Pastor Greg's Book Reviews
By: Rev. Greg Batson
During my renewal leave this summer, I read a range of books, from theology and biblical interpretation to psychology and religion to fiction and biography. From this wide assortment, there were six works that I found particularly engaging that I wish to share with you as recommendations for your own reading, depending upon your interests.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone (Orbis, 2011)
Written by the pioneer of Black Theology at the culmination of his career, Dr. Cone makes the connection between the racism endured by African Americans (focusing on the history of lynching in America) and a Christian theology of the cross. Each chapter adds evidence for his thesis, including a critique of Reinhold Niebuhr and other white theologians for ignoring the black experience, an analysis of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s theology expressed though the cross, and artistic reflections on the black experience in the 20th century though poetry and song. I plan to use this text as resource for a Lenten study in 2022.
Hagar, Sarah, and Their Children: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives edited by Phyllis Trible and Letty M. Russell (Westminster John Knox Press, 2006)
Based on a 2004 lecture series at the Wake Forest Divinity School, this book presents an interfaith and feminist perspective on the Hagar and Sarah story found in the Book of Genesis. This story is foundational for each faith tradition – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – but has been interpreted in a myriad of ways. After a careful analysis of the text by Professor Trible, each of the following chapters shares an interpretation that enriches our understanding of our spiritual ancestors in all their “humanness”.
Dusk, Night, Dawn: One Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott (Riverhead, 2021)
This the latest collection of observations about life and faith by the bestselling author Anne Lamott. How do we find confidence and hope in these times of darkness and bad news? In her own unique style, Lamott presents ten experiences that reveal moments of light in the midst of despair. Always honest, sometimes irreverent, this book, along with Lamott’s previous works, are excellent sources for daily spiritual reflection.
The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson, MD (InterVarsity Press, 2015)
Dr. Thompson is a psychiatrist who skillfully combines his knowledge of neurobiology with Christian spiritual formation. Through his research and own practice as a therapist, Thompson highlights the centrality of shame in our lives. Beginning with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2, Dr. Thompson describes how shame becomes part of us, separating us from God and one another. The antidote is becoming vulnerable and connecting with one another, leading us from fear to redemption.
The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Liveright/Norton, 2020)
Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, investigative journalist Les Payne presents a full and new understanding of Malcolm X. Over almost thirty years, through interviews and exhaustive research of primary sources, Payne reveals never-before published details, including a secret meeting with the KKK and a detailed account of the Malcolm X’s assassination. Les Payne died in 2018 as he was completing this work, so his daughter and principal researcher Tamara Payne completed this book for publication. Through the life and death of Malcolm X, this book provides a deeper understanding of the African-American struggle for justice and equality in the 20th century.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (Harper, 2020)
This novel by Louise Erdrich won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story is based on her grandfather, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa, who leads the fight against an attempt by the US Congress to terminate the tribe in 1953. Erdrich creates other amazing characters to help tell the story, including protagonist Pixie Paranteau, a teenager who holds her family together with her strength and determination. Set in the high plains of North Dakota and the big city of Minneapolis, this is a page-tuner that is difficult to put down once you start.