I spent the last week on study leave, working my way through several books that I’d been eyeing longingly in recent months. It was wonderfully renewing.
First up – I finished Carol Howard Merritt’s Reframing Hope. Merritt is a talented, thoughtful presbyterian pastor who’s written extensively on the shape of mainline ministry in our contemporary contexts. In Reframing Hope she addresses challenges that we face, but spends most of her time brainstorming how these challenges present chances for new, vital work in the world and what the shape of hope is in our churches today. It’s a refreshing read–honest and genuinely hopeful. By the way, if you’re at all interested in this realm of reading, or in the related topic of ministering to young adults, you will LOVE Tribal Church which has even more concrete possibilities for new directions in ministry. Carol blogs at the Christian Century and at Duke’s Faith and Leadership site and is on twitter.
Next was Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren. I have to admit, I more or less bought Naked Spirituality because I thought the cover was pretty and I’m a sucker for books with the word spirituality on the front–which is to say I wasn’t necessarily expecting profound things. BUT, this book was the best surprise of my week. McLaren charts the seasons of the spiritual life using twelve words–which doesn’t sound especially amazing, but it’s fantastic. The material is not new, but then, neither is the spiritual landscape. We all move through awe, and joy, and gratitude, and fear, and remorse, and doubt, and contemplation. What McLaren does well is to map this territory in fresh language, with honest reflections from his own life. In addition, he suggests simple, durable, do-able practices to nurture your own spiritual life. Also – the chapters are very short, making this is a great book for daily reading before bed or upon rising. In short – go read this.
On the somewhat heavier end of the spectrum, I worked my way through the introductory materials in Ched Myers’s commentary on Mark, Binding the Strong Man. Myers work on Mark is an absolute classic at this point–a deeply political reading of the first gospel. I’m finding it challenging, compelling, and provocative. The lectionary will work its way through Mark this year, and I’ll be leaning heavily on Myers’s work, along with Eugene Boring, Brian Blount, and Gary Charles as I preach. It was good to have the time to really engage with the foundations of Myers’s thought.
I finished the week with Insurrection by Peter Rollins. Rollins is an Irish theologian and a leader in the emergent church movements. In Insurrection Rollins takes Bonhoeffer’s phrase “religionless Christianity” and attempts to work out what that might mean for us today. His basic premise is that in the cross, the religious god–god as a psychological crutch–is crucified, and if we are to share in the cross of Christ, we must not shy away from the experience of God-forsakenness that Jesus faced when he cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In this doubt and existential angst, Rollins argues, we find the very seeds of life. It’s given me a lot to think about.
Whew! What have you been reading lately?