Tag Archives: richard rohr

Reading List (2019)


“I guess there are never enough books.” – John Steinbeck

I am happy to report that I read twenty-five books for the third year in a row in spite of a crazy cross-country move. I have every intention of keeping up this particular discipline as the 2020s roll in. Here are a few observations from 2019:

#1: Five of the books were authored by friends: I sure have talented friends.
#2: It feels like Reimagining the Student Experience: Formative Practices for Changing Times was written just for my new job.
#3: I’m still enamored with Jesmyn Ward but am embarrassed that it took me this long to read beautiful novels from literary giants like James Baldwin, James Joyce, and Toni Morrison.
#4: Educated by Tara Westover blew my mind
#5: All in all, The Children by David Halberstam was my Book of the Year.

Here is my overall list for 2019:

Novels (6 this year—6 in 2018, 3 in 2017)
* Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
* Bowling Avenue by Ann Shayne
* Your Killin’ Heart by Peggy O’Neal Peden
* Dubliners by James Joyce
* Sula by Toni Morrison
* Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Books written by friends (5 this year—1 in 2018, 6 in 2017)
* White Jesus: The Architecture of Racism in Religion and Education by Allison Ash; Christopher Collins; Tabatha Jones Jolivet; and Alexander Jun
* Kingdom Come by John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine
* Colonel Jonathan: An American Story by John Francis Wilson
* Ten Frames at the Galaxy Bowl by Kyle Dickerson
* Letterville: The Town That God Built by Aaron Sain

Theology/Church (4 this year—8 in 2018, 6 in 2017)
* Conversations with Will D. Campbell, edited by Tom Royals
* Homosexuality and the Christian by Mark A. Yarhouse
* (Re-read) Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
* (Re-read) Law and the Bible: Justice, Mercy, and Legal Institutions, edited by Robert F. Cochran, Jr. and David VanDrunen

Leadership/Politics/Sociology (3 this year—0 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
* Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele
* Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl
* Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

Biography/Memoir (2 this year—3 in 2018, 5 in 2017)
* Educated by Tara Westover
* Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash

Education (2 this year—0 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
* Roaring Lambs: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World by Bob Briner
* Reimagining the Student Experience: Formative Practices for Changing Times, edited by Brian Jensen and Sarah Visser

History (2 this year—1 in 2018, 1 in 2017)
* How Nashville Became Music City U.S.A.: 50 Years of Music Row by Michael Kosser
* The Children by David Halberstam

Poetry/Essays (1 this year—1 in 2018, 1 in 2017)
* The Farm by Wendell Berry

Sports (0 this year—3 in 2018, 3 in 2017)
Writing (0 this year—1 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
Crime (0 this year—1 in 2018, 0 in 2017)



“The goal in sacred story is always to come back home, after getting the protagonist to leave home in the first place! A contradiction? A paradox? Yes, but now home has a whole new meaning, never imagined before.” – Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (pp. 87-88)

Growing up I associated two things with Nashville: Churches of Christ and country music. The former was familiar, but even as a young person I was drawn toward things that were unfamiliar. And the latter was something my dad listened to in the car (other than a brief Randy Travis stage, I did not choose to listen to a lot of country music). So I never pictured myself in Nashville.

But when our potential move emerged, I was surprised how much I was drawn to the city itself. It felt like I would learn a lot about myself in Nashville, who I am, where I come from, and the meaning of the word “home.”

Still, it was surprising to think that country music had a role to play. Sure, moving to ground zero of Churches of Christ would involve introspection, but country music? Somehow I just knew that would prove important, too. Little did I know that famed filmmaker, Ken Burns, was putting the finishing touches on a new documentary miniseries to help me out.

If you have not been following Country Music on PBS, I suggest you find a way to catch up. Simply learning that the banjo came from African slaves and the fiddle came from European immigrants in Appalachia was worth tuning in. Country music is just that—an amalgam of this complicated country—and learning its history is helpful in understanding America if nothing else.

I had unfortunately never heard of DeFord Bailey, the first performer ever introduced on what became known as the Grand Ole Opry, and a grandson of slaves, and a harmonica genius. In fact, it was after Bailey’s brilliant rendition of a train on the show in 1927 (following a show that ended with the New York Symphony’s version) that announcer George Hay said, “For the past hour, we have been listening to music largely from Grand Opera, but from now on, we will present ‘The Grand Ole Opry.’” Bailey was unceremoniously fired in 1941 and spent the rest of his life shining shoes to make a living.

And speaking of 1941, I learned that country music was the favorite choice of soldiers during World War II, which provided a stunning realization as to why my dad always tuned in on the radio when I was a child. Country music must have walked my dad and a lot of people through tough times—the Great Depression, and a world at war. I also learned that it was World War II that propelled the Grand Ole Opry past other radio “barn dances” to its worldwide prominence. According to Burns, Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific were heard saying, “To hell with Roosevelt; to hell with Babe Ruth, and to hell with Roy Acuff.”

I’m not sure what I am learning about myself just yet, so if you are expecting me to weave this together in a perfect harmony that just isn’t going to happen today. What I do know, however, is that the banjo and fiddle are apparently providing the music that is serenading me toward home.

The Mystery of Life

YA Party

“Mystery is endless knowability.” – Richard Rohr

We hosted our second annual murder mystery dinner party for our church young adult group on Saturday evening. Last year we created an ‘80s prom, but this year’s rendition was superhero-themed so I went to the dark side and attended as Lex Luthor since all I had to do was put on a suit and buy a green (kryptonite) ring pop. We had a blast.

It is odd to host a fun church party around such a dark theme, but we could hardly wait the full year to host another one it is so awesome. (And if you are interested in hosting one yourself I recommend shotinthedarkmysteries.com.)

I don’t think it is the costumes that make a mystery dinner party such fun, although the costumes are pretty great—I think the fun in the whole ballgame is that it is a mystery. We don’t know “whodunit”—and we are on a quest to figure it out. There is a reason we read mystery novels and watch mystery movies and television shows. There is simply something compelling about mystery.

Which is a little misleading because we really want to “know” the answer, right? It wouldn’t have been a great party if at the end of the night we had told everyone, “Sorry, but we don’t want to call anyone an actual murderer, so let’s just forgive and forget and move on with life, okay?” No, the compelling part of a mystery is that there is an ultimate answer.

Richard Rohr is pretty great, and in his writings on faith he teaches that living in mystery is not really a negative because mystery does not mean that you cannot know (how many negatives did I use in that one sentence?).  He writes, “Mystery is endless knowability. Living inside such endless knowability is finally a comfort, a foundation of ultimate support, security, unrestricted love, and eternal care. For all of us, it takes much of our life to get there; it is what we surely mean by ‘growing’ in faith.”

As I grow older I am less drawn toward the need to know everything and more inclined to enjoy the journey inside the ever-evolving mystery of life. Welcome to life—that long mystery dinner party.


With XC Team Pictures

“[T]he task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential questions: ‘What makes me significant?’ ‘How can I support myself?’ and ‘Who will go with me?’  The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.  As Mary Oliver puts it, ‘What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’”

– Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Richard Rohr’s description of two halves of life in Falling Upward has me interested in emerging from the locker room for the second half.   We shall see.  Since the first half is so much about achievement and success, the transition is surely difficult to wrap my brain around.  It is much easier to try to be someone than to actually be someone.

As I struggled over the summer just to imagine such a thing, I tried to remember myself as a child before I boarded the train to Achievement Town.  What did I enjoy back then?  What did I love?  What made me smile?  What would I do just for the joy of it all?  Well, one of the primary answers was sports, so I made the calculated decision to be a huge Pepperdine Waves fan this year.

I haven’t been a very good Waves fan in recent years.  This is my third year to serve as volunteer chaplain for the cross country team (see proud team picture above), but I have been a sporadic fan at best for the other sports on campus.  My excuse was that I was just too busy, but “too busy” is undoubtedly the sort of thing you say when you are stuck in first half of life thinking.

The thought that got me was that if you had told “Little Al” that I/he would one day live on an amazing university campus with a fantastic NCAA Division I program fielding seventeen teams and would have open access to watch all of them in action, that would have sounded like heaven.  And I am too busy?  Give me a break.  Literally.

I am off to a great start so far.  I have been there in person to cheer on our cross country, soccer, volleyball, and water polo teams in the last few weeks – with many more teams to cheer on soon.  

Being a sports fan is surely not the point of or secret to life.  But for me, it just may be the secret to remind me not to be too busy to enjoy it.


Let’s Play Two!

“The first half of life is discovering the script, and the second half is actually writing it and owning it.” – Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward”

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!” – Ernie Banks

[Note: If all goes as planned, I will be making memories on an exciting family vacation when this publishes on Monday, so pardon my lack of originality today. I wrote the following seven years ago just before we moved to California, and I probably enjoyed writing it as much as I have ever enjoyed writing anything. It is humbling to realize how much I could add to it from these past seven years, but today I simply offer it to you as it was written in August 2008.]

I am 37 years old, and according to the oddsmakers in Vegas, about halfway through the typical life of an American male. At this age, people like me tend to compose lists titled, 100 Things To Do Before I Die. I know I did. But all this got me to thinking . . .

I’ve watched the sun rise and set on the Gulf of Mexico and gazed with wonder across the expanse of the Great Lakes, and both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I have hiked to the top of a mountain and gone spelunking beneath the surface of the earth. I have witnessed up close the majesty of Niagara Falls, the grace of a school of dolphins at play, and the power of a mighty hurricane. I have collected seashells on a beach, picked fruit in a citrus grove, gone fishing in the deep blue sea, ridden a horse that didn’t like me AT ALL, and slept under the stars. I have planted a tree and watched it grow.

I have fully loved just one woman, witnessed the birth of a child, and felt heart flutters taking a child to kindergarten, seeing a daughter graduate high school, and then leaving her at college. I have stood up for friends at their weddings, counseled them through messy divorces, and carried caskets of others to the cemetery. I have eulogized my own dad and officiated a wedding for a couple dressed up like Superman’s parents. True story. I have bought houses and cars and then lost everything and been homeless. I have moved far away from home.

I have been on a star’s tour bus and had backstage passes for concerts. I have listened to the blues in Memphis and jazz in New Orleans. I have dressed up for the theater and stood under a blazing sun with the Parrotheads at a Jimmy Buffett concert.

I have built Habitat for Humanity houses and organizations, worked in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, and made regular friends in a nursing home. I have been a court appointed special advocate for children and spent three years living in a children’s home. I have been a Special Olympics coach. I have donated my blood.

I have seen LeBron James dunk a basketball, Landon Donovan kick a soccer ball, Maria Sharapova serve a tennis ball, Emmitt Smith run a football, and Johnny Bench catch a baseball. I have been in the Superdome for Carmelo Anthony’s Final Four and for LSU’s BCS National Championship Game. I watched juiced-up Barry Bonds play in old-school Wrigley Field. I have worn the colors of the opposing team at an SEC football game, and I’ve seen a top-ranked team upset on their home field – both on the same day. I have attended Monday Night Football, Spring Training, and all levels of minor league baseball. I have seen Bear Bryant worshiped in Tuscaloosa on a Saturday afternoon.

I have flipped burgers, and I have interviewed for a CEO position. I have graduated from college, and I have taught high school. I have totally changed careers – more than once. I have opened a business. I have preached the gospel.

I have read War & Peace, and I have written books of my own. I have read the Bible. I have blogged. I have been interviewed on television, radio, and the stage of a mega-church. I have published letters to the editor.

I have been where both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated and where everyone died at the Alamo. I have stood where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as President of the Confederate States of America and been speechless to see Dr. King’s church right next door. I have walked both Beale Street and Bourbon Street. I have dined with Shamu and been “in” Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. I have watched a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, the Blue Angels fly over Pensacola Beach, and ridden to the top of the Gateway Arch.

I heard Bill Clinton speak as President and Jimmy Carter reflect as a Nobel Peace Prize winner. I had my picture made with Pamela Anderson in Malibu, and John Grisham once called ME on the telephone.

I have ridden roller coasters and, like an idiot, once risked my life climbing a water tower illegally. I have been a first responder to a horrible automobile accident. I have taken impromptu trips, and I once took a roundtrip flight from New Orleans to Miami in a single day.

I have utilized my right to vote. I have been an official member of a political party and campaigned for candidates, and I have been a member of a labor union and lobbied lawmakers.

I have won high school state championships. I have coached t-ball. I once ran a 15k, and on one miraculous day broke a hundred in a round of golf. I have been the hero in a game. I have met a childhood sports hero, and I have a handwritten letter from a baseball Hall of Famer written on Hall of Fame stationery.

I have been to DisneyWorld in Florida, and I have seen the Hollywood Sign in California. I have walked on a glass floor 1800 feet above the ground in Toronto, and I have snorkeled in Cozumel. I have toured CNN in Atlanta, the Art Institute in Chicago, the Space Center in Houston, and the Mall of America in Minneapolis. I once tracked down the lake where they filmed the opening scene from The Andy Griffith Show.

And that’s not all. I have had my name officially engraved on a sidewalk, paid a street artist in the French Quarter, grown a beard, shaved my head, built a deck, and been on a diet. I baptized my dad, my daughters, and a good friend in a freezing lake one cold January night.

Best I can figure, I’ve already had a good 100 things in my life. Maybe more. From here on out is just gravy. So since I haven’t died yet, and if no one minds, I think I’ll just go ahead and shoot for two.