July News and What I’m Reading

My July Newsletter has big news: I am now the Assistant Executive Director for CSFPA. This is a pretty cool and very humbling new job with plenty of new responsibilities, as well as carrying over a lot of the old responsibilities. In addition to working with the students at Penn State Berks (and Penn State Brandywine), I oversee our other ministers throughout the state.

You can read the newsletter here: https://mailchi.mp/9662a100240a/csfberksmay2019-4773490

I am on track to read more books this year than any year in my life. Part of this is the pandemic which has kept us at home more. Another part is my wife and I don’t watch much TV (pretty much just 30 Rock over and over again) so once the kids are in bed we read (well, we play table-top games such as Wingspan, which is fantastic). Anyway, here are some highlights of my recent reads:

Historical Theology: In the spring I read Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Cosmic Liturgy: THe University According to Maximus the Confessor. Its a brilliant analysis of Maximus’ theology. I’ve read a good bit of Maximus’ work (400 Chapters on Love, The Ambigua) and Balthasar’s book helped bring a lot of Maximus’ ideas together. After this, I read The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev and then Julian of Norwich, Theology by Denys Turner. Maximus, Isaac and Julian have become three of my favorite theologians in the Christian tradition. Reading their primary work is a helpful devotional exercise, and filling in with these biographical works that summarize their ideas is a feast.

Addison Hodges Hart: I had read most of David Bentley Hart’s works before I learned he had a brother who also has written books. While DB Hart often dives deeply into theology and philosophy, AH Hart writes shorter books that are more pastoral and focused on spiritual discipline. That said, he does not remain on the surface but dives deep down. In some ways, his writings remind me of Marilynne Robinson or Frederick Buechner. I began with The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd: Finding Christ on Buddha’s Path which was a fascinating journey looking at ways the way of Jesus overlaps Buddhism. Next I read Knowing Darkness: Reflections on Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship and God. Finally, I read The Yoke of Jesus: A School for the Soul in Solitude. Each of these books has spoke to both my mind and soul. I have a few more of AH Hart’s books on my kindle (I got all of them when they were on sale for like 1.99 each).

Race/Racism: Since the protests that erupted after the murder of George Floyd, books on race have been selling out all over the place. I suppose I was ahead of the game, because I ordered a few books on this subject back in the spring. These books have consistently blown my mind. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is a brilliant and deep examination of our history of racism. Then there was Jeanne Theoharis’ A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of the Civil Rights Movement. Her basic point is that we love to sanitize the movement, making it sound like King gave a speech and Rosa sat down and everyone applauded and racism was solved. The reality is that most Americans opposed the movement at the time, it was heavily political and many of the critiques of the current Black Lives Matter movement (that it has moved from the spirit of King and is too aggressive) are wrong (for the things said against BLM were said against King). I also read a brilliant history of the Great Migration titled The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Finally, I read Austin Channing Brown’s short book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.

A Few Others: Perhaps the best book I’ve read this year, though Kendi and Wilkerson are up there too, was Eugene McCarraher’s The Enchantment of Mammon. McCarraher argues that Americans are not disenchanted, as philosopher Charles Taylor has argued, but instead are enchanted by other things, primarily Capitalism. Capitalism is our religion in America, and the failure by many Christians to recognize its corrupting influence but instead to baptize it as the best economic theory is detrimental to a life of Christian discipleship. We’re trained (enchanted) to filter our faith through capitalism from our cribs and by the time we are adults we can’t see the capitalist air we breath for what it is. McCarraher’s history is detailed and brilliant.

Finally, Healing our Broken Humanity by Graham Hill and Grace Ji-Sun Kim is a fantastic work on spiritual disciplines which I put right up there with Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary.

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