Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas gifts: A book for children, for personal growth, and for your small group

Comments from reviewers on each book: 

“Great read! It gives the reader a feel for what life is like living in Mexico, and through the eyes of a child. I appreciate it being based on a real life experiences as it adds a layer of authenticity.”

"This book paints a beautiful picture of life in Mexico through the eyes of a curious and kindhearted little girl. The simple stories help children gain a better understanding and appreciation for another culture in an engaging way."

"For those looking for books for children who have spent significant amounts of time living in another culture, the book Malinda in Mexico is an excellent set of stories for igniting conversation. Clymer's depiction of the complexity and simultaneous beauty of living "among worlds" captures the truth of this experience in ways that are accessible to adults and children alike."

“Whether you are four or eighty-four, Malinda in Mexico is a wonderful book to read, enjoy, and learn more about our southern neighbors.”

Available at
“The Spacious Heart is a book of short love stories that weave the masculine and feminine energies of God into a lovely medley of ‘doing and being’ experiences, which is the fabric of every life. The result is a beautifully written mosaic of page-turning stories that live and breathe a “truly authentic Christian spirituality” that is available to each and every one of us. Highly recommended for truth-seekers of all religions and stripes.”

“As I moved into the book I tried to slow down so it would last longer. Reading The Spacious Heart became an important part of my morning reflection. I will not wait too long to begin it again, waiting for new applications and insights.”

“Drawing on the work of their own teachers, including Richard Rohr, Marva Dawn, Nathan Foster, and Ronald Rolheiser, these two Mennonite pilgrim siblings tell the story of their quests for mercy, inner peace, justice, and love as they share stories of others they have helped along the way.”

Available at
“Clymer's stories from Latin America frame the Beatitudes in a context that more closely resembles the time of Christ. Injustice and horrific suffering were commonplace when Christ gave these powerful words, and it's all too easy to forget that fact until the reader relives the experiences of Clymer's Latin American friends and coworkers.”

“Through storytelling and reflection, the author challenges us to read Jesus’ teachings from the perspective of the poor and disenfranchised, or, in the words of the book’s subtitle, from the margins. I found some of the stories quite moving without being overly sensationalized. They’re evidently personal, deriving from the author’s own experiences over many years of working, living, and serving in Latin America. Clymer is very transparent about how these stories have challenged and shaped him. This helped me as a reader to reflect on how they might impact me. These stories don’t just illustrate; they’re meant to embody the Beatitude in question. They gave me a better interpretive lens to understand the Beatitudes than some commentaries I’ve read on the Gospel of Matthew.”

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Give us this day our daily bread

Traditional Swiss holiday and Sunday
bread available in every bakery and
Supermarket. This one baked by Esther. 
“Give us this day our daily bread” from the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:11), takes on a whole new meaning for me in the Swiss context. Perhaps it is true of all of Europe, but most of my experience comes from the German-speaking countries.

Normally when bread is eaten, it is the main feature of the meal. It is eaten with cheese and cold cuts and/or jams and other spreads like Nutella. And for many families, bread is the main part of both their breakfast and supper. I remember some students on their European cross-cultural programs complaining about how much bread they had to eat.

The main meal in Switzerland, which is at around noon, is very similar to dinner in the USA, with salad, meat and accompanying vegetables or pasta. Bread is almost never eaten during this meal. For many people in the USA, however, bread is often only an accompaniment, not the main part of the meal. Toast at breakfast with eggs or cereal; a sandwich at lunch where the bread holds together what we’d rather eat; buttered bread with jam eaten along our main meal at dinner. Bread is an accompaniment in each case, not the main part of the meal.

Because of how important bread is in the Swiss diet, there are bakeries everywhere. There are three of them within a 10-minute walk from our apartment, and 10 that I am aware of to serve the 5,500 inhabitants of the small town of Aarberg. They are the ONLY business open on Sundays. It is of utmost importance to have fresh bread available at all times. I am always surprised when we want to buy bread near closing time, how the most popular kinds are already sold out.

One of several shelves of bread at a local
In addition, all grocery stores have a large bakery section, usually
baking their own breads. We have three such stores in our town. Recently, many larger grocery stores in the US feature delis with many European-style breads available. The only difference is that in Switzerland, there are NO shelves lined with loaves of spongy breads like in the USA.

Some modern versions of the Bible in English give a more general translation of this verse, like the NLT: “Give us today the food we need” or The Message: “Keep us alive with three square meals.” These definitely contemporize the meaning when bread is not the main staple of the day’s food, and are appropriate in English for the US American context. I was disappointed to find, however, that a popular German version does the same thing, rendering the verse something like “Give us again today what we need to live.” This is so general that it doesn’t even include food, unlike the modern English renderings.

Earlier I wrote a blog post on how this verse should be translated “Give us this day our daily tortilla” in the context of Mesoamerica (Central America and Mexico) because of how often they eat tortillas, and how important corn and tortillas are to their diet. In the context within which I now live, this verse in the Lord’s Prayer gives Jesus’ message much more significance. “Give us this day our daily bread.”  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Taizé, Gratitude and Peace

Sirens and flashing lights interrupted the calm of my evening walk. A fire truck and two ambulances whizzed past me, too close for comfort. What is going on? Is there a fire or some other emergency in my neighborhood? My nerves were set on edge. They shattered my pensive mood and seemed to underscore a day of frustration and disillusionment.

Facebook shouldn’t determine my mood, nor should I spend so much time following all the latest news on scandals and rebuttals currently afoot in our political scene. I thought I moved to Switzerland for a year to get away from all that commotion. Unlike the last year I spent here, where my only US news was through a 10-page printed newspaper, the Internet brings everything, both good and bad, right into my face. Trying to scroll through my news feed to only look at the pictures and engagement announcements only lasts so long. Avoidance is easier than carefully-planned moderation.

I was on my way to a Taizé service at the local church when my reverie was interrupted by the sirens. Along the way there were also festivities taking place in local restaurants, with raucous laughter and revelry. As we approached the church, bells began to toll to announce the service to the surrounding villagers. A cacophony of sounds was echoing through my head as I entered the church. I had gone to still my soul, but my mind was racing far ahead.

The altar centerpiece at our feet 
Upon stepping into the church I was immediately confronted with a quiet dimness. Although it was already dark outside before entering the church, this dimness was different. The only light visible was street lights filtering through the stained glass window at the front of the church, and candle lights illuminating the altar.

We gathered in a circle in complete silence, while the rest of the dozen or so people filtered in. On the floor in front of the semi-circle of worshipers was a circle formed by red and orange cloth. Inside the circle were two rows of tea candles which formed a cross. They formed the four cardinal points, fashioning a mandala symbol—a symbol of wholeness.

We sang, “Jesus remember me, as you come into your kingdom.” Suddenly the day was put into perspective. Then the leader read a poem by German Detlef Kranzmann Ich bin dankbar für die Steuern (I am thankful for taxes).

I am thankful:
. . . for the taxes I pay, because they mean I have a job and an income.
            . . . for the pants that are too tight, because it means I have enough to eat.
. . . for the mess that I have to clean up after a party, because it means I’ve been surrounded by loving people.
. . . for the grass that has to be mowed and the windows that have to be washed, because it means I have a place to call home.

He continues on, listing seven more mundane and ordinary things that normally get us worked up, when in fact they should make us grateful for how blessed we are.

We sang a few more contemplative songs and sat in silence for five minutes. The service ended with Moses’ benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you. . . and give you peace.”

I left the church a changed man. The hubbub of whatever was ricocheting through my head was stilled. I had been given peace. On the walk home we ran into a neighbor. We asked her what all the commotion was about with the fire engine and the ambulances. “It was only a drill,” she said. “They do this near the beginning of every month to be prepared for a real emergency.” More peace. My soul had caught up with the rest of me.