Summer Reading: The God Stories

God made people, because God loves stories. (The Talmud)

So quotes Leila Berg as she begins the delightful storytelling of major and lesser-known and only-rumored Old Testament stories in The God Stories (Francis Lincoln Publishers 1999). She wants us to hear the stories for their own sake, without moral conclusions or theological presumptions — although many of the Biblical stories she retells would absolutely preach, because skilled storytellers have a knack for observing truth without standing on a soapbox to do it.

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The God Stories reminds me of Madeleine L’Engle’s retelling of Biblical tales with books such as Many Waters, as both Berg and L’Engle share an instinctive willingness to trust their readers with wild and fantastical tales that are unencumbered by literalistic or scientific agendas. It’s a celebratory space in the pages of Berg and L’Engle, where life and fable and faith are held together without discord. It’s a creative space that I wish more faithful people and preachers and communities of all religions would dare to inhabit. If we learned to tell imaginative stories with faith rather than striving to answer every question for faith, I wonder how we might impact the world in new ways.

“It is said in song and story [that] one day many people were waiting for Israel. Each had a question to ask him, and each believed that this one question deserved an immediate answer. … But Israel did not ask them to voice their questions. Instead, very very softly he began to hum. After a while, someone else in the room began to hum also, shyly, sweetly, picking up the tune with him. Then in the same gentle way, Israel began to sing, putting words to the melody. And after a while another joined in; then another; till one by one all in the room were adding the words, and all were singing.

“For a long time they danced. Then gradually Israel began to slow his dancing, and he began to quiet his singing. And all began gradually to dance more gently and to sing more softly. And into the silence, for the first time, Israel spoke. ‘I trust I have answered all your questions,’ he said. And he smiled, and left them.” (251-252)

The God Stories is a refreshing summer read, and one of several books that I turn to when I need familiar Biblical stories to come to life for me again, for my own spirit and for my work in ministry.

Mourning with Jacob (a litany)

We were here.
Now we are not.
Even “here” is gone.

What we have known as life
Now we will know as history
While tomorrow remains only hearsay

We would set a stone if we could
A marker to say, “Here was change”
A memorial to acknowledge, “Here were others”

But there is no cemetery
for relationships and homes and structures
that have defined our comings and goings for so long

So we pray to Jacob with his fondness for stone-markers
to share his life lessons in consolation through change
to show us how to grieve without sacred burial grounds.

Summer Reading: Voices Crying Out in the Wilderness

It is an ecclesial crime to preach a thoughtless and irrelevant sermon. (65)

So premises Gregory M. Howard, editor of the newly-released Voices Crying Out in the Wilderness: Contemporary Theologies of Preaching (BorderStone Press 2014). It is the first book on my summer reading list, admittedly because I contributed one of the chapters but more importantly because I’m eager to read the perspectives of my colleagues in the book and to be kept ever on my toes by them in this ministry of preaching the Word.

voices-crying-outVoices Crying Out in the Wilderness is an academic work aimed to critique the hermeneutically casual or contextually negligent preacher by uplifting seven theologies of contemporary preaching.

The contributors study a rich history of wisdom — from Aristotle to Paul Tillich, Samuel DeWitt Proctor to Katie Geneva Cannon — in identifying the challenges and convictions of modern preaching as well as the theological underpinnings that compel their own sermons Sunday after Sunday. While the contributors each bring their particular perspectives, collectively they agree that the sermon must relate to and impact change within people’s lives here & now, not merely proclaim the sweet by & by for which people must wait patiently.

Preachers are faced with the daunting responsibility of proclaiming fresh and relevant messages that liberate, as well as lead, people into a life of practicing the reign of God — transforming the world one life at a time. (149)

On a personal note, it was fascinating to reread my chapter, “Opening the Canon,” which I wrote several years prior to the final publication. What I see in my writing (of which I am constantly critical and I would edit endlessly except that there is more to write) is not only a reflection of my preaching theology but also the foundational compulsion of my upcoming book, Sacred Pause:

[to challenge] the literary stagnancy of scriptural translations that rely on coded and encumbered language, lacking relevance to non or new Christians who find the words outdated and losing the provocative edge with lifelong Christians whose familiarity with biblical words too often becomes a source of contentment. (53)

What are you reading this summer? Feel welcome to share as a blog comment! I’ll be posting my summer reading as the Monday Muse series for the summer, in part to share the joy & resource of books and in part to be accountable to myself for actually reading the books that I accumulate. 🙂

All That I Don’t Know

the wrinkled rhinoceros
the stretch of clouds
the red moon
the next move in chess
the juggler’s rhythm
the touch screen
and more:
the fulfillment of God’s Kindom
the final success of Love
the tenacity of Hope
but I am
too familiar with
the bitterness that swelters into war
the despair that goads violence
the fear that baits politics.
all that I don’t know
is the best and the wildest
of this world and of You
while all that I know
(but profess not to)
is the conflict of me.
ah, my God, teach me wonder
and joy in unknowing;
nurture my hope in
the unimaginable
the miraculous
even the new
even the
foolish

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