Note from the Editor: It’s me. Really, I’m talking about the RCC Book Club, in which I’m participating—so read on . . . Gabe Chaney, our fearless book club leader, and Adam Snowden also offer their book thoughts! I’ll begin with a “Getting To Know You” piece. I’d love for you to do this, too—so write me!– Jennifer
Getting To Know: Jennifer Bell (Spiegel)
Where did you grow up and how did you end up here? I grew up here (born in Chicago), and I feel a little like I just landed by default in Phoenix. I always desired elsewhere—like a big east coast city or on the Oregon coast, but now I’m okay with it. It’s good. Weather. Friends. Forest, desert, big city, Aspen Trees.
What’s your job? I’m an English professor and writer—plus, I’m a total MOM.
Why are you at Roosevelt? I kinda feel as if my family fled for our lives from our last church (which was, um, steeped in a perversion of Reformed Theology that could possibly suck all that is good from your very soul!?!). We went to a nice OPC church once and then Roosevelt. I’d say that Roosevelt felt like answered prayer to me, personally. I think I always craved a combo of racial diversity, biblical truth, and a real valuing of the Arts.
How long have you been here? Maybe 8 or 9 years?
How long have you been a Christian? Though mostly raised in a Christian household, I think I’d say that 1998 was the real turning point for me.
What are your hobbies? Writing, reading, road-tripping, providing highfalutin reviews of TV shows and movies, walking on great trails, drinking coffee, hanging with my fam.
Name two things on your bucket list. This will never happen: living in a tiny house (Tim would die). So, probably, living and traveling around in an RV when Tim and I are retired empty-nesters, and hiking the West Fork Trail in Sedona.
What is your favorite book? The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (but I love many!)
What is your favorite movie? Pulp Fiction. I’ve been saying this by rote for over twenty years, but it’s true.
This year, I have a personal reading goal. Typically, as a writer/English prof, I read about 50 books a year (that includes audiobooks), I decided to add to the mix 12-15 books centered on Christianity. Loosely, I’m wanting mostly contemporary, not dull, theologically reformed but other ideas are good, and, um, recommended so I don’t get into a sappy and sentimental quagmire . . . Do I ask too much?
I was offered numerous recommendations. Here’s my working list:
Help My Unbelief by Barnabas Piper
Emotionally Healthy Spiritually by Peter Scarzerro
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
The Normal Christian Life and Sit Walk Stand – Watchman Nee
Pursuit of God – AW Tozer
Surprised by Hope by NT Wright
The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp
Testament of Devotion by Thomas R Kelly
(I’m still sorting through a few recommendations, if yours isn’t here.)
So far, I’ve read two and already found my “project” valuable.
RCC has also launched a book club, in which—over Zoom—we’re looking at Surprised by Hope by NT Wright. We just started, with Gabe at the helm, but it’s already raised many issues. I asked for the thoughts of others, so let’s hear from them!
N. T. Wright immediately questions many commonly held beliefs about death and new life for the Christian. I was always raised to believe there was a life after death. The details never mattered to me, but even after only two chapters of Surprised by Hope, I was convicted that my hope should not be ambiguous. Can my hope be strong, if it is not specific? How do I prepare myself and others to understand death while also appropriately valuing our lives?
As one of the leaders of the worship team at RCC, I was particularly interested in his critiques of common hymns and songs. It served as a reminder that we need to be careful with our words. Seemingly insignificant phrases can carry great implications about the ultimate Christian hope. Our music plays a role in the formation of deeply held beliefs, and we should not be careless with our teaching in worship.
Perhaps the most challenging topic is the view of death as an enemy to be defeated. Our hope allows us not to fear death, but sometimes we stray in the opposite direction, failing to acknowledge death as an enemy all. As a Christian, where should I fall on the spectrum between fearing death and disregarding it? I look forward to reading the rest of the book for some guidance on how to think.
Reflecting on the confusion that the culture and the Church have about heaven already had us feeling challenged and wrestling with things like the practice of cremation. Seeing death as an enemy instead of something to ignore allows us to see Jesus in His Resurrection as both an epic Victor and the One who deeply cares about physical bodies and the physical universe in which they exist. I’m looking forward to exploring the implications of these truths in the coming weeks with my church fam!
Gabe reminded me that I said I’d “bring up the possible correlation between soul and mind” in our book discussion, because this book has really raised important issues about how we are to think about our physical bodies. I don’t really remember where I was going with this, but I like Wright’s handling of big issues (like eschatology) without freaking everyone out.
I’m not sure where exactly he’s going on the topic of cremation (we’re early in the book), but I might run into some trouble with him (I’m in the “cremate me” camp – minimal money, no expensive urn or velvet lined coffin or any of my beloved cats’ bones. Just do the ashes thing. And, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, do not put makeup on my dead face or dress up my corpse in a prom dress! If you must, give me Melody’s Pink Bunny, Wendy’s Heart Bear, and Tim’s blue blanket.)