In Reconcile: Conflict transformation for ordinary Christians, John Paul Lederach has updated and expanded upon the work he presented in The Journey toward Reconciliation (Herald Press, 1999). The writing integrates biblical lessons and stories from Lederach’s work in conflict transformation. This carefully written book could be beneficial to any individual or congregation willing to take seriously the healing message of reconciliation.

The vision presented in Reconcile has grown out of years of work with people in conflict, and out of careful reading of the gospel message of Jesus. With an Anabaptist theological perspective, Lederach expresses a commitment to following the example of Jesus in his actions. We might theoretically accept a call to be peacemakers, but shy away from the steps required to create healing. However, if we are to follow the lead of Jesus, “we move toward human troubles and choose to live in the messiness.” In order to build relationships, we must first move toward one another, rather than put up walls.

Practical steps are provided throughout the book, many of which are drawn directly from the Bible. A helpful chapter on Matthew 18 sheds light on commonly overlooked advice given by Jesus that would benefit church communities immensely.

An exciting discussion of Paul’s letters leads to the powerful observation, “True atonement and holiness place us on the journey to make real the reconciling love of God in our lives and to heal our broken communities across the globe.” Our journey toward God is not meant to be a solo journey, but a journey undertaken in community, and for the benefit of others.

With its clear and compelling message, Reconcile is ideal for church Sunday school classes, which could take one of the nine chapters each week for in-depth discussion. The resource section provides tools to help carry the message into community, including prayers, suggestions for further reading, and experiential activities.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided for review purposes. No fee was received.

“All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?”

excerpt from “Blessing the Dust” by Jan Richardson
© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

This Lent, what quiet, hidden corner of your heart will you open to God? Where will you invite God’s healing, to bring you toward new life, toward wholeness? Wherever your path may lead this season, my prayer is that you will be surrounded by love on your journey.

Searching for Lenten books at my library, I found a beautiful collection of readings from Paraclete Press, God for Us: Rediscovering the meaning of Lent and Easter. The season of Lent can be a nourishing time of deep reflection, prayer, and repentance. Traditionally it is a time to prepare the heart for the coming feast of Easter. As Greg Pennoyer writes, Lent “clears the lens so that we can see what we routinely miss within our circumstances.” This holy season is “a revelation of God’s desire to use all of our life for our wholeness and our healing.”

Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe, God for Us features writings from Beth Bevis, Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Ronald Rolheiser, James Calvin Schaap, Luci Shaw, and Lauren F. Winner. The selections are accompanied by reproductions of artwork ranging from 14th-century icons to 20th century paintings. Works from Chagall, van Gogh, Rossetti, and dozens of other masters are represented. The beauty and range of the artwork provides many opportunities for contemplation and visual nourishment.

As a book reviewer and passionate reader of spirituality texts, I have seen many devotionals that do not delve deeply enough. In this volume, I have discovered insightful writing and beautiful prayers that will nourish me in future Lents. Not only are there readings for each day of Lent, but also brief essays on the history of special feasts observed during the season, such as Palm Sunday.

I highly recommend God for Us, and it would make a beautiful and inspiring gift. For anyone interested in deepening their experience of God in the Christian tradition, this book is not to be missed

The book also is available as an email subscription, beginning on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, February 17) and ending on Easter Sunday, April 5.

*Through today, Monday, February 16, all Lent devotionals at Paraclete Press are discounted 30%. I share this sale announcement only as a helpful tip; I do not receive any direct benefit from your purchase.*

Disclaimer: My review is based on a copy from the local public library. No fee was received for this review.

During Lent, I look forward to undertaking a simple contemplative writing retreat, in the comfort of my own home. I will be using 40 Soul-Stretching Conversations: Writing a spiritual journal with Joan Chittister.

This slim book has a brief quote on the left-hand page, and a response from Joan Chittister on the right. Under each passage there are lines for a written response, so that readers can reflect and then engage with the text. Fifteen of the quotes are from the Bible, and the others from a variety of women authors. I was wishing for a brief list of sources, and hope future volumes might include one.

The work of Joan Chittister never fails to inspire me. Activist, author, and peacemaker, she has a prophetic voice and vision, grounded solidly in her life as a Benedictine. You can purchase this book, as well as other publications by Joan Chittister, from Benetvision.

This year Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, will fall on February 18.

Disclaimer: No fee was received for this review. Review is based on my personal copy of the book.

We move through our days, many of us, with eyes on to-do lists, blissfully unaware that this moment, this very moment, could be our last. Yet, through the eyes of author Sara Miles, I have been reminded that it is profound and precious gift to remember our mortality. In City of God: Faith in the streets, we follow the author on Ash Wednesday, as she distributes ashes in a busy neighborhood of the Mission in San Francisco. For many Christians, Ash Wednesday gives us a chance, in the words of Episcopal priest Will Hocker, “to bow down in public and say, I’m not in charge; I’m not going to live forever.” This can be a freeing gift, and it reminds us of the most basic thing we have in common with one another: regardless of where you are from, what you look like, who you love, which religion you practice, you were born into a mortal body, and one day you will die. We all will. To acknowledge this is to notice the preciousness of our being here, now, together.

For the church, Ash Wednesday presents an opportunity to focus on repentance. In the words of Sara Miles, “Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: the whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be his own.” The city here means the author’s home in particular, but also every place any of us calls home; the people God created means all of us. We have an opportunity to leave indifference behind, and instead to turn to one another with love and compassion.

The day in the Mission is about being with other people and witnessing what God already is doing in the lives of others, through the bodies of others. As Sara Miles and her companions set out to meet others where they are, they experience God alive in everyone. There is an opportunity to connect with strangers, to share in the truth of our mortality as the words are whispered: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We can go and do likewise. We can bless the places we live by paying attention to one another, by turning the excessive love that God has shown us into excessive love for our neighbors. The blessing is not merely within churches, but “has been set loose.” It is where we are, where we meet one another in love and tenderness.

The pages of this book are full of fierce joy and honest questioning. I particularly recommend City of God as a beautiful read prior to Lent. However, the book has a very special perspective that will be appreciated readers who are not religious as well.

This year Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, will be observed on February 18 in many denominations.

Disclaimer: No fee was received for this review. Review is written based on a personal copy of the book.

It Runs in the Family

As a parent longing for a more peaceful world, I find myself hungry for inspiration. Activist and author Frida Berrigan has written a soul-nourishing book, It Runs in the Family: On being raised by radicals and growing into rebellious motherhood. She describes her upbringing in Jonah House in Baltimore as the child of peace activists, and how her values and hopes inform her choices as a parent.

Reading Frida’s story we witness an unusual upbringing amidst a family dedicated to peacebuilding and social justice. As in any family, some things worked out well and brought joy, while other choices were more burdensome. Nothing is perfect, and hearing this story will help encourage parents who strive to raise their children to have a sense of our role within a global, human community. I do not want merely to talk about a better world, but for my daughter to witness and to work alongside me, contributing to a better world with our daily choices. As I strive to do this, honest stories from other parents brings tremendous refreshment.

Part of Frida’s story includes her exploration of the important place of religion in her life. I have experienced the need for a spiritual home that supports the call for peace and justice, and Frida’s words rang true for me:

“I’m not lapsed: I am a Catholic in waiting – waiting for the Church to remember the Gospels, to be a justice-and-peace-seeking community, to be fully inclusive of women and to be welcoming to people who are not heteronormative. Pope Francis is a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.”

While I know many activists find sufficient encouragement amidst a strictly secular community, that is not the case for me. I tried, but it was depleting. There was a crucial piece missing for me: a larger sense of love. I realized that my hunger for a more peaceable society is grounded in my belief that we were created to love one another and to help carry each other’s burdens. As I read It Runs in the Family, I witnessed that a sense of self, of connection to others, and of a loving God can weave together a fabric strong enough for building a joyful home.

Frida writes the column “Little Insurrections” for Waging Nonviolence, and serves on the board for the War Resisters League. I highly recommend following her work for a continual dose of inspiration and motivation as you parent toward a more loving society.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, based on my own copy of It Runs in the Family. Frida Berrigan is a friend.

flunking sainthood

When I first encountered the title Flunking Sainthood: A year of breaking the sabbath, forgetting to pray, and still loving my neighbor, I thought, “That sounds like me in my stumbling efforts.” I sensed I would find a kindred spirit in author Jana Riess, and I read this memoir hungrily.

I enjoyed this book very much and could identify with the author’s longing to cultivate good habits and to deepen prayer life. I laughed aloud, and nodded my head in solidarity. I, too, have craved closeness with God, and tried many practices suggested by spiritual leaders. The chapter on praying the liturgy of the hours (or divine office) really struck home. I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to read morning psalms and then the compline prayer service at bedtime each day. Rather than feeling frustrated when I forget to do this, I enjoy the prayer time when it happens. After all, the quiet time is a gift to myself, and not an obligation in any way.

The chapter on Benedictine hospitality sent me straight to the library so that I could reread the Rule of Saint Benedict. How I long to be able to live the instruction that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'” As Jana Riess experienced, it is not easy in our fast-paced culture to slow down and enjoy our unexpected encounters with people.

While I read Flunking Sainthood in two eager sittings, I appreciated that the book could be picked up once a month, taking one chapter at a time and trying a spiritual discipline alongside Jana Riess. For this reason Flunking Sainthood would make an ideal read for the start of the new year, when many of us try to adopt positive habits. Perhaps you long to try lectio divina, centering prayer, or a deeper sabbath observance. With Flunking Sainthood, you can enjoy the companionship of Jana Riess as you experiment and journey.

The honesty and sincerity in the writing of Jana Riess provide encouragement, inspiration, and laughter. I am excited to see that Paraclete Press has published a useful companion volume, Flunking Sainthood Every Day: A daily devotional for the rest of us.

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.


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