Episode 61: A Journey of Sea and Stone with Tracy Balzer

 Happy St. Columba's Day! On this episode of the Library Laura Podcast, our guest is Tracy Balzer, an author of four books who I know personally from her work as the Director of Christian Formation at John Brown University. She is also a calligrapher, a grandma, and a traveller who loves leading pilgrimages to a remote and beautiful island called Iona, off the coast of Scotland. We’re here to talk about her book, A Journey of Sea and Stone: How Holy Places Guide and Renew Us, which released June 8th! But we also talk about writing, traveling, God’s calling, the pandemic, puffins, and lots of good books. I can’t wait to share this conversation with you.

Connect with Tracy on her website, via email (tbalzer at jbu.edu) or on Instagram @seaandstonejourneys or @carry_some_quiet_around and be sure to pick up a copy of her book! 

All the books from today's episode (bookshop.org storefront) 

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Tracy Balzer worked at John Brown University when I was a student, and I got a taste of what she brings to the world through how she set up the Vespers services for students in the evenings. But I don't know that I've ever sat down and had such a lovely, thoughtful conversation as we did this episode. It was a joy to reconnect, and to dive deeper into the topics of spiritual rest, life post-pandemic, thought-provoking books, and our fun summer plans. 

Tracy told us about her journey to becoming an author, which was something she didn't really expect, but it's an outflowing of her work as a teacher. 

I love Tracy's encapsulation of her calling as "to listen to God and to listen to others." It beautifully sums up what she brings to the world, and I am so grateful for it. 

Don't miss the opportunity to check out her social media. Words alone do not do justice to the beautiful island of Iona, and she shares many pictures on her Instagram of her pilgrimages to this beautiful place. And PUFFINS! Don't forget the ridiculous puffins on the neighboring island of Staffa. 

 Books we talked about on today's episode

Tracy said she's so curious to see what kind of books come out of the pandemic. She hopes we will do a lot of reflection. One book that came to mind during this conversation was actually a book we talked about on The Big Kids Book Club podcast recently, Sunny Days Inside  by Caroline Addison. 

Tracy said she doesn't like to read much fiction, unless it's a real page-turner. She did mention the the one series she adores is Harry Potter, going as far as to teach a freshman class at JBU for quite a few years on the series. I'm pretty sure my parents would have questioned my judgement if I took that class freshman year, but now I really wish I could go back and take it :D 

Tracy is currently reading 

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski - Tracy said this one came highly recommended by her daughter, but she wouldn't have picked it up on her own. The writing style is engaging. This one is on my to-be-read list! 

 Iona: New and Selected Poems by Kenneth Steven - Written by a friend of Tracy's, this book is poetry about the same island about which Tracy wrote her book. 

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright - Tracy has been working through this volume of theology for a while and is finding it good and thought-provoking. 

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer - the word "tov" means goodness, and Tracy is finding this book to be applicable to the struggles facing denominations and churches today. 

A Promised Land by Barack Obama - Tracy said she's reading this book because she appreciates knowing what goes on behind closed doors in the halls of leadership. I mentioned having recently read Michelle Obama's Becoming which I also appreciated for the behind-the-scenes look at that time in the White House. We both find ourselves endlessly fascinated by people's stories. 

Laura Recommended to Tracy

That Sounds Fun: The Joys of Being an Ameteur, the Power of Falling In Love, and Why You Need a Hobby by Annie F. Downs - I love Annie's storytelling, and the way she brings it all back to teach the point she's making in this book. I think Tracy would enjoy this book both for the storytelling and the message. (Also I get to see Annie in KC on June 16th and I could not be more excited!) 

Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for A World Gone Mad by John Eldredge - While talking about Annie Downs, I remembered this podcast episode (281) with John Eldredge that she did about life after the impact of COVID-19. It's an excellent episode that I want everyone to listen to (and I don't say that lightly). His Get Your Life Back book hits on a lot of the points about finding spiritual rest that Tracy and I also discussed when talking about her book and the pandemic. It's a good read with helpful practices to implement. 

The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation by Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks - My husband Ryan read this book and has talked about it a lot. With the books that Tracy is reading such as the Church Called Tov, I thought she might find this interesting. It talks a lot about how the church is very left-brained could benefit from more right-brained work. 

Shaun Bythell's books: Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops, Confessions of a Bookseller, and The Diary of A Bookseller - Shaun runs a bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland and is the grumpiest, funniest guy. He writes these books about his life as a bookseller and I enjoyed them thoroughly. Considering Tracy's appreciation for Scotland and books, these seemed like a home-run to me. 

Bonus recommendation: The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett - I forgot about this book when I was recording the episode, but remembered it while editing. I was especially thinking about the church on Iona and their services that are attractive to many, even those not of faith. It reminded me of the main character of this book, who liked going to church despite his lack of faith. But more than that this is a literary mystery set in a beautiful old church with two book lovers. It's compelling, and I think it would be page-turning enough for Tracy's tastes. 


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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