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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Back to Lent Month!

backtolentAs school children throughout the land reluctantly turn their faces toward the classroom, we're celebrating Back to Lent Month here at Lent Madness headquarters. Specifically, now that the kids are back in school, we're offering opportunities for some Back to Lent reading.

You may not know this but a number of our Celebrity Bloggers are also famous authors in their own right. Granted, they owe it all to Lent Madness (even for the books they published before Lent Madness was a gleam in Jesus' eye). In fact, two of our current Celebrity Bloggers and one former CB, had new books published this very summer!

Throughout this month, we'll highlight the authors of these new books and encourage you to spend your hard-earned disposable income on them. After all, for what we pay these talented celebrities (global adulation?), they could use the added encouragement.

9781426741371Our Bracket Czar, the Rev. Adam Thomas, published his second book this summer. Letters From Ruby is a work of fiction described thusly:

When the newly ordained Episcopal priest Rev. Calvin Harper arrives in Victory, West Virginia, to be the pastor at an ailing parish, he has no idea how much he still has to learn about being a priest. Thankfully, Ruby Redding takes the young man under her wing and teaches him everything she has learned throughout her long, storied life. Seminary never taught Calvin that the only true way to be a witness to God’s presence in this world is to remain in relationships with people no matter what life throws at them. His studies never taught him that detachment is the bane of ministry. He never learned that deep grief comes only from deep love. But in his first year in Victory, Calvin learns all this and more from Ruby, a woman so full of God’s light that it can’t help but spill onto the people around her.

Adam's first book, Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World, was published in 2011 and remains a popular title for those seeking to connect faith and technology.

New Celebrity Blogger, the Rev. Amber Belldene, also released a book this summer. Blood Entangled is the second book in her imagesBlood Vine vampire romance series following the initial publication of Blood Vine. Intrigued? Here's what you'll find in Blood Entangled:

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?

imagesAs long as we're on the topic of newly released books, former Celebrity Blogger and friend of Lent Madness, Meredith Gould, is enjoying the success of The Social Media Gospel. Here's a blurb from the Foreword:

In many ways, the church is blazing new paths with social media. Now is the time to do a new thing, to proclaim God's word in new and exciting ways. It is good to read about social media; it is good to think about how you re going to move forward. Sooner or later the time will come when you just have to take the plunge. The Social Media Gospel will help you!

Of course, Celebrity Bloggers have written books that never go out of style. Last year the Rev. Laurie Brock, released a book Where-God-Hides-Holinessco-authored with the Rev. Mary Koppel titled Where God Hides Holiness: Thoughts on Grief, Joy and the Search for Fabulous Heels. Here's the deal on this terrific read:

This new book shares the joy, humor, surprises, grief, and messiness when God invites us to strip away the personas of “perfect priest” or “perfect Christian” and rediscover what is sacred and genuine about ourselves and our faith. Priests and writers Brock and Koppel relate common and unique experiences here, as we join them on a sometimes startling journey of faith. Laced with wit, revelation, and self-discovery, the new book is organized in three parts:  Life—the dirtiness of failure, frustration, and struggle when what seemed fine falls apart; Death—the frailty behind our personas; and Resurrection—new life with lessons learned.

Hungry_and_you_fed_meThe Rev. Penny Nash has recently contributed to two compilations, Hungry, And You Fed Me (forward by Meredith Gould!) and  Letters to Me: Conversations With a Younger Self. The first is a series of sermons by a group called Homilists for the homeless; the second shares reflections from a diverse group of folks looking back on a significant event in their lives and offering advice to their younger selves. Look for more information on both of these books later this month.

god_s_shoes_coverMembers of the Supreme Executive Committee also write books occasionally (not just pamphlets). The Rev. Tim Schenck wrote What Size Are God's Shoes: Kids, Chaos, and the Spiritual Life in 2008.

Do you believe God can be found in both the miraculous and the mundane? Through 40 insightful and engaging essays, Tim Schenck helps us encounter God through the chaos of everyday life. The divine presence weaves its way into a family room fish tank, a child's probing questions, the town pool, and the drive-thru window of the local fast food chain.

This fall, Forward Movement is publishing an Advent/Christmas mini-book by Tim titled Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos. Besides making a great gift (and being illustrated by popular priest/cartoonist Jay Sidebottham), it has reflection questions following each essay, making it perfect for your parish's Advent series.

We hope you'll enjoy the wonderful intellectual richness of Back to Lent Month. We'll be highlighting the newly released books in the days ahead. In the meantime, don't forget to get yourself a new Trapper Keeper -- while supplies last.

PS. Don't miss the Archbishops' take on what's coming up for Lent Madness 2014!

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Bracketology 101
The Rev. Licia Affer at All Saints' in Phoenix, AZ

The Rev. Licia Affer at All Saints' in Phoenix, AZ

As we discovered last year, many congregations successfully used Lent Madness as a parish-wide devotion. It's actually a terrific way to make for a livelier coffee hour as parishioners engage in heated debates and engage in fisticuffs over their saintly picks. Plus it gets people to focus on something other than the rector's not-so-hot sermon.

We get a lot of questions about the best way to turn up the competitive spirit by engaging in a little saintly combat. Unlike the ubiquitous March Madness office pool (evidently there's some other bracket-driven tournament out there), Lent Madness bracketology leaves people inspired and better prepared for Easter.

Here's a step-by-step guide to drawing your congregation into Lent Madness fever. But first, don't forget to order the poster-sized Lent Madness bracket to post in your parish hall and encourage people to download the Calendar of Saints e-book ("Ultra-Revised Edition!") that includes all of the 2013 Lent Madness saints along with many others. (NOTE: This book should be available by the end of January. Watch this website for details.)

1. Pick up a blank 2013 bracket from the parish office (or print it off the Lent Madness website).

2. Fill it out with your picks (be sure to put your name on top!) and submit it either to the parish office or the official parish Lent Madness Coordinator.

3. Encourage an optional donation per bracket filled out with the money going to a particular charity supported by the parish (Episcopal Relief & Development is always a terrific choice).

4. Use a simple point system to decide the winner. Last year the Rev. Chris Arnold has devised a scoring system that I'll have to put in his own words because I did C of S 2013 coverhorribly in high school algebra: "There are many different ways of scoring brackets. To strike a balance between correctly picking early rounds and correctly guessing the winner, we’ll award 2 points for first round picks, 3 for second round picks, then 5, 8, and 13. This gives a total of 105 possible points, and the possible points from each round are 32, 24, 20, 16, and 13." According to Chris, this worked beautifully.

5. Unless you have a CPA in your parish (or Jimmy Carter) to total things up, your Lent Madness Coordinator can do this and declare a winner after the Golden Halo is awarded.

6. To further entice participation, you may want to offer a prize to the winner. It could be a devotional book published by Forward Movement (to placate Scott) or the winner could determine which charity gets the bracket donations. Or he/she could be allowed to preach on Easter Sunday.

7. You might like to have a large bracket in your parish hall or narthex, or perhaps attached to the altar frontal. If you are blessed with graphic artists or stone masons, you could create/carve your own large bracket. Or you can order the official, poster-sized bracket from Forward Movement for just $10, two for $18.

It's that easy! And, as always, let us know if you have another system you'd like to share or give us feedback on how this has worked/is working at your congregation.

(Remember: order your own bracket poster! All the cool kids have them pinned up at home. And another at church. Maybe yet another for the office or the car.)

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Monday Madness -- Lent Madness Action Online and at Home

Tim and Scott talk about Lent Madness action in the week to come -- and the week that is past. What happens when Lent Madness comes home? And what are the consequences of cheating in Lent Madness? Find out in this week's fun-filled broadcast.

Enjoy more videos on the Lent Madness video channel.

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Look Who's Talking #2 (Blogs, etc)

The Rev. Anne Emry, Curate at St. John's in Hingham, MA

With just five days until the start of Lent Madness 2012, it's time to highlight some recent bloggers and parishes who have jumped on the Lent Madness band wagon. We did this a few days ago which you can read here but since this is all snowballing or hitting a crescendo (depending on which analogy you prefer), we thought it was time to acknowledge some others with Lent Madness fever.

This is by no means a complete list. Some of us have day jobs after all. But if you don't see your own group, by all means send me a link at and I'll see what I can do to place your lamp on the proverbial lampstand. As we move forward, pictures and anecdotes are encouraged. You send 'em, we'll post 'em. Unless we get really busy because, you know, it's Lent.

Here we go:


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A Better Bracket!

No, we haven't added your favorite saint that didn't make it into Lent Madness 2012. But thanks to "celebrity blogger" Adam Thomas we now have a much more attractive printable bracket. The youngest (hippest?) member of the Lent Madness team saw a need (my ugly, plain-looking  bracket) and upped the ante with some color and fancy graphics (you can obviously still print it in black and white).


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Look Who's Talking (blog edition)

Yes, friends, the Lent Madness Buzz is building all over the world. People everywhere are filling out their brackets and ironing their hair shirts as they breathlessly await the coming of "Ash Thursday" on February 23rd.

Today, we wanted to highlight a few blogs that have posted about Lent Madness. We commend them for their highly poignant commentary and brilliant selection of topic (or, as sometimes happens among bloggers, they couldn't think of anything else to write about). If you know of other blogs that have mentioned Lent Madness, let us know. And if you yourself are a blogger (and like to say really awesome things about Lent Madness) we encourage you to post and let us know about it in order to greatly increase your blog traffic, get picked up by a syndicate, make piles of cash, and retire early.

Here are some sample from the blogosphere:


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Has Forward Movement Gone Mad?

If you're not familiar with the The Episcopal Church Foundation's  Vital Practices site, you should be. Today they posted an article about Lent Madness written by our own Scott Gunn. Scott's feeling very proud of himself for writing about Lent Madness and not giving me (Tim) a single mention. Besides the fact that he's now dead to me, it was an excellent piece about Forward Movement's motivation for getting involved with Lent Madness.

Has Forward Movement Gone Mad for Lent Madness?

By the Rev. Scott Gunn

For decades, Forward Movement has been most widely known for its flagship publication, Forward Day by Day. Hundreds of thousands of readers around the world find inspiration in the quarterly printed booklet. In the US, many Episcopalians learned about Forward Movement in their narthex. Lots of pamphlets sit in racks, waiting to be read.


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Lent Madness Pyramid Scheme

Pyramids are an important part of the salvation story of Scripture. After all, if it wasn't for the cruel treatment at the hand of the Egyptian slave drivers forcing them to build pyramids for the pharaoh, the Israelites might never have risen up to cross the Red Sea. You could argue that Pharaoh's enslavement of Moses' people was the original "pyramid scheme."

As we await the start of Lent Madness with building anticipation, we're aware of at least one parish that is structuring their participation as a Bernie Madoff-like pyramid scheme. The Rev. Chris Arnold, Priest-in-Charge at St. Mary's in Middlesboro, Kentucky, is hoping the entire congregation plays along this Lent.


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