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summer reading: some unconventional possibilities

June 05, 2010

Whether you are sitting beside the ocean, relaxing in a rocking chair in the mountains, or waiting in an airport for the next departure, summer is a great time to read, and the motivation can be learning, pleasure, inspiration or some combination of the three. So, toward that end, a few unconventional possibilities:

Yvon Choinard, Let My People Go Surfing. Written by the founder of Patagonia (a company that does seem to live up to its self-designation of making the best outdoor products in the world), this is one-part memoir, one-part business philosophy, and one-part environmental manifesto. In reality, each of these concerns is woven into the whole of the text.

Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory. An eloquent testimony to being a stranger in a strange land; a lamentation; a work of faith and coming of age. If you care about the immigration issue, if you think our common future would benefit from less heat and more light, if you enjoy memoir or the craft of writing...read this book.

Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah's Child. A memoir by, in my mind, the most important moral theologian in the world over the last forty years. Born in Texas and educated at Yale, Hauerwas would go on to teach first at Notre Dame and later at Duke; his A Community of Character was a life-changing book for me in divinity school. Hauerwas is utterly transparent: his wife's manic depression, his own struggles with class and faith, academic departmental intramural battles, sustaining friendships, and ecclesial wanderings. Through it all, Hauerwas produced a body of work that is nothing short of astonishing, and mentored a generation of scholars. Having spent time at Duke and Virginia, and knowing some of the figures covered in this memoir, it was for me a page turner. But then maybe I have a low threshold for excitement.

Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Game Change. If you were glued to the television set like me during the 2008 Presidential election, you will devour this book, which first came to light for its reporting about John and Elizabeth Edwards. Game Change is a narrative rendering of the election, and, in sharper focus is a study of five political couples (Obama, Clinton, Edwards, McCain and Palin). Obama comes across as the most mature of the candidates, and in the end makes a significant alliance with Hillary Clinton. Why did Ted Kennedy support Obama? Read Game Change for the answer.

Kathleen Norris, Dakota. A "spiritual geography", this one took me back to our years in East Bend. An educated woman finds herself in a small rural town; along the way her faith is awakened and in the process her creativity flourishes. A modern day desert mystic, she is taken in by the Benedictines and she finds her voice. Again, superb writing about the strange spaces within our borders.

Douglas Brinkley, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. I had read Brinkley's The Great Deluge, the most substantive reflection on Katrina; this one is a superb environmental history of a visionary president, whose example we need to recall in the present day BP/Gulf Coast debacle.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. If you have been listening in on some of the conversation about the missional church, this is the theological source. If you have been wondering how a person can embrace truth without being arrogant, this is the model. If you want to read the last century's "Church Father", in the estimate of Geoffrey Wainwright, this is a great place to begin. Yes, twenty first century North America is a mission field; Newbigin saw it coming in the 1970s.

The Paraclete Psalter: A Book of Daily Prayer. A four week cycle for reading the Psalms. Slim enough to take along on an airplane flight. A simple and beautiful book filled with the biblical language of praise, confession and petition.

Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts. In the Brazos Press series of commentaries, a treatment on the development of doctrine in the first apostolic Christian communities. By the end of his life, Pelikan, a prominent Yale historian, had migrated from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy; this is not your typical biblical commentary, but it is substantive, theological and worth wading through. We are focusing on Acts this summer in worship, so this has been one of my guides.

Michael Lewis, Moneyball. If you liked The Blind Side not only for the human interest/compassion dimension but for what it taught you about football strategy, you might make your way into baseball season with Moneyball. Lewis focuses on the Oakland A's, a team with a low payroll that nevertheless excels year after year on the field. Why? Lewis ponders the answers, and the baseball theorists who are discovering them.

Andy Crouch, Culture Making. Christians (on the left and right) are better at critiquing the culture than comprehending how they (we) are shaping it. A very insightful work on creativity that I find myself turning to again and again.

I am sure that I will throw in a sermon or two by Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Sloane Coffin and a poem or two by Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver...and I will look for the new book on Van Morrison by Greil Marcus, and I hope to finish a biography of John Muir that I am one-third into, and there is Eugene Peterson's last book in the five volume spiritual theology...and something else will emerge.

So, that is my highly arbitrary reading list. What interests you?


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