Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday Words - Together on the Porch

They sit together on the porch, the dark
Almost fallen, the house behind them dark.
Their supper done with, they have washed and dried
The dishes–only two plates now, two glasses,
Two knives, two forks, two spoons–small work for two.
She sits with her hands folded in her lap,
At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now, that finally
For all its knowing will not exactly know
Which one goes first through the dark doorway, bidding
Goodnight, and which sits on a while alone.

"The Sit Together on the Porch" by Wendell Berry from A Timbered Choir.
© Copyright 1998, Counterpoint Press.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday Tome - A Timbered Choir

My wife and I love the stories and poems of Wendell Berry. Many is the time we have read aloud a favorite passage to each other. If you're interested in checking out his poetry, A Timbered Choir might be a good place to start. Tomorrow, I'll post a poem from this book.

From Library Journal--
Winner of the T.S. Eliot Award, Berry spends Sunday mornings in walking meditation in the forests and fields around his Port Royal, KY, farm. During these walks he writes, and he has brought many of these poems together in the present volume. Berry has long been an articulate and passionate defender of the environment, and his "Sabbath poems," spanning 20 years, bring the reader close to the earth, the fields and flowers, richness of the soil, and diversity of the seasons: "Too late for frost, too early for flies,/ the air carries only birdsong, the long/ breath of wind in leaves." The poet has a marvelous ear for interior rhyme: "Horse and cow,/ plow and hoe, grass to graze/ and hay to mow have brought me/ here, and taught me where I am." These poems are not uniformly pastoral; Berry reflects, too, on war, technology, and the economy in these pages, but always with a heartfelt devotion first and foremost for the earth. A contemplative treasure; highly recommended. --Judy Clarence, California State University Library.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Music - Mat Kearney

My son, Tyler, is back out on the road touring with Mat Kearney late summer through fall. I'm hoping to be at the October 27 show in St. Paul. Always nice to see and hear Mat again. To listen, click here or on the image below.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Supplication - You Will See Us Through

O Lord, help us to not to be stressed out over earthly troubles, but, instead trust that you will see us through. Even now, as we live among things that are passing away, help us to hold on to the things that last forever.

We confess our sins and we thank you for your faithfulness to forgive us and purify us. And as your grateful children, teach us and help us to be faithful to forgive others. May the grace of Jesus help us restore relationships, heal wounds, calm fears, forgive offenses, and resolve conflicts.

O God, help us find our life and meaning and purpose in Jesus. We desire to surrender to him more and more. Give us the wisdom and the will to submit ourselves to you as we follow Him.

It’s in his name that we pray these things. Amen.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursday Thinking - On Youth Leaving Church

Pete Enns recently blogged about the 2011 Barna Report on "Six Reasons Young People Leave Church." The Barna report is interesting enough on its own, but Enns' comments and highlights are helpful. If you're finding this via Facebook and would like to comment, I'd appreciate it if you would make your comments on the Altered Faces blog. Thanks.

On young people leaving their faith behind (and doing something about it) Posted by PeteEnns on August 11, 2016

The 2011 Barna survey on American Christianity published “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” And here they are.

I read through them and I think to myself, “Yup. Yup. Uh huh. That one, too. And that one.” These ring utterly true to me from my experience, including being a Christian college professor.
I continue to think that parents, churches, and schools need to be aware of these trends and consider ways to address them with less fear of what might happen if they do and more fear of what IS happening if they don’t.

As one first year student said in class a few years back, “I feel my church did not prepare me for life outside of the church. They were more interested in protecting me from wrong conclusions and making sure I was a ‘good Christian’ than getting me ready for living in the world.”

I hear that a lot, and these young people are being done a disservice with predictable consequences.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Words - A Barred Owl

A Barred Owl 
The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl's voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
"Who cooks for you?" and then "Who cooks for you?"

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

by Richard Wilbur, from Collected Poems: 1943-2004.
© Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Tome - You Are What You Love

This book is a possible candidate for an upcoming book club at Valley Christian Church.
You Are What You Love
by James K. A. Smith

Publisher's description...
In this book, award-winning author James K. A. Smith shows that who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. And while we desire to shape culture, we are not often aware of how culture shapes us. We might not realize the ways our hearts are being taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. Smith helps readers recognize the formative power of culture and the transformative possibilities of Christian practices. He explains that worship is the "imagination station" that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom. This is why the church and worshiping in a local community of believers should be the hub and heart of Christian formation and discipleship.

Following the publication of his influential work Desiring the Kingdom, Smith received numerous requests from pastors and leaders for a more accessible version of that book's content. No mere abridgment, this new book draws on years of Smith's popular presentations on the ideas in Desiring the Kingdom to offer a fresh, bottom-up rearticulation. The author creatively uses film, literature, and music illustrations to engage readers and includes new material on marriage, family, youth ministry, and faith and work. He also suggests individual and communal practices for shaping the Christian life.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Music - Lucius
Yay, Lucius! Let's hear it for real melodies, rich harmonies, blended voices, good lyrics, and precision performance! I really enjoyed this live radio performance recorded a few months ago, and I'm intrigued and happy to know that The Cactus Blossoms will be touring with and opening for Lucius for a number of concerts this fall.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Supplication - Transform & Guide Us

O God, we need your help to be the people you want us to be. We ask your Holy Spirit to be at work in our lives to transform us and guide us in all ways. Help us to trust you with all our hearts.

Forgive us our sins. Help us to leave the darkness and love the light. Make us willing and able to forgive others as you have forgiven us. Help us to think, speak, and act in ways that restore lives, nurture relationships, create peace, and bring honor to you.

Help us, O Lord, to be a good stewards of all you have given us. Grant us the wisdom and the will to guard our hearts, feed our spirits, stimulate our minds, and care for our bodies. And help us, by faith, to do the good things you've prepared in advance for us to do.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Faves - The Cactus Blossoms @ Silverwood

I'm looking forward to enjoying a FREE concert from The Cactus Blossoms on Sunday night at Silverwood Park. It should be one of the fun and memorable nights of the summer.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Thursday Thinking - Criminalizing Poverty

How the poor are ending up stuck in modern-day debtors' prisons



A new VICE documentary out this week looks at a growing trend of cities and counties that are increasingly writing tickets for so-called “quality of life” offenses, from traffic violations to backyard barbecues. Some of those who can’t pay the fines face jail time, which has communities saying governments are effectively criminalizing poverty. The two-part documentary, called “Justice: Debtors' Prisons," investigates how local governments lock up and extort the poor, and takes a look at what it's like to get caught in the country's private probation trap.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday Words - To My BWCA Friends

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

"Sleeping in the Forest" by Mary Oliver, from Twelve Moons, © 1979 by Mary Oliver.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday Tome - Another New Arrival
Another book highly recommended by a good friend. I'm looking forward to gaining fresh insights from Lesser.

Why I Read
by Wendy Lesser

The publisher's description...
"Reading Why I Read delivers all the pleasure of discussing one's favorite books with a marvelously articulate, intelligent, opinionated friend. It's like joining the book club of your dreams."
Francine Prose

"Wendy Lesser's extraordinary alertness, intelligence, and curiosity have made her one of America's most significant cultural critics," writes Stephen Greenblatt. In Why I Read, she draws on a lifetime of pleasure reading and decades of editing to describe a life lived in and through literature. As Lesser examines work from such perspectives as "Character and Plot," "Novelty," "Grandeur and Intimacy," and "Authority," the reader will discover a definition of literature that is as broad as it is broad-minded. In addition to novels and stories, Lesser explores plays, poems, and essays, along with mysteries, science fiction, and memoirs. Her passion for reading is infectious―and it resonates on every page. Iconoclastic, conversational, and full of insight, Why I Read will delight avid readers as well as neophytes in search of sheer literary fun.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunday Supplication - To Act, Think, and Live

Help us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts. We humble ourselves before you. We know we cannot rely on our own strength, and we rejoice in your mercy. Thank you for your promise to forgive and purify us. Thank you for being the one who saves.

Forgive us our sins. Renew us by your Spirit. Show us how to act, think, and live as Christ.  As you have forgiven us, make us merciful and ready to forgive those who have sinned against us.

Remind us, O God, of your promises. And help us to persevere in our lives with love and reverence for you. Lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil. Protect us from discouragement, and encourage us by your Spirit. Bring us safely through this day and all our days to come.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thursday Thinking - Make Politics Less Rotten

Ten Ideas to Make Politics Less Rotten

We Americans may love our democracy -- at least in theory -- but at the moment our feelings toward the federal government lie somewhere between disdain and hatred. Which electoral and political ideas should be killed off to make way for a saner system?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Words - August Morning

It’s ripe, the melon
by our sink. Yellow,
bee-bitten, soft, it perfumes
the house too sweetly.
At five I wake, the air
mournful in its quiet.
My wife’s eyes swim calmly
under their lids, her mouth and jaw
relaxed, different.
What is happening in the silence
of this house? Curtains
hang heavily from their rods.
Ficus leaves tremble
at my footsteps. Yet
the colors outside are perfect--
orange geranium, blue lobelia.
I wander from room to room
like a man in a museum:
wife, children, books, flowers,
melon. Such still air. Soon
the mid-morning breeze will float in
like tepid water, then hot.
How do I start this day,
I who am unsure
of how my life has happened
or how to proceed
amid this warm and steady sweetness?

“August Morning” by Albert Garcia from “Skunk Talk” (Bear Starr Press) © Copyright 2005 by Albert Garcia.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Tuesday Tome - Recently Recommended to Me by a Good Friend
The 48 Laws of Power
by Robert Green

Amoral, cunning, ruthless, and instructive, this piercing work distills three thousand years of the history of power in to forty-eight well explicated laws. As attention—grabbing in its design as it is in its content, this bold volume outlines the laws of power in their unvarnished essence, synthesizing the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun-tzu, Carl von Clausewitz, and other great thinkers. Some laws teach the need for prudence ("Law 1: Never Outshine the Master"), the virtue of stealth ("Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions"), and many demand the total absence of mercy ("Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally"), but like it or not, all have applications in real life. Illustrated through the tactics of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry Kissinger, P. T. Barnum, and other famous figures who have wielded—or been victimized by—power, these laws will fascinate any reader interested in gaining, observing, or defending against ultimate control.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Sunday Supplication - True Devotion

O Lord God, we acknowledge your power and your holiness. You are the author and giver of all good things. Work in our hearts and teach us to truly love you. Nourish us with goodness. Help us to live out true devotion and to worship you in all we do. Help us, by faith, to do the good things you have in mind for us to do.

Thank you for the forgiveness and renewal you have given to us through Christ Jesus.  Help us as we extend that same forgiveness to others who have sinned against us. Help us become a community called grace. Help us to have a redemptive and healing impact on the world around us.

We thank you, O God, for life, and hope, and salvation. Lead us away from temptation. Deliver us from evil. Provide for our needs this day. Protect us from discouragement, and encourage us by your Spirit through your word, your people, your promises, and all that is beautiful and true.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Friday Favorites - Vinegar Cucumbers

Vinegar Cucumbers are one of my favorite tastes of summer. Great on a plate with tomatoes and a scoop of cottage cheese (or plain yogurt) with salt and pepper. Just love them in sandwiches too!

  1. Put sliced cucumbers, onion (and peppers) in a jar.
  2. Pour in vinegar and water until covering cucumbers, at a 3-1 ratio between vinegar and water. (I like to use apple vinegar).
  3. Allow to marinate overnight before serving.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Thursday Thinking – Christian Higher Education

Earlier this year, New York Times columnist David Brooks recently delivered a speech in Washington, D.C. at an event celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities. If you're interested in higher education and culture (as everybody should be), I recommend that you take the time to read it.

The Cultural Value of Christian Higher Education
Christian colleges can develop students in ways few other institutions can.

A Short Excerpt...
"Many of our institutions, and especially our universities, don’t do much to help our graduates achieve that transcendence. But for Christian universities and other religious institutions, this is bread and butter. This is the curriculum. This is the chapel service. This is the conversation students are having late at night. It’s lived out. Now, you in this room, have the Gospel. You have the example of Jesus Christ. You have the beatitudes; the fire of the Holy Spirit; you believe in a personal God who is still redeeming the world. As Pope Francis demonstrated, when a single person acts like Jesus, the whole world is transfixed. Carrying the Gospel is your central mission to your students and to those you serve beyond the campus walls, but that’s not all you have. You have a way of being that is not all about self. You have a counterculture to the excessive individualism of our age. You offer an ideal more fulfilling and more true and higher than the ideal of individual autonomy."

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Wednesday Words - A Poem on Hope

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there’s the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
anymore than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields, eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains, overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it, as you care for no other place, this
knowledge cannot be taken from you by power or by wealth.
It will stop your ears to the powerful when they ask
for your faith, and to the wealthy when they ask for your land
and your work.  Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the stream banks and the trees and the open fields.

Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot.
The world is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.

"A Poem on Hope" from Leavings, Counterpoint Press, © 2011by Wendell Berry.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Tuesday Tome - Beyond Doubt (Belief)

Cheri and I are reading this book together as part of our morning coffee times. It's very thoughtful yet approachable. The title of the book (probably the publisher's marketing idea) is a bit misleading since the book really isn't as much about doubt as it is about how faith shapes the Christian's life. Beyond Belief would actually have been a much better title. That said, these short meditations have provoked many good conversations, most of which last longer than the time it took to read the meditation itself.

Beyond Doubt: Faith-Building Devotions on Questions Christians Ask
by Cornelius Plantina

Publisher's Description...
From the pen of award-winning author Cornelius Plantinga Jr. comes this book of flesh-and-blood Christian meditations with a theological spine.

Building on the success of two earlier editions and now splendidly updated, Beyond Doubt unpacks the deep truths of the Christian faith by raising basic questions like What is God like? Why pray? What is the shape of the godly life? If the Lord is with us, why do we suffer? How do we face death?

Plantinga addresses such questions through short, vivid meditations, all written in the graceful, polished prose that he is celebrated for. Thoughtful and challenging throughout, the meditations each start with a Bible verse and end with a brief edifying prayer.