As a Bishop, I often feel that nearly every element of my life is mapped out. Sometimes my calendar fills with appointments, engagements, presentations, and travel for months and years in advance. Even the everyday decisions and recurring crises are patterned and predictable to the point that much of my work feels scripted.
Carving out a personal life for me involves continuing my commitment to writing, reading, running, birding, my personal spiritual disciplines, and time with my family. These are where individuality and personality emerge. These are the creative edges that I find particularly satisfying.
Let’s take reading as an example. When I walk into a bookstore I leave the scripted life behind and give space for the spontaneous me to emerge. There’s no telling what I will find, where I will end up, or what I will carry to the check-out line. My interests are wide-ranging, and I’m likely to spend generous amounts of time among the mystery books, the bestsellers, biographies, business books, travel, investments, or Spanish language resources. I’ll dally in nature, birding, running, and sports, and I’ll dip into philosophy, biology, and mathematics. I’ll browse new fiction and first-time authors. I might even see what’s new on the religion/spirituality shelves! Reading takes me places I would otherwise never go. So when colleagues ask me what I’ve been reading, sometimes the list seems pretty eccentric and eclectic.
But since people continue to ask, here’s my list of recent books that I’ve read. Don’t take these as recommendations; these are just the things I’ve been reading.
I’m currently 700 pages into Stephen King’s 1100-page Under the Dome. (Don’t tell anyone that the Bishop reads Stephen King books or they’ll think of me as more scary than I really am!) I’m also reading Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations (I hate the title, but the book has excellent insights into the significance of personal conversations), Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto—How to Get Things Right (Sounds strange, but I used checklists as a pastor for staff meetings, wedding and funeral planning, and a host of other significant ministries, and I find Gawande’s suggestions compelling about how we seek excellence in a time of growing complexity.); and Daniel Pink’s Drive—The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.
Recent good reads have included The Tecate Journals by Keith Bowden (An excellent and insightful travel piece about canoeing the entire length of the Rio Grande between Texas and Mexico, this book is special to me because it describes dozens of places from my own childhood and young adult years.); The Beak of the Finch by Jonathon Weiner (explores the detailed scientific exploration of bird evolution); Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tricks for Better Writing by Mignon Fogerty (taken from the podcast by the same name); Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton (the complete novel found in Crichton’s files after his death); Fatal Remedies by Donna Leon (part of a detective series I keep up with that is set in Venice); Breathless and Relentless, both by Dean Koontz; True Blue by David Baldacci; How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins (a good read from an excellent organizational guru); Rebel Island by Rick Riordan (Riordan is a Texas writer who now focuses mostly on children’s book, but he also has a great detective series set in South Texas); Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (one of the Harry Bosch series I keep up with), and The Oxford Murders by Argentinean writer Guillermo Martinez. I also recently finished What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell (one of my favorite authors, who has written Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point) and Rueben Job’s When You Pray.
On my desk in the “Yet to Come” stack are Untamed—Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship by Alan and Debra Hirsch, Tribal Church by Carol Howard Merritt, Simple Church by Rainer and Geiger, and a couple books by Michael Slaughter, who will be our guest at Annual Conference in June.
These days I also receive good intellectual and spiritual stimulation from a number of podcasts I subscribe to for free. I download them on my iPhone and listen as I drive, run, walk, or bike. Among my favorite weekly podcasts are Ira Glass’s This American Life, Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith; WNYC’s Radiolab; Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Better Writing; NPR’s Fresh Air and To the Best of Our Knowledge; Ray Brown’s Speaking of Birds, and Stuff You Should Know and Tech Stuff from HowStuffWorks.com.
So, what are you reading? What books grant you a sense of freedom and escape? What writers have been most helpful to you recently in your professional life? What books strengthen your spirit? What podcasts do you listen to regularly?
Yours in Christ,