Monday, February 29, 2016

Craving Connection

A few years ago, I met a novelist whose work has stuck with me ever since I first encountered it. When I heard they'd be speaking at a large denominational event I'd be attending, I made sure to pack my copy of the book that had touched me so deeply; that I pick up and read again every few years.

I remember the talk they gave. It was informative and thought-provoking; an interweaving of theology, science, and the daily struggle to be. I took copious notes that I still have in one of my Moleskines somewhere.

But after, there came a time to approach this person with their own book. I wonder now how many times they've seen this cover; how many times they've had their work returned to them, if only for a moment, this same ritual playing out time after time after time.

And I had to wonder how tired they and every other writer, artist, musician, and performer has become of it. Maybe some don't ever get tired. Maybe some feed off the energy and attention. But maybe some go through it because they have to, especially after a long day of traveling and speaking and giving themselves to others.

That afternoon, they dutifully wrote their name on the title page and handed it back. And then I started talking.

I talked about why I felt a connection to their work; the justification I had in my mind to dare this approach. They listened politely, nodding their head. How many different stories has this person heard? How different have they really been?

We both sensed that our few minutes together were ending and bade our goodbyes. I'm still thankful for that brief moment, when I could say directly to this person that I appreciated what they had done; that their writing had reached into and touched a part of my own soul.

That's all we're really looking for when we have a chance to meet such people, aren't we? Whenever I've been able to meet authors, band members, or athletes, I'm not looking to be their friend. I have no illusion that they'll remember me even an hour later.

All I want is a chance to say thank you. Thank you for what you've risked putting into the world, because it has changed how I view it; because what you did became a reference point for what was happening in my life during a particular season. You provided part of the soundtrack or commentary or background for who I was becoming, and I'm still becoming that because of what you shared of yourself.

That's all most people want in a moment like that. We crave connection if only for a few minutes, because they helped us connect with ourselves.

Friday, February 26, 2016

February 2016 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for February...

1.  I read The Jihad of Jesus by Dave Andrews this month, the review for which you can read here.

2. Coffeewife and I went on a geeky romantic date to see Deadpool over Valentine's weekend, starring Ryan Reynolds as the title character. I started laughing during the opening credits and never looked back. Deadpool is known for his one-liners, breaking the fourth wall, and violence, and this had all of those in abundance. After being diagnosed with cancer, Wade Wilson volunteers for a program that gives him the mutant power of fast healing but also leaves him horribly scarred all over his body. From there he embarks on a mission of revenge which only becomes more complicated when the guy who did it kidnaps his girlfriend. The whole thing is fast-paced, witty, and even at times touching. It earned its R rating and not everyone will enjoy it for that reason, but we sure did.

3. Since I heard about it last year, I've been anticipating the TV version of The Magicians, which premiered on SyFy last month. The book trilogy has been among my favorites in recent years as a college version of Harry Potter crossed with The Chronicles of Narnia, so hearing they'd adapt it to any kind of screen version was welcome news. The show takes great liberties with the source material, at times combining elements from multiple books and adding a lot of extra stuff at others. But the result has still been enjoyable, if not what I expected.

4. My colleague Rob Leveridge released a new album of progressive worship music in January called Sacred Days. Similar to how his previous effort offered a song for each part of a basic Protestant worship service, he offers here a series of songs for important moments in an individual's or congregation's life such as welcoming, baptism, marriage, confirmation/ordination, and memorial services. The theology is once again solid, and musically I found this to be a richer, more diverse album as he includes elements such as strings, electric guitars, and a gospel choir. Each song is very distinct and well-crafted, and I can imagine the setting for which each is written. Here's one of my favorites, "The Waiting World:"



5. I happened across a song late last month by Ane Brun, a Norwegian-born singer now based in Sweden. That first song was enough to get me curious to find out more, and it happened that her latest album When I'm Free was set to be released in North America in early February. The entire album is very good, utilizing a multitude of electronic, pop, and acoustic elements. I've been enjoying it ever since. Here's the song that started it for me, "You Lit My Fire:"


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Prayer for Lent 2

based on Luke 13:31-35

Faithful God, we confess that we don’t always know the things that make for peace. At times we’re at odds with family members over issues big or small. At other times we clash with co-workers over processes, goals, or behavior. At other times we see people on the news with whom we can’t fathom interacting without conflict. Sometimes our struggle is internal as we fight with ourselves over who we are or want to become. In the midst of these thoughts, peace is elusive. We don’t know the steps to establish it or we gave up on its pursuit long ago.

We hear Jesus’ desire to gather us like a hen and her chicks. It may be difficult to imagine you bringing us together so, let alone some of those with whom we’d be sharing your embrace. We are beckoned by the one whom we call the Prince of Peace to a higher way. You know it is not often easy for us, yet your Spirit continues to nudge and prod us along, we wandering baby fowl, toward greater community.

O God, show us peace. Show us the way of reconciliation. Show us a path that transcends our interests and grudges, and moves us toward wholeness. Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Watching the Winter Sky

I used to like snow, but I don't any more. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

While growing up, I loved it. It was a gift that kept giving. During my elementary years I lived in a rural area where snow days were more prevalent. A lot of those county roads were hard to navigate if winter acted just harshly enough. The parsonage I called home sat on a hill that made for some magnificent sled riding. My friends and I spent hours in the cold trying to see how fast and far we could go, trudging back up, and doing it all over again.

I remember some evenings after dinner when the sun had already set and all my brother and I had was the light shining over the adjacent church parking lot, when the flurries would blow and we would get in some extra trips down the hill before bed. Sometimes I would just lie down and look up at the pitch black sky, watching the white flakes pass overhead. This brought a peace, a wonder, that I'd anticipate feeling again with every evening opportunity.

In more recent years I've had a more complicated relationship with snow, as I view it nowadays through an adult's eyes. I worry about my family's safety in the midst of a bad storm. I curse my snowblower when it won't start or when it blows the flakes right back at me. I can tell you the story of a father trying to get himself and his son home without incident on bald van tires past their replacement date.

Those times watching the sky pass further and further away every day.

My days of looking at snow with wondrous innocence are few and far between. Now I look at it in terms of the pain, danger, and inconvenience that it brings. Seeing it like I did as a child is much more difficult.

At least that's what I keep telling myself.

I used to take walks around the cemetery at my former church. It didn't matter what time of year it was. I could be out there on a warm summer afternoon or shuffling through fallen leaves or even as the flakes lightly floated to earth. Each lent a different spirit to my walking; a unique way of seeing God's creation and the final resting places of the saints around me.

I remember the quiet of those winter walks. I often would join the silence, inspired to watch the cold white precipitation cover all I could see without a word. Whether this was out of respect or reverence or trying to preserve the warmth of my lips, I couldn't say. Perhaps it was all three. But watching the snow fall then connected me to much earlier years when I saw it in a different way.

I do admit that, even now, I still have moments. And they tend to happen long after the sun has set. I'll leave an evening meeting or push my trashcan down to the curb, and linger long enough to look up. I'll find Orion's belt and see the winter moon glowing down upon the white blanket overtop the grass and trees, and be 10 years old again. I'll wonder when I became so cynical and fearful, and when exactly I lost the wonder and imagination with which I used to look upon this season.

Eventually, the spell breaks. I climb into my car or walk back into the garage and return to my thoughts of hoping I and my family can make it through the next day without incident, as long as this stuff is on the roads. It serves no good purpose. It's dangerous.

I'll probably think that for a while longer. But that child watching the flurries pass overhead keeps poking his head up, reminding me of the season's quiet beauty.

Some day again, I'll believe him.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: The Jihad of Jesus by Dave Andrews

For many people jihad and Jesus are totally contradictory, mutually exclusive options. You must choose the one or the other. You cannot have both. Given our present situation, Muslims would tend to choose jihad, Christians would tend to choose Jesus. But it is my contention that--rightly understood--you can't have one without the other. In spite of the fact this may seem heresy to Muslims and/or Christians, I contend that you cannot rightly pursue jihad without Jesus, or rightly pursue Jesus without jihad. - Dave Andrews, The Jihad of Jesus

I admit that I don't really know that much about Islam. I could tell you a little about the five pillars and a few other very basic tenets, but beyond that I freely admit my own ignorance of the second-largest religion in the world.

That isn't to say that I'm not interested, or that I haven't tried to do better. I occasionally have the privilege of attending interfaith functions and hearing from my brothers and sisters of that faith, I follow several prominent scholars and activists on Twitter, and I pick up books that deal with various themes on the subject. But it's not enough, and I acknowledge that. Especially given the general sentiment in the United States toward Muslims both natural born and immigrant alike since late 2001, it becomes all the more important for me and many others to do better, as ignorance is one of the leading causes of fear and discrimination.

So when I had the opportunity to review The Jihad of Jesus by Dave Andrews, this seemed like a good step toward making the change for myself that I knew I needed.

First, we should probably talk about the title. It's pretty provocative, as I believe was the intention. Most probably have a particular idea of what "jihad" means, that being the enacting of "holy war" against others in the name of God. Andrews' introduction--all of one page--gives the proper and full definition that he will explore in more depth throughout the book. The word itself actually translates as "struggle," of which there are two types: the "greater jihad" which is the inner struggle of a believer to be faithful, and the "lesser jihad" which is a physical struggle against oppressors.

As mentioned, Andrews clarifies what Islam typically means by each, as well as how it's been twisted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

In fact, the first section of the book is about twisted religion in general. Andrews spends several chapters recounting the dark histories of both Christianity and Islam; the ways people have used religious belief to justify acts of violence, oppression, and genocide. What's more, he doesn't let either off the hook by claiming that these events "weren't really Christian/Islam," as they were committed under these religions' banner and such claims too easily dismiss the atrocity of the acts themselves.

From here, Andrews invites the reader to properly consider how religion contributes to horrific acts, and how people use religion to inspire or justify them. His third chapter offers an informative overview of the social and psychological factors that cause individuals and groups to participate in or approve authoritarian movements.

The second section reflects on the nonviolent nature of both Christianity and Islam, and the need to reclaim this core spirit both to counteract times when either religion becomes distorted, as well as to consider how both religions may partner to work for greater justice and peace. For Islam, he explores the concept of Bismillah, which remembers all of humanity as belonging to a God who is gracious and compassionate. Living by this is meant to result in showing that same grace and compassion to others. Thus, the "greater jihad" or inner struggle is to remain faithful to this way of living.

For Jesus, Andrews explores the peacemaking nature of Jesus' life and teaching. This features a contextual analysis of when he mentions swords, which is a common argument used to say that Jesus would have been okay with violence. Similar to his consideration of Bismillah, Andrews concludes that Jesus advocated and modeled a way of life that views others as sacred and beloved. The inner struggle of Christians to live in this way is quite similar to that of Muslims to live by Bismillah.

I found The Jihad of Jesus to be greatly informative and challenging. I've found myself reflecting quite a bit on his analysis of how groups become inspired to engage in acts of violence, and can see these concepts reflected in our world. His call for both Christianity and Islam to be honest with themselves about their historical sins and to return to the heart of their purpose is an important one for this present moment.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Monday, February 08, 2016

Small Sips Keeps Writing

Important. Just read it. Aaron Smith at Cultural Savage writes about his struggle with depression and anxiety, and how sometimes he'd just rather not take his medicine:
Here’s the thing, that part of me that doesn’t want to take the drugs is convinced that maybe I’m not really sick. It is a constant thought in my messed up head. Maybe I don’t really have bipolar. Maybe my anxiety disorder is just me not wanting to deal with life. Maybe I’m just making it all up and I’m really “normal”. Maybe I’m not crazy after all. 
It’s an attractive thought. It would be nice to not have to live with the reality of mental illness, the panic attacks, the mania, the depression. It would be nice to hold down a decent 40 hours a week job. It would be nice to not feel my emotions without them overwhelming me. There is a real attraction to the thought that I’m just making this all up.
I don't really have thoughts on this. I mean, in the sense that I have any deep insight to what he's talking about. I share it more because I think it's a good reflection that those of us who don't wrestle with such things could benefit from reading. People who don't have this sort of illness don't truly understand it.

Centered in community no more. Liz Lenz writes about the death of the midwestern church:
This loss is due, in part, to the continuing move from rural to urban life. Lasley, who has spent many years studying the dynamics of rural communities, notes that, with the increased mechanization and corporatization of farms, neighbors become more far-flung. And as the miles between neighbors grow, so too does the social space that separates them. 
According to a 2010 survey of rural life conducted by Lasley and his colleagues at Iowa State, eight out of 10 farmers and their families reported that family visits to the neighbors had “greatly” or “somewhat declined.” Similarly, six out of 10 said that instances of neighbors helping each other have “greatly” or “somewhat declined.” Nine out of 10 said they don’t rely on their neighbors the way they used to. 
Lasley attributes this decrease in neighborliness to the shuttering of schools and the decline in church attendance. “There is no glue holding these communities together,” Lasley says, “and it’s making us forget how to neighbor.”
Churches in these small towns used to be the center of community life. People attended worship or other functions to socialize and for support. Then that all started changing.

These churches no longer serve that function, so they disappear. One of the key problems is that nothing replaces them. We've become more isolationist; we don't have that same sense of connectedness that these community centers helped foster.

Times have already changed 3 times since this post was written. Carey Neiwhof lists some things that worked in church a decade ago that don't any more. Lately I've been thinking a lot about this one:
8. Assuming people know what their next step is 
A decade ago, in a more churched culture, it was commonplace to assume that most people knew what they needed to do to become a Christian or to grow as a Christian. 
That era is gone. 
Now the average unchurched person arrives knowing almost nothing about Christianity, what to do to become a Christian or how to grow as a Christian. 
To understand how radically things have shifted, imagine you converted to Hinduism. 
How would you know you’ve actually become a Hindu? 
What’s your next step? 
Exactly.
All of them are pretty good, and most are basically variations on the idea that an attractional, build-it-and-they-will-come model no longer works.

But I'm thinking a lot about the one quoted above, and the state of new member orientation to the church. I also think about rituals like weddings and funerals where you no longer can assume that people will recite the Lord's Prayer or sing the Doxology along with you without the words in front of them. I've had that happen more than once, and they've been good reminders. A little embarrassing, but mostly good reminders.

So churches now need to do more to nurture and grow disciples, and leave behind the notion that people will just know how to do it. Because less and less will.

Be you. Deborah Dean-Ware reflects on what happens when smaller churches try too much to be like big churches:
I learned in seminary, and it was reinforced in seminar after seminar after graduation, that church growth is about taking your church to the next level. If your church is pastor-centered (50-150 members), you need to grow it to a program-sized church (150-350 members). Program-sized? Time to grow into a corporate-sized congregation. If you are corporate already, you might look into following Walmart’s business plan to take over the world. 
Got to get to the next level, and the next, and the next. It is a rat’s race, a never-ending quest. It sets up 99 percent of churches and pastors to feel ineffective, depressed, and disenchanted. It makes it truly difficult to be content and at peace. All in the spirit of attaining Big Church. 
My church has taught me about the church of the future. The Church of the Good Shepherd, UCC is a small church by all standards. We have 140 members and a worship attendance of 80-90. Our budget is just over $200,000. We have 3-15 kids in Sunday School. And you know what? We are so okay with that. In fact, we are thrilled with it. 
We don’t want to be Big Church!
The basic lesson here is: be who you are and stop trying so hard to be something else. The culprit here happens to be large churches, of which there is nothing necessarily wrong. It's just that not every church is called to be that, and that's okay.

Bookmarked; will revisit frequently. Jennifer Garam has a pep talk for writers who don't feel like anyone cares about what they write:
I could give up. I could say that I’m sick of all the rejection and I want to do something else, something where I feel valued and appreciated. Something where there’s more of a direct correlation between what I put in and what I get out. 
But as bad as the rejection and all the non-caring feels, not writing feels worse. I have to tell my stories and share my experiences, or I get angry and lethargic and depressed. Without writing, I feel powerless and like I don’t have a voice, like my thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter. I get frustrated when I’m sending out a piece that I love and it isn’t getting accepted anywhere and I’m yearning for it to be published so others can read it. I’d prefer if everything I wrote got accepted. But regardless, the actual process of writing is soothing, healing, and necessary for me to feel OK in the world. So I have to keep doing it.
The entire thing is very good. But when it comes down to it, writing feels better than not writing. A musician plays music even if the only ones who hear it are her bedroom walls. A chef cooks food if only for himself and a few friends. A writer writes, no matter how large or small the audience. And as she says later in the piece, you really don't know who's out there reading and might be struck by what you say.

I need to do this. Rocky Supinger is making a pastoral move, and in the process gutted his library:
Part of this biblio-purge is driven by an impulse to pare down, lighten up, cling less authors and titles for my sense of identity and impact. 
Another part of comes from an awareness of a drift in my interests since I moved into this office eight years ago. That awareness is most pointed with regard to all the “Missional Church” books I gave away. I clung desperately to those books in my first call, but looking at them today I have a definite sense that those volumes were a great deal of ink spilled on one big idea, a kind of theoretical hall of mirrors where each contributor reflected what all the others were already doing, only a little louder or longer. I got the idea. My work is based on it. I don’t need the books anymore. 
Yet a third component of this move away from all these books arises from a reconsideration of the value of a theological library for my work as a pastor. I am uneasy about a move away from a library stocked with the Niebuhrs and the Barths I was weaned on in seminary, but less and less of the ministerial work I’m doing utilizes those texts. At all.
I have to be up front that I don't know if I could do this to the same extent that he did. The missional books he mentioned? Yeah, I've already purged a lot of my own for the same reasons. In fact, I regularly look at my entire section of church and ministry books and ask why I still have most of them.

The Bible and theology stuff is trickier for me. I like having classic works by Niebuhr and Barth around, but so much of it is for show and not necessarily because I constantly refer to it or because it's relevant to daily pastoral work. And I can look at stuff in those sections that have become obsolete even in the past decade.

One of these days, I'll do what he did. But not yet.

Misc. The Pope is going to open his traditional Maundy Thursday foot-washing to women and girls. Some don't think his changes are a big deal, but they are to those within the system. Cindy Knox with 10 commandments for supporting your pastor. Chaplain Mike revisits an old post on how increased amounts of choices in our culture have impacted the church. Also, he quotes Dave Matthews. Gordon Atkinson, now a "church outsider," reconsiders all the things he assumed about such a group when he was a pastor.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Why I Wrote a Book on Spirituality

As the release of my book inches ever closer, and in light of the conversation I've experienced this week that both inspired and resulted from Wednesday's post, I thought I'd offer a quick list of reasons why I wrote the book that I did.

The discussions I've been a part of this week helped generate this list, mostly in terms of helping to clarify the intended audience. I'm grateful for that, and I hope that in looking over this list maybe you or somebody you know might keep my book in mind when it comes out in a few months. And if this doesn't sound like it's for you, that's okay, too. Blessings on your journey either way.

Anyway. I wrote a book in spirituality...

...because Christian spirituality and spiritual practice actually does have a strong theological foundation and isn't as gooey as you think...

...because the Christian church existed prior to the Protestant Reformation, and they actually had some pretty good ideas about how to draw closer to God...

...because a lot of people in mainline churches are wondering if there are ways to connect with God besides three hymns and a sermon...

...because a lot of people outside the church are wondering if it has more to offer besides three hymns and a sermon...

...because God transcends our entire lives and isn't bound by particular traditions, orthodoxies, and preferred worship styles...

...because moments like grilling out, tasting wine, and being with loved ones can be sacred as much as sitting in a sanctuary can be...

...because a lot of people don't seem to know what to do with the word "spirituality" in general...

...because the term "spiritual but not religious" isn't going away, so we in the church might as well embrace it and engage it constructively...

...because there's a great big world of experiences out there, and God is in every one of them somehow, both good and bad, sharing gifts of presence and love and transformation, and if you're curious about that and want to know more about cultivating space within yourself to see it more clearly...

...then a book like this is for you.

Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday is tentatively set to release this summer from Noesis Press.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Our "Spiritual" Problem

For the past few weeks, my denomination, the United Church of Christ, has been sharing a series of new memes on social media. The goal as I understand it is to reboot the "God is Still Speaking" campaign of a decade ago, and to let those outside of our churches know how inclusive we can be of people who have experienced rejection in other places for a multitude of reasons, or who are wondering whether there's really a place for them in the church at all.

I've appreciated some of these memes, and have been happy to share them in various places.

But then there are others like the one above. And while I just ignore most of those that have made me cringe or with which I've disagreed, this one caused a pretty strong reaction within me because it reflects several things about the UCC--and perhaps by extension most mainline denominations--that I just can't shake off.

Granted, I am not the target audience for these. I admit that. And it may be that those for whom this is  meant find it intriguing, or meaningful, or inviting. If that is the case, I am glad.

But this particular meme has also set off an internal conversation among colleagues and laypeople alike, and all of it seems to center on the word "spiritual." At least two problems within the UCC have been exposed thanks to the above graphic, which have caused no small amount of impassioned debate.

First, a little background. Some readers know that I am a certified spiritual director. I've long been nurturing an interest in spiritual practices and traditions and in sharing them in both local and wider church settings. For a long time, I've credited a class that I took my very first semester at a UCC seminary for planting these seeds of interest within me.

It occurred to me just this week that those seeds were actually planted slightly earlier, during the few years that I participated in evangelical and non-denominational groups and was heavily influenced by the beliefs and practices of those communities. These settings were expressive, allowed for the showing of and tapping into emotion, and encouraged forms of personal prayer and devotion that I hadn't experienced prior to that. During these years I discovered an entire realm of possibility for faith development and discerning God's presence I wasn't aware existed.

I have been a member of the UCC my entire life. I was born and raised in this tradition. Both my parents have ministered in local churches and volunteered in judicatory settings. I attended UCC-affiliated schools for my undergrad and graduate degrees. I've been a part of many different churches in this denomination that have nurtured, supported, and influenced me in so many life-affirming ways.

But I had to go outside the tradition to discover forms of prayer, worship, and practice that weren't intellect-based and liturgically verbose.  As much of a mixed bag as those years were for me, I can see that that is where my interest in spirituality began. A single elective class at my denominational school watered the seeds, but they were planted elsewhere.

This has been my experience of how the mainline church approaches spirituality: a single course here, a token nod there. But for the most part, the spirit that carries the day in most of our settings is if it doesn't originate from the mind or can't be expressed verbally or in print at great length, it can't be trusted. The truth is that the methods available to us to grow in our relationship with God as known uniquely in Jesus are far more numerous than many have considered.

The second problem I see reflected by this meme is our misunderstanding of "spiritual" people in general, and it flows from the first problem. Many have reacted to the above picture due to its use of "spiritual" in place of "Christ." My colleague Emily Heath has laid out the case for not replacing it, and I think that statement is a fine one. She makes some great points about foundational identity that we as a denomination should be talking about.

But my concern here is how, in reacting to this replacement, we risk identifying those we're trying to reach. Many within the church assume that to be spiritual is to not really believe anything. Such an accusation has been leveled at the "spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) for years now, and some of my UCC colleagues have helped encourage that narrative. Because the SBNR category can be so diverse and difficult to define, many assume that it must just be the adopted moniker of the lazy. Can't be bothered to get up early enough on Sunday morning? Call yourself SBNR. Can't bring yourself to really think all that hard about your beliefs about God? Call yourself SBNR.

A certain percentage of those identifying as SBNR may truly take this route. But you don't know until you go one person to the next and ask. And if you do, prepare to be surprised by the knowledge and stories they may end up sharing with you. Their experiences of the divine may be rich, deep, diverse, and outside the church norm, from which we may greatly benefit from hearing.

Maybe clinging to these assumptions about SBNR people is the truly lazy option.

Beyond that, people from within the church are offering up this meme in an attempt to appeal to those who claim the statement "I'm a very spiritual person." As such, it doesn't seem very genuine. I don't think that we on the inside, particularly with the traditions and sets of assumptions with which we've operated since our inception nearly 60 years ago, really know what people mean when they say this.

How committed are we to finding out?

We in the UCC have often exhibited an aversion to and misunderstanding of the term "spiritual" as it has been used throughout Christian history and as it is now used by non-churched people. There isn't an easy solution, but recognizing that there's a problem is a good first step.

I still don't like the meme, but I'm glad for the possibilities for denomination-wide conversation and transformation it now presents for us.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Book Update - Hypothetical Questions Answered

What's been up with the book, man? A few weeks ago, I received all my material back for editing. This process mostly involved eliminating passive voice, which I apparently use quite a bit and now I can see everywhere in everything I read. I've also developed an irritation toward certain other words and phrases that I think I overuse, but that's my own issue.

Anyway. I've finished edits and have returned everything. There'll be a bit more tinkering, proof-reading, and final processing. The next update hopefully will feature a release date and extensive encouragement to pre-order copies for all your friends.

What's the book called? The official title is Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday. It explores how spiritual practice, prayer, and spiritual direction help cultivate an awareness of God in daily life.

Why should anyone care about this topic? Whether one self-identifies as "spiritual," "religious," "spiritual but not religious," or otherwise expresses any interest in or awareness of a divine or transcendent presence, they may wonder how to connect that to the rest of their lives: family, work, leisure, and so on. This book offers reflection and tips on how to pursue a greater synchronization of one's spirituality to those other aspects of daily living.

How specifically does your book do that? By introducing spiritual thinkers such as Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Brother Lawrence, Thomas Merton, and Karl Rahner, connecting scripture with human experience, and explaining prayer practices such as meditation and contemplation.

Would a non-theologian want to read this book? I mean, seriously: Rahner? The book's purpose is to get readers to think about how God is present in places and situations like coffeehouses, gatherings with friends, hikes in the woods, and swimming in the ocean. I use plenty of anecdotes and illustrations to explain these concepts. The book contains some serious theology, but for the purpose of helping the reader develop a vocabulary for thinking about and naming their experience. I've tried hard to keep everything accessible.

You mentioned a bunch of Catholic people in an earlier answer. Are non-Catholics going to find this book worthwhile? This book is geared toward non-Catholics, actually. My experience as a lifelong mainline Protestant is that talk about "spirituality" makes us nervous for various reasons: it seems "too Catholic" or "too Jesus and me" or too gooey in definition or too emotion-based or just too outside our comfort zone. I touch on all of these concerns at one point or another. I think we Protestants have left an entire frontier of spiritual tradition and practice unexplored to our own detriment. In part, this is my call for us to change that.

Your subtitle mentions spiritual direction. How much do you discuss that in the book? Quite a bit. In my experience, not many people know what spiritual direction is or how it could aid their journey. I offer a definition and explanation throughout, but the book itself is meant to be an act of spiritual direction. I mainly do this by offering questions for reflection at the end of each chapter for individual and small group use. One of my hopes for the book is that the reader considers finding a spiritual director to continue the conversation.

How else can I keep up with book news besides your blog? You can like my writer page on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter. I'd really like to keep writing about topics other than the book in this space, so those are the best ways to stay informed about what's going on. Especially the Facebook page. Please like the Facebook page.

Got a release date yet? At this point, we're looking at summer. Depending on how quickly next steps go, that could move up or back. But that's the current projection.

Are you planning any kind of release party? I'm working on that, but I'll let you know. Probably on the Facebook page.