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Showing posts from May, 2016

May 2016 Pop Culture Roundup

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Five items for May...

1. I read Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed this month. I heard Ahmed at the Festival of Faith and Writing in April, during which he did a brief reading. I was intrigued enough to pick it up. This story follows Adoulla, who is advanced in age and the last of his kind as member of an order that hunts evil creatures. Incredibly weary of battle and the world in general, Adoulla is pulled into a conflict with a more powerful force than he has fought before, which involves the Khalif that rules the land and an expanding group of rebels with a charismatic leader. There were elements of Firefly and Star Wars that drew me in, but the world Ahmed establishes is fascinating all its own. I enjoyed this debut novel and look forward to more.

2. I also read Glorify by Emily C. Heath this month. Heath explores progressive Christianity's need to reclaim its center as a movement rooted in faith and discipleship, rather than solely action or results. Heath encourag…

Shalem Blog Post: A Willingness to Explore

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I've written a reflection for the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation entitled "A Willingness to Explore:"

With just a few weeks left in my seminary career, my wife and I moved off campus and into an apartment a few miles away. We figured that it would be easier to have that step taken care of before graduation, so that we wouldn’t have to scramble to find a new place to live later. It proved to be a good move for us, and we began settling into our new living space in the Valley Park area of St. Louis.

Having been barred from keeping pets on campus, we were eager to find a feline friend to help warm our home, which we did in the form of a black-and-white cat that we called Eve.

Click here to read the rest.

Vintage CC: The Meeting

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While reflecting on how writing fits into my sense of life and vocation, I ran across this post from September 2014. I occasionally imagine an interaction with my 3D reflection regarding some sense of who I am. Doing this has produced several of my favorite pieces, and has been a helpful exercise in discernment.

The opening of the door causes a small bell attached to the frame to jingle. The scant number of patrons and workers remain fixated on their own tasks and conversations. I gently stomp some of autumn's excess moisture off my shoes before moving further into the room, navigating around a few tables to reach the counter.

The barista, a younger woman with a lotus tattoo on her wrist and a streak of red in her dark hair, greets me with a soft smile and asks, "What can I get you?"

I look up at the chalkboards listing the options, glancing out of the corner of my eye to spot the one with whom I am meeting. I just go with a simple mug of the house blend. After I pay, I …

Prayer for Trinity Sunday

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based on John 16:12-15

Faithful God, we know you in many forms. We feel a warm breeze, look up at the glow of the moon, or watch a bird flit its wings and see your goodness at the heart of all created things. We experience moments of forgiveness, kindness, and transformation and remember the particular calling you issued through Jesus. We come to moments of clarity, reassurance, and courage, and sense that your Spirit has given these gifts to us. In moments like these, we sing, “holy, holy, holy” to mark the sacred ground on which we stand.

We each bring our own needs for such moments today. We may be seeking reconciliation with a neighbor. We may be wondering at how you are present in illness. We may not know how you are able to love us as we strive to rectify our injuring another. We may be feeling a pull toward something bold, but lack the ensuring confidence to take that first step. In these times, we seek the manifold faces of your presence to guide us through.

O God, we celebra…

The Sacraments Aren't Virtual

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Centuries ago, theologian and Protestant Reformer John Calvin stated that a church is marked by two things: the presence of faithful preaching, and administration of the sacraments. Wherever people participate in communal hearing and interpretation of God's revelation and share together at baptism and communion constitutes "church." That's all such a gathering required.

To me, this definition is pretty simple and offers itself to broad application. If these are the only two required marks of church, we could engage in them in a wide variety of settings. One doesn't necessarily need stained glass, steeple, pulpit, font, or altar for such things. Preaching and the sacraments can happen in places as diverse as homes, pubs, coffeehouses, hospitals, parks, airports, and campgrounds, among many other possibilities.

In recent times, people have been exploring how church could be expanded to include online gatherings. One example from my own tradition is Extravagance UC…

Prayer for Pentecost

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based on Acts 2:1-21

Spirit of grace, we strive and strain to discern your movement among us. We confess our frequent bewilderment at what you are doing; our attempts to confine your inspiration to match our own comfort. We fool ourselves into thinking that we're able to bottle fire, only to be thrown into confusion when you escape our feeble trappings to show us possibility more vast than we can imagine.

Days of Pentecost don't bring simple explanation or description. Rather, they bring chaos by way of a new word not previously heard or known. Yet by that same word comes clarity, vision, a way out of rut and routine. We are startled out of worn paths to bold new  dreams propelled by divine power and to new life given by holy breath.

By your Spirit's presence, give us a fire for sharing good news and bread for the journey. And by that same Spirit, empower us to share in your dream of a refreshed, redeemed world. Amen.

Summer Reading

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I'm always reading something. Along with music, books are my biggest and most constant pop culture indulgence. So to me, having a reading list just for summer seems kind of strange because I don't confine reading just to three months out of the year. Plus I'm not a student--at least for the moment--which is what the concept seems to assume.

But I like books and I like lists, and lately the stack has been getting nice and tall. So school break or not, here's what I'm planning to read this summer:
Idiot Psalms by Scott CairnsShort Trip to the Edge by Scott CairnsWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul KalanithiStrength for the Journey by Renee MillerGlorify by Emily HeathEx-Patriots by Peter ClinesJacaranda by Cherie Priest Poetry, a few memoirs, theology, spirituality, and a bit of sci-fi/fantasy. What's on your list?

And if you're stumped for something to read, can I make one suggestion?

Pastor, and

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Most pastors aren't just pastors.

In addition to their primary vocation of serving with a church in ministry, many pastors tend to take on additional roles that help round out their sense of calling.

Some pastors are also speakers. Or authors. Or workshop leaders. Or spiritual directors. Or professors in higher education. Or leaders on denominational boards. Or chaplains. Or advocates in justice or charity organizations. Or professional musicians.

And that's just to start.

Pastors serve in these additional ways for a variety of reasons. They may love local church ministry, but also find that they have gifts to be used in other ways, or more fully, outside of that role. They may feel called to more than one vocation (as really, most are) and seek not only to integrate them but also fulfill each in unique ways. Some need to take on other work because they're in a pastorate that can't pay them enough, even though they still consider it their primary calling. And, cynical…

Small Sips Wants You to Read the First One

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If you read nothing else in this post, at least read this one. Emily Heath reflects on the current crop of "bathroom bills" being considered in many states, and shares their own experience of suspicion, discrimination, and fear:
Here’s what happens. I walk up to the bathroom, with it’s picture of a woman in a dress, and I push open the door. Sometimes it starts there. A woman is coming out and she looks at me, looks up at the door, and looks confused. I push on anyway. Sometimes she will helpfully say, “I’m sorry, sir, this is the women’s room.” I have learned to say, “yes…I know” and keep walking without waiting for a response.  I use the bathroom as quickly as possible. I don’t know what the supporters of bathroom bills think trans and gender non-conforming people are doing in there, but I can assure you it’s not exciting. In fact, I can testify that most of the time we get out as soon as humanly possible. Then I wash my hands, carefully avoiding the mirror-reflected gazes…

Five Ways to Support Authors

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It's now time for another edition of "Jeff thinks he knows what he's talking about when it comes to writing." In this episode, I try to put into words some of what I've been thinking about regarding the fun practice of promotion since publishing my book a month ago.

The initial support has been fantastic. Many friends and loved ones helped get the word out about Coffeehouse Contemplative by sharing links to Amazon (where it's primarily available). I don't have as large of a built-in reader base as others, so any sort of support like this certainly helped. And that got me to thinking about general ways I've tried to support fellow authors and artists who aren't superstars and who don't have a large mechanism behind them getting the word out about their work.

So I compiled a short list of basic ways people can help lesser-known authors. Sure, part of this is self-serving because I'd love for my own stuff to have a larger reach. But this is …

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