Continuing my share of best books I read in 2011, here's the Theological Thursday roundup of spiritual and theological texts. The list is heavy in practical theology. While I read other modes of theology, I'm most interested in books I can share with lay readers, faith communities, and multi-faith colleagues. As with my other lists, most of the books were not published this year. Where possible, I've linked to author blogs or community websites. You're capable of deciding which library or bookseller to use.
Miroslav Volf (2003) Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. – If you only read one theological book a year, please make it this one. Volf clearly and boldly lays down the framework for shifting from a world of exploitation and power exchanges to a world of generosity and graciousness.
Pamela Eisenbaum. (2010) Paul Was Not A Christian. Eisenbaum takes on the whole history of Christian interpretation and tradition that reads Paul as the first Christian, and offers Christians a new way of reading that confronts and combats anti-Semitism and liberates Paul and Christianity from the traditions of hate. Wonderfully argued with cogent and clear details, this is a rough slog for a lay reader, but would be rewarding in a small group wanting to encounter the Paul of the epistles, the oldest documents that compose the Christian Scriptures.
David Breeden (2011) News from the Kingdom of God David Breeden’s fresh interpretations and reflections upon the Gospel of Thomas keeps surprising me in odd hours, dancing into my waking and sleeping hours. Breeden is a poet, Biblical scholar, and Unitarian Universalist minister. All three distinct ways of viewing the world weave together in his reflections and provide a text accessible to a wide readership, including very many who might not otherwise have picked up this gospel that didn’t make Athanasius’ officially approved list of 367 CE.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs (2011) Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice. I read a lot of commentaries on social justice and social justice oriented books, but I was delighted with Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ Where Justice Dwells because she plainly lines out Talmudic teaching for why and how synogogues need to be engaged in social justice. Thick with stories, the book is set up to be a fine resource for congregations seeking to understand their responsibilities to where they reside and to their own communities and others. Though Jacobs is writing for Jewish communities, I’m recommending this book for faith leaders and communities engaged in multifaith work, too, to better appreciate and understand Jewish traditions of social justice.
Carol Howard Merritt (2010) Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. Carol Howard weaves together the People of the Word and the people of new media, providing an accessible introductory text for congregational leaders and elders. Some questions for discussion to reflect on her text: How does technology shape generational ways of meaning-making? How are we currently engaged in many of the old familiar activities using new tools? How do we share authentically, stay true to what is most important, and innovate to meet the new needs in our world?
Anne Sutherland Howard (2010) Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories from a New Generation. Wonderful reflection on Matthew’s Gospel description of the beatitudes, as lived through nine young religious leaders, with questions and pointers for us from Anne Sutherland Howard. This would make a great 9 week small group study as well as the basis of a preaching series.
Jonathan Brink, ed. (2011) The Practice of Love. Over and again this year, I’ve returned to one of the Practice of Love’s sections (God, self, neighbor, stranger, enemy) to spend some time again with a particular story of learning to love in differing ways. These stories are often raw, deeply personal, and vulnerable, and because of those qualities, they are vital and engaging. There is little triumphant exclamation in the collection and no easy answers. The practices of love are understood to be challenging, requiring spiritual discipline. They are also practices of deliverance, consolation, and wonder, real faithing from real people. The texts will make some folks uneasy; and that’s good. Recommended for small group and whole congregation study. Disclaimer: I do have an essay in this collection, but I felt like I would be doing a disservice to the many other authors included, whose work has influenced me all year, if I didn’t include this book on my list.
David Augsburger (2006) Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor. David Augsburger has a gift for approaching the personally challenging subject (like cross-cultural conflict) and providing guidance through those challenges. Dissident Discipleship takes students into the spiritual practices that are most challenging in our larger society. Augsburger encourages and he also shapes through questions, stories, and suggestions on embracing the disciplines for humility, surrender, and the practices of love.
Mark DeYmaz and Harry Li. Ethnic Blends: Mixing Diversity Into Your Local Church. Following DeYmaz’s Building Healthy Multi-Ethnic Churches, Ethnic Blends is a study text for congregations wanting to become healthy multi-ethnic churches. Li’s insights and questions join DeYmaz’s crisp and clear theological teaching to take students into transformations of the heart while pursuing our promises to God.
Scott Williams (2011) Church Diversity: Sunday, the Most Segregated Day of the Week. Williams makes plain how segregated Sunday remains, the case for multicultural congregations, and some wonderful examples of churches leading the way.
Gregory Boyle (2010) Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Boyle shares lessons he has learned as a priest with heart, working in gang dominated areas, creating with a loving community and a loving God a growing circle of people of peace. This is one of those texts so packed with stories of transformation, it will surprise your spirit regularly into remembering them long after reading.
Leanne McCall Tigert & Maren C. Tirabassi. (2004) Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality, & Spirituality. We need more resources like this one for faith communities and leaders to better appreciate, support, and celebrate transgender members and familiess, work with theological questions and interpretation, and honor and create rituals. Perspectives shared include those of family members and friends, allies and supporters, and transgender people. It is a theological text growing out of experience. Hopefully, we will see many, many more books of prayers and rituals and works theologizing from many different transgendering faithing experiences and perspectives.
Barbara Brown Taylor (2010) An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. Barbara Brown Taylor shares generously from her experiences of the sacred, from workshops to wandering across farmland, through a difficult stormy time into the grubbiness of potatoes. These are not sermons, but meditations, little jewels to nourish and challenge the spirit, and offer us ways to approach our own lives with open-hearted courage and curiosity.
Lance Ford, Alan Hirsch (2011) Right Here, Right Now: Mission for Everyday People. – another inspiring brief on growing a heart for God in your community, not only your community of faith.