O Antiphons: A Guest Post by Thomas Turner

You know those people you overlapped with in life for a short time, but somehow, you manage to get to know them better after that point? Thom Turner is one of those folks for me. We went to college together; our lives overlapped in a variety of activities, but I wouldn’t say I knew him well. Instead, I’ve gotten to know Thom through the magic of the internet, as we’ve continued to overlap in the organizations we know, the publications we write for, and, of course, that place of wondrous connection: the Facebook newsfeed. He’s graciously allowed me to guest post at Everyday Liturgy on occasion, too. I’ve enjoyed watching the turns his life has taken and have always appreciated reading his writing. Now he’s written a book of Advent prayers, a new reading of the traditional “O Antiphons,” and it’s available on Noisetrade. Read on to see what he has to say about it! -Cg-


O AntiphonsDecember is one of the busiest years of the month for me. Not just the usual bustle of presents and parties and pageants at church. I work in fundraising at International Justice Mission, and on top of all the holiday hustle I am pulled in many directions at work as well. It seems like the wrong time to start spreading the word about a prayer book for Advent that I have written…

But then again, it is precisely the right time. Because not only do I think you need this book (and you do!), but I need it as well.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle I need to slow down and realize that Jesus Christ came to this earth, is coming to the earth through his Kingdom and will come again in the second Advent, to unite heaven and earth under his glorious reign. I need to take some time to be still and know that the Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace came in the flesh to dwell among us. I need to prepare my body and soul to worshipfully meet the King of Kings on Christmas day.

The aim of the Advent and Christmas seasons are so rich in meaning: the first and second coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, the Kingdom, Mary’s song about what the Messiah, who is in her womb, will do when he is birthed into the world. All of this, and yet by the time I get to Christmas day I just want to eat a nice dinner, gorge on some cookies and take a nap. Where’s the worship in that?

Simply put, O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season is a prayer book for you and me to use to prepare our bodies and souls to worship on Christmas day. The “O Antiphons” are one way that Christians for over 1500 years have been preparing their hearts, souls, minds and bodies to celebrate the coming of Christ at the first Advent, Christmas. In this book, I have given a fresh reading of the O Antiphons, along with an Old and New Testament scripture reading and a meditation with discussion questions to guide you during the last week of Advent. From December 17th to December 23rd, you can use this prayer book to prayerfully come into the presence of the baby Jesus, born of a virgin, fully God and fully human in form, who is Wisdom in the flesh, our Lord, the Savior promised from David’s line, our Eternal Light, the King who unites all peoples and our Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us.

Starting today, you can pick up your free copy of O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season on Noisetrade. And if you are truly in the Christmas spirit, all of the tips I receive on the book will go toward a nice gift for Jana Miller, who contributed awesome illustrations that you can turn into Christmas or Jesse tree decorations, and toward ending everyday violence against the poor.

Have a Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!


TTurner PicThomas Turner is the Strategic Partnerships Research Manager at International Justice Mission and curates Everyday Liturgy, a source for worship and liturgical ideas. He is happy to be living back below the Mason-Dixon line again after a lengthy sojourn in the NYC metro area. You can follow Thomas online, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Catching Up

I’ve not written here in a while, but I’ve been posting elsewhere. Here are a few things that have gone up on other blogs and sites:

Journey Through the Faith Series Everyday Liturgy

Three posts about my childhood experiences in very different faith communities overseas, and how they shaped my own understanding of faith

“A Year in Asia with Anglicans”
“A Year in Asia with Evangelicals”
“A Year in Asia with Bible Christians”

fountain penWhen I was nine years old, my family moved to Hong Kong for a year. Though a child of an internationally transient family, I, until that point, had grown up in a single church in the north central United States and had very little church experience outside our Baptist-in-name-and-form-but-not-denominationally-affiliated. My parents would probably not have defined themselves as fundamentalist Baptists, even my church may not have fit that definition, but it was definitely the direction my young ecclesiology leaned.

And then we went to Hong Kong.

“The Feast of Grace”—Church at Charlotte Blog

We’re surrounded by marred shalom today. We see it in a passenger airliner downed by a missile meant by one warring party for another. We see it in two brothers on opposite sides of the world who have just lost their whole family.

And we can’t do anything about it. But we are invited to be part of the restoration of shalom.

“The Ice Bucket Challenge”The Curator

My parents were always generous donors to many individuals, missions, and charities. They gave regularly through our church. But the moment at the cash register was rare. It wasn’t often that I saw them say “yes” to that kind of request for a cause.

And I knew why the yes had been said. I knew what the pause meant. Those three little letters had made all the difference: ALS.

This one was ours.

“Ask a Teacher Series: Eight Questions from Writers to Teachers, Back-to-School Edition”—WriteWorld

You are communicating ideas. Writing is simply a vehicle for doing that. We’ve got a lovely language that is flexible and strange and has all sorts of cobbled-together rules for use because it’s been a cobbled-together language from the start. And some of those rules are worth noting and remembering and following and some of them should be thrown out the window with the silly people who made them up. English is a living language. The rules you learn today may be out of date by the time you’re forty. Such is the nature of having a living language.

“Exploring Infinity”Church at Charlotte Blog

Last week, I got into a discussion about time and the quantum universe on Facebook. Yes, this sort of thing happens in my newsfeed. A friend who is a physicist had started the discussion thread—he’d been pondering some ideas as he drove home from work, and decided to share them in a group we’re both part of.

I never took physics. I didn’t even take chemistry. I enjoyed science in school, but my math skills are abysmal. When the math required in my science classes got beyond me, I found other sciences to study. But I’ve always been fascinated by science—particularly physics and astronomy—and while much of my friend’s post was beyond my understanding, I still loved entering the discussion with him and sharing my thoughts on the topic.

Catch these posts at the links, and catch up on my past writing here.

Rethinking Scarcity: New Post at The High Calling

Slaten and Rogers

Two artists: Son of Laughter and Jonathan Rogers. Photo by Mark Geil.

I’ve got a new post up at The High Calling today. I was asked to write on the theme of “rethinking scarcity”—and to look at in the context of art. Immediately I thought of the ways the artists I know come together and support one another in their work, forming communities that not only advance the production of art, but also deepen its quality.

“The Industry” is not dead, but it is desperately trying to stay alive in most cases—often at the expense of good art. So those who want to create new art, quality art, honest and true art, are forced (and, I think, will increasingly be forced) to step outside the industries. Rather than seeing this as a setback, perhaps we should look at the situation as a gift—and a challenge:

From the post:
“I expect no one would disagree that creative innovation often arises from scarcity. From Ritz cracker apple pie to the dinners we developed with nothing but a microwave and hot pot during college, some creative spark in human nature thrives when put to the challenge of limited resources.

Likewise, in comparison to the booming creative industries of the 1990s, today’s musicians and authors—even some of those signed with major labels and publishers—are creating within the context of limited resources. While the leaders of the companies that produce and distribute much of our art are cautious about taking costly risks like launching a new artist, rapid developments in technology allow artists willing to take the risk themselves to bypass the industry and get their work into the hands of the audience. Adam Young of Owl City wrote in 2012: ‘Here at the outset of a new century everyone is back at the starting line fighting to be heard. It’s effortless to hear and steal new music so bands have to think of ways to reinvent themselves and turn the box inside out.’

So perhaps it is no surprise that there is a particular richness in some of the art being created today when economics and technology have joined together to topple the industries of yester-year.”

Read more at The High Calling.

The End of All Our Exploring

It is hard for me to choose a favorite part of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets; ask me one day and I shall give you a different answer than the next. But one line consistently speaks my language. I’ve tried to capture it again and again in my thinking and writing. I’ve written a novel manuscript with major themes revolving around it. I’ve placed it at the top of blogs, on notebook covers, on cards tucked in corners of the car or desk. It’s this:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

“Little Gidding” V.25-29

Valdez HarborI doubt I will ever successfully capture the magic of that idea. I shall valiantly continue, and you will likely find it again and again as a theme in whatever work I happen to produce.

Of course, though, I would discover this weekend that G.K. Chesterton has beaten me to the punch, putting together words and phrases that encapsulate the concept just right.

More than a month ago, when I was leaving London for a holiday, a friend walked into my flat in Battersea and found me surrounded with half-packed luggage.

“You seem to be off on your travels,” he said. “Where are you going?”

With a strap between my teeth I replied, “To Battersea.”

“The wit of your remark,” he said, “wholly escapes me.”

“I am going to Battersea,” I repeated, “to Battersea viâ Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort. My remark contained no wit. It contained simply the truth. I am going to wander over the whole world until once more I find Battersea. Somewhere in the seas of sunset or of sunrise, somewhere in the ultimate archipelago of the earth, there is one little island which I wish to find: an island with low green hills and great white cliffs. Travellers tell me that it is called England (Scotch travellers tell me that it is called Britain), and there is a rumour that somewhere in the heart of it there is a beautiful place called Battersea.”

“I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you,” said my friend, with an air of intellectual comparison, “that this is Battersea?”

“It is quite unnecessary,” I said, “and it is spiritually untrue. I cannot see any Battersea here; I cannot see any London or any England. I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair: because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany? I shall enjoy them both; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea. The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. Now I warn you that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and that if you utter that word ‘paradox’ I shall hurl it at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, that the only way to go to England is to go away from it.”

“The Riddle of the Ivy”

If I were a different sort, I might just throw in the towel. But I’m a scrapper, G.K., and while I don’t do initials nearly as well as you and T.S., I shall continue to strive to say this same thing in a new way.

Figuring It Out Later: Hutchmoot 2013

“I’ll probably figure out what this weekend meant to me in a few days,” I said to Rachel and Christine as we drove home from Hutchmoot on Monday. After I attended for the first time last year, I discovered that I couldn’t put into words what it had meant until I’d read the offerings of a few other attendees. When the experience congealed enough to examine, I was able to see how it had begun to heal wounds and weariness deep within my soul and how God was pointing me forward to what would come next.

***

When I lived in Alaska, I struggled greatly with the lack of sub-created beauty. There was plenty of beauty to behold—don’t get me wrong. The mountains, the rivers, the wildlife: it was all gorgeous. But on those bent branches, no one had built straight baselines. Architecture in the far North is utilitarian at best. The visual art is almost exclusively representations of the scenery.

I found that I wanted to be surrounded by artists—visual artists, musicians, performance artists, writers—who would seek to create new beauty as image bearers of their beautiful Creator. It was one reason I chose to leave Alaska and pursue my craft.

IMG_0971In leaving Alaska, though, I lost my primary missions connection. I’d been serving as a missionary there, involved in a global agency, and seeing lives changed through the power of the gospel.

***

A few months after the 2012 Hutchmoot conference, I sat down with my boss at the University and sketched out my thinking regarding my vocation and my job. One of the things Hutchmoot had made clear to me was that the two were not the same. In the course of that conversation, Todd took a step back and asked me—as a friend, not an employer—what it was I wanted to do in life, what I really love.

I stumbled through an answer. One of the reasons life thus far has been somewhat random in terms of experiences is that I really love a whole variety of things. I love writing. I love college students. I love missions. I love art. I love teaching.

I think I said all those things, but what Todd picked up on was that my voice broke when I said “missions.” He said, “You’re still passionate about that. Remember that.”

***

At some point during Hutchmoot in 2012, my sister observed to me that she hadn’t seen a lot of international flavor at the conference. It wasn’t a criticism, just an observation. “Not a lot of international flavor” is odd for our family. We grew up in missions, our parents based out of the U.S. Office of SEND International. The family lived overseas twice, in the Philippines and Hong Kong. We traveled the world. Even just growing up in Metro Detroit, global was part of our blood. In high school, I had classes in which I was the minority—my favorite school events were the ones run by the Indian American Association, the Asian American Association, the Pacific Islander American Association…

***

In June I left my job. I leapt, not sure where my feet would land.

I’m still not sure. Currents of wind are carrying me along for now, but I don’t know if they will hold me up forever, or even for long. I’m loving flying right now. It’s been wonderful. And I’ve gotten to do and be involved in things in the past four months that I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago.

***

The intersection of arts and the global engagement has been a theme of my past year. I’ve begun working with Curator, a publication of the International Arts Movement, and gotten to know more about the organization as a whole. My roommate, a missionary, is discovering what her place in the arts is and could be. I’ve begun working with a missions organization that publishes books. I’ve built friendships with artists who are engaging with art on an international level.

Most of all, I’ve become convinced that in our global society, the message of the gospel, the Kingdom message, must be communicated through creative means. Whether we are crossing cultures, or if we are Westerners communicating to our own culture, art is a way to communicate the Message to a culture that is not able to, or does not want to, understand us.

***

I returned to Hutchmoot this year with two friends, the spilling over of my experience a year ago. As the Lord would have it, both of them have global missions experience.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that this would be the year I would meet other ’Mooters engaged with global missions. Perhaps Randy Goodgame singing about aliens living among Israel on the first night was prophetic. Perhaps it’s because of what God’s been doing this year that my ears were more open to others who were thinking about the intersection of the arts and global missions. Perhaps it’s because I brought two friends with me.

But I met people whose world was bigger than the contiguous United States. I heard phrases like, “I lived in Europe for a while,” and “Have you been to Romania?” and “I may not be staying where I am right now, God’s moving me on,” and “You’re an MK? Me, too!” and “Next year, there should be a session on Art and Missions.”

I walked away with some definition to the global corners on a few of the dreams I’ve been dreaming. And in the time since the conference, I’ve learned of some ministries that fascinate me, because they are doing just what I have been wrestling with in terms of global engagement in the arts.

***

I still don’t know exactly where I’m going. But if I could distill what God taught me last year through Hutchmoot 2012 into one sentence it would be this: “I’m a writer.”

As He continues to work in my heart in the coming weeks, as I continue to process the things He taught me during Hutchmoot 2013, I’m wondering if a single sentence will come to the fore again. If it does, I suspect it may be this: “I’m a missionary.”

New Guest Post at Everyday Liturgy

I had another guest post go up today at Everyday Liturgy titled, “A Romance It Certainly Is.” Here’s a snippet:

We cannot avoid the reality of this world. We see its dark underbelly in everything from the news to human trafficking to the person who pushes past us in a crowd without apologizing. This world, and we people in it, are broken, cracked, and bloody.

But as believers, we have a second sight of sorts. We see this world as it once was and as it will be again.

Check out the rest over Everyday Liturgy!

Bent Branches, Straight Baselines

It’s been just over a month now since spring began – slowly this year in Philly – coming at us in fits and starts. I think it has actually arrived now, though there are still one or two trees that are only just leafing out. But the azaleas and the dogwoods have bloomed, so I think it’s really spring.
This slow spring has drawn my attention more than once – trees that often bear the bright of yellow-green in March still showed their naked limbs well into April. It was as if they wanted to say, “See, here’s my structure. These are my bones. You may not have noticed them this winter when your eyes were cast to the ground watching for ice patches. Look up now; see my angled boughs.”
At the beginning of April, my friend David posted a short piece on his blog titled simply, “On Baseball.” In it he quickly and poetically examined the architecture of a golf and baseball, finishing with these words:
Baseball unites heaven and earth: it inscribes a pattern of clean lines, orbs, and diamonds upon the dust from which we were formed and in which we toil, and the lush green in which we find rest. Upon that heaven-and-earth field, prodigal sons set out on barren base paths; and we watch and wait to see if they will make it back home.
The words arrested me. I love clean lines. I love the straight, the symmetrical. There is beauty in a ballpark. But as the trees bared themselves, I had the realization that straight lines are a rare thing in nature. The Creator’s beauty meanders more than man’s.
And when we humans create without the assistance of our man-made tools, our creations are meandering things too, the image of God creating in the pattern of God. As I began to think it through, I realized that the straight lines and measured curves of architecture echo the straight lines and measured curves of the heavenly throne room – and our ideals of beauty find their fulfillment in the descriptions of that place.
Somehow, we find ourselves caught in the middle, loving both the bent branches and the straight baselines. Caught between heaven and earth. Redeemed yet human. Prodigal sons looking for home.
My first inspirations on this topic formed themselves into an essay for The Curator, the web publication of the International ArtsMovement for which I am now serving as an Assistant Editor. 

David’s continued thoughts on the topic have been manifested in a second blog post where he says kind things about my Curator essay and much better things of his own. 

When Characters Come Calling

I met a boy the other day. His name is Peter. He’s about 9 years old. He has a sister named Sam, and a mom and dad. He’s cautious, smart, quiet, wise. He reminds me a lot of my nephew. He loves science and he’s going to discover the great world of bugs this summer. He will learn that life is not forever what it always was. He will discover that change is difficult and unsteadying. And he will learn that there is magic in the world – in the minutiae of creation, in the wonder of imagination, in the love of family.

One of the people who will speak into Peter’s life this summer is a older man named Ben Palmer. I met Ben years ago when he was living a different story. He was in crisis then, and while that is behind him now, I know that much of what I learned about him during that time will be seen in his interactions with Peter this summer. He will be hard-nosed and he will be truthful. He will be deeply broken and utterly renewed. And he will speak words to Peter that “alert him to the power he was perhaps too afraid to hope was real.”

Perhaps it is strange to you that I seem to know so much about Peter’s future though I only just met him. Don’t worry. This prescience isn’t wrapped in hocus pocus.

I’ve had encounters like this before. I once met a young man named William, and before we finished our first meal I discovered he had a whole story to live before I was done with him. And suddenly the name William just wasn’t right – not if we were to be spending a good portion of the next few years together. So decided to call him Edmund and he looked much more comfortable with that name.

In Peter, in Ben Palmer, in Edmund, I have the unique opportunity to see the past, the present, and the future all together. I’m fairly certain I know where they’ll end up, but I’m not quite sure. You see, they all surprised me when they came calling at the corners of my imagination. They could shock me once again with a sudden departure.

It’s an imperfect prescience. They’re breathing and living within their own stories. I hope to paint the canvas for them as they take the journey they’re on. But I don’t yet know what every bump in the road looks like. They may trip and fall. They may meet friends and enemies who surprise me equally when they come knocking with their stories fully formed, reaching back and reaching forward.

I met a boy named Peter the other day. He trooped into my imagination whole-bodied, meditative, and staring at a blank spot on the fridge where there is no summer calendar while he ate his waffles smothered in real maple syrup.

I told you there was magic in this world.

Note: I wish to thank Sam Smith and Kristen Peterson, friends I met last year at Hutchmoot, for their contributions to Peter’s existence and Ben Palmer’s new story. Hope you don’t mind that he’s not called “Sam Peterson.” You never know when your words will spark someone’s imagination. See, I told you there was magic in this world. 

I Write Stories During Sermons

A couple of weeks ago my friend Thomas posted a link on his blog to an article he’d written for SermonCentral.com. The title was, “You Preach, I’ll Doodle.”

It is a great article that looks at preaching in light of varied learning styles and multiple intelligences. I thought it was good enough to share. I did so, tweeting it with the statement: “I write stories during sermons.”

The tweet led to a “tweet-versation” with Thomas, expanding on my original statement. It culminated in a suggestion that I might write something about it as a guest post for his blog, Everyday Liturgy, in response to his article.

And that’s how, today, I have a snippet of a post to share with you. Head on over to Everyday Liturgy to read the whole thing:

“I sit under the preaching of my pastor or other teachers, and I fully intend to keep my mind on what they’re saying. I have out my notebook and my pen for the purpose of recording the points and insights they plan to make from the text. But I have characters teeming inside my head at all times, paused in the living of their lives until I choose to awaken them again, just waiting for their next course of action.”

The Blind Writer

I had a professor once who said, “The writer is the one who points and says, ‘Look.’” I’ve internalized that idea so deeply that I can no longer recall who said it – the words are now mine, and I repeat them from time to time when I’m called upon to say what it is I do – I point. I say, “Look.” I write.
Monday was, as Anne Shirley so appropriately described, “a Jonah day.” It started with misplacing my phone before work and having to leave without it, continued through ordering the wrong drink at the coffee shop, realizing I forgot my lunch, discovering a project at work hadn’t been completed, speaking sharply to a coworker, apologizing to said coworker, learning no contact had been made with a prospect for a book endorsement when I had requested it two weeks earlier…the list goes on. Through it all I was working on the tedious task of implementing proofreading notes on a book manuscript. I left work at the end of the day, having told my roommate I would text her when I was on the way so she could put the rice on, only to realize that was impossible without a phone, and dinner would consequently be twenty minutes later for my hungry belly.
I found myself in the car, weeping, crying out to God and asking Him why I hadn’t realized I’d been cruel to my coworker, kicking myself for how I handled it all, angry that I hadn’t followed up on the missed pieces sooner, wracking my brain to figure how I would finish all the work on the manuscript before the deadline.
Even Anne’s perfect description for my day, when it came to me as I drove, gave me no comfort. Along with it came her other thought on the topic: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” It’s that little word at the end that’s the problem: “yet.” It mocked me: “You’ll just do it all again tomorrow.”
The tears clouded my eyes; the thoughts crowded my mind. I ached at my own sinfulness and I couldn’t see a way out of it. The writer was blind. In such a state, how could she point? How could she look?
And then a new song started on the CD. It began with quiet strings and piano before Andrew Peterson’s voice began to gently prod,
Behold the Lamb of God
Who takes away our sin
Behold the Lamb of God
The life and light of men
Behold the Lamb of God
Who died and rose again
Behold the Lamb of God who comes
To take away our sin
“Behold.” Look.
My mind would wander back to the troubles of my Jonah day and AP would point again with that word, “Behold.”
Over and over again the phrase repeats in the song: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Look at the Son of God, Emmanuel, the hope of man. When the song ended, I went through again and again. “Behold.” Do not look elsewhere. Keep your eyes on the Lamb. Will you sin again tomorrow? Yes, and the Lamb of God will take away that sin, too. “Behold.”
When the writer is blind, who will point and say, “Look”? The voices of the prophets, of the musicians, of the artists, of all those who have beheld the Lamb and come to Him with their broken hearts, fallen far away from Him, only to see them renewed and restored by the One who died and rose again – they will echo together the call of John the Baptist, pointing and saying, “Look.”

To hear Andrew Peterson’s song “Behold the Lamb of God,” click here.