July 23, 2014
Brian Doyle. Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies. (Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2013)
This was a great set of essays which looks at the mundane facets of life from a theological perspective. I liked the honesty of the essays and the insights that Doyle brings to light. He describes the task of an essayist this way: “An essayist is not only a writer of essays but also a curious seeker after mystery, an explorer and experimenter, a ponderer in love with life, though sometimes melancholy about it all, a brooder and thinker, a wonderer. An essayist reactivates a childlike enthusiasm at even simple, everyday things and recognizes quotidian miracles with giddy reverence.” (xv) As is often true with a collection of essays they were somewhat uneven in quality but overall I would definitely recommend this book.
Some of my favorite quotes:
“Every Catholic at some point sighs for the church in which he lives, such a wonderful and cruel entity, such a brilliant and idiotic and lurching-gracessly-toward-grace enterprise.” (49)
“I believe that the mysterious sudden impulse to pray is the prayer, and that the words we use for prayer are only envelopes in which to mail pain and joy, and that arguing about where prayers go, and who sorts the mail, and what unimaginable senses hear us is foolish. It’s the urge that matters – the sudden Save us that rises against horror, the silent Thank you for joy. (172)
“For all that we speak, as a culture and a people, of victory and defeat, of good and evil, of hero and coward, it is none of it quite true. The truth is that the greatest victory is to endure with grace and humor, to stay in the game, to achieve humility. (183)
June 25, 2014
Amy-Jill Levine. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. (New York: HarperCollins, 2006)
There were many ways that I found this book interesting. Dr. Levine is a Jewish Rabbi and New Testament scholar – clearly an unusual combination. There was a lot in this book which I found helpful although I will say that I found Dr. Levine’s writing to be pretty dry. She does, however, make some interesting points about the subtle ways that Christians, even progressive scholars, inadvertently say things that are anti-semitic. Well worth reading, the book has given me pause to reconsider some of the ways that I express the relationship between Jesus and his world, especially his fellow Jews.
June 21, 2014
John Green. The Fault in Our Stars. (New York: Dutton Books, 2012)
I read this book because a friend recommended it. I enjoyed the Indianapolis landmarks in the book being a Hoosier, but overall I’m not sure it is a book I would recommend. For more thoughts on this book see my blog at https://pastorbrianwhite.com/2014/06/08/thoughts-about-some-faults-in-the-fault-in-our-stars/
April 30, 2014
Ann Weems. Psalms of Lament. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)
I found these poems to be uneven in quality. There were probably about a half dozen that really struck a chord with me. The first half of the book was repetitious and I was tempted to stop reading. I was glad I didn’t as some of the best psalms were toward the end of the book. The introduction by Walter Brueggemann was worth the price of the book.
My favorite quote:
In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia
rising from the souls
of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.
If you watch, you will see
the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one. (xvii)
May 1, 2013
Henri J.M. Nouwen. Finding My Way Home: Pathways to Life and the Spirit. (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001)
I have loved almost everything I have ever read by Henri Nouwen and this collection of writings, published posthumously, did nothing to challenge this conviction. The essays in this book center around four topics: Power, Peace, Waiting, and Living & Dying.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
“The third discipline is the hardest one. It is the discipline to be surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old, we will have to stretch out our arms, be guided and led to places we would rather not go. What was true for Peter will be true for us. There is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road and that others were more shrewd than we were. But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” (47)
“Christian community is the place where we keep the flame of hope alive among us and take it seriously so that it can grow and become stronger in us. In this way we can live with courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power in us when we are together that allows us to live in this world without surrendering to the powerful forces constantly seducing us toward despair. That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love even when we see hatred all around us. That is why we can claim that God is a God of life even when we see death and destruction and agony all around us. We say it together. We affirm it in each other. Waiting together, nurturing what has already begun, expecting its fulfillment – that is the meaning of marriage, friendship, community, and the Christian life.” (103-105)
“In this world when you are chosen, you know that somebody else is not chosen. When you are the best, you know that somebody is not the best. When you win and receive a prize, you know there is somebody who lost. But this is not so in the heart of God. If you are chosen in the heart of God, you have eyes to see the chosenness of others. If the Love of God blesses you, you have eyes to see the blessedness of others. The mystery of God’s wonderful love is that you come with it into the world and it blesses you whether you know it or not. Your life is in God’s universal embrace of the whole human family. (132)
There is a great deal of practical wisdom in this book for those who try to live in community with one another as well as those who are dealing with the realities of losses in life. Nouwen is realistic yet hopeful. He reminds the readers of the difficult realities in life while also always keeping the focus on the final hope in God’s providential care. This is a book worth reading more than once.
April 7, 2013
Sarah Arthur. Walking with Frodo: A devotional journey through The Lord of the Rings. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2003)
This is the first book by Sarah Arthur which centers on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. However, I read Walking with Bilbo: A devotional adventure through The Hobbit first when I picked it up on the sale table at a bookstore. (Yes, I still like to haunt bookstores, even though I do more and more reading on an e-reader.) I am a big Lord of the Rings fan and I found both of Sarah Arthur’s books to be charming and thought provoking. She really has a good literary sense and does a nice job of picking out the important moments from these books and relating them to a life of faith. Although these books are not theologically deep, they are engaging and they gave me plenty to think about as I walk down the path of following Christ.
February 28, 2013
Dr. Henry Cloud. Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward. (New York: NY; HarperCollins Publisher, Inc, 2010)
Recently the group of people I work with contracted with a consultant to coach our team to rethink how we operate as a group. As we proceeded with our coaches we discovered that one of our highest anxieties was around helping churches and pastors through the necessary endings that presented themselves to us on a regular basis. Namely, this involves helping pastors who were no longer effective or who had lost their sense of call transition out of ministry and helping churches that had lost their sense of mission celebrate the work of their forebears while making the decision to close with grace and dignity. As a district superintendent, these may be two of the most difficult tasks in your field of responsibility.
Our coach gave us Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud as a group reading assignment. I have to confess that my enthusiasm for this reading assignment was low. However, I have found the book to be more engaging and more useful than I originally thought it would be.
In the book Cloud reminds us that life involves many necessary endings whether we want to accept them or not. When can look at these endings as defeats or we can look at them as opportunities to grow into new directions. While this may seem trite, he offers many examples from the business world in which he works to illustrate this principle, as well as providing motivation to see one’s necessary endings as the means of growth and possibility.
One of the aphoristic teachings he has for readers is to “make the endings a normal occurrence and a normal part of business and life, instead of seeing it as a problem.” As a pastor, this reminds me of Jesus’ words when he says, “I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24, CEV) Cloud suggests looking to the cyclical nature of the seasons to be reminded that most activities in our lives are rooted in temporal realities that often have beginnings as well as endings and we should not see that as problematic but look for the generative opportunities in these cycles.
Cloud’s book on endings, like his book on boundaries which I have also found useful, is full of examples rooted in everyday realities, as well as suggestions for meeting the challenges of our necessary endings. While I wasn’t enthusiastic about this particular reading assignment I have already had the opportunity to suggest it to someone else who has since read it and found it useful in dealing with a significant, unwanted, ending in their life.