Why I’m Not Giving Up Hoopla for Lent

A few weeks ago I came across the audiobook 7 Days with Thomas Merton by Fr Donald Goergen, O.P. and was able to download it and over the course of several days listen to it. While at first Fr Goergen’s speaking style did not appeal to me, the retreat was well organized with a good introduction (or reminder) of several aspects of Merton’s thinking. Each day/chapter focused on a different one of Merton’s books with a well chosen passage from Merton and helpful expository remarks from Fr Goergen.

While listening to the retreat, I decided it would be good to spend time with Merton over these days of Lent (which if you have not been watching your calendar begins this coming week on Wednesday, February 17).

And that’s where Hoopla comes in.

Do you know about Hoopla?

My local public library (Mobile Public Library) subscribes to the digital service Hoopla. On Hoopla you can stream or download movies, television shows, music, ebooks, audiobooks and graphic novels. In some cases there is a limit to the number of items you can borrow in any given month but all this is available as a free service from the public library.

While looking around at Hoopla I discovered the audiobook I mentioned above and with only a little more searching (like entering “merton” in the search book) I found 85 items of which about 70 were either audiobooks or ebooks by or about Thomas Merton.

And here is the part that sold me on sending Lent with Thomas Merton at Hoopla – many of the items are recordings of Merton giving retreats or on occasions he was instructing the monks and others at Gethsemani Abbey.

So in Lent 2021, I will be able to hear, not just read, Thomas Merton as he shares from his spirit and wealth of insights.

I think I will start with Thomas Merton on Contemplation and then maybe go on to Thomas Merton on Poetry (want to explore the writings of William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, W. H. Auden, Charles Peguy, and Emily Dickinson with Merton as your guide?).

No, wait! Maybe being a native Mississippian I should go to Thomas Merton on William Faulkner and Classical Literature. The description of this audiobook wants me to believe “Merton demonstrates that Faulkner is a mythological rather than sociological writer; he uses the particular setting of the American South to tell stories of universal significance.”

So many choices.

One more thing – check and see if your local public library subscribes to Hoopla (or maybe a similar service). You might be pleased with what you find.

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Approaching Scripture

Did you ever hear, “I’m hungry for a good bible study!”

Or, “I just want to do a bible study. It’s been so long.”

Or maybe, “Does your church do real bible study? I’m just not getting fed in our Sunday School class!”

Then again from some church-goers (and even Sunday School attendees) you will never hear such.

Why? What brings on these kinds of questions or even the lack of these questions?

I want to offer some thoughts today about such questions and follow up over the next few weeks thinking about ways we come to Scripture.

First, these questions are provoked at least in part by a person’s getting the idea from one place or another that Scripture is important for the life-style of a Christ-follower. Does that make some sense to you?

Of course the idea that Scripture is important might be so second nature to you and those you associate with that it is not a subject you give much thought to. After all, “Doesn’t everyone know how important it is to read the Bible?”

It was part of the church culture I grew up in.

From preachers, Sunday School teachers, and maybe family also, we got the message to “read the Bible every day.” It seemed every bit of literature we got at Sunday School not only had a “lesson” for Sunday, but a list of Bible verses for “Daily Bible Reading.” Even the small envelopes we put our offering in had a place to mark if you did your daily Bible readings, and you knew it was something you were supposed to do.

So our churches told us Bible reading was a big thing that needed to get done.

And so maybe we did it to “get it done” and maybe even “get points” for being a good Christian.

But, as we read the Bible, and enjoyed the small bites of the Bible we got in “Bible stories” at Sunday School, maybe we saw the Bible was much larger than what we heard about Sunday after Sunday.

That brings us to our second factor that lies behind the questions we started with, “What more is there to the Bible.” Is it more than the few “stories” we hear week after week?

Should I just do my “daily Bible reading” and listen to my church teachers and preachers tell me what the Bible is about or is there a “way” for me to understand more about it?

I have the impression some folk are satisfied with “being told” what the Bible says, but others asking the questions we posed earlier have probably moved from being passive consumers of the Bible to wanting more.

Third, those growing up in a church culture like the one I did (or similar) may have learned that the Bible is the “only” way we hear about God, or from God. To put it theologically, if you will, there is no revelation of God outside the pages of the Bible, or what there might be of “natural revelation” is so limited as to offer only the smallest glimpse of the possibility of God and certainly no path to salvation. Was that too much theology for today?

In any case, if something in your nature has led you to want to know more about God, or to experience God’s presence more directly and the Bible is the place (the only place?) that can begin to happen for you, then Bible study becomes something very important.

One more thing. Maybe you’ve heard of some people who “do Bible study” at their churches that have homework that goes with it, as well as reading a study book that provokes questions rather than just offer pre-packaged answers. So the fourth thing behind the questions we started with is having heard of others who invest time and energy in not just reading the words on the pages of a Bible but have moved from being passive readers of the Bible and passive members of a church class to being actively engaged with the Bible, and dare I add, with the Spirit we from time to time encounter in our reading of the Bible.

Maybe I have gone on too long, but I start here to call our attention to the growing desire of some to find ways to plumb the depths they suspect Scripture holds and find ways that depth can impact and change their lives. And even more importantly, see how that depth leads to an experience of God’s presence in their lives. Could that be possible?

Over the next several weeks, I want to offer a number of ways some have found to help them enter into the depths that await those willing to make the investment.

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Where could a “spiritual” religion take us?

This past week as I was moving some books around I picked up a copy of D. Elton Trueblood’s The Essence of Spiritual Religion.

I have no idea how long I have owned the book or the last time I looked at it but the title attracted me that day as I am sure it must have when I first came across it.

Trueblood wrote the material in 1935 when he was the Acting Dean of the Chapel at Harvard University. It was reissued in a paperback edition in 1975. Perhaps it was in the mid to late 70’s that I found it. I recall that sometime before that I became acquainted with Trueblood’s books The Humor of Christ and Philosophy of Religion.

But, back to The Essence of Spiritual Religion.

As I was looking over the pages and noticing where I had placed bookmarks, I was drawn to the last chapter and want to share a bit from there. I don’t think you can count it as a spoiler, but maybe more of a “tease.” I find it very interesting where he thinks “spiritual religion” can take us.

“Spiritual religion, rightly conceived, will never be an escape from life into a private Holy of Holies where the individual is selfishly concerned with his own spiritual state. The person who accepts the notion of the sacrament of common life will, indeed, have his Holy of Holies to which he retires, but his experience there will make him more sensitive to human wrongs rather than lull him into a mood of apathetic resignation. He finds on every hand outright denials of human brotherhood and his deep conviction concerning the spiritual nature of man as man makes it impossible for him to share in these denials.” (p 142)

“What does spiritual religion have to do with class distinction? Spiritual religion sees it as completely evil because it hinders and dwarfs the growth of ‘that of God in every man.’” (p. 152)

“All this shows why it is that spiritual religion is bound to affect our economic and social order. We begin with our reverence for the divine capacities in human life, we go on to see that we must break down all barriers which hinder the nourishment of the Seed [of God], and we are thus forced to the conclusion that some economic and social systems are necessarily bad, for they involve the very barriers to fulfillment which must be broken down. Any system which makes the lives of some men mere pawns for the ambitions of others is absolutely and terribly evil and must eventually be destroyed.” (p. 154)

From chaplain to professor of philosophy to social critic to prophet.

How might Trueblood’s path (and his understanding of spiritual religion) encourage how we practice our spirituality?

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

What Are You Reading?

Are you looking for something to read?  Or, some good prices on ebooks you have been wanting to read? Or, maybe a place to find some free ebooks to download?  Or, some book reviews?  Or, some lists of worthwhile reading on theological topics?

Maybe, all of the above?

I have been subscribing to the Englewood Review of Books for several years and receive their emails.

What is their aim?  Here is how they describe their work, 

The Englewood Review of Books is a weekly online book review published by Englewood Christian Church on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. We focus on covering books related to the themes of community, mission, imagination, and reconciliation, and hope to cultivate a vision of Reading for the Common Good, a way of reading that is driven primarily not by one’s personal desires but by an attentiveness to the communities in which we are embedded: church, family, neighborhood, workplace. The books we review are not necessarily books from the “Christian market,” but we hope that they will be vital to fostering Christian faithfulness in our increasingly Post-Christian age.

Sounds like a very worthwhile goal to me.  What about you?

One thing that is great to follow are their “reading lists.”

Over the last several weeks the lists have been about: 10 free ebooks about medieval theology, 12  classics of theology from the first millennium, an introductory reading guide to Walter Wink, and another reading guide to Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Oh, did I mention poems that relate to the weekly lectionary readings.  

You will not only find links to classic works of theology but will also be able to keep up with current books that are worth a read.

And how about one more reading guide – 

Important Discipleship and Formation Books – A Reading Guide – Fall 2020 (August 13, 2020,  by C. Christopher Smith)

… it’s a good time to remember that as disciples of Jesus our schooling never ends.

We are always learning and being formed by our choices and by circumstances thrust upon us. Regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, what are the practices that help keep us focused on the compassionate and just way of Jesus? These 40 recent books on discipleship and formation (published within the last three years or so) help us to wrestle with this question that lies at the heart of our Christian identity. Not all of these books will be relevant to every reader, but hopefully you will find one or two good books here to read or re-read as you (and the sisters and brothers of your church) press deeper in the coming year into the abundant life of Christ.


The above only touches the surface of what you can find on the website and in their emails.

You need to check on what you can find at the site.  But, please, don’t be mad at me if you find more than you have time to read.


{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

When is the Real Thing the Real Thing?

When is the Real Thing the Real Thing?

When I received the review copy of Peter Watts book, Authentic Christianity: Why It Matters for Followers of Jesus, I was less than excited. My first thought was, “Oh No! Not another ‘Here is the right way to understand Jesus/God/Scripture. Just read my book and you will be on the path to undeniable truth!’”

You are familiar with the expression, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover”? Well, it’s also true that you can’t always judge a book by its title. I was way off!

I hadn’t read too many pages before I found my pre-judgement was putting Watts in a category he does not belong in.

Watts begins with reporting that “authenticity [is] the quality of being genuine and true. Genuine and true in relationships with others, God, and ourselves. It’s being honest …”

For a moment I thought the book was going to be “all” about getting relationships right, and relationship building. And while that is a major part of his thesis it certainly is not the whole of his book.

He sets the stage for us by having us consider pretending or play-acting we might see children engage in. And such is important for the psycho-social development of every child.

Then Watts takes us beyond childhood and the beneficial aspects of pretending to what happens when pretending becomes the main means by which we relate to others whether it be in the home, in the workplace or in church.

His book is a plea to learn how to be honest and humble in all our relationships. He does not sugar coat it. Authenticity involves risks. The possibility of being hurt. But without risk we will never know who we are or those we relate to, or who we can become.

As Watts moves to discussing “Moving toward Authentic Christianity” in chapter 5, he does an excellent job of demonstrating how the Gospel accounts of Jesus again and again show Jesus engaging in authentic relationships and opening the path for his followers to be authentic with him, with God, and with each other.

You owe it to yourself to give Peter Watts’ book a careful read. Let him show you ways to be more authentic in every aspect of your living.


{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Can We Practice Ourselves into Transformation?

That question may be a little confusing but allow me to offer some light.

A few weeks ago we looked at a couple of the publications from Renovare. First, A Spiritual Formation Workbook and then Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups. Today I want to offer a few sentences from another Renovare publication, Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines, that addresses the relationship between spiritual practices, spiritual formation and spiritual transformation.

Sometimes we are confused about spiritual practices and think they create spiritual transformation. These words from Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin in the introduction to Spiritual Classics bring clarity to that relationship.

“The spiritual disciplines are pointed toward spiritual formation – and transformation. Spiritual formation involves a fundamental choice, Choosing to live for Jesus Christ may mean adopting a certain style of life, or perhaps more properly, a rule of life. We take on a series of spiritual practices that will open us to God’s work in our lives.

“At the same time we need to remember that spiritual transformation is a work of grace. It is what God does in us. What we do counts, because we must choose to enter into, and pursue, our friendship with Jesus Christ. This choice, which we hope will become more and more pure and single-hearted, may have to be made over and over again…. We always want to remember that the power of God undergirds our efforts and leads us along the way.

“Perhaps we could think of spiritual formation as a pattern, a series of concrete actions that will gently move us toward transformation in Christ. The disciplines themselves, however, are not transformative. The transformation in us is God’ work. It is a work of grace. That deeply transformative grace comes to us not through our own doing but as pure gift.

“And yet something is demanded from us: the free gift of ourselves, our submission, our willingness to change, our assent to God’s grace. In the end our yes is what’s required. In our own words and in your own way, we need to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” We need to say, “Be it done to me according to your will.”

“One more thing to remember: spiritual formation is ongoing. We need not be impatient; we need take no measurements.” (pp xiii – xvi)

I trust this lengthy quote was not so long as to confuse more than clarify the relationship between spiritual practices/disciplines, spiritual formation, and spiritual transformation. In my own thinking, I find it helpful. I trust you may also.

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

A Spy Novel or a Graphical Biography or Both?

Yes, it is a biography. Yes, it is about a spy. Yes, it is about a theologian-preacher-minister.

Does John Hendrix in his graphical presentation of the life of Dietrich Bonhoffer, The Faithful Spy, attempt too much? No! Absolutely Not!

This is a wonderful introduction to Bonhoeffer’s life and work. And, yes, also the sacrifice of his life.

If you are unfamiliar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer this is the perfect way to become familiar.

The work is reportedly aimed for youth from about ages 10 – 14, but that may be all the more reason it can be put in the hands of all of us to need to know about or be reminded who Bonhoffer was and what he was willing to die for.

Hendrix tells the story of Bonhoeffer growing up in a privileged family in Germany, his early interest in theology (despite his family’s concerns about such), his musical skills, his love of his family and his country, his travels to the USA, his encounter with American racism, his loyalty to Germany, his struggles with a state church eventually controlled by the Nazi war machine, his time as teacher of “rebellious” preachers and his eventual work with the German resistance during World War II.

And no, the above are not soilers for you. While those are some of the basic facts of his life, you have no idea of how John Hendrix tells the story in great graphics till you pick up this book and start reading it and looking at the wonderfully drawn pages. Hendrix tells the story with line and even more so with color. You need to spend time on each page so you can absorb the wonderfully drawn images, but that will be a problem. He tells the story so well and so compellingly you will want to rush to the next page.

Is this one those, “You can’t put it down” kind of books. It was for me, and I know the story of Bonhoeffer and have read a fair amount of Bonhoeffer’s writings.

Now I want to spend more time with Bonhoeffer and also with Hendrix’s other books. It is not enough to say he is an accomplished award winning illustrator. He knows how to tell a story that keeps the reader ready to turn the next page to see what happens next.

After finishing the book, I have started making a list of who to get copies to. In our age of pandemic and political turmoil we need the witness of Bonhoeffer and this illustrated biography would be a great place to start. Buy a copy of the print edition, get an ebook, check it out of your public library (my public library, Mobile Public Library in Mobile, Alabama, has several print copies and links to the Hoopla ebook). But, by all means get the book, read it, consider what Bonhoeffer was willing to do as a “Faithful” spy and a thorough-going “man of God.”

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}


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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

So! – Can You Tell Me What to Believe?

If the title of Ken Crispin’s book, A Skeptic’s Guide to Belief, gives you the impression that he will tell you what to believe and how to believe “in spite of” 21st century skepticism towards all things religious, you will be very sadly disappointed.

Very, very sadly disappointed.

It isn’t that he is hostile to things religious or things scientific. It is the case that he expects folks to think for themselves, to rationally consider the claims, proposals and arguments of theists, atheists, and agnostics and come to their own considered opinions.

Yes, that means you may be required, no, in his opinion ARE required to know what you think and why you think that way.

And, he offers the committed reader a start down that road.

He surveys a lot of the landscape of belief, skepticism, reasoning, and disbelief. He does it even handedly and which we should consider this work a “survey” he does dig down in several places, like Richard Dawkins arguments against theism and religion.

Be prepared to hear from many voices. Crispin has obviously read deeply and widely in the literature on all sides of these “debates” and brings to our attention the contributions of many writers. And he is not a stranger to documentation and footnotes. And that is a strength in this book. While he is surveying many ideas and writers, he leaves a trail the reader can follow to more deeply explored ideas and writers that capture his attention.

Know that Crispin doesn’t let anyone “off the hook.” Just because a writer gives the impression they are of a superior mind and intellect, claims to have the best of science on their side or can recite all the classical arguments for the existence of God, Crispin will not hold back applying his skills at logic and argumentation (he is a lawyer and former judge after all) to show the weaknesses and strengths in their positions. And even the holes in their arguments.

Oh, let’s not forget his sense of humor. At least that’s what I call it. He writes with a dry humor that can disarm and gently pick holes in what he sees as poor or lazy reasoning. He moves fast over much literature but with an ease that keeps the reader engaged.

As I read more into his book, I began making a list of folks I needed to buy copies for. For many years I was told I was too critical when it came to things religious, and needed to relax and not “think so much at church.” That never set well with me. If more of my church friends were willing to read Crispin’s book, and spend some time developing the “why” of their beliefs and not just the “whats,” they would have a much better chance of communicating with many more people.

Give Crispin a read. You might see why skepticism is both a skill and attitude that can enrich your life, and yes, even your “believing” or “disbelieving.”

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}


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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Does your journaling read like this?

A couple of weeks ago I posted a review about an album I had received, Timeless Quaker Wisdom in Plainsong. Then this past Saturday morning I was looking over some books at home and saw Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (edited by Bernard McGinn) (This link will take you to the book at Amazon.com and if purchased from that link will reward me with a few pennies.)

As I flipped through some of the pages I happened to stop at pages 360-361, which was an excerpt from George Fox’s Journal. I thought it a funny coincidence following up on the album pairing quotes from Quaker writers with plainsong.

And then my eyes fell to this –

“But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people, for I saw that there was none among them who could speak to my condition. When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then oh, then, I heard a voice which said: “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition”; and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.”

“Then the Lord let me see why there was none on earth who could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all glory …. that Jesus might have the preeminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith and power. Then when God doth work, who shall hinder it? And this I knew experimentally.”

“My desire after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the Scriptures that spoke of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not, but by revelation, as he who hath the key did open (Rev 3:7), and as the Father of Life drew me to his Son by his Spirit. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see his love, which was endless and eternal, surpassing all the knowledge that men have in the natural state, or can obtain from history or books, and that love let me see myself as I was without him.”

I remember reading something from Fox’s journal years ago and had a hard time understanding him but when I read these words the other day, they seemed so clear and sensible.

Is that, in part at least, what Fox is writing about? There comes a time when you hear The Spirit’s Voice and all else begins to fall in place from there.

Can you recall a time (or times) when you so clearly heard The Spirit’s Voice, it made “perfect” sense, and you had a clear vision of where to go from there?

Give it a moment or two or three (or more) and see what comes to mind.

May I interrupt your thoughts for a moment to offer you something from my experience.

I recall an early morning class in church history in which the professor always offered at the beginning of class a thought from a writer he considered worth hearing from.

That morning he read a couple of sentences from Thomas Merton. I think it was the first time I heard of Thomas Merton and I KNOW it was the first time I HEARD Thomas Merton. It was as though Merton spoke directly in my soul. It was truly a deeply spiritual moment. If I had not been so intimidated by the class, I might have shouted “AMEN!” I didn’t. But that day began my reading of Merton and began my finding some of the depths in his writing. I am sure I have missed more of the deep things he wrote about, than I have noticed, but I am thankful for what the professor offered that day.

What inbreaking of The Spirit can you recall today? Can you express thankfulness for those divine moments?

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Part Memoir, Part Homily, Part Call to Arms, Part Tears, Part Hopefulness – Entirely Challenging

That’s at least some of what I find in Christopher VanHall’s “Reborn Again: Crucifying Christendom & Resurrecting a Radical.”

Christopher is willing to bear his soul to take us on a journey that not only goes geographically coast to coast across the USA but covers the spiritual geography from fundamentalist Christianity to a thorough going progessive Chrisitianity, with stops along the way to consider worship styles and litugures, biblical exegesis, and how Christianity morphed into Christendom and Right Wing Politics.

Do you think that is too much (or impossible) for 200 pages? Maybe not! But you can read the book and see for yourself.

Maybe the book needs a “warning label”? Something like – “This book may be hazardous to your casual Christianity, your easy believism, your self-satisfied religious life, and your closed mind.” Oh, and did I add the book might make you angry?

And it will anger some on both sides of the “battle” between Neo-Fundamentalism and Progressive Christianity. And that is as it should be. Both parties need to know who is on the other side and what they are thinking. Not what “we” think they are thinking and doing, but what they really are about. Christopher can help us all with that. He has lived on both sides.

Oh, did I mention, Christopher has some definite ideas on why so many young people leave the church and some definite ideas on what they don’t find at church, what they are looking for and what might help them start finding a genuine faith.

And he does all this with clear writing that is fast paced enough to not lose your attention.

Whether you consider yourself fundalmentalist, conservative, progressive, recovering fundamentalist, spiritual but not religious, atheist, seeker, or just plain curious, you really should pick up this book and find something to anger you, worry you and inspire you.

Christopher has hope and he wants you to get on-board with that.

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}


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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.