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Finding Home

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Michael McNamara is curating a series that will explore the theme of Christian contemplative practice, which has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. We will learn from writers exploring spirituality from both the secular and the religious, embracing the paradox within that — a paradox essential to contemplative practice itself. How can this Christian or secular tradition impact today’s church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Paula Estornell, PhD

Everyone has a story to tell. This is my story of finding home.

I got the travel bug when I was 10. It was my turn to fly with to Spain to visit our relatives. (My older siblings had already gone.) The sights, sounds and smells of Spain were strange and captivating. So were the people and the slow-paced, fun-loving way of life. It was a wonderful experience and for the last 40 years I have been thrilled to discover new people and places across much of the United States and many countries. I’ve lived in the north east, north west, mid-west and southern parts of the United States as well as Europe.

I love newness and adventure and never stayed in one place for more than a few years. Too much stagnation makes me restless. In my early years, I was searching for excitement. In my later years, I began looking for home. A place to connect with the landscape and people and rhythm of an area. A place to belong. But a sense of home has eluded me. Even after I moved back to the town where I grew up, where I had family and old friends, married, and had a child. It wasn’t until I discovered, rather unexpectedly, a deeper connection with God and then with others that I felt a true sense of home.

I had grown up without religion in my life and no real concept of God. My tough single mother had left the church disillusioned by the patriarchy and lack of women’s voices. I came upon religion rather accidentally when, soon after returning from two years abroad in the US Peace Corps, I looked in the yellow pages of the phone book to see what community organizations I could join. I wanted to reconnect with Americans and make friends. Unitarian Universalist sounded intriguing and worldly so I went to a service. The exposure to the teachings of major world religions, open-mindedness, freedom of expression, and social justice appealed to me and I stayed an active member for almost 20 years. The faith fed my mind and provided a wonderful community of people to connect with.

When our daughter arrived, we needed to leave our small lovely UU Church in search of a church with a vibrant children’s program. We started attending a local Christian church and there I discovered more than a nice community of kids for our daughter. I found a church library and a deeper understanding of God.

Since I knew very little about mainstream Christianity, I wanted to read a little about the faith and about Jesus to better understand what was being said during Sunday services. Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault changed my understanding of God and Jesus and changed my life as I continued to read books she referenced and others from that church library. Until then, what little sense I had of God and Christianity was that they provided moral guidance for people and those morals were subject to cultural influences. Cynthia and other authors wrote about the indwelling of the light of God in everyone and of a mystical Jesus who launched a radical peace movement and love movement across the Middle East and beyond. Thomas Keating provided centering prayer practices from his Contemplative Outreach organization that guided people to sit quietly each day to hear the voice of God. These Christian spiritual teachings and practices fed my heart.

I’ve now read over 200 books and articles on spirituality and Christianity and am active in local Centering Prayer and Wisdom gatherings and also a student at Shalem Institute in Washington DC. The impact of this reading, community building, and prayer practice has been profound. My restlessness has disappeared, and been replaced with a great sense of peace and gratitude and awe. I no longer search for home because I found it deep inside and in all the people I encounter who carry the light of God within. I still cherish teachings of other faiths and remain active in interfaith dialogue and activities through local organizations. My sense of home is in a loving God, the Divine Spirit that I feel and know is alive in me and in all creation.


Paula Estornell is a wife, mother and travel enthusiast. Paula has worked for many years promoting sustainable community development in academia, government and private sector. She is training to be a spiritual retreat leader and travel guide.

If You are a Primary Text, What’s Your Mission?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Lee Hinson-Hasty

“You are the primary text.”

Early in my ministry, my father-in-law, the Rev. Dr. E. Glenn Hinson[1] reminded me how closely both friends and enemies pay attention to one another. Counselor orientation week at YMCA Camp Sea Gull pounded this point daily in another way: “They watch and remember what you do, how you do it, when it is done, and where you do it, even more than what you say.”

Curating blogs this March by leaders who think theologically from across cultures and ethnicities, sexual and philosophical orientations, generations, genders, and a variety of geographic locations reminds me how much I learn and respect those I choose to be in relationship with. One of my favorite questions to get to know or catch up with someone (thank you, George Anderson) is “What are you reading?” Thank you, NEXT Church, for providing a wonderful opportunity for me and all who read, wrote, and participated to be a part of that question and to strengthen relationships and insight in these days entrusted to our care.

The recommendations, reviews, and responses to my question have hopefully added a few – if not many – new books to your wish list to read. But I have a confession to make. I asked another question to the writers: What is your vocation or call? I put it this way: “Please include in the blog a brief description of your social location and ministry context so people have a sense of who you are, what has been formative, the kind of questions and ideas you often address, and the way(s) God is calling you to serve.” Many dove into this question in amazing ways, giving all of us a deeper look into who they each are. In that moment, they revealed themselves in a more focused and clarifying way. They became, I think, a primary text for us all. For this, I am grateful.

So I was pleased to read Teri McDowell Ott’s description from the autobiographical notes of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son: In them “Baldwin shares what could be read as his personal mission statement: ‘I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done. I want to be an honest man and a good writer.’”

Ken Kovacs points out that Charles Marsh “maintains that, [D]ogmatic proclamation would never be enough for Bonhoeffer, because every confession of Christ as Lord must bear concretely on the immediate work of peace. Obedience could not be separated from confession.’

I wonder if it is time for each of us to clarify our own vocation and write or re-write our own personal mission statements? What are we responsible for together and individually? And how are we living out those commitments?

Join me in giving thanks for those who contributed over the last month and the ways they are writing and living what they believe.  In so many ways, they are a primary text worth returning to again and again:

  • Derrick McQueen: “Spirit in the Dark” Examines the Boundaries of Religious Life: “One focus of my work is in bringing community and congregational experience into conversation with the bible through theological reflection. I am interested in reclaiming church as community on the inside to do the work of justice, love and righteousness outside the doors of the church.” He posits that “African-American literary tradition is ripe for bringing in texts to be in conversation with the bible and the community. It also provides a way for preachers and pastors to parse culture without giving in to the demand to ‘do something new to fill the pews.’”
  • Teri McDowell Ott: Prophetic Theology From a Non-Theologian: “After serving in parish ministry for 13 years, Teri now feels called to the liminal space between the sacred and the secular, the church and the ‘nones,’ the traditional and the contemporary. Teri feels called to build bridges between these spaces, especially through her writing and blogging.” She reminded us that James Baldwin’s “Essays… in Notes of a Native Son “reside in the realm of prophetic theology because of the extraordinary way they describe and illuminate the African-American experience and call to account those of us who live in privileged ignorance.”
  • Ken Kovacs: Bonhoeffer Biography Espouses Transforming “The Proud and Hateful” into Love: Ken says he has “come to believe that the social justice and advocacy engagement of the Church needs to be rooted and grounded psycho-spiritually in our individual core identities as children of God. Cultivating and nurturing the inner-lives of Christ’s people, helping individuals become more conscious of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, enhances the vitality of the church and strengthens the effectiveness of its witness in the world.”
  • Linda Kay Klein: Speaking Our Truth without Shaming Those Who Don’t See It: Linda blends research and stories to expose unseen social problems and devise potential solutions “for communities that are, like me, trying to find ways to unapologetically speak and fight for our truths while honoring the humanity of those who disagree with us.”
  • Erin Hayes Cook: Living in a Constant State of Motion: Erin believes her call is to be bridge between cultures and generations where she currently serves. She encourages us to “Be ready to be moved by the Spirit wherever she blows.”
  • Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri: Becoming Who You’ve Always Been: Vilmarie feels called to serve as a teacher/mentor, looking for ways to share the grace God has bestowed upon me without reservations. She recommends reading Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak to “those who, like me, find themselves at a crossroads or for those who feel “true self” is still to be discovered.”
  • Kathy Wolf Reed: Resist Right Now: Kathy reminds us that “God gives us not just an option but a direct order to place boundaries on our inclinations to perpetuate anxiety.”
  • Doris Garcia Rivera: Reaching Out with the Gospel in Intercultural Mode: Doris describes her “vocation as a teacher and my call and work as missionary in theological education and development for 23 years shaped me to develop ministries to reach out to others, to make connections, to create spaces for personal, community and spiritual growth.” She finds “Interculturality … defined as a posture, a disposition to share our lives with the other – a space where all cultures are required to truly read and interpret the world in a more comprehensive way, …(as) challenging” but an imperative.
  • MaryAnn McKibben Dana: The Civil Rights Movement: Important History, but Not in the Past: MaryAnn’s reading of King’s life and legacy has led her to understand her greater role in the world. “The struggles of 2017 are different, yet frustratingly similar. King was a pastor, like me. But that also means I am a pastor, like King.And it’s time for me — for all of us who lead Christ’s church — to make that real.”
  • Nanette Sawyer “feels called to guide people in spiritual practices that prepare us to be deeply rooted in God’s love and brave in extending that love to others.” Drawing from Jonathan Haidt, she encourages us to consider that “Our intuition is like an elephant that we ride – It’s large, powerful, and in control.”
  • Bridgett A. Green “resources people as they practice Christianity with the tools of sound biblical interpretation, rigorous theological inquiry, and good questions.”
  • Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty is “committed to teaching as well as ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and writing on the intersections of theology, ethics, and economics.” The books she recommends, she says, “will disturb your conscience and force you to confront the realities faced by economic migrants and refugees. Their stories will remain with you as you develop your own theology of migration and sense of God’s mission for the church today. You will not be surprised to hear, Elizabeth’s stories and wisdom deeply influences my own vocation and theological thinking and action.
  • Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly, lives out part of her vocation and reminds us to do the same saying, “We are called to be like Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, and not allow victims of racially motivated deaths to be forgotten.”

For each of these contributors, and for the authors they introduced us to or reminded us; for these cloud of witnesses, I am grateful. Lee

[1] Dr. Hinson would tell you he’s made plenty of mistakes, and you can read about many in his 2012 autobiography, A Miracle of Grace.


Lee Hinson-Hasty is senior director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation and curator of our March blog series.

Essential Reading for the NEXT Church

A theological memoir. A scriptural guide to community organizing. A collection of stories and reflections from young clergy women. A cheeky look at the end times. These are just a few of the books featured at our two Author Luncheons during the 2013 NEXT National Gathering in Charlotte. During the lunch, authors shared a few words about their books, then we opened the floor for suggestions of books, blogs and resources that others have found helpful in engaging the church that is becoming. What is the NEXT Church reading? What is the NEXT Church writing? Here are a few answers. A list like this one is by nature incomplete, even inadequate. What would you add?

Books Featured at NEXT Left Behind and Loving It: A Cheeky Look at the End Times, Mark Davis Reflecting with Scripture on Community Organizing, Jeff Krehbiel Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman, Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time, MaryAnn McKibben Dana Church and Stage: Producing Theatre for Education, Praxis, Outreach and Fundraising, Dean Seal The Benefit of the Doubt, Frank Spencer (coming soon to Amazon) Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir, Andrew Taylor-Troutman Imagining the Small Church: Celebrating a Simpler Path, Steve Willis

Other Books Recommended by NEXT Church Conferees Einstein’s God: Conversations about God and the Human Spirit, Krista Tippett Geography of God: Exploring the Christian Journey, Michael Lindvall Effective Organizing for Congregational Renewal, Mike Gecan Putting Away Childish Things: A Novel of Modern Faith, Marcus Borg When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough, Lillian Daniel Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers, Gary Neal Hansen

Blogs and Websites (in no particular order) Mustard Seed Journal, Mary Harris Todd 1001 Hints for Youth Ministry, Kent Smith The Pudgy Parson (Still) Going to Graceland RevGalBlogPals Glass Overflowing, Marci Auld Glass Painted Prayerbook, Jan Richardson A Church for Starving Artists, Jan Edmiston In the Meantime, David Lose The Blue Room, MaryAnn McKibben Dana Spirit in the House, Dean Seal and the Forgiveness 360 Project Inside Outed Tribal Church, Carol Howard Merritt

Resources for Writers CreateSpace: Amazon Publishing Wipf and Stock (publisher) Presbyterian Writers Guild Collegeville Institute (writing workshops and programs) Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, Michael Hyatt