Thursday, October 27, 2011

About

I'm a library paraprofessional and occasional theology instructor at a liberal arts college. I teach folks how to do academic research efficiently and throughly, and I teach Christian theology at the college level and in churches. I hold the Master of Applied Theology from the University of Oxford.


Vindicated: The Amazing Blog of Kyle Potter is a resource for learning and teaching Christian theology. Over the course of my writing, I will review and recommend books, research practices, and tools for productivity. I will offer introductions to concepts in the study of theology and Christian discipleship, and occasionally discuss relevant controversies.


Look for me to post 2-3 times each week. Use this link to subscribe via an RSS reader.


Favorite Posts


How to Use the Christian Bible
What is Ash Wednesday?
Reading Scripture in the Church
Why "Liberal" Really is a Dirty Word


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Disclaimer


This is my personal blog. The views and recommendations here do not necessarily represent my church, my employer, or God. Just in case you got stressed out.



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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Why You Should Care About "Ecclesiology"

...even though you aren't a nerd.
Why are there so many different Christian churches? Is there a "right one"?
Ecclesiology (the study of the Church) is my favorite sub-discipline of Christian theology. For me, it's not so much a series of questions about congregational government or who as proper sacraments, or even if I'm in the "right" church, but about exploring what it means to be God's people together, and to learn what it looks like for us to live with God together and participate in his ongoing transformation of real human lives. I'm excited about ecclesiology because of a strong conviction that the way we live together can really hurt or really help us move forward with God.

I also realize that it's a topic attractive to religion "nerds." It has taken me a few years to realize that the question, "Is there a 'one true church'?" is an intrinsically meticulous (read: nerdy) question that doesn't occur to a lot of people. I think it really should occur to people who take their religion seriously, but I suspect many folks just want to be part of a church where they like the people and understand themselves to be helped along in their relationship with God as they understand it.

If you're not a religion nerd, but you are a Christian, here's why you should care: Jesus made a lot of promises to his apostles: to lead them into the fullness of truth, to give them authority and power to help people towards God, and to make of us a battalion that can crash the gates of Hell John 16:13; Matthew 16:13-19). I suggest that the more our individual and corporate lives line up with his purposes - the more faithful we are in our common lives - the more we will benefit from those promises.

Over the next several posts, I'll introduce some of the basic discussions Christians have about what makes a church, as opposed to a group of people hanging out and being religious.

Question: Are you a nerd like me? Did you ever wonder about whether there's a "one, true Church" and if you're part of it? Do you wonder still?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Teaching Undergraduate Theology


“Which theology are you going to teach them?”
“The right one, obviously.”
It’s not obvious to everyone just what “Christian theology” means as an academic discipline. Is it the perspective of a particular church or denomination? Would it be a set of lectures on my own religious idiosyncrasies? Are we going to learn how to re-arrange the Bible into something more thematic and user-friendly?

There are two basic definitions that I share with my students. “Theology” is simply words about God. When we speak of God, we are “doing theology.” When we even talk about how we ought to live, and assume that God exists, we are in some sense speaking theologically. For a Christian, of course, a theologian is “one who prays,” and conversely, one who prays is a theologian (I did not make this up, just to be clear). When we learn Christian theology, then, we study the Christian revelation and draw out connections between different ideas. We consider the set of stories that the Christian revelation tells about God and the world.

The college catalog mandates that the course offer a thematic examination of all the major subtopics in theology. I consider it my job to offer a responsible introduction to the conversations Christians have had about these subtopics over the last 2,000 years. I don’t care what they think about the Bible, for example, but I want them to know what the Catholic Church teaches about the Bible, what some evangelical Protestants understand the doctrine of “Biblical Inerrancy” to mean, and how some different Christian churches articulate their understanding of “Tradition.” The students have a responsibility to make (or even unmake!) faith commitments in the context of their own lives and churches, and it’s my responsibility to help them accept or reject “the real thing,” not popular caricatures of various doctrines. Do Catholics “pray to Mary?” Is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement a kind of “divine child abuse?” Is “ritual” another way of saying “dead formulae”? Do biblical inerrantists worship the Bible? Students are welcome to make any of these judgments for themselves, but I’ll be working to make sure we have a well-rounded conversation, and move past stereotypes.

I am less concerned that my students will know the characters (i.e. theologians) involved in the historical conversations, but that they will grasp the fundamental issues, and have the kind of entry points that liberally educated people should have.

Have you taken a formal theology course? What do you consider to be the biggest “burning issue” that you would like to learn about in a class?

Have you taught anything like this before at a church or a school? What topics proved the most challenging to discuss?



We worked very hard on the syllabus.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thanks!

... to those of you who are visiting from the Mike Allen show. Thanks for listening. I welcome your comments and questions, and I'll spend some time over the next few days writing on some of the things we discussed on the air. I'll also post the link for the download of today's show when it becomes available.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

What is Ash Wednesday?

Here's a quick intro I wrote for the students in my ministry.

Disciples of Jesus observe the Christian calendar as a way of ordering time according to the life and work of Christ. The 40 day period is intentionally evocative of Israel’s 40 years of wandering through the desert wilderness, Moses’ 40 days on Mount Sinai with God, and Jesus’ 40 day fast that marked the beginning of his public ministry. Accordingly, this is a time of greater intentionality in the spiritual life, situated in preparation for Jesus’ execution in the holy city, and his resurrection on the third day. We prepare for Easter’s joy by remembering our own fragile mortality, and engaging practices of repentance and self-denial.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy brings the stark reminder (from the book of Job), “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” We are all made of mud, but we also bear the image and likeness of God. We are also a people who suffer the effects of the Fall: the separation from God and his life that brings death into the world, and inhabits our own hearts.

Our right response to this remembrance is to open ourselves to receive God’s gift of repentance. I commend to you today’s Scripture readings, Joel 2 and Matthew 6, which offer guidance on works of repentance both public and private. We seek to return to God by agreeing with him about the sin in our lives - those attitudes and practices that destroy his life in us, and mire us in bitterness and unforgiveness against others. This is an urgent call for all of us, whether we consider ourselves highly religious, or if we have drifted from the Faith. The good news of God’s forgiveness and healing in and through Jesus Christ is offered to all of us. If you stand in the Faith, let this be a time of spiritual reading and examination of conscience. If you have drifted from the Faith, or fallen into some habitual sin, come back. It’s difficult, but it’s at least simple. Come back. People fall into sin. We say yes to evil in small ways, and these small choices turn into big and habitual choices. There’s freedom in admitting that we’re walking down the wrong road, and then turning around.

Finally, this is a time of self-denial and deliberate conformity to the cross of Jesus Christ. God himself suffered and died for our salvation. We remind ourselves of this daily, and think on it intently. We pray in that place. We offer gratitude to the Crucified. As a way of remembering and walking along side him, we fast, and practice abstinence in various ways. We fast from something good in order to gain control over our actions, or simply to deny ourselves in some way, because in the Christian faith we understand that it’s actually good and needful to deny ourselves. (I would caution you, in conformity with the command of our Lord, not to share details of your fasting with anyone but your pastor or spiritual director, and the people you live with only in so far as can and will join you in the fast.) Follow in the way of Jesus over Lent by showing love to people close by that you find it really hard to live with.

If I can offer a listening ear, reading suggestions, or advice as you take your Lenten journey with Jesus, please let me know.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Pray for me, a sinner.

Kyle

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Prayers for Holy Week

(written for some folks at Georgetown College)

Dear friends in Christ,

As the Church around the world looks to Jesus and the love of God demonstrated by his Cross and suffering, I wanted to share with you a few user-friendly resources for prayer this week that may assist you as you seek to draw closer to our Lord.

Bible Readings: check out this set of Scripture readings for each day of Holy Week, courtesy of the Crossway, publishers of the ESV Bible. These readings from the Prophets, Psalter, Gospels and Epistles, are all arranged to follow Christ's journey to Jerusalem.

Collects are written prayers that teach us to reflect with the Lord on what he was doing that week, thereby forming us to be a people who suffer with him and move forward with him on mission. These prayers are based upon Scripture, and can be found on pages 219-222 of the Book of Common Prayer. I have reproduced them below.

Stations of the Cross: this is a traditional pattern of meditating upon the suffering of our Crucified God. Note this link to a Scripture-oriented version of the meditation, with Bible readings and references, courtesy of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (if you're curious about what the medieval, biblically "looser devotion" is like, watch Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ).

The Great Litany. Lent is a time of special special focused repentance in the Christian life. It is observed with specific and careful naming and renouncing of our sins before God. This long prayer of confession may be a help to you, also from the Book of Common Prayer, that all-purpose resource book of the English Reformation.

Forgiving others. This is a collect I wrote to help me walk thorough forgiving others - that requirement of God we are reminded of every time we pray the Lord's Prayer:

Almighty God, in obedience to your command to forgive, I commend to you N. I forgive his sins against me, especially ______________. I acknowledge that you are the only one righteous, and that like N., I stand as a sinner in need of your grace. I know also that I have from time to time committed similar sins, and even worse. Please forgive N., and forgive me. Please bless and heal N., and help him to grow in relationship with you, that both he and I would come to delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.


May God lift us up as we humble ourselves to worship him during Holy Week.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Organizing Your Day, Felton and Sims

Quick book review. Great for college/just out of college folks in particular.

Felton, Sandra, and Marsha Sims. Organizing Your Day: Time Management Techniques That Will Work for You. Grand Rapids, Mich: Revell, 2009

I found Felton and Sims' Organizing Your Day to be extremely helpful because of its careful detail and focus on real practicality. If you've read any of the more popular books on time management, you'll recognize some of the tips and processes, but likely find plenty to help you think productively about your time. The book is organized into 24 short chapters, which lets the reader easily pick and choose the ones that speak to her particular challenges. Each chapter includes about three page-long "case studies," which can help the reader to diagnose her own biggest problems with organization and time management.

The chapters cover the challenges of multi-tasking, goal setting, project management, procrastination, interruptions and time-wasters, behavior changing, physical organization, and more. The book taught me to build more efficient work habits into a daily routine, and to think concretely about my responsibilities and how my work environment can both help and hinder those. For example, I schedule projects that require higher concentration for the quietest times around the office, and work on more routine tasks during the times of day that have more interruptions. I've stopped working on projects chose to the due date, and instead work on them during the "appointments" that I make for them. It's made a great difference in my stress level and my productivity. Felton and Sims take the reader through all the questions one might ask about the work environment, the nature of one's projects, personal and personality-based challenges with productivity, and personal habits.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Forgiveness and the Life of God

"The God of Jesus Christ is the only god that man has ever heard of, who loves sinners."
- Brennan Manning
When we consider forgiveness and the Christian life, we begin and end with the broader story of who the Christian God is, and what he has done for us in and through Jesus Christ. Christianity is not simply a way of being religious, or a program of self-improvement. The content of the Christian Faith is the story that God tells about the world and his purposes for it, and the practices of the Faith are grounded in what God has done to heal and redeem the world through Jesus.

This Story offers an unflinchingly realistic view of human nature, and the way we live our lives. We are a much loved people, made in the image and likeness of God. Even as we bear the dignity of God in our own bodies, this likeness is broken and marred by rebellion. Not only do we choose flight from God and willfully engage in greed, envy, lust and hatred, but we are born with this proclivity, a bent-ness toward seeking our own way. The shorthand word for this is "sin," a theological suitcase that gathers up the evil we commit as well as our love for evil.

This is why the "good news" is so good: the God of Jesus Christ knows, loves, and forgives all manner of sinners. We who would murder our neighbors, steal from our loved ones, and who refuse to hear the name of God, are deeply, tenderly loved by that very God. Saint Paul explained in his letter to the Roman church,
"...while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5.6-8, ESV)
This is the invitation to a new kind of life: we wounded, broken rebels have been invited home to share a life with God as his own daughters and sons. Jesus Christ the God-Man bore the cost of our hatred, rebellion, and separation from God in his own body. When we ask what forgiveness looks like, and what it means, we look up to see our God crucified on a hill outside the city walls, bleeding and naked, forsaken by his friends and despised by his enemies. To forgive us, God bore the cost of humiliation, suffering and death.

Upon this account, we can make some observations about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is costly. Often and even daily, we are called upon to forgive and release small slights. Someone may overlook us, or insult us by poorly chosen and thoughtless words. Other times we are called upon to forgive deliberate insults, backbiting, and even physical violence. However, nursing a grudge can keep me safe. Nursing a grudge keeps me vigilant, ever watchful to be certain that the offending party can never take advantage of me again. Forgiveness is costly, because in offering it I would refuse to make "never being hurt like that again" the most important value of my life. If I were to make that refusal, I would trade in my defensiveness for trust in the saving and healing God. This is not a trust that believes, "God won't let this happen again," but rather, "I am obeying, because I believe God that there are worse things than letting this happen again." The Christian account of human life maintains that it is better to be wronged than to wrong another, and that it is better to suffer than to become hateful and defensive. This account insists that it is ultimately better for the individual human life to suffer like and with Christ rather than to fight against the enemy.

Next: Forgiveness precedes repentance.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shorter Christian Prayer

Shorter Christian Prayer: The Four-Week Psalter of the Liturgy of the Hours Containing Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer with Selections for the Entire Year. New York: Catholic Book Pub. Co, 1988.

Shorter Christian Prayer is a condensation of Christian Prayer, which is itself a short version of the gigantic four volume set, Liturgy of the Hours. SCP is oriented around the Psalms, and provides readings and guided intercessory prayers according to the Christian year, along with additional material for major feasts.

What I Like. This book is small and affordable, retailing at $13.95 each.

What I Don't Like. Nothing, really. Using seasonal time can be just a little unwieldy at first, but once again, once you've learned how to use a particular breviary, it's second nature.

Bottom Line. This is an excellent book for individual and group use. Some believers may be uncomfortable by some basic Roman Catholic theological commitments (e.g. the Blessed Virgin Mary is often referred to as a model for discipleship, because she is, and the Pope is occasionally prayed for, because he ought to be).

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer, originally compiled by the martyred Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was the cornerstone of Reformation Christianity in England, and still serves as such for Anglican Christians across the globe. Cranmer brought together the various liturgies (worship services) used in England and on the continent, and produced a single version, informed by the principles of the Reformation, in English. The primary purpose was to provide a worshipful framework for the public reading of Scripture in the churches: like a long Bible reading plan with prayers attached.

The services most used in the Book of Common Prayer are Morning and Evening Prayer, Holy Eucharist (the Lord's Supper, or Communion), and Compline (prayer before retiring). All of the services in the BCP are designed for public use by congregations and small groups, but Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline are used very often for personal devotions.

The most common versions in the US are the 1979 and 1928 revisions, and the 1662 from England.

What I Like. The Offices in the Book of Common Prayer are Scripture-heavy: really geared toward a broad reading of Scripture, so that most of the Bible is read in a two year cycle. The content is also traditional in the historical sense, but with a Reformation tempering; prayers are offered that Christians have been offering for hundreds of years, with the Psalms (the prayers that Jesus prayed!) at the center, making place for intercessory prayer.

What I Didn't Like. Because the BCP is meant to be used in all seasons for all the services of the Church, there is a learning curve for its use, and holding both the Bible and the Prayer Book during devotional times can feel a little unwieldy at times. The volume isn't nearly as confusing as it looks, and it's invaluable as a devotional tool.

The Bottom Line. The Book of Common Prayer is a classic of the Western Christian tradition, and Christians of all denominations (and none) draw from its resources, and with good reason. This is the meat and potatoes of prayer books, both ubiquitous and affordable.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Divine Hours


Primary Volumes

Tickle, Phyllis. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
_____. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
_____. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime : a Manual for Prayer. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Supplemental Material

Tickle, Phyllis. Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours. New York: Galilee, 2003.
_____. Eastertide: Prayers for Lent Through Easter from the Divine Hours. New York: Galilee, 2004.
_____. The Night Offices: Prayers for the Hours from Sunset to Sunrise. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
_____. The Divine Hours. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. [Pocket edition.]

The Divine Hours is a multi-volume handbook for fixed hour prayer modeled set of prayer offices ordered according to the traditional monastic hours, condensed into four prayer times throughout the day. Ecumenical in scope, much of the material is taken from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, with the addition of poems, hymns, and short meditations taken from the broader Christian faith (i.e. Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox writers). The offices can be said in 5 to 10 minutes, and are ideal for slow reading and meditation, especially lectio divina.

Go here for Tickle's introduction to the practice of "fixed hour prayer."

What I Liked: This breviary is extremely user-friendly, and the type is readable and attractive. The offices observe major feast days and commemorations of the Christian year, and is even available for the Kindle.

What I Didn't Like: Only the paperbacks of the original three volume work are presently in print. I still have the older hardcovers, so I have no idea how sturdy and long lasting the paperbacks might be, as they are each nearly 700 pages.


The Bottom Line: This is an excellent book for beginners to the practice or for folks who want short offices with a very loose form, and is the most simple and user friendly breviary that I've used. If you want to follow the Christian year more carefully, consider Celebrating Daily Prayer or the full Liturgy of the Hours.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Celebrating Daily Prayer

Church of England. Celebrating Daily Prayer: The New Pocket Version of Celebrating Common Prayer. London: Morehouse, 2005. Amazon link.

In 2000, the Church of England published a new English liturgy meant to supplement and expand upon the theology and liturgy presented in the classical Book of Common Prayer (1662), in contemporary English. This volume is called Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England. I have great appreciation for this book of services, as do some of my pastor friends in other Christian traditions.

The Anglican Franciscans of Great Britain created a version of this liturgy in a little breviary meant for personal and corporate daily prayer, entitled Celebrating Common Prayer (CCP), now called Celebrating Daily Prayer (CDP). The former edition was small and black, and the new edition is larger and red. This is important because the text inside is similarly formatted, but different (the two cannot be used together in group prayers).

The volume at hand, Celebrating Daily Prayer, offers short offices that can prayed in fifteen minutes. It includes materials for ordinary time and all of the seasons of the Church year. Each office begins with an opening prayer themed according to the Christian year, continues with a selection from the Psalter, a canticle (a song from the New or Old Testament that is traditionally chanted), a short selection from the Bible, and another canticle (either the Benedictus or the Magnificat). The office concludes with both free and written intercession, a closing collect, and the Lord's Prayer.

Supplemental devotional material includes additional prayers and collects, the Angelus Domini, Graces for meals, a cycle of intercessions, and special prayer services for thanksgiving, observing a death, departures, Eucharistic devotions, prayers at the foot of the Cross, and several others.

What I Like. This breviary is one of my favorites for several reasons. It's wonderful for beginners, because of its simplicity and variation. It's rare to find one that's both simple to use and allows disciples to observe the breadth of the Christian year. Not just an Office book, this is suited as a full-on devotional manual, with its offerings of supplemental occasional material, traditional prayers, and descriptions of the Calendar.

What I Don't Like. It's a little pricey, retailing for $29.95. Amazon Marketplace can offer some deals, however. Also, it does not contain the entire Psalter.

The Bottom Line. This is perfect for beginners who want a quick prayer time with a lot of Scripture themed around the Christian year.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The St. Francis / St. Clare Prayer Book

Sweeney, Jon M. The St. Clare Prayer Book: Listening for God's Leading. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2007. $14.95

_____. The St. Francis Prayer Book: A Guide to Deepen Your Spiritual Life. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2004 15.95


These two prayer books are similarly formatted, along two different themes. They contain an introduction and biographical chapter that commend the life and witness of Francis and Clare of Assisi, followed by short offices (prayer services). The offices can each be prayed slowly and meditatively in ten to fifteen minutes. There is one separate morning prayer and one evening prayer office for each of seven days, and a quick compline (night prayer) that's the same for each night. Each day includes collects (set prayers) quotations, and Scripture readings that enlarge upon a particular theme in the spiritual life.

In the St. Francis volume, these are themes in Franciscan spirituality:
  • Following Christ
  • Disregard for possessions
  • Peace and care in human relationships
  • Love for all creatures
  • Preaching the Good News
  • Passion more important than learning
  • Joyful simplicity
The St. Clare volume is oriented toward discernment, or "listening prayer":
  • Embracing Christ
  • Purity
  • Walking the path of conversion
  • Listening with the heart
  • Adoring Christ
  • True discipleship
  • Redefining family
What I Like. It's important that a breviary (book of short prayers) be accessible and easy to use. While they are paperbacks, they are well bound and attractively designed. The type is reasonably large and the different sections are easy to read. Finding one's place requires only to know what day of the week it is, and the prayer offices require no flipping back and forth. They are also very attractively priced.

What I Don't Like. It is a common poetic device of Franciscans to thank God in all circumstances by offering prayer of praise to Lady Poverty, et al. You know, like Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all of that. I don't imagine that Francis, Clare, or any of the Order's members suppose there to be an actual heavenly persona named Poverty, whom we would care to address in real terms. I understand the poetic device and find it pleasant. Christian prayer, however, is addressed to the Father, with the Son, through the Holy Spirit (leaving aside the question of intercessions to departed Saints). The Psalms seem to entreat Creation to praise God along with the worshippers, but when I'm teaching beginning disciples to prayer, I don't want to have to go through the trouble of explaining/defending that particular literary device.

Bottom line: The introductory material provides an excellent popular account of these Christian saints and their contributions to the spiritual life of the wider Church. The book itself is easy to use for prayers, aesthetically attractive, and well-priced. If you don't mind the aforementioned literary device, these volumes are an excellent gateway to the practice of regular structured prayer as well as Franciscan Christian spirituality.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Annotated List of Lenten Reading Suggestions

Go here for my Lenten Letter for 2010.

Benedict of Nursia. The Rule of Saint Benedict. Various editions.
Written by the father of Western monasticism, this “little rule for beginners” is a challenging and insightful path for following Jesus and growing in Christian love.
Cook, Jeff. Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008.
Cook’s accessible study contrasts the Christian tradition of capital vices (habitual sins that destroy the with-God life) with the growth of virtue as expressed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is a valuable and insightful introduction to how believers can cooperate with God in becoming more like Jesus.
DeSilva, David Arthur. Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation Through the Book of Common Prayer. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2008.
It’s a common joke in post- and sub-Christian cultures that many people only want Jesus and the Church in their rites of passage: “hatching, matching, and dispatching.” But more important than the emotions of those days or the beauty of the rites is the framework for living that the Christian story provides. As many people ask, ”what on earth am I here for?” DeSilva demonstrates that the answers can be found in the sacramental rites of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage and burial, as he explicates the implicit theology offered by the services in the Book of Common Prayer.
Homan, Daniel, and Lonni Collins Pratt. Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2002.
This short book looks to the Rule of Benedict to provide balance between ministry to others (both at work and at home) and the inner life. I highly recommend it.
Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity-- and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2007.
For Christians who grew up in deeply religious environments in the American South, it can be shocking to discover what outsiders think of Christianity, and what their experiences with Christians have been. This book can offer a stark challenge for disciples to reach out to their neighbors with creative and sacrificial love, while avoiding some of the hurt that our co-religionists have caused.
Marin, Andrew P. Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2009.
Andrew Marin grew up religious and homophobic – but after three of his best friends came out to him, he started to reconsider his unChrist-like treatment of gay people. This book doesn’t revisit the normal arguments about the Christian Bible and sexuality, nor does it argue for a revisionist ethic; instead Marin shares his journey as a missionary of Christ’s love to gay people, and offers suggestions for moving the discourse to a place of understanding and common ground. Here's a good introductory video at his blog. Andrew writes graciously and with humility, and his book is a must-read for anybody struggling with Christian sexual ethics and the challenge of loving broken people.
Mathewes-Green, Frederica, and Andrew. First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2006.
We are often tempted in the Christian life to minimize and excuse our own sins, while remaining quick to name those of others. Praying through the Canon of Saint Andrew, an ancient litany of repentance, is a wonderful (and at times difficult) antidote to this tendency. Mathewes-Green provides insightful and accessible commentary, as well as a hagiography of Mary of Egypt, an important figure in Eastern Christian penitential literature.
Mathewes-Green, Frederica. The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2009.
Mathewes-Green invites us to meditate upon and rest in the Lord’s presence by praying without ceasing: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.
This short and outstanding essay explores the challenge of living deeply with Christ in the midst of the world.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
This is a book-length meditation on both the parable of the prodigal son as found in the Gospel of Luke and depicted in Rembrandt’s painting. Nouwen invites us to deeper intimacy with God as he helps us identify with the father, the wayward son, and the older brother of the story.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent. New York: Crossroad, 1992.
This is a daily devotional taken from the writings of one of the twentieth century’s most beloved Christian writers.
Pennington, M. Basil. Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980.
The only people who find prayer easy are those who never do it. Prayer is challenging, and meditation can be a great struggle, especially for the beginning. Pennington’s book offers a great place to start as he teaches readers to meditate upon Scripture and wait in silence upon the Lord.
Sweeney, Jon M. The St. Clare Prayer Book: Listening for God's Leading. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2007.
This short book for daily prayers (called a breviary) is inexpensive, attractive and easy to use, and each day guides believers through seven themes in spiritual discernment and listening prayer.
Sweeney, Jon M. The St. Francis Prayer Book: A Guide to Deepen Your Spiritual Life. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2004.
This short book for daily prayers (called a breviary) is inexpensive, attractive and easy to use, and each day guides believers through seven themes in Franciscan Christian spirituality.
Volf, Miroslav. Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.
What is it like to forgive others of the most heinous crimes? What is it like to seek forgiveness for deep wrongdoing? How can we begin to forgive people who hurt us, and seek healing? Volf refuses easy answers and cheap clich├ęs as he walks through the challenges of forgiveness, mixing personal narrative with good theological thinking.
Williams, Rowan. Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another. Boston: New Seeds, 2005.
It is often said of the ancient Christian spirituality of the east, that those believers knew how to judge their own sins harshly, but to show unending mercy toward the sins and weaknesses of others. In four accessible lectures, pastor and theologian Rowan Williams walks us through the thoughts and prayers of the mothers and fathers of the desert.

Ash Wednesday 2010

This is my Lenten letter to the Georgetown College community:

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the name of the Lord! As Christ followers everywhere begin our forty days of penitence and preparation for the Easter celebration, I regret that I am unable to join you in worship for an Ash Wednesday liturgy. I would like to share with you instead some short comments on how to keep a holy Lent.

Disciples of Jesus observe the Christian calendar as a way of ordering time according to the life and work of Christ. The 40 day period is intentionally evocative of Israel’s 40 years of wandering through the desert wilderness, Moses’ 40 days on Mount Sinai with God, and Jesus’ 40 day fast that marked the beginning of his public ministry. Accordingly, this is a time of greater intentionality in the spiritual life, situated in preparation for Jesus’ execution in the holy city, and his resurrection on the third day. We prepare for Easter’s joy by remembering our own fragile mortality, and engaging practices of repentance and self-denial.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy brings the stark reminder (from the book of Job), “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” We are all made of mud, but we also bear the image and likeness of God. We are also a people who suffer the effects of the Fall: the separation from God and his life that brings death into the world, and inhabits our own hearts.

Our right response to this remembrance is to open ourselves to receive God’s gift of repentance. I commend to you today’s Scripture readings, Joel 2 and Matthew 6, which offer guidance on works of repentance both public and private. We seek to return to God by agreeing with him about the sin in our lives - those attitudes and practices that destroy his life in us, and mire us in bitterness and unforgiveness against others. This is an urgent call for all of us, whether we consider ourselves highly religious, or if we have drifted from the Faith. The good news of God’s forgiveness and healing in and through Jesus Christ is offered to all of us. If you stand in the Faith, let this be a time of spiritual reading and examination of conscience. If you have drifted from the Faith, or fallen into some habitual sin, come back. It’s difficult, but it’s at least simple. Come back. People fall into sin. We say yes to evil in small ways, and these small choices turn into big and habitual choices. There’s freedom in admitting that we’re walking down the wrong road, and then turning around.

Finally, this is a time of self-denial and deliberate conformity to the cross of Jesus Christ. God himself suffered and died for our salvation. We remind ourselves of this daily, and think on it intently. We pray in that place. We offer gratitude to the Crucified. As a way of remembering and walking along side him, we fast, and practice abstinence in various ways. We fast from something good in order to gain control over our actions, or simply to deny ourselves in some way, because in the Christian faith we understand that it’s actually good and needful to deny ourselves. (I would caution you, in conformity with the command of our Lord, not to share details of your fasting with anyone but your pastor or spiritual director, and the people you live with only in so far as can and will join you in the fast.) Follow in the way of Jesus over Lent by showing love to people close by that you find it really hard to live with.

If I can offer a listening ear, reading suggestions, or advice as you take your Lenten journey with Jesus, please let me know.

Because of the difficulties presented to me by the weather and my present medical condition, I have taken furlough from work through the rest of February. I will not be on campus until then, so weekly Evening Prayer is suspended at present. I would encourage you to continue reading Scripture, praying Psalms, and practicing Lectio Divina. In the meantime, call or e-mail if you need me.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Pray for me, a sinner.

Kyle