Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Book, Bath, Table & Time

Here's a shout-out to Dr. Fred Edie, professor of Christian education at Duke Divinity School and director of the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation. His new title is now available through Pilgim Press: Book, Bath, Table and Time: Christian Worship as Source and Resource for Youth Ministry. If he weren't currently my professor, with the power of my GPA in his hands, I'd say this book is AWESOME, and you'd believe me--but hopefully you'll believe me anyway. Every youth worker should own a copy. Fred locates the church's youth ministry within the main congregational worship service, where youth encounter the "holy things" of book (scripture), bath (baptism), table (communion), and time (the church year as lived out in daily Christian practice). His thinking on these issues has profoundly influenced me, particularly my understanding of the formative value of liturgy for helping youth live into the story of Jesus.

If you read nothing else this year on youth ministry, read this book. Well, and maybe The God-Hungry Imagination. Read both.

Storied Dreaming

Three thoughts in the midst of tackling not one, not two, but NINE readings for my Christian Theology class this week (including Barth, Bonhoeffer, Calvin, Wesley, Gregory of Nyssa, Julian of Norwich, and Maximus the Confessor. But who's complaining?):

First, the book is officially OUT and available wherever books are sold, which is pretty-much everywhere, including the website of yours truly (which is the only place you can get a signed copy--although, granted, who knows what crazy stuff I'll write in there under the influence of St. Maximus?). If you're still game, here's the link:

Second, this week I had the gratifying experience of watching my book being used in a seminary class for the first time: Fred Edie's class on Adolescence at Duke Divinity School. The irony is that I was there as both author and student, which created interesting dynamics as it slowly dawned on some of my classmates that the "Sarah Arthur" of the book was, in fact, me. But it was also fun to engage in discussion about Chapter 4 ("What is Story and Why does it Work?") and see how it holds up in a classroom setting. I look forward to more.

Third, I just found this blog posting from someone who attended my youth workshop on "The God-Hungry Imagination" in Nashville: It's a great summary of how the church must reclaim its call to "storied dreaming" (as Fred Edie puts it) for our youth.

More later, post-Maximus.

Friday, September 21, 2007

In My Hands

Well, my baby arrived yesterday--the book, that is, delivered by the friendly storks at Fed Ex. I know you're not supposed to show favoritism among your children, but this one is truly special. It's the product of much time and love, like the others, but it best captures the real heart of my whole approach to narrative and ministry. It makes explicit what I imply in all my other books; it lays out my dream and passion. After years of playing one card at a time, I've finally shown my entire hand.

Not to mention, the design is beautiful. The team at the Upper Room did a fantastic job; the book feels right to hold in one's hands. There's something miraculous about that. We know when a book looks and feels wrong; but can we really identify what makes the thing work when it works? This works. It's a gem.

I'm not sure when it will be available to the public, but I wouldn't be suprised if pre-orders will be shipped in the next week or so. So if you've been waiting, dive in! It'll be fun finally sharing the dream with all of you.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Why [We've] Given Up On Youth Group

Last month I had the privilege of meeting a recent high school grad named Natalie Stadnick at YOUTH 2007, the United Methodist youth convention in Greensboro, NC. She attended my workshop on The God-Hungry Imagination--even though it was technically for "adults only"--and afterwards shared her enthusiasm for what I had to say. Specifically, she confirmed my suspicion that many spiritually-minded youth are just as alarmed as we are by "pervasive teen inarticulacy" regarding matters of faith (Soul Searching, 131), and wish their churches would do more to intentionally teach them. Students like Natalie (assuming there are more like her) are fed up with typical church youth programming and are hungry for the "narratable world" of scripture through meaningful study and worship.

For an inside look at Natalie's thoughts on this and other issues, check out her blog "Take My Hand" at Her post "Why I've Given up on Youth Group" (under "Popular Posts," top left), caught the attention of the youth ministry world back in August 2006. She heads off to college this week, and I can't wait to see where her story leads next!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Endorsements for "The God-Hungry Imagination"

I'm thrilled to have the following kudos from such a stellar group of ministry/culture-watch gurus:

This is not a book that will simply inform you. Sarah Arthur’s intent is to transform your soul and ministry, to help you re-envision your life in the light of the Gospel itself.
- From the foreword by
Ron Foster and Kenda Creasy Dean
Authors of The Godbearing Life

The youth ministry world today is re-thinking many of its assumptions, paradigms, and practices, searching for different approaches that might be more faithful and effective in contemporary culture. Sarah Arthur offers a creative and important contribution to these reconsiderations. [Her book] deserves to be widely read and discussed.
- Christian Smith
University of Notre Dame
Author, Soul Searching

Sarah Arthur’s God-Hungry Imagination is welcome evidence that youth ministry has entered the post-gadget era. She reminds us of a deep, if forgotten truth: human beings are story-telling, story-hearing, and story living beings. She shows us how to cultivate youths’ capacities for imaginatively dwelling in the Christian Story. And, along the way, she blesses us with some very good stories of her own.
- Fred P. Edie
Duke Divinity School
Director, Duke Youth Academy
for Christian Formation

Good stories, says Sarah Arthur, aren’t out to make a point. They are the point. And they’re powerful. Arthur even calls them “subversive.” They can wake you up and shake you up. When the Holy Spirit is present, they have the power to transform young lives and revitalize a tired youth ministry. Sarah seems to be onto something, and we who care about the spiritual health of young people would do well to carefully consider what she has to say.
- Chris Lutes
Editor, Ignite Your Faith
(formerly Campus Life magazine)

Beyond propositions, beyond even the elements of theme and plot, lie mystery and meaning. Arthur takes us on a delightful journey down a path of imagination and narrative, inviting us to become ‘bards’—stewards of God’s story to young people—and to have faith in the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. I’m looking forward to sharing this one with friends and colleagues.
- Will Penner
Editor, The Journal of Student Ministries

The God-Hungry Imagination challenges the ‘Mc Jesus’ culture of youth ministry that often seeks the latest ‘fad’ to attract youth. A gifted storyteller, Sarah Arthur offers a thoughtful perspective on the use and power of story to transform thoughts and lives. With assurance and conviction, Sarah provides insight into imagination as a source of spiritual growth.
- Beth Miller
Founding director, Strangely Warmed Players
Author of Worship Feast Dramas (Abingdon)

Having put together one too many supposedly “relevant” VBS or youth programs themed on a cheez-wiz Hollywood movie, I am hungry for this book. Sarah Arthur is a rare find. She is attentive to the needs of young people and eager to convey the richness of an orthodoxy that defies simple relevance. My eldest daughter, eager right now to answer whether Star Trek’s cybernetic character “Data” has a soul, presses her church teachers to tell stories that intersect and complicate the popular stories to which youth are privy. Sarah Arthur will be a gift to those who help youth to know their own soul, and to know it saved in ways that invite us into a lifetime of story-searching and telling.
- Amy Laura Hall
Duke Divinity School
Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics
Director, Doctor of Theology Program

Faith remains a vital part of most Americans’ lives, but conveying that timeless message to new generations is a challenge, especially now that our culture is so fragmented and so many messages compete for our attention. In her new book, Sarah Arthur argues persuasively that pastors, teachers and parents should reach back and reclaim the powerful narratives that were so important in reconnecting earlier generations with the faith. Standing in the tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner, Arthur explains why it is so important to connect teenagers today with some of the timeless narratives handed down to us. It’s in remembering those powerful stories that young people begin to connect the seemingly scattered elements in their own lives with a far larger, global community beyond the walls of their congregations. It’s time to set aside any lingering anxiety that evangelical Christians may still harbor about our narrative imagination, she tells us, and trust in the faithful influences of stories that already have swept thousands of lives into the family of faith.
- David Crumm
Detroit Free Press Religion Writer

"Large and Startling Figures"?

Flannery O'Connor, the great southern fiction writer, in discussing how American culture has become numb to true religious faith, wrote, "To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures" (Mystery and Manners). After an evening watching "Spiderman 3" at the local $1.50 theater, I wonder if the cultural tide has shifted rather too much in the large-and-startling direction. Rather than subtlety and indirectness, we now rely on the shock-and-awe method of storytelling--e.g., our Superhero's enemies pray to crucifixes in church even as our Superhero attempts to rid himself of evil up in the belltower. (Afterwards, Spidey even takes a shower, prompting my husband to whisper sarcastically "baptism?") I'm guessing O'Connor would be appalled.

Fifty years after her generation, I wonder if we've become much too attached to our large and startling figures. Perhaps we should retract a bit, look into the microscope rather than the telescope, take a step back from the grotesque and become wise as serpents, innocent as doves again. Postmoderns have become numb to whatever appears on a two-story-high screen, to the goosebump method of capturing the imagination. What if the church went for the gospel writ small? And what does that look like anyway? Stories of everyday people taking out recyclables, welcoming the stranger, tutoring a child--life in miniature, in all its iconographic details...Life as icon, as worship.

Monday, July 2, 2007

A "Biblical Theology of Worship"

I've recently learned, via Books & Culture, that worship guru Robert Webber died this spring. It's a big loss for those of us who take the God-hungry imagination seriously. It was Webber who identified for evangelicals the "biblical theology of worship" inherent in the ancient liturgies (see his Ancient-Future Church series); and it was Webber who, in the 1990s, began to track the strange migration of evangelical, free-church college students towards such things as high Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism (The Younger Evangelicals, 2002) --which means he was tracking me and many of my Wheaton College friends.

During those exhausting undergraduate years, my soul yearned for the timeless, the ancient, the predictable, the predictably beautiful. I found it in the Anglican-Episcopal liturgy and The Book of Common Prayer. I found it in worship settings where the Eucharist, not the sermon, was the focal point (I was getting plenty of sermons every day in class anyway). I found it in churches that weekly rehearsed a Story which began long before I got there and would continue long after I was gone. When everything around me seemed hyper-missional, as if the lost could only be saved by our energy and ingenuity and the latest trends, it was reassuring to rest on an older liturgical foundation that didn't need any of us to hold it up.

And this wasn't just about our personal spiritual health, either. It was about the health of the faith community as a whole. To rest in the ancient liturgy meant we could greet an aging grandmother with the peace of Christ and see her presence as relevant and meaningful rather than as a symbol of all that is obsolete and impotent in the church. Instead of lopping off the limbs of the Body along generational lines, we could be enriched by one another: learning from those who had gone before us, witnessing their lives and faith through the Story they told year after year, and finding our humble place within that Story--as mere players, not saviors.

So I'm grateful for Robert Webber, who validated those impulses in us, "the younger evangelicals," and reassured us we weren't abandoning our Christian heritage by refusing to take communion out of a Dixie cup.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Eat This Book

I've been reading Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006) which is required for incoming Duke divinity school students. It reminds me of a kettle on a stove: it takes awhile to reach a whistling boil, but once it does, it has your attention. I'm finally at the whistling boil part (at least for me): Chapter 4, "Scripture as Form"--which is essentially about scripture as story, "an immense, sprawling, capacious narrative" (page 40).

There are some real gems in this section, including his assertion that "the way the Bible is written is every bit as important as what is wrriten" (p. 48), which is to elaborate on the nature of literature in general: "we cannot change or discard the form without changing and distorting the content" (p 47). This is a huge theme for me in The God-Hungry Imagination, so I'm happy to find myself in good company. He also quotes theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar and Northrop Fyre, whom I haven't read (but on my list), and Walter Brueggemann, whom I have. Great stuff so far. We'll see where the rest of the book leads.

Meanwhile, Peterson was interviewed in the May/June issue of RELEVANT magazine. Some great God-hungry quotes:

"A good artist doesn't tell you what's there. He shows you all the stuff you've missed all your life." (RELEVANT, page 77)

"Writers are some of our primary witnesses to mystery. They talk about writing the way we talk about prayer--that there's an attentiveness about it. A mystery. Writers never know what they're writing." (77)

"Wallace Stegner says that we live by forms and patterns, and if the patterns are wrong, we live badly. Good stories--good fiction, in particular--provide us with good patterns." (77)


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Watchful Dragons

Top five books that influenced The God-Hungry Imagination:

The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry, by Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster (Upper Room Books, 1998)

On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature, by C. S. Lewis

The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, by George Lindbeck (Westminster John Knox Press, 1984)

Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton (Oxford University Press, 2005)

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, a collection of essays by American short story writer Flannery O'Connor

(To see how all these books could possibly be connected, read my book, or check future postings here!)

Quote of the Post:

"Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ?...But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?"

-- From C. S. Lewis's essay "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said" (From On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. San Diego: New York: London: A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc., 1982, 1966. Page 47)