When I was in high school, the bane of my summer existence was summer reading. That’s a little ironic, given how much I love to read, but I love being told what to do a lot less than that. 

And so being ordered to read something, and have to take a test on it when I Rev JC Austinreturned in the fall, turned one of my favorite activities into one of drudgery and obligation. And so I remember reading things like All the King’s Men and For Whom the Bell Tolls and Animal Farm not with a sense of curiosity and joy, but with scowling resignation instead.

All that is to say that, as summer approaches once more, I have decided to re-invent summer reading for myself, and I would be delighted for any of you to join me. With the demands of the pandemic on top of the normal busyness of church leadership over the past 2+ years, I would have to say that I have neither rested enough nor read enough, and both of those are crucial to leadership in general and pastoral ministry in particular. So, I am in the process of trying to plan my vacation time this summer and to build in a practice of summer reading that will make me feel grateful rather than resentful, as I did in those high school summers.

So: I have decided that, in July and August, I will read at least two books a month. Each month, one of those books will be intentionally related to ministry, and one of those books will be intentionally unrelated to ministry! So for July, I will be reading The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, a novel recommended by several friends that tells the story of a woman whose father worked on creating the original Oxford English Dictionary.

She discovers that, in the selection process for what gets an entry, words that pertain particularly to the experiences of women often get left out. She begins collecting these words in order to create her own dictionary, the Dictionary of Lost Words, and in the process becomes aware of a much bigger world than she had experienced in her sheltered life in Oxford. If you’ve listened to more than just a few of my sermons, you will not be surprised that a book about the significance and beauty of language and words is appealing!

For my ministry book, I will be reading a new book that’s getting a lot of attention called MetaChurch: How to Use Digital Ministry to Reach People and Make Disciples by Dave Adamson. Like so many churches, our digital ministry expanded in the pandemic out of necessity, but the real question is how we can expand and improve our digital ministry both in its own right and to accompany and enhance our in-person ministry. That is what this book is all about.

If July is an opportunity to indulge my love of words, then August will be a chance to indulge my love of history. Specifically, I plan to read Democracy: A Life, by Paul Cartlidge. This book by a renowned Cambridge historian traces the origins and forms of democracy in ancient Greece, its decline and eventual abandonment by the Romans, and its subsequent revivals and transformations in the modern age. With an election cycle looming and many questions and controversies about the nature of democracy in the air, this seemed like a timely read.

And finally, I will be reading Whole-Hearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu. At the time of her shocking death at age 37 from a medical procedure gone awry, Rachel Held Evans was one of the finest and most important Christian voices in the United States, charting a vision for an inclusive and dynamic faith in Christ for herself and so many others after being wounded in conservative evangelical churches. I commend this book to all of you, in particular, because I think it speaks not only to that problem, but to our congregation’s core values of how to be Christ-centered, welcoming to all, with an active and inquiring faith.

What about you? What books are on your summer reading list? What books would you recommend to me or others? I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions as the summer unfolds; happy reading!

Grace and Peace,


Dear ones,

While I’m still adjusting to life here in the Lehigh Valley, my first four months here have introduced me to three of our four seasons: when I arrived in late February, it was still snow-on-the-ground winter; things stayed chilly through much of a tiny blip of spring with a few perfect days sprinkled in, and now we’re solidly in the summer (which is quite a bit toastier than I imagined).

I confess that this time of year does make me a little homesick for North Carolina, more specifically for Montreat, a beautiful Presbyterian conference center in the mountains near Asheville.  It is thin space for me: a special, set apart place where whatever usual distractions separating us from God are easier to transcend and where the presence of God is a bit more noticeable.  (I’m sure you have thin places, too, and I hope you have time to visit them this summer!)

Many summers, I head up the mountain to Montreat for either the Youth Conference with high school students or for the annual Music & Worship Conference, which is an incredible intergenerational experience curated by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians—I hope to introduce y’all to one or both of these sometime!

The last time I went to Music & Worship was about this time in 2019.  The 2020 conference was moved online, of course, and it has been so wonderful to see colleagues enjoying the conference in-person again this summer.  At my last visit, the conference theme was “Not as the World Gives,” taken from John 14:27 in which Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

In this ongoing season of transition into a new stage of emerging-from-a-pandemic life, I still need those words of assurance.  Perhaps you do, too.  During worship each day, Rev. Dr. Rodger Niskioka’s sermons explored how the peace of Christ is not the kind of peace the world offers.  These daily refrains became a powerful series of juxtapositions:

Peace is not the absence of chaos, but the presence of hope.

Peace is not the absence of evil, but the boldness, the presence of righteousness.

Peace is not the absence of pain, but the compassion of presence.

Peace is not the maintenance of the status quo, but the courage to seek justice.

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but it is the embodiment of love.

Peace is not the absence of darkness; it is the presence of light.

Where do you find such peace, friends?  It showed up for me this week in the form of a mama deer and her still-spotted baby romping around our church’s front lawn on a particularly nutty day at the office.  It felt like a mini Montreat moment here in Bethlehem.  I slowed down to watch them for awhile before they made their way under some shade trees and out of view.

I think that’s not entirely unlike what we’re called to do as we navigate the changes unfolding around us – to find peace and joy by looking for and slowing down to watch what God is up to in our midst.  Because God is surely our mama deer, staying nearby and nurturing us still-wobbly-legged babies as we try to find our way anew in the big wide world.

May we pay attention, friends.  And may we encounter God’s peace and joy, along the way.

With much love and gratitude,