Learning my lines . . .
. . . discovering what it means to follow Jesus, seeing my story swept up into his . . .

Sex Addicts, Nazis, Mormons, and Dysfunction. . . or, What I Read On My Summer Vacation.

You might think that a summer structured intentionally for rest would be filled with reading that would do nothing but allow you to escape. Yes, I did read a couple of those books this summer. But when a friend asked me “What did you read this summer?” I was more excited about listing the books I read that really got me thinking about the human condition and life in God’s world. After listening to myself enthusiastically spout off the rundown, I felt I had to add some disclaimers that would clarify why I was reading this combination of books on an interesting array of topics.

As we come to the end of the summer, I thought I would pass on four recommendations for your fall reading.  These are four books – old and new – that I have found to be both interesting and insightful. I’ve left a couple of them marked-up fairly well, and I’m sure that insights and quotes from each will make their way into my speaking this coming fall.

1. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagouge, by Edwin H. Friedman. Okay. . . not exactly relaxed beach reading. . . I know. But I was long overdue in reading this “classic” that was published in 1985. It was first recommended to me back in the late 1980s by CPYU board member and close friend Mike Flavin. He was assigned the book in his doctoral program in family counseling and ministry. Mike’s recommendation was so strong that I still remember his enthusiasm as he told me about this book. Still, I never picked it up until this summer, when it was recommended to me again as a tool in my quest to understand and work through some personal matters. Since its publication, this book has become required reading in the area of family systems thinking and theory. I regret not reading it sooner as it would had been very helpful to me both personally and professionally. Without going into the book’s content, suffice it to say here that anyone would benefit from learning about how to “self-define” and “self-differentiate.”

2. Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction, by T.C. Ryan. This fall I’ll be teaching a new seminar on teenagers and pornography that’s a part of new Digital Kids Initiative at CPYU. I’ve focused much of my summer reading and study on this issue that I believe is one of great, great urgency. One of my concerns for the past few years is related to the timing and depth of pornography exposure and use among children and teens. They are finding and using it earlier and earlier in life. What they are finding and using is more and more extreme and horrifying. My concern is the fallout that will result as these children move into adulthood. What will this stuff do their future relationships, marriages, personal lives, etc.? I’m afraid that “sex addiction” will be off the charts. This new book from T.C. Ryan, a recovering sex addict himself, is not so much about sexual addiction as it is about addiction and the dynamics of addiction. I know that the title will capture the attention of those struggling with sexual addiction and those related to those struggling with sexual addiction. If that’s not you, don’t avoid this book. I will be recommending this book to all youth workers as there are tremendous insights to be gained that you will no doubt be able to draw from in your ministry to students, both now and in the future.

3. The Seduction of Eva Volk, by C.D. Baker. This novel would never be described as “feel good.” This story of a young post World War I teenagers’ coming of age in Germany as Nazism also comes to age was one that made sense for me to read after finishing Eric Metaxas’s magnificant bio, Bonhoeffer. As a person of Germanic heritage, I’ve always been baffled by Hitler’s ability to come to power in what was a civilized country with a high commitment to Christianity. Baker’s historical novel offers some perspective. I think that discovering the “whys” and “hows” of Hitler’s rise is a necessary step in understanding ourselves and our human nature. . . along with keeping us watchful to never allow this to happen again. My interest in these things also led me to plug into “The Great Courses” DVD course A History of Hitler’s Empire, taught by Professor Thomas Childers of the University of Pennsylvania. Sure, it’s six hours of Childers as a talking head, but the talking head speaks about stuff we need to hear.

4. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer. Years ago I read Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Into Thin Air. I love his journalistic style. He’s a great story-teller. This one is the story (and stories of) fundamentalist Mormonism. I’ve always found the Mormons fascinating and I thought it was time to know more. . . after all, this is an election year! The book was interesting and eye-opening. But lest we turn the last page and let out a sigh of thankful relief that this was about them and not us. . . well, we need to take a long and careful look at where all kinds of fundamentalism lead. Another good book!

What did you read this summer? Anything you’d recommend?

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