Category: books

From Misery to Ministry

Agnesi book coverAfter discovering Tony Agnesi through his book A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life, I’ve looked forward to his newest project. It’s here: A Storyteller’s Guide to Joyful Service: Turning Your Misery Into Ministry takes a look at dealing with tough times, be they simple disappointments or deep griefs, and using them as opportunities for growing in service to other people.

“Lord, if you had been here…”

In an informal style, Mr. Agnesi shares small stories exploring painful situations and ways of responding to them. He is writing for a Christian audience, assuming that his readers have some familiarity with both faith and disappointment. He knows that Martha’s words to Christ in time of bereavement – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” – reflect a deeply human reaction to loss. Where to from there?

Tony Agnesi
Tony Agnesi

One step at a time, responds Mr. Agnesi. He has confidence that in small ways, a day at a time, anyone experiencing major or minor miseries can be equipped for ministry to others. His words might not reach someone in the grip of immediate and profound grief, when looking ahead seems like too much to bear. For anyone capable of reflection, though, Turning Your Misery Into Ministry can be thought-provoking and inspiring.

Small Steps: A Path to Service

The author’s own experience with serious illness makes this a book written for other people, not at them. His descriptions of the ministries in which he’s personally involved enrich the book. His message on every page is I can do this; so can you.

The actions he advises seem obvious, but it’s precisely when challenges are oppressive that solutions are obscured. Pray, even briefly; look a stranger in the eye and say hello; give the gift of listening; do simple things for one’s spouse: page after page is filled with reminders of the little things that draw one’s attention outward, discouraging self-absorption.

That’s not to say he advises forgetting about self-care. He knows that he and his readers need healing and grace and time for themselves.

Grace in the Virtues

Virtues in action are basically habits developed over time. Mr. Agnesi packs his small book with short suggestions for ways to develop those habits. His book concludes with a section called “Grace in the Virtues,” which may seem an odd subject to consider when dealing with miseries large and small. After all that precedes the closing section, though, his reflections on grace and virtue make sense.

Each little step he advises is underpinned with encouragement towards the simple virtues of gratitude and humility. Without them, no one can be equipped for ministry. No formal training or credential can replace them. With them, anyone can begin to offer authentic service to others. Wherever authentic service exists, there is ministry.

Turning Your Misery Into Ministry ends with an exhortation to be passionate, unafraid, and joyful. With the voice of a neighbor, Tony Agnesi invites his readers to join him.

(Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for a review.)

Book Review: A Storyteller’s Treasury

Tony AgnesiTony Agnesi is a storyteller. He’s built an audience by sharing his Catholic faith using whatever tools are at hand: writing, podcasting, speaking. You need never have heard of him before in order to enjoy his newly-released book, A Storytellers Guide to a Grace-Filled Life. 

This collection of more than 70 brief stories could be read as a guide, as the title suggests. If “guide” implies to you a cover-to-cover formal approach, though, don’t be put off.  Each story stands on its own. A few minutes at a time with one or two or three of the stories is refreshing. This is a book to leave by your favorite seat at home, or to carry when you’re traveling.

Each story includes some questions – challenges, even – inviting the reader to draw from the well of God’s grace. Scripture references aptly complement each story’s theme. Practical steps and reflections wrap up each piece. A story could take only a couple of minutes to read, and the time wouldn’t be wasted. Taking time to reflect, though, brings the real rewards.

Agnesi never forgets Who’s in charge. The grace of which he writes isn’t his to dispense; it comes from God. Agnesi doesn’t talk down to his readers; he assumes he’s dealing with adults who sincerely seek God, even in the middle of struggles that seem overwhelming. He knows he’s not writing for angels.

His tone is a gift to his readers: calm and kind, with just enough edge and challenge to inspire even a temporarily-bewildered believer. He’s a guide walking alongside the reader, not goading from behind.

The Storytellers Guide is divided into five chapters, each with a theme. The section on Holidays has Lent and Advent entries, as one could expect. A surprising one: Father’s Day. Agnesi takes that secular observance and turns it into what it ought to be: a celebration of the God-given gift and responsibility of fatherhood.

The tone and structure of the book make it adaptable for group study.  While it’s written by a Catholic man, it has no figurative “Catholics only” signs. All it needs is a reader in search of a grace-filled life who is willing to listen.

A Storytellers Guide could have been written by your most encouraging friend, who has seen your messy life (and has probably lived one of her own), and is still willing to help point you in the right direction. No false cheer, no nagging. This is a guide worth seeking out.

SPECIAL OFFER: A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life is for sale at Tony’s web site. He will personally autograph the book, and he’s offering FREE DOMESTIC SHIPPING (Media Rate).  Go to https://tonyagnesi.com/store to take advantage of the offer!

The book is also available at amazon.com or at Barnes and Noble.

(Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for a review.)

Link shared on #OpenBook linkup at My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com.

 

#OpenBook: Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim

For September’s Open Book link-up, I offer Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim by Malcolm Muggeridge (Harper & Row, 1988).

This month, it’s back to my personal library to pick up this short treat for the first time in many years. It’s not a full-dress autobiography (see Chronicles of Wasted Time for that). Instead, Confessions is a brief survey of the phases in journalist Malcolm Muggeridge’s life, each a stage on what he recognizes as his pilgrimage. He was late in life, 79 years of age, when he was received into the Catholic Church. In Confessions, he looks back at the uneven route he took to get there.

I have always felt myself to be a stranger here on earth, aware that our home is elsewhere. Now, nearing the end of my pilgrimage, I have found a resting place in the Catholic Church from where I can see the Heavenly Gates built into Jerusalem’s Wall more clearly than from anywhere else, albeit if only through a glass darkly.

Each phase of life gets a chapter – The Boy, The Journalist, The Soldier, and so on, sketched with a lifelong journalist’s deft touch. I knew before I picked up the book how it was going to end; Muggeridge was a celebrity whose conversion made news. The heart of Confessions lies in the way he describes what led to that conversion: the steps and missteps and unlikely occurrences in his life.

He gives credit to Mother Teresa, whom he met in the course of a documentary project that remains his best-known work, at least in the United States (Something Beautiful for God). She gave a nudge, and left the rest to time and God’s grace. In her, Muggeridge’s lifelong skepticism met its match.

The younger Muggeridge would have been astounded to know where that would lead: “It was the Catholic Church’s firm stand against contraception and abortion which finally made me decide to become Catholic.” That was a countercultural claim, even thirty-odd years ago, particularly from a worldly man.

Despite such blunt declarations, Confessions is full of warmth and humor. I love his insight into what he calls “The Steeple and The Gargoyle.” Since reading this for the first time, I’ve never looked at a photo of an old church in the quite the way I did before.

This assumption that a sense of humour and a Christian faith are incompatible is totally mistaken….

The true function of humour is to express in terms of the grotesque the immense disparity between human aspiration and human performance. Mysticism expresses the same disparity in terms of the sublime. Hence the close connection between clowns and mystics; hence, too, the juxtaposition on the great medieval cathedrals of  steeples reaching up into the Cloud of Unknowing, and gargoyles grinning malevolently down at our dear earth and all its foolishness. Laughter and mystical ecstasy, that is to say, both derive from an awareness, in the one case hilarious, in the other ecstatic, of how wide is the chasm between Time and Eternity, between us and our Creator.

Let us then, while, as we should, revering the steeples, remember the gargoyles, also, in their way, purveyors of God’s Word, and be thankful that, when the Gates of Heaven swing open, as they do from time to time, mixed with the celestial music there is the unmistakable sound of celestial laughter.

This #OpenBook linkup is hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com.