The Taser's Edge

Reading for Formation

Part of my reading personality is that I re-read nothing, or next-to-nothing.  Even “favorite” books are not necessarily books I’ve read more than once.  The reason: I know there are plenty of books which I would love to read but will never get to anyway.  So it’s neurotic.  There’s nothing wrong with being neurotic.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about getting some books together to read each year for several years (or every year), books that form me in ways I would like to be formed, books that ignite my creativity or imagination or wonder, books that I know I just can’t understand without living through a few times at different points in my own life.

The short list:

  • The Bible
  • St. Augustine’s Confessions
  • Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

I’m currently failing at thinking of the novels or anything fun.  My fear is that a personal favorite but less celebrated book (The Razor’s Edge or The Chosen or The Invention of Hugo Cabret, featured above) will melt away to nothing after a couple reads, or that a great and massive book will eat away time I could spend reading other books.

As I continue to work towards being more fun, are there books that you think would make life better if you read them once a year for, say, the next five years?


On Thursday afternoon, I finally had my interview for a CPE residency at Duke Hospital.  ‘Finally’ because I was sick on Monday and had to reschedule.  It was brutal, although I didn’t realize until today.  As I prepared for this interview and the one at UNC, I kept thinking to myself that they were going to be my first real job interviews.  And UNC was.  They asked questions like, “Tell us about a particular incident during your CPE internship in which your theology was challenged.”  I had those incidents.  I can answer questions like that.

I knew that Duke was going to be different.  A friend had told me that one of their questions was, “When was the last time you were angry, and what did you do about it?”  On the basis of answers to questions like this, they decide who they want offering spiritual and emotional care to the patients at Duke Hospital.  (Okay, they do have a file on the semester I spent with them, a big application I sent in, and five letters of reference.)

I knew it was going to be different, but I wasn’t prepared for this.  Four people on staff–CPE supervisors, staff chaplains, etc.–and me in a room.  The questions began harmlessly enough, but then they pressed and pressed: “As I look at your verbatim [report of a pastoral encounter], I see the pastoral care and counseling aspect, but where is the clinical aspect?”  Gulp.  Mind racing: What does clinical mean in this setting?  Did I already learn this?  Should I ask? I asked.  He clarified.  I answered.  Kind of.

And later: “As you’ve been talking to us, I know that you’re sick but I noticed that you’ve cleared your throat a couple times, and that you’ve buttoned and unbuttoned your suit coat.  Did you notice that, too?  [I hadn’t.]  Now I know even Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but could you tell us if you’re experiencing anxiety right now?  If so, could you just let yourself rest in that experience and describe it to us?”  W-o-w.  What do you say to that?  You spill your guts.  This is not a regular job interview.

Like I said at the beginning, at the time I didn’t realize how brutal it was.  It actually felt kind of good being pressed to see new areas for growth in myself, blind spots uncovered as well as some old growth edges that still could use some work.  I thanked them for the interview, and I really meant it.  They had grilled me, but I had some wonderful things to think about whether or not I ever heard from them again.  (I kind of think I will, because I’ve heard vulnerability is what they look for.)  I went to my precept that afternoon and my comments were marked with emotional honesty…very important to a discussion of Nicomachean Ethics.  Really, it’s not a joke that my mouth was freed up to say what I really thought of particular arguments and conversations, and that is a good thing.

The next morning, Friday, I got up and messed around on the Internet most of the day.  Today, Saturday, was more of the same.  At some point in the late morning or early afternoon today, I realized that this interview has sent me eddying sideways for at least a little while here.  Into the doldrums.  Being pressed that hard to see that I still have real issues to deal with made me feel like the progress that I’ve made thus far counts for nothing and is nothing.  All my hard work of self-discovery through being personally honest and through practices of journaling, prayer, meditation, and honest relationships, and I still have these massive blind spots.  And with the hopelessness accompanying how little I felt that I’d come, along came the complete loss of drive and momentum toward the future.

What I’ve done these last couple days is to reduce this process called sanctification–a lifetime of having my tightly wound, terrified soul gently unwound and reshaped into the image of God–into too basic terms.  Am I done yet?  Nope.  Am I a failure?  No.

I am better.  Better than ever before.  Whole is not here yet, but whole is coming too.  I believe it.  Now if only I could get back to work.

“With all our heart and with all our mind, let us pray to the Lord, saying, ‘Lord, have mercy.'” Amen.

Tuesday Reading Roundup

1. A Bit on the Side by William Trevor–A book of short stories by an English writer whom I’ve seen compared to Chekhov in several reviews.  All kinds of “best living short story writer in the English language” stuff.  A few years ago I read his novel, Death in Summer, and I have to say that it was awful.  A mystery with no suspense.  I’m really not sure how to describe what went wrong with that novel.  But I’ve complained about it to a few people, and then Mom told me that his short stories are much better.  This is a Christmas gift from her and Dad.  I own far too many unread books, and thus I work to read books that I receive as gifts.  Part of this is because it bothers me when I gift books to people (as I always do, albeit a little tempered by Holly’s helpful wisdom since we’ve been married), and then they never read them.  So, part of my gratitude for this particular gift is to read it as soon as possible.  Lovely short stories here, giving good evidence that you don’t have to have much plot in order to write something gorgeous.  Little wisps of stories and very nice reading.  Especially nice since the short story format works well with the chopped up bits of time I have to read during the semester.

2. Great Lent: The Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann–Okay, so I haven’t yet begun this book.  Part of Tuesday Reading Roundup is to set the reading plan for the week ahead, and starting this book is on the agenda.  Schmemann is an incredibly well-known and well-respected Orthodox scholar.  He is especially known, at least in Protestant circles, for his work on worship and the sacraments.  Why am I reading it now?  Because Lent is not too far in the future, and I just have never gotten Lent.  Might this year be the year?

3. Mimesis by Erich AuerbachActually, I’ll only be reading the first chapter–“Odysseus’ Scar.”  This is for Introduction to Midrash.

4. Reflected Glory: The Spirit in Christ and Christians by Thomas Snail–The title probably explains as much as I could tell you about this book.  I’m reading it for Jeremy Begbie’s Spirit, Worship, and Mission class.

5. Beyond Companionship: Christians in Marriage by Diana Garland and David Garland–A book for Christian Marriage and Family Across Cultures.  All I would note is that the title is important–“Christians in Marriage” not “Christian Marriage.”  Dr. Acolatse, who is teaching the class, insists that the former is a better choice of words.  That might be a separate post sometime, as I’m not yet convinced that she’s right.

6. Perspectives on Marriage: A Reader by Kieran Scott and Michael Warren–Since mentioning this book last week, I actually did read a couple articles–a history of marriage within Judaism and Christianity as well as articles on specifically Protestant theologies of marriage (as this book seems to be Roman Catholic in perspective) as well as Jewish and Muslim understandings of marriage.  This also needs to lead to a separate post at some point on the issue of a Christian standpoint on gay marriage, one based in the history of church-state relationships with the institution of marriage, a history regarding which I at least had not been aware.

7. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle–As I’m finishing out this time through the work, I’m sure I shall return to it.   Incredibly rich and important, it certainly has earned its status as a classic.

8. Christians Among the Virtues by Stanley Hauerwas and Charles Pinches–You’ll see this a lot from week to week, as it tracks throughought the class I’m taking with Hauerwas this semester–Happiness, Virtue, and the Life of Friendship.

I must say that I’m finishing up this list for the week, it seems a bit daunting.  Losing last Friday to being out of town and today due to the flu is not going to help, either.

Tuesday Reading Roundup

It’s that time again (for the first time)–the Tuesday Reading Roundup!  It seems like regular features could be a good thing, so I’ll invent this one, in which I’ll tell what I’m reading of a Tuesday (and the week to come), providing impressions and reviews along the way.

1. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle–Much easier to follow then my memories of Aristotle.  (I remember having to read a section of Poetics my junior year at Concordia, and I got basically nothing out of it.)  This time I have to read all but the fifth book for Virtue, Happiness, and the Life of Virtue, a class I’m taking this semester with Stanley Hauerwas.  Such an intensely focused way of thinking through things and of organizing thought.  Reading it through the particular lense of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, as Hauerwas is wont to do.  30% completed.

2. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver–Although her last book (and perhaps her most well-known to many of that book’s fans) was the non-fiction Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Kingsolver is really a novelist.  This is her first novel, from 1988.  Solidly southern lit, strong female characters, immigration issues.  The story, the characters, and the warmth of Kingsolver’s writing make this book very enjoyable.  Her writing, at a technical level, is very good, but she doesn’t work at the sentence-by-sentence method of many other writers who perhaps write more finely, but could never come up with characters and a narrative so compelling.  A fast, light read too, if that’s what you find yourself needing.  85% completed.

3. Evangelism After Christendom by Bryan Stone–Bryan Stone is a professor of evangelism at Boston University School of Theology and this book looks at evangelism as a Christian practice, in the MacIntyrean/Hauerwasian sense of the word practice.  Stone draws heavily on Alasdair MacIntyre, John Howard Yoder, and (unsurprisingly, considering the first two) Stanley Hauerwas to create a postliberal revisioning of what evangelism is meant to be, namely a practice of witness by a church of integrity.  Stone argues both against evangelistic techniques that end at conversion and models of evangelism which measure their success in numbers.  He also is not about to say that the church should keep to itself.  Witness to the reign of God, done rightly as a traditioned practice, is a good in itself, and the results-based focus of many modern evangelistic movements fails to speak this clearly enough.  Unfortunately, it seems that, at this point in the book, Stone is mostly tying together the three authors that I have already mentioned.  I’m hoping for more than simple synthesis, and I’m assuming I’ll get it, so don’t read this as a negative review.  I will have it read within the next couple days as it is my reading for this month’s Anglican Missional Pastor meeting, which begins Thursday evening.  45% completed.

4. Perspectives on Marriage: A Reader, edited by Kieran Scott and Michael Warren–This is one of the main texts for Christian Marriage and Family Across Cultures with Dr. Esther Acolatse this semester.  The reading for this week’s class (the first session) is from this book, but I’ll admit I haven’t yet picked up my copy from Cokesbury.  0% completed.