Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, December 30, 2013

End of the Year Book List

My top 10 favorite books that I read in 2013, in no particular order:

1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery. This is a novel for literature nerds, no doubt about it, and I loved every minute of this book. It's like Roald Dahl's Matilda, only in an apartment building in France.

2. Who is This Man?The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus, John Ortberg. This guy does good work, and this book was no exception. I haven't read Bill O'Reilly's book about Jesus, but I would say to read this book instead.

3. What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell. Again, another book that did not disappoint. I have used this book in at least one sermon this year.

4. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof. Not at easy read, but one of those eye opening books I'll never forget.

5. Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Saw her speak just over the river in PA. My only complaint was that the book was not longer!

6. Buck: A Memoir., MK Asante. A young black man finds his way in out of drugs and violence through education. A must-read if you are a human being.

7.  The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman. How a no-win situation tears everyone's lives apart. Couldn't put it down.

8. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy. I actually started this one last year just after the movie came out. It takes awhile, but it's ok to skim some of the philosophical bits

9. State of Wonder: Ann Patchett. Sort of weird, in a really interesting way. A scientist living in MN finds herself in the Amazon searching for the female version of Dr. House.

10. A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans. A great blend of humor and sound Biblical scholarship.

And one that disappointed:

Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver. The premise of this book was interesting, and she has some lovely characters with a couple of great scenes. But the rest of the book is pretty unfocused and feels like a paper that I once had to write for history class my Junior year - the assignment was to write a narrative that incorporated five world cities and important historical and geographical information important to each. Sometimes it felt like a bunch of important facts about climate change that just so happened to be coming out of a character's mouth. It had almost no plot and the ending was such a let down.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Advent Meditation 12-4-13

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

How are you keeping track of Advent? Are you counting the time with one of those chocolate-filled countdown calendars? I remember having one of those one year. Each day I’d get to pop one of those babies open and eat the little chocolate piece in the shape of a sheep or a star. My brothers were not as patient.

This year, I’m not rationing chocolate for Advent. I’m participating in a sort of interactive Advent calendar, one of many that are floating around on the internet right now. It’s called Advent Photo-a-day, and you share a picture of something related to the word of the day. And wouldn’t you know it: today’s word is patience. Which is fitting, because tonight we heard the first of three ancient songs sung by people who have been waiting patiently to for God.

The first song in our Advent midweek series is sung by a priest named Zechariah. Both he and his wife Elizabeth were descended from priests, so you could say they were continuing the family business. And their deepest wish would have been for that family tradition to continue. But though they were righteous before God, and waited patiently, no child came, and they starting to get on in years.

But one day, as Zechariah was doing his normal duties in the temple, he was interrupted by an angel, who told him that he and his wife would have a son. And he would not grow up to be just any man, but he would be the one to prepare the way of the Lord. Upon hearing this awesome news, that the patience of he and his wife had been rewarded handsomely, did Zechariah jump for joy? Shout it at the top of his lungs? Phone a friend to tell them the good news?

No, he did none of those things. He didn’t believe the messenger, and so he was struck mute until the day Elizabeth would give birth. With was kind of a problem for him in his line of work.

Nine months later, Elizabeth gave birth to a little boy. And after decades of childlessness and nine months of silence, the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth were words of praise. Their patience had been rewarded. They had been given a son, who was to prepare the way for the coming dawn of the Lord.

This Advent, what are you waiting for? Are you sitting in the darkness of strained relationships, of loss and grief, of loneliness and depression?  Do you feel overshadowed by overwhelming schedules and demands, by illness or sadness, by the violence and woes of a turbulent world?

Are you waiting with patience? Or are you perhaps a little more like Zechariah, who missed seeing the very fulfilment of his hopes because he had accepted the darkness as the way things always would be.

We shouldn’t really be so hard on Zechariah, though. He at least got to witness the answer of his prayers. But as he sings this song of praise, his son John is still just a baby. He still has to grow into the important role he was born into, as John the Baptist, the preparer of the way. So for them, even though their deepest longing has been fulfilled, more patience is still required.

It’s hard to be patient, when we are so used to getting what we want or need right away. But if we really believe, as Zechariah believed, that the dawn from on high will break upon us, that God who has promised to be faithful really will be faithful to us, then I think it might be worth it. Because the dawn has already broken on those of us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. So in a sense we wait for what we already have – the presence of the Lord in our midst. Sometimes that presences is easy to miss, sometimes we don’t believe it because it’s too good to be true, and sometimes we miss it because darkness is more comfortable and familiar than light. And sometimes, God even uses us in order to shine the light for others.

In my photo for my Advent Picture-a-day, today I included this candle. You see it’s not an actual wax candle. It’s one of the “pretend” ones. I bought it last year for Holden evening prayer, when it was dropped and broken, and then I broke it more in trying to make it not look funny. I could have gotten another one, a new one that was whole, but I decided to keep it. I’ve used it in a few things – like this summer when nineteen youth from across the state met in Brick for the hottest week ever in order to help people still suffering the effects of Sandy. It shone for us as we shone line for others. I keep it because it reminds me that even though it’s not perfect, it’s kind of chipped and even, it still does what it’s supposed to. It still gives light to those who are in darkness.

And you child, shall be called the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways. Amen.