As I was chatting with someone about my last post, he wanted to know what I was reading that was causing so much trouble. I thought about a couple of different ways of answering the question, but I think the best strategy here is just to talk about what I’ve been reading and listening to recently. So here it is:
I read my Bible daily. I happen to use the New King James version, because that’s what I’ve been using since I was in fourth grade, and I haven’t found a good enough reason to switch to anything else. Devotionally, I’ve found myself returning to the Eastern Church’s Jordanville prayer book (editing out prayer to saints, the Virgin Mary, and so on), but when I went up to St. Mary’s Glacier, I took my Book of Common Prayer for the Coverdale Psalter it contains. Yes, I like NKJV psalms too, but my BCP fits in a sandwich bag and is a lot lighter to carry up the mountain.
I attend Englewood Bible Church, in Englewood, Colorado, which I suppose I could best categorize as evangelical fundamentalist. There I weekly hear the preaching of Pastor Bob Hayes, who is presently taking us through Hebrews. In the Monday morning staff meetings, he’s taking us through a study of 1 Thessalonians.
I just finished a course from The Teaching Company on C. S. Lewis, spanning his life and works in a breathless 12 sessions. My next one from them will be a second trip through Brooks Landon’s Building Great Sentences. In between, I’m listening to James Jordan’s Bucer Institute lectures on the Ten Commandments and George Thompson’s second set of lectures on the Middle Ages. (Depending on my mood, there’s a Doug Wilson sermon thrown in here and there; I get one every week thanks to the largess of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, for which I am very grateful.)
I do most of my listening in the car, and in between lectures and sermons, I salt in music and spoken-word performances. Current listening is Kim Taylor, Kelly Minter, Sligo Rags, Sons of Korah, Gretchen Wilson, a bit of Toby Keith, and a few songs by Over the Rhine; also poets Jack McCarthy and Frankie Drayfus.
I’ve been reading Orthodox Psychotherapy by Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos for nearly a year, off and on. Tough sledding. I read until I can’t understand any more, then I stop and rest awhile. In a continuing effort to understand it, I’m reading The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition by the same author, which turns out to be shorter and more general, but also a lot easier to follow. It’s clearing up some of the questions I had. In the same tradition, I am involved in a reading/discussion group that is going through The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky a chapter at a time, and then meeting on Skype to discuss it. We’ve suspended the group temporarily due to upheavals in two of our lives, but we’re hoping to begin again shortly. I find Lossky to be a starry-eyed idealist when it comes to his own tradition, and he indulges in generalizations that would make the boys at Credenda/Agenda blush (I read them, too), but I find that after my initial outrage subsides, I benefit quite a bit from grappling with his root concerns.
I found a copy of Dorothy Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker just yesterday, and began reading. Thus far, it is a breathtaking reflection on the relationship between God as artist and what human artists do. Denser and more linear than N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl (which I keep by my bedside, and to which I keep returning), but similarly life-giving. Speaking of the folks up at Canon, I would be reading my way through a copy of The Forgotten Heavens right now, but it’s out of stock. Hope they fix that sometime soon.
After a couple of abortive attempts at reading it, I’ve returned to Beyond Prediction, by Drane, Clifford and Johnson. It’s a study of the Tarot, in which the authors argue that there’s a Christian message in the symbolism of the Tarot. These guys aren’t just sitting around theorizing; they actually use their approach to evangelize New Age types and lead them to the Scriptures. (Picture walking up to someone who’s messing about with Tarot cards, and asking, Philip-like, “Do you understand what you are reading?”) Now, with all respect, I strongly suspect that the authors are a little nuts. But if you believe that Christianity is the fulfillment of paganism (or, as I’d prefer to put it, paganism is a parody of Christianity) — and I do — then you can’t ignore the few people who are doing work in that direction.
Since I continue to take a shot at fiction writing every November (and because I just enjoy it), I read a bit of fiction most nights before I go to sleep. A week or so ago, I finished Frank Herbert’s Soul Catcher, which is a fairly direct inversion of Christianity — a fictional picture of what the quasi-judicial slaughter of an innocent might mean in a pagan milieu. Yesterday, I finished Storm Front, the first of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels. I’ve read a couple of the later ones, but hadn’t gone back to catch up on what happened earlier in the series. Next up is Stranger in Paradise by Robert Parker. (Why not Christian fiction? I do, occasionally, when I get a recommendation I trust. Mostly, I refuse, because reading Christian fiction is like doing your grocery shopping in the Safeway dumpster. You can find some good stuff, but what you have to go through to get it….)
I don’t much read magazines, but I have the current issue of Grace in Focus sitting on my desk. I skimmed it last night, and by the time you read this, I’ll have read it over again. I also have an Imprimis from Hillsdale College around here somewhere that I need to read, and I’m hunting for someplace locally that carries Journal of the Asian Martial Arts. I buy about every other issue, depending on whether it has enough articles that interest me, but I haven’t found a local vendor yet.
My birthday was late in June, and my dad gave me Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t by Phil Cooke. I’m about halfway through it. He’s got a lot of good to say, but to be honest I can only stand so much discussion of branding at once. Another very generous friend recently gave me Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Advice, a collection of 46 of Calvin’s letters on such subjects as the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, marriage, and judicial issues. It lends itself to reading in spurts, which I am doing. Speaking of letters, I am also engaged in a long-term project to read through the letters of Flannery O’Connor (or at least the ones in the Library of America edition of her collected works. After her, the letters of C. S. Lewis, which will take a very long while.
Also in spurts, I’m working my way through Comic Poems, an Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets anthology edited by Peter Washington. The poets are as diverse as Dorothy Parker, Martial, and anonymous composers of timeless limericks.
I have had Cassiodorus’ Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning on my Amazon wish list for over a year, but it was rather pricey, so I hadn’t gotten it. A month or so ago, a used copy came available for about $5 and I bought it. I am now most of the way through Book 1, and really looking forward to Book 2.
On a recent trip to Colorado Springs, I bumped into The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. I got my hands on a copy, and stalled out halfway through it. The description of student evangelism at Daytona Beach’s Bike Week/Spring Break was just too painful to read all at once. I put it aside for a few days, came back. It took me several days to get through it, a piece at a time. I am now past that part, and the sailing is a bit smoother. I expect to write more about this book once I’ve finished it. Also whilst down in the Springs, a friend lent me his copy of Gerard Lohfink’s Jesus and Community. Looks like dense reading. I skimmed over it last week, and will read it in earnest shortly.
I am also working my way through Michael Bull’s Totus Christus, which is taking much, much longer than I expected. It’s a big, dense book, and I’m having trouble sorting through what I think of it.
I don’t follow blogs much, other than Michele’s, but I browse widely: Stephen Wedgeworth, Michael Bull, Jeremy Myers, Peter Leithart, Doug and Evan Wilson, among other Christians. Also, two of my favorite fiction authors, Steven Barnes and Steve Perry, both of whom write solid, readable stories, and both of whom practice the same martial art that I do, albeit on a different branch of the family tree, and both of whom blog about writing, martial art, and a variety of other issues.
So that’s a couple of Roman Catholics, a couple of Free Grace types, three Anglicans (if you count Thomas Cranmer), some Eastern Christians, a bunch of Reformed guys, a handful of difficult-to-categorize Protestant mutts, and some pagans to round the whole thing out — and this is about normal for my reading load. Do I value them all equally? No, of course not. Do I recommend that you go out and read/listen to them all? Again, no. Can a discerning Christian profit from any/all of these? Sure.
Everybody doesn’t have to read widely, and most people don’t. But those of us who write, need to read. Those of us who wind up being professional theologians (in some sense) need to read. There’s just not much benefit to reading stuff you already agree with entirely; opening up the windows to let some air in is not just recommended, it’s required.