The Reader’s Nook: October 2018

By Roy Smith

Senior Pastor of Trinity UMC

Each month, we ask a featured contributor to the Arkansas United Methodist to tell us what they’re reading, and why we should be reading it as well. This month’s contributor is the Rev. Roy Smith of Trinity United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Living Without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence
By Samuel Wells and Marcia A. Owen

When Marcia Owen returned to her hometown of Durham, North Carolina, she was deeply troubled by the gun violence that plagued it. This book chronicles her journey from concerned mother and citizen to activist to witness as she engages directly with persons whose lives had been affected by gun violence.

She co-authored this book with Sam Wells, who was serving as Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. Her journey led to discovering different ways of engaging the work of reconciliation. The movement took her from “being for” to “working for” to “working with” and finally to “being with.” The descriptions of these various ways of engaging others are extremely helpful in understanding our witness. Owen and Wells offer insightful theological reflection throughout the book. This reflection is balanced with powerful accounts of experiences at prayer vigils with persons whose loved ones have died violently. There are also stories of working with perpetrators of violence as they seek to reintegrate into mainstream society. These accounts are poignant and moving.

I first read this book five years ago. I have read it again several times since. I commend it to you as a book, which is quite helpful as you continue to discern your call to transform your world.

Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I Have Loved
By Kate Bowler

Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School. Her scholarly interest is the study of the “prosperity gospel.” At the age of 35, she was married to her high school sweetheart and the mother of an infant son, Zach. That is when she discovered she had Stage IV cancer of the liver.

In this book, she shares her journey living with cancer. She confronts her mortality and thoughts and understanding of life and death. Along the way, she engages people of all types. These include family, friends, colleagues, and students, as well as a number of people she meets through her blog. She also hears a number false and silly things as others try to make sense of her journey. She shares stories of those who are there for her in powerful ways as they do not seek to control, fix or explain her disease. These stories are powerful accounts of bearing witness.

The serious and the silly, the poignant and the profound, come through in this book. It is beautifully written. I found Bowler’s two appendices particularly helpful. In one, she shares a list of statements that were made to her, which were not the least bit helpful. Then she shares a collection of ideas of ways to bring comfort to a friend who is living with a serious illness.

You owe it to yourself to read this book. It is one of the best things I have read this year.

Who Do We Choose to Be: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity
By Margaret Wheatley

I first discovered Margaret Wheatley’s writing on leadership about 20 years ago. Her book “Leadership and the New Science” was extremely helpful in understanding that organizations and leadership are organic phenomena. In this, her latest book, she offers a candid and straightforward assessment of the world we are living in and its challenges and disruptions. She notes various moments in history when fear and turmoil have been powerfully present. In such moments, leaders have arisen. They have often been “warriors.” Wheatley cites current the need for “warriors of the human spirit.” Their tools are not weapons of violence. Their tools will come from valuing our interconnectedness and leading as servant leaders. In the digital age, in which the world is more connected than it has ever been, Wheatley calls for leaders working “locally” to create what she describes as “islands of sanity.” Wheatley continues to sound her theme that even in the midst of chaos and destruction, living systems have the power to adapt. Such adaptive behavior can happen. She calls leaders to have the courage to step forth and speak and show a different path.

This book has caused me to think deeply about how we seek to transform the world as disciples. I commend it to you most highly.