Month: August 2015

Summer 2015 Read, Watched, Listened to…

Well, since I dropped C off at PreK today, it feels like a good day to call the summer officially over.

Here’s what I’ve read, watched, and listened to this summer. (At least, what I think is good enough to recommend.)


The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking– I still have about 40 pages to go on this one, but I’m including it in this list because I highly recommend it. A book that debunks a lot of pop psychology about positive thinking and goal setting as effective ways of achieving happiness and success. Great examples. Thought provoking. Used it in a sermon.

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God– It’s hard to call this book “read” because it’s the type of book to be picked up again and savored and understood again and again. Rilke is a late 19th century/early 20th century Austrian poet whose poems are originally written in German. The most lovely theme of these poems, in my opinion, is how they develop the idea of God’s dependence on humanity. I welled up at these words: What will you do, God, when I die? Beautiful.

Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor Book)– I can’t remember where or how I heard about this book, but I’m glad I did!  This is an autobiographical work about Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood in the 1960s and 1970s. She divided her time between the South and North. It’s written in beautiful free verse.

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White HouseI read an excerpt of this in Reader’s Digest and was hooked! I plowed through this one in a couple of days. It tells stories about the inside of the white house from the perspective of many of the butlers, chefs and others who work on the inside. I loved it, and it made me want to read more about presidential history.

The Art Forger: A NovelI love fiction books about art history and art forgery and art heists. This book has a little bit of all of those. It reads like an action-adventure movie. I thought it got a liiiiittle absurd at times (just like a good movie, right?) but overall, it was great.

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern ArtKeeping on the art forgery theme, this is a non-fiction work about an infamous art forger named John Drewe. I found this one a little more cumbersome and tedious than the previous one (The Art Forger) but still good.

The Light of the World: A Memoir– I saved the best for last. This was, hands down, my favorite book of the summer, (and my favorite book of 2015, so far.) It’s gripping and haunting and gorgeous. I didn’t want it to end. I hesitate to give books such high recommendations, lest they disappoint. After all, books are like works of art, they hit people in different ways. This is Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir of her marriage and the grief that followed the sudden loss of her husband. I think the thing I love most about it is how she so artfully records the details of everyday moments. I firmly believe that it is the everyday moments that make our lives extraordinary — the simple meals we enjoy together, the fruit at the market, the kiss goodbye in the morning. This book captures that in such a painfully beautiful way.


I’m waaaay late to the party on THIS TED talk, but holy cow! Watched it twice.

Forger…Who knew John Travolta was making new and good stuff? (Note the Art Forgery theme… again!)

Listened to:

I’m a fan of This American Life in general, but this two-part episode was paradigm shifting…

THISsong on repeat thanks to Elias’s  recent obsession


FCC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. -TMS

On How We View our Congregations (A Thought for Tired Pastors)

Awhile ago an excellent pastor with many more years experience than I gave me this little book to borrow. “You can’t have it,” she said “but you can borrow it.” I took one look at the cover and thought “Ummm….” I know one should not judge a book by its cover, but there was something about the cover that screamed “This will not be helpful” to me. Trusting her judgement, though, I began to read the little meditations, one by one. It wasn’t long before I realized this is the type of book one keeps at hand at all times. It’s the type of book that is passed on from person to person. It’s the type of book you loan out and say “I need it back.”
I did give my friend her copy back, but only after I bought a copy for myself. I refer to it whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed or insufficient or tired. It contains little poems called “thoughts,” and each thought contains many profound truths. For those striving to develop or maintain what we pastors (and others) refer to as a non-anxious presence, this book gives profound insight.
Though there have been many lines in this book that have spoken to me, the one that I return to time and time again is this one from thought 17, called Congregation
How do you feel about your congregation 
deep within your heart? 
That is what they will become. 
Powerful. Pastoring a congregation is a unique calling. People view the work of ministry as being “set apart,” and with good reason. On the other hand, being a minister or pastor is very much like any occupation or calling. There are good days and bad days. There are times of productivity and results and times where we feel like we’re spinning our wheels. Joys and challenges. I feel fortunate to have a job that I love, even when there are the inevitable trials and difficult days.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in some online spaces where pastors gather and that is the trend of putting down one’s congregation.  I understand the desire to blow off steam, for sure. Everyone needs a safe space to vent or share frustration, but it makes me so sad to hear people I know are talented and gifted pastors putting down their congregations and writing them off as stupid or idiots.
Worse, still, is the affirming echo chamber that I hear when a fellow pastor does express frustration with his or her congregation. Rather than listening critically and offering empathy or help, it seems that we’re all too quick to type in a hasty comment of agreement and piling on. Does this really help our colleagues or their congregations?
More helpful, I think, might be a reminder that our congregations are flawed, just as we are. Some congregations have real systemic problems and need real intensive therapy (just as we, ourselves, go through periods of instability and sickness and need to reach out for care and therapy). For the most part, though, our congregations are doing the best they can. Our congregations aren’t filled with idiots who are trying to make our lives miserable. They’re filled with flawed people who keep showing up at church, listening for God’s word. If we feel attacked, we might very well be the target of an attack, but it does not necessarily follow that our congregations are idiots and stupid. Maybe they need help. Maybe we do, too.
I write with fear and trembling, because I don’t want to be preachy to my fellow ministers, all of whom are putting one foot in front of the other, just as I am. On the other hand, I don’t feel like the message is my own, it’s a gift from Rev. Martin, in his little book The Art of Pastoring. It changed my perspective, and maybe it will change someone else’s, too.
What do you feel about your congregation, 
deep within your heart? 
That is what they will become. 

#EndFamilyDetention #EnditNow

We are outraged that the Department of Justice has chosen to ignore the pleas of pediatricians, psychologists, faith leaders and (most importantly) U.S. voters by insisting that it is morally acceptable to incarcerate infants and children as they await due process for their asylum cases. The negative affects of Family Detention are well documented and we have little need to restate what has been said ad infinitum, #EndFamilyDetention #EnditNow 











A TEA-RRIFIC $2 VBS Teacher Appreciation Gift #groan

tea-rrific graphic

About May, I start seeing a lot of hits on THIS post of Three VBS teacher appreciation gifts that are less than $2 each from 2 years ago. Clearly people are searching for inexpensive ways to say thank you to VBS teachers. I hear you! Thought I’d add to the list by showing you what we did this year..

This year’s thank you was plastic tumblers with iced tea bags that have a note that says “thanks for being ‘TEA-RRIFIC'” (Picture all of the kids slapping their knees and saying “ha ha ha” when presented with such pun-erific awesomeness.) Thank you Pinterest, home of all things pun and appreciation. As I said in the other post, my preference for appreciation gifts is that they be consumable (something to eat or drink or plant) rather than another item to put on a shelf or in a jar. I made an exception for these, though, because 1. They were adorable and 2. I think these types of reusable tumblers with straws make a nice way to bring lemonade or iced coffee or water from home and thus reduce extra trash from water bottles or coffee shops. 3. (Truth alert) I was in a rush. These are super easy.

1. Get some plastic tumblers with lids and straws. I found mine at Dollar Tree for $1 each. (Here are some from the Dollar Tree website). If you have to buy them from Amazon, it might push your overall cost over the $2 per item promised in the headline. The cheapest I could find them on Amazon were these which are $35 for 12 cups. (Might be worth it though, because the quality might be better…)

2. Put in some tea bags that are specifically formulated for iced tea.

3. Tie on a tag with ribbon or string. You can google around for one that looks super fancy, or write your own, or use this one I made, just for you! 


Yay! All done! Thanks VBS teachers!


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The best blueberry-lime sauce for your ice-cream! #offtopic #delicious #nomnomnom

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for this:


I mean… yum.

Before I had this blog, I blogged at Mrs. Smith Cooks. I don’t post there nearly as much as I used to, but I have a whole file full of things that I’d like to share. The cool thing about recipe blogs is that they never “expire” per se, so all of the recipes on there are just as delicious as ever. It’s sort of an online diary of my favorite things and little recipes and techniques that delight me. This blueberry sauce is truly delightful, I think. It’s simple and special, and it doesn’t take much time to make. Bonus points for the sticky toddler faces and hands that devour this sauce and leave purple fingerprints on the walls. Won’t have that forever. Head on over to Mrs. Smith Cooks and check out the recipe.