Dear Hyde Park Family,

With the start of school just around the corner, I hope that you and yours have had a full, enriching summer break. Perhaps that has included diving into a good book or two. For today’s Midweek Message, I thought I would share the ten books I enjoyed this summer, including the one many of you have asked me about from last Sunday’s sermon.

All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown, edited by Catherine Burns. This was by far the best book I read. It’s a collection of real-life stories originally told live by notable people as part a series of storytelling events around the country called “The Moth.” Last Sunday’s sermon closed with Auburn Sandstrom’s story called “The Phone Call.”

One of the stories, called “The House of Mourning,” contains the single most beautiful passage I read all summer, about confronting grief in the wake of a loved one’s death: I tell them, “Just walk fearlessly into the house of mourning, for grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy. And after all these mortal human years, love is up to the challenge.” There are forty-five stories in all, each powerful and poignant. Don’t be surprised if you hear a few more woven into future sermons.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. Over the years I have developed a great fondness for The Boss and his music, and his recent memoir is exceptional. He narrates the 18-hour audiobook, and listening to it was itself like a Springsteen concert: long, encompassing, exhausting, and by the end, you wish it could go on longer.

Its best moments are when he is at his most vulnerable, an artist searching for his voice, amid a sea of constant cultural change. He reveals the intensity, intentionality, and granularity of his decision-making process as a songwriter, which I experienced as a master class in storytelling for preachers like me. December 15 can’t come soon enough, when I finally get to experience his acclaimed Springsteen on Broadway, when his final performance is live-streamed on Netflix.

Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World by Miroslav Volf. Volf is one of the greatest contemporary theologians of our time, and his most recent book has a timely, compelling premise: Even though religion, at its worst, may have contributed to our world’s greatest problems, the solution to those problems can only be found by religion at its best. Religion and globalization, when partnered in synchronization with each other, can enable the widespread, sustainable flourishing of all people in the world.

The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel. It’s a fictional story of two immigrants living in south Florida: a woman from Columbia, and a man from Cuba, both longing for freedom from the heartache and hardship of their past.

Engel vividly portrays life and culture in Miami and Key West, and tackles a host of social issues like immigration, capital punishment and poverty. Most importantly, she explores feelings of exile and dislocation. How does one establish identity, rootedness and purpose? What are the pathways to freedom from that which confines us? Ultimately, what does it mean to be “home”?

Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism by Wlliam Willimon. Many of our societal struggles are rooted in our inability to talk about systemic racism, as it elicits passion like few other subjects in our national discourse. Willimon is a former United Methodist Bishop, Dean of the Chapel at Duke Divinity School and a highly regarded teacher of preaching.

His latest book calls preachers to engage the task of talking about racism, and he uses as a case study a sermon preached in 1947 in Greenville, South Carolina by Rev. Hawley Lynn, in the wake of a brutal murder of a black man named Willie Earle by white supremacists. He calls it “the greatest sermon ever preached before South Carolina Methodists.” Every page, every point, packs a convicting punch.

The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels by Jon Meacham. Mark Twain once said, “History never repeats itself; at best, it sometimes rhymes.” Meacham’s book reminds us that as uniquely troubling as these times might be for many people, it is heartening to know that we have been there before as a country, and we can learn to abide by what Lincoln called “our better angels.”

Embracing the Wideness: The Shared Convictions of the United Methodist Church by Kenneth Carter. I was privileged to be asked to read an advanced copy and provide an endorsement for this new book by our Bishop Ken Carter. As the denomination continues to navigate the anxious waters around LGBTQ inclusion, and as it prepares for the special General Conference in St. Louis next February, Bishop Carter provides a strong reminder of why it is good to be United Methodist.

God’s love is inclusive, all-embracing, and not confined by our self-imposed binary, polarized categories. It is quintessential Bishop Carter at his best: theologically rich, scripturally grounded, clearly stated, non-anxious, hopeful and filled with convicted humility.

Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Missional Ministries by Eric Law. The Program Staff heard Eric Law’s presentation at the recent Large Church Initiative in San Diego, and for many of us it was the most invigorating and enlightening talk we heard. Every local church is gifted six precious divine resources which, when released in generosity and humility, form a free-flowing cycle of grace within the church and outward to the community: Time & Place, Leadership, Relationship, Truth, Wellness and Money. We can’t help but imagine how profound an impact Hyde Park United Methodist can make when we allow all six to flow freely. We are now studying his book and expecting it to contribute to our wider visioning process.

Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible by Tom Long. I have long admired Tom Long, professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology, for the way he crafts and delivers his sermons. This book gave me an even deeper appreciation for how he engages the scriptural text, particularly the kinds of biblical literature that we preachers would often rather ignore. When I grow up, I want to preach like him.

What Do We Know about Pontius Pilate? by Simon Webb. All four gospels to some degree talk about this enigmatic figure from Jesus’ final hours. But what can we really know about him? This short, quick read covers a lot of territory, including the myriad of extra-canonical, historical literature that references Pilate after his notable exchange with Jesus. It also gave me greater insight into the one question Pilate asks Jesus that I think best captures the epistemological challenge for our world caught in the crossroads of such diverging ideologies and perspectives. “What is truth?”

So, there you go. Maybe not the most exciting list of ten books you’ll ever see, but each one made a pretty big impact on me. And I’d love to know what books you’ve enjoyed this summer. I’m always looking for that next great read!

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

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