Thinking Out Loud

January 21, 2017

When the Cause is Worth Jail Time

january-17-2017-supreme-court-death-penalty-protest

There were 18 people arrested this week protesting the death penalty on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was Christian author and social activist Shane Claiborne who got my attention. Maybe it’s because I’ve read his books or that we met once briefly. Coincidentally, I was combing through old blog posts here looking for something else, and I stumbled across something we ran by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove — who is also a friend to Shane — explaining to his kids why he was in jail after a different but equally important event. I thought I would re-run that here today, but then I found something Shane posted upon his release, so today you get both.

First, Shane’s video: (Posted January 19, 2017.)

Second, the piece from Jonathan:  (This appear on his blog on June 5, 2013; it was a different issue, but action borne from equally strong convictions.)

A Letter to My Kids: Why I Got Arrested

Dear JaiMichael and Nora,

Since we went to Moral Monday together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve wanted to sit down and write to both of you to tell you why I got arrested—why I wasn’t home that evening to read you your stories and say prayers with you. I’ve rarely felt happier than I did that evening when the bus pulled out to take us to jail. I looked up and saw the two of you standing with mom, waving good-bye even though you couldn’t see me through the wire mesh of the bus window. Thank you for being there for me.

As you both know, we live in a hospitality house and share our life with other people because God has given us this way of life as a gift. It’s not always easy to greet every knock at the door, eager to see Jesus in the stranger. But that’s what we try to do because this is where Jesus promised to meet us. Indeed, the two of you are teaching me much about how to do this as you grow up at Rutba House.

One of the things we know about God’s family is that we don’t all look the same. Even though you are brother and sister, your skin is not the same color. Uncle Matt and Uncle Vern are not the same color. This is how it is in God’s family.

You also know the story of how Grandma Ann, when she was working to integrate the schools here in Durham, became friends with a white man who had led the Ku Klux Klan. Some people say strong black women and white men in the KKK shouldn’t become friends. But Grandma Ann and Mr. Ellis realized that when poor black people are pitted against poor white people, all children suffer. They became friends because they learned a better way.

Some people say that parents should work as hard as they can to give their kids all the opportunities that are available in our society—that this is what it means to be a good parent. I know you’ve been disappointed at times when you didn’t get to have a video game or wear the coolest new clothes. But your mom and I believe that the best life for you (and for us) is a life in the beloved community that Grandma Ann and others worked for—the life that God wants to give us in relationship with others who are not like us.

The men who run our Legislature in Raleigh right now are people who love their kids like I love you. They are afraid because they believe that the inheritance they have to pass on to their children is the wealth that they’ve been able to accumulate. They do not want to see that inheritance squandered by others whom they think undeserving. They are determined to defend their way of life at any cost.

But we believe they are wrong because we know a better way of life. We have asked them to consider the pain they are causing others by pursuing their own interests. They have refused to listen. Because they have power right now, they don’t have to listen to what we say. They can have us arrested and taken away.

But what they are doing cannot last forever because it is not true. God will stop them; we don’t have to. But I chose to get arrested because I don’t want those men to miss out on God’s great party. I want them to know that there is a better way—that they do not have to listen to our worst fears and re-play the worst chapters of our past.

I want them to know that God has invited them to be part of the beloved community too.

Thank you both for being there in Raleigh with the thousands of others who want a better future for our state. And thanks for helping mom get everything done at home while I was gone. I know it is not always easy to invite everyone in—even the legislators who do not want to listen. But, like I said, I’m grateful to both of you for showing me how to extend the invitation with enthusiasm.

I love you both,

Dad

Two other arrest perspectives appeared on Jonathan’s blog around the same time; from a Political Science professor, and a School Board member

Third, back to the present, here’s the perspective of another one of the 18 people arrested which describes in detail the ordeal the protesters went through following their arrest. (There are other articles at the same website, RedLetterChristians.org) (Excerpt below.)

january-17-2017-protesters-arrested

Would you be willing to do this for something you believe in? 


Read more: Additional pictures and video of Sojourners’ Lisa Sharon Harper arrested at the protest.

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July 11, 2016

Shane Claiborne’s Treatise on Capital Punishment

Executing Grace

Shane Claiborne’s latest, Executing Grace is a well-written, well-researched and well-annotated look at the history of capital punishment in the United States. It is both gently persuasive and passionately persuasive at the same time. It is a thorough, exhaustive treatment of the subject from a perspective that is both Biblical and Christ-centered. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read on any issue. End of review…

…Sitting in my backyard, on Canadian soil, reading Executing Grace: How The Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us, by Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) is a rather strange experience, especially in the wake of a week of violence in the U.S. that has fueled discussions on racial discrimination and injustice. I don’t usually cover U.S.-interest books, preferring to devote my review time to things that are of equal interest to people in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

I made an exception to this partly because I’ve tasted the writer’s passion after following him on Twitter for a few years. No execution in the U.S. escapes his gaze, and with each one, there is horrible lament. You feel Claiborne’s pain with every new case, and then, after the act is carried out, his sorrow. He’s like one crying in the wilderness, but for him, it must feel like spitting into the wind. There are churches in many southern states who I expect are definitely not keeping him on their short list as a guest speaker any time soon. Such is the life for those who choose to speak with a prophetic voice.

The book brings together an avalanche of material, there are simply so many cases to draw on. Again, from my backyard chair, I have to ask, ‘Why am I even allowed to read this; why would the powers that be allow this book to be exported out of the U.S.?’ The situation is one that I believe any self-respecting nation would find — how do I put this — rather embarrassing. These are not stories you want the world to read, even one at a time, let alone assembled in a single collection. America’s history, on this issue, is rather stained; the atrocities of the era of lynchings only replaced by a more civilized-looking substitute containing an air of due process.

While the book has more than a dozen chapters — each fulfilling a specific function — they are united in their presentation of the contrast between capital punishment as a means of avenging or making right a capital crime on the one hand, and the idea of grace and mercy on the other. You have to ask yourself which side of the issue you’re on.

The reading of the book eventually becomes subjective. I’m getting angrier and angrier as I read of cases where innocent people were executed for crimes they did not commit. Or spent decades of their adult life behind bars until their innocence was finally proven to be true. Or tortured on death row with dates for their execution that were constantly revised and pushed back. Or executed by so-called modern, sophisticated means which prove to be barbaric; the death process dragging out to 30 minutes or an hour or perhaps not working at all.

But the very anger at injustice that I’m feeling lands me solidly at the point of recognizing the system as flawed; yearning for reforming the system. I’m not a U.S. citizen, but it makes you want to work for change. How does my own country fare? While there are references to capital punishment’s top five nations, I don’t recall a reference to Canada, and England is only mentioned in passing. This is a Made-in-America problem which requires a Made-in-America solution.

As with the situation in the U.S. last week, the church can be the leading agent for social change, but unfortunately, we don’t speak with a single voice on this issue. The greatest number of state-sanctioned executions take place in what is termed the Bible belt, and last year one prominent Southern Baptist leader wrote a piece for a major media outlet on why he supports the death penalty.

If you read this book, it will make you angry as well, frustrated, and rather sad, however you can’t not read something like this. As Claiborne states so clearly, knowing what is going on — having the information — is vital to a change in attitudes and practice to take place. For those of us who claim Christ as our Lord, we are complicit in the killings if we remain silent, or simply defer the matter to elected officials. 

The penultimate chapter is a crash course on restorative justice. For some, raised and saturated in a world of eye-for-an-eye, punitive justice this will be a stretch; an awakening. It proposes a paradigm shift of epic proportions, and yet is strangely appealing, offering the hope of a new way forward.

March 19, 2016

Jesus For President (It’s better than some of the current options)

While I’ve re-run many articles over the course of the blog, book reviews have not been among them. Book mentions are usually unique to a particular time and place and only relevant while the book is new. The attention of reviewers and readers alike then moves on to whatever is next.

But I was drawn to this short review because the book is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in this an election year; not to mention the release of a 10th anniversary edition of the author’s first book The Irresistible Revolution. So grab some cooking grease to power the bus engine as we head out on the road once again…

“Growing up we were taught to sing the exciting songs of Noah and Abraham and little David and Goliath. But we were never taught songs about debt cancellation, land reforms, food redistribution and slave amnesty. We don’t know if it was just hard to come up with words that rhyme with “debt cancellation” or if folks were hesitant about venturing into the ancient (and sometimes boring) world of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy… Whatever the case, these books are where some of God’s most creative and exciting ideas come alive.”

Jesus for President pp 57-58

About fifty years ago elementary school students had something called ‘readers’ which contained base materials for a variety of subjects. Each page brought some new adventure, they were the equivalent of a variety show for students with poems, psalms, pictures, maps, science articles, biographical stories and fiction. Basically, everything in it but the kitchen sink.

I’ve just finished reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. Like Shane’s previous book, The Irresistible Revolution, this book has everything but the kitchen sink, too. 

This book begins with an overview of the early Jewish history as recorded in the Pentateuch. There is also a great deal of focus on Constantine’s influence on the Church in the 300s. Constantine, a hero to some for his legitimization of Christianity, isn’t doing well on review these days. (See Greg Boyd’s The Myth of an American Nation for more of this, or listen online to some of Bruxy Cavey’s teaching at The Meeting House in Oakville, ON www.themeetinghouse.ca or check the blogsphere for reviews of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. etc.)

But kitchen sink style, Claiborne and Haw then move on to practical ways that the Church can make a difference especially in terms of the environment, the economy and creating equity. They don’t stop at stamping out poverty. They want to stamp out affluence, too. In some respects, they could have got two very different books out of this, but their understanding of Israel’s history, their interpretation of Christ’s teaching, their take on the first few hundred years of Christianity; all these provide context for where they see the church today. In other words, first you get their motivation, then you get their methodology.

Like the school readers of old, you’re left with a primer on social action, with every page yielding something new. (And the visual dynamics of each page help, too.) And not one paragraph, not even one sentence in the book is theoretical. It’s about living all this out on a daily basis. 


Keep up with Shane and partner-in-crime Tony Campolo at RedLetterChristians.org

A year after this was review was published, I later covered the Jesus for President DVD which is still widely available. You can read that review here.

 

 

January 31, 2014

Thomas Nelson Accused of Spiritual Deception

WND Faith

A conservative writer at WND (World Net Daily) held nothing back yesterday in an full-blown attack levied at Thomas Nelson, an imprint now part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. In an article titled Beware the Bookseller Pretending To Be Christian — more about that headline later — Jim Fletcher writes:

Back in the day, with its marketing angle that touted the company’s roots (the company began in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1798), one got the feeling that its books were trustworthy.

Guess not.

He continues,

Thomas Nelson has seemingly not cared about being too rigidly biblical in its offerings for some time, and the current list of authors/books is disturbing to anyone who would identify as a conservative Christian…

He then systematically works his way through attacks — some detailed and others off-the-cuff — at Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Rachel Held Evans, Brad Lomenick, Richard Stearns, Ron Sider, Donald Miller, Judah Smith, Leonard Sweet, and Bob Roberts, Jr. It’s hard to imagine that there was anyone left on the author roster that Fletcher hadn’t lined up in his sights.

As the article builds to a crescendo he concludes:

…They remind me of those thoroughbred running backs in college and the NFL, the ones who feint this way and that, stopping defensive backs in their tracks.

But feinting can also mean one who intentionally deceives.

Deception.

Read the full article here.

It should be noted that whether you agree or disagree with the doctrinal state of Christian publishers in general, or Thomas Nelson in particular, WND editors committed a major blunder in creating the article’s headline. (Generally, writers do not choose their header.) The article is about the actions of a publisher, but the headline implies that booksellers — brick and mortar, or online — are complicit in spiritual deception, when perhaps they have simply trusted the Nelson brand over the years. Yes, local retailers try to practice discernment, but even in these scaled-back publishing times, they can’t be expected to read every book by every author.  

So what does an article like this accomplish, exactly? It’s certainly meant to be insightful and helpful, but it comes off like a rant. I don’t agree with every word that Rachel Held Evans or Donald Miller writes, but I do find sections of their books redemptive. To a younger generation, they represent a trend where key voices in the Christian blogosphere have graduated to print. And just as there are at least three major streams in the creation/origins debate, the fact remains that Christians hold different views on Israel/Palestine.

Instead, the rant reminds me so much of, “We’ll get Mikey to try it, he hates everything.” 

Or in this case, Jim.

The article’s tag line describes Fletcher as a book industry insider. With more than thirty years in the same business, I’d like to suggest that booksellers do indeed practice discernment. If you don’t like Thomas Nelson’s offerings, shop elsewhere, perhaps focusing on classic authors from past centuries. But I’ll bet the rent that there were books back then that were considered sketchy, a few of which are still around, but also bet that there are books today that just possibly could endure as long, and I think we’d all be surprised to see what’s still being read 50 or 100 years from now.

December 26, 2013

Rethinking a Sanitized Christmas

Filed under: Christmas — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

This appeared three years ago as a special article to CNN’s Belief Blog. The authors are well-known to readers here: Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  This is not the full article, you need to click through to read the remaining two-thirds of the piece.

It’s not all that strange this time of year to see Christians outside in bathrobes, trying to keep a little baby warm in the straw of a cattle trough. (Truth be told, it’s usually a doll; but we get a real donkey from time to time.)

We Christians like to re-enact the birth of Jesus and hear the angels sing again, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” This is our good news. It feels good when our neighbors pause to listen.

But we rarely tell the whole story. The baby in a manger is cute. The shepherds in their field are quaint. The magi from the east give the whole scene some dignity.

But most of our churches are “seeker sensitive” when it comes to retelling the Christmas story. Our kids don’t dress up like the undocumented workers who do shepherds’ work today. We often fail to mention that Mary was an unwed mother. When we re-create the manger scene, we don’t reproduce the odor. We like to clean the whole thing up a bit. It makes it easier to go home and enjoy Christmas dinner.

As much as both of us love a good meal with our families, we’re pretty sure Jesus didn’t come to initiate a sentimental pause in holiday consumption. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John’s gospel says. Jesus moved into the neighborhood, and it wasn’t necessarily good for property values.

Christmas reminds us how Jesus interrupts the world as it is to reveal the world as it ought to be. When we pay attention to the story, it exposes our desperate need for a better way. This always makes some people mad.

When King Herod got the news that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, he issued a national security directive that every boy two and younger should be killed. As we remember this part of the story, we take in the harsh truth that there was and still is a political cost to the incarnation of God’s peaceable love.

[continue reading here]

June 5, 2013

Wednesday Link List

This is a picture Shane Claiborne posted on Twitter of the community where The Simple Way ministers in Philadelphia: Sprinklers open for cooling on a hot day

This is a picture Shane Claiborne posted on Twitter of the community where The Simple Way ministers in Philadelphia: Sprinklers open for cooling on a hot day

Be sure to read the post which immediately precedes this one, about Calvinist propaganda for kids… And now for another day on the links…

  • “If a church tells the Scouts they are no longer welcome to use their facilities a whole bunch of kids, most of whom are not gay, are going to get one clear message: You’re not welcome at church. Fighting the culture war has already hurt the Christian image, as we are much more recognizable for the things we are against.” Before your church has a knee-jerk reaction to the situation, take 90 seconds to read this including the updates in the comments.
  • And speaking of people we make unwelcome in the church, here’s a story like no other: A particularly buxom young woman (i.e. size DD) unravels a sad tale of a lifetime of being marginalized by the local church.
  • Another great, concise (about 12 minutes, I think) sermon by Nadia at House for All Sinners and Saints on Hope. Realistic church motto: “We will disappoint you.” Click this link to the text, then click the internal link to listen, then click back to follow along as you listen. 
  • 30 Churches in Holland, Michigan are covering their individual church signs this week with burlap on which is painted “One Lord, One Church.” This is a movement designed to promote unity between the denominations.
  • The White House has issued a statement pressing the Iranian government for the release of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini, but Iran does not recognize his U.S. citizenship
  • Yesterday’s Phil Vischer Podcast was the best so far! Phil and panelists Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor are joined by anthropologist Brian Howell discussing short-term missions.
  • Teapot tempest or major issue? A Methodist pastor refuses to stand for God Bless America. Hours later, The Washington Post has to run a separate article to showcase all the responses the first article got.
  • For the pastor: A different approach to mapping out your fall (and beyond) adult Christian education program
  • Also for pastors: What to teach about tithing? Andy Stanley teaches percentage giving. But as Jeff Mikels points out, some people don’t like that concept.
  • The K-LOVE Fan Awards are out! Guess what? They like Chris Tomlin. Wow, there’s a surprise! See the winners in all nine categories.  
  • If you don’t mind wading through a lot of posts to unearth some classic wit and wisdom — and several bad worship team jokes — there’s always Church Curmudgeon’s Twitter feed.
  • Rob Bell is on the ‘cover’ of Ktizo Magazine, an e-publication built just for tablets.
  • Porn is an issue for women, too.  Maura at the blog Made in His Image shares her struggle and suggests that step one is sharing your struggle with another person.
  • Also at the same blog: Christian women, should you buy that itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polkadot bikini? Rachel says its a matter of exercising God-given responsibility.
  • We mentioned the blog Blessed Economist once at C201, but I’m not sure if we did here. It’s economics — the real thing, not personal finance — from a Christian perspective. Here’s a short piece to whet your appetite, there are some longer case studies there as well.
  • A friend of ours who graduated recently in film studies has posted a 17-minute short film about a band of orphans Fleeing through the wilderness of post-apocalyptic British Columbia in search of food and shelter who take refuge in an abandoned church and face a horrifying choice.
  • Also on video, a group of high school teens at Camp Marshall got together in 2011 to produce a rather artistic video of the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing that serves as a music video and a camp promotional video
Found at Postsecret, but this post actually isn't very secret; a lot of people express this same sentiment online

Found at Postsecret, but this post actually isn’t very secret; a lot of people express this same sentiment online

March 30, 2013

Shane Claiborne Knows How to Throw a Party

Combine social activist Shane Claiborne with Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream’s Ben Cohen and you’re left with Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream; 90 minutes of raw video of a pacifists rally that was as entertaining as it was informative.  Produced by the same film crew that did Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s Awakening of Hope video, J,B,&IC is every bit as much a block party as anything, complete with painters, jugglers, singers, a rapper, kids filling shopping carts and a welder literally ‘beating swords into plowshares’ so to speak. It’s hard to imagine having this much fun about a subject so serious.

Jesus Bombs and Ice Cream - Shane ClaiborneThe subject is decisively American-interest. However, as a Canadian, I’m well aware of the saying, “Every time America sneezes, Canada catches a cold.” That’s true of other countries, also; so whether the subject is armed conflict on-the-ground, or the nuclear build-up, the rest of the world can’t ignore what the U.S. does, and the statistics presented here are –despite the increase in threat level from other countries as I write this — extremely alarming.

The video can be watched as a single film, or broken up into six sessions for small group study, for which a study guide is available from Zondervan. However, there’s no actual book this time around, the movie or curriculum video is the main product. The nature of the filmography means this will appeal to a younger audience; I sometimes wonder if Shane’s (and Jonathan’s) use of the particular film company diminishes a greater potential.

Each section contains scripture references, and while I didn’t have the advantage of seeing the group study and discussion guide, I can see this generating much passionate conversation both inside and outside the U.S., though I might combine a couple of the clips and go with a four-week focus on this topic.

March 13, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Romans 8

Let there be links.

In a week that is overshadowed by developments at The Vatican it’s hard to find other religious news stories, but we tried.

  • Two Afghan children that Shane Claiborne met a few weeks ago were killed by NATO troops.
  • N.T. Wright comes at an old issue in a new way, and offers his reasons why women should be in pastoral ministry
  • An Australian TV outlet does a 14-minute exposé of Hillsong Church with a particular axe to grind concerning the church’s tax free status.
  • Is the way forward in church planting that the pastors will have other jobs; be bi-vocational?  Well, yes and no.
  • Francis Chan talks to Canadian interviewer Moira Brown about leaving his church and starting up again in Northern California. (This is a part two of two-part interview; 15 minutes each.)
  • Want more transparency in the church? How about this Belgian church constructed in 2011 out of transparent steel?
  • And a church that treated its former pastors like trash held a service of apology and reconciliation.
  • If you tell people you don’t smoke because your body is “a temple,” then you need to know that in 2013, sitting is the new smoking.
  • A new digital edition of “the quad” the four books of Mormon scriptures includes some editorial changes reflecting “shifting official view on issues like polygamy, the Church’s history of racism, and the historicity of LDS scripture.”
  • It’s not too late to send a gift: Benny Hinn and former wife Suzanne were scheduled to be remarried last week. And since that link was older — but detailed — the answer is yes, it happened.
  • Mark Burnett tells Inside TV that “weird things” happened as they filmed The Bible miniseries. You’ll like the snake handler’s report.
  • Have trouble starting a spiritual conversation? Start by asking questions
  • “Teenage girls aging out of foster care and/or orphanages are known as the highest ‘at risk’ group in our nation. It’s estimated that a teenage girl on the streets will be approached within 48 hours by a pimp…” Read the stats and one city’s game plan.
  • Christian rapper Lecrae is performing along side his mainstream music counterparts at SXSW, the South by Southwest festival… 
  • …And Canadian Christian rapper Manafest is writing a book.
  • Found a great devotional site this week… Here’s a piece about following Jesus versus walking ahead of Him
  • …And the updated list of the Top 200 Calvinist Christian blogs is now online; or at least one person’s version of it.
  • The offbeat  ‘gay worship band’ story got way too much coverage last week which is why I would never link to it.
  • Here’s how Religion News Service was handicapping the race to be Pope on the weekend. Even though this final four may be old news by the time you read this, I left it here for comparison (if RNS keeps it online). 
  • A greater concern for the cardinals during a conclave week is if it goes into overtime and finds them running out of clean laundry.
  • Graham Kendrick has greatly reconstructed an old hymn into something new; check out Oh The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.
  • People from five religious ‘tribes’ will try to convert Catalina an atheist — who looks slightly like Tina Fey — on the latest contest from The Drew Marshall Show titled Soul Survivor.

 

January 18, 2013

Review: Awakening of Hope – The Video

Several months ago I reviewed the book Awakening of Hope by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, which looks at several of the elements of what is sometimes called the new monasticism.  While there’s no mention of vows of poverty or silence, and nobody is wearing matching robes (or even hoodies), the book is an excellent study of everyday people who either choose to live in community, or find themselves living communally due to circumstances. The link in this paragraph leads you to a list of the six topics actually under study, which include the concept of a shared meal and the importance of pacifism.

Awakening of Hope - Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveI was quite taken by the book. The text is rich, and JW-H has a wealth of travel and experience to draw from in his writing. But all this time I was dying to know what the accompanying video would be like. Finally, I got my wish.

If your perception of Zondervan curriculum involves packages hosted by Philip Yancey or Andy Stanley, you’d be a little out of your depth with this one. Owing more to NOOMA than anything else, the six 15-minute sessions involve some very raw footage — with varying sound levels — that may or may not be in focus. In the very first minute Shane Claiborne is interrupted by a child at the door of the house where he’s filming, Chris Haw is distracted by backyard chickens and the people whose dining room Shane is using come home to find a film crew in their house.

More to the point, the segments are more of an extension to the printed book. When you’ve read the chapter and people have gone around the circle and discussed the various take-outs, you then start the DVD and are immersed in the topic on a whole different — and probably unexpected — level. The interviews — including one with L’Arche founder Jean Vanier — complement rather than continue what the book was discussing. (The book also contains the DVD study questions, there is no additional resource needed.)

I asked Gary O’Dwyer, a local pastor friend who is working with both the book and the DVD to confirm this and he agreed,

“The video is not tied directly to the book. The main portion of the video does offer some very interesting/inspiring individual examples of Hope as well as living Christ’s message.”

The six segments are somewhat equally hosted by Shane and Jonathan, and the DVD also contains nine short bonus clips, including Shane’s story of how The Simple Way got started.  Running time is about 90 minutes total with a U.S. retail of $26.99. Click the image above to watch a three minute preview. If you can only choose one item to purchase, I would suggest getting the book.

January 1, 2011

A New Kind of Devotional Resource

Sales of devotional books — what some in mainline Protestant churches refer to as meditation books — tend to spike with the coming of a new year.   This fall, Zondervan released a resource authored by Shane Claiborne with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (author of God’s Economy), Enuma Okoro (The Reluctant Pilgrim), and a large supporting cast (including more substantial borrowings from Phyllis Tickle and Andy Raine) that introduces liturgical prayer to a largely Evangelical audience unfamiliar with prayer books or liturgy itself.   Believing this book to have been somewhat lost in the shuffle of fall book releases, I am taking the time to highlight it as we begin 2011.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals has the look and feel of a hymnbook.  (Outside the U.S., a paperback edition is also available.)   The authors’ intention is that it be used as a ‘common’ resource, i.e. in a group setting.   So the readings — not unlike the responsive readings in the back of hymnbooks, if you remember hymnbooks — have a designation for the leader to speak certain lines and the rest of the assembly to respond with other lines.

In point of fact, I think that the majority of copies sold will end up being used devotionally, hence the setup I used to introduce the book.  However, my initial premise — people beginning new spiritual disciplines in January — doesn’t fully apply here, as the book’s daily morning readings begin with December and cycle through to the end November.   A seven-day cycle of evening readings is also included.

It isn’t possible to fully review a devotional book without personally engaging it, and it is equally difficult to try to review a prayer book or hymn book.   Of the book’s 590 pages, I mostly immersed myself in the dozen or so pages that make up the introduction, probably the most contemporary primer on classical liturgy available to the next generation.   It briefly explains the origins of liturgies in monastic life, and introduces the idea of the church calendar; with an emphasis on how these routines and dates stand in contrast to the emphases of contemporary society.

The book’s intended audience is not limited to those for whom Common Prayer would represent a first-time purchase of such a resource.  “We wanted it to work for folks who have never seen a circus and those who have seen hundreds of them.”

For today, January 1st, the reading begins with a brief paragraph about the role of the Quakers during the U.S. slave trade;  some invocational lines; a suggested song, “This Little Light of Mine;” six verses from Psalm 7, taken from the Book of Common Prayer (as are all the Psalm readings); eight verses each from Genesis 12 and John 16, taken from the TNIV (as are all other readings); a quotation from one of the Quaker founders; a place to pray for others and repeat The Lord’s Prayer; a personal prayer for help in answering God’s call on our life; and a collective sentence of benediction.

Though not fully written out, you can also read today’s outline at commonprayer.net

In addition to the basic 366 readings, there are also some extra ones for Holy Week.   There is also a selection of songs and special prayers at the end of the book.  Although there wasn’t one for the start of a new year, I felt this one, for “major life transition” was appropriate in anticipation of the changes the new year can bring:

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.   Lord teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change instead of fearing it.   Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me.  I give you my discontent.  I give you my restlessness.   I give you my doubt.   I give you my despair.   I give you all the longs I hold inside.  Help me to listen to those signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

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