Summer and books have always gone together in my mind. From my earliest school days, reading was a part of the summer. As the final bell of the final day of the school year rang, “freedom” was the first thought in all our minds! School work was done. Projects were finished. Endless hours of riding bikes, playing baseball, swimming, fishing, cookouts, and festivals lay ahead. But then the first morning of summer vacation, Mom woke us up extra early, loaded us into the car, and took us to the neighborhood library. Like it or not, we were signing up for the Summer Reading Program.
The Summer Reading Program was a way to keep kids’ minds active. Each summer had a theme and the library was decorated accordingly. Around the library walls was a construction paper track that had a marker for each reader. Everyone received a form to fill in the titles read throughout the summer. And with each book read, one’s marker moved along the track. Therein was the hook. Reading was school work. But the Summer Reading Program was a competition! The masses would read their two or three books over the next ten weeks. But for the overly competitive (i.e., my sister and me), we would schlep a sack of books home each week, looking to leave the competition in the dust by the Fourth of July. We’d look to lap them by the beginning of the State Fair in August. My mother started monitoring our selections when we were scolded by the librarian for checking out picture books in the fifth grade. So we may have been reading for all the wrong reasons, but an important habit formed in us. To this day, summer is the time when I begin to read all the books I’ve piled up but never got to during the school year. If you are looking for a few good reads, let me suggest a few things I’ve read this past school year.
This past fall I finally read Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson (http://www.threecupsoftea.com/). This is the true story of a man who almost died attempting to climb K2 in Pakistan. After being nursed back to health in a small village, he decides to come back to build them a school. This began Mortenson's quest to build schools for the remotest areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson gives a complex view inside a part of the world we fear. And his solution to fighting Islamic extremism challenges us to consider again whether the Way of Jesus might actually triumph in ways bombs and war cannot.
I reread a book this past year on a Winter Term flight to Israel. Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers is a simple book that can be read very quickly. But the power of its story is life changing. Chacour’s autobiographical work tells how his Palestinian Christian family lost their home, possessions, and village with the formation of the State of Israel. And despite the pain of his loss, his Christian father always told him that Palestinian Christians are “blood brothers” with the Jews and therefore must not fight them but make peace with them. And Chacour spends his life doing that very thing. In one of the highlight moments for me in this school year, Archbishop Elias Chacour spent two hours with our group in Haifa in January telling us his story. He challenged us to take Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount seriously because He is calling on us to “get our hands dirty”! This book is a must read.
Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded will affect the way you look at the world around you. The sequel to his past best seller, The World is Flat, this work looks at globalization, the rapid rise in population, and climate issues and considers their potential consequences on America’s future standing in the world. This book seems to be a primer on many of the central news stories of the day.
One of the books a number of high school faculty are reading this summer is John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. This book has haunted me from the first time I read it. The story opens with the narrator crediting Owen for his belief in God. The character of Owen intrigues and baffles the reader throughout as he brazenly proclaims that he is an “instrument of God.” Every time I read this novel, I am again left wrestling with how Providence works in our world and I am challenged to think whether I am an actor or an observer/critic in the story unfolding all around me.
Another book I would like to strongly recommend that you read is Cornelius Plantinga’s Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. This book is the theological map of how we understand a Christian education and how we shape our curriculum at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy K-12. I will write more about this work in my next blog because it deserves a more complete treatment. But if you are a part of CHCA and want to understand the way we think about what we do here, you must read this book!
So enjoy your summer. Begin finding the books you will read during your time away. Make some authors your new friends! I’ve already fallen head over heels for Anne Rice (check out the sidebar for what I’ve read of hers recently). And we’ll talk in August over a cup of coffee!
By the way, my kids are already signed up for the Summer Reading Program. The race is on.