On Reading – and reading and reading . . .

A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. – C. S. Lewis


Before going further with the blog thing, perhaps it’s helpful to run through a bit of a reading list. No, no, really, I promise this isn’t going to be a daily blog. Contrary to popular belief, even I tire of hearing what I have to say. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

Until close to nine years ago, about the only reading I’d really done for a very long time consisted of technical manuals, mostly about computers. After sobering up and rediscovering, to some extent, my own love for reading, I found myself reading some things I wouldn’t have expected to read. One of the first books suggested by my AA sponsor was The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning, by Ernest Kurst and Katherine Ketcham (Bantam Books). It’s still one of my favorite books. I take it off the shelf occasionally and read it again. Despite my anger at organized religion, the book appealed to me in the beginning partly because it contained wisdom from many different spiritual traditions. A lot of the wisdom was presented in at least three ways. The messages were the same, but were pulled from different traditions. While the Christian story simply annoyed me at the time, I was able to accept the same message from, perhaps, the Buddhist point of view. As I might have mentioned, my resentments ran deep. It was a beginning, even so. Wisdom is wisdom and no one has a corner of the market.

Another book at that time was Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God, by Dennis, Sheila, and Matthew Linn (Paulist Press). While I don’t recall it providing a lot of healing my image of God at the time, I have since recommended it to others. While the book may look as if written for children, it was written more for children of God who’d lost their way. I knew a lot about losing my way.

When I suddenly found myself back in church, a wonderful new friend began to turn me on to some of her favorite authors. Among them: Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Wayne Muller, Henri Nouwen, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. My pastor turned me on to the likes of Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, Barbara Brown Taylor, Joan Chittister, and Marcus Borg. On occasion, I checked out authors just because she mentioned them in a sermon. I’m inquisitive and the internet has helped. I can start with simply the name of an author and find links to lists of books by that author. If an author really fascinates me, their own reading suggestions are of great help.

About a year before my mother died last year, she told me she wanted to read some Anne Lamott. I tried to dissuade her because, well, Lamott is a bit profane and not a little unconventional. I know why my mother wanted to read Lamott, though. She wanted to know how it was that a recovering drunk author could help her recovering drunk son ease himself back into church when nothing else had worked. She assured me that she was a big girl and could deal with some cuss words. I believe the Lamott book she read was Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. I had to admit, finally, that it simply wasn’t my job to protect my then 81-year-old mother from the big, bad world any more. Protector of the Known World was a job I’d taken on in childhood and hung on to desperately, thinking I could somehow be okay if those around me were okay. The weight of the world was finally getting me down. Truthfully, it had been getting me down for decades. I had to admit defeat. And in that defeat came the most marvelous freedom.

The power of words. They can hurt and they can heal. I know all about hurtful words. I prefer healing words. I now read, on average, a book a week. I don’t agree with everything in every book I read and I don’t have to. When I tense up while reading something, I have an opportunity to examine why I’m uncomfortable with what I’ve read. It helps me understand better what it is I believe. When Philip Yancey asked What’s So Amazing About Grace?, I already knew the answer. I hope to pass along some of that grace to you. Seems I have an over-abundance these days.

Here’s a partial list of what I’ve read more recently. Note the button near the top left of the screen. That’s a link to the most current version of this list. Click on the My Reading List button at the top of each page from time to time if you want to see what’s been added to this list.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott (Anchor Books)

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott (Pantheon)

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books)

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books)

The Art of Biblical Narrative, by Robert Alter (Basic Books, Inc.)

What’s So Amazing About Grace?, by Philip Yancey (Harper Collins)

In Quest of Jesus: A Guidebook, by W. Barnes Tatum (John Knox Press)

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, by Marcus Borg (Harper San Francisco)

The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith, by Marcus Borg (Harper San Francisco)

The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, by Marcus Borg (HarperOne)

Jesus, A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship, by Marcus Borg (HarperOne)

The First Paul, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan (HarperOne)

The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem,
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan (Harper)

Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts, by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed (HarperOne)

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, by Richard Rohr (Crossroad Publishing)

Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel, by Thomas Keating (Continuum)

The Jesus I Never Knew, by Phillip Yancey (Zondervan Publishing House)

Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood, by Wayne Muller (Touchstone)

Learning to Pray, by Wayne Muller (Bantam Books)

Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, by Wayne Muller (Bantam Books)

How, Then, Shall We Live?, by Wayne Muller (Bantam Books)

Your God Is Too Small, by J.B. Phillips (Touchstone)

Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books)

The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books)

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People: Where We Have Failed Each Other
and How to Reverse the Damage
, by Dave Burchett (Waterbrook Press)

Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen, by Michael Ford (Doubleday)

The Liturgical Year, by Joan Chittister (Thomas Nelson)

This is What a Preacher Looks Like: Sermons by Baptist Women in Ministry, edited by

Pamela R. Durso (Smyth & Helwys)

The Shame and the Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

by Edwin Robertson (Collier Books)

Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, by Brother David Steindl-Rast (Paulist Press)

Jesus the Son of Man, by Kahlil Gibran (Arkana, Penquin Books)

Crashing Without Burning: Life After Failure, by C. David Matthews (Peake Road)

Home by Another Way, by Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley Publications)

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperOne)

Faces of Jesus: A Life Story, by Frederick Buechner (Paraclete Press)

Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who, by Frederick Buechner (Harper & Row)

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C.S. Lewis (Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc)

Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie (Signet)

I threw in that last book just so you’ll realize I once in a while like a different kind of mystery. The list is in no particular order. I just typed them as I remembered them, with the exception that I added multiple books by an author together. In writing this list, I realize there’s no way I’m going to remember the names of them all. Tom reminded me that, at one point, I was reading three books at a time. Making up for lost time, I suppose. I’ve tried to back off to no more than two at a time. I’ll continue to add to the list as I remember them and as I read more.

Here’s the amazing thing to me. I’ve gone from the guy who was happy to read The Jesus Papers, by Michael Baigent (Harper San Francisco) or Chariots of the Gods, by Erich von Daniken (Berkley Trade) and anything debunking Christianity, to the guy whose reading list at the beginning of the year included almost no book that didn’t have the name Jesus in the title. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some extraterrestrials. Are we alone? Another blog, perhaps. Let’s do one mystery at a time. Did I mention the Bible in my list? Many of the books I’ve read have changed how I read the Bible. It’s all about context. I find I don’t have to suspend reality to read the Bible, I merely have to tap into my own awe of the mysterious. I don’t want to understand God, I want a relationship with God.

Read with an open mind. Knowledge is the one thing no one can take from you. What’s life without challenges, after all? Oh, did I say knowledge was the one thing no one can take from you? For me, actually, knowing that you are surrounded by the grace a loving God is the one most important thing that can’t be taken from you. I don’t even really need knowledge for that, just the ability to be silent on occasion and look all around me. Miracles. That’s what I see now. They’ve been there all along, you know.


4 thoughts on “On Reading – and reading and reading . . .

  1. Well, Ben, I’ve been encouraging you to write “your story” for so long, and this looks almost like a beginning. You really are a talented writer–with parents like yours, why shouldn’t you be?! Keep up the good work.

  2. Great “Blog Beginning”, Ben! Keep writing because God uses you to encourage many others as you share your thoughts and spiritual insights with them. You are an inspiration to me (and sometimes, a royal pain):).

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