Tuesday, October 29, 2019

I Bet You Thought I'd Stopped Reading...

Two more works for the list--as I work toward my self-determined goal to read 25 books this year--one more to go!

Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Stephen B. Oates

I am a part of a book discussion group that our church has, and this book was a recent selection for discussion. That introductory note is partly to explain why I only recently read this biography, first published in 1982.

My knowledge of Dr. King was only cursory, having been aware of him in the 1960s. I confess to having had only a surface level of knowledge about his life. Of course, the news of his tragic death was one of those sentinel events in the 1960s, and one of which I was well aware.

So, I approached reading this book to fill in the gaps.

DID IT EVER…fill in the gaps, that is.
I have read a fair number of biographies, and I am hard pressed to recall a more exhaustive one. The author provided much material on Dr. King’s childhood, his formative years, his family background and his education. The book covers his educational development, his call to ministry and his awakening understanding of the mission he felt he had to pursue.

And that is just the beginning.
The work is long—exhaustive is one word. I learned so much more than I ever knew about Dr. King’s life. So for the reader who undertakes reading it should be forewarned that the reading is not easy.

My objections are few—they are 1) the book is too hagiographical. While Oates does cover many of the flaws in Dr. King, he does so in such a way that he dismissed the fact of those flaws. 2) The book uses extensive exhaustively long portions of speeches and sermons. No doubt, that proves that Oates had permission from the King family to use those writings (they are famously parsimonious in permitting the use of Dr. King’s words. 3) The way in which the sources are cited is somewhat unusual. As it happens, I was reading an e-reader version. So when I attended the book discussion, I asked if the quotes were cited. Well, my fellow readers showed me that in the print version, sources are credited at the end of the book—by page number. Frankly, this technique is arduous and totally unhelpful to a serious scholar who would want to check source.

My overall assessment—this is one of the more important books I have read since it informed about a great man in current American history about whom I previously knew only the barest of facts.

Photo source: Time.com


Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

Barbara Brown Taylor is a well-known author whose works deal with spirituality, questing, and faith. I learned this when I began to read Leaving Church. You see, I had not encountered any of her works before. When her book AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD, I was intrigued with the title, but for whatever reasons didn’t read it.

So, how did I come to read her earlier work LEAVING CHURCH? One of my friends at church gave me the book and said she thought I might like it.**
 So, I read it.
What to say? First, yes I liked it. It resonated with me in ways that works such as those by Elaine Pagels (WHY RELIGION) and Rachel Held Evans (SEARCHING FOR SUNDAY). In many ways LEAVING CHURCH is a similar kind of personal account. Of course, the details differ, because the authors differ. Each has her own journey to describe. Perhaps I view LEAVING CHURCH through the filter of how closely it approximates my own experience. Rachel Held Evans’ book comes the closest to describing the kind of upbringing I experienced. 

Barbara Brown Taylor’s journey is long and multi-faceted. She describes her early longing for and search for spiritual connection. While the earliest expression she details in the book is a strong connection with nature, she moves on to describing her sense of call to Christian ministry. As a result, she becomes ordained as a priest in the Episcopalian Church, after her seminary training. Her initial call as a priest is to a large church where she is one among several priests. The grinding demands of that work, along with the oppressive sense of living in a highly urbanized area lead her to seek the calm of a more rural area. She and her husband find just such a location to which they move, and she begins life as a solo priest in a small church.

Each of these priestly calls have joys, triumphs, as well as valleys. Just as in the urban church, she begins to feel drained in the country setting. Thus the title LEAVING CHURCH. She traces a somewhat tortuous circuitous faith journey. Perhaps not surprisingly, she experiences burnout in her solo pastoral situation. And then leaves church.

That does not mean she loses faith—her faith continues, broadens and becomes more nuanced. 

If you enjoy and/or are inspired  by faith journeys, you may enjoy this book.

** Thanks, Lois.