June 9, 2016

Dear Hyde Park Family,

With tomorrow’s final day of the Hillsborough County Public school year, and with the June solstice just a few weeks away, we can begin to herald the long daylight and blazing sunshine of summertime in Florida. I’m looking forward to Annual Conference next week to be with clergy colleagues from around the state, and a speaking event I have lined up in Michigan at the end of next month. In between, Grace and Maddy will be with me for a week in July, with two of their best friends from Iowa, for a time of fun, rest, and relaxation in the Florida sun.


Every summer, I try to create more regular downtime to tackle an ambitious reading list. Grace, who is a voracious reader with a bedroom bookcase bursting at the seams, has challenged me to read Ready Player One, a bestselling novel by Ernest Cline that is jam-packed with pop-culture references from the 1980s. I have added that list to the following stack, which includes a mix of light and heavy titles that hopefully will entertain, spark imagination, and strengthen my work as your pastor:

(Note: Titles marked with a (*) will be available for purchase in our Aldersgate Corner Coffeeshop and Bookstore.)

Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World* by Miroslav Volf. Volf is one of our great contemporary theologians whose previous book, Exclusion and Embrace, is a landmark work on peace and reconciliation. Flourishing tackles the common atheistic notion that religion and religious adherents are detrimental to the world. Instead, Volf argues that religions, at their best, can work together, rather than against each other, to shape and be shaped by an increasingly globalized world. In an age where people of different faiths demonize rather than cooperate, this seemed like a timely read for me.

Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered* by Martin B. Copenhaver. I’ve loved works by Martin Copenhaver for a long time. Nearly twenty years ago, he co-wrote a book called Good News for Exiles: Three Pastors Offer a Hopeful Vision for the Church, which gave me profound encouragement during the earliest years of my ministry. The premise of his latest book is summarized neatly in the title. Jesus asked a lot more questions than he answered, and an examination of those questions reveals a deeper understanding of his mind and heart. It looks to be a fairly simple, straight-forward, and accessible biblical study.

An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture* by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, and John McKnight. Walter Brueggemann is one of my all-time favorite biblical scholars, but I have to admit I had not heard of this book until Justin LaRosa told me he gave it his highest recommendation. “This book is absolutely kicking my butt in a scary, good way,” he said. That’s a compelling enough reason for me to check it out myself. I am guessing by the title that it has to do with two of Jesus’ favorite sermon topics, money and the Kingdom of God, and the proper connection between the two.

The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime* by Phyllis Tickle. On September 22, 2015, the Christian church lost one of its most significant, most innovative voices. Phyllis Tickle was on the leading edge of the Emerging Church movement, which attempts to renew the church through a reframing of old binary categories of evangelical/progressive, fundamentalist/liberal, modern/Post-modern. In its place is the creation of communities that emphasize ancient liturgical traditions and community dialogue. Among her many contributions is the renewed attention she gave to the practice of the divine offices, which are structured daily prayers that guide the Christian year. Prayers for Summertime seemed like an appropriate devotional to guide me over the next few months.

Wool by Hugh Howey. Okay, this one is for pure fun. And by fun, I mean the opposite of fun. It’s a dystopian work, which seems to be the trend among some of our more popular novels (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, 1984, Brave New World). I’m not sure what makes dystopian stories so appealing, but this one seems to be particularly interesting: it is actually a collection of short stories originally written and separately distributed through online, e-format. Together, they form a story about a post-apocalypse community struggling to survive in an underground city called the Silo, which is submerged 144-stories below the surface of the earth. I picked it up for pure escapist fun. But like most science-fiction that I’ve read, I suspect it will get me thinking about universal truths about the world today.

I know, I know. Most of these books are more esoteric than escapist, which makes for some atypical summertime leisure reading.  But these titles will hopefully do more for me than simply provide entertainment.  They will broaden my perspective, sharpen my skills as a biblical preacher and public theologian, and enhance my creativity. More than anything, I hope they make me a more grounded person and more effective minister as we reenter life together in the fall.

So, how about you? I would love to hear what is in your reading stack this summer!

Grace and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

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