Showing posts from December, 2016

My 2016 Writing Retrospective

I always feel funny writing this year-end post, because the navel-gazing quality of it always seems to be ratcheted up to a level that I'm not all that comfortable with. It's usually a look back on the year that was from my perspective, and lately I've been content to focus it more on my writing than a general life update.

You probably get enough Christmas letters already. You don't need one more.

But in brief, what happened this year for me as a writer?

By far, the biggest event was the release of Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday back in March. Publishing a book was a dream come true for me, and I'm still in awe that it happened. What little indication I've been given seems to show that it's still doing well, and I'm grateful to all who have supported it in one way or another.

I've continued to write for New Sacred, contributed several pieces to the Shalem Institute's blog, and submitted a few guest features (wr…

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2016

I've been compiling this year-end list for a very long time now. I've been doing it so long, in fact, that after I finish a book, show, movie, or album, I've taken to asking myself, "Is it top five?" It's partly a game that I play with myself to see what will make this list, but it's also a method of evaluating what I'll most likely return to down the road for one reason or another. To me the question means: did it strike me, move me, stick with me, impact me deeply enough that I'll carry it inside long after I've finished it? So here are the ones for which this year the answer was "yes." Numbers are for convenience and not actually rankings.

My Top Books of 2016

1.Between the World and Me - Written as a letter to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates recounts his experience as a black man living in America. Part history lesson and part contemporary commentary, Coates shows how racism is still alive and well in both personal and systemic forms, i…

Christmas Weekend: Clouds

Previously: Weeds, Scent, Muffins, Houses

A certain day of the week, I wake up before dawn with a mission. I rise nearly every morning around the same time, but with this day comes an added responsibility that I undertake with the utmost seriousness. I stumble around in the quiet and dark to find my sweatshirt and footwear, grab my keys and wallet, and head off to pick up donuts for the family.

I have a 98% success rate getting out of the house before anyone else wakes up. That other 2% is thwarted by my daughter, who apparently inherited my morning-riser tendencies. What's more, she knows what I'm about to do and has begun insisting that she ride along.

One morning where she caught me about to make my run, I secured her into her seat and we began our joint trek by the glow of the car's headlights.

"The clouds are so beautiful," the declaration came from the backseat, interrupting my pre-coffee reverie. I leaned forward to see the moon's light muted behind a …

Fourth Week of Advent: Houses

Previously: Weeds, Scent, Muffins

The caroling trip wasn't going the way I'd expected.

The previous several years I'd helped organize my church's annual outing to visit our shut-ins and sing to them the songs of the season, we'd divided into two groups, each taking half the list. Given that we had so many, it seemed to be a sensible way to ensure that everyone was seen within a reasonable timeframe.

Several of my caroling families had other ideas, however, as they insisted that the entire group travel together to see everyone. That meant corralling 40 or so people to 10-12 different houses, the whereabouts of several of which I wasn't completely certain myself. My assumption had been that a group of around 20--3-4 carloads max--could navigate the unknown places with relative ease. Instead, we'd all engage in this adventure in guesswork together.

The evening proceeded without too much incident. While parking on several streets provided challenges and each ho…

Vintage CC: Thanks for Your Patience

I wrote this at the very end of December 2006. This time of year brings me back to this episode, although I don't know why. It wasn't the most significant interaction I've had in the last decade, but something about the season calls it to mind, perhaps because this can be a lonely time where if you bump into someone in a public place such as a coffeehouse, they'll finally see their opportunity to share what's on their mind with someone else.

"This music reminds me of those old western shows." That's how the conversation--if you could truly call it that--began.

I'd just come from calling hours to show support for a parishioner. Her 19-year-old great-granddaughter--working two jobs to pay for a car, aspirations of finishing school to be a hairdresser, her whole freaking life ahead of her--gone just before Christmas in a car accident. As I expected, the line wove all through the funeral home, mostly made up of the shocked and sullen faces of kids bare…

I'm on this week's Pulpit Fiction podcast

Once again, I have contributed the "Voice in the Wilderness" segment to the latest edition of the Pulpit Fiction podcast, which takes a look at the lectionary texts each week.

This time around, my assignment was Romans 1:1-7. You can listen at their website or on iTunes.

Thanks to the guys for inviting me to contribute again.

Third Week of Advent: Muffins

Previously: Weeds, Scent

I'm writing this near the end of September in a well-known chain that sells coffee and bagels. I was afforded some free time while a family member keeps an appointment, and so I ordered my own mug and pastry. Since it is still early in the fall months, I've ordered a pumpkin muffin, my first of the season. It tastes as delicious as I expect. I also could have chosen a pumpkin-shaped cookie with orange icing if I'd been so inclined, but today the muffin won out.

As I find an empty booth and begin unloading several items from my bag, my thoughts turn to what this place and most others will look like around the beginning of November. Pumpkin muffins will likely give way to ones with green or red sprinkles. The icing will change to those colors as well, the cookies themselves probably shaped like trees or ornaments. Tinsel will hang from the lights and carols will play softly over the speakers.

My first reaction to these thoughts is a silent sneer. I a…

Pastoral Prayer for Those Seeking Joy

God of love’s increasing light, our Advent journey brings us closer and closer to our celebration of your incarnate presence among us. We are joyful about what this will mean: a new revelation of goodness and peace that will shine the way forward for those inspired to share it with the world. Our anticipation grows as we near the manger, yet there is still so much time and there are so many activities that separate us from that moment of rest and relief.

And so we seek joy, the kind that you bestow and the kind that runs deeper than what can be seen. We long to rejoice in the midst of so much difficulty, whether in our own lives or of others close to us in body or spirit. We wish joy for those with struggles physical, emotional, financial, or relational, especially during a season meant to be filled with glad expectation.

O God, may genuine joy sustain us. May authentic hope and peace surround us. And as we continue our journey, may your divine love welcome us. Amen.

Loving Hymns Doesn't Make You Smarter

I have a new post up at the UCC's New Sacred blog titled Loving Hymns Doesn't Make You Smarter:

A cross-fitter, a vegan, and a person who doesn’t like contemporary worship walk into a bar. I know because they told everyone within two minutes.

I’d say that on average, every two or three weeks I see a new post making the rounds on social media decrying nontraditional worship as too emotional, too consumeristic, too theologically vapid. This is in contrast, of course, with the intellectually superior, mind-engaging, definitely-isn’t-just-based-on-my-own-preferences hymns of traditional worship.
Read the rest at New Sacred.

Second Week of Advent: Scent

Previously: Weeds

When I began seminary, I bought a pine forest-scented candle for my apartment. That summer I had discovered how watching a burning flame had the power to quiet my soul and help center my attention on my own thoughts. Candles have aided thousands of people over the centuries in doing this, and with my studies just beginning I wanted to remind myself of what I was pursuing; that it wasn't just a degree but something deeper.

I often lit this candle late at night, during what I intended to be a time of renewal at the end of the day. Yet that first semester featured a much more difficult adjustment than I expected, so those evening sessions usually came with questions of identity and feelings of longing that often pushed me past a reasonable bedtime. The flame was my life raft in a sea of self-doubt, the scent an added bonus that I didn't intend.

This candle has made every move with me since. The wick has been burned far too low and drowned too often in wax for it…

Small Sips Considers Life Offline

Note. It may be that a certain percentage of regular readers are wondering why I haven't written a post related to last month's presidential election, the aftermath, the implications, the future, how it relates to faith, etc., etc., etc.

I have several reasons for this, the chief of which has to do with there being such a large swath of such reactions already written and shared that I don't know how I could write one that would stand out from them in any meaningful way.

Yes, I have disagreements and concerns and worries and fears about the next administration. But I haven't yet come up with something original that wouldn't be more than adding to the noise. So instead I'm devoting most of this month's Small Sips to a handful of pieces I've found the most interesting in light of those election results.

It works differently for everyone. Elsa Anders Cook reflects on the many calls to get over political grief quickly in order to get to work on activism and…

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