Sort of accidentally, but after a while, intentionally, I took 2022 off blogging. I kept writing, but mostly poetry and journal entries. As we enter 2023 I’m going to experiment with posting one poem per week (ish). Some will be old and some will be recent. I’ve found that between my weekly responsibilities and distractions I’ve had less and less interest in writing that isn’t more abstract. Maybe I’ll share more at a later date- but for the near future this blog will be a place to practice sharing some various verses and lines from my life 🙂
A while back I started an annual habit of listing the books I’ve read at the end of the year as a way to reflect and remember – as well as to push myself to read more (and more broadly). This past year was sort of unique (aren’t they all) because I took a 3 month sabbatical and had a little more spaciousness to crack open some pages. That said, still being a new parent amidst all that’s been going on in the world has left me feeling like I could/should be reading more, which may or may not be a voice worth listening to…. I’ll talk it over with my counselor.
Anyways, below are the books from 2021. The ones with asterisks are my favorites of the year. Maybe more than years past, a majority of my reading was in the spiritual/contemplative genre, I think next year I’ll expand my categories a bit and seek some more diverse material.
The Experience of God, David Bentley Hart Sort of an apologetics work from an Orthodox scholar. Hart was attempting to portray a more nuanced and generous God than is often characterized in the new-atheists versus Christian debates. I found this one good but not great.
Meditations of the Heart, Howard Thurman It cannot be stated enough how much of a gift Dr. Thurman is. This book is a collection of meditations written for his church and were a part of my daily reading/devotionals.
*Confessions of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton I LOVED this book. It’s a collection of Thomas Merton journals and random thoughts. It was super interesting to see his reflections on the current events of his time and also get a window into his psyche.
The Way of Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton This was a super fun read where Merton shares his interpretations of many of the spiritual teachings of Chuange Tzu, a Taoist teacher/leader.
The Book of Hours, Thomas Merton This was a collection of Thomas Merton’s writings organized in a litany of the hours- a set of daily prayers and reflections. I read this daily on my sabbatical and found it profound, inspiring, and deeply formative.
*Letters to a Young Therapist, Mary Pipher In this book therapist Mary Pipher writes to her younger self sharing the lessons she’s learned along the way. As a pastor who does a good amount of pastoral care work, I found so many of her ideas encouraging, affirming, and helpful. This is a great read for anyone in helping professions- especially in any sort of counseling role.
Naming the Unnameable, Mathew Fox This poetic and beautiful work is a reflection/collection of 89 metaphors/names for the Divine. Centered in the Jesus tradition, but borrowing from other great faiths, Fox paints a picture of God that is wonderful, expansive, and loving. So good.
*Julien of Norwich, Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic and Beyond, Matthew Fox This may have been the most impactful book of the year for me, not because if was perfectly written but because it contextualized our current pandemic in global history and centered me on the things beyond the things. In this book Matthew Fox reflects on Julien of Norwhich’s life during the great plague and where we find our hope, purpose, and connection in times of uncertainty and isolation. If you’re a person of faith- I highly recommend this book. Even if you’re not it’s a quick read and worth consideration.
What is God Like? Rachel Held- Evans While theoretically a children’s book- this one is a beautiful work of theology and inspired our first sermon series at Oak Life back in person. God is love and any portrayal that misses this mark might lead us down a dangerous path. In my opinion these pages capture graduate level theology and are a great response to the question, What is God like?.
*The Ohlone Way, Malcom Margolin An excellent introduction to the culture and history of the original communities that lived in what we now call the Bay Area. Books like these are must reads for modern inhabitants of land that was colonized and stolen.
*Dusk,. Night, Dawn, Anne Lamott In classic Anne Lamott fashion this book was funny, sincere, and profound. In this effort Anne explores how we can keep moving through life even after difficulties and trials. I found this book especially relevant and encouraging in light of the pandemic and general state of the world.
Who Are We?, Henri Nouwen An reflection on identity as beloved children of God.
Postcards from Babylon, Brian Zahnd This was a really fun journey through Zahnd’s theology and critique of modern American Christianity which in his mind is more Babylon than Promised Land. I loved his critique of things like nationalism, militarism, and other toxic isms that have infected Christianity. I highly recommend this one to anyone in a deconstructive phase.
A Desert in the Ocean, David Adam This is a contemplative work that focuses on the inward journey of solitude and reflection. The main metaphor is that the life of faith is a journey of discovery that is both deep and wide- like finding a desert in the ocean.
Modern Kinship, David & Constantino Kalef I came across this while doing pre-marital counseling for a queer couple. Each session we read through some of the author’s lessons on relationships and talked through how to have a healthy marriage. I found David and Constantino’s offering helpful and accessible. Definitely a resource for LGBT+ folks exploring marraige
18 years of journals, Chris Scott During my sabbatical I read through my journals from the past 18 years, something I hadn’t done before up until that point. The experience was both weird and encouraging. As I read I saw many of the ways I’ve grown as a person but also noticed some of the ways I’m still the same. This was a good mid-life-ish practice that was overall positive and affirming.
A sabbatical is an intentional time of rest, disconnection, and reconnection. While many churches and denominations practice pastoral sabbatical, I’m convinced that far too few clergy (or any profession for that matter) take time to step back from life’s grind in order to refocus on what’s of actual importance- and over the past 3 months I’ve had the unique gift of trying to to just that, however imperfectly.
If I’m honest, the idea of sabbatical, though incredibly attractive (who doesn’t want extended time off work right?), also felt like a guilty indulgence of sorts. Most of my friends and fellow community members don’t get sabbaticals, and there is also the unconscious American/capitalistic scarcity mindset which is always whispering loudly in our ears to that we don’t deserve rest, to grow more, do more, built more…. or else. It only took a few days into my time of sabbatical to realize how sick and wrong that voice is.
Initially, the idea of sabbatical felt like a “perk” or “benefit” of my job as a pastor, “I know you don’t get medical benefits or retirement, so why don’t you take a few months off every so often?” I quickly discovered how desperately my soul needed this space, especially after all that the past few years have been for me personally. And so at this point I’m convinced that a pastoral sabbatical should not be seen as a benefit but a requirement. Extended time to rest, reconnect to God, and retool should be a non-negotiable for anyone carrying a spiritual burden for a community. If I really think about it, it’s insane that this isn’t more normalized and it also explains why there is so much burnout and trauma in church- especially within and from those who pastor. Seriously, I’ve lost count of the number of pastors I’ve known personally who’ve burned out.
So, as I close out this time I’m filled with a gratitude that I can’t put words to. What a gift it has been, that’s the only word I can find to even remotely capture how it all has felt. Thank you Oak Life for supporting this time. Thank you Dev and Greg for leading so much while I was gone. At the end of it all I’m more in love with the beauty of church than I was a few months ago, and I’m also filled with a deep conviction that all of us need to find spaces for “sabbatical” in our own way at this point in time. I can sense that my soul has healed in some ways that I didn’t even know it needed. What follows is a recap of some of the things I’ve been up to over the past few months mostly for my own reflection and remembrance. Also, it’s hard to actually put words to all the memories/experiences of this past season, so I’ll be keeping it brief (ha) with some pictures sprinkled in there as well.
One of the main goals of my sabbatical was to spend quality time with my family. My partner is an ER nurse and we’ve got 2 kids (1 pandemic baby). Needless to say the past year has brought a lot of disruption and anxiety for us and it was such a gift to have some uninterrupted time together, even if sleep is is still a bit rough with the kiddos. While Alie did get some time off, our travel was mixed in between her hospital shifts.
First we spent some time at Sea Ranch, a beautiful and unique community on the Northern California coast. Redwoods and waves are God’s medicine.
A little while later I did a solo retreat at New Camoldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. This was a silent spiritual retreat in which I spent hours upon hours in quiet, reading, writing, listening, hiking, etc. My time at the monastery was deeply significant and I even got to go to mass and meet with one of the brothers for confession/spiritual direction.
Our next trip was the big one. For the better part of a month we stayed on the Oregon Coast in Lincoln City. The scenery, greenery, and ocean were beyond beautiful. It was so fun/restoring to spend an uninterrupted period of time doing nothing but hiking, exploring, playing at the beach, etc. What a freaking gift.
Then we took two separate trips to spend time with extended family (grandparents, cousins, aunties, uncles) in Truckee and Pismo Beach. Over the past year time with extended family has been a bit complicated including many cancels plans, so having the chance to be together was great. Also, it’s so fun to see our kids create bonds with the fam.
One of the workplace hazards of pastoring is that a lot of your reading/creative space gets filled by writing and researching for sermons. Not having the pressure to produce anything for a few months opened up the opportunity to read and write a bunch. Below is a list of books I read. As far as my writing, I mostly wrote some personal reflections and poems that I’ll keep to myself for the time being.
-The Experience of God, David Bently Hart -The Ohlone Way, Malcom Margolin -Postcards from Babylon, Brian Zahnd -Naming the Unamable, Matthew Fox -Dusk, Night, Dawn, Anne Lammott -Julien of Norwich, Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic, Matthew Fox -The Way of Change Tzu, Thomas Merton -A Book of Hours, Thomas Merton -Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton -A Desert in the Ocean, David Adam
The other major project was to read through my journals, which was sort of a massive undertaking. Since around the age of 18 I’ve kept a a journal. Most days I’ll start off reflecting about the previous day and scribbling down some thoughts, prayers, confessions, etc. and up until this point in my life I’ve never really read through them. All told I think I had about 30+ journals to explore. It was such a weird experience to see the ways I’ve grown and not grown, and to get a unique glimpse at almost 20 years of life. I think this project was meaningful on many levels and both clarified and reminded me of who I am, what I value, and where I’ve come from. So weird. Here is a picture for proof lol.
Although sabbatical is sort of unstructured time, I made a point to find some patterns to keep me engaged and intentional. With that in mind there were a few different practices that I tried to keep during this season.
First I kept up my journalling but integrated it the practice of Divine Hours which is the daily, periodic pausing to pray. For this I used “A Book of Hours” which is an edited collection of Thomas Merton writing grouped into daily readings at dawn, day, dusk, dark. While I got no where near doing it 4 times a day, it was still a super interesting way to sacramentalize different moments of each day as best as I was able.
Second I made a point to see my counsellor a few times to both report how my sabbatical was going and to process some deeper things. Between pandemic anxieties, vocational shrapnel, and personal trauma I’ve got lots to process and thankfully also got lots of people/resources in my corner.
Lastly I did my best to get outside and move my body. I’ve been nursing a few injuries including a recently healed broken arm but I was able to start jogging again which was awesome. While in Oregon part of my routine was to take our oldest child on a jog so he could nap and I could see the coast. So fun and beautiful. Also it can’t be understated how important physical health is to our overall well-being.
Another aspect of sabbatical that often is an area of focus is personal development/education. Because the Oak Life Leadership Team is so awesome, they gave me some budget to spend on this and I ended up taking an online class called Healing in Anxious Times that was curated by PESI and recommended to me by a hospital chaplain friend. In my opinion, there are 2 areas of experience that pastors will need to be familiar with over the coming years: trauma and race. I found these courses to be deeply resonant with the practices of faith and confirming that churches as places of healing are urgently needed (I’ve got pages and pages of notes). Here is a link to the course description and below is a list of the topics included in this class, all led by PHD level experts in the field:
-Stop the Dread & Avoidance of Anxiety! How to Apply IFS Techniques for Anxiety -Creating a Story of Safety: A Polyvagal Guide to Managing Anxiety -Mindfulness-Centered CBT: Daily Practices for Managing Stress and Anxiety -Anxiety & Relationships in the New Era -A Corona Love story: TEAM-CBT Approach to Cope with Crisis -Helping Parents Through Crises: Avoiding Pitfalls & Amplifying Opportunities -The Traumatic Impact of a Global Pandemic and How it will Shape Patient Care in the Future -EMDR in Trying Times: How Our Brains Process and Move Through Trauma -The “Wow” Factor: The New Ways Clinicians Care Use Awe and Gratitude in Therapy -Pandemic and Panic: Facing Viral Realities and Viral Fears -Mindfulness, Resilience, and Post Traumatic Growth -Immobility and Fear in the Face of Helplessness: The Somatic Connection -Racial Injustice and Trauma
Not to be overlooked is the spiritual practice of fun. One of the unique opportunities of this season is that it gave me a sense of “permission” to have fun. Isn’t it absurd that so many of us feel like we don’t “deserve” fun? So I went to some baseball games, rented a kayak a few times (even kayaked under the Golden Gate!), did some random/long bike rides, watched some interesting movies (thanks Young-Sun Kim), and made a point to sketch more often. Here are some pics of the random fun and a few sketches.
One of the hopes that I carried into this season was to take an honesty inventory of my life at the moment and hold it with open hands. Maybe God wants to say something to me about where I’ve been, how I’m doing, and what’s next. What a gift it was to have the space to consider such things. If anything this time has filled me with immense gratitude for the gifts of this life and confirmed/clarified some areas of calling, which I won’t get into too much here- but would be happy to be asked about it in person 🙂
Additionally there were a couple significant realizations that became prominent in my soul during sabbatical.
First, I didn’t even realize how much my soul needed (still needs) to heal. As the clinicians say, life itself is traumatic, and we all need to be tender to ourselves, giving permission and space to heal- so that we can “burn bright, not out”.
Second, even though I only went to church once during my time off, I am leaving sabbatical so appreciative for the unique gift that sacred community is- something that has been massively disrupted during the pandemic. Being in community with others, singing together, leaning into divine love alongside the souls of others is something that I deeply believe in. I’m so looking forward to being in person again soon.
Lastly, God was present with us. Over the years I’ve become more and more of a mystic in the ways I experience God and consistently through this time of listening for God, God showed up (or maybe I just needed to notice God already there/everywhere). While it’s hard to describe these feelings/moments/experiences, God’s beauty, faithfulness, affection, and love were ubiquitous: overwhelming in nature, illuminated in memories, and encountered in relationships. Faith is a complicated thing but it’s currents in my life and in this season were undeniable and have consistently felt approximate to the benevolent arms of Reality Itself holding me and us, and this time of sabbatical was a invitation to wake up to this Reality once more.
Oak Life, thank you for this once in a lifetime opportunity. My family and I are forever grateful and better for it.
This Opening Day is different A bittersweet in-between The cloud of viral darkness still overhead A yet to exhale crowd, socially distanced and dog tired
We’ve been through so much An endless extra inning affair Like a marathon with an ever shifting finish line The umpires call of “safe”, familiar and foreign at the same time Our cautiously hopeful hands hold our caps over heavy hearts As we recite Spring’s liturgy once more As we survey the sparsely seated stands And as we remember the fear, the smoke, and the loss
Everything has changed Yet somehow the eternals remain Gloves will catch and bats will hit As our destiny remains heaven’s sandlot
And so when we hear this year’s sacred invocation The Divine’s voice in the words “play ball” The Logos in the first pitch We’ll weep with Easter gratitude and Good Friday sorrow
Last week I shared a reflection inspired by the 13th chapter of Pauls letter to the Corinthian church during the online service for Oak Life. As we wrested with the ramifications of this text for this moment, I was hoping that Paul’s words would move from the sentimental/fluffy context they’re often referenced in, to a call to action in the midst of dark or “mirror dimly” moments. With that aim, and after getting a few requests for the text, here is a paraphrase of the chapter that was a part of the reflection:
Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:
Love takes a breath before responding, and is a non-anxious presence
Love smiles in empathy and joy at every face it sees
Love is not fueled by ego or insecurity but finds its identity in God’s Love and nothing else
Love is burdened for others, especially those on the margins or who’ve been wronged by the world
Love’s burden for others translates to sacrificial action Love doesn’t need to prove that it is right
Love does not need its agenda to be accomplished
Love doesn’t hold grudges and does not see people as their lowest moments
Love has boundaries when things or people are unhealthy because loving and being tender to oneself is an intrinsic part of Love’s flow
Love is slow to believe conspiracy theories or emotionally manipulative narratives from on high or in secret and is concerned about the hearts of those who have accepted false realities
Love puts in the work to find out what is true and real and knows that what’s true and real is often messy, complicated, and gray- and love is ok with that
Love isn’t in a hurry
Love does not seek to harm others, ever, and even if others do not understand it- love avoids the temptation and heresy of redemptive violence
Love never dominates or overpowers
Love takes pleasure in knowing and being known
Love bears all things, believes in the best for all creation, hopes all things, will out last all things
Love will win. On the other hand political parties, tribal conflicts, and even nations will all fade into history. Even the most charismatic leaders will pass away like clouds passing in the sky. Right now it might seem like we don’t know what’s going on, that we can’t see the whole picture, but there will come a time that we’ll look back on this and see that God was there all along.
So in this moment, in this dark time, remember that our faith and hope in God is ultimately that God’s forever love is here and will always be here.
1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Well, lots has been said about the two thousand and twentieth year of our Lord, so I won’t add anything to that black hole of disruption and still-unfolding trauma. What I will say is that is that I read less last year. A while back I made it a yearly goal to read at least as many books as I had the year before and with the exception of 2018, I’ve been relatively successful. Over the past 12 months I’ve been more sleep deprived and heavy hearted than I have at any other year of my life – mostly because of the birth of our second child, Teddy. Then, add on the additional craziness and it makes for ample excuses not to achieve my goal, which based on 2019 would have put me at 30 books. This year I got about half way there. Even still, as I look back on some of 2020s literary travels, I’m grateful for what I was able to read.
So below is a list of books I read last year. This list is mostly just for my own recording and reflection as a way to stack the odds a little bit more in the “not gonna forget” column of content I’ve consumed (I’m getting more and more forgetful). For an explanation/intro from past years, click here. Also, I used to link each title to Amazon, but I guess they’re sort of the evil empire now, so I’ll just link bookshop.org as an online stores that supports local bookshops.
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi This was my favorite book of the year. When Breath is a moving memoir of a very spiritually minded brain surgeon who’s confronted with his own mortality. With all the dying and grief happening in our world, this book was a beautiful and needed work that helped me tremendously.
After Evangelicalism, David Gushee Dr. David Gushee is a renowned theologian who became affirming in his theology. This book is an exploration his vision for the future of the American/evangelical church.
Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, Paul F Knitter This was a fun exploration of Knitters own journey and how the resonance between these two great spiritual traditions ended up affirming his identification as a Jesus-follower. I so appreciate interfaith reflections that are constructive and humble. So good.
Time and Despondency, Nicole Roccas I stumbled upon Professor Roccas while doing some reflection on the nature of time. This book fit 2020 as well as anything else on this list and helped me rethink my relationship to time, something all of us are doing whether we like it or not this year.
The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk This is a very significant and helpful introduction to trauma recovery. I think we’re all going through some sort of trauma this year- and after our church went through a particular event I picked this one up. This is a book anyone in the helping professions (and really anyone who works with people or is a person) should probably consider core curriculum.
Native, Kaitlin B Curtice This was a timely and reflection on the intersection of Christianity/spirituality and indigenous identity. Essentially the author explores their own journey and faith as person of indigenous ancestry and the ways those forces play out in our ability to connect to the Divine.
The Color off Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, Jamar Tisby Such an important work on the ways people of faith have not always been on the side of racial justice (often the opposite side).
Wild Mercy, Mirabai Star This was a super fun, challenging, and inspiring reflection on female mysticism and some of the significant teachers from these traditions.
Modern Kinship, David and Constanino Khalef Every so often I get to do pre-marital counseling and am currently working with a same-sex couple. As you can imagine, there aren’t a lot of LGBT+ Christian works on premarital preparation. I’ve found this book engaging and helpful.
Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eugene Petersen Eugene has been, and still is one of my favorite literary mentors. This book explores the nature of being called into vocational ministry as a pastor. I was so encouraged by this one. I love Eugenes subtle sass and critique of American celebrity Christianity.
Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman Thurman is a must read for anyone concerned about racial justice and looking for some spiritually enriching reflections. Thurman was an academic, a minister, and I would argue a contemplative. I’m working on one of his other books too.
Stiches, Ann Lamott A beautiful and short reflection on grief and the messiness of life. Very timely for 2020. Highly recommend to anyone holding loss (all of us this year).
Soul Care in African American Practice, Barbara L Peacock This one came as recommendation from my friend Gina who recently completed a spiritual formation internship at our church and is training to become a spiritual director. This book was a very accasaable exploration of various “soul care” practices in the historical black church.
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, William Jennings A must read for folx engaged in ministry or who are invested in faith communities in these times. Dr Jennings does an amazing job at providing an overview of Christianity’s racist & colonial past and how to potentially move forward. Definitely core curriculum in my opinion. I got to hear Dr. Jennings speak before the pandemic craziness and found him to be brilliant, powerful, and humble. His voice is one I hope can be more prominent in the American Church.