The Month in Reviews: December 2020

I began and ended December reading Louise Penny mysteries (#3 and 4 in the Chief Inspector Gamache series) and these were great books to frame the last month of 2020. In between, there were 16 others (I was on vacation for part of the month and with shelter-at-home, this was a great opportunity for some extra reading. A few that stood out included the first volume on Barack Obama’s memoirs, which I chose as my book of the year. Another was the sixth edition of the late James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door which has framed my years in collegiate ministry. A couple other notables for me were both written by Butlers. Dawn is an Octavia Butler sci-fi classic, the first in a trilogy. White Evangelical Racism by Anthea Butler makes a concise but persuasive overall case for the complicity of white evangelicalism in America’s racist history–hard to read as a white evangelical! I finally finished Jonathan Levy’s massive Ages of American Capitalism, which for its length is a highly interesting survey of America’s economic history.

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Gamache #3), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2007. Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder during a seance at the old Hadley House while forces within the Surete’ (and on his team) plot his downfall to avenge the Arnot case. Review

Original Sin and the Fall (Spectrum Multiview Books), edited by J. B. Stump and Chad Meister. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An overview of five different views of original sin and the fall, with responses by each contributor to the other views. Review

March: Book Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2016. The culmination of this three part work, focused on the movement to obtain voting rights in Alabama and Mississippi, the March on Birmingham, and the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Review

The Liturgy of PoliticsKaitlyn Schiess (Foreword by Michael Wear). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Drawing on the thought of James K. A. Smith, explores how the liturgies of our lives shape our political engagement and the gospel-shaped formative practices our Christian communities may embrace. Review

Wisdom From Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Considers what it means to live in a secular age, different ways of responding as churches, what may learned from sources ancient and modern, and the competencies of church leadership we need. Review

Sustaining Grace: Innovative Ecosystems for New Faith Communitiesedited by Scott J. Hagley, Karen Rohrer, Michael Gehrling. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2020. A collection of articles arising from conversations among church planters, traditional church leaders, denominational leaders and academics connected, in most cases with the Presbyterian Church (USA), 1001 New Worshipping Communities, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Review

A Promised Land, Barack Obama. New York: Crown Publishing, 2020. The first volume of the presidential memoir of Barack Obama, tracing his early life, his entry into politics and rise, his first presidential campaign and first term up to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Review

Exodus Old and New (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), L. Michael Morales. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the Exodus theme from its anticipation with Abraham, to the exodus from Egypt, the prophesied second exodus and the new exodus of Jesus the Messiah. Review

We Will Not Cancel Usadrienne maree brown (Afterword by Malkia Devich Cyril). Chico, CA: AK Press, 2020. A plea to those within the modern abolitionist movement to not use “cancelling” or “call outs” against one another. Review

Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United StatesJonathan Levy. New York: Random House, (Forthcoming, April 20,) 2021. An economic history of the United States, dividing the history into ages of commerce, capital, control, and chaos. Review

A Bigger Table, Expanded Edition with Study Guide, John Pavlovitz (Foreword by Jacqueline L. Lewis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. Traces the author’s journey into a bigger vision of and practice of Christian community that is far more inclusive in welcoming people and chronicles the stories of a bigger table and the lives it has touched. Review

The Fantasy Literature of England, Colin Manlove. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020 (first published in 1999). A study focusing on and surveying the fantasy literature of England, distinguishing it from that of other countries, identifying six types, and discussing a tremendous variety of writers. Review

Dawn (Xenogenesis #1), Octavia Butler. New York: Popular Library (Warner Books), 1988 (publisher link is to a different, in print, edition). Lilith is chosen to lead a handful of humans preserved after a thermonuclear war by an alien race but faces difficult choices when she realizes the price she and her people must pay for their survival. Review

Stained Glass (Blackford Oakes #2), William F. Buckley, Jr. New York: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media, 2015 (first published in 1978). When a charismatic German who fought against the Nazis in the resistance in Norway campaigns to become Chancellor on a platform to reunite Germany, Soviets and Americans come together to block this, with Blackford Oakes at the center, restoring a family chapel of the candidate. Review

Angry WeatherFriederike Otto. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2020. A description of the use of attribution science to assess the probability that anthropogenic-caused climate change is a factor in particular extreme weather events. Review

The Universe Next Door, Sixth Edition, James W. Sire (Foreword by Jim Hoover). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A new edition of this foundational work on comparative worldviews, exploring the contours of various worldviews, including a new chapter on Islam, through the use of eight questions. Review

White Evangelical RacismAnthea Butler. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, (Forthcoming, March) 2021. A short history of the evangelical movement in the United States, showing its ties to racism and white supremacy from the time of slavery down to the present. Review

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008. The Gamache’s getaway to a peaceful lodge is interrupted, first by an unloving family reunion, and then by the death of one of the family, crushed under a statue. Meanwhile, the naming of a child forces Gamache to face his own family history. Review

Best of the Month: Since I gave the nod to A Promised Land for my book of the year, I decided on A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. The Gamache series keeps getting better and the combination of intricate plot and the character development of Gamache as well as several other recurring characters makes for a satisfying read.

Best quote of the month: There were a number of candidates here but Anthea Butler’s concluding comments in her book White Evangelical Racism capture for me the challenge facing American evangelicalism:

“Evangelicalism is at a precipice. It is no longer a movement to which Americans look for a moral center. American evangelicalism lacks social, political, and spiritual effectiveness in the twentyfirst century. It has become a religion lodged within political partyIt is a religion that promotes issues important almost exclusively to white conservatives. Evangelicalism embraces racists and says that evangelicals’ interests, and only theirs, are the most important for all American citizens.”

What I’m Reading. I have two books ready for review. One is Dan Estes fine study titled The Message of Wisdom on the wisdom literature. The other is Dear White Christians and contends that we cannot speak about racial reconciliation without addressing the issue of reparation. I’ve just begun reading Charitable Writing in preparation for an interview with the authors. A much needed exploration of the connection between virtue and our writing. Prayer Revolution is a stirring call to prayer that fuels kingdom movements. The Columbus Anthology is a collection, similar to a literary review with contributions from various Columbus writers. Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy is on the life of the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. Frozen in Time is about a real life mission to retrieve the remains and the aircraft of two Coast Guard aviators who crashed on the ice cap of Greenland after 70 years had passed.

Well, there’s the rundown. I wish you much good reading in 2021 with the hope that this time next year we will be looking at the pandemic in the rearview mirror. Stay safe and read on, friends!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

Bob on Books Best Books of 2020

This has been a weird year in the book world as the pandemic has affected our reading habits (for better or worse), bookselling, publishing schedules and authors’ efforts to promote their books. Yet books have been there to inspire, to comfort, and divert. Many of the books here were published in 2020, but a few were such outstanding reads from earlier years I needed to include them. One difference this year is the inclusion of Ohio authors, not only in their own category, but in a few others.

Best of the Year:

A Promised Land, Barack Obama. New York: Crown Publishing, 2020. I delayed this post to finish this book. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, the disciplined and flowing prose offers insight not only into the events of his rise and presidency but his thought processes, his conception of and respect for the office, his vision for the nation, as well as insights into his family life. Review

Best Memoirs:

Sex and the City of God, Carolyn Weber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. I wrote about this book: “This skillfully written narrative, punctuated with poetry and Augustine, invites us into the the aching wonder of human love shaped by the growing pursuit of the City of God. We are left wondering if God has something better on offer, even when it comes to human sexuality.” Review

Answering the CallNathaniel R. Jones. New York: The New Press, 2016. Nathaniel R. Jones was a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former general counsel of the NAACP. His memoir reflects a single vision to answer the call to use the law to fight for equal rights for Blacks. Jones was not only an Ohio author but from my home town of Youngstown. He died this year. Review

Best Biography:

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of HopeJon Meacham (Afterword by John Lewis). New York: Random House, 2020. Meacham gives us an account not only of the events of the late Congressman John Lewis’s life but also the faith that sustained his efforts and the non-violent methods of his resistance. Review

Best History:

City on a Hill: A History of American ExceptionalismAbram C. Van Engen. New Haven: Yale University Press, Forthcoming, February 25, 2020. Van Engen traces the history of John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon that included the phrase “city on a hill” and how this became a metaphor for American exceptionalism. Review

To Think ChristianlyCharles E. Cotherman (Foreword by Kenneth G. Elzinga).  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. This is a well-researched and written account of the Christian study center movement beginning with Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri. I wrote: “It also reminds me of the great debt of gratitude I owe to the places and people Cotherman chronicles–from Francis Schaeffer and how he first helped me think Christianly, to Jim Houston and the influence he and Regent had on a close ministry colleague, to the vision of the doctrine and life that I acquired through Ligonier, and the vision of campus engagement Ken Elzinga and the Center for Christian Study has given so many of us.” Review

Best Graphic non-fiction:

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, Derf Backderf. New York: Abrams Comicarts, 2020. Backderf is an Ohio native and in this graphic novel, he traces the last days of the four students who died at Kent State on the fiftieth anniversary of the shootings. He captures the setting, the swirl of events and the tragic moments on May 4, 1970, as well as any I’ve seen. Review

Best Ohio Authors: (In addition to those elsewhere in this list)

Goshen RoadBonnie Proudfoot. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 2020. Bonnie Proudfoot is a first time author from southeast Ohio whose lean yet descriptive prose narrates the lives of two sisters, their husbands and families making a go at life in rural Appalachia. Review

Barnstorming Ohio To Understand AmericaDavid Giffels. New York: Hachette Books, 2020. Akron native spent a year traveling around Ohio, which he describes as “an All-American buffet.” He proposes that Ohio is a political microcosm of the U.S. political landscape, with which I would agree. His rendering of Ohio is one I recognized as ringing true. Review

Best Books on Race:

The Cross and the Lynching TreeJames H. Cone. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2013. Black theologian James Cone’s reflection on the parallel between the cross and the lynching tree, the perplexing reality that this has been missed within the white community, and how an understanding of this connection and the meaning of the cross has offered hope for the long struggle of the African-American community. Probably one of the most powerful books I read in 2020. Review

Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and IdentityRobert Chao Romero. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the five hundred year of Latina/o Christianity and its resistance and response to colonialism, dictatorships, U.S. imperialism, and oppression toward farm workers and immigrants. The author refutes the idea that the Latina/o church was an instrument of oppression, but rather sustained the resistance to oppression of the Latina/o community. An interview I did back in June with the author was one of the highlights of this year. Review

Best Essays:

UpstreamMary Oliver. New York: Penguin, 2016. These are exquisitely written essays on both nature and literary figures by poet Mary Oliver. Oliver is another Ohio-born author, growing up in Maple Heights, Ohio, where we also lived for nine years. Review

Make A ListMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. McEntyre explores the human phenomenon of why we make and like lists, how we can turn lists into a life-giving practice, and a plethora of ideas for lists we might create. Review

Best Theology:

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of CreationGavin Ortlund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Ortlund discusses how Augustine approached the Genesis accounts of beginnings and suggests his approach may be helpful in our present day origins controversies. Review

Best Books on Existential Issues:

Companions in the DarknessDiana Gruver (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Biographies of seven Christians in history who experienced depression and the hope we can embrace from how they lived through their struggle. The author skillfully interweaves her own experience with depression with those of whom she writes.

The Lost Art of DyingL. S. Dugdale. New York: Harper One, 2020. Dugdale is a physician on the front line of treating COVID patients. She challenges our over-medicalized treatment of the dying, advocating a recovery of the “art of dying,” which also makes it possible to live well. She draws on ancient texts known as the Ars Moriendi and recovers their wisdom at a time when it is greatly needed. Review

Best Fiction:

The Great AloneKristen Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. A family moves to the wilderness of Alaska, hopefully for a new start for Ernt Allbright, a former POW in Vietnam, only to discover that in a beautiful and dangerous wilderness, the greatest danger may lay in their own cabin. Hannah evokes the terrible splendor of the Alaskan wilderness and the fine line between love and peril in this troubled family. Review

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith. New York: Harper Perennial, 2018 (originally published in 1943). A coming of age story told through the eyes of Francie Nolan, about a girl’s life and ambitions in a struggling family in Brooklyn. I finally got around to reading a classic which was among the most popular books among soldiers in World War II. Smith draws us into a Brooklyn setting of the past to tell an ageless story. Review

I realize this is a bit different list than some years. More books that touch in some way on the experiences of people of color. It has been that kind of year. Books on serious questions like depression and death. I have less fiction than usual. I did read other fiction, more in the diverting rather than great category. The exception perhaps is that I began reading the Chief Inspector Gamache books by author Louise Penny. I’m only three books in but am taken with Gamache and the people of Three Pines and the deeply insightful writing of Penny on the human condition. I’ve begun reading some Octavia Butler and Georges Simenon. All have been quite good but somehow didn’t fit this list. At any rate I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my choices, and feel free to let me know your “best books” choices as well. So many good books!

The Month in Reviews: November 2020

This was a rich month of reading. I’ve been reading through a three-volume graphic autobiography of John Lewis, the civil rights leader and congressman. His resolution and commitment to non-violence and willingness to suffer make him a unique American hero. There was a lovely book of devotionals drawn from the lyrics of Michael Card. I dipped into the gritty noir crime fiction of Walter Mosley and explored the “gentle madness” of bibliomania. I read about the last months of World War II and a college leader’s presentations on his vision for higher ed. I met memorable fictional characters, Davis McGowan and Olive Kitteridge. Of course there was a rich mix of theological books and Rod Dreher’s cri de coeur to “live not by lies. Enjoy the list and click on “review” to read the full review of a book or the title to connect with the publisher’s page on the book.

Rhythms for LifeAlastair Sterne. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. An approach to spiritual practices and a rule of life tailored to the unique identity, gifts, calling, and roles of each person. Review

Live Not By LiesRod Dreher. New York: Sentinal, 2020. Drawing on interviews with Christians in the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, Dreher warns of a rise of a similar, though “soft” totalitarianism in the U.S., and outlines what Christians must do to live in the truth. Review

A Gentle MadnessNicholas A Basbanes. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. An entertaining journey through the history and contemporary world of book collecting, and the “bibliomanes” whose passion for books formed amazing collections. Review

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout. New York: Random House, 2008. A collection of short stories set in a small coastal village in Maine, centering around an aging and abrasive middle school teacher, Olive Kitteridge. Review

Between History and SpiritCraig S. Keener. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2020. A collection of the author’s journal articles on the book of Acts. Review

The Nazarene: Forty Devotions on the Lyrical Life of JesusMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. The author helps us consider Jesus through lyrics from his songs and biblically informed reflections. Review

You Can Keep That To YourselfAdam Smyer. New York: Akashic Books, 2020. A humorous and pointed list of “things not to say” to Black friends or colleagues. Review

All I Did Was Shoot My Man (A Leonid McGill Mystery #4), Walter Mosley. New York, Riverhead Press, 2012. The release from prison of a woman framed in an insurance heist sets loose a string of murders, including an attempt on McGill’s life, even while he tries to find out who is behind the heist and the murders. Review

A Commentary on James, Aida Besancon Spencer. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020. A scholarly and accessible exegetical commentary on the Epistle of James. Review

March: Book OneJohn Lewis, Andrew Aydin (co-author), Nate Powell (artist). Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2013. A graphic non-fiction biography of John Lewis. Book One focuses on his youth, the contact with Martin Luther King, Jr. that changed the course of his life, and his early efforts in the desegregation of lunch counters in Nashville. Review

Biblical Theology According to the Apostles (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Chris Bruno, Jared Compton, Kevin McFadden. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the summaries of Israel’s story in the New Testament and their culmination in the person of Christ. Review

Companions in the DarknessDiana Gruver (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Biographies of seven Christians in history who experienced depression and the hope we can embrace from how they lived through their struggle. Review

Six Months in 1945: From World War to Cold WarMichael Dobbs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. An account of the six months from Yalta to Hiroshima and how the decisions and events of those months shaped the post-war world. Review

Spiritual Practices of JesusCatherine J. Wright. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of three spiritual practices of Jesus found in Luke’s gospel considering them in the first century context of his readers and the writings of the earliest fathers of the church. Review

McGowan’s CallRob Smith. Huron, OH: Drinian Press, 2007. A collection of short stories and a novella tracing the ministry of a pastor from a small Ohio river town to a suburb of Dayton. Review

March: Book Two, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2015. The second part of this graphic non-fiction narrative of the Civil Rights movement from the experiences of further sit-ins and marches to the Freedom Rides, the children’s marches, and the March on Washington. Review

Dreaming Dreams of Christian Higher EducationDavid S. Guthrie (Foreword by Bradshaw Fry; Afterword by Eric Miller). Beaver Falls, PA: Falls City Press, 2020. A collection of presentations given over a twenty year period on realizing the dream of Christian higher education by a leader in Christian higher ed. Review

The Enneagram for Spiritual FormationA. J. Sherrill (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. Explores how the Enneagram may be used as a tool for self-understanding that may serve as a guide on one’s discipleship pathway. Review

Best of the Month. I have to give the nod to first-time author Diana Gruver for her Companions in the Darkness. The book combines thoughtful studies of seven Christians who experienced depression interwoven with her own experience written with a flowing grace that offers hope in a season when many are struggling.

Best Quote of the Month. The Spiritual Practices of Jesus explores the spirituality of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. This is a challenging statement on wealth:

Perhaps one reason for the emphasis on radical almsgiving is the lens through which early Christians look at wealth. In their opinion, we don’t really own our wealth. It is placed in our care by God so that we may bestow it to those who have less than we do. Therefore, when we spend our wealth on ourselves alone, we are essentially stealing from the poor (and thereby from God). The reverse is also true. When we give to the poor, we show ourselves to be good stewards of the resources God has trusted us with, and we are, in essence, giving to God. This attitude could not be further from the attitude that many Christians in America have today (p. 63).

What I’m Reading. Next up for review is Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month, the third of her Gamache series. Gamache investigates a death at a seance while colleagues in the Surete’ plot his downfall. Original Sin and the Fall explores five theological views of the doctrine of original sin. I’ve been plodding my way through a lengthy economic history of America, Ages of American Capitalism. I’ve nearly finished the third and final volume of March, a graphic autobiography on the life of John Lewis, culminating in the first inaugural of Barack Obama. And that leads me to A Promised Land, the first volume in the presidential memoir of Barack Obama. It is not only well-written but striking for the humility that readily admits mistakes, blunders and his own struggles to balance political ambition and love of his family. I’ve just begun Gordon T. Smith’s Wisdom from Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age. Smith draws on sources throughout global church history for insight of how leaders might lead in this secular age. The Liturgy of Politics by Kaitlyn Schiess looks at the habits and behaviors that shape the churches politics, and how we might choose different liturgies to shape a better political engagement.

The first snow of the season is in the air as I write during our county’s “stay at home” advisory. I think I’ll do just that with a cup of tea and a good book with some Christmas music in the background.

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

The Month in Reviews: September 2020

My reading for the month illustrates the many forms of delight in reading. From works to nourish the soul in kindness to oneself, in an account of the writing of a spiritual classic, in understanding of the scriptures and theology to historical fiction set in ancient Rome and mysteries set in Russia and Canada. I also read books illuminating the civil rights struggle, the interior struggle of depression, the enhancing of our cognitive capacities, the divisions of the country, and the many faces of Ohio.

Be Kind to YourselfCindy Bunch (Foreword by Ruth Haley Barton). Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2020. A little handbook of ideas and practices to help us exercise kindness toward ourselves by releasing what bugs us and embracing joy. Review

How to Read Daniel (How to Read series), Tremper Longman III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A helpful introduction to the Old Testament book of Daniel, dealing with its original setting and context, the theme of the book, basic commentary on each story and vision, and contemporary applications. Review

Into the Unbounded NightMitchell James Kaplan. Raleigh, NC: Regal House Publishing, 2020. Historical fiction set in the mid-first century AD in the Roman Empire, spanning conquests from Albion (Britannia), Carthage, and Jerusalem, and the center of power in Rome. Review

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of HopeJohn Meacham (Afterword by John Lewis). New York: Random House, 2020. An account of the life of Congressman John Lewis, focusing on the years of his leadership in the civil rights movement and the faith, hope, commitment to non-violence and the Beloved Community that sustained him. Review

The Long Night: Readings and Stories to Help You through Depression, Jessica Kantrowitz. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2020. Short readings and personal narratives reflecting the author’s experience with depression, both honest and hopeful. Review

The Holy Spirit (Theology for the People of God), Gregg R. Allison & Andreas J. Kostenberger. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020. First in a new series, a biblical and systematic theology of the Holy Spirit, evangelical and continuationist, but not pentecostal. Review

Caste: The Origins of our Discontent, Isabel Wilkerson. New York: Random House, 2020. Proposes that American society throughout our history has been structured around a caste hierarchy, showing the character, costs, and hope for a different future. Review

Rostnikov’s Vacation (Porfiry Rostnikov #7), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2012. Rostnikov, on vacation in Yalta, learns that the death of a fellow investigator on vacation was murder, and that top investigators throughout Moscow are being sent on vacation at the time of a major political rally. Review

Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?Antipas L. Harris. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Explores and answers the title question, showing the misreading of scripture and the affirmation of diverse cultures in scripture. Review

Enhancing Christian Life: How Extended Cognition Augments Religious CommunityBrad D. Strawn and Warren S. Brown. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. The authors propose that as persons we are embodied and embedded in particular contexts, but also that extended cognition expands our capacities as we engage our physical and social worlds, with implications for the importance of Christian community. Review

A Fatal GraceLouise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2006. An unliked but aspiring author comes to Three Pines and is murdered in front of a crowd at a curling match yet no one sees how it happened. Review

Henri Nouwen & The Return of the Prodigal Son (Stories of Great Books), Gabrielle Earnshaw. Brewster: MA: Paraclete Press, 2020. An account of the crisis, transformation and subsequent writing process behind Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Review

Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and ModernityPatrick Curry. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. A study of the enduring power of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, tracing it to both its counter to modernity and its genius as modern myth. Review

Divided We FallDavid French. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020. An argument warning that the political divides in American life could lead to a dissolution of the nation through secession and may be averted by a tolerant federalism. Review

The Jesus of the Gospels: An IntroductionAndreas J. Köstenberger. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020. An introduction to the four gospels, providing accessible scholarship, introductions and commentary focused on Jesus, to whom each gospel witnesses. Review

Barnstorming Ohio To Understand AmericaDavid Giffels. New York: Hachette Books, 2020. The author recounts a year of traveling Ohio, always a political bellweather, to understand America. Review

Best Book of the Month. Jon Meacham’s His Truth is Marching On is an absolutely wonderful and inspiring account of the life of John Lewis, and particularly the deep faith that drove him on in hope through beatings and imprisonments, and many years in Congress.

Best Quote of the Month. I finished the month reading Akron journalist and author David Giffel’s Barnstorming Ohio To Understand America. He explains the significance of Ohio (at least to this Ohioan) as well as anyone I know. Here’s his summary:

Geographically and culturally, the state is an all-American buffet, an uncannily complete everyplace. Cleveland is the end of the north, Cincinnati is the beginning of the South, Youngstown is the end of the East, and Hicksville (yes, Hicksville) is the beginning of the Midwest. Across eighty-eight counties, Ohio mashes up broad regions of farmland, major industrial centers, small towns, the third-largest university in the country, the second largest Amish population, and a bedraggled vein of Appalachia. It is coastal, it is rural, it is urban, and suburban. (p. 5)

What I’m Reading. Sri Lankan theologian Vinoth Ramachandra’s Sara’s Laughter is a profound reflection on evil and suffering, doubt, questioning, lament…and hope. Carolyn Weber’s Sex and the City of God is an absolutely beautiful account of a new Christian torn between the longing for intimacy and the embrace of a chaste life as a Christ-follower, and an absolutely delightful account of two Christians awakening to and growing in love. God in Himself is a theological exploration of the nature of God and what we may know by both general and special revelation. The Violence Inside Us by Senator Chris Murphy is an exploration of gun violence. Finally, on a different note, James Lee Burke’s The Lost Get-Back Boogie is one of Burke’s non-Robicheaux novel.

With cool days and longer nights, I hope you have the opportunity to find a sunny bench on a crisp autumn day, or a warm drink and a comfy chair on those chilly evening–and of course, a good book!

The Month in Reviews: August 2020

A vacation week and some extra time on hot days just to read afforded the time to read sixteen books during August. Jeffrey Sachs and Anne Applebaum’s books offered different snapshots on global affairs. From very different perspectives, both Elaine Howard Ecklund and Gavin Ortlund’s books contribute to a better science and faith conversations. I had a chance to review a couple of new fiction authors, Bonnie Proudfoot and Joe English. Uncommon Ground and The Beautiful Community addressed divisions, the first in the culture, the second in the church. One of my most fun reads focused on amusing anecdotes about books, the other about the making of lists. And my baseball book for the summer was a fascinating account of the women’s professional baseball league that was the basis for the movie, A League of Their Own.

The Ages of GlobalizationJeffrey D. Sachs. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. A study of seven ages of globalization, in which geography, technology, and institutions result in scale-enlarging transformations with global impacts. Review

Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Differenceedited Timothy Keller & John Inazu. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020. Twelve individuals from different walks of life discuss what Christian faithfulness and the pursuit of the common good looks like in a deeply divided culture. Review

Why Science and Faith Need Each OtherElaine Howard Ecklund. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. A sociologist who has researched the relationship between science and faith proposes that there are eight shared values that make it possible to move beyond a relationship of fear or conflict between religious and scientific communities. Review

Goshen RoadBonnie Proudfoot. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 2020. A story told across two generations of two sisters, their husbands and children, and their dignity and struggle to exist in working-class, rural West Virginia. Review

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of AuthoritarianismAnne Applebaum. New York: Doubleday, 2020. An extended essay considering the shift to authoritarian leaders in Europe and the United States, analyzing both why such leaders are attractive, and the strategies they used to gain power. Review

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of CreationGavin Ortlund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of Augustine’s writing about creation and what that might contribute to the contemporary controversy. Review

The Beautiful CommunityIrwyn L. Ince, Jr., Foreword by Timothy Keller. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. An argument that churches united amid their diversity are beautiful communities that reflect the beauty of the triune God they worship. Review

For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and MoreGraham Tarrant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. A fun read about everything books, from the beginning of the book, stories of authors and their loves and their fights, different genres, and the world of publishing. Review

Unto Us a Child is Born, Tyler D. Mayfield. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020. Proposes that, as we read Isaiah during Advent, we need to read “with bifocals,” considering both the Advent liturgical significance of the texts and their meaning for our Jewish neighbors. Review

Somebody Else’s TroublesJ.A. English. Union Lake, MI: Zimbell House Publishing, 2020. Several troubled individuals find their way to Mabuhay, a tiny Caribbean Island, and find in the troubles of others the possibility of the redemption of their own. Review

The Gospel in DickensCharles Dickens (edited by Gina Dalfonzo, foreword by Karen Swallow Prior). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020. A collection of excerpts from the works of Charles Dickens showing the Christian gospel themes evident throughout these works. Review

Befriending Your MonstersLuke Norsworthy. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. Discusses the fears (monsters) we often run from or that shape our lives, advocating befriending them by facing our fears, allowing us to move into healthier lives. Review

Seeing by the Light: Illumination in Augustine’s and Barth’s Readings of John, (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Ike Miller. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study on the doctrine of illumination examining how both Augustine and Barth exposited this doctrine in the gospel and letters of John. Review

The Breadth of Salvation, Tom Greggs. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. An exploration of the extravagant breadth of God’s saving work in all of its dimensions. Review

When Women Played HardballSusan E. Johnson. Seattle: Seal Press, 1994. The story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a professional league of women playing hardball from 1943 to 1954 told through a game-by-game summary of the 1950 championship, stories about the league, and player narratives. Review

Make A ListMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. An exploration of the human phenomenon of why we make and like lists, how we can turn lists into a life-giving practice, and a plethora of ideas for lists wee might create. Review

Best Book of the Month: I really liked first-time author Bonnie Proudfoot’s Goshen Road. I loved the lean prose, character development, and believable dialogue in this work portraying the struggles and aspirations of working class people in rural West Virginia.

Best Quote of the Month: I loved this statement by Elaine Howard Ecklund expressing her own sense of the integration of science and faith in her life:

I am devoting my life to sociology, and to the sociological study of religion, because of gratitude. I am grateful for my Christian faith and the role it plays in my life. I am grateful for my church community. I am also grateful for the advances that science and social science have made in helping us better understand and navigate our world. I am grateful for the scientific tools and concepts that allow us to better get along and work together. Indeed my gratitude for both faith and science has compelled me to study faith communities and scientific communities and to endeavor to give back to both of those communities. And because of this gratitude I can say that my work is part of my worship.

What I’m Reading: I’ve just finished Cindy Bunch’s Be Kind to Yourself, a book that commends that we afford more grace than criticism to ourselves and suggests practices to help with that. Also just completed, Tremper Longman III’s How to Read Daniel is a clearly written guide to help readers of this often puzzling book. I’m greatly enjoying Jon Meacham’s new His Truth is Marching On, his account of civil right’s pioneer and congressman John Lewis. What a life well-lived. Into the Unbounded Night is historical fiction set in the first century spanning the Roman Empire from Britannia to Rome to Carthage to Jerusalem. Jessica Kantrowitz’s The Long Night explores the realities of depression, both the author’s experience and those of others, offering hope. Finally, I just began The Holy Spirit by Gregg Allison and Andreas J. Kostenberger, which looks to be a highly readable study of the biblical and systematic theology of the Holy Spirit.

Read on, my friends!

Books I Keep Talking About

The banner of Andy Unedited

One of the blogs I follow is Andy Unedited. The “unedited” part has to do with his work through most of his career as an editor at a publishing house. He recognizes great writing, and knows how to make it better. So when he wrote a post recently titled Twelve Books I Keep Talking About, I paid attention. He confines his list to books he’s read in the last two years. It’s a great list. There’s one that would be on my list, four others I’ve read, and a few I might look into. But the hook for me was his question at the end of the post: What are the books you keep talking about? I said I might answer in a blog post (never pass up a blog idea!), so here’s my list!

The Crucifixion, by Fleming Rutledge is one on which we agree! It was the most profound theological book I’ve read in ten years, and greatly enriched my Lenten journey a year ago. Review

Write Better, by Andrew T. LePeau, the “Andy” of Andy Unedited. He focuses on the craft, art, and spirituality of writing and the book inspired me to be a better writer. Were it not for Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion, this might have made my best of the year in 2019. It was a Christianity Today Book of the year. Review

Grant, by Ron Chernow. I think each book Chernow writes gets better, and this was magnificent in exploring both the inner man and outward accomplishments of this Union general and president. Grants Memoir is on my must read list after reading him Review

Goshen Road, by Bonnie Proudfoot. This is a first time novel published by a small university press that deserves much greater attention. The writing is exquisite and the story of two sisters in working class families in rural West Virginia was one I couldn’t stop thinking about. Review

Answering the Call, by Nathaniel R. Jones. Jones and I grew up in the same home town of Youngstown. A blog follower said I ought to write about him, and in researching his life, I learned of his memoir, an inspiring story of a persevering pursuit of civil rights from advocacy, to a legal career, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, general counsel of the NAACP, and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit. Review

Still Life, by Louise Penny. I’d heard from others how good the Chief Inspector Gamache series is and what a special place is the fictional village of Three Pines. The first book lived up to the praise, and from what I hear, it only gets better. Review

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Finally read this “coming of age” classic this year. It was one of the “books that went to war” in World War 2, reminding many soldiers of the homes and family they left behind. Review

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone. Draws a profound connection between Christ’s crucifixion and the lynching of Blacks readily apparent in the Black community, but one whites may be oblivious to. Review

City on a Hill, Abram C. Van Engen. A tour de force historical study of the phrase “city on a hill” from Governor John Winthrop’s sermon in the 1630 down to the present appropriation of the phrase to articulate American exceptionalism. Review

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah. Like The Nightingale, this book stuck with me when I wasn’t reading it. It is kind of a more toxic fictional version of Tara Westover’s Educated set in the beauty of the wilds of Alaska. Review

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight. Another magnificent biography of the escaped slave who became the greatest black orator, writer and activist of the nineteenth century. Review

Perfectly Human, Sarah C. Williams. An exquisitely written personal narrative of a couple facing a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, their decision to carry their daughter to term, their process with family and friends, and the larger issues their own decision raised for them. Review

Well, Andy, there is a dozen to match yours, at least in number. As I put this list together, I realized that these really have been books I’ve talked about, and I’ve enjoyed the chance to do so once more, to give a shout-out for the books, and to remember the great pleasure each gave in a dozen unique ways. Thanks for the question, Andy. Hope you find something on this list, and between the two of us, we gave people 23 books to consider (one in common). Happy reading my friend!

The Month in Reviews: July 2020

the lost art of dying

There are so many ways in which books may be interesting. It may be reading a classic adventure novel in the full adult version that I had read in a children’s abridgment fifty years ago. It might be learning to think like a lawyer. It could be an in-depth dive into how junior officers and those they led helped re-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1864. You could read a memoir of an African American from your home town who pursued the fight for civil rights through the practice of law as an attorney, chief counsel, and eventually, a federal judge. You may learn about the Ars Moriendi, the art of dying, and the need to recover this wisdom in our day. You might explore the daily life of Ephesus in 90 AD, and the growing pressures on Christians during the expansion of emperor worship. I had a chance to do all that and more in July. With that, here are the fourteen books I read and reviewed.

influence of soros

The Influence of SorosEmily Tamkin. New York: Harper, 2020. More than a biography, an exploration of George Soros’ origins, how he made his money, and the motives behind his use of it in his Open Society Foundation, and the resulting contradictions. Review

the lost art of dying

The Lost Art of DyingL. S. Dugdale. New York: Harper One, 2020. A physician challenges our over-medicalized treatment of the dying, advocating a recovery of the “art of dying,” which also makes it possible to live well. Review

a republic in the ranks

A Republic in the RanksZachery A. Fry. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2020. A study of political loyalties in the Army of the Potomac, and the influence of junior officers and the experience of war among enlisted men, resulting in Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 to a second term. Review

wait with me

Wait With MeJason Gaboury. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2020. Proposes that the experience of loneliness is an invitation to grow in our friendship with God. Review

tending soul, mind, and body

Tending Soul, Mind, and BodyEdited by Gerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A collection of papers from the 2018 Center for Pastor Theologians Conference drawing from a variety of perspectives to consider how as whole persons we are formed in Christ. Review

Working in the presence of God

Working in the Presence of GodDenise Daniels & Shannon Vandewarker. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2019. Addresses the question of workplace spirituality–practices that help us engage with God in the context of and amid our work. Review

That Way and No Other

That Way and No OtherAmy Carmichael (Introduction by Katelyn Beaty). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020. A curated collection of writings of Amy Carmichael, the missionary to India who became house mother to girls saved from sex trafficking. Review

Approaching the Atonement

Approaching the AtonementOliver D. Crisp. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of different models of the atonement, explaining and critiquing each model, focusing on the “mechanism” of atonement, the issue of violence, and the author’s own preferred approach. Review

Answering the Call

Answering the CallNathaniel R. Jones. New York: The New Press, 2016. The memoir of Judge Nathaniel Jones, from his early civil rights efforts to his work as general counsel of the NAACP, and then service as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Review

A week in the life of ephesus

A Week in the Life of Ephesus (A Week in the Life Series), David A. deSilva. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A historical novel exploring the religious and cultural context of Ephesus during the reign of Domitian c. 90 AD. Review

3 musketeers

The Three MusketeersAlexandre Dumas. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2011 (originally published 1844). An adventure that begins with D’Artagnan, a young nobleman who wants to join the musketeers of the guard, and quickly gets entangled with plots to bring about war between England and France, and love affairs that endanger his life and break his heart. Review

no border land

No Border LandTom Graffagnino. Grand Rapids: Credo House Publishers, 2020. A prophetic call to a world without moral or spiritual borders, to a lukewarm, compromised church, concluding with a vision of the beauty of the Christian hope rooted in the cross. Review

Thinking Like a Lawyer

Thinking Like a LawyerColin Seale. Waco: Prufrock Press, 2020. Applies the framework law students learn to teaching critical thinking for all school students. Review

analog church

Analog ChurchJay Y. Kim (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Downers Grove: IVP Praxis, 2020. An argument for churches maintain real community, participatory worship, the ministry of the word, and communion in an era when it is tempting to “go digital” with the rest of the culture. Review

Best of the Month: The Lost Art of Dying combined a depth of thoughtfulness with a quiet, articulate voice asking probing questions about how we die, and what it means to die well. The author proposes that we cannot truly live well if we haven’t reckoned with our deaths. Seems a most timely book in this time of great sickness.

Best Quote of the Month: In a wonderful collection of the writings of Amy Carmichael, I came across this statement that is a challenge for every bibliophile:

It matters a good deal that your book-food should be strong meat. We are what we think about. Think about trivial things or weak things and somehow one loses fiber and becomes flabby in spirit.

What I’m Reading: I’m finishing up several books as I write. Just finished Jeffrey Sachs The Ages of Globalization, looking at seven ages of “global” empires and the technology, the geography and the institutions that made them possible. I’m getting ready to interview John Inazu for work, and have been enjoying the collection of essays called Uncommon Ground that he and New York pastor Tim Keller have co-edited. Each essayist, in their own field, explore the challenge of Christian engagement in a divided world. Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist, looks at eight shared values of people of faith and scientists that may lead to a better science-faith conversation in Why Science and Faith Need Each Other. I’m greatly enjoying the work of a regional author, Bonnie Proudfoot, in her novel about a couple generations of close relations in rural West Virginia, their struggles and their dignity. Lastly, Graham Tarrant’s For the Love of Books, is a topically organized collection of book trivia that is a fun read for any book lover.

It’s hard to believe how fast the summer is going! I look at the books I had thought I would read this summer. I still want to read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which I’ve had for a couple years. It is both significant and imposing. I probably just need to set aside some of the books I have waiting for review. Ah…so many books, so little time! But it is not how many books we get through, but how many get through to us, as Mortimer Adler has remarked. Hope you will have one or more good books get through to you in the remaining weeks of summer!

Higher Education Books I Would Re-Read

red building with clock tower

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I work in collegiate ministry, particularly relating to grad students, faculty and administrators. That has resulted in a passion to understand the place where I and these people work. What is the history of these institutions? Why do they exist and toward what end? How do they work? And as a Christian engaged in ministry in this setting, what does religious faith have to do with the enterprise of higher education. Here are some of the books I’ve found most helpful that I turn to again and again.

Michael Bérubé, What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts. One of the early defenses of the classic idea of the liberal arts in the face of increasing questions about both their usefulness, and attacks on political correctness. He addresses “liberal bias” and discusses what’s right about the liberal arts.

Robert Boyers, The Tyranny of Virtue. A more recent book also holding up the classic view of the liberal arts against the virtue signalling, cancel culture becoming more prominent in university life. This book addresses what’s wrong with the liberal arts and why the death of these programs is at least in part, self-inflicted.

Andrew Delbanco, College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be. This is a concisely present history of universities, an overview of what they are today, and Delbanco’s idea of what they should be as places that educate for citizenship and prepare people for useful work and a life of meaning.

Donna Freitas, Sex and the Soul. Since 2008 when this book came out, Donna Freitas has been writing about campus sexuality, and the connection between sexuality and spirituality. In this book she studied four kinds of campuses including conservative evangelical campuses and how religious beliefs shaped sexual ethics and practices of students.

Charles Homer Haskins, The Rise of the Universities. I read this in college, and it is a good basic account of the rise of colleges out the cathedral schools of Europe.

Anthony T. Kronmen, Education’s End. The title is something of a play on words, dealing both with the purpose and the demise of higher education. Kronmen provocatively questions why universities have given up on the big questions, like the meaning of life.

George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University. More than just a study of the history of the American university, he looks at how the place of religious faith shifted from the center to the margins as universities moved from church-centered schools to public and pluralistic research universities.

Paul H. Mattingly, American Academic Cultures. Covers similar ground to Marsden but looks at the history as one of seven overlapping academic cultures, featuring a prominent campus example of each.

John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University. A classic, from his lectures as Rector of the University of Ireland, in which he discusses the unity of knowledge, the relation of faith to free inquiry, and the relationship between the church and the academy.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom. A collection of essays relating faith and the educational enterprise where the author’s concerns for shalom, justice, academic freedom, and how a Christian world and life view works itself out in various academic disciplines.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Religion in the University. Unlike the earlier book, written in the context of a Christian college, this work was written during the author’s tenure at Yale. He makes a compelling argument for the rightful place of religious voices in academic discourse.

As with other installments in this”books I would re-read” series, these are not the only books worthy of such a list. There are others on my shelves I haven’t read once that probably should be here. Universities are vitally important cultural institutions, both in educating the next generation and in conducting cutting edge research to enhance in various ways our flourishing as human beings. These are some of the books that have helped me understand that world.

 

 

The Month in Reviews: June 2020

the great alone

A classic biography. Agatha Christie at her best. Books on issues of race. American ideals, religious and otherwise. Theological works and atlases. A thoughtful work on the second half of life. A frank discussion of sexual abuse in the church. An exploration of the revival we so desperately long for. And quite possible one of the best novels I’ve read since the last one by the same author. That’s this month’s reading in a nutshell. And here are the books.

Paul and the Language of faith

Paul and the Language of Faith, Nijay K, Gupta (Foreword by James D. G. Dunn). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020. A study of the word pistis, often translated as “faith” as used in the writings of Paul, the rest of scripture, as well as in literature contemporary to the time, showing the rich nuances of meaning that must be determined by context. Review

The Myth of the American Dream

The Myth of the American DreamD. L. Mayfield. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A collection of Christian reflections chronicling the author’s awakening to the ways the American dream neither works for everyone nor reflects the values of the kingdom Jesus inaugurated. Review

sacred liberty

Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious FreedomStephen Waldman. New York: Harper Collins, 2019. Rather than a given of American religious history, religious liberty has often been honored more in the breach, and fought for by religious minorities excluded from this liberty. Review

when narcissism

When Narcissism Comes to ChurchChuck DeGroat. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Explores the expressions narcissism can take in the church, the damage it may do, and healing both for the abused and the narcissists who abuse them. Review

The Basic Bible Atlas

The Basic Bible AtlasJohn A. Beck. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. An introductory Bible atlas that combines an overview of the biblical narrative and colorful and detailed maps, with an emphasis on the significance of the geography to the unfolding plan of God. Review

In the Hands of the people

In the Hands of the PeopleJon Meacham. New York: Penguin Random House, 2020. A collection of the sayings of Thomas Jefferson, reflecting his belief in the critical responsibility of the people to the health and growth of the new Republic, with commentary by the author. Review

good white racist

Good* White RacistKerry Connelly (Foreword by Michael W. Waters). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. Explores how whites may be complicit with a system of racism while being well-intentioned and how white efforts to sustain a sense of “goodness” help perpetuate racial divides. Review

Crowmwell the Lord Protector

Cromwell: The Lord ProtectorAntonia Fraser. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973. A biography of Oliver Cromwell, a military and parliamentary leader during the English Civil Wars, rising after the death of Charles I to Lord Protector. Review

brown church

Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and IdentityRobert Chao Romero. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the five hundred year of Latina/o Christianity and its resistance and response to colonialism, dictatorships, U.S. imperialism, and oppression toward farm workers and immigrants. Review

Longing for Revival

Longing for RevivalJames Choung and Ryan Pfeifer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A practical work on revival that begins with defining what it is and why we ought hope for it; second, what it means to experience revival; and third, what it means to lead in a time of revival. Review

the murder on the links

The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot #2), Agatha Christie. New York Harper Collins, 2011 (first published in 1923). A man who writes Poirot from the north of France of his life being in danger is found dead by Poirot under circumstances similar to another murder many years earlier that is key to Poirot unraveling the case. Review

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See-Through Marriage, Ryan and Selena Frederick. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. A fulfilling marriage is one that is transparent, about our joys and desires, our past and our failures, where all these things are brought into the light. Review

the great aloneThe Great AloneKristen Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. A family moves to the wilderness of Alaska, hopefully for a new start for Ernt Allbright, a former POW in Vietnam, only to discover that in a beautiful and dangerous wilderness, the greatest danger may lay in their own cabin. Review

the metoo reckoning

The #MeToo ReckoningRuth Everhart. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A discussion of sexual harassment and assault in the church, the impact on victims and the response of many churches more focused on institutional reputation than protecting victims and justice for the perpetrators. Review

becoming sage

Becoming SageMichelle Van Loon. Chicago: Moody Press, 2020. An exploration of what Christian growth looks like in the second half of life. Review

Best of the Month: Hands down, it has to be Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone. The combination of wonderful writing about Alaska’s beauty and the lines that run between beauty and danger, love and danger, and characters that you can’t get out of your head makes this a truly great work. I’d be surprised if people weren’t reading this work ten years or more from now.

Best Quote of the Month: Jon Meacham’s In the Hands of the People, a book of quotes by and about Jefferson on numerous themes includes this one on voting that seems apropos in an election year:

It has been thought that corruption is restrained by confining the right of suffrage to a few of the wealthier of the people: but it would be more effectually restrained by an extension of that right to such numbers as would bid defiance to the means of corruption.

What I’m reading. I’ve just begun to read Lydia S. Dugdale’s The Lost Art of Dying. Dugdale explores how we have over-medicalized death and contends we need to recover the ancient wisdom of what it means to prepare for our death and die well. A Republic in the Ranks by Zachery Fry (an acquaintance) explores the way political influence played out in the Union Army and the reasons for the shift in affection from the Democrat McClellan to the Republican Lincoln that led to his 1864 re-election. The Influence of Soros by Emily Tamkin explores the ideals that motivate George Soros, the contradictory aspects of his life, and some of the reasons behind why so many vilify him. Lastly, I’m just beginning Tending Body, Mind, and Soul, an exploration of a theology of spiritual formation. As always, an interesting mix. It has been a busy month for me. I look forward to a quieter July, some chance to read and reflect, as the pandemic seems to be heating up. Stay safe out there my friends!

Ten Books on My Racial Journey

1024px-Civil_Rights_March_on_Washington,_D.C._(Dr._Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._and_Mathew_Ahmann_in_a_crowd.)_-_NARA_-_542015_-_Restoration

Civil Rights March on Washington D.C., Photo by Rowland Scherman, licensed under CC0

True confession. I am a recovering racist. It has probably only been in the last ten years that I could even admit that to myself–or anyone else. I grew up watching the civil rights marches and listening to Martin Luther King, Jr talk about the dream. In elementary school we sang, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” with its soaring conclusion “To take each moment and live each moment in perfect harmony.”

Meanwhile, I grew up on the White West side of my town. In our schools, we were about 98 percent white. Years later, I saw the maps of my city from the 1930’s and 1940’s that confined Blacks to the most inferior housing, marked in red, hence the idea of redlining. I listened to those in my extended family talk about “them” and how they lived and imbibed unconsciously so many stereotypes. Going to college was supposed to shatter all that with a good liberal education. I learned how to talk the talk, but I still walked White.

I’ve worked in a collegiate ministry funded through donations. Though not as well connected as richer friends, I never had a problem raising funds, unlike most of my black colleagues, for whom it always seemed harder. It was here I began to understand something of the privilege I enjoyed, despite my modest background, simply because I was white (and male). It made me wonder why the playing field wasn’t level, despite all our civil rights rhetoric.

And so I did what I always have done as a bibliophile. I started reading. That’s not all I did. I was graced to have friends and colleagues that were black. And finally, it began to get through my head that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know and to stop pretending I was “woke,” and listen. I don’t think you can recover from racism just by reading books. But here are some that have helped me understand both the black experience, and hold up a mirror to myself.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow. Alexander helped me understand the ways the mass incarceration of black men, many for drug offenses (much more heavily enforced in black neighborhoods) that helped create a permanent underclass who couldn’t vote, couldn’t qualify for federally subsidized housing, or obtain work.

Lerone Bennett, Jr. Before the Mayflower: A History of Black American 1619-1964. This helped me understand better the 400 year history of black subjugation, that began prior to the Pilgrims!

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. A set of letters from father to son that reveals the abiding awareness of the threats against the black body, and the abiding struggle to hope for something different.

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. A profound reflection on the parallels between the cross of Christ, and the lynching tree, one white Americans are oblivious to as we deny our lynching history, but one that offers meaning to sustain the long struggle.

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility. This book showed me that most often I and other whites are the problem in race conversations. We so want to be good, to not be thought racist, that we do all sorts of things that shut down conversation. It also challenged me that as whites, we need to do our work rather than put that on blacks.

Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. Divided by Faith. Two sociologists look at why 11 am on Sunday is still the most segregated hour of the week. They note the individualistic solutions to race in white evangelicalism that fails to deal with the structures of a racialized society inside as well as outside the church.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy. This book, recently adapted into a film looks at the ways race often enters into the police and justice systems of our country, depriving many blacks of equal treatment under the law. Stevenson opens our eyes to this through death row inmate Walter McMillian, and how difficult an obstructive system made it to prove that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.

Jim Wallis, America’s Original Sin. Wallis awakened me with how racism and the dehumanization of blacks traces to our national origins, our earliest economic patterns, and our founding fathers and documents. It persuaded me that, not wanting to face how profoundly we are implicated, we have tried to heal this wound lightly.

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns. Through three families, Wilkerson traces the great migration of blacks from the Jim Crow south to the north and the west, and how this transformed the cities of north and west, as well as the south.

Ken Wytsma, The Myth of Equality. The most memorable statement in this book, that the rest of the book unpacks was “White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard. It means that if you are a person of color, simply by virtue of that, your life might be harder.”

These books are uncomfortable reads for a white person like me. They undermine the image I want to project, and the things I want to believe are true. They also liberated me because managing the image that I’m a good “woke” person, and sustaining lies about our society and about me is actually a burden. In shattering my illusions of my goodness, our goodness, they free me of demanding perfection of the other or patronizing them. They remind me that in some sense, we are all “muddling through” and it might make more sense to muddle together than separately.

I do want to acknowledge that I’ve written here in terms of black and white. The racial journey in this country is far more complicated. We are white, Latino/a, black, Asian, and indigenous peoples, and more. I will admit that I’ve read less of these others and wish to read more, listen more to their narratives. I’ve still got a lot of recovering to do.