Little Mary, I know you don’t always read long posts, but there is a link to the novel you asked about awhile ago in here… so at least skim it…)
I used to read a lot. When my siblings and I were young we would beg and beg and beg to be able to use the Slip and Slide on our very flat backyard. My father was rather particular about the yard, for some reason, and didn’t like us doing this very often. So it had to be 80 degrees or hotter and there were various other variables that all had to align in order for permission to be granted for this rare treat. As a testimony to how much I read as a youngster, I remember staying in our darkened living room while my siblings slipped and slid away on one of those rare days that permission was granted because I was absorbed in a Ramona Quimby novel and would not be pulled away from it.
I used to walk to our neighborhood public library and take out piles of books in the summer. I was, without a doubt, a voracious reader as a youngster.
I think something about higher education changed that in me. I felt guilty about never quite getting through all my required reading so I stopped reading for pleasure. It took me about six months into the year I took off between college and seminary before I realized I could read for pleasure again. Then, once again, in seminary it was all I could do to stay on top of my required reading, pleasure reading fell by the wayside.
Throughout my six years in the parish I read in spurts. I took to listening to a lot of books thanks to the wonders of audible and the mahvelous iPod. And I did usually read a book or two on vacation every year. But… the devouring of books that was a hallmark of my childhood… twas only a distant memory.
One of my classmates here, also a new Ph.D. candidate, different area of the religion department (he might be reading- hello, j, if you are!) seems to me one incredibly well read young man. I’m not sure, honestly, what work of theology he hasn’t read and he isn’t even in the theology department. He has made some great recommendations that I hope to get to some day. Folks like J reveal to me how much I have slacked in the reading department in terms of scholarly reading, and many of my revgal friends who took on a book challenge in 2008 have been revealing to me my pleasure reading slacking.
Well, I’m happy to say that the tide is slowly turning. I took the book challenge too, and I have read more than I’ve blogged about, but can’t reconstruct it all now, but I just finished two books in the last 24 hours, one scholarly, one for pleasure. And I want to tell you about two other books I’ve completed (one read, one listened to) in the last few months.
First the one completed last night that is unrelated to the other three. I FINALLY read Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoir Leaving Church. When this first came out I was afraid to read it because I was beginning to contemplate leaving parish ministry behind for another tour in academia and I was feeling TERRIBLY guilty about that. I was afraid that she would some how speed up my eventual departure with that effective way she has of telling stories. So I didn’t buy it then. About a year ago, when it was clear that I would be moving on in a year, one way or another, I bought it. But still… for some reason… was afraid to read it. Well, now I’ve left church (not really, we’ve been worshipping every week since I have left the pulpit) and decided it would be good nighttime company. And it was. There were parts of the book that grated on my nerves. The middle section in which she reflect on what she lost in leaving the church behind and on her months in the wilderness was the most grating section. I appreciate her candor and the honesty of her self-reflection, but the sense of power she attached to her role as priest was jarring to me. I have not felt since leaving the parish like I’ve lost a great deal of power. It is not hard for me to have a pew view of worship. (Yes, I’m overly critical of what transpires in many worship service, but I don’t ache to be in the pulpit and I don’t yearn to be behind the table or font.) I don’t have a problem singing the hymns someone else has picked. I wonder if, after more time passes, more time than say I might have been away on vacation anyhow, I’ll feel more of what she felt, but I don’t think so. There was something about her ego that was grating to me. But I suspect, maybe, it was grating to her and she wrote it in such a way to communicate that. In any case, as she made the transition from parish to academic teaching, it was good to read of her journey. And… the woman can write. She comes by any ego she’s got quite naturally.
So the remainder of my reading for the past several months (save for the bits and pieces of baby related reading I’ve been doing) has circled around Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am taking a seminar on this great 20th century theologian (and martyr- I think I can appropriately call him that) this fall, but quite accidentally picked up some pleasure reading in May that opened up my thinking about his work a bit early. I picked up this book and started skimming it while at a book store with my mentor during leadership training for the Presbyterian G.A.. She found me reading the first chapter and took the book from me and bought it for me. She’s known to do things like this. Pretty much ever since becoming a solo pastor, I’ve been a sucker for memoirs and novels about pastors, especially small town or rural pastors. I never got that into the Mitford series, but swallowed several others, especially memoirs, whole. The novel I picked up in May is called Abide With Me and it tells a moving story about a young minister serving in a small town in the mid-twentieth century. This minister suffers a great tragedy and that tragedy is revealed so slowly one’s imagination is left to wander quite delightfully. The pastor featured in this novel is a huge fan of the then recently killed Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He turns to his writing writing frequently for strength as he navigates dramas small and large in the life of his parish and as he prepares to preach week by week. Bonhoeffer is frequently quoted in the novel. I had no idea until I got a bit into it that I had chosen pleasure reading that would whet my appetite for the academic reading to come.
I decided then a few weeks later to see if I could find any other pleasure reading that would highlight Bonhoeffer in some way to download before my trip to Ohio for my reunions in early June. I found then the novel Saints and Villians which was a fictionalized telling of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It seemed like it could be good preparation for all the reading of Bonhoeffer’s scholarly works that I would be doing this summer and fall and had the added benefit of being some 20 plus hours long, that always makes me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. Kev and I started listening to this on trip to and from Ohio and we were both so into it that I stopped listening to it until we moved and then we listened all the way through the rest of it on our 1,000 mile move. And indeed… it was an excellent way to prepare for the semester. I was completely drawn into the story of this man and eager by the time it was through to read him for himself.
And for the past week or so that is exactly what I have been doing. I decided, of all the books we are to read for this semester, to start with Discipleship, the fourth volume in the most recently released collection of his works. Most folks know this book, and have already read it, in an earlier translation that was titled “The Cost of Discipleship”. Somehow I got through seminary never having read any Bonhoeffer- just one of many gaps in my theological education thus far. In honor of what would have been his 80th birthday in 1986 the first of sixteen volumes of the definitive German edition of his works was released, and the last one was released in 1998. New English translations from this definitive German collection began to be prepared in 1993. The newly titled “Discipleship”, which the translators believe to be closer to Bonhoeffer’s intentions, is, as I said, the fourth in this series. Though I haven’t read the earlier edition, I have read a famous quote from it many times “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That is translated a fair bit differently in this edition, but was recognizable enough to lead my eyes to the editor’s footnotes where I saw evidence that indeed this was the material that had once been so heavily quoted. I chose to start with this book, though it probably would have been wise to start with Volume 1, his dissertation, because the process of preparing to write this book is discussed at length in the novel Saints and Villians and I was extremely curious about what the final product ended up being.
It took me awhile to work my way through it. I was disciplining myself to take notes on every chapter as I don’t trust myself to remember what I’ve read come fall (I’m reading ahead due to a need to wrap up the semester early to… give birth). Bonhoeffer is a remarkably lucid writer. Where I find myself reading some sentences and paragraphs (and some paragraph long sentences- and yes, I’m aware that I’m wordy enough to be a theologian) in theological writing over and over again searching for understanding, I found myself re-reading material in Bonhoeffer not for lack of clarity, but because of the power with which it hit me. His writing, for the most part, was not challenging to comprehend, but it was deeply challenging to absorb- to LIVE. J, my classmate who is so well-read, walked by as I was reading this the other day during lunch and asked what I was reading. He spoke of Bonhoeffer works he has read recently and I shared my impression that the material was deeply personally challenging. He responded “Yes, and he writes so homiletically that he makes you WANT to live it.” Yes, most theologians don’t effect me in quite that way. Many theologians are not also pastors.
In the novel, D.B. bemoans the fact that he is an ineffective preacher. If he ended up preaching anything like he wrote theology… I cannot imagine that his preaching lacked power. Seldom has a volume of theology been so convicting and stirring for me. I believe the impact was enhanced by having just finished the novel which ends, of course, with his death by hanging shortly before the end of the second world war. Here is a man who walked his talk. He lived the cost of discipleship to the bitter end. And thus… one is even more compelled to take him seriously.
So, tomorrow I will step back to volume one. I am fearful that his doctoral dissertation will be less lucid and compelling… but it is a work of ecclesiology, which is my interest… so… hopefully it will hold me.
It is good to be reading again.