Summer Reading List for Kids

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

This summer I’m asking my kids to read. I’m also incentivizing the program. For every book on this list my kid reads, they earn a little money. Not only must they read the book, they have to write three sentences in response to this question: “What’s the book about?” That way, they’re not only reading, but they are reading toward the aim of writing. They’re thinking about how they’d introduce or explain the book to someone else. That’s higher level stuff.

In order for me to pull together a list of books they could choose from, Molly and I asked friends and acquaintances to share titles, series, and authors we should consider. If you are someone who recommended a book, thanks! We appreciate your help. I did not include every book that was suggested. If you see something missing, and you’d like others to know about it, leave a comment on this blog post.

For the sake of parents out there, I’ve linked to Common Sense Media reviews for these titles, where available. I haven’t read all of these books. I couldn’t offer a definitively judgment on many of these titles. Some of these books are more appropriate for my preteen daughter than for my elementary age son. At home, I screen accordingly, and if you are a parent I trust you to do the same. You’re responsible for your children; I’m responsible for mine.

Also, the links below are to Amazon. If you click and purchase, a small credit returns to me. It’s not necessary or even expected. You can search the title on your own! Or, if you live in Waco, you can shop locally at Fabled, and if you live elsewhere, you can buy books at your favorite bookstore. Most of these titles are likely available as well at your local library.

Happy reading!

Baptist Identity: An Interminable Dilemma

Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

In authority and power in the free church tradition, Paul Harrison observed, ‘It is clear that Baptist history is freighted with ambiguity, and those who strive to establish the singularity of the tradition are on a weak foundation.’ Any attempt to write a history of Baptists must begin with such an admonition. From their beginnings in seventeenth-century Europe, Baptists have demonstrated beliefs and practices so diverse as to make it difficult to compile a consistent list of distinctives applicable to all segments of the movement at all times. Brief examples illustrate an interminable dilemma.

Bill J. Leonard, Baptist Ways: A History, p. 1

Is this a strength, or a weakness?

Leonard goes on to list various Baptist compilations of those characteristics that make Baptists, Baptists. In the 1640s, Anglican Daniel Featley said the “Dippers” “dipt,” and I don’t mean snuff. The immersed people all the way into the water. No pouring or sprinkling. The didn’t baptize children, they didn’t follow a Prayer Book or set liturgical form, but worshiped God “onely by the Spirit.” They refused to take oaths under any circumstance, and they thought no Christian could, in good conscience, “execute the office of civil magistrate.” Baptists were antiestablishment. Maybe they are still. Depends on the Baptist.

A list familiar to me, written by Robert Torbet, claims the Baptists distinctives include: “(1) the authority of Holy Scripture; (2) regenerate church membership; (3) baptism by immersion as the sign of new life in Christ and membership in the church; (4) the autonomy of the local congregation; (5) the priesthood of all believers; and (6) religious liberty.”

That leaves room for a lot of nuance, and a great deal of quibbling.

If you asked me for a seventh Baptist distinctive, it would be quibbling. I prefer it when the arguments are edifying. But I guess that, too, is something to argue about.

Seeking Silence

Photo by Artur Nasyrov on Unsplash

A friend of mine sent along a newsletter written by Tish Harrison Warren, published in The New York Times. The article is titled “How Silence Became a Luxury Product.” The article is behind a paywall. If you subscribe to paper, you can read it in full. Here’s a section that caught my eye:

In his book “The World Outside Your Head,” Matthew Crawford advocates for what he calls an “attentional commons.” We as a society hold certain resources in common, like air and water. These vital resources are available to everyone as part of the common good. Crawford says that the “absence of noise” — auditory silence but also freedom from things like advertisements that intrude on our attention — should be seen as just such a resource. He writes, “As clean air makes respiration possible, silence, in this broader sense, is what makes it possible to think.” He argues that we all need access to quiet, undistracting spaces.

Crawford brings up the pricey quietude of the business class lounge at Charles De Gaulle Airport. I have only been in an exclusive airport lounge once (a friend got me in), but the sheer decadence of silence there — with its soundproof doors and walls — compared to the beeping, dinging, blaring in the rest of the airport was both delicious and disturbing. The silence was worth every penny, but why did only those who could pay those many pennies (or have friends who could) deserve it?

On weekdays in cities, churches sometimes keep their doors unlocked to provide a literal sanctuary from noise. This is an unsung kindness to the public, and every church who can do this, should. Still, not many can and this practice is more difficult now due to Covid precautions. As churches in urban areas close and are remade into trendy condos or restaurant space, we don’t just lose a worshiping congregation. We lose one more silent space.

It all leaves us asking, where can we go to find silence? There is an increasing need to preserve and protect publicly accessible silent spaces.

Where do you go to find silence?

Keep Browsing

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

As more and more collections go digital and bookstores switch to on-demand models, we will have to deal with what is lost when browsing is lost.

Austin Kleon, “Spontaneity is Learning and Browsing is Research

Sometimes, what you’re looking for isn’t what you’re actually looking for. It’s the next book, the next record, the next image. The one you weren’t searching for, but instead found you.

Reading to Love

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

We might think that simply reading more would lead to informed discourse, a more educated populace, and more effective conversation. Alas, the counter examples are rife. Some of the most egregious tweeters are plenty well educated, products of the best schools, even voracious readers. Our society has often defaulted to the idea that we can educate ourselves out of sin (and make no mistake – much online behavior today is quite simply sin), but we rarely sin because we are dumb. We sin because we want to, because we find it, at least in the moment, gratifying and fun. In fact, reading on its own fixes nothing.

Echo chambers and tribalism are real. Whether our media are written – books, blogs, articles – or video – cable news, online videos, film – our society has quickly embraced separate self-referential echo chambers. As has regularly been noted in the past months, it is as if Americans are living not simply with political divisions, but with two separate epistemic realities, two opposite conceptions of even basic facts, the products of two entirely separate media ecosystems. Simply diving into a good book, with “good” being defined as one that supports everything I already want to believe, only deepens the self-referential hole.

We need to read the other, the author who comes from an entirely different cultural, political, and economic background, the author who has looked deeply at the issue in question and has concluded the opposite of what we are attuned to believe. We need to avoid not simply political tribalism but also religious, economic, and social tribalism. The beginning of the question is to read broadly, including those we find to be way “out there.”

Bill Fullilove, “Reading to Be Wrong

Fullilove argues that we should read “the other,” doing so with humility. Humility is a nice starting point. Hold a position on a given point of inquiry doesn’t mean that your position is right or that it is adequately supported by sound reasons. It is always possibly that “the other” is right, even if you doubt it. By reading someone with a different viewpoint, your position could be sharpened, or nuanced, and, as a result, strengthened.

Reading charitably requires a constellation of virtues. There is a temptation to read those of other viewpoints not in pursuit of understanding but with the a priori goal of ferreting out the ways that the other person’s viewpoint is wrong. Humility is a good place to start, but it might be helpful to think further of reading as an exercise in love. The loving person seeks truth not for the sake of winning an argument, but for the good of all parties involved. It can be fun to dunk on your opponents, and sometimes dunking on your opponents can even be easy, but that is not always the most loving action. While slamming a point home may energize your crowd, it might not be so compelling to the unconvinced.

A strong argument and a gentle answer can be had together, one and the same.

The “For the Safety of Everyone” Shibboleth

Photo by Lukas Souza on Unsplash

Last week my family went on vacation, and upon return endured the safety protocols mandated by federal law that have been imposed on travelers in airports and on airplanes. Vaccinated or not, masks are required of everyone.

From the jump, it was clear the flight crew on the first leg of our return was vigilant about masking. One of the crew, let’s call her O., awakened me from slumber with an exhortation to another passenger to pull their mask above their nose. Her words were the polite ones, but her tone was the condescending one.

Later, O. told another passenger to mask between sips and bites. She was clearly agitated.

And finally, with about twenty minutes left on our flight, O. took to the intercom system and scolded all passengers about masking, declaring we had all agreed to mask when we purchased our tickets, that masking was federally mandated, that the flight crew was only allowed to warn us “so many times,” and that if we were eating, we should take a bite, replace our mask, or if we were drinking, we should do the same. Off. On. Off. On. If your mask is off, no respiration allowed. Only expose your mouth to nibble or sip.

I thought of elementary school, those moments when the teacher unleashed a tirade against the class when the intolerable offense was committed by one student. This was like one of those moments. We were collectively guilty, and thus collectively shamed, though we all knew who was at fault, that the treatment we received was unfair, and that this matter should have been handled one to one, in a more mature, just manner.

If a passenger refused to mask according to the crew’s liking, I wondered what would come next. Would they turn the plane around? Would they eject the offending passenger? Shove them down a garbage chute, and activate the compactor? Would they issue an arbitrary flight ban? Withdraw future flight snacking privileges? What would be the consequence?

And if a passenger objected to the collective scolding, what would happen to that individual?

The justification for our scolding was that these practices are “for the safety of everyone” and, therefore, must be observed.

That is simply not true. At this stage, these practices are for the relatively safety of some, not all. The vaccines have been available for months. Anyone choosing to travel without the vaccine has had ample opportunity to receive it and should be held responsible for their choices.

O.’s tone, in addition to the phrasing of her message, were meant to convey that vigilant maskers, like herself, are good. Those who do not comply to the crew’s satisfaction are bad.

Policy makers have asked the public to take specific actions because they think the benefits will outweigh the costs. But the reasons given for the rules have to make sense. It would have been better to say these measures are prescribed to help minimize the spread of the delta variant, to keep the airlines operative, and to prevent the cabin from becoming an incubator of contagion.

Back in 1994, Delta’s slogan was “You’ll Love the Way We Fly.” Not on this flight.

Thankfully, on the second leg of our flight, we didn’t have another O. I can put up with the mitigation policies. But the condescension I can do without.

The Common Law of Texas

A Colt Single Action Army Revolver, via Revivaler

Colt was also increasingly showing himself to be a gifted merchant, combining his natural flair for persuasion with a prescient grasp of mass marketing. He branded his guns not only with his name, but with engravings that were pressure-rolled onto the cylinders. The scenes he chose for these engravings–one showed a stagecoach holdup, men facing off with pistols, several on the ground wounded or dead–indicate how well he understood his gun’s appeal by 1840. Not only did the engravings associate his revolvers with self-defense and derring-do, they verified them as authentic Colts amid the onslaught of imitation revolvers he correctly assumed were coming. Nor did he neglect the presentation of the guns. Each came in a handsome mahogany box, lined in velvet, with a beveled lid and nameplate. An even better idea, which Colt arrived as later, would be putting some of the guns inside false books, a gimmick, but one that hinted knowingly at the future of these guns. Laws for Self Defense was the title on the spine of one of these books. Other titles included The Tourist’s Companion and The Common Law of Texas.

James Rasenberger, Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-Shooter That Changed America

Here is an 1851 Colt Navy where you can zoom in on the cylinder and this link shows an 1849 model in the box.

You can learn a little more about Colt revolvers and Texas history here.

Institutions: Around Them, or Through Them?

Photo by Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash

Looking for ways to make a difference, younger Americans therefore tend to think in terms not of channeling their ambitions through institutions but rather of going around them. Because our politics has always rewarded those who can successfully claim the mantle of the outsider–now even more than usual–the temptation to approach our institutions antagonistically, or to avoid them altogether, has grown very strong. When we look for solutions, we tend to look not to institutions but to individuals, movements, ideals, or maverick outsiders.

Maybe what we resist most is the idea that we would need to be formed by institutions at all. The liberal idea of freedom, which has often been at the core of our political imagination, is rooted in the premise that the choosing individual is the foundation of our social order. Liberating that person–whether from oppression, necessity, coercion, or constraint–has frequently been understood to be the foremost purpose of our politics. Our parties have argued about how to do it and about what kind of liberation the individual most desires or requires. But they have agreed, at least implicitly, that once properly liberated, that person could be free.

Yuval Levin, A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream

I feel these tensions, having been formed within them. I value institutions. I value individualism. I’m skeptical of institutions. I’m aware of their failures. Early in my ministry I was drawn more toward movements and mavericks, those seeking to reform or to build something new.

But as the years have gone on, I’ve become more skeptical of radical individualism. It can pull us away from community, history, or tradition. I’m wary of those who build their own cult of personality.

In A Time to Build, Yuval Levin makes the case for our institutions. Levin argues that we should recommit to them, highlighting the positive ways they can be formative. He’s right. They can be. As a child of a stable family, relatively healthy churches, and a vibrant university community, I’ve seen the positive effects institutions can have.

But as an observer of unhealthy institutions, I’ve also seen how difficult it can be to reform a decaying institution from within. There are moments when it is easier, better, healthier, and more generative to leave an institution and blaze a new path, begin a new movement, or chart a new course. A new church, college, university, or other association might be just the thing to renew an existing institutional form. Older institutions see it is okay to try new things, make certain changes, or launch new initiatives. Those who go around institutions and who begin to build new organizations are like a research and development division.

These breaks can be messy. Knowledge can get lost, overshadowed, or put aside. But new expressions of existing institutions can, at times, not only serve to bring forth new life in a new place with new people, but it can inspire older institutions to break free of their ruts and enact needed reforms.

I agree with Levin. We need more people to commit to our existing institutions, to be formed by them, and to make their mark through them. But I’m not discounting the fact that some will need to go around our institutions for the good of us all. We need mavericks, too, who help us not only see how we’re getting it wrong, but where we’re getting it right.