This week’s topic is Be/Become/Ask the Expert. Share a list of titles that you have read on a particular topic, create a wish list of titles that you’d like to read about a particular topic, or ask your fellow Nonfiction November participants for suggestions on a particular topic.Though to presume expertise in this topic is ridiculous, I suppose my post falls under the Be the Expert category. I have a small selection of titles for those interested in looking deeper into the Christian faith and its interactions with and in the world. There are a lot of books out there for Christian believers - those who want an easy read to reinforce or inspire their faith; however, the great thinkers and writers of the faith often wrote books and essays that were difficult, that demanded intellectualism hand in hand with one's faith. They wrote with a pondering spirit, a questing mind, an insistence that one need not empty one's head to have Christ fill one's heart. The books in this list are all smart. They are challenging. And, for this does matter some times, they are all short (under 200 pages). They are also all by white men, so take that with the appropriate reservation but do not dismiss them and their wisdom on that basis alone.
Five Books for the Faithful Thinker
C.S. Lewis, best-known for his earth-shaking Chronicles of Narnia, was a prolific writer and a superior mind. I believe his words are some of the most important in literature. Is that an overstatement? Maybe. But for all the greatness of Narnia, and even acknowledging the power of Mere Christianity, many readers do not know how excellent his essays are. My favorite collection, The Weight of Glory, is full of thoughtful questions and exhortations and rebukes. Flipping through my copy, I find countless passages to share with you and choose just this one from the close of the title essay:
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. (46)WE. MUST. PLAY. I couldn't agree more.
Next up is one of the great figures of the faith: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Unlike with Lewis, the work I'm recommending is perhaps his most "heard-of," but I think fewer people have actually read it than are familiar with it. Life Together is a brief guide for how it could (and perhaps should) look to live in Christian community. Bonhoeffer experienced some actual communal living, and he draws on that experience here, but it is applicable even in today's society of detached living. Again, I admit that it is more full of thought-provoking and intelligent passages than I have room for here, but I will provide one:
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. (99)The everyday acts of meeting one another's needs (even terribly minor needs) are so very important - to each of us individually and to our communities.
I would be remiss if I didn't include Wendell Berry in this list. Though he is not so obviously wrestling with religious matters, his faith infuses and informs his writing in so many ways. I include here two titles, one I've read years ago, and I one I am currently reading. The first is a collection of essays Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community. I first read (and blogged about) it in 2010, so I don't remember as much of it as I should, but I do recall the intelligence and seriousness with which he approached the subject and that despite that seriousness (or, perhaps, because of it - see Lewis quote above), there is humor and spunk. I believe we don't get enough spunk in our daily lives. The second title I recommend is Berry's This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems. I've only just started this beautiful collection, but I see it as something I will likely ponder and savor for years to come. Written over 35 years, often as he walked his property on a Sunday morning, these poems capture the "set-apartness" of the Sabbath and cause you to yearn for a similar stillness in your life. I include one poem from 1981:
Here where the world is being made,
No human hand required,
A man may come, somewhat afraid
Always, and somewhat tired,
For he comes ignorant and alone
From work and worry of
A human place, in soul and bone
The ache of human love.
He may come and be still, not go
Toward any chosen aim
Or stay for what he thinks is so.
Setting aside his claim
On all things fallen in his plight,
His mind may move with leaves,
Wind-shaken, in and out of light,
And live as the light lives,
And live as the Creation sings
In covert, two clear notes,
And waits; then two clear answerings
Come from more distant throats -
May live a while with light, shaking
In high leaves, or delayed
In halts of song, submit to making,
The shape of what is made.
Finally, I am in the midst of reading and can't recommend highly enough Frederick Buechner's The Hungering Dark. Buechner has long been one of my favorite writers (see my thoughts on his Godric here), but even knowing this, I've been surprised by how powerful and convicting and stunning this book is. It is a small collection of relatively short essays, each preceded by a passage from scripture, each concluded with a beautiful prayer. Often, I really hate those prayers that people write in devotional books. Actually, often isn't strong enough. I never like those prayers. They seem so forced and artless. These, however, are beautiful and touching and inspiring and all the things I would ever hope my prayers could be and none of the things my stumbling mind and mouth usually lift up. Thus far, there are two pieces that are focused on Christmas, so if you are looking for an alternative set of readings for Advent, I believe these would be a really good fit. Even though many of the essays depart from the actual events of Christmas, they all have Christ at their center, and they are all so full of good.
Do read these, friends. Let me know what you think, even if you disagree wildly! I welcome your feedback.