“I guess the fact that I flunked the fourth grade:” my answer to the question a youth “reporter” asked me (on the way to writing an article for their emerging newsletter), “What is something about you that might surprise other people?”
“Actually,” I added, “I didn’t flunk as much as I repeated the fourth grade.” (They stuck with the word “flunk” — explaining that it was attention grabbing. [Sensational media… even in our church!])
Truth is, I have only recently (in the last 5 to 10 years, when formal education… with grading behind me) grown to love reading and studying and learning. Up to that point, reading was an arduous task… and learning was a matter of regurgitating what the teachers and profs wanted to hear. (By the time I hit A&M, I was a master of regurgitation! Some would say that’s what A&M does best!) “Making the Grade” behind me, though, my heart and soul opened up to the adventure of learning… and thebeauty of a good book. (It took some time for me to appreciate reading fiction. But, that’s another story.)
Along the way, I found myself engaging the “Reading Lists” of my favorite authors and mentors. Time came when, in various small group settings, I begand to pose the question of favorite books: “If stuck on a desert isle,” the question might go, “what 10 books (besides the Bible) would you want to have with you… or recommend to another?” Over time, a stack of responses has grown.
In that time period, though, I’ve never engaged in the exercise myself. And so, I set about the task the other day of answering my own question. Admittedly, I am not finished. (You’ll note, in fact, that, in many cases, I’ve only been successful in listing my 13 favorite authors… and representative favorite among their works.) Incomplete as it is (and ever evolving… even now, I am thinking of a book or two I forgot!!!), I offer my “Top 13” in no particular order:
The View from a Monastery (Fr. Benet Tvedten)
Long have I been captivated by the Rule of St. Benedict and the community life it inspires. Meaningful, to me, are Fr. Tvedten’s reflections on that rule and life–emphasizing that God does not call the perfect to community as much as God perfects the called in and through community. Refreshing, then, is the balance of human and divine in Tvedten and his reflections.
“Seek simplicity but learn to distrust it,” said Alfred North Whitehead. And, while I have heard and strongly suspect that there is probably much to distrust in Warren and his Purpose-Driven conceptions of discipleship and the church, I frankly find them refreshing for the ways they simplify the discussion of what it is to be a disciple of Christ and a community of Christ. While I will continue to distrust it (and seek to read its critics), PDC is foundational to that paradigm from which I minister and live the Christian life.
What Purpose-Driven Church has been for my conceptualization of the local church and its key processes, Emotionally Healthy Church (and its companion, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality) has for my engagement of emotional-relationship dynamics — both within the church… and in the lives of individual disciples (including myself). It’s not that I never heard these concepts before, but that Scazzero brings it all together… and hangs it all under the larger umbrella of maturity and the ancient disciplines and rules of the Faith. Here’s an invitation to get “below the waterline” of who we are in Christ and in community. Here’s a refreshing marriage of the ancient disciplines and modern concepts of psychology and mental health.
When it comes to the “Emergent Church,” McLaren is my chief interpreter and mentor. Through a device/genre which he calls “philosophical dialogue,” “New Kind of Christian” (and its partner in a trilogy) seeks to unpack the dimensions and content of an emerging Faith and Church through a narrative which houses a series of vital and rich dialogues. The storyline is okay. The dialogues are rich. And the faith they hint at are exhilarating! (And that’s not to mention the appeal both of the story and its author: of a pastor, like myself, nearly burned out on the traditional way of doing Church and who catches new wind and energy with a glimpse of the Ancient Faith and a timeless Gospel being transposed (without compromise) for a post-Christiandom/post-Modern world.
While I have long held up Michener and Uris as the kings of historical fiction, I must admit that a re-reading of some of their [Jewish-Arab] works has me strongly suspicious of very blatant biases and prejudices they bring to their work. While Follett may have his own biases, they aren’t readily apparent. Here’s a real blend of epic storytelling, fantastic character development, and history. It’s a joyful and fun to study and learn about the past when the story is so engaging!
The Tolkien Reader (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Of course, I have to have Tolkien! (Lord of the Rings is epic myth at its best. But, then, it’s so long and laborious!) More to my fancy is “Leaf by Niggle” in this Reader… A powerful parable of what’s real… and our pursuit of it.
The Jesus I Never Knew (Philip Yancey)
What Lewis was for the mid-20th Century, Yancey is for the early 21st. While I especially appreciate his many ways of dancing with the issue of God vis-à-vis pain and suffering, his “Jesus I Never Knew” is my decided favorite: move aside, Fannel Board Lady (from preschool Sunday School days)… here’s a picture of Christ and the Gospel which is real and “round” and challenging and refreshing.
Along with Lewis and Tolkien, Howatch has helped me to wake up to the value of “fiction.” (Used to be, for me, that if it wasn’t non-fiction, it wasn’t worth engaging.) Glittering, commended to me by a read of Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Church, is a powerful psycho-drama that helped me to flesh out much of my own woundedness… and need to put up the right image in ministry.
Perhaps the most formative book in my life (outside the Bible)! Admittedly, there are snags (as when Eldredge seems to overly depend on Dante for some of his understandings of the Biblical narrative). Still, this book, more than any other helped the Faith to jump from left brain to right — from being a mental/academic construct to being a matter of the heart and experience.
The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis)
Lewis (like Nouwen and Yancey) is such a mentor to me. So many others I’d recommend from his writings: Mere Christianity, Narnia,… The Great Divorce captivated me, though, for the ways it invited me to ponder the utter realness of heaven and the drabness of hell. Very intriguing to think that God may not send us to hell as much as we might choose it (for the ways it’s too uncomfortable to engage the realness of Heaven)! Like all of Lewis’ works, it puts a fresh and invigorating spin on ancient tenets of the Faith — making Orthodoxy contemporary and relevant.
The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry (Henri Nouwen)
Among my favorites of Nouwen’s (up there with Adam… and his various diaries). Beautiful and meaningful attempt to bridge the wisdom of the Ancient Desert Fathers/Mothers with our contemporary culture… and ministry. So condensed, it demands multiple, slow readings.
Eclipses, for me, Tuesdays with Morrie (from my Top Ten): not only is it a compelling story of one who dies with triumphant dignity, but it’s equally a most awesome testimony of reconciliation and the joy (and risk) of getting out of one’s comfort zone!