What Good Is a Small Church?

ChurchPastor Joe Thorn said he’s seen many small churches, some being the salt of the earth, some needing a smack upside the head. Last year, he wrote a four part series on what small churches can do in their communities.

  1. “As I have seen several churches in my area continue to dwindle in size I have watched the leadership of many of these churches settle into into one of three dangerous mentalities: elitism, defeatism, and survivalism. These are mentalities I know well as they have characterized my ministry at one time or another.”
  2. “Many smaller churches feel extremely limited by their size,” but they don’t have to compete with other churches for market share or apologize to anyone for their size.
  3. “Smaller churches are no less hindered from doing what God has called his people to do than are larger churches. Having more people does not maker it easier.”
  4. “My wife and I once attended a Reformed Baptist Church that fits my current definition of a “small” church. There was no worship leader. No choir. No instruments. No overhead projection. No cool lights. The building was plain-Jane. Yet their gathering was powerful. Why?”

Thorn has a “three-book series on the confession, nature, and expression of the Church” coming out this fall from Moody, which will likely cover these themes and much more.

Skenandoa

I got to thinking about the old song, “Oh Shenandoah,” this weekend, for no important reason. It’s one of The Divine Sissel’s favorite numbers (as witness the video above). She says she learned it from a Norwegian sea captain, which is no surprise, since one of its many permutations over the years has been its service as a sea shanty. It’s certainly one of America’s most beautiful native songs, and also one of its most versatile and mysterious.

In fact, one has to ask, “What in Burl Ives’ name is the song about, anyway?” It addresses Shenandoah, which we all know to be a river and a valley in Virginia, but then it talks about “the wide Missouri,” thousands of miles away. This is the question I set out to answer, sparing no expense in consulting a sophisticated new technology called Wikipedia.

Well. Turns out it’s not about the Shenandoah Valley (or river) at all. There was a guy named Shenandoah. Continue reading Skenandoa

‘The Wicked Flee,’ by Matthew Iden

The Wicked Flee

One last Marty Singer novel for now. A new one’s coming out at the end of the month, but you’ll have to wait breathlessly for my review of that one.

The Wicked Flee starts with our hero sick in bed, not with the colon cancer he’s been fighting, but with the flu. But when his friend, undercover cop Chuck Rhee, shows up at his door saying his teenage sister has disappeared, Marty gets up and joins him in the hunt.

This installment differs from the previous books in jumping between points of view. Part of the time we’re with Marty and Chuck in their desperate hunt, part of the time we follow a couple sociopathic human traffickers, and much of the book is seen through the eyes of Sarah Haynesworth, a Maryland state police officer. In fact, Marty is kind of a secondary character this time around.

But the writing is excellent, and the tension ratchets up effectively. Recommended. Not too much graphic stuff.

‘The Spike,’ by Matthew Iden

The Spike

Another Marty Singer novel by Matthew Iden. I liked this one particularly, since it revisited some themes from the first and best novel in the series, A Reason to Live.

At the beginning of The Spike, Marty is a witness to the murder of a businesswoman in a DC Metro station. He tries and fails to chase the murderer down, but the victim’s family hires him to find the killer. Prospects of success seem slim. The woman worked in real estate and seemed to have no particular enemies.

But as he investigates, Marty learns more than he wants to know about the seedy side of Washington real estate, a world of sweetheart deals where politicians and developers profit and poor people lose their homes. It gets increasingly difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

What I liked best about The Spike was that the themes of Marty’s cancer treatment and his relationships return to play a larger part than in the last couple stories. The theme of politics shows up this time around, which worried me (author Iten doesn’t say much about politics but I suspect his are to the left of mine), but I think it was handled pretty evenhandedly. The only corrupt politician whose party is mentioned is Republican, but on the other hand the majority of the political sleazebags are Washington, DC civic officials – and we all know what party those people would be.

So I happily recommend The Spike to the reader. Cautions for the usual.

Damning Praise for Alexander Herzen

Tolstoy thought Herzen (1812-70) was one of the finest prose writers of his time, and so did Turgenev and Dostoyevsky. He was also an editor, a political activist and a scathing and ironical polemicist, castigating equally the Russian despots in Petersburg and his fellow socialists in exile in London, Geneva and Paris. In the years between the European-wide revolutions of 1848 and the czar’s brutal suppression of the Polish insurrection of 1863, he was one of the most provocative revolutionary minds of his time. When he was buried at Père Lachaise in Paris in 1870, a mourner exclaimed: “To the Voltaire of the 19th century!” That is not how he has been remembered.

Michael Ignatieff reviews a book on Herzen that offers reasons for remembering the old Russian author in more welcoming terms than someone whom Lenin praised. (via Arts & Letters Daily)

‘One Right Thing,’ by Matthew Iden

One Right Thing

Another day, another Marty Singer book by Matthew Iden. I’m zipping through them pretty fast. I expect I’ll miss them when I’ve run out.

One Right Thing begins with a seemingly irrational act on the part of Marty Singer, retired Washington, D.C. cop and cancer survivor. He’s driving down a Virginia highway when he sees a billboard with a man’s picture on it. The message says that the man, J. D. Hope, was murdered, and offers a reward for clues. Marty turns his car around and heads to the town where the murder happened.

He’s not playing knight errant, righting wrongs from the back of a metaphorical white horse. Back when he was a detective, Marty helped convict J.D. Hope of a crime he probably didn’t commit. His partner planted evidence, and Marty suspected but let it pass. Hope was a career criminal, after all, and was bound to go to prison sooner or later. But he’s ashamed.

In the man’s town, Marty clashes with a strangely passive local police department as he uncovers a ring of crystal meth producers. J.D. Hope, he learns, was making an attempt at redemption when he died, and Marty has his own redemption to pursue.

One Right Thing is an excellent mystery, well written, with a solid moral center. Recommended. Cautions for language. The violence isn’t too extreme.

Praying Audaciously as Moses Did

Any man who seeks God’s calling should pray the way Moses prayed. We should ask God to give us intimate knowledge of him. The things we do will be successful only if God is in them. Whenever we do something that God has called us to do—whether it is serving in our singleness, learning how to be married, working at a job, or getting involved in ministry—we need to pray that God will show us his way to go about things.

Philip Ryken, “2 Audacious Demands We Are to Make of God

‘Blueblood,’ by Matthew Iden

Blueblood

This is the second in the Marty Singer mystery series by Matthew Iden. I didn’t love Blueblood as much as the first book, A Reason to Live, but it gave full value for money.

Marty Singer, as you may recall from my previous review, is a retired Washington D.C. cop, going through chemotherapy for colon cancer. He has now semi-adopted a young woman who was involved in two of his cases, and she’s helping him open his heart to new experiences and attitudes. Though he’s physically weaker, his life is suddenly richer than it’s been in a long time.

In Blueblood, he’s approached by a police detective involved in an inter-departmental task force, investigating drug crimes in the various, often overlapping, jurisdictions around Washington. Several men have been tortured and murdered recently, and what the public doesn’t know is that they were all undercover police officers. He thinks that Marty, with his amateur status, might be able to turn something up without tipping off possible moles in the forces.

Marty starts talking to people, turning over evidence the police already have. What he ultimately discovers involves corruption, betrayal, and retribution from directions he never suspected.

This is a good detective procedural, with well-drawn characters. Also, author Iden knows how to turn a memorable phrase. My only disappointment is that there was less of the personal rebirth element than we found in the previous book. But that’s almost unavoidable in a series – no character can believably change profoundly again and again.

I liked Bluebloods, and recommend it. Cautions for language and some intense situations.

May 17


Constitution Day parade in Hamar, Norway. Photo credit: Torstein Frogner. Our celebration tomorrow will doubtless look exactly like this.

I will not be posting tomorrow, as I’ll be participating in my Sons of Norway lodge’s Syttende Mai (May 17) celebration. We’ll host a meal of Norwegian open-faced sandwiches and I’ll give a lecture on the history of the holiday.

What confuses people about Syttende Mai is that it’s Norway Constitution Day, not its independence day. It seems illogical to put the constitutional cart before the independence horse, but that’s what happened in the land of the midnight sun. The constitution was drafted as part of an abortive independence effort in 1814, and over the following 90 years or so, the Norwegians stubbornly celebrated the day just to aggravate their Swedish overlords. By the time independence came in 1905, Constitution Day was deeply ingrained in the national psyche. All other holidays, even Independence Day, take a back seat.

Have a good one!

Book Reviews, Creative Culture