Thursday, December 31, 2015

What I Learned in 2015

what I learned in 2015

Every twelve months the Church cycles through a year of grace that begins with the first Sunday of Advent, concludes with Reign of Christ. Typically I enjoy starting again with the September school year, on my birthday, on January 1, or on Advent I; I'm being a bit random here and beginning this with Christmas Eve 2014. Most of these are reminders rather than fresh new learnings, but how better to trust the future reign of grace than by recapitulating past gracious events? The gospel in a single word? Remember!

I'm linking my December What I Learned and this one to Emily P Freeman's What We Learned in 2015.

Christmas Eve 2014 at Church On the Hill back in Previous City:

Christmas Eve 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

Christmas Eve chancel 2014

Blog Pal Marci bestowed Grace as my word of the year:

grace year

Thursday dinners and bible studies continued at Church Around the Corner. Despite the peeps I'd expected to return to after my August 2014 week-long visit to what's now Current City and the church where I'd been twice-monthly musician for a few years both ghosting me out of their existence, the reception senior pastor and everyone else at CAC continued to offer helped energize me to pick myself up and relocate north a few miles. I also basked in getting to lead bible study when senior pastor wasn't there!

social hall windows

Celebrating The Three Days / Triduum with Church Around the Corner:

easter chancel

font and lilies

After I'd essentially decided to move to Current City on my own anyway, I donated to and participated in the Previous City Survivors of Suicide Loss 5K for CR. There is something all of us can do about suicide.

SOSL 5k 2015

Did I mention relocating, "anyway?" That I did! I picked myself up and moved to Westwood after getting inspired to advertise for housing at slightly higher rent than I could afford long-term:

UCLA west campus UCLA west campus

dead sea scrolls

My search for "churches near UCLA" resulted in a real winner! I even got to design save the date, invitations, and a poster for their 75th anniversary! Sample scenes from Westwood & Wilshire:

westwood & wilshire wilshire & westwood
27 september 27 september 27 september

At any point from mid-July on I could list Thursday noon Mindfulness Meditation at the Armand Hammer Museum; besides, the atrium's a fabulous place for my writing, thinking, drawing, and practicing plain being.

atrium at hammer museum at an angle atrium at the hammer museum straight one

After a couple months in Westwood, my current abode dropped out of the sky—or maybe it "fell out of the sky?"

hello koreatown!

Although I expect to leave soon, this section of the city has been specially good for reading and writing and thinking at any burger-taco place or the coffee shop, and I always enjoy telling everyone about "reading in the subway." This city has a municipal subway, but (of course) I mean the sandwich shop.

subway sandwich shop jack in the box

Burger King on Vermont McDonald's window facing Vermont

I discovered Ice Blended drinks in Previous City, and enjoy at least one each week here in Current City.

coffee bean and tea leaf

I already mentioned the teaching opps I got at Church Around the Corner energizing and encouraging me, and I also got to facilitate [Sunday mornings this time] lectionary bible study at Church In West LA. I don't need to mention how much I enjoy teaching bible, art, design, theology, music, almost anything as a new learning, but it never fails to make me feel useful, helpful, and as if my education, gifts, and skills are worth something again.

From mid-September on, I've savored Taco Lady's almost nightly offerings of $2 tacos, as she sets up illegal shop on the corner of this street. I typically go with onions, cilantro, lime, cabbage, radishes, pico de gallo, and guacamole—the spicy shredded onions bit me too hard one time too many! Another of her customers told me he thought they were habanero peppers, but I'd guess the milder but still ultra-spicy serrano, since I sort of could tolerate them some. Also food related, I helped with Thanksgiving Eve prep followed by T'Day dinner at Church in West LA.

Loving Retail Therapy as I always have was no new learning, but how fun to visit the swap meet and get a couple hours of major therapy at such low cost.

At some point during the half-dozen months I've been in Current City, I fully realized Previous City truly is a "type" of small town, border town, that would not offer what I wanted and needed. Relocating to Current City being an excellent move includes the local American Guild of Organists chapter being more open, welcoming, and less threatened than the one in Previous City. Lots of interesting events with the AIGA design organization, as well. Majorly learned!

what I learned in 2015 Emily Freeman

What I Learned in December

December manger scene

Emily P Freeman hosts a monthly What I Learned in the month just past linkup. For this month she offers The Whole Entire Year 2015 that I'm also doing, but first, some learnings and some highlights from December 2015.

As FS in Previous City told me, this American Guild of Organists chapter really is far better, much cooler, more welcoming than the one in previous city! At the AGO gathering earlier this month we had a (free food!) yummy turkey dinner followed by a silent movie accompanied by a guy from the Theatre Organ Society. I'm excitedly anticipating Vespers and Dinner in January—what an important learning, an important trusting, too!

We celebrate Nativity as the ultimate Festival of Creation, and how fun to be able to enjoy so many fruits of the earth even though the winter solstice happened on December 21. I've learned it's okay to eat more, a lot more, than I really need when the bounty is there. Late Christmas eve afternoon dinner with a couple of housemates:

Sizzler on Vermont

Christmas carols, bilingual proclamation, lots of post-liturgy goodies and treats at the big ole church not far from here:

John August Swanson, Festival of Lights

During Lent 2010 in yet another unfilled attempt to connect with people with backgrounds and interests similar to mine and find ways to participate in Previous City, I met John August Swanson at the Prophetic Imagination Conference. The Christmas Eve worship bulletin cover featured his Festival of Lights; I was delighted to have permission via email to post his painting.

Continuing the culinary bounty, several of us provided Good Eats for everyone in the house for Christmas Day.

Music, art, gifts, food, banners, nativity sets, for Christmas needs to be traditional. I think I already knew that... a few years ago when Textweek featured my Advent-Christmas bulletin cover designs, they were very traditional rather than my more creative, edgy art. Church in West LA had a series of banners in the chancel for each Sunday of Advent and then one for Christmas.

Christmas chancel banner

Rejoice in Love...

Love the Joy...

Be the Joy...

Live the Love...


what I learned in 2015 Emily Freeman

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

books 2015

Our Five Minute Friday host Kate Motaung has an end of year linkup where we can list our fave books of the past twelve months and especially get inspired by lots of other people's favorites!

Are you on goodreads? Here's My Year in Books on goodreads.

For this linkup I've collected eleven of the best books I read this past year along with excerpts of my blogs, most of which are very similar to my amazon reviews. Each paragraph title in larger typeface links to my original post; you'll notice a few of these are from my urban blog, Preservation Project.

Prodigal Father, Wayward Son

prodigal father, wayward son cover For many reasons I had to read Prodigal Father/Wayward Son: A Roadmap to Reconciliation. John Bradshaw observed, "This universal and archetypal [conflict] is the inheritance of us all." We've all got parent stuff, there are countless unknown to us events and factors in their histories; just as no one instinctively knows how to make a marriage or any other relationship work out well, no one truly knows how to parent, even if they already have several kids.

Even if someone's credentials aren't as strong as theirs, Sam's and Gifford's experience models "what might be possible" between any family members at almost any stage, and between friends who might have become estranged. Look through the panoramas of your own relationships, and like the Keens, you well may note how small, fleeting events or incidents have assumed gigantically symbolic proportions in your overview of your lives together and apart from each other.

my amazon review: a keeper and a loaner

Coal Wars

By Richard Martin, Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet

coal wars coverWith a journalist's passion for accuracy, a lover's ardor for the earth, Richard Martin has written a book I needed to read. My late grandfather was a Pennsylvania coal miner, and despite my own currents being worlds removed from that one, I try to stay current on the industry. From page 7: "This is ... Crafted as a series of journeys..." The author then explains war metaphors typically are overstatements and "detract from the horrors of real war," but clearly he considers the global situation regarding coal an exception, and a horror unto itself. The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet also acknowledges coal has fueled countless true global advances over the centuries.

Wars are about empire, land, violence, lots of losers, immeasurable loss that often can't be reclaimed, and sometimes even a distinctive true winner. We've been hearing a lot about environmental stewardship and about climate change. Coal reserves are not sustainable at the current level of extraction, and this fragile planet will not survive the death-dealing excesses of Big Coal and Big Consumption.

my amazon review: for the life of planet earth

Complete Childreb's Cookbook

Complete Children's Cookbook by DK on Amazon

sunflower loaves

tomato soup

mint chocolate pots

Complete Kids' Cookbook cover

You know there's no such thing as a Complete Cookbook – or a complete any kind of book – yet in 304 pages, this attractive, hefty hardbound book provides over 150 not difficult, easy to follow (for almost any age from about third grade on up) recipes for standard North American favourite dishes in nine categories. This cooking book that includes some vegetarian options also is fabulous for time- and imagination-challenged grownups to discover and create something tasty quickly that's not obscure, exotic, pretentious, or requiring impossible to find ingredients. Too bad the gorgeous pics aren't edible!

my amazon review: beautiful and practical

Let's All Be Brave

Let's All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have by Annie F. Downs on Amazon.

let's all be brave cover
Grace is this year's word for my life, and in this book about bravery, Annie reminds us grace has rhythms of start, stop, race, slow down, hesitate. I long to be able to talk about [page 200] my people, my God, my hope, my map. "...your people are waiting and your God is watching with expectancy for you to see where you map is going to take you." In Spanish hope and expect are one and the same word: espero. In essence that means hope already is almost realized whenever you claim "¡espero!" Annie tells us it's about radical hope [page 163] that I'd further describe as deeply planted, solidly-rooted, almost impossible to uproot, throw away, destroy. Radical hope with roots so deep you can't I can't no one can uproot it. I'll take a bow to Annie's Wesleyan heritage and say that's prevenient grace. That's God's ongoing presence and action each of us bravely can dare to trust.

my amazon review: fearlessly and wonderfully written

The Bible: A Pictorial History

The Bible: A Pictorial History. Photography by Erich Lessing; text by the late Hebrew Bible scholar Claus Westermann

bible pictorial history coverThis isn't a huge big "coffee table" style book, but quite lightweight and comfortable to hold. The arrangement of contents is intriguing: it starts out with a 42-page introduction and overview of the Hebrew bible by Claus Westermann, who creates an expert synopsis as only someone who knows a subject in depth can do. A reasonable size serif typeface on heavy off-white paper enhances the book's total attractiveness. Then the photographs begin! All full-color, mostly full page, featuring geography and cultural artifacts―"archaeological treasures of the Bronze and Iron Ages," as the flyleaf tells us. This truly is a magnificent achievement, and if it still were in print, it would make a splendid gift. As a matter of fact, I received my copy as a gift – still in the original shrink-wrap!

my amazon review: magnificent.

The Princess and the Pony

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton on Amazon

princes and the pony cover princess and the pony back

Soft sweaters, not sharp swords, shields, and spears. Let's help create a less scary world, so please, make love, not war! "Cute Overload" is radical understatement to describe this kids' book by Kate Beaton. As a theologian I tend to interpret almost everything through the lenses of scripture and theology, but a friend, parent, or teacher wouldn't need to have a seriously philosophical or theological worldview to read The Princess and the Pony with the kids in their care and point out how softness, gentleness, love, and cozy sweaters lead to better outcomes than the panoply of battles and wars. Of course, you also can read and enjoy this book as a simple story with fabulous illustrations.

my amazon review: softness, not sharpness

Sacramental Politics

Sacramental Politics: Religious Worship as Political Action (Frontiers in Political Communication) by Brian Kaylor on Amazon

Sacramental politics coverSuch an important book, with so many aspects of our lives as Christians to consider! Whenever someone complains about "politics" in the church in a club, or anywhere, I remind them "to be human is to be political." At least that's been the case since humans moved away and grew their affiliation groups larger than Abraham of Ur's nuclear family

Faithfully contextualizing texts that come from a very different culture and that variously are between 4,000 and 2,000 years old always is difficult and dangerous. However, if any congregations, pastors, judicatories or even lone solitary individuals would dare, they need to read and consider this book! Because Sacramental Politics focuses almost exclusively on the USA, they'll discover God never has been a Democrat of any era or any variety, a Republican from any place or space, a Libertarian, a Communist or a member of the Green party, or even a declared Independent. But you know, God still is passionately political!

my amazon review: interesting, uneven, and thought-provoking―also essential, if you dare!

Common English Bible

CEB bible coverLike most Student Bibles, this edition of the Common English Bible translation of the OT and NT scriptures is supposed to be mainly for teens and very young adults, but nothing in the features that include a literary and historical intro to each book, quick facts, wrestlings with, articles by the "diverse group of biblical scholars" would exclude any competent readers of any age, though with a few exceptions, I'd guess about ten years old would be the lower limit. Besides National Geographic-sourced maps at the end that alone almost are worth acquiring the bible, there's even a map index!

Over the past couple decades I've enjoyed discovering and exploring newer translations and versions of the OT and NT scriptures. CEB logoThe Common English BIble has more literary color and style than others I could name, specifically the Contemporary English Version – CEV – and Good News Translation – GNT. I've referenced the CEB quite a few times in my lesson preparation (yay for internet saturation and ascendancy!), but haven't spent sufficient time to give it a more thorough theological assessment, though I imagine and trust it doesn't carry the burden of conservative evangelicalism that the New International Version – NIV – does, especially in its New Testament. To sum it all up, I'm delighted and joy-filled to have this new bible.

my amazon review: ecumenical and resourceful

Out of Babylon

Out of Babylon by Walter Brueggemann on Amazon

out of babylon coverFrom Egypt to Assyria, to literal geographical Babylon, on to Persia and then Rome, the bible witnesses to a series of empires that dominated the daily lives of the people of God; scripture also provides accounts of creative, resourceful, and effective ways people learned to live with and even thrive in spite of foreign hegemony. Although Babylon in the book title serves as a cipher for imperial regimes everywhere, WB also writes extensively about the southern kingdom Judah's actual Babylonian Captivity during the sixth century, at the same time reminding us "Babylon" bears the weight of geographically relocatable interpretations (page 111).

Out of Babylon references Emmylou Harris' song "Doin' time in Babylon." Can we live faithfully surrounded by empire and its deathly apparatus? Is it living faithfully with empire, living faithfully in spite of empire, or another possibility? Our contemporary situation in the USA closely parallels the exiles' in Babylon (faithful in Rome, Spain, Great Britain...) as accretions, outrages, attractions, and demands of empire surround and often seem to overwhelm us. And then there's another reality: God's overwhelming response of grace when humans don't quite measure up to the standards of the commands.

Out of Babylon provides some history and some ideas for ways those of us in the USA churches might learn the texts and live the texts of scripture more completely. In spite of empire is far from one size fits all! The contemporary church in the USA needs to learn diversity of style, response, actual cooperation and accommodation with the forces of empire in order to become more fully gospeled, more completely texted communities. Scripture also provides accounts of creative, resourceful, and effective ways people learned to live with and even flourish in spite of imperial domination.

my Amazon review: Walter Brueggemann on Empire

Devotions on the Hebrew Bible

by Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields, Devotions on the Hebrew Bible: 54 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct

devotions on the hebrew bible coverWith contributions from more than two dozen writers, general editors Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields bring us not quite 200 pages of reflections on the textual possibilities and grammatical construction of at least one pericope from each book of the Hebrew bible (Christian canon count). Some of the writers view the texts specifically through a Christological lens, others don't, so this is not quite Martin Luther discovering Jesus Christ in, with, and under every single sentence of the Hebrew scriptures.

I especially appreciate the emphasis on the grammatical intricacies of the Hebrew that many of us (most, probably) never became proficient enough in the language to discover on our own. For the devotional insights, the scholarship, and the grammar, this one's a keeper for sure.

my amazon review: Hebrew language help; thoughtful devotional resource

Life Lesson from a Bad Quaker

John Brent Bill, Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker: A Humble Stumble Toward Simplicity and Grace on Amazon

Bad Quaker book coverFriend and friend Brent's brand-new book brings us a panorama of a few more or less typical days in the several and varied lives of a Bad Quaker hoping to become better by following Jesus more closely. Not too long, easy to read, fun to read, yet packed with probing questions about Jesus' clear examples and our own lifestyles. Brent encourages us to observe the world around us, assess how we relate to the people in that world, to keep asking "what would Jesus do," cuz as trite as that question sounds by now, in the Spirit of Life God calls us and enables us to be Jesus here and now, to do what Jesus would do, even to say the words Jesus might choose.

Popularized by the majorly successful Godspell, Richard of Chichester's prayer pleads "May I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly." Brent's newest book just may lead you to know, love, and follow Jesus with more simplicity and more grace.

my amazon review: For a Closer Walk with Jesus―really!