Friday, September 28, 2012

Thank you, Benedict...

Way back in the fifth century, a monk named Benedict developed guidelines for his monastic community and The Rule of Benedict has been in use ever since. Benedict offered a way of listening to God in a safe, faith-filled community where like-minded believers may learn to practice the disciplines of prayer, healthy relationships, and good works. Over the years, many have followed Benedict’s suggestions.

Here comes Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen A. Macchia, published by InterVarsity Press (, and offering a contemporary approach, adapting St. Benedict’s Rule to our cultural situations today. This material could be used personally or in a group and it includes workbook pages so readers may begin to compose their own rule as they study how to do it.

Macchia suggests that a rule is like a trellis that supports and guides a plant as it grows. A rule could help us as we grow into the plants/people God wants us to be. Most of us probably don’t realize that we have a rule we live by without knowing it as our rule. It consists of what we do each day—our personal schedule. Maybe it is haphazard, thrown together by the circumstances of our lives. But maybe, suggests Macchia, it is time to give up that circumstantial rule and take time to sit down and prayerfully write a new personal rule, one that "more closely matches the heartbeat of God."

His book has three parts and the key words in the titles are: framing, forming, and fulfilling (Your Personal Rule of Life). In the framing section he looks at roles, gifts, desires, vision, and mission. Each chapter includes a guiding principle, a biblical reflection, historical insight, some questions to answer as we think of what might be a part of our rule, some prayer requests, and ideas for group discussion.

Part Two, Forming...includes chapters on time, trust, temple, treasure, and talent and concludes with a chart for readers to fill in as they are "weaving together" their personal rule of life.

Part Three, Fulfilling Your Personal Rule of Life, considers commitment to the Body of Christ and the context of a spiritual community. Macchia offers resources including information on communities who are using a communal rule of life now, a suggested reading list on some in church history who lived in a communal situation, and the examples of four individuals who have recently been crafting their own rule of life. Among the latter are a college student, a young mom, a ministry leader, and a business person. Here are many ideas to consider as we follow Benedict’s way but with our own Rule of Life.

—Lois Sibley

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Four From Morehouse

Probably the most interesting and immediately helpful facts for those who are learning to blog or use other digital media, as I am, will be found in Click 2 Save, the Digital Ministry Bible by Elizabeth Drescher & Keith Anderson. The Glossary in the back is one of the most helpful charts I’ve seen lately. But there is practical and useful info on every page. The authors note that the world is now a very different place than it was before being reshaped by all the new social media around us. What does that mean for you and your church? And how will you and your church involve yourselves in these new opportunities as we continue to "tell the old, old story?" Surely, you will want to! This book will help you begin.  

Cooking for a Healthy Church provides easy and nutritious recipes collected by members of The Episcopal Church Medical Trust. Besides the recipes, they include nutritional guidelines, stories, and prayers. To balance carbohydrates, fats, and protein, each recipe notes the grams and calories in each dish, as well as total calories. They suggest that we should take in 40 percent of our calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein, and 30 percent from fat. Recipes are listed in separate chapters on breakfast, lunch, appetizers, side dishes, dinner, desserts, coffee hour, and potluck. Cinnamon-Baked Squash sounds good, or how about Sweet Potato Soup? Or Blueberry Banana Muffins? Yum...  

 In Family Theology, Finding God in Very Human Relationships, Carol J. Gallagher is bringing together Bible stories with stories of everyday people and their families. She calls it an "invitation to tears and laughter, to storytelling and self-revelation." Gallagher is a priest who has served as a bishop and as a teacher in seminaries. She is also a Native-American woman who loves and lives in her Cherokee tradition alongside her belief in the Triune God. She hopes her book will encourage readers to "wrestle with the Scriptures," and "invite the Creator within."

For some reason, I hadn’t thought of the priesthood as a craft, but Barney Hawkins, priest and seminary professor, calls us to reflect on the craft of priesthood, and the etiquette and ethics that inform that craft. His book is called Episcopal Etiquette & Ethics, Living the Craft of Priesthood in the Episcopal Church. As Hawkins thinks over his years as priest and its ups and downs, he is often quotable. I will try to restrain myself and not quote him but I do hope that every priest and his/her spouse will take time to read this book. You will be glad you did.

—Lois Sibley

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Brother Cadfael Calls Me Away...

Brother Cadfael is tempting me to read again the 20 mysteries by amazing author Ellis Peters. I was caught by a beautiful book called The Benediction of Brother Cadfael. It’s not new but is introductory to Peters’ series on Brother Cadfael and his involvement in mysteries in and around the abbey and the town of Shrewsbury in the twelfth century. It includes the first two books in the series but between them is a wonderful chapter with photos and the history of "Cadfael Country," in Shropshire and along the border with Wales. I was caught, couldn’t resist for awhile. But I will put it aside as a treat for other moments....

The book I really want to review today is The Food and Feasts of Jesus by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh and published by Rowman & Littlefield ( These authors love to cook, though one is a CPA and one is an Episcopal priest. They believe "there is much to be gained by studying the connections between food, culture, and history."

Many of the meals described in the gospels are plain and simple, though some were banquets and feasts. Jesus ate often with his disciples, and sometimes with local authorities or sometimes with the ordinary people of Galilee. Those meals included discussions, even arguments. "Food and feasting were important to Jews, Christians, Romans, Greeks, and everyone else of the first century," write Neel and Pugh. They claim that "in studying food and customs, we may gain historical, cultural, and theological insight."

Food and feasting were times of community in those days, as they are today. Common meals meant community for all who attended. Think of the Eucharist and our weekly attending, listening, sharing, praying, receiving the bread and wine together. Is that community? I think so.

Chapter 2 tells us of first-century ingredients and cooking methods. The authors list foods that were available, including grains and legumes; vegetables; fruits; nuts; meat, poultry, game and fish; milk products; and herbs, spices and condiments. Wines and vinegars were used, as well as honey, "the primary sweetener in the ancient world." Salt was common, and olive oil the fat that was used. Meat was a luxury and a blessing. Diet consisted mostly of whole grains and legumes, and bread was served at every meal probably, with fruits and vegetables in season.

Chapters that follow begin with a few Scripture verses describing one of the meals or feasts common at the time. Each then tells how to plan that kind of meal with a menu and recipes so that readers may try it on their own. Hmmm, just reading it makes me hungry.

Chapter 8 has a supplement offering directions for a first-century Passover feast for those who would like to try that. In the final chapter, Neel and Pugh tell how they spent years making wine, cheese, and breads; how they studied farming and cooking; how they held first-century banquets and Passover feasts for family and friends. Now they encourage readers to join the feast, create their own first-century feast. Invite friends, get neighbors and church groups involved. "Your feast doesn’t have to be fancy." It just needs to be "an offering of generosity and hospitality."

---Lois Sibley