Book Review: Our One Great Act of Fidelity by Ronald Rolheiser

book-actoffidelity-bigFather Ronald Rolheiser celebrates the Eucharist every day. Our One Great Act of Fidelity is described as a deeply personal book, and that it is. This book is a love letter to God and the Eucharist. Rolheiser recognizes his Roman Catholic perspective–his background adds to the richness of his understanding of the Eucharist. He explores other denominations’ traditions and how they approach and understand the Eucharist. He looks at the history of the Eucharist and draws on insights from various scriptures, scholars, theologians, and church teachings.

Rolheiser recognizes his bias, but he is not afraid of the tension of the different ways other people and traditions understand the Eucharist. He challenges you to see the Eucharist in a new light by encouraging you to consider aspects of the Eucharist you may not have considered before. He writes: “[The Eucharist] is multivalent, carrying different layers of meaning, some of them in paradoxical tension with others. There is, even in scripture, no single theology of the Eucharist, but instead there are various complementary theologies of the Eucharist.”

I loved this book. Of course I could talk about the Eucharist for hours, so it is not surprising I enjoy reading about someone else who loves and values the Eucharist. This book is a very short, easily understandable read. There is repetition, which feels unnecessary considering the book is already short. I could have done without the three Saint Augustine sermons at the end of the book. Despite the occasional repetition, this book is a breath of fresh air. In my own tradition, we see the Eucharist as a means of grace. It is the means by which Christians are able to connect with God’s grace.

With chapter titles like “The Eucharist as a Meal, as a Celebration of Our Health and Joy, and as a Celebration of Our Pain and Sorrow” and “The Eucharist as a Vigil, as a Communal Rite of Waiting,” you know Rolheiser has thought deeply and thoroughly about the Eucharist and its meaning for our lives. Each chapter is only a couple pages, but they all provide thoughtful reflections. “The Eucharist is meant to be God’s regular nourishment for us, daily manna to keep us alive within the desert of our lives,” writes Rolheiser. In another chapter he writes:

“[…] among its other attributes, the Eucharist is meant simply to be a family meal, a community celebration, a place, like our kitchen tables and living rooms, where we come together to be with each other, to share ordinary life, to celebrate special events with each other, to console and cry with each other when life is full of heartaches, and to be together simply for the sake of being together.”

If you want to gain a deeper understanding about the Eucharist, read this book. It does not matter if you are a Catholic or a Protestant, this book contains helpful information. You may not agree with all of Rolheiser’s words, but it will provide a deeper appreciation for the holy meal that has been meaningful for so many Christians.

You can read the first chapter here. You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Book Review: Scary Close by Donald Miller

_240_360_Book.1491.coverI have been a fan of Donald Miller’s writing since I first listened to Blue Like Jazz on audiobook during a trip home from college per a friend’s recommendation. Since then I have read everything he has written. His book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, continues to be one of my favorite books. I connect with his writing style and his authenticity.

Scary Close reflects Donald Miller’s growth since his Blue Like Jazz days. Scary Close is different. It is just as honest as his other books, but this book is clearly reflective of a mature person. Scary Close is about Donald Miller’s journey to become a healthy person. It is his journey of overcoming unhealthy relationship habits. He got help and intentionally worked on his issues. He is real about his issues (codependency, people pleasing, fear of commitment, etc.), and his honesty is refreshing.

Donald Miller lifts up the importance of our relationships and the importance of true connection. Not only does he share about his relationship with his now-wife, Betsy, but his story reflects how various people have impacted him. He writes:

“I don’t know why it is, exactly, but the people with the healthiest self-esteem are also the greatest at intimacy. I’m not talking about arrogant people. I’m talking about people who know they are both good and bad yet believe at the deepest level they are really good for people. It’s a beautiful moment when somebody wakes up to this reality, when they realize God created them so other people could enjoy them, not just endure them” (p. 127).

With a subtitle like “dropping the act and finding true intimacy,” you may not know what you are getting yourself into with this book. This book is for people who have struggled in relationships. I really enjoyed this book, but I will be real with you: if you are looking for a book to give you easy steps to follow to become a healthy person, this is not the book for you. However, if you are looking for a honest book with someone’s story about making his way out of isolation and loneliness, get this book. Donald Miller tells his story of his experiences which hopefully will inspire people to take the necessary steps toward wholeness and healing.

You can buy the book on Amazon here. You can learn more about the book by watching this video.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: Make It Happen by Lara Casey

_240_360_Book.1451.coverIt is the middle of January, so maybe you have already abandoned/broke your new year’s resolutions, if you are even the resolution-making type. Enter Lara Casey. “You were created for a purpose, and it’s time to make it happen,” writes Lara Casey in her book, Make It Happen: Surrender Your Fear, Take the Leap, Live on Purpose.

I do not know a lot about Lara Casey, but I ordered an art print from her website for one of my friends last year. The art prints she has listed on her website drew me in because her words were honest and encouraging.

When I began reading Make It Happen, I will admit I read it with some hesitancy. How is this book going to be any different from the many other similar books that tell you to stop being afraid, be brave, be bold, and live on purpose? You can find quotes and self-help books all over the place, so what makes this book any different?

It was not until she opened up about details from her own life that I really felt drawn into the book. She shared some vulnerable moments in her story, and it was Casey’s own personal story that I found most valuable in this book. The book includes a lot of practical steps to move forward, including a fourth part titled “Your Guide to Make it Happen” which offers helpful and realistic action steps to make it happen–exercises to evaluate your life, clear the clutter, set purposeful goals, and take action.

After reading this book, I felt like Lara Casey would be one of those people you would spend time with and feel there is something different about her. She writes with honesty:

“It’s easy to make goals that sound good or goals that other people have that you think you should have, too, just to keep up. Don’t do that. The idea here is for you to simplify your life, not to give yourself a new to-do list of things that sound good. Living on purpose cuts out the fluff.”

There may be other books out there like this book, but nevertheless, it is incredibly helpful because it encourages you to slow down and take stock of your life. If you struggle with feeling overwhelmed or constantly seeking perfection, I do believe this book is worth it. However, you can only “make it happen” when you begin to take action and make the necessary changes in your own life. Reading this book does not instantly make it happen. Lara Casey is not going to show up and make things happen for you. You have to work hard, but you do not have to feel overwhelmed. Casey’s words plant a seed in your heart reassuring you change is possible. Even the impossible is possible with God–a message Casey reinforces. You do not need a new calendar year to start surrendering your fear, taking the leap, and living on purpose. Start today.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

What Project Runway Taught Me About Youth Ministry

madewithOver(13)I do not watch a lot of reality TV, but when I do, it’s Project Runway. Despite the show being about fashion and fashion designers and my being a youth pastor (which means my t-shirt, jeans, and Keds wardrobe is a far cry from New York Fashion week), Project Runway has a lot of applications for youth ministry. This post contains only some of the lessons I have learned from Project Runway.

1. Sometimes you have to make it work.

To knotumblr_mq92rizGV21rdkmnho1_500w Tim Gunn is to love Tim Gunn. First of all, he has a signature catchphrase. Second, his catchphrase is one of the most helpful and practical pieces of advice ever uttered: “Make it work.” When a designer is struggling, Tim is always honest with him or her. “Make it work,” Tim will instruct the designers before he leaves the workroom.

Sometimes when I am writing a sermon, I get stuck and nothing sounds right or good. To the preacher in the middle of sermon writing, the whole “it’s Friday, but Sunday is coming” is more of a warning than an encouragement. So you have to pray a lot and make it work.

With youth ministry games, sometimes you do not have what you need or you realize mid-game things are not going well, so you need to adapt. Make it work. You don’t have enough little slips of paper to play Telephone Pictionary? Rip the paper in half. Make it work.

Making it work is relevant for just about every area of life.

2. Don’t make judgments about people.

On the first episode of the season, it is easy to make snap judgments about the designers. I do it all the time. I see the person and judge his or her designs. I judge his or her personality. Is he or she loud? Then I probably do not like him or her. I am put off by him or her at the very least. But what do I really know about this person? Nothing.

As the season progresses and you get to know the person better, your opinion changes. Once you get to know someone’s story, it changes the way you see him or her. Instead of making snap judgments based on appearance or what you perceive to be his or her personality, you should always pause before you let that stop you from getting to know a person. Get to know someone’s background. How have various life experiences impacted someone? How does this change the way he or she responds to a situation?

I originally had this written as “don’t judge someone until you get to know him or her,” but I do not think that is fair either. Getting to know someone does not really give you a right to judge him or her. Instead of judging people, we should get to know them. This is true for Project Runway, it is true for ministry, and it is true for life.

3. If you give someone a second chance, he or she can surprise you.

My favorite moment in Project Runway history happened in Season 12. For the first time in a season of Project Runway, Tim Gunn was allowed something called a “Tim Gunn save” in which he was able to save an eliminated designer. “I believe in your talent, and […] I believe, you need a little more time here,” Tim Gunn told Justin, the designer he chose to save.[1] In youth ministry, not only is it important to believe in our teenagers and encourage them, but we need to have their back.

In another episode in that same season, the designers were given a challenge to redesign a “losing look” (in other words, the design that sent designers to the workroom to pack it up). They were able to select which look to redesign. Justin, having been eliminated and saved, had his “losing look” as one of the options to redesign. If you have not seen this moment, trust me that it was emotional. I have watched this episode twice and cried both times. “It was hideous before,” Heidi said while judging Justin’s redesigned look, “but you’ve made this so sophisticated.”[2]

Instead of looking at a bunch of teenagers and seeing the problems, we need to see the potential. Sometimes we all need a second chance. We need to extend grace because we have been extended grace. We need to give people opportunities to learn from their experiences and grow. There will be times people will let us down, but there will also be times people will surprise us.

4. Inspiration is everywhere.

Fashion designers are known for being creative. They have to be. I know most designers may not appreciate when they are given an unconventional material challenge on Project Runway. Some designers, however, go all out. They find inspiration in unexpected places. They do not look at the challenge parameters as something to limit them but rather they embrace the challenge. In one episode, Sean Kelly designed a dress to change color in the rain, thanks to dye sewn into the seams. It was a risk, but he turned his creative idea into something really great.

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Tim Gunn said:

When people would say to me, ‘I don’t know where to find inspiration,’ I’d tell them, ‘Just open your eyes and wake up! It’s there!’ It can be the inside of an elevator or a tiled floor. In my years of teaching, I would say to my students, ‘Movies! Books! Web sites! If it’s summertime, just sit outside and have an iced tea or an iced coffee and watch people go by.’ I mean, really, there should be inspiration everywhere.”[3]

In college, I took a children’s ministry class. We were assigned to read children’s books and write a paper based on what activities and lessons we could use that incorporates the book and its theme. I think we had to read ten children’s books. I loved this assignment because it forced us to draw inspiration from something we would not ordinarily use. One of the things I love about youth ministry is how you can embrace creativity. I am passionate about helping people discover and learn new things (or learn things in a new way), so I look for inspiration everywhere.

5. Stop, Collaborate, and Listen.

Wait a minute, you might be thinking, is this lessons from Project Runway or from Vanilla Ice? I think it is safe to say, yes, because haven’t you been reading? Inspiration is everywhere.

Team challenges on Project Runway are not my favorite. I do not think they are anyone’s favorite. Season 11 where every challenge was a team challenge? Not my favorite. Throughout my entire school career when we are given group projects? Not my jam. However, working in a team speaks to a modern day reality: we need each other.

In fashion, designers and clients need each other, so each must take active responsibility for making a project successful. In the same way, in youth ministry, you need to work with pastoral staff, volunteers, parents, and teenagers. You need to learn how to work with others. You need to learn how to collaborate with other people.

6. Take criticism and learn from it.

tumblr_mx6v2xR4h71ql5yr7o1_500The designers receive feedback from the judges. Sometimes it is harsh. Sometimes the judges make jokes at the expense of the designers. Sometimes the designers snap back. It is a natural reflex when you are feeling defensive. However, being in defense mode does not allow for open ears. You are not willing to listen and learn from the feedback. I appreciate receiving feedback from sermons I have preached. Helpful feedback has included what filler words I use without realizing it and how I trail off at the end of sentences. But, unfortunately, not all feedback is helpful.

Take criticism, learn from it, but also learn what you should listen to and what you should shake off. (My next post will be ministry lessons from T. Swift. Just kidding. Maybe.) In youth ministry, you will hear various critiques–ranging from “you do not look like the typical youth pastor” to “you should do this, this, and this like that successful youth ministry.” There is a difference between constructive criticism and bringing someone down. Do not let the haters throw shade on you. Yet, even as cliché as it sounds, every opportunity in life is something from which we can learn and grow.

Sources

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/23/project-runway-tim-gunn-uses-his-save_n_3802087.html

[2] http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/project-runway/blogs/project-runway-blog/butterfly-effect

[3] Tim Gunn quoted in Fierce Style: How to be Your Most Fabulous Self by Christian Siriano.

Book Review: One Pot by the Editors of Martha Stewart Living

9780307954411One Pot: 120+ Easy Meals from Your Skillet, Slow Cooker, Stockpot, and More by the Editors of Martha Stewart Living is a cookbook everyone should have in his or her kitchen. The summary reads: “Using just one pan, you can stew, steam, sauté, simmer, braise, or roast your way to a fuss-free meal—and minimal cleanup to boot.” As someone who attends potlucks once a month, this cookbook is an incredibly useful tool to keep on your bookshelf. The chapters are specifically devoted to the different cooking vessels: stockpot, skillet, slow cooker, and more. It is great to have recipes that do not result in a huge pile of dishes. If you can make something in one pot? I’m sold. One pot = less dishes.

I am a firm believer that everyone should know how to make a few key signature dishes. Those dishes do not need to be incredibly difficult. This cookbook includes 120+ recipes, so there is bound to be a recipe you’ll embrace as a staple.

I judge the quality of a cookbook on whether or not I would cook any of the recipes. I would make probably about 75% of the recipes in this cookbook. That’s a pretty great percentage. For example, odds are I am not going to use a classic chicken soup recipe (because I am really skilled at using a can opener), but I would make Baked Risotto and Beef Stew with Noodles. I appreciated the pulled pork recipe, but I could have done without a macaroni and cheese recipe (and this comes from someone who has one Pinterest board dedicated to macaroni and cheese recipes).

Another recipe I was not too crazy about was the Corned Beef and Cabbage, but that’s more of a personal preference (and personal disdain for corned beef) than it is a reflection of the recipes. In every cookbook, you will find some recipes you will not utilize. Overall, this cookbook contains a wide selection of solid easy-to-make recipes. There are photos of each recipe, which is also helpful.

I would recommend this cookbook for those who are just starting their cookbook collections, for those who are beginning to learn to cook, or for those who are looking to make relatively easy meals in one pot.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski

_240_360_Book.1334.coverThe Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice — How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life by Michael Yankoski is a book about one man’s exploration of various ancient and modern spiritual practices. With a monk as a guide, Yankoski embraces spiritual practices so he can focus on living more attentively, more simply, and with more gratitude.

I will admit I was drawn to the book because of the subtitle. I am glad I was. This book is worth it.

There were times I was thinking this Michael guy is a little weird. In the beginning chapter, he spends about an hour looking at an apple. “And the color!” he writes, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you an apple is red. To generalize is to miss the thing entirely, to lose the spark in the blizzard, to lose the hazelnut in the harvest.” So the “contemplating apples” practice is probably not something I will incorporate into my own life, but there is so much richness found in this book. Do not write him off as a spiritual lunatic. He wants to notice, attend, observe, and contemplate.

The book opens with Yankoski in a life crisis. To combat the feeling where “everything is getting lost in the chaos,” he embraces various spiritual practices. Maybe when you hear the words “spiritual practice,” you feel uncomfortable. I was once in a church service where we were invited to sharpen pencils as a way to reflect that we are to fully enter into the Advent season. Or something like that. Honestly, I do not totally remember because I was silently mocking it in my head. I will tell you this: that service is indelible in my memory whereas many other church services blur into a mix of repetition. The Sacred Year has the potential to make an impact on your life.

A word of caution, though: if you are looking to read a book that will tell you how to embrace spiritual practices yourself, this is not your book. This book serves as a memoir and not a guide to the spiritual practices.

Spiritual practices, he explains, “are not isolated silos of focused spirituality. Rather, when taken together, the spiritual practices form an interwoven, mutually reinforcing whole. […] Gratitude flows into simplicity, and simplicity reverberates […] in care. Justice and protest and community stand in healthy, invigorating tension with solitude and silence and Sabbath.”

I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated Yankoski’s writing, but it was more than that. You can tell he is genuine. It does not feel like he was simply trying on different spiritual practices so he could have material to write a book. He writes, “We aren’t meant to accomplish the practices, to check them off our lists.” It is that authenticity present within the pages that will make me remember this book. Perhaps it is not a book for everyone, but it has potential to impact you. Do not just read this book, but chew on it as if you are on a diet that requires you to chew each piece of food twenty times before swallowing. Let it simmer in your mind.

You can buy The Sacred Year on Amazon here.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Bonhoeffer (Abridged) By Eric Metaxas

_240_360_Book.1383.coverBonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is the much shorter version of Eric Metaxas’ 2011 best-selling book of the same title. This is the book for anyone who wants to learn about Bonhoeffer’s life but feels overwhelmed holding the unabridged version–which weighs in at 624 pages.

I find myself drawn to Bonhoeffer’s story; I feel like his life was incredibly interesting. While I read his book Life Together I walked around referring to him as “B. Hoeff” like we were friends.* Metaxas humanizes Bonhoeffer by including details about his romantic relationship with Maria von Wedemeyer. It is this humanizing of Bonhoeffer that makes this book worth it. It reminds us that our saints of the Church were humans, not unapproachable holy beings. Metaxas’ writing holds your attention throughout the book.

Metaxas provides context for why Bonhoeffer did what he did. He provides a lot of background information about Bonhoeffer’s opposition to the Nazi movement. Bonhoeffer held firm to his theological convictions. He is not just an inspiration for Christians, but he is a model of remaining faithful despite tragedies and trials.

While I think most people would agree that you should read the unabridged version, this book serves as a good overview of Bonhoeffer’s life and death. Though I own the unabridged version of the book, I have not read it yet simply because its size feels overwhelming. Fortunately, reading the abridged version made me want to know more. I am more interested in reading the unabridged version now because I feel pulled into Bonhoeffer’s life story.

Overall, this book is a worthwhile read.

The unabridged version compared to the abridged version.
The unabridged version compared to the abridged version.

*I realize it is a pretty lame nickname, especially since “D. Hoeff” would probably make more sense.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.