Psalm 148

The angels have every reason to boast:
in their mission beyond time and form,
in their gift of eternal song.
But see: they brag on God alone.

The sun has every reason to puff its chest:
all eyes turn toward it with every day,
its dawn is the hope of every heart.
But no: it praises the Creator.

The mountains and hills know their swagger:
they are parabolic obstacles and havens,
mysteries and revelations of folklore.
But note: they glorify God’s name.

The fire and hail, snow and wind know their fame:
as life measures its seasons by their impact,
as they toy with comfort and fear.
But listen: their tribute is made to the Sovereign.

So our egos aggrandize themselves in vain:
we who wilt under the sun and rain,
who stumble and wander in need of guides.
Take heed: exaltation belongs to God.

Preorder: Disciplines 2020

I’m delighted to have contributed to the forthcoming Disciplines 2020, the popular annual devotional from The Upper Room that is now available to preorder.

The week of reflections I’ve written are part of the Lenten season for 2020, covering texts such as Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones and Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead by Jesus. Across seven Lenten days, I wrestle with God’s timing, with the courage of faith amidst despair, and with the frustrating wonder of divine mystery.

My writing for Disciplines 2020 also includes this random confession:

When I was a young girl, I wanted to be either Miss Piggy or Wonder Woman; both are strong “can do” characters who take care of themselves (Miss Piggy with her fist, Wonder Woman with her lasso). They are larger than life, stronger than average. They could stand on their own. Yet I am neither superhero nor Muppet nor deity.

It’s quite possible that this not-so-secret longing still holds true for me.

Disciplines 2020 features 53 writers who previously contributed to the beloved Weavings journal, including Don Saliers, Deborah Smith Douglas, Roberta Bondi, Michael Downey, and many more.

Preorder now for the September 2019 release!

Review: Paul and His Friends

Last year, a delightfully illustrated children’s book was released, introducing young readers to the leaders of the early church. Paul and His Friends: A Child’s First Book about the Apostles, written by Rebekah McLeod Hutto and illustrated by Jacob Popčak, is a feast for the eyes and a much-needed addition to Sunday school bookshelves.

With Paul as their traveling guide and narrator, children meet Paul’s network of friends and learn about their contributions to the life of the early church: the hospitality of Ananias, the leadership of Lydia, the faith of Timothy, and more.

The imagination of Jacob Popčak brings each of Paul’s friends to life as an animal, chosen specifically to illustrate certain characteristics of each friend. (Priscilla and Aquila are wise elephants. Timothy is a shy gazelle.) The illustrations truly make Paul and His Friends stellar. From a camel to a badger, a hyena to a rhino (or a unicorn?), the early church leaders are shown to be as diverse as they surely were across the regions to which Paul travels.

The story itself is really two-in-one, which creates an awkward trip for the reader at the juncture of the two. The book’s first theme — Paul’s introduction of his friends in the early church — yields to a second theme — Jesus’ lessons on friendship — without clear transition of the narrative perspective as Paul’s first-person voice goes missing for four pages. (Is it Paul who’s reflecting on Jesus’ ministry? Is it the book/author who’s inserting this lesson about Jesus?) I suppose it’s an odd observation to say that Jesus is misplaced in a story about the church … but in this particular book, the interrupted narrative does indeed read as though Jesus is an obligatory afterthought.

That said, Paul and His Friends could be an excellent basis for a three-lesson series on friendship, whether in Sunday school or children’s sermons, using those odd breaks in the narrative to distinguish the three lessons:

  1. Learning the names of the early church leaders as introduced by Paul, and remembering that it takes many people (friends) to work together to lead the Church;
  2. Discussing the actions that comprise friendship, including the ways we respond when one friend hurts or disappoints another;
  3. Highlighting the diverse gifts that we all bring to friendship, using the book’s epilogue about animal characters to celebrate each child’s unique personality and participation in community.

Paul and His Friends is a visual delight and a useful educational tool, which will be an asset to many bookshelves in homes and churches!