An Advent Playlist: What Would You Add?


Got to talking on Facebook the other day about Advent albums—in theory, this should be its own thing, as a season separate from Christmas, but it’s often folded into the behemoth category of Christmas music.

I only knew of one album of Advent music, but of course, many friends schooled me on the other great ones out there. So I’ve been building a bit of a playlist, which people have asked for.

Here you go—sorry there are no links, but I’m doing this quickly since we’re celebrating a certain seven year old’s birthday today. A quick Google or iTunes search will get you there.


Advent: Piano Solos, Jim Morgan. Especially these tracks: Rejoice, Divinum Mysterium, Hyfrydance (my favorite)

Advent at Ephesus, Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. I dumped the whole album onto the playlist because it’s such lovely choral music.

Midwinter, Peter Mayer. This singer-songwriter hits just the right Adventish tone on this album of original music, though a few tracks are explicitly Christmasy. So you should avoid Stables, Christmas Morning, Heavenly Child, and Make My Christmas Day until later. But don’t forget to add them to your Christmas playlist because they’re beautiful. I dream of using Where Is the Light with a church choir someday. It’s rousing!

Advent, Vol. 1 and Advent, Vol. 2, The Brilliance. These were recommendations, haven’t downloaded them yet. Same with Advent by Tangled Blue.


Thanksgiving, George Winston, December.

Each Winter As the Year Grows Colder, Marty Haugen. Haven’t found a version of this that I love, but the words are wonderful, very Adventish.

God, Beyond All Names, Bernadette Farrell. I like the Trinity Episcopal Church version. I could listen to these lyrics all day. And it has a fun alto line.

Veni Emmanuel and Of the Father’s Love Begotten, both from Winter’s Solstice III by Wyndham Hill

Beneath the Trees, William Ackerman, Winter Solstice

There is No Rose, Chanticleer, A Chanticleer Christmas

Lo How a Rose E’er-Blooming, Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker, The Hymns of Christmas

O Come O Come Emmanuel, Pentatonix, PTXmas

Gabriel’s Message, Sting. He has a couple versions of this (most recently on his Winter’s Night album) but I like the original 1980s version from A Very Special Christmas.

Enjoy! What have I missed?


photo credit: chrisotruro via photopin cc

How Do You Decide? Some Tools for Discernment

Take the leap, little bird!

Take the leap, little bird!

A couple weeks ago, our church’s T4 group (Thursday Theology Talk on Tap… I love alliteration, can you tell?) gathered at the Lost Dog Cafe around the the question, how do you decide? When confronted with a decision or a puzzle, what resources do you deploy to determine the right course of action? If you are a person of faith, how do you listen for the leading of the Spirit, or the inner guidance, or whatever you want to call that sense of knowing that helps us find our way? (The churchy word for that is discernment.)

As I thought about what to bring to that gathering, an article came across my social media stream: How To Know When You’re Trusting God… Or Just Being Stupid by Corey Nieuwhof. It’s well worth your time, even if you are not a theist. Nieuwhof offers two thoughtful questions to help you evaluate whether that leap into the unknown is a faithful decision that will allow you sprout wings, or whether you’re likely to plummet to the ground because you didn’t do your due diligence. It’s not foolproof—nothing in discernment is—but it’s good guidance.

I also shared with the group some of my own favorite discernment tools, and I asked some of you for additional ones. Here is a compilation:

The Daily Examen is that Ignatian (Jesuit) practice of looking lovingly at your life for grateful and “least grateful” moments. These places of consolation and desolation can be powerful guides. A great resource is the book Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life by the Linns.

Lectio Divina is a way of reading scripture prayerfully to allow the voice of the Spirit to speak to you. There are many guides to this practice on the Internet; here’s a good one.

I’m not a Quaker (though I like to joke that my spiritual “inner child” is Quaker), but I’ve long been intrigued by the Quaker Clearness Committee. This is a trusted group of wise listeners whose job is to hear the person struggling with the decision or difficulty, and ask non-directive questions. Parker Palmer has a great story about working with a clearness committee when discerning a call to be president of a college. When they asked what he would enjoy about the work, he made a list of things he wouldn’t like about it. When they reminded him the question was what he would enjoy, he was silent for a long time and said, “I’d enjoy having my name in the paper.” One of the people leaned in with a twinkle and said, “Do you think there might be other ways to get your name in the paper?” He didn’t take the job.

I have had a Spiritual Director for many years—this is a person (usually specially trained) to help me “listen to my life” and see the patterns, growth opportunities, gratitudes, and places that need healing. Pastors can function as spiritual directors for their congregants—I have played this role with people before—but I like being able to meet with someone every couple of months, and that’s a hard rhythm for a pastor to sustain.

A friend suggested Morning Pages as a tool for discernment—that’s three pages of stream of consciousness writing every day, written without stopping or censoring. Morning pages can bring to the surface buried thoughts and emotions that can guide us as we face decisions or difficulties. Read Julia Cameron’s books for more info, especially The Artist’s Way.

Another friend suggested developing a moral code or personal mission statement that decisions can be lifted alongside: is this opportunity consistent with what makes me come alive? (And remember, I like that question better than Frederich Beuchner’s words about vocation. No idea what I’m talking about? Here’s a post about that.)

Along the lines of the previous, this may be my favorite discovery. A friend directed me to the poem Where I’m From, which includes an exercise you can do to write your own “where I’m from” poem. I can see how such an exercise would help you find your true north when faced with a quandary. Check it out here.

What do you think? How do you decide? And what resources would you add?


photo credit: photonut-mi via photopin cc

Muffin of the Week: Glazed Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal



1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs beaten
1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 cup applesauce
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 c powdered sugar
3 T apple cider
(you can also combine applesauce and powdered sugar to make the glaze, but I had cider to spare)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease your muffin pans. This recipe made 12 regular muffins and 12 mini-muffins.
  2. In a large bowl, mix by hand flour, oats, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, mix sugar, oil, eggs, yogurt, applesauce, and vanilla, then stir into dry ingredients until just combined.
  4. Spoon batter into muffin tins and bake for 10-15 minutes for mini-muffins, 15-20 for regular muffins, and/or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and whisk together the glaze ingredients.
  6. When the muffins have cooled for a bit, remove from the pan onto a cooling rack and spoon the glaze over the top. Allow the glaze to set before slicing.

Recipe adapted from this lovely site.


photo credit: kPluto via photopin cc

Link Love: Rosetta Celebration Edition

Congratulations to everyone involved with the Philae probe! There have been some bumps and snafus with the landing, but that doesn’t diminish the achievement: a human-made object has made physical contact with a comet for the first time ever.

Say what you will about the Internet—and there’s plenty to critique—but it’s a wonderful tool for cultivating awe and wonder. Of course, there’s the ability to watch things like the Rosetta mission unfold in real time. But I’m a sucker for a good space video. Here are a few of my favorites.

(These two videos have soundtracks that detract, in my opinion—watch with the volume turned down, or put on your favorite musical accompaniment.)

Then there’s Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining the “cosmic calendar”: the entire timeline of the universe, mapped to one year on the Gregorian calendar. I can’t find a video that encapsulates the whole thing; here’s a short video that outlines the concept, plus a partial transcript. Spoiler alert: every person we’ve ever heard of occupies the last 14 seconds of the year.

And here’s one I just discovered this week—a page in which you can scroll to view composite photos from the International Space Station. Don’t miss the set of aurora borealis images.

I’m awed by that thin membrane of atmosphere that makes all of life possible:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.22.09 PM

What’s your favorite image, page or video that helps you cultivate awe?

On Praying for the Rapture


The movie Left Behind came and went last month. Did you miss it? Oh no! Well come January, you’ll be able to catch it on DVD, which may be entertaining just to see what kind of movie garners a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 2%. Ouch.

For anyone unaware of the mega-bestselling books, the Left Behind series is a fanciful account of the rapture, which is a strain of end-times theology based on a misreading of I Thessalonians. The idea is that the righteous people will be carried up to heaven so that God can come down and open a can of whupa** on the unbelievers.

(I have a pastor friend with a parishioner who believed in the rapture… he was always tempted to go to her house with a set of clothes, lay them out flat on her porch, ring the doorbell and run. Thus proving that if the rapture were a real thing, he’d be one of the heathens left behind, eh? Along with yours truly, since I crack up every time I picture it.)

Rapture theology is not a big part of my tradition. I know Presbyterians who’ve read the Left Behind books, but generally they read them as entertaining fiction, not as sound biblical interpretation. Because they aren’t.

Still, I am tempted to pray for the rapture… at least, a rapture of a sort.

In my work with NEXT Church, and having been a colleague to many folks in ministry these 11 years, and as a pastor of a small church, I know a huge number of congregations that are struggling with aging facilities they can no longer afford. Rather than being tools for ministry, these buildings are money and energy pits.

As for Tiny Church, we’re blessed with a functional building that’s the right size for us, an absence of debt, and an endowment we can use when repairs or capital improvements are needed. And still, we have been locked in conversations for a long time about what to do with our aging kitchen and aged building. I had my fifth anniversary at Tiny last month, and these conversations predate me. We are an engaged congregation with many strong leaders, but we lack the capacity to do progressive, forward-thinking ministry AND make these upgrades. It’s a burden—and it’s a burden thousands of congregations share.

So, I daydream. I daydream that all the church buildings would be raptured, leaving behind the communities of faith who used to inhabit them, who would then be compelled to ask themselves, “Who are we without these buildings? What do we now have the capacity to do that we didn’t before?”

A colleague serving a small congregation, burdened by a large unwieldy building, said a number of years ago, “Sometimes I pray that the building would burn down.” She was only half kidding. I know churches that have burned and rebuilt. One hopes and assumes that these new buildings are right-sized for the resources of the congregation, and better reflect the ministry as it is now. But building rapture would be better. Because there’s no building-rapture insurance that I’m aware of. There would be no payout from GuideOne or State Farm. There would be no new organ to replace the old one, no brand-spanking new facility that is a great tool for ministry now but has a decent chance of being a millstone for the congregation of 50 years from now.

There would be a tremendous period of grief, of course. Buildings are sacred spaces and containers for memory. And there would be congregations who peter out, maybe because they lack the vision for a church without a building, or because they realize that the building was the only thing that united them.

But some churches would find ways to move forward. They would rent spaces and meet in homes, schools and businesses. They would discover gifts and capacities they never knew they had.