Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Joy to Twelfth Night and on...

Joy to the World,The Forgotten Meaning of Christmas by Isaac Watts and Paraclete Press is an old poem with a new look, available at Watts (1674–1748) was a Noncomformist in England, a pastor and one who had been a poet since childhood. He wrote about 750 hymns, some of which are still popular and we sing them in our churches today.

Probably the best known hymn by Isaac Watts is Joy to the World. His poetry and hymns were known and popular both in England and in America. It may have had other music in England, but this particular poem was put to music in 1839 by Lowell Mason, an American musician whose name is familiar to any who notice who wrote that music as they read or sing through their hymn books. Paraclete counts Joy to the World as “the most popular Christmas hymn in the world.”

In 1719, Watts was finishing up a project of his to “retranslate” the Psalter into modern use. He wanted people to sing the words of the ancient Psalms in everyday English. Watts was not attempting to “rewrite” a part of the Bible, as some claimed, but rather, he hoped that hymns like Joy to the World would inspire people and encourage them to praise God. He had not thought of it as “a Christmas hymn.” Watts “intended his hymn to be about the second coming of Christ the King,” based on Psalm 98. He might be surprised to hear it called one of the Christmas hymns.

The first four chapters of this little book each use one of the first lines of the four verses of the hymn as a heading, followed by comments by an anonymous writer/editor on the birth of the Christ child, the coming of sin into the Garden of Eden, Christ’s death on the cross, his resurrection, his presence at the right hand of God the Father, and his coming again to judge as King over all. The final chapter is called “For the Twelve Days of Christmas,” and includes brief Scripture passages, plus reflections on Christ the King from the sermons of Isaac Watts. There is no name of an illustrator but the illustrations are appropriate and beautiful on every page.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, December 13, 2013

Three Carols, Story/Songs for Kids

These three carols have been sung and enjoyed for many years at Christmas time. Now, sisters Marcia Santore and Jessica Salinas have put together these old carols with some typical characters to bring the stories to life as they might be lived today.

Published by Forward Movement and available at, the first is a modern retelling of Good King Wenceslas. The story shows how today a man and his son could help someone who has lost his job and is now homeless, just as the king helped people in his day. Jessica tells the story while Marcia does the illustrations. There is the extra benefit of having a version of the carol that kids could play on the piano. Marcia’s husband Jonathan, who is a composer, joined in the project with his arrangement of this carol.

The Snow Lay on the Ground is another old carol that is fun to sing. From an English 19th century Christmas carol (author unknown), this is the story of the birth of Jesus. Probably no snow in Bethlehem, but children singing in England knew and expected snow at Christmas. The story is illustrated by Marcia with the same characters mentioned above as created by Jessica. The characters are typical of people from various cultural backgrounds as they act out the Christmas pageant together. The surprise on the back inside cover is a simple arrangement for piano by Jonathan that children may enjoy playing.

The third carol is In the Bleak Midwinter, originally from a Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti. Again the same characters, good friends by now, join together at one of their homes. Snow on snow on snow almost overwhelms them as they try to think of what gifts they would bring to the Christ Child, if they had opportunity. One of the children would bring a lamb, but each would “do his or her part....[deciding to] give him my heart.” Those children who still have music lessons at school will be pleased to find Jonathan’s double page arrangement for piano as well as a fingering chart and instructions for playing this carol on a recorder.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, November 22, 2013

Walking with God...

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller, available from Dutton at, includes a wealth of material important to any pastor, or to any kind person who wants to help a friend deal with suffering of one kind or another. Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and he and his family have years of experience in that and other congregations as a kind of preparation for this book. It could be called “How to be a Pastor, 101” and should be required reading for anyone so engaged or interested in preparing for such a future. But there is also much good advice for friends who care for other friends.

If you read it, I think you will find, as I do, that you need to keep it nearby, because you will want to refer to it many times again. “Now what did Tim Keller say about that?” I find myself saying and I have to look it up again. It’s over 350 pages and crammed with concern, ideas, Scripture references, experiences of the Kellers, and personal stories from others who have suffered.

When you come right down to the basic thesis, I think he is saying that the person(s) who love, believe in, and trust  the Lord Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, are really in better shape through any pain and suffering they may experience throughout their lives than are those who do not so believe. He’s probably right and we will be finding out, I’m sure.

Keller divides his book into three parts. In the first part he discusses the problem of evil and how different cultures, religions, times in history have coped with it. This part is more philosophical and Keller invites readers to begin with the second or third part, especially if they are in the midst of difficult trials at the moment they are reading his book.

Part two is descriptive of suffering and how people have coped with it from biblical times to current times. And part three is  practical and provides suggestions and strategies for coping with pain and suffering, ways to walk with God through it all. Some chapters conclude with a story of someone who has done that and their stories are reminders for us to look for God’s presence with us in the midst of suffering. I predict that many of us will be thanking Dr. Keller for his insights and encouragements as we continue our own walking with God.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, November 1, 2013

Genius, Prophet, Oxford Don

C. S. Lewis would be surprised at all the attention that continues to follow him. The newest book is perhaps C. S. Lewis, A Life by Alister McGrath, published by Tyndale. Find it at Now 50 years since Lewis was at the height of his popularity, information continues to be found and shared among those who appreciate Lewis and his writings. McGrath has gathered and analyzed a huge amount of research to help us understand Lewis and his ideas.  “How are these new facts to be woven together to make a pattern?” McGrath wonders, as he adds details now known about Lewis’s life, while he helps us understand the way it was.
Lewis was born in Ireland in 1898 though he spent much of his life in England. His mother died when he was young and that loss had a big impact on his life. His father insisted on sending him to school in England, which may not have been the best plan for such a shy, lonely boy. He had one brother, Warnie, and they were close and helpful to each other throughout their lives.

McGrath chose to divide his reporting on events in Lewis’s life into five parts. They are Prelude, Oxford, Narnia, Cambridge, and Afterlife, the latter meaning what happened after Lewis’s death in November 1963 and his continuing popularity, especially because of his Narnia books.

Yes, Narnia, a group of books about four children, a wardrobe (a door), an enchanted forest and a  mysterious land. That’s what keeps Lewis popular! He is like many an Irishman in that he tells wonderful stories. He taught English literature, first at Oxford, then at Cambridge, and he wrote many religious books, such as Mere Christianity. It’s like he had two writing lives and in each he was at the top of his profession. In one writing life he was an academic and sometimes a theologian, even an apologist at times; and in another he was a successful children’s book author. During World War II, he gave religious talks on the BBC,....there is much intriguing stuff in here. Go to the library and borrow this book, and give a hint as you put it on your gift list.

—Lois Sibley

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Practicing a Devout Life

Here is the story of St. Francis de Sales, with his advice on how to improve one’s personal spiritual life. He became the Roman Catholic Bishop of Geneva in 1602, and he began writing  this book in 1609, continuing to revise through five editions, with its final publication in 1619.

Paraclete Press includes it in its series called Giants. The title is The Complete Introduction to the Devout Life and its more than 400 pages were translated by and with commentary from Fr. John Julian, OJN (Order of Julian of Norwich). Now available from Paraclete Press at, it is a hefty book and a fascinating read. Fr. Julian says that from its first publication it was one of the five most popular books at that time on “serious Christian spiritual development.” Fr. Julian’s translation and commentary gracefully helped us to take it all in and think about using it for our own spiritual growth.

Francis’s father wanted him to study law and he did eventually receive doctoral degrees in both law and theology, but his personal goal was to be a priest and in December 1593 he was ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Annecy in France. In December 1602, Francis became bishop and was “very hands-on” as a bishop, “highly valuing personal contact with his people.” He was much sought after for answers to their spiritual questions. He often sent them a written reply and these collections of answers later became part of his several books. Many are included in the Introduction, which is made up of five parts.

Part One discusses one’s first longing for the devout life and a final firm resolution to embrace it. Part Two contains suggestions for raising the soul to God by prayer and sacraments. Part Three has much advice on the practice of the virtues, such as patience, humility, gentleness, obedience, chastity and others. Part Four includes advice on dealing with temptations, and Part Five suggests practices to renew the soul and strengthen it in devotion.

—Lois Sibley

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bonhoeffer, his life and ministry...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born February 6, 1906 in Berlin, Germany and many books have been written about him, his life, and ministry. We cannot forget him, and we should not. A new book called Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life, from the Cross, for the world, was written by Stephen J. Nichols, professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania. Published by Crossway,, this is the third book in Crossway’s series called Theologians on the Christian Life, the first two being on Francis Schaeffer, written by William Edgar, and B.B.Warfield, by Fred G. Zaspel.

This one begins with reminders of Bonhoeffer’s first trip to America, to Union Seminary in New York City, where he studied American theological developments and made many friends here, before returning home to begin a faculty position in Berlin. In 1939, he came again to the U.S., 33 years old and with a bright career ahead. But, author Nichols writes that “the moment he stepped off the ship he knew he had made a mistake.” Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend R. Niebuhr, “I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany, ” and to another friend, “I must be with my brothers when things become serious.” And they were getting very serious. Hitler was becoming more powerful in Germany.

Bonhoeffer influenced both clergy and lay in church and community. He commended “the cross-centered life” saying that Christian living flows from the cross. Reading and obeying Scripture are essential, along with praying and practicing our theology. He quoted “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness,” an idea from Paul (2 Cor. 12:9) that carried Bonhoeffer through difficult times. Essential in his teaching was how to pray, and how to read the Bible. He believed that when we have faith in the incarnate, crucified, resurrected Christ, which God gives to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, along with it comes faith, love, and hope.

It’s a challenge to follow author Nichols through the mix of all that happened to Bonhoeffer, as well as through the details of his beliefs and teachings, and his attempts to live the Christian life in the midst of all that he and the people of Germany were experiencing during the late 1930s–1945. There are two appendices that help: One is a time line of Bonhoeffer’s life and another is a summary called Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life. The concluding section on Reading Bonhoeffer offers information on books by and about him, as well as a list of movies available on his life. And Nichols advises that if you are ever on a desert-island, take these, his “Top Five” on Bonhoeffer, with you. You’ll be glad you did.

—Lois Sibley

Monday, September 9, 2013

Liturgy and Rites

For more than 50 years, Louis Weil has been teaching liturgical and sacramental studies. He has  taught at three Episcopal seminaries, given programs for clergy and laity on five continents, and written a number of articles and books about liturgical renewal. In 2012, he was honored by the North American Academy of Liturgy with its Berakah Award in appreciation of his ministry as teacher of liturgy both ecumenically and in the Anglican Communion. His new book, Liturgical Sense, The Logic of Rite, introduces the Weil Series in Liturgics, which is “an occasional series dedicated to the sort of liturgical and academic scholarship that has been the hallmark of Weil’s professional life.” Seabury Books is publisher and can be reached at

Dr. Weil wonders: how did a rite get started, how did it develop and become part of a tradition? How did it make sense in the congregation’s worship experience? And does it still make sense? He is looking back through church history, examining how certain rites began, were they effective for the people watching and listening, and are they still important? Weil suggests that some liturgical practices may be meaningful for the one who uses them, but may be obscure, even confusing, to the congregation who watches.

Based on his 50 years of teaching, his own “person in the pew” experiences, and his looking back at church history, he notices the changes in liturgical practices and calls our attention to how the role of the priest in the eucharistic celebration changed. Rather than being the whole people of God worshiping together, “it began to look like the private devotions of the priest with the lay people watching,” but with no role. Over time, there were many other changes, including the loss of the catechumenate in the fifth century with its preparation for baptism and membership. This loss sometimes continues, when new people do not know the history and teachings of the church, and are not properly prepared for baptism and membership as people of God.

Weil admits that most of the people who teach liturgics have “very strong opinions,” but “their primary purpose is the service of the people of God, the building up of the Body of Christ.What they teach is rooted in what they have learned and experienced in their own lives of faith” and most of them have “a very strong sense of priorities.” Dr. Weil says his goal in this book has been to share that sense, and those who plan, prepare, or preside at worship services will appreciate his suggestions.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, August 23, 2013

Questions from Kids...

Here’s an opportunity for kids to find answers to a dozen of the questions they might ask when they are sitting in church. Why Do We Have to Be So Quiet in Church? written by Clare Simpson and illustrated by Kay Harker is published by Paraclete Press, It begins with a small, redheaded boy who smiles as he questions and wonders aloud what the answer to that question could possibly be.

He is told that it’s good to be quiet and listen, and everybody else who is there wants to listen also. So he asks more questions, including these and others:

Can God see me?
Does God like it when I kneel or bow my head?
What does God look like?
Can God always hear me?
Does God remember my baptism?
Does God see me when I do something wrong?
Does God really forgive my sins?
Why do we say “Amen” at the end of everything?
God, did you make church just for me?

The answers are interesting and could be the beginnings of more questions and answers to be shared. The drawings are colorful, charming, and appropriate and there is some evidence of multi-cultural friendships among the children, though I would be pleased to see more of that. On every page there is some of the beauty of God’s Creation, including a line of frolicking, funny little mice. Children will smile and so will their grown-ups.

—Lois Sibley

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Learning all the Way...

Before we dream again, Samuel Wells in his new book calls us to learn to love again, to live again, to think, read, feel again, and finally, we may be ready to learn to dream again. Learning to Dream Again is published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. at (

Wells is now vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, and Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King’s College, London. Before that, for seven years he was dean of the chapel at Duke University and a professor at Duke Divinity School, North Carolina. And if these essays and meditations sound like chapel talks, some probably were. I can hear the students chuckling as they follow his lead, sometimes hiding a tear or two.

Chapel time is brief. But in a book you can have a whole chapter or more on one point, and Wells uses the space to his advantage. And he sounds like what he is, an excellent teacher and preacher, with three points here and nine points under the third point—almost too much, except it’s all interesting, even captivating.

In the beginning of each chapter, Wells tells us what he is going to tell us. And then he begins, casting his line in elusive spots, patiently drawing us in to think along with him. He tells memorable stories, relates incidents in our own history and earlier times. He applies Old and New Testament stories to our concerns and I think readers’ hearts will be quick to settle in, thinking and applying those Scripture stories to our current situations and concerns, including abortion, taxation, torture, the arts, science, hunger, sports, marriage, work and leisure, politics, justice, forgiveness, and eventually, death. Wells asks how did Moses and Isaiah and other OT leaders do it? How did Jesus advise and conclude in the situations he faced?

There is so much “good stuff” in this book, it will take readers a long time to take it all in, listen, reflect, apply to their lives. So, you better begin soon.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hildegard's Spiritual Reader

Hildegard was born in 1098, the tenth child in a noble family in Bermersheim, near Mainz, Germany. Her family gave her as a tithe to the church, not uncommon then. In 1112, at age 14 she entered a hermitage attached to a monastery and Benedictine convent at St. Disibod Abbey in Disibodenberg. In her late 30s, Hildegard was elected by the nuns as their abbess. Some years later, in 1150, Hildegard and 20 nuns left St. Disibod and started another convent at Rupertsberg, 19 miles northeast, near Bingen on the Rhine River. In 1165, Hildegard again founded a new convent, at Eibingen, just across the Rhine River, so she could visit there often. 

From an early age, Hildegard had visions and prophecies that she believed God commanded her to write down and share. She chose to write in Latin, and Hildegard’s own Latin style created “memorable challenges,” says author and translator Carmen Acevedo Butcher. A prolific author, Hildegard produced three volumes of theology, her own musical compositions, poetry, and a morality play called The Play of the Virtues.  In  her 60s, she wrote an encyclopedia on plants, elements, trees, stones, fish, birds, animals, reptiles, and metals. And between 1158–1170, she went on four preaching tours (we might say missions) to nearby towns, preaching in both monasteries and public places. All of this from a woman who often had health problems, such as exhaustions, fevers, breathing difficulties and perhaps migraine headaches.

Because she was “well-connected,” and well-known through her writings, Hildegard had many opportunities for correspondence with both secular and religious leaders and she never hesitated to tell these leaders what she believed God wanted them to do. In Hildegard of Bingen, author Butcher provides the life story of Hildegard along with excerpts from her songs, poetry, books and correspondence, thus the subtitle “A Spiritual Reader.” This book is available from There is a good map at the beginning and a helpful time-line near the end. A DVD is available at 

Many years after Hildegard’s death at 81 in 1179, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, October 7, 2012, proclaimed St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church—the fourth woman to be so honored. It’s easy to see that St. Hildegard was a multi-tasking person, and a Benedictine follower of the Rule, who spent her life serving the Triune God where he had placed her.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, July 19, 2013

The journey goes on and on...

In 1985, Word Publishers offered a new book called Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert Webber, a professor of theology at Wheaton College, Illinois. The subtitle is "Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church," and Webber, who had been watching his own, his students’, friends’, families’ experiences with worship, began with his story of changes. This was followed by six stories from other evangelicals who found themselves no longer comfortable in whatever church or denomination or worship experience they were in, and who were eager to learn more. Looking for liturgy as the early church practiced it, was a challenge and these particular evangelicals were each drawn into the Episcopal Church in the 1980s.
Webber pointed out that there were many other churches looking for and using these early liturgies that contain the Scriptures, the Creeds, early prayers and the use of God’s gifts to his people: the sacraments. Today, five years after Webber’s death, one may find the use of these liturgies among Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Orthodox, Roman Catholics, independent churches and others—not just Episcopalians. Editor Lester Ruth, who is an ordained Methodist pastor and research professor of Christian worship at Duke Divinity School, as well as worship history teacher at Webber’s Instititue for Worship Studies, reminds us that it was often an article or book by Webber that "opened believers to the possibility that paying careful attention to history’s treasures is a valid path toward faithfulness and renewal in worship."
Webber’s book is " testimony to his own journey" writes Ruth in this revised edition as he offers Webber’s ideas as a guide for those looking for help with their spiritual journeys. This time it is published with Morehouse Press, and
with Webber’s preface and introduction as well as his first six chapters. Then, a new group of six describe their recent pilgrimages. The book concludes with brief chapters by four friends of Webber’s who were there, and who assess his contributions and influences on the church as it is today.
—Lois Sibley

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"If you're happy and you know it...

Clap your hands." Or stamp your feet. And, read Joan Chittister’s book called Happiness, now in paperback and published by Eerdmans. Click on for more information. A Benedictine sister and  author of more than 40 books, Chittister’s plan here is to "dig," as archeologists dug, down through the ages. She thinks of it as "a great happiness dig" and she hopes readers will follow, as she discovers how happiness has been defined in earlier times. She calls Happiness "a work in progress" and she hopes that readers, after having read her ideas, will each "form a kind of philosophy of happiness" for themselves.
Chittister writes that "life is about developing the skills for living...about discovering what it really takes to be happy. And that takes a long, long time." She quotes from a world values survey and some social surveys as well as from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Gandhi, Immanuel Kant, and many others. She reports that happiness is a universal concept, one for "serious reflection." We know if we are happy or not, or we think we do, she says. And happiness, or the lack of it, often forms our day-to-day choices.
Her section on religion is especially interesting as she gives a brief but helpful overview of what those in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe about happiness and how their beliefs affect their lives in practical ways. Putting together their similarities feels like looking at a huge inter-faith stew getting ready for the taste test. All the herbs and spices are carefully mixed and added for the best possible taste and soon we may be allowed to try a tiny sip. The chef will be eager to hear our reactions.
But I was disappointed in the ways Chittister defined Christianity. Our God is a Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We often think of him as Creator, Redeemer, and Friend. And Jesus is much more than a model of good behavior for those seeking happiness. So some of my early enthusiasm fell away near the end of this otherwise fascinating book. No doubt, Happiness was planned as a "popular" book, and it is. Chittister’s fans will appreciate it and will turn to it more than once.
—Lois Sibley

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Finding Joy in the Triune God

Author Michael Reeves offers his book as an opportunity for readers to "taste and see that the Lord is good," as Scripture says in Psalm 34:8. Delighting in the Trinity, An Introduction to the Christian Faith is published by IVP Academic. Click on to see more.
Reeves reminds us that "Christianity is about knowing God." We may think of God as a mystery, which he is, but this triune God has also revealed himself to us, and we can learn to know him and how he affects everything we see and hear and do.
Reeves is theological adviser for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) in the United Kingdom. He oversees Theology Network, a theological resources website. That means that he spends a lot of time talking with students, answering questions, sharing his knowledge of Scripture, providing quotes and ideas of many Christians over the centuries of church history, and what they have written and said about our Triune God. He includes in his book a list of Image Credits for the many photos and images spread throughout his text, and an index of the Scripture references he uses.
Those whose work he quotes and explains include Gregory of Nyssa, St. Hilarius, Aristotle, Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, J. S. Bach, Richard Sibbes, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Owen, John Milton, Augustine, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, William Tyndale, Thomas Goodwin, John Calvin, R. A. Torrey, Thomas Chalmers and more.

I think Jonathan Edwards has the most quotes, but it is a verbal feast from Reeves and other wise men who knew and know the right words and beliefs to share with those who are just learning and finding joy in the majesty and love of our Triune God.
—Lois Sibley


Friday, May 24, 2013

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

When Ruth Everhart was invited to participate in a ten-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she thought about it for awhile. As Presbyterian minister of a church in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, busy with both family and church, she realized that even after college, seminary, and 20 years of ministry, she still had some spiritual questions of her own.
The plan was for a group of seven clergy to be part of a documentary, called "Pilgrimage Project." The group was somewhat ecumenical, consisting of one Episcopalian, one Lutheran, two Presbyterians, one Southern Baptist, one from a nondenominational church, and one who had never been to seminary but was involved in prison ministry.
Film maker Brian Ide wanted the clergy to each take a turn leading one of their worship services during the trip, as "a way of sharing faith traditions," and he encouraged their discussing differences as well. In Jerusalem, they would join a group of 30 people, also on pilgrimage, sharing with them the facilities at St. George’s College. Stephen Need, dean of the college, would serve as their host and provide lectures and information for both groups. They would follow Jesus' life from Bethlehem to Galilee, then back to Jerusalem for the final days of his story.
It sounded good. So one morning in September 2005, Brian, two cameramen and the seven clergy met at St. Bart’s Episcopal Church in New York City and began their pilgrimage. One of the results is Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land by Ruth Everhart, one of the two Presbyterian clergy members in the group. It is published by Eerdmans, click on for more.
Ruth discovered that the pilgrimage was demanding but rewarding. She wrote that "she came to follow the Spirit, to encounter Jesus in his land, amid his stories." She kept two records: one, a journal of talks by Dean Need, and also, her notebook of personal prayers as she saw with her own eyes where Jesus walked and talked.
There was a lot to cover in those ten days and sometimes Ruth felt that "everything was too hurried, with no time to just stop and think about it." She said "the pilgrim’s journey is hard to process, let alone share, we all need space to think." She concludes her book with sections on Themes for Pilgrims, and on Questions for Pilgrims—both of which may help readers think through all they have learned as Ruth shared her pilgrimage with us. Note: the documentary was never completed but some footage is in the book trailer. Click on Eerdmans’ web page
—Lois Sibley

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Learning to say "Enough"

Enough, Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, is not a new book, but it has been recently revised and updated by author Adam Hamilton, who is eager that each of us learn how the Bible’s wisdom will help us to find and use "prudent financial practices" for a life filled with joy and contentment.

In the ongoing financial crises we, our nation, and the world, seem to be caught in, that sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But Hamilton has some excellent ideas and suggestions that should help each one who reads his book and applies his ideas to their own situations.
Hamilton, who is senior pastor of a United Methodist church in Kansas, suggests that, with God’s help, we can simplify our lives. We can change our longings for "more" and "better," and we can learn to be content with what God gives us. Many pages include a quote from a well-known person or from the Scriptures, meant to encourage us as we think through Hamilton's ideas.
The Shakers are remembered as those who pointed out the importance of "simple gifts," in one of their hymns and Hamilton uses it to focus on how we might "simplify our lives, enjoy what we have, give more generously, and use our money and possessions" in the ways God intends. A challenge, yes, but the results may bring much joy into the lives of those who do it.
Hamilton means his book to be a guide and a source of inspiration and encouragement. He calls for readers to set goals and make plans. He offers lists, such as "six financial planning principles," "four keys to cultivating contentment," "five steps for simplifying your life." And he provides a closing page for each chapter that includes Scripture references, asking readers to apply each to his/her own situation. He discusses the importance of tithing on one’s income and how to do it, and the results that will come as we learn to give: contentment and joy.
His last chapter is on overcoming fear. We all experience fears of one kind or another and he offers "three keys to overcoming fear." And finally, Hamilton provides tools and tips on financial management, including ideas for credit card pay-off strategies. Highly recommended.
—Lois Sibley

Friday, April 12, 2013

Finding God with Emily Dickinson

Poet Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Mass. on December 10, 1830. While she was alive, few people knew her as a poet. In fact, few people knew her. She stayed in the family home for most of her life and was not known as a poet probably because few of her poems were published during her lifetime. In fact, only ten appeared in print during her lifetime, but now we have this 25-poem portion in I told my soul to sing published by Paraclete Press,
Author Kristin LeMay, who teaches writing at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, sees herself as a good match for "Emily," as she calls her. They seem to have similar likes and dislikes, thoughts and beliefs. Both are poets, both sometimes waver between faith and doubt. LeMay thinks of Emily as "patron saint of all who wrestle with God."
Emily was brought up in a strict, conservative, Calvinistic atmosphere, as her father ruled the family with love and firmness, but probably not much fun and humor. They were in a college town, but Emily had few contacts outside her own family and church. She and her brother Austin were close friends during their growing-up years, and when he married, his father had a home built for him and his wife on the family property. Sister Lavinia, third child, also stayed at home, caring for their mother and the household when their mother became ill.
During those years, there was a lot of pressure from both family and church to "be converted, believe in God." This was after the Great Awakening, 1740 and onward, and many small towns in New England and all over the country felt the pressure to "convert to Christ." As a teenager, Emily attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for one year, then returned home and traveled very little during the rest of her life.
When Emily died at 55, her sister Vinnie found a box full of letters and poems that Emily had written. There were more than 1800 poems and over 1,000 letters. Author LeMay explores her choice of 25 of those poems. She says hers is "not a scholarly account" and she goes on to explain how Emily’s poems and prayers have enriched LeMay’s own spiritual beliefs and helped with her doubts. Emily is very open and vocal about what she thinks about God, nature, believing, doubting, on and on. Over the years her beliefs became more firm and settled, but she still had many moments of doubt, as her poems show.
It’s interesting to watch how Emily’s spiritual life opened up as she became concerned about the people she knew: relatives, friends, and correspondents. She wrote to them with love and offered encouragement and even care where possible. Emily loved to bake and used her ability there to give gifts to those for whom she was concerned. She wrote loving letters to her cousins for instance, and sent them bits of poetry for encouragement. She told them she "cannot pray," but then she did pray throughout her poems.
Emily said it’s okay to borrow words for prayer, so LeMay, when faced with doubts sometimes borrows Emily’s words for her own prayers. LeMay also discovered the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, can be useful for our prayers.
Emily stayed inside her home and gardens. At some point she began to wear white dresses. She avoided talking with people. She did not attend church. Perhaps Emily used her own poetry as a path to conversion. LeMay says that Emily’s poetry was "her means for working out her own salvation." LeMay believes that Emily "never stopped converting, never stopped turning and turning around those questions of life and death."
I am thinking that Emily Dickinson suffered from an ailment that probably was not known in her day, now called Agoraphobia. There are many people who have some of the symptoms, but they probably don’t know what it is nor how to cope with it. Sometimes it begins with a stressful event and over time, the person may consider more and more public places as "out of bounds," until eventually they are confined to their homes. They may have panic attacks and try to avoid that by staying at home. There may be depression. It is a type of anxiety disorder, but there is treatment and Agoraphobia responds well to treatment.
Emily tried to deal with it as best she could, I’m sure. Staying home, writing poetry and letters to her friends, probably all helped. And, we have the gift of her poems and letters. Many thanks to Kristin LeMay for her book. Anyone who appreciates Emily Dickinson should have this book to read, study, compare, question, and enjoy.
—Lois Sibley

Monday, March 25, 2013

Keeping the Feast

"Life happens around the table, in the making of meals and memories, in the sharing of food and friendship," writes Milton Brasher-Cunningham in his book Keeping the Feast, Metaphors for the Meal published by Morehouse Publishing,
Brasher-Cunningham writes about the "different meals of our lives," offering "Metaphors for Communion" in the meals he describes as "new ways to think about The Meal." His book is a gift during this Holy Week, as we are already thinking of Coming to the Table, and The Great Thanksgiving, and words like Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, and The Meal That Matters Most.
Brasher-Cunningham believes "it was the years of breakfasts and dinners stacked up in my soul like pancakes that produced an unflinching tether" to the importance of family meals shared together and to which he has clung and applied to his life-long learning.
Described as writer, chef, poet, teacher, minister, youth leader, small urban farmer, musician, husband, and keeper of Schnauzers, Brasher-Cunningham shares not only his food recipes, but also his poetry, as well as reflections on his experiences with co-workers, family and church members, and friends.

And don’t forget the recipes. Among them are Refrigerator Rolls; Saturday Night Chicken; Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts; Open-Faced Chicken Pot Pie; Cornbread Dressing; Barbecue Bonfire Packs; Strawberry Shortcake; and White Chocolate, Cranberry, and Pumpkin Seed Cookies. He writes at
—Lois Sibley

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Where is my Dad?"

"Where is my Dad?" the young boy cried. "I want my Dad." He was only two or three then, but at church and the daycare, he saw that other kids have dads, so he must have one, too. His mom explained that he has two brothers, but no dad in the home, because she is a single mom. He listened, and he loves his mom and his brothers, but still, he longs for a dad.
In Church for the Fatherless published by,  Rev Mark E. Strong writes of his concern for the children, both boys and girls, who are fatherless and what the church can do to help them. Pastor Strong offers examples of  families who have struggled with this ever-rising problem of no father in the home, or with a father who is "not loving and merciful, but harsh and overbearing."
Strong notes that more than 40% of children in the U.S. live apart from their fathers and that number continues to rise. He believes that "the church as God’s redemptive agent in the community has a responsibility" to address this growing problem. His goal with this book is to help readers "gain a deeper understanding of the problems surrounding the issue of fatherlessness; to share some practical and doable ways your church, ministry, or organization can serve the fatherless; and to inspire and encourage you to engage in and be a part of God’s answer to fill the fatherless void."
Strong says that ministry to the fatherless is not just an option, it is a biblical mandate. He reminds readers that in Psalm 68:5, God is called "a father to the fatherless," and in the Old Testament, over 40 Scripture passages "make ministry to the fatherless a priority and a matter of justice" for the community. And the fatherless problem is not limited to a single ethnic group. Just look around. Rich, poor, white, black, brown, yellow, red, mixed—all are affected.
Churches can be mobilized to help. Strong suggests starting a small group for fathers in your church. "Keep it simple and make it fun." Church members can be taught to be mentors to the children in the church who lack a father in the home, much as Paul and Timothy’s relationship in the Bible. See 1 Corinthians and the Letters to Timothy in the New Testament.
Strong shares many practical tips on how to help the fatherless find "a healing path for their wounds." How to get started? "Begin. Be encouraged, connected, equipped, thankful, joyful, smart, tenacious, prayerful and, most of all, believe." Faith in God is required when working with the fatherless. You and your church can make a difference. Go ahead! Start now!
—Lois Sibley

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lent, Year C

Lent for Everyone, Luke, Year C continues N.T. Wright’s series on Lent, published by WestminsterJohnKnox (
Author of many books, Wright is also Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Beginning our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday and concluding with Easter Saturday, Wright provides us with his own translation of the Gospel stories. He gently guides readers into each story as, watching, listening, and learning, we follow Jesus on his way.
The Contents page guides us to the portion of Luke and the verses we are focusing on each day. Sundays begin with an appropriate Psalm and the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel is followed by four portions of Acts that continue the story.
Each day we begin with the Gospel passage for the day. Then Wright jumps from the long ago culture described in Luke to our own culture, describing, comparing, appreciating and noting the differences and the similar happenings and attitudes. He reminds us that the Creator of the World promised that one day the world will be turned "the right way up at last." Now, in Luke, we read of tell-tale signs appearing, when an angel comes and talks to a young girl named Mary.
Wright assures us that "The whole of Luke’s Gospel is about the way in which the living God has planted, in Jesus, the seed of that long-awaited hope in the world. It begins with that tiny life in Mary’s womb." And it continues...
It’s fun to follow as Wright helps us join in, be part of each story, and "make it our own." He suggests we "pause and pray" about any messages we may get from time to time on our Lenten journey, and he provides a brief, sample prayer for each day.

---Lois Sibley

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ben, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Black History Month...

On January 1, 1863, 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. A five-page document, cherished by some, ignored by others, it was a surprise to a young slave, apprenticed to a tailor in Charleston, South Carolina. His father had taught him a few letters of the alphabet but he warned Ben not to let anyone know, as slaves were not allowed to read.
As Ben moved around the city on errands for his master, he looked at street signs and learned their names. In the market place, as he purchased items for his master’s wife, he knew the names that went with boxes of fruit and produce that she asked him to get for her. He thought that he could teach himself to read, so he did.
When Ben visited his mother on the plantation where she was a slave, she showed Ben a precious gold coin for which she had saved by doing extra jobs. She promised Ben he would have it when he learned to write. So he found scraps of paper, made a kind of watery ink, and practiced as he washed floors and windows, making letters and words and then washing them off before anyone noticed. And at Christmas, his mother gave him the gold coin.
But suddenly the Civil War came to Charleston. There were gray uniforms everywhere and many residents were fleeing, including the tailor to whom Ben was apprenticed. Ben was sent to live in a slave prison. Other slaves who knew he could read often begged him to read to them, and to teach them how to read. One night they woke Ben up, brought him a torch, and several pages of a newspaper. "Read it, read it," they begged. "President Lincoln wrote it," they said. Ben was surprised but he began to read. "Stand up." "Speak louder." And so he did. "All persons held as slaves...shall be thenceforward and forever free...." There was loud cheering all around him, but quiet comfort in Ben’s heart. He knew his mother would be proud of the way he read that night.
Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation is a true story, well-written by Pat Sherman and beautifully illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers,, this remains one of my favorite books.
Sherman adds that Ben’s name was Benjamin C. Holmes. He later worked in Tennessee, where he was drafted into the Confederate Army. After the war, he held several jobs, then attended the new Fisk University in Nashville. He sang with Fisk’s Jubilee Singers and traveled with them in America and Europe. He died in the 1870s, possibly from tuberculosis. Ben is one of many men and women, boys and girls we remember during Black History Month.

---Lois Sibley

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Here's a challenge...

You might like to try this: "Read the Bible in a Year." That’s the subtitle of a new book called The Bible Challenge, edited by Marek Zabriskie, and published by Forward Movement ( with promises to help you do that. Zabriskie is founder of The Bible Challenge and the Center for Biblical Studies, as well as rector of St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh, Fort Washington, Pa.
Zabriskie says you can start anytime, but he suggests starting on a Monday with Day 1, assuming readers will be in church on Sunday hearing the Scriptures for that day. He also says, "read slowly and meditatively, as if it were a love letter written by God especially to you."
More than 100 clergy and other Christian leaders were asked to join in the experience, each one providing three brief commentaries and meditations in a row, a question or two to think about, and a prayer. They do cover the whole Bible (every day except Sunday when we are in church), naming the sources each day from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament. Keep your own Bible nearby so you can read the biblical stories along with the meditations.
Each of the contributors is named with his or her position and whereabouts around the world. They were encouraged to use their favorite translation of the Bible. The Foreword was written by the twenty-fifth Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, The Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, who says that we learn in Hebrews 4:12 that "the word of God took the form not only of speech, it also ‘happened.’ It took the form of events and encounters, visions, and words heard with the ear of the heart." What can we do, but listen, and follow!
You may contact for tips, schedules, resources, and ways to connect with other readers.
Zabriskie advises that readers "put yourself in the presence of God before you read any portion of the Bible." It sounds like a good plan. Let’s try it!
—Lois Sibley