Good Christian Sex cover

Good (Progressive) Christian Sex (Resources): A review of Good Christian Sex

Good Christian Sex cover

Good Christian Sex

I have an entire shelf of books about sex in my office at church: historical critical analyses of sexuality in ancient Israel and first century Rome, dense volumes of theology and ethics, some psychology, and a distressing number of books about clerical abuse and safe spaces in church. One of my seminary professors instilled in me the practice of “the ministry of the well-placed book,” (thank you, Dr. Dykstra!) and I keep this shelf front and center in my office, hoping the message will be literally seen and figuratively heard: I am not afraid to talk about all aspects of being human, including (but not limited to) sexuality. It’s a bummer that we in the church have such a garbage history of dealing with sexuality that I have to think of creative ways to make this point well with my parishioners.

I’ve consulted this shelf many times over the years as I offer pastoral care, but I’ve never had a book I feel like I can just pull off the shelf and hand to church members to read on their own. The wisdom I’ve found is spread between them, never in one place. Far too many of these books are tomes of theological jargon written for seminary educated “experts.”

But the minute I’m done writing this review, Bromleigh McCleneghan’s book Good Christian Sex (http://www.bromleighm.com/book/) will be sliding into its well-earned place on my sex book shelf. This short read is theologically thoughtful, ethically coherent, narratively interesting, and accessible to an audience who has never set foot in a Systematic Theology 101 classroom. I can’t wait to hand it to members of my church. Read more

Sometimes We Need the Lines: A Review of the Adult Coloring Trend

adult coloring bookColor me skeptical. When I first noticed craft-store and grocery-store displays of mandala coloring books, artist-quality colored pencils, and overpriced pen sets, all marketed to adults, I winced. Don’t get me wrong. As an artist and former art teacher, I’m excited when the mainstream crowd gives a nod to the arts. And as a children’s minister, I’m equally jazzed when adults trade their carefully constructed decorum for childlike fun. (My sixty-something, always elegant senior minister once raced through an enormous, inflatable bouncy house at our church picnic, and I count it a blessing to have witnessed such joy.) And yet, I felt uneasy about the adult coloring trend. The commercialism of all the mass-produced coloring books raised an initial red flag for me, but the nagging feeling in my stomach didn’t stop there. At first I couldn’t put my finger on the cause of my growing grumpiness, but then it hit me: all the intricately drawn coloring pages seemed controlling. Sure, marketers were touting these books as creative and meditative outlets, but weren’t they really just enticing us to color inside the lines? Read more

Dying or Rising? A Review of Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church: Freedom beyond Survival by Anna Olson

Abandoned Church Hall

Abandoned Church Hall

During divinity school, I encountered the late medieval ars moriendi, handbooks on dying with grace. The entire concept of dying well seemed incredibly, uncomfortably foreign to my 22 year-old spirit: dying from the bubonic plague sounded, well, awful, and it was hard for me to imagine any grace in such a death. Staring at death and acknowledging that all things shall pass away seemed ghoulish or un-holy, contrary to the Easter God of life. Then, I served for five-and-a-half years in an urban parish that faced both the physical deaths of many parishioners and neighborhood youth, and battled against the death of its beloved Christian day school. We stared at the death of a ministry while trusting in the resurrection of the dead.

My experience at this faithful and brave church convinced me of the need for resources for our institutional life on how to die with grace and faith. The Rev. Anna B. Olson’s book, Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church: Freedom beyond Survival, is one of these resources.

Olson’s book includes both practical wisdom on the death of a church’s ministries and its preparations for new life and a bold theology of trust in the resurrection. In nine concise, readable chapters, the Rev. Olson describes how she and her congregation, St. Mary’s Mariposa in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, have practiced dying with grace. Olson shares how deaths of ministries have opened the way for the resurrection and for new life. Read more

the front doors of the Boston Globe building, lit up at night

It Takes a Village…: A Review of ‘Spotlight’

the front doors of the Boston Globe building, lit up at night

Boston Globe

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one,” is one of the most chilling lines in Spotlight, a film based on the investigation by journalists at the Boston Globe newspaper that led to the exposure of endemic child abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston in 2001. The publication of the Boston investigation then provoked the uncovering of a flood of similar cases in other Roman Catholic dioceses across the United States and around the world.

In 2001, the Spotlight investigative team at the Boston Globe began researching a series of allegations made against a single priest, but this individual story was barely the tip of the iceberg. More and more cases came to the attention of the small team of journalists working at Spotlight, and eventually they concluded that up to 6% of priests in the Boston diocese could be responsible for the abuse of a significant but unknown number of children. As the team identified and sought the stories of more and more victims, they discovered the lengths that the Church itself had gone to in order to silence and cover up the story over many, many years. Victims had not been believed, or had been given small financial settlements on the condition that they remained silent; known abuser priests had been moved from parish to parish to parish, free to abuse again and again; legal documents and key pieces of evidence were judicially sealed or mysteriously ‘lost’ from court records; most frighteningly, what becomes clear throughout the film was that people knew but did nothing. Those who attempted to speak up were silenced, ignored or simply disbelieved. Read more

grafitti vote

Love One Another: Election Edition

grafitti voteAre you an American citizen of voting age? Good. We need to talk. We’re in the thick of primary season, and have months to go before November. In my capacity as an “official religious person,” I sometimes feel the need to speak into the raucous echo-chamber of conversation that social media has become. If you’re like me, often you shut off the yelling and therapeutically eat cookies as a way to stave off growing despair over the state of American politics. But put down your cookies (or beer, or night cheese) and listen. Despair doesn’t help. Neither does apathetic disengagement. Unless you’re an avowed Anabaptist who has deeply held religious convictions about being divested from political process, you’ve got a responsibility to be educated, engaged, and present on voting day. So is this another screed against That-Guy-With-the-Hair or That-One-Lady? Nope. I’m going to roll us back from all of that. I want to talk to you about the underlying foundation of how we approach politics in general. Read more

Lego versions of Rey and Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens

The Force with Females

Lego versions of Rey and Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens

Rey in Lego

I am not ashamed to admit that the much-anticipated Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens brought me to tears. Maybe a part of that was hearing John Williams’s iconic theme music paired with an opening scroll making no reference to Trade Federations, Gungans or Midichlorians. But mostly it was getting to know the central character of Rey and realizing that I was watching a Star Wars movie about a woman, a very young woman at that.

Rey redefines the “strong female character” stereotype. Of course she is smart, strong, and beautiful, but she is also a fully realized human being with faults. As impulsive as Luke is in A New Hope, Rey is afraid to step out of the only life she has ever known. Being a strong woman does not mean eschewing any of those weaknesses that make us human. More importantly, from the perspective of my own longstanding relationship with the Star Wars franchise, in this new series Rey is the hero chosen for a special destiny, not unlike a vocational calling.

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Smartphone being used

App-y New Year: Favorite Apps for the Organized Clergy Woman

 

Smartphone being used

Using a smartphone to stay organized.

Ministry is like no other job in the world. A normal workweek might include tasks that look similar to the work of a counselor, a teacher, an entrepreneur, a plumber, an artist, and a stay at home parent. Many clergy find they have to piece together the organizational tools that work best for their context, because there’s no one perfect solution for our career’s unique organizational needs.

And so, in the spirit of a New Year, and in hopes of new discoveries for doing your best job of staying organized, we asked members of the Young Clergy Women Project what apps they’ve found to be most useful for the organized clergywoman. Answers that were most applicable to the needs of our career fell into a few categories: devotions, hours, to-dos, information management, reimbursables, and teamwork. Many of these are free or have free basic packages. Most work on various platforms, with exceptions noted. Read more

Lena Dunham

Lenny Letter, for a Bigger World

Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham

In my world as a solo minister, the line between work and play, home and church, is blurry and indistinct. Every book I pick up has the potential to become part of my adult education lesson. Bedtime stories with my sons often translate into children’s messages. Baking cookies is both relaxing and a great way to liven up a stewardship meeting. No matter what movie I’m watching or magazine I’m perusing, the search for sermon fodder is always lurking there in the back of my mind. I love that all of my interests speak with one another, and are in dialogue with my calling.

So, it should come as no surprise that the books I’m reading, my podcast list, the magazines on my coffee table (when they’re actually stacked there and not knocked to the floor by my kids), and my Netflix queue are each full of an array of genres and stories. I’ll take in almost anything written, spoken, or acted, so long as it’s done with integrity and an eye toward the human experience.

My new favorite read is a weekly newsletter called The Lenny Letter. Read more

Being the Church in Pre-Post Racial America

Young Americans

Young Americans

Rarely can a book successfully weave together complex theological concepts, social justice frameworks, and the stories of ordinary people of faith. Pre-Post Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines does just that. The book’s author, Sandhya Rani Jha, is deft at the art of storytelling. Her insightful analysis of the theology of racial/social justice-making plays a perfect melody against her counterpoint: a subtle but devastating critique of the ways we as mainline Christians are tempted to separate the (spiritualized) Good News from God’s call that we build the Beloved Community.

Jha does theology by participation, and through her willingness to locate herself, to tell her story, and to listen intentionally to the life stories (both spoken and unspoken) of others, she invites us to do the same. She lifts up both the deep theological roots of knowing and loving one’s neighbor, and the deep socio-economic roots of our systems of racial and class-based injustice.

It is these twin balances that define the book. Her essay “#Every28hours” is a Jeremiad in the truest sense. It comes after she sets the context with nearly a dozen stories of people committed to the work of justice, and just before her final three chapters, which are filled hope, wry humor, and deep optimism. She wisely notes, “We can’t get to hope without acknowledging what’s happening that robs us of our hope: despair is a necessary word, even though it is not the final word.” Amen, Rev. Sandhya. Amen.

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Jesus on the Big Screen

Movie Reels

Movie Reels

While I was serving as a camp chaplain this summer, a young woman asked me if I could recommend a Jesus movie. Her question surprised me at first: I wasn’t aware of a demand for Jesus films from teenagers. But we were at the end of a very deep conversation about her faith, and she was at a tender and critical moment in her journey. I wanted to make sure I recommended the right one.

As I racked my brains for just the right Jesus movie, I realized that she was seeking more than just a cinematic experience. Her generation, more than any other, is one that gathers its information from online media, especially videos. While books, plays, and other forms of art and entertainment provided connection and conveyed meaning for past generations, she and her peers turn to video sources like YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix for those needs. This teenager was asking for more than just information: she was asking for a way she could connect and relate to Jesus.

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