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Writer, Retreat Leader, Resource Creator
I’ve been a reading machine lately, thanks to my husband’s wonderful gift of a Kindle for Valentine’s Day (note: we usually don’t give each other gifts on Valentine’s, so it was totally unexpected but much appreciated!) I hate product placement on TV shows but I do need to give a shout-out to the Kindle: it’s easy to use, overall affordable, uses liquid ink rather than an LCD screen (so it’s more like reading newsprint than a computer screen), and you can send Word documents and PDF’s to it for the charge of a text message, making it usable for funerals, weddings, and other services (but word from a friend says it’s hard to use for a full sermon, so if you need your manuscript, you might want to stick to a printed manuscript). What I love is that books are available immediately the day they are released, they are usually about $2 cheaper than on paperback and I’m not paying shipping fees. But the downside is that some books have converted better than others. Sometimes there are a few typos or editing errors that come through. One book I read recently had a couple of pages cut off mid-sentence and there was no way to retrieve those missing words. But overall it is a good buy. Mine does not have 3G–it just has the WiFi, which is all I really need. I only turn the WiFi on to download a book and then turn it off–that way the battery lasts about a month! I also have a nice cover on mine with a reading light that has been great. I really love it.
Anyway, here are five selections of the books I have been reading lately, the first three on Kindle, the latter two in paperback.
Rob Bell Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived (2011). Rob Bell is known for his blog RealLivePreacher and has been featured in Christian Century. He is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This book gained a lot of press before it was released due to some excerpts and a video Rob Bell released to promote the book. Rob asks a lot of questions about conventional Christian concepts of heaven and hell, life and death, judgment and forgiveness and most of all, God’s love through Jesus Christ. Not everyone will agree with Rob, I’m sure, but his book is incredibly compelling and also asks that we all hold grace for each other, in respecting each other and learning from each other in our varied opinions. One thing he notes is that all too often many Christians are concerned about the afterlife rather than life here and now: “If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world? A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven” (pg 46). Which is right in line with how Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I believe Rob engages his audience well through the use of Biblical scholarship and theological scholarship specifically in eschatology and non-violent atonement theory, while bringing it down-to-earth in a well-written poetic style (almost like a sermon–an audio version of this book would be terrific because it reads like you could hear his voice) using stories we all know, human stories we have heard of people’s experience with Christ, people’s experiences, both good and bad, with the church and church history, and the ways God’s love has been distorted through human hands and words to cast fear, judgment and shame. This book is written for laity–and pastors should read it–so that everyone can engage in a conversation about what it means to truly love God and want to be part of God’s kingdom–so that we might be more loving and less judging.
Sarah Vowell Unfamiliar Fishes (2011). I was not familiar with Sarah Vowell’s writing before this but now I want to go back and read her other works. Unfamiliar Fishes is the story of Hawaii’s annexation by the United States, how Missionaries influenced and coerced Hawaii from a kingdom into a colony. She does an excellent job of not just degrading the missionaries for their misuse and abuse–there are enough works out there that do that–but shares the stories through her research of real people, both native Hawaiians and missionaries–what they believed in, what they were striving for, the best and worst they brought to this island nation that became a state. Her witty way of sharing the story of history draws you in–you become excited as she becomes excited in telling her story. She doesn’t write history as a history book: she writes history as a story she is telling, involving you in her work and research and in her own life’s journey. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors!
Kirk Byron Jones Say Yes to Grace : How to Burn Bright Without Burning Out (2010) was the first book I ever downloaded on my Kindle. Dr. Jones was my Ethics professor at Andover Newton Theological School, and has written much about our fast-paced world and the quick ways we often end up burning out, feeling run down, feeling rushed and hurried and having no energy. Say Yes offers up ways of saying Yes to what God has to offer for us–a joy-filling life–while saying No at times to the pressures and hurriedness of the world around us. “For some, overload is not caused by aspiration to achieve or fear of losing a job, its cause is rather a pressing need to be all things to all people. Such people, many of them in helping professions, including ministry, health care, and social work, just find it hard to say no. They love people and they love helping even to the point of loving both more than they love themselves. For such persons, chronic self-sacrifice is a duty, if not a divine call… does self-sacrifice have to mean self-destruction?” Kirk says no. Say Yes provides insight in how we might fulfill our call to help others without overloading ourselves in unnecessary, exhausting ways, and how to slow down and enjoy God’s creation in the world and in us.
Margaret Marcuson Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself And Your Ministry (2009). Rev. Marcuson is a friend of mine and her work is especially important for pastors. Leaders Who Last gives practical insight into ways that pastors can avoid burning out, avoid getting into unnecessary drama and to approach conflict in the church in constructive ways rather than avoiding it. While Family Systems theory has been promoted over recent years in clergy seminars, trainings and educational opportunities, Margaret’s book provides some new insights and especially addresses the issues surrounding money–something that I found unique in her books among all the others on leadership and Family Systems. Financial issues are some of the most important conversations to have in congregations and very few have open and honest discussions about finances. So many times, I know in my experience, money appears to come between doing ministry and cutting back. Money itself is neutral, it’s not the problem, but it’s the experiences related to finances that come into play–how you were raised to view money and the church’s history of money. Excellent book that I recommend for all pastors.
Anne Lamott Bird by Bird (1994). I have been a big fan of Anne Lamott for some time, with Traveling Mercies, Plan B (Further Thoughts on Faith) and Grace Eventually being among my favorite books. Bird by Bird is a great guide for writers and non-writers, about living into your creativity, about how writing does take work but can be enjoyable, about writing for the sake of writing and not writing to be published, because few do and few make it as a writer. It’s practical and valuable. But there’s more to it. Anne is full of wisdom and insight into life and always shares her faith perspective. In writing about a friend’s son who died at five months old, after taking her son to view the body and the same afternoon going bowling together, she writes: “Bowling is life at its most immediate–you fling a ball and the pins fall down, sometimes. And I also wanted to show Sam that the holy goes on, no matter how many balls you fling at it” (my emphasis). I love Anne’s way of finding the sacred in the most mundane parts of our lives. This is the kingdom of heaven on earth.
I love to read. I don’t always have time for it, but just like exercise, eating right, and writing, I am making time for it in my life. And now I realize I’d much rather read Anne Lamott and Rob Bell and all these other great authors than meaningless status updates I refresh on Facebook (not to say to my Facebook friends I don’t enjoy hearing about what’s going on in your lives, you know, but I spend way too much time doing it sometimes). And reading is something I can do with AJ. He’s at the age now where he often goes into his room and pulls out books and will spend up to an hour just looking and reading books (he can read some words now). Or he will be playing with his toys and I will go play with him for a while, and then when he is disinterested again, which happens in about 15 minutes, I can read. Or when we’ve been running around and playing and he needs some quiet time and wants to watch Blues Clues, I can read. Or now, when he’s napping, I can read. And write. And enjoy.