I'm on my way out of town tomorrow for some much-needed vacation with the family, but I wanted to share these two books before I left. Truth be told, each is strong and deep enough to warrant its own blog post, but with time growing short and the packing list growing long, I will lean into the spirit of #WorldsOkayest and share briefly about both.
First is The Forgotten Books of the Bible: Recovering the Five Scrolls for Today, by Robert Williamson. Bobby is a seminary colleague, and now a fancy Bible professor, but he writes beautifully for a wide audience, which this book deserves. The book considers five biblical texts that are often considered also-rans in the Christian tradition, which is a shame, because they are so rich and, well, just plain fascinating: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. I have a passing knowledge of two of these, Ruth and Esther, only because I've preached and taught on them from time to time. The other three were largely new to me as objects of study, and Bobby is a great guide--clear and wise... and funny! "Naomi and Elimelech should have known better than to name their sons Mahlon, which hints at the Hebrew word for 'sickness,' and Chilion, which resembles the word for 'annihilation'. It’s like naming your kids Sicky Sickerson and Deathy McDeathface. Don’t do it. They will die."
Bobby looks at these texts as conversation partners with contemporary issues of the day, such as Song of Songs and human sexuality/#MeToo, and Ruth and immigration. He ably avoids "ripped from the headlines" syndrome that can plague many books that try to tackle current events, though. He pulls this off because the stories resonate across the ages, but also because the dynamics underlying so many of our current issues are also timeless, and he treats them with wisdom and care.
In addition to being a scholar, Bobby also pastors Mercy Church, a community in Little Rock that ministers with and to people experiencing homelessness and other challenges. This gives him an important and needed vantage point from which to write and reflect.
This book is released TODAY, so if you think you'll buy it anyway, do a good deed for a writer's first book and get it today; it will boost his numbers and make him so happy. (Voice of experience.) This would be a great group study, and I hear a study guide is forthcoming.
The second book is Anna Carter Florence's Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s Word in Community, newly released last month. Anna was a seminary professor who continues to be a mentor and light to me, and to many. One of my regrets is that I never took her "theatre in the text" course, but a lot of it is here, I suspect. Anna considers the congregation as a repertory community, similar to repertory theatre companies, who work together as a team over a long period of time, poring over texts and bringing them to life. The book makes the argument for engaging scripture as a script--not for the purpose of dramatizing it, though you could; this is a process of formation, of going deeper than head knowledge into the realm of embodied experience.
In addition to sharing why this work is important, Anna also offers a number of tools for encountering scripture together. I love her approach of considering the verbs first--who is doing what action, and in what order does this action take place? Which verbs catch our eye, and which ones do we miss on first reading? Why might the author have chosen this action word and not another? What an enlivening place to start!
Here is my endorsement of this book: I love what I do in my current ministry of writing, speaking and coaching. It's a joy to visit so many communities and be with them for a short period of time, engaging them in a deep, albeit temporary way. I do not feel called back into the pastorate. But as I read this book, I found myself longing for that role again, because it's such a gift to let this work unfold, in relationship and over time; to engage a community as they play with scripture in a spirit of exploration, curiosity and play. That's what this book does: it invites you to engage the text, not just with your head, but with your heart and body as well.