2018–Top Ten Books

Every December, I put out a list of what I consider to be the best books I have read during the previous year. I generally read over 100 books each year, and not surprisingly, the quality varies. As an aside, I would comment that I no longer feel guilty for setting a book aside that isn’t stirring me at the moment. Often, I will come back later and it will settle on me more strongly. For example, yesterday I finished reading Robert Bly’s Iron John, a book I had previously attempted on 3 occasions. People often will ask me for recommendations on what to read and these top ten lists are often a good place to start.
10) Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea (2018)
Believe Me was written by John Fea, an evangelical and historian who writes on his blog about the “intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life.” Believe Me deals with Trump-era conservativism including several important issues to consider, such as evangelical politics of fear and what President Trump means by “great again.”  Fea calls evangelicals to hope, humility, and history. Fea captures several reasons why I am in the 19 percent.
9) My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (1972)
Written in 1972, Potok told the story of Asher Lev, a Hasidic Jewish boy living in New York City. His family is deeply immersed in the Jewish culture, not only locally, but nationally and internationally. His father works for the “Rebbe,” who is essentially the head of their order. Asher, however, appears to be an artistic genius from an early age. He is compelled to paint, even when discouraged from doing so. What makes this story so compelling is the way that Potok wrote of the tension between Father and Son, between their fundamentalism and Asher’s gifting. Though 46 years old, the book has lost none of its beauty. 
8) Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower by Gary Moon (2018)
I do not read a lot of biographies, but I was excited for this one. Dallas Willard, who died in 2013, is one of my spiritual heroes. Willard also had a deep impact upon the author, Gary Moon. Moon clearly did his research, introducing us to Willard as a young man and tracing his history up through his death. Willard came from meager roots, instilled with a strong work ethic; however, he was also gifted with a remarkable intellect. Moon commented that there are few geniuses, but he believes Willard was one. Willard became a Southern Baptist pastor, but ultimately became a tenured philosophy professor at USC. He stated that he had clearly heard God say that if he became a pastor, the universities would be closed to him, but if he entered the university, both the university and the church would be open. Some of my favorite books have been written by Willard, and Moon’s biography is a welcome addition. 
7) Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity by Daniel Darling (2018)
I have been discouraged with how frequently we humans do not treat one another with dignity. It seems that in our social media culture, conversations are increasingly charged with sarcasm, name calling, and devaluing of others. I have frequently said that we have a tendency to treat people from other groups as less valuable. Darling wrote about these issues I have been thinking about with clarity, dignity, and courage. He tackles not just one, but many, pet issues that we hold dearly.  
6) Stumbling Toward Wholeness: How the Love of God Changes Us by Andrew Bauman (2018)
I read a lot of books about wholeness. I believe that our sanctification is deeply, if not principally, a journey toward becoming whole. This year I read two other wonderful volumes about wholeness including Whole by Steve Wiens and Wholeheartedness by Chuck DeGroat, whose book was on my top 10 list in 2016. I also tried to read Wholeness and that Implicate Order by David Bohm, which was a challenge. Regardless, Bauman writes with honesty about what wholeness looks like. I laughed, I cried, I cheered…literally.  
5)  Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (2017)
This is a stunning anthology of poems written by the incomparable Mary Oliver. A Pulitzer-prize winning poet, her works spans several decades and this might be the finest collection of her work. If you are reluctant to try poetry, this may be a wonderful place to start.
4) The Hidden Life: Awakened by Kitty Crenshaw and Catherine Snapp (2016)
The Hidden Life is another biography of sorts. It tells the story of Betty Skinner’s spiritual journey from dark night to wisdom. A woman now in her 90s, Betty was hospitalized for several months for depression when she was in her 40s. Her doctor had told her that she “had a hole in her soul.” Slowly, she began to explore her own soul and her own needs, ultimately becoming a mentor to others. I actually read this book twice this year. I read an earlier version first in March. I contacted one of the authors and asked if the newer version, which was retitled, was the same book. She told me that a few sections—specifically about neuroscience—were added, but it was otherwise very similar. She then graciously sent me the new version, which I read two months later and liked just as well.  
3)  Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People  by Bob Goff (2018) 
In 2015, Love Does by Bob Goff was my favorite book. I told my friend Mark that if I ever wrote a book, Love Doeswas the kind of book I would hope to write. Everybody, Always is no different. Goff is a captivating, humorous writer. He lives life on the edge, taking risks, and doing great big things under the heading of “love.” I come away from his essays with renewed energy and a desire to love better. 
 
2) Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World by Rebecca Reynolds (2018)
One of my favorite places on the Interwebs is “the Rabbit Room Chinwag,” a community of nearly 2000 creatives who discuss things like beauty, goodness, and Gargan rockroaches. My first exposure to Reynolds was through the Rabbit Room, where she is a frequent fixture. She had written an essay for one volume of the Molehill, which is an anthology of poetry, stories, art, and recipes from a variety of Rabbit Room folks. I remember telling my wife how blown away I was by that essay and read section of it to her. When I heard she was writing a book, I couldn’t wait for its release. I don’t think I was alone. Shortly after it was published, many online sources—including Amazon—ran out of copies. 
On Goodreads, I had this to say about Courage, Dear Heart: “I cannot speak highly enough about this book. Reynolds writes with intelligence, humility, and heart. She writes about the human condition not as an intellectual treatise, but as one who has seen it, who has lived it. She is a storyteller, through and through. I do not know which of the letters is my favorite, but I resonated deeply with several of them, perhaps a letter to the fearful, a letter to those living in chaos, or a letter to the disillusioned. I hope she doesn’t stop here; the world needs more storytellers like her.” 
1) Schema of a Soul: What Kind of Love is Stronger than Death? by Kimberlye Berg (2013)
This book blew me away. I described it on my blog as one of the most beautiful books I had ever read. In it, Berg tells the story of the loss of her son, Michael, and the subsequent journey through the pain. In my review, I wrote, “It is a memoir. A eulogy. A love letter to her husband. A confession. A prayer. Poetic. Raw. Honest. Tragic. And beautiful all the same. She treasures words.” I cried half a dozen times. Schema is one of the best books I have read. 
Honorable Mention
The Power of Vulnerability: Authenticity, Connection, and Courage by Brene Brown (2013)
Brene Brown is one of my favorite authors. If you are unfamiliar with Brown, she is a college social work professor who blew up the Internet with her 2010 TEDxHouston talk “The Power of Vulnerability,” which according to the TED website is the 4th most popular TED talk ever given, now standing at more than 37 million views. She has written several great books, but listening to her is an even greater treat. The 6 hour, 30 minute audio brings together her work on shame, authenticity, courage, and connection. I’ve listened to it several times, and I have no doubt I will listen again.

Previous top 10 lists

Unhurried Descent

Unhurried descent
flakes as large as lazy bumblebees
float toward the frozen ground.

Unrushed journey
toward their final destination.
Downward, but not without
detours on the breeze.

With their journey’s end certain,
they relax in hope
in this moment.

Disquietude

Last month, in honor of Eugene Peterson, Fathom Magazine ran a contest inviting folks to submit Psalm paraphrases. Those chosen appeared in this month’s issue and they are excellent. My paraphrase of Psalm 77 was not chosen, but I wanted to share it, hoping it might be a blessing to some. 

I do not hold back my tears from God.
Oh that he would hear my painful wailing,
that he would not be deaf to my disquietude.

In the depths of despair,
when all is blackness,
I grope around for my Comforter.
I strain to reach him, yet my hands come up empty.
How can I rest in peace without him?

Even as I think about him, tears stain my cheeks;
I try to pray, but what’s the use?

Breathe.

My pain blinds me, but you make me see.
Still, my words are held captive by my suffering heart.

I turn my thoughts to the past,
which seems so long ago.
I find my tongue, “Help me to remember joy’s melody!
let your mercy shine light into my darkness.”
I think long and hard.
“Will I always feel rejected by God?
Will he always be disapproving?
Has he stopped loving me?
Has he checked out of my life?
Has he forgotten how much I depend upon his grace?
Must I be crushed by his anger rather than upheld by his love?”

Breathe.

I tell myself, “Remember the past.
Remember God’s goodness to his people.”

Yes, I must recollect what God has done.
I need to recall his never-ending love.
“I will turn my thoughts to every good thing you have done, Father,
and when my thoughts stray, I will turn again to your goodness.
Your way, God, is the right way.
Why do I even consider that anything else compares with you?
You are the wonder-working God.
All I need to do is open my eyes and I can see your handiwork!
Again and again, you have saved your people from impossible situations,
generations have tasted your goodness.”

Breathe.

“When the oceans and the rivers see you, O God,
they retreat in awed surrender.
Even the very depths of the ocean
cannot hide from your glorious might.
At your word, O LORD,
Storms rained upon the earth,
torrents prevailed
lightning assailed
everywhere, accompanied by
thundrous wails.
All creation bowed to your command
winds whirling
with staccato flashes
and booming crashes.
You are the Lord of the lightning
and you are the gentle shepherd.
Your unseen presence
leads your people through life’s storms.”

All of us continue to be painted on by the brush of God. This kind of unexpected beauty is salvific. -Lucy Shaw

Fall Headlong Into Courage

November PAD
Day 16 prompt: Write a brave poem

Often the line is hazy between
bravery and recklessness,
courage and stupidity.
Prompted to leap
into the darkness
I can not see bottom.
I stand trembling at the edge
unsure whether to retreat to what is safe
what is comfortable,
or step from the ledge into the unknown.

Maybe we don’t know
whether something is brave
or brainless
until after we jump.
Perhaps even then we are not sure.

In truth, none of us knows
quite when or where we will land,
though we like to pretend otherwise.

But me?
I choose to breathe out a prayer
close my eyes
and fall headlong
into courage.

Private Thoughts

Sometimes I fear
that my private story,
if ever found out
will keep me from glory.

An evil concoction
of anger and lust,
of judgmental thinking
and questionable trust.

Sequestered thoughts
shown on a screen,
in heaven’s courtroom
nothing unseen.

All the assembled
stop singing and stare,
mortified whispers
and looks I can’t bear.

From his holy throne
God shakes his head,
his disappointment
becomes my worst dread.

But I’ve read my Bible
that’s not how it goes,
because of Christ’s blood
we’re no longer foes.

When I leave this earth
and enter heavenly space,
I’ll step not into judgment
but into my Father’s embrace.

Rhythmicity

Five Minute Friday
Prompt: Repeat

Our solar system pulses with rhythm. Every 365 days, we make a turn around the dance floor, spinning all the way. Ever in a hurry, Mercury makes the trip in 88 days, while Pluto takes 248 years. (Perhaps Pluto’s pace explains why cosmologists decided it no longer deserved the title of “planet”).

Today, I looked out of my office window and beheld a tree dressed with fire. She clothed herself this way last year too, celebrating the fall gala. Yet even amidst the rhythmicity, this year is entirely unique. The leaves’ arrangement approximates, yet does not copy, last year’s gown.

What a wonderful world where rhythm’s repetition still manages to make things brand new.

This post is part of the 5-minute Friday linkup.

Glorious Belonging

November 1 PAD
Prompt: Write a glorious poem

I close my eyes
and descend into light
embraced by love
immersed in glory
surrounded by welcome.

Your voice is a flowing river
powerful, soothing.
“My glory is found in the belonging.
“I am so glad you are here.”

To Gather

Write 31 days, day 29
Writing Prompt: Together

For several months,
I have dreamed of a time
to gather.
A coming together
to share stories or song.
A place where we could talk about
truth and goodness and beauty.
A place where all is welcome
whether it be joy or sorrow,
lament or celebration.
A community without hierarchy,
but where all are equally valued,
where we choose to set aside
offense, conflict, and division for a few hours.
A forum void of correction, but filled instead
with listening.
A place where we remind ourselves
of the goodness and beauty and creativity
of God.

For reflection: What constitutes a good gathering? 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑