In the northern hemisphere, we are in the midst of summer activities. In my first years in the parish, I made the mistake of thinking things would slow down for me in the summer. Maybe they do for you, but it still seems like a pell-mell rush of activities here. My hope for things slowing down was rooted in the idea that I would use summer as the time to plan for the rest of the “program year”. It doesn’t happen for me. Oh, well.

Today’s review, however, might make it happen for you. I’m always searching for books for discussions, teaching, or retreats. I received a great book for review from Westminster John Knox Press. I don’t always recommend everything I receive for review, but I feel confident doing so this time.

Erik Kolbell’s When Your Life is On Fire, What Would You Save? is the book you’re seeking for your young adult group, your church book group, or even a series of devotionals for your elders or council. Each chapter is a self-contained interview with a person you may or may not know of (Alan Alda, Jane Pauley, Chris Lim, and others. They are asked what would be worth saving if their metaphysical house was on fire. This is Kolbell’s way of asking significant thinkers to distill what is important to them and then to reflect on how that thing (literal or metaphorical) has shaped their life.

Kolbell follows each interview with his own reflection, incorporating thoughts and commentary on parts of Christian faith practice. These reflections are in themselves distillations of Kolbell’s years of theological reflection:

Sharing burdens lightens them, just as sharing joys multiplies them, and aren’t those two side of the same coin of communication? This is the way I think of the rite of holy communion: sacred sharing. It is the gesture in which hopes and sadness, joys and burdens, intermingle.

These reflection sections are followed by a few questions either for discussion or use as journal topics. I usually plow through books very quickly, but this book just invited savoring. I was not able to just keep going. I found that the book’s very structure, as well as its topics, specifically instigated contemplation.

Kolbell discusses success and failure with Alan Alda. Alda recalls a flopped science experiment from his childhood and Kolbell notes:

In failure our illusion is dashed, but it’s a worthy failure because in the dismissal of that one illusion we are also brought a little closer to the truth.

It is this kind of writing that I believe draws the reader in and would make this book useful to you in your current leadership situation- whether as preacher, priest, pastor, parent, or parishioner. I encourage you to seek out this book and I commend it to you for use in the next year.

There! One thing planned ahead!

One thought on “RevGalBookPals: When Your Life is On Fire

  1. Oh, oh thank you for this! A veritable feast…I have ordered the book. Every morning I awaken so very thankful that I was taught to read…Sometimes just being able to share these gems with others makes ministry so much easier. People can have a conversation with their heads and hearts about their own journey and the church’s journey…and pastors become a guide. I have an active group of readers…and I want to be able to connect with them at the point of where the soul touches the heavens and earth simultaneously–at THEIR stage in life– but this means also navigating my own. I am in the middle of a novel right now– and oh my God is it good– by JM Coetzee– The Childhood of Jesus– and it is a parable of sorts– but could be applied in so many ways to life. And someone showed me another book by Fr. Rohr re. the 12 steps which he found helpful and I know a parishioner who respects Fr. Rohr, so I will be able to guide him to this resource– after I have also read it. It gives a way to meet parishioners where they are at. And it is such a gift to be able to do this– in an unobtrusive way. I just wanted to say thank you for your post. It is helpful to see how another colleague applies “biblio-ministry” and what is of value.
    I am just feeling very, very thankful this morning. Christopher Cross, a great cup of coffee, and good novel…and the toddlers are still sleeping despite one being sick!


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