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Friday, February 23, 2018

"Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman" by Sarah Bradford. A Little Review

Scenes in the Life of Harriet TubmanScenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Sarah H. b. 1818 Bradford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 This is a touching rehearsal of the exploits of a self-emancipated slave who poured herself into helping other self-emancipated slaves to flee to areas where they'd be safe. The volume is primarily made up of select tales from Harriet Tubman told to Sarah Bradford - who left out any tales she could not corroborate. The material also includes testimonials from many who knew her during these years.

"Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman" is short and easy to read. A few of the stories brought me to tears, and many brought me to prayer. Thanks to LibriVox for providing the book in audio form, and to Sue Anderson for taking the time to record it. Since this is Black History Month (February 2018), this book makes for great, first-hand historical background and context. I highly recommend the book.

The LibriVox recording can be heard here: Librivox

The book can be obtained for free here: Documenting the American South

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"The Divine Hours - Pocket Edition" compiled by Phyllis Tickle. A Teeny Review

The Divine HoursThe Divine Hours by Phyllis A. Tickle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This tiny little rascal arrived in the world in 2007. I have used it -in varied and modified ways - off and on throughout the years. It follows the traditional, simple format of 7 times of prayer for each day of the week. It is a handy, pocket-sized manual that can easily be carried in a purse and lightly held in a hand. Each portion is short, and yet has plenty of material from the Psalter, Scriptures, hymns, canticles, and litanies.

"The Divine Hours" could be used by prayer-communities for corporate prayer; but it is also ideal for personal devotions. It can be employed in multiple ways to fit within busy schedules or to help people who have overly active minds that flit about. It can be supplemented or followed rigidly. If looked on as a tool, it will be found a tutor; and if used as an amenity, it will be found an ally.

As I write this short review, it is Lent (2018). It would make a nice aid to Lenten contemplations and preparations (there are even prayers at the back for the various seasons in the Church year). If you've been thinking to yourself, "Self, I need a little help here" then let me encourage you snatch up a copy and dive in.

A copy can be purchased from here: "The Divine Hours - Pocket Edition"

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

"O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth" - 18 February 2018

Unlike Marduk and the gods of the nations, when you made humankind, you said: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so” (Genesis 1.29-30). Truly, LORD God, you made us not because you needed us. You made us not because you were lonely and lacked love. You made us not because you needed us to scratch some itch. You made us because you are love and goodness, and so desired to give and lavish that love and goodness on us! Therefore, with the 24 elders and creatures that surround your throne, we adore and worship you: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4.11). Hear us now, O Lord, as we pray:

For the peace and security of all the nations of this world, including Iceland, India, Indonesia, and Iran, we pray to you Lord. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth (Psalm 54.2).

For the safety and godly direction of the President of these United States, our Legislators, and judiciary, we pray to you Lord. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth.

For the wellbeing and achievement of the State of Oklahoma, our counties, cities and townships, we pray to you Lord. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth.

For fitting and seasonable weather and rain, the abundance of the fruits of the earth, and the speedy end of the flu season, we pray to you Lord. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth.

For the strength and recovery of the older ones, infirm, sick, and suffering ones, we pray to you Lord…. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth.

For the deliverance of the poor, oppressed, unemployed, destitute, prisoners, and captives, we pray to you Lord. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth.

For the shalom and goodness of God to flood our lives and keep us steady and sturdy when we are anxious and fearful, we pray to you Lord. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth.

For the salvation of those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins, and for the rescue of those who have forgotten their savior, we pray to you Lord…. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth.

For the church throughout the earth, this congregation, Mt. Horeb Baptist Church, Mt. Olive Baptist, Mt. Triumph Baptist, and New Beginning Family Baptist Church; that we may grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray to you Lord. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth. 

All we ask in union with Jesus Christ your Son, and our Lord and Savior. O God, hear our prayer; give ear to the words of our mouth. Amen.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"A Subversive Gospel" by Michael Mears Bruner. A Review

A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth
Michael Mears Bruner
IVP Academic
InterVarsity Press
PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515
ISBN: 978-0-8308-5066-2; $30.00; October 2017

I can’t even recall how or why it came about, but around twenty years ago I tripped across Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and was hooked! Since then I have read most of her writings and a few works by others analyzing her style and stories. Recently Michael Mears Bruner, associate professor of practical theology at Azusa Pacific University in California, and ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), has presented his own examination of O’Connor in a 260 page softback, “A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth,” which is part of IVP Academic’s “Studies in Theology and the Arts” series. This well-written volume is ideal for O’Connor aficionados, amateurs and interested authors.

The author, beyond the introduction and conclusion, works through five lengthy chapters that evaluate O’Connor’s literary and spiritual formation that shaped and colored her stories. Bruner shows how the primary shapers of her moral and dramatic vision were Baron Friedrich von Hügel, Thomas Aquinas via Jacques Maritain, her tussle with debilitating illness and her Southern habitation. Yet, in the end, the moral and dramatic vision were genuinely hers; “through her fiction, Flannery O’Connor subverted the conventional notions of truth, goodness, and beauty, not merely from a position of Christian dogma but out of an aesthetic impulse” (1).  Bruner spends his time in “A Subversive Gospel” encouraging O’Connor readers to “apply a kind of crucifix hermeneutic to her fiction – a kind of crosshairs reading that alerts us to the fact that when something violent happens in her stories, or someone is or says or does something foolish, or something terrible or awful appears, there is a decent chance that O’Connor is actually trying to show us something good, true, or beautiful, respectively” (2).

Bruner points out that in her fictions O’Connor “showed her readers how following Christ is a commitment to follow in his shadow, which becomes a subversive act aesthetically…, ethically…, and intellectually….” (9). Further, “that redemption is hard because life is hard, and life is hard because we are sinners who resist redemption with every fiber of our being, preferring the easy stroll to the arduous pilgrimage, a pilgrimage fraught with dragons at the side of the road waiting to devour us” (73). In fact, the author asserts, in many of O’Connor’s tales “it is not the devil…but God who is the greatest offense, and his terrible mercy is often more painful than the devil’s wickedness” (153). One way this shows up is in her prophets who find that being burned is an occupational hazard, since “burning functions as a trope in O’Connor’s material and is used to indicate when a true subversion (read conversion) is taking place. God’s mercy burns to salvific effect. There is a cost to following Christ in his “bleeding stinking mad shadow”” (162). This is so because O’Connor “was interested in portraying her characters’ struggles with redemption, not with damnation” (183). Indeed, a cruciform shadow lurks through her narratives.

“A Subversive Gospel” gives due credence to O’Connor’s loyalty to the Catholic Church and Catholic dogma, and that the dogma didn’t stifle O’Connor but gave her real liberty, since the “greatest art represents firmly fixed boundaries within which artistic expression is free to roam and reign” (83). And so her stories “express a fierce dogmatism because the church at its best has insisted on dogmatic ferocity in its commitment to Scripture and tradition, and O’Connor founded her very existence in the church” (142). One aspect where her dogmatism surfaces is in the recognition that grace and nature often dance together, and “that grace and nature are separated only at our peril.” Therefor in her works demonic violence “seeks to separate grace from nature, and by so doing objectifies nature” whereas divine violence “refuses to separate grace from nature and, in such refusal, thereby grants the recipient of such violence access to redemptive truth, goodness, and beauty” (150-1). Truly, there is a cruciform shadow lurking in her stories!

“A Subversive Gospel” was an enjoyable, reflective volume. O’Connor fans should obtain a copy with speed. But also, Christian fiction writers need to pour over these pages thoughtfully and consider their own style. Finally, literature classes in Christian schools and colleges ought to make it required reading followed by heavy discussion. I happily and highly recommend the book. It may just be that once you’ve tackled it, you will see with fresh eyes and notice the cruciform shadow haunting her stories.

Thanks to IVP Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).

A copy of the book can by purchased here: "A Subversive Gospel"

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When Prayer Requests Come Through

Our church’s website has a portal where people can go and ask for prayer (go here).  All of the requests eventually come to me, most of which are anonymous, and have sad stories to them. I do make time in the day to pray for each of the requests, and send the prayer back to the originating email address. Here are a few of the prayers I have sent out:

(In a battle with sexual sins): Almighty God, mighty in compassion and mighty in kindness: be with Pxxxxx to give him liberty over the sins he's battling with. Set him free from the evil affections and fill him with longing for you and the satisfaction of knowing you. Place him among other believers who will be able to walk with him, care for him, and encourage him; in Jesus name, Amen.

(Just quit job because employer mistreated a homeless mother of six): Mighty God, who cares about the beat down and beat up; who has your eye and heart open to those in dire need: we pray for this mother of 6 to have a warm, safe place for her and her children to live; we pray for food, clothing, medical care, and protection. And we pray for this one who has quit their job because of the way that their employer treated the homeless mother of six, that you would provide a new and more wholesome job, with a healthier environment. All of this we ask in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(One who struggles with depression and feelings of hopelessness): Almighty God, who sees that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep our friend both outwardly in the body and inwardly in the soul, that this friend may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(This was in response to a super long, anonymous prayer request that the writer turned into a prayer and wanted me to join in with them): Yes, Lord. Hear these prayer requests, provide for all that our friend needs, fill our friend with peace, and set your shield around our friend; in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

(For sleep at night and employment): Lord God, who gives your beloved sleep (Psalm 127.2); who provides for the weary and worn out, who supplies us with all our needs (Psalm 145.14-16), be with our friend. Provide our friend with sleep, peace and rest. And open doors for employment, a job that will fit our friend’s abilities, pay well and have helpful benefits. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you can use these prayers, feel free. Mike

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Minister's Prayer Book" ed. John W. Doberstein. Short Review

I have used this prayer book since 1988. At that time I was a bi-vocational minister in a little Florida congregation while a Sergeant on Active Duty in the U.S. Air Force. I have continued to use it regularly through the years, and even now as a Presbyterian minister. I own two copies, and have used them so much that the bindings of both are broken and tattered, and the pages are worn and marked up.

The volume is helpful on many fronts. There is a set of suggested orders for morning, noon and evening prayers. Also, Doberstein has included material from Luther's morning and evening prayer, as well as Luther's "A Simple Guide to Prayer" given to his barber. The editor has further mapped out a regular order of prayer for each day of the week. The middle section of the prayer book includes two years of Scripture lessons along with Collects or prayers, all of which follow the liturgical calendar. The largest portion of the volume is given over to "Meditations for Ministers," which encompasses readings from across the ecclesiastical spectrum that are, for the most part encouraging, instructive and devotional.

Though the manual is no longer in print, nevertheless I highly recommend it for all of my fellow ministers. The value of shaping their day in prayer is essential to their well-being and to their ministry. Though it has a hint of a Lutheran flavor, it still will be useful for all.

You should still be able to purchase a copy here: "Minister's Prayer Book"

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Vespers - 11 February 2018

(President and Leaders): Almighty and everlasting God, since righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs 14.34); we humbly implore you graciously to regard the President of these United States, his counselors, our Supreme Court Justices, and all others in authority over us. We pray that they may be high in purpose, wise in counsel, and unwavering in duty; and in the administration of their solemn charge and judicial decisions may they wholly serve your will, uphold the honor of our Nation, secure the protection of our people, guard the rights and property of the inhabitants of this land, and set forward every righteous cause.  O Lord, hear our prayer.

(Prisons): Lord Jesus, who for our sake was condemned as a criminal, please visit our jails, correctional facilities and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners, and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future; and especially for any who are on death row. When any are held unjustly, bring them a fair and honest release. Guide us in improving our justice system. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate, and save them from becoming brutal or callous. Finally, bless and prosper the Christian prison ministries and chaplains that they may powerfully convey your light and peace. O Lord, hear our prayer.

(Media): Almighty God, the lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools (Proverbs 15.7). We acknowledge that truth can come through many voices; and falsehood can appear very plausible. Therefore, we implore you to direct, in our time, those who speak where many listen and write what many read in our country. May they do their part in making the heart of this people wise, our minds sound, our perceptions clear, and our resolve righteous. O Lord, hear our prayer.