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What do I crave most? The Cravings blog tour stops here today

Today the Cravings blog tour stops here, and it is a privilege to host this visit. Cravings, A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God, is the latest offering from prolific local, Catholic author, Mary DeTurris Poust. She gives us a book that is personal, provocative and moving. We who are members of God’s body have very interesting and challenging relationships with our own bodies. And we as Catholics, who gather to eat at the Lord’s Table, often struggle mightily with food.

The blog tour offers you the chance to win a copy of the book, by leaving one comment on the blog per day between now and January 20th. Not only can you win a book, your name will also be added to a drawing to win a $100 Williams Sonoma gift card.

Interviewed for the book, I Continue reading

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)

Book Giveway Winner!

Thanks to all who read and posted comments on our Messy Quest book series. We have chosen a winner and that winner is…

Claire Bangasser of San Juan, PR and Grilly, France!

(Claire is a faithful long-distance friend of the blog!)

Names waiting to be chosen!

Congratulations to Claire. I will be in touch about how to get the book into your hands. Thank you all! And thank you Stephen Martin and Sorin Books for stopping by on the big blog tour! Please bookmark Stephen’s Messy Quest blog and stay on the messy adventure with him and continue to keep an eye on Ave Maria Press/Sorin Books for many great resources and reads!

The Messy Quest for Meaning book review

Today we are hosting a blog tour for the new book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, by Stephen Martin. Here is my review of this book.

The vocations mess… We hear so much about vocations… There is a lack of vocations, so we pray for vocations, then maybe there will be more vocations, and so on. Those phrases are centered on the vocation to the ordained, or vowed life, which are essential to the life of the Church. However, there are many other vocations. Are we praying for these also? You know, our own vocations?

It is this notion that Stephen Martin tackles in his book, The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, (Sorin Books, 179p. $14.95). We are all called to a particular path in life, and for many of us that path is meant to help us to discover and reveal gifts, sharing them with the world. It is in this way that we live to the fullest and generously so.

Using a framework that is built around Christian monastic practices, Martin invites us along a different path, a frequently messy one at that. Wanting to help us find our way, the author guides us by revealing so much of his own challenging and – well… messy quest. In fact, instead of cleaning up our acts, we are asked to integrate the messy bits that are part of who we are. In this way we do find order amidst the seeming chaos.

Beginning with a startlingly frank and humble description of his own challenges, Martin reminds us of a jarring truth, yet one that we must face. This truth is something that St. Paul himself wrote of, and that is that our weakness leads us to our strength. It is the one truth that must be gazed at directly and embraced if we are to find out how to be who we truly are.

The discernment process that Martin describes is based on some things that he learned in the company of Trappist monks. It is from here that readers will encounter the five practices that are meant to bring us towards our transformation into the lives that we are called to lead.

Now if this sounds like another feel-good-self-help book, it is anything but. Not only is the author a skilled writer, he culls from a wide variety of sources to encourage us on the journey. Make no mistake, this book is written by a man who is Catholic and we hear a lot about his faith, as well as about other Catholics. With a terrifically catholic approach, , we are given insight from people as diverse as Dorothy Day and James Martin, SJ, to Parker Palmer, Peter Drucker, Ernest Hemingway, and David Brooks, along with other names, both familiar and not-so-familiar.

Aside from being well sourced and grounded, you will also find a book that is at once accessible, funny, charming and humble. That alone is reason enough to buy this book, even if you don’t think you want to look at this kind of volume… Do yourself a favor and read this book. You may just find a pleasant and inviting surprise – one that may actually offer some good insights about how we find the work that we are called to do.

(Remember – leave a comment, no matter how brief, and you may win a copy of this book!)

Messy Quest Monday Guest Post – Author Stephen Martin on interruptions

Today we are hosting a blog tour for the new book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, by Stephen Martin. Stephen offers us a guest post about a topic that is near and dear to my own heart. Read on, he speaks with wisdom!

Why Interruptions Are Good for Your Soul

By Stephen Martin

The average person needs 17 minutes to get back on task after being interrupted by an e-mail, according to a magazine tidbit my wife found. What was I doing when she said this? I don’t remember. Indeed, the idea for this post first came to me a month ago – and it’s taken that long to write the first sentence.

With a busy job, two young kids and too much stuff going on in general, I’m obsessed with managing time and eliminating distractions. But I never succeed. Continue reading

Meet the author of The Messy Quest!

  1. 1.     In what way was your own quest “messy”?

    In my 20s, my quest was messy largely because of an anxiety disorder that created a lot of challenges and sapped most of the joy out of life. Once I began to learn from the disorder itself, instead of trying to fight it, my sense of meaning grew immeasurably. Throughout my 30s (which are rapidly coming to a close!), what’s been messy is the unending juggle of work, family and writing pursuits. All of that poses continual challenges to prayerfulness and mindfulness. But that’s been a much easier mess to embrace than the anxiety of a decade ago!

2. Is there any way to avoid the “messy” or is it a requirement?

Everybody’s life is messy in one way or another and usually in many ways. There’s no getting around that, and it wouldn’t be good to avoid it even if we could. The only way to find real meaning and purpose is to try on different hats until we find something that works. That involves a process of trial and much error that can take a long time. We’re going to make mistakes and go sideways and backward. But if we reflect seriously on what we’ve learned from those experiences, we’ll make progress.
3. Do you ever wish you could re-do any moments in your life, “messy” and otherwise?

There are some things I’d take back if I could, particularly the way a really important relationship with one of my college professors ended. I write about those regrets in the book. Of course, those things can’t be redone, so there’s not much point in dwelling on them. What we can do is try to learn from our mistakes and do better. It’s probably also true that if you haven’t had some significant regrets and disappointments you’re not living fully enough or giving yourself enough chances to learn.

4. Of your five transforming practices for finding vocation, which one do you consider more difficult? And is there one that you consider most important?

Overall, none of the five practices is more important or more difficult than the others. They’re all essential for finding or moving deeper into a calling. That being said, individuals will struggle with different ones depending on their personalities, experiences and mindset. For me, focus comes pretty easily. But because I’m fairly introverted and independent, I’ve probably had to work harder than most people at truly listening to and learning from the community around me.

5.  What do you have to say to people who have not read the book yet, and believe that their vocation and any practical reality of getting there, are irreconcilable?

One of the most frustrating and simultaneously beautiful things about life is that most of us underestimate what we’re capable of doing. It really is very possible to close the gap between a calling and the practical reality of getting there. But if all we do is sit still and think about the enormous improbability of fulfilling a distant dream, we’ll never take even the first step toward it. Nor will we find out what that calling looks like in reality. It’s a little like standing at the edge of the woods and trying to imagine, through a bunch of mental exercises, what’s in the middle of them. It can’t be done. What’s more helpful is actually walking into the woods. So that’s the key thing to remember: most of us move toward calling incrementally, one step at a time, sometimes over many years. We need to take one step and then the next one and be open to what we encounter along the way.

Welcome to the Messy Monday blog tour

(In place of our usual Monday Musing, today we are hosting a stop on a blog tour for a great new book from a Catholic author… read on and join us all day for a series of posts, plus a chance to win a free book!)

Welcome to the Messy Quest Monday blog tour! Today we are hosting the “blog tour” for Stephen Martin’s new book, The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, from Sorin Books, an imprint of Ave Maria Press. Stephen is a writer; he does PR for a global non-profit, and he writes a weekly column for his local paper, the Raleigh News and Observer. He has been published in America and Commonweal, among other places; this is his first book. Stephen is also a husband and a father.

Recently I had the privilege of asking him a few questions, here is what the author had to say… Continue reading

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