Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 02/26/24

In the Courts of Three Popes by Mary Ann Glendon

Christian bookshelf. Over the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with three authors with new books offering interesting insights and perspectives on faith. Mary Ann Glendon is an accomplished international attorney, diplomat (as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See) and Harvard Law School professor emerita. With In the Court of Three Popes An American Lawyer and Diplomat in the Last Absolute Monarchy of the West, she delivers the view of what she terms “an outsider who had a vantage point from a number of positions in the Vatican” during the papacies of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. It’s a fascinating read. You can read my conversation with her in the quarterly hard copy edition Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty Magazine (available through subscription and at all Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million outlets) in July.

While Mary Ann Glendon’s book focuses on the challenges faced by church bureaucracies, Liturgies of Wholeness by Audrey Elledge and Elizabeth Moore and Welcome to the Basement by Tim Ross place their attention on the personal practice and living out of faith.

Liturgies for Wholeness: 60 Prayers to Encounter the Depth, Creativity, and Friendship of God in Ordinary Moments By Audrey Elledge, Elizabeth Moore Cover ImageAudrey ElledgeElizabeth Moore
Audrey Elledge (above) & Elizabeth Moore (below)

JWK: So, how did you two come together to write his book?

Elizabeth Moore: This is our second book. Our first book was titled Liturgies for Hope. It was published about a year and a half ago. The way we started writing that was Audrey and I are friends here in New York City. During the pandemic we saw this need for peace, especially among our church community. We were really wanting to gift our community with some beautiful prayers that would be centering and peace-giving in the midst of this crazy time that was provoking a lot of anxiety. So, Audrey and I wrote a series of liturgies, just for our church at first, in spring of 2020.

JWK: Which church?

EM: Church of the City of New York.

JWK: Were you friends otherwise? Did you know each other outside of the church?

EM: We’ve been friends since 2028. We were friends first, co-authors second.

JWK: I like that you use wholeness rather than holiness which, I think, can be a little vague and ethereal. Was that an intentional word choice?

Audrey Elledge: Yes, it was definitely intentional. When we are using the word wholeness we are talking about the whole person. We have different sections in the book. Those include Mind, Body, Senses, Heart (and) Soul. Then we also have a sections that encompasses the whole world. So, we have the Home, Community and World. So, were talking about wholeness in regards to a person and in the world that they live in. Really, the whole idea is about where are the areas where we’re experiencing brokenness and how do we want to move toward fullness in Jesus? How do we want to move toward wholeness? So, the prayers are really centered around different things we might be experiencing  – like a broken heart, for instance. That’s in our Heart section, A Liturgy for a Broken Heart. So, someone who has experienced relational heartbreak, or maybe a dream has been shattered, we wanted to provide them with some words to move from that specific broken place into eventual healing and wholeness.

JWK: How would you differentiate wholeness in terms of the individual and in terms of the community?

EM: Audrey and I both think that these kind of internal categories (along with) the external categories are what make up the whole person. So, in order to be a fully rounded individual and to realize the full potential that God has put within us, we need to experience both internally – that encompasses the first few sections for the Mind, the Body (and) Soul etcetera –  as well as those external categories like for the Home, the Community and the World.

JWK: As you mentioned, your first book is called Liturgies for Hope. How do these two books differ and how do the complement each other? 

AE: Great question. The first Liturgies for Hope, like Elizabeth said, was written really out of the pandemic struggles. It was a time when a lot of people couldn’t see (the way to) the end. We chose the word hope because that was really the goal – to give people kind of like a handlebar to hold onto through prayer – to help them, if they didn’t have the words in the moment, to pray (and) to give them a starting point. Through that we were hoping that people – through prayer, through meeting with God, through repeating those words – would find a little bit of hope.

We actually found that we had a lot more ideas for prayers that didn’t make it into the first book…Those found their home in the second book Liturgies for Wholeness. Correct me if I’m wrong, Elizabeth, but I think we chose the word wholeness later on in the process after kind of seeing the themes that were arising. We really found that what we were writing about – what we were praying about, what we we hoping people would pray about – were these specific things that make up a whole person in a whole community, these things we can find in fullness in Christ. So, the two (books) complemented each other really well, I think, because hope and wholeness do go hand in hand. I think so much of healing and moving toward wholeness involves holding hope (during difficult times) that something good will come out on the other side. We hope people find that the complement each other well.

JWK: You both work in the media. Audrey, you’re a content manager for SparkNotes which is a study guide and. Elizabeth, you’re a conference content specialist for Ad Age.  Are these books a natural way for you both to combine your faith with your communication skills?

EM: A little bit. I definitely think that Audrey and my day jobs contributed to helping us write these books. The reason we sought out these jobs is because we both love words. We both love writing. So, I think that the work we do day-to-day – as well as our book writing on the side – is just an overflow of who we are as people and what we love. Being close to the publishing and media industries is definitely helpful just in knowing how to go about the process (and) being a little bit closer to the way books are made.

JWK: What sort of reaction have you received to your first book?

EM: We’ve seen a really positive reaction, which is nice. Of course, there are people who are experiencing our book that we don’t know and that we’ll never see. We hope that they’re having a great time. In terms of our friends…it’s been a really sweet response. We both have had several strangers, as well, reach out to us via social media or email just saying the the book was able to give them words for experiences that were really difficult. We’ve actually had our liturgies read at a few funerals which is very sobering. We’ve had liturgies read at other events – like dinner parties, birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinners (and other) communal celebrations – or just in the quiet of people’s homes. We’ve had several people say that they keep the book on their nightstand and read a liturgy every morning, every night or just kind of whenever they need to connect with God but are unsure of the words to use.

JWK: Some people might ask you’re not ministers, what are you doing writing liturgies?

AE: You’re right. Neither of us are ordained or pastors or anything like that but the church we’re a part of in New York does a really great job commissioning artists and really values people with artistic skills such as writing, photography or really any…worldly skill. Elizabeth and I as writers in 2020, we didn’t know what do to do. We weren’t pastors. We couldn’t record ourselves giving a (sermon) and send it out to a congregation. What we could do is was pick up our pens, write a prayer and just try to be honest about suffering and try to be honest about what we were seeing in Scripture that’s…a lifeline to hold onto in the midst of suffering. So, we just did what we love to do and what we what we feel called to do – and that’s write. We did it together which made it even better.

We presented it to our church – which knows that we’re not pastors – and they found something in it worth sharing. That’s really how they became books. Our church shared the liturgies first. Our pastor, John Tyson, found beauty in them. He started sharing about them. It actually went international. A church in the U.K. – in their online service during the pandemic – shared a liturgy. Somehow, they just kind of spread like wildfire. I think it’s because the Scripture they’re based on is timeless and trustworthy.

The Welcome to the Basement book by author Tim Ross

JWK: I understand you originally set out to be a law enforcement officer. How’d you get into preaching?

Tim Ross: My mother worked for the LAPD for thirty years. From the age of four I wanted to be in law enforcement. I actually studied administration of justice in college and started the process of filling out the application and going through all the tests to join the LAPD. During the same time is when I gave my life to Jesus, January 14, 1996. Five weeks later I preached my first sermon. That was the major detour from law enforcement into ministry. That first sermon I preached led to other preaching engagements and a drawing in that direction.

JWK: What led you to give your life to Jesus?

TR: My story is a little unique. My parents pastored a church bi-vocationally for 15 years. On the day that I gave my life to Jesus there was no sermon and there wasn’t an altar call or a call to salvation. I was in the back row of a church. I had been in a club a few hours earlier. I felt like the Holy Spirit said to me “You’re a sinner.” There was no condemnation in the statement. It was like saying you had on a blue shirt. It was like pointing out an obvious thing. As soon as I heard Him say it it was like the first time I could actually feel my disconnection from God. I was just weeping in the back row. In this small church that maybe had 48 people in it that day, including myself, I stood up during a portion of the service that we have in traditional Pentecostal churches called testimony…and I gave my life to Jesus in the middle of the service. It’s been 28 years. 

JWK: Are you preaching now at a church?

TR: I still speak at churches. I just transitioned. The church that I planted is called Embassy City Church. I pastored that church for seven years but my last day was December 31st of 2022. We named our successor. The church is still growing and thriving but now I focus full-time on podcasting.

JWK: And this book is based on your popular podcast called The Basement. What do mean when you talk about “the basement”?  

TR: The book is actually based on a vision I had when I was thirty years old. The podcast is based on that same vision. The nutshell of that vision is that there was a 100 story building. Everyone thought that the aspiration was to get to the top of that building but it was actually to get to the bottom of the building. Jesus is our chief cornerstone. If He is our chief cornerstone, where will we want to be in relationship to Him? That started off as just a way I discipled people and mentored people, giving them that philosophy. Then it turned into a podcast and now it’s turned into a book. That’s the sequence.

JWK: So, the idea is that Jesus is the cornerstone and you want to be near the cornerstone.

TR: Absolutely correct. The way up is actually down.

JWK: It’s like The Poseiden Adventure! The way up was to go down. You talk about helping people to be do-gooders. That, as a general rule, is definitely a good goal but do people who are trying too hard to be do-gooders sometimes do more harm than good? How do you discern if what your doing is actually good?

TR: When I look at the teachings of Jesus and the way His life is captured as a portrait in the Gospels there are a lot of moments in Jesus’ earthly ministry that are just downright nice. Like showing up to a wedding and turning water into wine at the end of the party is just nice. Him showing up to the woman at the well at the hottest part of the day and waiting on her to arrive is very, very nice. Him showing up to Peter‘s house and healing his mother-in-law when she was sick was just a nice gesture. Him inviting Himself over to Zacchaeus‘ house after He found him climbing a tree to get a better angle to view Him is just nice. When I say “doing good” I’m not talking about enabling. I’m talking about being able to give human beings an intrinsic way to know that there is still good on Earth. I believe that Jesus’ disciples are at the forefront of helping people do that.

JWK: So, some people think you have to do something really spectacular, be a martyr or beat themselves up for not being doing something significant enough. You’re talking about just the gentle acts of being good and kind to the people you meet.

TR: Absolutely correct. I can’t tell how far, John, a compliment has gone…Every human being has a desire to be seen, known, loved (and) heard. We have the opportunity every day. Whether it’s a compliment you give somebody, a coffee you buy, groceries, a hug for a coworker that just lost a family member, the opportunities (for kindness) are endless. There are six-million ways to do this. If we’re operating at a conscious competence, and we’re looking for those opportunities, our life becomes a little bit more exciting as a result.

JWK: Is there anything else you’d like to say as we wrap up?  

TR: Yes. My hope for everybody is that they’re lives would be turned upside down with the message, love and hope of Jesus Christ.

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John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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