Reading the Bible: Jump Right In!

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This is the first in a series of three pieces by the Reverend Randy McCloy, offering some approaches to reading the Bible.

Many of us have had honorable intentions of reading the Bible regularly, starting with Genesis and plowing right on through Revelation. Along about Genesis 10, we tend to get bogged down in the genealogy, and our good intentions wane.

I suggest starting with a short, but very meaningful Old Testament book such as Ruth. Located between Judges and 1 Samuel, it is only four chapters, occupying only about five pages including footnotes. It is a beautiful story about surviving hardships through faith, and with loyalty, love and kindness to strangers. Perhaps very few verses in Scripture are more stirring than these words: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.”

Next, move on to another short book in the New Testament: Philemon, only one chapter, with 25 verses, but containing an important message. One of Paul’s authoritative letters, it is the story of how God wants us to respond to those who have wronged us… with love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Philemon, a man of great wealth and owner of many slaves, is asked not only to take back his runaway slave, Onesimus, but also to free him. In the U.S., it took us over 1,800 years to act upon Paul’s civil rights message!

Ready for a little longer read (13 chapters)? Turn the next page to Hebrews, a book which emphasizes maintaining one’s faith in the presence of hardship. Thoughtful and beautiful words are present here as well. Two of my favorite passages are: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen,” and “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Now you’re on a roll, and can proceed to reading the Gospels, or Acts of the Apostles… or, go back to the Old Testament and read one book of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) at a time, perhaps alternating with a New Testament read. Skipping around like this may hold your interest more than the traditional plowing through from cover to cover.

Photo Credit: “Full Book of Isaiah 2006-06-06” by Trounce – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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Book It 5K 2015 in in the Planning: Get Involved!

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Help with Planning!

The 2015 Book It 5K will be held on Saturday, Sept. 19! Once again, our race will benefit the Emmanuel Center and Shelby County Books from Birth. If you would like to part of the 2015 Race Committee, please contact Julie Fike at 767-6987 ext. 22.

Be a sponsor!

Our previous four Book It 5K races would not have been so successful without the generous support of so many sponsors. If you or your company would like to consider being a sponsor for the Book It 5K, please pick up a sponsorship form from the church. Many levels of sponsorship are available – some of the benefits include complimentary entries in the race and having your company logo or name on the race website, posters, ads and t-shirts. If you have any questions about being a race sponsor, please contact Steve Maury, steve.maury@BankParagon.com, at  493-4485.

Take the Book It 5K Health Challenge!

This year’s Health Challenge is an eight-week walking or running challenge that starts the week of July 26 and ends with our Book It 5K on September 19.

The program is for everyone, beginners to experienced. Get fit and earn points for your team by completing your individual walking or running workouts each week. Top teams will earn gift certificate prizes. For more information or to sign up, contact Robert Propst, rkpropst@msn.com.

The Book It 5K is on Facebook.

Register for the race here.

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Team Read: Making a Difference in the Lives of Memphis Students

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There is magic in this work, says Christy Yarbro, “head coach,” as she terms it, of the Team Read tutoring program at Shady Grove Elementary School, spearheaded by Church of the Holy Communion. For the past several months, she has volunteered her time recruiting, training and coordinating 50 coaches at Shady Grove, “and I need 20 more. I didn’t know there would be so many kids who need help.”

The kids are second-graders at a school in the heart of East Memphis, students who are ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, the vast majority of them eligible for free lunches, many of them homeless or displaced, some bussed in from where they live in hotels on I-40. Many of the families are among the “working poor,” says Christy. “A lot of them are English as second language.

“And they’re all precious. Most of them want to learn and have such a spark in them – that’s the magic.”

Volunteers, presently including a little more than a dozen parishioners and staff from Holy Communion, each spend an hour a week at the school, a half hour with each of two students. A tutoring session includes a reading lesson based on set vocabulary words and then a section of time that is up to the volunteer – it can be a learning game, or a lesson on the iPad, or something else that’s of interest to that student.

The tutoring makes a difference: second grade is a vital year for reading proficiency and a major indicator for high school graduation. Beyond the teaching, the tutor-student relationship can be transformative:

“They need, one, to be loved and understood and respected as human beings,” says Christy. “They need lots of loving, caring people who want to spend time with them.”

To get involved, contact Christy Yarbro, christyyarbro@yahoo.com or by phone, 218-4499.

Cara Ellen Modisett

St. Mary’s Gobbler 5K is Coming Up February 28

St. Mary’s Episcopal School, partners and neighbors with us in Memphis, hosts its own 5K race, also with a focus on learning. This year’s Gobbler 5K will take place on February 28, and is open to the community – sign up to run, enjoy music, food and children’s activities. The run raises money for the school’s scholarship fund.

From the 5K website:

Join us for the 5th Annual St. Mary’s School Gobbler 5k to benefit the Nanette Quinn Memorial Scholarship Fund.

As a teacher of French and sponsor of the Student Council at St. Mary’s for 29 years, Nanette Quinn touched the lives of many students and colleagues. Her influence on these lives, however, was so much more than one of longevity in the workplace. She infected us all with her special spirit, enthusiasm, and passion or as the French say – joie de vivre.

After her death in February of 2009, the student council wanted to do something to honor a woman who gave them so much, thus was born the idea of the Gobbler 5K. Funds raised from the race will benefit the Nanette Quinn scholarship fund that helps young women attend St. Mary’s.

The 5th Annual Gobbler 5K will start at 9 am, and participants will enjoy a course that starts at the school, winds through the surrounding neighborhoods, and ends back at the school. An hour after the 5K begins, the 400 meter dash for children under 10 will start on the track.

Small Groups are Launching!

This spring, we are launching a new component in adult formation and ministry – small book groups, led by parishioners. Each group will, over the course of eight weeks (February 15-March 29), discuss one of three books chosen by clergy, meeting weekly at times and locations chosen by each group. Those interested can sign up in the parish hall during Church Family Together on Wednesday evening, or by calling the church.

In April, our clergy will lead conversations on the three study group books. Scroll to end of blog for those dates.

Some parishioners are reporting having difficulty finding the books locally. All are available on Amazon.com and through Barnes & Noble; all except Walter Brueggemann’s book are available on Audible.

Study Groups

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Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown

The Reverend Hester Mathes:

I chose Daring Greatly because as a fiercely independent individual, I have found Dr. Brown’s message of vulnerability as strength to be immensely helpful in my spiritual formation. Brown encourages us to take risks, to put ourselves out there, to live wholeheartedly, and to dare greatly, while embracing and learning from our mistakes and failures along the way. The paradox of needing courage in order to be vulnerable is one that I have found to be true in my own faith journey, and a paradox that this book has helped me to wrestle with in new ways.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” – Dr. Brene Brown

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Walter Brueggemann’s Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks

The Reverend Dr. Randy McCloy:

I chose this book because of the very erudite and thought-provoking way in which Professor Brueggemann compares the tragedy of 9/11 in the United States with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. Drawing especially upon the books of Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Isaiah, he traces the reality, grief, and ultimate hope of the ancient Israelites after their loss, and comments upon the similarity of ways in which America responded to its crisis in 2001. He describes how our country went through a “spiritual free-fall” in its sense of entitlement, privilege, and superiority, and its tendency toward “exceptionalism.” Ultimately, he offers a vision of how we as a church can progress from the reality of tragedy and grief to a significant hope for the future, based upon the old covenantal habits of justice, righteousness, and steadfast love.

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Here If You Need Me: A True Story, by Kate Braestrup

The Reverend Sandy Webb:

In a very accessible way, Kate Braestrup offers profound theological reflections on her experience as a mother, minister, and law enforcement chaplain. Her memoir taught me how to look for God in the places he is hardest to find, and how we can make a difference in the lives of others just by showing up. Readers are immediately drawn in by the author’s vulnerability and honesty, allowing us to walk with her on her journey of laughter, tears, and transformation.

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Discipleship Groups

In addition, some may be interested in a more in-depth study in discipleship groups, which will be reading Christopher H. Martin’s The Restoration Project. Members of these groups will spend the spring semester studying the work of the Reverend Christopher Martin and his seven disciplines of the Christian life. Members of these groups commit to pursuing these seven disciplines, and to supporting each other as they do so. Discipleship Groups have no fixed ending time, though members may come and go at the end of the semester. Once our Discipleship Groups have finished reading Fr. Martin’s very accessible book, each will decide if it wants to continue meeting, and what it wants to study next.

The Restoration Project: A Benedictine Path to Wisdom, Strength, and Love, by Christopher H. Martin

The Reverend Sandy Webb:

Rules of life are as ancient as the Christian faith, but their standards can often seem unattainable. In The Restoration Project, Christopher Martin addresses that problem, presenting a section of St. Benedict’s famous Rule in a way that makes discipleship seem much more like an invitation than an obligation. In a faithful yet realistic way, Martin places first-century disciplines into their 21st-century context. He invites us simultaneously to deepen our relationships with God and the world, suggesting that neither relationship can happen without the other.

Parish-Wide Discussions of the Books

Sunday, April 12, 9:15 a.m.: The Reverend Hester Mathes will lead a discussion of Daring Greatly

Wednesday, April 15, 6:30 p.m.: The Reverend Sandy Webb will lead a discussion of Here If You Need Me

Sunday, April 19, 9:15 a.m.: The Reverend Dr. Randy McCloy will lead a discussion of Reality, Grief, Hope

Mike Mulligan, and the Difference Between Running and Racing

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by Jennifer Vasil

My favorite book when I was a child was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Ostensibly, it’s a story about lasting worth in an age of increasing technology and planned obsolescence, and that idea had a considerable impact on my value system. But perhaps more than that, I identified with the protagonists’ work ethic. Whenever people were watching them, Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne, his trusty workhorse, would dig a little faster and a little better. The more people that watched, the faster and better they dug in proportion.

Sometimes, having this work ethic has helped me. Those watchful eyes keep me hypercritical of my performance and sensitive to others’ perceptions when I might otherwise be tempted to phone something in. At other times, though, Mike Mulligan’s tendencies have been the opposite of what I’ve needed.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than in my summer running regimen. At any other time of the year, my drive to run a little faster and a little better when others are watching is manageable, even beneficial. But during the summer in Memphis, when the heat and humidity can make even early morning runs unbearable, it’s actually dangerous. I have to fight against my tendency to ramp up my speed when my usual trail puts me in view of the traffic on Walnut Grove. I have to tell myself it’s ok to take a break and walk sometimes, even if there are other people who can see me. I give myself the same pep talk I give to novice runners – if both feet are off the ground at the same time, it doesn’t matter what speed you’re going: you’re running. When Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne got too caught up in performing for the crowd, they trapped themselves in the basement they were digging for the new town hall, and Mary Anne had to become the building’s boiler so she wouldn’t have to be totally dismantled and hauled out as scrap. When I do the same on a summer run, I get cold chills and my fingers hurt, signs that I’m going into heat exhaustion.

The Apostle Paul talks a lot about running and about racing, in particular, which for me is very telling about the ways in which he viewed living out our faith. Racing, like almost any contest, is a very public activity. And while I am solidly in that middling pack that will never win any land-speed records for our performance, there are very few of us in that pack who don’t make a concerted effort to put on a valiant face and run a little better when the race photographers are taking our picture or when we enter that last half mile or so before the finish line. Some of the ways Paul talks about the day-to-day things we should do as Christians remind me of this. He doesn’t seem the kind of guy to advocate taking “walk breaks” in our daily practice, and while his directives hold us to high standards at all times, he’s especially conscious of how our actions can be perceived by others.

I get a different sense from Jesus’ words, though. His message is filled with hiding in closets to pray and not letting one hand know what the other is doing. He had problems with conspicuous displays of piety, and I wonder sometimes what he would say about Paul’s take on this issue. In the case of my issues with performance, I imagine he’d ask me about my motives. Is running faster about the hope that others will view me as more capable, perhaps even as enviable, or is it about the rush that comes when my legs feel weightless and my feet and arms are in perfect synch, toes barely touching the ground before they take off again in a sprint? If running fast for me is about the former, then I’m essentially a Pharisee, doing everything for show regardless of any other motives. But if it’s about the latter, then it’s about joy. It’s about me being and moving and living in a way that, for just that moment, is in perfect synch with what God intended for me. Sometimes that’s fun to share with an audience, with a community. As long as the audience doesn’t become the motivation behind my actions, I imagine that’s ok.

But I know that the danger for me lies when I make others’ perceptions of me my driving force, whether that’s in my running life, my work life, or my faith life. Summer training is one of those important lessons in humility I need to remind me to run my own race, to take care of myself while doing so, and to consider my motives.

Seven Stories Worth a Look

by Robert Propst

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I love to hear people’s stories. Everyone has one and, to me, they’re all interesting. Plus, until I know your story, I can’t really know you. I guess that’s why I enjoy well-done memoirs so much. Memoirs are people telling me their stories, the good, bad, and often the very ugly, and through those stories, I understand my own better.

One of my favorite types of memoirs is the spiritual autobiography. They let me know that traveling along the sometimes crooked and uneven road of faith, I have many companions.

Here are a handful of spiritual memoirs that I have found compelling and meaningful. Seven seems like a good number to list.

  1. Lit by Mary Karr: The story of Mary Karr’s long road from alcoholism, depression and mental illness to faith. She describes the book as “My journey from blackbelt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic.” Karr is a writer of immense talent, whose irreverence, humor, self-deprecation and beautiful prose make this work a joy to read, regardless of its stark subject matter.
  1. House of Prayer #2 by Mark Richard: I really can’t improve on this description by the NYT Book Review: “An absorbing account of growing up in the 1960’s South, living with a disability, becoming a writer and finding faith. Richard’s book attests to the power of words (and the Word) in shaping a life.” From the start, I began dog-earing pages that contained beautifully written or funny passages, but soon realized that every page was going to be turned down. If you love the English language, read this book. Thank you Mary C. for this recent recommendation.
  1. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller: Miller explores how every good story must contain certain elements in order for it to be a story anyone would care to read or hear. In applying that to people, he examines how some folks’ lives tell better stories than others. In the course of his research, it begins to dawn on him that his life isn’t telling much of a story and he sets about trying to change that.  It’s hard to read this book without evaluating your own story.
  1. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir Of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen: Spiritual wanderings have never been this hilarious.  This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, spiritual or otherwise. Rhoda Janzen leaves her Mennonite family and community behind for the secular world of academia. At 40, when her life and marriage fall apart and she is financially strapped, she returns to the safe haven of her parents’ home. There she begins to see some things differently.  It’s funny, I promise, but it’s tender too.
  1. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber:  It is with some reservations that I include this book on the list. It is not for everyone. This heavily tattooed, former drug user and alcoholic turned Lutheran minister, is not, as they say, your grandmother’s pastor. Be warned – Bolz-Weber can be foul-mouthed and abrasive and devout and reverent all at once. But I find her so real and honest about her own brokenness and so passionate about the Gospel, that I can’t help but be moved by her. I don’t agree with everything she has to say but my faith benefits from many of her insights. If you read the book, you may get your feathers ruffled and catch some glimpses of Grace all at the same time.
  1. In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir (P.S.) by Neil White: Perhaps you were present when Neil White spoke at Church of the Holy Communion in 2011. If so, there’s a good chance you’ve read this book. But if you haven’t, think about reading it now. It’s the story of a man’s brokenness and how he found grace and redemption in the unlikeliest of places, a federal prison that also shared space with the last leper colony in the continental United States. If you don’t like it, I’ll refund your money for the book.
  1. Angry Conversations With God: A Snarky But Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs: If you could bring God to couples therapy to work on your relationship with Him, what would it look like? Actress, writer and comedian Susan Isaacs explores that idea in this very funny but earnest look at her struggle to understand who God is and how their relationship is supposed to work.

That’s it. I have lots more (everything by Anne Lamott, for example) but we’ll do that another time. What spiritual memoirs do you have for me? Let me know and may your life always be filled with books.