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Mark Liebenow
essayist, poet, blogger

 


 
Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite, University of Nebraska Press, March 2012

We feel estranged from nature. We love to be outside yet feel afraid when left alone in the forest. Our children play video games instead of going outdoors. I explore nature’s spirituality by camping in Yosemite through the seasons and learn how to pay attention. I weave in geology, botany, the stories of Native Americans and pioneers who once lived there, and the words of John Muir. Each year four million visitors come to Yosemite, and I describe my hikes so that they can walk those trails and have their own experiences. I also write about the rock climbers I camped with, their daring, and how they challenged me to take my own risks and experience life directly. I want readers, wherever they are, to go outside after reading my book and see nature as they’ve never seen it before.

 
Is There Fun After Paul? A Theology of Clowning, Resource Publications

Fools and clowns pop up in cultures throughout the world, individuals who approach life a little differently and wake us to alternative ways of viewing the world.  They confront the powers of the world and remind them that individuals are still important. They probe stereotypes and deal constructively with societal problems.

When we think of clowns, we often think of the circus and the role that clowns play. Clowns are not in the circus just for entertainment, they are the glue that holds everything together.  Emmett Kelley, a Ringling Brothers clown who was known as “Weary Willie,” felt that his character provided needed relief for people, helping those who were feeling sad and beaten down by life to smile again.  He also poked fun at those who thought too highly of themselves, and brought them down a peg.

There is a long history of religious fools throughout history. Black Elk, a Dakota elder and Heyoka clown, saw his role much as Kelley did.  The Koyemshi clowns of the Pueblo culture even make fun of death because, you know, this really isn’t the end. In Medieval times there was the Christian Feast of Fools.  The Russian Orthodox Church has made saints of a couple of their fools, like St. Philip Neri. 

Clowns remind us that we can get through even horrible struggles if we never give up hope and remember to laugh each day.  Humor cuts through the logic of life and gets to the punch line, or enlightenment, as the Buddhists would say.  We don’t successfully think our way through life, we feel our way.

            Some say God created the world out of loneliness. Others say the world was created because the Almighty loves stories. I believe the world was created because God has a sense of humor and a love for adventure. When creation was completed, God saw that it was good, and God laughed! Then God rested. Michael Moynahan says the Almighty had to rest because of laughing so hard over the whole thing.
 
Prepare the Way: Daily Meditations for Advent and Lent, Pilgrim Press

Reflections for every day of Advent and Lent, with prayers and suggestions for celebrating each season’s variety of historical, liturgical, and multicultural events.

            Iona, Scotland. The stone crosses in the ground bear witness to what has gone on since Columba arrived in 563 C.E. The stone of the ancient cathedral’s sanctuary, standing austere and gray, hums with the devotion of centuries. Compared to the towering cathedrals of Salisbury and York, Iona is small. Instead of one’s thoughts soaring up to dwell on the grandeur of God, here one thinks of people and God moving among them. It is good to sit alone in this sanctuary, listen in quiet reflection and sound the depths of my spirit. I wait, feeling the presence of witnesses who have sat here through the ages.
 
And Everyone Shall Praise: Resources for Multicultural Worship, Pilgrim Press

Offers multicultural liturgies, prayers, and readings for religious celebrations throughout the year, with ideas for crafting your own services.

            December is a time for celebrating life in the Northern Hemisphere, a time to bring out some of the good harvest we stored from the fields this year, a time when the earth begins to move back towards the sun with promises of longer days of sunlight and warmth. It’s a time of weighing the past year and preparing for what will come. People in many cultures have created traditions of celebration for this month: Hanukkah, Las Posadas, the winter solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the New Year. We slow our activities and take stock of our lives. Am I who I want to be? Am I doing what I set out to do a year ago? It’s also a time of strengthening bonds that have frayed and renewing friendships that have wandered off into absence.

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Book Reviews

            Mark Liebenow’s books are read around the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia, appear on the recommended readings lists for denominations and seminaries, and are quoted and referenced in books and journals. His words were used in the liturgy for the 2004 National Council of Churches Conference.

            Mark Liebenow, in Is There Fun After Paul?, broadens our understanding of what clowning is, especially in relation to our culture and our church. In providing a serious reflection on a playful subject, Liebenow still fascinates and holds our attention. His chapters on “Fools and Clowns Throughout History” and “Itinerant Fools, clowns, and Artists” are chock full of anecdotes and information. And his listing of resources, which fills almost half the book, forms a genuine treasure trove…. Liebenow appeals to all of us. He correctly places clowning in the everyday, and he emphasizes the skill of improvisation rather than providing us packaged scripts. In clowning, storytelling and all religious art, technique is important but substance is essential.
Robert Bela Wilhelm, National Catholic Reporter


            Mark Liebenow, ‘clown’ of the highest order, gathers together insights from the four corners of fooldom to support his thesis: “All Christians are called to believe in and live the folly of the cross, and this makes clowns of us all.” This is not a “how to” book, but rather a thoughtful and provocative peek at the scriptural possibilities – too often well-hidden in tradition – that support the place of humor in the ways of God and, therefore, in God’s church, where a sense of humor is generally lacking. Mark’s conclusions are addressed not merely to those who are into applying the greasepaint, but to “the need of each church member to be something of a clown without putting on whiteface, [believing that] God has a bit of foolishness reserved for each of us.”

David Henkelmann, North American Moravian


            It is amazing that such a small book with its strange title could be so challenging and revolutionary to Christians and to the Church today. When was the last time you experienced Christ as a humorist causing laughter or noticed the unexpected in his puns and parables? Who sees Peter as a jester? Where are those lovers willing to be fools for Christ’s sake? Mark Liebenow’s book turns the spotlight on scripture texts, on fools and clowns throughout history, on mimes, and on artists with creativity…. This book is a gift and an invitation to us all and requires trust and true courage to carry out. It takes faith to be a Christian fool and clown. Liebenow’s book deserves a place in seminaries, in liturgy committees, in renewal programs and scripture study groups as well as in the ordinary home.

Sister Gregor Bergerson, OSB, Sisters Today

            This 151-page book is an excellent theology of clowning.

Presbyterian Resource Center


            As Robert McAfee Brown points out in the Forward, “Something crazy is going on.” We’re beginning to learn the essential ludicrousness of the Christian story. “It’s not just the occasional episodes in the overall story that are so wild,” says Brown. “It is in the very structure of the story itself.” Yes, Brown and Liebenow say what I’ve been yelling about low these many moons – that humor is not an occasional vacation from a lived theology – humor is at the very heart of it.

Rumors, Canada


            Mark Liebenow believes that the clowns, fools, and tricksters of all societies attempt to restore the balance of work and play, along with reverence and irreverence. Clowns attempt to point out that no matter how bad life is, there is always a reason to hope for something in the future. Liebenow also writes, “The Spirituality of the clown is rooted in being an improvisational artist. Make no mistake, clowns are great artists; and the arts are one of the greatest channels of authentic prayer.”

Dan Feaster, “The Importance of Humor and Clowning in Spirituality and Pastoral Counseling”


            A new worship book is Liebenow’s And Everyone Shall Praise. This is a book geared to worship leaders and committees in search of resources for their multicultural or multiracial church as well as to churches intent on broadening their worship experience. Liebenow builds on the long tradition of Christian worship by adding fresh approaches to it.

Cumberland Presbyterian Church


            “A bountiful resource designed for clergy and lay leaders who want to engage their congregations in multicultural and multiracial worship. Presenting liturgies, responsive readings, prayers, stories, and poems for use in worship services, Mark Liebenow also provides a calendar of major observances in the church and a number of social justice events. This resource book also contains guidelines and suggestions that will encourage church staff to write their own liturgical materials.”

Lutheran Church Missouri Synod


            Finding something fresh for Advent and Lent is always a challenge. Mark Liebenow has given a great gift to worship leaders and others with this new collection of meditations for both seasons. Each daily reading includes scripture, meditation, and a prayer, as well as suggestions for commemorating various liturgical, historical, and multicultural events and celebrations. Written with style, grace, and great insight, Prepare the Way is a valuable resource for personal reflection in these important times of the church year. With the addition of the liturgical and multicultural events and celebrations, this book becomes a valuable tool for corporate worship planning.

United Church of Christ



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