Next Five Follow Through

A few weeks ago, Crux Staff posted their next five reads. I’ve been working away at my particular next five list, and recently finished reading Still by Lauren F. Winner. Let me tell you about it.


If you’ve read Winner’s other books, this is different from those. Winner uses memoir in all of her writing, but not all of her books are properly memoirs. The books reflect on her own life as an illustration for the more general spiritual life. Girl Meets God is clearly more of a memoir than book of spiritual direction, and Mudhouse Sabbath is clearly more a book of spiritual direction than a memoir. Still leans toward spiritual direction, but memoir and spiritual reflection are deeply entangled in the work.

Winner examines the middle of the spiritual life, that part of the life of faith that most of us live most of the time. The excitement and newness of conversion are past and the wisdom of age is not yet upon us. We are in the middle — and middles are not usually perceived as the exciting part of anything. Winner looks around for positive ideas around middles and finds them in chess and other places.

I read most of this book sitting on a porch in Muskoka, not while on vacation, but in my breaks from directing a leadership training program for potential camp cabin leaders. The week was a crisis for me as I had not planned to be there — but God through circumstances had other plans. I read Winner’s words on mid-faith crises in the middle of continuing to serve in a place and situation when I thought I’d passed my responsibilities on. Winner still went to church and still continued in Christian practices as she moved into the middle of her faith journey; I was still at camp. I found the book helpful in my particular location; you will find it helpful for other reasons and in other circumstances.

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner is available at Crux.


Books that have changed your life?

In the spirit of this blog post that asks readers to talk about books that actually changed your life, here are some books (or sets of books) that have changed my life. These are in not ranked in any way, this is just the order in which they came to mind.

9780061992889The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I cannot pick only one from this set that has changed me – the whole set and the world they define has an ongoing influence on my thinking about life and faith. I’ve been reading and re-reading the series for longer than I care to admit. There are key phrases from the works that echo in my head: “He’s not a tame lion” and “Farther up and farther in!” are two examples. A key idea that echoes in my head is Aslan reminding various characters that he only tells them their own story, not other people’s story, and never what might have happened. The creation of the world when Aslan sings everything into existence is an incredibly powerful scene. One other thing that sticks with me from this series is the idea that all the characters are moral agents who make decisions and are held responsible for their decisions. They are never held responsible for the actions of others, but they are firmly held responsible for their own actions. Aslan is very clear about that. I think that is a very important thing that I learned from those books.

howatchSusan Howatch’s Church of England books and including the three set at St. Benet’s. I’m not sure this series has an official name (Starbridge?) but all of these books influenced me. If I had to pick one of the nine, I’d say Mystical Paths is one possible key book for me, but it might also be Absolute Truths. How was my life changed by these novels? Well, for one thing, I went out and got a spiritual director because the books impressed on me how important such a person could be for a person in ministry. I think the books have also influenced me in other ways – not that I always agree with the characters or how Howatch presents theology, but they all give a clear picture of the possibilities and pitfalls of ministry work.


Let Her Speak for Herself, edited by Marion Ann Taylor and Heather E. Weir. Hey, that’s a book with me on the cover! This book influenced my life because it showed me that publication was possible, and that writing was not always the easy choice. Plus since this book was published I am officially an author, and that is life-changing all by itself.

What about you? Which books have actually changed your life?

Bookmarks as Reminders

Sometimes the bookmarks I find while sorting used books are reminders. They remind me of other times and viewpoints, or of books and authors I’ve not yet read.


This bookmark about The United Way reminds me that the charity organization once used a more overtly Christian religious appeal than it does presently. “Share your blessings,” it reminds us all in red at the bottom. The text reads:

Mark him much blessed who scorns no other,

to whom each stranger is a brother,

for he walks in the steps of Him above

and lives in the warmth of His great love.


And this bookmark featuring the author Maya Angelou reminds me that I’ve never read any of her books. So many books, so little time.

Bookmarks from Bookshops

When sorting the used books that come into Crux, I often find bookmarks advertising bookshops — most of these bookshops are now closed sadly. I want to visit them, but cannot. Here are two I’d like to see.


James Thin of Edinburgh specialized in religion and theology and claimed one of the largest stocks of books in Britain. Oh to be able to browse in this shop! A little digging produces the fact that the flagship bookshop is now Blackwell’s, Edinburgh. Apparently Muriel Sparks wrote her novels on notebooks from Thin’s. Who knew that a bookmark would have so much interesting history behind it?


I can’t find as much information about Diversity Antiques and Collectibles, Inc. of Halifax, N.S., though it appears that Mr. McGee is no longer in business. I’ve never been to Halifax, but I’d like to go — there seem to be a lot of interesting second-hand bookshops in the area. Why else would you want to go to Halifax?

Books We Probably Should Have Read By Now

The other day I was lurking on the internet and found a post called “12 books we’re all meant to have read but probably haven’t.” I enjoyed reading the list and noting the books on it that I HAVE read, but, sadly, I’ve read fewer than half of the listed books. I’ve heard of them all, and mean to read most of them. Someday. Inspired by this general list, I asked some friends who’ve done seminary studies for thoughts on 10 Books Seminary Students and Graduates are Meant to Have Read — But Probably Haven’t. Here’s our list. Feel free to add titles in the comments.


1. The Bible. Lots of dipping in to the Bible happens, but how many have actually read the whole thing?

Lewis Mere Christianity

2. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This is one of the most famous apologetics books. We’ve all heard of it, and may even have it on our shelves, but have we read it?


3. The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo. Bits of this book are often assigned reading, and it is often referred to, but read it? All of it? True confessions time!


4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is the source of the phrase “cheap grace” but how many have put the phrase in context?


5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is the Big Russian Novel most often referenced in seminary. Read it? Or is it on your to be read pile still?

city of god

6. City of God by Augustine of Hippo. Everyone expects seminarians to know the main point of City of God, but how many people have actually read this huge book?


7. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Like Augustine’s City, the main thread of Bunyan’s classic allegory is often referenced, but seldom read. There are lots of children’s adaptations, so perhaps it is easier to fake not reading this book.


8. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. A devotional classic that lots of people talk about, but I don’t know very many people who’ve actually read it.


9. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This is a more recent book, but it has never gone to paperback as the hardcover book sells so well. This is a book often referenced in spirituality classes. The title sounds good, but do we really celebrate discipline?


10. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Often referenced in pastoral ministry classes, this book has an idea that people talk about a lot, but has that idea been read in context?

Choosing a Bible, Part 2

Previously in this space I discussed picking a Bible translation. Once you know which translation you prefer, you need to think about which Bible to choose. Any particular translation will probably have study editions, different bindings in different colours, and different sizes.

Let’s start with study editions. Lots of people have written notes on the Bible. Study Bibles are not new inventions. They’ve been around for a long time. The Geneva Bible (first published 1560) was an early study Bible. When choosing a study Bible here are some questions to consider:

  1. Who wrote the notes? Was only one person responsible, or was a group of people responsible? What are the qualifications of the person or people who wrote the notes?
  2. What is the purpose of the notes? Are they primarily devotional notes? Theological notes? Historical notes? Literary notes?
  3. Who is the intended audience of these note? Am I included in that audience?
  4. Are the notes easy to access and understand? Are the notes and biblical text laid out in a way that is easy to follow?

Study Bibles should not be your only source of information about what is going on in a Bible passage, but once you get one, the notes are often your first source of information. Make sure the notes are a reliable and helpful source for your reading.

Bibles come in different bindings with different colours and pictures on the cover. If you buy a paperback Bible because you want something cheap, remember that it may not last long. If you only need the Bible for a course for a semester, that might be fine. If you want to use the Bible for several years, you may want to think about a sturdier binding. Hardcover study Bibles are often worth the few extra dollars.

Bibles come in different sizes and shapes. Most study Bibles are fairly hefty. Larger print Bibles are larger in size. Some compact Bibles are very portable, but have very small print. Think about what is comfortable for you, and your use of the Bible. If you get an enormous study Bible, will its size deter you from carrying it anywhere? If you are going to use it mainly at your desk, do you need a tiny little portable Bible?

Happy choosing!

Windows on Canterbury: A Bookmark

Here’s a bookmark found in a batch of used books at Crux:

Canterbury bookmarkdescription of window

It is pretty. And sort of upside down. This bookmark has the tassel dangling from the bottom instead of hanging off the top. I’m not sure how that is meant to work. Maybe the bookmark is meant for a small book so the tassel hangs below the book to mark the page? Maybe it is meant for a prayerbook. Maybe it actually me that is upside down.

Picking a Bible Translation

Andrew posted advice for choosing a Bible translation over on his blog. This post is meant to help our customers figure out which translation and edition of the Bible they need at the moment. Lots of people come into Crux and say “I need a Bible,” expecting that to be enough information. Little do they realize that we have a whole wall filled with Bibles. You think that sometimes there are too many decisions to make in a restaurant after you’ve decided what to order? This is worse. Andrew’s post tries to simplify things so people won’t be confused. This post adds a little detail and (hopefully) gives you enough information to make good decisions, or at least to ask further questions.

Important Information Before Starting: Remember that the Bible is an ancient document originally written in Hebrew and Greek. No English Bible is “original.” Also, modern languages other than English do not necessarily have versions that correspond to an English version you might know about. Example: there is no Spanish King James Version. Also, there is no “standard” English translation that everyone commonly uses. We have a wealth of English translations and most people have their particular favourites. Got it? Ok, now lets move on to actually choosing a Bible for you.

If a customer comes in and announces to a staff member that they need help choosing a Bible, a common first question is: What do you need the Bible for? If the Bible is for personal reading, then following Andrew’s advice (read a passage or two that you are familiar with in several translations; choose the one that feels comfortable for you) works well. If you are a lay leader at a church, you may wish to match the translation you use with the translation commonly used from the pulpit in your church. If you need a Bible for class, then your professor has probably made a recommendation that narrows the selection down. Many professors recommend the New Revised Standard Version.

Just so you know, the three translations of the Bible that we sell most often are the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), and the English Standard Version (ESV). The bewildering list of other available English translations includes: the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New American Bible (NAB) (these two similarly named translations are not at all related to one another) the Contemporary English Version (CEV), the Good News Bible, the New Living Translation (NLT), and the Message.

The translations listed above each have different philosophies and goals. Some are more word for word, or literal, translations (NASB and ESV), others are phrase by phrase translations (NIV, NLT, the Message). Some translations use modern language but aim to sound traditional (New King James Version, NRSV), and others try to use a limited vocabulary for ease of understanding (Good News, CEV). Some are tied to a denomination (for example, the NAB is Roman Catholic), many are translated by an interdenominational group of people (NRSV, NIV).

Once you pick a translation, your decision is not finished. You still have to think about print size, binding, study notes and aids, the Apocrypha, and price point. That will take up another post!