Each year, The Living Church asks a number of our writers, supporters, and friends to suggest Christmas gifts that are meaningful to them. As an Amazon Associate, TLC earns from qualifying purchases.
Best wishes to you and yours for a blessed Christmas.
I suggest a Solo Stove Bonfire. As we know, the safest place to visit with family and friends during the pandemic is outdoors. With the weather turning colder, there is no better place to gather than around the warmth of a fire. One of our favorite family activities is to spend an evening around an outdoor fire without the distractions of our electronic devices. Stay safe and stay warm!
The Rev. Colin Ambrose is vice rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville and a new member of the Living Church Foundation.
Icons always make wonderful gifts, but even more so during these months when for many of us the only sacred space we have access to is whatever we can create in our own homes. Etsy has a wonderful selection of icons that are made by hand — including a wide range of icons from the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, which can help us to contemplate Christ and the saints in a new way.
Dr. Liza Anderson is an assistant professor of theology at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota.
I have been a fan of the essayist and television presenter Clive James since reading his memoirs of life as a post-graduate Australian transplanted to Britain in the 1960s. In Cultural Amnesia (Norton, 2007), James, who died in 2019, collected a number of essays on people whose significance he thought we were in danger of forgetting. The collection is as idiosyncratic as its author, and can be dipped into at leisure for both amusement and edification.
The Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt is Bishop of Tennessee and president of the Living Church Foundation.
I’m not a movie fan; or rather, I like them too much. I think about movies like Saint Augustine thought about theatrical shows. All too captivated, he admits: “Like the scratches of fingernails, they produced inflamed spots, pus, and repulsive sores.” But maybe Augustine’s movie rule has exceptions. If so, Terrence Malick’s Hidden Life (2019) is one, and would make a worthy Christmas gift. The saintly resistance of Franz Jägerstätter to Nazi propaganda models courage in the face of overwhelming cultural and ecclesial pressure.
Dr. Hans Boersma holds the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.
Knowing that religious communities are offering unceasing prayer for the Church and world this year is a tremendous comfort. One way to support monks and nuns in turn is to purchase handmade gifts from monastic communities. I’m ordering some delicious dried Oyster & Shitake mushrooms grown by the Trappist monks at Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, and picking up some homemade Bourbon Fudge from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky.
The Rev. Donavan Cain is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Florida.
I suggest All the Good Times (2020) by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. This record captures our moment in beautiful, stripped-down covers of classic Americana. As Rawlings wrote of their homemade pandemic record: “Sometimes we bumped the microphone, sometimes the tape ran out, but in the end, we captured performances of some songs we love.” Here’s to remembering beauty and joy are still possibilities, even when the tape runs out.
The Rev. Joshua M. Caler is rector of Christ Church, Pottstown, PA.
I am a sucker for slippers and commend the Men’s Christmas Fleece Clog House Slippers from Lands’ End. From my antiquarian book list (via eBay): Hilaire Belloc’s Hills and the Sea (1906), a delightful travel book. A more recent gem: Distant Neighbors (Counterpoint, 2014) by Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder; see their interview on YouTube. For your beloved theologian on a warm winter night: Peter H. Sedgwick’s The Origins of Anglican Moral Theology (Brill, 2018).
The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle is Bishop of Texas.
Robert Alter’s The Art of Bible Translation (Princeton, 2019) is a marvelous addition to the library of any lover of Scripture. Alter’s voice is wonderfully refreshing as he provides readers with an insider’s look at his process of translation. Filled with comments on other modern translations of the Old Testament and a deep appreciation for the beauty of the Hebrew scriptures, Alter’s work is sure to delight.
Elizabeth Elin is a sophomore studying theology and English at Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania, and calls Cincinnati home.
Thirty years ago, Ephraim Radner presided at our wedding on the sunny field of my wife’s home on Long Island, and gave us a wonderful cookbook as a wedding present. It has sustained us and our three children through the years. In these pandemic days, when we have missed the anamnesis of the Divine Liturgy, there is still prosciutto, olive oil, and spinach to kindle our hearts. From Norman Kolpas, Pasta Presto: 100 Fast & Fabulous Pasta Sauces (Contemporary Books: 1988), here is “Frizzled Spinach with Prosciutto”:
- 1 ¼ cups olive oil
- 6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ pound thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ¼ inch strips
- 2 bunch spinach, stemmed, ribbed, thoroughly washed, cut crosswise into ¼ inch strips
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper
In a large skillet, heat oil over moderate-to-high heat. Sauté garlic; add prosciutto and sauté until it begins to frizzle, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add spinach leaves and pepper flakes to oil; stir quickly until all shreds have frizzled, about 30 seconds. Spoon immediately over cooked pasta and season generously with black pepper.
The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld is Bishop of New Hampshire.
Neva Rae Fox
As we prepare again to welcome our Savior, amid both winter darkness and pandemic worry, I commend re-reading, or enjoying for the first time, Thomas Merton’s autobiographical Seven Storey Mountain (1948). Also excellent: The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning (2012) by the late great Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s still-fresh Cost of Discipleship (1937); and this gem, recently recovered from a drawer: Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much (1990).
Neva Rae Fox is a communications consultant, a Living Church correspondent, and a member of the Living Church Foundation and the Bible and Prayer Book Society.
For the nearly 30 years of our marriage I have made home-made granola, every two weeks without fail. There would now be uproar if I ever tried to introduce shop-bought cereal to our breakfast table! Last year I gave a jar to every member of our bishops’ leadership team. Mix 1kg of oats, a handful of bran, some chopped nuts and mixed seeds, with some oil, honey, and orange juice. Spread on a baking tray and bake on low for around 1 hour, turning regularly. Add raisins or other dried fruit once cooled. Enjoy!
The Rt. Rev. Emma Ineson is Bishop of Penrith in the Church of England.
After my children left home, every once in a while one of them would request a recipe for a dish that was a regular part of the family repertoire when they were growing up. One Christmas I decided to gather up all these favourite dishes into a very limited edition, colourfully illustrated cookbook. It was so much fun to do and continues to be a way of connecting us around our different meal tables.
Dr. Eeva John is from Finland and serves the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project.
My absolute favorite song to sing or listen to for Christmas is the Wexford Carol, especially the version arranged by Phillip Stopford. As a church musician and professional singer, that is really saying something! It reminds me of the hope and mystery of the Christmas season, and instills a sense of reassurance and comfort. I hope it will do the same for you.
Heidi J. Kim is an Episcopalian who came to the church via the choir. She lives in Minneapolis and is a new member of the Living Church Foundation.
I suggest the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 Kayak. Kayaking has taken off this year as the perfect pandemic sport with inherent social distancing built in, and there’s no reason to stop after a vaccine comes out. The Tsunami 140 makes for a fast, stable ride on ponds, lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Use your vehicle’s roof rack system to bring her just about anywhere for a fun day of relaxing exercise that feels like a full week’s vacation..
G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an independent journalist and longtime TLC correspondent.
Moonfleet (1898), a classic adventure tale by J. Meade Falkner, was a favorite for bedtime reading in our family this year. Set in 18th-century Dorset, the story includes a ghost-haunted crypt, smugglers’ plots, and a dramatic shipwreck. Pious parents will be delighted by its scriptural cipher and churchly piety, as well as the spiritual depth of its well-drawn characters.
The Rev. Mark Michael is editor of TLC and rector of St. Francis Church, Potomac, Maryland.
In this commercially constricted time, use eBay: it is filled with small sellers who need help and have great things. I like to buy small prints as gifts. Try the amazing Container Corporation of America 1950’s lithographs of Great Ideas: Dr Johnson, Spinoza, Aristotle in marvelous modern forms and colors. Or find an early 19th-century engraving of one of your (or your friend’s) heroes or heroines of the faith — Donne, Hannah More.
The Rev. Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto.
Several Christmases ago I received a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas (1976). My hardback copy, published by HarperCollins, contains full color reproductions of letters written annually by Tolkien to his children. The whole thing is whimsical and delightful, and includes drawings and tales of polar bears climbing (and falling from) the north pole, elves and reindeer running loose, goblins causing mischief, and many examples — some playful, some poignant — of Tolkien’s love for language and mythology.
The Rt. Rev. Joseph Royal is a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of the Arctic.
Lovers of poetry, lovers of visual art, and those who would like a bit more exposure to both would all be perfect recipients of Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry (Plough, 2020) by Julian Peters. Including selections from Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Edgar Allen Poe, and many others, Peters pairs visually compelling illustrations with some of the greatest poems in the English language to help readers see poetry in a new way.
The Rev. Andrew Russell is TLC’s digital media manager, and otherwise teaches classes in Bible and English literature at Evangel Classical Christian School in Alabaster, Alabama, and is curate at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Tuscaloosa.
Henri Nouwen is a dear spiritual companion any time of year, but his voice is especially poignant during Advent and Christmas. His conveniently collected Advent and Christmas Wisdom volume (Liguori, 2004) shows what it is to wait and truly yearn for God, and to finally experience God in Christ fully dwelling in our midst and calling us “beloved.” What a gift!
The Rev. Stephanie Spellers lives in New York City and serves as canon to the Presiding Bishop for evangelism, reconciliation, and creation care.
As an avid reader of 20th-century American fiction, I am embarrassed it took coronavirus to introduce me to Katherine Anne Porter. Porter’s classic novella Pale Horse, Pale Rider is about young lovers swept-up in the so-called Spanish flu pandemic and includes an unforgettable vision of what awaits us beyond this fever-wearied world. Thankfully, it also led me to take up her larger corpus of superb writing, conveniently gathered in her Collected Stories (Harcourt Brace, 1979).
The Rev. R. Leigh Spruill will take up his new position as rector of the Church of St. John the Divine, Houston, in January.
When I was serving my first church a parishioner gave me a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) by John Irving. I couldn’t put it down. I have since bought many copies for friends and family and even made it required summer reading for staff retreats in parishes I have served. If someone on your Christmas list has questions about discerning and responding to God’s call, this funny, heartbreaking, deeply theological book may be just the right stocking stuffer.
The Rev. J. Donald Waring is rector of Grace Church Broadway in New York City.
A gift for the weary and the wise, and for a precocious seeker: Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1971), a highly enjoyable romp in a comic-philosophical key, packed with edgy commentary on race, politics, and the anthropological questions of our day. Percy’s novels provide inroads for uttering Catholic truth afresh in the modern world, and this one felt especially prophetic for the Time of the Virus. Percy is a sly evangelist and a large-hearted lover.
Dr. Christopher Wells is executive director and publisher of the Living Church Foundation.
I was utterly absorbed by Harry Thompson’s novel This Thing of Darkness (Headline, 2005), which narrates Charles Darwin’s sea voyage to the Galapagos. It’s a ravishing tale with marvelous characters. The heart of the book is a series of conversations between Darwin and his sea captain, Robert Fitzroy, an earnest Christian, often about interpretations of creation and the flood. Fitzroy emerges as the true centre of the book, and an unjustly neglected hero of his time.
The Rev. Sam Wells is vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London.
It’s almost time for Christmas 2020, and I suspect that many have a serious case of wanderlust. I’m giving (and hopefully receiving) travel-themed Christmas gifts this year. I love the Scratch-Off Map that Amazon sells. You can scratch-off where you’ve been, which will then reveal where you may want to go when the pandemic is over. If you’re more sensory-driven, I love destination scented candles, although my home state of Alabama is underrepresented!
The Rev. Charleston D. Wilson is rector of Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida.
I suggest the newly released Blu-ray boxed set Deanna Durbin Collection I, containing three timeless romantic comedies directed by Henry Koster. Pre-COVID, I knew Koster’s work (e.g., The Robe, A Man Called Peter, The Bishop’s Wife); he was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany with a lifelong attraction to Christianity, which shows in most of his movies. Durbin, however, is new to me, though she was the second highest paid actress in the world in the mid-1940s. In this new collection, It Started with Eve beautifully reflects real life and self-giving love. Merry Christmas!
The Rev. Paul Zahl is a retired Episcopal priest living in Central Florida.