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