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We Are Theologians (New York: Seabury Books, 2004)

Cover_We-Are-Theologians Are you a theologian? Can a person who has never been to seminary and who does not hold a degree in religious studies be considered a theologian? Fredrica Harris Thompsett says, “Yes, of course!”

Quoting Erasmus, she writes: “All can be Christian, all can be devout, and I shall boldly add—all can be theologians.” Theological understanding based on the Bible is “an ordinary expectation of faithful living.”

But Thompsett is not narrow in her reading or application of the Bible. She encourages us “to stand the Bible on its feet” and “look at its entire witness.” We can all do this because “the Bible does not speak primarily to ordained ministers—it addresses all humanity.”

I especially appreciated her perspective on the Bible as an accessible story, because this is a central focus of Bible 100. (Story, of course, does not mean made-up or untrue.) Thompsett writes: “Despite urgings of modern television evangelists, the aim of the Bible is not to invite God into our lives, but to urge us to join God’s unfolding story.” She challenges those who “act as if seminary education is required for learning about the Bible” by asking, “Who are they trying to protect?” Surely the Bible does not need our protection.

“Adult biblical education is a necessity not a luxury.” Once people are educated in the Bible they will see it “is not a legal reference book of ‘right’ answers to given questions, nor is it a weapon that entitles us to condemn others.

The Bible “testifies to a living God who offers assurance, not rules.”

We can discover that for ourselves when we read it ourselves. She advocates for reading “an accessible, non-literalistic reasoned” approach to reading the Bible and seeing it as “fundamental, not fundamentalistic.” Thompsett explains the “Bible was not literally or unmistakably the ‘words’ of God. God’s revelation to all people, as recorded in the Bible, was the product of authors, editors, and communities, however divinely inspired.” Which makes sense since it is through people that God works on earth.

If you are curious about Anglican (or Wesleyan) approaches to Bible reading, I strongly recommend this book.

The Itty Bitty Soul (2015)

#NationalAdoptionMonth

Itty Bitty Soul

If you are an adoptive parent or you know someone who is, you should pick up The Itty Bitty Soul by Jim Fellows.

This sweet children’s book about adoption has a powerful message. The author was inspired to write the book when close friends adopted a baby boy internationally.

Jim says he “wanted to use a therapeutic technique called reframing to retell the adoption story from a different perspective.” Jim wanted to “turn the premise away from ‘given up’ for adoption to being sought after.”

Jim is right. We often have the power to choose how we look at the circumstances of our life. [Twitter Link]

Undone (Zondervan, 2015)

michele-cushatt-messy-quoteMichele Cushatt is one of my Communicator idols. I know idolatry is bad, but I think God understands this one. She’s an author, blogger, podcaster, and sought-after public speaker. In the midst of it all she’s genuine and, wait for it, she’s actually nice. Michele is a wonder.

In her upcoming book, Undone, Michele shares with us about worry, control, peace, and the unpredictable reality of life.

I love Michele’s story. I think it’s impossible not to connect with her authenticity.

If you still live under the illusion (delusion?) that you can control your life, your health, the people around you, and God, this book probably isn’t for you.

packing light, thoughts on living life with less baggage (Moody, 2013)

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Allison Vesterfelt: “It’s a very Christian thing to think that God has everything under control and we don’t have to worry about it. It sounds really nice, but I wonder if we have misunderstood its meaning…. I’ve done this so many times in my life. I’ve turned what was always meant to be a relationship into an obedience-reward system, in which I was being obedient just to get the prize at the end.”

Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (Riverhead Books, 2012)

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Anne Lamott: “We pray without knowing much about whom we are praying to. We pray not really knowing what to pray for…. I pray not to be such a whiny, self-obsessed baby, and give thanks that I am not quite as bad as I used to be (talk about miracles).”

And God Spoke, The Authority of the Bible for the Church Today (Cowley Publications, 2002)

Christopher Bryan frees us from trying to make the Bible “perfect,” while encouraging us to look at what the Bible really is–an opportunity for transformation.

He writes, “The biblical story is a story wherein God remains faithful, even though we are unfaithful. It is a story wherein God’s purposes are fulfilled in spite of and sometimes by way of human recalcitrance, refusal, and stupidity. It is a story wherein the Holy Spirit is promised to guide us into all truth, and that promise is not conditional upon our works.”

I love reading the Bible and this book helped me better understand why I so enjoy it.

Love to Stay (Abingdon Press, 2013)

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Adam Hamilton: “Love is not a feeling; it is the way I live and act toward another human being, whether I feel like it or not.”

Living On the Border of The Holy (Morehouse Publishing, 1999)

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L. William Countryman searches for words to describe the indescribable and succeeds. We exist in a borderland between our perception of reality and God.  Moreover, we are all part of the “priesthood” because God created each of us in God’s image. God is personal — closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Pastrix (Jericho Books, 2014)

Pastrix-CoverNadia Bolz-Weber: I couldn’t help but begin to see the Gospel, the life-changing reality that God is not far off, but here among the brokenness of our lives. And having seen it, I couldn’t help but point it out. For reasons I’ll never quite understand, I realized that I had been called to proclaim the Gospel from the place where I am, and proclaim where I am from the Gospel.”

Nadia Bolz Weber is an ELCA Pastor in Denver. In this memoir she tackles issues that feel kindred to me. As a child she learned that “being a Christian—mostly meant being really good at not doing things.” She learned that what united people at church “was their ability to be good. Or at least their ability to appear to be good.”

She travels the 12-step journey into recovery and discovers God’s love: “What the drunks taught me was that there was a power greater than myself who could be a source of restoration, and that higher power, it ends up, is not me.”

She meets a Lutheran pastor who teaches her these bullet points (Chapter 5):

  • God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to the gift.
  • No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement.
  • We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.
  • The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.
  • The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.

I am memorizing these bullet points! What Nadia says about grace is also worth memorizing:

“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word.”

She is surprised to discover that the system of separating people into “good” and “bad” or “saved” and “not saved,” a system ingrained by her childhood church, stayed with her. “I hadn’t actually escaped the sorting system, I had just changed the labels.” Her husband, who is also an ELCA pastor, tells her “the thing that sucks is that every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”

Nadia reminds me that I can be used by God when she relates to the disciples at the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus asks what they have that can be used to feed the crowd and they reply, “nothing.” Here’s what Nadia says about that:

The disciples’ mistake was also my mistake: They forgot that they have a God who created the universe out of “nothing,” that can put flesh on dry bones “nothing,” that can put life in a dusty womb “nothing.” I mean, let’s face it, “nothing” is God’s favorite material to work with. Perhaps God looks upon that which we dismiss as nothing, insignificant and worthless, and says, “Ha! Now that I can do something with.”

What do I have to offer God? Nothing! What a relief to know that God can work with that.

Nadia also offers affirmation that our identity comes from God:

For far too long, I believed that how the Church of Christ saw me, or how my family saw me, or how society saw me, was the same as how God saw me. But I began to realize something that is painfully obvious on the surface, but something that almost all of us are blind to: Our identity has nothing to do with how we are perceived by others.

And on forgiving those who’ve messed with our heads about who we are, she offers a clear understanding of why one would turn the other cheek.

Somewhere along the way I was taught that … [t]he way we combat evil is by making sure that people get what they have coming to them…. [T]here were times in my own life when I’ve been so hurt that I was sure retaliation would make me feel better. But inevitably, when I can’t harm the people who harmed me, I just end up harming the people who love me. So maybe retaliation or holding on to anger about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil. Maybe it just feeds it.

In the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy and on some level even become them. It would seem that when we are sinned against, when someone else does us harm, we are in some way linked to that sin, connected to that mistreatment like a chain. And our anger, fear or resentment doesn’t free us at all. It just keeps us chained.

What if forgiveness, rather than being a pansy way of saying it’s OK, is actually a way of wielding bolt cutters and snapping the chain that links us?

I turn the other cheek in forgiveness because I don’t want to be chained to the person who hurts me.

Thanks Pastor Nadia.