Location and Times

Featured Book: The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church

Historian Diana Butler Bass is unwilling to write off mainline Protestant churches as a lost cause. In fact, after having “done the serious research,” as the Hearts & Minds website puts it, she tells, in her 2004 book, of a transformation going on within at least some congregations: they’re showing, as her publisher, the Alban Institute observes, “an unexpected vitality, adaptability, and faithfulness.”

The Practicing Congregation results from a study of 50 churches “that have experienced renewed senses of identity, vocation, and mission through intentionally embracing particular Christian practices,” Bass explains in the book’s preface.

These are places that have “begun to take seriously the making of meaning in their congregational life by choosing to become highly intentional about how they will practice church,” Peter Coutts points out, writing for the Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health. “From working in soup kitchens to walking labyrinths, from discovering renewed interest in liturgy to being more intentional about community,” parishioners are making “spiritual practices such as these common to the most vibrant mainline churches,” Hearts & Minds reports.

H&M’s review affirms Bass as “a scholar of this field,” but “also a graceful writer and thinker, and this is truly a wonderful little book.”

The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church
By Diana Butler Bass
Alban Institute, 2004


Featured Book: Finding Peace

A “culture of peace” was, in part, the focus of SSUC’s last-of-May Sunday service. It was earlier that month that Canada’s Jean Vanier died; a remembrance in The Globe avowed that his “capacity for human empathy was inexhaustible.” So choosing the luminary’s Finding Peace to be the Library’s Featured Book is altogether rightful.

In his 2003 book, the humanitarian—his signature accomplishment was the creation of L’Arche—“dares to suggest the radical possibility of peace in our time,” the Quill and Quire review affirms. “It is easy to reflexively dismiss such an idea, but Vanier is a realist, and Finding Peace explores the process of creating peace in a plainspoken, tough-minded manner that manages to suppress cynicism.”

“Peace is the fruit of love,” Vanier writes. “But to grow in love requires…hard work. And it can bring pain because it implies…loss of the certitudes, comforts, and hurts, that shelter and define us. …the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.” So it is that the Q&Q critique ends with this sentence: “His are words of experience that, if heeded, could bring profound change on a scale both personal and global.”

Finding Peace
By Jean Vanier
House of Anansi Press, 2003

Featured Book: Man’s Search for Meaning

“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life,” Viktor Frankl attests.

Man’s Search for Meaning has sold over 10 million copies, been translated into two-dozen languages, and was voted one of America’s 10 most influential books by the Library of Congress. It is, first of all, Frankl’s memoir of life in Nazi death camps, then an exposition of his trademark theory, known as logotherapy: this has it that “the primary human drive is…the pursuit of what we find meaningful,” according to its publisher, a notion that “continues to inspire all to find significance in the very act of living.”

A Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist, Frankl lost his wife, parents, and brother in the concentration camps, and was himself under constant threat of going to the gas chambers. “This is, if ever there was one, a story that could excuse someone believing that life is meaningless, and suicide a reasonable option,” British writer Tom Butler-Bowdon ventures. “Yet Frankl emerged an optimist.”

“As faith in traditional religions and other myths continue to erode,” Australian Lachlan Dale writes in his review, “books like Frankl’s are vital in helping establish new ways of living and forging meaning in the world.”

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Beacon Press, 2006 (first published in German in 1946)

Featured Book: Honest to God

“It would be difficult to describe the publication of Honest to God on March 19, 1963, as anything but a sensation,” sofia.org.uk attests. “The book was almost universally condemned by traditionalists,” Wikipedia acknowledges. “It’s not every day that a bishop goes on record as apparently denying almost every Christian doctrine,” The Church Times lamented. Back to Sofia: “It also gave John Robinson the distinction of being reprimanded by two archbishops of Canterbury.”

Author John A.T. Robinson, at the time bishop of Woolwich, argued in The Observer in the run-up to the book’s appearance, then in HtG itself, that “our image of God must go.” Little wonder that progressive Christianity pioneer Jack Spong called Robinson “one of the great mentors of my life,” crediting him for having “forced me to face the fact that…my faith had to grow, or it had to be abandoned.”

But here’s the thing, as Sofia’s writer ventured on the volume’s 50th anniversary: “Sadly, if the book was published today, I feel it would still receive the bitter criticism that it had in 1963 because of the inability of the church to properly discuss and debate those issues that Robinson brought to its attention 50 years ago.”

Honest to God
By John A.T. Robinson
The Westminster Press, 1963

Featured Book: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

What if Jesus had a twin brother, Christ? And what if his role was to chronicle Jesus’ life? And what if he turned out to be less an historian, and more a spin doctor? ‘Cause maybe Jesus’ ordinary life needed to be embellished, or maybe his steely exhortations needed to be tamed? “In writing of things as they should have been,” Christ is encouraged, “you are letting truth into history.” Even if that “truth” is false.
“Above all,” this novel’s publisher states, “this book is about how stories become stories.” Written at the prompting of a Philip Pullman admirer, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the book is, according to Richard Holloway, once bishop of Edinburgh, an “allegorical retelling of the Christian story.” He adds, “It is a fierce and beautiful book which…will move even those who disagree with it.”

Britannica Online acknowledges that Pullman is “one of the best-known writers for children,” and is considered “a worthy successor of J.R.R. Tolkein…and C.S. Lewis…. However, while Lewis [in The Chronicles of Narnia] portrayed religion in a positive light, Pullman, who was a vocal atheist, wrote of the abuses of organized religion, and instead embraced a humanistic morality.”

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
By Philip Pullman
Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2010

Gathering 10AM Sunday