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Scott’s Column: Fall Books

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
December 13 2016

Fall Books

This autumn I’ve read a wide range of books, from a philosophical exploration of the risks involved in the development of artificial intelligence to a novel I bought in Ireland which is set in a graveyard and all the characters are the dead, carrying on into the afterlife their above-ground feuds.  Let me focus on four, which are more relevant to our church life.

Kelly Brown Douglas’ Stand Your Ground is a theological response to the killing of young black men, written after the murder of Trayvon Martin.  The book felt like a theological companion to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (the most important book of 2015).  She explored the role of white supremacy in American theology and religious history, including our own Pilgrim and Puritan traditions, and how that supremacist view has always manifested itself in some form of violence against black bodies, in particular how it created the stand-your-ground culture which killed Trayvon.  Unlike Coates, she believes in redemption for the Christian church which has the Jesus story and the justice of God to draw upon.  This was a challenging, but important read.

Heidi Neumark’s Hidden Inheritance was discussed by our Book Club the week of the election.  I had mentioned the book in a sermon last summer, as I had heard Neumark lecture and preach at the Festival of Homiletics in May.  She is a Lutheran pastor in New York who learned as an adult that she was Jewish, and that her grandparents had been victims of the Holocaust, something her late father had kept from her.  This book is her exploration of her family’s past, including a reflection on the role that the established churches in Germany played in supporting the Nazis.  And her challenge to contemporary churches to examine the ways they support injustice.

Margaret Bendroth’s The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past was a fun history of how the Congregationalists viewed and used their history, in particular the Pilgrim story.  Different generations of Congregationalists, cum UCCers, have told and used the story in different ways.  Sometimes as a conservative call for a return to the past.  Other times as an inspiration for progress into new frontiers.  And everything in between.  I was surprised to learn that in 1934 the national meeting of the Congregationalists called for the abolition of capitalism and private property.  Which apparently didn’t go over well in the churches?  Included in the book are the origins of our Thanksgiving holiday, and when a tradition like our beloved Turkey Dinner would have begun and why.

Finally, David Carr’s Holy Resilience examined the role that trauma played in the writing and development of the Bible.  Carr’s thesis is that basically every text we have in the Old and New Testaments is affected by some writer or community who had experienced deep trauma and that the writing and storytelling which became the scriptures were their attempts to respond and heal (and sometimes seek vengeance).   If you are looking for a good, easy introduction to the broad scope of biblical history, I would recommend this book.  Plus there are significant pastoral themes that could be helpful to those recently traumatized.