I began and ended the month with classic mysteries — a great way to turn aside from the concerns of the day that I would commend to any reader. I read one of the best explanations of the Enneagram and one of the best studies of the idea of “mystery” in the Bible. I read a history of Americans in Paris in the nineteenth century, and a fictional account of westerners in Haiti in the “Papa Doc” Duvalier era. I read books on civility and sensitivity. I explored the philosophical beginnings of the American republic, and what might be the brief history of the Affordable Care Act. Sprinkled into this mix was a delightful Oliver Saks book, Kent Annan’s wonderful Slow Kingdom Coming, and an exploration of the importance of relationships in Christian discipleship. Fourteen books reviewed in all summarized right here with links to the full reviews!
Strong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers. New York: HarperCollins, 2012 (originally published 1930). Harriet Vane is accused of murdering her lover with arsenic. Lord Peter Wimsey believes she is innocent despite damning evidence and sets about to prove it. (Review)
The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Describes the Enneagram and each of the nine types, and how these may be helpful in self-discovery, uncovering one’s true self and experiencing spiritual growth. (Review)
The Comedians, Graham Greene. New York: Penguin, 2005 (my edition 1976). Three men, Brown, Smith, and Jones meet on a ship bound for Haiti during the reign of terror of “Papa Doc” Duvalier. They are the “comedians” who must confront not only the tragedy of Haiti, but themselves. (Review)
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Vignettes of the waves of Americans who came to Paris as writers, artists, medical students, musicians, politicians, diplomats, and members of the cultured elite, and the profound impact the “City of Light” had on their lives. (Review)
Adventures in Evangelical Civility, Richard J. Mouw. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. An intellectual memoir, tracing Mouw’s efforts to find common ground while maintaining reformed and evangelical convictions. (Review)
Sensitive Preaching to the Sexually Hurting, Dr. Sam Serio. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2016. Explores the different kinds of issues that arise around sexuality in our post-sexual revolution society, and how pastors and others extending pastoral care might counsel and preach with sensitivity that may open the door to the healing of sexual wounds. (Review)
The Mind’s Eye, Oliver Sacks. New York: Picador USA, 2010. Narratives of those who because of optical or neural issues experience distortions in or loss of sight, and how they adapt to such losses. (Review)
Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism, Deborah Jian Lee. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016. An account of how three marginalized groups within American evangelicalism are finding increasing acceptance, and the struggles they have faced along the way. (Review)
Hidden But Now Revealed, G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A study of the word mystery in scripture, particularly considering its use in the Old Testament book of Daniel, and how nearly all New Testament usages connect back to this book, and show the once hidden but now revealed realities surrounding the person of Christ, his kingdom, and the inclusion of the Gentiles. (Review)
Slow Kingdom Coming, Kent Annan. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. From years of experience in justice work, Kent Annan commends five practices that both better enable us to serve and to sustain our efforts for the long haul. (Review)
Unraveled: Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Executive Power, Josh Blackman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. A history of the writing, passage, and defense, both in the courts, and by the executive branch of the Affordable Care Act, against those who would attempt to unravel it and prevent it from becoming part of the fabric of American society. (Review)
The Power of Together, Jim Putnam. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A pastor of a thriving church explores what he believes to be the key to both spiritual maturity and the ministry effectiveness of his church–the fostering of relationships of depth between believers throughout the church. (Review)
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins, 2011 (first published 1939). Ten strangers are invited to an island by a mysterious U.N. Owen, accused by murder, and one by one are murdered following a rhyme found in each of their rooms, Ten Little Soldier Boys. (Review)
Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, Matthew Stewart. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014. An argument that the key ideas at the foundations of our country were not Christian but rather traceable back to Lucretius and to European thinkers, the foremost of whom was Spinoza, whose ideas were shaped by Enlightenment reason resulting more in a materialist atheism or nature pantheism/deism. (Review)
Best of the Month: Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming is my choice because he delineates the practices that sustain anyone pursuing God’s kingdom, particularly those pursuing advocacy work. The book is real, clear, and concise and reflects the authenticity of Annan’s own “long obedience” in these things. I haven’t seen this book get much notice but believe it can serve as a kind of manual for our times.
Best Quote of the Month: This is from Oliver Saks The Mind’s Eye describing the adjustments a concert pianist made when she lost the ability to read music due to a progressing neurological problem and gives you a taste of his wonderful writing:
“Lilian had been ingenious and resilient in the eleven or twelve years since her illness started. She had brought inner resources of every kind to her own aid: visual, musical, emotional, intellectual. Her family, her friends, her husband and daughter, and above all, but also her students and colleagues, helpful people in the supermarket or on the street–everyone had helped her cope. Her adaptations to the agnosia were extraordinary–a lesson in what could be done to hold together a life in the face of ever-advancing perceptual and cognitive challenge. But it was in her art, her music, that Lilian not only coped with disease but transcended it. This was clear when she played the piano, an art that both demands and provides a sort of superintegration, a total integration of sense and muscle, of body and mind, of memory and fantasy, of intellect and emotion, of one’s whole self, of being alive. Her musical powers, mercifully, remained untouched by her disease.”
Coming soon: Look for a review of John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism tomorrow, another important book in how we engage the conversations of our time. I’ve just started a book, From Bubble to Bridge that also explores these conversation virtues in the context of interfaith conversations. The Power of Meaning explores the role of connection, purpose, story and transcendence in a meaningful life, and strikes me could be a great book for discussions in an interfaith context. I’m also reading a book looking at the future of evangelical theology from a pentecostal Asian American perspective–the last four words of which are decidedly not my own perspective but actually quite stretching. The Faculty Factor explores the changes in the career paths of university faculty in the last decade. And I’m thoroughly enjoying a re-reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, having just finished reading that memorable scene of Eliza and her son escaping across moving chunks of ice on the Ohio River. Having seen the Ohio River like that, my heart was racing!