Jeff Crosno Wants To Introduce You To Some Friends You Might Like To Know

From time to time, I'm asked to recommend books and authors that fall under the general category of "spiritual autobiography."  There is always some risk in doing so, for the deeply personal stories that touch me with their honesty, insight and humility may leave others stone cold and unimpressed.  The point is not that we agree with them on every point (I don't), but that in listening carefully to their stories we begin to discern the Holy Spirit at work within a human life.  And of course, once we begin to do this with others it comes as no surprise that we start listening for the Spirit's presence in our own lives with much greater care.  With all of this in mind, here is a short list of some of my favorites in the field:

Frederick Buechner.  Where to start with this Presbyterian minister and Pulitzer Prize nominated novelist?  Let me suggest several of Buechner's autobiographical offerings -- The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days; Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation; Telling Secrets; The Longing for Home: Reflections at Midlife; Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany.

Kathleen Norris.  Perhaps no living writer has helped me recognize the essential and formative significance of place in establishing our sense of identity and community than Norris in her bestseller, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.  Moving from New York back to her grandparent's home in Lemmon, South Dakota, Norris writes with a poet's clear eye regarding the contradictions of small town life in a declining agricultural community.  She has now gone on to enjoy both critical acclaim and further publishing success with the story of her immersion in a Benedictine monastery as a Presbyterian laywoman in The Cloister Walk.  If you get hooked on Norris, you will also want to read The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work," as well as Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith and Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life.

Lauren Winner.  Now a professor at Duke Divinity School, Winner burst onto the literary scene with a bestseller about her conversion, Girl Meets God: A Memoir.  Her follow-up, Mudhouse Sabbath, describes how her newfound Christian faith continues to be shaped by her previous experience as an Orthodox Jew.  And most recently, Winner has written with similar insight in two exceptional books: Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, and Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God.

Paul Kalanithi.  By the time he succumbed to cancer at age 36 in 2015, Kalanithi was an honors graduate of Yale School of Medicine as well as the University of Cambridge serving as a world-class leader in his chosen field of neurosurgery at Stanford.  In his poignant and heartbreaking memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, Dr. Kalanithi describes in beautiful and elegant fashion the difficult journey through his tragic and completely unexpected terminal illness.  But ultimately it is his testimony to the rich gift of a thoughtful and meaningful life fully informed by Christian faith that made this slim volume a #1 New York Times bestseller.

Anne Lamott.  Newsweek once said that Lamott writes about subjects that begin with capital letters (Alcoholism, Motherhood, Jesus) with "self-effacing humor and ruthless honesty."  I find her shocking at times, consistently incisive, and quite often laugh-out-loud funny.  Try her books Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, or Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith to see what you think.

Reynolds Price.  Before his death in 2011, this Rhodes scholar, prizewinning novelist, poet and essayist taught English literature for several decades at Duke University.  In A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing, Price beautifully narrated his life-threatening bout with cancer and the deep reservoir of his own developing faith that subsequently informed all of his later work as a writer.  Both forever scarred and transformed as a result of his own physical suffering, Price also penned a very moving Christian response to the agonies of undeserved evil and pain entitled, Letter To A Man In The Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care?

Dorothy Day.  Writing about her Christian conversion and subsequent ministry as co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement in The Long Loneliness, Day stands as a reminder regarding the profound impact of any life given without reservation to Jesus Christ.  After you read this spiritual autobiography, don't miss what amounts to a second volume in this compelling story, Loaves and Fishes.

Scott Cairns.  I met Scott many years ago while working for the Forest Service, and now he is a celebrated Guggenheim Fellow whose poetry has been widely published.  If you are willing to prayerfully think beyond the familiar boundaries of your evangelical faith tradition, I am confident that you will enjoy Scott's recent memoir, A Short Trip To The Edge: Where Earth Meets Heaven -- A Pilgrimage, written by this former Baptist from Tacoma whose adult journey includes a surprising conversion to the practice of an Orthodox Christian faith.

Fred Craddock.  During my initial years of pastoral service in a large Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation, it was my good fortune to become acquainted with Dr. Craddock during classes and seminars at Emory University in Atlanta.  As one of the truly renowned teachers, preachers, and theological writers of his generation, Fred's influence on me undoubtedly saved my patient congregants from greater suffering in those early days of my own ministry!  Before his death in the spring of 2015, Fred had been named "one of the 12 best preachers in the English language" by Baylor University in recognition of his preeminence as one of the true "master storytellers" of the Church.  Even if you are never ordained to pastoral service, I'm betting you will enjoy the profound wisdom of Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots.  What Dr. Craddock has to say about his own journey of obedience to Christ will most likely bring to mind your own experience of God's faithful guidance and grace.  Here is a writer of deep insight and perhaps even deeper humility.  

Barbara Brown Taylor.  Another one of those "12 best preachers" who taught me about preaching at Emory University and the College of Preachers in Washington, DC during the early years of my ministry, I consider Taylor to be one of the most gifted "wordsmiths" in my acquaintance.  Let me introduce you to her ministry by recommending three of Barbara's most recent books, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, and An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

Eugene Peterson. The son of a Montana butcher and a Pentecostal "preacher-woman," Peterson went on to minister to a growing, suburban Presbyterian church in Maryland for 29 years before finishing his career as a professor and bestselling author.  If you appreciate his translation of the Bible, The Message, you will probably want to read his account of a lifetime of faithful ministry in The Pastor: A Memoir.

Heidi B. Neumark.  This Lutheran pastor writes with fierce intelligence, passion and humor about her ministry in one of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City.  Prepare to be both deeply moved and challenged as you read Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx.

Richard Lischer.  After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of London, Lischer took appointment to his first pastorate in a small, rural community in southern Illinois.  Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey Through A Country Church is the sparkling gem that resulted from those early years.  More recently, his memoir Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son chronicles a poignant faith journey through the heartbreaking death of Lischer's son, Adam, a talented young attorney who succumbed to melanoma just a few days before the birth of his first child. 

Greg Garrett.  This past winner of the William Faulkner Prize for Fiction and highly regarded professor at Baylor University tells the story of his own torturous path toward recovery and redemption in Crossing Myself: A Story of Spiritual Rebirth.  In No Idea: Entrusting Your Journey to a God Who Knows, Garrett generously shares the follow-up to his critically acclaimed memoir by taking Thomas Merton's famous prayer ("My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going . . .") as his point of departure.  I'm betting that you'll find Garrett to be a trusted, deeply honest voice in your own discipleship journey.

Annie Dillard.  Living for two years on an island in Puget Sound, Dillard crafted a truly beautiful meditation on the mystery of living in a Creation that is both full of grace and inexplicably marked by suffering.  If you're looking for a writer who will take seriously the nagging questions about God that may be bothering you, please don't overlook Dillard and that stunning early book, Holy the Firm.  Once you start there, you will probably want to continue on with Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters; the memoir An American Childhood; and her Pulitzer Prize winning collection of essays, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.





Beautiful Bones

Ezekiel 37:1-14

On a dairy farm with a lot of cows, it’s just a fact of life that a cow will die every once in a while. What do you do with a dead cow? Well, in our case on my family’s dairy farm, we would take it to the boneyard or the cow cemetery on the hill. This special resting place for our cows was located on the furthest point of our dairy farm. When a cow died, we would hook the carcass up to the tractor and drag it to the boneyard. Sometimes we would catch a ride on the carcass – just remember, the cow was dead. I know that may sound a little crazy to you but if you are raised on a farm you just have to make your own fun ๐Ÿ˜Š. I remember going to the boneyard and pointing out different cows that had passed away. “Oh, there is Lolly, and over there is Maggie.” If it was a cow that I liked I would take a few moments and reflect about the fun I had with her and what a good cow she was. That is kind of like what we do when we visit the cemetery, right?

This passage in Ezekiel reminds me of that boneyard for cows. I cannot read this passage without taking time to ruminate about the dairy. I can picture the rattle of the cow bones as they come back to life. Maybe that is the reason this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible.

I know that this Valley of Dry Bones wasn’t given to Ezekiel for me to reminisce about my dairy farming days. There is a deeper reason for it. This is a valley of bones that has become dry from loss of hope. A valley of people that have just given up. There wasn’t anything to live for so they just dried up. There are several questions that we might ask. “Why did these people lose their hope?” “What caused them to just give up?” “Why did they step away from the One who can give them hope?” I myself have had times when I have felt dry. Discouragement is a life sucker. I also know that feeling frustrated, useless, disappointed, sick, and fearful--especially for a long period of time--can dry bones out. There are a lot of reasons why we would feel dried out.

If you feel parched today, this passage should give you hope! The rest of the story is that these bones received the breath of God and they started to shake, rattle, and roll! Can you picture bones coming to life, attaching to one another, making a skeleton? God wants us to know there is hope where we may feel there is none. Our God is a God of hope! Romans 15:13 says, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” We have the choice to either lie in the valley or allow God to breathe life into us so that we can rise. My prayer is that you will choose life. 

Debbie Hensley

Sunday, June 25, 11:00 a.m.
Preaching Pastor: Debbie Hensley

This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible!  In my mind I see this valley of dry bones; I can see the arm bones and the leg bones scattered in the field.  It’s not a gory setting; they are just there waiting to be used again--to be put back together.  It reminds me of that song, “The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone; the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone….”  You get the picture.  Do you know what is the coolest thing about this valley of bones?  In this scripture they come back to life with the breath of God!  What made the bones dry?  Why were they scattered?  How are your bones today?  Feeling a little dry?  There is hope for dry bones!  As we walk through the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14, let’s find out what hope God has for us.