Category Archives: Books and Articles

Life is good

Here I am in the “great”city of Winnipeg enjoying the weather.  It is actually a couple of degrees warmer than PA was when I left and they don’t have the beauty of our snow either.  So far the boots have been unnecessary. (In winter, I think the baggage allowance on airlines should increase – it takes a lot of room to pack along boots,winter coats, scarves and mitts.)

The Church planter conference that I am at – re:CALL – is as good as I expected.  Maybe better.  You can check out what is going on here.   I’ve been to workshops by Karen Wilk: Learning to Live in the Neighbourhood for Transformation and Shari Russell: First Nations and today I think I will attend the one by Christine Pohl: Recovering Hospitality as Christian Tradition.  Good stuff.

It been a really busy couple of days.  All the Covenant folks kind of hang out together too and that is great.  I do sort of feel a bit like the grandmother to this group – not that they make me feel old or anything.  It is really great to be with so many young leaders of the church.  Getting together with Marc and Dixie, LT(well he’s not Cov. but we like him) new folks from Ontario as well as the Winnipeg gang and other pastors from across Canada is always fun.  Jamie obligingly signed a copy of his book, The Cost of Community which I brought along  for that very reason.  I just wish I had more time to read the fun stuff they were selling on the table outside the meeting place!

I am anticipating enjoying the rest of my week as well.  I will be in ECCC board meetings for the next few days, then a committee meeting Saturday, will worship with the folks at Faith Covenant Sunday morning, at Little Flowers Sunday evening, run out to Otterburne to get the inside story on the trailer life of a seminary student.  I have to find some time to shop for a gift for my 4 year old grandaughter too since I miss her big party on Saturday.  In between all, I have to keep up with my class and start work on my exegesis paper. 

Life is good.  No shortage of things to do.

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And finally

I finished the book.

You know, I think this whole task of caring for children never ends. I can see that when I began having children, my intentions were the best. I would raise them to know God. They were a gift and I would entrust them to God.

So much living gets in the way of our true intentions sometimes. We did not become the idyllic Christian family that I envisioned – all my children growing up deeply devoted to God, serving him, all eventually married to good Christians and in their turn raising up more Christian children.

Instead, I have raised a hodgepodge of humans. Weak, sinning humans. Some know and follow God and some really do not care. Yet.

The author of In The Midst of Chaos talks about the “religious familism” that idealizes the mother who stays at home devoted to her children at the expense of her own life. A lot of guilt weighs down on those of us who have chosen another path. The author deals with this too. She speaks of a new type of family where mutuality in parenting is practiced. Imagine – giving the role of parent enough credibility that it is work worthy of sharing as equally as possible, juggling work roles outside the home along with caring for our children. Hard but worth it.

The author covers topics in the last few chapters on family life, choices families make about where they will live, their lifestyle that makes the home a mission field and a place for reaching out to others. She talks about the value of play, of playing together as a family and the importance of instilling in children a love of reading. Finally she discusses the need to let children go and the small griefs one lives through along the whole parenting journey.

I think that a similar book could be written for grandparents. I guess that I can learn from this book and extrapolate meaning from it that I can apply to this final stage of parenting. Choices also have to be made about how one will grandparent as well. And that is the place I am in now. Making choices, trying to find more time to do this grandparenting thing well; passing on some of the things I value to the little ones that are mine.

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Seriously?

More from In The Midst Of Chaos.

In chapter four titled, Taking Kids Seriously, the author talks of how children are not taken seriously as being persons with a spiritual and philosophical capacity. We do not pay them much heed. Children do not have much to contribute any longer to the economic well being of the family. They began to be viewed as spiritually and morally innocent so were sentimentalized. Children born to families that are economically well off are prized possessions and given an abundance of material possessions with little thought to the well being of children in less fortunate circumstances. In spite of the fact that children are prized, it seems to be preferred that they are kept in their own circles, farther away from the adult realm of reality, losing contact with the wider group of non-family adults.

Today, the author says that the sentimental view of children is changing to one of the “knowing child” – to a view where the child must be taken seriously. She says:

What is required now is not just a shift in our understanding of children. Rather, we must consider how our new regard for their complexity is expressed as we practice our faith within the daily rounds of family life. Taking children seriously entails not just what we believe or how we think about children; it also involves new ways of including them in the shared life of faith. Children are active agents and participants in the practices of faith, even if they bring their own perspectives, capacities, and insights. Now we must figure out what this means for our lives together. p.65

Recognizing children as knowing spiritual and moral beings has consequence for how we treat and interact with children economically, psychologically and socially. Chidren need greater participation in the family economy and welfare, but we have only begun to scratch the surface of what engaging children more actively in this realm might entail. p74

If adults diminish children as active participants in religious practice, we both reduce the vitality of our own life of faith and overlook the human complexity children already possess. If we want to experience the daily care of children as a spiritual practice, then we must take kids and their faith seriously. p76

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Attending

More from the book  In The Midst of Chaos

"Attending" is the sum of those acts by which we genuinely give ourselves to another by the many small acts that we do.  We watch out for, we notice another’s needs, we move to protect, we scan the horizon, so to speak, for danger to the ones we love.  Parents do this all the time for their children.

Attending to children not only changes the children, shaping their lives, it also shapes the lives of the adults who are giving their attention in care for their children.  Mothers ( and fathers too) learn virtues such as humility and patience, compassion, trust, etc. in the act of caring for their children.

I can attest to this.  I thought I was a very patient person.  Then my children’s needs and frustrations blew that notion out of the water.  I felt that I was back at square one learning patience all over again from scratch as I learned to deal with temper tantrums, homework, chores and the million little things that make life with children an adventure.  My attending to them grew parts of me that I didn’t know needed to grow. 

The author says:

Attentive love is part instinct, part effort, and part gift.  It builds on early, almost involuntary responses, as when a mother’s milk comes in on hearing a baby’s cry.  But it also involves hard work and constant discernment of what to look for, what to ward off, and how to scan the horizon for dangers. Yet for all this, understanding the other is never predictable or controllable.  One cannot command attention by sheer will power or muscular concentration.  Attention evolves out of joy, as Weil says, and its fruits come as a grace.  p.53,54

To close the chapter the author speaks of "pondering" as a way of seeking "renewal of faith within the ordinary boundaries of a day that is received as God’s gift."  Faith is what we do within our "normal time", not something we do in time set aside outside of our regular acts of living.  All the activities of living within a family "train our eyes to see God amid change and time" and are "formative of faith."

I really liked this chapter.  I guess you can tell by the two posts that I have taken to review it.  It reminds me a lot of Brother Lawrence’s way of practicing the presence of God as he went about his regular routines.

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Pondering

More from In The Midst of Chaos by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore

Pondering – To think about something carefully over a period of time. To weigh things in your mind.

Mothers ponder.

We are not told details of Jesus’ early life through the eyes of Mary but we are told that she pondered the mystery and wonder of Jesus’ birth. Again, when she and Joseph must retrace their steps to Jerusalem to find their missing son, she must come to terms with an extraordinary child who has spent three days debating scripture with wise men at the temple and who then in obedience returns to grow to adulthood in her house. These were things that needed to be thought out. As the author states:

Here in the small word ponder is an image of a mother in turbulent spiritual waters, wading through the emotional swings of care, who…feels “stunned by wonder and stung by worry. (p. 47)

The author commends Luke for not trying to put words into Mary’s mouth. This was not a case of Mary being passively silent, just that there was too much to put it all into words. Instead Mary stored up the feelings and memories of these events, mused on their meaning, weighed the immensity of the events in her mind and sought a deeper understanding of them.

I like this bit:

Keeping thoughts in one’s heart means keeping them at the core of one’s being. Wisdom is located at the juncture of physical desire and mental aspiration – not when one transcends the body and world, as modern scientific rationalism and some Christians assume. Pondering connects thought and action. (p.48)

A bit further on she also observes:

Mary becomes one of the first theologians of the Christian tradition, turning over and over in her mind just who this child is and what God has to do with it. She does so in the very midst of her mothering – not when she moves away from it all. (p.49)

Essential to the way that mothers think and ponder is the way that mothers care for their children with “attentive love”. Parents attend to the needs of their child with a kind of “patient hovering” keeping the needs of the child at the forefront of their consciousness as they go about life.

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More from In The Midst Of Chaos

One of the issues the author addresses is our increasingly busy lifestyles and the inevitable busyness that children bring to our lives.  Some of her thoughts on how we use our time:

Sometimes managing the details of work and family life feels like putting together a thousand-piece interlocking jigsaw puzzle….

Most parents today – single, married, divorced, women and men – work and care for kids….they do not live out their faith through one primary vocation…as might have been the case for their own parents. They pursue dual, triple, even multiple vocations, in venues more sharply divided from one another – the work-place and the home front – than during any other era in human history.

Our efforts to handle multiple vocations of work and family often force us to confront the terrible tyranny of time.

She goes on to say that we make changes in our life-styles to accommodate the fact that we are trying to “squeeze more in” to our lies in order to keep up with demands on our time. Then she goes on:

A chaotic family life can be a faithful life. But unrelenting, brain-numbing activity is not good for anyone. We have to be extremely careful about calling this spiritual.

…Some of our busyness is just that: a deadening busyness that distracts and destroys the capacity for joy and awe…

Rather than glorify all this running around as somehow spiritual and sanctified, it makes sense to question the pace at which we live and to consider how to slow down. We can and should change a life that is debilitating, scheduling less, facing our unhealthy addiction to an inhumane routine, and sustaining practices that help us discern how to say no to experiences and stuff that our culture says are essential for children….

Adhering strictly to strategies of simplification can impede the tumultuous richness of life by trying to clean it all up. Sometimes, realistically, it is impossible to simplify life with children. Instead we must find ways not to flee or control time but to live graciously within its entanglement.

From In The Midst Of Chaos by Bonnie J. Miller- McLemore Chpt. 3

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In The Midst Of Chaos

My mind has been captured by the book; In the Midst of Chaos by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore. It discusses the whole concept of raising children as a spiritual practice and I think she is right on, addressing how we live in families and how this needs to be an expression of our spiritual lives. Parents in busy families – “in the midst of chaos” – don’t get much time to develop spiritual lives in silence and solitude. But is everyone called to the practice of solitude and silence. Where is God in the midst of our busy lives, rushing to work and then kid’s activities? Unless a parent sets aside the responsibilities of the family to spend time in quiet and prayer, is there a way to connect with God? Does spending time with God take precedence over family duties, and if so, what does the parent left with the children’s care do to nurture their spiritual life? This author takes a different take on the subject. She considers the raising of children in a home where they are taught spiritual values to be prayer and not the cause for a hiatus in one’s “real” spiritual life.

To me this book gives legitimacy to the role of Christian parents and supports them in the often difficult choices that must be made about how to incorporate Christian practice into the chaos of family life.  Maybe part of the reason I like it is that the book does not tell what to do so much as why – what one should take into consideration into those many questions that arise over time management, choosing where to raise a family, where to send them to school, etc. 

Over the next few days, I want to share a few of the things that I learned or saw in new ways as I read through this book.

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