RevGalBookPals: Healing Spiritual Wounds

Lately, I have been paying attention to negative space. Not just space where the energy is 515o5ugeajl-_sx329_bo1204203200_less than positive, but negative space with regard to art-
making, language, and emotional processing. Negative space focuses on what isn’t. What wasn’t. What didn’t. Wha wouldn’t. Negative space can drive us to the other extreme in all kinds of ways, sprinting away from pain into a overzealous commitment to do the opposite of the thing that scarred us deeply.

The negative space created by a wounding church or hurtful church people leaves space that aches in its emptiness. The echoing lies in the negative space speak untruths about God and about our own goodness. That echo reverberates in our lives- affecting our health, our choices, our habits, our relationships, and our faith. In order to live with this hollowness, we set up a system that feeds on the negative space. But negative space has nothing to give.

3a Carol Howard Merritt writes that people who are inclined toward faith will find themselves at the edge of this negative space, again and again. They long to be filled and yet the echoes of the negative spce seem too broad, too deep, and too loud to be overcome. Overcoming this pain with healing, positive truth is a real and tangible possibility. This is the premise, the structure, and the achievement of Merritt’s book Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.

Within the book, Merritt shares some of her own story as well as that of others she knows. The pain of church lies, leader deceptions,  and the religious idolatry of the appearance of perfection and prosperity are not the telos (end) of God’s desire for the church or for any part of creation. Resurrection and renewal as a spiritual person, in communion with God and others,  is entirely possible, achievable, and worth desiring. This book teaches those lessons gently, like learning how to swim.

You don’t need to conjure God; you simply need to find ways to awake to God’s presence and deepen your connection. (61)

Beyond her gentle prose, Merritt offers clearly structured exercises for contemplation and action. Her metaphors and examples help the reader sit with pain and roll it over like a stone in the mind. As the hurtful thoughts are rolled, their sharpness slowly smoothes. Their ability to inflict pain dulls.

Merritt’s own story- with the religion of her college years, with her father, with her spiritual journey- allow the reader to see that trauma can cause physical pain, grief, illness, and long-term internal and external work. The act of helping someone else in healing can bring healing to one’s own heart, as she often demonstrates.

Toward the end of the book, Merritt writes a litany of the power of biblical women. She reclaims their stories into her own and sees their strengths as a witness to God’s love and work through women. Merritt’s awakening in this section feels very open-ended, as though she wants the reader to know that she is still healing, still discovering, still being loved by the Divine into a new fullness. And because it is happening to and for and through her, the same is true for you.

I highly recommend this book. It would, in particular, make a good Lenten reading for individuals or small groups. Take a positive step to fill negative space in your life with healing and hope. Reading this book can be that step.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at and She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: The Cure for Sorrow

There are some books that you just need. Not because you are a pastor or a particularly dedicated lay person or because you preach or are waiting for a call or are even a Christian, but you need this book because you are human. You need this book because it will give you words for when you don’t have them and it will help you shape your own words of which you feel you have too many.

Jan Richardson‘s The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief is such a 512z96heoql-_sx312_bo1204203200_book. Written after her husband’s unexpected death in the days, weeks, and months that followed, this book is a rending and ashen path of what it is like to feel the gape, pull, and scar of deep grief. Each blessing is like a contract with the reader- words that Richardson has rolled around in her heart, head, hands and is giving to you, like a rough-edged rock, to handle and contemplate.

The titles like “Blessing in the Anger”, ” Blessing for Falling Into a New Layer of Grief”, “Blessing for Dining Alone”, or “Blessing of Courage” draw you to their pages only to find what you didn’t expect. These are not hearty, feasting blessings nor are they small amuse-bouche snippets. These are the bone broth of blessings- the words and phrases that come when everything else has been stripped away, most nourishing and the violence of the sourcing was inescapable.

It will take your breath away/ how the grieving waits for you/ in the most ordinary moments. (42) 


People will want to help/ when you cannot know/ what could help, what could ever make/ the world stop falling away/ from beneath your feet,/ from your heart that/ will never be here,/ will never beat here,/ in the same way. (27)


Because I do not know/ any cure for sorrow/ but to let ourselves/ sorrow. (122)

Do not buy this book anticipating funerals or how it be useful in Lent or on Longest Night or even for a friend. I recommend this book for you- a book to read when you feel your feelings, think your thinks, and are overwhelmed by the doings of the day. There is deep grief afoot in the world and in our lives. It is good to have a friend who speaks the language. A Cure for Sorrow is the friend that such a horrible, quotidian journey requires.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at and She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: Threading My Prayer Rug

Problem: You would like to help people in your congregation or community learn more about Islam. Ideally, this would happen with a visiting Muslim speaker or a visit to a mosque. Maybe your community does not have a mosque or there are not any speakers that you know or both of those steps are still a bridge too far for people who are nervous without even knowing what they supposedly fear. Perhaps you have a group of armchair researchers and travelers who like spirited discussion and new points of view. Could it be that you are preparing for what changes might come by helping your congregation understand what it means to love their neighbor?61pqzyqavsl

Solution: The answer to the question you may not even have fully formed is Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim. Trust your friend Julia (me) when she says, “Go ahead. Buy this book. And then block off the time post- Christmas Day service nap and read it. You will be glad you did. And you’ll know what your
congregation will be reading in January.”

Sabeeha Rehman’s memoir is part- Pakistani memoir, part immigrant story, part Muslim education, and part interfaith dialogue. Her tone is very light and she is self-deprecating first, before she is ever critical of anyone else. We are introduced to her (and her family) through the journey of her arranged marriage and then the new couple’s move to early 1970’s America. Rahman always keeps her narrative going, even as she reflects on what she didn’t know then or didn’t expect or on how things have changed.

She begins to tease out her cultural realities from her religious experience and understanding. As her family grows, she and her husband (and their community) realize that they will have to create the space to raise their children in the faith. It will not be transmitted by osmosis or even within the family because the competing culture is so strong. The determination of Sabeeha, and her husband Khalid, along with the Muslim community members of their area, to raise money for a mosque, to share space with one another, to work to keep the faith is beyond inspiring. In fact, inspiration is too flat a word. It is powerful and moving because it reveals truths about how Muslims in America become American Muslims and, in so doing, shape neighborhoods and communities for the good of all who live there.

Threading My Prayer Rug also allows the reader to begin to see the shadows of Islamophobia and Islamic hatred take shape in America. Rahman describes her own grief and frustration at changing attitudes and her worries about acceptance and safety. She writes truthfully about her own efforts to study the Qur’an and to wrestle with what is said and what is not said (and yet taken to be gospel because it is tradition). Any Christian who has had similar experiences with the Bible will certainly relate to this passage. (Any Christian who has NOT had similar experiences with the Bible should… well, that sentence can’t end well.)

If you are trying to figure out a way to help your community learn more about Islam, but a comparative religion guide or course is just too big a stretch for a first step, I highly recommend Threading. Rehman gives enough of an overview that you will have people asking to confirm what Muslims think about Jesus or Moses or Abraham or is this true about Khadija or Aisha? The difference between some sects of Islam are explained here too, with Rehman’s opinionated flair. The book will give your group plenty of fodder for discussion and give you time to find a practitioner of Islam or a Muslim scholar who can engage the group (post-book).

RevGalBlogPals is an international organization and I realize this is a very American-centric book. It may be American-centric enough to be off-putting to non- American audiences, but it may also give some distance for conversation in places where immigration or changes in religious climate are a very intense issue. You can use the American setting or the “historical” setting as a backdrop for the discussion. What role did the borough president play in helping the community feel welcomed? How did the Boy Scouts make a difference? What role could/does your community play in recognizing the gifts of immigrants (or religious minorities) while including them in local life?

I can summarize my recommendation to you in one sentence: this is my 137th new book that I have completed this year and it is definitely in my top 10, maybe top 5. I am already planning to schedule it for church book club for February 2017. The only reason I’m waiting that long is because we’ve already got a book for January. This is not a heavy or hard-hitting book, but that’s where its beauty lies. Like a prayer rug, it is only threads and backing- but the pattern keeps you staring and thinking and contemplating and that’s how the transformation happens.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at and She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: I’m Judging You

In the past week, I’ve struggled to finish a book, any book. I have half-read books all over the place, but they have too much plot or not enough, or I need more attention to learn from them, or I just can’t bring myself to care about the people or characters in the book. This is not my usual style. In fact, it is a sign of depression that I have learned to recognize.

However, I did manage to RE-READ something this week. Actually, I listened to the audiobook of I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi. I already read this book. (In fact, I was so hyper in my pre-ordering that I bought it twice. Whoops.) Listening to the book as I flew across the country, crocheting my feelings like I do, brought home all the things that I like about this book. Which I had already read two times since it came out in September.

I am terrible at beginning a sermon with a joke. I don’t like to do it and I don’t often enjoy it when other people do it. However, that is Luvvie’s forte. The book begins with hilarious 51leduid2bal-_sx332_bo1204203200_judgments about friendship, social media, and how the world works. It is observational humor- tightened up and with an edge that leaves you recognizing yourself and laughing at the same time. Yet, as you laugh, Luvvie pulls you into deeper and deeper subjects. You are reflecting on ridiculous places that you have seen the Comic Sans (the font) used and then you are in the middle of her well-paced and trenchant commentary on racism, privilege, or feminism.

Frankly, the chapter on feminism is a MUST read for all white women. It is embarrassing to consider the ways  in which white women have seized feminism as their own cause, defined on their terms- without ever acknowledging how black women and other women of color have contributed to the realities of this country and the women’s movement. This book describes this reality (and its aftereffects) in one of most concise ways you will ever read. If you don’t think you can bear hearing Luvvie’s voice convict you with the audio, read the book (especially that chapter) yourself, but prepare for self-examination. If you didn’t or don’t think this divide is a real thing, please break here and read Luvvie’s post on how women of different races voted in the presidential election. Then come back.

The whole book is like being in a confessional with a witty and charming priestess. She already knows your sins and she will tell them to you. You will realize where you have erred and will long to do better. And she believes that you can.

In the epilogue, Luvvie writes:

Sometimes, we feel the pressure and self-imposed expectation that when we do something, it needs to be big and perfect. That can render us useless and ensure that we do nothing because we’re so afraid of not doing enough. That’s tapping out before we begin. Damb [sic] that. I am here to tell us all to drop that. Small acts can go far, so you thinking you cannot do enough is not okay. You can, and I am asking you to at least try.

In the wake of recent world events (wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, etc.), it can be overwhelming to try to figure out what to teach, where to start, and how to tackle the painful realities of our present situation. The thing is, racism is real. Sexism is real. Body shaming is real. Online bullying is real. Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant words and actions are real.

Our stands against these things cannot be metaphorical. They must be solidly anchored not only in our intentions, but from our cores where we seek bind and heal, not wound and warp. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual is a book for such a time as this. You can laugh until you weep and then weep until you laugh. Then you wipe your nose, straighten your shirt, and figure out which part of your act needs cleaning up.

And, trust me, as Luvvie will assure you, some part of it surely does.

The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: Spiritual Sobriety

In the past year, the congregation I serve has welcomed some new disciples who had recently left the local mega church(es). I worry about sheep stealing, but I also accept that 515ho2vwhtl-_sx322_bo1204203200_sometimes a new church home is what is needed for spiritual and emotional health and growth. One of these couples referred to themselves as “spiritual refugees”- unable to return to the church home they’d known and trying to deal with having had it fall down around them.

Spiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad is a slim manual for processing one’s bad habits around religion and religious practice. Elizabeth Esther has written a book combining her own research and experience with notes from psychologists and social science researchers on how spiritual highs can become as addicting as the highs one could attain from other substances or habits. Her light touch with scripture and application of spiritual disciplines allows a person with religious addiction to slowly begin to see themselves and to wrestle with what spiritual sobriety would look like.

The implication of the book is not that sobriety would look like a life without religion, but that it would be a spirituality judiciously and soberly applied. Rather than a frenetic search for God’s approval, often confused or conflated with having the approval of other Christians or Christian leaders, sober religion would be content with slow movement, simple prayers, and a matching of service and quiet to the amount of time spent in worship. Each chapter concludes with journaling or group question prompts.

This is not a memoir like Rachel Held Evans’s or Lauren Winner’s work. Nor is this as heady as something by Barbara Brown Taylor or Lillian Daniel. This book is for the person who has spent most of his/her/their life in a fairly to very strict religious upbringing. This is for the person who needed some structure in healing from painful church or religious experiences. This is for the person who has always been churchy because that defined “goodness” and now needs help to be honest with themselves and with God.

While the majority of people reading this review may not feel that the book is for you (and you may be right), I would recommend keeping the name in the back of your mind. As religion continues to be misused in the public square, you find yourself welcoming spiritual refugees and having the right toolkit for their healing will be necessary. I believe I will be contacting a few people in the congregation I serve to see if they’d like to read and talk about this.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: A Life Everlasting

Sarah and Ross Gray found out that they were expecting twins. And then they found out


that one would live and one probably would not. Learning about the life of their oldest son, Thomas, was almost immediately paired with learning about his death due to anencephaly. Throughout the rest of her pregnancy, Ross and Sarah walk a road of hope and grief.

They ultimately decide to have Thomas’s organs donated either for transplant or research. This is not a common decision, for many obvious and not so obvious reasons. The ups and downs of the birth and what transpired after are gripping and as moving as one might expect. However, the real triumph of the book happens in what Thomas “achieves” in death. His corneas, liver, and  blood, among other things, are part of extensive life-saving and life-transforming work in research labs and universities up and down the eastern seaboard.

Gray includes other stories of parents who chose to donate the bodies or organs of their deceased infants. In many instances, these parents had to really push to find a way for their children to be accepted. Research can only advance so far without the ability to be put in context. The donation of bodies- organs, tissue, bones, and whole bodies- for research allows for the fighting of disease at a different level than one life at a time.

Religion does not play any kind of significant role in this book, though there are two kind souls- a priest and a chaplain- who do show up and show up well. Yet, Sarah Gray goes on a holy quest to see her son in the afterlife of his body. She goes to the research facilities that received his organs. As she begins to see the work that Thomas is helping, the researchers are moved to see the family of a donor who has made furthering their work possible. The meeting of hearts and minds- sharing grief, joy, and purpose- is a blessing to those present and to those reading about it.

The story itself moves very quickly. While the various organizational acronyms make a little bit of an alphabet soup, it is not impossible for the reader to follow. Gray’s own curiosity and energy in pursuing the channels of donation to research pull the reader along with her. This book is ideal for people who already loved learning about Henrietta Lacks or who wanted to but found that book overwhelming. This is an easier read.

What boosted the rating for this book in my mind was the material. Gray’s grief pushed her into creative thinking about how her son’s donations were being used. There wasn’t actually anything to stop her, but- at any point- people who were worried about lawsuits or misinterpretation or just encountering a grieving mother could have stymied her search. Instead, the book reveals a web of people who were interconnected by a short life that was actually more full of meaning and possibility that most people would think and most parents would dare to dream.

This is probably not the book to hand to a freshly grieving parent, although, within the book, parents who learn about anencephaly support each other. This IS a book for anyone who is interested in science, health or medical research, organ donation, or grief/process memoirs. One of the preschool teachers at the congregation I serve has already called dibs on my copy and I think I am going to buy a copy for at least one of the hospital chaplains in the congregation as well.


I asked for and received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.




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RevGalBlogPals: Two Alternative Histories

The adult education group at the church I serve is studying Daniel. It is very interesting to talk about how the Bible is put together and used differently by different groups of people. Daniel is counted with the “major” prophets in Christian scriptures. The book is part of the writings in Jewish bibles. In talking what the same book reveals and teaches in its varied receptions, we are beginning to play with the idea that history isn’t only what is written by the winners. History is also what gathers uncollected in attics or is left behind in basements. History is the stories that passed down and down again until they became a whisper of what they were, but that whisper still lives on the wind. History is the imagination of something different and that sliver of a thought evolves until it becomes a living breathing movement.

There are two alternative histories on bookshelves and being discussed everywhere right now. Both books discuss worlds in which black people are not people, not even close. They are barely bodies to be used, abused, worked, experimented upon, and disregarded upon discarding. As I re-read that sentence, I feel compelled to remind you, the blog reader, that these are alternative histories- imagined stories around real events.


Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

This book imagines a modern-day America where the Civil War never happened. In
compromises between states, the Constitution was amended such that slavery could never 41buhofz1el-_sx320_bo1204203200_be outlawed by the federal government. In the present day, slavery remains in the “Hard Four”- a unified Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The effort to help enslaved persons escape is worked through Underground Airlines, a similar set-up to the Underground Railroad, but using airline terms (baggage handler, pilot, flight attendant) instead. Since persons escaping enslavement would have to cross state lines, the federal marshals are involved in recapturing the lost or stolen “property”. The book’s narrator is a man who escaped enslavement, working with the marshals to capture other escapees.

The book’s pacing is like the foxtrot- slow, slow, quick, quick. At times I was worried about how much I had left and then at other times, I couldn’t read quickly enough. Due to the first-person nature of the narrative, the other characters are not fully fleshed out in motivation or description, but they cling to the imagination. There are cell phones and pay phones, internet and intranet, Michael Jackson is real in this book and was the second World War. It is interesting to dive in and out of real history and historical people.

What is painful is knowing that we do live in a world where the America Civil War (the War Between the States) was fought and yet the lives of many black Americans has not been significantly improved. What would an alternative history that included reparations look like? I recommend this book for you personally if you like this genre or for your church book group if you’ve read Between the World and Me or book about present racial dynamics in America. This is a good book to take a conversation to the next level. If you live outside the States and don’t know of a book similar to this about your own country or region’s history, it may be worth reading this book and then discussing what might have happened without some of the history-altering events of your past.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I am not sure if RGBP has ever echoed an Oprah endorsement before, but here we are. Since I usually find myself with books up to my armpits (and stacked higher than my head), I don’t usually know about such accolades until I go to write about the book myself. Nevertheless, The Underground Railroad is an interesting mix of imagination and horrific reality.

Cora is a third-generation enslaved woman on a plantation in Georgia. Her escape from that setting does not exactly lead directly to an easier life. With the Underground Railroad re-imagined as an actual railroad, Cora and others are still at the mercy of those who can help them move further north. Within the story, there are discussions of how to sterilize black women at the same time there are scientific experiments on black men. Some of the white characters scheme to entice immigrants to work on cotton plantations, imagining that the issues with that labor will be less tiresome than the issues of enslaved labor. (Sigh)

In criticisms of this book, I see people saying it is “too violent” or that the characters are not fully developed. Frankly, the book is probably not violent enough in its descriptions of enslaved life. Furthermore, I think the flat affect of the characters in the novel depicts the numbness that comes with living in fear and constant worry. Cora can never really allow herself high highs in part because the threat of such low lows is always a shadow out of the corner of her eye. The alternative historical parts of this book are written well enough that the reader will look up and think, “Wait, is that true?”. A little side reading may be warranted.

This is a good book for a group that has not yet read a more difficult story about modern racism or historical race issues in America. It will be challenging, but it allows the reader to ease into the conversation. Readers who push back, arguing that “things were better than this” should be told to “sit down” and listen, perhaps followed by some time in silent prayer.

All told, I think either of these books make an excellent conversation starter and I recommend them both.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


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RevGalBookPals: Church Book Clubs

The congregation I serve has a book club of sorts. It began a few years ago when several fans of A Prayer for Owen Meany asked about getting together to discuss the book. We met at a Mexican restaurant for margaritas, chips, and book gushing. We then mentioned another book, maybe for the next month, and we never looked back. We call the event the “Holy and Heretical Happy Hour”, which has been shortened to “The Other 4H”.

The group always meets in a restaurant. We’ve shopped around a bit to find one that allows for enough quiet to discuss and enough menu options for everyone. We’ve read a wide variety of books. In the past year alone, we’ve read:

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Anchor & Flares by Kate Braestrup
Christ the Center by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh
However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph by Aimee Molloy

Next month we’ll read The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement by Dan O’Neill. I often pick the books. Sometimes it’s based on something I read and think would be interesting to discuss. Sometimes there is a topic request and I look for something that would be related. The gathering is open to anyone, regardless of whether they’ve read the book or not. It’s also a venue where I see people who don’t participate in Adult Education in other ways and where we see some of our neighbors, who aren’t interested in other church activities. 

In looking for books, I try to consider:

  1. What type or genre of book did we last read?
  2. Are we reading equal numbers of male and female authors?
  3. Have we read something by an author of color or a non-American recently?
  4. What themes have we done, including what themes might be pertinent to the church year or the social/political climate?


Do you have this kind of group in your congregation or community? If so, how do you approach what’s read? What’s next up on the docket?

If you are interested in this, what are your questions about developing or hosting this kind of church activity?

Let’s have a conversation in the comments.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: Good Christian Sex

We are all facing the need for hard conversations these days. There are conversations that must be had about race, about social structures, about power and privilege, about insectionality, about culture, about values, and about how to be in the world. One (only one) of the topics to discuss in the giant wheel of “how to be in the world” is about sex. I say that as though sex itself was a simple thing. Either you are having it or you aren’t. Either it’s good or it isn’t. Either it’s consensual or it’s rape. Either you’re thinking it though or you’re using the other person or people.

I realize some of you are wondering what else needs to be said on the topic of sex, especially in the Christian arena. However, the reality is that we have not closed the circle on the conversation on healthy human sexuality as experienced in solo and partnered activity. In trying to demarcate virginity, purity, and time/place/tab/slot, we have missed a whole range of conversations on the beauty, diversity, and holiness of sex as a means of grace in our lives and in the world. So writes Bromleigh McCleneghan in her new book, Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option-And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex.

51tw-fztofl-_sx326_bo1204203200_McCleneghan writes the book that seminarians will want to discuss, campus pastors will discuss, and young adults in faith communities will be glad to read (and should ask their partners to read as well). Her chapters on a theology of intimacy, vulnerability, faithfulness, and other pertinent topics make the ethical discussion that has happened elsewhere accessible to the parish, campus, and community reader. She writes, “The experience of good sex—and the delightful things that lead up to it—is one of risking showing and sharing oneself with another, of giving and receiving care and attention, of connection and delight. It tends to require a partner, and an enthusiastic, sensitive one as well. ”(48f)

 McCleneghan dares to put out (ha!) the idea that the God-given gift of sex (and sexuality) are not to be packed away until some future when a switch will magically be flipped via a ring and certain phrases and then all will fall into place with no awkwardness and mutual orgasms for everyone. Instead, she argues that there is a real discipleship in approaching sex with thoughtfulness and care for one’s self and one’s partner. “Sex—intimacy—opens us up to change. It asks us to trust and let go, to relax and experiment. It draws us into play and pleasure, but also the work of communicating with another person who cannot get inside our heads. Through sex we can practice attention, invitation, hospitality, and the means of grace. “ (150)

 This is the conversation starter that many pastors, parents, godparents, confirmation sponsors, grandparents, and peers are longing to have. This book provides structure for having a conversation that is between “Sex is horrible, but you save it for someone you love” and “Sex is great. Have fun!” That ‘and’ covers a multitude of sins, but also of grace moments and ways of learning about one’s body, mind, and soul. The author carefully covers the reality that marriage can be an unsafe place for sex. She also discusses the reality, often overlooked, that sex within a shorter-term partnership can still be holy and fulfilling.

I recommend this book for all pastors’ shelves (to read and to share), as well as for anyone I’ve mentioned above. If you have several books on sexual ethics that you’ve wanted to read or you’ve only read a bit of, this may prove to be a good synopsis of those books or that larger discussion. That is not to say that the author makes the conversation simple, but rather that she makes it more accessible.

I received a free proof of this book for review. No promises were made in exchange for that copy.

The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, Alaska. She blogs at


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RevGalBookPals: Summer reading

IMG_8048I read seven books on my one-week vacation last fall, so I am serious about getting some reading done this summer, starting this last week in June. By the time you read this, I will be sitting on the front porch of the UCC Headquarters building at Chautauqua, no doubt holding a book in my lap. The question is, which book will it be?

The photo illustrates the challenge ahead of me. From top to bottom I count 16 volumes – first four I have finished and want to tell you about in this blog post, then two thick ones I have started to read but still have a long way to go, then 11 more I’ve either purchased or received to review and cannot quite get around to reading, and on my Kindle there are two more invisible to your eye, dear readers.

18 books. Where to start?

I’ll tell you a little about each one, and in the comments I invite you to tell all our readers about the stack on your desk or bedside table.

  1. Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel: Encountering the Divine in the Book of Acts, by Matthew Skinner (Brazos Press, 2015) – Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, may be familiar to you from Working Preacher. His wonderful, readable book is a great resource for preachers but would also be a wonderful choice for a Sunday School class or study group. It’s clear he loves the book (so do I), and the 26 passages he chooses to open up for the reader give a great overview of the adventures of the early church and its evangelists. I’ve already marked up my copy, used it to lead a Narrative Lectionary Bible Study and quoted Skinner in a sermon. Highly recommend.*
  2. She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Minstry, by Karoline Lewis (Abingdon Press, 2016) – Lewis, also a professor at Luther Seminary, and the successor to David Lose as the author of Dear Working Preacher, tells the God’s honest truth that women need to hear about a life in ministry. I had the opportunity to read the book in galleys and liked it so much I purchased a copy. Lewis exhorts clergywomen to know the Biblical and theological basis for defending their ordination and offers up straight talk about sexism. Each section ends with questions and exercises for reflection. This book should be on every clergywoman’s bookshelf, and clergymen, I recommend you read it, too. My only critique is one the author owns in the preface: it is written from the perspective of a privileged, straight person and does not address the additional complexities of intersectionality.
  3. Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me: Celtic Blessings, by Beth A. Richardson (Upper Room, 2016) – Richardson is a member of the RevGals webring (All the Wonders), the Director of Creative Content at the Upper Room, and the Managing Editor at Weavings Journal – please pause for a moment of mournful silence in acknowledgement that Weavings is soon to publish its last print issue; it will continue in digital form. This slim volume of blessings in the Celtic style touches on ordinary life experiences from walking the dog to drinking coffee to birthdays and losses. Although I have read it for purposes of review, I will be tucking it into my bag, probably beside my knitting, for those moments when a blessing seems needed.*
  4. RuinedRuined, by Ruth Everhart (Tyndall House, due out in August) – This is the first invisible book on my list. I had a chance to read much of the manuscript as a member of Ruth’s writing group and to follow the process as she worked on the book, and to read a digital galley copy. In it, she tells the story of a brutal rape in college and its implications for her life and her faith. Her writing is frank and visceral, lyrical and even humorous, as she tells the story of her girlhood in the Christian Reformed Church, her traumatic experience while a senior at Calvin College, and the impact on her personal life and her faith life. While the descriptions of the attack on Ruth and her roommates are distressing, Ruth brings you into the room in a way that is powerful without being gratuitous. Her theological reflections are profound. Her wrestling with the racial component of the assault is honest and unselfconscious. Ruth is one of our longtime RevGal bloggers, a member of our Ask the Matriarch panel, and a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor. You can show her some love with an Amazon pre-order. I did.*
  5. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow (Penguin, 2004) – How does a bastard, orphan, son of a — okay, okay. I am on page 229 or 800+. This one is coming with me in its Kindle version. We have tickets to the show in late July. Yes, I know some of the original cast will be gone by then.
  6. Theory U: Learning from the Future as it Emerges, by C. Otto Scharmer (Berrett Koehler, 2009) – I have a lot more pages to read in this one, which was recommended by the instructors in Auburn Seminary’s coaching program. Not a vacation read, but fascinating. His view of the future is on point for what we are seeing in this year’s US election cycle.
  7. The rest of these books I haven’t cracked open. The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr (Harper, 2015) – This one has a good chance of making the trip.
  8. The Givenness of Things: Essays, by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015) – Probably staying home. I really loved When I Was a Child I Read Books, although she is very tough on my Cousin Jack in it. Reading more Marilynne Robinson is part of my commitment to becoming smarter in 2016.
  9. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett (Harper Perennial, 2013) – She will be at Chautauqua, so I’m going to say this one is coming along, in case of signing opportunities. Her Bel Canto is one of my all-time favorite novels, Patron Saint of Liars made me weep, and her memoir of a friendship, Truth & Beauty, is gorgeous. (Note from Chautauqua – this book is delectable. I am 1/3 of the way through it.)
  10. Immunity to Change, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey (Harvard Business Press, 2009) – Another ancillary textbook. Also a no for vacation. Or even quasi-vacation. I’m the UCC Chaplain for Week 1, so I do have some responsibilities. And I would note that the authors of these books about leadership and change have never heard of total depravity.
  11. Cryptomnesia, by Christine A. Chakoian (Abingdon, 2014) – My wife read this one, so I’m catching up, but later.
  12. The Art of Authenticity: Tools to Become an Authentic Leader and Your Best Self, by Karissa Thacker (Wiley, 2016) – We’ve never met but have friends in common, and I am really looking forward to reading Thacker’s book later this summer.
  13. Outlaw Christian: Finding Faith By Breaking the “Rules,” by Jacqueline Bussie (Thomas Nelson, 2016) – Also for later.*
  14. Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy, by John Shelby Spong (HarperOne, 2016) – Did I mention Cousin Jack will be at Chautauqua, too? This may be the book in my lap all week.
  15. Jesus Before the Gospels, by Bart D. Ehrman (HarperOne, 2016) – I love Ehrman’s books, most of which I have read, which makes it all the funnier that I just misread the title of one of his previous books listed on the cover as “Mansplaining Jesus.” Ehrman also makes me smarter, but he doesn’t convince me he is right about faith matters. I will read this book … eventually.
  16. The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World, by Keith Anderson (Morehouse, 2015) – I like to think I already know a lot about the online world and ministry, but based on things I’ve read by Keith in the past, my guess is he will teach me something new. (But not on my vacation.)
  17. Last among the hard copy books, but far from least, Grounded: Finding God in the World – a Spiritual Revolution, by Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne, 2015) – I’ve been saving this one up. How many books can I read in a week? This one is coming with me.
  18. The second invisible book on my list is Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday, by Jeff Nelson (Noesis Press, 2016), who has been one of the supportive BlogPals to the RevGals almost from the beginning – You can get the book on Amazon. I am admittedly slow in getting through it because I have it as a review PDF. But it’s on my Kindle now! So it’s going with me.*

What are you looking forward to reading this summer? And have you read any of the books listed above? Let me know your thoughts about them in the comments. (Also, there are three more on my bedside table…)

*Reviews marked with an asterisk indicate I received a free or early review copy in exchange for my honest assessment.

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