Maybe it was determination; maybe it was that I had a period of forced stop-time during a mild form of Covid in early 2022; or maybe I just wanted to read something through to the end. Whatever it was, I began this year with a renewed energy to sit and read; to stop and listen; to think and contemplate.
Part of my adjustment has been to allow myself to be interrupted during reading (the thing I rue – especially when I am in the middle of a train of thought, or contemplating something wonderful), as my wife of 39 years, who once was an evening person, has somehow joined me in my early morning quiet time, and who happily punctuates my imagination by randomly interjecting whilst I enjoy myself in the playground of my mind. Alas, all things change.
Here are the books of 2022:
The Grand Betrayal of Western Christianity, 2021, James M. Houston. Written during the pandemic, my friend and mentor writes this as one of his last epistles to this generation. He notes: “Now at the end of my life, approaching being a centenarian, I have lived to witness major cultural changes. My motive for writing this book is to encourage a new generation that may feel like David; a small youth facing the giant Goliath.” With his typical insight and humility he writes, “we may not realize what a terrible betrayal our Christian identity now is, in contrast to the original teaching… that our identity is ‘in Christ’. Sadly, we have to confess we have betrayed our Christian identity.” At about 100 pages, this is a fascinating little historical footnote by one of our generation’s great “historian of ideas.” Other writings you may enjoy are his reflective “Letters from a Hospital Bed” – blog posts written from extended care facility into which he had been moved.
Body, Mind & Spirit: Writings of a life journey, 2021. My friend Sylvain Croteau and his family put together posthumously the writings of his late wife Darcy. Along with his paintings and some of his observations, this is a tender collection of the “memoirs, poems and reflections of Darcy Elizabeth Neal in her journey against cancer.” Darcy gave attention to words: “poetry is dancing with words”, and “words… [are] my dancing partners in the poetry of imagination.” This book is full of poetic, dancing words of imagination of a person who knows there is a new beginning after this life’s short ending.
The Gospel-Centered Life, 2009, Robert Thune, W. Walker. This is a 9-lesson small group study intended to help you understand how the gospel shapes every aspect of life. This was the first time that every home group in our church went through the same discussion guide in a time when the gospel has somehow gotten lost in the rhetoric of lesser ideas. As one commentator put it, this “curriculum has a rare combination of being gloriously simple… and also having thoughtful and probing content.” The 9 lessons are organized under 3 main themes: *What is the gospel? *What dos the gospel to in us? and *How does the gospel work through us?
Letters of Faith through the Seasons, 2006, James M. Houston, editor. This is a collection of letters written by over 175 different authors over the ages. In his usual and unique way Houston weaves together sources oft forgotten to modernity. He encourages us to challenge ourselves “to write more meaningful letters… that might change your life and help you enter into more meaningful relationships!” In one letter from the 4th Century, Jerome encourages his friend to read certain books by trusted writers whom we should “learn to love, for their faith and devotion are constant. But in reading many others [we] will need to learn discernment.” Words as true today. This devotional is over 300 pages.
First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament. Rain Ministries, 2021. I was excited to read the New Testament through the lens of First Nations peoples. There is a more “story-telling” feel to this translation, as Ivpress comments: “Many First Nations tribes communicate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. The First Nations Version [follows] the tradition of Native storytellers’ oral cultures. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of First Nations people.
The culmination of a rigorous five-year translation process, this new Bible translation is a collaboration between organizations like OneBook and Wycliffe Associates, Indigenous North Americans from over twenty-five different tribes, and a translation council that consisted of twelve Native North American elders, pastors, young adults, and men and women from different tribes and diverse geographic locations. Whether you are Native or not, you will experience the Scriptures in a fresh and new way.”
An Introduction to Child Theology, 2022, James M. Houston, editor. This collection of essays on Child Theology is edited by 99 year old Professor Houston! and is likely to be his final scholarly work. It contains thoughtful insights by different contributors including Houston himself. It is a topic first introduced to me by a course I took with Dr. Houston, and has been a growing delight to rediscover what has been essential to Christian spirituality for over two millennia, namely – in the words of Jesus – “unless you become like a child you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (see “Invitation to a Mystery” – my paper for Houston’s course back in 2018). “Not only is Christ childlike, but God himself is childlike because of His utter truth and goodness… the way of Christian maturity is one of childlikeness.”
The New Inductive Study Bible, ESV (English Standard Version), 2013. This year I decided to read the Bible through in a translation new to me. From time to time I read the Bible in different English translations, and on occasion from a German translation, a Spanish translation, or in Koine Greek (none so fluently). Reading the Bible in different languages and translations tends to jolt me from “reading over over-read” passages so that I would read it again for the first time (see my comments on the First Nations Version, above). I decided I would read about 6 pages a day: 2 pages starting from Genesis; 2 pages starting from Job; and 2 pages starting in the New Testament. Some days I’d miss, and other days I read on, but at that rate I finished by October. The experience was so rewarding and refreshing, that I plan to read the Bible through next year in a different translation. I encourage you to do the same.
The Dore Gallery of Bible Illustrations, Gustave Dore, 1891, reprinted 2006. This copy was a gift from a friend appreciative of art and literature. This collection of engravings were all done in pencil by one of the “greatest of modern delineators”, published some eight years after his death in 1883. Dore began illustrative art when he was 15 years old. To each cut is prefixed a page of the biblical passage being illustrated. The book is hand-bound using the “Coptic style” believed to be invented by Egyptian Coptic Priests some 2000 years ago. It is hand-bound by a couple who specialize in this craft: “Siding 14 Gallery of Arts & Fine Craft”, Ponoka, Alberta.
Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquire into the News, Jeffry Bilbro, 2021. Here is a surprising gift sent through the mail by a good friend of mine who tends to till the fields for these things. I normally would put it on my “to be read” shelf behind the 40 odd books yet to be seen, but I made the mistake or reading the introduction. 175 pages and just over a week later (though it could be read faster), I was challenged, informed, enlightened. Bilbro reflects on how we pay attention, how we discern the nature of time and history, and how we form communities through what we read and discuss. In a year full of great books, this might be the most timely. Let me encourage you to pick this up.
The Gospel-Centered Community, 2013, Robert Thune, W. Walker. This is the followup study to “The Gospel-Centered Life” noted above. This too is a nine-lesson study with leader’s notes intended to help learn how the Spirit shapes diverse people into a Christ-centered community that reflects Jesus…” In today’s culture, the word community has almost lost its meaning. But community is something we all want – for it is the expression of the community of the Triune God.
Thune and Walker implore that the gospel has to be the center of Christian community; without the gospel some will grow ingrown or self-absorbed; others will become busy and activist. Either way, they tend to lose the compelling power of the gospel.
I thought I should add two journals to which I subscribe:
Image Journal: Art Faith Mystery, edited by James K. A. Smith. This quarterly always has informative and provocative articles, stories, and poems that feature art, faith, and mystery as its touchstone. Rowan Williams writes:
“It’s a vital contribution. One of the things that most needs saying to the cultured despisers of religion today is that the classical language of faith is overflowing with resources for imagining and understanding human experience at depth. Image shows the seriousness of the language of faith in keeping the human world large and difficult and interesting.”
Rattle, a journal of poetry collected and published by The Rattle Foundation, edited by Timothy Green. Though I post original poetry from time to time in my prayer blog: Curriculum of the Spiritual Life, I have not been published in Rattle despite how they tantalize with poetry contests. Like scripture meditation, poetry reading cannot be rushed. There is as much an art to reading poetry as there is to creating it; the best of poetry, like the visual arts, beckons us to “read” language differently – that is to say – to read our lives differently.
Here’s a link to a helpful summary of “The Benefits of Reading Books: How it can positively affect your life” found in the “Kolbe Times.”