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The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series
The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series
by Nora Gallagher
Edition: Paperback
75 used & new from $2.51

3.0 out of 5 stars The Sacred Meal has a surprising Anabaptist ring to it, January 15, 2013
When asked by series editor Phyllis Tickle to write this volume on communion, Nora Gallagher did not know that communion was considered a "practice," but not having been successful at other religious practices, the idea intrigued her. "A practice," she comes to say, "is not about finding exactly the right set of rules that will make you "good," but is instead meant to establish a habit of connection to a world that is both tenuous and surprising, outside of time and in it."

Sacred Meal set me to studying the theological differences between Episcopalian (the tradition from within which Gallagher writes) and Catholic understandings of the Eucharist, something which I had not engaged in prior. What piqued my curiosity was that some of the ideas expressed by Gallagher seemed to resonate with Anabaptist understandings of the Lord's Supper.

The Episcopal (Anglican) and Catholic churches hold much in common in their beliefs about communion; enough so that a dually-representative body was able in 1971 to draft an agreed statement on eucharistic doctrine. One big difference, put very simplistically, is that when it comes to understanding the metaphysics of how ordinary bread and wine come to be Christ's real presence when consecrated, Episcopalians would just as soon embrace holy mystery as suss out the doctrinal details.

Among Episcopalians there are held both the belief in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist (and so it bears salvific qualities) and the conviction that, in remembering, the people are unified as the Body of Christ truly present. It is the latter notion-that of human interrelatedness and connectedness around the sacred meal-that has an Anabaptist ring to it and upon which Gallagher dwells.

In the high church traditions the link between the Eucharist and salvation can naturally bring to bear overmuch emphasis on the individual. Jesus, asserts Gallagher, wanted his disciples and everyone after to summon in each remembering the vision of what they had together. As much as Jesus wanted them to know his body was given for them, he wanting them in communing to hear as well, "This is my body. Look around you."

The spiritual malaise which overtakes church-going Christians is nothing close to what Jesus meant the life of his followers to be like. The table of Christ was and is the base of Kingdom-culture that stands in counterpoint to empire and oppression. Thinking about Jesus without acknowledging his ministry's location in place and time, Gallagher admonishes, is like trying to understand Martin Luther King, Jr. without grasping the impact of slavery, reconstruction and segregation on African-Americans. "The regular practice of communion," she says, "is meant to help move us from being the citizens of the empire to citizens of Heaven."

Insomuch as Gallagher orbits around the same concern as Anabaptists, in this regard, she levies a critique at Christian traditions which tie communion-participation to having been baptized, and as an occasion for rule-setting and boundary-making: "you can get to the point where taking communion boils down to making sure a soul is freshly laundered and squeaky-clean before its body can take the bread and wine into its mouth." As a pastor in a believers baptism tradition, I continue to wrestle with this very challenge.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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."

The Power of All: Building a Multivoiced Church
The Power of All: Building a Multivoiced Church
by Sian Murray Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Right description, wrong prescription?, November 26, 2012
A common assumption is that `free church' and `high church' are opposite ends of the ecclesiology ("churchology") spectrum; two incompatible ways of understanding the nature, constitution, and functions of the church. Reformation and renewal movements are often set on a trajectory by which they mean to supplant the prior understanding of church if it is possible. The conundrum associated with these movements is their eventual end, seeming either to become completely disordered or so highly ordered as to have become the very church they hoped to replace.

Sian and Stuart Murray Williams, co-authors, return to this conundrum numerous times in their primer on alternative ecclesiology The Power of All: Building a Multivoiced Church (Herald Press, 2012). The Wiliamses, both English Baptists, define multivoiced church (vis-à-vis monovoiced) "as an alternative to the dominant tradition in which large numbers of the Christian community are passive consumers instead of active participants"; emphasizing broad versus narrow leadership and involvement.

The Power of All is a springboard for thinking about the best life of the church. Biblical and historical precedents are provided and implications of multivoiced ecclesiology are laid out in four categories:

1) Multivoiced worship values the narrative voices of many believers over a single narrative from few.
2) Multivoiced learning preferences practice over presentation.
3) Multivoiced community prizes mutual accountability and mutual support over superficial or institutional connectedness.
4) Multivoiced discernment has the whole community seeking the mind of Christ together as opposed to decision-making by a small body.

True to its subject matter the format is conversational and multivoiced; interspersed with congregational stories and the authors' own wrestlings. It proved a stumbling block for me, though, to have the conundrum of uncertain ends rear its head so often. It began to feel for me like a rhythm of here's-the-good-news, now-the-bad-news. The text of the back cover summary throws it right out there: "Whenever renewal occurs, everyone in the church is drawn into involvement in the church's mission. But within a generation or two, vitality wanes and ministry is left to religious specialists."

I wanted to put the book down, but I pushed through. I'm glad I did. In the last chapter, which would have made a better first chapter, the authors provide a solid and concise case for implementing multivoiced practices:

" participants in healthy multivoiced churches are much more likely to be confident in sharing their faith with others, ready to engage in social action, hospitable to their neighbors, alert to pastoral opportunities beyond the church, and able to participate in gracious dialogue with people of other faiths or none. The skills we learn in multivoiced churches are transferable to other spheres of life. The responsibility of being active participants, rather than passive consumers, will stand us in good stead as we interact with others in different contexts..." (p 170)

I began to think that perhaps this was a case of right description, but wrong prescription. Let us set aside for a moment what seems to be the assumption of this book: that free church (which seems equated with "multivoiced") and high church (which seems equated with "monovoiced") oppose each other on an ecclesiology spectrum. Then let us ponder the consequences of saying instead that neither one is meant to be an end unto themselves, but both exert a positive influence to pull the church to its most fruitful middle.

Philosopher and historian George Frederick Hegel conceptualized this interplay as a dialectic. Hegel believed that a cycle begins when the contradictions inherent within an existing element (or thesis) create the direct opposite of that element (its antithesis). In the conflict between the two emerges a new element (or synthesis) with its own inherent contradictions and the cycle begins again. Each cycle is forward-moving, not circular, but spiral; advancing further than the prior thesis.

Identifying multivoiced churches as "an alternative to the dominant tradition" muddies the water. Anxiety about the short-lived nature of renewal movements can be alleviated if `corrective' or a synonym thereof is exchanged for `alternative'. If an ideal of being multivoiced can be understood to function more like an immune system for the church, as opposed to something akin to a regime change, then its fruit can bear out in all manner of congregations.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher, Herald Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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."

Laughter Is Sacred Space: The Not-so-Typical Journey of a Mennonite Actor
Laughter Is Sacred Space: The Not-so-Typical Journey of a Mennonite Actor
by Ted Swartz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.38
55 used & new from $4.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What happened when two rare birds met, October 17, 2012
Writer and performer Ted Swartz is a rare bird. Misidentified initially as a Congregational Theologian (Theologus ecclesiaticus), it was some time before Ted was correctly identified as a separate, but related species, the Dramatic Theologian (Theologus scaenicus). The two species share many of the same traits, but their presentation can be markedly different. It took years of carefully discerning and testing Ted's call in multiple environs to make the accurate determination. Native to a very small field, that of didactic drama, it was thought perhaps that Ted was the only one of his kind. Providence, though, had something up its sleeve. Laughter Is Sacred Space: The Not-So-Typical Journey of a Mennonite Actor (Herald Press, 2012) by Ted Swartz is the story of what happened when two rare birds met.

The serendipitous pairing of Ted with longtime artistic partner and creative soulmate Lee Eshleman, birthed a dramatic enterprise which brought fresh perspectives on scripture to audiences of all ages. I was fortunate to see them perform on several occasions. The most memorable Ted and Lee performance for me was the time I saw them at the Blue Gate Restaurant in Shipshewana, IN. This was before the Blue Gate had built their theater and so the performance was relegated to a basement banquet room. It was about the least ideal performance space one could offer: a long, rectangular room with support posts scattered throughout-in which the stage platform was positioned at one end-that had an eight foot drop-ceiling and the acoustics of a church basement. Now Lee, of imposing height, found himself with a particular challenge. Eight feet of airspace minus six-feet-plus of Lee minus one foot of platform height left Lee with less than a foot of head clearance-and the skits involved jumping. Ted and Lee owned the space; their chemistry as actors and their brotherly ease made the basement setting melt away and we the audience were drawn into the scene-space in which their characters lived. When Lee had to jump, he avoiding the ceiling by managing to both lift himself in the air and compress his torso in a style worthy of the best of vaudeville. These two holy fools consistently got people to let their guard down; breaking the hardpan of our imaginations so that seed might take root.

Laughter is not a Mennonite churchman memoir like those from the days of yore. The image of a cigar-chomping, in-character Ted on the dust jacket should warn the presumptuous righteous like the proclamation on old maps which denoted uncharted territory with "Here Be Dragons!"

Ted's vulnerable account of his own grief work after Lee's untimely death is a gift to those of us in the sea of audience faces into whose hearts the gents snuck and for whom the loss of Lee was something substantially more than a passing soundbite.

I expected Laughter Is Sacred Space to be a good memoir. I did not expect it to be a primer on the philosophy of stagecraft. Nor did I expect it to be a pastoral epistle about religious vocational calling. Likewise, I did not expect it to be a guidebook for accompanying a friend with mental illness. Indicative of the dramatic artistry of the man himself, Ted's book manages to be all of these things at once; winsome and never contrived.

Laughter reads like a Director's Cut edition of the life of Ted Swartz complete with asides in footnotes. Flipping through this book at a glance, one might think the typesetter was asleep at the wheel, but in fact the formatting is very intentional. Don't skip the Guide to the Layout of the Book which comes after the Foreword written by Brian McLaren.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher, Herald Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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."

How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time
How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time
by Nina Amir
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.47
62 used & new from $1.26

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I bought a blog printed as a book to teach me how to write my book as a blog, September 24, 2012
I peruse the Writing section at bookstores with salt in-hand so that I have ready-access to grains with which to take the endless compendiums of writing exercises and approaches. I, till recently, had not found a method which suited me. To confess, Nina Amir's book How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time seemed so much snake oil by its title, nestled there among the get-writing-quick schemes. But, I thought, there's some freshness with the blog-to-book angle so I gave it a try.

Amir's manual may just be the approach I was looking for. As a writer with ADHD, the conventional advice has never taken with me mostly because of the analog organization required: keep notebooks, write a journal, save articles, use index cards, try sticky notes. Frequently, I would misplace the very books instructing me to organize my writing.

The basic concepts of How to Blog a Book are not novel (ha, ha, writing pun); they are the same ideas from the other books. The difference, and the selling point, is that Amir takes those analog concepts and translates them into the digital era via blogging platforms. The basic premise she offers is that one should break a book outline down into blog posts; each "chapter" being comprised of several posts. The appeal of this for me is that my blog is self-organizing, self-referential and searchable. She recommends, though, writing post content first in a word processing document to save the time of compiling a manuscript copied-post by copied-post.

The first question that came to my mind was, "Will publishing my book content on my blog before publication hurt its chances of being published at all?" How to Blog a Book itself is evidence that it can, in fact, work in one's favor. Amir addresses this concern and several others in this helpful handbook for digitally-native writers.
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What Will Happen to Me: Every Night, Approximately Three Million Children Go To Bed With A Parent In Pri
What Will Happen to Me: Every Night, Approximately Three Million Children Go To Bed With A Parent In Pri
by Howard Zehr
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.00
74 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Restorative Justice: Children of Prisoners, April 14, 2011
Howard Zehr does not take flat pictures. Zehr has figured out a kind of photographic alchemy that manages to capture the human spirit not in a static way, but with a dynamism that evokes empathy and a hunger to hear the rest of the story.

Zehr, a writer, photographer and professor at Eastern Mennonite University`s Center for Justice & Peacebuilding (CJP), is considered to be "the grandfather of restorative justice," pioneering in the nascent field in the late 1970s. CJP frames restorative justice this way:

"Restorative Justice focuses on repairing the harm caused by and revealed by crime or wrongdoing. It seeks to involve those who have a stake in a specific offense (the victim, offender, family members, community, or others) to identify and address the harms, needs, and obligations of those involved in order to heal and put things as right as possible."

Zehr, along with Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, has produced yet another work that marries photojournalism and Christian peacemaking to tell the stories of those affected by crime and imprisonment in the United States. In this volume,What Will Happen to Me?, Zehr's third book of portraits, the stories are those of children of incarcerated parents, like teenage Cassandra who shares, "Sometimes when I'm alone, I sit there and look up and close my eyes and think, `If he were here, what would happen?' I would have had my full life. It's just half now."

As a foster parent and pastor, I have seen first-hand how the lives of children are continually affected by the incarceration of a parent; their lives must go on, but in many ways share the shackles of their parents. I commend the contemplative photography of Howard Zehr to you as an entry into the world of the least of these, of whom such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Take inspiration from the hope and longing in the eyes of these children and be spurred on by the authors' conviction that the right kind of support and resources can prevent these children from falling through the cracks and can break the stranglehold of multigenerational crime.

Other Howard Zehr books I recommend:
The Little Book of Restorative Justice (The Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding)
Transcending: Reflections Of Crime Victims
Doing Life
The Little Book Of Contemplative Photography (Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding)

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
by Lynn Vincent
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.43
1812 used & new from $0.01

1,498 of 1,770 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sweet story, but not a resource for theological discernment, March 7, 2011
It's a terrible thing to be young and jaded. I confess that, despite my belief that there is a real and dynamic spiritual world interwoven with material reality, I approached Heaven Is For Real with a high degree of skepticism. I have a hard time getting past the logical-critical methods which have been drilled into me through the course of my education. Part of me, I suppose, deeply longs for quantifiable evidence of the spiritual. My jadedness comes from poring over scads of accounts of afterlife experiences and finding so many times that they come coated in a greasy film of sensationalism and self-promotion. Heaven Is For Real might just be the real thing.

Todd Burpo, co-author, husband and father, is a small-town minister and serves as the narrator. Todd went through a trying season of personal injury and illness, taking on large medical debts, which culminated in a life-or-death struggle for Todd's son, Colton. Colton had a bout of what seemed to be, and was misdiagnosed as, the stomach flu, but in actuality Colton's appendix had ruptured and the condition went untreated for five days. Railing against God for this Job-like testing, as Colton was wheeled into the operating room screaming, Todd thought he'd seen his son for the last time.

Against all odds, and through multiple surgeries, Colton miraculously recovered. The caliber of the miracle would not begin to be revealed till months later when Colton revealed to his family that he had been to Heaven. Over the course of time Colton would open up and share details of his experience; offering preternatural knowledge of things about which, his family says, Colton had no prior knowledge. As Todd described it, Colton's revelations came in the sort of call-it-as-you-see-it way of preschoolers who have not yet "learned either tact or guile." From details about Heaven to interactions with family members who passed on prior to Colton's birth, this story is one which invites the reader into contemplation of mystery.

What allows me to take this story seriously is the sense of humility and circumspection present in the narrative. The Burpos tread carefully with Colton letting him tell his story as he was ready. Seven years passed from the first inklings of Colton's experience to the publishing of the book.

The single aspect of Heaven Is For Real that concerned me was when Colton's reporting shifted from descriptive to predictive, recounting visions of a great battle-to-come at the end of time. In these visions, the forces of Heaven are arrayed against the forces of Hell and Christian men wield either swords or bows-and-arrows as part of God's army. Colton reported to his father that he saw him as a participant in that future conflict. What gives me pause is this: the Armageddon visions come much later than the earlier stories shared by Colton and are in a narrative peppered by frequent references to Colton's early and ongoing love for superhero battles played out with sword-wielding action figures.

Don't use this book as a basis for theological discernment about either the afterlife or the end of time. Take this book for what it is: a sweet story of the love of parents for their child, the care of Christians for each other in times of crisis, and the surprising mystery of the grace of God.
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