Writings by Cole Huffman


The Books List 2013

Another pile of books await shelving, the perused pages of 2013. This may be the first year I write about my reading cognizant of how much it all weighs. I recently boxed 2013’s untidy stack and lugged it through a parking garage to Downline’s offices for their staff development meeting, a book show-and-tell and muscle stress-and-burn.

Let me say right upfront: I didn’t go looking for authors who pepper their writing with frank expletives. Nevertheless I found more than usual as I turned the pages this year; that those works made this list means I found the angles, prose, anecdotes, or insights of those authors compelling even if I endured their language at points. Taking a cue from the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” stickers on various media, I’ve noted those books with my own “Pastoral Advisory: Explicit Content” (PAEC!) notation. But I take a cue as well from the nineteenth century Scottish divine Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s reading habits. Andrew Bonar wrote of M’Cheyne that, “He found himself able to use the jewels of the Egyptians in the service of Christ.” That’s my aim in reading widely and so while my list is not for all it suited my reading needs ably. In no particular order:

·         The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times (Arlie Russell Hochschild): A book critiquing the pervasive commodification of our daily lives. I now know what a “wantologist” is.

·         Sex and God at Yale (Nathan Harden): How America’s foremost university biennially debases itself welcoming pornographers on campus for “Sex Week.” PAEC! yes, but my kids will read this before they go to college because this is college life now in many places, including an annual Sex Week at the University of Tennessee, thank you Ivies.

·         Losing Mum and Pup (Christopher Buckley): An often humorous memoir of the lives and deaths of his famous parents, conservative scion William F. Buckley, Jr., (“The Lion of the Right” was quite the cusser—PAEC!) and Patricia Buckley. But I ache for the author having no hope of life after death.

·         Surprised by Oxford (Carolyn Weber): A Canadian girl went to Oxford in the 80s for college and met an Oregon boy, pastor’s son, who led her to the last person she expected to meet in England: Jesus Christ. Beautifully written, great narrative tension—so much so I read the bulk of it in one weekend.

·         The Life You Save May Be Your Own (Paul Elie): Richly intertwined biography of four influential Catholic writers, their times and legacies: Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy.

·         Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien): Two evangelical scholars demonstrate how we mistakenly read our cultural sensibilities back into the Bible. My guilt in this was helpfully (and embarrassingly) exposed.

·         Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers (Anne Lamott): Lamott is muy liberal but I love her for sentences like these: “Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk.” (56-57)

·         The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (Rod Dreher): The author watched the small Louisiana town he thought he left for good rally to his dying sister and realized he was missing—and aching—for that kind of deep community. A powerful forgiveness story too.

·         The Sunflower (Simon Wiesenthal): What would you do if a dying Nazi officer pulled you out of your concentration camp duties to ask your forgiveness for his crimes against your people? The book compiles an assortment of thinkers’ musings on the limits and possibilities of forgiveness.

·         Death by Living (N. D. Wilson): “Your world is tiny, yes. But God gets tinier. Not one dust mite falls through the carpet fibers and into the pad apart from your Father. He’s big enough that small doesn’t matter. Dust-mite drama doesn’t use up His attention, taking it away from something deemed by mentally incontinent college professors to be more worthy of His attention. When one is infinite, one can enjoy two black holes arm-wrestling over a galactic snack, and an uncoordinated junior high quarterback struggling to escape an overweight junior high defensive end. Infinite goes all the way up and all the way down; and at every level, with equal attention, He creates with the full dose of His personality. Job of Uz: Why? The Whirlwind: Did you clothe the hipster and give him his coffee and inverted brand fascination?” (5) Wilson is an engagingly unique writer.

·         The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (Jon Ronson): PAEC! in places. A British journalist anecdotally examines psychopathy and sociopathy—and CEOs because some of them fit the profile!

·         A Public Faith (Miroslav Volf): How can followers of Christ serve the common good? Volf is something good at Yale.

·         Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (Andy Crouch): The church has simply not thought enough about power and its uses, good and bad. Crouch is an incisive diagnostician for where the church needs to improve its health in decaying societies.

·         I Wear the Black Hat (Chuck Klosterman): A PAEC! book though the author is the ethicist for the The New York Times Magazine. (Conservatives insert jokes here.) The book assesses the whole cultural phenomenon of villainy—how and why some among us qualify as bad people and “everybody” knows it.

·         The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert (Rosaria Champagne Butterfield): Talk about paradigm shifts! A Syracuse lesbian professor happy with her life is surprisingly befriended by an older pastor and his wife who hospitably lead her to Jesus. But that was easier than getting her to join up with Jesus’ church, people she viewed as genuine enemies. Now she’s married to a Reformed pastor and homeschooling her children. Incredible story to say the least.

·         Recovering Classing Evangelicalism (Gregory Thornbury): Introducing a new generation to the theological substance of Carl F. H. Henry, one of the evangelical luminaries of the twentieth century.

·         Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain): She debunks the myth of the extrovert ideal and our cultural devaluing and misunderstanding of introversion.

·         Your Church is Too Safe (Mark Buchanan): What happened to that church in Acts that “turned the world upside down” (17:6)? Buchanan takes no prisoners but aims his rebukes at liberating us from our tameness. A vivid wordsmith.

·         Letters to a Diminished Church (Dorothy Sayers): She was a colleague of Lewis and Tolkien, one of the famed Inklings of Oxford. This book is a collection of essays concerning the relevance of Christian doctrine.

·         Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (Francis Spufford): I bought this book in the famous Blackwell’s Books in Oxford, England, back in August, intrigued by the title. It’s PAEC! however as Spufford argues for his faith in a stream-of-consciousness manner replete with streams of earthy expletives. But then he isn’t writing to us but to an “apatheistic” (thanks Mark Buchanan, for the word) British society, trying to get their attention.

·         Gilead (Marilynne Robinson): A dying pastor keeps a journal for the young son he knows he won’t see grow up, writing to the boy about his fears, faith, and heart for him.

As of this writing I am reading Holy Luck, the poems of Eugene Peterson; The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson, a superb book on questioning (faith) well; and Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax, another book on the interplay of doubts and faith but written as “theology in story.” Next up is Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality; Timothy George’s Reading Scripture with the Reformers; and Rupert Shortt’s Christianophobia, another book by a Brit chronicling global oppression of the church.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 8:17 AM
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