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Love and last words – a book review and giveway

PrintWhen I was newly returned to the Catholic church, I bought a book on the seven last words of Christ during Lent. I’m not sure what book it was, the title now long forgotten, but I read it and struggled with it, finally bringing to to my priest, who was also my spiritual director. The look on his face when it handed to him was quite clear, something was wrong. As it happened, it was a reprint of a much older book, and the essence of the volume in my hands was harsh. Let’s face it, the Crucifixion is harsh, but the book offered a theology that was focused on nothing but suffering. The priest then gave me a much better book on the topic and my reading continued.

Needless to say, I cautiously approached all other books with the words “last words of Jesus” on the cover, rarely finding one that fully fed me. When I saw that Dan Horan OFM, had written a book about Jesus’ last words, I was instantly curious. The Last Words of Jesus, A Meditation on Love and Suffering from Franciscan Media, is an updated look offering us a fresh way of seeing the Cross.

In conversation with someone recently, I said precisely that, that this book is “updated” and “offers us a chance to see the Cross in a fresh way.” Those comments were met with a rebuttal about how there is no Continue reading

Jesus, A Pilgrimage – Book review and giveway

970992_10152306293894233_290989403_nIn November 2004, I had a chance to visit Israel, a place that I had longed to see. At the time, the Second Intifada was in full swing, the Carmel market in Tel Aviv had been hit with by a suicide bomb two weeks before I was to go, and Yasser Arafat died two days my prior to my arrival. It was an uncertain time, but I was not afraid. It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime, and one that truly impacted my faith. Before going, I read so many books about the Holy Land and about faith, although no book at that time could have prepared me for my journey.

In his new book, Jesus, A Pilgrimage, (Harper Collins, 510 pp, $27.95) Jesuit priest, author, and commentator, James Martin SJ writes about his own journey to Israel, his life of faith, and about Jesus. My initial reaction? Where was this book when I went on my pilgrimage?

Whether you are about to go to Israel or not, this book is a journey of mind, body, and spirit. With his deft writing skills well honed from years of working his craft, Fr. Martin leads us on a pilgrimage like no other. Weaving stories and anecdotes from his own recent visit to Israel, along with a remarkable breadth and depth of scriptural reflections and insights, he takes us on a journey to know Jesus.

It is the rare gift that someone can take scholarly material and make it accessible and easy to understand, without dumbing it down. Fr. Martin possesses this gift in abundance! Whether examining scripture, historical context, or a spiritual kernel of wisdom, the author takes us higher and deeper at the same time, satisfying the intellect and the heart at once. He cleverly uses anecdotes from his own travel experiences and often in humorous ways, to illustrate a point, and Martin’s scholarly references provide a solid foundation for the conversation.

Whether or not you have ever been – or ever want to go to the Holy Land is not important. If you have an interest in Jesus, from any perspective, this book has something to offer you. For those of us who follow Jesus, we will find an invitation to deepen that knowledge through not only what we read, but because of the ways that this book invites one into prayer and reflection.

Smart, funny, inviting, engaging, wise, and deep, Jesus by James Martin is a pilgrimage like no other. You don’t have to leave your chair, but you must open your mind and heart, your transformation is optional, but it would be hard to imagine reading this book, and not being transformed in some way.

Jesus, A Pilgrimage. The journey awaits you- are you ready?

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Would you like to win a copy of this book? Here’s how… Please leave a comment on the blog; it needs to be a full sentence, not just a word. This post will appear on multiple blog platforms, but there is only one drawing. Multiple comments does not mean multiple entries. Deadline for leaving comments that will be entered into a random drawing is Friday, April 4, 2014, 11:59pm. Winner will be informed via email no later than Monday, April 7, 2014.

Meredith Gould on Church Social Media (and book giveaway!)

meredith-gouldRecently I had the chance to interview Meredith Gould, author of numerous books, the most recent being, The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways. I wanted to talk to Meredith about #chsocm, or church social media, and she had some tremendous insights and advice to offer. The woman that I refer to as “the apostle of the internet” has been living at the intersection of faith, communications and technology, long before social media was social media, tireless in her faith. And she always has something to say, generously sharing her gifts and experience with all! (If you don’t believe me, visit her website, or follow Meredith on Twitter.)

Do you want to win a book? Anyone who leaves a comment on any of the blogs where this interview is posted will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of The Social Media Gospel. Rules can be found at the end of the post.

Now for questions – and answers – about the practical and pastoral dimensions of the mission field of @chsocm from Meredith’s point of view.

As a social media minister, I’m often told by others that they “don’t have the time” for social media. The implication seems to be that #chsocm is something for lazy people with nothing better to do. What would you say to this?

After heaving a deep sigh and looking toward heaven, I’d explore this naysayer’s knowledge of what social media is and why it works well for community-building among people of faith.

I’m pretty sure I’d quickly discover that the naysayer doesn’t realize social media is called “social” media because it facilitates conversations that can lead to quality relationships that in turn lead to community.

Probing a bit further, I’d probably discover that the naysayer does not, in fact, understand the amount of commitment and effort it takes to build communities IRL (in real life). And I’d probably also discover that the naysayer is clueless about tools for easily maintaining a credible online presence to build community.

Depending on my mood, I might ask questions like, “How much time do you think it takes to develop any ministry and then get people actively involved?” Next, I’d ask, “If you had a tool that could speed up that process, why wouldn’t you want to learn how to use it?” I might also ask, “What’s really doing on? What worries you about social media?”

If I were completely fed-up with the naysayer’s resistance, negativity, and lack of coachability, I might ask, “Are you always so uncharitable toward people who are developing new ways to preach, teach, and live the Gospel?”

Nah, I wouldn’t say that.

I’d say, “Don’t want to use social media? Then, don’t but please don’t prevent others from sharing the Gospel with these tools.”

Many of us who are active in social media ministry see this as an offering of hospitality. How can worship communities use social media as a way of welcome? OK, that is a big question… let me rephrase it by asking, what are the top 2 or 3 best practices of social media hospitality?

Great question! I’m going to mention three best practices because I love the number three, for reasons that should be obvious!

1) For your church website and e-newsletter: Don’t just post social media icons/buttons. Include “teaser copy” that’s a call to action like, “continue the conversation at:” or “build community at:” or “join us in between Sundays at:” And please don’t bury information about these ways to connect in your website or e-newsletter footer.

2) When setting up social media platforms: Make sure that images, color palette, font, description and other forms of “branding” is consistent across platforms. While this might seem like a picky technical issue, this level of coherence conveys stability, integrity, and clarity. More hospitable!

3) While using social media platforms: Be inviting and gracious to newcomers; generous with regular visitors. Know when to use email or pick up the phone to reach out when online communication is devolving in clarity or tone.

Many parishes or dioceses fear social media because they see a potential for something nefarious, worrying that it might compromise safety, especially for the young. What are some assurances against this, as you see it?

We’re now experienced enough with digital to understand the vital importance of privacy and protection, especially for youth and other vulnerable populations. Every social media platform offers rigorous ways to lock down accounts for more privacy. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to be getting help or taking time to learn how to set up privacy functions.

In addition, I encourage churches at the local and diocesan levels to either create or adapt existing guidelines for social media use. I include a detailed appendix about this (Appendix B: Yes You Need a Social Media Policy) in The Social Media Gospel as well as examples. Trust me, adapting an existing policy (even from churches in other denominations) is way more efficient than making one up from scratch.

Bigger issue that’s too big to get into here: “privacy” vs. “secrecy.” Church has gotten into a whole lot of avoidable trouble and scandal by confusing “privacy” with “secrecy.” I discuss this in more detail in my earlier book about church communications ministry, The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today.

Along those lines, how do you counter the old trope that says social media is really for “young people”?

I’d reach for high quality dark chocolate and let that flow into my system before suggesting a visit to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Data collected by the Pew Research Center puts that erroneous assumption to rest. Lately, when anyone asks how to find something online, I send them to this link.

Contest rules: Anyone who enters a comment on any of the blogs where this post appears will be entered into a drawing. The deadline for comments is Friday, July 26, 2013 at 8pm Eastern Time. The winner will be contacted for address and shipping information.

Hungry and You Fed Me – Book and giveawy

320329_393766334029306_938332944_n-1The new liturgical year begins on Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, when we enter Cycle C. It is not too late to be looking for resources for prayer, reflection and study – in fact, this being Advent, you should go slowly.

If you are looking for something, I would like to recommend a volume that I have the privilege of being a part of; Hungry and You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C. This book and charitable project was conceived by Deacon Jim Knipper, and includes many esteemed contributors, such as Richard Rohr OFM and James Martin SJ. There is beautiful cover and interior art by Michael O’Neill McGrath OSFS. The beautiful forward is written by dear friend and talented author, Meredith Gould. This is an ecumenical project, and the works of Presbyterian, Episcopalian and other Christians are included, which in my estimation enriches the insights offered. Some of the offerings are from ordained ministers, priests, and deacons, but also from lay people like myself. Continue reading

Loving Work – a book review and giveaway

(I wrote this for my Times Union blog, but I am posting it here as well!)

My own story goes like this… One day I was sitting in my big office in Manhattan. It was not a corner office, but that was fine by me. I had a lot of room, a big desk and credenza, a bookcase, and even a small table where I could hold meetings for a few of us. I was living the dream! Sort of, anyway!

Five years later I sit in a very different office. For starters, it is in the midst of a busy parish rectory, with the phone ringing off the hook, the priest calling out for this or that, people needing mass cards, comfort, solace – or perhaps just a gas card to get to their low wage part time job.

Let me be clear – I did not hate my old job, in fact, I loved many things about it, especially the people the people that I worked with. However, in my new job, despite the lack of prestige, pay and privacy, I could not be happier. I am loving work. And loving work is also what I do, because the work of the church is to love. This makes me one very lucky person!

Spiritual director, campus minister, and author Mike Hayes explores this kind of transformation – and how others might set about doing the same thing, in his latest book, Loving Work, A spiritual guide to finding the work we love and bringing love to the work we do. (Orbis, $16.00, 120 pp.) For Hayes, it is not just about loving what you do, but it is about being who you are – and that includes bringing loving into the work that you choose to do.

In full disclosure, Mike is a friend, and I was asked to provide a cover blurb, which I will restate here. After reading the book I said, “Some books are kept for a long time, because they nourish the soul or they are practical guides… Mike Hayes offers us both things with great wisdom in a book that you will want to keep.

Infused with sound Ignatian spirituality, warmth, wisdom, humor and a tremendous amount of insight, this book offers a way forward to better work – and a much better life. Whether pointing to practical details and planning, or focusing on our relationship with God, we are shown the value of the importance of seeking work that feeds the soul, as well as work that creates our living. What struck me most is the no-nonsense approach that Hayes’ employs, which is direct, yet incredibly human at the same time. His experiences in business, spiritual direction, and campus ministry are all pressed into excellent use in this book.

One of my favorite chapters is called, “If You Could Be Anything.” Sparing no details, Hayes discusses his own crisis of the heart with clarity. Despite his successful (and longed for) career in radio broadcasting, something is just missing. No stranger to the world of faith, his two worlds begin to align as he explores his own “anything.” The results have led him to where he is today.

These are tough times, and getting a new job is not all that easy. And perhaps that is what makes this book more important than ever. If we can’t really achieve what we thought was our dream, perhaps that should truly compel us to discern and claim what our true work might be. Risky? Sure. But if we don’t try, how do we ever know the greatness that we are called to?

This is not some reference book to pick off of a shelf and give to a job seeker. This is a book for seekers who seek not only work, but their hearts desire as well, which is an essential path to wholeness and integrity. It is about work that is more than what you”do” or what you “get” for it, and more about what you give and how you live in the world.

And that is what is at the heart of this fine book. As we come to know God, as we come to know ourselves, we are called to find and to live the very work that will make our hearts sing. It is better for us and infinitely better for the world when we enter the world of loving work. This fine book will make a great gift for yourself or for others as we enter gift buying season – or any time, and I highly recommend it.

Want to win a copy of this book? Please leave a comment on the blog before 11:30pm on Wednesday, November 28, 2012, eastern time. Your name will go into a drawing. Good luck!

Monday Musing – Gratitude Edition

Later this week we will celebrate two things. One should be obvious; on Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ll get to the second in a moment.

Most Mondays, this post self-publishes, because I have written it before and set a timer that puts it on the blog. (Sorry to ruin the thought of me sitting here in my pajamas with my hair sticking straight up in the air, sleep still in my eyes, as I toil away! Oh wait, that is what you are getting today!) In all seriousness, that is how it works.

Today I am sitting here, writing fresh – mostly because I was away in NYC all weekend and I had not planned my timing very well. But that’s OK, because I am reminded of the gratitude that I feel for an amazing weekend.

When I was in New York, I got to meet some of the other authors of the book, Hungry and You Fed Me, Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C. I can’t tell you how exciting that was, and how grateful I am to actually be IN a book, especially a book like that, and to meet so many esteemed people of faith and vision.  I also got to do a lot of other things and see people that I love while in the city, it was wonderful. Thank you God! (See photos)

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What are you grateful for as we begin the week in which Thanksgiving falls? And for whom do you pray?

I think about the people who lost so much – loved ones, their homes or cars, their livelihoods – all due to Hurricane Sandy. My prayers for them as they navigate this season, perhaps finding it hard to feel thankful for much.

I am grateful to have spent Thanksgiving in Israel in 2004, and I am heartbroken as the violence rages on there, both from Hamas rockets and the Israeli response. It is a very small country, so a rocket from across the border would be something akin to someone in Burnt Hills trying to hit our church in Glenville with a rocket. The other side of the equation is that that it also means that Israel is responding with tremendous firepower, a short distance away and with great force.

God have mercy.

Again, who do you pray for? What are you grateful for?

And what else do we celebrate this week?

The final Sunday of the liturgical year! Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. We are deep into readings that are apocalyptic in nature, sometimes hard to read, listen to, or understand. I am always surprised when I meet fellow Roman Catholics who understand what they hear in the Book of Revelations in a literal way. There is so much historical, Scriptural, and theological context to what we come to know in this book of the Bible. The end is coming, but God calls us to a deeper understanding of what that means.

We also know that Advent is coming – a time of great promise and hope. Advent truly is the time of the “darkest days before the dawn.”

I don’t know about you, but I love Advent, and I do not really think about Christmas too much until we get closer to it.

So this week I invite us all to remember that we are God’s beloved children, that we are always in the presence of our God, whether we realize it or not, and that God is with us in the darkest moments, and that God is the dawn as well. My prayers of gratitude are like a flashlight, illuminating the pathway to the greatest Light of all – Jesus Christ. That thought makes me most grateful of all.

Amen!

*Two Things*
1 – If you would like to buy a copy of Hungry and You Fed Me, please let me know. I have some in the parish office. If you are a reader from afar, let me know, I can get a copy to you. Or you can visit that website. All self-promotion aside, it is a prayerful and rich volume that will accompany you through Year C. It also makes a wonderful gift!

2- Brother Mickey McGrath is coming to Immaculate in less than two weeks! Please mark your calendars to come on either Thursday night at 7pm on November 29, or at 9am on Friday November 30. If you want to win a copy of one of his books, please see this blog post from the other day. I have extended the deadline to Tuesday morning, November 20, at 7am eastern. Leave a comment and you will be entered into a drawing to win a book!

Light & Beauty – book reviews, contest, Brother Mickey appearance!

Saved by Beauty and This Little Light – the November book review and book giveaway series continues!

I’ll begin this review of two books with the end in mind… If you are making a list so that someone may check it twice, I suggest that you ask for both books. Seriously – ask for both books! You will not regret this, even if it feels a bit over the top. Let me tell you why…

There will be pure joy upon giving and receiving such things, there will be no standing in long lines to return things that you don’t want, and no suffering the potential shame of re-gifting the wrong gift to the wrong person. Go ahead, attach this review to your wish list! And if you are looking for gifts for someone else, try using this as your shopping list. (Book giveway contest info at the end of the post, along with info about upcoming appearances by Brother Mickey!)

Today I Continue reading

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