What I read on My Summer Staycation

My administrative assistant, Lyn Wasilewski, informed me earlier this summer that I had too much vacation time accrued.  Yes, she keeps track of everything.  She's the brains behind the bishop.  So this summer, I'm taking a series of staycations.  You know, stay at home, do those things you always say you are going to do when you have more time, but then the staycation comes around and you don't do them.

Anyways.... I'm spending some time reading this summer. Here's a few from the reading list.

I'm about halfway through Rodney Stark's big fat volume on the history of Christianity from a sociological perspective. Mr. Stark was born on the plains of North Dakota and began his life rooted in the cultural Lutheran ethos of the upper midwest. Years ago I read his wonderful account of the early church titled The Rise of Christianity.  In this book, you essentially get Rise plus the rest of the history of Western Christianity to the present.  I'm loving and hating this book as I make my way through it.

First of all, Stark challenges some of the conventional thinking that has dominated the history of the west.  This is a tad bit infuriating, because he is making me rethink some of my assumptions. (Why can't I just have my little petty assumptions to provide comfort and solace in this age of discontent? Sarcasm intended)  One example of the challenges comes through most profoundly in the section on the rise of Islam and the West's response.  Stark makes a rather convincing case that the crusades were not entirely motivated out of religious zeal, and the islamic world did not view the crusades with the intense hostility we have been lead to believe.  I'd love to see Karen Armstrong and Rodney Stark on stage at a Bishop's Convocation discussing their very different views on this subject.

The best part of this book is his explanation of how religious movements grow.  He's making a case that it is primarily through social networks.  When the book of Acts describe the early church's ministry to the orphans, the widows and the infirmed, Stark shows the significance of that ministry on the surrounding villages.  Over time christians lived longer, had better hygiene, less disease, higher quality of life and the impact of that on the local onlookers was significant.  The faith of the Jesus movement grew because people were attracted to a better life in the here and now .i.e., the kingdom of God here on earth.  Those of you who read this blog know that I'm convinced we are in that early church kinda ethos, and it's faith in action that makes all the difference.

This is not a church history nor a history of theology.  You won't find long chapters on the doctrine of the trinity here.  Instead, you'll come away with a greater appreciation for the way culture, inventions and people impacted the west, and the growth of christianity.  It's a big fat book, and at times you'll find yourself skimming, but I think it's one of the better overviews of the development of the faith.  

I do wish he had not titled it the Triumph of Christianity, as that smacks of a successful dominance that I think even Stark himself would question.  

Next up is Real Good Church: How our church came back from the dead, and yours can, too.  Molly Phinney Baskette has written the book, I wished I'd written. So much of what is in this paperback reflects actions that I took in both congregations I served.  I've only skimmed the table of contents and read some bits and pieces, but this looks to be the book I'm going to recommend our churches read.  It will make a good church council study book.  

Molly is pastor of First Church in Somerville, MA and this book is essentially the story of how she worked with 35 people on a sunday to revitalize her congregation.  They went from 6 children to close to 100, just to give you an example.  But, she also weaves in a deep faith focus to this revitalization.  The book is funny, warm, practical and honest.  Honest about the hard work that is required to bring about the needed change to turn a system around.

I'm hoping to sit down with Molly for an interview in our ongoing series on the effective small church - coming to a You Tube channel near you.

Finally, just arrived in the mail, and when I need something completely different from all this church stuff, is Bill Bryson's book One Summer: America 1927.  Glen Ramsay suggested this to me, and I've been waiting for it to come out in paperback, because... well, because, sometimes I get tired of reading on my kindle and just long for the good old days of paper and ink.

1927 was quite a year in America- Babe Ruth, Charles Lindberg, Al Capone and the first talking film "The Jazz Singer".  Bill Bryson's written some good stuff, and the narrative non-fiction genre appeals to me.  I know, I know...I should read more fiction.  I'll work on that, in my spare time.  Maybe in retirement, when I'll get around to all those projects I didn't finish on my staycations.