Friday, July 08, 2011

summer reading: some suggestions

I write with the presumption that the summer will bring to you a bit more time to read and that you have the desire to fill some of the time in this season practicing this habit of mind. So, a few suggestions; I have read some of these works, but plan to revisit them, and others are new to me.

1. Reflections on Grace, Thomas Langford. Langford was the Dean and a professor theology at Duke, and he wrote, lived and taught in a gracious manner. This brief but substantive work records his reflections on grace, still to be developed, at the end of his life. He defines grace with depth and breadth, and always in relation to Jesus Christ. "Grace", he insists, "is the distinctive element in the Christian message, for it is the most fundamental depiction of God, of God's way of being, of human possibility...To be discovered by God in Jesus Christ leads to the possible discovery of the grace of God in creation, as prevenient presence, in present forgiveness, in maturing process, and in ultimate hope."

2. Leading Causes of Life, Gary Gunderson with Larry Pray. A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to visit the Church Health Clinic in Memphis, and to learn about the Christian community's response to poverty and disease in that city. I also became aware of this work, which focuses not on pathology but rather the signs of life. The leading causes of life, not death, are connection, coherence, agency (action), blessing and hope. The biblical stories do indeed speak again and again of abundance and creativity; this is a needed corrective for leaders among us who are more prone to focus on scarcity and decline.

3. The Pastor, Eugene Peterson. I had the blessing one summer to take part in a writing workshop with Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message and author of a number of books in the discipline of pastoral spirituality. He reflected with us on the vocations of being a writer and a pastor, and shared some of his autobiography in process. Some of this material will be familiar to his close readers, but there is more revelation here, especially his journey through the "badlands" of pastoral fatigue and emptiness, and his identification of sources of renewal and insight. For those who do this work, Peterson has been and is an essential guide.

4. Watching Over One Another In Love, Gwen Purushotham. I am in the midst of a transition from being a pastor of one congregation, with a large staff, to being a district superintendent of 69 congregations across seven counties. This volume is a distinctively Wesleyan approach to assessment, support, accountability and covenant relationships. I am glad that Gwen wrote it!

5. Leading A Life With God, Daniel Wolpert. I have friends who are on a spiritual journey, and take that very seriously, and I know others who are in leadership roles, and care about about the institutions they serve. I do often have the sense that these two pursuits are often disconnected. I was drawn to Wolpert's attempt to articulate the practice of spiritual leadership. I am hoping to hear him when he leads a workshop at SoulFeast at Lake Junaluska soon.

6. Journey In The Wilderness, Gil Rendle. Rendle knows the North American mainline church well, and has assimilated the writings of Ronald Heifetz (Leadership Without Easy Answers) and Robert Quinn (Deep Change). Living in the wilderness can be disorienting, and leading others through the wilderness can be disheatening. If you find yourself in the wilderness, Rendle can give you a new and more hopeful language for making sense of it all.

7. Forgiving As We Have Been Forgiven, Gregory Jones and Celestin Musekura. I met Celestin at Duke's Center for Reconciliation; his experience as a leader in the midst of the Rwandan genocide is placed here alongside Greg Jones' reflections on the possibility and necessity of forgiveness. Both are academics and both are practicioners, and the result is a powerful testimony. I am also teaching in our Annual Conference's United Methodist Women's School of Christian Mission this summer, and this has been helpful background reading.

8. The Light Has Come, Lesslie Newbigin. I love Newbigin, who is the theological source for the missional church movement. This is his commentary on the gospel of John, and it is extraordinary. I recommend, like the gospels themselves, beginning at the end. Start with Jesus' command to Peter to feed his sheep, and Newbigin's interpretation of that encounter, and then the women at the tomb, and then work your way backward.
I hope a suggestion or two here is helpful, and that you hear the Voice through the diverse witnesses in these pages. Enjoy!


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