Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Reading is one way I fulfill this invitation to love God. Here are a few books I read in the last year or so, am reading now, and want to read in the new year.
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker
I loved this book and I’m itching for opportunities to play with its ideas in practice. In it,
Parker argues that the gatherings in our lives are lackluster and unproductive—which they don't have to be. We rely too much on routine and the conventions of gatherings when we should focus on distinctiveness and the people involved.
Parker offers a template of sorts for planning gatherings of all kinds, with plenty of examples. And while this isn’t a book for a general audience not specifically for Christians or churches, we have a lot to learn.
For example, planners of typical gatherings start with things like guest lists, agendas, and logistics. But Parker recommends putting all of those things on hold. The first and most important planning step for any gathering is the title of the first chapter, “Decide Why You’re Really Gathering.” (You can read a first-chapter excerpt here and a summary of the whole book here.)
With worship, specifically, Zion leaders discovered during the listening campaign a desire to better include and engage young people. We’ve made small moves already and have bigger ones in the works. But what might happen if with this we considered the bigger question of Why? Not “Why engage young people in worship?” but bigger yet. Why gather for worship? Why now? Why us?
“A category is not a purpose,” Parker writes, continuing:
When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering. And we forgo the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.
“Why?” is a young person’s question. And it might just be the most powerful one of all.
The Coming Revolution in Church Economics by Mark DeYmaz with Harry Li
This book inspired a promising new addition to the budget Zion leaders will present budget at the end of January.
They say, necessity is the mother of invention. The revolution this book forecasts is that quip in action:
Tithes and offerings alone are no longer enough to provide for the needs of the local church… For churches to not only survive but thrive in the future, leaders must learn to leverage assets, bless the community, empower entrepreneurs, and create multiple streams of income to effectively fund mission.
I have colleagues with experience (and success!) doing these four things. Luther Place in Washington, D.C. leverages its church building, renting space for “groups who are in alignment with [their] vision.” They also created The Steinbruck Center which operates a hostel inside the church building and hosts service-learning programs.
Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis created the Redeemer Center for Life, an umbrella nonprofit for its outreach ministries. This made it possible to expand its fundraising beyond the congregation.
What paths Zion will pursue remains to be seen, but Zion’s leaders are firm in their commitment to a growing vision of Zion’s ministries. God gave us this vision and God will provide means to fund it.
Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans by Michaeleen Doucleff
I’m not even finished reading this book and already I’m changing the way I parent.
I’ve talked before (in
Doucleff sets out with her three-year-old daughter in tow to learn and practice parenting strategies from families in three of the world’s most venerable communities: Maya families in Mexico, Inuit families above the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania. She sees that these cultures don’t have the same problems with children that Western parents do. Most strikingly, parents build a relationship with young children that is vastly different from the one many Western parents develop—it’s built on cooperation instead of control, trust instead of fear, and personalized needs instead of standardized development milestones.
The biggest lesson I’m learning is: “Stop talking.” We have big emotions in our house. Big anger. Kids can’t hear when they’re in these states. Lectures and scolding only add fuel to the fire. Instead, stop talking and be the calm you want to see. Try touch, not talk.
I’m just at the beginning of putting these things into practice but already I see the glimpses of change my kids. I can’t wait to finish, to keep practicing, and to share more with (and learn from!) Zion parents and grandparents.
The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three by Cynthia Bourgeault
This book is compelling and challenging. Challenging because it’s a new way of thinking that I’m not fully grasping. And compelling because—well, this is what the back of the book says:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this formula that Christians recite as though on autopilot lie the secrets for healing our world, rekindling our visionary imagination, and manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
The part of the book I’ve read explains the Law of Three. The Law of Three is about creation or change—how new things happen or what creates forward movement. It’s at work in the cosmos, in culture and politics, and in daily life. It’s applicable at every level.
In every new arising, there are three forces involved: affirming, denying, and reconciling.
Right away this is interesting because the implication is, change does not happen because one defeats or eliminates the other. It takes a “third force” to braid them together.
This third force serves to bring the two other forces (which would otherwise remain disconnected or deadlocked) into relationship, from which forward momentum can emerge.
For example, flour and water cannot create bread without fire. Fire is the third force that binds together the first two to create something new. Bread is not a compromise between flour and water but is completely new. “A whole new ballgame” is always what third, or holy reconciling, forces create.
And get this:
The single most liberating insight [of the Law of Three is] … that the resisting or opposing force is never actually the problem to be overcome. Second force, or holy denying, is a legitimate and essential component in every new arising: no resistance, no new arising!
No wonder Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Enemies are never the problem but are somehow part of the new thing God is doing.
I’m just skimming the surface here, and I’ve not yet read about what this means for the Trinity. But consider this: Jesus is a “third force,” even THE third force, reconciling what we consider to opposites or simply unrelated to create holy, loving change.
Want to Read
Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann
This book was recommended by my mother-in-law, Pastor Elaine, and also referenced in Cynthia Bourgeault’s book above. Walter Brueggemann is a renowned scholar of the Old Testament. He writes with heart, as a person of faith, putting the Psalms in three categories:
orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Orientation is the establishment of structure and order. Disorientation is a place of imbalance and nonsense even potentially unjust. New orientation is moving forward away from what was and toward new possibilities.
Spirituality of the Psalms brings together the Christian faith, expressions of suffering, hope, and seasons of everyday life. Brueggemann explains how Psalms of negativity, cries for vengeance, and profound penitence are foundational to a life of faith, and establishes that the reality of deep loss and amazing gifts are held together in a powerful tension.
Art and Faith: A Theology of Making by Makoto Fujimura
My spiritual director recommended this book. The author is an artist. He believes “unless we are making something, we cannot know the depth of God’s being and God’s grace permeating our lives.”