Rev. Zachary L. Bay

February 2021

I’ve been reading some interesting stuff lately. As your pastor, I’m always reading. I prioritize reading. No one, no matter how intelligent, can offer a sermon, a Wednesday talk, and lead an Advent or Lenten Book Club week in and week out without reading. A lot. I usually read several books at a time. Currently, I’m visiting with Fred Craddock by reading his book As One Without Authority (a clever play on Mark 1:22). I read this one years ago in seminary, but some books should be read more than once and his is one of them.

I’m also rereading a book by Cal Newport entitled Deep Work. Cal, as Kristy and I have taken to calling him in our house, writes books that get shelved with the works of other “productivity” writers like Stephen Covey and David Allen, but he ventures beyond the simple “how-to” nature of most. Cal is not a productivity guru by trade but a computer science professor at Georgetown University. His books are about personal productivity, but they are chock full of interesting historical allusions, neuroscience discussions, and sober-eyed critiques of technology usage in the 21st century. That last mention brings me to another book in my current reads stack: Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I’m riveted by this book. I can’t put it down. Carr nearly won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction with this tour de force in neuroplasticity that likens the initial networking of two computers to the reshuffling of metal letters on the face of Gutenberg’s press. Also in my current reading stack is Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy (we have a book club coming up), Ann Matheny’s history of Middlesboro (a great read) and two books by University of Kentucky historian Ronald Eller. Eller specializes in Appalachian history (also very good). As your pastor, I’m always reading. I prioritize it, for no one can put out a sermon, a Wednesday lesson, lead a weekly book club, and be thoughtfully present in pastoral conversations and correspondence (like newsletter articles!) without putting a lot back in. Crudely, it’s like keeping the gas tank above E.

One more thing, lest one of the fundamentalists around gets his hands on this newsletter and says, “See, I told you so about that First Baptist Church!”: I read the Bible too. A lot. And Bible commentaries—I have whole shelves of them—a lot. The Bible is still my favorite book. I don’t say that glibly. I mean it. I can’t quite put my finger on it aside from saying it has something to do with the Holy Spirit, but it is true that the Bible has the capacity to enchant me like no other book I read. My brain heats up. Sparks fly. Bam! My imagination and desire to create something take me over. A couple hours later, I wander out to get a cup or coffee and a sandwich.

This month, I “testify” here in hopes that I encourage you in your reading. Read the Bible, read other books. Nicholas Carr points out that from a neuroscientific standpoint, reading is reading no matter what the content, and it is good for your brain. Fred Craddock, decades before Carr, points out that when it comes to matters of spirituality, content matters too. But Craddock was no fundamentalist. He famously asked his homiletics (the 50-buck seminary word for preaching) students what they were reading. He meant outside of class. And he told legion of them, “You’re not reading enough fiction.” Fiction, you see, fires and tempers the imagination, and imagination is critical to preaching, and to Christian testimony in general.

I “testify” here as a way of pulling the curtain back and letting you peer into the pastor’s study, of pulling the back off and showing you some of the gears and mechanisms of the church ticking, ticking. I also do it as a way of asking you: “What are you reading these days?” What I’m reading says that whatever it is, it’s good for your brain. Even so-called “low-brow,” “mass market paperback” fiction. Unless it’s online and hyperlinked and framed in ads. Again, see Nicholas Carr.

Write me and tell me. I’d love to hear from you.