Vacations are, for me, a wonderful time to catch up on reading. I was recently off for three weeks and was afforded the opportunity to dive into the pages of some books that I had set aside for reading, some suggested books, and a couple of newbies that I discovered while away. Here, in no particular order, is my suggested reading list. I will add a comment or two about each book:
A Blue Puttee at War (Sydney Frost)
Every Newfoundlander is aware of the Blue Puttees. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was brought together in 1914 to join Allied efforts in WWI. The first 500 of these men were known as the Blue Puttees. They were so named because of the unusual colour of their puttees. A fabric shortage saw them supplied with these lower leg coverings by the Church Lads Brigade – an Anglican organization which is still operational in NL. One of the first 500 to sign up was Sydney Frost, an employee of the Bank of Nova Scotia. Frost was a Canadian living in the Dominion of Newfoundland. He became a very well decorated soldier. He was one of the few Blue Puttees (original members) to survive the entire war. This book, edited by Edward Roberts, is a personal account of his time in the RNR. Frost kept a remarkable amount of notes and accumulated notes and paperwork over the years. This book was his memoir and was not written to be published – but his family thankfully decided to have this remarkable story told. This book gives the reader a first hand account of the slaughter that was Beaumont Hamel. On July 1, 1916 there were 767 Newfoundlanders sent over the top in an impossible situation. They next day only 58 men answered the roll call. Over 300 were dead. The Dominion of Newfoundland has suffered a devastating blow. To a small colony, whose population in 1916 was considerably less than the City of London, ON., July 1st became formative it its peoples cultural memory. If you are interested in the collective Canadian History and are unfamiliar with the contribution that Britain’s oldest Colony had paid before it became a part of the Dominion of Canada, this book is a must read!
Detroit: An American Autopsy (Charlie LeDuff)
Charlie LeDuff is a journalist who grew up in Motor City. He left his home to pursue a very successful career ad a writer fir the New York Times. LeDuff finds himself returning to his natal city after leaving the Times and looking for employment. He takes a job with the Detroit News, which is a limping remnant of the newspaper business. LeDuff offers his personal experience of pain tragedy and loss as experienced by his own family and in the lives of the people of what was the heartbeat of American industry and culture – Detroit. LeDuff, is raw and unfiltered. He does not sugar coat the ills of Detroit and by extension the ills of a nation. He challenges everyone from corrupt Mayors to Union Bosses. LeDuff posits Detroit is a city whose future is a litmus test for the future of the nation. For those of us who love ‘The D,’ this book is both gut wrenching and hopeful. A terrific read. Thank you Jim Townsend for lending me this before my break.
The Bible Tells me So: Why Defending Scripture has Made us Unable to Read it. (Peter Enns)
If you are a Christian or even interested in Christianity this book is a must read. We Christians are a people who have The Bible as our guiding text. Enns makes the bold assertion that church has spent too much time and effort trying to tame and sanatize scripture. He insist that our efforts to make the Bible behave is crippling to our faith. This professor of Biblical Studies is a great writer. His use of humour and sarcasm make this book not just an important read, but a fun one as well. He exposes fear based beliefs that are often at odds with one another and challenges the Christian to wrestle with scripture and to do so knowing that God would expect as much from us.
Here is a taste:
“If we let the Bible be the Bible, on its own terms—on God’s terms—we will see this in-fleshing God at work, not despite the challenges, the unevenness, and ancient strangeness of the Bible, but precisely because of these things. Perhaps not the way we would have written our sacred book, if we had been consulted, but the one that the good and wise God has allowed his people to have.”
The Pastor: A Spirituality (Gordon Lathrop)
Primarily through examination of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Commandments, Gordon Lathrop provides a life-long catechumenate for those who pastor. In this book Lathrop calls on those who pastor in Liturgical settings to pay heed to the words they are saying weekly. Through an examination of the Lord’s Prayer he calls the pastors to embrace the communal nature of who we are at what we do. He nails it in suggesting that the the Lord’s prayer images ‘a strong center and an open door.’ “Open door to the reality of the condition of the world. Strong center in bread and forgiveness. Open door in the priestly identity of the assembly for the sake of the life of the world. Passing on the skills of the community involves helping people know themselves as marked by both these themes of the prayer. And passing on the skills of the community is one important way to prepare for assembly leadership and live the vocation of the pastor. So, ‘let us pray with confidence,’ as the old invitation says, giving others access into the heart of the prayer, helping others be held by prayer.” I recommend this book to all who are pasturing in Liturgical traditions.
Our Scandalous Senate (J. Patrick Boyer)
In this very well timed work, Former MP and member of the Mulroney Government makes the case for abolishing the Upper House. I picked this book up in a little store in Bracebridge, home of the author. Now I must confess that I read this book thinking I would disagree with much of what was in it. As a socialist I did not think I would find my opinions to be in concert with the conservative professor. I was wrong. The author is honest and fair to both liberal and Conservative parties in his assessment of how the Senate has been used over the years. I began reading the book as one who bought the argument that the Senate was a place of ‘sober second thought.’ I finished the book feeling that the upper chamber us anything but a place of sober second thought – or sober anything for that matter. Boyer is very knowledgeable and has built many relationships with legislators and with senators over the years. I have valued his counsel on this matter as we journey toward a fall election. Boyer argues that the provinces managed to eliminate their ‘senates’ with no discernible negative consequence. The Senate of Canada has been abused for political gain by Liberal and Conservative Prime Ministers over the years, says Boyer. “…it was inevitable that, over time, and by extension, those whom they ensconced in the place would evince similar behaviour.” Great reading for Canadians as our Fall election approaches . [As an aside I understand PM Harper was to announce policy to abolish the Senate today, but backed out upon the announcement being leaked – I wonder what Boyer thinks of that.]
Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. (Heidi Neumark)
This was one of my favorite books over the summer —- so far. Neumark’s memoir recounts her 20 years as a pastor of a struggling Lutheran Congregation in the South Bronx. The principal thesis here is the need for breathing space for new life. She writes about the need for the congregation to find breathing space, the need for the neighborhood (choked by pollution) to find breathing space, the need for desperate people to find breathing space, the need for her as a pastor to find breathing space, the need for her family to find breathing space. It is beautifully written and a really meaningful piece of work. The stories of poverty, violence and loss are gut wrenching and heart breaking. At the same time, reading about a church which renews itself by finding its mission in the community is a very heartening and hopeful promise for all who minister in parish settings.
Here are just a few of her words that just leapt out at me:
As a pastor, I keep wanting to build something stable, solid, and lasting and often I seem to be failing. Things progress and then seem to fall back. I’ve always like the phrase “burning patience” quoted by Pablo Neruda when he received the Nobel Prize for literature:
‘I wish to say to the people, of good will, to the workers, to the poets, that the whole future has been expressed in this line if Rimbaud: only with a burning patience can we conquer the splendid city which will give light, justice, and dignity to all.’
… Impatience with my private failures too — feeling constantly torn between family and church responsibilities, never enough time to do anything right, feeling that everything is so fragile and might collapse at any moment….and it will be my fault as the pastor who should oversee it all — and knowing that such thoughts give far too much importance to myself. Lack of perspective, lack of breathing space.
This book was also a purchase in the little store in Bracebridge. Francis Pegahmagabow is Canada’s most decorated war hero. He was also a great political leader in the years following the World War I. He is simply a Canadian Icon – but one I have never heard of. This speaks to the injustice to First Nations people in terms of how their story is retold.
If you are not family with this great Canadian I might suggest your interest might be piqued by this CBC piece. Click Here
Adrain Hayes writes well and this book reminds all who read it that Pegahmagabow was more than a war hero – He was also tireless in standing up for the rights of Canada’s First Nations People.
This is book that should be a text book for all teenagers in this country. A Quick read.
Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion
Flunder is a United Church of Christ Pastor whose life experience minister with and to people who are on the edges of society provides a memoir that challenges the church to remove the barriers that we have placed before people and provide radically inclusive communities that address the needs of those within them. As she puts it;
There can truly be no Lord’s Supper, no communion, no Holy Eucharist, in a community whose members do not love each other. We may as well call it a poorly planned dinner party.
He book is part story telling about community and part sermon. In section one she writes about creating community , sustaining community, celebrating community, and preaching to community. In part two she offers a sampling of her preaching. It’s a great book.
Of the many bits of great advice in this book I found these words most helpful:
Yesterday’s kindling and logs were for yesterday. Keep an eye on your fire, protect it and watch the character of it, what feeds it, what works and what doesn’t. Become intimate with the gift of God in you. Honour it and add some fresh fuel to it daily; minister to your gift according to the need….
Appreciate the fact that the original flame, the original gift, came from God. God is making you responsible to steward over it. Don’t take it for granted. God gives the fire… We tend it. Tend it like it is precious and priceless. Don’t be afraid to say, “No, I can’t do that or I can’t go there, it will disturb my fire.”
The Future of Faith (Harvey Cox)
This is a book I would recommend to all who are engaged in the practice of ministry. Cox offers the thesis that there are three ages of the church’s life; The Age of Faith, The Age of Belief, and The Age of the Spirit. He argues that the Age of Faith began with Jesus and his immediate followers and was propelled by faith that he initiated. This ages was marked by growth and persecution. Faith provided hope and assurance to those working to user in a new ear that was marked by compassion, justice and healing. The Age of Belief took root when the church leaders began formulating orientation programs for those who had not know Jesus and his followers directly. The Age of Belief replaced faith in Jesus with believing proper tenets about Jesus. This was exacerbated with the development of an elite clerical caste who became specialist who distilled all that had been written into a list of beliefs. Then along come Constantine and Christianity becoming the religion of the Empire. This followed by councils to determine what right belief looked like set us firmly in an age that lasted for over 1500 years. In fact, Cox argues we are still shaking it off as we move into The Age of the Spirit. This age which is now being birthed relates strongly to The Age of Faith. This new age is
“less focused on creeds as were those who live in the Age of Faith. Hierarchies had not yet appeared then; they are wobbling today. Faith as a way of live or a guiding compass has once again begun, as it did then, to identify what it means to be Christian. The experience of the divine is displacing theories about it.”
This is a great read and offers hope to those practicing ministry today that we are living in an age closely akin to the days following the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. There is life in the church.
An Altar in the Wilderness (Kaleeg Hainsworth)
This is a beautiful book about spirituality, ecology, and God’ created order. I read it in one good sitting. Hainsworth writes this manifesto as an expression of his love for spirituality and how it is lived and expressed.
“Spirituality is not for hobbyists. We engage with the spiritual world every time we reach beyond ourselves, every time we encounter and form relationships with other people…we belong to a complex, platitudinous ecosystem that extends beyond us limitlessly in all directions. If it’s possible to say that spirituality begins the moment we enter a relationship (with God, with each other, with our per, a garden), then how great is the need for spiritual ecology? We are after all in relationship with every living thing on the planet, even if we can’t see so far as to know it.”
This book argues that we get closer to God when we come closer to creation, when we do our best to protect and restore it, and when we seek forgiveness for how we have harmed it. Great Read!
Introducing the Missional Church (Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren)
What is Missional Church? This book lays out the challenges of answering that question. It’s authors argue that we have too long been fixated on attritional models of ministry. Build it and they will come. In the very well written book on Missional Church, Roxburg and Boren give great direction on how to help congregations move from putting out fires and building programs to get them to come to outlining how to create space where people can honestly talk about our fears with the change we all face in the church and then work to discern how God is at work in the neighbourhoods around us and become present and active with God.
What would it be like to cultivate a church in which people ask deeper questions without strings attached? What is important to emphasize is that we don’t need to have answers in order to create this space for people. In fact, having all the answers and bible verses on hand runs contrary to what we [should be doing]. We need an environment in which people feel safe to give voice to what is happening inside them right now.
This is another book that should be on every pastor’s reading list
“Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.”
This is a powerful book. Etty Hillesum’s dairies and her letters tell the story of her life as a Dutch Jew during WWII. Her letters from Westerbrook show the unbelievable resolve of a woman who would not let violence and hate kill her spirit.
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards in prayer for five short minutes.”
There are countless pearls of wisdom from this woman who is often referred to as the adult Anne Frank.
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
It is impossible to read Etty’s word’s and not come away having reclaimed large areas of peace within. I pray that what I have been given in her words, I may reflect to those around me.
A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson)
This book is REALLY funny. Lots of moments where I laughed out loud. Bryson writes about his experience of walking the Appalachian Trail. He offers insights into himself, his friends, strangers he met along the way and the nature of awesomeness of forest.
One of the funniest lines:
“What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.”
And a thoughtful quote….
“In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature an either/or proposition–either you ruthlessly subjugate it, as at Tocks Dam and a million other places, or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart, as along the Appalachian Trail. Seldom would it occur to anyone on either side that people and nature could coexist to their mutual benefit–that, say, a more graceful bridge across the Delaware River might actually set off the grandeur around it, or that the AT might be more interesting and rewarding if it wasn’t all wilderness, if from time to time it purposely took you past grazing cows and till fields.”
That’s a short snapshot of some of the reading I have been doing. I am now on to Harper Lee’s book – Go Set a Watchman — I’ll keep you posted….
As always – please feel free to offer your comments and feedback. If you have read some of those – let me know your thoughts. Just vote at the top… and click on “Leave an Comment”