My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#6)

Today's post is the sixth in a series in which I ask pastor friends to list the "Ten Best" books they read in 2013. 

The list below is from Father David Hostetler, LTJG, CHC, USN Chaplain, 5th Combat Logistics Battalion. Or something like that. He is a Greek Orthodox priest and a Navy chaplain serving on a Marine base. Most importantly, of course, he is also my nephew (my oldest brother's oldest son, which I think makes him older than me).
In my reflection of this years' reading I've discovered that I don't read nearly enough. And I also found that I've gotten into the habit of reading as much fiction as non-fiction, perhaps more. I started after seminary to try to expand my pool of available sermon illustrations and deepen my own perception by reading more and better fiction with an eye toward finding the Gospel in everything. Some of what I've read I probably should have read in high school... 
1. For example, I loved reading A Tale of Two Cities for the first time.

2. And I was enthralled by a short story by Jack London called "To Build a Fire."  The edition I read contained two versions of the story which he wrote early in his career and revised toward the end. The difference between the two versions was as interesting as the story itself.

3. I've become really fond of Kipling, and his novel, The Light that Failed, included descriptions of men’s interpersonal relationships that are almost an instruction manual for raising boys or teaching men to be manly. 
4. I also enjoyed Hemmingway’s To Have and Have Not and

5. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for the first time. 
6. As for non-fiction, I loved A Game of Inches by Peter Morris. I try to read at least one baseball book during the season each year and this was great fun. It’s an encyclopedia of baseball firsts with small sections that are perfect to read between innings. I learned, finally, why pitches that miss the strike zone are called “balls.” 
7. Theologically (this is a pastors’ blog, after all) I started the year with For the Life of the World by Fr. Alexander Schmemman. This was a re-read but worth it every time. He starts by saying “we are what we eat” and then demonstrates the importance of sacrament for the life of the world. 
8. I finished two essay collections I started last year: The Inner Kingdom, a collection of essays by Bishop Kallistos Ware, and

9. Thinking Through Faith, a collection of a variety of authors and edited by Aristotle Papanikolaou and Elizabeth Prodromou .

10. My favorite non-fiction read of the year was The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. I can’t believe I haven’t read this one before, but I’ll be going back to it again. With his characteristic wit Chesterton illustrates how Christ fulfills the longings of man from the very beginning of time and how Christianity stands apart as more complete and encompassing than any other religion.
As always, feel free to comment about any choices you agree with...or not.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 15)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Andrew Holzworth, teaching pastor of Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Chrysostom on Christmas

A Christmas Day tradition here on the Desperate Pastor blog is the following, the earliest Christmas sermon still extant. It was written and delivered in A.D. 386 by John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople:
BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 14)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Major George Baker, divisional commander of The Salvation Army in Alaska (full disclosure: he is also my cousin, a fact of which I am prouder than he is, for sure).

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#5)

Now that several of my "pastor type" friends have generously posted their "10 Best Books" of 2013 on this blog, I thought it was time I ponied up and listed mine. Of course, I have done this in past years here on the Desperate Pastor (see 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009) so this is not exactly a surprise.

Rather than trying to rank these from 1-10 (which is much too daunting a task for me), I will post them here in the order in which I read them:

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. This biography of the seventh President of the United States won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. The fascinating story of a fascinating man.

N. T. Wright's book, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, is a portrait of Jesus that both confirms the central tenets of the historical faith and challenges the sloppy thinking, talking, praying, and practice of which many of us are guilty. Wright always challenges and deepens my thinking (my full review is here).

Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne is a gift to the church. Everyone should read it. Especially those of us who don't think they need to (read my full review of this book here).

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is the story of Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town who discovers a way to change history--specifically, to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. And believe it or not, that's only part of the story.

The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight (the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park College in Chicago) goes to the heart of what it means to follow Jesus and experience his kingdom (read my full review here).

From the Garden to the City (The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology) by John Dyer. I have recommended this book to many for its expert discussion of technology, philosophy, history, and theology in a thoroughly and constantly engaging way. His call to control technology instead of letting it control and shape our lives continues to speak to me.

The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith encourages evangelicals, instead of trying to make the Bible say things and do things that it does not (e.g., approaching it as a "handbook for living," even to the extent of providing dating or dieting tips), to let the Bible be what it is: a a collection of "irreducibly multivocal, polysemic, and multivalent texts" that nonetheless powerfully points to (and only makes sense when understood in relation to) Jesus Christ (read my full review here).

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite writers. And Jayber Crow is now one of my favorite books. One of Berry's "Port William" novels, it is absolutely wonderful.

Profound. Profane. Honest. Humble. Hilarious. Hopeful. Raw. Revealing. Insightful. Beautiful. Nadia Bolz-Weber's book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, is all of those things (read my full review here).

Surprised by Hope, another N. T. Wright book, seeks to answer two important questions: “What are we waiting for?” and “What are we going to do about it in the meantime?” (read my full review here).

Pat Conroy's My Reading Life details the books that have not only entertained him but also shaped his life.

Okay, so that's eleven, not ten. So sue me. It's hard enough to narrow down the 100+ books I read in 2013 this far to the eleven best. And while only a few of them were recent releases, they were all worth my time but also my admiration and celebration.

Church of the Week: Faith Lutheran Church, Oxford OH

All the years the lovely Robin and I have lived in this area (twenty-one-plus years, in fact!), we had never entered Faith Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Oxford...until last Saturday. 
Our grandson Miles, who is a Tiger Cub scout (the awesomest one ever, coincidentally enough) in Pack 961, was one of the many Cub Scouts receiving recognitions and awards at an "Arrow of Light" ceremony which was held at Faith Lutheran. The top photo was taken just before the event started in the octagonal sanctuary which, with its movable pews, makes a gathering "in the round" like this one possible. 
On our way out after the event and the reception that followed downstairs in the church's fellowship hall, I noticed a sign pointing to a "Chapel." So, of course, I had to investigate, and found this lovely little chapel, thoroughly conducive to prayer and small worship gatherings. I LOVE side chapels and prayer chapels, and was delighted to discover that Faith Lutheran had made room for this one. 

Faith Lutheran is located at 420 South Campus Street, in Oxford, contiguous to the campus of Miami University. 

Praying and Preaching

"Your praying and your preaching should be of the same length" (N. T. Wright in Surprised by Hope).

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 13)

The pastor's desk is that of Jason Wilcoxon, co-pastor of Legend Community Church in Oakley, Ohio (a Cincinnati community).

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

A Christmas Greeting

Click or cut-and-paste the link below for the Hostetler family's annual Christmas newsletter! Fun for the whole family!

Church of the Week: First UM Church, Middletown OH

I had the joy of taking the lovely Robin to a free concert of Handel's "The Messiah" yesterday at the First United Methodist Church of Middletown, Ohio. It is a church that dates to 1805, when pioneer and Methodist preacher James Grimes formed a Methodist society in his log cabin in what became Middletown. The current Romanesque Revival structure was built in 1890, and has had additions and improvements many times over the years.

The concert, presented by the Middletown Civic Chorus and supported by pipe organ, guest soloists, and a string quartet, was a joy from beginning to end. And the sanctuary, with its beautiful memorial windows and impressive pipe organ, was likewise a feast for the eyes.

Thank you, First UM, for hosting this concert, and thank you, Middletown Civic Chorus, for presenting it.

First United Methodist Church of Middletown is located at 120 S. Broad St.

My Ten Best Books of 2013 (#4)

Today's post is the fourth in a series in which I ask pastor friends to list the "Ten Best" books they read in 2013 (to date, of course). Feel free to comment about any choices you agree with...or not.

Colonel Janice Howard is a Salvation Army officer currently serving in Nyack, New York. She and her husband have been friends of me and the lovely Robin for longer than either would care to admit...assuming they would admit to being our friends in the first place. Always one to go the extra mile or two, Janice offered twelve "ten best" books of 2013 (in no particular order, she said):
  1. Heart of the Artist by Rory Noland
  2. Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Weiderkehr
  3. A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer
  4. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  5. The God of Intimacy and Action by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling
  6. Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton
  7. Praying the Bible: the Book of Prayers by Wesley & Stacey Campbell
  8. A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller
  9. Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
  10. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  11. Take Time to Be Holy by Samuel Logan Brengle (edited by Bob Hostetler)
  12. How to be the Perfect Grandma by Bryna Nelson Paston
I'm glad she listed a dozen, because Take Time to Be Holy may not have made the grade otherwise. And someone should tell her that the position of "Perfect Grandma" is already taken. I happen to know her. I'm married to her. But otherwise, a great list, and one that has already added titles to my 2014 reading plan! 

Vulnerability in Ministry

If you have been in ministry for any length of time, you have probably learned some self-defense techniques to keep from being hurt and abused over and over again. But researcher-storyteller Brene Brown exposes the dangers of that mode of operating, and the power of vulnerability. It's worth your time. You're worth the time. I promise: