From time to time, people ask me what I’m reading. So, occasionally, I’ll post here the books on my current stack. I don’t necessarily recommend the books I’ll mention, and I certainly don’t always agree with them. But, I don’t read to confirm my already-existing perspectives; I read for the sake of challenge and learning. Often, the books with which I most struggle are the ones that stretch and deepen my insight.

For the ongoing series of studies I’ve called “JustMercy,” I am reading a fascinating book which Hal Littleton loaned me: Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics by Peter Goodwin Heltzel (Yale University Press, 2009). It’s a remarkably evenhanded survey and thoughtful analysis of the wide diversity of “evangelical” responses to the race issue and how those responses have become paradigmatic of evangelical political engagement on other issues. Also, on the broad theme of justice, a new collection of essays edited by Brian McLaren and others. It’s entitled The Justice Project (Baker, 2009), and the book’s strength is its weakness: it covers a lot of ground and a lot of issues. The breadth is impressive; I find myself looking for more depth.

Skye Jethani’s The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity is intriguing, particularly in the way he uses the art and life of Vincent Van Gogh as a counterpoint to contemporary Christianity. Jethani is a gifted writer who yearns to see the church’s leaders become more discerning of the influence culture has on the ways we understand (and misunderstand) the good news of Jesus.

Matthew B. Crawford is a philosopher and a motorcycle mechanic who teaches in the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at UVA and owns Shockoe Moto, a repair shop, in Richmond. His new book is Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (Penguin, 2009), and it is, to put it simply, wonderful. “A good diamond cutter has a different disposition,” Crawford writes, “than a good dog trainer. The one is careful, the other is commanding. Differing types of work attract different human types, and we are lucky if we find work that is fitting. . . .If different human types are attracted to different kinds of work, the converse is also true: the work a man does forms him” (pp. 72-73). It’s a wise and simply profound book. Think Wendell Berry in a machine shop instead of on a farm; that’s Crawford.

I just finished On Kindness by the British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and historian Barbara Taylor. There are some fine insights in the book, but it was–and I don’t mean to be unkind!–finally unsatisfying. I could tell that the authors had more to give than they gave. I’ve read others of Adam Phillips’ books, and he’s one of the most insightful and accessible psychoanalysts I know, so I had, perhaps, higher expectations for this little book than I should have had. Still, I am glad to have read it.

Poetry I am reading (and re-reading): Mary Oliver’s Evidence, Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems, Galway Kinnell’s Strong is Your Hold and Wendell Berry’s Leavings

Not reading, but listening to Roseanne Cash’s new CD of country standards once covered by her dad. Just stretching in his direction has added a quality of richness to her voice I’ve not often heard before.