Tag Archives: austincnm

The Art of Preaching and Teaching (Review: “Rebuilding Your Message”)

I used to think I was indecisive. Now I’m not so sure. I can usually come down squarely on one side or the other about my opinions on books. Bumped? Loved it. Wild at Heart? Did not love it. Then I read Rebuilt, and I mostly liked it. I liked its foundational ideas, although I thought it had some flaws. And now I have read one of the follow-up volumes: Rebuilding Your Message: Practical Tools to Strengthen Your Preaching and Teaching, again by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran. It is definitely practical, but I don’t know if I’m totally on board with these practices.

"Street closed" sign.

This, for example, is not a good message to send. (Public domain image from bossfight.co)

In general, I’m ambivalent about this book. Some of the advice is definitely needed. I agree with these authors (and others) that forming disciples is the true mission of the Church. That is where we need to direct our energy. I’m totally behind that. I agree less that focusing on attracting new disciples is the best action plan to fulfill that mission. Forming and strengthening existing disciples should inspire them to make new disciples. I’m all about reclaiming the lost sheep in the new evangelization, and that seems to be the fundamental difference that keeps me from loving books by Fr. White and Corcoran.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Faith, Consumerism, and More (Review: “The Year Without a Purchase”)

Minimalist stories don’t usually contain much God-talk. Some have hints of spirituality in their suggestions that you can declutter your soul, make time for what’s important, and find peace in a life that’s not so full of stuff. On the flip side, there is plenty of writing about how to grow in your spiritual life. Not many stories combine the two. The Year Without a Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting takes a stab at it. Scott Dannemiller describes the year he spent trying to get back to basics and the humorous journey of those tricky twelve months.

The family’s backstory is particularly intriguing. Scott and his wife, Gabby, had been married and both working full-time for several years when they started to feel that existential pull telling them that life isn’t about dying with the most toys. They received a call (spiritual and literal) to spend a year living in Guatemala, serving in a ministry of presence with a poor community. Rather than building a school or digging a well, they mostly just spent time among the people and engaged in the sharing of lives. They had very few possessions, little clothing, no computers, simple food, and only one bath per week. It was transformative.

Review of "The Year Without a Purchase" at AustinCNM.com

This basket of veggies was okay to purchase. A fancier basket to store them in: not okay.
(Public domain image from bossfight.co)

But the transformation didn’t stick. They returned to the U.S., had a couple of kids, and resumed their lives as consumers. When that pull started pulling again, they couldn’t pack up and leave the country for a year, so they decided to try going a whole year without buying anything.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Mathing Up the Faith (Review: “Arriving at Amen”)

I love a good conversion story. I’ve made a few attempts at writing my own, but I have never found quite the right angle of approach. It’s not the struggle to find something other than God in which to place my happiness, like it was for Jen Fulwiler. It’s not the attempt to make up my own system of belief and finding that the system already existed, like it was for G.K. Chesterton. After reading this most recent conversion story, I am convinced that I need to find my own schema for describing my journey toward God. For Leah Libresco, online atheist to newbie Catholic, it was a series of scaffolds between the worlds she knew so well and the traditions she slowly came to embrace. She shares her metaphysical bridges in Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer.

It is no hyperbole to say that I am not into math or science. I studied engineering in high school, and I continue to befriend engineers, so I can speak the lingo, but my forays into the field are child’s play compared to Leah Libresco’s. Hers is the most intellectual story of finding God that I have ever read. It was a challenge to my mind and my soul to identify with her on the journey.

I felt my heart breaking as she explained her inability (at first) to accept the idea of mercy, preferring a cut-and-dry system of rule-breaking and punishment. I find kindred spirits in literature, too (although mine are not from Les Misérables; what a classy favorite!) I have taken up social dancing, so I can understand the process of internalizing that rhythm as a springboard to Rosary-guided contemplation. I struggle with Reconciliation as rationalization; I also find healing in acknowledging my brokenness.

Review of "Arriving at Amen," by Leah Libresco

Leah Libresco describes herself as still just “flailing toward Christ.” But she can dance, so it might look like this.
(Image CC0 from BossFight.co)

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Marriage Advice for Singles: Scott Stanley on How to Lower Your Risk of Divorce

In case you were wondering, I am still not married. Thus, I still keep my eyes and ears open for marriage advice to tuck away for later (thanks, secret Pinterest boards!) and for advice on how to become unsingled. That’s like a conscious uncoupling, but in the other direction.

Not all of the advice I gather is specifically religious. As many popes and Catholic scientists have reminded us, the Church is not opposed to science. Even Pope Francis studied chemistry. In the “soft” sciences, I’ve always been fascinated by research done in psychology and sociology, although I have no desire to enter the field myself. I seek to understand humanity on an empirical level as well as a spiritual one.

I’m learning plenty about building strong spiritual foundations for a lifelong marriage. Unfortunately, investigative data into what makes a marriage last until death (i.e. not end in divorce) is hard to come by. As University of Denver researcher Dr. Scott Stanley points out, in addition to the problem of all the subjects outliving the researchers, by the time anyone gets the results, the generation they apply to will already be dead or divorced. That’s actually the goal, in a backwards sort of way: in order to see whether a specific group of marriages end in death/widowhood or divorce, you have to wait until almost everyone dies. When you finally have results, they apply to a generation that is mostly dead. Thus, the “half of all marriages end in divorce” statistic literally does not apply to people marrying today. But it’s not zero, and that’s not good. So, scientifically, what can we do to aim for the best camp, the marriages that last for a lifetime?

Looking at the brighter side, Stanley offers a list of advice for singles about how to lower the risk of divorce. That’s right up my alley. He summarizes the conclusions from research, his own and others’, regarding factors for risk of divorce. Compared to reading all the studies yourself, his articles are a piece of cake.

Advice for lowering your risk of divorce that is a piece of cake. Wedding cake. See what I did there?

Wedding cake. See what I did there?
(Photo by Victoria Watkin-Jones. CC BY-NC-ND.)

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

From Old Adam to New in 7 Easy Sketches (Review: “Bible Basics for Catholics”)

A "walking" globe toy on the story of Noah.

You can learn the story of the Bible in seven easy stick figures. Several summers ago, I took a weekly crash course on salvation history. It absolutely changed the way I see the Bible. Have you ever heard the prophets or psalms talking about Israel and Judah as though they’re separate places and been very confused? That was me. A little Bible study changed that. For me, it took some long drives to Lakeway and Jeff Cavins. You can learn the same Bible storyline using the easy-to-read, info-packed Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History, by John Bergsma. You won’t regret it.

I’ve written many times about how Catholics don’t read the Bible and how the lack of Catholic biblical literacy is terrible. My standard suggestion is to start by reading through the lectionary, even just on Sundays. Once you have that under your belt, though, it helps to know what the Bible is all about.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

The Hidden Sweetness of Marriage (Review: Humanum Series, Part Four)

“Marriage is hard.” I don’t quite know when it happened, but at some point, that became a movement. I’ve never been married, but from what I understand, it is, in fact, hard. The problem is that marriage is apparently so hard, and the “marriage is hard” movement so strong, that marriage now seems too hard. Tucked underneath the political frenzy over same-sex marriage is the reality that marriage itself isn’t as popular as it once was. I don’t need to list statistics to convince you of that.

I’ve written before about the Humanum Colloquium, held last fall in Rome. Humanum was a gathering of experts from a variety of world religions and Christian traditions, along with philosophy, to argue in favor of marriage between one man and one woman in a complementary, lifelong, life-giving union. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke about seven critical moments in the development of marriage and the family. His speech is riveting; I loved it, and I wrote a response over at Austin CNM. But it wasn’t until recent weeks that I watched the series of six short films produced by Humanum, and once again, I was blown away.

I recommend them all, but my favorite was Part 4, “A Hidden Sweetness: The Power of Marriage Amid Hardship.” Watch the video at the production company’s site, and read my extended commentary at Austin CNM.

A Response to “What Sucks about the Catholic Church”

Every spring brings the Church a batch of shiny new Catholics, and every year I see the same list of complaints. No, not the ones about people “taking your pew.” The ones about the niggling weaknesses in the Church. Many adults who enter the Catholic Church, especially those who were members of other Christian traditions first, are confident that they have found the truth, but they see persistent problems here. For Albert Little, a newly confirmed Catholic, this takes the form of a particular list: “What Sucks about the Catholic Church.” Mildly vulgar language aside, he makes three primary points that caused me to reflect on some blind spots remaining in our faith.

A Response to "What Sucks about the Catholic Church," at AustinCNM.com

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

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