I’m still trying to come up with the right words to describe my experience of last year (aren’t we all?), but one thing I can tell you about for sure is what I read. I set myself a 2020 goal of just reading whatever I wanted, exactly what I wanted, not what I thought I should read. So here’s exactly what I wanted to read in 2020: feminist novels, funny memoirs, comforting classics from my childhood, and books that helped me unlearn my own racism and/or figure out how to move through the world as a white person without further screwing everything up.
The Best Book I Read in 2020
Recommended With Some Reservations
Not Recommended But I Don’t Know Everything So Maybe You’ll Like Them
Within each category, books are listed alphabetically by last name of author.
*Asterisks denote books I re-read in 2020. Sometimes you just want to know what’s going to happen at the end.
The Best Book I Read in 2020
ὁδός, way, road
The hospice building is clean and pleasant, in a small town a few miles from the Illinois/Wisconsin state line. After I get off the expressway, I drive past rolling fields beginning to turn golden, down state highways flanked by oak and maple trees. In late September, their leaves are still mostly green, but every so often a single branch is glowing brilliant red.
ἐσθίω, I eat
He’s not eating much these days, so I stop at a local chain’s drive-through for milkshakes. When the masked employee comes to the car window, I order a large strawberry shake for him and then stall out. Do I want a milkshake for myself? Chocolate or vanilla? Large or small?
There are no cars lining up behind me, but the decision still feels urgent. I panic and ask for a small vanilla. As I inch toward the pickup window, I think about how I used to be able to tell the difference between important and unimportant choices. Now every decision feels important. Or maybe every decision feels like it doesn’t matter, in the end.
Driving away, I rip the paper off one of the straws and take a slug of my small vanilla milkshake. I decide it’s exactly what I wanted.
Hey, Reverend! Hi! Nice to see you again!
Boy, was I surprised by the sudden wave of traffic my last post received. This blog is a pretty tiny, churchified niche of the Internet, where I tell you what to buy as an ordination gift or how to be a youth pastor if you’re not cool. Most of my posts are only read by desperate seminarians and two of my aunts. (Hi, Aunt Maureen and Aunt Peggy! Love you!)
But it turns out a LOT of us have strong feelings about where we went to seminary. I feel compelled to specify that I’m just a stranger on the Internet. I’m not on an ATS accreditation team or anything. If your school didn’t make the list, the reason is simple: I couldn’t think of a joke about it.
However, having received some helpful tips and corrective feedback, I have a few things I want to clear up:
What Your Seminary Says About You (abridged, with comments)
Virginia Theological Seminary
You are 27 years old and contemplating your first run for bishop.
No one disputed this.
Hey there, Reverend. I’ll be honest: I’ve spent three months trying to write one encouraging post about “ministry in the age of coronavirus,” and another about “motivating your church to work for racial justice,” and I just don’t have enough in the tank. Maybe you’ll get those when the pandemic is over. Or when I have child care again. Whichever comes first.
I recently attended a compulsory clergy retreat, on the topic of Finding Your Center During a Global Pandemic. By “attended” I mean I turned off my Zoom video and half-listened through headphones while feeding beans to my toddler and then helping her fit the pig, barn, and chicken pieces into her farm puzzle approximately 1,000 times. I only caught the gist, which I believe was “find your center,” but as I pocketed the rejected pieces of the farm puzzle (sheep, goat, horse, cow, and duck), I thought about the three things that help me center my soul instead of letting it spin around like an unsteady top:
- Dwelling in the presence of Jesus, who is the light and hope of my life.
- The love of my family and friends, even when transmitted over Zoom.
- Dumb jokes.
It is in the spirit of this last item that I present to you the following list. If your seminary is not included, it’s probably because I don’t know enough about it to come up with any sweeping generalizations, but if you mention it in the comments I’ll make one up.
I hope you will take this list in good fun (and perhaps comment to let me know whether I got your seminary right). We’re in this together, Reverend. Hang in there.
Greetings, my fellow Episcopalians!
So you’ve been admitted to postulancy for Holy Orders. Congratulations! Time to get to work brainstorming your first Ember Day letter.
Ember Days are special occasions when the church is invited to pray for all those preparing for a life in ministry. If you yourself are preparing for a life in ministry, and by chance you have picked the ordained kind, Ember Days seem like they should be a chance for everyone to dote on you. Nope! Instead, they are a chance for you to do a little extra work.
By canon law, if you are in the ordination process as a postulant (step 1) or candidate (step 2), you are required to “report” to your bishop four times a year — during, you got it, the Ember Days. I will just go ahead and tell you when they are, because as far as I am concerned there is no earthly way you could guess. Continue reading
Hello, Reverend! I recognize that 2019 was a quiet year on this blog, in large part because it was not quiet anywhere else. With my family, I moved cross-country, bought a house, started a new call at a new church, and adjusted to life with a tiny baby … who is now a not-so-tiny, joyful, rambunctious toddler. Nobody warned me that every cliché about how fast they grow up is true.
She also helps unload the dishwasher.
In the midst of all that chaos, I did manage to read a few books. Not nearly as many as in past years—I’ve kept a running list of every book I’ve read since 2007—but enough to keep me sane amidst the chaos of ministry and parenthood. If you need a book to do the same for you, allow me to present the following 17 micro-reviews as a small encouragement to read something non-work-related in 2020. Woman cannot live on Feasting on the Word alone. Continue reading
Good morning, Reverend! Is this a busy week, or what?
Here in my neck of the woods, we’re getting ready for Homecoming Sunday. I am hard at work prepping my sermon, trying to recruit that final leader for seventh-grade Sunday school (why is it always the hardest position in the church to fill?!?!), and counting the days until I get to see my beloved high school youth group kids again.
I have two words about high school youth group: GIANT JENGA.
Actually, I also have a little story. Consider it a pep talk as you launch into this crazy time of year, at least if you are resolutely uncool like me. Continue reading
Hey there, Reverend! I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. If you ever choose to go public with your thoughts about sexual harassment or sexual violence in the church, I suggest building in several months off afterward to deal with all the mail.
On a not wholly unrelated note: I don’t know about you, but I found my seminary training to be a bit lacking in the pastoral counseling department. I did take one class on something called “spiritual care,” during which I learned a great deal about the love lives of my classmates and very little else. If I am ever again in a position to counsel someone who is heartbroken after desertion by a paramour from the back row of Old Testament II: Histories & Prophets, I will be ready to roll.
Somehow, though, I had a feeling that my friends in the mental health field were developing skills a bit more sophisticated than “mirroring” and “active listening.” They were learning to notice their clients’ thinking errors and challenge them, directly but kindly. They were learning how to help people name their struggles and — even more important — start to imagine being able to overcome or endure them. Continue reading
Hey hey, Episcopal seminary seniors! Around the world, Christian clergy are breathing one big collective sigh of relief and thinking, “Now that Christmas has passed, I finally get a break.”
But not you. HA! Oh, not you. Pretty soon, your travails with the General Ordination Exams will begin.
Before I continue, I should note that my wife frowned when she read my last GOE post and said, “You’re a little too cavalier here.” So if you’re reading this right now, I just want to take a moment to thank you for putting up with the bossy, know-it-all attitude I’ve cultivated on this blog. In real life I’m actually pretty shy.
Meanwhile, if you’re in the final throes of exam prep and are sneaking a peek at this site, here’s a quick roundup of useful links that may come in handy while you’re taking the GOEs. Bookmark this post and you’ll have them all in one place. Continue reading