The Englewood Review of Books recently posted a reading list for pastors. First, if you are a bibliophile and haven't checked out the Englewood Review of Books, please do so. Second, their reading list for pastors is quite good and worth adding to your "to read" list.
Of course, this started us thinking, which is almost always trouble. What would DirtySexyMinistry put on a reading list for pastors (and anyone else who likes to read religious books that don't seem religious)? Why? So here is our list of the ten books (more or less) that we recommend for your free time in between Advent and Christmas. Because we know how slow this time of year is for those in full-time Christian service.
The standard? The books were actually on our shelves and we'd read them. We also didn't include any books listed by Englewood, but we heartily endorse their list, especially Silence. That book left me in tears. And The Scarlet Letter, which is a good read for anyone who needs to remember that God is bigger than organized religion and women are often the victims of organized religion.
Okay, before we re-review Englewood, on to our list:
1. American Indian Myths and Legends, edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. In case anyone is vague on this, we Christians didn't build the mythic understanding of life. Sometimes our familiarity with the stories of our faith cause us to miss the forest for the trees. Reading about death and resurrection, about sibling rivalry, about barrenness giving way to fertility through the eyes of the Choctaw, Cheyenne, Oglala, Hopi, and other peoples of the First Nations give our own stories of life and faith more color and depth. I'd also add Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown to get a sense of the life of those who were here before most of us were and the tragic results of white entitlement. And Arrow to the Sun for a wonderful Pueblo story about a Boy's search for his Father. For some worthwhile western fiction from a Native American point of view, Joseph Marshall III is an excellent writer. We all don't see the world from the same vantage point. Reading is one way to see through another's soul.
2. Forty Acres and a Goat, by Will D. Campbell. If you haven't read it, you should. A life of faith has cost and sacrifice, and Will brings this point home again and again with the raw language of a Southern man and Baptist preacher. For those of you contemplating a life of ordained ministry, I think this should be a must-read. And as you're reading, ask yourself if you're willing to sacrifice like this. Because you will be called to sacrifice. Somehow, someway.
3. The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. Rapturous spirituality at its best. Read by candlelight and incense. Or in the middle of a busy day. Or under the warmth of the sun. And remind yourself that God loves you in ways you cannot imagine and, quite honestly, are afraid to even dream of.
4. Anything by David Sedaris. I cannot read David Sedaris and not laugh out loud. His writing captures the awkwardness and absurdity of humanity perfectly. Plus, he autographed his book When You Are Engulfed in Flames - "to Laurie, I wish you were my priest." Huzzah! And, I encourage you to add his story Six to Eight Black Men to your Christmas stories read around a crackling fire by the twinkling lights of your Christmas tree in the midst of love of family and friends. You can thank me later.
5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley; Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; and the Taylor Branch trilogy on Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights Movement was not, as many of us like to assume, a fully unified movement with every person who was victimized by segregation and prejudice agreeing on everything. Every person's story about the damage from the sins of racism and prejudice is different. These are some of the different voices. Seeking and serving Christ in all people means listening to the world through their stories not to condemn, but to understand.
6. The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Read these to see what your life will NEVER look like as a pastor. And congregants, no, you will never have a pastor or a church like this...unless you live in DisneyWorld. A better book is Easter by Michael Arditti. The scene involving garden gnomes and the Easter Vigil...well, you'll just have to read it.
7. The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. First, she writes about discrimination of vampires and werewolves in a subtle yet obvious way (obvious for those who admit discrimination and prejudice exist - and I'm not sure that applies to many in this country). Second, her stories are scary, romantic, and hilarious. Third, she's an active Episcopalian. I also recommend her other books, which are a bit darker but still as engrossing.
8. Anything by P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, and Elizabeth Peters. These women know how to write mystery novels with characters who are flawed and funny. The plot lines are not simplistic. And sometimes you have to turn on your brain to know what's happening in the story. Kind of like life.
9. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. What I loved most about this book (and there's so much to love about it - including the pitch-perfect description of crazy Alabama people, also known as my relatives) is how many parts of the story are known only to the reader, and the rest of the characters just make assumptions that are often wrong. Not that that EVER happens in the real world. A reminder that none of us really knows the full story of the struggles of another's life. This is one book I was sad to finish, knowing I would never again read it for the first time.
10. All Creatures Great and Small and the others in this series by James Herriot. These stories of life as a country vet in northern England are filled with humor, sadness, confusion, disappointment, and all the other emotions that come with ministry to those who don't always express their emotions well. These books have more relevance to real-life as a priest that almost anything else I've read. Herriot writes honestly of his feelings of incompetence and frustration, as well as the messiness of his vocation - something most pastors are quite familiar with (at least the ones being honest, anyway). There's also a BBC series of the same name that is quite faithful to the books and as wonderful.