Our church book club is reading Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler. We'll be discussing it next Thursday. I'm not as far on it as I would like to be. Sometimes I have trouble pacing myself. Also, (and I don't know if anyone else has this problem) I often have too many books going at the same time. I am also working on a lovely little book called God's Echo, by Sandy Sasso. It's all about reading Scripture with the help of Midrash. I highly recommend it. I'm also re-reading some of George Herbert's poetry. And Three Cups of Tea. You see the problem.
Our book club has read other books by Anne Tyler. We really enjoyed Saint Maybe, a few years ago. We are a church book club, but we don't just read religious books. We don't even mostly read religious books. We did read Walter Wangerin's book Paul a few years ago, and we get off on Anne Lamott, but being a "religious book" is not a requirement of our church book club. My feeling is, if a book is at all good, there will be some intersection with issues of faith: ethical issues or issues of forgiveness and reconciliation, human evil, grace.
The woman who chose this month's book is a new member of our group. She's a lovely woman, and really excited to see the selections we have chosen in the past. After she picked this one, though, she called me up just to make sure it was ok. "Why?" I asked. Seems a friend had asked her what a "church book club" was doing reading a book "like that." Not to give away the plot, but the main character leaves her family not too far into the book. "Runs away from home," might be one way of putting it. It just didn't seem like a very Christian thing to do.
I'm not sure I could be a member of a "church book club" that only read "churchy" books. The Bible, properly read, is the least "churchy" book of all. None of the juicy parts are edited out. David with his adultery, Solomon with his idolatry, all the evil kings and the weird prophets. Abraham and Sarah and Hagar -- depending on which part of the story you read, they are saints or victims or sinners. It's too bad that the Bible is so daunting. There are parts of it that are actually hair-raising.
I'm sure that we'll find traces of God as we read Ladder of Years this month. We'll find estrangement and forgiveness, sin and redemption, the complicated dances of relationships that Anne Tyler does so well.
And I'm sure that we'll find traces of God in our lives as well... not just the hour or so we spend in church, or even the numerous volunteer hours we put in, for those who are so inclined. But even in our non-church lives, in our everyday, working, serving, playing lives, we'll find estrangement and forgiveness, sin and redemption, the webs of destruction we so often weave, and even Grace.