Thursday, May 26, 2016

Summer Reading: "Called to Community" Review

One of the perks of this job is the reading material. In order to serve in my vocation the best way I know how, reading what others smarter than I have to say is imperative. To that end, I occasionally will post a review of a particularly good or interesting book that I've read lately.  My June newsletter column--which I'll have posted here within the next week or so--will contain even more recommendations, but for now, here is my latest review.  ~E.A.

I'm an introvert. Community and connection doesn't always come easy to me. But I know that I still need it in my life--personally, spiritually, vocationally, the whole nine yards. And that extra shove to engage in community-building can come from a variety of different sources--a loved one, a trusted colleague, or even a book.

Enter, then, "Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People," which was just released this month by Plough Publishing (ten bucks on Kindle, eleven and change in paperback), a volume of fifty-two chapters from various Christian authors--of both past and present eras--that illustrates the different godly aspects of living in community.

There are fifty-two chapters for a reason: you can cover one per week, which really makes this something of a devotional book, and one that is a bit easier to fit into my sometimes slapdash spirituality as a weekly devotional practice rather than a daily devotional practice, which I have always been absolutely terrible at maintaining.

In the genre of devotional literature, then, Called to Community offers something a little different: thematic and weekly rather than daily or centered around a single author, denomination, or Christian tradition.

The authors curated for this series are diverse in a number of ways--there are plenty of female writers present, as well as Roman Catholic and Protestant writers alike, and are thoughtfully arranged by volume editor Charles Moore, who himself pens a few entries for the book.

But the bottom line is, are these various entries selected for Called to Community any good? For the most part...yeah, they really are. A few are ones I had already come across in one context or another, such as an excerpt from C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, but plenty were either from works by authors I knew of, or, more delightfully, my introduction to a writer whom I previously had never encountered.

Nor are these contributors all across-the-board cheerleaders: the challenges of living in community--real, radical community rather than the lipstick-level interactions we often content ourselves with--are discussed at length in several of the fifty-two chapters, from a variety of perspectives.

For me as a pastor, blogger, and Christian, such honesty is refreshing. That level of straightforwardness ought not be so rare a thing in my line of work, but that too is a part of community: it should (in theory) breed further authenticity and honesty in each of us.

And perhaps that is this book's real gift.  The jury is still out on if I can even manage to keep up a once-a-week devotional reading practice. But at least with Called to Community, there is good enough reason to at least try to make the effort, because it treats community for what it is rather than what we might want it to be or not be: something amazing, something difficult, and something ultimately worth striving for.

Longview, Washington
May 26, 2016

Disclaimer: My copy of Called to Community was complimentary from the publisher; however, all opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

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