Texts for preaching: Spring books

April 19, 2013

We wondered what kind of reading ministers rely on for inspiration or help in preaching—apart from reading commentaries on scripture or other materials directly related to the task. Do they draw on certain authors of fiction or nonfiction? Are they influenced by essays, poetry, magazines or children’s literature? Here are some reflections:

Phil Waite

Ayanna Johnson

Katherine Willis Pershey

Matt Fitzgerald

Heidi Neumark

Jonathan L. Walton

Luke A. Powery

Elizabeth Myer Boulton


What Preachers Read

I am anything but an accomlished preacher but I find comfort in these reflections. I at least recognzed all writers and have read many. I would like to know a little background on each of the above ministers.


Bill Holmes

Louisville, Ky


I use images. Last Sunday I used a photo of Carlos Arredondo helping one of the victims of the Boston bombing. I only use a one or two because they are so powerful. It was perfect for a resurrection theme and Acts 9. I also use a lot of non-fiction. For the Sunday after Easter I used Eben Alexander's "Proof of Heaven" and balanced it with Oliver Sacks "Hallucinations" to talk about near death experiences. 

Do we just read people like ourselves?

I like the fact that Heidi Neumark reads people all over the map, and that Elizabeth Myer Boulton draws from children's literature and poetry. But most of the lists seem to be "the usual suspects" and generally "people like me." I'm a white middle-aged Princeton guy and I suppose i'm drawn to read people whom I know or share my background, but I make an effort to read other voices, in theology and magazines and poetry and fiction. The point of much of my reading--certainly leisure reading--is to get inside the mind/soul of people who live in other worlds, knowing that I am limited and that even within my little parish people dwell in other cognitive and cultureal worlds.

I have to say--with fear and trembling--that I am particularly disturbed that the three African-American contributors all listed African-American authors as the ones they turn to. (OK, I had to google all the contributors to determine ethniciy.) I can't imagine that they don't espouse multiculturalism in principle. Is it simply that every white or Asian or Hispanic Christian writer they can think of is so tainted by racism as to put a wall between themselves and African-American preachers? Or is it that the "black church" is living in a cultural bubble and feels a need on some level to keep it that way? I'm sure these preachers had to read dead white men in school, and perhaps they got their fill. But I wonder if they can understand why a live white man who turns for inspiration to King and Tutu and Gandhi as well as Bonhoeffer, and who loves American poets who are Arab and Chinese and African-American, would be disappointed to learn that leading African-American preachers still turn first to their own people.

Steve Hollaway, Block Island RI

Fear and trembling

Wow!  I am "particularly disturbed" by Mr. Hollaway's comment. Maybe when he googled the contributors to determine their ethnicity, he should have done the same for the author's cited.  I won't deprive him of that opportunity to still do so here, but the way in which all authors became African American through the confidence of the commenter's keystrokes would be funny, if not followed by more troubling claims.  For instance, Alice Walker, Martin King, Howard Thurman and James Baldwin are among the greatest literary figures and theologians this country has ever produced.  Period.  Should their contributions be reduced to their race?  Can Thurman and King only be thought of as "African American preachers"?  Or is it necessary to juxtapose Alice Walker with Anne Lamott to demonstrate "multiculturalism"?  Moreover, two of the preachers, Reverends Powery and Walton, lead large university churches.  Have they "put a wall between" themselves and "dead white men."  I have attended Duke University's and Harvard's Memorial Chapel.  I do not think anyone would accuse either as being a "black church living in a cultural bubble."  Maybe we should all read more Alice Walker and Howard Thurman.  It might help some of us "liberal white folks" break us out of the cultural bubbles that allow us to think we know what is good for everybody else.  

Janet V, Lewiston ME

Letter from Mike Graves

The timing of “Texts for preaching” (May 1) could not have been better. In my 20-plus years of teaching preaching, I have always stressed how reading keeps a person alive, but I recently started introducing students to authors who should be on their reading lists when they graduate, if they aren’t already. I tried to find an appropriate excerpt to use each week of the course as a devotional reading and to whet students’ appetite for more such writing. 

Here are the authors and books I came up with: Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey; Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World; Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey; Nora Gallagher, Things Seen and Unseen; Anne Lamott, Plan B; Roberta Bondi, Memories of God; Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence; Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Frac­tured World; Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak; Lauren Winner, Still; Richard Rohr, Falling Upward; and Sara Miles, Jesus Freak. And I’m painfully aware of what I left off the list.

Mike Graves

Kansas City, Mo.