An amazingly tender moment in Bogotá was when these two, a three year old boy from Bogotá and a seventeen year old from Kenilworth spent 20 minutes in a church pew talking about life.

By The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

This summer, we have multiple theological themes that are thick, rich, beautiful, and tender all at the same time. For our summer sermon series, we are looking at the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) and this week’s theme is peace. In our High School IMPACT program, both during the school year and on the mission trip, we are looking at the theme of transformation. During our Vacation Bible School program next week we are using Psalm 19, which begins, “God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon” to highlight the theme of Wonders of the Universe. (Did you know the huge stained glass window in the back of the sanctuary is based on Psalm 19?). Because of all these dense themes—peace, transformation and wonders of the universe—I will use them as a template for my summer reading highlights.

Peace: Because of my recent trip to Civil Rights-related historic sites in Alabama, the three books I will highlight about peace relate to the legacy of slavery, the nonviolent movements that arose to combat racial injustice, and the new research linking racial injustice and mass incarceration.

  • March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Our high school students often read in history class this three book series , graphic novels following Congressman John Lewis’ journey as a participant and ultimately a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Having just been to Selma this spring where I stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge where police brutally beat men and women peacefully marching for their already-constitutionally-sanctioned right to vote, I was touched by the way March visually and lyrically depicts the frustrations, deep aspirations, and risky nonviolent commitments of the Civil Rights Movement. Whether you lived through this era, or learned about it in history class, March is a quick read and worth your time.
  • Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson. Next Wednesday, a new documentary comes out on HBO about Brian Stevenson. He is the driving force behind Alabama’s new “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice” which focuses on the legacy of lynching in America, and he lives his life as an advocate for men and women on death row. Just Mercy is about how he got his start, why he does what he does, and the men and women on death row who have influenced his journey. It is narrative, compelling, frustrating, eye-opening: a fast paced, well written, and insightful read. Whether you read the book first, or catch the new documentary called “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality” next week, you will appreciate Stevenson’s perspective on a world so near, yet distant, from our everyday reality.
  • Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon. I was a theology major in college, so I took only the minimum required number of history classes, and thus it’s possible that the last time I formally studied the Civil War era was in high school. Blackmon’s book Slavery by Another Name takes us on a journey into the legacy of slavery that goes way beyond anything taught in my high school curriculum. This is a dense book, not for the faint of heart—but transformative. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, and there is a documentary based on Blackmon’s research that came out in 2012.

Transformation: I have been digging deep into poetry these past months. The words of poets transform the way I see the world, whether it causes me to connect to my own past, sense the gentleness of the world in a new way, or know the hardship of others vividly.

  • Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson. Several years ago, I bookmarked a website called A Year of Being Here, Phyllis Cole-Dai’s original project curating mindfulness poetry every day for several years. I began looking at the mindfulness poems in her collection every Sunday before writing a pastoral prayer. This practice has completely changed my understanding of how we stand before God and name the desires of our hearts. My prayer for you: that this collection of poetry will change your heart too.
  • This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry. Don’t let me schedule a meeting with you at Peet’s Coffee in Winnetka. It’s right next to the bookstore, and I’ll have to see what’s new, and I’ll end up leaving with a handful of books. That’s how I ended up with Wendell Berry’s collection of Sabbath Poems. Every Sunday, farmer, ecologist, writer, and earth-advocate Wendell Berry takes a walk. He says he’s a bad-weather Christian. He goes to church when it’s too rainy or cold to take a sabbath walk. On good-weather Sundays, you’ll find him standing in the middle of a forest, or at the edge of a creek, or under the blue sky, writing a poem. His book will transform the amount time you spend as a noticer-of-the-earth, something I believe we all need to do more often on this fragile planet.
  • Poems that Make Grown Men Cry by Anthony Holden (which I’ve read), and it’s accompanying Poems that Make Grown Women Cry (which I haven’t picked up yet) would make excellent additions to your poetry collection, whether you are looking for a book to transform your own grief, or a book to hop in and out of on days when love, loss, desire, and kinship intermingle.

Wonders of the Universe: Trying to find picture books that my two year old son will sit through is difficult, so my first criteria is books with very few words per page. Using that philosophy alone, I have found so many books that offer delight and beauty as we consider the wonders of the universe.

  • Ida and the Whale by Rebecca Gugger, Illustrated by Simon Röthlisberger: Just published in March 2019, this book takes you with Ida on an adventure through the universe with a space-traveling whale. What a weird idea, but Gugger’s writing is so ethereal and imaginative, and Rothlisberger’s illustrations meet the word’s wildness and bring you into the story. In just a few short pages, themes like friendship, silence, loneliness, wonder, and delight hop across the pages. It will allow parents and children alike to wonder together about the mysteries of the universe—big and small.
  • Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. There are only two words per page, and one word is always “blue.” With such simplicity, maybe you’d think the book would be childish, but the artwork accompanying the words carries you from childhood to adulthood, from joy to loss, from season to season with such surging power that you are surprised that truly there are only two words per page. Not only that, it’s the story about the joy of sharing life with a dog, about the sorrow of living life beyond the years of that dog’s life, and about the resilience of all of us despite what is unfathomable about grief. Seeger also has a book called “Green” that we haven’t read yet, but I’m sure we will.
  • The Girl Who Heard Colors by Marie Harris, Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. I have heard of synesthesia but have never seen it so delightfully portrayed. This book gives kids a chance to understand that not everyone senses the wonders of the universe in the same way, offers children who have felt ostracized a partner voice in that inky black feeling of being shut out of community, and helps everyone delight in the surprise of finding someone who experiences life just like us in this world. For anyone who has ever felt different, for anyone seeking to build empathy for others, for anyone wanting to connect with people just like you, this is your book.