What We’re Reading & Who We’re Becoming

Bearings Contributors Bring in a Fresh Catch of End-of-Summer Reads

What we’re reading at any given time in our lives says a lot about what’s going on in our lives, who we are, and maybe a bit about who we’re becoming. After all, the stories we absorb from the pages of books, the ideas we imbibe, and the images that float into our consciousness become part of our own stories—part of who we are.

The science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin put it this way, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel . . . is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

This is no less true among Bearings contributors and editors—present and future—than it is anywhere else. So, by way of perhaps revealing a bit more about who we are and, importantly, who we hope we’re becoming, we’ve invited several current contributors to share what they’re reading that might inspire, sustain, and support 21st-century ministries through long, lazy days in the hammock. We’re also taking this look into our readerly souls as a chance to introduce a few contributors who will join us in the new season that begins this fall. And, because we’re never ones to pass up a chance to share our beach blanket book bonanzas, the whole Bearings team has offered up some suggestions as well. It’s certainly a list that’ll give you much to mull over throughout the dog days of summer.

Selections from Current Bearings Contributors

Keith Anderson seems often to be on the go, an ongoing pilgrimage that surely offers lots of spiritual opportunities. This summer, he’s turned to spirituality scholar Belden Lane’s Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, to help him navigate the trail ahead. With companions from Columba of Iona to Søren Kierkegaard along for the trek, there will likely be many theology pub stops along the way.

Kelly Baker is taking inspiration this summer from advice columnist Cheryl Strayed. She says of Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar“Unlike most advice columnists, Strayed offers unrelenting compassion, empathy, honesty, and understanding. She recognizes that human lives are messy, and that we often find ourselves in situations that we are unsure how to navigate and survive. Resilience and a faith in humanity’s potential guide her. I’m convinced that reading her book made me a better person, and we all need someone to tell us that we can be better than we usually are.”

Adam Copeland is just moving into a new role at Luther Seminary this summer that’s focused on 21st-century stewardship (more on that to come, no doubt). So it’s no wonder Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help has caught his attention. Adam says that the book “explains the philosophy of crowdfunding star, musician, and artist . . . It’s not overtly religious, but has much to teach the church.”

Martha Spong has given up prayer for the summer. Well, kind of. She’s reading Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get to Work by Aric Clark, Doug Hagler, and Nick Larson, who “make the provocative statement that we ought to stop praying, then offer up chapters describing ways to live into the words that describe common types of prayer, for instance Praise, Thank, Heal, Beg, and, perhaps my favorite, Intercede.” Martha has been challenged by the insistence that we move away from intercession as the cornerstone of Christian prayer practice, but she acknowledges, “If we were to (never) pray without ceasing in the way the authors urge us, we would change the world.”


Voices from New Bearings Companions

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Starting in the fall, Bearings will be enriched by several new contributors who reflect the complexity of the 21st-century church and its increasingly digitally-integrated engagements with the world. Our new companions are bloggers, authors, and educators across the denominational spectrum. Four of them have offered a glimpse into their interests and concerns by sharing a summer read.

Newly-minted assistant professor of religious studies Xochitl Alvizo has bridged a move from Boston to California State University, Northridge by reflecting on Sandhya Rani Jha’s Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories From the Front Lines, which she says “is a timely book that engages the very concerning realities of racism in the United States and the recurring irruptions of violence against black Americans, especially black men—a reality that should be of concern to all people of faith.” Xochitl was impressed by the way the book makes a complex and often difficult topic accessible and inspiring. Ultimately, Xochitl explains, the book is a very personal story: “Sandhya Jha deals with the difficult topic of racism and the heartbreaking injustices that many people continue to experience today by offering personal narratives, biblical reflections (she writes as a Christian), and the shared stories of many of her friends from across the globe.”

Joshua Crutchfield, a graduate student studying the history of Black churches and Black power at Middle Tennessee State University and a blogger we encountered through the Theology of Ferguson project, is reading Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, edited by Walidah Imarish and adrienne maree brown. Joshua says the collection is for “those working to build a new world where all lives are valued. This collection of short stories, written by social justice organizers, starts from the premise that before we can decolonize the world, we must first decolonize our imagination.”

Blogger, podcaster, author, and PCUSA minister Mihee Kim-Kort loves the book Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which she describes as a “gorgeously written book about a young woman’s journey across oceans and cultures that does more than simply tell a story. Through its artful narrative it educates and instructs us on the intricacies of US American identity, racism, and the consequences of Othering. For ministers it provides material in which we can engage the many forms of marginalization that happen at the intersections of race, gender, and class.”

UCC minister Nicole Lamarche, who is waist deep in the challenge of gathering a new progressive faith community in the Silicon Valley, is always wading into the intersections of the Valley’s heady business innovation culture and eclectic spiritualities. That’s brought To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, by Daniel H. Pink, to her attention. Nicole acknowledges that “religious professionals often bristle at the idea that we are ‘selling’ anything.” But, she’s learned from the book, “the truth is we are essential players in the business of moving people. This book is a refreshing and useful take on influencing behavior, inspiring empathy and meaningful action in our congregations, communities and in the world.”

Never Ones to Miss a PartY . . .

Once the book party got started, there was really no way to keep The BTS Center team out of the mix. Executive Director Robert Grove-Markwood never misses a chance to share his current poetry selection. This summer he’s recommending Roger Housden’s amazing poetry anthology, Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation, “a favorite go-to source (again and again) when I long for a guide to help me navigate life-as-ministry. It is poetry’s subversive economy of expression that brings me back (again and again) to linger with truths revealed through another’s words, yet which feel as familiar and intimate as my own heartbeat.” Bob often turns to poetry as a spiritual resource. He says, “There is something about poetry that offers companionship and guidance (and this collection is so good) to help me make my way through a complex and oft-confusing landscape on my life-long journey of discovery.”

Scholar-in-Residence Pamela Shellberg was among several in the Bearings community who have been inspired by Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer. Pam sees Wiman’s reflections on faith in the face of death as “a book that beautifully, poetically, articulates the questions, aches, and desires within our spiritual impulses and behind our religious expressions.” She adds, “It is a worthy read because of its stunning beauty and clarity, and because it approaches the ‘changing religious landscape’ by orienting the reader to the hearts of the people wandering the landscape.”

Associate Director and Bearings co-editor Alyssa Lodewick has a long list of summer reading. But given the natural disasters, gun violence, warfare, and tragedy that have marred recent months, she has found herself revisiting Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. The book, Alyssa explains, “is a classic in the fields of psychology and trauma studies that first offers a brief history of how ideas about trauma have changed over time. It then explains trauma’s harmful effects upon individuals and communities and, finally, provides insight into what trauma survivors need in order to spiritually heal and recover.” Pastors, spiritual caregivers, and faith communities will find much to enrich their ministries.

Consulting Scholar and Bearings co-editor Elizabeth Drescher is going a bit science wonky over the summer with Mary-Jane Rubenstein’s Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, which offers, she says, “a rich and complex philosophy of the extraordinary in the ordinary that helps in understanding how religious and spiritual life is changing today.” Hardly a light read, the book is nonetheless engaging, offering insight into how Enlightenment ideas of religion are being demolished and new possibilities are opening in Western spirituality.

So, we’ve shown you our summer reading list. What’s on yours? Add a comment and let the Bearings community know.

Photo Credits:

Cover photo: Untitled by Jay Mantri, n.d. Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 / Desaturated from original.

Inside photo: “alone on the beach,” by Christine Vaufrey, August 9, 2007. Via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0.

Elizabeth Drescher

Elizabeth Drescher, PhD is the editor of Bearings and a Consulting Scholar at The BTS Center. She is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University and the author of Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones (Oxford University Press, 2016), Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation (Morehouse 2011), and, with Keith Anderson, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse, 2012). Her commentary on contemporary religion and spirituality has been published in Alternet, America, The Atlantic, Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, Religion Dispatches, The Washington Post, and other national publications. You can find Elizabeth on Twitter @edrescherphd.

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