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Wednesday Word: Books

February 2, 2022 | Dr. Derry Long

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The Books That Make Me—Part 1

Books have been my friends and companions from childhood. In a one room school house on the prairies of North Dakota where grades one through six attended on Friday afternoons, we would put our things aside and then a magical hour would commence, our teacher would finish the week by reading to us. The experience is still vivid, inviting, and intriguing.

At one time my wife, Marcy and I had about 3,000 volumes. But “hearing the bell tolling,” we have begun reducing our collection. It seems to me that a library is a journey, and I want to talk about three aspects of my library in three blogs. This is the first.

I have a significant number of Bible commentaries, books on theology, and Christian living. I also have a lot of fiction, history, biography, essays, poetry, and philosophy.

But I have one shelf for books that have changed my life. It is kind of a monument to the work of the Lord and the blessing of other people. Here are some of the books on that shelf.

Books Inspiring Change

At a time when I was struggling to find a faith that was real, not just propositional, the Lord put into my life two books. Song of Ascents is a spiritual autobiography by the Methodist missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones. It just oozes with the love of Jesus who is a real companion to E. Stanley. The second was Healing Grace by David Seamands, who is best known for his book Healing for Damaged Emotions. Growing up in a legalistic Christian culture, this book was filled with a grace that was like an open window of a lovely spring morning.

In another season when depression had overwhelmed me, I discovered Hiding from Love by John Townsend. His sections on helpful and harmful ways of hiding and on separation and attachment helped me unearth hidden and unhelpful motivators in my life.

As a young man, I one day realized that I was not a very good husband. So I reached for Gary Smalley’s book, If Only He Knew. I decided I was going to do everything in that book and so for more than a year I read and reread it, a dozen times I suppose, and applied it all. I even called his wife and visited with her regarding application.

I am a strategic thinker and while I have often been in a lead chair I am just as happy leading from a second chair, helping the primary leader’s ideas and vision get traction. But the culture I grew up in spiritualized every issue and problem, which is different than saying every issue or problem has a spiritual dimension. This frustrated me, and then I came across James Johnson’s metaphorical fictionalized account of a Christian organization that was always evading real issues like poor organization and communication by spiritualizing the issue, believing that the strategy for everything was prayer. The Nine to Five Complex was the first time I saw someone articulating what I considered a flaw in leading Christian organizations, and it gave me permission to think.

C. S. Lewis makes much of the emotion of longing. And in Jean Fleming’s book, The Homesick Heart, it is beautifully described. She speaks of a yearning for a place we have never seen but know is home.

Mitch Albom is a sportscaster. When I first read his book Tuesdays With Morrie, about his regular visits with a college professor who was terminally ill, I thought, “everyone needs to read this book.” Its view of life, purpose, regret, decline, and death is precious and I have read it repeatedly.

Hans Kung is a Catholic theologian who is sometimes out of favor. And he writes big books—like large. I had never intentionally reflected about the church, more just accepted and reacted to what I found. His book, The Church and its core identity and mission was the beginning of a deep and continuing reflection of the entity I consider the hope of the world and how sometimes it lives up to that and sometimes it falls seriously short. Sadly, it seems to me that the church, more than nearly any other organization, refuses to hear the truth about itself, while constantly speaking truth to others.

Finally, I grew up of Norwegian lineage in a farm culture of Norwegians, but two books for ever made we aware that there is often, if not always, another side. Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a Native American’s perspective of the Indian Wars. And Mrs. Medgar Evers writes For Us the Living, an account of the life and death of her husband, a civil rights leader.

All these writers have taken me on journeys that have benefited my life and I hope, by that, the lives of those I meet.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part 1 of Dr. Long’s blog “The Books That Make Me.” Read the next post at yellowstonetheology.org/of-the-making-of-books-part-2/.

Dr. Derry Long

Professor of Christian Leadership

Dr. Derry Long has served in ministry for over 45 years in many roles – pastor, church planter, pastoral coach, regional overseer, and […]

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