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Featured Book: What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?

“By it’s very nature, progressive Christianity resists having a systematic theology,” progressivechristianity.org regular Jim Burklo allows, “but Del Brown has written the nearest thing to it.” Two years after Seabury Books released What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?, and a year after Brown’s death, progressivechristianity.org in 2010 posted a piece that the author had penned in which he explained why he’d written the book:

“There will not be an effective progressive Christianity until there is…a compelling progressive Christianity theology. …its absence, I am sure, will guarantee our continued impotence….” He reckoned, “Progressive ideas may be intrinsically credible, but they are actually believed only when they are effectively stated and lived, and embedded in alliances of people who act together with informed intentionality.” In the book itself, he argues that “a theology that can endure must be…deliberate…in its intellectual awareness and articulation.”

Dean and vice-president for academic affairs at California’s Pacific School of Religion until his retirement in 2006, Brown, a United Methodist Church lay theologian, “helped shape an innovative new curriculum for the school’s master of divinity program, and a strategic plan that placed progressive Christianity leadership development at its centre,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s obituary states.

What Does a Progressive Christian Believe? A Guide for the Searching, the Open, and the Curious
By Delwin Brown
Seabury Books, 2008

Library Learnings: Make Your Brain Come Alive

“Make your brain come alive”
 
Eat your greens. Sleep soundly. Quit smoking. Exercise, even gently. Drink only in moderation. Have an annual physical. Avoid drafts. Follow these, and other such well-worn bromides, in order to live healthily, eh? Here’s another how-to-stay-hale-and-hearty admonition, less well-known, but just as valid: read books. Really.
 
Yes, there’s the obvious upshot…which Dr. Seuss once expressed straightforwardly: “The more that you read, the more things you will know.” But there are lots of other blessings that come with reading books.
 
“As any avid book reader can tell you, immersing yourself in a great book can make your brain come alive. It sounds romantic, but science is now proving this to be true,” Brendan Brown reports. In a writing several years ago for Australia’s experteditor.com.au, he affirms, “Science has shown that reading has some amazing health benefits, including helping with depression, cutting stress, and reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.”
 
Regular reading, according to the website Real Simple, “can actually increase your brain power. Just like going for a jog exercises your cardiovascular system, reading regularly improves memory function by giving your brain a good workout. With age comes a decline in memory and brain function, but regular reading may help slow the process, keeping minds sharper longer, according to research published in Neurology.” Naturalsociety.com attests to this, as well: “…elderly people who read experienced slower mental decline than those who didn’t.” As Brown explains, the “details that make up a book stimulate your memory and the ability to recall.”
  
And such acuity lingers. “Your brain can remain active even after reading your book,” Brown has it. “The increased brain activity associated with reading pages in a book…was found to last for at least several days after reading, according to a 2013 study at Emory University.”
 
As for staving off such afflictions as Alzheimer’s disease, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report a study that found older adults who kept their brains engaged with activities like reading were less likely to suffer from degenerative brain disorders. Real Simple has it that, “Those who engage their brains through activities such as reading…could be 2-1/2 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who spend their down time on less stimulating activities.”
 
What else book reading can do is reduce tension. “One 2009 study by Sussex University researchers,” which Real Simple points up, “showed that reading may reduce stress by as much as 68%.” In reporting this same study, Huffington Post called reading more effective at reducing stress than listening to music, having a cup of tea, or going for a walk. What’s more, “It really doesn’t matter what book you read; by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world,” cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis told The Telegraph.
 
As well, there is, psychology researcher Raymond Mar has observed, in reference to a study published in the journal Science, a “growing body of work that what we read…has a very interesting impact on…our ability to understand what other people are thinking and feeling.”

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My head hurts
It was last November that Roy…he didn’t give his last name…wrote to the website progressingspirit.com to ask after God: he had, as he explained, “this overarching question…. What is God?” But before putting his query, he reported how already he’d gone searching for answers: “I’ve read so many books, I had to stop because my head hurts. My reading has included…Borg, Spong, K. Armstrong, Fox, Miles, Vosper, Felton/Murphy, Rollins, Aslan, etc. I am not a scholar, but was and am fascinated (Borg’s word) and driven to understand religion and my own spiritual desire….” [Know that books by those authors, plus many others, fill the shelves of the SSUC Library.]
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To be sure, one needs to stay attentive when reading. As Brown has it, “When reading in a focussed manner, similar to the manner in which you would study for a test, blood flow was globally increased, demonstrating that focussed attention during reading necessitates the orchestration of many different cognitive functions.”
 
Apparently, it also helps to eschew e-books: “Want to really reap the benefits of reading? Reach for an old-fashioned printed book,” Real Simple advises. “…opt for a traditional book. Research shows that reading on a screen can slow you down by as much as 20% to 30%.” To boot, you’ll be more apt to actually remember what it is that you’re reading: the feel of paper pages under your fingertips provides your brain with some context, according to Wired, which can lead to a deeper understanding and better comprehension of the subject.
  
Mind you, this could be the best reason of all to crack the covers of a book: it could have you living longer. Really. Researchers at the Yale University School of Public Health studied the records of 5,635 participants in a health and retirement study—an ongoing investigation of persons who were 50 and older—who, when the study commenced, provided information about their reading habits.
 
Perhaps remarkably, the researchers “determined that people who read books regularly had a 20% lower risk of dying over the next 12 years, compared with people who weren’t readers, or who read periodicals [rather than books]. This difference remained regardless of race, education, state of health, wealth, marital status, and depression.” Harvard Medical School concluded its own inspection of this study by declaring the findings “suggest that the benefits of reading books may include a longer life in which to read them.”
  
So, as Natural Society concludes, “…reading is an extremely healthy habit. Sadly, however, many people don’t appreciate it, with a HuffPost poll [2012] showing…that of 1,000 participants, 28% of those surveyed hadn’t read a book in over a year.”
 
That couldn’t…mustn’t…include you. Not with a Library so near at hand, right in your own church building, with 600-or-so books there to be borrowed. But wait: they all have to do with religion, more or less, and that’s so heavyweight a subject that it must controvert all those positives that accrue from reading books, right? Wrong. “…the health benefits of reading are produced from all types of books,” authority Andrew Merle affirms, “fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose.”
  
South African-born anthropologist and author Ceridwen Dovey certainly found this to be true—with the help of a bibliotherapist. Now living in Sydney, Australia, she tells of this comprehension in her 2015 essay for The New Yorker, “Can reading make you happier?”:
 
 “Several years ago, I was given as a gift a…session with a bibliotherapist…. I have to admit that at first I didn’t really like the idea of being given a reading ‘prescription’…. But the session was a gift, and I found myself unexpectedly enjoying the initial questionnaire about my reading habits that the bibliotherapist, Ella Berthoud, sent me. Nobody had ever asked me these questions before….
  
“In response to the question, ‘What is preoccupying you at the moment?’, I was surprised by what I wanted to confess: I am worried about having no spiritual resources to shore myself up against the inevitable future grief of losing somebody I love, I wrote. I’m not religious, and I don’t particularly want to be, but I’d like to read more about other people’s reflections on coming to some sort of early, weird form of faith in a ‘higher being’ as an emotional survival tactic….
 
 “…when she [Berthoud] sent the final reading prescription,” she adds, “it was filled with gems…,” everything from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse to José Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, from Sum—neuroscientist David Eagleman’s book about possible afterlives—to The Case for God. That last one, incidentally, is just one of eight books by Karen Armstrong that you’ll find in the SSUC Library.
 
After working her way through her reading list, Dovey could not but suspect that, in a secular age, reading “is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks….”
 
She then references “a jaunty 1916 article in The Atlantic Monthly, ‘A literary clinic’,” which introduces a gentleman called simply Bagster—who is clearly a pioneer in bibliotherapy—who warrants, “‘A book may be a stimulant or a sedative or an irritant or a soporific. The point is that it must do something to you.’” The writer of that more-than-a-hundred-years-old tale concluded that it’s books that “‘put new life into us, and then set the pulse strong….’”
 
Dovey concludes her own New Yorker article by borrowing lines from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus: “‘Come, and take choice of all my library, and so beguile thy sorrow….’”
 
You now are invited…urged…to “take choice” of what you’ll find awaiting your visit to your own church Library—there’s lots. Really.
 
 
 
Ken Fredrick
 

Featured Book: The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus

Robin Meyers and his cutting-edge congregation in Oklahoma City are featured in the new-in-2019 documentary, “American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel,” as well they should be: he and Mayflower Congregational Church are “anomalies on the conservative religious landscape of Oklahoma,” according to the state’s leading newspaper. As reporter Carla Hinton has it, he’s been “excited to lead a church that has made it a priority to take action about things that Jesus cares about.” 
 
She interviewed him the day before he preached his last sermon, January 5, and stood down from his post as Mayflower’s senior pastor—his job for 35 years. For the last dozen, a local radio station broadcast his sermons, and that program became the most listened to religious broadcast in the state.
 
Meyers has authored seven books, including The Underground Church, which has as its goal, The Christian Century warrants, “to wake up the church to its primal calling to be radical, and therefore dangerous, to be edgy, powerful love-in-motion. Meyer’s prose helps him achieve his objective, for it is itself dangerous and edgy and powerful.” Ultimately, he leads the reader down a list of “courageous, innovative, and radical ways of being a faith-filled community.” 
 
The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus
By Robin Meyers
Jossey-Bass, 2012 

Featured Book: Drink From the Well

“Who are we?” It’s the question Fred Plumer puts as the heading of the first chapter in his book, Drink from the Well, in which he, in the words of his publisher, seeks to “define the Progressive Christianity movement as it evolves.” He should know: for about a decade, beginning in 2006, Plumer served as president of ProgressiveChristianity.org, aka the Center for Progressive Christianity; in this role, he wrote the study guide for The 8 Points, by which progressive Christianity in America accounts for itself.

An anthology of his speeches and writings, this book “remind[s] us we [as progressive Christians] are on a spiritual journey into the Great Unknown. The idea that we are always progressing helps us not only from becoming complacent about our faith,” he reckons, “but hopefully keeps us from assuming we have arrived.” Plumer goes on to declare that “there are at least five essential components” to this iteration of the faith, beginning with this: adherents follow Jesus and his teachings; they’re not “believer[s] in a creed.” (All five are found on page 15.)

Once a church drop-out, Plumer came to minister for 18 years a United Church of Christ new-start forward-looking congregation in Irvine, California.

Drink from the Well
By Fred Plumer
St. Johann Press, 2016

Featured Book: The Emerging Christian Way: Thoughts, Stories & Wisdom for a Faith in Transformation

Said by its publisher to cover “every aspect of this developing Christianity,” The Emerging Christian Way is a book it took 14 authors to write—each penned one chapter—including such luminaries as Matthew Fox and Tom Harper [six have a connection to the United Church of Canada], plus one editor, Michael Schwartzentruber, to compile and refine.
Together, they conjure a fresh Christianity, which CopperHouse, an imprint of Kelowna’s Wood Lake Books, describes thusly: “Christianity is primarily about transformation—about the transformation of the self through a living and dynamic experience of God, who is not separate from us, but who is part of us; and about the transformation of society. This new vision is best described by Marcus Borg’s emerging paradigm, which he brings to life in new ways in the opening chapter….”
Hear Borg out: “In a sentence, it [the emerging paradigm] sees the Christian life as a relationship with God as known in Jesus that changes us, that transforms us…. The Christian life is not very much about believing a set of claims to be true, but about a path, a way of transformation that leads to God and to participation in…God’s passion for the world.”
The Emerging Christian Way: Thoughts, Stories & Wisdom for a Faith in Transformation
Edited by Michael Schwartzentruber
CopperHouse, an imprint of Wood Lake Books, 2006
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