A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching
By Stanley Hauerwas

Stanley Hauerwas is among the most prolific theologians of our time: he puts it “I have written more than anyone should write” (page 146). This book is somewhat different from the majority of Hauerwas’ work in that it is a collection of sermons. This book is much the same as the rest of Hauerwas’ work in that it reflects deep theological thought, care for the church, and reflection on what it means to be a Christian in the world today.

The book is a collection of seventeen sermons that Hauerwas crafted and preached in a variety of settings. None of these sermons were written specifically for this book. They were preached from 2005 through 2008 for services at Duke Divinity School, Church of the Holy Family (Episcopal), and a variety of other settings. Some were written for special occasions such as weddings, baptisms, and ordinations. Most were written, just like the majority of the thousands of sermons written and preached, for “normal” days: attempts to reflect on the story(ies) of scripture and to allow those stories to intersect with our
own lives.

In his introduction, Hauerwas explains that he has made these sermons available “not only because I think they are my best theological work, but because I hope they exemplify the work of theology” (page 12). For this preacher, Hauerwas’ words (in his sermons as well as in the introductory material) were a helpful re-engagement with the idea that the writing of words for preaching is profoundly theological. For Hauerwas, that theological work seems to consist primarily of passing on the faith as we have inherited it and of allowing questions to be asked of that faith from each new situation.

In collecting these seventeen sermons, Hauerwas did not simply arrange them chronologically or textually, but under broad categories. The four categories are “Seeing,” “Saying,” “Living,” and “Events.” “Living” deals with the essentials of life (birth and death) from the Christian perspective. “Events” brings together sermons for those special occasions: baptism, wedding, ordination. The “Seeing” and “Saying” sections reflect Hauerwas’ conviction that “we can only act in the world we can see—but we can only see by learning to say” (page 22). For this reason, I would have preferred to see the “Saying” section come before the “Seeing” section: to emphasize that the world is spoken into being and to emphasize that we learn to say the
truth of Jesus in story and are thereby trained to “see” the world through those Jesus glasses.

The sermons themselves deal with a variety of topics, from the importance of witnesses to the building of our faith through Trinity, crucifixion, and sacrifice. The highlight for me in the reading of the sermons was their liturgical emphasis. Many of the sermons are obviously related to liturgical acts such as baptisms and ordinations. But in the majority of the others, there is a specific recognition and connection to the liturgy that shapes the church. “The Glory of the Trinity,” for example, calls the assembly to gather together to partake of the Eucharist and to “be overwhelmed by the glory of the Holy One of Israel who is the Trinity.” Reading these sermons with their connections to the church and its primary meal made me hungry for bread and wine: and that is good theology.

Seth Moland-Kovash
All Saints Lutheran Church
Palatine, Illinois

This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers
By Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver

There are books about ministry written, as Lillian Daniel puts it, by seminary professors who are “still passionately processing their two years in the ministry fifteen years ago.” There are memoirs by people who have left the ministry. There are a few decent works of fiction that give windows into a pastor’s soul. But good first-person writing about the realities of present-day ordained ministry that is not prescriptive is rare. Perhaps that’s because so much of ministry is about others: the congregations we serve and the people in them. It is difficult at best—and ethically questionable—to reveal the real “behind the scenes” stories without betraying the trust of those we serve.

In This Odd and Wondrous Calling, we have instead a focus on the ways in which the ministry shapes the “public and private lives” of the ministers themselves.  If you read between the lines of these essays written by two UCC clergy—one relatively young and female, the other male and seasoned—you can gather that they have been “successful” in ministry, if one measures congregational success by healthy growing churches, and career success by the ability to move into different ministry settings. But there is nothing prescriptive in these pages. No how-to’s. No bullet points.  There is not even very much about the particulars of any parish setting or congregational dynamics.  Instead we’re given the honest reflections of two gifted pastors who with warmth and wit discuss the things that really make this profession distinctive. In a variety of ways they show us how the office of ministry shapes the person—specifically these two persons—inhabiting it, usually for the better.

Reading these essays, I could easily imagine myself talking with the authors over coffee. And, in fact I have had many of these same conversations with my own colleagues—about marriage, preaching, friendship, money—but too often, I confess, with less humor and less hope. Copenhaver laughs, for example, at the tiresome things strangers say when they learn you are clergy.  Daniel recalls a mind-numbing board meeting that somehow ended with grace.  They reveal the odd dynamics that parish ministry brings to each of their marriages. And in some of the most moving essays, they each tell us the stories of times when the demands of the parish and difficult personal circumstances have collided.  Anyone who has been in ministry for more than a couple years will nod with recognition, smile, and probably quote lines to a friend.

Regular readers of the Christian Century will recognize many of these pieces, which have appeared there and elsewhere in some form. But reading these 28 essays as a collection is particularly rewarding because their two voices and the range of topics address the way in which ministry seeps into every corner of one’s life. There is enough honesty here to make me trust the writers implicitly, and enough discretion to make me respect their judgment. Most of all, their writing is imbued with enough love for what they do that I could confidently hand this book to anyone considering parish ministry.  Yes, it’s odd, what we do. But wondrous, quite wondrous.

Pam Fickenscher is a Lutheran pastor in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She blogs about the lectionary, ministry, and motherhood at http://www.pastorpam.typepad.com/

The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly
By Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott and Tom Callanan

The Power of Collective Wisdom is about leading people to places where wisdom experiences can prevail.  This “wisdom is not about just a few wise people but about capacity of human communities to make wise choices” (p. ix). For people whose livelihoods involve groups of people making decisions, like church councils and nonprofit boards, The Power of Collective Wisdom is about hope. 

Do you remember the times when your meetings moved from routine to productive because a member shared
an insight that clarified everything? That is, how “a certain logic that shackled the group was released”(p.32). And haven’t you hoped to have more meetings like that?

“Coming to this place,” seventeen year-old Megan announces after the group has struggled to explain why they liked their congregation, “it’s like going on a retreat every Sunday.” The group nods and, equipped with the words it needs, moves to the next task. 

Or, perhaps your memory of collective wisdom is like the one of a hard-working and successful district youth ministry committee. As a letter is read, the group cringes when, instead of praise, it contains self-serving criticism about failing to include parents in the group—specifically the parents writing the letter. Into the pained protest that follows, David suggests, “You know, inviting parents is a great idea, but there are probably better parents to invite than this set.” And with this new perspective, the group, healed, decides to change its composition.

The first half of the book includes stories and insights, like these, about collective wisdom—the places to which we want to guide our most important gatherings.  The second section of the book is about wisdom’s “opposing potential” (p. xiv), collective folly.  Here, the authors tell chilling tales that remind us of other group experiences, the times when, either because of polarization or false agreement, folly reigned.
“Collective folly,” the authors explain, “Often has its roots in some kind of anxiety- ‘crisis’… that induces a movement to separate” (p. 120). From the Challenger disasters to the facts about how for twenty years hand washing to prevent maternal death in hospitals was not used even though it had been proven effective, the book’s haunting stories remind us about the results of failing to listen to wisdom. Given these anxious economic times, as we work to help our communities successfully survive and thrive in spite of the great recession, we need to pay attention. 

The final part of the book shares techniques to nurture wisdom and shield against folly. Fortunately, we learn that knowing folly is a possibility acts as a partial shield against it. Unfortunately, the book is not a detailed step-by-step manual on how to achieve wisdom. Rather the authors provide what they know now, suggestions
on how to make preparations to encourage wisdom.
The Power of Collective Wisdom is a group product, about an emerging field of study. You will find it a worthwhile read for its ability to give you words about the kinds of groups in which you hope to participate and lead.

Karen Eber Davis
Karen Eber Davis Consulting
Sarasota, Florida