Seeing God

During his time in graduate school, my brother Andrew lived in the upstairs apartment of an old house.  When he moved in, the homeowner explained to Andrew that some years before, the elderly woman who lived upstairs had fallen and died in the apartment.  On its own, this didn’t phase Andrew, but next the landlord explained that subsequent tenants had seen strange things in the apartment, indications that the elderly woman’s spirit lingered in that space.  Andrew got the woolies, but he was a poor grad student, and the apartment was cheap, so he paid his deposit and moved in.

"He saw an image in the corner of his eye."

“He saw an image in the corner of his eye.”

A few weeks later, Andrew was cooking his breakfast at the kitchenette, when he saw an image in the corner of his eye, beside his bookcase.  Startled, he turned to look, but when he faced the bookcase head-on, he saw nothing.  Turning back to the eggs on the stove, he again saw to his right an image.  It was of a woman, aged and gentle, gazing at the titles on the spines of Andrew’s books.  She was neither fearsome nor threatening, but the sense of her presence was palpable.  Andrew experienced her several more times during his tenure in the apartment.  He could never look at her straight on, but when he was attentive to the periphery of his vision, Andrew glimpsed a reality otherwise missed, and over time he considered that communion a blessing.

Every morning on my way in to work, I listen to John Lienhard’s NPR series, “The Engines of our Ingenuity.”  Lienhard usually discusses the wonder of manmade devices such as the airplane or steam engine, but some months ago he instead discussed the incredible physiology of bees.[i]  Specifically, Lienhard focused on bees’ eyes, which are much more complex than our own.  Bees, it turns out, see a much wider color spectrum than do humans.  Whereas our eyes capture violet-to-red, bees can see ultra-violet through orange.  Additionally, bees have three additional eyes between their large compound eyes, and rather than discerning shapes, these smaller lenses sense minute changes in light and shadow.

"When the honeybee and i gaze at the same flower, we see different things."

“When the honeybee and i gaze at the same flower, we see different things.”

When the honeybee and I gaze at the same flower, in other words, we literally see different things.  Or, more specifically, the bee sees vastly more than I see: blazing color, nuanced light, life-giving nectar.  There are realities before us both that are entirely hidden to me.  John Lienhard concludes that our knowledge all begins and ends with what we see.

It’s amazing the things we do not see.  We walk blithely through the world as with blinders on, while color, light, and wonders true are all about us.  We live in our heads, and our cognitive selves tell and teach us that what we cannot see is not there, what we cannot empirically measure is not real, what we cannot explain with didactic precision is nothing but illusion.

In Exodus today, Moses is feeling this way.  He has been given the law in great specificity.  He has been given architectural plans for the tabernacle and the customary for proper religious observance.  All of these things are concrete.  They are real.  But what’s behind them?  What is their source?  What gives them life and power and meaning?  He isn’t sure, not entirely, and that makes him wonder if he’s playing the fool.  Moses yearns to see.

So, Moses asks God for a sign.  (How like us he is!)  And the Creator of heaven and earth agrees to show himself.  “I will make all my goodness pass before you,” says God.  God will reveal himself in the periphery of Moses’ vision, in a way that even Moses’ feeble human eyes can see.  In the beginning, God had declared the whole creation good, and God grants Moses a glimpse of this reality—deep reality, the world infused by grace and by God.  A chapter later, when Moses descends the mountain, his countenance is shining.  He is different.  He has an aura about him, because he has seen God, and the world the way it truly is, and he has been changed—body and soul—by the encounter.

"I will make all my goodness pass before you."

“I will make all my goodness pass before you.”

This happens again and again in the chronicle of Holy Scripture: to Abraham, on the Mount of Transfiguration, on Paul’s way to Damascus.  The veil is lifted.  Eyes are opened.  Reality is revealed deeper than what we can measure or even fully describe.  Such epiphanies didn’t end with the writing of Holy Scripture.  They happen every day to otherwise ordinary people like you and me.  (In fact, we’ve just hosted a weekend symposium on this very topic.)  We, too, sometimes catch sight out of the periphery of our vision, receive momentary and fleeting glimpses of the goodness of God that nevertheless change us profoundly and irrevocably.

There are striking commonalities in the reported encounters with God by people from ancient days to our own.  They include the pervasiveness of love that is experienced as flowing all around and through us, like the air we breathe.  And they include an intuition of the interconnectedness of all things, of the infinite ways in which—through the Spirit of God—we are conjoined to one another and to the world all around us.

What does this mean?  It means, in a way profoundly more than we previously realized, that this world belongs to God. Not a stone, not a shadow, not a honeybee’s eye belongs to any other.  God creates and flows through them all.  God is in them, and they are his.  And his goodness, his very image, is imprinted upon the whole creation.

This truth is crucial to today’s Gospel passage, which at first seems primarily to be about the propriety of paying taxes.  The Pharisees ask Jesus that very question: “Are we required to pay taxes to Caesar?”

"The coin is Caesar's.  He stamped it with his image.  Give back to Caesar his own."

“The coin is Caesar’s. He stamped it with his image. Give back to Caesar his own.”

The coin the Romans required for the payment of taxes was a coin with Caesar’s image stamped upon it, with the slogan, “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of God.”

When asked if it was appropriate for Jews to pay this coin in taxes to Caesar, Jesus responds, “The coin is Caesar’s.  He minted it.  He stamped it with his own image.  He put it in circulation and thus gave it to you to begin with.  Sure, give back to Caesar his own.”

But the deeper truth is found in Jesus’ wily addendum: “And give to God that which is God’s.

And what belongs to God?  What is revealed in our holy encounters to be infused with God’s goodness in ways our feeble eyes can barely see?  On what is imprinted God’s very image?  Everything.

It is worth saying again in this month of our Every Member Canvass, as each of us decides what we will give back to God in the coming year: What belongs to God is everything.  Our financial abundance, yes, but also our joy, our loved ones, our most cherished memories, our sorrows, our needs, and our hopes.  All of these things are made buoyant by the Spirit of God, through whom and for whom they were made.  It is all God’s, because it is all of God.

"And what belongs to God?  Everything."

“And what belongs to God? Everything.”

If only we had the eyes of a honeybee.  What we might see even here, even now!  As we gaze straight forward at the altar of God, the eyes of the Savior gaze down upon us from the periphery of our vision, through the light of these blessed windows.  Just out of our sightline, the archangels are perched on these rafters, ready to carry our prayers to the throne of God.  The Spirit of the Divine flows through this place—and this world—like crackling electricity.  It’s all here!  It is the reality we barely see.  God says to Moses, and God says to us, “I will make all my goodness pass before you.”  Even here.  Even now.  Thanks be to God.

[i] Lienhard, John H.  “Engines of Our Ingenuity,” No. 2877, “What Bees See,” http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi2877.htm.

Remembering the Words

This sermon was preached at the festive Eucharist for John Hines Day at the Seminary of the Southwest on October 9, 2014.  The Most Rev. John E. Hines was the Bishop of Texas and later Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  He also served as rector of Christ Church, Houston.  I am humbled and honored to sit in his chair.

If you’ve read Ursula Le Guin’s classic “Earthsea” trilogy, you will know this story.  If you’ve not read the Earthsea trilogy, why not?  Put down Moltmann and the New Interpreter’s Bible, quit worrying about GOEs—they’re still three months away—and pick up Le Guin!  She’s the best thing you’ll read this year (unless you read Schleiermacher; nothing is better than Schleiermacher).The Farthest Shore

In book three of the trilogy, The Farthest Shore, something has gone terribly wrong in the island-dotted, mythical world of Earthsea.  An alternating malaise and terror encroaches across the globe.  As his home island succumbs to the illness, but before his own wits are stolen from him, a young nobleman named Arren travels to the island of Roke, home of wizards, to seek the help of the Archmage Ged.  With Ged, the world’s most powerful wizard, Arren travels on a swift boat across the sea, in search of the source of the world’s madness.

The bulk of The Farthest Shore recounts the stops along the way for Ged and Arren.  On one island they find a wizard, who, due to the illness, has forgotten his magic, but still practices parlor tricks and sells snake oil, in a perverse imitation of his former, authentic power.  They come across entire communities of people who are either struck dumb and dazed as if drugged or else propelled by a panicked fear that has no grounding but permeates everything.  And everywhere they go, Ged and Arren discover that, either as a result or cause of the world’s mysterious illness, people have forgotten all the words that matter: words of magic, the true names of things, words of connection, words of love.

Near the end of the book, Ged and Arren discover the Raft People, a tribe of seafaring nomads who come together in the open ocean once per year to tether their rafts and commune with one another.  The malaise has not yet reached them; they are joyous and whole.  Ged and Arren stay with the Raft People to regain their strength.  At night, the Raft People sing the ancient epics that tell of the origins of the world, until one night, in an instant, all the singers are struck dumb.  They are no longer able to remember the songs.  And even among them, the fear sets in.

______________

Ursula Le Guin writes about a mythical place and time, but she also writes to us.  There is an alternating fear and malaise encroaching upon our world.  We see it all the time, all around us, in expressions of exasperation, anger, violence, apathy, and disregard.  We see it globally, in war, religious conflict, yawning economic disparity, and environmental devastation.  We experience it personally, both directed at us, and, when we are unguarded, sometimes directed from us.

Why is this?  How is this?  Well friends, Ursula Le Guin was prescient.  As in Earthsea, our world has all but forgotten all the words that matter: words of magic, the true and deep names of things, words of connection, words of love.  Whether it is the result or cause of our malady, our language has coarsened, including, despairingly, the language of religion.   Religious rhetoric—including and perhaps especially Christian rhetoric—is characterized by hard edges, lines in the sand, worldly judgment (and this occurs on both ends of the theological spectrum).  Or, as in the case of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel,” crass materialism is spoken and named as blessing.  So often, religious leaders either speak words of division and exclusion or else peddle parlor tricks and snake oil.

The Most Reverend John E. Hines

The Most Reverend John E. Hines

I will name our illness: the Church catholic has forgotten to proclaim, always and only, the Word: Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as slaves for Jesus’ sake.  And in the vacuum of our amnesia, panicked fear and malaise fill the space provided.  We need only look to our friends at General Seminary, in such need of prayer, to find an emblem of this dynamic.

Where, then, is hope to be found?  We find our hope in Jesus Christ, whose Gospel will pierce any darkness with light so long as there is but one to proclaim it.  John Hines was such a one.  In his long, storied, and faithful ministry, Bishop Hines, in whose one-time chair at Christ Church I am now humbled and privileged to sit, refused to forget the Word, or the words of the Gospel that communicate that Word.  He refused to succumb to malaise, or panic, or fear.  He spoke words of transforming grace, for our souls and for our world.

Bishop Hines founded this seminary to be a place that would form men and women to learn such holy and sacred words, and to instill in those same men and women the courage to preach them to a desperate world.  It is what the Seminary of the Southwest has done for more than sixty years.  And with hope, I say it is what we will do for sixty more.

We have completed successfully our capital Campaign for Leadership that a fearful and cynical world would have said was foolhardy, if not impossible.  We have exceeded every precedent in our Annual Fund to provide scholarships for the next generation of ordained disciples.  We have launched the Wessendorff Center in order to provide innovative Christian leadership in myriad settings beyond the walls of the Church.  We have elected a leader in our still-new dean who shares Bishop Hines’ vision of transforming grace.  At the Seminary of the Southwest we have said; we still say; we will always say; that while we live, it is so that the Word—the life and light of Jesus—may be made visible in our mortal flesh and in the world.

____________

Archmage Ged and Arren

Archmage Ged and Arren

In The Farthest Shore, in order to reclaim the ancient and sacred words that the world had forgotten, the Archmage Ged must travel to the world of the dead.  He walks through that shadow and perseveres, and when he returns to the light the words he bears begin to restore the world of the living.  But Ged himself changes in the process.  He is not immune from all effect.  He must sacrifice his worldly power—his magic—in order to be the agent of redemption.  When he reemerges in the light, his is no longer a wizard.  He is only a man: a human being flawed, weak, and vulnerable.  But he is also profoundly stronger than he was as archmage, because he has gone down unto death and risen to life on its other side.  He is now the bearer not of worldly power but of grace in full measure.

The sacred words live in our hearts and on the tips of our tongues: words of grace, connection, reconciliation, and love.  Here, in this place, we tether our fragile rafts one to another to commune and sing the sacred songs.  And then we go out in to the world as nomads—graduates and friends of this place both—to share those words and songs so that they can restore the world.

We will not allow malaise and fear to overtake us.  We will not be struck dumb.  We will not forget the sacred words, nor the sacred songs.  As St. Paul reminds us today, we may be afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, struck down, but not destroyed.  Because, though we are made of clay and give up all pretension to worldly power, we wield power that is not of this world and is not our own.  It is the extraordinary power of God, whose light shines through all darkness and dispels all fear.  The death that has encroached upon the world will retreat before it.  Because we bear the grace of Jesus Christ in full measure, and while we live, grace has the final word.

The ever-flowing God

Every year four seminary classmates—my best friends in ministry—and I gather for a two-day retreat.  During the day we study scripture and theology, and we share case studies in ministry as we help one another become better priests.  And the second afternoon we always take a break to do something fun.

Last summer we stayed at a ranch on the edge of the Hill Country, and on Wednesday afternoon we decided to escape the heat by floating on inner tubes down a stretch of the Guadalupe River.  We donned our swim suits and loaded up the Rev. Daryl Hay’s minivan.  We arrived at the roadside canoe rental stand, paid five dollars apiece for our inner tubes, and then ran like children down the path to the put-in point.  As I ran, I imagined floating in deep water in which my feet could dangle.  I virtually felt the cool, clear water, and it reminded me I was alive, opened my eyes, and quickened my soul.

Since the drought of 2011, Texas rivers are drying up.

Since the drought of 2011, Texas rivers are drying up.

Then, with a splash, we hit the water.  Immediately, my anticipation was snuffed.  The water was low, very low.  Its volume was not enough to provide much current, and the river was a tepid, squalid mess.  A thick gray film covered the surface, and as we inched down river, it accumulated on the front edge of the inner tubes in gross fashion.  On that day, the river didn’t move, and it didn’t give life.  It was a dead and draining pool.  The water felt like quicksand to my soul, and I couldn’t wait to get out.

This is the story of water in Texas, from the Hill Country west.  Since the drought of 2011, which saw the hottest and driest summer in recorded history, there has been no substantial recovery.  Reservoirs, aquifers, rivers, and lakes are drying up.  And with them, so are the people.  Even as new oil and gas plays draw people to parts of West Texas, other areas are depopulating at an alarming rate.  Because no matter our sophisticated and advanced we are as a people, no matter how ingenious, we cannot thrive or, indeed, survive, without life-giving, flowing water.

Of course, not all water is visible.  There are areas of the world parched more desperately and for far longer than Texas, places in which sand dunes as high as small mountains stretch for seemingly endless miles in all directions.  These are the lifeless places, in which even camels drop from lack of sustenance.  Except that, occasionally one finds in the midst of all that sand a lagoon, a shimmering lake fed from deep underground by a secretly flowing stream.  Such oases are otherworldly.  One dune rolls after another, creating a bleak and unbroken landscape.  And then, out of nowhere, one sees lush greenery and palms.  An oasis is a defiant and glorious expression of abundance in the midst of a dead desert, made possible by the flowing water that teems beneath the surface, bubbling up through the sand and giving life.

The Huacachina Oasis in Peru

The Huacachina Oasis in Peru

This month we’ve begun our Every Member Canvass stewardship campaign to fund our mission and ministry in 2015, and as our theme the Stewardship Council chose Psalm 46, which we read this morning.

The psalm begins on a harrowing note.  It suggests that the earth will shudder and shake under our feet, that our expectations will topple, that deserts will encroach upon our lives.  It reminds us that, on the surface, things can be a mess.  Our relationships, our finances, our health, can rock us until we fear losing our balance.

Psalm 46 is the quintessential example of why the psalms are so enduring.  We get it.  Its message resonates.  We know what it feels like, personally, for the mountains to shake, for the earth to shift just as we think we’ve gained our footing.  We know what it feels like for doubt to overtake belief, for anxiety to trump courage, for injury to preempt good health.  And we know what it is for our spirits to be parched, for our reservoirs to become stagnant and brackish, or perhaps to dry up completely, like a West Texas river.

The spiritual desert can occur anywhere, anytime, but it may be most prevalent in the city.  The heat, the humidity, the concrete, the traffic, the rush and crush of life in the urban center can lend themselves to the encroaching wasteland of the soul.  We see it all the time, all around us, in expressions of exasperation, anger, violence, apathy, and disregard.  We experience it personally, both directed at us, and, when we are unguarded, sometimes directed from us.

The Gihon Spring

The Gihon Spring

But Psalm 46 doesn’t end where it begins.  Indeed, it remains in the earthquake, the desert, the tumult for only a split second.  In its second stanza, the psalm says this: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.”

The “city of God” is Jerusalem, and the reference to a river is at first puzzling, because no river runs through Jerusalem.  The meaning—both poetic and literal—becomes clearer only when we dive underground.  Scholars believe the psalm may refer to an underground stream that runs deep beneath Jerusalem from the Gihon spring to the Pool of Siloam, one of the healing pools where, in the Gospels, Jesus meets those who are deeply hurting.  In the reign of King Hezekiah, that stream was further supported by an aqueduct, to ensure that the city had a reliable water source even during times of siege.

The Psalmist’s implication is clear: No matter what the surface may bring, no matter what insults and injuries we may suffer or inflict, beneath the turmoil, deeper in us than belief and doubt, or anxiety, or fear, or injury–even in the middle of the spiritual desert–God flows like life-giving water.

That’s why we’re here, because we know this to be true.  That’s why we come back to this place, in good and holy times and when we’re struggling through a spiritual desert, because we know that God flows beneath us and through us and that at the most unexpected times and places God’s life-giving water will bubble up to the surface, providing an oasis, slaking our parched souls.  We gather here for worship, for formation, for fellowship like those who gathered at the Pool of Siloam, to receive the peace and healing that comes through communion with God.

Our is to remind Houston that God is here, that—like the bayous—God’s sacred presence flows through this community into the driest places, where healing streams are needed most.

Our role is to remind Houston that God is here, that—like the bayous—God’s sacred presence flows through this community into the driest places, where healing streams are needed most.

And it is then that the Psalmist adds, “God is in the midst of the city.”  That’s what we’re called to proclaim.  In this city, our unique role as the Cathedral church downtown is to remind Houston that God is here, that—like the bayous—God’s sacred presence flows through this community into the driest places, where healing streams are needed most.

There is no other church quite like Christ Church Cathedral.  There is no other church so positioned in the very heart of Houston, whose potential influence can ride the current of God throughout this city as a beacon of this truth.  It is an awesome and sacred responsibility.  And it requires the participation and support of each and every one of us.

As we enter into our Every Member Canvass, I am privileged to share with you that every member of both your Vestry and Stewardship Council has committed to increase his or her pledge over last year, in order fully to fund a ministry budget that proclaims God’s presence in the midst of the city.  I also share with you that I, your Dean, will tithe this year, giving ten percent of my income back to the instruments of the Church, as my commitment to the work of the Gospel.

As we each prayerfully consider what our part in God’s ministry will be and what our pledge to the Cathedral will be for 2015, I pray you pause and feel, deeper than the rush of life in this city, the current of God that runs underneath it all; recall the times and ways in which God’s life-giving water has bubbled up and restored your parched soul; and join your voice with the Psalmist’s, saying, “There is, indeed, a river who streams make glad the city of God; God is in the midst of the city, a present help in time of trouble, our refuge and our strength.”

So, what are you reading?

Barkley reading 2It’s one of the most frequent questions I am asked.  It’s also one of the most frequent questions that I ask of others.  For bibliophiles, the experience of losing oneself in a good book is spiritual.  For most of my adult life, I’ve kept a chronicle of the books I’ve read.  (Alas, I don’t keep track of journal and magazine articles.  Nor do I list the Bible or its consituent books, since I read scripture weekly.)  In mid-2007, my old Compaq computer crashed, and I lost my book list up to that point.  Here, though, is the list of books I’ve read since fall 2007.  (It coincides exactly with my time in Roanoke and Houston.)  Reflecting upon this list, I’m reminded how my interests cleave to theology, religion, and history.  I’m also reminded (as if I needed reminding) that I love the novels and stories of Wendell Berry.  Many of these books were read as part of the various parish book clubs I’ve facilitated.  It’s a satisfying experience to read a good book with thoughtful friends.

I’m a bit surprised by the number of texts to which I return a second–and sometimes third–time.  What we read says much about our interests, passions, and anxieties, and concerns.

So, what are you reading?

Fall 2007-Spring 2008

Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence by John Ferling

Dissolution: A Novel of Tudor England by C.J. Sansom

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula LaGuin

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Michael Oren

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (read 4th time)

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Clinging: The Practice of Prayer by Emilie Griffin

“Perfection,” short story by Mark Helprin in The Pacific and Other Stories

The Most Famous Man in America: A Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debbie Applegate

“A Rose for Mary Penn,” short story by Wendell Berry in Fidelity

The Night in Question: Stories by Tobias Wolff

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Read to Griffin:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Summer/Fall 2008

Julius Caesar, by Philip Freeman

Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester

Sovereign, by C.J. Sansom

The Shack, by William P. Young

The Will of God, by Leslie Weatherhead

Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, by Margaret MacMillan

The Celtic Way, by Ian Bradley

Living in Two Kingdoms, by David Adam

Aidan, Bede, Cuthbert: Three Inspirational Saints, by David Adam

The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination, by Esther De Waal

Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, by J. Philip Newell

Read to Griffin:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

 

Winter/Spring/Summer 2009

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland

The Summer Guest, by Justin Cronin

A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry

Matters of Chance, by Jeannette Haien

Leaving Church, by Barbara Brown Taylor

Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy

The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs

Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, by Donald Kraybill, et al.

Nathan Coulter, by Wendell Berry

“Fidelity,” short story by Wendell Berry in Fidelity

Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, by Marcus Borg

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

FDR, by Jean Edward Smith

Read to Griffin:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

Fall 2009

Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

The Practicing Congregation, by Diana Butler Bass

Dark Fire, by C.J. Sansom

Liturgical Life Principles: How Episcopal Worship Can Lead to Healthy and Authentic Living,by the Rev. Dr. Ian S. Markham

The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence, the Rev. Dr. Richard Lischer (read 2nd time)

The Life and Thought of Josiah Royce, by John Clendenning

The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier

Revelation, by C.J. Sansom

We Get to Carry Each Other:  The Gospel According to U2, by Greg Garrett

Spring 2010

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines

Behold I Do a New Thing: Transforming Communities of Faith, by C. Kirk Hadaway

Open Secrets, a memoir by Richard Lischer (read 2nd time)

Stoner, by John Williams

Skeletons on the Zahara, a history by Dean King

Richard & John: Kings at War, a biography by Frank McLynn

A Slight Trick of the Mind, a novel by Mitch Cullin

Summer 2010

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, by N.T. Wright

The End of Wall Street, by Roger Lowenstein

The Tale of Despereaux, a novel by Kate DiCamillo (at the request of Griffin, who’d read it)

Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, by Lisa Miller

The Memory of Old Jack, a novel by Wendell Berry

Fall 2010

Cane River, a novel by Lalita Tademy

Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright

Portions of How Different Religions View the Afterlife, ed. by Christopher Jay Johnson

A Whole New Life, a memoir by Reynolds Price

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, a novel by Don Robertson

An Irish Country Christmas, a novel by Patrick Taylor

The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Birth, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan

Winter/Spring 2011

Cutting for Stone, a novel by Abraham Verghese

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill (read 2nd time)

St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, by Philip Freeman

The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning

Men and Brethren, a novel by James Gould Cozzens

The Preaching of the Passion: The Seven Last Words From the Cross, by Peter J. Gomes

The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide, by Gerald R. McDermott

The Book Thief, a novel by Markus Zusak

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Large portions of In Search of Ancient Ireland: The Origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the English, by Carmel McCaffrey and Leo Eaton

Theodore Rex, by Edmund Morris (read 2nd time)

Summer 2011

Writing in the Dust: After September 11, by Rowan Williams

Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris

Under the Wings: Reflections in the Book of Ruth, by Samson Gitau

A Separate Peace, a novel by John Knowles

Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House, by Godfrey Hodgson

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C.S. Lewis

Fall 2011

What Good is God? In Search of a Faith that Matters, by Philip Yancey

For the Aspen Seminar, excerpts from:

  • “An Agreement of the People,” by Anonymous
  • Nicomachean Ethics, by Aristotle
  • Levianthan, by Thomas Hobbes
  • Human Nature, by Mencius
  • “The Development of the Moral Sense,” in The Descent of Man, by Charles Darwin
  • Politics, by Aristotle
  • The Social Contract, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • The Declaration of Independence (in its entirety)
  • The Challenge of Facts, by Charles Sumner
  • Billy Budd (in its entirety), by Herman Melville
  • The Republic, by Plato
  • The Second Treatise on Government, by John Locke
  • The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, by Ibn Khaldun
  • “The Angostura Address,” by Simon Bolivar
  • The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  • Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff, by Arthur M. Okun
  • The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir
  • “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (in its entirety), by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • On Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson
  • “The Portable Phonograph” (in its entirety) by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
  • “The Spiritual Aim in Life” (in its entirety) by Sri Arubindo
  • The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli
  • Analects, by Confucius
  • “The Paradoxes of Sovereignty” (in its entirety) by Karl Popper
  • “Two Concepts of Liberty” (in its entirety) by Isaiah Berlin
  • Antigone (in its entirety), by Sophocles
  • “The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World” (in its entirety) by Vaclav Havel
  • “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (in its entirety) by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Executive’s Compass, by James O’Toole

Outcasts United, by Warren St. John

Miracles, by C.S. Lewis

State of Wonder, a novel by Anne Patchett

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson

Winter/Spring 2012

Struggling with Scripture, by Walter Brueggmann, William C. Placher, and Brian K. Blount (read 2nd time)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

The Killer Angels, a novel by Michael Shaara (read 2nd time)

The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants, by Scott Thuma and Warren Bird

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, by David Brooks

The Widower’s Tale, a novel by Julia Glass

Abelard: A Medieval Life, by M.T. Clanchy

Summer 2012

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr

Wolf Hall, a novel by Hillary Mantel

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Erik Larson

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus, by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens

Bringing up the Bodies, a novel by Hillary Mantel

Fall 2012

The Bible and the New York Times, by Fleming Rutledge

Fall of Giants, a novel by Ken Follett

Let the Great World Spin, a novel by Colum McCann

A Wizard of Earthsea, a novel by Ursula LeGuin (read 2nd time)

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis (read 2nd time)

Unabashedly Episcopalian: Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Church, by Bishop Andy Doyle

The Weird Sisters, a novel by Eleanor Brown

Woodrow Wilson, a biography by John Milton Cooper

Winter/Spring 2013

The Farthest Shore, a novel by Ursula LeGuin

Brendan, a novel by Frederick Buechner

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard

Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case for Near-Death Experiences, by the Rev. John W. Price

The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald (read 2nd time)

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland (read 2nd time)

Summer 2013

Death at La Fenice, a mystery set in Venice by Donna Leon

Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell

His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph Ellis

Love Alone is Credible, by Hans Urs von Balthasar

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language, by Arika Orent

A Farewell to Arms, by Earnest Hemingway

Fall 2013

The Light Between Oceans, a novel by M.L. Stedman

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour, by Lynne Olson

The Book of Job: A Biography, by Mark Larrimore

Here is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History, by Andrew Carroll

Mere Christianity (books I, II, and III), by C.S. Lewis (read 2nd time)

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

Winter/Spring 2014

J.B., Pulitzer Prize-winning play based on the Book of Job, by Archibald MacLeish

The Goldfinch, a novel by Donna Tartt

A Place in Time, a book of short stories by Wendell Berry

Christ of the Celts, by J. Philip Newell

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, by S.C. Gwynne

The Invention of Wings, a novel by Sue Monk Kidd

Summer 2014

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918, by G.J. Meyer

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard

The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, by Philip Jenkins

The Son, a novel by Philipp Meyer

Fall 2014

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, by Roger Crowley

Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (read 2nd time)