In a recent Facebook post, a friend also seeking discernment asked, “What books have you been suggested to read as part of your discernment?”
It seems like the list of books that I’m reading or have had recommended to me, grows faster than I can read. So, I thought I’d share some of the books I’m reading here, and the impact some of them are having on my journey.
I mark the start of the most recent phase of my journey as starting at a poetry conference at Yale Divinity School last May. One of the speakers was Christian Wiman and I picked up his book, “My Bright Abyss”. This has turned out to be a really important book to me, and I’m slowly reading it, along with several other books. I also picked up Denise Levertov’s “The Stream and the Sapphire” and
“Sands of the Well”. I’ve loved Levertov’s writing since I stumbled across her back in college. I also picked up Mary Oliver’s “A Thousand Mornings” as well as the Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins and The Complete English Poems of George Herbert. Poetry is an important part of my journey.
Also at that conference, I picked up Spiritual Direction Beyond the Beginnings by Janet K Ruffing. I’ve read a few chapters of this and set it aside for later.
My priest recommended The Wounding and Healing of Desire by Wendy Farley. There is a lot in this book, but it has also slipped further down my stack of books I’m currently reading, and I hope to get back to it soon.
At our church, there is a faith study group that has been reading Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. I joined the faith study group part way through and have only read portions of this book. Meeting with others to discuss books about faith is really important to me and I greatly appreciate the faith study group.
Meanwhile, a group formed at a church in a different part of the state. They posted information about what they were doing online. They were reading Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. I participated as much as I could reading the book and sharing thoughts on my blog. This is a great book, and an important influence on my current thoughts about where God is calling me.
I’ve spoken with the Dean of Formation, and gotten many great recommendations for books to read. Two that jumped out at me are Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World by Alan Roxburgh. Another is People of the Way by Dwight J. Zscheile. I was just starting to read Zscheile’s book when I got interrupted by another book, so I don’t have much for thoughts on it yet.
The book that interrupted me was An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. Our church used one of the chapters from this book for our recent retreat. It caught my attention, so I picked it up and started reading it from the beginning. I’m only part way through, but I’m likely to add it to Wiman’s and Evan’s books as ones that are shaping my current thinking. Barbara Brown Taylor also wrote Leaving Church, which I am going to have to read.
I’m still very early in the discernment process, so I have lots of time to read more. What books are important to you?
It seems like everyone is talking about the attacks in Paris to push their own agendas, and instead of resisting the trend, I’ve decided to go with the flow.
Many people are changing the background of their pictures on Facebook to the French flag. At church today, the organist played “We shall overcome” in the background at one part of the service and played the La Marseillaise as the postlude. Others are expressing concern over the recurring drumbeats of war and pointing out that there were also attacks in Lebanon which aren’t getting the same attention. I’m thinking about changing my Facebook picture to the Lebanese flag.
This has brought about various reactions on Facebook:
“I really wish people would stop trying to delegitimize my feels by suggesting that I should be just as heartbroken about places I don't have a personal connection to or where I have friends living”
“Stop it with the #PrayForParis thing. Just stop. If you want to help people, donate to a charity. Donate time. Donate blood. Don't pray - if we've learned anything from this, it should be that the last thing the world needs is more religion.”
In response to one of these, a friend shared, The Empathic Civilisation which is a wonderful video worth commentary on its own.
My thoughts, as they often do at times like this, went to John Donne’s No Man Is An Island
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Some people may be only able to have empathy for one group of people, for the French, but not the Lebanese, for people who donate to charities, but not for people that pray. Others may have no empathy at all, or all they can do is change their Facebook avatar.
Yet another friend put it in another frame that I think is really useful.
Applying the French tricolor scheme to your drunk selfie isn't the most effective response to terrorism. But compared to launching a bloody, expensive, and counterproductive eight-year occupation of an irrelevant country, it's a master stroke of geopolitical strategy.
Meanwhile, other friends have shared the statement from the Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, In Paris, do we have to love our enemies? Bishop Whalon statement
My agenda? With apologies to those who have no empathy for those of us that pray, I pray that we might all take a moment to become a little more empathetic to those that are different from us, whether it is differences around nationalism, religion, or anything else that separates us.
What we need is not less religion, but less intolerance of those different from ourselves
All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah (hallelujah!)
Show praise with your body
Stand up, sing hallelujah (hallelujah!)
The music from Panic! At The Disco blares in the Connecticut Convention Center. My wife, who is still recovering from sinus surgery couldn’t take our daughter to the concert, so I am here instead. My phone is almost dead as is my daughter’s, so I’ve turned them off and they are in my pocket.
We’ve agreed at where we should meet after the concert. As we stood in line, we started talking with a mother and daughter in front us. The other girl is tall and two years older than my daughter. They have both come without friends trusting in that special sisterhood of Panic! At The Disco fans. They are excited and eager to rush to the front of the giant mosh pit. They are also probably hoping to shed their parents, parents cool enough to take them to a Panic! At The Disco concert, but not cool enough to view this night as the most important night of their lives.
We agree that the two girls can rush forward and the two parents will stay towards the back, out of the crowd.
We learn that the girls have gotten separated in the rush. The mother feels responsible and frequently texts here daughter. I try to assure her that our daughters will be fine. We take turns trying to make our way through the crowd to find our daughter, to no avail.
There are three hours of warmup bands, and part way through some girls help another girl out of the crowd. She collapses at the table next to where we are sitting. Other parents are talking about low blood sugar or maybe dehydration. Medics arrive and help the girl out of the venue. I’m wondering if it is really Molly.
I am worried about my daughter. She has her own health problems and I’m not sure how well she can stand for four hours in a crowd. I make a few more trips to try and find her, but the crowd has grown larger and thicker.
I turn on my cellphone briefly in case someone has been trying to get in touch with me. The only messages I see are about the attacks in Paris, at a crowded music venue, not that much different than where I am at. It heightens my anxiety, but I don’t mention it to the mother of the girl who was going to be hanging out with my daughter. I worry that she has enough anxiety, with her frequent texting, and this might compound it.
Most of the warm up bands aren’t all that exciting, but finally Panic! At The Disco takes the stage. The atmosphere is electric. I feel sure that my daughter is enjoying herself now, and that the long wait standing in the large crowd will have been worth it. The lights are done incredibly well, and thousands of fans hold up cellphones to capture moments of this wonderful experience.
I wonder if the band knows about what has happened in Paris, and if they do, if they will say anything about it. The play one of their better known songs, “Let’s Kill Tonight”.
Let's kill tonight!
Show them all you're not the ordinary type …
May your feet serve you well
And the rest be sent to Hell
Where they always have belonged
Are there others struck by these words on this night?
On the ride home, my daughter is ecstatic. It has been a wonderful night. She is very sore and thirty. We stop and get her a large bottle of water, we talk a little bit about the concert and what happened in Paris.
It is now Saturday morning. My daughter is still asleep and I am reading the news. A friend is in Paris and has checked in as being safe. Mixed with all of this are more discussions about freedom of speech and political correctness. The idea of replacing ‘political correctness’ with ‘treating people with respect’ comes back to mind as I read Terry Cowgill’s Op-Ed At Wesleyan, A Shocking Disrespect For Free Speech
“Even by the hypersensitive standards of political correctness that dominate the academy…”
“Even by the hypersensitive standards of treating people with respect that dominate the academy…”
Terry seems upset that people used freedom of speech to express displeasure with criticize a newspaper. I comment,
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as the people speaking say things you agree with. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as no one uses it to criticize a news organization or suggest the organizations funding be cut. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as no one uses that speech to point out that you say things that hurt other people or that you're racist. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as long as it doesn't injure your white fragility.
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and I’m glad that people like Terry Cowgill and his supporters, as well as those criticizing hurtful, racist, Islamophobic speech shoot off their mouths, and not the music venue.
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, when it asks people to pray for Paris and when it asks people to pray for Beirut whose bombings on Thursday have gotten much less attention in the western media.
Yet in all of this, the beginning of Panic! At The Disco’s song Hallelujah remains
A moment you'll never remember
And a night you'll never forget!
Today, I created an image of a Red Starbucks cup with “Concerned Student 1950” written on it because I believe these two hot topics are closely related to what is going on in the 2016 election and are all part of a much bigger context. I’m also including the Halloween issue at Yale in all of this.
I’m trying to avoid getting mired in the nitty gritty of all of these, although I have had a little run with the red cups, and I’m trying to look at this from a much larger picture and I could easily go off on a thousand different tangents about what is going on at Yale.
It seems that Colin McEnroe tried to do something similar in his column, Yalies Whining For Protection, Not Fighting Adversity.
He says the students are “overindulged”, attempting to place all of this in the context of the sons and daughters of entitled helicopter parents. On one level, what he is saying might have a little validity, but I do worry about painting all students with such a broad brush.
Instead, I see the overindulgence and the entitled helicopter parents as yet another manifestation of the same larger underlying dynamic, the transformation of the American Dream.
To recap: Most — perhaps not all — of the current uprising is the fallout from a campuswide conversation about Halloween costumes. Not Ferguson. Not Afghanistan. Not immigration. Not Planned Parenthood.
This is where I think he gets it wrong. It isn’t really about Halloween costumes. That is a gross oversimplification. It is about Ferguson. It is very much about Ferguson as I see my friends of color from colleges and universities around the country posting things like
To the students of color at Mizzou, we, Wesleyan alumni of color, stand with you in solidarity. To those who would threaten your sense of safety, we are watching. #ConcernedStudent1950 #InSolidarityWithMizzou#daretobeblackinamerica
And it is very much about immigration, and planned parenthood, and all the things that threaten the Christian White Male Hegemony.
Despite the myths of Horatio Alger and the melting pot, the American Dream, until recently has been the primary domain of white Christian men of European dissent. That is changing. America’s global dominance is slipping in this era of globalization. American Empire is heading the direction of the British Empire. We live in a country where a black man, or more accurately, a person of mixed race, has become president. We live in a country where there is a strong chance that the next president will be female. We live in a country where fewer and fewer people identify themselves as Christian; where Christians, Whites, and Men have become, or are becoming, minorities.
We can perhaps learn from the decline of the British Empire. We can perhaps even see parallels. It is little surprise that the shooter in Charleston wore insignias from Apartheid era South Africa and from Rhodesia. People resist their group losing power. They threaten, they exclude, they become violent.
Those gaining new power, may not be great at wielding it. They still carry the emotional scares of being oppressed. They seek to be treated with respect. It is sort of like when the kid who has been bullied in school finds some new allies and starts standing up to the bullies. This is illustrated nicely in the browser extension which replaces ‘politically correct’ with ‘treating people with respect’.
If you are part of the old power structure, you may complain about political correctness, or about having to start treating others with respect.
It is a difficult process. We will complain about not being able to fly confederate flags, about holiday greetings, and holiday coffee cups that don’t acknowledge the dominance, fading though it may be, of our religion. We may suffer white fragility as people of color point out how things we are saying or doing can be hurtful to others.
But all of this is part of the transition to a country, that hopefully comes a little bit closer to the myths of Horatio Alger and the melting pot. As a straight white cis Christian male of European descent who has compassion for those different from myself, all I can say is, it’s about time.
It’s Veterans Day and as I go to the lectionary, I expect to find readings related to the Armistice. Instead, I find readings related to a veteran from centuries before, St. Martin of Tours. I read a little of his history, growing up in a military family, the legend of the goose, and about his shrine, a stopping point of the French route to the Camino de Santiago. I spend a little time reflecting on these and on my own journey, and then return to the appointed lessons.
The first lesson is from Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
It reminds me of the discussions about the Starbucks Red Cup. A friend of mine who is Jewish commented on Facebook and questioned her standing in being able to say anything about the ‘Christian’ kerfuffle.
We share some of the same sacred texts, like Isaiah, and as another shared sacred text says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The comments on Facebook about caring for the hungry and homeless echo back to Isaiah.
So this Veteran’s Day, I’ll pause to remember those who served their countries, whether it be U.S. Veterans, German Veterans, or Veterans of the Roman Army. I’ll especially remember those who are hungry or homeless and can’t afford a cup of Starbucks coffee.