or "project" in the title.  This had both!  It was only after that I discovered the book was actually written about my little, beleaguered home town of Binghamton, NY.  

I've discovered that the older I get (and, perhaps, the further away from home), the more I want to understand the complexities of the place generations of my family grew and raised families and founded churches and met disappointment and persevered.  Professor Wilson's noble goal to apply his expertise in evolutionary biology  and research (many of those years at Binghamton University) to address the social conditions of the Triple Cities.  With research grants, an impressive network of colleagues, and "an ambitious scope that spans biology, sociology, religion and economics, The Neighborhood Project is a memoir ... and an exploration of the big questions long pondered by religious sages, philosophers, and storytellers. I didn't find the book necessarily practical, as the synopsis claims, but heartfelt and intriguing, nonetheless.  Becoming agents of change in the sort of "rust belt" and "tech desert" that is my hometown will take all vocations, and the sort of optimism, enthusiasm, and collaboration that Professor Wilson seems to embody. 


03  The Emotionally Healthy Woman: Eight Things You Have to Quit to Change Your Life  by Geri Scazzero, with Peter Scazzero (Zondervan, 2013. 226 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book recommended by someone you just met 

Approximately a dozen years ago, when Brian and I were poking our heads up from the ground of ministry leadership, we had the privilege of hearing Pastor Pete Scazzero speak at a major church conference.  His story made a major impact on our minds -- if not yet on our youthful idealism.  The story Pete and Geri Scazzero tell of of burning out in ministry and holding their marriage together, when it seemed like it would have been easier to quit both, is one I wish my parents' generation could have known.  Out of the pain of the church planting burnout in Queens, NY, the Scazzeros sought spiritual, emotional and physical healing within the long story of Christianity.  They learned the wisdom of the disciplines of contemplative prayer, silence and Sabbath from outside their own non-denomination tradition.  In a beautiful redemption, they experienced personal healing which then multiplied throughout their large church family.  Out of these changes and learnings, the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality ministry was born.  

In a fun twist, a mutual friend connected me to Geri Scazzero to discuss a ministry that I've had experience in leading for about ten years.  Imagine my surprise to discover I was giving ministry advice to the wife of the man who'd had such an impact on Brian and me a dozen years ago!  As a result of the conversation, Geri encouraged me to dig into some of the more recent books she and Peter have released.  I started with Emotionally Healthy Woman, and I'm especially grateful for God's timing in this as Brian and I set out to lead a church in the near future.  I highly recommend the book, and hope to go back through again in a study format with a few women this year. 

Brian and I are reading The Emotionally Healthy Leader out loud together, which is turning out to be another gem.  May God strengthen each one of us for the work he's given us to do, and may He bless all those who have persevered -- imperfectly -- in positions of leadership in His Church throughout the ages.


04  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1997. 256 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  reading the world: North America

My mother sent me this small novel (along with an innovative, homemade bookmark) because she loves me so well that way.  The Newberry award-winning book could be considered the American version of Angela's Ashes (even note the similar ash/dust theme). Out of the Dust is a "gripping story, written in sparse first-person, free-verse poems, is the compelling tale of Billie Jo's struggle to survive during the dust bowl years of the Depression." I've never read a more vivid description of the infamous dust storms that ravaged the mid and south-western states during the first part of the last century.  And that is only one part of the devastation the young woman must overcome.  But there is light and there is beauty, and somehow, through her eyes, we see light in the darkness of that horrible time in our nation's history. 


05  A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (HarperOne, 1961. 112 pages.)

Reading challenge category*: a book you can finish in a day; also read for the Liturgy of Life Reading Group

I'll be posting a separate review for this book soon.  


* This year, I'm part of two different reading groups made up of friends and sisters. You can find the lists here: Take Our Ultimate Reading Challenge / A Year of Reading the World, & Liturgy of Life reading group. *

Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from 2015 and previous years.
Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Epiphany, week 5: we all with unveiled face behold Him

My Epiphany daybook for these 5 weeks of witness. Join me, won't you? 

(Read here for a brief description of the liturgical season of Epiphany. See previous Epiphany daybook 2016 posts here)


An Apostle from the Transfiguration

 Matthias Grünewald

Dome from Christ Church in Chora, Turkey, 11th-12th century.

2 Corinthians 3:18 / Luke 4:24-28:  And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. / Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

all readings for the day: Exodus 34:29-35  • Psalm 99  • 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2  •  Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (source) 


(Also, feel free to listen with me to my ever-evolving Epiphany playlist.)



Ash Wednesday is this week. Find a service near you and attend. 

A few resources to help you prepare for Lent:

A few recommended resources to take with you for the 40 days of Lent:


Saturday, February 06, 2016

A few reasonable words to start your weekend conversations. 02

Happy weekend, all! We're headed into a semi-normal weekend around here. Also, plenty of football. What are your plans?  

A dose of conversation-starters for all your weekend conversations. And if you and I happen to bump into each other in the next couple of days, I'd love to hear what you think after these reads! (or, you could always leave me a comment below!)
• A stunning essay on the beautiful humility of caregiving and how much God loves us, via Image Journal
Free February Calendar Desktop and iPhone Wallpaper (which makes me want to shop Etsy for all the transferware) via Giants & Pilgrims
• Beautiful, even in winter. via The Box Canyon
• We've talked a lot here about Austin's new neighborhood for the chronically homeless. I found Portland's emerging solution to be somewhat similar to Community First! Village. I do think some of the differences in philosophy (e.g., the city of Portland does not allow residents of the tiny house village to stay longer than 2 years) via Yes! Magazine
• I'm as patriotic as the next girl, but this newly-formed Olympic team's going to be  hard to ignore in 2016! via The NY Times 

* You can talk about the Iowa caucus if you want, but maybe it'd be a good idea to read this first? via First Things

• Are you planning any sort of fast during Lent?  Apparently, a lot of people are, and here's a great suggestion from Pope Francis (especially if you're dreading giving up the regular sorts of things like chocolate or alcohol). via Time

Five years ago this week, I wrote one of the early posts in my now-defunct Sacred Practice series. I also love that a book I talked about in 2009 and read in 2010 is going to (finally!) become a movie in 2016.  Just remember you saw it here first, folks!

Here's my happy playlist to get you in the mood for our next holiday:  For my funny Valentines playlist on Spotify.  What songs do you think I should add? 

If all else fails, here's the "Prevent Small Talk Question of the Week":
Repeat the following quotation to people you meet over the weekend, and then ask them to share some of the greatest lessons they've learned from hard experiences in their lives.

On the blog last week:

Friday, February 05, 2016

WALKING EPIPHANY in suburban PA: neighborhood notes from Kaley Ehret

Welcome to the second annual WALKING EPIPHANY series of guest posts! I've asked a few friends who live around the world to take a walk through their neighborhoods, and share some of what they see through photos, videos and words. Each one has selected from a variety of thoughtful prompts to consider the ways the Light has moved into their neighborhoods. Will you join us?

Read here for a brief description of the liturgical season of Epiphany. See the 2015 WALKING EPIPHANY posts hereAlso, don't miss the opportunity to engage with thought-provoking questions for your own neighborhood, listed at the end of this post.


The Ehret Family
Telford, PA

A photo posted by Kaley Ehret (@kaleyehret) on

A photo posted by Kaley Ehret (@kaleyehret) on

Prompt: Practice resurrection

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

Wendell Berry"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage (1973) 
There's a bit of irony to our post following up Bethany's beautiful post about Community First! Village and the description of her home as "a neighborhood designed in every way to facilitate community with and among its inhabitants, most of whom have endured chronic homelessness for much of their lives." Wes and I moved to the suburbs about 6 years ago after spending the first 7 years of our marriage living in the spacious countryside of upstate NY. 

We've often said that we feel a bit like foreigners to this way of living. In many ways, the suburbs are the opposite of what Bethany described - instead of facilitating community among its inhabitants, the suburbs seem to be designed to protect their homeowners from the inconveniences that community can bring. From automatic garage door openers to the well-built fences to the deserted front porches, it's possible to hide from any type of interactions with a neighbor with very little effort. 

Our first two big projects on our fixer-upper home were intentionally planned to create space for and facilitate community - a finished basement and a backyard patio. In the winter months, we host football parties and enjoy the sounds of generally raucous behavior from our boys playing with their neighbor friends. In the summertime, our patio becomes a hub for parties, cookouts, campfires, and jam sessions while our yard becomes whatever the imaginations of the current group of children playing in it want it to be. 


A photo posted by Kaley Ehret (@kaleyehret) on

A photo posted by Kaley Ehret (@kaleyehret) on

A photo posted by Kaley Ehret (@kaleyehret) on

Prompt: God's household

Life, breath, food, companionship -- every good thing is a gift from the abundant providence of God. The kingdom of God, this great economy, is embodied in the world when God's people respond to God's provision with gratitude, sharing God's gifts generously with others. The word economy reminds us again that creation is God's household; we are tasked with sustaining it and keeping it in the order God intended. It should be a place where all humans and all creatures are loved and honored and where generosity is commonplace.

C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison

Lest I give the suburbs a bad name, they can also be a place of beautiful community if the residents are willing to just step outside. Our neighbors have become some of our dearest friends. When we are together, the laughter and the stories flow. We have been the blessed recipients of our neighbor-friends' generosity on countless occasions in the forms of help offered on house projects, first hair cuts, coffee offerings on a snowy day, dessert drop-offs, last minute babysitting solutions, advice, laughter and the occasional tears. We've sought to provide support for each other after births and deaths and weddings and illness and Hard Days. And yes, we share cups of sugar too.


A photo posted by Kaley Ehret (@kaleyehret) on

Prompt: Salt and light 

The way of being salt and light is a role (a part and position) that Christians are called to in the world.  It is a role that requires us to take up a place in our world, at work, at school, and in the neighborhood.  Christians are called to imagine another world, and to do so by living amid the divisiveness, alienation, suffering, and violence, as well as the good things, the loves and hopes of where we live now.... However, we are called to make a home that is not established on our own authority and perfection, but instead is set on the foundation of repentance, forgiveness, mutual care and correction, and reconciliation. 
David Matzko McCarthy

Wes and I often talk about the "Upside-Down Way of Christ". This idea that "the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" embodies the significance that Jesus places on presence and community rather than power and distance. Our desire as a family is to create space for what matters to Jesus and to teach our children to do the same. We find that this often looks like putting less emphasis on accomplishing "stuff", and more emphasis on simply being available to people and in tune to the heartbeat of our community. It's counter-intuitive to many of our society's standards for productivity and accomplishment, but we think it's how Jesus lived, so we want to do the same. We don't always get it right, but when we do slow down and purposefully connect, we never regret it.


Prompt: Liked so much as this place
Ma hummed softly to herself while the iron smoothed all the wrinkles out of the little dresses. All around them, to the very edge of the world, there was nothing but grasses waving in the wind. Far overhead, a few white puffs of cloud sailed in the thin blue air. Laura was very happy. The wind sang a low, rustling song in the grass. Grasshoppers' rasping quivered up from all the immense prairie. A buzzing came faintly from all the trees in the creek bottoms. But all these sounds made a great, warm, happy silence. Laura had never seen a place she liked so much as this place.
Laura Ingalls Wilder  
Little House on the Prairie

We are so grateful for this place we call home and these people we call our neighbors. There is, indeed, no place like home.


A photo posted by Kaley Ehret (@kaleyehret) on

Wes and Kaley have found a home in Telford, PA with their three boys Griffin, Lincoln and Cade. When Wes isn't youth pastoring and Kaley isn't blogging, they spend their days dodging Nerf bullets, trying to make people think they are funny, and discussing the mysteries of life together over Trader Joe's coffee.

What about your neighborhood?

  • Do you live in a neighborhood where neighbors naturally get to know each other?  If so, what are some of the things they do to make that happen?
  • Are there any cultural practices in place so that your neighbors are able to get to know each other?  (associations, community centers, annual block parties, newsletters)  
  • What are some ways your neighborhood is generous to each other?  Put another way, what are some of ways your neighborhood naturally loves and honors others? 
  • In what ways have you been or do you hope to be salt and light in your neighborhood?
  • In your own neighborhood, when do you have the sense that you’ve “never seen a place you liked as much as this place”?  What does it sound and look like in those moments?  Where are you walking when you feel this way?


      ** Each of guest posts in the WALKING EPIPHANY series selected a few prompts from an overflowing folder of quotations I've saved from the Daily Asterisk.  Thank you,  *culture is not optional for all of your good work. **

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