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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.

Not By Bread Alone – Plus A Retreat Offer – Lenten Resource Review and Giveaway

NotByBreadAloneThis blog, as you know, is called “There Will Be Bread.” The title came to me through some prayer and meditation about Eucharistic living and the importance of God encountered in real form as we gather at the table. In this way, I am aware that “bread” is not “bread” alone. And we do not live by bread alone, but by the bread that is Christ.

That is why I love the title of this next little Lenten offering, Daily Reflections for Lent, Not By Bread Alone, by Robert F. Morneau, published by Liturgical Press. It is a true gem! If I am honest, I will tell you that I look forward to each year’s version of this small book. This year’s edition does not disappoint. None of this is a surprise considering the nature of content that comes from this august publisher.

The format is simple. Each day is marked by a line from Scripture and followed by a brief reflection. Bishop Morneau is an excellent writer, which one must be to convey so much in but a few words and images. His voice is gentle and wise. East reflection is followed by a couple of thoughts to prompt meditation, and then by a closing prayer.

It is with regret that I tell you that the paper copy of this book is already sold out! That said, a copy does await today’s winner. If you want to purchase an eBook version, please purchase at Liturgical Press. A large print edition is also available by clicking here.

Your comment on the blog counts as your entry. This will be a great book to win considering that you can’t buy it any longer!

13292458-empty-wooden-fruit-or-bread-basket-on-white-backgroundIn addition to reviewing this Lenten book resource, I also wanted to say a few words about an upcoming online retreat for the season. Desert Journey and Daily Bread: Food and Fasting in Lent is being offered by theologian, author, and spiritual director, Jane Redmont. This topic is very timely of course, and I was reminded of the connection of not living by bread alone.

This seven week online journey is a call to, in Jane’s words, “simplicity, mindfulness, and holiness.” Each week of this ecumenical journey will offer a different theme, via short readings, spiritual exercises, prayers, images, and explorations of the broader context of the Lenten journey. The retreat runs from March 5 to April 20, and gives one the opportunity to commit to a Lenten practice. The retreat is fully online, and need only be as interactive as the user wishes. There are more details at the link.

Jane+at+ferry+terminal+July+25+2011+croppedA skilled retreat leader and facilitator who brings a contemplative focus to all of her work, Jane has extensive experience offering online retreats. The retreat cost is $150 and there may be options for a sliding scale payment or scholarship. Contact Jane via her website for information. In full disclosure, I am very pleased that I myself have decided to join in on this Lenten retreat.

Jane is offering a special price reduction for Food and Fasting to readers of this blog. The cost is $150, but there is an early bird price in place this week for $120. If you register by Sunday, use code 1105 for a reduced price of $105. If you register from Monday on, the price goes back to $150, but the reduced offering will be $135. Please use code 2135 for that! Thank you Jane, for offering these price breaks. This makes a great value an even greater one!

Hope to have many of you join us on this unique Lenten journey. If you have questions about an online retreat, ask Jane by writing to readwithredmont at earthlink dot net.

Remember leave a comment to win a book, and go to Jane Redmont’s website to register for this retreat. (She is also offering a Merton retreat, read more about that at that link.)

Thanks for reading and commenting, all are welcome! Please fee free to share these opportunities and offers with others.

Book review and giveaway – My Sisters The Saints (replaces Monday Musing today)

How many things attracted me to My Sisters the Saints, A Spiritual Memoir, by Colleen Carroll Campbell (Image Books, $22.99, 212 pp.)? Let’s just say many. That said, I would add that I might have trouble enumerating the many things that made me not want to continue reading this book. In what is an apt metaphor for faith and religious practice, it seems that the ambiguity, the great “both/and-ness” of living a life of faith, that counts in the end. And along those lines, I found myself turning the pages in rapid succession.

I’ll begin with the attraction. My Sisters the Saints, A Spiritual Memoir – the title alone entices me, while inspiring a blush of envy. Can’t that be my book’s name? The topic is as seductive to me as the scent of freshly baked bread. A book filled with saints and memories of a spiritual life. What’s not to love?

The author is a gifted writer who employs a personal and conversational style that I enjoyed. The book is easy to read, and the words flow smoothly, carrying the reader along on a very personal current. That quality, along with carefully crafted prose that has the tone of an intimate conversation made “My Sisters” a pleasure to read.

As someone a bit older than the author, I still find myself in a position not unlike hers, when I recollect the days of my youth, and how those days were spent. (Hint: not always wisely.) My own rearview mirror reveals clear images of days spent in some less than savory ways. That is where Campbell and I begin to part company. Although I enjoyed her story very much, especially the parts when she was challenged to make hard choices, I can’t really relate to her particular trajectory.

For Campbell, the path out of one part of life and into another is a bit too much “either/or” for me, and much less the “both/and” that defines my own experience as a Roman Catholic woman. Yet because of that “both/and” place, I pressed on with this book, and grateful that I did so.

The volume is well crafted, with an interesting story to tell. The temptation to, in social media terms, “unfriend” anyone with a different point of view, is not only ridiculously easy (click!), but it is remarkably sad, if you ask me. So although I found myself uncomfortable at times, I did not put the book down and I was never disappointed in what I read. This reminded me of an important question; when is it a good idea to avoid discomfort? Especially in our conversations about our relationship with God, and the choices that we exercise in life? If it is not uncomfortable, how are we ever challenged and how are we transformed?

Perhaps that is the biggest takeaway in My Sisters The Saints. This is ultimately a book about faith, surrender, choices made, and relationship with God. That relationship also involves the saints that are generously given to us by that same God. In agreement or not, I found Campbell’s interactions, with these “sisters” most satisfying. We hear about Saint Therese, Saint Faustina, Saint Teresa, and Mary the Mother of God, through tales woven with the author’s life. Other saints include women like Edith Stein and Dorothy Day, which were beautiful additions to her great cloud of witnesses.

Perhaps the most moving element of the story for me, and a real reason for my admiration of the book, was Campbell’s family history. The scenes that unfolded, with descriptions of her parents, especially her father, were deeply touching. The deterioration of her father’s life as he struggled with Alzheimer’s, was beautifully chronicled, and emotionally charged. Ultimately that is what it is all about, isn’t it? Our relationships with one another through God, or through the saints, our family, or others are what matter. That point is never missed in this story. And it is in the stories that God works with us, challenges us, changes us, transforms us, a thought that is consistently represented in these pages. How could I not like that?

Sometimes a book shows up, and I am not inclined to read it because of the title, its jacket blurbs, or because of what I know about the author. Just as My Sisters the Saints called to me because of the title, it might have sent me away for other reasons, but I stuck it out. Oddly enough, a book that feels at time too “either/or” for my taste, invited me more deeply into the “both/and” of my own life and faith. As with any good relationship, it is really important to stay with the relationship and with the stories. That may be the very best message of this book in the end, a message worth reading.

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BOOK GIVEAWAY – All those who leave a comment will be entered into a drawing to win a book. Comments from all three of my blogs will be collected and one winner will be chosen at random. You will be contacted via the email that is required (but not listed publicly) to arrange for delivery. Enter as many times as you’d like by 6am Eastern Time on Tuesday, November 6.

Blog Tour Book Giveway Winner

A

And the winner is…. Buchaneers7! 
Thank you to all who read the blog, commented and entered. I do highly recommend this book!

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.

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