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Whence and Whither

Whence and Whither: On Lives and LivingWhence and Whither: On Lives and Living by Thomas Lynch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A collection of lectures, essays, and stories and, as such, varied in quality. There are some witty, provocative, insightful images and phrases, but not the overall substance I had hoped for.

His discussion "Red Wheel-Barrow" by William Carlos Williams is itself worth the price of the book. That discussion made me cry.

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The Way into Jewish Mystical Tradition

The Way Into Jewish Mystical TraditionThe Way Into Jewish Mystical Tradition by Lawrence Kushner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Something sacred is at stake in every event."--Abraham Joshua Heschel

I enjoyed this book. An introduction to Jewish mysticism focused on 50 key ideas structured under 9 overarching themes. And with each idea the author introduces us to an important figure or text in the tradition. So you learn a little of the history at the same time you learn the main ideas.

I highlighted a number of lines and passages that I will likely use in my teaching and preaching. Here's a good one from the 18th century mystic Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl:

"God is the fullness of the world; there is no place empty of the divine. There is nothing besides God and everything that exists comes from God. And, for this reason, the power of the Creator resides within each created thing."

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Festival of Homiletics Thursday

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As Karoline Lewis pointed out, we are in "an unprecedented homiletical moment."

Earlier in the day William Barber emphasized that in the past we have tried to heal the wounds of the people with Band-Aids.  And now God is furious and the church should be furious, because this didn't have to be--the results of this pandemic on our nation.  He proclaimed that if we don't fix these pre-existing wounds our attempts to deal with the pandemic will fail.

For me the star of the day was the newcomer, Lenny Duncan, who delivered a passionate short sermon before Dr. Barber.  He talked about how we are currently grappling with questions at the very margins of theology.  In this crisis the church is left with "strange and ancient stories of love defeating death."  He talked about how to make use of those stories in this moment.  He spoke the reality that we are "bewildered, angry, and afraid" and that we should sit in the lament of all that we could have been and should have been and could have done in ministry with our people.  This feels like an important truth to spend some time with.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove  advised preaching be focused on the pastoral task of blessing because everyone is grieving and experiencing a spiritual depression.  Blessing is key because of the truth that God blesses us where it hurts.


Telling the Truth

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I'm "attending" the Festival of Homiletics this week (from my dining room). The lecture I just watched was by Ellen F. Davis who teaches at Duke. She was talking about truth telling.

Our primary vocation is to shape our words, imaginations, and lives by the biblical story. We have the responsibility to affirm moral imagination as a social force & a genuine politics which negotiates difference with a concern for truth. To do these things we must tell the story well. The guidelines for truthful storytelling are:

  • transparency that opens a window onto the present moment,
  • faith that looks for God's work
  • hope that opens to the future
  • and love

She focused on the early Exodus story to explore creation, power, and fear.  We need to summon courage and humility in order to face how we are corporately Pharaoh, healing our (hardened) heart disease.

The Bible is not fantasy literature.  Destructive power is real, and its consequences are tragically permanent.

What started in the story as natural fear has, through the story, become holy fear.  Fear of the Lord is true faith.  It is knowing where real power reside and acting on it.  It is the opposite of pharaonic insanity, arrogance, recklessness, and moral blindness.  Fear of the Lord is empowering, because it is the flipside of the love of God.


Making Haste from Babylon

Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their WorldMaking Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World by Nick Bunker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, and I read this book in preparation for activities at church (and a family vacation this summer). I really enjoyed this book.

Bunker wants to expand the scope of the normal histories of the Pilgrims in order to better understand them in their religious, political, and economic context. So we don't get the standard narrative of the voyage and the founding of the colony. We also get great details about the English villages where English Separatism arose, detailed descriptions of what was going on in Leiden, the wars of Europe, economic developments in London, and details about the trade in beaver furs.

I also enjoyed the highlighting of my ancestor John Howland at various points.

So, if you are looking for a book this year to better understand the Pilgrims and their world, I highly recommend this in-depth, well-written, engaging work.

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The Art of the Saint John's Bible

The Art of The Saint John's Bible: The Complete Reader's GuideThe Art of The Saint John's Bible: The Complete Reader's Guide by Susan Sink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What's really amazing is the St. John's Bible itself, but this guide to the art is a marvelous book in its own right. One could use it as an introductory study guide to the Bible or as a devotional book. Built around the new practice of visio divina, the artistic images are used to draw you into contemplation of the Bible by the way they interpret and comment upon the text, rather than simply illustrate it.

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Short Stories by Jesus

Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial RabbiShort Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This fall our Wednesday Night Bible Study at church covered the parables of Jesus, particularly in the Gospel of Luke. I ordered this book, which wasn't yet available the last time I had preached on the parables. And it was a helpful contribution to our study.

Levine is best at deconstructing bad interpretations, particularly the anti-Semitism and supersessionism that can seep into Christian interpretations of these stories.

But I wasn't always persuaded by her own interpretations of the parables.

The book was a good one to read alongside Brandon Scott's work that has been the standard in liberal interpretations of the parables in recent decades.

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Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early LifeSurprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The delight of reading this book is experiencing the development of a writer and thinker's mind. What I enjoyed the most is the glimpses at various virtues, as Lewis writes about various friends and mentors he encountered in his early life. The last couple of years I have been most interested in pictures of goodness and so the subtle and various ways he describes goodness as he encounters it was a true enjoyment.

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Hermeneutics: Facts & Interpretation in the Age of Information

Hermeneutics: Facts and Interpretation in the Age of InformationHermeneutics: Facts and Interpretation in the Age of Information by John D. Caputo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There were two chapters I really enjoyed and learned from, one about Vattimo and Rorty and the other about how a group of Canadian health care workers applied Gadamerian hermeneutics to their work. Otherwise I didn't care much for the book. Too much of it was simply an introduction to Heidegger, Derrida, etc. But often with a tone that was too clever by half and therefore off-putting. I kept hoping that the book was going to break new ground and speak to our cultural (read Trumpian) moment as indicated in the subtitle, but it never really got there, so very disappointing. In fact the final chapter, on religion, was simply a rehash of the (I think) out-dated theology of Paul Tillich. Sigh.

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