What are you reading?

We’ve asked several people to give us their plans for reading during the summer of 2020. Our hope was to give Outlook readers some suggestions to add to their reading lists as they considered the insights of others. The requests went out prior to the global pandemic and the social uprising around systemic racism. Rather than change the list, we have let it stand because it still seems to hold up. We would love to hear from you. What are you reading these days?

Grace from the Rubble: Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation after the Oklahoma City Bombing
by Jeanne Bishop

Jeanne Bishop is a member of Fourth Presbyterian Church and a district attorney who has life experience with the challenge and gift of forgiveness after an act of violence. Her sister and sister’s family were murdered decades ago and Bishop did the hard work of learning how to see the person who committed the offense as another child of God. In this book, Jeanne explores another relationship defined by repentance and reconciliation — the relationship between Bud Welch, the father of a victim killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, and Bill McVeigh, the father of the one who committed the heinous act.

Shannon Johnson Kershner
Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World
by Vivek Murthy

Social workers have been telling us there is a problem with loneliness in our culture. Pandemic-induced isolation has taken that to a new level. Now that we are completely rethinking when and how we gather, we have an opportunity to understand afresh what it means to be connected as the Body of Christ. I am eager to learn from Vivek Murthy deeper dimensions of loneliness as well as the power of being together. It is my hope that the former U.S. surgeon general’s insights into holistic health will help me think creatively and strategically about how we connect meaningfully as the people of God and how we connect to the world around us in ways that matter.

Jessica Tate
Director, NEXT Church
Washington, D.C.

Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne
by Wilda C. Gafney

I am very excited to re-engage and reconnect to the women of the Old Testament through the voice, scholarship and wisdom of a womanist lens. I trust the work to crack open Scripture in a way that is embodied and integrated, and not merely a head experience.

Shavon C. Starling-Louis
Pastor, Meadowlake Presbyterian Church; Unboxed Ministry
Davidson, North Carolina

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels
by Jon Meacham

Friends tell me Jon Meacham’s book is about the resiliency of our democracy, a topic about which I stand in need of reassurance. In a time when our democracy is being tested, and may be in jeopardy, the book promises (based on the recommendations I have received) to put our present times in a larger context. And in doing so to provide some assurance of enduring present challenges and experiencing future renewal.

Anthony Robinson
Pastor, author, consultant

Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir
by Rebecca Solnit

Journeying through the pandemic, I keep coming across quotes by or references to the work of Rebecca Solnit. I’ve come to value the way she writes about history, politics, personal experience and criticism through a poetic, humane lens. Her latest is a memoir of how she cultivated her unique voice in the face of many who tried to silence her.

Ken Kovacs
Pastor, Catonsville Presbyterian Church
Catonsville, Maryland

Arguing with Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future
by Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2008. He is a professor at the City University of New York and has been writing columns for the New York Times for 20 years. I have always found him to be a straight shooter. For anyone who wants to find some trustworthy guidance through today’s minefields, this book may be a worthy guide. Is it true that there are two equally serious sides to every issue? Or that all tax cuts are equal? Or that inequality is no big deal? Or that the poor are likely to be gaming the system? Might a political party be tempted to win elections making use of bait-and-switch tactics to attract voters who elect people whose governing interests are not intended to serve these same voters? While you are trying to keep yourself and your family well, the only thing you’re likely to catch from Krugman is good counsel.

Ron Byars
Professor emeritus, Union Seminary
Lexington, Kentucky

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
by John M. Barry

John Barry wrote “Rising Tide” about the 1927 Mississippi flood, which changed America forever — particularly the role of the federal government in relation to national disasters and emergencies. Until now, I was not much interested in Barry’s other bestseller, “The Great Influenza,” mainly because I didn’t think “the flu” could be that interesting of a topic or that relevant to our modern age. Boy was I wrong. I look forward to learning more about the deadliest pandemic in history (the 1918 flu epidemic), what changes it wrought in our nation and world and what lessons might be gleaned as we trudge our way through the pandemic of 2020.

Chris Currie
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church
Shreveport, Louisiana

Imagining Theology: Encounters with God in Scripture, Interpretation, and Aesthetics
by Garrett Green

Garrett Green is professor emeritus at Connecticut College. Thirty years ago, his book “Imagining God: Theology and the Religious Imagination” changed my mind for good about the role of imagination in theological thinking, and I have followed Green’s insightful and provocative books on narrative, hermeneutics and biblical theology ever since. This new collection of essays ranges from the crisis of mainline Christianity to Barth on aesthetics to contemporary eschatology. The closing chapter, “Christian Theology in a Post-Christian Age,” will keep me reading to the end.

Thomas G. Long
Bandy professor emeritus of preaching, Candler School of Theology
Cambridge, Maryland

Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World
by Gil Rendle

I have about 10 books on my reading shelf at any given time: a novel, poetry, history and always an organization development resource. On the office bookshelves I have all of Gil Rendle’s books plus the notes from three of his week-long seminars I have enjoyed. He has a way of taking organizational concepts and rendering them applicable for church systems. I expect this one will extend the constructs of his previous volumes as church leaders continue to live down to the bottom (Google “Theory U”) of the present Reformation, which the COVID-19 time has now accelerated. His opening chapter has me intrigued with the useful descriptor of “aberrant time” to describe the life of the church over the last 70 years. In my current part-time role consulting with presbyteries seeking new vision and leadership, coaching presbytery leaders and overseeing the Presbytery Leader Formation program (sponsored by the Association of Mid Council Leaders), this book I expect will soon be as dogeared as all the others from Rendle that have preceded it.

Wilson Gunn
Former executive presbyter, National Capital Presbytery; current coach and consultant
Durham, North Carolina

God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss and Renewal in Middle America
by Lyz Lenz

I am always looking for insights into what unites us and divides us — as Americans and as Christians. I am suspicious of the book because it is one more “I was an evangelical and now I am not,” which seems to be the presumed posture for current insight into American Christianity. I was attracted by an interview with New York magazine suggesting Liz Lenz has managed to see nuance in middle America, revealing it is less insular from the whole of America than we are often led to believe.

Charlotte H. Lohrenz
Pastor, Faith Presbyterian Church

The New Male-Female Relationship
by Herb Goldberg

Turning to psychiatrist and author Herb Goldberg is not a first for me. In 1982, I sought guidance from his book “The New Male: From Self-Destruction to Self-Care” after I received the results of one of my ordination examinations with comments violently penned in red ink: “You are a talented creative writer, but if you ever expect to be an effective Presbyterian minister, you better learn to use inclusive language.”

It caught me off guard. I was totally unaware of any intentional oppressive actions excluding women. Clearly, I received the comments by the grader as an opening salvo on my male sensibilities, followed by career-long barrage of judgment and shaming by female activists. Dismantling everything I was taught about being a man has benefitted women greatly. Their rise to higher levels of equality, inclusion and opportunity has not come without collateral damage.

The emergent steps have generally left men without a clear sense of self and importance. So, 38 years later, again I seek guidance from Goldberg in “The New Male-Female Relationship” to get a sense of what has happened to men emotionally and spiritually after 50 years of gender wars, and a vision for steps toward male renewal and empowerment in church, family and community.

Sterling Morse
Transitional pastor, Church of the Redeemer
Washington, D.C.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
by Jenny Odell

So far I’ve only read the introduction, and it’s not really about doing nothing. It’s about defying the idea of thinking we need to be efficient and productive all the time; otherwise we are not of value. That sounds a lot like living in grace to me, and I’d like to see what kind of theological/spiritual connections I can make, and how my own theological intuitions can be deepened by Odell’s exploration.

Cynthia Rigby
W.C. Brown professor of theology, Austin Seminary
Austin, Texas

The Book of Delights: Essays
by Ross Gay

As the pandemic grinds on, I am intrigued by the discipline of finding everyday delight, the blessing of a life closely observed. I am also relieved by this book’s form: essays, the short chapter that also stands on its own. Ross Gay says that essay comes from the French esai, meaning to try or to attempt. It is a trying time, meaning, of course, we are pressed to the ropes by the upending of our lives — but we also get to try another way of being, reading, writing and seeing the world. I look forward to ideas that are compact, portable and claim to train my eyes toward joy. This author, I hope, is like a psalmist for today, asking, “Why are you downcast, oh my soul?” Even typing the word delight shook something loose in me.

Rebecca Messman
Co-pastor, Trinity Presbyterian Church
Herndon, Virginia

Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience
by Sheila Wise Rowe

I hold racial trauma, and I have witnessed that trauma in others in my family, my workplace, my church and the larger community. I have myself spent many years in therapy, spiritual direction, reading and learning in order to heal and to be more responsible for my own path. I have spent time recently with Sheila Wise Rowe in various community events. I want to sit with her effort to share healing techniques for myself and those I may encounter in spiritual direction.

Therese Taylor-Stinson
Spiritual director/author, Spiritual Directors of Color Network
Washington, D.C.

The Poetry of  Yehuda Amichai
edited by Robert Alter

In summer, I sit on my porch in the morning with a cup of tea and the collected works of poets who enlighten me. Among the candidates for porch time this year is “The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai.” Amichai was an Israeli poet and novelist widely considered Israel’s greatest modern poet and the first to write poetry in modern Hebrew. The present volume is a collection of his poetry spanning the half-century of his literary productivity between 1948 and 1998. Collected works are much aspersed-upon by the literati of the world; they don’t represent the way a poet would have ordered his or her work (indeed, did order it in original publication), and so have a sort of inauthenticity about them. But if done well, they also have the value of allowing a reader to sense how a poet’s voice grows and changes and sharpens over time. As a poet, I’m aware that my own voice is changing, and so I suppose it naturally interests me how that happens in others.

Paul Hooker
Associate dean, Austin Seminary

Austin, Texas

Bread of Three Rivers: The Story of a French Loaf
by Sara Mansfield Taber

Perhaps it’s the growing attraction to baking bread in these days of COVID-19, or the recent mention of the book by someone who is reading it, or the desire to find out more about the journey of someone who desired better balance between work and the rest of her life, or maybe the return to having sourdough starter in my refrigerator like I did long ago. Whatever the reason (most likely a combination of all of the above), I just ordered a copy of “Bread of Three Rivers.” I’m nearly 20 years late in adding it to my bookshelf, but it’s in the queue for this summer.

Sharon Youngs
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church
Oak Ridge, Tennessee