“Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well.” – Margaret Atwood
I am not young; nor am I old. Yet, as we transition into 2017, I feel an increasing civic responsibility to read – and to read both widely and deeply. Atwood’s warning regarding democracy’s vulnerability resonates with me, particularly in light of the increasing public infatuation with – and blind embrace of – “fake news” as gospel truth.
In order to deepen my practice of reading, I’ve placed a priority on listening to authors whose primary social location, race or ethnicity, or gender is different than mine. While I will read some works by other white men (Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak is on my “to read” list), most of my reading this year will focus on listening to authors whose writing originates in different contexts than my own.
I have a couple stacks of books set aside for the year already. I’m sure others will be added to them in the months ahead. As I’ve sifted through them, I have decided to start with these five books:
- The Cross and The Lynching Tree by James Cone: I’ve seen Cone’s book on several lists over the past two years as people have grappled to understand the ongoing radicalized violence and police involved shootings of African Americans. Cone juxtaposes the violences of Jesus’ cross and of the lynching tree to expose the racist roots of Christianity in America and the implications of those roots for today.
- Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura: I plan to see Scorsese’s film adaptation of Shusako Endo’s Silence soon. In John Netland’s english lit class (20+ years ago at Calvin College), Endo’s book shattered my simplistic understandings of Christian faithfulness, thrusting me into complexities of faith, mission, and love of neighbour I had not previously imagined. I’m eager now to read Fujimura’s engagement with Endo’s book and then to encounter Endo’s work through Scorsese’s lens.
- A Women’s Place by Katelyn Beaty: As a pastor, I have frequently listened to women who are entangled in a learned helplessness, often reinforced by heavy-handed misuses of scripture. I am eager to listen and learn from Beaty as she engages scripture and culture in providing a robust vision for women and work.
- The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper: Too often conversations about salvation and Jesus’ work begin with the fall and the problem of how to overcome the sinfulness of humanity. Harper’s book, however, points to how God created a very good world and that the salvation Jesus brings draws us into the holistic life of God’s shalom.
- Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah: So much of contemporary Christian literature, worship, and leadership within my circles focuses on embracing and celebrating the blessings of God. We have little conceptual space for lament, outside of the death of family members or close friends. Rah’s book offers an invitation into lament as an essential realignment of the practice of Christian faith.
When I finish reading these books, I hope to write a few thoughts down here and perhaps elsewhere – not so much to formally review them, as to share what I am learning in the process of listening to these authors.
As I start my reading journey this year, I am curious about which books are on your reading list. What do you hope to read this year? Which authors are you listening to? Are you listening to any new voices/authors this year?