In a season when people are taken up with the cinematic tale of a boy and a tiger set adrift on the ocean, my mind went immediately to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) (J.W. Arrowsmith, 1889). Exhibiting an enviable skill at self-deprecation, Jerome offers us a hilarious first-person adventure story on the Thames involving two companions (based on real friends) and a dog. Part Victorian travelogue and part study in human nature, the account is remarkably timeless and makes for a wonderful holiday distraction. I am looking for the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel (Arrowsmith, 1900), in my stocking!
The Rt. Rev. Stephen Andrews is Bishop of Algoma.
Margaret Visser, in Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal (Grove, 1986), tells the story of the assembly of a simple and straightforward meal and does a good job of plotting the course of human civilization from its origin to our own day. In the process she uncovers interesting facts that most of us have forgotten (if we ever knew them), both about the food we eat and the culture we live in. The author does not have an axe to grind except perhaps that it is the civilized life that is worth living. In its modest apologia for what is human and what is humane it provides a subtle theological propaedeutic to the Gospel. The title provides a case in point, from Byron’s poem “Don Juan”: “Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.”
The Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt is Bishop of Tennessee.
Few books published on the Holy Spirit can be recommended as highly as Steven R. Guthrie’s Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human (Baker, 2011). Guthrie shows us that at the heart of the Spirit’s work is the renewal of our humanity: we are re-humanized, not de-humanized. With this perspective in mind, he invites us to enter the world of human artistry and re-envision the arts. This is beautifully written theology, and will reward virtually any reader at multiple levels.
The Rev. Jeremy Begbie is Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School.
In conspicuous contrast to the world’s annual orgy of materialism, elves, and snowflakes, the community of Christians has long prepared for Christmas by reading Scripture’s apocalyptic texts. Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre (Michigan State University Press, 2009), the latest offering by the inimitable if idiosyncratic René Girard, is an engrossing and compelling consideration of Western cultural and intellectual history from the Enlightenment to the present, through the lenses of the Gospel’s apocalyptic texts and the writings of Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. A perfect gift for thoughtful Christians concerned about the situation of contemporary culture!
The Rev. George Willcox Brown III, SSC, is rector of Church of the Holy Cross, Dallas.
In The Infancy Narratives (Image, 2012), the latest and long-expected installment of his Jesus of Nazareth series, Pope Benedict XVI tackles the difficult subject of the theology and historicity of these narratives. The initial media hype around the book, accusing the Pope of donning the Grinch’s cap and stealing the joy out of Christmas crèches, undoubtedly reflects the careful and nuanced balance of historical and theological reasoning which has characterized prior volumes in this series. For those who have appreciated such classics as Raymond Brown’s An Adult Christ at Christmas, the Pope’s newest book looks to have all the makings of an excellent and substantive stocking-stuffer.
The Rev. Michael Cover is a priest of the Diocese of Dallas and doctoral student in theology at the University of Notre Dame.
Denys Turner’s Julian of Norwich, Theologian (Yale, 2011) convincingly demonstrates that Julian’s reflections can be deemed theology “by the most demanding standards of comparison with her medieval peers — Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonventure and Thomas Aquinas.” He insists that Julian cannot fit into modernity’s conception of a “mystic”: she did not consider her “shewings” (visions) to have “some character of epistemic independence relative to the common teaching of the Church.” Turner’s analysis of the theology of the “shewings” explores the heights and depths of the mystery contemplated by Julian: “the very love that is the Trinity willed to reveal itself in a world in which there is sin.”
Brian Crowe, a member of the Church of Ireland, blogs at Catholicity and Covenant.
I have just finished Waves of Life (Sai Publications, 2012) by Anitah Aujayeb, a Hindu from Mauritius who expresses herself on the plight of women through the experiences of her mother. She pins down the reality of a Mauritian girl living in a rural and working-class area in the 1970s. She presents situations and characters that, despite the harshness of life, acknowledge the power of faith, love, and the dignity of a person. This recognition aims at transforming a way of thinking and therefore the hope of the person. Waves of Life is a charming, unexpected account of women’s roles in Mauritian society. It insists that true fulfillment through a great sense of humility is possible. We only need conviction, courage, and faith.
The Most Rev. Gerald James “Ian” Ernest is Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean and Bishop of Mauritius.
The Preacher wrote, “Of the making of books there is no end.” The same might be said of electronic tablets. I chose the Nook Simple Touch (Barnes & Noble, $99): small enough to fit a jacket pocket, with an easy-to-read screen the size of a small paperback, and enough memory to carry an entire library. The GlowLight version ($119) is recommended for places without adequate reading light. Don’t just give a book, but a library.
The Rev. Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, is rector of St. James Church, Fordham, Bronx, New York.
As soon as it was published this summer, I snapped up a copy of Dinner: A Love Story: It all begins at the family table (Ecco, 2012), the first cookbook from one of my favorite food bloggers, Jenny Rosenstrach. In the Hylden family, foodie wife and novice husband equally love both the recipes and presentation of this family-centric collection. The meals are flexible, with offerings for dinner parties as well as for 20-minute weeknight suppers. This is a must for families of all stripes — both in composition and in kitchen acumen!
The Rev. Emily Hylden is curate of the Church of St. Michael and St. George, St. Louis.
Blanche and Robert Jenson
In The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Yale, 2012) Robert Louis Wilken tells how it went during the Church’s long formative period. A master of the scholarship writes for the rest of us, with simplicity and grace.
Blanche and Robert Jenson live in Princeton, where he is a senior editor for the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology.
Imagine a world in which no babies have been born for 25 years, adults have their pets baptized, and an authoritarian state kills the elderly by the barge-load. Such is the dystopian vision of novelist P.D. James in The Children of Men (Knopf, 1993), set in 2021. Alfonso Cuarón’s film (2006), blind to the novel’s Christian themes, pales in comparison.
Douglas LeBlanc, TLC’s associate editor, lives near Richmond, Virginia.
In 1990, Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest opposing apartheid in South Africa, opened a letter bomb that nearly killed him. Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer (Orbis, 2012) is the challenging and inspiring account of how losing both hands and one eye brought him into radical new engagement with the gospel and the ministry of reconciliation God entrusts to us. It explores the heart of incarnation and redemption: how the one born in a stable who later rode a donkey into Jerusalem meets us in our physical and mortal reality.
The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba is the Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (Henry Holt, 2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (Henry Holt, 2012) have received very favorable reception in the press, and Mantel has won two Booker Prizes for them (the first British author to do that). But there are lots of books that draw favorable critical attention and are, in fact, lousy. These books merit the attention and praise. They are psychologically acute, politically deeply intelligent, rich in historical detail, and — for me most important of all — they have an ominously compelling momentum that feels a bit like the impetus driving the plays of Aeschylus. This gripping reading can lead to some deep thinking.
Charles Mathewes is Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.
I recommend Nora Gallagher’s Practicing Resurrection (Vintage Books, 2003). A memoir about vocation and grief, Gallagher’s book has been a companion for me as I have mourned the deaths of family members this year. She is able to find glimmers of hope and surprising moments of grace in the midst of challenge and despair, and she draws her readers into a community of wise and faithful Christians.
The Rev. Ruth Meyers is dean of academic affairs and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
Michael Chabon’s Summerland (Hyperion, 2002) follows young Ethan Feld on an unexpected adventure that leads from the baseball diamond to an alternate universe filled with faeries, sasquatches, werefoxes, and other fantastic creatures. Though less known than Chabon’s other novels, it has the kind of vivid language and quirky descriptions that make all of his books a joy to read. Steeped in American myth, this book would make a great gift for kids and adults alike.
The Rev. Jonathan A. Mitchican is rector of Church of the Holy Comforter, Drexel Hills, Pennsylvania.
James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers (Icon Books, 2010) shows how the foundations of modern science were laid by medieval Christian philosophy and theology and tries to redeem the Middle Ages from the unthinking negative evaluations propagated by generally anti-Christian polemicists. My own Triple Jeopardy for the West (Bloomsbury, 2012) examines challenges to the Judaeo-Christian tradition and its importance for policy and legislation, as well as its role more generally in the public square.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester for 15 years, is president of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue.
Michael Nai-Chiu Poon
Hymnal Companion to Sound the Bamboo: Asian Hymns in their Cultural and Liturgical Contexts (GIA Publications, 2011) is a 650-page book by I-to Loh, Asia’s pioneering Christian ethno-musician and composer. This hymnal companion offers a fresh approach to understanding Asian theologies. God’s Word embraces our minds and senses as well as our intellect. This book invites us to tune in to the hearts and minds of the peoples in Asia today.
The Rev. Canon Michael Nai-Chiu Poon is director and Asian Christianity research coordinator at the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia, Trinity Theological College, Singapore.
Rudyard Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills (Thacker, Spink, and Co., 1888) is surely one of the most brilliant first books of an author on record — indeed, a most brilliant book, period. Published when Kipling was 23, yet written even earlier during his tour as a young journalist in India, these are as profound, funny, heart-wrenching, politically savvy, and morally demanding stories as you will ever read. Spokesman for empire? His reflections on cultural and political turmoil, sexual mores, human misunderstanding, and moral ambiguity and tragedy are nuanced and challenging. I have not read this book but I have listened to it repeatedly on my iPod, as an MP3 downloaded from one of the great resources of the internet, LibriVox.org. Its volunteer reader, Mike Harris, is superb.
The Rev. Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto.
I highly recommend The Passionate Jesus (SkyLight Paths, 2012), the newest book by Peter Wallace, producer and host of the Day 1 radio and online program (www.day1.org). In the midst of my own travels and busyness, what a delight it is to encounter the Gospel stories anew and learn from them about love and compassion and even anger. Wallace’s personal reflections combine poignantly with his careful and care-filled approach to Scripture, helping me recognize that what I already know about Jesus can all too easily get in the way of really knowing Jesus on a much deeper level.
The Rev. C.K. Robertson is Canon to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
Tad Bird, head of school at All Saints in Fort Worth, recently gave me The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ (Anchor, 2010) by David Shenk. Shenk’s fascinating and provocative book addresses the long-standing debate about nature vs. nurture in a scientifically based but direct and convincing way. He argues that genetics do not dictate our individual destinies. Rather, we are influenced by a dynamic interplay between genes and outside stimuli — a process we can influence. While Shenk focuses primarily on the implications of his theory on children, his thoughts have broader application in the Christian context as we encourage and empower people to become all God is calling them to be.
Donald V. Romanik is president of the Episcopal Church Foundation.
I suggest House of Prayer #2 by Mark Richard (Anchor Books, 2011), winner of the Pen/Hemingway award. Richard (he’s a Cajun by birth, so it’s Ri-shard) was born with a hip deformity and spent much of his childhood in hospital; his coming of age was turbulent. His memoir — which reads more like literary fiction — is full of wonderful humor as well as brutal truths, with a profound underlying message of God’s prevenient grace. I first heard about his book on The Diane Rehm Show, but I recommend it especially for men. Watch Richard’s interview with Tavis Smiley at http://is.gd/GbmcaS.
The Rev. Fleming Rutledge is the author of several books, including The Battle for Middle-earth, And God Spoke to Abraham, and Help My Unbelief.
Keys to Jerusalem: Collected Essays (Oxford, 2012) is the finest new book on Jerusalem. Written by the pre-eminent archaeologist Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, it is a collection of his essays on the history, archaeology, and theology of Jerusalem. Particular emphasis is placed on the early Church’s faithful witness to the authenticity of the Holy Sepulchre. When Hadrian covered over the site of Jesus’ tomb “its inaccessibility caused it to be remembered all the more vividly.” Resurrection faith triumphed over paganism.
The Very Rev. Graham M. Smith is dean of St. George’s College, Jerusalem.
Quantum Leap: How John Polkinghorne Found God in Science and Religion, edited by Dean Nelson and Karl Giberson (Monarch Books, 2011), is a fascinating story of a distinguished particle physicist who became an Anglican priest and theologian and is “probably the most significant voice in this generation’s conversation about science and religion.” Through the story of Polkinghorne’s life and work and family we encounter the big questions: creation, resurrection, afterlife, the problem of pain, whether the universe has a point, and so much more. It’s well written, very accessible, and a must for anyone grappling with the conversation about science and religion.
Dame Mary Tanner is a member of the Church of England and President for Europe for the World Council of Churches.
Cast as a “frankly and unapologetically pro-marriage anthology, intended to help young people of marriageable age, and parents,” think about the “meaning, purpose, and virtues of marriage,” Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying from Notre Dame’s Ethics of Everyday Life series (2000) assembles a treasure trove of mostly classic texts that the author-editors, Amy and Leon Kass, taught to several generations of undergraduates at the University of Chicago. Expertly introduced with a plenitude of wisdom, humor, and a light hand, subsisting in Socratic questions, each section pursues difficult topics (“Why Marry?” “Is This Love?” “How Can I Find and Win the Right One?”) in an older idiom, attractive for its foreignness — Erasmus, Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, De Rougemont, and so on. Amid a flood of bad thinking and writing in this field, I found this book astonishing, encouraging, and much else. A perfect gift for any student or teacher, disciple or apostle, of marriage.
Christopher Wells, editor of TLC, lives in Milwaukee.
Jo Bailey Wells
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2010) is a short novel that vividly and simply describes the story of a Sudanese “lost boy” walking hundreds of miles across unfriendly terrain in the midst of the most recent Sudanese war, told in parallel with the story of a typical Sudanese village girl’s life today. I read it to my son and daughter (aged 9 and 8) but have also shared it with adults eager for a taste of life in South Sudan, as well as with immigrant children learning English as a second language. It manages to bring home the beauty of African culture whilst sharing some of the horrific hardships of war — in a way that is neither sentimental nor paralysing. My children were moved to pray and to raise money, above all to relate to a brave-and-beautiful people far away whom they now feel to know. When they had the chance to meet a Sudanese “lost boy” through church, they were eager to ply him with questions!
The Rev. Jo Bailey Wells, until recently director of the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies at Duke Divinity School, works at the Anglican Communion Office for the Continuing Indaba project. She teaches regularly at seminaries of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
The Round House (Harper, 2012), Louise Erdrich’s National Book Award winner, is a deeply moving account of a family’s struggles in the wake of an unspeakable event. Told by an adolescent who is struggling with the transition from boy to man in a Native American community, the story places its readers in the midst of the intersections of race, gender, and class as those affect truly interesting and deeply human lives.
The Rev. Ellen K. Wondra is professor of theology and ethics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and editor in chief of the Anglican Theological Review.