An energetic doctoral student in popular religion will someday produce a history and taxonomy of holy cards, the distinctively Western devotional images that serve a complementary role to the Eastern church’s icons; until then, I commend two collections of holy cards by Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua: Holy Cards (Harry N. Abrams, 2004) and Patron Saints: A Feast of Holy Cards (Harry N. Abrams, 2007). You may then want to begin haunting eBay and other sources. The neo-gothic Société Saint Augustin cards are unquestionably the best (say I), but there are enough varieties of style that many who appreciate the visual dimension of the Church’s life will enjoy these volumes.
The Rev. A.K.M. Adam is tutor of New Testament at St. Stephen’s House, Oxford, and non-stipendiary lecturer in New Testament at Oriel College.
For a number of years, Christmas Day has not passed without an airing of some of Bach’s Christmas Cantatas. After the chaotic pageants and grandiose ritual in the days preceding, there is much comfort to be found in JSB’s simple piety: “Come, ye Christians, join the dance; rejoice at that which God has wrought today!” “I bid Thee welcome, my sweet little Jesus! Thou hast taken it upon Thee to be my little brother.” This year, I’m holding out for his Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). John Eliot Gardiner or the most recent Nikolaus Harnoncourt recording would be nice!
The Rt. Rev. Stephen Andrews is Bishop of Algoma.
I immediately thought of a YouTube video, “Ya Rabbi Yasou (My Lord Jesus).” This music was composed by the Rev. John Young, a Church of Scotland pastor who was moved by the martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya earlier this year. In a video posted by ISIS, one of the martyrs called on “Ya Rabbi Yasou.” Pastor Young’s song brought tears to my eyes and reminded me that our church in Egypt is founded on the blood of the martyrs. It also reminded me of what Tertullian said: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” There is now a church in Upper Egypt in the name of these 21 martyrs. My hope is that when people rejoice and celebrate Christmas, they also remember the suffering Church in other places of the world.
The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry (Random House, 2003) is one of the magnificent books by Henri Nouwen. I have found it so helpful for me in this very noisy world. I learned how solitude, silence, and prayer can help me as a person and as a minister to grow into the heart of God. This passage touches me deeply: “Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our true nature.”
The Most Rev. Mouneer Anis is Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
Anthony D. Baker
Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach (Knopf, 2013) is a deep journey into the life and craft of the Baroque master, by John Eliot Gardiner, one of the great conductors alive today. The book focuses on his church music, specifically cantatas and passions, and the liturgical contexts for which he wrote them. The text is heavy with musicology, though not so much that a non-specialist (like me) cannot follow. It is also theologically rich, and at its best when musicology and theology come together.
Anthony D. Baker is Clinton S. Quin Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Seminary of the Southwest, and editor in chief of Anglican Theological Review.
John C. Bauerschmidt
The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper, the first novel in the Leatherstocking Tales, takes place on the shores of New York’s Lake Otsego after the Revolution in the early days of the new American Republic. Cooper here introduced his readers to frontiersman Natty Bumppo and his Mohican friend Chingachgook, earlier versions of which would be encountered in his later and better-known novel, The Last of the Mohicans. This historical romance from the mid-19th century has worn better than one might think. Not only does one encounter typically American characters, but also the collision between an early environmentalism and a nascent capitalism, as well as the working out of the American “experiment in democracy” on the frontier. A bonus for Anglicans is the well-drawn portrait of the Rev. Mr. Grant and his daughter, Louisa. I picked up this novel on my father’s recommendation in an effort to distract my mind this summer, and quickly read all five with great enjoyment.
The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt is Bishop of Tennessee.
I suggest Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, as an appropriate stocking stuffer this Christmas. Pope Francis is intentionally engaging the world in a conversation about the future of our planet. It is a provocative and profound reading of the signs of the times. Do not limit yourself to two articles about it in a newspaper. If we want to leave a legacy of life and hope to future generations, and be artisans of justice in today’s world, we do well to take some time with this fine volume and to share it generously with others.
The Rt. Rev. Donald Bolen is Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan.
Mark F.M. Clavier
In The Wilderness Journeys (Canongate Classic, 1998), John Muir recounts his travels by foot in the late 19th century from Indianapolis to Florida, later in the High Sierras, and finally by foot and canoe in Alaska. Readers will enjoy his delightful description of the South not long after the Civil War and of the unspoiled American wilderness. Even more compelling is his almost childish delight in nature and what it taught him about God.
The Rev. Mark F.M. Clavier is acting principal and dean of residential training, St. Michael’s, Llandaff, Wales.
Jason A. Fout
In A Nazareth Manifesto: Being with God (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), the Rev. Samuel Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, explores the shape of Jesus’ ministry. He notices that Jesus did not only do things for people, or do things with people, but spent the majority of his life simply being with people. He draws on this observation to critique the Church’s usual social engagement, suggesting we move beyond only doing for and doing with those who suffer, to being with them. Alongside other insights, Wells provides a powerful theological basis for Asset-Based Community Development.
The Rev. Jason Fout is associate professor of Anglican theology at Bexley Seabury Theological Federation in Columbus, Ohio.
Since my beloved friend Brett Foster died a few weeks ago from cancer at an obscenely young age, I have been revisiting his poetry. An English literature professor at Wheaton College, Brett was prolific, and, God willing, more poems will appear posthumously. But his first collection, The Garbage Eater (Northwestern University Press, 2011), is feast enough in the interim. Allusive, witty, even chatty at times, like their extraverted, irrepressible author, these poems are alive with “spirit, which means to shun its listless / weight for yearning, awkward if not more earnest / prayer.”
Wesley Hill is assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day has become our kitchen bible, with the dough stains and water-wrinkled pages to prove it. One batch of dough will keep for a few weeks in the fridge, and when you cut off a hunk and shape it according to directions, it turns into pita or pizza crust or a peasant loaf or a baguette. With just a few adjustments, the dough turns into cinnamon rolls, brioche, focaccia, or humble sandwich bread.
It’s so simple my husband can use it, and so mysteriously brilliant that I keep exploring the iterations. Give it to an eager novice or a seasoned professional; it’s easy and enjoyable for most any audience.
The Rev. Emily Hylden edits TLC’s Daily Devotional and helps with worship at the Downtown Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
If we are not clear about identity, we will not be clear about mission, says our new presiding bishop. As Kenda Creasy Dean shows in Almost Christian (Oxford, 2010), too often our identity amounts to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Why? Charles Foster explains in From Generation to Generation: The Adaptive Challenge of Mainline Protestant Education in Forming Faith (Wipf and Stock, 2012). We have not been teaching the faith to our children. Read both, not just for bracing diagnoses but for insightful prescriptions.
The Rev. Jordan Hylden is a doctoral candidate in theology and ethics at Duke Divinity School and an adjunct professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
In recent years I have shifted my attention to the brighter corners of social media: a friendly podcast here (many choices at Ricochet.com), a service there (RememberTheMilk.com). Feedly Pro offers steady joy, and the reward of helping an already impressive weblog aggregator always improve itself.
Douglas LeBlanc is a TLC associate editor.
I recommend a small box of delicious ripe pears from Harry and David, based in Oregon, which will ship directly to the ones you love. The pears will remind them that God’s grace always comes at the right time; that the fruit of the earth is delicious; that everything ripens and there is a time for everything under the sun; and you will feel righteous and proper for having sent such a healthy, life-giving gift. Order a box for yourself, as well! That way, you can share the experience from afar.
The Rev. William Lupfer is rector of Trinity Wall Street.
The Rev. Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis: A Novel explores the transformative effect of Franciscan thinking and living today. The Wild Gospel: Bringing Truth to Life by the Rev. Alison Morgan explores the challenge of the gospel to our time in a most refreshing way. Both books are recommended very highly by Rowan Williams.
The Most Rev. David Moxon is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See and director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
Matthew S.C. Olver
Sweeping, grand stories have become popular among scholars, and in The Unintended Reformation Brad Gregory offers his perspective on how central aspects of the late medieval and Reformation culture directly but unintentionally brought about today’s strange situation. What joins Stalin and American democracy? John Duns Scotus and Richard Dawkins? Gregory delivers. The book is not without weaknesses and could have been more focused, but its strengths far outweigh any faults. Contemporary thought and culture will look forever different when you finally put it down.
The Rev. Matthew S.C. Olver, a priest of the Diocese of Dallas, is teaching fellow in liturgics at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.
For the philosophically curious: a membership ($5/month, $50/year) to The Partially Examined Life: A Philosophy Podcast and Philosophy Blog. Three guys with philosophical smarts talk, argue, harrumph, analyze, digress, and ruminate about an astonishing range of philosophers’ works. Some of these dozens of podcasts are available on YouTube; most require a membership. It’s worthwhile for walks, car rides, exercise, thinking.
The Rev. Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.
This Christmas, I recommend two films that were made some time ago, but are in many ways more relevant than ever. Romero, starring Raul Julia and produced by Paulist Productions, explores the last three years of Oscar Romero, Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador, before his martyrdom. It is a poignant and powerful movie. Likewise, Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story, also by Paulist and starring Moira Kelly and Martin Sheen, examines the life of this extraordinary woman who famously said, “Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” In this time when both Romero and Day are being talked about again, by none other than Pope Francis, these movies are worth watching.
The Rev. C.K. Robertson is Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Beyond the Episcopal Church.
Donald V. Romanik
Of all the holiday books out there, one of my favorites is A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, originally published as a short story in 1956. This largely autobiographical sketch, which takes place in the 1930s, describes the Christmas traditions of the 7-year-old narrator and an elderly woman who is his distant cousin and best friend. This tender, poignant, and evocative narrative focuses on country life, friendship, and the joy of giving, and gently touches on issues of loneliness and loss. My family reads it aloud every Christmas, which always leads to smiles, laughter, and a few tears.
Donald V. Romanik is president of the Episcopal Church Foundation.
For lovers of politics, Anglicanism, and the Church (two out of three will suffice) with a taste for richly textured fiction: volume one of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall (2009), winner of the Man Booker Prize. Mantel has mastered smart subtlety, artful allusion, wicked irony, philosophic gravity, and she serves the historical record, spreading out the English Reformation on a great canvas. She is not a Christian and questions the Church’s doctrine, corruption, and foibles with the confidence of a high-modern humanist, but her concerns are good and fair and the account trustworthy (save in its picture of Thomas More?). The sanctity she finds has the ring of truth.
Christopher Wells is executive director of the Living Church Foundation and editor of The Living Church.
Jo Bailey Wells
Find a recording of John Tavener’s “God is with us.” So long as the choir has some big basses and a good tenor soloist, you need not be too fussy about a particular recording — though the one from King’s College Cambridge will not disappoint. The words preach themselves in this piece, which is one of the most rousing expositions of the nature of incarnation that I have ever heard. God is with us all the way down, from the shivers that will tingle down your spine to the uttermost end of the earth. Ask your whole family to pause and listen to this piece together (played loud) as you sit down to eat: the most stirring grace you will ever hear.
The Rev. Jo Bailey Wells is chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury.