Photo: Sue Careless
Whether you are looking for a gift for a friend or a good book for yourself, consider these suggestions from two avid readers.
Julie Lane-Gay is a writer and editor who lives in Vancouver with her husband, Craig, and their four children. She attends St John’s, Vancouver.
Beneath Wandering Stars
Merit Publishing, 2016
When I admitted to a friend that I had a longing to walk the Camino de Santiago, she mentioned that she had just read a “sweet” novel about the pilgrimage. Beneath Wandering Stars is just that. This is the tale of 17-year-old American army brat Gabi, and her brother’s best friend, Seth, walking hundreds of miles across Spain in honor of her brother who was recently wounded in Afghanistan. It’s a young adult novel of facing those timeless challenges – death, forgiveness and family.
Beneath Wandering Stars is also a teen’s version of the people and sites of the Camino: the remarkable 12th-century Romanesque church just off the main route, the origins of the iconic scallop shell symbol, the un-jaded hospitality offered by those along the Way, the mysterious impact of candles. As Gabi wonders, “I don’t know much, but I know this thing, this mystery, must be behind the desire that stirred millions of pilgrims across the centuries. Why else would people walk hundreds of miles to a place they have never seen? What is it that our restless hearts are searching for? Home. That’s what we all left behind to find.” She may be seventeen and fictitious, but Gabi stays with you.
Lessons in Belonging from
a Church-Going Commitment-Phobe
Erin S. Lane
InterVarsity Press, 2015
In the last year, I have been struck by the gift it has been to be in the same church for 27 years. We have had our share of messiness and tensions, but we’ve stuck close when babies died and spouses cheated and jobs were lost and sisters were killed in tsunamis. We’re family and sometimes more. We bear Christ to one another.
So why do I also feel like this longevity signals that I am anachronistic, that I have eaten at the same restaurant one too many times – unwilling to be challenged by “the other?”
Erin Lane’s Lessons in Belonging is a look at why Millennials have difficulty committing and, though less intentionally, why the wider culture makes longevity feel outdated. To navigate these conundrums, Lane looks at herself, her peers, sociological research and Scripture.
Her book is a personalized social anthropology - a memoir with research and wider observations. It’s her own story – of searching for a church, wrestling in her marriage (her husband is a Methodist pastor), trying to go after what she realizes she truly wants – and it’s her generation’s story of fear. Millennials want belonging, but “fear of commitment is ultimately a fear of reality.”
Lane concludes on a hopeful note, recognizing, “This is how belonging happens. Not by waiting for permission or holding out for perfect conditions. Not by cherry-picking people just like us or nit-picking people who don’t get us. Belonging happens when we choose to give ourselves away, saying, “Take. Eat. If you’ll have me, I belong to you.”
You are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
James K.A. Smith
Brazos Press, 2016
Jamie Smith’s newest book, You are What you Love, was so ardently recommended to me that I nearly skipped it in protest. ‘Must-read’ Christian books raise my suspicions – too often they feel prescriptive.
My pride aside, this is a very good book. Truth be told, it’s full of important truths.
A professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Smith begins, “What if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are first and foremost thinking things, we started with the conviction that human beings are first and foremost lovers? What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire?”
Most likely this is why Jesus didn’t ask, “What do you do?” or “What do you think?” but “Whom do you love?”
How do we go about wisely shaping our desires? Can we change what we love? Smith explains that if you are “what you love, and if love is a virtue, then love is a habit. This means that our most fundamental orientation to the world – the longings and desires that orient us toward some version of the good life – is shaped and configured by imitation and practice.”
Smith looks to “liturgies” – “formative, love-shaping rituals” – to do this shaping and habit forming. He offers liturgies of worship and education, for family life and vocation as well. Surprisingly practical (for a philosopher) and humorous, Smith is also honest: “Learning to love (God) takes practice.”
Bill Reimer is the manager, and has been for many years, of the Regent College Bookstore, one of North America’s largest surviving theological bookstores. He attends St John’s, Vancouver.
For the Glory: Olympic Legend Eric Liddell’s
Journey of Faith and Survival
Random House, 2016
Top of my list is a gripping biography of Eric Liddell. If you weren’t of the generation that saw the film Chariots of Fire, find it and be inspired. Then read this book. (Usually I would say the reverse.) The author does not seem to write from a Christian perspective, which serves to give a fresh angle of vision on Liddell. Hamilton is an award-winning sports writer who writes in a style comparable to The Boys in the Boat and Unbroken, even if not equaling these books in sales. One reviewer says that Hamilton “seems shocked at the sheer goodness of his subject.”
Most of the book is set in China where Liddell was born, served as a missionary, and had a brief marriage and with it the joys of children, before being cut off from his family by the outbreak of World War II. Tragically, he died of a brain tumour in a Japanese internment camp in his beloved China. His last words, written on his deathbed to his wife and family were, “All is Well.” Liddell’s family settled in Toronto and today his three daughters live not far apart along the stops of the Go Train line.
What sticks with this reader is Liddell’s reading Scripture for an hour each morning by the light of an oil lamp; his determination to show “the value of life and the idea of service”; that there are “no foreign lands” and that the Chinese are “my people”; and that a close friend thought Liddell’s “progress in China comparable to the Olympics.” Liddell was a saint who deserves a monument in Westminster Chapel but instead has one, quite rightly, in Weifang, China where he continues to be revered.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family
and Culture in Crisis
Oft-cited during the recent U.S. election, this book has relevance north of the border. The author grew up in a “hillbilly” culture and toggled between his family’s rural home in Jackson, Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio. Vance wrote Hillbilly Elegy in order to give the reader an idea of how difficult it is for poor working class people to “make it” in American culture. Vance, against all odds, graduated from Yale Law School, despite enduring a litany of stepfathers growing up, as his mother, a chronic substance abuser, “cycled through” an endless number of boyfriends and husbands. I first became aware of the book while listening to a radio interview with the author. What drew me in was his recounting of how “hillbilly” men have stopped going to church and lost that institution that once provided them with life, meaning and a place. If one reads the narrative carefully, it is evident that Vance himself is on a Christian journey and openly acknowledges the “grace of God” in his life.
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
Knopf Canada, 2016
The Christian thinker, Ralph C. Wood has described the fiction of P.D. James (1920-2014) as “imbued with deep Christian convictions.” Rowan Williams has noted that James is “our most Augustinian writer.” For those of us who thought that Inspector Adam Dalgliesh had died with James, he reappears in two of the four short stories that are gathered in this slim volume. As always, Lady James has the ability to take her reader down into the depths of human depravity, especially in the story that is a sort of reversal of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” Fortunately, the book does not end on this note, but rather concludes with a young Sgt. Dalgliesh solving an Agatha Christie-type murder with a Poirot flair. While perhaps not top-of-the-shelf James, this volume will make a fine gift for any fan of her writing. If one has not previously read James, try her full-length novels beginning with, in this order, Death in Holy Orders, The Murder Room, and The Lighthouse.
Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian
Distinctiveness in the Roman World
Larry W. Hurtado
Baylor University Press, 2016.
Hurtado, a naturalized Canadian who taught first at Regent College and then for many years at University of Manitoba before finishing his teaching career at the University of Edinburgh, makes the point, using a case study of early Christianity, that some religions can vary considerably from other surrounding religious movements. Christianity in the first century was a “broadside rejection” of the gods of the Roman world and was viewed as “bizarre” and even “dangerous” despite numbering perhaps only 7-10,000 followers by 100 AD. Tensions increased as the movement grew exponentially. A broadly “catholic” Christianity developed, which along with Judaism were the only religious expressions to survive this period.
In the four chapters that follow, Hurtado demonstrates the distinctive belief of the biblical faith in but one God and the unique place given Jesus by his early followers; the exclusive religious identity taken on; the early Christian movement as distinctive in its “bookishness”; and finally the distinctiveness of its behavioral practices that included a refusal to “expose” children, a rejection of spectacles such as gladiator contests, and the taking on of sexual moral codes that confined sex to marriage. Destroyer of the Gods is a very important study with much to think on for our cultural moment. TAP
“Seven for Summer” were recommendations made by Reimer and Lane-Gay in our 2016 Trinity issue of TAP. See http://anglicanplanet.net/edible-thoughts/2016/5/6/seven-for-summer.html