The Pastor’s 2021 Reading List

It’s that time again. Every year, I collate the library of books I read. Unlike other lists, which merely serve as wish-lists for what we want to read, I only list what we read. Sometimes I don’t finish the whole book, but that’s not the point.

What is the point? To let you know what this pastor reads, and to inspire you to read too. Let God not accuse me of adding to the illiteracy of ‘Merica.

Connecting the Dots, by Fred Craddock. My favorite preacher, now two years gone, writes of his early life and calling to the ministry. Although the book is not typical Craddock (he is a much better oral storyteller than writer), it is captivating to see how God planted the seeds of a ministry that became world-renowned.

The Craft of Preaching, by Fred Craddock. I figure since I read his memoir, I would snag his latest collection of lectures and lessons on preaching. Filled with practical tips and whimsical stories, Craddock is at his best in discussing the mechanics of sermon formation and biblical narrative exegesis. I have used at least three or four of his stories in my sermons in the past two months already…

The Young Minister, by Peter Goulding. I thoroughly enjoy reading books and religious material from the early 20th century. In fact, I would say that it makes for some of my favorite reading. What frustrates me most, however, is when I stumble upon an amazing book for which there is little information on the internet. My research shows that Goulding’s book, about a young minister settling into what it means to be pastor in the New England town of Knotty Ash, is a novel.

The library of congress categorization of such affirms it to be fiction, but it certainly doesn’t read like fiction. Goulding, writing from first-person narrative, uses his own name in the narrative and writes as in keeping a real-time memoir. His dedication is to “Stella”, who plays prominently in his story. That doesn’t sound fictitious to me. But, true to form of other books I’ve read from the 1940s, it is a real page-turner, and I can relate to many of Goulding’s antics and circumstances in the ministry. I am thoroughly enjoying it, and I am grateful that one of my own parishioners, Jane, gave me the book, “A gift,” she said, “From my mother who has been deceased for quite some time.” Thank you, Mom! I’ll cherish it and add it to my religious literature collection from that era, right alongside Harry E. Fosdick and Paul Scherer.

New Every Morning, by Philip Howard. Touted as an “uncommon devotional book,” this book of short entries provides a pastor’s musings on nature, humanity, the vocation of ministry, and on biblical lessons in every day life. I enjoyed the content, and started my own spiritual autobiography based on its rhythm and tone. And the line drawings interspersed within its pages, by Howard’s brother, James, also inspired me to pick up my own pen-and-paper while I went on a retreat to St. Simon’s Island this past winter. It is a first edition published by Zondervan in 1969, right at the tale end of my favorite era of religious literature, and you can tell that I enjoyed it immensely. I am uncertain at the moment how I acquired this treasure of a book.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Imagine a world where firefighters start fires instead of extinguishing them, and that’s what you get when you read Bradbury’s timeless dystopian novel. Writing in a nuclear age of uncertainty, Bradbury envisions a future in which big government censors education and critical thinking not only by banning and burning books, but by keeping people addicted to opioids, screens, and talk radio on “ear seashells” — his version of ear buds. When I read this in March, I would sometimes look up from my book to see my children and wife on their respective screens, be it laptops or phones, listening to earbuds. And then I wondered just how Bradbury knew what our future would bring!

I was supposed to read this book in 8th grade, but failed to do so. When I read it now, some 30 years later, I wonder why any middle school would assign the book. It is not the easiest book to read for that age group. But I’m glad I read it now in my old age. I get Bradbury’s future, but more importantly, I feel that in many ways–especially with cancel culture on the move–that I am living it.

Mrs. Dallaway, by Virginia Woolf. My first foray into the world of Modernist literature did not fail me. I always wanted to read Woolf, whom many claim was ahead of her time. I found that to be true–and her insight into every little “thought” — read: stream of conscience — is both engaging and inspiring. That kind of writing can get tedious at times, but it is a world of wonder to see how authors of Woolf’s caliber created a world within a world. I was impressed, but I don’t think I can read this kind of literature long-term!

The Book of Revelation, by Robert Mounce, The New International Bible Commentary of the New Testament. Every once in a while, I come across a commentary that I want to read for fun. Since I enjoy the book of Revelation, and read something on Revelation almost once a year, I chose this book this year because I have had good luck with the NIBCNT before, especially in my studies on the Gospel of Luke. I recognized Mounce’s name because he wrote a textbook on Greek, and his writing in this commentary is no less powerful. I found the commentary to be engaging, accessible, and–in some ways–creatively balanced in scope and scholarship. Mounce doesn’t play into any theological agenda, but gives the facts straight on a biblical book that is near impossible to pin down.

My only critique is that he wrote before a time when “reading from the margins” became important in the life of scholarship. For that reason, Mounce does not address the subversive, satirical nature of Revelation, a reading that is most comfortable in liberationist readings of the text. Something is always missing when we fail to read Revelation from a “bottom up” approach in which we don’t take into account how oppressed, marginalized communities might find hope in a book written from the oppressed, margins of the Roman Empire.

KnuckleBALLS, by Phil Neikro. I am currently reading this book by the late Hall of Fame pitcher of the Atlanta Braves (and others…), Phil Neikro.

Alien: Prototype, by Tim Waggoner. This was my “vacation gift”, for our summer vacation. Spotted this novel, newly published in the Alien series, at Books-a-Million and dropped more money on a new book I wouldn’t have otherwise spent. The book was worth it, however, as I enjoyed this stand-alone novel about a rogue alien, who is also a carrier of a deadly disease, on a corporate colony on Jericho 3. I also enjoyed the book because it got me back into the Alien universe since I have been building up my Alien movie collection since the start of COVID.

Spiritual Discernment and The Spirituality of Fundraising, by Henri Nouwen. The Henri Nouwen foundation has been publishing books of Nouwen’s writings, lectures, and reflections since his death. Since I am an avid Nouwen fan, I have been trying to purchase as many of these books (used, at least) as I can find. One book, on discernment, was not hitting any chords, so I placed it aside. The Spirituality of Fundraising, however, which I read just in time to start preparations for a capital campaign at church, was excellent.

Here is some context: Our church decided to hire a consultant for our campaign. Upon getting to know the consultant, I asked him if he had a book to recommend me, as pastor, so that I can be prepared for the entire process. Nothing came to mind, although some of the materials from his firm provided a good foundation. Within two weeks, perusing my local used bookstore, I stumbled upon Nouwen’s book on fundraising. The book, less than 100 pages, hit the nail on the head and argues that fundraising moves through stages of incarnation, conversion, and invitation. Fundraising, says Nouwen, is not about getting or raising money, its about building relationships and challenging people to relate to their resources differently. Stewardship is a spiritual exercise, not a mere means of budgeting well. Good stuff, and highly recommended for pastors or non-profit leaders who need to always challenge their folks to be stewards and financiers of God’s mission.

Amos: the Farmer of Tekoa, by Herman Veldkamp. This book of sermons by Veldkamp navigates the rather difficult book of Amos. Amos is not easy to teach or preach. It is of the earliest books of a prophet, and it is full of judgment. Amos ministered quite early in the history of a divided Israel, with the nation of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. But this, long before the Good News of messianic hope expressed in books such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, is at the beginning of the end for Israel: Amos pulls no punches, and the only word of hope comes in the ninth inning (literally the ninth chapter), when God promises that he will not judge the people forever, but establish a kingdom of salvation…eventually. Veldkamp does his best with the material he is given, and I applaud him for making a book of his sermons. But with that kind of content, you get the feeling that Veldkamp is grasping for straws at times just to pull something to say out of an otherwise difficult prophet.

Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Aftermath of Trauma, by Shelly Rambo. This book by theologian and traumatologist Shelly Rambo explores the biblical narrative, history of interpretation, and application of Thomas’s meeting with the Risen Christ in John 20. While some theologians, such as John Calvin, have sought to downplay Christ’s post-resurrection wounds, Rambo argues that the wounds of the Risen Christ are necessary to recall oppression, address trauma, and provide a way of healing for both oppressors and the oppressed.

As I was reading this book, I was reminded of one of the last times I saw my father: He was on a gurney in the undertaker’s office with gauze covering half of his head and part of his eye. The undertaker was taking great pains to reconstruct his head for an open-casket. My father, a victim of a mass shooting while attending a town hall meeting, was shot twice from behind–in the rear and in the head. Those wounds were real, and the pain I experienced witnessing those wounds were real. When Thomas touches Jesus wounds, there is recognition: This is a God who knows suffering, who knows grief and trauma, and who is courageous enough to wear his wounds in solidarity with the wounded.

My father used to always tell me that we have empty crosses hanging in our home because Jesus was raised from the dead. “We don’t have crucifixes,” he’d say, “because Jesus died once for our sins, and he is no longer on the cross.” But in this case, my father was wrong. And, years later, I hung up my grandfather’s crucifixes in my office to remind me that the same God who suffered and died did so to let us know that he has entered into our humanity fully and without reservation. The wounds on the Risen Christ affirms that he still stands with the wounded even today. No wonder, in Revelation 6, upon the Second Coming, Jesus comes once again, not in perfect brilliance, but as a “Lamb as though slaughtered”. Praise be to God.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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