Anne Lamott Always Shows Up for Us

The prolific author’s latest book provides a booster shot of spiritual courage. She’ll be discussing it with us on April 8, 2021.

The flaps of Anne Lamott’s latest book, Dusk Night Dawn: on revival and courage, ask, “How can we recapture the confidence we once had as we stumble through the dark times that seem increasingly bleak? How can we cope as bad news pile up around us? Where, Anne Lamott asks, ‘do we start to get our world and joy and hope and our faith in life itself back…with our sore feet, hearing loss, stiff fingers, poor digestion, stunned minds, broken hearts?’” These are big, good questions.

I have more questions: How do you review an Anne Lamott book? How do you explain this verbal life-force to someone who may not already be familiar with her? How do you catch a cloud and hold it down?

The New York Times bestselling author of Help, Thanks, WowSmall VictoriesStitchesSome Assembly RequiredGrace (Eventually)Plan BTraveling MerciesBird by BirdOperating InstructionsHallelujah Anyway and many other fiction and non-fiction books, Anne Lamott is a successful writer by anyone’s definition. Words pour out of her. While a large proportion of these words are about herself, her stories of single-motherhood, writing, alcoholism, activism, and Christianity have resonated with readers for over three decades. 

When asked why she writes, she told the Dallas Morning News, “I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.”

Anne Lamott is nothing if not self-aware. With dead-eye accuracy, she writes the books she wants to read. They are good medicine, but they are difficult to describe individually. They even dress alike. Her latest book, Dusk Night Dawn, is packaged like all her books since Help Thanks Wow: It’s a slim volume with two color printing, gift-book binding, pretty endpapers and a single excerpt on the back cover. She does not need to be endorsed by other writers; rather, what she writes just needs to be packaged beautifully and presented to her adoring audience.

Despite the sameness and the foregone conclusion of success that this formula suggests, I’m part of that audience. I love Anne Lamott’s writing. I have all her books, and I’ve gone to hear her speak every time she’s come to town. But it’s tricky trying to individuate this latest book. In many ways, Dusk Night Dawn is just like Help Thanks Wow, or Hallelujah Anyway, or any of her other books in this vein. They’re each a stream-of-consciousness recounting of episodes from throughout her life, with a few images and individuals anchoring her thoughts. This one, written after her recent marriage to Neal Allen and during the last presidential term adds these topics, polar opposites that both lead her to deep rumination, and still covers single-motherhood, writing, alcoholism, activism, and Christianity.

If you haven’t read any of her previous books, I have no idea how you might respond if you jumped into this massive oeuvre with Dusk Night Dawn. If you have read Anne Lamott before, of course you need to read this latest. While you’ll be interested to hear about how her online dating worked out, you’ll have the same reaction to her writing that you’ve had before: you might think she needs more editing; you might think she’s prophetic; you might wonder where she’s going with some of her anecdotes, only to find yourself pondering them like a good parable several days later. Or you might skip the literary judgement and declare this new book just perfect. Because, more than anything, her constant message to readers is how deeply we are loved by our Creator, even in the darkest night of our unedited, rambling imperfection. Even, and especially, when the world seems like it’s falling apart. Nobody’s looking for perfection; we just need to show up for each other.

The Anne Lamott quote on the back of the book says, “Yes, these are times of great illness and distress. Yet the center may just hold.” Dusk Night Dawn is sub-titled on revival and courage. But isn’t all her writing about revival and courage? While she struggles every day to show up for her life, her center has clearly held. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s held well enough for her to create a multitude of books about her journey, books that help us better understand where the center of our own lives should be and help us show up, for ourselves and our dear ones.

So, yes, we are older. Yes, our joints are stiff, and we’ve been stumbling through a heartbreaking year, even if we were lucky enough to find or hold love in it. And yes, this book looks and reads a lot like her books that have come before it. But don’t let that keep you from reading it. It’s the same, but it’s different. The parables stay the same, but we change. There’s still more to understand.

As always, she’s tangential, irreverent, charming, opinionated, and brutally honest. Reading her, book after book, is like sitting down with a thoroughly modern Maria (When I’m with her I’m confused, out of focus, and bemused, and I never know exactly where I am. Unpredictable as weather, she’s as flighty as a feather. She’s a darling; she’s a demon; she’s a lamb. She’d out pester any pest, drive a hornet from its nest. She can throw a twirling dervish out of whirl. She is gentle; she is wild; she’s a riddle; she’s a child; she’s a headache; she’s an angel…she’s Anne Lamott.) How do you explain her remarkable verbal magic?

How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? Read Dusk Night Dawn. Or, if you’re not already familiar with her work, go back to Operating Instructions or Bird by Bird and get to know her and her people from the beginning. Each book layers richness on the last. You can’t read about Anne Lamott: you have to experience her books for yourself. You might not be able to explain just why, but chances are you’ll feel revived and more courageous afterward. And isn’t that what the sub-title promised?

Anne Lamott will be featured in the Episcopal Booksellers Association Authors Series on April 8 at 6 p.m. Central. Join us to experience her irrepressible wisdom by registering at the link here.

To purchase Dusk Night Dawn from the Cathedral Bookstore, click here.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.
~ Henri Nouwen

The Advent Newsletter goes all mod

Though we’re publishing it electronically this year, the Bookstore’s traditional Advent Newsletter still provides our suggestions for books with heart—for gifts or for your own shelf!

Every year, since practically the beginning of time, the Cathedral Bookstore has published an Advent Newsletter. The newsletter has traditionally been an elegant, cream-colored affair, inserted into the service leaflet during the four Sundays in Advent. It consisted of a selection of books that the bookstore deemed interesting to the congregation for giving to loved ones, or for reading over the twelve days of Christmas.*

The books were not meant to be the latest hot titles (you can read the New York Times or tune into NPR for that), but rather a list of books that might really appeal to the sensibilities of our readers, books that they could give to a friend or grandchild without worrying that they might somehow be inappropriate or uninspiring, or books that would perfectly suit a cozy cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon. We have tried to find books with heart, on a variety of topics, that literate, spiritual, open-hearted people would gladly welcome to their shelves.

The hope was that over the course of Advent, a large number of congregants would receive the newsletter and stop by after the service to do a little elf work, have a cookie with us, and visit for a bit.

The cookies and the visiting weren’t an option this year, but elf work and reading seemed more necessary than ever. We decided to forgo the traditional printed newsletter and publish our suggestions on-line. The Advent Newsletter made its electronic debut in the Cathedral Bulletin’s December edition.

Though we are quite hi-tech now, we remain committed to the traditional pairings of real books and tea, cookies and friends, correspondence and paper, and all the other lovely things that make life a bit nicer. Perhaps next year, we’ll be able to print a traditional cream Advent Newsletter and insert it into the service leaflets. In the meantime, despite the very modern delivery of our list, we hope that at some point in the future you’ll have the chance to read some—or all!—of the titles we’ve suggested. They spoke to us, and we’d like to share them.

Here they are. All are available on our site, for pick up or shipping.

Books for Adults

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson: This engrossing true adventure takes readers into the underground world of fly-tiers and feather thieves. A heist from the British Museum of Natural History’s ornithological collection catapults the author into a world-wide, years-long quest to understand how far the deeply obsessive pursuit of rare feathers can take fly-tiers.

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think 
by Jennifer Ackerman
: Not only do birds have more in common with us than previously thought, there is also no one way of being a bird. Drawing from recent scientific research that dramatically shifts our understanding of how birds live and think, itreveals that a remarkable intelligence gives them abilities, both positive and negative, that we once considered uniquely human.  

The Lost Book of the Grail   
Charlie Lovett
: A technophobic bibliophile goes on a quest through time to discover a missing manuscript, the unknown history of an English Cathedral, and the secret of the Holy Grail.  Combining literary and historical research with elements of cozy mysteries, classic love stories, and adventure tales, this genre-blending tale will delight both book lovers and church history buffs.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep:Though Harper Lee never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird, she tried to write the story of Willie Maxwell, a rural Alabama preacher accused of murder in the 1970s. Cep’s masterful research and insight bring every aspect of this remarkable story to life: Maxwell’s crimes, courtroom drama, racial politics of the Deep South, and a deeply moving portrait of one of our most revered writers. 

This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing: A Memoir by Jacqueline Winspear: The author of the beloved Maisie Dobbs mysteries shares her post-War English childhood in a memoir rich in history and humanity. Revealing her artistic inspirations and capturing nuances of working-class strengths and family secrets, she includes her grandfather’s shellshock; her mother’s evacuation from London during the Blitz; her father’s work on a WWII explosives team; her parents’ years living with Romany Gypsies; and her own experiences picking hops and fruit in rural Kent. 

Every Moment Holy: Pocket Edition, volume 1 by Douglas McKelvey and Dan Bustard: This beautiful illustrated book of liturgies for the ordinary events of daily life — such as “A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends” or “A Liturgy for Laundering” or “A Liturgy for the First Hearthfire of the Season,” remind us that our lives are filled with sacred purpose even when we are too busy to notice.

Books for Children

Love Can Come in Many Ways by Terry Pierce: Lift a swan’s felt wing to discover a baby cuddled underneath, then lift a felt speech bubble to discover the words “You are loved!” Beneath each flap, little ones will find a wealth of loving engagement, from the songs a mama frog sings to a warm hug from a papa elephant’s trunk. Grade: Birth-Pre-K.

The Jesus Storybook Bible Christmas Collection: Stories, songs, and reflections for the Advent season by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This interactive story, sound, and song experience prepares families for Christmas. In addition to the timeless story, the book features recordings of classic Christmas music, a map that traces Jesus through the Old Testament, and devotional readings. Rather than ending on Christmas morning with Jesus’s birth, it provides a complete celebration of the holiday season. Grades: PreK-2

Birdsong by Julie Flett: A young girl moves from the country to a small town, and she feels lonely until she meets an elderly woman who shares her love of arts and crafts. Can the girl navigate the changing seasons and failing health of her new friend? Textured images of birds, flowers, art, and landscapes bring vibrancy and warmth to this story that features Cree traditions and highlights the fulfillment of intergenerational relationships and shared passions. Grades: PK-3rd

Dinosaur Feathers by Dennis Nolan: Poetic nonfiction with glorious illustrations explains how dinosaurs evolved into birds. Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the shores of Mesozoic seas. Large and fearsome, they ruled the earth, until gradually, there were no dinosaurs left. But they didn’t disappear completely. Some dinosaurs had feathers, which grew and grew…until all through the skies were hundreds of species of birds, which flew and flew. Grades: 1-4

The Pig War: How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Share by Emma Bland Smith and Alison Jay: This true story tells how America and England almost went to war in 1859 over a pig. On the small island of San Juan in the Pacific Northwest, the British and the Americans are on fairly good terms until one fateful morning when an innocent British hog eats some American potatoes. Tensions flare, armies gather, cannons are rolled out . . . all because of a pig! With humorous text and folksy illustrations the story models peaceful conflict resolution. Grades: 2-4

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr: Astrid spends her days racing down the hillside on her sled, singing loudly, and visiting Gunnvald, her grumpy, septuagenarian best friend and godfather. Two startling arrivals to the village of Glimmerdal reveal that Gunnvald has been keeping a big secret that will test their friendship. Astrid — Pippi Longstocking meets Heidi meets Anne Shirley — navigates the unexpected changes with warmth and humor. Grades: 2-5

Letters from Father Christmas  by J.R.R. Tolkien: Every December from 1920 to 1943, an envelope would arrive at the Tolkien household bearing a stamp from the North Pole. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting, along with a beautiful colored drawing or painting. These fanciful, heartwarming stories of Father Christmas are now reissued in a centenary edition. Grades: 3-6

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte: This well-researched historical fiction by a Deaf librarian is set in a thriving deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 19th century. Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected, but now she faces family turmoil and rising tensions between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. A cunning young scientist arrives hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness, and she must struggle to save herself from his experiment. Her story asks readers to reconsider what normal means. Grades: 3-7

Philosophy by DK: For thousands of years, philosophers have asked questions like “What is right and what is wrong?”, “Am I real?”, or “What is the point of existence?” These questions have sparked passionate debates about how we understand the world around us. This engaging book introduces philosophy through the teachings of Plato, Confucius, Simone de Beauvoir, and many more. Including biographies of influential philosophers, it explores questions that have been fundamental to the development of scientific study, logical thinking, religious beliefs, laws and governance. Grades: 5 and up

From the Cathedral

Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times by Bishop Michael Curry: Bishop Curry expands his message of hope in this inspirational road map for living the way of love, illuminated with moving lessons from his own life. Through the prism of his faith, ancestry, and personal journey, he shows how America came this far and, more important, how we can discover the gifts we need to live the way of love: deep reservoirs of hope and resilience, simple wisdom, the discipline of nonviolence, and unshakable regard for human dignity.

In the Midst of the City: The Gospel and God’s Politics by Barkley S. Thompson
Foreword 
by the Honorable Linnet Deily: Dean Thompson makes an elegant, profound connection between religion and politics. He argues that Christian faith and politics are inseparable, and though the Gospel is inherently political, it is not partisan. To embody God’s politics, we must first steep ourselves in God’s vision for the world embodied in the Gospels, and only then can we act politically. This collection of essays and sermons addresses hot-button social issues by putting this principle into practice, challenging the reader to live God’s politics and to be the vanguard of God’s kingdom in the world.

Belovedness: Finding God (and Self) on Campusedited by Becky Zartman and James Franklin: Thought-provoking essays by Canon Zartman and college chaplains from several denominations address issues of faith, identity, making choices, success and failure, relationships, sexuality, partying, and mental health, through the concept of belovedness. Belovedness gives students a framework for living their lives set free by the love of God and teaches them how to find the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college.

And, of course, we should mention two very special gifts:

The Resurrection Angel Stained Glass: This replica of the angel in the Resurrection window over the altar was created by artisans in a traditional enamel glazing process. The piece comes packaged with a copy of Dean Thompson’s sermon “Clipped Wings,” a contemplation of this angel.  The package includes a chain for display.

Wooden Christmas Trees by Dieter Ufer: Each year, Dieter Ufer creates exquisite wooden Christmas Trees for sale in the Bookstore. A Cathedral parishioner since1960, he has provided such extraordinary service to the Cathedral that he received the Dean’s Cross in 2016. His father, a talented metalsmith, crafted the cover of the baptismal font and many other pieces integral to the worship experience at the Cathedral, but Dieter has always been drawn to working with wood. His heirloom-quality trees, available in three sizes — tiny, small, and tall — consist of two interlocking pieces designed to be easily packed away for many Christmases to come. A beautiful Cathedral tradition, the trees can be displayed singly or in groves on your table, mantel, or shelf.

Wishing you a peaceful Advent, a joyous Christmas, good health, and happy reading!

*NB: No Advent Newsletters were ever read during the sermon, no matter the length or subject. Any reading that happened to take place during the service occurred solely during the prelude or the announcements.

It seems like everything sleeps in winter, but it’s really a time of renewal and reflection.
~Elizabeth Camden

Can’t Keep a Good Bookstore Down

When the pandemic shut our doors, we found a window. And it’s open for business!

For thirty-seven years, the Cathedral Bookstore has been a welcoming corner of Latham Hall, a place to see friends on Sundays, and a resource for the literary needs of parishioners and downtowners. When the pandemic led the Cathedral to move to on-line worship and forced Treebeards to shutter, the Bookstore had to do some quick adjusting, too.

We began exploring new service options, starting with delivering books to homes. It was a great way to see people when we were feeling isolated, but we soon learned that Cathedral parishioners come from all over Greater Houston’s 9,444 square miles, (that’s larger than New Jersey)—and some from even further. Hand delivery was not sustainable for all the books people needed. Over the summer, we expanded our website, explored drop-ship options with our vendors, and set up direct invoicing. We’re getting to be very familiar with the kind folks at the local USPS. We still deliver by hand when that’s the best way to get the job done, and since the Cathedral offices opened, we provide lobby pick-up Monday through Friday. It was quite a summer, but readers need to read, and we had to find ways to get them their books.

We’re grateful to all the supportive booklovers who continued to order from us when supply chains were slow, and we weren’t just sure just when books might arrive. We’re thankful for all the recommendations of great titles that customers have shared with us. And we so appreciate the customers who have sent us their book club lists and said please order all of these for me. All of these purchases directly support the operating fund of the Cathedral, so buying a book from the Bookstore provides manifold blessings!

We can’t wait for the day when we’ll be able to open our doors and welcome everyone back for cookies, puzzles, and browsing. In the meantime, look on our website, Facebook, and Instagram for information on new titles, books for Cathedral programs, and other items of interest. 

We continue to expand the website as fast as we can, but with the hundreds of books and gifts we carry, and the untold number that are available, we’ll never be able to list everything.  Whether we meet in person or on-line, our goal is to provide you all the books and gifts you need, delivered with love, so don’t hesitate to let us know how we can be of service.

Contact the Bookstore:

Website: https://thecathedralbookstore.com

Email: bookstore@christchurchcathedral.org

Phone: 713-222-0286

Facebook: @christchurchcathedralbookstore

Instagram: cathedralbookstore


When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.
~Helen Keller

Mystic Wisdom for Modern Times

As demands piled up, a battered copy of Revelations of Divine Love led my introverted friend and me to contemplate Julian of Norwich.  “I want to be an anchoress,” said my friend. “No way,” I replied. “Even you can’t stay home all the time.” Not long after that, we found ourselves at home all the time. What better time to read a new novella about Dame Julian?

Before the virus, daily life was busy. Phones were ringing, emails flying. There were coffee dates, yoga classes, meetings, and dinners; between them all, texting, Instagramming, and sometimes — when I could stand the acrimony — Facebooking. There were also many lovely hours at the Cathedral Bookstore engaging with volunteers and customers, discovering and selling books, searching for delightful gifts, and decorating for the seasons of the church year. When everything rolled along smoothly, it was wonderful, but the smallest stick in the wheel could quickly turn busy to overwhelming.

A friend who volunteers at the Bookstore calls herself a recluse, but she’s actually very social—on her own terms. The term “friendly introvert” comes up frequently in our conversations. One day as demands piled up, we were therapeutically sorting used books. A battered copy of Revelations of Divine Love led us to contemplate Julian of Norwich, and the lives of anchorites in general.  “I want to be an anchoress,” said my friend.

The cloistered existence sounded peaceful. Not ready to deal with the world? Draw the curtain. Hungry? Eat the food that appears at regular intervals. Inspired? Pray, write, sing, knit.  Have visitors when you open the curtain, and a front row seat for every service in the cathedral. Mainly, exist at a safe remove from the messy demands of daily life. But in modern times? “No way,” I told her. “Even you can’t stay home all the time.”

Not long after that conversation, we found ourselves at home all the time. We still have virtual ways of connecting; but we are not busy the way we were. Aside from work, we can draw the curtain and log off when we want. Rather than peaceful, though, it feels more stressful than the busyness did. I thought of Dame Julian again, this time wondering how she had the strength to live all those years sealed in a small room.

When I found a recently published novella about Julian, I was quick to buy it. Lady at the Window: The Lost Journal of Julian of Norwich by Robert Waldron tells the story of a Holy Week late in Julian’s life. With God’s “shewings” many years in the past, she must draw on the deepest well of her faith to remind herself that God is still with her.

Each section presents a day in Holy Week and incorporates Julian’s own words from Revelations. She shares her wisdom about God’s omnipresent love with a homeless wounded soldier, a frightened unwed mother, and several others who fear not only their situation, but also the church’s condemnation. Each visitor leaves Julian’s window feeling uplifted and beloved, even as she herself struggles to re-enter the divine light that she once experienced. The book details her daily routine, a grueling regimen of prayer, fasting, secret writing, and opening herself in complete vulnerability to the pain of her community—not at all the stress-free existence my friend and I had romanticized. Julian expresses her gratitude and deep love for the God she refers to as “My courteous Lord” and “Mother Jesus,” as she beseeches this loving entity to end her spiritual darkness.

The novella is spare but richly referential.  It weaves medieval spellings into the text in a way that feels compelling rather than gimmicky. By the end, I had to remind myself that it was not based on a real journal of Julian’s. Waldron’s text combines the interior life of the notable mystic with her larger historical context, presenting her in a way that made me want to delve more deeply into her actual writings.

Waldron presents the mystic experience thoughtfully. His twenty books include six on Thomas Merton and two on Henri Nouwen. He has received four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and multiple awards for his writing on modern spirituality. In the afterword, he says Julian of Norwich’s writings serve as “a window, though which we can at any time gaze, and see the great beauty, wisdom, and counsel she has to offer for the twenty-first century.” His novella provides an accessible entry to her world.

Reading it reminded me that while the virus cloisters me away from the daily joys — and pains — of busily interacting with the world, there are still many ways to engage with my own life, with my community, and with God. In Julian’s darkest week, she remains fully present to all three. Reading about the profound mix of light and darkness in her Holy Week provided the centering thought that if we focus on the presence and love of God in everything — even in our modern plague — all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

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Lady at the Window
The Lost Journal of Julian of Norwich
a novella
978-1-64060-534-3
$16.99
Paraclete Press
To purchase, click here.

 

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.

~T.S. Eliot

Our Beloved Becky Has Written a Book!

Cathedral Canon Becky Zartman’s new book is a testament not only to the love of God, but also to the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college.

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Before the pandemic, college students lived in dorms and struggled to make sense of classes, friendships, themselves and God. Chaplains were there to walk with them on their journeys and serve as experienced, loving companions. Though the current college experience may be in flux, Belovedness: finding God (and Self) on Campus reveals the vital role chaplains can play in helping students understand their relationship with God, their communities and themselves, virtually or in person.

This collection of essays by the Rev. Becky Zartman, the Cathedral’s Canon for Welcome and Evangelism; the Rev. James Franklin, her dear friend who serves as Campus and Young Adult Missioner in Winston Salem, North Carolina, primarily at Wake Forest University; and eight other college chaplains from a variety of denominational backgrounds, begins by explaining the concept of belovedness, something those we honor as saints have understood. What made them saints, the introduction explains, was “their fidelity to who they are and whose they are. The love of God set them free and enabled them to change the world.” College, with all its “questions of vocation, relationships, and navigating young adulthood” is fundamentally about the question, ‘Who am I?’” The editors and authors in this collection want college students “to believe wholeheartedly that belovedness is the innermost ‘I am’” of their identity in God.

Each chapter asks “How would you [fill in the blank] if you knew you were loved beyond all measure? How are you going to choose to live into your belovedness?” and fills in the blank with a full range of collegiate experiences: making choices, success and failure, relationships, worship, sex, sexuality, partying, and mental health. For each topic, a particular chaplain shares anecdotes, scripture, and empathic understanding to help students understand how they might handle this aspect of college if they lived into their belovedness. Each chapter also includes further resources regarding that topic.

The book is a testament not only to the love of God, but also to the strengthening love that individuals in community can provide for one another—even, and especially, in college. Each chaplain seems carefully chosen for the subject of the chapter, and each shares their understanding in clear and specific detail, with an open and warm heart.

The last chapter, “Holy Sh*t,” written by Becky with all the energy and intellect that have made her so beloved by Cathedral members, begins by extolling the virtues of compost. She goes on to reassure students that even when they face such traumatic experiences as grief, eating disorders, sexual assault, controlled substance abuse, burnout, failure, or academic probation, “our God takes garbage and makes compost. God is working, even right now, to redeem all things. Even though you can’t see it or even imagine it. Redemption is happening; death is being turned into life.”

Finally the conclusion, “What Now?” sends students out to face their college years with the understanding that, like Jacob, their role is to wrestle with God. Only they can do the struggling necessary to grow into themselves.

Belovedness includes an appendix which explains how to find a campus ministry that will truly allow students to live into their belovedness, instructions on the prayer practice the Observatio,and step-by-step instructions for creating a small group to discuss the book.

Whether on campus or in a virtual setting, beginning or returning to college, any student who wants to find balance and peace while experiencing all that the college years have to offer will feel that they have found trusted friends and mentors in this group of chaplains and will benefit from their collaborative wisdom.  Belovedness would make a meaningful gift for graduation or back-to-school and will remind readers even long past the college years “who they are and whose they are” and how important it is to live with this understanding.

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
~Nelson Mandela

 

In Praise of Summer Reading

The shared experience of reading books in the cool of the air-conditioning will help us to understand ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better.

On the first day of summer when I was a little girl, my next-door neighbor would gather all the kids from our block and take us to the library. She’d sign us up for the summer reading program—charts and suggestions and prizes, and mostly all the wonder of books. For the rest of the summer, she would take us back once a week to get new books and check in with the librarian about our progress. The dusty cool shelves provided respite from the hot Houston humidity, and the new friends we met between the book covers became permanent additions to the language of our neighborhood group—Max from Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his purple crayon, Alexander with his terrible horrible no good very bad day, and so many other memorable characters.

Last summer, many decades later, when the Cathedral began Cathedral Reads, it brought back all that summer reading joy. Our dean, Barkley Thompson, chose Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as the book for kids and adults. We set dates at the end of the summer for a congregation-wide conversation, a movie night, and a deeper dive into the book with the dean.

On a hot August morning, well-over two-hundred people gathered between services to discuss the book. The dean gave an overview, and then at tables of ten with a facilitator and five questions, over coffee and cake, we brought our widely different perspectives on the book to the table. The following week, we ate popcorn and pizza as we watched Gregory Peck’s 1962 Academy Award-winning version of the movie. Afterward, the dean lead popcorn theology, and we compared the messages of the book and the film. The program wrapped up at a special version of the Dean’s Book Club.

The shared experience of the book created new friends, engaged old friends, and gave everyone an entry to conversation. Differing viewpoints were presented and heard respectfully, and we all came away understanding ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better.

Throughout this past year, people kept coming into the bookstore asking what the next Cathedral Reads book would be. The dean took suggestions, considered many titles, and finally chose two books: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for adults, and Wonder, by R.J. Palacio for kids, youth and adults who may not have read it yet. The books are linked by the concept “What Does Brave Look Like” and the discussions will focus on identity, courage, and faith. Both books will have Zoom reading groups throughout the summer to discuss questions regarding the reading to date, and the Dean will facilitate two larger Zoom conversations on Owen Meany. Then, circumstances permitting, we’ll meet up for a larger discussion and to watch the movie Wonder together, before the program wraps up again with the Dean’s Book Club.

We’re none of us sure when we’ll be able to gather, but we are finding creative ways to connect. And having the shared experience of books to read in the cool of the air-conditioning will introduce us to people different than ourselves, and show us their hearts. It will help us to understand ourselves—individually and as a group—a little better. It will give us new friends and make us more thoughtful people.  Just like the library’s summer reading program used to do way back when.

Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity. 
~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

If This Cathedral Could Talk

Houston historian Mike Vance shares the wild times Christ Church Cathedral has witnessed

Christ Church Cathedral was founded March 16, 1839. Recalling seventh grade Texas history–or any of the many fine books you may have read on the history of our great state–you’ll remember that at this point Texas had only been independent from Mexico since March 2, 1836. Houston became incorporated on June 5, 1837. It would still be a good eight years until we became annexed to the United States on December 29,1845. These were wild and uncertain times to be a Houstonian.

In 1836 the enterprising Allen Brothers hired Gail Borden to map the town. He laid out the streets on a grid. Texas Avenue, the new town’s principal east-west thoroughfare, measured a grand 100 feet across, wide enough to turn a full team of horses around. From the corner of Texas Avenue and Fannin Street, Christ Church Cathedral watched this town grow from a motely group of yellow-fever infested men trying to make something happen on the muddy bayou banks into a major international metropolis.

And thank goodness the Cathedral persevered through its own challenging history to bear witness to it all. This uncivilized mess of a town was in dire need of churching. Bars, brothels and brawls marked Houston’s early days, and even as things settled down somewhat, the city continued to draw and create colorful characters—powerful men and women whose influence is still present and whose names linger on streets and buildings all around us.

Who were they? What were their stories? How do they relate to the Cathedral on Texas Avenue?

Sunday evening, September 22 at 6:30 p.m., Houston historian and author Mike Vance brings all this history to life as he shares stories and images from his new book Mud & Money: a timeline of Houston History. He’ll focus on what was going on in town in the early twentieth century: What was it like in the days when Houston had established itself as a dynamic city with Jesse Jones at the helm? When air-conditioning was finally making the city liveable? When skyscrapers were sprouting all around the Cathedral?  How had the dream represented in Gail Borden’s muddy map become a reality?

These walls can’t talk, but Mike Vance sure can. And he has many fascinating tales to tell. Join us Sunday evening to learn more about the history of our very unique city and the beautiful Cathedral that still thrives in its heart.

Mike Vance presents Mud & Money: a timeline of Houston History
Mellinger Room in Latham Hall
Christ Church Cathedral
Sunday, September 22
6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

And please join us before the presentation for The Well, a contemplative Celtic Eucharist in the Cathedral at 5 p.m., and for tea and toast in Latham Hall at 5:45 p.m!

 

The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.
~Maya Angelou

 

 

 

Unbound Delight

Houston Book Artist Lee Steiner presents at Christ Church Cathedral September 8 and 15

If you’re a hard-core, content-only Kindle reader, you may want to skip this. But if you’ve ever peeked under the jacket of a book to see how it was bound, admired a foil-stamped embossed title, or wondered what a frontispiece is, we’ve got something for you. If a stack of dusty old books doesn’t send you into Marie Kondo fits but, rather, whets your desire to read and sends you running for a cup of tea, please join us for some hands-on book lovers’ delight.

We’re excited to welcome Lee Steiner of Domestic Papers to the Cathedral for two consecutive Sunday evening workshops. Lee teaches bookbinding at local museums and at her East End studio. She grew up in a creative family of handmakers and antique collectors who were always on the hunt for inspiration. The name of her studio reflects her love of everything paper and of traveling to faraway places in search of unique materials for her art. Her travel always holds the promise of returning home to domestic bliss, where she turns her treasures into custom map-covered travel journals, sketchbooks from vintage books, and one-of-a kind writing journals.

On September 8, she will teach us how to understand a book’s true value. We know not to judge a book by its cover, but what factors do go into determining its worth? Do we value a book the same way others do? Lee will explain the elements that give books value in our lives—monetary, cultural, and personal—and show examples of books that may be worth a fortune to one person but are considered trash by another. She will provide a fresh appreciation of the treasures that lie on our own bookshelves, and she will share how she finds books for her antiquarian bookstore and creates beautiful journals and art from books that may initially seem worthless.

Then on September 15, she will lead us in a hands-on workshop to make a longstitch travel journal, a process that can be used to create journals of many sizes and functions. The longstitch binding allows the wide spine to lay flat for easy sketching and writing and creates plenty of room to add photos, maps, and mementos. She will provide all the materials—from paper to awls to a wide variety of map covers—and guide the group through each step. At the end of the evening you’ll have a beautiful, handmade journal to document your next adventure or to give to a friend as a bon voyage gift.

Yes, we know books are magical. But when did you last take time to really consider the vessels that hold the stories? A well-designed book furthers the impact of the words that lie between the covers. Exploring the book arts with Lee will allow you to look at your library with inspired new eyes, unleash your inner book-binder, and provide you some unbound bookish fun.

Valuing Vintage Volumes
Sunday, September 8
Jeffers Room, Latham Hall. 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Creating Longstitch Journals
Sunday, September 15
Jeffers Room, Latham Hall. 6:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

(Materials are included for the journal workshop so registration is limited. Please email lchambers@christchurchcathedral.org to register or get more information about either workshop.)

And please join us before the workshops for The Well, a contemplative Celtic Eucharist in the Cathedral at 5 p.m., and for tea and toast in Latham Hall at 5:45 p.m!

The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
~Carl Jung

 

 

There Will Not Be a Test on To Kill a Mockingbird [But Let’s Pretend There Is]

There is a reason that we are still discussing To Kill a Mockingbird 59 years after its publication.

The most I ever learned in college was not from a professor. I’m not referring to life lessons, or extra-curricular information, but specifically to one US Intellectual History class. The professor, well-respected and well-published, provided the spark, the facts, and the direction, but the actual learning came from a motley study group made up of a very-Republican lacrosse player, a brilliant Southern belle, an angsty body-building Yankee libertarian, and me. How we came together I don’t remember, but I am forever grateful for their diverse perspectives and thoughtful intelligence.

Lectures happened MWF at 9 a.m., an early hour at a university noted for its nightlife. We set multiple alarms to ensure that we didn’t miss a bit of our crazy-haired professor’s insight. When exam time came, we picked up pizza and hunkered down in one of our crusty apartments, ready to cram. We didn’t review facts; we just tried to figure out what questions he would ask us.

We didn’t obsess about the details, because our professor didn’t. He wanted us to understand the big picture. We didn’t have study guides or practice tests: we just were supposed to make sense of the thought movements that had influenced the United States, and there were endless ways to consider the topic.  As we tried to determine what mattered, we bickered, disagreeing about what we might face on the test. We couldn’t discount anyone’s opinion, because we just didn’t know. We stayed up late, covering the waterfront. In the early hours we parted, to meet again after we had closed our bluebooks and signed the honor pledge, rushing out of the creaky lecture hall to high-five each other if we had guessed the questions correctly or, even better, if we thought we had known the answers.  We were excited about the material.  We wanted each other to succeed.  And, as we attempted to understand our complicated country in one short undergraduate semester, we didn’t realize what a gift our different perspectives gave us.

On August 4th, the Christ Church Cathedral congregation will gather to discuss Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Dean Thompson will provide us with questions to explore in groups. It will be a conversation, most certainly not a test. But what if we prepared as if it were? What if we thought about this book from the perspective of those most different from us: what questions would they ask?  When we meet to discuss this novel, we will gather across generations. We will gather across political affiliations. Across gender lines, economic lines, and most pertinent to this book, racial lines. But we will gather with the intent of each of us coming away with the deepest understanding possible.

There is a world of intellectual, social, and political history packed in this novel. There is a reason that we are still discussing it 59 years after its publication, a reason that it won the Pulitzer Prize, that the movie won multiple Academy Awards, that Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation for the theater is the top-grossing Broadway play to-date,* and that over a dozen books have been published about Harper Lee and her one story. There is a reason that it is as controversial as it is beloved.

We don’t know what questions the Dean will ask us. But more important than those questions is the preparation we bring to the discussion. Consider the story from your experience. Consider it from the point of view of a Republican lacrosse player, a brilliant Southern belle or a New England libertarian. As Atticus says, climb into someone else’s skin and consider things from that point of view. Because even though there isn’t a test, helping each other to understand the material makes all the difference.

*[https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kill-a-mockingbird-becomes-top-grossing-us-play-broadway-history-1208931]

Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory.
~Emily Post

 

Christmas Cheer Starts Here!

Have yourself a merry little lunch hour

Cathedral members know the powerful joy of celebrating Christmas surrounded by the poinsettia-banked rood screen, the gleaming candlelit altar, and the invigorated voices of the congregation raising the roof with favorite carols. As the hushed tones of “Silent Night” reverberate, our hearts fill with wonder at the magnitude of God’s love. For us, despite commercialism all around, this feeling builds through Advent–with wreath decorating, Christmas at the Cathedral, Las Posadas, and so many other opportunities for worshipping together. Our Cathedral traditions feel so familiar that it can be hard to imagine celebrating Christmas anywhere else.

While all are welcome to join us in sharing our Christmas services, many people in our immediate community don’t know our traditions, and they can be a little intimidating for newcomers. What goes on behind the stained glass in that big, beautiful building? Why are those people running around the courtyard in ornate dresses? What if I don’t know when to stand or when to sit? If we are truly to show people that God is in the midst of the city–feeding and clothing people, offering relief from Harvey, providing spiritual guidance, and so much more–we first need to invite them in and make them feel comfortable.

This Advent season, the Cathedral is focusing on sharing our beautiful campus and traditions–with Treebeards customers, our downtown neighbors, and you! Come have a merry little lunch hour filled with Christmas shopping in the bookstore, a great Cajun lunch, a tour of our historic cathedral, and even a noontime Eucharist. Not only can you get body and soul fed, you can learn their way around the Cathedral, ask questions, and determine if one of our beautiful services might be a good fit for Christmas Eve or other times.

Even if you already have a church home for the holidays, the warmth of our hospitality and the help with preparations are a sure formula for reducing the stress and staying present to the real excitement and joy of the season. Whether you decide to bring your kids to watch the pageant, to stay up late with the booming brass and percussion, or to pray with joyful hearts on Christmas morning, everyone at Christ Church wants you to feel that the Cathedral is a welcoming place to celebrate the birth of Christ and the love he brings–the ultimate Christmas cheer!

Christmas Cheer Starts Here!

Have Yourself a Merry Little Lunch Hour
weekdays, December 1-22

Get into the spirit by
discovering unique gifts, jewelry and books
enjoying lunch at Treebeards
celebrating the Eucharist 12:05 p.m.
touring Houston’s historic Cathedral 12:35 p.m.
learning about the holiday service that best suits you:
    Christmas Eve worship at 4, 6 (en espanol), 8 and 11 pm
    Christmas Day at 10 am
picking up wrapped gifts
and returning, reinvigorated, to your routine!