SEC Planning Takeover of National Cathedral

port_NationalCathedralYou may have heard by now that the dean of the Washington National Cathedral will soon be retiring. If not, you can read about it in this article from Tuesday's Washington Post.

The Very Rev. Gary Hall has had an illustrious ministerial career that has literally taken him all over the world. We’re pretty sure, however, that the true highlight of his ministry at WNC was being tapped by the Supreme Executive Committee to officially open Lent Madness 2014. Watch the video to take a trip down Lenten lane.

Yes, he also wrote a back cover blurb for the founder of Lent Madness’ 2015 book Father Tim’s Church Survival Guide but this presumably ranks a distant second in Dean Hall’s vocational highlight reel.

As the Washington National Cathedral will soon be experiencing a power vacuum (a.k.a. searching for a new dean), the SEC is considering a hostile takeover. Well, not hostile exactly. It’s really more of a holy takeover.

Here are the top 10 things the SEC will do to make the National Cathedral even more awesome than it already is.

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Pope Endorses Lent Madness!

The Supreme Executive Committee was poring over the Supreme Pontiff's latest missive, Evangelii Gaudium. We Supremes like to keep an eye on what the others are doing. For example, we are considering adopting purple robes along the lines of those worn by the Supreme Court.

Pope Francis in Purple

Pope Francis wears his Lent Madness fan chasuble.

Anyway, our eyes perked right up when we realized that Pope Francis had endorsed Lent Madness. From paragraph 6, "There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter." He goes on to say, "I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved."

So even amidst Lent, we are to experience joy. That is surely a solid, if tacit, endorsement of Lent Madness. We could not agree more, because that's exactly why the SEC promotes levity alongside penitence. Life is too short to deny joy, even for a moment, let alone forty days and forty nights.

We're glad to accept the Pope's endorsement, and the SEC would be happy to concelebrate a festive mass at St. Peter's on any day of the Holy Father's choosing during Lent 2014. While we're in Rome (we'll be happy to stay in the Apostolic Apartments, since we hear they're vacant), we'll console Pope Francis on his namesake's loss in the Faithful Four of Lent Madness 2010.

Keep doing a good job, Your Holiness, and you might make it into the bracket one day in the life to come -- or perhaps, in this life, onto the SEC as an Honorary Supreme. But probably not.

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One Day of #Lentitude

lentitudeIf you've spent any time on Facebook or Twitter this month, your feed is clogged with cat photos, political outrage, and one more thing that's equally insidious. #30daysofgratitude is all the rage. People say what they're grateful for. Ad nauseum.

The SEC is pro-Thanksgiving. That's why we're going to eat a big feast on Thanksgiving Day. More important, it's why we celebrate the Eucharist, with its Great Thanksgiving, every Sunday. But a whole month of unicorns and puppies is a bit much. So we've decided to offer a counterpoint. #Lentitude.

Today is One Day of #Lentitude. Here's our invitation. Go with Jesus into the wilderness. It's no party. It's full of things to make a person grumpy: weeds, sand, heat, scorpions, and a lack of espresso bars. Today only, we invite you -- all day long -- to share the things that make you grumpy or that annoy you. Give something up! Do Lent stuff today!

Here's a suggestion list. Naturally, it's a list of Ten Ways to Do #Lentitude.

10. Give something up for a day.
9. Say the Stations of the Cross at church or at your local coffee place.
8. "Reconcile" with someone by telling them the ways in which they annoy you.
7. Wear purple.
6. Wander in the wilderness for 40 minutes (hey, you only have one day).
5. Call your local radio station and ask them to play the Lent Madness Theme Song instead of the Christmas music they probably have on.
4. Eat twigs. With garlic.
3. Every time someone says, "How are you?" tell them about every problem you have, have ever had, or might ever have.
2. Email everyone in your address book your favorite Lent hymn texts. Send several in separate messages.
1. Post #Lentitude at least 40 times on your social media. That means 40 different ways in which you suffer. In so doing, all your friends will suffer too. #Lentitude is the gift that keeps on giving.

Enjoy #Lentitude! But not too much, because enjoyment is for Easter and sparkle ponies only.

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Lent Madness to Occupy Advent!

Dog in the Manger-draft coverAs everyone knows, the Supreme Executive Committee of Lent Madness has a virtual monopoly on all things Lent. It's gotten to the point where our legal team is exploring the possibility of copyrighting the color purple.

So what are Tim and Scott doing meddling in the Season of Advent? Good question. But Forward Movement has just published Tim's Advent/Christmas devotional book titled "Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos." Illustrated by popular priest/cartoonist Jay Sidebotham, the book is a series of humorous and insightful essays on ways to keep spiritually centered amid the craziness of what Tim likes to call the "Christmas-Industrial Complex."

Here's the blurb from the back cover:

Christmas card trauma. Over-the-top decorations. Post-Christmas blues.
With laugh-out-loud humor anchored by spiritual truths, author Tim Schenck helps us maintain our spiritual sanity through the often frenetic chaos of Advent and Christmas. Illustrated by popular cartoonist Jay Sidebotham, Dog in the Manger also explores the major characters of the season in new ways, including John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, and of course, Jesus. Thoughtful questions following each section make Dog in the Manger ideal for personal reflection, seasonal book groups, or a last-minute Christmas gift.

The book has reflection questions following each section so it's perfect for either individual or group reflection. (Note to parish clergy: that Advent series you've been meaning to put together but haven't got around to yet? Here's your salvation).

The powers-that-be have subjected Tim to the same questions posed to our authors during September's Back to Lent Month. He was less than cooperative.

Why this book? 

Why not? Oh, you want an actual answer.

I get tired of seeing people so frazzled in the weeks leading up to Christmas that it seemingly sucks all the joy out of their lives. Surely the Nativity of our Lord transcends the practiced art of re-gifting and fake greenery. I'm also passionate about popping the perfection myth. As I write in the introduction:

Our faith is a gift, but it isn’t a perfectly wrapped present with exact folds and a precisely tied bow. Fortunately faith isn’t about being neat and tidy. You may burn the Christmas roast, Santa may not bring your child exactly what she wanted, you might even get sick and miss out on the best party of the year. But through it all, God remains.

Many of these essays bring readers into the chaos of my own family life -- you can shatter the notion of the perfect clergy family -- as we struggle to remain spiritually centered amid the frenzy of the holidays. Hopefully this book will make you smile, nod your head in recognition, and help you keep life around the holidays in perspective.

How does this book relate to Lent Madness?halofix

Since I created Lent Madness everything I do relates to Lent Madness. Even eating nachos. Next question?

Oh, fine. The same playfulness and holy irreverence that you'll find in Lent Madness pervades this book. It all gets back to the notion of taking our faith but not ourselves too seriously.

Plus Scott Gunn and the Forward Movement team published it. Or as he recently put it, he "let one slip through the cracks."

Why should the Lent Madness faithful buy your book?

So I can retire to a grotto in Southern Italy. Actually since many people know Jay's cartoons, I'm really hoping people will buy it thinking it's one of his famous calendars. Surprise!

Also, there's no accompanying mug so you get off easy.

To order your copy (and copies for everyone you've ever met), click here. If you don't trust Tim and Scott and you want to first read a sample before shelling out your hard earned money, click here. It's also available on Kindle and Nook and iTunes. (Tim likes to sign copies of e-readers with black Sharpies).

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An All Saints' Dance!

The Supreme Executive Committee wishes to extend a Happy All Saints' Day greeting to you and yours. Of course, for people in the know, this day is really The Feast of Golden Halo Winners and Their Companions. We managed to get some video of George Herbert, C. S. Lewis, Mary Magdalene, and Frances Perkins enjoying a dance. Winners of the Golden Halo in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, they are partying while they wait to welcome the next lucky saint into the super-elect company of Lent Madness champions.

This is a good time to suggest that you should probably spend the rest of November and all of Advent working on your brackets. To get you in the mood, enjoy more videos on the Lent Madness channel over at Vimeo. You might also enjoy some videos from A Nun's Life, which inspired the SEC to get this scene on film.


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Back to Lent Month: Meredith Gould

meredith-gould-the-social-media-gospelBack-to-Lent Month continues with a recent book published by Meredith Gould, a member of the esteemed Celebrity Blogger Alumni Association. And, yes, the Supreme Executive Committee has the power to extend Back-to-Lent Month as long as it wants. As you might have guessed, we rule by whim and the Holy Spirit.

About The Social Media Gospel
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and a growing number of other social media tools can help you build church community, deepen faith, and extend reach in previously unimaginable ways. The Social Media Gospel is an easy-to-understand, step-by-step guide by church communications professional Meredith Gould, who goes beyond "how to" and explains "why to" engage in digital ministry. Each chapter includes “Thought Bytes” for individual and group discussion. Appendices provide practical information about developing a strategic plan for communications, creating social media guidelines, and performing a communications audit.

Why this book?
Back in 2008, I published The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today to make a case for church communications being a key ministry. I promptly started kicking myself in the butt for not including social media, which was just beginning to be noticed by church folk. Within months, I was thanking God for gracing me with the good sense to use social media for a variety of church communication challenges before writing about it.

Working “in the trenches” helped me realize the extent to which people really do not know how to think strategically about church communications in general and social media in particular. Realizing that led me to focusing on helping people understand why these tools are valuable, when to use them, and how to integrate them into a coordinated plan for communicating with internal and external audiences.

How does this book relate to Lent Madness?
Lent Madness exemplifies how to use social media to generate conversation and community by offering content that informs, educates, and inspires. It’s anchored in a blog and uses other platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) in ways that highlight the best strategic use of those tools. Almost everything I write about in The Social Media Gospel can be illustrated by an aspect of Lent Madness.

Why should the Lent Madness faithful buy your book?
A trinity of reasons: 1) It’s a great book – everyone says! 2) While Lent Madness faithful are obviously savvy about social media, they probably know lots of people (e.g., church leadership) who aren’t. 3) I wrote all the posts about St. Mary Magdalene, winner of the Golden Halo in 2012, something I’ll never let anyone forget. Ever.

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Back to Lent Month: Penny Nash

Hungry_and_you_fed_meVeteran Celebrity Blogger Penny Nash recently contributed to a couple of compilation projects. The covers are so intriguing that we decided to feature these books in Back to Lent Month. Okay, we don't just judge books by their covers at Lent Madness -- or saints by their icons. But check these out for some additional bread for the journey (as you desperately await Lent).

Some of the finest homilists come together to build a compilation of sermons and homilies for Cycle C in the Liturgical Year. Hungry, And You Fed Mewhich has won two awards from the Association of Catholic Publishers, breaks open the Sunday readings in order to provide insight, warmth, humor and spiritual food for the reader. Under the moniker of the Homilists for the Homeless, these authors make it possible for proceeds from the sale of every book to go towards feeding and sheltering the homeless and those in need.

A second volume, Naked, And You Clothed Me (homilies for Year A) will be published in November.

A broken heart, a new job, an unexpected pregnancy, a confrontation, a win, a setback—not uncommon experiences when you're between 18 and 30. But what if you could talk to yourself just when that was happening, in the light of everything since: what would you say? With LETTERS TO ME, you can listen in as artists, teachers, poets, consultants, bloggers, pastors, and activists from a wide range of backgrounds recall a significant event — and then speak to a younger version of themselves with compassion and wisdom about what it means, and how it mattered.
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Back to Lent Month: Blood Entangled

BENT as a book cover-1-196x300Back to Lent Month continues with a recently released book, Blood Entangled, from new Celebrity Blogger Amber Belldene. This just proves that we don't discriminate against vampires here at Lent Madness. Or romance novels (take your pick on which member of the Supreme Executive Committee most closely resembles Fabio).

From Amber:

Yes! I have a new book out. It's the second book in my Blood Vine Series, which is racy vampire romance. I know, I know, not exactly what you would expect your friendly Episcopal priest to read or write in her spare time. But the truth is, like many, many women and some men, I am a huge fan of the romance genre and have been since high school. As a member of the romance writing community, I am in awe of the brilliant and passionate women I have come to know. If you haven't taken a look at a romance since the 1980s, you might be surprised by the diversity and sophistication of the genre these days.

That said, I know my book won't be for everyone -- it's got explicit sex, a beautiful winery setting, a lot of absurd humor, and vampires. It also explores deep theological themes like homeland and exile, purity, power, and belonging through the story of two warring tribes (Hunters and vampires) and their journey through their history of violence toward reconciliation.

Back Cover Blurb
Kos Maras’s orderly life is in shambles — he must distribute Blood Vine to a population of ailing vampires, but Hunters block him at every turn. To make matters worse, each night he watches over a temptingly beautiful woman sleeping in his bed. He is convinced love cannot last a vampire-long lifetime and an entanglement will only cause them grief, but he doesn’t have the heart to send her away.

From a long line of blood servants, Lena Isaakson is destined to serve a vampire, but a string of humiliating rejections thwarts her pleasure. When Kos shows her kindness, she hopes he will claim her. Instead he proves himself a coward in the face of love and sends her to serve another.

Will the dark seduction of a rakish new vampire finally bring Lena the pleasure she desires or deliver her into the hands of Hunters who want to destroy everything the Maras family has worked for?

Why vampires? Being a priest has given me a love for the language we use to talk about spiritual mysteries (which is a must for a paranormal author) and it’s been so fun to exercise my creativity to describe the mystical world of my vampires. Writing about fantastical worlds turns out, paradoxically, to be an excellent way to explore human truths, because of how we can exaggerate the reality.

Why racy romance? I am very passionate about the relationship between sex and spirituality. To me, sexuality is a gift from God and one of the most delightful ways we experience love — both divine and human. For so long, we have relegated sexuality to the realm of the secret and shameful. I’m all for privacy (it’s one of the reasons I have a pen name) but that’s not the same as secretive. As a priest who writes romance, I hope I can spur more comfortable conversations and openness about human sexuality in people’s lives and in the church.

How does this book relate to Lent Madness?
As much as I'd like to advocate for the spiritual discipline of a romance novel a day during the season of Lent, the truth is, this book doesn't have much to do with Lent other than this:

My characters are just regular folks (and ordinary vampires) who are struggling with vocation, duty, and their own pasts. During Lent Madness we read the stories of holy lives so that we might better understand our spiritual journey. For me, all fiction serves this purpose — any character’s story is an opportunity for us to look at our commitments and motivations, and in the case of romance, a reminder to stay in touch with the passion in our lives. Blood Entangled surprised me by becoming the story of an extraordinary sacrifice, and I’m certain I couldn’t have written it without the Christian story in mind.

Why should Lent Madness followers buy this book?
Well, I’m not sure they should -- only if it piques their interest! And I do recommend starting with the first book, Blood Vine, which is only $0.99 for Kindle right now.

If you don’t buy one of my books, I’d love the LM followers to take a moment to learn a little about the romance genre. Romantic and sexual love is one of the Christian tradition's most potent metaphors for God’s love and I am convinced a great romance can nourish our spirit and our own romantic relationships. If you would prefer to read a great historical romance, or a witty contemporary, or steampunk, or angels, or anything — feel free to get in touch with me online and I’ll recommend some of my favorites!

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Back to Lent Month: Letters From Ruby

adamholdinglettersfromrubyBack to Lent Month continues as we highlight Bracket Czar Adam Thomas' new work of fiction, Letters from Ruby. What's the book about? According to the back cover...

Not everything a young pastor needs to know can be taught in school.
Not much triumph remains in Victory, West Virginia, where the loss of the railroad and the housing bust have conspired to send the once vibrant town into decline. Only a few buildings in downtown Victory still have the lights on, including St. John's Episcopal Church, which serves an ever-dwindling population of worshipers.

The newly ordained priest Rev. Calvin Harper arrives at the ailing church hoping to help it grow and regain some of its former glory. But Calvin has no idea how much he still has to learn about leadership, about ministry, and about life in general.

When the young man's inexperience threatens to divide Calvin from his new church family, Ruby Redding takes him under her wing. Ruby is one of those rare women who is so full of God’s light that it can't help but spill onto the people around her. This light spills onto Calvin from the moment they meet, but he is blind to the new world Ruby hopes to show him. Even Ruby's wisdom and generosity may not be enough to open Calvin's eyes.

Here's the Lent Madness Exclusive Interview with Adam!

What was your inspiration for Letters from Ruby?
They say, "Write what you know," and whoever they are, I took them at their word. Letters from Ruby is a story about a young Episcopal priest (like me, though more neurotic) and his first year of ministry at a church in a former railroad town in West Virginia. The book is fiction, though events from real life inspired the narrative. The woman behind the character of Ruby taught me so much about the "caring" side of ministry. You learn the academics in school -- about interpreting the Bible, preaching, teaching, running worship services -- but learning to be a pastor only happens on the ground.

What is the book about?
Letters from Ruby is about love keeping the grieving afloat. It is about friendship overcoming isolation. It is about hope and trust and the joy of a simple life lived in gratitude. And it is about death and resurrection.

Who's the book written for?
Women my mother's age (I'll let you guess what that means) seem to be gravitating to it, but I think anyone will find value in it. I hope church book clubs pick it up, as it will generate some great discussions at your meetings (there's also a short study guide in the back). You don't need to be an ardent churchgoer to like it; in fact, if you're not one, you might find the characters in this book wrestling with the same questions you are.

How does this book relate to Lent Madness?
Well, it doesn't really, except that there's a killer Ash Wednesday scene in chapter 10.

Why should the Lent Madness faithful buy your book?

Because, presumably, they like church, and my book takes place mostly in a church. Plus, it's good. Also plus, if more than 1,000 of you buy it and then email me a 51l3PTeTuxLpicture of you holding it, Tim Schenck has promised to let me into the Supreme Executive Committee. I know a thousand is a tall order, but I think we can do it!

While Adam is clearly delusional, we hope you'll read his book. Also by Adam is Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in Virtual World. Rumor has it that if you buy both, Adam will fly to your location, at his expense, to autograph them with the pen of your choice.

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