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This is not a typical Top Ten Tuesday post, in that they’re not ranked, they are just in the order I read them. The first three books were books I started in 2012 but didn’t have time to finish until the start of this year. This year I have resolved to read more—I’m hoping to read a book a week if possible—so here are the ten books I have read in the first ten weeks of 2013.
1. Christianity After Religion: Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler Bass. This is the book that has been recommended by many for clergy to read about the state of the church in our society and how we need to change our thinking. Butler Bass chronicles this great shift that began years ago and has continued until now, this shift from the old concept of religious to a deepening spirituality within religion. I think reading her previous book Christianity For the Rest of Us brought more insight for me into deepening spirituality within the church, while this latest work extends the conversation into the greater community and society we live in.
2. Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World by Brian McLaren. This book compliments Butler Bass’ book very well in expanding this understanding of the dynamic shifts taking place in Christianity as also taking place within other religious traditions and how this shift causes us to change how we relate to and with others of different religions. McLaren’s writings are hit or miss for me, as I also admit has been my experience with hearing him speak. This book knocks it out of the park (except for the really, really long footnotes—seriously, footnotes that are longer than the text on many of the pages! But they are great footnotes, too!) McLaren brings in Girardian Mimesis theory into the multi-faith conversation and it is a fantastic read. (Footnote: I won my copy of this book in a contest from Jericho Books!)
3. The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God edited by Jennifer Harris Dault. All right, I’m biased. I have a chapter in this book. And I did finish it before the New Year, but I started it after the last two, and I re-read it again in January. Harris Dault brings together twenty-three stories of Baptist women from all Baptist flavors following their calls, the challenges they have faced and the hope that comes from their courage. Even though I contributed a chapter, I found more of my story in reading the stories of others. I was inspired and encouraged by their words, and I hope you will be, too.
4. A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth by Matthew Dickerson. This was fun. This was delightful. This was enjoyable, and as a fantasy genre lover, Dickerson’s insights into Tolkien’s own thoughts and the revelations of lessons from Middle-Earth caused me to not only want to re-read Tolkien’s great tales but to delve into The Silmarillion, which I admit I’m still reading. I’d started it before and gave up, but knowing more of Tolkien’s mythology and how it ties together gave me the desire to dig in and try again. Dickerson also shed light on the troublesome outcome of the film versions in recent years: the violence that is glorified and shown in graphic detail, something that would probably shock Tolkien, who often described the battle scenes with the heroes weeping and uncertain of what good came out of such a horrific event.
4.a. So I’m sort of cheating and adding another book. I also re-read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien alongside A Hobbit Journey, especially after watching the movie and not being able to reconcile much of the violence of the movie with what actually happened in that part of the book. What were the script writers thinking? Trying to make three movies out of this one book is ridiculous. Although I did love the Lord of the Rings trilogy as film, despite the violence, I was deeply disappointed with the retelling of The Hobbit because of the unnecessary, extra, added-in violence in the movie. The book is still one of my favorites. My mother read it to my brother and I when we were children; when I lived in England in 1998, I read it to the eleven-year-old girl whose family I lived with; someday I hope to read it to my child.
5. Autism and Alleluias by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc. This is the second book I won last summer from a publishing company’s contest (this time Judson Press). This is a short, quick read, finished in an afternoon. Interspersed with Biblical quotes and prayers of her own writing, Deyer Bolduc shares the ups and downs of living with a child with special needs, her son who has severe autism. While her son is different from my own, sometimes I did find recognition in the shared struggles of parenting a child with autism. However, I also struggle with some spiritual writing in which the writing seems lofty, over-joyous, and fluffy, and that is how I found much of this book. It’s short. It’s a quick read. But I struggled over some of the over-simplification of theology at times.
6. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery. This was written for Young Adults (and given to AJ as a gift from a friend who works for a publishing company) but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Montgomery shares many of Grandin’s own insights into her life, her writings and designs for animal enclosures. Reading this gave me a lot of insight into my son’s own behaviors at times, and also gave me hope. While we always are mindful of the fact that our son may never be able to communicate, or may always have to live at home, this book shares Grandin’s own journey and gives hope that with good, dedicated caregivers and specialists there is also no reason not to give up hope. There are great short articles in the book on topics such as neurodiversity and other insights into children with autism.
7. When “Spiritual but Not Religious” is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church by Lillian Daniel. I received an advance copy of this at the Wild Goose Festival from Jericho Books. I have heard Daniel speak once and have read her blogs. The blog post that went viral about her ride on an airplane next to a person who claimed to be spiritual but not religious, with her reply being “Please, don’t bore me,” really bothered me. When I read the blog post on the UCC main page, I thought “how offensive to those outside of the church, no wonder people don’t want to go to church anymore.” However, as I read this book, I began to change my mind. Daniel is on to something, and we as clergy are often all too quick to allow those who have left the church to bad-mouth, put-down and define what spirituality and religion are. We have allowed them to dictate what the church is to the rest of the society. For there have been plenty of people I have rolled my eyes at when they tell me they don’t go to church, that they are spiritual but not religious, that they find spirituality everywhere, but when I ask them to tell me more about their spirituality, they can’t articulate it at all. More often than not, it comes down to having a prayer life when things are hard and they don’t when things are good. However, this isn’t all that different from many church members. As I said, I do think she is on to something. I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to, and resonated with a lot of it. However, the book also reads like a blog: each chapter is a post that is not necessarily connected to the other. I found it somewhat disjointed, and towards the end had difficulty connecting chapters to the main theme of the book or even connecting with the first few chapters. But in full disclosure, this was an unedited copy and that may have changed in the published version that is out now. For mainline clergy, this is a book we need to read, we need to discuss, and we need to think about how we talk with and minister to those who have rejected the church, but I think first we need to ask why and acknowledge that there is hurt, pain and grief for those who have left, for some who claim “Spiritual but Not Religious”–not all have just left over frivolous matters.
8. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master by Rachel Held Evans. I head Rachel Held Evans speak at Wild Goose West last year and have followed her blog off and on. Held Evans comes from an evangelical background, so for mainline readers we may wonder where the obsession with everything biblical comes from. However, despite the fact I was raised American Baptist (typically cast as mainline), I was involved off and on with American Baptist youth organizations and college groups that were much more traditional and conservative in their reading of the Bible, including the role of women in leadership in the church and at home. Her book is a fun and witty look into that mindset, exposing that there really isn’t one biblical model for women and that much of our own hangups on women in leadership, either at home or in the church, are from 1950’s cultural standards rather than what the Bible really has to say. This is a great book for church women’s groups, college groups, clergy and others to read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
9. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott. I’m a big fan of Lamott and have been for some time. I don’t think there are many books that can touch Traveling Mercies or Bird by Bird, earlier works of hers. Help, Thanks, Wow is a great gift-book to introduce someone to Lamott’s writings or to someone who isn’t into church. It’s surprisingly short (I read most books on Kindle now so I have no idea how long or short they will be as page numbers differ depending on what font I want to read it in) and I read it in two days. Lamott demonstrates that you don’t have to have a disciplined prayer life or practice, but that we pray in the everyday activities of our lives. We pray when life is good and when it’s bad, we pray when we’re driving in traffic and we were just cut off by that jerk in front of us and we pray when our friend receives a difficult diagnosis. It’s a great book to have on your coffee table at home or in your office if you’re clergy. It’s the sort of book you may buy a few copies of so you can give them away to others. But I still keep an extra copy of Traveling Mercies around.
10. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson. Ok, I’m cheating a bit in that I haven’t finished, but I haven’t stopped laughing yet, either. This is not the typical book you’d find a clergy-person reading, or at least what most of society thinks a clergy person should read. It’s hilarious. It’s witty. It’s full of profanity and graphic details of, well, real life. Lawson, aka The Blogess, first came to my attention when a friend shared Lawson’s blog with me and I laughed until I had tears. It’s side-splitting hilarious, with also the cold hard truth that life is sometimes unfair and hard. Lawson also shares candidly about her struggles with anxiety and mental illness, with a dose of ridiculous hilarity in describing instances where her anxiety has taken over. I highly recommend it, but be prepared to laugh, cry, and be shocked (just a little).