Remember that one time I didn’t read a single book for over 18 months? Well friends, it happened and that season of drought is fortunately over. This year I got to read a nice amount of very interesting books, so I’m sharing a little bit about them today and some quotes that have stuck with me. If you’re looking for a last minute Christmas gift for person with a similar taste in books to me, well it’s your lucky day!!!
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The Preacher’s Wife
The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities by Kate Bowler
Man oh man. Or should I say woman oh woman. This book was FASCINATING. Having lived in Nashville for about a year, this book was a truly interesting look into Christian celebrity culture that I saw a bit of a glimpse of in my year in what I like to call “Christian Mecca.” The book is incredibly well-researched and written, and is filled with fascinating stories, photographs, and testimonies. It’s not a book about women’s roles in the church as much as it is about how influence and spiritual power is being wielded by women whether we see it and support it or not. This book gives a compelling argument that a crisis of women’s discipleship already has or will come due to women being undereducated in theology, doctrine, emotionally-healthy spirituality, and more. It also tells some just crazy stories from mega-churches and mega-ministries. I couldn’t put it down. This book was one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read! Highly recommend.
Navigating Transitions, Relationships, and Faith by Erica Young Reitz
I picked up this book at the recommendation of my friend Elizabeth in part because of my interest to become more integrated in college ministry. Though I’ve been out of college nearly four years now, the book was full of important reminders about community, decision-making, relationships, and what trusting God really looks like in the daunting times of post-grad life. I wish I’d read this book four years ago!
“Be patient with the process, especially if it feels like things aren’t clicking right away or if you have no clue what might be next. Be kind to yourself and patient with God in the process. He is always doing a new thing.”
12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin
This book just won Christianity Today’s book of the year award! It confronts questions about diversity, pluralism, relativism, morality, violence, science, sexuality, gender, suffering, and hell, to name a few. The book is a well-researched and thoughtfully-presented introduction to many issues that Christians and non-Christians alike get hung up on. All the while, it shows that the decline of Christianity in the modern world is a myth, and that we shouldn’t fear discussing these “potential roadblocks” addressed in the book. I thought the author did a nice job of incorporating stories, Scripture, research, and personal opinion into the arguments in a way that kept me engaged but not belittled. Her passage on marriage and men’s/women’s roles was a real punch to my pride/face in a good way, in a way I needed. Becky has some good things to say! Thank you Becky! (I’m sure Rebecca is probably not called Becky, but you know, we’re going with it)
The Next Right Thing
A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions by Emily P. Freeman
Oh silly me. I bought this book in April and legitimately had the thought, “I’m not on the cusp of any major decisions right now, so I’m not sure I need this book. But it sounds interesting so I’ll buy it.” Reader, LIES. Lies I tell you. 2019 turned out to be a year that contained so many decisions that I felt as if I’d rather become a hermit and never speak or decide anything ever again. Let’s just say: I needed this book this year. I wish I had used some of the things in this book this year when it came to some of my decisions, but alas, I am a supremely imperfect person! I really like the practical takeaways and application of this book, but I also really like the approach to decisions Freeman ultimately lands on. I think she uncovers the spiritual struggles of decision making in a way that’s really enlightening, challenging, and freeing. It helped me identify and understand more of why I had made a particular decision and why I was struggling so much in the aftermath of it. I truly appreciate this book.
“Maybe a reason why a particular decision you are carrying today feels difficult is because there are things beneath the surface that remain unnamed within you, things you either haven’t acknowledged or would rather ignore. Sometimes indecision is the result of a busy schedule or a hesitant personality. Other times it’s because something within us remains unnamed, and we simply don’t have enough information or self-knowledge to move forward.”
At Home in the World
Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider
I bought this book before my trip to Scotland thinking it would be fun to read a book about traveling while I was traveling. Admittedly, I would say reading about traveling which traveling is not actually fun because the person in the book is experiencing the same sense of discomfort that you’re experiencing too, but instead of feeling camaraderie, you kind of just feel uncomfortable and wish you’d brought a book that took your mind to someplace else instead of reminding you about how lonely you feel. BUT, I think that’s why it was important that I read this book when I did. Not only do I admire Tsh’s sense of adventure and go-with-the-flow attitude, but I really took a lot from her perspective about the importance of not forcing experiences to fit our own agendas. I love how she writes about engaging with her internal dialogue: “Swirling mental distractions of annoyances and vague inkling that something muddy wants out.”
“We live in a world of noise…God speaks to us best in silence, in nooks and crannies when we’re willing to ignore the cacophony…
Adorning the Dark
Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson
This book! So good! I think this may have been my favorite book of the whole year. It is so full of practical tidbits about creativity and community, but it is also full of such Gospel truth, too. Andrew Peterson is a rare, humble writer who speaks with wisdom, humor, conviction, and provocation. This book has a way of inspiring the reader, or at least it did for me. For that reason, I say this book is for everyone. I also love that Peterson references many other good works of writing and music; it makes it fun to check out those things in supplement to the reading of his book. I can’t not share more than one quote!
“We need not look anywhere but to the eyes of our Savior for our true identity, an identity which is profoundly complex, unfathomable, deep as the sea, and yet can be boiled down to one little word: beloved.“
“I want you, dear reader, to remember that one holy way of mending the world is to sing, to write, to paint, to weave new worlds. Because the seed of your feeble-yet-faithful work fell into the ground, died, and rose again, what Christ has done through you will call fourth praise from lonesome travelers long after your name is forgotten. They will know someone lived and loved here.”
“Set fire to your expectations, your rights, and even your dreams. When all that is gone, it will be clear that the only thing you ever really had was this wild and Holy Spirit that whirls about inside you, urging you to follow where his wind blows.”
The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World by A.J. Swoboda
This book was the beginning of what I didn’t realize would be a topic to emerge time and time again during this year of reading: the importance of silence and solitude. The book is quite dense, discussing everything from the implications of Sabbath on the economy, to our children, our homes, and more. It brings up the compelling point that keeping the Sabbath is one the the ten commandments we all seem to be okay with breaking, ignoring, etc.. If you’re looking for an accessible but meaty introduction into the idea of Sabbath, I’d highly recommend this book. Just be open-minded coming into it though, or you may fight your way through the book only to realize that you aren’t fighting with the author, you’re fighting with the sin inside of you…not that I’d know anything about that 😉
“We have developed an allergy to silence and obscurity. We have created within ourselves such a need to do and accomplish and make that effectiveness becomes the rudder of our entire existence. Silence terrifies us. After having been silent, we have nothing we can tell people we have done. We just were. Silence goes against what Henri Nouwen calls “the security of having something valuable to do.“ Spending time in silence allows the things that crowd our existence to empty out. What effect does this have? Someone once described to me a lake that was being drained. When all the water was drained out, garbage and other debris were found at the bottom of the lake, which could then be cleaned up. Silence is giving space to see what is at the bottom of our souls.”
The Way of the Heart
Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence by Henri Nouwen
This was another book recommended to me by my friend Elizabeth. Moral of the story is that anytime Elizabeth tells me to do something, I listen! This is a short book that is full of such nuggets of wisdom and truth. I really liked this passage about prayer:
“When we say to people, “I will pray for you,” we make a very important commitment. The sad thing is that this remark often remains nothing by a well-meant expression of concern. But when we learn to descend with our mind into our heart, then all those who have become part of our lives are led into the healing presence of God and touched by him in the center of our being. We are speaking here about a mystery for which words are inadequate. It is the mystery that the heart, which is the center of our being, is transformed by God into his own heart, a heart large enough to embrace the entire universe. Through prayer we all can carry in our heart all human pain and sorrow, all conflicts and agonies, all torture and are, all hunger and loneliness, and misery, not because of some great psychological or emotional capacity, but because Go’s heart has become one with ours.”
Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved
by Kate Bowler
Well this is the book that made me ugly-cry. Bowler’s book is particularly poignant thing to read because she wrote it after having birthed her first child only to find out she had stage 4 cancer. This book was a really compelling thing for me to read and remember that nothing about this life is promised. “Life is a privilege, not a reward,” Bowler writes. It’s tragic and beautiful thing to realize that the way you’ve lived your life was full of lies, at least it felt that way to me. Tragic because I realized how much damage I had done. Beautiful because I realize that God is in the business of fixing broken people, of bringing redemption to totally screwed up situations and worldviews and lifestyles. Here’s a quote that summarizes this sentiment well:
“What would it mean for Christians to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, “You are limitless”? Everything is not possible. The mighty kingdom of God is not yet here. What if ‘rich’ did not have to mean ‘wealthy’, and ‘whole’ did not have to mean ‘healed’? What if being the people of “the gospel” meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”
I also truly admire Bowler’s perspective on the difficult nature of suffering. She doesn’t sugar coat things. She drops the f-bomb in her book. And this is a woman who teaches at Duke’s divinity school! One more quote, but just read the book.
“I can’t reconcile the way that the world is jolted by events that are wonderful and terrible, the gorgeous and the tragic. Except that I am beginning to believe that these opposites do not cancel each other out. I see a middle aged woman in the waiting room of the cancer clinic, her arms wrapped around the frail frame of her son. She squeezes him tightly, oblivious to the way he looks down at her sheepishly. He laughs after a minute, a hostage to her impervious love. Joy persists somehow and I soak it in. The horror of cancer has made everything seem like it is painted in bright colors. I think the same thoughts again and again. Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”
On Reading Well
Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior
It seemed like every smart person I knew and admired was reading or had read this book, so I gave in and read it, too. This book made me grateful for my liberal arts education, for parents who valued books read on vacation road trips about the portable DVD player. I liked how Prior examined Good Books through the lens of difference virtues (and vices), and it reminded me that I always read fiction better whenever I’m reading it in community! Anyone else feel lost in a fiction book when they don’t have a friend to discuss the plot with? Perhaps that my English minor talking…
“Just as water, over a long period of time, reshapes the land through which it runs, so too we are formed by the habit of reading good books well.”
The Tech-Wise Family
Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch
Don’t read this book unless you want to have your socks rocked! I kid, but Andy gives a compelling, humble, and challenging argument in this book about the proper place of technology and how it can be used to encourage or destroy the cause of human flourishing. This quote really summarizes it well:
“We only get one life to live. Wouldn’t it be better spent enjoying and serving the world God made rather than a glowing screen?”
Practically, I have loved following a Crouch family practice of eating my dinner by candlelight each night, something I started after reading about his family’s habit of slowing down and honoring the dinner time and dinner table. I had to chuckle when a coworker told me with a great undercurrent of skepticism that his dad gave him this book, but he hadn’t (or maybe didn’t want to) read it. If you are nervous this book is going to compel you or make you uncomfortable, then you need to read this book. Crouch does not and will not shame you, but he will not let you off the hook, either. I was really influenced to at least consider how my habits have formed and why they have formed, and how new habits can help create a life where I can flourish and my community can flourish, too. The best time to start is now!
“So here’s where we have to start if we are going to live as flourishing families in an age of easy everywhere: we are going to have to decide, together, that nothing is more important than becoming people of wisdom and courage. We are going to have to commit to make every major decision, and many small decisions, on the basis of these questions: Will this help me become less foolish and more wise? Will this help me become less fearful and more courageous?”
How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It by David Zahl
I emailed the author after having read this book, and I said this: “Sometimes I find myself convinced that to be a serious Christian, I need to be a more serious person (have a better vocabulary, grasp and express complex theology etc.). Something I enjoyed about your writing is that you did not talk down (nor dumb down) to the reader. Thanks for that; it was refreshing and compelling to read!” If you’re interested in the secularization of society and what are idols are as Americans, this book is a great thing to read. It’s also just an encouraging thing to read with reminders of the Gospel and the power of redemption that is happening each day as the Holy Spirit breaks in.
“Listen carefully and you’ll hear that word enough everywhere, especially when it comes to the anxiety, loneliness, exhaustion, and division that plague our moment to such tragic proportions. You’ll hear about people scrambling to be successful enough, happy enough, thin enough, wealthy enough, influential enough, desired enough, charitable enough, woke enough, good enough. We believe instinctively that, were we to reach some benchmark in our minds, then value, vindication, and love would be ours—that if we got enough, we would be enough.”
Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller
This was my second time reading Scary Close, and I found it just as compelling and thought-provoking, maybe even more so, on the second read. I really identify with Miller’s discussion about relinquishing control in our relationships. If you’re a person who interacts with other people, then this would be a good book for you to read. Oh wait, that’s everyone! I appreciated how Miller talks about how all relationships require work, risk, and forgiveness, and love is simply complicated!
“But love doesn’t control, and I suppose that’s why it’s the ultimate risk. In the end, we have to hope the person we’re giving our heart to won’t break it, and be willing to forgive them when they do, even as they will forgive us. Real love stories don’t have dictators, they have participants. Love is an ever-changing, complicated, choose-your-own adventure narrative that offers the world but guarantees nothing.”
“It’s a beautiful moment when somebody wakes up to this reality, when they realize God created them so other people could enjoy them, not just endure them.”
The Magician’s Nephew & The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
By C.S. Lewis
What a delight it has been to return to the world of Narnia. It’s been over a decade since I read any of this series, and I’ve been so pleased to return to it this December. This moment in Book 2 struck me in a new way this time around:
“’Well, sir, if things are real, they’re there all the time.’
‘Are they?’ said the Professor; and Peter did not quite know what to say.”
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You Are What You Love
The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith
I am SO excited to be reading this book. James K.A. Smith is a fascinating writer because he is a philosophy professor with a great love of Scripture, culture, and keeping it real. I just finished a section about the liturgies of a shopping mall, and I finally understand why they’ve unsettled me for all my years! If you would consider yourself a deep thinker but are not quite in the mood to read thick volumes of philosophy, may I recommend James K.A. Smith?! Run, do not walk! I mean, I still have 100 pages to go, but this is an excellent book thus far that discusses this idea: “You are what you love. But you might not love what you think.”
“Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.”
Here’s some books I want to read in 2020:
- The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
- The rest of the Narnia Series
- More books by Henri Nouwen
- More books by Eugene Peterson
- A book about baptism
- Pizza Camp, a cookbook exclusively about pizza because pizza is amazing
Any other books I should be reading in 2020? Let me know! And if you’ve read any good books this year that you’d like to talk about (or talk about the ones I’ve mentioned above) please reach out! I’m of the opinion that books are better read when they’re read alongside others.