With the colder weather of November, it seems I found time to read a few more books. I began and ended the month around the idea of calling–our calling to care for creation at the beginning of the month, and a more general book on calling at the end. I read a novel on the life of St. Brendan the Navigator, and finished Philip and Carol Zaleski’s monumental work on the Inklings. I explored the history of the “Great Books” movement and a work on the Greek classic philosophers. I learned about faith-rooted organizing and considered the idea of the pastor as public theologian.
All in all, a good month of reading, and you might find something here that would make a great Christmas gift. So, here is the list with book titles linked to the full review:
Laudato Si’, Pope Francis. Vatican City, 2015. Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, advocating an “integral ecology” that links care for the creation with care for the poor, the quality of life in our cities, and a way of life emphasizing spiritual rather than material priorities.
The Irresistible Community, Bill Donahue. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2015. Looking at the upper room narratives, Donahue explores how Jesus created community through the table, the towel, and the truth.
Brendan, Frederick Buechner. New York, Harper Collins, 1987, 2000. This is a fictional account of the life of St. Brendan, often known as the Navigator. Buechner traces his life from being taking by St. Erc at one through his early years, the establishment of his leadership in founding Clonfert and in making kings, and most of all his marathon journeys, one lasting seven years.
Preventing Suicide, Karen Mason. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. This handbook is written for pastors and other religious counselors, who the author contends can play an important role in preventing suicide. It focuses on how both theology and psychology can contribute to helping those at risk to harm themselves.
Acedia and Its Discontents, R. J. Snell. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2015. This is an exploration of the vice usually known as sloth, which is rather an contempt of all relationships and a destructive embrace of unchecked freedom rather than God and the good work to which God calls us.
The Fellowship, Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2015. This traces the literary lives of the four principle Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, and Williams) the literary club they formed and its impact on literature, faith, and culture.
When Athens Met Jerusalem, John Mark Reynolds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. The Christian message advanced in a Greco-Roman World prepared in many ways by both the failure of the Homeric gods and the classic philosophers. This book explores the intellectual antecedents to the gospel in pre-Socratic, Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelian thought, culminating when Jerusalem meets Athens when Paul preaches on Mars Hill.
A Great Idea at the Time, Alex Beam. New York: PublicAffairs, 2008. Beam narrates the story of the Great Books movement from its beginnings with John Erskine, Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, to the publication of The Great Books by Britannica and rise of Great Books groups, the “core wars” and the remnants of this movement still hanging on today.
Faith-Rooted Organizing, Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2014. Most advocacy and activism efforts have been organized around secular principles. The authors explore what organizing and advocacy work that is deeply and thoroughly rooted in Christian principles would look like and illustrate this from their years of experience.
God and Race in American Politics, Mark A. Noll. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. This text explores the interwoven story of religion, race, and politics in American history, with a concluding theological reflection.
The Pastor as Public Theologian, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. The authors contend that at the heart of the pastoral calling is a vision of doing theology with the people of God, pointing them to what God is doing in and through the Christ, and how they may participate in that work.
Called, Mark Labberton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. Understanding our calling to follow Jesus and seek God’s purposes for the flourishing of the world is key both to a life well-lived and a church that fulfills its mission. This book explores the contours of what it means to live a called life.
Best book of the month: This doesn’t take much thought. The Fellowship was a magnificent treatment of the circle of friends that became known as the Inklings. Along with well-painted portraits of Lewis and Tolkien, we learn more about both Williams and Barfield as well as Warnie, Hugo Dyson and others in this circle.
Best quote of the month: This was from Frederick Buechner’s Brendan from the mouth of his traveling companion, Finn in response to Brendan’s last words “I fear the sentence of the Judge.” Finn, after Brendan passes says:
“I’d sentence him to have mercy on himself. I’d sentence him less to strive for the glory of God than just to let it swell his sails if it can.”
That might be good wisdom for any of us who are our own harshest judges.
In coming weeks you can look for reviews of a book on the intellectual state of American universities, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, a collection of apologetic essays in response to the New Atheists, John Frame’s magisterial A History of Western Philosophy and Theology and a re-reading of Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, which I first picked up twenty years ago. I also have a couple of books on sex (!) and Seamus Heaney’s version of Beowulf sitting on my TBR pile. I might also be working a book or two on Youngstown, my home town, into the mix. Stay tuned.
So here’s to a good cup of wassail and some good books!