I recently read a book that was mostly lackluster, but with a few gems thrown in. It was a little bit of a treasure hunt. One of the gems I took away was the idea of an organization having "core books." Core books are just like core values but, you know, with covers and titles and pages. You can put them on shelves and/or check them out from a library. From what I gleaned, these are books to which an organization periodically returns, and to which an organization regularly looks, as it seeks to flourish and grow, as it becomes itself more and more.
It strikes me that core books are probably like core memories; that is, you don't choose them so much as you look back and recognize later the guiding role they've played in your organization or community's life and thought. One day you look up and discover that these books have stuck with you and left their mark in ways that others haven't.
As I stumbled on the core books phenomenon, a part of me kept reading, but another part of me was already compiling a list (of course!). It was either personal or organizational, I couldn't decide. Maybe both. But it was clear that I have a list or, rather, a list has me. It was equally clear that the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer are so foundational as to not count for the list. A good list would describe my community's (and my own) commitments and habits of engagement with the Bible and the BCP. In other words, these are the books the other books (the ones on the list) must help me live.
Without further ado, here's what I've come up with (so far):
The Inner Game of Tennis (Timothy Gallwey)
It really is about tennis. This book guides the questions I identify as useful and my conviction that there is wisdom in the room; also, I lean on it to hold in front of me the importance of wholeness, attention, and trust.
Silence and Honey Cakes (Rowan Williams)
Rowan Williams' brief engagement with the early Church is continually echoing in my heart, challenging my assumption that I know what is real, or at least that I'm very good at being present to it, insisting on life that remembers 'my life and death are with my neighbor,' and implicitly recalling St. Francis de Sales: "Be yourself, and be that well."
Child of Mine (Ellyn Satter)
I've written at length extrapolating from this wonderful book here and here. It's a book on childhood nutrition and eating that inadvertently echoes a lot of The Inner Game of Tennis, but in a greater practical depth. I go to it in reflecting on responsibility, roles, and trust.
Life Together (Dietrich Bonhöffer)
A spiritual classic whose opening lines haunt me, as does his conviction in it that our ideas for community destroy community. With this comes his subsequent insistence that forgiveness is the work. From here I often springboard into the writings of Jean Vanier on life and community. On this branch of the tree, too, would be Brother Roger's writings for the Taizé community.
Bossypants (Tina Fey)
I am tempted to put the overtly faith-based Improvisation by Sam Wells in this place, but honestly most of his (amazing) work there is also here, in Tina Fey, and it's funnier while also being remarkable in its own right. The commitment to YES AND is fundamentally a question of friendship, mission, pneumatology, and gifts, all rolled into one. I find in improvisation practices to grow in the themes represented in all of the above.
There it is! A core book list. My first crack at it, anyway. What's core books make your list?
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