Each summer I consider a list of books for summer reading, polling friends, publications' recommendations, and the periodic book review on NPR. Each summer I gather my stack of books and place them on the coffee table so that I see them every time I am in my living room. Since switching to the Kindle for most of my pleasure reading, the devices sits there, plugged in, fully charged, waiting for me to pick it up and start pressing the next page button.
The stack still contains most of the books from five summers ago.
Summer is just too full of life for sitting and reading.
Most of the time.
This summer I am participating in two book studies at church and, well, since I co-leading one of them, I really have to read the book and stay a little ahead of the rest of the readers.
Both of the books are stretching my thinking about the topics at hand. For the Summer Bible Study we are going through Hard Living People & Mainstream Christians. I have always struggled in ministry with "hard living people" as I have never been comfortable in those environments, but the book is causing me to readdress my thoughts about participation in the ministries and has broadened my understanding of hard living. The scripture also gives use firm commands from the Old Testament to the New Testament that we are responsible for all people - even and especially those who fit the category Christ called "the least of these."
For a socially progressive congregation, even using the term, "least of these" or "hard living" proves challenging. Who are we, after all, to label others?
The world labels people and we are naive to ignore that. Recognizing the reality in the world does not make us of the world, but to function in it, we have to adopt an appropriate language, appropriate behaviors, and appropriate attitudes. We have to get real.
We opened the discussion with stereotypes - stereotypes we have about hard living people, and thankfully, with participation of some people who fit the definition of hard living, we were able to get an honest take on the stereotypes they have about people in the church.
The world cuts both ways.
Sometimes it is hard to see that hard living people come in all types.
The same is true of Christians.
Maybe we have more in common than we think. The study so far has led me to believe this more deeply than I have in the past. I'm looking forward to learning much more as we get farther in the book.
The book focuses on hard living people in regards to difficult home situations, substance abuse, poverty, homelessness or under-housed situations. The more deeply I delve into that, I realize that I could be considered hard living. I do not have a difficult home situation, I don't abuse substances, I am not poor or homeless.
I am hard living in that I do not stop running from waking at 5:00 a.m. to bedtime between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. most nights. I find it very difficult to give another person the attention they deserve when I am in their presence because my mind constantly runs ahead to the next thing I need to do. Something occupies my time from the moment of waking until sleep - from mundane chores to intense work, reading, study.
I like texting and online chat because it does not require my full attention. I can do six other things on the computer while chatting with twelve people at once.
I like planning events with friends. I like the many meetings outside of work in which I participate. I like the things I do.
They bring me much joy.
I am always exhausted and more of my personal relationship are superficial than I would like.
How much more joy could I have?
The people the book defines as "hard living" have much joy in their lives too. They just take joy in different things than I enjoy.
So far in the reading and discussions, the commonalities we have far outstrip the differences.
Maybe we have more in common than we think.