Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Porch Stories :: January 2018

desert spirit's fire riverside January

porch stories 31 January

Today's the last day of the first calendar month of the new year 2018! Kristin Hill Taylor features a guest porch story from Lauren Sparks, Waiting for Refreshment. As usual, my last porch story of the month is a mostly activities recap; I'm still seriously discerning, still needing to sort out what has worked in the past few years, what hasn't—and maybe even figure out some reasons for both those outcomes.

The Day of Epiphany

Feast of Epiphany 2018

On the thirteenth day of Christmas every year the church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, and then goes on to number and observe Sundays in the season of Epiphany {for however many there will be that all depends on the date of Easter on a given year}. Epiphany especially reveals Jesus as light for all people and all creation everywhere—not only for ethnic, religious, and geographical people like him! Scripture readings bring us images of light and also a series of call stories that remind us of God's call to everyone to live as light to the world. Since 06 January was a Saturday, the church I attend epiphany feasted on the following day. The traditional manger scene still on display provided an opportunity for several of our middle-eastern folks to carry in statues of the magi and place them near the holy family. Scripture is clear they didn't really visit the Bethlehem manger, but having people of a different religion, another ethnicity, a foreign culture follow the Christ child's star to find him is such good theology, who'd not want to claim that vision?

Martin Luther King, Jr., Renewer of Society

Martin Luther King, Jr. program cover

On the afternoon of 14 January, I attended a festive commemoration and celebration of the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr.; the liturgical calendar calls him a "renewer of society." I've included only a picture of the program cover since my photos weren't the best. Sermon title was "What Would MLK Do?" The preacher assured us MLK would have asked, "What Would Jesus Do," because Jesus is our ultimate model and guide.

By the LA Riverside

graffiti by the river Marsh Skate Park
WWD venue Los Angeles River Sign World Water Day venue

In preparation for United Nations World Water Day on 22 March {exactly one month before Earth Day}, our monthly meeting Green Faith Team gathered alongside the LA River to continue planning our third annual WWD event. I got a lot of excellent pictures; I've blogged a sample of graffiti on the way to the park; signage for the skateboard park that came to life later in the day when a bunch of kids came by to enjoy it; two tall pics of the pavilion where we'll meet; and one of many Los Angeles River-related signs. "Our River." We enjoyed a fabulous opening devotional about John Muir and an excellent picnic lunch prepared by one of our team (committee) members. I've used one of my pictures for the January banner on this post.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Meg Salter :: Mind Your Life

Mind Your LIfe book coverBy Meg Salter, Mind Your Life: How Mindfulness Can Build Resilience and Reveal Your Extraordinary on Amazon

For over a dozen years I've been practicing mindfulness meditation on and off and on again. Since relocating to Current City over two years ago, I've practiced more regularly and intentionally because I serendipitously discovered a weekly meditation group. As one of our regular facilitators describes it, mindfulness is "showing up for your own life!" Given my interest, I was more than pleased to acquire Meg Salter's new and fairly comprehensive guidebook that explains some of the history, details varied mindfulness practices, and includes vignettes of regular people whose lives have benefited from practicing mindfulness. You notice I said "practice"—although disciplines such as sports and music include both preliminary practice and an actual exhibition or performance, others – such as prayer and meditation – always are in process and being practiced rather than finished. Mindfulness entails greater awareness of all of a person's emotions, body, and mind in a way that makes the entire person wholly present in that moment rather than lost in a past that's over or lost in a future that hasn't yet arrived.

Besides her engaging explanations of various aspects of mindfulness, Salter suggests actual exercises a person can try out. She assures us achieving more awareness and less anxiety doesn't happen instantly, and she makes achieving moment to moment mindfulness seem entirely possible. One of my facilitators mentioned how some elementary schools now offer mindfulness to the kids—what a great idea!

Page 190 summarizes Mind Your Life: "Congratulations! If you've made it this far, you have all the tools you need to develop your own sustainable mindfulness practice."

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from The Speakeasy with no requirement to write a positive review. As always everywhere, opinions are my own.

my amazon review: excellent resource

Friday, January 12, 2018

Together: Community as a Means of Grace :: Larry Duggins

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from The Speakeasy in exchange for an unbiased review. As always everywhere, my opinions are my very own.

Larry Duggins, Together: Community as a Means of Grace on Amazon.

Larry Duggins, Together book coverAuthor Larry Duggins is co-founder and Executive Director of the Missional Wisdom Foundation. Missional wisdom?! Missio / mittere = send. In the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, God sends all of us out into the world to proclaim the gospeled good news. Wisdom = knowledge, discernment, insight. Everyone may be sent, but is everyone wise?

In the church we affirm God's grace frequently comes to us through tangible, earthbound, physical "means" rather than nebulous, free-floating spiritual currents. In the Reformation traditions we refer to (Preaching (and reading) of the) Word and Sacraments as ordinary means of grace. The Westminster Catechism describes sacraments as "sensible," or accessible via our five physical senses. Duggins writes Together from a Wesleyan perspective that distinguishes instituted and prudential means of grace. Instituted would refer to the dominical sacraments or ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper we celebrate because Jesus commanded or instituted them them; in addition, they employ stuff of creation, and are available to all people. John Wesley being the well-ordered, methodical guy he was, thought through and more-or-less codified many aspects of life you might call sacramental if not technically a sacrament—not far at all from Martin Luther's insistence we find God hidden yet apparent in, with, and under the commonest, most mundane activities and things that became a means or a vehicle of grace. From page 22: " means of grace includes activities and actions that lead to interactions with God's grace that are not directly attributable to examples from the life of Jesus." In the church we confess grace came to earth in a unique way through God's embodiment or incarnation in the human Jesus of Nazareth. By definition, Christianity is incarnational, celebrating God's presence on earth, in a body, in Jesus of Nazareth and also in the church he founded that bears his name.

Together leads to community that leads to God's presence and action in unique ways that otherwise would not happen. Community: "a group of people gathered together under some unifying principle or for some particular purpose" (page 28). The book's basic premise is look around, use your imagination and you'll discover ways grace, hope, and life are making inroads into previously unhappy and unpromising settings. Use your imagination! Your church, school, or other organization may be able to renovate and restore an unused room or space that in its turn and time will help restore and renovate lives. But as important as a place to meet can be, it's not only about physical locations. It's about wisely perceiving the needs to receive and needs to contribute of people in your midst. You get the idea! Together the book is packed with real-life ideas and examples the author knows have worked. It's short and not theologically overwhelming, so it even could help a church outsider realize how down to earth and real-world Christians and Christianity can be.

I often explain sacraments as models that help us recognize God's everyday activity in everyday lives and events. In the power of the Spirit of Pentecost, ideas in Larry Duggins' small book can help all of us – wise or not – become a part of community whose everyday, ordinary body together becomes holy in the world, for the world. That's incarnation! That's God with us!

My Amazon Review: Ordinary Holiness Everywhere

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Porch Stories :: Living Rescued

porch stories 10 January Living Rescued

Porch Story time! Our host Kristin Hill Taylor brings us Five Practical Ways to Live Rescued. Her ideas include: Show myself grace; Make time for rest; Invite others in; Say "yes" when I want to and "no" when I need to; Recognize {your own and others} strengths and weaknesses.

This living rescued concept aligns well with my Freedom word for 2018. On Kristin's Porch Stories FB page I explained, "Last Sunday I did StarWords / word for your year with my adult SS students. When they asked about my word, I told them freedom for me is a gift of grace {without cost to me, not a transaction} from Jesus; the commandments describe the limits and boundaries of freedom in Christ, so I'm not talking about license to behave any way I want."

Here's a trio of my own ways better to live rescued:

1. Don't sweat the small stuff.

Specifically—like many people, my spending habits tend to be penny wise, pound {USD} foolish. I can become very unhappy when I discover an item I paid $1.19 for at Bargain Center {more convenient for me at that time} is only $1.00 at Dollar Tree {of course}. Either one's inexpensive, and isn't saving time usually saving money? On the other hand, why do I think I need a fourth or fifth plain white classic long-sleeved cotton shirt? On sale, of course, but there goes $20 I didn't need to spend because I didn't truly need what I bought with it. Rescued by having more $$$ to spend on good food and to stash away as a deposit on the healthy affordable housing I know will happen.

2. Sleep more if and when necessary.

If it's not an obligatory early morning and I'm drowsy, why not stay in bed another 30 minutes?! That's the best way to be rescued from early afternoon brain fog and bodily weariness. At the other end of the day, there's usually no reason not to turn in early if I've slowed way down and accomplished only ten minutes' worth in the past hour.

3. Don't even imagine trying to balance how much anyone contributes or takes—anytime, anywhere.

God has rescued us from trudging through every day with a works-righteousness mindset; claim that freedom and enjoy life first as grace-filled gift and not an economic transaction. Make freedom and joy a way of life!

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Friday, January 05, 2018

Books :: 2017

books of 2017

You can friend me and my books on goodreads and follow me on Amazon.

Here are my twenty-three books for 2017 with links to my amazon reviews; I've finished four more that will start my review series for 2018.

Return to Paradise: The Coming Home Series — Book 3 – Barbara Cameron

Holding Up Your Corner: Talking about Race in Your Community – F. Willis Johnson

My Very Own Space – Pippa Goodhart

Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving – Barbara Mahany

The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict – Jeff DeGraff

Once You Know This – Emily Blejwas

Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud – Katie Harnett

The Crooked Christmas Tree: The Beautiful Meaning of Jesus' Birth – Damian Chandler

The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times – James L. Kugel

Peace in the Process: How Adoption Built My Faith & My Family – Kristin Hill Taylor

Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart – Rose Pacatte, FSP

Paris for Two – Phoebe Stone

Garbage Night – Jen Lee

Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth: Spiritual Conversations Inspired by the Life and Lyrics of Rich Mullins – Andrew Greer & Randy Cox

Sled Dog School – Terry Lynn Johnson

Lily's Mountain – Hannah Moderow

All Three Stooges – Erica S. Perl

A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Hopeful, and Authentic Spiritual Community – John Pavlovitz

A World Ablaze: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation – Craig Harline

Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph – Adam Hamilton

Living For Another: More of Others, Less of You – Brent Gambrell

Being Brave: A 40-Day Journey to the Life God Dreams for You – Kelly Johnson

Walking with Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life – Eric O'Grey

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Porch Stories :: A New Calendar Year!

porch stories 20 December broken and sanctified

First Porch Story of this new year 2018 for everyone! Freedom is my word for 2018; two weeks ago, again my blog wasn't ready in time for the linkup, so I claimed Kristin's advice from a previous time–write more and link up in the future. Moving away from my tendency to plan everything and instead letting myself be surprised sounds like an excellent beginning to this blogging year, a very good initial tryout for a year focused on freedom.

Late last year, Kristin told us I'm nearly sanctified; I'm nearly broken, with a narrative about her experiences with "first-ever counseling" and the value of having someone else affirm what she basically already knew. I've discovered many times I don't need to re-hash all that stuff from the long-ago past one more time or ten more times, but I seriously need another human to admit it was terrible, disappointing, discouraging, freeing, or however it happened to affect me.

I'm nearly sanctified, I'm nearly broken, I'm down the river, I'm nearly open, I'm down the river, to where I'm going comes from Needtobreathe's "More Heart, Less Attack," that's been Kristin's soundtrack for the last few years.

This week? Kristin talks about Living Rescued {by grace}.

God calls us to be broken {not whole}; God calls us to be sanctified {made holy or whole}.

Moving Godward toward sanctification in the grace-filled power of the Spirit of holiness is a major rescue from typical human over-attachment to institutions, styles, habits, and idolatries that surround us. After God led the people out of slavery to Egypt's imperial powers and into that rich agricultural land of promise, Israel had to learn to thrive in obedience to God's commandments {Walter Brueggemann styles the commandments "the working papers for life in covenantal community"}, yet surrounded by constant temptations to be like and act like everyone else. It was about learning to live in community rather than in isolation, in the kind of commonality and common-wealth that would provide support and fill each other's needs on almost every level.

Historically, the church building – the physical church structure – was a place of refuge, a place of sanctuary; you even could call it a place of rescue! Although the church's designated gathering place is almost accidental and incidental, it still serves as a location where God's people can be fed and strengthened by Word and Sacrament, where they can practice loving, merciful, compassion and kindness to one another. During worship and during other activities, we can try out breaking ourselves open in trust to each other—taking time to listen, telling parts of our story we find scary to reveal but we know well might reveal similarities with others and help them; staying a little later against our own druthers because the kitchen needs cleaning again. You can't fill a closed bottle or box or other container—to put anything into it, you need to open it up: break it open! At least a little! Same with our own lives. Risking to break open our carefully planned schedules, to re-open our tender/stubborn hearts; simply considering a different perspective... about anything. Getting rescued from the most insular, frightened parts of ourselves, experiencing the relief of being rescued by grace. Living as God's people still is about learning to live in community rather than in isolation, in the kind of commonality that provides support and fills each other's needs on almost every level.

As people of the Good Book we affirm wherever God meets the people is holy, sacred ground—sanctuary. In biblical – in covenantal – terms, God indwelling the people, God's encounters with all creation sanctifies life. That means a dedicated church structure isn't technically any more {sacred, holy} sanctuary than any other spot on planet earth, yet we can use what we receive, learn, and practice there as starting point and model for interactions elsewhere throughout the week.

With freedom! my word for this new year 2018, I expect to spend the next twelve months breaking myself open, emptying out tendencies to become too attached to styles, habits, and literal idolatries around me. Possibly twenty-first century empires of Monsanto and Bayer and Nestle aren't our greatest danger; maybe consumerism and individualism are greater concerns?

Freedom is my word for 2018. In freedom I hope to let myself be filled with the good stuff God and the people of God are waiting to provide—moving Godward beyond basically surviving to fully thriving. So what? Then what? In the paradoxical gentle power of the Holy Spirit of life, then I can be and act as a sanctuary, a place of refuge and rescue, a grace-filled holy place for people in need. A place and a person of sanctuary to help rescue, fill, and heal a broken creation, too. Me? Yes! And all of you, too!

God calls us to be broken {not whole}; God calls us to be sanctified {made holy or whole}. By grace we've started down that baptismal river to where we're going {to where God is leading us but probably won't show us this is the place until we actually reach that place}; in freedom and trust, let's live out God's baptismal call–nearly sanctified and nearly broken! Amen? Amen!

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