I didn't intend to stay away for so long [an update]

 

Hi, friends. I've been meaning to write an update for several weeks and finally just recorded a short message to post on Instagram which I've included at the end of the post.

While I canceled several of my freelance writing assignments this summer, I've had two posts published at the Telos Collective's Intersection blog. You might recognize the content from a parenting series I wrote here some years ago, but the contents been polished up a bit (thanks to the editorial help at Telos). Head on over to their site to read. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

While you're there, take some time to peruse other posts. I've linked a few of my favorites below.

My posts on the Intersection blog:

Part 1: What Is Your Family's Cultural Footprint?

Part 2: Becoming Culture Makers and Blessers

A few other posts to check out while you're there:

Black Christians in America: A Personal Invitation from Esau McCaulley (I strongly encourage you to listen to Esau McCaulley' talk at the 2018 Intersection Conference "Towards A More Diverse Anglicanism")

What Makes A Culture Christian?

Present in the Polis: Toward an Anglican Political Theology

And here's my four-minute, off-the-cuff update:


Thank you for your companionship on the internet. I'm grateful for you and look forward to reconnecting soon!

In the meantime, I'd love your feedback on the types of posts you find most encouraging. Drop me a comment and let me know. You can browse through the menu bar at the top of the website page here for a view of the various categories I've covered over the past twelve years.

What I Read January - May 2018

I'm waaayyy behind on sharing my reading on the blog this year. Here's the 20 titles I remember! I hope the publisher book blurbs and my micro reviews will be enough to help you find one or two books to add to your own summer reading list!

 We visited Yale's  Sterling Memorial Library  in March. Wals and walls of catalog drawers - oh my....

We visited Yale's Sterling Memorial Library in March. Wals and walls of catalog drawers - oh my....

You can see my 2017 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: Last year I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a poor reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check. Brian and I've been delighted with the prompt, generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Books I Reviewed for ERB

I had the privilege of writing a couple of reviews at Englewood Review of Books this spring. ERB is one of my all-time favorite book review sources, and I highly recommend signing up for their free email digest and their quarterly print issue (totally affordable, by the way!). You'll hear about books that may or may not be showcased in the mainstream "Christian market" book sites with reviews from people you may or may not know from the mainstream publications (people like me, for instance!)  As an added bonus, when you subscribe to their email digest you'll receive a free pdf of the excellent resource 101 Transformative Books for Churches to Read and Discuss.

1. Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts
by Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans, 2018. 208 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"From the ancient book of Numbers to the latest clickbait listicle, list-writing has been a routine feature of human experience. Shopping lists. To-do lists. Guest lists. Bucket lists. Lists are everywhere you look.

But what if our lists did more than just remind us to buy milk and take out the trash? What if the practice of list-making could help us discover who we truly are and even point us to our deepest joys, hopes, and desires?

In Make a List teacher, writer, and wordsmith Marilyn McEntyre shows readers how the simple act of writing a list can open doors to personal discovery and spiritual growth. Deepening her reflections with abundant writing prompts and real-life examples, McEntyre turns the humble list into a work of art—one that has the power to clear minds, open hearts, and change lives."

Micro Review

I jumped at the chance to review this new release for Englewood Review of Books. Marilyn McEntyre is a favorite author and her new book had me at the word "list". The review was published in ERB's print issue earlier this year, and I'll share it here in full sometime later this month. For now here's a quick blurb:

"Helping us pay attention to language, Scripture, relationships, and communities is what Marilyn McEntyre does best. In her newest book, she resurrects the lowly list as an instrument of personal discovery, relational growth, and spiritual peace. In a world hunting for life-changing tips and techniques, McEntyre offers, instead, a life-giving practice available to anyone willing to keep handy a scrap of paper and a pencil. I can imagine groups of friends going through the book together over a period of time as well as an individual reader like myself."

 

2. Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World
by Jon Huckin (IVP Books, 2017. 192 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Conflict, hatred, and injustice seem to be the norm rather than the exception in our world, our nation, our communities, our homes. The fractures and fissures run so deep that we're paralyzed by our hopelessness, writing off peace as a far-fetched option for the afterlife.

Even if there was the possibility of peace, where would we begin?

Instead of disengaging, Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart invite us to move toward conflict and brokenness, but not simply for the sake of resolving tensions and ending wars. These modern-day peacemakers help us understand that because peacemaking is the mission of God, it should also be the vocation of his people. So peace is no longer understood as merely the absence of conflict―peace is when relationships once severed have been repaired and restored.

Using biblical and current-day illustrations of everyday peacemakers, Mending the Divides equips disciples of Jesus to move toward conflict and seek the restoration of our relationships, our communities, and our world, offering practical steps to engage in the kingdom-building work of waging peace."

Micro Review:

This review was published on ERB's website earlier this year, and I'll share it here in full sometime later this month. For now here's a quick blurb:

"To write a book that demonstrates both the church’s historical call to seek the peace in our communities and a persuasive pathway that turns toward the conflicts of our homes, communities, and world requires a certain balance of grace and truth. For the most part, Swigart and Huckins balance that tension with clarity, encouragement, and, most compelling, the powerful persuasion of a story well-told."

Novels

3. A Man Called Ove: A Novel
by Fredrik Backman (Washington Square Press; Reprint edition, 2015. 337 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations."

Micro Review:

If you read novels regularly, you've certainly heard of Ove, Fredrick Backman's endearing curmudgeon. You've probably already the book! I was slow to the party because I tried another Backman novel first and was not a fan. While we visited our kids in Forth Worth this April, my daughter-in-law Bekah loaned me her copy and convinced me to give the author another chance. I'm so glad she did! I loved Ove (who, in my mind, is the old man in Pixar's "Up") and kept laughing out loud during the first part of the book. I'm a fan of quirky, beloved communities and that's Ove's neighborhood, for sure. I think Backman gets a bit sappy and wraps things up a bit too sappy-sweet at the end, but really the world could use a little bit more of that, don't you think?

4. The Shoemaker's Wife: A Novel
by Adriana Trigiani (Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition, 2012. 496 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani returns with the most epic and ambitious novel of her career—a breathtaking multigenerational love story that spans two continents, two World Wars, and the quest of two star-crossed lovers to find each other again. The Shoemaker's Wife is replete with the all the page-turning adventure, sumptuous detail, and heart-stopping romance that has made Adriana Trigiani, “one of the reigning queens of women’s fiction” (USA Today). Fans of Trigiani’s sweeping family dramas like Big Stone Gap and Lucia, Lucia will love her latest masterpiece, a book Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, calls “totally new and completely wonderful: a rich, sweeping epic which tells the story of the women and men who built America dream by dream.”

Micro Review:

When I visited my friend Leah a couple of months ago, we got talking about our favorite books. She told me about her favorite novel and then sent me home with her own copy of The Shoemaker's Wife. I confess it took me a while to get in sync with the characters but pretty soon I was fully invested in their lives that span two continents and many decades. If the sign of a good book is that the characters and the story stay with you loving after you turn the final page, then this is certainly a good book.Thanks, Leah!

5. Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

By Louise Penny (Griffin, 2008. 312 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it's a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods," and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter."

Micro Review:

 love this series, and in spite of dire warnings from friends to not read the series out of order I could never get the first book from my library so I've just read whatever was available. I finally broke down and purchased my own copy and it now proudly sits - thoroughly read and enjoyed - on my bookshelf. I'm currently planning a trip to Quebec to walk in the footsteps of the good man Inspector Gamache.


Memoir

6. When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi (Vintage, 2017. 225 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both."

Micro Review

This is another book that most of the world seems to have read already. On a road trip between Boston and a Greek Orthodox retreat center in New Hampshire my friend Amy and I caught up on life. Mixed in with the stories she told me that I had to read the book she'd read on her flight from Austin, and then she gave me her own copy of the book! (There seems to be a theme here ?) I'd read some of the late author's writing online, but am so glad I read his book. What a beautiful demonstration of facing terminal illness and death. The book is a perfect  mix of heavy and light and a perfect reminder of how our awareness of our finite mortality allows us to value the sacredness of each day. For an interesting recent update on Paul's widow, read this post written by her twin sister.

7. Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage Paperback – April 3, 2018
by Dani Shapiro (Anchor, 2018. 160 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Hourglass is an inquiry into how marriage is transformed by time--abraded, strengthened, shaped in miraculous and sometimes terrifying ways by accident and experience. With courage and relentless honesty, Dani Shapiro opens the door to her house, her marriage, and her heart, and invites us to witness her own marital reckoning--a reckoning in which she confronts both the life she dreamed of and the life she made, and struggles to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become. 

What are the forces that shape our most elemental bonds? How do we make lifelong commitments in the face of identities that are continuously shifting, and commit ourselves for all time when the self is so often in flux? What happens to love in the face of the unexpected, in the face of disappointment and compromise--how do we wrest beauty from imperfection, find grace in the ordinary, desire what we have rather than what we lack? Drawing on literature, poetry, philosophy, and theology, Shapiro writes gloriously of the joys and challenges of matrimonial life, in a luminous narrative that unfurls with urgent immediacy and sharp intelligence. Artful, intensely emotional work from one of our finest writers."

Micro Review

I heard Dani Shapiro speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2016, and appreciated the talk she gave. (You can listen to it here!) I wish I'd started reading her work with an earlier memoir because so much of this book references her earlier life, particularly the prayer practices she observed growing up with an Orthodox Jewish father. The book skims across the surface of the author's eighteen years (at that time) of marriage, dipping in deeper here and there to share harder parts of their story. Added bonus: the author lives in a charming part of Connecticut that we love to visit. It was fun to picture the area as she wrote about er life there with her husband and son.


Apostles Reads Selections

8. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

by Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau, 2015. 368 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
 
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice."

Micro Review

A life-changing, unforgettable Lenten read for me and for our church's reading group. I'm still processing the stories and giving thanks for the work of Bryan Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative. If you live in America, you need to read this book. Our friend Walter, a prison chaplain and member of Church of the Apostles recommended the book. Here's his review at chainsgone.com: Just Mercy.

If you can't read the book right away, listen to a 25-minute Q Talk "Restoring the Justice System" with the author Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned.

 

9. The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (Modern Library Food) 
by Robert Farrar Capon (Modern Library, 2002. 320 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"From a passionate and talented chef who also happens to be an Episcopalian priest comes this surprising and thought-provoking treatise on everything from prayer to poetry to puff pastry. In The Supper of the Lamb, Capon talks about festal and ferial cooking, emerging as an inspirational voice extolling the benefits and wonders of old-fashioned home cooking in a world of fast food and prepackaged cuisine."

Micro Review

If you know me at all, you know I love this book. I took the opportunity of introducing it to our church's reading group to give myself a chance to read it through a third (Or is it fourth?) time. I did notice during this re-reading that some of Capon's admonitions have begun to feel dated rather than timeless. I think that, in part, our culture has begun to return to the "old-school" methods of eating real, honestly-prepared food. We definitely have a long way to go, and I'm not sure any of us should subscribe to the all-or-nothing recommendations of the author. For more on this observation, I recommend reading my friend Walter's thoughtful review here.


Poetry / Lyric Histories

10. American Ace
by Marilyn Nelson (Dial Books, 2016. 128 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"This riveting novel in verse, perfect for fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Toni Morrison, explores American history and race through the eyes of a teenage boy embracing his newfound identity.
 
Connor’s grandmother leaves his dad a letter when she dies, and the letter’s confession shakes their tight-knit Italian-American family: The man who raised Dad is not his birth father.
 
But the only clues to this birth father’s identity are a class ring and a pair of pilot’s wings. And so Connor takes it upon himself to investigate—a pursuit that becomes even more pressing when Dad is hospitalized after a stroke. What Connor discovers will lead him and his father to a new, richer understanding of race, identity, and each other."

Micro Review: I first learned about the former poet laureate of Connecticut, Marilyn Nelson, in an OnBeing podcast interview with Krista Tippett. Her desire to tell good stories with beautiful words compelled me to take out every one of her books carried by our library. (Why are they not all available in our library?!?)

Don't let the "YA" category keep you from enjoying this fascinating story, told in a series of free-verse poems and inspired by the author's father, one of the last class of Tuskegee Airmen.  

11. My Seneca Village
by Marilyn Nelson (Namelos, 2015. 98 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Quiet for more than 135 years, the voices of Seneca Village are rising again. Angela Riddles ponders being free-but-not-free. The orphaned Donnelly brothers get gold fever. A conjurer sees past his era and into ours. Drawing upon history and her exquisite imagination, Newbery Honor medalist, two-time Coretta Scott King Honor medalist, and National Book Award nomineee Marilyn Nelson recreates the long lost community of Seneca Village. A multi-racial, multi-ethnic neighborhood in the center of Manhattan, it thrived in the middle years of the 19th century. Families prayed in its churches, children learned in its school, babies were born, and loved ones were laid to rest. Then work crews arrived to build Central Park, and Seneca Village disappeared. Illustrated in the poet's own words -- with brief prose descriptions of what she sees inside her poems -- this collection takes readers back in time and deep into the mind's eye of one of America's most gifted writers. Included as well is a foreword that outlines the history of Seneca Village and a guide to the variety of poetic forms she employs throughout this exceptional book. Marilyn Nelson is the author of numerous books including Carver: a life in poems, A Wreath for Emmet Till, and How I Discovered Poetry. Her honors include three National Book Award Finalist medals, the Frost Medal, The Poet’s Prize, and the Boston Globe/Hornbook Award. Nelson is an emerita professor at the University of Connecticut, the former poet Laureate of Connecticut, and founder and director of Soul Mountain Retreat."

Micro Review:

Another enjoyable series of Marilyn Nelson's imaginative and heartwarming verse (which I've just learned can be referenced as lyric histories. How delightful!) inspired by the real lives, work, and suffering of a community of people I'd never heard of before. I appreciated the brief description preceding each poem that served almost as a screenplay to help me imagine what the poem invited me to see. Now I want to visit Central Park with their stories in my heart and mind. I also want to know a whole lot more about the real-life New York City residents of Seneca Village.

12. Freedom Business: Including a Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa

By Marilyn Nelson, Deborah Muirhead (Illustrator)  (Front Street, 2008. 71 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Purchase a special edition featuring Connecticut landscape paintings

Micro Review:

Our library offered me a special edition of this book that appears to be only available for purchase through the Florence Griswold museum website. It pairs Marilyn Nelson's poems inspired by the slave narrative of Venture Smith with American paintings from the Florence Griswold Museum. 

This simply beautiful book of art and poetry inspired by Connecticut's historical landscape should be required reading for every one of our state's classrooms. The concept of blending quintessentially New England landscape artwork with the story of Venture Smith's pursuit of freedom is, honestly, stunning. At the same time, it's accessible for people of all ages to enjoy. In my mind, that makes the work ingenious. 

Here's an excerpt of an interview with the author, Marilyn Nelson, as she shares some background on the life of Venture Smith and one of the poems from the book:

"It’s about the life of Venture Smith, who was enslaved in Connecticut in the 18th century. He was captured as a boy in, I think, Ghana, brought to North America as a slave, served for about 30 years under several different masters in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York. And then he purchased his own freedom, and then he purchased his children and his wife, and then he went into the freedom business, saving up money and setting people — buying people so he could set them free. So this is from his life."
...
"So the narrative of Venture Smith’s life was published in, I think, 1795. It’s one of the rare stories in African-American history. This family, Venture Smith’s descendants, have been free for eight and nine generations. There is an annual Venture Smith Day in East Haddam, Connecticut at the Congregational Church he belonged to and is buried in the cemetery there.
Now, there are scholars who are coming to talk about new discoveries of his life, and his descendants come. Last year, or maybe the year before, Venture Smith’s descendants went to Ghana to the castle he remembered being shipped out of. They were there, nine generations free. It’s such a wonderful story. And it’s what American history could have been. It could have been that way. But this is a man who did this for himself."
...
“By the time I was thirty-six I had been sold / three times. I had spun money out of sweat. / I'd been cheated and beaten. I had paid an enormous sum / for my freedom. And ten years farther on I've come / out here to my garden at the first faint hint of light / to inventory the riches I now hold. / My potatoes look fine and my corn, my squash, my beans. / My tobacco is strutting, spreading its velvety wings. / My cabbages are almost as big as my head. / From labor and luck, I have much profited. / I wish I could remember those praise-songs / we used to dance to, with the sacred drums. / My rooster is calling my hens from my stone wall. / In my meadow, my horses and my cows look up, / then graze again. My orchard boasts green fruit. / Yes, everything I own is dearly bought, / but gratitude is a never-emptying cup, / my life equal measures pain and windfall. / My effigies to scare raccoons and crows / frown fiercely, wearing a clattering fringe of shells, / like dancers in the whatdidwecallit? dance. / My wife and two of my children stir in my house. / For one thirty years enslaved, I have done well. / I am free and clear; not one penny do I owe. / I own myself—a five-hundred-dollar man— / and two thousand dollars’ worth of family. / Of canoes and boats, right now I own twenty-nine. / Seventy acres of bountiful land is mine. / God or gods, thanks for raining these blessings on me. / I turn around slowly. I own everything I scan.”

13.  A Wreath for Emmett Till
By Marilyn Nelson, Philippe Lardy (Illustrator)  (Graphia Books, 2009. 48 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"In 1955 people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral held by his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention. In a profound and chilling poem, award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement."

Micro Review:

With a subject as gruesome as the lynching of a young boy, who'd expect such a visually beautiful format? In The Wreath of Emmett Till, Marilyn Nelson writes the story in a series of sonnets written from the perspective of Emmett's mother. Each page is lavishly illustrated by Philippe Lardy, themed around lush and bleak botanical evoked by the eponymous memorial wreath. Devastatingly gorgeous.

To learn more about Marilyn Nelson and her work, I recommend the following interviews:

14.  A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim

By Abigail Carroll  (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017. 108 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Who was Saint Francis? Today he is most often a sweet ceramic statue in a garden, a sentimentalized romantic figure. But A Gathering of Larks, containing forty personal letters from Abigail Carroll to Francis, reveals him to be a complex man who lived a fascinating life of radical faith.

These letters—part devotion, part historical biography, part contemporary engagement, and part inspiration—reveal Carroll's curiosity and wonder about Francis. She celebrates his whimsical idealism and impetuousness, explores his spirituality and commitment to poverty, and sometimes even questions him. She also uses Francis as a sounding board for larger questions about the world—and, through her own experience, explores how brokenness makes experiencing redemption possible.

As beautiful as it is insightful, alight with a pilgrim's growing sense of discovery, A Gathering of Larks has both range and depth that will uplift readers and challenge them to better understand this singular saint and how he might speak to and shape their way of living in today's world."

Micro Review

I'd had this title on my To Be Read list since seeing it featured by Englewood Review of Books as one of ten new poetry books to read in 2017. I was compelled also by the combination of Saint Francis as the subject, the concept of a modern-day poet writing letters to Francis, and the beautiful cover art. In a providential turn of events, my husband ended up in a small group of retreatants with the author, Abigail Carroll. This is how the book came into my possession, and it makes the reading all the sweeter.

I've loved getting to know the life and work of Saint Francis through Abigail Carroll's beautiful blend of humor and depth. Interwoven through the letters, we get a glimpse into the author's life and find ourselves there as well. Anyone who appreciates the warmth of friendship, and discovering the extraordinary love of God within the simple beauty and folly of our daily life (including, but not limited to, such things as busted shower heads and broken bones). This is a book I'll keep on my nightstand and return to regularly.


Prayer / Spirituality / Spiritual Direction

15. Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction

By Alice Fryling (IVP Books, 2009. 152 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"The Spirit is speaking. Can you hear him? If you're longing to become more attentive to God -- to listen to him, know his voice and experience his love, spiritual direction can point the way. In Seeking God Together, experienced spiritual director Alice Fryling offers a unique introduction specifically for group spiritual direction: a place where individuals can experience what it means to be listened to and loved by others, so that they can learn to listen more attentively to God in their daily lives and be used by God. Out of her years of being both director and directee, Fryling offers practical, step-by-step guidance for those who would like to start, lead or participate in group spiritual direction. Her book will help you know what to expect and fully equip you for the different aspects of the group experience, including learning to listen to God, using Scripture in a group, navigating different personalities, setting group expectations and asking life-giving questions. She also provides an appendix with opening exercises for use in your meetings together. "The intentional goal of group spiritual direction," Alice writes, "is to help each participant become more aware of God in their lives, for the sake of others. Spiritual direction leads you to an awakening of the soul." The Spirit is speaking to you and to others. Here is a book to help you and a group of soul friends listen for and with each other as you seek God together."

Micro Review:

I read this book in preparation for my spring residency for my certification as a Spiritual Director. I've long been captivated by the unique work God's spirit does when small groups of people gather together for the purpose of listening to him. I look forward to being able to provide leadership to spiritual direction groups in our church in the future and will keep this warm, instructive guide by Alice Fryling. 

Here's a favorite quotation:

"The purpose of these groups is not counseling or therapy. Nor are they intended to be places where we can engage in aimless, self-absorbed conversations. The purpose of spiritual direction groups is formation. Spiritual formation is "a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others." The intentional goal of groups spiritual direction is to help each participant become more aware of God in their lives, for the sake of others. In other words, it leads to an awakening of the soul. This awakening then leads to a life which is purposeful and intentional. Group spiritual direction helps individuals grow in their faith, more fully and participate in the mission of the church more effectively." (p. 26-27)

16. Group Spiritual Direction: Community for Discernment

By Rose Mary Doughtery (Paulist Press, 1995. 122 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Practical guidance for offering and participating in spiritual direction in a group setting."

Micro Review

Another good resource I read for my Spiritual Direction certification.

Here's a favorite excerpt:

"Spiritual direction is one expression of spiritual community. The dynamism of radical love that animates spiritual community also animates spiritual direction in any form. In spiritual direction two or more people gather in the power of love and for the sake of love. In the arena of love, one is brought face-to-face with the primary discernment of spiritual community: "Do you seek God?" And then, "What does this seeking mean for your life?"

17. The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ

By James Bryan Smith (Apprentice / IVP Books, 2010. 262 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"I have never met a person whose goal was to ruin his or her life. We all want to be happy, and we want it all of the time." So begins James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful Life. The problem is, he tells us, we have bought into false notions of happiness and success. These self-centered decisions lead us further into the vices that cause ruin: anger, lust, lying, worry and judging. Eventually we find ourselves living a beautifully packaged life of self-destruction. Following the Sermon on the Mount, this follow-up to The Good and Beautiful God guides us to look behind these character flaws and to replace our false beliefs with Jesus' narratives about life in the kingdom of God."

Micro Review

We read this together with our Sunday morning small group at church. It's the second title in a trilogy of "Good and Beautiful" books by James Bryan Smith. I continue to appreciate his balanced approach to embodying a healthy theology of God in daily spiritual practices. The Good and Beautiful Life approaches this conversation through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount.

18. A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary

By Brian Doyle (Sorin Books, 2014. 170pp.)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Acclaimed, award-winning essayist and novelist Brian Doyle--whose writing, in the words of Mary Oliver, is "a gift to us all"--presents one hundred new prayers that evoke his deep Catholic belief in the mystery and miracle of the ordinary (and the whimsical) in human life.

In Doyle's newest work, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary, which was named "A Best Spiritual Book of the Year" by Spirituality & Practice, his readers will find a series of prayers unlike any of the beautiful, formal, orthodox prayers of the Catholic tradition or the warm, extemporized prayers heard from pulpits and dinner tables. Doyle's often-dazzling, always-poignant prayers include eye-opening hymns to shoes and faith and family. In Doyle's words, "the world is crammed with miracles, so crammed and tumultuous that if we stop, see, savor, we are agog," and the pages of his newest book give voice and body to this credo. By focusing on experiences that may seem the most unprayerful (one prayer is titled "Prayer on Seeing Yet Another Egregious Parade of Muddy Paw Prints on the Floor"), he gives permission to discover the joys and treasures in what he often calls the muddle of everyday life."

Micro Review:

Read the book summary above and then go buy about five copies of this book. One for you to keep and the rest to give away as gifts to the people in your life you most want to bless. I need another copy because I've given mine away (originally a Christmas gift from Brian) - twice. While you're at it, read everything else by the gone-too-soon beloved Brian Doyle.


Non-Fiction

19. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

By Ian Morgan Cron, Suzanne Stabile (IVP Books, 2016. 240 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"The Enneagram is an ancient personality type system with an uncanny accuracy in describing how human beings are wired, both positively and negatively. In The Road Back to You Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile forge a unique approach―a practical, comprehensive way of accessing Enneagram wisdom and exploring its connections with Christian spirituality for a deeper knowledge of God and of ourselves. 

Funny and filled with stories, this book allows you to understand more about each of the Enneagram types, keeping you turning the pages long after you have read the chapter about yourself. Beginning with changes you can start making today, the wisdom of the Enneagram can help you get on the road that will take you further along into who you really are―leading you into places of spiritual discovery you would never have found on your own, and paving the way to the wiser, more compassionate person you want to become."

Micro Review:

I'm way on the front end of studying this old-school-made-new method for better understanding the human personality. Some of that is because I tend to resist conversations that feel like they've become cliquish lingo for those "in the know", and the Enneagram has certainly inspired that kind of fandom in recent years. Probably that's more a vice of mine than a virtue, and when my Spiritual Director asked if I'd read anything on the Enneagram I resisted her for several months and then finally started reading a few weeks ago. The book by Cron and Stabile is on the lighter side of reading and perfect for reference when you're trying to understand all the people in your life. Oh, and also yourself.

20. The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge

By Beatrice Chestnut (She Writes Press, 2013. 494 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"The Enneagram―a universal symbol of human purpose and possibility―is an excellent tool for doing the hardest part of consciousness work: realizing, owning, and accepting your strengths and weaknesses. In this comprehensive handbook, Beatrice Chestnut, PhD, traces the development of the personality as it relates to the nine types of the Enneagram, the three different subtype forms each type can take, and the path each of us can take toward liberation. With her guidance, readers will learn to observe themselves, face their fears and disowned Shadow aspects, and work to manifest their highest potential."

Micro Review

This is the book I prefer of the two I've read so far, but it's denser and more analytical which makes it less accessible to pass around the dinner table. In case you're wondering, I'm a 5 wing 4, also known as the "iconoclast". This alone explains so much to me about my life it's worth the price of two books to learn it. Stay tuned for more potentially obnoxious personality-cataloguing lingo on the blog.


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2017 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

#

p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

Reintegrating

Andrew's baby shower at Aunt Lois'.jpg

Dear friends,

Thank you for the thoughtful and kind responses to my last post. I think that the reality of depression has been so close to my life and family that it surprises me to discover the weight the word carries. I guess my reluctance to name it when I'm the one experiencing it indicates the heft it still carries in my own mind and heart. Truly, I feel that the weight has lifted/is lifting and it's a gift to know that tender people surround me and my family. An astonishing gift.

Several months ago, during a phone call with my spiritual director I frustrated myself trying to describe the physical stall I was feeling. "It's like I'm tucked up in my apartment and just going out the front door feels almost impossible." Of course (and thanks be to God!) I did go out that front door many times each week, but thinking about it and planning for it felt heavy and almost paralyzing. There's lots of factors for this difficulty - physical fatigue from moving so many times in the past 10 years, unfamiliarity with our new neighborhood, reacclimating to the cold and slushy Northeast winters, and more. Still, this sense of paralysis felt different to anything I'd experienced for a very long time. The best comparison I could offer was the feeling of post-partum heaviness.

When that memory of my post-partum experience arrived,  I realized I was talking about depression. Why, oh why, do those early days of new life require from so many of us a high emotional, physical, and mental cost? I wish new life only brought youthful energy and dreamy bliss. I wished it then, and I wish it now.

This past weekend we visited my parents. My mom brought out a stack of photographs she thought I'd want to keep. Photo after photo of my beautiful children as babies and toddlers. The feeling of wanting to touch them, like literally reach into the photograph to cuddle their soft baby skin, almost overwhelmed me. The wistfulness felt almost like a physical pain. At the bottom of the stack, I discovered a few pictures from a small baby shower my aunt had thrown for us just a few weeks after Andrew was born. In one photo he's being cuddled by a great aunt and he's so small, his skin still carries that ruddy newborn complexion. In another image, my Mom is cradling his body cocooned in a baby afghan even though it's late summer. The rest of the photos feature Brian and me sitting on a couch opening presents. These photos hurt to look at, too, and not out of wistfulness. Behind the polite smiles on our faces, I can see directly into our shocked and exhausted hearts. My face is flushed with what I viscerally remember as the feverish first weeks of nursing a baby. My clothes don't fit my post-partum body very well and I can tell that I wished I could hide underneath the pile of gift wrap. Brian sits in his work uniform on one end of the couch and me on the other. In between us, there's a huge open gap of empty couch like we'd forgotten that we'd arrived together.

I'm sure at the moment, if I was aware at all of what I was feeling, I was stunned to be so uncomfortable in a moment I'd dreamed about. Our first baby, a beautiful son, a generous family, and the man I loved with my whole heart surrounding me and I felt completely lost. 

In hindsight, maybe it shouldn't surprise me that the season of "emptying the nest" feels a whole lot like those post-partum days. I'm finally able to admit that it, in fact, does feel like that to me. In spite of preparing ourselves with all the best wisdom we'd heard throughout the years: tend to your own growth and interests, don't overidentify with being a mother, cultivate a strong relationship with your spouse aside from your children I seem to have still been caught off guard.  To quote one of our favorite movie lines: "Oh, Eddie… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now."

Indeed.

In the phone call with my spiritual director, she gently asked how much I understood about my personality. I figured I'd done the normal amount for someone like me who has a penchant for analysis and introspection. That's to say: a lot. I resisted her observation for a couple of months and have just recently been welcoming some new information and discovery about how God wired me inwardly and outwardly. One realization that struck me almost immediately is that I'm prone to get stuck in my head, the thinking part of me, and have a natural resistance to my body, the doing part of me. With this insight, I've been better able to recognize that paralysis I was describing as a separation of my ability to think a thought, feel a feeling, and then do a thing to move forward. For many days in the last year and a half, I'd keep looping through the thinking and maybe progress (on a good day) to the feeling with only an occasional forward movement to doing. For twenty-seven years I've been navigating up to six people's schedules and instead of it feeling like freedom to only have to navigate my own and Brian's now, instead, it feels like swimming around in a void. Another sort of personality might have rushed to fill in that void with activity, but my personality went inward instead. 

Anyway, the insight (and several others) has been hugely helpful. Reorienting for me requires reintegrating my mind and heart with the tangible, physical world. Without the prompts of needing to do so many things to run a household, my body got lost. I keep telling my spiritual director that I'm too old to just whip myself into shape with some sort of self-help program. Most days I mean, rather, that I've gotten wiser. When I was a child I whipped myself into shape like a child, now that I'm fully grown I'm afraid of living out of an all-or-nothing state of being. I long for a healthy rhythm of thinking-feeling-doing that is led out of a desire to live as my truest self who is growing up in Christ day by day. But in the same way motherhood didn't just spring up with no pain or fear, none of this stage of life feels natural yet either.

And that's where I am today. The sun and beauty of May and June have certainly helped. A growing confirmation that my kids are going to make it in this wild and wooly world has helped. The tender people surrounding me have helped. Movement and active prayer, stillness and silent prayer, and tears and lamenting prayer have helped. Road trips, beach visits, the treadmill at Planet Fitness and the yoga mat on my bedroom floor have helped. Check-ups with my doctor and medications have helped. So have dumb episodes of Bob's Burgers and British murder mysteries. And, yes, to the extent that God-with-us doesn't abandon us in the midst of our idle pursuits, even word games on my phone have helped.

In my morning office today I was struck by the aptness of this prayer (bolding added by me):

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration I may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

So I pray today that God, by the inspiration and energy of his Spirit might help me both think right thoughts and then to do them through the Christ in whom we live, and move, and have our being. May it be so.

 

Grace and peace,

Tamara

Reorienting

 photo from my recent silent retreat at St. Edmunds on Ender's Island, Mystic, CT

photo from my recent silent retreat at St. Edmunds on Ender's Island, Mystic, CT

 

Dear friends,

I've been putting blog posts at the bottom of the priority pile for awhile. This is for mostly good reasons - study and development for my certification to become a Spiritual Director, various free-lance writing assignments, and time with friends and family in Connecticut, New York, and Texas. A few reasons fall on the more difficult end of the spectrum as I've struggled through a season of low-grade depression, mostly related to a giant life transition. Even with all the good things orienting my days and weeks, I wake up far more often than I'd like to admit feeling completely disoriented. "I feel completely lost" is a somewhat common experience, but it can feel scary and bleak. 

I'm sensing a shift in my emotional health, a lightness, reorientation, and relief. It's been a season of mostly knowing intellectually that things would take on a new normal eventually, but feeling more fatigue than hope in my heart. Most days I've been able to align my sense of being of what is true even when it didn't feel true. Some days I've sat around in my pajamas and played word games on my phone to avoid feeling sad and lost. Most days have been a combination of both. Slowly, the fatigue is lifting and I'm hopeful for a returned sense of order and rhythm to my days, accompanied by a clarity about where to point the energy and gifts God has given me.

Once again, I return to my little corner of the internet to add some thoughts and ideas into this incubator and see what develops. I have an idea to write a stream-of-consciousness post several times a week through the month of June as part of my journey of reorientation. I'm not sure if that will replace the more customary Ordinary Time posts or serve as an addition. I'm going the novel approach of spontaneity and see what comes out! 

Thank you, as always, for the companionship you offer here and, for many of you, in my face-to-face life as well. I treasure you.

Peace and gratitude,

Tamara

7 quick & flowery takes

What I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

(1) playlist for Spring

Oh my goodness, spring has sprung! Here's some favorite tunes about flowers, birds, rain, and love. Enjoy!

Spring on Spotify

 

(2) links to celebrate May flowers

  1. 21 Fresh Cut Spring Flower Arrangements and Bouquets: Love these!
  2. All Things New (A Springtime Giveaway): Christie Purifoy makes beauty with words and with flowers, and I follow her blog, newsletter, and all of her Instagram feeds religiously. With the help of a delightful illustrator, Christie's giving a free download (what she calls four pages from the "book of her dreams"). On a related note, read Christie's real-life book, which I found beautiful and inspiring: Roots & Sky: A Journey Home In Four Seasons

"We participate in spring. 

When our hearts are broken, when our eyes are open, we don’t simply wait for spring. We join in. We dig our shovels into the dirt, and we help to release rivers of justice and peace. When the flood finally comes, I like to think we will turn to our Jesus and say, we made things new, didn’t we?" (Christie Purifoy)

 


(3) podcast episodes I've enjoyed lately

  1. Introducing the On Being Project | On Being: I find these sorts of conversations fascinating, and so helpful in my understanding of what spirituality means in our culture - particularly for those who are younger than me."What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? These questions have been at the heart of On Being from the start — as it grew from a radio project into a thriving public space for delving into the big questions of our lives together."   FYI, you can read some of my thoughts about the gracious, if not altogether orthodox, content of this excellent podcast in this piece I wrote for Think ChristianOn Being with Krista Tippett—and Jesus?
  2. Duplass Brothers On Working Together And Growing Apart: 'We Are Ex-Soulmates' | Fresh Air: When two brothers who love making art and spending time together very, very much they sometimes end up making something that gets our attention. I couldn't help but think of my kids' relationships and creative endeavors as I listened.

  3. Burning For Justice: Exploring the work of...Martín Espada | Poetry Off the Shelf: A couple of months ago I attended a conversation of artists at our former home church in Austin. Our friend Rachel, a poet, read aloud Martín Espada's profound "Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World" for the community of Newtown, Connecticut, where twenty students and six educators lost their lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. I'd been stunned to hear the poem for the first time, and to realize that our church meets once a month in the very same building that Mr. Espada describes in the poem ("Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street, / a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House...") With all of that in mind, I enjoyed hearing more about Martín Espada's life and work in this interview-format episode. The interview doesn't include the Newtown poem, but you can listen to the poet read it here.

(4) farewell photos

Last Saturday, our youngest daughter Natalie made the big move to Austin. She's been living with us for the past year and a half, and we've covered a lot of emotional ground together as she navigated post-high-school life decisions and we settled into our new home and work in Connecticut. She joked a lot that her only friends were all under the age of 8, but the truth is that her work as a babysitter brought her so much joy. It seemed fitting that the crew of kiddos and parents would be our guests at Natalie's farewell party. (Thanks also to the Dominguez Duo for sharing their spectacular backyard with us!) We prayed that these months of participating in the daily lives of children would not be an incidental speed bump on Natalie's journey, but rather a lifetime reminder that children lead us into the kingdom of Jesus. 

Also, there's a couple of photos of Natalie's last day worshiping with us at Church of the Apostles. A sweet congregant caught Natalie and me during the closing song. 


(5) links re: EJI's new lynching memorial

Since reading Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, I've been following his organization the Equal Justice Initiative. I am moved by the photos and video footage of the new monument the organization spearheaded in Montgomery, Alabama. I can't even imagine what it's feel like to visit in person. Some day I hope to do that. In the meantime, here's a brief list of links related to the work.

  1. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice | EJI's website

  2. New Lynching Memorial Is A Space 'To Talk About All Of That Anguish' | NPR

  3. In Apology For Decades-Old Lynching, Police Chief Aims To 'Interrupt The Past' | NPR

  4. Communion, a Counter-Monument | Missio Alliance ("Communion as a monument against White Supremacy.")

  5. Why Build A Lynching Memorial? | EJI
 

(6) flowering photos from our town

After dropping Natalie at the airport last weekend, I spent some time trying to capture the beauty of the flowering trees dotting the roadways toward home. These represent two favorite scenes in Southport and in Bridgeport (a couple of blocks from our home.)

When I shared the photos with a friend, she reminded me of this lovely line from one of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's journals. 

Miracles, indeed.

 
After all, I don’t see why I am always asking
for private, individual, selfish miracles
when every year there are miracles like ... dogwood.
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh

(7) blog posts from the archives

2017: S-Town's Limited Understanding of Empathy [sharing at Think Christian today] - My feelings haven't changed about this review one bit. "Yet as Reed gets spun into the story as a character invested in the lives of the people he encounters, his empathy morphs into a voyeuristic pity, one that fails to intervene for the truest good of those he’s encountered."

2016 & 2015: Murphy people updates in a season of Fortunate Events & 7 quick family update takes - We're just said good-bye to one daughter, and are getting ready to welcome one of our kids back home for the summer. Sort of like in 2016. "In the meantime, we're going to soak up as much time together as we can in the coming weeks - drinking morning coffee, packing suitcases, fighting over the bathroom, and thinking deep thoughts. God bless us, every one."

2015: Book Pile - I mentioned last week that I'm way behind in updating my book posts for 2018, and thought it might be a good time to point out the page I've got devoted to everything I've read for the past 12 years as cataloged on the blog. Phew! "When I first started this blog in 2006 one of my goals was to nurture a forum that kept me accountable for the cultural goods I consume."

2013: A poem and a playlist for my dear momma - In honor of Mother's Day, some of the best words and songs I could come up to tell my own mom how much I love her.

2012: Landing on our knees - I've been thinking lately how much my personality dislikes transition. For example, the weeks of the year between seasons when one day is hot and the next cold. Or the part of the day that isn't quite evening but no longer afternoon. I've been thinking about it because I feel like our family has been in a non-stop transition season for about eight years, and it's taken a huge emotional and physical toll. I wouldn't trade any of it, really, but I'm also a bit wrung out. In 2012 when I wrote this post, I was only just beginning to understand. "I could swear I've been holding my breath for 9 months and am just now coming up for air. Gulping in God-beauty, warbling out grateful worship."

2011: Tuesday is for Hospitality: did not our hearts burn within us? - Still my favorite post-resurrection story, and the older I get the more I realize God's invitation to my own calling is embedded in these biblical account. "I love this God who refuses to be pinned down to one method of revelation. This God who knocks Saul off his horse in a blinding light on the Damascus Road is the same God who dimmed Himself, trudging along with the disheartened disciples on the Emmaus Road."

2010: Liturgy of a Laity Lodge retreat [the word, part 2] - Speaking of naming and vocation, this post is calling me louder now than it did eight years ago! "But, of course, this retreat conversation was much more than etymology -- derivations and the like - - it was about ontology, about our is-ness. Naming as soulish, Adamic, dusty work. Naming and being named represents our first God-given task, and, it seems, we've all but lost the instinct to do the job. We're walking around as a great unnamed mass, attaching self-adhesive tags to ourselves like dimestore trinkets, so hungry are we for this ancient rite."

Alex & Bekah.5.jpg

3 years ago!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander & Rebekah got engaged during a private tour of the White House Rose Garden. 


May your week ahead include true, good, and beautiful things, friends!

SEE OTHER BLOGGERS' 7 QUICK TAKES POSTS HERE