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Blog Tour – a book review & book giveway

A long time ago, I was introduced to the words “action and contemplation” through reading the works of Richard Rohr, OFM, as I reluctantly reverted to the Catholicism of my youth. In what was probably the first inkling that my divided brain might do better if integrated, the two words blended in perfect harmony for me. I have tried to live this ever since – and I’m still trying to get that balance right, 22 years on.

It was with great joy that I encountered this path of action and contemplation when I opened “From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism by Chris Haw, from Ave Maria Press. Not only did I relate to those terms, but I’m a sucker for a “Catholic revert” story, especially if it does not mean eliminating your prior life or becoming too pious. What’s a Catholic revert, you ask? Well, we can’t be converts if we started out this way, no matter how far we strayed, or for how long, right? And while I have nothing against piety, piety alone may lead to the contemplation more than the action, when both are needed.

Fellow revert or not, I was not sure what to expect from Haw. Willow Creek? I admit it; I was not sure where this was going, although the Sacred Heart in Camden drew me in. I know someone who lives there, and I have been quite moved by the church and the community it serves, in the heart of an impoverished area with violent crime. As the author himself admits, stereotyping church types easily proves us wrong, and any misgivings I had were lost a few pages into the book.

The author is a compelling storyteller, writing with a wisdom that belies his age in years. Without cutting off his past experiences, Haw shows us what it means to truly be transformed in Christ, in a very real and embodied way. His own transformation from being part of a mega-church community, to being part of a Catholic Church community, is a testament to how we are called to be one. Without ever rejecting his past, he lives directly into his present and future in a most powerful way. In fact, he is very clear that his foundations at Willow Creek, Eastern University, and with intentional Christian friends like Shane Claiborne, have made him into who he is.

Well schooled in theology, the easily accessible and conversant discussions of Catholics from Thomas Aquinas to G.K. Chesterton (who is frequently cited) are refreshing. Rather than the heady study of God, this book makes real the many facets of God. And beyond that, just how the theology matters in the flesh and blood world of life in Camden, a place where much blood is spilled.

If I had to call out a favorite chapter, it would be, Chapter Nine: On Becoming Part of a Terrible Organization. With startling clarity, we are lead through Haw’s experience of entering a church at a time when some of the darkest moments of the sex abuse scandal were becoming known. This all happened against the backdrop of post-9/11, and the start of the war in Iraq; a time of terrible bad news. Yet, the clutter is cleared with astounding honesty and I imagine that I will return to the pages of this particular chapter many times.

A compelling argument for becoming part of the Catholic Church is not unfamiliar in the book world. A compelling argument like Chris Haw’s is very different from most others that you will read. With all the headiness of theological rhetoric, with all the heart of the Mystical Body and with all the guts of the sacramental world, this book is one of the best that I have ever read.

WIN A BOOK: Leave a comment, long, short, good or bad (good, we hope) and your name will be entered in a drawing for a book!

Chris Haw Blog Tour – an excerpt and book giveway

Today we welcome author Chris Haw, who is on a blog tour promoting his new book, From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism, from Ave Maria Press. Would you like to win a copy of this book? Please leave a comment to be entered into a drawing!

Chris is a self-described “carpenter, theologian, author, speaker, and potter.” He lives in Camden, NJ with his wife, Cassie, and his son, Simon. To say that Chris and his family live intentionally, would be an understatement. Chris was born and raised Catholic in his early life, but he moved to another church for many years. What happened to him at that church, Willow Creek, shaped the man that we see today. Talk about a profound journey – he has undertaken many remarkable steps in his young life.

You can read about some of the book right here. Ave Maria Press and Chris Haw have given me permission to print an excerpt from the book here. I chose these paragraphs from early in the book, because they set the stage for the amazing journey that is to follow. Happy reading. And don’t miss my other post today; a review of this book.

Raised Catholic largely by my mother, my early years in the Catholic Church were a mixture of appreciation and boredom. Like many young kids, I often simply did not want to go to Mass. I vividly recall one Sunday morning when I feigned sickness by testing the thermometer-to-the-light-bulb hypothesis. It failed. Arriving at Mass, I would often wiggle among the pews and claim (multiple) bathroom emergencies. And yet I must say that years later, I somehow retained an interest in what I would call, for lack of a better term, the militancy of Catholic ritual—its cleanliness of form, its solemn action, the mindful readings and symbols, the slow and serious relishing in one bite of communion and one small sip from the cup. But back in elementary school, those moments were sporadic and were often marginalized in light of other, more pressing events of youth.

Mom taught CCD courses for us kids; CCD stands for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. It’s religious education for Catholics who don’t go to Catholic school, but the name did not exactly fit my mother’s teaching style. More artistically than doctrinally inclined, my mother would often play music or display art, asking us youth to interpret them. A lot is made today of the problem of mushy catechesis, but in truth, I remember it fondly, though my mom insists it was more akin to pulling teeth. In addition to getting us to CCD, my mom made sure we made it to Mass faithfully, long enough to have the creeds, incantations, and common songs seared into our memory.

One thing about Catholicism that I enjoyed—then and now— was the culture, which at its best is filled with festivals and parties. I recall, around age five, attending an exciting festival in our church’s parking lot, held over a period of several days. Every time we visited my grandparents on my mother’s side in Cleveland, it seemed there was some occasion for a similar church festival—day- and night-long parties stocked with food and beer, piñatas, volleyball, water balloon (and egg!) tosses. And although no longer fashionable in our society, even among most Catholics, this side of my family tried hard to keep alive a few old folk traditions—for example, an Easter-time breakfast custom of tapping one’s hard-boiled egg against the egg of another at the table. The person whose egg didn’t completely crack up was the winner. We dueled until the dinner table had found a winner who had at least one side of their egg intact, abiding through the violence.

My Catholic childhood began to fade just before entering the stage at which most young Catholics prepare for Confirmation Around this time, my mother heard that the local Protestant kids had some really vibrant youth groups. Our Catholic youth group was, to put it mildly, less than vibrant. Appealing to her CCD supervisor, my mother requested to investigate and perhaps import some practices of these other denominations. She was promptly rebuked and reminded of how such Protestant projects were anathema. With concern for her kids foremost, we began to consider a change of ecclesial scenery.

Church shopping because of dissatisfaction with the youth groups might seem a bit extreme, but anyone who has seriously tried to raise middle schoolers to embrace the Faith knows it is a real challenge. In addition, however much Catholicism was a staple in my mom’s family tradition, the fact was that we had few deep friendships at the local Catholic church. We were a long way from Cleveland, my mom’s Catholic gravitational field. Around this time, our family caught wind of a very different kind of church. It was called Willow Creek Community Church, and many close friends were inviting us there. No stuffy dress clothes, we were told. No statues, no crosses, no stained glass, no priests, no altars, no rituals (or so we thought), and not even a building that looked like what one might typically call a “church.” Gatherings were of an entirely different nature from Catholic liturgy. They supposedly played videos and even clips of popular movies at the services and sang along with songs performed by professional rock musicians. Concert lighting and smoke machines were often employed to enhance the experience. And with legions of staff and volunteers, Willow’s youth branch

of the church, called “Student Impact,” could entertain teens, teach them, summer camp them, mentor them, and exhaust them until they fell over in giddy excitement. Their youth ministry was replete with its own separate services, “relevant” songs, speeches, topics, dramas, videos, games, retreats, and so on. On any given Sunday over one thousand students would pour in. So, we went. And then we kept going.

Upon driving into Willow Creek’s zip-code-sized campus for the first time, we viewed a gargantuan complex, a mall-sized, modern sprawl. The parking lot’s size necessitated memory markers; volunteers suited with reflective vests directed traffic. I walked through the doors and into the auditorium, awestruck at its thousands of seats, mezzanine levels, enormous stage, and humungous, concert-like speakers. (Their updated building, a $73 million or so project, is one of the world’s largest theaters.) The jumbotrons near the stage, listing the song lyrics and showing soothing Christian imagery, would occasionally post announcements mid-service like, “Parents of child #354, please come to the nursery.”

I was enthralled. The sheer volume of people worshipping there spoke to me of its inherent goodness. It was successful, doubtlessly. Its sense of joyful volunteer collaboration was perhaps the most inspiring attribute, from the traffic-controllersto the greeters, from the video technicians to the “hospitality team.” Everybody was contributing to a mission. In fact, other than sharing the word “Jesus” in common, the experience of Willow Creek made me think I had stepped into an entirely different religion.

Willow had already become so successful that it wasn’t hard to catch rumblings around town from suspicious skeptics— “It’s a cult,” some would say. That accusation only served to intrigue me, prompting even closer investigation. Of course, fourteen-year-olds don’t really investigate—not all that analytically, anyway. But if by “cult,” one meant weird, insane, wild-eyed people looking to capture and brainwash me, this group appeared exempt. I could tell that most people there weren’t weird at all. They seemed quite normal by middle-class American standards, in fact, and while they appeared excited about their spiritual lives, they did not seem crazed, pushy, or overly intense.

I should make it clear that while I was undoubtedly impressed, I did not immediately “fall” for Willow Creek. At the beginning, I hung lightly on the fringes. I had jumped from the Catholic to the Protestant world at just the time in life when we develop significant habits, styles, and cliques, according to our own religion or upbringing. I was in between worlds. The pious Protestant pop music, music which virtually all tweens at these churches know and love, was impressive in its professionalism, but it did not do much for me. Too often it seemed to simply ape the music of the secular mainstream—Justin-Bieber-style-but-for-Jesus kind of music. I was not dazzled by the “youth-groupy” culture either, where cultural seclusion or restriction seemed to have socially hamstrung some of the youth there; something about having your own special types of t-shirts, music, and bracelets felt “off.”

My real passion at this time was playing in a punk rock band—hence my initial resistance to the Willow Creek music scene. “Shows” and parties where our band could play were my thing. (The band hit it big when we made it in the local newspaper!) I had enough respect and love for my parents that I didn’t pursue that whole world of drugs and drinking that people might associate with teenagers into punk rock, though I had a few good friends who did embrace that scene. And that is where I came to a crossroad of sorts. A friend of mine committed suicide.

From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart – Blog Tour intro, video, book giveaway

“It’s fascinating to walk into a church where it often feels like… a lot of people are walking out.”

-Chris Haw

Carpenter, Author, Speaker, Potter

Welcome to today’s special features that are part of the Chris Haw Blog Tour, for his new book from Ave Maria Press, From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism. With a quote like the one above, you know you are about to meet someone with an interesting story to tell.

Chris Haw indeed has quite a story… Born Catholic and raised that way until he was a teenager, he and his family became part of the midwestern mega-church, Willow Creek. Today he lives in Camden, NJ where he lives near, and is part of the community at Sacred Heart.

Today you will get several chances to meet Chris and learn about his book; I hope that you explore them all. You will not be disappointed. In this post you meet Chris and can watch a video about him. Later you will find an excerpt from the book, and finally a review of the book.

Speaking of the book, you can buy it directly from Ave Maria Press, at an indie bookstore, or from B&N, or Amazon. No matter where you buy it, if you like it, leave a review at one of those sites. Spread the word -we need more good news. And Chris has no shortage of it.

And you can win a copy of the book, by simply leaving a comment here at the blog! A short comment or a long one, a good one – or whatever comment. Leave your comment and your name will be entered into a drawing to be announced tomorrow.

Monday Not-So-Musing – The Book Edition

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Lots of book reviews coming up!

From the “so-many-books-so-little-time” files, I have lots to show you in November – well, starting on October 31, to be precise. Expect to see some book reviews in coming days. I have been reading and reading and reading… and there are other books in the queue! By time the November book-fest is over, you will know what to ask for for Christmas, and what to give!

From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling my Love for Catholicism by Chris Haw.

Loving Work by Mike Hayes.

A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy by Sarah A. Reinhard.

Saved by Beauty: A Spiritual Journey with Dorothy Day by Michael O’Neill McGrath.

This Little Light: Lessons in Living from Sister Thea Bowman by Michael O’Neill McGrath.

I Wasn’t Dead When I Wrote This: Advice Given in the Nick of Time by Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart.

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell.

And while I can’t review a book that I contributed to, I’ll say – please don’t forget to check out Hungry and You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, featuring James Martin SJ and Richard Rohr OFM, featuring cover art by Michael O’Neill McGrath. (I wrote about it the other day)

Saturday Song

I think that I have used this before, but with Sunday’s coming Gospel about a blind man always makes me think of this song. Last year, Jesse Manibusan was as St. Edward’s and he sang this, it was so beautiful.


 

A new book…

There will be more to follow in coming days, but I did want to announce the publication of a new book. Hungry, And You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, featuring James Martin, SJ and Richard Rohr, OFM is now available for purchase. You can learn more about the book, and the associated charitable project by clicking this link.

It is a great honor and privilege to be a contributor to this effort, and I will post more soon. In the meantime, forget about me, and simply check out the great works offered by many esteemed authors, including art from Brother Mickey McGrath.

More to come next week… (and yes, copies will be sold in the office. )

Monday Musing

Every morning, as part of both my prayer and my work, I read the daily readings and reflections at Give Us This Day, and  The Magnificat. I am very blessed to be able to receive a subscription to each one of these daily devotionals currently. The readings for daily mass are the same, but the psalms for morning prayer, as well as the featured saints of the day and reflections are very different. For many reasons, I treasure both publications.

Today the thing that truly hit me came from Give Us This Day. The featured saint of the day, (not always a canonized saint at GOTD) is Bl. John Paul II, our prior pope. These particular words refer to the Gospel of Luke (5:4), and Jesus’ command to “put out into the deep.” In Latin, this is “Duc in altum.” This can be found in the Apostolic Letter, Novo Millenio Ineunte, as we see below.

Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8).

This got me to thinking about Saint Kateri, whose canonization we celebrated yesterday, and her journey from the area around Fonda, NY, near her shrine, to Canada. On Saturday I had posted two Kateri videos, and one of them has not left my mind, as I imagine her making her way, all alone, through the wildnerness.

How often do we really follow Jesus’ command to do this – Duc in altum? How often do we recall that Bl. John Paul II, and countless others in between, asked the same of us?

For the most part, it seems to me – in my life anyway – that we do all that we can to promote safety and security. Whether it is the best car, that will withstand the most impact, a home security system, fences, moving to neighborhoods that are filled with people that are like “us,” so that we will be safe from “them,” and more, we are endless seekers of the opposite, it would seem.

Now I am not taking anyone to task for this, I am front and center in this activity!

However, I must ask myself, how can I put out into this deep? Without fear?

That’s the question that I asked myself when I encountered Bl. John Paul II’s reiteration of Jesus’ command, and that question was on my heart as I read today’s Gospel.

In a life filled with the acquisition of wealth, followed by the protection of it, along with all of our possessions, just how do we “put out into the deep?”

I have no clue, but this will be my prayer today… That I take more risks, focus more on Christ, and less on my own safety and security. The shoreline feels like a nice place to be, but the deep of the sea is where we are called. How else can we become fishers of men and women? Including, catching our own souls, in the nets that are meant to overflow. Yes – our nets for Christ are meant to overflow, not our own barns, for our own use.

Does anybody but me find this a challenge?

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