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August 22, 2012

Five books you didn't read in seminary

After gobbling up Augustine, Julian of Norwich, and a whole host of Germans with names like Ernst and Emil, you left seminary and went about the less than quiet business of leading a congregation, an organization or a school. And it got complicated.

Although Barth’s advice about preaching with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other seems right, there are probably other ways to (re)ignite your creativity at work and in ministry. Here’s a short list of books (some practical, some literary) to help with that:

Housekeeping,” by Marilynne Robinson. Yes, “Gilead” won the Pulitzer. Yes, John Ames is a pastor. And yes, nothing sounds better than sitting on the porch with him and old Boughton and disputing the merits of Calvinism. But Robinson’s first novel is an imaginative masterpiece in which art and theology become indistinguishable. If the Christian faith feels a bit stale to you at the moment, it won't after reading this.

The Opposable Mind,” by Roger Martin. We’re always looking for ways to reduce complexity so it’s more manageable. Unfortunately there’s the tendency to reduce complex challenges into binary, either/or oppositions. Martin provides an interesting “third way” approach that holds divisions in healthy tension with one another -- or holds them “opposably” not oppositionally, as he says. In a cultural (and political) environment such as ours in which polarization rules the day, this is an invaluable book for leading a community or an organization through divisive challenges.

Change or Die,” by Alan Deutschman. Sometimes things are as simple as this title suggests, and yet incredibly hard to bring about. If you (or your places of work and ministry) feel “stuck” in destructive habits and mindsets, here’s a great book to help you rethink how you approach behavioral and organizational patterns.

Four Quartets,” by T.S. Eliot. If The Tree of Life’s Christian vision of creation left you wonderstruck, then you’ll find Eliot’s Quartets a poetic counterpoint. A film reviewer called Terrence Malick’s film a “prayer.” Think of Eliot’s work as four prayers.

Pulphead,” by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Literary critic James Wood of “The New Yorker” said this about Sullivan: “He’s a fierce noticer.” True, the stories are fantastic, but as a writer, Sullivan’s greatest strengths are empathy, mindfulness and the ability to see and make connections in the most unlikely of places. Hopefully some of Sullivan’s virtues will rub off on you while reading him.



Ben and others,
I found Housekeeping compelling and memorable but not one I would have thought of recommending particularly to divinity grads but the depiction of the complexity of human beings . . . ok, maybe. I liked this long interview with Marilynne Robinson from 2008 which gets at some of her complexity as a person. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5863/the-art-of-fiction-no-198-...
I also saw that Rowan Williams just recommended Robinson's most recent book: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2590/archbishops-revi...

Thanks also for these other recommendations--I will keep them in mind.

Andy, thanks for the thoughts

Andy, thanks for the thoughts and the links. I can't help but think with paragraphs like this, Housekeeping is a must read:

"Cain murdered Abel, and blood cried out from the earth; the house fell on Job's children, and a voice was induced or provoked into speaking from a whirlwind; and Rachel mourned for her children; and King David for Absalom. The force behind the movement of time is a mourning that will not be comforted. That is why the first event is known to have been an expulsion, and the last is hoped to be a reconciliation and return. So memory pulls us forward, so prophecy is only brilliant memory--there will be a garden where all of us as one child will sleep in our mother Eve, hooped in her ribs and staved by her spine. (192)" -- Ben

Good quote from Housekeeping

Wow, that is good. Thanks for that. And you are right, the beauty of paragraphs like this is that they are in the context of a (pretty) compelling story so as a reader you are feeling the need for such good theology when it appears.

For more "clergy-oriented" options, I would also recommend Duke Divinity's Richard Lischer's Open Secrets which is quite rural Lutheran in theme and the less literary David J. Hansen's The Art of Pastoring which is quite rural Baptist in theme. See also Eugene Peterson's good book recommendations in Take & Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List.



Thanks for your suggestions. I found "The Opposable Mind" incredibly compelling and think it has manifold implications for how we think about Xtian leadership.

I'll keep my eye out for the others.


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