What I’m Reading: Baseball, Dr. King, Missiology, and More

by Jeff Wright, Leadership Minister

What passes for winter in southern California gives way to springtime by February.  As I write, it is 81°F in my home in Riverside, California and 28°F in Souderton, PA.  Pitchers and catchers have reported for spring training. Now is the perfect time to read a good book about baseball, Ballpark: Baseball in the American City. The author, Paul Goldberg, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic, and he writes with a concise understatement about the intersections of the greatest sport ever created and the magic of urban architecture. Baseball is a game of pastures brought into the city. We Mennonites might have some missional concepts to learn from such an exercise.

For Black History Month, I re-read A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. This time around, I have been particularly moved by Dr. King’s early writings and speeches.  In his 1958 essay, “An Experiment in Love,”  Dr King shapes a powerful theological reminder that Christian social justice begins with Agape – the ideal of sacrificial love. “Agape,” writes King, “ is a willingness to go to any length to restore community.” May we have ears to hear such a profoundly simple and difficult word.

I’m always on the lookout for new voices in urban missiology.  Sean Benesh is a Portland-based urban church planter and social entrepreneur whom I can’t get enough of.  It might be easy for us Mennonites to dismiss Benesh as far too evangelical or hipster for us but this would be a big mistake. Benesh’s latest two books, The New Cartographers: Helping Social Entrepreneurship Develop a Map for Local Church Ministry + Church Planting in the New Frontier and Intrepid: Navigating the Intersection of Social Entrepreneurship + Church Planting, are full of practical ideas for launching new expressions of the church that are sustaining and sustainable. Benesh says with a utility of words what I’ve been wishing to say about ministry for the past thirty years.

Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery is a powerful book that my small group is reading… and feeling the weight of its truth. Authors Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah remind me, as a thirteenth-generation  American immigrant from England, that the good news of the gospel often is first bad news for the way I’ve assumed the world works. This book has become a part of my penitential reflections during Lent.

Finally, I’m enjoying The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity.  Postmodern Mennonites are not always comfortable with “pietism.” We tend to equate it with ignoring the world as it is, and assuming the world that is to come is not a healed version of this world. Early pietism was not so stained by quietism.  Indeed, Pietism had a profound impact on the Anabaptist movement in North America. Brethren in Christ Bishop Perry Engle said, “I like to think these bold and serious-minded believers [18th century Anabaptists in Pennsylvania] were ‘sweetened’ by their personal experience of a heartfelt and life-changing relationship with Christ.” As a lifelong  Anabaptist, no one has yet accused me of being “sweetened” in the Lord. But as I grow older, it seems a compliment worth seeking.