Summer book group anyone?

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Recovering from a staph infection that required hospitalization has forced me to slow down considerably. My energy levels are low, and my ability to focus has been drastically reduced. I am definitely on the upswing, but recovery is going to be a long, slow process.

I have been beginning each day sitting in the back garden with a cup of tea, enjoying the beauty of spring crops flourishing, garlic plants growing scapes, and raspberry canes slowly loading with fruit. And I’ve read a single chapter of a book, while I drink my tea. Last week, I picked up a copy of my second book, “TEN”, as it’s been a while since I’ve read it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed re-acquainting myself with the characters who meet weekly to drink coffee and discuss important questions and issues concerning our shared life in community.

Each morning as I read the next chapter, I find myself thinking, “This really is good stuff. I wish more people could read this.” Not just because I’m the author (or for that annual royalties cheque): it’s because I believe this book has something important to offer at a time when public – and personal – discourse is so polarized and divisive. In the book I try to model respectful conversation between people with very different views on important issues: not as a product of my imagination, but based on my experience in an amazing community I had the privilege of co-pastoring for 7 years: Mercy Street, in Houston, Texas.

Mercy Street is the most socio-economically and politically diverse community I’ve ever been part of. The characters the book contains are inspired by friends and church members who made themselves vulnerable as they told the (often painful) truth of their lives in a weekly mid-week group in which we wrestled with the hard questions of life. What enabled such respectful and meaningful conversation week after week between such different and, quite often, highly opinionated people? I think it came down to being willing to hear each others’ stories, and along the way coming to understand why we might think/believe as we do. That is what unfolds in the book, and I believe it will be listening to others’ stories that will prove essential if we are to find any hope of reversing the cultural trend of polarization and division that is tearing us apart as a society.

For many of us the summer opens up some time we don’t have while school is in. There are more chances to share meals with friends and neighbors; to sit on the porch/deck and catch up while the sun sets; perhaps to enjoy a neighborhood beer garden. Here’s a proposal for how to spend some of that time this summer: invite a few people to read “TEN” together with you. Read one chapter a week ahead of time, and then get together to discuss it over dinner, or on your deck, at the park, or down the pub. Consider inviting people you’d like to get to know better, or who you know think differently than you do about certain issues. Perhaps invite 3-5 people, and ask each person to invite someone else, to mix things up a little.

“TEN” is an exploration of the Ten Commandments as they interact with our lives, as well as an attempt to re-frame them in a more helpful way than many of us have experienced them. You can read more about the book, and some of its endorsements on my publisher’s website. Here are two I particularly appreciate:

“I have read TEN with great interest. Two things in particular struck me. First, the way Sean shows how the ‘rules’ are in the service of a relationship. And, second, the way Sean weaves the commandments into real life situations with real people. The latter is a special pastoral gift.”
~ Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary

“I have read TEN three times now. It is lovely. I feel like I really know all those people, and can picture them having a chat each week.”
~ Dagma Jermy, a friend of my parents

Amazon.com is the easiest place to find TEN, but please buy books where you want to see them sold. Obviously, I am more than happy to sell you copies, especially if I know they’re for a reading group. Finally, if you need a little incentive to take me up on my proposal, perhaps this will help: if you buy 5 or more copies from me, I would be more than happy to Skype/FaceTime in with your group for 30 minutes during one of your sessions and join in the conversation. If you’d like to do that, please email me at sean.gladding@gmail.com.

I hope you’ll consider my proposal, and create an opportunity to experience for yourself the kind of conversations we so desperately need to be having as friends, neighbors and fellow members of society.

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