Word of the Week

In the western hemisphere as I write this, it's almost officially summer. 

The daylight hours are longer. The temperature is hotter. School kids are out and bedtimes for littles are later. Folks are on vacations. 

It seemed like a great time to think about this word: slow. 

Slow: moving, flowing, or proceeding without speed or at less than usual speed.

This time of year, folks naturally slows down their expectations a bit. We aren't fazed by "out of office" emails. Or "let me get back to you in September" about that. Or general statements like: "we're taking the summer off."

But what does it mean to spiritually slow down?

Such is the question that has been the theme of ​my summer messages​ at my home base in Athens, GA. We're slowing down throughout the month of June and July and reconsidering our relationship with hurry. We are even ​taking pictures​ and sharing them with the wider community of moments when we found meaning by slowing down. 

And let me tell you this, I am finding this type of intentionality has made me realize how tired I really am. (Or maybe it's just because I'm a parent of an almost 2 year old who gives me a run for my money on a daily basis)

But whatever feelings slow brings out in you, it's all good.

For in slowing down, you see your little corner of the world as it really is. 

Maybe you don't need to fill up your weekend with activities of all kinds. Maybe your soul would thank you for a Saturday without plans. 

Maybe you don't need a big fancy vacation to feel good about your life again. Maybe just a quiet night on your porch will show you everything you need to know.

Maybe your bedtime can be earlier or later. Maybe in offering breath to your schedule, your passions will have more time to thrive. 

I don't know what a slower pace might offer you this week, but one thing is certain: slowing down never hurt anybody. And goodness, it might just be the medicine that your over-programmed life, in whatever stage its in, is begging for! 

So ready, set, slow down? I hope so!



P.S. If I miss a week of these Sunday emails and you need a boost, remember you can always check out the archives ​over here. ​

P.S.S. A great resource on all things slow ​is this one.​  Check out the wisdom from a writing colleague of mine who has such wise things to offer about slowing down. And it's a podcast too!

I don't know how to have faith without gathering gems from spiritual teachers along the way-- especially those in print.

Recently I was asked about what were some of my favorite spiritual reads. I thought I’d share some of the books on my list here.

If you are looking for more than a fluff read for an summer beach trip, I’d say check some of these out. Your soul will thank you later.

1. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s a book that is a must read. Truly. Have you ever wondered about how you can truly be both alone and with others at the same time? In this spiritual classic, Bonhoeffer explores what it might mean to life in community in such a way that is true to the New Testament model of the church.

2. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. People either love or hate her, but I find myself in the love category because of her honesty. If you’ve never picked up an Lamott book, check her out . . . you might just find yourself challenged to open your own heart to some honest space.

3. Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancy: Read this and be challenged by how radical and transformative message of Christ and how Christ meets us in the witness of each other-- folks who are both living and dead. I read this book the summer before I went to seminary and found it to be quite an encouragement to keep on going. (or try Yancy’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?)

4. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris. Come explore with Norris the world of religious language and culture through a new lens. You may find yourself liking the word “sanctification” after all. (Or try Dakota: A Spiritual Geography if you are in the mood for a memoir).

5. Life of the Beloved. By Henri Nouwen So many of Nouwen’s works are classics, but this one is especially wonderful as it challenges all of us to reconsider what it might mean to see ourselves as Christ’s beloved— one of the dearly loved children of God which we are. (Or try Inner Voice of Love)

6. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. Muller provides an interfaith framework for why rest is so important in our lives. We must rest in order to experience God’s presence in our lives. Thoughtful questions end every chapter as a way to bring the conversation home. (Or for busy parents try Sabbath in the Suburbs by MaryAnn McKibben Dana)

7. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. You just can’t go wrong with Manning—it’s an oldie but a good one. In need of some grace in your life? Manning explores how most of us fail to accept this wonderful aspect of life in Christ. Come explore how God is already smiling on your life no matter how bedraggled, beat-up, or tired you feel.

8. Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. I can’t help but think that the presence of God is all around us—in our daily work, in our relationships and in our rest. BBT explores paying close attention to the presence God without ever leaving your home ore community. Gems of narrative within to last for a long time.

What classic books would you add to such a list?

It's that time of year for college students-- what am I going to do next summer? Will I have an internship? Will I do service work? Will I travel?

I say, do it all!

Consider this: I remember those days of discernment full well. It's hard to know exactly what to do, especially when going home and doing nothing is also an option. But, I loved my summers in late high school and college when I could dream about doing something different than the norm (besides that one summer I spent in required summer classes, boo!). From age 16 on, some really great opportunities came my way to really get out there and see the world!

Summers working in missions in Charleston, SC, Lexington, KY, travels to Burma and Thailand, a church internship in Birmingham, AL in addition to a summer on staff with Son Servants and Passport have made me who I am today. Looking back now, I'm so glad I took some leaps during that season of my life and had the resources through scholarships for school to be able to afford it.

While each of these experiences had highs and lows of of their own, I want to highlight two as a way to encourage any of you college/ seminary aged readers to consider applying NOW for one of these life changing opportunities. Or if you are a youth or children's minister, consider taking your kids to one of these camps!

First of all, let me tell you about Son Servants. My time with this organization was amazing. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I spent 10 weeks traveling both internationally and around the country in places like Jamaica, the Texas-Mexico border, Appalachia, South Dakota and inner city Philadelphia, PA.

It was a world wind adventure unlike any other.

I learned simplicity (yes you can live out of your suitcase with only a few possessions and be happy).

I learned community life (sleeping on floors, cooking meals, cleaning showers, etc together can really form bonds like none other). I learned about hard work (mixing concrete by hand is no easy thing, especially in the heat of Jamaica).

I learned flexibility (traveling as much as you do on staff with SS you have to learn to chillax remembering the world doesn't revolve around you).

I was introduced to such great theological texts such as Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster that I would later study in seminary. My world view expanded with each state/ country we visited, as I saw the truth about poverty, hopelessness and inequality that my 20-year-old eyes had never imagined was real.

My life now in supporting the work of Feed The Children feels a lot like a lifestyle of Son Servant summer with the travel, site visits, flexibility of spirit required and focus on service first. I told Kevin recently how thankful I am for the great staff of Youth Conference Ministries and how my Son Servants summer prepared me for what was to come (though I had no idea about at the time). You don't even have to be a Presbyterian to apply or work here, seriously, check it out, I'm a fan. You'll be nurtured and mentored by some of the coolest folks I know.

Furthermore, consider Passport. Passport is a youth camp organization that blazed new trails in the Baptist world many years ago and continues to do so now as an ecumenical organization empowering students to encounter Christ, embrace community and extend grace to the world. I served the summer after my first year of seminary, on staff as the first ever PassportKids! pastor. For close to 10 weeks, I was on another traveling team of college and also seminary students heading to places like TN, GA, VA, MO and AL to give kids who finished 3-6th grade a mission focused camping experience. I was also the recreation director as well as my pastoral hat (though such a job description doesn't exist anymore, thank goodness!). I also learned the value of hard work from my time at Passport, as you might imagine. The days are long. The alarms come early. And the tasks of the day require much enthusiasm.

I loved my time on staff with Passport because it truly was an empowering experience. This summer I led the summer staff in a book study of Life Together, just as I had been taught four years prior. I was asked to PREACH 4-7 times a week in nightly worship (depending on the travel schedule) which was a huge responsiblity to learn from as young seminarian at age 24. However, the confidence and encouragement that the Passport staff placed in me, helped me to know that I could do it. I was called "Pastor Elizabeth" by young campers.  Each time I heard my name in this way my confidence grew that maybe just maybe God was calling me to pastor in a church. By the end of the summer there was no turning back. I was in.

I would highly recommend this experience to all those of you struggling with a call to ministry, those of you excited about exploring your talents in a safe environment, and looking for a family of service-minded peeps for the summer. The leadership staff, like that of the Son Servant family is amazing and will continue to abide in your life as cheerleaders for years to come. Consider applying now by clicking here.

Let not this summer ahead to be wasted-- prepare to do something amazing!