Have you ever just stumbled across a good book? You were in a
bookstore (we used to have those) and found something interesting and
bought it and it turned out to be profound and life-altering. That’s how I
found Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I bought it because I like
dinosaurs, and it was on a sale table for $3. Fourteen hours later I
finished it as the sun rose. Terrified. What have you found to read that you cannot forget?
I start with One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty because my
mother gave me the book in college and said, “You will like this.” As was
often the case, my high school English teacher (my mom) was correct.
Welty, one of America’s great writers, shared her writing process in this
thin volume: Listening, Learning to See and Finding your Voice. After 35
years, this is still the finest sermon process I have ever known, and I had
it before I ever went to seminary.
Another deeply important book is A Cry of Absence by Martin Marty.
It was on a bookshelf in a library in a hospital where I worked, so I
borrowed it. Forever. The book is called a journey of the soul, reflections
for the winter of the heart. Marty seeks to voice the cry of faith in the
midst of doubt, pain and discouragement. Few books have given me such
permission to voice my own struggles of faith as sincere, honest
discipleship in the face of uncertainty. The book is as helpful now as ever,
especially in these difficult days.
If ever a book found me, called my name and jumped into my life, it
is If This is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? by J. Edward
Chamberlin. I don’t even know how to describe this book. It is about the
power of stories, myths, language, nursery rhymes, legends, science and
scripture to transform our lives, break down barriers between us and
unite us as one people on this frail, fragile planet. Re-reading this book
reminds me to listen to people who are different than me, to shut my
mouth, open my eyes and see the world as a wondrous place in which
paying attention to others may indeed be God’s greatest gift of all.
In hindsight, it may be closer to the truth to say that each of these
books found me, bothered me until I read them, and refuse to let me go,
all these years later. God is like that, you know. Won’t give up on us, can’t
quit us, even when we would rather be anywhere else.