Scripture. (Almost) Daily. For a Year.

I’m one of those people who never make New Year’s resolutions. Except when we do.

Last year, at the invitation of one of our pastors, Joy Fasick, I and about 120 other people at Slate Hill Mennonite Church resolved to read Scripture every day during 2013. Joy called it Challenge 2013, and she told us that reading from the biblical text each day would indeed be a challenge. She said we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over missing a day here and there, and she assured us that there would be many days when we definitely didn’t feel like reading the Bible. She cautioned us not to think that reading our Bibles would somehow miraculously transform us into better people or remove all our selfishness or insecurities or meanness. But she did tell us that slowly, over the course of our daily devotion, God would shape our lives, remake our affections, and renew our spirits.

Joy suggested lots of ideas that would help to give our daily reading some form and structure, including MennoMedia resources like Rejoice!, daily Bible reading plans, and electronic devotionals. She encouraged us to find our own devotional resources as well. The only parameters were that our devotionals be designed to occur daily and that they include the actual biblical text itself, not a contemporary writer’s reflections on the biblical text.

Like most other years when I’ve made New Year’s resolutions, I failed. Quite miserably. I haven’t tallied up the days I actually read Scripture—I like to think I have left behind the obsessive-compulsive faith of my adolescence—but I know that many days I didn’t get around to opening up my Bible. Like Joy suggested, however, I haven’t beaten myself up about it. Plus, failure is a relative term; I know that I read more Scripture than I would have had I not made that resolution. And Challenge 2013 affected not only my private devotional life but our family’s devotional life as well. Granted, it usually meant whipping open the Bible right before dinnertime prayer and reading whatever Psalm my eyes fell upon, wondering how many verses I could get through before some boy began to whine about how hungry he was. But again, we likely read more Scripture in 2013 than we did in 2012.

I can’t say that this year’s Scripture-reading discipline has noticeably changed me. This past year I still yelled at my kids, and still got captivated by my own ego, and still been plain-down petty more frequently than I like to admit. Then again, maybe I would have been even more angry, egoistic, and petty had I not done it. I wasn’t looking at this year’s discipline as some bargain or exchange of goods anyway, and I’m wary enough of how Scripture has been misused and privatized and extracted from that I hesitate to position it as some snazzy weight-loss program for one’s emotional life. Yet I do know that, at times, those sacred words from ancient writers slipped into my dim, distracted little brain and moved it a little closer to the Light of the World. One might be taken down a necessary notch in the morning when reading, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).  And evenings can’t be quite as full of despair when one ends them with the lovely words of the Psalmist, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).

So while I’m sure that I’ll again fail—whatever that means—I am going to go with the same New Year’s resolution for 2014. I will try to read Scripture daily again in 2014, and for at least part of the year I’m going to use a MennoMedia resource to do it. Take Our Moments and Our Days, volume 1 and volume 2, are Anabaptist prayer books that can be used individually or in groups. I’ve seen these books around for years, and I’ve decided that 2014 is the year I’m actually going to use them. Volume 1 is designed for Ordinary Time, and volume 2 goes from Advent through Pentecost.

Here is what some readers have to say about these books:

“It helps me to pray even when I have times when I don’t want to pray.”
—Eric, Australia

“I’ve been loving the prayer book. I have used it in our peace prayers group, in small group, in a group retreat, and mostly in my daily prayers as an individual. Every time I have opened the book, I have loved it.”
—Tina, Pennsylvania, USA

“I appreciate the repetition and find that some of the repeated phrases are really sticking with me and coming to me at other times of the day. The structure of the intercessions reminds me to broaden my prayers from just the nearest or most urgent.”
—Brenda, Indiana, USA

Another great MennoMedia resource for reading Scripture, this one designed for congregational use, is Dig In: Thirteen Scriptures to Help Us Know the Way. The thirteen Scriptures have special meaning to Mennonites and help readers engage with both the text and with each other.

One of the gifts of Anabaptism is that we believe that Scripture is best interpreted within the community of faith. I continue to believe that, and heartily. Yet as a result, in the past I have sometimes ceded personal spirituality to evangelical Christianity. This discipline of reading Scripture, no matter how poorly I do it, reminds me that Christ came to groups but also to individuals, one by one by one. It reminds me, almost daily, that I am more than just a body, and that life is more than the pursuit of whatever desire tries to rule that particular day.

So anyone want to join me in 2014? I promise I won’t make you check in with a count of how many days you faithfully read Scripture. I won’t be reporting back, either. Accountability is good, but I’d encourage you to find it in your local congregation, not here online.

In any event, the important thing here is not perfection but practice. The important thing is regularly placing ourselves in the company of ancient writers of faith, who tell the story of a God who hovers around the edge of our consciousness and occasionally, when we allow it, breaks the whole way through.

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of trade books at Herald Press.

God’s Abundance: Inside the MennoMedia Board

By Melissa Miller

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Earlier this month, I joined my husband and a couple of friends for a few days of camping in the Canadian wilderness. (Nopiming Provincial Park, Manitoba, to be precise.) We canoed the lakes and hiked the trails, fed the mosquitoes and ate the fish we caught. We woke to the call of the loons, and at night, tucked into our tents under a splash of starry lights. A short vacation packed with gratitude for God’s beautiful world and offering deep peace and relaxation.

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On one island, we found a mass of blueberry bushes, loaded with plump juicy fruit. The plentiful sunshine and rain this summer likely contributed to the plants’ productivity, and the island’s isolation meant no humans (or bears) had harvested before us. We gathered lots of berries, eating some and carrying more back to our site, to add to the evening’s bannock. Another example of how God provides – abundantly.

Abundance and scarcity have been on the minds of MennoMedia board members recently. One of the results of a self-assessment inventory that we completed in the spring identified shortages on the board. We find ourselves wanting to add skills in the areas of new technologies competence, board governance, and financial management. At the same time, we are grateful for the skills and gifts present in the current board.

Recently I sat down with Hilda Hildebrand, moderator of MC Canada and a member of the Joint Executive Committee, which has responsibility for managing the relationship between MennoMedia and our two denominations, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA. Hilda, who has considerable board experience, brought a grid to help us consider who is currently on the board and the skills they possess. I found the exercise of plotting skills on the grid to be a useful and encouraging one. God has abundantly blessed us with members who have gifts they are willing to share.

For example, there are business people on the board, who bring their experiences with product development, customers, and balance sheets. There are entrepreneurs with vision and a capacity to take risks. Other skills include legal expertise and communication skills. To a person, there is an abundance of good will towards MennoMedia and our churches. Many of us have benefitted from church resources in the past, and serve on the board because we want to ensure such resources continue to be available in the future. The mission statement of MennoMedia – “to engage and shape church and society with resources for living Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective” – resonates well on the  board.

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Even as we seek new members to strengthen the board and bring additional skills, we declare that God provides. Restful pauses where we contemplate God’s beautiful creation. Astonishing wild blueberries. Faithful and talented people to sit on boards and work in church agencies. Let’s give thanks for gifts that can be put to good creative use, like those wonderful blueberries.

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I’d love to hear from you in a comment here or an email sent to info@mennomedia.org.

Cheers, Melissa Miller, Board President of MennoMedia

Photos by Esther Epp-Tiessen

Take a tour of MennoMedia

When I was a kid, it was a big deal to tour BOTH the Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, Pa., and Mennonite Broadcasts Inc. in Harrisonburg, Va., when our family from Indiana vacationed in the east. Hey, there were NO theme parks back then. These were the forerunners of today’s MennoMedia agency, which serves both Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada producing faith-based resources.

Today you can tour our U.S. home base without burning any fossil fuel with this quick virtual tour.

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A pull-up sign near the door reminds staff and visitors of the mission of MennoMedia.

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A bulletin board highlights some of the newer resources and news headlines.

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The cover for Shirley Showalter’s memoir, Blush (forthcoming fall 2013), hovers at one stairway. Showalter is a popular blogger and former Goshen College president

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Comedic actor Ted Swartz’s cover for Laughter Is Sacred Space peeks around another corner.

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The amazing story of Dan Terry, ambushed in Afghanistan in 2010, becomes a legacy for new generations through DVD and biography by storyteller Jonathan Larson.

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An efficient warehouse with thousands of curricular materials, periodicals, DVDs, CDs, books, websites, and more move from shelf to packing area and out the door. Even with the more cutting edge stuff we produce and share, it is always foundational to see Martyrs Mirror from 1660 still being purchased and read (or maybe used as booster chairs?) today.

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Visitors can browse the little store by our front desk weekdays 8-4:30, but virtual visitors can shop our store 24-7!

That’s probably enough for today’s tour and we haven’t even introduced the people waiting to create, share, and send you even more resources, but some people are touchy about pictures so I just went with bricks and mortar today.

We also have offices in Waterloo, Ont., and Newton, Kan., as well as a scattering of staff members throughout both countries. There might just be one living and working in your hometown.

What resources can you help us dream up?

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Your friendly guide, Melodie Davis, writer/producer and Another Way columnist.