Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

‘God Unseen, Seen in Love’

Posted on: February 14th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

By John Arkelian on February, 14 2017


Where the Good Way Lies
By Steve Bell
38.92 minutes
Signpost Music, 2016

http://signpostmusic.com
We were not previously familiar with the music of Canadian singer/songwriter Steve Bell; but we are ever so pleased to make his musical acquaintance now. Indeed, his new CD, Where the Good Way Lies, which is his 20th album, is like meeting an old friend. These 13 tracks are songs about hope and love—gentle, poetic and intelligent, they are full of ideas. And, as Bell says, “That’s the way it is with songs…they often seem to know more than those who wrote them.”

Consider “Love Song”: at first blush, this song (written by Bruce Cockburn) may be about the love between two human beings. But, to this listener, it spoke of our love for the divine: “In the place my wonder comes from / There I find you…When you be beside me / I am real… Though my eyes be closed forever / Still I would find you.” The devotional interpretation of those words presents God as our true kindred spirit, one with whom we have a close and tangible connection.

Positing such big ideas with such elegantly simple turns of phrase, these songs (two of which are instrumentals) somehow manage to speak to us about knowing and loving God without didacticism or overweening religiosity. Quite the contrary: these songs make the divine as natural (and as accessible) as life itself, even as they express deep ideas—like the co-existence of beauty and suffering, even when (as for the aging), “life is like a faded leaf.” Sometimes, the words of others (including Augustine, 19th- century poet Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rainer Maria Rilke and a contemporary Anglican minister) are the inspiration for the lyrics. One song was inspired by Psalm 62: with its words about refuge and hope, it was penned on the very day the first group of Syrian refugees arrived in Canada in 2016.

Here, then, are musical prayers—bright, fresh and insightful, without ever being preachy, saccharine or overbearing. Sometimes stirring, sometimes poignant, always quite lovely, these songs speak to the soul’s great longing, and to that which gives it sustenance: “The only thing left for us to do is love…And as we love the other, God abides in us / God unseen / Seen in love.”

John Arkelian is an award-winning author and journalist.

Copyright © 2017 by John Arkelian.

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Anglican Journal News, February 14, 2017

This United Church of Ours (Fourth Edition)

Posted on: February 12th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

THIS UNITED CHURCH OF OURS
(Fourth Edition) by Ralph Milton
Woodlake Publishing, Kelowna BC.

$15.95 CAD Paper
$9.95 CAD Kindle
264 pages. January, 2017
ISBN #978-1-77064-917-0

 

 

Publisher’s Promo:

Except for Bibles and Hymnbooks, no other
book has been read and appreciated by as
many United Church people. From what to
wear and where to sit in church to theology
and ethics, Ralph Milton covers it all with
his signature easygoing style.

Updated with new information, and expanded

to reflect a church that is reconciling the past
and celebrating the future, this fourth edition
is both informative and revealing.

 

Former Moderator’s Words:

Ralph Milton hasn’t been “done” (ordained) and
I’m glad he isn’t done with our church either.
While he doesn’t fit easily into any of our church’s
role titles, there’s no one who better understands
and loves the soul of our church, or can describe it
more clearly…

This new (fourth) edition of the beloved “This
United Church of Ours” is just what we need.
If ever there was a time for us… to remember
who we are, this is it. Humour and humility are
married in these pages…

You will read here about who we are as an
increasingly diverse community of faith within
a changing national landscape

The congregation in which I worship welcomes
new members frequently and we should give
every one of them a copy of this book. For
newcomers, it offers a better understanding of
our idiosyncrasies and core beliefs, from worship
to money to ethical concerns. For long-timers,
it reminds us about why we do what we do.

Ralph does all of this with honesty, creativity,
and personal revelation of his own love and
frustrations…

Reading this book… reminds me of who I am
connected to, through the love of Christ, in a
great evolving story of what we are a part…
“a community of broken but hopeful believers.”

– from the Foreword by Mardi Tindal

 

Author’s Bio:

Dr. Ralph Milton is one of Canada’s best-
known religious communicators, and a
recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of
Sacred Letters from St. Stephen’s College,
Edmonton. He also has an Honorary
Doctorate of Divinity from the Vancouver
School of Theology.

A former news broadcaster, open line host
and church administrator, Milton is the author
of 17 books including the bestselling titles 
Family Story Bible; Angels in Red Suspenders;
and Julian’s Cell, a novel based on the life of
Julian of Norwich.

On the Internet, Ralph Milton publishes the
popular e-zine Rumors, which uses liberal
doses of humour and story to communicate a
lively faith. Co-founder of Wood Lake Publishing,
Ralph Milton lives in Kelowna, British Columbia,
with his wife and friend of 50 years, Beverley,
a retired church minister. Together, they remain
the ever-proud grandparents of Zoe and Jake.

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst 

My Thoughts:

I have read the three previous editions of
this book as they have appeared over the last
thirty-six years. As the church has evolved,
so has Milton matured with it.

I have always believed that the United Church
of Canada is an interesting microcosm of
Canada itself.  Now as it comes close to
reaching the first century of its existence
it continues to reflect – for good and ill – 
something of what our nation is like.

Earlier editions have sold 60,000 copies,
which is quite an achievement for any
Canadian publication from secular or
religious presses. I would agree with
Mardi Tindal that it should be given to
every person who joins this church –
at least as an adult.

This fourth edition, just published,
reflects the United Church of Canada
as it is today – warts and all.

There is no question, but that Milton
continues to maintain a rather sharp
awareness of his subject because he
keeps attuned to many reflectors across
the land and the denomination.

While I may not always resonate to his
humour, I recognize that many people do.
While my approach to describing what I
see might assume a more academic style,
I do appreciate Milton’s populist approach.

My mother was brought up in the United
Church but she married into another
mainstream Canadian denomination when
she married dad. When I began attending,
and then joined St. David’s United Calgary
almost thirty years ago – I had to make
some adjustments. But my reasons for
continuing to remain an active, serving
member (as a layperson and not the
ordained pastor I had been) have kept
me here. The people who form my great
community of faith are a big factor in all
this. But, I am also grateful that I did not
have to become a Christian I was not in
order to remain here.

I hope to continue offering something
back to my community for all it has done
for me.

I encourage you to read this book. You
do not have to be a new or considering
member of the United Church of Canada.
Read it to get a sense of a unique body
of Christians, unlike any other faith
community in the world. It is one
that remains inclusive, ecumenical and
justice-and-peace-seeking, like few other
denominations in this land or anywhere.

Probably the most important reason
for reading Milton’s fourth edition is that
it is proof that God can work through frail
and sinful humans, and still form something
beautiful from it all.

 

Buy the book from Woodlake Publishing:
http://tinyurl.com/jyy5nnf

Buy the Kindle Edition from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/zxseg92

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List 2,  Vol. XII. No. 19,  February  12 , 2017

Joan Chittister: Her Journey from Certainty to Faith

Posted on: February 7th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

JOAN CHITTISTER
Her Journey from Certainty to Faith,
by Tom Roberts

Orbis Books, hardcover edition, 2016
ISBN #978-1-62698-198-0. $26.00 CAD.

 

Currently, the hardcover edition is less
expensive to buy on Amazon.ca than
the paperback.

 

Publisher’s Promo:

From prize-winning journalist Tom Roberts,
an intimate biography of Joan Chittister —
Benedictine nun and writer, a leading voice
for spiritual renewal, a prophetic champion
of peace and justice, a champion of the role
of women in the church and the world.

 

Author’s Words:

In assembling the story of Chittister’s life
from extensive interviews, I have, for the
sake of coherent narrative, recounted her
conversations with others and among others.

While the attempt here is to draw as complete
a portrait as possible of Chittister’s life and
career, the effort is circumscribed by the
boundaries of time, space, and the limits of
my own expertise… The sheer  volume of her
written and spoken corpus is daunting. It
includes more than fifty books, countless
essays and lectures on the spiritual life,
religious community, the place of women
in the church and society, issues of peace
and justice, deep reflections on the nature
of God, and even on relationships between
humans and animals.

Her international travels have taken her
to more than thirty countries, some of them
repeatedly over decades… and she writes in
a way that ordinary people can understand.

She lives as she teaches. She makes Jesus
come alive in the twenty-first century. When
she misspeaks or is insensitive, she apologizes.

The extent of her influence on individuals and
groups around the world is extensive. (While
I begin the book with one of most powerful
speeches on the evolution of her thinking
about God, most of the book is concerned with
what I call Chittister’s private existence) …

The church has changed, and will continue to
do so in its capacity to understand itself in an
increasingly pluralistic world, where old
monarchies, whether divinely inspired or
otherwise, have long ago outlived their
usefulness. As much as any individual Catholic
thinker and writer might, Chittister has been
both a part of and a fashioner of that change.

– from the Introduction

 

Author’s Bio:

Journalist Tom Roberts is editor-at-large for
the National Catholic Reporter, where he
has worked for the past twenty years.

Previously he worked for ten years as news
editor at the Religion News Service. His
previous Orbis book, The Emerging Catholic
Church: A Community’s Search for Itself, won
the Religious Newswriters’ Association Book
Award, as well as two Catholic Press Association
awards. He lives in metropolitan Washington, DC.

 

Joan’s website:
http://www.joanchittister.org/

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst 

My Thoughts:

A handful of modern Catholic writers and
spiritual guides possess the special gift of
being able to communicate in ways that
speak to people of other faiths – Christian
or otherwise, and to secular members of
society as well. Joan Chittister joins the
likes of Jean Vanier, Henri Nouwen, Ron
Rolheiser, and a few others in that select
group. The fact that she is one of a few
women in that number should not be
forgotten.

Many people value her books and talks
on a wide range of topics. This book,
however, does not review such things.
Rather, it attempts to come to know the
person who has done all this. That, I
believe, is the most important reason
for reading this biography of Chittister.

True, the book’s author and subject, as
well as many of the details in it, are
Roman Catholic. However, the application
of much to be found here is universal.
That too, it seems to me, is a good reason
to read this biography of Chittister.

Finally, very few writers, secular or
religious, demonstrate the significant
range of interest and command of the
language like Chittister.

For these reasons, and for no other
than it is a great story, I recommend
that you secure and read this enjoyable
book.

 

 

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/hjuyafr

Buy the book from Orbis:
http://tinyurl.com/grdmx72

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List,  Vol. XII. No. 18,  February  05 , 2017

Testament to a life thoughtfully lived

Posted on: January 12th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

By Ben Graves on January 09, 2017

BOOK REVIEW It Happened at the Cathedral Letters of Bishop R.F. Shepherd, 1948 to 2012By Mary Shepherd
48 Hour Books, 2015
242 pages
ISBN 978-0-9880816-6-6 

As a student first of history and now of library and archival science, I am acutely aware of an existential crisis currently ongoing in both fields.

Nobody writes letters anymore.

That’s something of an exaggeration, of course, but nowadays letter writing almost certainly qualifies as a lost art. Letters, which throughout history have given us rare glimpses into the inner workings of world-shaping events and the minds of great and not-so-great men and women alike, have been largely replaced with emails, text messages and chat. And while these forms of communication are sufficient in terms of delivering content, they often fail to convey the intimacy inherent in writing a letter.

It is this intimacy that makes It Happened at the Cathedral, a compendium consisting of personal missives, pastoral newsletters and poetry penned by the late Anglican Bishop Ronald Francis Shepherd, such a valuable and rewarding read. Shepherd’s writings, curated here by his daughter, Mary, span from 1948 to 2012, and serve as a threefold historical resource, allowing for detailed insights into his personal history, the history of the Anglican Church of Canada and the social history of Canada itself.

It Happened at the Cathedral begins, appropriately enough, with Shepherd’s personal account of his conversion experience in England, as told through a letter to his then-fiancée, Ann. (Ann, still in Canada at the time, must have been somewhat shocked to learn that her partner’s erstwhile academic career had veered sharply into theology.)

The book proceeds to run the gamut of Shepherd’s career, and includes colourful anecdotes ranging from tales of “Middle-earth,” the Edmonton-based church hall-turned-youth centre he helped run in the summer of 1968, which hosted “rock bands, dances (complete with strobe lights), movies, and dramatic plays,” and aimed to “bring the youth of our city to Jesus via a language they [could] understand”; to the sight of “gun-toting soldiers” outside of Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montreal during the October crisis, when members of the radical separatist group Front de libération du Québec kidnapped provincial cabinet minister Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross; to his experience taking women’s studies courses through Concordia University at the height of second-wave feminism in the 1970s.

Mary Shepherd deserves special credit here for her work in curating this collection. There must be some measure of temptation, especially when writing about one’s family, to gloss over or even edit out life’s darker periods. But hard times are visible here amidst the good, and the book is all the richer for it: particularly moving is a section detailing a momentary crisis of faith later in Shepherd’s life. Collages made up of old photographs and original artwork, along with an appendix providing further context for each letter, are also most welcome additions that aid in fleshing out and personalizing Shepherd’s life and work.

In all, It Happened at the Cathedral stands as a testament to a life thoughtfully and thoroughly lived. Rich in personal detail and church and societal history, it serves to remind us of a not-so-distant past, and allows us to  appreciate the perhaps soon-to-be-lost art of the letter.

The book can be ordered by contacting Mary Shepherd at: [email protected] or (514) 487-0126

About the Author

Ben Graves

Ben Graves

Ben Graves worked as an intern for the Anglican Journal until August 2015. 
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Anglican Journal News, January 11, 2017

Shane Lopez: Hope is an ancient virtue

Posted on: January 11th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Making Hope Happen

The author of “Making Hope Happen” says that hope can be cultivated and shared.

Shane Lopez studies hope. What he has found is that hopeful people are more successful, healthier and happier than those who lack hope.

And the good news is that hopefulness isn’t an inborn trait, he said. People can cultivate hopefulness and share it with others.

“The revelation for me over all these years of doing this research is that hope is contagious,” he said. “The intriguing part of that ‘hope is shared’ message is that if you’re around hopeful people, you become more hopeful in time.”

Lopez is a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology and is a Gallup Senior Scientist and the research director of Gallup’s Clifton Strengths Institute. He is the chief architect of the Gallup Student Poll (link is external), a measure of hope, engagement and well-being of U.S. public school students.

Lopez spoke to Faith & Leadership about the implications of his research for individuals, organizations and leaders. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: In your book you have four messages about hope: hope matters, hope is a choice, hope can be learned, and hope can be shared with others. Can you give us a summary of those ideas?

Hope is this ancient virtue that is celebrated across cultures, across religions. Instinctually and intuitively, we believe that it matters, but when you start asking people in a town or a school or a business to really invest in hope, one of their first questions to you is, “Well, does it really matter?”

And I want to say, “You know what? You’ve been honoring hope your whole life. Part of your spiritual life is about hope; we all believe in hope, especially in America.” They still want to know the data. They want to know how hope really plays a role in their daily lives, so we’ve done a ton of studies to demonstrate the extent to which hope matters.

Hope is a choice in that we have this capacity to think about the future that’s unique to human beings, and we build that capacity over time. It’s really a personal choice that is made to either invest in this thinking about the future and your expectations about what might happen or to let each day go by passively without really becoming an active agent in your own life.

Sometimes that choice is made by an individual over time, and sometimes it’s made in the blink of an eye.

Hope can be learned: we have this innate sensibility to think about the future early on, and over time we get better and better and better at it if we’re given the right reinforcement by the right people and we have the right kind of success.

What we truly need to learn over time is that flexible, creative thinking that fills the gaps between where we are today and where we want to be down the road. It fills up the gaps between point A and point B. So that “pathways thinking” is what most people really need to spend their time learning.

But the revelation for me over all these years of doing this research is that hope is contagious. The intriguing part of that “hope is shared” message is that if you’re around hopeful people, you become more hopeful in time. If you’re around hopeless people, you become hopeless over time.

Work is being done by epidemiologists that demonstrates that positive and negative emotions and mindsets are contagious to the third degree. So in other words, my hopefulness spreads to you; you go home and you share it with someone else; and then that someone else sits with a neighbor and shares it with another person.

So it’s moving in a very predictable/meaningful way, but the same is true about hopelessness. So that’s how we temper that message — that hope is shared. You can give it away, but you can also be an agent of despair. So you have to be cautious about how you act each day and what you tend to share with others.

Q: What is the difference between optimism and hope?

Optimism is half of hope. Think about hope as the belief that the future will be better than the present, combined with the belief that you have some power to make it so.

That first belief — that the future will be better than the present — is optimism. Hope adds agency to that optimism.

Agency is this word that we toss around a lot in psychology. It’s really that belief that you can write your own script, that belief that you are the hero in your own journey.

When you attach that to optimism, you’re more self-determined. You are more inclined to create a lot of strategies to get where you want to go in life. You have a greater tendency to connect with people that really can help you get the support and instruction that you need. You look for opportunities that will help you. You look for opportunities to help others.

The agency combines with optimism to give you that sense of action that’s inherent to hope.

Q: Your book focuses largely on personal goals and an individual sense of hope, but I wonder how those goals relate to larger organizational or missional goals.

In the work we’ve done at Gallup, we found that followers need four things from leaders. Stability, trust, compassion and hope are four followers’ needs, so any leader in any organization needs to keep those four needs in mind.

Followers need stability, a stable person who’s true to their word and sense of self. Trust relates to stability but is more of that emotional feeling you get when you’re around someone who is stable and is moving you in a positive direction. Compassion — maybe it’s delivered as tough love, but the love definitely has to be there.

Then the last thing we need is hope.

We’ve done some studies of great bosses. We need hopeful leaders who create excitement about the future, who get rid of any obstacles that are in our way and then celebrate our accomplishments as we make progress and reach our goals.

Q: What can be done to teach people to see and to act upon multiple pathways?

To teach “pathways thinking,” you can stand up in front of a room as a leader and say, “Here’s where we are; here’s where we need to be; here are the four routes that we could take.”

That’s OK, but that doesn’t really teach people how to come up with their own pathways. You just did all the work for them, but when you’re pursuing the goal for the organization and you bump into obstacles, that’s the moment. That’s the teachable moment.

When you feel like, “Hey, here’s our first failure,” that’s really your first opportunity to say, “OK guys, where’s our next pathway? We did not anticipate this. We’re stuck. We need multiple ideas for how to get unstuck.”

So those teachable moments, that’s when you really call upon people to think about pathways, and it’s often best done in a group setting. You know, two, three, 20 people, however many people are around, so that you can really generate this ping-pong of ideas, you know, people throwing ideas out, and then they go back and forth, and they get bigger and better, and other people in that mix realize, “Oh, there are lots of good ideas here. There’s way more than one pathway. There’s way more than one way to get things done.”

So I would say, let’s rely more on show than tell, and when we face obstacles, view those as teachable moments, those opportunities to pull people in and get talking about the different pathways that you can take.

The last thing that I want to emphasize is that pathways thinking is best taught in the context of working on something real. When you’re working on something real, when you have a real project and there are real outcomes that are dependent on you coming up with pathways, and real time lost and real money lost if you don’t figure this out, then the urgency of it all, the excitement of it all, helps you really learn how to do this in the moment.

Q: Having to come up with multiple pathways means you’ve failed in your first attempt, right? What role does hope have in dealing with failure?

Very hopeful people see failure as another opportunity to try. I think everyone can be taught to see failure as another opportunity to try something new, and you have to start by doing that in low-risk situations.

You can’t say, “Hey, you’re going to college now, and you’re going to fail a whole bunch of times, and life will be grand.”

You have to do it when they’re young and there’s not a lot of risk. I think we need to help people get comfortable with failing in low-risk situations but then emphasize that trying is really what gets people to that finish line, not necessarily failing repeatedly.

Q: The goal isn’t failure.

Right. They’ve turned failure into a goal — they’ll tell you these stories: Bill Gates failed so many times, and Michael Jordan got kicked off the team.

So you have to remind people that trying is really the thing that drives us to our success. Don’t celebrate every failure like you’re one step closer to the outcome you desire. It’s really that trying that we can instill in kids and adults that will get you to that outcome.

Q: In some ways, it sounds like what you’re talking about is resilience, the ability to regroup and try again. Do you think resilience is crucial to developing that mindset of multiple pathways?

I would flip that. If you look at all the research on resilience, you can only determine if someone’s resilient after the fact.

So you can only tell the story of resilience if they have bounced back from that thing that they’ve been struggling with, and then when you unpack it, you say, OK, what made them resilient?

If you read any ancient text, they will not celebrate the ancient virtue of resilience. It is not an ancient human characteristic. They’ll celebrate hope. They’ll celebrate faith. They’ll celebrate love.

Those things work together, and we use them strategically to become resilient in the end. So they are intertwined, but I see someone becoming hopeful and dealing with the circumstances of life so that when they get knocked down, they can get back up again and show the world their resilience.

Q: What role does storytelling play?

I think storytelling has a huge role, and not just in developing hope, but this idea of the future and this idea that you’re the hero in your own story.

It really shapes up when you’re 2, 3 years old and starting to think about tomorrow. Tomorrow’s fascinating to a little kid. What will we do tomorrow? Tomorrow really is magical.

So you start telling stories about what I will do tomorrow, and that is the first set of hope stories that you tell in your life. That’s exciting, and most people hold on to that storytelling capacity across their lifetimes.

If you keep yourself at the center of the story, chances are you’re a very hopeful creature. If you see yourself as the guy who’s always getting downed in an argument or you always lose out in a contest or you never get the prize you want in life, chances are you’re not so hopeful.

Q: On a personal and on an institutional/organizational level, storytelling is so powerful.

That reminds me of this company that was going through some big changes, and they were trying to get rid of the old script and start with the new, and one of their organizational development people said, “We’re going to burn the scripts.”

She said, “I mean, literally. Bring whatever document you think represents the old company and what we were doing that we shouldn’t have been doing. Bring that, and we’re going to burn them in a barrel.”

And she did exactly that, and she said, “Now, we need to write the new story.”

I’ve done that with students. I brought in a bunch of flat river stones to college freshmen, and I gave them a Sharpie and I said, “Write the name of the teacher in your lifetime that made you doubt that you could succeed.”

And they wrote the name on the river stone, and at the end of class, we went to the lake in the middle of campus and we threw the stones in and we said, “OK, you no longer need to worry about that person. Now you get to write a story without that person as a character, because they’re not at college. They’re in high school. They were in middle school. They’re behind you. Now you have a clean slate. New time. New story.”

Q: Has your faith influenced your work?

Yes. We’re Catholic. We’ve been Catholic forever. Lopez is Spanish, but most of my people are French Acadian, Cajun, and we were exiled from France, and then we came to Canada.

We were exiled because of our religion again, and then we ended up in south Louisiana, and the place I’m from, New Iberia, is 85 percent Catholic. So being Catholic is a sign of resilience.

We fought to be Catholic. We had to leave two homes to be Catholic, my ancestors did. So that for us represents a story of strength and a story of hope and a story of resilience. So that story for us is part of our overall faith.

So for me, being Cajun and being Catholic means that I’m from a long line of hopeful people who have practiced a religion that we valued so much over the years that we continue to fight for the right to do so, and it’s part of who we are.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, January 11, 2017

L. Gregory Jones: Achieving organizational breakthroughs in the face of daunting constraints

Posted on: January 9th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

In holding together scarcity and abundance, leaning into constraints even as we focus on bolder ambitions, we will discover the greatest opportunities for transformation, writes the executive vice president and provost at Baylor University.

Nonprofit institutions are often constrained by size, funding, staffing and the immensity of the challenges they are trying to address. This has been even more acutely felt in the years since the 2008 economic meltdown, which exposed the fragility of these institutions and intensified their fractures. Christian institutions seem to be especially constrained.

The leader of one Christian institution that supports the work of other Christian institutions recently told me, “Our attendance at our annual meeting and our membership started dropping off in 2008, and neither has recovered. It is as if the organizations we support have shifted into survival mode, and they have difficulty still seeing the larger horizons that we are trying to address.”

The constraints are exacerbated by deep trends that are causing even large Christian institutions to suffer, and their leaders to feel discouraged.

Yet could it be that the ways we are responding to these constraints are actually making things worse? Might the constraints themselves also be blessings that could enable us, and require us, to find generative solutions to the wicked problems we are addressing?

The authors of “A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business” (link is external) offer affirmative answers to these sorts of questions. They suggest that the key difference between people who provide transformational leadership and those who don’t is their “core relationship with constraints.” They observe: “While we may see constraints as punitive, restrictive, and to be avoided, they see constraints as necessary, beneficial, and to be embraced.”

They observe that constraints come in multiple forms and vary in intensity: there are constraints of “foundation” (something that is basic to the enterprise, such as a building); of “resource” (funds, people or expertise); of “time” (the ability to control and meet a deadline); and of “method” (possible ways of accomplishing something given the organization’s capabilities and requirements). Often, the constraints we face combine two or more of these forms, and the intensity can seem overwhelming.

The authors’ key insight is in delineating the ways we tend to respond to constraints: as victims, neutralizers or transformers. They point out that these are not so much personality traits as they are reactions we all tend to have at one time or another. We are thus able to shift from responding as victims or neutralizers to acting as transformers (though we can also lapse from a transformational approach back to feeling like a victim). Victims lower their ambitions in the face of constraints, allowing the constraints to defeat them. Neutralizers don’t lower their ambitions but develop workarounds to try to deal with constraints. Transformers see constraints as opportunities to approach things in a fresh way, perhaps even increasing their ambitions along the way.

As these descriptions suggest, a crucial element of seeing constraints as beautiful is our ability to become even more, rather than less, ambitious in what we think is important and possible for our organizations to accomplish. We need to see constraints and ambitions as opposable rather than oppositional. Our organizations’ ambitions can be for growth, or impact, or quality, or superiority, or delivering a specific experience — or, typically, some combination of those. When we hold “bold ambitions” and “significant constraints” together in opposable tension, we can discover breakthrough opportunities.

We discovered this at Duke Divinity School in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. Having stumbled across a wonderful distinction by James Surowiecki (building on the work of Peter Dickson and Joseph Giglierano) between organizations that seek to avoid “sinking the boat” (link is external) and those that seek to avoid “missing the boat” in the face of crisis, we focused on the latter. We worked together to double down on our ambitions to be a resource for equipping the kind of leaders the church needs in the 21st century.

We took seriously the constraints we faced, and they were daunting. I moved through many days feeling like a victim of external forces and constraints, and occasionally I worked myself into a space where I felt like maybe we could be neutralizers. But we also stumbled together into a conviction that perhaps our constraints were an opportunity to transform our situation by developing breakthroughs in how we thought about our foundations, resources, time and methods. We held together, opposably, our significant constraints and our bold ambitions. We launched several major new initiatives, including new degree programs, that we might not otherwise have undertaken.

“A Beautiful Constraint” incisively describes key activities an organization needs to undertake to cultivate a transformative approach:

  • “break path dependence” by questioning the givenness of “the way we do things around here”;
  • “ask propelling questions” that bind a bold ambition to a significant constraint;
  • find solutions through “can-if” modes of thinking;
  • “create abundance” by discovering assets in our own organizations, among key stakeholders and partners, and perhaps even in competitors that can move us forward; and
  • “activate emotions” that help us persevere, including both negative emotions (such as fear and frustration) and positive ones (such as excitement and desire).

The authors also note that we need to hold scarcity and abundance in opposable tension; simply to oppose them, as I have often done, can come across as naive. This is particularly important for Christian institutions. We know Jesus’ words and actions that embody abundance, and often preach and teach with a focus on abundance (the fourth step in transformation above). But the important insight here is that it is in holding together scarcity and abundance — leaning into constraints even as we focus on bolder ambitions — that we will discover the greatest opportunities for transformation.

Christian institutions are well-positioned to see constraints as beautiful and to lean into the activities that could make us transformers. After all, whatever our constraints, we are called to bear witness to God’s reign and to trust that the future is guided by God rather than us. With our focus on God, we can afford to be even more experimental and bold in our ambitions. And we can lean into both constraints and ambitions, because we are called to embody hope, the virtue that prevents us from lapsing into either pessimism or optimism.

These convictions, though, require Christian leaders to become even better storytellers. We need to be able to help others in our organizations remember the larger horizons of our purpose, our “Why?” in relation to God’s story. We need to tell these stories in ways that cultivate traditioned innovation, drawing our attention to both past and future in ways that enliven the present as a time of hope.

The final chapter of “A Beautiful Constraint” takes up “leadership and the future of constraints.” Based on their study of organizations that were able to transform their constraints and discover breakthroughs, the authors list the following characteristics of leaders who are effective in finding “beauty in constraint”:

  • They believe transformers are made, not born.
  • They steer their organization toward constraints, not away from them.
  • They set a high level of ambition alongside the constraint, and legitimize that ambition.
  • They know when to reject compromise of that ambition.
  • They get people to believe that a solution is possible.
  • They use tension and storytelling to generate a longer-term emotional commitment.
  • They encourage and enable their teams to challenge current routines and assumptions.
  • They know how to manage the transformation threshold.

These sound like characteristics that ought to be “natural” for Christians, given the story we are called to inhabit and the God we serve. Why, then, do we so often allow ourselves to live into either a “victim” or a “neutralizer” mentality?

The authors observe that in order to be transformers, we need to have high levels of investment in our mindset, our method and our motivation. Our mindset addresses the question, “Do I believe it is possible?” Our method asks, “Do I know how to start?” Our motivation considers, “How much do I want to do it?”

As Christians, our mindset and our motivation ought both to be high if we are truly living into the horizons created by the Holy Spirit. But we often haven’t known how to start; our methods have actually dragged down our mindsets and our motivation into the realm of victims and neutralizers. The activities described in “A Beautiful Constraint” can help us rediscover how to start. As we do so, we will begin to see that constraints and ambitions, held together opposably, can help us achieve breakthroughs for our organizations, and a more faithful and effective witness to the God who is making all things new.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, December 07, 2016

Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

Posted on: December 21st, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

LOVE, HENRI
Letters on the Spiritual Life,
by Henri J. M. Nouwen

With contributions by
Garbrielle Earnshaw, Rene Brown
and Sue Mosteller.  

Convergent Press, 
Penguin/Random House, New York
October, 2016. $30.00 CAD
Hardcover, 351 pages.
ISBN #978110190635-4

 

 

Publisher’s Promo:

Seven million copies of his books in print! 
This collection of over 100 unpublished letters 
from the bestselling author of such spiritual 
classics as The Return of the Prodigal Son 
and The Wounded Healer offers deep spiritual 
insight into human experience, intimacy, 
brokeness, and mercy.

Over the course of his life, Henri Nouwen wrote
thousands of letters to friends, acquaintances, 
parishioners, students, and readers of his work 
all around the world. He corresponded in English, 
Dutch, German, French, and Spanish, and took 
great care to store and archive the letters decade 
after decade. He believed that a thoughtful letter 
written in love could truly change someone’s life. 
Many people looked to Nouwen as a long distance 
spiritual advisor.

Love, Henri consists of over a hundred letters
that stretch from the earliest years of Henri’s 
career up through his last 10 years at L’Arche 
Daybreak. Rich in spiritual insights the letters 
highlight a number themes that emerged in both 
Henri’s work over the years, including vocation, 
solitude, prayer, suffering, and perseverance in 
difficult times. These deeply spiritual letters, 
sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, ulimately 
demonstrate the rich value of communicating 
with God through others. 

Foreword (edited):

Like love itself, Henri’s letters are demanding and
generous… but I did not want to study him, I 
wanted to be in connection with him…

I agree with Henri that “we have no time.” No time
for prayer. No time to write letters. No time to be
still.
  
Listening has also become a challenge… The world 
is so much louder than it used to be (even when
he was with us.)… To survive the constant 
barrage of noise, we’ve stopped listening.

The combination of time scarcity and not listening
has made being present with God, ourselves, and
each other almost impossible

Henri wrote: “We should live in the present where
love can touch us”…

 

Closing:

Henri, your timeless words and loving spirit are
quiet prayers that will forever live in my heart. 

– from the Preface by Gabrielle Earnshaw 


 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst 

My Thoughts:

The letters in this collection cover a period
in Henri Nouwen’s life from 1973 to 1996 –
23 years.

Over his lifetime, in addition to his many
books and articles, Henri received more
than 16,000 letters. He kept every bit of
written communication he received, and
responded to every one of them.

This collection (divided into three periods
of his life – 1973-85, 1986-89, 1990-96 –
when he died) – contains some of his most
significant exchanges. 
 
They have been saved and edited 
by people close to him like our mutual 
friend, Sue Mosteller.  

I knew Henri best during the period of 
those last six years while he was still 
living at Daybreak, near Richmond Hill 
Ontario. I had several personal encounters
with him while I was going through some 
of the most difficult times of my life.

Even though I never knew many of 
the people to whom he wrote in this
special collection, I can quite often 
identify with him during the times 
that he wrote.

I will be ever grateful to L’Arche for
bringing Henri and Sue into my life
and for the lasting impression for
good that this provided.

Henri lived a frenetic life. He also
carried much pain with him; especially
due to his homosexuality. His ceaseless
activity was known to me; his sexual
orientation was not.

When I think back on all that now, I
am just so sorry that he suffered the
way he did. He did not let his problems
get in the way of helping me with mine.

But, out of that suffering came many
glorious gifts of advice and example.
That is one of the benefits we have
in living through our own difficulties, 
rather than trying to escape them.
We can help others in spite of our 
own pain.

No one reading this book will feel that
Henri does not touch on personal issues
in his/her own life and that is one of
the reasons this volume is so valuable.

There have been many good biographies
of Henri Nouwen since he died 20 years
ago. But this book of letters is real Henri.  
He did not write it in order for it to become 
a book, but – thanks to some of his closest 
friends – that is what it has became.

Probably his very last at that.                               

 

 

Reviewed by Religion News Service:
Nouwen Letters Shed Light on
Religion of the Heart:
http://tinyurl.com/h5s8nk2 
  

 

Buy the book from Amazon.ca: 
http://tinyurl.com/glsz8a2

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List II, Vol. XII. No. 13,  December  04 , 2016

Prayers For All Seasons Year A

Posted on: December 21st, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

PRAYERS FOR ALL SEASONS Year A
Based on the Revised Common Lectionary,
Edited by Ellen Turnbull. 2016.

Wood lake Publishing Inc., Kelowna, BC
$19.95 CAD. paper. $9.99 CAD Kindle.
226 pages. ISBN #978-1-77064-809-8

 

Publisher’s Promo:

The Prayers for All Seasons series offers
weekly prayers that complement the
readings from the Revised Common
Lectionary.

This Year A addition to the collection
completes the set of three lectionary
years, providing a complete, handy,
and valuable resource.

Each volume contains an entire year’s
worth of prayers. Use as a weekly
resource, or dip into it as needed.

Prayers for All Seasons includes selections
from the Seasons of the Spirit lectionary-
based Christian education curriculum –
one which is embraced by thousands of
congregations around the world. Prayers
from the collection can be used in various
ways and at various times during worship
or outside of the worship setting.

Each book  features a variety of prayer
formats, including responsive prayers,
breath prayers, and prayers with actions.
A scripture index provides easy reference.



Editor’s Profile:

Ellen Turnbull’s professional background
includes arts and financial administration
in Canada, Australia, and England. She
discovered a perfect fit with editing, and
worked in-house at Wood Lake for 11 years.
She currently freelance edits from home in
the Okanagan, where she also loves to hike,
ski, and bake.



Review by Dr. Wayne Holst    

My Thoughts:

Wood lake has been providing group worship
and personal spiritual resource materials for
thirty years, and continues to do so as its
reputation has expanded from interior British
Columbia to a global audience in the English-
speaking world.

I have been reading, reviewing and endorsing
books and other items from this publisher
since founders and colleagues Ralph Milton
and Jim Taylor began their venture on a wing
and a prayer three decades ago.

I am always impressed by the quality of the
writing and editorial work that this house has
always produced — as well as the number
of publications they are able to mount.

This particular title is one third of a set of
common lectionary prayers that seeks to
be grounded in Canadian experience as well
as global and ecumenical in appeal.

Every Sunday of the church year in a three-
year cycle (as well as extra services such as
“Blue Sunday” for lonely people at Christmas)
is covered here.

Each service has a seasonal focus with
lectionary reading indexes referencing both
Hebrew and Christian Bibles; as well as formal
prayers and transitional sequences plus helpful
textual explanations to support the liturgical
planner or worshipper.

A few scriptural segments, like the Minor
Prophets and the Book of Revelation are not
to be found in this particular book. Those that
plan and worship with this material, however, 
are exposed to most of the Bible annually,
as a result.

The material can stand alone in less formal
worship orders, as well as fitted into more
established, classical liturgies.


As I have often done in the past, I heartily
recommend a book like this for personal and
corporate usage, and I thank Woodlake once
more for creating a fine resource.


Buy the book from Wood lake Press:
http://tinyurl.com/zvhvomc

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/zuplh84

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XII, No. 10,  October 16 , 2016

The Face of the Other

Posted on: December 21st, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

THE FACE OF THE OTHER
by Clara Joseph,
Interactive Press,
Carindale, Queensland, Australia 
2016. 70 pages.  $11.50 CAD
ISBN #978-1-925-23135-9

 

Publishers Promo:

An evocative and thought-provoking collection 
of poetry that reveals more to the reader with 
each reread. Clara Joseph covers a wide range of 
themes and ideas whilst tying them all together 
under the repeating image of the face, seen from 
many different angles and in different guises.  

The author seamlessly transitions between personal 
poems of change, transition, or personal philosophizing, 
to more public issues of justice and injustice, violation 
and destruction, all the while returning – unblinking – 
to the perception of the other within the world.  

Ultimately, this book is about what it means to meet 
the other person. 

 

Intelligent, thoughtful, and provocative, this sensual 
work ranges from the sacred to the profane in language 
that mixes the philosophical and the vernacular. With 
“The Face of the Other,” the well published Clara Joseph 
makes a stunning debut as a poet.

– Ken McGoogan, author of Lady Franklin’s Revenge

 

 

Authors Bio:

Clara A. B. Joseph was born in Kerala State, India
and she earned a PhD. in English from York University,
Toronto, ON. She is an associate professor of English
and an adjunct associate professor of Religious Studies 
at the University of Calgary.

 

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst    

My Thoughts:

I attended the launch for this book in Calgary some
weeks ago at the author‘s invitation. The experience 
was both enticing and troubling for me.

Clara Joseph has been a friend for twenty years and
I thought I knew her quite well. But the poems in 
this attractive book of 70 pages brought to my 
attention another side of her. The lines reveal
things about Clara I had not appreciated previously.

Reading her poetry is like attending a gallery of
impressionist paintings. Only in this case, the
imagery is verbal.

The settings for these reflections cover a range of
territory in her mind and through her pen, even as
the events that prompted them come from many
places.

I was particularly attracted to those settings I 
suspect were from her native India. Even though
Clara is quite thoroughly Canadian, she has not
lost appealing characteristics of her native 
formation.

She writes of her perception of “the other” within 
the world. In the end her book is about what it 
means to meet that person. Sometimes, that
discovery is attractive, and sometime scary.
Much depends on that is going on in one‘s own
mind at the time, it seems.

Enjoy an untitled example: 

The air is eager though all too wet
when stubborn fig trees spread their skirts
this side of the highway wall. I watch in awe

yet cannot speak to you who own this wonderland.
The wind is scolding when all was still
until some pleats are pushed off this side of
the highway wall; the trains that warmed

those trims now pass us both; they pass us by.
The silence has spread, the pines have pierced
the contours of our mutual fear, have turned
to dust for wind and air both sides of the highway wall,
I lick my lips with your fame. Do you know

                                                      my name ?   

I found that what was happening to Clara drew
me into the ambiguities of my own mind and heart
when encountering other people – some of whom
I am drawn to; and others who repulsed me.

Here are poems you will return to, and each time
you will experience something new and different.

Thanks for this gift, Clara.

—  

On a somewhat similar theme, but differently focused,
I recall a prose book by another colleague,  written 
five years ago:     

“The Other Face of God,” by Mary Jo Leddy 
http://tinyurl.com/zluv4q5

 

Buy the book from Amazon.ca:
http://tinyurl.com/hzt6noz

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List II, Vol. XII, No. 12,  November 27 , 2016

The moral complexity of war

Posted on: November 9th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

By Ben Graves on October 31, 2016

 

Faith Under Fire
Fredrick G. Scott, Canada’s Extraordinary Chaplain of the Great War
By Alan Hustak
Véhicule Press, 2014
144 pages
ISBN 978-1-55065-375-5

 

American historian David A. Bell once cautioned that “few subjects are more dangerous than war to discuss in a dry, abstract manner, without a sense of the human costs involved—without hearing the screams, seeing the bodies, and smelling the powder and the blood.” Faith Under Fire, journalist Alan Hustak’s unflinching account of Canadian Canon Frederick G. Scott’s frontline chaplaincy during the First World War, takes this caution to heart; its pages are replete with eyewitness tales of the horror of the war that was to end all wars.

Faith Under Fire is particularly notable because of the unique perspective and circumstances of Scott himself. Throughout Hustak’s narrative, Scott is revealed as a steadfast Anglo-Catholic, possessed of a love of poetry and a disarmingly self-deprecating sense of humour. (On more than one occasion over the course of his wartime chaplaincy, Scott suggested misbehaving soldiers be made to sit through the recitation of his poetry as punishment for their misdeeds.) The father of six children—three of whom would serve with him in the war, one of whom would not live to see the end of it—Scott maintained an unswerving loyalty both to Canada, the country of his birth, and the British Empire, of which it was a part. Scott, says Hustak, “was a product of his times…in which military conquest in the Queen’s name was equal to spiritual conquest in Christ’s name.” It was this belief in the right and righteousness of the British Empire, combined with a genuine conviction that it was his Christian duty to offer comfort and encouragement to the troops, that propelled Scott to volunteer as a chaplain in the Canadian Forces at the age of 53 in 1914.

Hustak is especially skilled at presenting Scott’s story free from the critique or judgment often made easily available by hindsight. In this way, the reader is able to form their own opinion of Scott’s actions as a husband, father, patriot and decorated military chaplain. It behooves us all to remember that war is not always simply the product of evil-minded individuals, but of the mistakes and misjudgments of otherwise good men and women. The impression of Scott created by Faith Under Fire is that of an admirable, courageous and thoroughly decent man who served his country and his fellow soldiers with dignity and grace, but a man whose mindset prior to the war nonetheless exemplified exactly the type of thinking that led to that catastrophic conflict in the first place.

Scott’s firsthand experience of the carnage of war left him a changed man. Says Hustak: “It made him sensitive to disability, injustice, poverty, and grief, and it made him angry.” Where once Scott had viewed war as a righteous crucible through which a nation’s true mettle might be revealed, he now “denounced the monstrous futility of war as a test of national greatness.” But on returning home to Canada, Scott did not lose the faith or idealism that had once propelled his bellicose patriotism. Instead, he channelled it into tireless support of veterans, workers—one of his sons, F.R. Scott, would go on to help found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation — and various other causes of social justice.

In this, Faith Under Fire and the life of Frederick G. Scott serves to remind us of the good of which people are capable, even after having experienced such inhumanity. It also offers a poignant warning of just how easy it can be for those same people to contribute to that inhumanity in service of entrenched and unquestioned beliefs—a lesson that we can ill afford to forget.

About the Author

Ben Graves

Ben Graves

Ben Graves worked as an intern for the Anglican Journal until August 2015. 
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Anglican Journal News, November 02, 2016