2016 Reading Challenge

Happy New Year, friends.

I wanted to finish 75 books this year. I made it to 76 as of today, and I feel like maybe one to two books could be added based on the amount of news articles and blogs I read on a day-to-day basis.

So without further delay, the high- and low-lights of my 2016 reading. I know you have all been waiting with bated breath.

books

Favourites

Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue
The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Most disappointing

Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson

Why?
I love gardening metaphors combined with spirituality, but aside from a few encouraging moments, this book just felt like a “pray THIS way and things will go right for you.” And “when things aren’t going right, that definitely means God is ‘pruning’ you.” I really struggle with the idea of a god that intentionally inflicts pain on you because you “need” it, or that all pain in life – or what I perceive as pain – is divinely appointed.

What book would I recommend to everyone I know?

I can’t choose just one.

Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Most surprising

Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris

Why?
A very romantic, dark, and poetic book – seemed very long to me – and I enjoyed most of it. I found it beautiful and enlightening.

Changed me the most

Did God Kill Jesus? by Tony Jones

Why?
It was freeing and also sad for me to realize much of my church experience was built around the toxic theology of penal substitutionary atonement theory: it creates an angry, vengeful God that needs murder and violence as appeasement. What kind of good news is that?

Sneaky favourite:

Spiritual Migration by Brian McLaren

Hardest one to get through

Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Champagne-Butterfield

Why?
This book I found to be full of dense theological machinations around sexuality and personhood. I forced myself to finish solely because I wanted to understand her journey, albeit through a theology I am not a fan of. I appreciated her vulnerability and desire to make an impact on the community she lives in.

Best novel

Roots by Alex Haley.

Best novel series

Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. The hightlight of my reading year was finding this series, compliments of Sarah Bessey.

What were some of your favourite reads of 2016?

Love: An Incarnation

Merry Christmas.  I wrote this and shared it at my church earlier this month.

May we all love until it hurts.  And then love some more.

-Heidi


A reflection by Heidi Archer
for the What Are We Waiting For? series

Hi, friends.  I am so glad to be here with you all tonight.  It’s a great honour to be able to share a reflection with you on this first week of Advent.

Marnie asked me to think about where I have experienced the Incarnation in my life, and I ran through of a list of things in my mind where I could say, yup, saw it there, in that sunset; when David kissed my forehead when I was asleep, but not really asleep; in my mom looking after my ornery 92-year-old grandfather; in that poem, in that book, in this song.

You know, all the usual or “obvious” places one would say they experience God or see God.  And these are all lovely things. But I didn’t feel I should speak about that.  I didn’t know what I should say, but I knew I had four weeks to think it over, so whatever.

The Incarnation in my life.  Where do I experience this?  Where have I experienced this?  A past version of myself would have said in nature, in the ocean, I hear it in a child’s laughter, I see it in my mom’s real smile, I hear it in my dad’s giggles when he watches something goofy on TV.

Current me still senses the divine in the mundane, but really not mundane, everyday life, but somehow in the last couple of years, the Incarnation has turned dark, disappeared, and then reappeared in ways that I do not expect – in new communities, like this one at St. B’s; in a growing family (my brother-in-law Travis got married earlier this year); but most markedly for me, the Incarnation has been present in pain and suffering.

I didn’t ask it to appear there; I didn’t want it to either, if I’m honest with myself.

I think I wanted the Incarnation to show up in one glorious, clean, painless identifiable experience that I could always go back to and say, there it is!  But I’m not sure the Incarnation of God is a one-and-done type of experience, especially when we think about something like the Christ child.

The Incarnation now for me is quieter than laughter, more intense than a beautiful sunset.  

But I have to completely reorient myself in order to sense it.  I have to be still, to be quiet.  I have to be willing to entertain the thought I could be wrong, and willing to admit that I am wrong, period. The more I think about this, the more I realize that Incarnation involves risk, great risk.

A theme kept coming up the more I contemplated the readings from tonight and about the arrival of Advent.  That theme is falling in love.  Initially I felt a bit uncomfortable with that thought, and I didn’t know where to go with it.

Falling in love?  Like, you mean with your life partner or spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend?  Of course that’s not all it is.  But I didn’t grow up in a household or a tradition that spoke of falling in love with any other aim than your eventual marriage.

Of course you love people, but the process of growing to love *all* people was left fuzzy.  Falling in love was strictly talked about in the romantic and therefore marital sense.  I guess that made it safe.  Predictable.

This year has been a wild ride.  And a painful one.

Almost a year ago this month, I was on my way out of the church.  I was so done with the crushing weight of having to believe the correct things in order to be a part of the group.

David and I decided to finally stop attending a (lovely) evangelical community here in the city and at least try something different.

So Christmas Eve last year, we walked into Christ Church, right up here in the chancel, and experienced our first Anglican Christmas Eve service.

I sang louder than I ever remember singing in a group of strangers before (I do not participate easily in public displays of singing), the strong smell of incense nearly made me sneeze more than once, and the communion wafer tasted strange to me (and got stuck in my teeth).

The sermon that night is vague in my mind, but the one thing that seemed to reach through the darkness was the word “beloved.”  

Even on my way out of the church, I loved that word.  I have it tattooed on myself as a reminder of the precious few truths I can hold onto in this life.  I thought, okay, fine, God, maybe I’m not done yet.  Maybe.

After some half-hearted Googling, David and I showed up at St. B’s a couple weeks later, I think, and I remember being slightly sick and very emotional that night.

This was the night I began to fall in love with this community.  Each and every week, your smiles, your laughter, your hugs, the bread, the wine, the reflections, and yes, even the singing have made me hope again.

The Incarnation showed up when I didn’t even know I was looking for it.

Then in April I went to Greece to work in a refugee camp for about a week or so – both a long and short amount of time in the aid world.  I thought going over there to go meet some people fleeing their homelands and try to understand why.

I can go serve them where they are.  I can love them, I thought somewhat foolishly, not realizing what this all entailed.  I definitely didn’t anticipate falling in love with people I had precious little time with. I didn’t mean to.

Honestly, I didn’t want to fall in love with people so different from me, and I’m not referring only to the people in the camps either – the people on the team I was working on totally wrecked me.

I didn’t know.  I didn’t see it coming.  Love.

The Incarnation shows me what I could never have seen otherwise – that falling in love is a commitment to the unknown, a rushing of up of the Earth to meet me where I am: to love me – to love us! – so we can live the way we were made, like Isaiah speaks about in one of the readings today.

Living in love, for me, has required me to open my hands and hold them out, willing to risk, to hurt.  It is reckless and foolish and beautiful all at once.  As I think about Advent this year, so different than any other Christmas in my life, I am overcome with a sense of reckless anticipation.  Where will Love show up this year?  Or, more accurately, where I will finally be able to see Love?

I close my year with this prayer, from a song by the band Gungor:

i climbed up a lion of rock
there overlooking the swirls of the world
oh the infinite mystery is solved
fighting the suffering while seeing the gift
love is the yes to it all
somehow i know that my heart will keep breaking
but may it stay open and soft
till i am finally back to the source of it all

Today’s shame

I am so sorry, Bana.
I am so sorry, Madjt.  Is your family still alive?  Have they been shot or gassed to death?  Are you still in Greece, waiting for a meeting that never seems to come?
I am so sorry.
I am ashamed.
I am ashamed.
I am ashamed.
I am ashamed the governments that can stop this madness are cowards.
I am sorry they don’t care about you.
Their lips say they care, but their hearts lie.
I am sorry my own government, past and present, which represents me, cannot or will not do anything to save you.
I am ashamed I cannot stop this.  I am sorry.  I have no right – we have no right – to beg for forgiveness from you, dear people of Aleppo…
Of Syria.
Of Iraq.
Of Rwanda.
Of Srebrenica.
Of Darfur.
I am so ashamed that in my short life my privilege and safety has cost you your lives.
I am so sad my Grandpa fought in a war, had to see so much death and bloodshed – for what?  Here we are again.  Still.  Always.
Please don’t tell me he killed and watched others be killed for freedom and democracy.  For whom?
Stop lying to me.  Stop lying to us.
I am so sorry, Bana.
You are never far from my mind, Madjt.
I weep with you now and always.