Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day in paradise

Here on the North Shore of Oahu the sun is out, the wind is blowing and the waves are ripping. We are staying down the road from the Bonzai Pipeline which was the place to be for the surfing competition this past week. Today is Christmas Day and after years of being responsible for Christmas church services it was different beginning the day opening gifts with the grandkids and then taking a long walk along the beach. Later we spent some time by the pool and tonight it's fish and shrimp on the grill. Like I said a different Christmas day from all those spent leading church services in northern climes.

Not yet used to the five hour difference in time from the east coast I was up way too early. I read a psalm and the beginning of John's gospel. Then, I read a challenging piece by Christoph Blumhardt in a book of essays entitled Called to Community. Blumhardt was a German pastor who lived in the late 1800's but his writings influenced a whole generation of later theologians including Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He writes simply yet powerfully. His big theme was God's kingdom is now. How can we preach freedom from worry (Jesus said, Do not worry!) when we do nothing to alleviate what people are worried about. Don't just say, Don't worry, simply believe in Jesus to a person who is burdened by life. Don't tell a man who is without a job and worried to get a job to make his wages. Worries can and should cease in the church because we really care for each other. In this way the kingdom comes. In the little flock that is free from the anxieties of life because they live a shared life where each is responsible for the other - there it can be said, Do not worry.

In the world we are full of cares and worries. They are evident even in a paradise like Hawaii. There were warnings this weekend to be on the alert for possible terrorist attacks at Christmas celebrations. In a couple of weeks, I will be preaching on Herod's attempt to kill the baby Jesus. The reality is we live in a world where there is little hope, or peace or love. The little flocks of today are signs  of what the kingdom of God can be and is. There we find the hope, peace, and love that that we celebrate this day in birth of Jesus - fleshed out.

2016 Books

NPR came out with its list of 300 best books of the year. 300! and that is just this year. Who can read that many and still have time to check Facebook? The New York Times did the best 100 books of the year. That is still far from doable for most of us. That is just this year. There are still some good books from years ago that we know we should read. I am still trying to get through those Deuterocanonical books that take up space in the middle of my Bible, the ones Protestants know are there but are afraid to read, i.e., they are not real Scripture.

I don't know how many books I read this year or half read or put down after a few chapters or only read the first few chapters and then skipped to the end to find out how what happened.

These are some of my personal favorites of the year.

House of Prayer #2 by Mark Richard.

Reading the Bible with the Damned by Bob Ekblad.

Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge.

Kindred by Octavia Butler.

From Nature to Creation by Norman Wirzba.

Torn by Justin Lee.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Silence by Shusaku Endo. A re-read of a classic. Read with Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimora.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyassi.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue - audio book brilliantly read.

Reformations by Carlos Eire.

According to Good Reads the most popular book I read was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the least popular was by Edwin Oakes entitled Theology of Grace in Six Controversies. Almost 200,000 others read Coates while only 3 others read Oakes. I recommend both.

There were others but those come to mind. On our Christmas vacation in Hawaii I am reading Exiles by Ron Hansen, A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman and a history of Hawaii, Unfamiliar Fishes,  by Sarah Vowell. That is when I am not out enjoying the amazing waves, seafood and scenic hikes with the kids and grandkids.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Some people look for beaches or restaurants or the best hikes when they travel. I look for bookstores. I know it sounds crazy and I get razzed for it - even my wife who knows me well can't believe it when I ask her to look for bookstores on her iPhone. We have done a lot of traveling this year - to New York state several times, and to Portland, OR and to Alaska. There have been some trips in our home state of Florida, as well. Some times we go out of our way to get to a bookstore that is not on the route Google suggests. Asheville, NC is not really on the way to Buffalo, NY but it has a great bookstore. I had to schedule a side trip and an extra day to the Biltmore Estate so my wife would agree to veering off our straight path north. Saratoga Springs, NY has a gem of a bookstore right on Broadway, the main road through town. Bonus: it's close to a cool coffee shop. And of course, I want to mention that one of our sons and his wife and two children live about twenty minutes away. This bookstore is large, with comfortable seating for browsing and here is what I like most: they have selected used or discounted books scattered throughout the store like hidden treasure.  Jacksonville, FL where we live now has two Chamblins locations - a local, used bookstore with shelves of books for browsing and you have to browse because it is hard to find anything you are looking for. Unlike Powells in Portland, a whole city block of new and used books very well organized. I could spend a whole day in there but I am usually with some one else who can't.

Anchorage has Tidal Wave books and Homer has a couple of good bookstores and artist galleries, too. Kodiak used to have a good bookstore: Monks Rock is still a good place to browse books especially if you are interested in the Orthodox Christian tradition and drink coffee. Kodiak has a great library if you are weathered in for an extra day or two.

I could make a trip out of visiting bookstores and have. Flannery O'Connor's homestead is only a five hour drive north of us and the day I stopped by it was closed but I found a bookstore in town. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived and wrote about an hour south of us and I have been there and wandered the grounds. I saw the "house" Zora Neale Hurston stayed in when she came for a visit. Even though it was the servant's quarters it still caused quite a stir. Hemingway lived and wrote in the Florida Keys and you can visit his hangouts there.

I have not made it to Parnassus, Ann Patchett's bookstore in Nashville or Oxford, MS where many people visit for football games but I would be looking for Faulkner's home and the local bookstores which I hear are well worth a visit.

College towns are usually good places to find bookstores. Newberg, OR which is home to George Fox University has a couple. Chapters bookstore is the place to go for coffee and books. Conveniently, our son, daughter in law, and newest grandson live near by. Many college towns I know from our travels do not have a good bookstore. Students are directed to Amazon for their purchases, or in some cases, the local Barnes and Noble,which are becoming fewer as Amazon grows larger. College bookstores mostly exist to sell college merchandise like the big one in downtown Gainesville, FL home to the Gators. There is a nice Christian study center with good coffee a street or two over, however.