Starting in June 2019, we’ve invited clergy and lay leaders to share book recommendations in the weekly eNews email. (Subscribe using the button at right.) Below is a list of the recommendations that have been shared. Check back each week for more books!
If you would like to recommend a book, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a 100-200 word description of the book and why you’re recommending it. We’ll add it to the PSEC summer reading list and share your recommendation in eNews.
“Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season”
Take C. S. Lewis’s classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, mine the text for Advent gold, and the result is the excellent devotional Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season by Heidi Havercamp (John Knox Press, 2015). The author, an Episcopal priest, taps her faith’s rich tradition of beauty and symbol to evoke the season’s wonder and delight. Linking scripture with Lewis’s text, she also sprinkles in quotes from a variety of authors, including Lewis himself. The short, thought-provoking devotions explore themes of theological depth, each ending with “Questions for Reflection.”
For 2019, consider marking Advent’s days on your own with this book. Then, next year, why not go bigger? Besides the 28 devotions, Havercamp includes four sessions for small group discussion, plus complete instructions on creating a “Narnia Night for Families.”
St. Paul’s UCC Birdsboro and Hungry Soul Ministries
“Growing Through Disaster”
PSEC Disaster Ministries team member, the Rev. Jenny Smith, recommends the new book, Growing Through Disaster: Tools for Financial and Trauma Recovery in Your Faith Community by Clayton L. Smith and Matt Schoenfeld. Smith and Schoenfeld suggest ways for congregations to assist in recovery from disasters and the associated aftermath: business closings, loss of local industry, recession, high unemployment, etc. Church leaders, community members, and volunteers can gather people in their community to participate in the recovery process Smith and Schoenfeld provide. They developed this process through their significant experience in assisting communities recover from disaster and trauma. The process leads to spiritually-rooted recovery for the people and their community. The authors offer five tasks of healing and recovery for those who have experienced trauma:
- Begin by taking a few simple steps to immediately cope with your situation.
- Accept the reality of your loss and pain.
- Find a safe place to express and experience your feelings and lament.
- Recognize your need for faith in God’s peace and purpose.
- Help yourself by helping others.
Rev. Jenny Smith
“Vintage Saints & Sinners”
I admit it; I’m a sucker for stories of Christian heroes, people struggling to live lives of faith and courage that can serve as examples to the rest of us. Karen Wright Marsh chooses some very well known people, like St. Francis, but who are A. Z. Tozer and Mary Paik Lee? I learned that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was concerned that others viewed him as strong, but he saw his very human struggles and weaknesses. A. Z. Tozer was known as an inspiring preacher and writer, yet “his seven children went unnoticed by their father, the iconic preacher secluded in his office praying to the Lord,” page 73.
Living the Christian life is both easier and harder than one imagines it will be. The author connects her own struggles with those of the twenty-five Christians who are all a mixture of saint and sinner, strong and weak. This is a light summer read, one that would be at home in a church library where everyday people could find they are not so unusual in their longing to be faithful, and at the same time find themselves struggling with how to live out their Christian calling. Spoiler alert: the story of Mary Paik Lee will break your heart at the family journeys from a position of being able to offer hospitality to Christian missionaries in Korea, to a life filled with needless suffering because, as Korean immigrants to the United States, they could not find work or food.
Rev. Jane Kropa
Pastor, Huff’s Union Church, Alburtis
“A Companion to the Mercersburg Theology: Evangelical Catholicism in the Mid-Nineteenth Century”
Don’t hang up! I am sure some of you already began checking out when you read the title. On the other hand, there may also be a contingent among you that has already read or is planning to read this new book by William B. Evans, just released in 2019. I found out about this book at the Mercersburg Convocation at Lancaster Theological Seminary in early June.
I decided to submit this book for PSEC’s Summer Reading List because I have been involved in several conversations recently about United Church of Christ clergy and lay leaders who relocate to eastern Pennsylvania from other parts of the country or, for whatever reason, are unfamiliar with this 19th century theological movement that had a substantial impact on the historical German Reformed congregations in PSEC. I can relate to this scenario as a lifelong Lutheran who only joined the United Church of Christ in midlife and has been playing catch-up.
From Introduction through Epilogue, William B. Evans’ book is 139 pages. As one of the titles in the Cascade Companions series, it lives up to the series’ mission of providing “brief, yet compelling” introductions to Christian heritage topics. Evans includes questions at the end of each chapter. Tip: I found it helpful to read the questions first, as an orientation to the chapter. There is also an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources for further exploration.
Admittedly, this book is not your typical lighter-fare beach or lakefront read, but overall, you will not find a more concise, thorough and up-to-date review of the key people and concepts of Mercersburg Theology.
Ms. Caroline Dunleavy
Salem UCC, Doylestown
“She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry”
Positioned between Johnson’s scholarly She Who Is and Spong’s anecdotal There’s a Woman in the Pulpit is a 2016 title by Karoline M. Lewis: She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry. She is that best-of-both-worlds book: solidly researched and eminently readable.
Lewis’s five “keys” each speak to a different truth: women, the Bible, feminism, and theology; vulnerability, bodies, and sexuality; gender, identity, and authenticity; sexism; leadership. She points out, “The key before all of these keys is to tell the truth about yourself,” to acknowledge “a power already present.”
One section that particularly resonated with me concerns our language for God. “We betray our own biases, theological and gendered, when our primary references to God are male,” Lewis writes. My suggestion: On any given Sunday, note each example of gendered language in the bulletin, scripture readings, and hymns. Is the language of worship balanced, or does it tilt (perhaps heavily) in one direction? Words matter…
While She might first attract women readers, everyone can benefit from Lewis’s wisdom. Broadening perspectives, experiences, and understandings can open ways to healing and to unity, for all God’s people.
St. Paul’s UCC Birdsboro and Hungry Soul Ministries
Inspired is the last published work of the late Rachel Held Evans, who died May 4 at age 37. It’s a beach-worthy, fun read that will go quickly; an educated ride encountering the Bible without the academic heavy lifting (she does that for you).
“One woman’s journey back to loving the Bible” takes you on your own memory road trip. Her stories travel back to an evangelical upbringing and take you along her deconstruction/reconstruction route of understanding biblical stories. I laughed out loud when she recalls reading Exodus and comes to the part about restitution for oxes and slaves and thinks: “So what’s streaming on Netflix right now?” Been there, felt that! As much as she offers some readers permission to view the Bible with fresh eyes, she probes others with their tendency to borrow handy phrases from the Hebrew Bible to slap up on a protest sign. She asks all to dig underneath and appreciate a story for its context and reason for being, and then imagine “what if,” for — in echoes of the UCC mantra, “God is still breathing.” A favorite aspect is her own retelling and midrash. RHE includes a play on Job and short stories such as one where you pick either Adventure A or B as your ending.
Rev. Frances Chester
Falkner Swamp UCC, Gilbertsville
“The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage”
Sister Joan Chittister is a Benedectine Sister who has written over 50 books and many articles for publication. She has always worked on behalf of the marginalized, including women’s issues, and on behalf of a just world for ALL. Most of her books that I have experienced have helped my faith formation and spiritual practices but this latest one, has spoken to my heart in a way that I didn’t realize I was yearning. I posted to Facebook that this book was written “just for me” but realize maybe it was for you too! LOL
I ordered her book after hearing her interview with Oprah Winfrey for the SuperSoul Sunday show. The interview moved me to tears! In the interview she called out the daily injustices that we are all witnessing in real time and was emphatic about her belief that this country has to make a decision right now about what type of a country we want to be.
Her book outlines the hard work of being prophetic and includes a whole lot of biblical and historical references to support her words. According to the book cover, this book is “for the weary, the cranky, and the fearful, this energizing message invites us to participate in a vision for a world greater than the one we find ourselves in today.” I couldn’t agree more. It is the boost of energy to carry on the hard work, the understanding of the loneliness for the journey, and the vision of a more just world that I know most of us yearn for.
New Jerusalem Zion UCC, Lenhartsville