Hi, friend. I know that you are likely up to your eyebrows in preparations. Maybe you are getting ready for church services. Maybe your loved one is dying. Maybe you are leaving a call. Maybe you are swimming in uncertainty. Maybe everything in your life is awesome and if you could place one more handful of tinsel just-so, you’ll explode from joy. Wherever you are in this spectrum, I see you and you are not alone. You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.
I’ve been thinking about what kind of book recommendation is suitable for mixed seasons- spring to summer in the southern hemisphere and fall to winter in the northern. I know that many people don’t even read this feature on the website because they don’t know how book reviews would help them.
Ideally, a book review gives you enough of a taste of a book to help you know if acquiring said book is useful to you. A good review would give you some context in which you might use or appreciate the book. Since reading is exponential, you may also get an idea of books or authors that are similar in theme, tone, or style.
My Christmas wish for you, besides peace of heart and mind, is at least one gift card for books. If you need a pleasure read recommendation, I can recommend a couple from some of my favorite genres. If you like a slow-paced historical novel, try this. If you like a warm romance (some sexy times), I recommend this set in the Civil War (competence porn!) or this modern novel (more competence porn!). If a murder mystery is your thing (heavy on the murder and the mystery), try this. This is a curious read on where we come from and where we might be going.
Back to that book gift card… if you have the desire to purchase one book to improve your life and/or your ministry, whether lay, ordained, retired, inspired, or over the wires, I have two recommendations. You can buy either of these books used for fairly cheap from a variety of sources. They are worth having for yourself and in your mental reference list.
How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics is the must-read you didn’t really know or think you needed. Unless you are already very familiar with 12-step programs and their sibling support organizations for friends and families, you may never really have thought about what help there is for the people living with those who suffer from the disease of addiction(s). In general, it is easy for most people to assume that if the addicted person gets help/clean/sober, then things will improve.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Since addiction is a disease, any family system (community, church, household, friend group) has likely shaped itself to the ups and downs of the disease. As the symptoms of the disease change due to sobriety or worsening illness, those around the addicted person need help to change their patterns as well. Al-Anon and its partner support organization, Nar-Anon, are sort of an open secret. If you know someone who benefits from these programs, it is easy to assume that everyone knows about this organization, but it ain’t necessarily so. Al-Anon is around the world and there are even meetings on the phone, but lots of people have never met a person who is a regular attender of Al-Anon.
I recommend purchasing the “big book” that actually goes with Al-Anon and reading through the first few chapters. Even if you don’t finish the book, having a better understanding of that support network is critical to being a supportive person in the world. The disease of alcoholism is such that sometimes people affected can only truly feel safe when they are with others who have been affected by the same disease. This is not a failure of your pastoral, counseling, or friendship skills. It is simply a reality. If you have a copy of this book handy and are familiar with its content, it may be the life-line that you are able to throw at the right time- even to yourself.
The second book I would like to recommend is Come As You Are: The Surprising Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. Again, your own mileage may vary with this book. It may change your sex life- whether that’s with a partner, partners, or yourself. The book acknowledges early on that the science within in primarily directed at cisgender women, which does exclude some kinds of people and bodies.
I do not like to acknowledge an exclusion and then also assert that the book is helpful, but here we are. It is helpful, not perfect. Take what you want and leave the rest. Nagoski speaks in terms of accelerators, brakes, context, and cues. She takes a light tone, but is clearly writing a book to be helpful to the widest number of people possible. Like the book above, you may only need to read a few chapters to know that this book is or isn’t for you, but knowing what is in it may make you more able to recommend it to someone who is talking to you about a problem. (I acknowledge that not all problems are or should be solved by handing someone a book.)
The reason I STRONGLY recommend that you purchase the books and read some of them for yourself is the difference between knowing a car model exists and having ridden in or driven one. I knew that the Hyundai Santa Fe existed. When I rode in one with a parishioner and really liked the ride and the handling, that make and model were filed in my brain for the next time I needed to buy a car. Guess what I drive now? I needed the information of experience, even brief experience, to be able to make a decision that was helpful to me (and my family).
In the days ahead, remember that you are not alone. God is with you, but more specifically God is with you through real people who care for you, would be glad to help you, and who have experienced what you are going through as well. You are not alone.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.
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