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Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Year of Living Faithfully (and maybe, Dangerously!)

As my website article explains in more detail, I've been intrigued by the plethora of books and movements based on "a year of..." experiments. Go to the Bishop's Corner on the Minnesota Annual Conference website ( and read the full article.

During the days around Christmas, I read one of these books, The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs, who set out to explore the role of religion in his life and his fascination with biblical literalism. His witty and at times profound insights are worth the read. He set out on his year of living biblically acknowledging that he would undoubtedly be changed by the end of year and he wasn't sure just what those changes might be. Liking to be in control as most of the rest of us, it was a risk but a risk that he was willing to make. And, in fact, at the end of the year he is different in his approach to religion than he was when he began.

These books of experimentation in living differently for a year have some common components: a passion for learning or doing something different; an intense focus on one aspect of living which then limits the multitude of choices and resources of time, money, food, etc.; the sacrifice of choices that allowed the accomplishment of a (mostly) desired goal; but such endeavors of passion, intense focus, limitation and sacrifice are all very counter-culture.

A year of living differently. As for me, I'm going to journey on the road toward more (everything is relative) sustainable living based on my Christian faith.

How will you live differently this year? And even, dangerously (as in risky, uncertain where it will all end up, potentially costly or sacrificial).

Even if you're not quite ready to jump in there (there's always Lent!), what about this phenomenon of people (actually or vicariously) desiring significant change in who they are and how they live? Is this what discipleship is meant to be?



Pastor Amanda said...

I've actually read a few of the books mentioned in the full article. NPR recently had a story on them as "shtick lit." I'll tell you, A.J. Jacobs book, "Living Biblically" will very much preach. In fact, it does. It's changed the way I'm reading the Bible. I find myself asking different kinds of questions. "Not Buying It" was the basis for my 2006 Thanksgiving Eve sermon-- that one maybe didn't go over as well.

I wrote in my blog about my two New Year's resolutions. I'm going to admit my weaknesses more freely, asking for help when I need it. I'm also going to live more balanced life. The part of that I am most excited about is enjoying food more. I've observed I simply inhale food. I believe I need to taste it and be more grateful for all the component parts. It even will involve trying to know my supply line in greater detail.

Mindfulness, I suppose.

My book title will be,
My Year of Mindful Eating.

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

Amanda: I'm assuming that your Thanksgiving Eve sermon didn't go over quite so well because you challenged our god of consumerism! I think Ken and I are going to try to "not buy anything" (except the essentials will have to be carefully negotiated) during Lent. I didn't hear NPR call these books "shtick lit;" I missed that article. I think AJ Jacobs qualifies for reading in "emergent theology" with folks.

Do you think anyone else will "live dangerously" and join our discussion???

David said...

I have read a couple of reviews of Jacobs' book (Christian Century, New York Times), but not the book itself, so can't comment directly on it. Joan Didion's book (A Year of Magical Thinking) is one I hope to read sometime. It got great reviews. One of my favorite "year" titles is actually an older one, Phyllis Rose, The Year of Reading Proust (1997). Some year I hope to read it and Proust together!

But as one untimely born, I guess, I began a year of living differently last June. I began a jouney and invited my congregation to join me. It was a year long journey through the New Testament. Amazingly, one can read the New Testament in a year by reading exactly five chapters a week - 52 weeks, 260 chapters. I have used some part of each week's readings for the Sunday sermon, though have occasionally also added a seasonal Scripture. That has made for some interesting combinations. Last week we read both the story of Herod killing the innocent children and I Corinthians 13. The sermon was about love as a threat to the way things sometimes are. This week we will read II Corinthians 5 about reconciliation along with the story of the wise men from the East.

I have found this practice deeply enriching. In addition to doing the reading, I am providing blog commentary on each week's readings, to share some thought and background on the text. To slow down and savor the text in this way, to let it sink more deeply into the mind and heart and soul has been wonderful. One of the joys of this practice has been the discovery of some wonderful neglected gems. I have never seen I Corinthians 16:14 on a bumper sticker or a church sign, but maybe we should be more out front with it - "Let all that you do be done in love." That, in itself, could be a year of living dangerously!

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

You raise a good point that each of these books on "living a year" underscore. The year of change or living intentionally begins whenever it begins. It doesn't have to be January 1 or Ash Wednesday. Sometimes it's foisted on us (like an illness or death of a family member) and sometimes it just begins with an intentional start.

Gail Hernandez from NH said...

I haven't read any of the books, but I'd welcome the opportunity to make a public commitment, so here goes.

Although I've moved to NH, I always consider myself a part of Hennepin Ave UMC, and I'm willing to risk getting the embarassing question when I return to MN on vacation, "Have you lived the life you said you would this year?".

So, in 2008, I'm going to live The Year of Paying Attention to God. That could involve so many things, but the best way I know to start doing that is to spend at least one hour a day in prayer. It's something I've been meaning to do, saying I would do, and promising God I would do. Perhaps now the risk of public embarassment might get me to do it; and besides, why WOULDN'T I want to pay attention to God? It might just be GOOD for me? Jer. 29:11 and so many other verses give me reasons why I don't need to fear my future.

And perhaps I'll get some of you to pray that I'll fulfill my commitment. :)

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

Gail, how fun to hear from you! It's called "publiking." When you "go public" with something you want to do, you know people will ask you about it. It's one of the reasons I tell people I run; they want to know if I ran that morning. Or in the snow or whatever. It's a great way to start a new habit with a healthy form of accountability. Yes, we'll pray for you!

Brent said...

Two points - The first is that it always has seemed goofy to me to have New Year's in January, at least in Minnesota. Hard to feel like it's a fresh start...Better in April.

Second, a few years ago when people were just starting to worry about the intrusiveness of the Internet and people were carefully hiding behind nicknames and secret identities, I decided it would be a lot simpler just to lead a transparent life so there would be nothing to hide. It's actually very freeing, and for someone who leads kind of a public life, more relaxing.


Jeff Ozanne said...

I wanted to say that this post has had a convicting effect on me ... not sure what I am going to do with that conviction, but I know it has really made me look again at how I live my life and what I am willing and unwilling to change. I was really struck with the notion of the danger that living faithful involves. The real danger to me is that it would change my life, the fear that if I actually lived a more faithful life I would be different, the things I love would fall away. The Buddhists would point that this is because of my attachments to things. The story of the rich young man who goes away sad comes to mind for me. I know I struggle with attachments that hold me back from following Christ. The more I think about it, the more I think the barrier to all of that is a fear of how my life will be different if I actually changed. I am not ready to make public declarations about things. But I appreciate the conversation here and what it has begun to stir within me.

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for your strength and bravery for going public with your thoughts. It sounds like you are beginning to "apprehend" rather than "comprehend" God's tug at your heart.

Jane Vennard in her book, "Embracing the World", talks about becoming aware of something and its meaning but not necessarily understanding what is happening. If you'd like to know more, I'd be happy to send you her book. It has been an eyeopener for me AGAIN, and is helping me move forward in faith and "apprehension".

Gail Hernandez

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

I think Jeff has the spirit of Christianity! It does change us and it is scary. The books I read on "a year of living..." also reflected that same sense. But the fear is what we'll lose as opposed to what we gain. One thing in particular that AJ Jacobs gained that was a very positive thing for him was Sabbath. It truly became a gift for him who had not in his "I'm about as Jewish as the Olive Garden is Italian" life. What might we gain if we truly lived dangerously and faithfully?

Jeff Reed said...

I’ve found a few of the “year in the life” books interesting, yet problematic. We tend to get really excited about new things this time of year (granted, at this point we’re pretty well on our way) and by February or March the newness has worn off and we’re back to our old ways and habits. Just look at the exercise industry that takes advantage of this phenomenon. By taking a “year in the life” approach to life I think we dance dangerously close to our “newnesses” becoming quickly passé. As a society, we rarely look far enough into the future to consider the consequences of our actions. I think many of these books reflect our thinking in that respect. Counter-culture would be to look at “the life of”.

I’ve been thinking about Bishop Sally’s call for us to cultivate our spirituality and how that ties in with sustainability and “living dangerously”. (As long as we’re borrowing agrarian metaphors.) In fact, I believe it fits quite well. We need to cultivate a spirituality that is sustainable. Meaning we need to look at what we’re sowing not as an annual crop, but a perennial harvest.

ironic1 said...

Speaking of living dangerously, Bishop...

Yesterday the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Texas, well-known spiritual adviser to President Bush, endorsed Sen. Obama's bid for the presidency.

[news article]

I'm scratching my head over this because I thought we as pastors were supposed to steer waaaaaay clear of endorsing political parties or candidates or suffer the wrath of the IRS coming down on us and taking away our nonprofit status. Could you speak, in this political season, as to what guidelines you use for yourself? or could you point to any good guidelines?

In practice I have understood that discussing issues and policies to be perfectly okay with our congregations, but to avoid any direct endorsement or condemnation of any party or candidate.


Lawrence Lee, United Church of Two Harbors

ironic1 said...

Well, after some good discussion with colleagues and doing some of my own research, here is something I wrote for my congregation and myself. Feel free to comment. I'd still like to hear what you have to say on the subject, bishop.

Pastor Amanda said...

Did you and Ken decide to buy only essentials during Lent? If so, blessings as you and Ken enter this time of intentional subsistence living. I look forward to reading about your choices-- are Kleenex an essential for you? How about Luna Bars?

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

Yes, now that Lent has started, Ken and I have committed to not buy anything other than "essentials." Amanda, Kleenex is definitely an essential because I have a wicked cold--anyone near me would want to make sure I had plenty of them! I'm at meetings in Europe so it's a little challenge not to be distracted by anything but a good thing. It's just a good discipline.

Lawrence: I will get back to your concerns as soon as I can. I think you raise some (other) good issues. (After all, it's time for me to change this blog but I got a little bogged down...)


Kerry Green said...

whoa... you have a blog that is crazy. i gave up my sushi, fresca, and online procrastinating addiction for lent. well the last one kinda hasn't lasted.

Thomas said...

We are challenged by faith to ask "What is essential?" The man born blind (last weeks lectionary reading) had the man rejected by community, family and religious community before he stood alone before Jesus. Stripped of all he "had", he discovered what he truly had- the Messiah before him in living color.

Striping ones self of the trappings of secular life is an act of faith and we need to appreciate the complicated and tangled relationships we have with the consumer culture around us. Our "wants" "desires" and "wishes" make for a life tangled by the culture of acquisition. Our faith calls us to imagine something better...

Thomas said...

We are challenged by faith to ask "What is essential?" The man born blind (last weeks lectionary reading) had the man rejected by community, family and religious community before he stood alone before Jesus. Stripped of all he "had", he discovered what he truly had- the Messiah before him in living color.

Striping ones self of the trappings of secular life is an act of faith and we need to appreciate the complicated and tangled relationships we have with the consumer culture around us. Our "wants" "desires" and "wishes" make for a life tangled by the culture of acquisition. Our faith calls us to imagine something better...

redwingmeth said...

Camping has made a deep and continuing difference in my spiritual journey. It is where I struggled with my call to ministry. When I am camping life directions become clear. There is clarity about priorities, relationships, and values. It all becomes so clear when we can see the heavens unobstructed by artificial lights or observe the tiniest insect or flower. The most important aspect is hospitality. Camp opens you to the opportunity for grace at meals and in relationships. You take time to eat together and share in conversation. Worship includes singing around a campfire and hearing messages from the heart. The best way we can enhance our camping program is by being an advocate for all our sites acquainted with the uniqueness of each and how they contribute as a whole to the development of disciples of Jesus Christ. Wayne Walther

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