T.S. Eliot noted in Four Quartets: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” Reading broadly helps us as lead from a a broader place of life, from a place of reality. The following are two short books that I read recently that helped place my life more accurately within “reality.” The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death is about about a French, 44-year old father and husband who was editor-in-chief of Elle magazine. He writes by blinking with his left eye as he lay dying in a hospital as a quadriplegic. Having suddenly lost everything through a rare disease, he finds himself trapped in a body that will not work. His final reflections on life are captured here in painful clarity as he finds himself utterly alone before he dies. The Wave is written by a wife who loses her husband, two children, and parents in the cataclysmic tsunami of December 26th, 2004. Read more.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153 AD) was the greatest Christian leader in Western Christendom in the 12th century. He was a very active abbot with a “sphere of influence” over tens of thousands throughout Europe. I spent a good part of my annual retreat last week pondering just one of the insights from his sermons on the Song of Songs — that our thirst for God, and His love, only increases through eternity! All I could think of was what a contrast this was to the leadership seminars and books we promote in our day. Bernard writes that in heaven: We find satiety (i.e. the state of being full beyond the point of satisfaction) without the sense of having indulged too much. We find a desire to penetrate deeper that which is never quenched, yet which has no sense of unrest about it. We experience the eternal and incomprehensible desire that knows no. Read more.
Here are my final 3 books that have shaped my walk with Christ: Fill These Hearts, Christopher West All of us are here because of sexuality. God has built it not only into our bodies but into the core of the universe. To read Christopher West is to ignite one’s heart about all the ways God has given us to know Him and satisfy our deepest hungers. The study of God (theology) is built right into our bodies. Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner I have found that anger is a very complex, misunderstood emotion and causes a lot of pain by being ignored and/or abused. We’re not any holier for stuffing it and worse off if we explode. Christians need to learn how to acknowledge and process anger. Lerner practically unpacks the emotion of anger. Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer, David Benner David’s book brought me to heaven each time I opened it reminding. Read more.
A friend recently asked Pete and I for some of the books that have most shaped our journey with Christ.I was surprised at how easily several came to my mind. I noticed a couple things: I follow authors more than books so each author is a person whom I respect and resonate with. I love books that, for me, are profound but nuanced in very practical ways. I read them more than once. I read them slowly and prayerfully. Here are my first three: 1. Let Your Life Speak… Parker Palmer 2. A Hidden Wholeness….Parker Palmer These two books articulated for me the essential truth that life is lived from the inside out. Leadership/churches can have all the “best” programs in the world but if one is not in touch with the interior movements of their heart, then life is just a matter of adjusting chairs on the Titanic. Doing must flow from being.. Read more.
A key to good leadership, and good preaching, is reading broadly. I continue to read a few of these books very slowly over time (e.g. The Interior Castle and The Writing Life). Others I have read in a couple of days (e.g. Making Friends Among the Taliban). Enjoy! Interior Castle – St. Teresa of Avila Making Friends Among the Taliban – Jonathan P. Larson The Little Way of Ruthie Leming – Rod Dreher Fill These Hearts – Christopher West Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Tell Us About Surviving and Thriving – Bob Burns 24/6 – Matthew Sleeth The Writing Life – Annie Dilliard Dead Man Walking – Sister Helen Prejean Delighting in the Trinity – Michael Reeves I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t)…” – Brene Brown Grieving a Suicide – Al Hsu
Last year, a large psychiatric hospital in Queens opened up a small bookstore a few blocks from my house. The employees are “severely mentally ill adult patients.” I initially began going to buy cheap, second-hand books for $2.00 or less. But I have found myself returning more and more. Why? I finally got it. I return for my soul. I love being with the staff. They are kind, unassuming, and unpretentious. I finally understood why Henri Nouwen became a chaplain for mentally and physically challenged adults at L’Arche. His words below are worth reading slowly. “The first thing that struck me when I came to live in a house for mentally handicapped people was their liking or disliking me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then. Since nobody could read my books, they could not impress anyone, and since most of them never went to. Read more.