Back in the Saddle Again
It is so good to be back at Crosswalk! Special thanks to our Church Council for granting my Sabbatical Leave. This was my first Sabbatical in 39 years of ministry and it was definitely worth the wait! Many people deserve thanks for making this trip possible. A special acknowledgment to Rev. Ed Taylor, whose advice and wise counsel and support made a big difference; and to Lois Caldeira whose research, expertise and connections made the trip possible. We followed the footsteps of the apostle Paul (and in some respects the apostle John as well), traversing through Turkey, Greece, and seven Mediterranean Islands! We had 15 flights, 6 Ferry rides, four car rentals, and stayed in 20 hotels or guest houses. It was an amazing learning experience as well as a break from the stress and rigors of ministry. Of course, lessons and experiences will be shared over time.
One of the blessings of taking a break is that I could catch up on some reading, which is what I want to share with you in this blog. I won’t bore you with my reading that would be of limited interest, but rather focus on the books that others may want to delve into.
Taunton, Larry Alex. The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. Many of you will remember Christopher Hitchens as the vanguard of the so-called “New Atheists.” His book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, was a ruthless attack on God and all who seek to love and serve Him. Larry Taunton is a thoughtful Christian who organized many of the debates Hitchens had with Christian apologists. Along the way, Hitchens and Taunton developed an unlikely friendship. In fact, Taunton himself participated in one public debate with Hitchens. The book gives insight into the issues but also reveals a behind the scenes look at the notorious atheist. What impressed Hitchens most about Taunton’s Christianity?
Well, you need to read the book to get the full story, but of course it was his lifestyle choices. The Taunton family adopted a 10 year old girl from Ukraine who was HIV positive. Her name is Sasha, and Taunton writes this about Sasha sharing her faith in Jesus with the famous atheist: “Her story, her testimony, moved the argument over Christianity, both the one on the stage and the one in his heart, from the theoretical to the personal. For the whole of his life, Christopher had longed for, and cynically dismissed the possibility of a higher love. Here was a glimpse that such a love might be real.” Also of import were the Bible studies Taunton and Hitchens shared together in the Gospel of John. Yes, Christopher Hitchens studied the Bible with a Christian leader! At one pertinent time in their study of John’s Gospel, Taunton asked Hitchens, “believest thou this?” His answer may surprise you.
Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air. At the age of 36, after completing a rigorous 10 years of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air is his story of transitioning from being a healer to being one who needed healing, from treating others to one who needed treatment himself. In the process, he also journeyed to faith in the Lord. A review in the New York Times said, “Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.” Kalanithi died in March 2015, and his wife wrote the last chapter. I highly recommend this emotionally touching story of life and death, doubt and faith, despair and hope.
He writes: “Although I had been raised in a devout Christian family…I, like most scientific types, came to believe in the possibility of a material conception of reality, an ultimately scientific worldview… minus outmoded concepts like souls, God, and bearded white men in robes.” The book chronicles his return to faith, and his legacy of hope.
Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. I don’t read a lot of novels, but I enjoyed this one. The story is about the parallel lives of a blind French girl and an intellectually gifted German boy in pre-World War Two Europe, and how their lives eventually came together. I read somewhere that it took the author ten years to write this book. That’s not hard to believe because this is a literary delight. The book shows human nature at its best and at its worst. One of the recurring lines in the story is the conclusion of a radio broadcast: “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” There are none so blind as those who will not see.
Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert. The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland. One reviewer wrote of this interesting book, “The Story of Alice takes us, full throttle, back to the unalloyed passion of reading. This is what it is like to open a book, and to wonder.” This is a historical biography about two people who are actually four persons. Remember, this is the guy who wrote about tweedledum and tweedledee! Lewis Carroll is the wonderer whose imagination goes down rabbit holes, and Charles Dodgson (the man behind the pen name of Lewis Carroll) is a ministerial student and Oxford mathematician who lives a celibate and dreary life. Alice in Wonderland is a girl who has fantastic adventures in a make believe land, Alice Liddell Hargreaves is the real life personage who had a life of fame because she was the inspiration of someone she could never become. This is a fascinating but somewhat unsettling read. You have to have an interest in the Alice in Wonderland story to fully enjoy this book. Oscar Wilde once said a map of the world without Utopia on it isn’t worth consulting.
And then lastly,
Kailey, Kenneth E. Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians. I’m still in the process of working through this book. Leanna and I enjoyed our time among the ruins of ancient Corinth, and I’m enjoying this book which takes a unique and entirely different approach than that of most commentaries. Kenneth E. Bailey was a renowned New Testament scholar, seminary professor, author, and career missionary. His earlier studies on the parables of Jesus opened my eyes to new perspectives on old stories. Bailey was born to missionary parents who served in Egypt, the Sudan and Ethiopia, so he was introduced to Arabic and Arab cultures in early childhood. This insight has formed the basis for his scholarship. Honestly, this book is for those who want to delve deep into New Testament studies. I continue to work through it and you can expect a sermon series or a class on 1 Corinthians in the future! Ken Bailey died earlier this year, and this book is definitely a part of his spiritual and scholarly legacy.
Happy reading, and I hope to see many of you on Sunday!
With great affection,