Historical books help us understand present realities
October 2, 2008

How did you spend your summer vacation? I started mine by devouring several books I hadn't had time to read the rest of the year. I'm still working on a couple of others. That reality brought to mind the saying of my ninth-grade algebra teacher: "Vacations are for doing what you don't normally do -- in the case of many of you, that means do your algebra homework."


That kind of rhythm of greater focus on what is normally not possible, or what we're not normally inclined toward, lies behind the biblical notion of Sabbath. The seventh day is holy, a day to rest because God rested. The fields are meant to lie fallow in the seventh year so they can be more productive thereafter. Monastic spirituality, particularly the Benedictine sort, structures time by devoting portions of each day and week to prayer, study, work and play (it's often called recreation).

Back to the books. One was loaned to me, a couple of others given or sent to me, and the rest I went looking for after reading reviews. Several have connections with the Anglican Communion and/or the Episcopal Church. I commend each one.

Hewitt, Gavin. Terry Waite and Ollie North: The Untold Story of the Kidnapping – and the Release. Little, Brown, Boston: 1991. A true-to-life spy story that involved our church and some of our own. You will learn more about current tensions in the Middle East by discovering more of the history of hostages, terrorism and political machinations in this country.

Kesselus, Kenneth. John E. Hines: Granite on Fire. ETSS, Austin: 1995. A stirring biography of the 22nd presiding bishop and the Episcopal Church's response to social unrest in the 1960s.

DeWolf, Thomas N. Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History. Beacon, Boston: 2008. This is another facet of the recently released film, Traces of the Trade (for more information, visit the website. I learned a great deal about Northern involvement in slavery, its continuation long after its legal end and surprising connections with the Episcopal Church.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin, NY: 2006. Learn more about where your food comes from and why there are products derived from corn in so much of what we eat.

Goldman, Caren, and Vorhees, Ted. Across the Threshold and Into the Questions: Discovering Jesus, Finding Self. Morehouse, NY: in pub. This was a pre-print, due out later this year. Written by a Jewish woman and her Episcopal priest husband, it challenges us to see Jesus' encounters with others as windows into our own spiritual lives.

Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. Completing the Circle. University of Nebraska, Lincoln: 1995. Partly family history, partly the history we share as Episcopalians of all races on this continent. Offers deeper insight into the current realities on Native American reservations and the origins of those realities.

Blackmon, Douglas A. Slavery by Another Name: the Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. Doubleday, NY: 2008. I'm still working on this one, but it's arguably the most important. A stunning expose of the "legal" bond-slavery by which white Southerners re-enslaved African Americans following the Civil War. Every American needs to read, mark, learn and chew on this.

When we know where we've come from, we may begin to understand the present -- our political realities, our challenges and relationships, both internally and with other nations. We also may begin to intuit what will be needed to heal the wounds of the body we call Christ's.

Sabbath can be an opportunity to learn more deeply what God asks of each of us -- loving our neighbors, each one made in God's image, as we love ourselves. How and where will you find time for Sabbath that will stretch and deepen your mind and heart?