Recently smallVOICE have begun an interesting experiment to identify books and publications that they would choose add their extra-biblical canon. I remember at the age of twelve going home from school and asking my mother, 'what came after the Bible?' She didn't know and muttered something vague, as mothers (or fathers) are wont to do in such circumstances. But it is a question that I've returned to on and off ever since (so the better part of forty years now, oh my!).
This month, smallVOICE commended a book called French Leave by journalist Fidelma Cook, and their reasoning left me sufficiently curious to purchase and read it. To be honest, it took me a while to get into it, to get past the Daily Mail journalese which, in my opinion, characterised the early chapters, but I persevered and detected the charting of a metaphorical as well as physical 'journey' on the part of the author as she sought, bought and began to live in a house in La France profonde. At around chapter 13, I think it was, the emphasis changed, there were more profound observations and less easy-if-justified comments about ex-pat Brits/English. By the end, with its subversion of the happy ending, I was actually left wanting a bit more.
I am glad I read the book, and do now enjoy reading the author's weekly column in The Herald newspaper (for ex-pat Brits or non-Brits, avaliable online or in some supermarkets Northampton!) but would I canonise it?
No, I don't think it I would. Not because it lacks much overt Christian, spiritual or theological emphasis (it was never intended to do any of the above, so why would it?) but because this is not a book to wihich I would return time and again in search of new insights, new nuggets of truth or humour, passages that merit further reflection, or even simply for pleasure. I think, though my bookshelves are laden with all manner of books and leaflets, there are very few that I would return to rescue if the vestry burned down, very few to which I return time and again to re-read and re-reflect. Very few that have the capacity to change my heart or my mind, to infleunce me sufficiently to be called 'good news'.
So what would I canonise? That's a much more tricky question! Certainly David Bosch's Transforming Mission which profoundly influenced my understanding of ministry, and to which I still return now and then. Probably some stuff that I struggled with or railed against (such as Mary Daly who compelled and repelled me in equal measure). I expect some Moltmann, Volf and Fiddes, even a bit of Barth as these theologians continue to delight and challenge me. Quite possibly The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Oh, and Giles Andrae's 'Giraffes Can't Dance' and Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre', the two works of fiction to which I return most regularly (the latter for 40+ years).
What about you? What criteria would you use to select works and which would be on your shelf?