Friday, December 9, 2016

Advent with Coloring and Music...

Here we are at Advent again! I took a peek at what I suggested for reading a good book during our last Advent, and it was Bud Holland's book of stories, called Advent Presence, from Morehouse Publishing.  We enjoyed Bud's stories as we began Advent, and learning more of the biblical stories and the people who lived through those times.

With this Advent, we have new possibilities to add to our preparations for the coming of the Lord. It may sound strange or funny to you, but a Coloring Book? Am I kidding you? No, because I am actually used to the idea of coloring books to relieve stress. I worked in a company that produced just-passed new laws for local, small-town officials. These books had to be perfect. Changing where a comma was could change the law and that thought was stressful. So if our boss saw we were upset and stressed, he would say, "Take a break, and do a page in the coloring book," (thanks, Bill) and it usually worked.

Today, there are new ideas and combinations of helpful materials to guide and teach us as we think over the biblical stories we know, or are learning. As we think about the angel speaking to Mary and saying, "Be not afraid." And Joseph, rethinking his plan about caring for and helping Mary with her news, and his being told by an angel to take her as his wife. Could that be real, he thought, and he decided "yes," it was real, and he began his plan for a new life.

In our minds, thinking of what happened, I'm sure we could use a 24-day Advent Coloring Calendar from Paraclete Publishing, and also two cds, one called Keeping Christmas: Beloved Carols and the Christmas Story; and for those who are interested in Gregorian Chant, they offer The Coming of Christ: A Celebration of Faith in His Name. I am impressed by the idea of doing this, especially putting the coloring together with the music as we remember the biblical stories. Try it! And see if it works for you!

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Reformed Church?...

According to my list, I began reviewing religious books on my blog on June 11, 2012. That was quite awhile ago and I have enjoyed every minute of it. Today's review is #100, although I admit that sometimes I did put together two reviews that seemed important to be together.

Today's book is called What is a Reformed Church? and its series title is Basics of the Faith.  It's only 28 pages, but those are important and informative pages. Author is Stephen Smallman, who is a pastor in Philadelphia, and publisher is P&R Publishing, at What is a Reformed Church? is part of a series of books on questions people ask. Pastor Smallman says that during his many years as pastor, he was often asked this particular question and this book began as answers to those who shared this question.

Pastor Smallman planned to cover six themes in this book and he begins his answers with historical roots of the Protestant Reformation. In the 1500s, committed Christians, such as Martin Luther, were trying to reform the established church of their day, known to us as the Roman Catholic Church. Luther joined his voice to others calling for corrections of abuses in the churches, and Luther came to the "unshakable conviction that, to be faithful to the Lord, the Church must build on the absolute authority of Scripture." Luther's "uncompromising stance forced him to leave the Church of Rome in 1520, and the new movement was under way."

Some of the churches followed Luther while others in Europe were labeled "Reformed" churches, and one of the leaders of the Reformed was "the Frenchman John Calvin, the principle teacher for the church of Geneva." Even today, terms such as Reformed and Calvinist are nearly synonymous. Calvin's Institutes began as a tract but was revised and enlarged four times. The final edition of 1559 is still studied today.

Smallman continues, describing the six themes of Reformed heritage. They are: Scripture, Divine Sovereignty, The Covenant, The Law of God, The Church, and The Kingdom of God. He describes each theme, giving some of its history. explaining where it is now and what we should look for in future. I highly recommend this book. As the Reformers said, "True reform is never finished---a Reformed Church will be continually reforming. God is the same. His word is true." But our world is changing. We need "new ways of speaking about the God who is our Rock."

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Advent Mystery and New Beginnings

As we think about and plan how we will spend Advent, it's good to search and find some new books that may be helpful in our Advent study. One of the possibilities, especially for families who have children and reading is a part of their family devotions, is this new book: All Creation Waits, The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, written by Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein, and published by Paraclete Press.

In the northern hemisphere of the world we think of special ways of fasting, giving, and praying throughout our Advent time. Gayle Boss with her words shows that she is thinking of the animals, how they cope, and what they do, at such a time. Have you ever thought about how wild animals manage as they search for food and warmth and safety in the winter ahead? Perhaps not. Animals may "take in the threat of dark and cold, and they adapt in amazing and ingenious ways," Boss says. And, the animals say, in their way: "the dark is not an end, but a door. This is the way a new beginning comes." Boss believes the animals can be our companions and guides. She writes "They can be to us "a book about God..."a word of God, the God who comes, even in the darkest season, to bring us a new beginning."

David Klein's illustrations are beautiful and interesting. Children who hear the stories and see the sketches will be captured and have many "why," "why," "why," questions. Here are the animals as depicted and explained. They are: painted turtle, muskrat, black bear, chickadee, whitetail deer, honey bee, chipmunk, cottontail, common loon, wood frog, raccoon, little brown bat, opossum, wild turkey, common garter snake, woodchuck, striped skunk, porcupine, common Eastern firefly, meadow vole, Eastern fox squirrel, red fox, northern cardinal, lake trout. Followed on Christmas Day with a meditation on Jesus, the Christ. "For the animals, their hope, and the hope of all that breathes, is that human ones abandon themselves to the One Great Love. For that, all creation waits."

Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On the back porch. . .

Early on summer Sunday mornings, I often sit on my back porch with This Day, a book of Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems written between 1979 and 2013. While all the machines are silent, I read and savor two or three poems, reading slowly and rereading. For instance, with birdsong, ". . .the day ends/and is unending where/the summer tanager, warbler, and vireo/sing as they move among/illuminated leaves," and "heaven seizes its moment" (1998, VI). For years, Berry has been taking walks into his woods on Sunday mornings. From time to time, a poem emerges, polished on the front porch of his writing cabin at the edge of the trees.

A Small Porch ( gives us twenty-five new Sabbath poems from 2014 and 2015, plus an essay, "The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation." The hardback just appeared in my mailbox, and I don’t want to hurry through it—at my usual rate, this many poems could take a couple of months of slow reading. So we’ll only explore the book a little; a spoonful or two to share the flavor with you.

First the essay, "The Presence of Nature." In surveying more than 50 years of reading, Berry reports that he has been in conversation with Scripture, which imposes "on humans the obligation to take good care of a world both given to them. . .and to which they have been given," and with several poets whose work was formed by Scripture, especially Chaucer, Spencer, Langland, Milton, Pope; and who "seem to have remembered" Alan of Lille’s Plaint of Nature (c. 1170). So, there are several pages about Alan’s Plaint followed by comments on the poets, giving some clues to how Berry reads his fields and woods.

And now, a poem from the Porch (2014, V.). "The silence of the barn at evening,/when the shepherd draws shut the door/and starts home for the night, is heavenly,/for it says almost aloud that every lamb/is found, every ewe has found her lamb/and is feeding, and is content." Reading this just before dark, I notice the silence. The hatchlings in the wisteria have ceased chirping and the wren is with them, settled for the night. She has fed them all day and now they rest.

The second stanza in Berry’s poem speaks of "another of the barn’s silences. . .[when] the ewes and their young ones/now are gone. . .to new pasture." The nest in the wisteria will empty into silence in a few more days, to be discovered by a grandson when the leaves fall in autumn.

—Larry Sibley

Friday, June 17, 2016

Christian Life and Hope

Here we are at McGrath's final book in this series on The Heart of Christian Faith. From wjkbooks it is called The Christian Life and Hope, a Guide for Study and Devotion. McGrath turns now "to the great theme of Christian hope and the way it transforms and sustains the Christian Life." Readers may ask "what is this hope" and "how does it affect how we think and act each day?" McGrath gives answers to these questions in five chapters. First, he writes about the "sacraments: signs and memories of hope." Then, the meaning of "the resurrection of the dead" followed by a chapter on "Heaven and eternity: the Christian hope." Next he discusses "Between the times: the life of faith," and his conclusion is titled: "further up and further in."

McGrath tells the reader he is using material from his earlier sermons and as he goes over his sermons and prepares each chapter he feels as though he needs to hear each biblical passage himself; he needs to understand more about the great doctrinal themes he is exploring; and he knows his need to listen, as he is preaching to himself as well as to readers and listeners.

In his Introduction, McGrath describes each of the five chapters and how they fit together. First, he talks about "the sacraments, how are they helpful to Christians, what do they believe about them, and what are they to do with them." In chapters 2 and 3, we are reminded again of the creeds and the hope of resurrection for those who do believe. And what is Heaven about and how does it fit with everyday life and worship of our God, who is "loving and trustworthy, and who refuses to let violence, death, and destruction have the final word." Though sad things continue to happen, as recently in Orlando, we look for, hope for, and pray for, "our restoration to the life God always wanted for us."

McGrath suggests that those who believe in God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) might find it helpful to have a mentor, a friend who would answer questions, explain things we might not understand. He suggests the writings of G. K. Chesterton, or C. S. Lewis, or Dorothy Sayers as possible mentors.  He himself does have a mentor and has found him very helpful. When McGrath became a Christian, his mentor helped him to see "that his new faith did not call upon him to abandon his love of science, but to see it in a new way." Actually, to have "a new motivation for loving science and a deepened appreciation for its outcomes." Could be helpful...think about it.......

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Saturday, May 28, 2016

McGrath on faith and creeds

We have been reading Alister McGrath's series called The Heart of Christian Faith, and today we read and review book four in his series. Published by, this one is named The Spirit of Grace, A Guide for Study and Devotion. In the first three books in this series, McGrath explained "basic themes of Christian faith," as he led readers through the "nature of faith," the Christian understanding of God," and the "identity and significance of Jesus of Nazareth." Now he looks at the "next major set of beliefs," as he examines the Apostles' Creed and what it means when it speaks of "the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins."

This title, The Spirit of Grace, reminds us that God is active in the world. If you doubt it, remember that the creeds "make it clear that the Holy Spirit brings life and renewal to believers and the church." The creeds "affirm that God is gracious, seen especially in the forgiveness of sins." And the creeds "remind us of the importance of the Church as the community of faith." These three themes are interconnected and McGrath asks readers to think and consider "what impact they may have on how we live and think as Christians."

McGrath says that "for many Christians, the Holy Spirit is one of the more puzzling aspects of both the creeds and the Christian faith." He writes: "we must think of God as a living presence in the world and in our lives." And, "Faith is not just about themes or ideas, it is about a growing relationship with God, enabled by the Spirit." McGrath asks "how can the role of the community of faith nurture individual believers' lives?" Here, McGrath begins to map out some basic positions and issues to help readers think this through. "But," he says, "you will have to make up your own mind about which way of thinking about the church seems best for you."

Hope you enjoy this study. Next month we will review the final book in this series, The Christian Life and Hope.

Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Helping those with addictions

"Addiction recovery is much more than a referral to the closest AA group. It is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for a whole community to be transformed by the grace of God." Jonathan Benz is a clinician, public speaker, ordained minister and a certified addictions professional, who serves and directs a treatment program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Benz's book, co-authored with Kristina Robb Dover, is called The Recovery-Minded Church, from IVP.  With a subtitle called Loving and Ministering to People with Addiction, this book may be one we have been looking for, wishing for, hoping for, as we look around and see friends, loved ones, visitors, most of whom do not talk about their addiction and what to do about it.

Benz says he designed this book as a "toolkit," and he is eager to help and encourage anyone who may be dealing with some type of addiction to listen, read, share ideas and opportunities to overcome their addiction, whatever it may be. He says that in America, 30% of the population struggle with some form of addiction. He estimates that 6% of Americans struggle with some form of sexual addiction; approximately 10% have drug or alcohol addictions; around 7.5% exhibit some form of an eating disorder; some 6% are compulsive shoppers; and at least 1% are pathological gamblers. He claims his "estimate is conservative, because many of those struggling with addiction will never report their struggles out of fear or shame, or they will become casualties of their addiction before they can get the help they need."

The book begins with the questions church members may be asking, and continues with answers from "the perspective of a Christian addiction recovery clinician." Referring throughout to the parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15, Benz calls his Section 1: Tools for Loving People with Addiction. Section 2 is Tools for Creating a Recovery-Friendly Church.

Benz writes: section 1 "will outfit you with practical tools for loving people with addictions in your midst," and section 2 "will equip you with tips and practices for building a recovery-friendly church." Don't skip the appendix, which offers info on Christian treatment programs, recovery groups, websites and readings, also detailed info on various addictions you may encounter. Our authors remind us that "the guiding principle for any intervention is to remember the goal of getting an addict into recovery. This must govern how we conduct ourselves." Benz and Robb-Dover remind us that "though addiction is an epidemic in America. the church can and must respond." And the church and those with addictions have much to learn and teach about the sanctifying grace of God.

---Lois Sibley,

Friday, April 22, 2016

Comfort for the ill and their caregivers

This is not a new book, but it's a valuable one for those who are ill, and their caregivers. Morehouse Publishing/cpi and Mary C. Earle have given us Days of Grace: Meditations and Practices for Living with Illness. The Psalms are left out of the title so I'll tell you that each of the 30 days and an Afterword begin with a quote from one of the Psalms. Earle had long used and learned parts of the Psalms in her own prayers and they are perfect here.

It's a small book, meant to fit in a pocket or purse, consisting of three parts for each of 30-days. Each page is carefully put together with a line or two from a Psalm, a short meditation, and something interesting called "Practices." Yes, she is practical and the parts fit together, encouraging readers to read and use each part, but slowly, thoughtfully, prayerfully. No hurry and plenty of thinking time.

Those who read and respond may be either the one who is ill or the caregiver. Perhaps they will both appreciate the words on certain days, certain pages, and will take turns reading and thinking and talking and  practicing in response. They may not be aware of the power in prayers found in the Psalms. They may not be used to sitting quietly and listening or reading a meditation about the love and wisdom God shares with his people. They may be surprised that a practice is offered as a way of  responding to the Psalm verse and the meditation.

Earle suggests that one practice might be writing down questions asked after becoming ill. Choose a question and write it down with a prayer to God. Leave it with him as you think of what has happened in your illness. Notice feelings, memories, perhaps growth in acceptance. Close and comfort yourself or your caregiver with a "simple prayer of thanksgiving." Or, caregiver may offer a prayer as comfort for one who is ill. Caregivers and patients both, could find Days of Grace helpful.

Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Worship in Sixteenth-Century Geneva

If you love and appreciate church history, this book will keep you interested, perhaps even excited. Author Karin Maag has brought together "primary sources, such as: images, liturgies, sermons, letters, eyewitness accounts of happenings, and Genevan consistory records" from the years 1541--64. Some of these sources are translated into English for the first time.  Called Lifting Hearts to the Lord, Worship with John Calvin in Sixteenth-Century Geneva, it is part of a series called The Church at Worship: Case Studies From Christian History. Published by Eerdmans, several of the books are already in print. There is one on worship where Jesus walked, worship in fourth century Jerusalem; another on sixth century Constantinople; and another on a Black Holiness Church. Editors for the series are Lester Ruth, Carrie Steenwyk, and John Witvliet. The plan is for at least three more in this series. One will be on worship with the Anaheim Vineyard Fellowship, and one on worship with Isaac Watts in Eighteenth-Century London, And one on worship with Argentine Baptists in the Mid-Twentieth Century. So better get ready as it looks like a fascinating, long read.

Karin Maag is director of the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies  at Calvin College and Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is also professor of history at Calvin College. For this book, Lifting Hearts to the Lord, she uses Geneva, Switzerland as a "case study for investigating the theology and practice of worship in the Reformation era, years 1541--1564." Maag offers both Calvin's contributions to "Reformation worship" and the voices of ordinary Genevans who expressed their feelings "as they navigated, debated, and even fought over the changes in worship" as a result of the Reformation.

The layout is interesting. There are maps and illustrations of people and churches, a helpful timeline, excerpts from Calvin's and others' opinions, sermons, and advice. And on almost every page, in red ink on the side margins there is small print advising readers on the situation, what's happening, what to expect, etc. For anyone interested in this special Reformation time, I count Maag's book a treasure.

Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bio of J.I. Packer...

Author Leland Ryken has written J.I. Packer, An Evangelical Life (from Crossway), who has become a well-known theologian in both the UK, Canada, and the USA. Ryken wants readers to know Packer and to get a picture of his varied roles and accomplishments. In other words, it's "the man" he wants his readers to know and appreciate. James Innell Packer was born on July 22, 1926 in the village of Twyning, near the city of Gloucester, England. Packer was known as "a shy boy, who did not mingle much with others." At seven years old he began to attend the "junior school." There was some bullying going on and one day another student chased Packer out of the school grounds and onto a busy street. The result: Packer was hit by a passing van and "the injuries to his head have affected him every day since."

"Taken to the Gloucester Royal Infirmary and rushed into surgery," the injury was trauma to the head with "a depressed compound fracture of the frontal bone on the right side of his forehead."  After three weeks in hospital and six months at home for recuperation, he was able to return to school. His parents took every precaution to prevent further injury to their son's head. No physical activities in the following years, and no bike riding. When most kids wanted and received a bicycle on their birthday, Packer was surprised to receive a typewriter, which sounds strange, but proved to be a great help to him when he began his writing career later.

Packer has done so many things it's hard to relate them all, so Ryken has chosen to put his story into three parts. Part 1 is The Life and reports on Packer's early life and college years (1926--1948). Then comes Theological Education and Ministry, (1948--1954). Next is Professional Life in England (1955--1979) followed by Professional Life in North America (1979--Present).

Part 2 is called The Man, giving a portrait of the man, at first little known, and his style and rhetoric and what they tell about him. Part 3 is Lifelong Themes, and covers the Bible, Puritans, Writing, Anglicanism, Theology, Preaching and the Minister's Calling, and Controversy.

In an Afterword, Ryken gives Packer three pages to "reflect on his life," which he does nicely, like this: "I am drawn to thank God again for what he has led me to discern and attempt thus far, and to ask him to raise up other saved sinners who will travel further and faster along these trails to serve the church of tomorrow. So may God be glorified. Amen."

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bible Studies on Listening to God

Listening to God consists of 10 studies for individuals or groups. Written by Carolyn Nystrom, this is an important part of IVP's Life Guide Bible Studies series. Nystrom has written many booklets on Bible studies for IVP and I recommend  whatever she writes in this regard. But seriously, have you tried listening to God lately? Or do you just hope he is listening to you? InterVarsity Press has been working for years to provide Bible studies for those who are interested, either for themselves or for a group of people who want to learn more about the Bible and its stories and teachings. And Nystrom is always careful to give suggestions for either individual or group studies, this time in the front of the booklet and Leader's Notes, in the back, pp. 47-64. These notes are very helpful, preparing the leader for each of the 10 studies, providing suggestions and questions that will encourage the discussions at each of the meetings.

If it's a group meeting, or individuals, each should have a copy of this booklet as they go through the 10 weeks of study. Because, there is a space for each person to write their answer to the  question before them, helping them to be ready for the discussion or just in order to think it through. Nystrom explains that they are doing an inductive Bible study, meaning that each one will discover for themselves "what the Scriptures are saying." She cautions that each member of a group study should "come to the study prepared, be willing to participate in the discussion, stick to the topic being discussed, and rarely refer to other portions of the Bible." Other advice includes "be sensitive to other members of the group, listen attentively, be affirming whenever you can, be careful not to dominate the discussion, expect God to teach you." If you are the group leader, there are more helpful hints in the Leader's Notes at the back.

The first chapter is called The God Who speaks, and the second is Listening to the God Who Hears.   Chapters with ideas for listening continue, including Listening to the God of Covenant, ....when All Is Lost.....Listening as Worship, Understand.....with Holy Self-Discipline.....and finally Listening as Ears of the Church.

 As an example: note that Study 8, Holy Help in Listening, John 14:5-31, "has a purpose," writes Nystrom, "to better understand God as Trinity and so to particularly value God the Holy Spirit." The questions are part of Jesus' final conversation with his disciples. They were probably walking
toward Gethsemane......

---Lois Sibley, ireviewreligiousbks

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Understanding the death of Jesus...

Remember those days when women couldn't preach or write books of their own sermons?  Amazing, what they do today! Fleming Rutledge is one of those women who has been given freedom to both preach and provide collections of her sermons. She is a well-known Episcopal priest, and preacher throughout North America and the UK. Rutledge has a new book, The Crucifixion, Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, from Eerdmans.  Her books have been appreciated across denominational lines and this one will be no exception. But this one is different. It's not sermons, but it's about Jesus.

Among Rutledge's goals for this book are to "expand the discussion about what happened on the cross of Christ" and "to encourage the return of that subject to the center of Christian proclamation." She has designed her book for "potential readers, both lay and ordained, Catholic and Protestant, and for members of all denominations." She doesn't want to leave anyone out and she does have in mind "busy pastors, lay people who want to understand their faith better, seminary students, and especially those who are 'drawn to the figure on the cross,'" but are not sure what to believe about him.

Her book has two parts. Part 1 is called The Crucifixion, and sections are on the primacy of the Cross, godlessness, questions of justice, a special section on Anselm and his story for our time, and finally the gravity of sin. Part 2 is called The Biblical Motifs and she discusses many phrases, dominant ideas, and central themes and how those who were there interacted, and some later wrote what they were feeling and thinking about Christ on the cross.

Rutledge asserts that "the crucifixion is the most important historical event that has ever happened," and the "resurrection ratifies the cross as the way 'until he comes.'" There is also much good information about the four Gospels and the letters of Paul. Without Paul, Rutledge says that we might struggle to understand the parables and other happenings in the Gospels. She advises that this quote from Paul can be our hearts' comfort and joy: "Christ lives in me, and the life I now by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, NRSV).

---Lois Sibley,

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A book for forty days of Lent...

The forty days of Lent started on Feb. 10, and if you have not yet found the special book you would like to read during Lent, here's one: Meeting God in Paul, Reflections for the Season of Lent by Rowan Williams and published by It's a small book, just three chapters followed by helpful portions like questions for personal reflection and/or group discussion; a Lenten reading guide with a brief Sunday reflection and prayer; and notes and suggestions for further reading.

These lectures were given by Williams during a Holy Week at Canterbury. For ten years he served as Archbishop of Canterbury, and now is Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Williams uses portions of Acts, and New Testament  stories and parts of Paul's letters to help us learn more about Paul's concerns. He thinks that for many "regular churchgoers Paul's time remains a closed book," and many of us are not understanding how important Paul and his ideas were in his day. We may have heard of him, and we may have gathered assumptions about him and his teachings. And perhaps we have thought of him as a trouble-maker, as we remember his history and experiences with the early church.

Paul was a Roman citizen and a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. Williams thinks of Paul as "really interesting and exciting," and he has written this book to "Sketch in a bit of the background" to help today's Christian community understand those early years. So chapter 1 is called Outsiders and insiders: Paul's social world. In this, Williams brings up the question: did Paul write this? or that? and some might say, "it's a forgery." Williams accepts that "most of the literature under Paul's name, actually does originate from him." Sometimes, perhaps with a helper.

Chapter 2 is called The universal welcome: Paul's disturbing idea. Could it be true that God, the Creator, welcomes us to be a part of his people, his community? Why and how could he do that?

And Chapter 3 is called The new creation: Paul's Christian universe. Williams says that because of Jesus' death, we have been welcomed into relationship with God so that we may boldly say "Abba, Father," And we who believe in Jesus Christ must remember that "our hope in Christ is not just a future event. It's a future that has already started." And it grows on into the "depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God."(Rom. 11.33). Enjoy the read.....

---Lois Sibley,

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Are we crazy, or what?

One of the ways to get to know a person is to read what they have written. When I was in college, I was in a group who did this. We wanted to know the authors and we read all we could find about each one. When I was in the library, reading a book by one of these authors, my husband-to-be kept walking by the table where I was. He was checking out which book I was reading, which author did I appreciate most, he wondered. Eventually, we married and "yes" we went to that seminary. There are no regrets, we still love it there.

I am reminded of this because we are ready and eager to learn more about our new Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry. One of the ways to get to know him is to read his two books (I'm sure there will be more). Crazy Christians, A Call to Follow Jesus is the first, published in 2013 by Morehouse Publishing (CPI). This book is a collection of some of Curry's sermons given at  churches and conventions. He served a number of churches before becoming Bishop of North Carolina from 2000 to 2015. And in July, 2015 he was elected the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

He gently calls us all "Crazy Christians" and I begin to wonder why. When I hear the word crazy a certain tune comes into my head and I have trouble pushing it away as it's very powerful. So the tune wanders around as I read Curry's book, which is powerful as well. I consider it a privilege to read his sermons and I discover that he thinks Jesus is "crazy." When Curry speaks of Moses and Joseph and prophets of the Old Testament as well as Jesus' friends and disciples in the New, he is quick to point out that Jesus says: "The greatest among you will be your servant" (Matt. 23:11), and Curry says, "that's crazy!" But after he thinks about if for a bit he says, "what the church needs, what this world needs are some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to do justice like Jesus, walk humbly with God---like Jesus."
In her Foreword, The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, 26th Presiding Bishop, just before Curry, advises readers: In Curry's books you might "Read, savor, dream, and sing---and then discover the Spirit all around you in unexpected people, places, and invitations."

Curry's second book, also published by Morehouse, this one in 2015, is called Songs My Grandma Sang and if you are a grandma, as I am, you may know exactly what she was teaching the children in her family as they were growing up. Singing was an important part of that teaching. Children remember what they are singing about Jesus. It doesn't go away but buries itself way down deep inside until the Holy Spirit calls. J. Neil Alexander writes in his Foreword, "God's people are a singing people and if our children are going to have faith, they are going to have to learn to sing" including their grandma's songs of faith. There is much preaching in this book, too, and Alexander writes of it: "When Bishop Michael preaches, you expect to be instructed, inspired, propelled, and sent." So here he comes. Are we ready?

Lois Sibley,

Monday, January 11, 2016

Walking with God and our Prayers

With All Our Prayers, Walking with God through the Christian Year is a new book published by Eerdmans and written by John B. Rogers, Jr., who is retired after being pastor in four different Presbyterian congregations. Rogers calls this collection "Prayers of the People, or pastoral prayers," culled from the many prayers he and his congregations have shared over the years. He writes that "these prayers focus....intentionally on issues of faith, and on pastoral situations in congregations, in communities, and in the lives of individuals and families."

Rogers invites all readers..."to take an intentional journey" with him and with God through the Christian year. I am always intrigued by Presbyterians who delve deeply into The Book of Common Prayer, as he does, and he makes it easy to follow. Each prayer has a descriptive name on his Contents page, including the names of the special days in the Christian year, followed by special days like: Sunday before Memorial Day, Confirmation, Prayer after September 11, 2001, World Communion Sunday, Reformation Sunday, All Saints' Day, and more.

We have already slipped past Advent, but we can pause and hear what Rogers says about that special time. He writes: "Eternal God, before we speak, even in prayer, we must listen....we remember that the universe exists because you spoke it into being....'let their be light'....we remember that we are because you created us male and female in your image....we remember told us your name: 'I Am....Among you as God'....And now, in Advent, we prepare for the coming of him who bears your name,who is your promise in person, your Word made flesh --- even Jesus Christ our Lord."

There are many practical, useful prayers here. It's as though Rogers knows us and knows what we would pray for. Under the heading Prayers from Deep Within. Rogers says "we are grateful for the gift of prayer," but sometimes we wonder: what should we pray for, who should we pray for? We don't know what to say. We might pray: "O God: to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid..." and then pray "help us to relax,....give us wisdom, perspective, and understanding," and so we pray on as best we can. There are lots of pages on Lent and Easter, with good suggestions for our prayers and a reminder of Ps. 100: "It is he that made us and we are his" (NRSV). This is one of the best books on prayer that I have seen. Highly recommended.

---Lois Sibley