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Scouting the Divine: An Interview with Margaret Feinberg

Recently we had a conversation with Margaret Feinberg, author of the new book, Scouting the Divine. We asked her questions about her pilgrimage across the US, caring for a flock of sheep, and Wal-Mart. And this is what she had to say…

Have we heard incorrectly or did you recently come to Oregon, our neck of the woods (or should we say “God’s country”), to spent time with sheep?

I love me some Oregon. Seriously, I HEART the Pacific Northwest. After spending five years living in Alaska, it’s hard not to fall in love with your region of the country. Almost a decade ago, I met a woman from outside of Portland who took care of sheep. I never forgot our meeting all the rich spiritual insights that emerged from her simply talking about caring for a flock. Last spring, I tracked her down, cold called her, reintroduced myself, and garnered an invitation to spend time in her home and among her sheep. The experience was unforgettable.

Why ‘Scouting the Divine?’ Where did this concept come from?

I’ve become increasingly aware that the agrarian world of the Bible is distant from my modern suburban lifestyle, so I decided to be intentional about closing the gap. I went on my own “stay-grimage.” or “spiritual pilgrimage” in the United States. I spent time with the shepherdess in Oregon, a farmer in Nebraska, a beekeeper in Colorado, and a vinter in Napa Valley. With each person, I opened the scripture and asked, “How do you read this—not as a theologian—but in light of what you do everyday?” Their answers changed the way I read scripture forever.

Can you spend a minute and tell one of the truths that impacted you personally while writing Scouting the Divine?

There were so many spiritual discoveries. One I’ve been gnawing on lately came from my time with the beekeeper. I asked him why he thought the Promised Land was described as a land overflowing with milk and honey. The land could have been described as anything—the land of ginormous pomegranates or luscious olive oil. Instead, God chose to make the land famous for overflowing with milk and honey. When I asked the beekeeper, he noted that a land that overflows with honey means that everything is working in its proper order. The winter snows don’t melt too late. The summer heat isn’t overwhelming. The rain falls at its appointed time. The first freeze doesn’t arrive too early. If any of these factors are out of alignment then the grasses and flowers can’t bloom to their full potential and the bees can’t produce honey in abundance. That means that one of the defining characteristics of the Promised Land is that everything works in it’s proper order. I want to enter that Promised Land in my own life.–where I’m living in the season of life God has placed me in to my full potential.

On a side note, we’ve always been impressed – from following you on Twitter and reading your blog – that, despite the busyness of ministry, you prove to remain passionate about your relationship with Jesus. What are some practical things that you do to keep that passion fresh?

Even in the midst of a busy schedule, I try to take care of myself. This may sound so unspiritual, but I try to make sure I’m getting enough sleep. I carve out mornings when I allow my body to drink in as much sleep as it needs. Why? When I’m well-rested, I’m less like to make foolish decisions that lead me into sin and it’s easier to connect to God and respond to His leadings and nudging. I have a hunch the people of God would be far more effective if we were well-rested. In addition, I love to read what I call Bible nerd books. I read commentaries, studies on ancient Israel and obscure books that really feed my spirit and soul. And Leif and I read a Walter Bruegermann prayer aloud together. It’s one of the sweetest moments of our day.

When does Scouting the Divine release and how can people purchase it?

Scouting the Divine is available October 1 and the accompanying six-week DVD study releases from Lifeway in January 2010. You can check it out on amazon.com, borders.com, or my own site—which is launching all-new in October!–www.margaretfeinberg.com. For all you Facebookers, I’m on as Margaret Feinberg and for all you twitters, you can find me @mafeinberg.

Next time you’re in Oregon herding sheep, you’ll have to stop by and say hi.

Would love to! I’ll be speaking at Living Hope Church in Vancouver, Washington, and George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, in November.

BONUS: When I think of Wal-Mart, I think of … the hidden story of Sam Walton’s heart for caring for the poor that isn’t heard or heralded oenough. I just got back from Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Wal-mart, and discovered countless stories of outrageously generous and good things being done by this shopping behemoth. You’d be surprised at just how much!

007A popular speaker at churches and leading conferences such as Fusion, Catalyst, and LeadNow, Margaret Feinberg (www.margaretfeinberg.com) invites people to discover the relevance of God and His Word in a modern world. Audiences love her ability to connect the practical with the spiritual. Recently named by Charisma magazine as one of the “30 Emerging Voices” who will help lead the church in the next decade, she has written more than a dozen books including the critically-acclaimed The Organic God and the Sacred Echo (Zondervan). People of all ages connect with her relational teaching style. Margaret currently lives in Morrison, Colorado, with her 6′8″ husband, Leif. When she’s not writing or traveling, she enjoys anything outdoors, lots of laughter, and their super-pup, Hershey. But she says some of her best moments are spent communicating with her readers. So go ahead, become her friend on Facebook, or tag her on Twitter at @mafeinberg.

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Skating Rinks (Excerpt from The Fine Line)

Skating rinks. Who doesn’t love these wonderful, wretched institutions? I think I started and ended more middle school “relationships” there than I care to remember. The distinct sound of the air hockey puck smacking against the table, the smell of buttery popcorn at the snack bar, and the feel of those worn tan skates with bright orange wheels — these memories define my early adolescent years. Of course, my parents allowed me to attend only “Christian” skate nights. My virgin ears weren’t allowed to hear the likes of Madonna or Color Me Badd. But even these sanctified skate nights had their limits. Every Thursday at the stroke of nine, the disc jockey switched the music from Christian back to secular. That’s when my friends and I had better be out of the building or else we would promptly turn into pumpkins.

For some reason on one particular night I lingered past the safety of 9:00 p.m. Maybe my laces got tangled. Maybe my friend’s mom forgot to pick us up. I can’t remember. What I do remember are the lyrics from that one song, that “secular” song: “That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.” I felt like Judas when I heard it, like I was betraying the faith. Although the song sounded irreligious, I couldn’t deny that something about the plaintive voice coming through the speakers at the skating rink that night resonated with me. The song put words to feelings lodged deep within me. Whether the band R.E.M. intended it or not, I viewed the song as a type of psalm boldly declaring doubts and concerns.

I didn’t know much about the band at the time, but an entire generation latched on to that song, evidenced by the fact that in 1991, R.E.M. won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance and “Losing My Religion” is listed as #169 on Rolling Stone’s five hundred greatest songs of all time. All I knew was that lead singer Michael Stipe had a unique voice and R.E.M. a unique sound, at least compared to the Christian songs popular during the early nineties. I think Michael W. Smith’s “crossover” song “Place in This World” was about as edgy as things got back then. Stipe’s haunting voice and penetrating lyrics stuck with me for months, re-creating in me the same side effect I feel when I eat one too many barbecue ribs at summer cookouts: heavy and lethargic— no touch football after lunch. Odd, isn’t it? Here I was an eighth grader caught somewhere between two songs, echoing the cries of two Michaels. At that time in my life, I often prayed to God that he would show me my place in this world while feeling that I was losing my religion.

Sometimes things don’t change much. Fast-forward a whole bunch of years and I am still caught between the same two songs. I’m still waiting for the angst to end. I know Jesus and I love Jesus more today than I did back in that skating rink many years ago, but today it seems as though I have more questions about Christianity than answers.

I’m not happy about my angst. And if it were possible, I wish I could go back to a time when everything was black and white and simple, to the time when life was easily categorized like the music in the skating rink: Christian or secular. I think back to that time, somewhere in my childhood, when making Bible characters out of Popsicle sticks was about as complicated as life got. Even though I’m thirty-one, I’m still trying to find my place in this world. Shouldn’t I know by now what I want to be when I grow up?

But it’s bigger than simply what I want to do in the future. It’s also about how I should live now. I want to be relevant to the world, to impact it and maybe even transform it. At the same time, I don’t want to look just like the world looks.

This tension isn’t unique to middle school skaters. It’s the unavoidable tension that exists for each of us who believe in the God of the Bible. Jesus addressed this tension when he instructed his followers about their relationship with the world. He told them to be in the world but not of it. As if that makes things a whole lot clearer. Or easier. One thing is certain: there’s a fine line between in and of. In my life I’ve tried to avoid this tension; I’ve pretended this fine line doesn’t exist. But pretending doesn’t make the tension go away. It only makes us go away — one more irrelevant Christian.

I’m pretty sure this tension that’s been with me from childhood until now isn’t going away anytime soon. Discovering the fine line between in the world and of the world isn’t easy, but I have to try. I don’t want to be caught living a lie — or manufacturing one. If you’re like me, then you’re willing to explore this tension and you’re willing to pay the cost of living with this tension. At certain times throughout history, Christians avoided the tension and the church and the world suffered because of it.

Living a lie prevents people from living free. At other times, people ventured into the unknown and celebrated the mystery instead of suppressing it. Within the process, some lost their religion. Others not only found their place in the world but, more importantly, they found Jesus.

(Excerpt from The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture. Used with permission from Zondervan Publishing. ISBN: 0310285453)

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Kary Oberbrunner is the founder of Redeem the Day Ministries and author of The Fine Line his new Zondervan release as well as Called and The Journey Toward Relevance. He earned his M.Div. in Counseling and his D.Min. in Transformational Leadership and serves as the Pastor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Grace Church in Powell, Ohio. He and his soul-mate, Kelly, are blessed parents of Keegan and Isabel. Contact him at www.KaryOberbrunner.com.

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