A Few Books I've Been Enjoying

I go through lulls in my reading. As I have gotten older, I've gotten pickier. Sometimes, I know within a chapter or two if something is going to grab my attention and keep me. (Same is true of Netflix series, FYI.) A wide variety of books have challenged me in this way – I am interested in the topic, but if it doesn't grab me, I wander off to something that will. Such is life.

But really, it's been a rich reading season as of late due to excellent book lists for Doctor of Ministry coursework as well as some reading groups.

Here are a few suggestions if you are looking:

David Abulafia's The Discovery of Mankind As part of an intentional reading group around indigenous justice and the Doctrine of Discovery, this book is dense, historical, and fascinating. What the book does well is describe the threads that created this white supremacist reality in which we live, sometimes by accident, sometime with intentionality, and almost always to devastating effect. Abulafia first sets the stage for Christopher Columbus' voyage into the “New World” by exploring the imagination of Europeans and their speculation with the creatures at the edge of their maps and bizarre tales of lands with dog-like humans and other oddities. Then, we dive into the Canary Islands and the encounter with indigenous people there who had never heard about Christ and lived in ways that didn't fit into the neat categories of religious or cultural classification. The book definitely complicates our understanding of Columbus too – he was at times respectful and enamored by the Taino people he engaged with early on but was ultimately constrained by his greed for wealth and fame, his apocalyptic beliefs, his European lens, and his absolute ineptitude and brutality. Fascinating book!

James McBride' The Good Lord Bird I read this in my last formal Doctor of Ministry course, and it was one of those books that was moving, confusing, poetic, and hilarious. I don't know how else to describe it, but it made sense that Ethan Hawke wanted to turn it into a Showtime series. From the vantage point of a black boy affectionately called “Onion”, freed from slavery by a twist of fate, the book offers a somewhat historic and fantastic perspective of John Brown, the legendary abolitionist and his raid on Harper's Ferry. The heroes of history turn out to be far more human and messy in this book, and John Brown teeters between madness, righteousness, and clarity all at once. It's a moving book and definitely very unusual to read. I will be reading it again this summer.

Munther Isaac's From Land to Lands, from Eden to the Renewed Earth I actually got to hear Munther, a Palestinian pastor and theologian, in Bethlehem last year before the pandemic hit. His book was an impulse buy, and it has been so helpful to deeper understand the theological lens of land throughout scripture. It's a well laid out book, thorough in its approach, citing and quoting the many great theologians who have wrestled with some of these questions and themes. Ultimately, it offers a very compelling return to a fuller integration of our care for land as people of faith. Covenant is not just between God and people – covenant is between God, people, and land. Munther closes the book with a personal reflection on what this framework means for Palestine and Israel and the apartheid reality there. So moving.

Douglas Foster's A Life of Alexander Campbell I think you need to be a Stone-Campbell junkie to read this, but it is one of the better Alexander Campbell books I have dug into. Most treatments of Campbell in this tradition are a bit enamored with his brilliance, and let's be clear – he was a smart guy, writing prolifically and debating with vigor. This book traces some of his theological disagreements and issues and paints a fuller picture of his eccentric personality, his contradictions, and the ways he would turn against even his friends in pursuit of his theological vision. What I like is at least some naming of the white supremacist underpinnings that framed a lot of his theology in various ways. I would have liked more of this, but it's a start.

Karen Field's Racecraft This is a tough and brilliant read, unpacking the ways science has gone about reinforcing the construct of race and legitimizing its destructive havoc among communities. Admittedly, I am still working my way through this one, but this is a fantastic read. It's one I have to put down every section or chapter or so to process.

Take these recommendations for what they are, and enjoy!