The Ben Kane Book Review (BKBR)

Benjamin Kane —  June 10, 2014

Photo Sep 27, 11 19 23 AMI read the NYTimes Book Review before any other section and I start with the book reviews in The New Yorker.  Maybe it’s because I harbor a desire to write a book or maybe I dream of getting lost in the next great novel or maybe I need help navigating a problem.  Books help me answer some of life’s most difficult questions.  As I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who puts his/her nose into the spine of a book—an actual one as I’m not a fan of the e-book craze—I thought I’d share the five books I’m reading this summer:

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus by Robin Meyers

My dad suggested I read this book, but I was put off by the title and his bio where he said he was twice a top candidate to be the pastor of a prominent church.  That struck me the wrong way.  However, I dug into the book because it sat on my shelf and I couldn’t resist the idea that the church needed to change.  I’m glad I picked it up because Meyer presents a simple idea for the church—particularly the more liberal, progressive church to claim as we examine Christ’s call to us in the 21st century—“Do something,” he writes.  Simple in nature, but complex in action – this is something we can all attempt.  He spends a good portion of his book explaining how the church got to where she sits now—what I liked about all this history was that he didn’t apologize for it or attempt to explain it away or sweep it under the rug; no he owned it and called us to do the same.  Thankfully it isn’t a “how-to” book so one must read it with an eye on your particular context.  If you are looking for something that will shake you a bit, but not rock you completely off the boat—check out his book.

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.

I’d read anything she wrote—even if it was the ingredients to salsa.  Her words flow off the page and emerge within my heart and mind as if she were standing beside me sharing her thoughts.  This book emerged out of BBT’s desire to look at how negatively we—namely Christians—view darkness or anything dealing with the dark. Using her typical candid stories she regales you with the reasons why she wanted to explore the subject of darkness and how/why darkness consumes our fears, faith and—for some of us—our lives.  Again this isn’t a ‘how-to’ book; her intention—like most of her books—is to open our eyes to a new interpretation of our faith.  Too often we settle into our beliefs without too much thought.  Great writers gently expose this truth about ourselves and help us—should we want to—expand our minds and hearts and, hopefully, deepen our faith.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont.

I haven’t finished this book so it is a half-way review.  Like many books I bought it and then promptly forgot about it.  I picked it up the other day because of a desire to write.  Lamont doesn’t shuffle around the difficulty and heartbreak of writing as a career as well as hide behind the allusion that only writers know how to write.  She bears her soul as she does in all her writing.  Using her personal story as an entryway into the writing life she welcomes any aspiring writer on her journey.  This isn’t a technique book and she won’t aid your ability to hone your skill—but what she will do is light a fire under your writing tush.  I’m about halfway through and the line I keep remembering is her insistence that “writers write, everyday at the same time.”  It is a start and one I’ve latched onto.  Where this book takes me and its other readers, I know not.  But if you are interested in writing—whether professionally or for your personal enjoyment—Lamont opens your eyes to the joys and struggles of writing that make you want to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard!

Open Source Church by Landon Whitsitt.

All I’ve read of Whitsitt’s book is the back cover and the introduction.  I purchased it, intrigued about the opportunity to utilize his personal experience as a pastor where he gleaned the thoughts, ideas and opinions from his congregation as he sought to create a more open sourced church.   Additionally, I wasn’t sure what the phrase “open source church” meant and reading the book seemed to be a great way to learn.  I heard Whitsitt speak at a Montreat event so I was confident of his ability to share useful information (I’m also more likely to read a book by someone I’ve met or heard instead of a random author).  Plus he continues to be actively involved in the life of the local church (he now works for a mid-council body; for non-churchy types—that means he works for an entity that helps local churches) so I’m assuming (I know what that means!) that he continues to utilize the tenets of his book—if he doesn’t I’ll have another blog post in the future!

Collected Stories by Flannery O’Connor.

I live in the south and who better to help me understand life in the south than one of the greatest southern writers.  This summer I’m rereading many of her short stories, particularly “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” “Parker’s Back,” “The Displaced Person,” “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” “The River,” and “Good Country People.”  There are plenty more to read and worth your time, but those are my favorites.  I took a class in Divinity School—twice, in fact, because it was so well taught—about her work and I love how she reveals the incarnation in grotesque and often unchristian experiences and people.  For those who believe God exists outside of the usual, sacred spaces – her stories provide avenues to glimpse the Triune God.  For preachers, her stories jar our thinking about how God works in the world—something I believe all our congregations need to hear.

I’m fairly certain I’ll purchase The Fault in Our Stars because I’m a hopeless romantic and love coming-of-age books and films.  Additionally, I’ve heard The Vacationers is a must-read and, confessionally, I’d love to finally sit down and finish I and Thou by Martin Buber, but he is dense and summer isn’t always the best time to be dense.  What are you reading and why?  Given my suggestions above, what would you suggest I check out?

Benjamin Kane

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Ben is a husband, father, son, brother, and a PC(USA) minister. These identities provide him myriad glimpses of God's unconditional love and grace. He is a Duke basketball fan, NPR listener, reader of almost anything, occasional writer & runner, hopeful New Yorker cartoon creator, and discerner as to who God is. He is the Pastor at Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro, NC--"the crossroads of western civilization."