Top 10 books–2020

I have put together a top 10 books list every year for over a decade. Although I have read fewer books this year than any since I began consistently keeping track in 2014, I had no trouble finding ten eleven books to recommend. You should also have plenty of time to order some of these for jolabokaflod.

Honorable Mention: God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath (2020) by N.T. Wright. God and the Pandemic receives an honorable mention because it is particularly relevant in 2020, but hopefully its relevance will soon diminish. Regardless, Wright, addressed many of the concerns raised by Christians about how to live in this time, finding a reasonable way between the extremes of denial and obsession. He helps us, as readers, to think about what it means to be Christians in the world today.

10. Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation (2008) by John Philip Newell. I read several books about Celtic spirituality this year, including three from John Philip Newell. Newell writes like a poet, which is part of my draw to him, I suppose. My attraction to Celtic spirituality is related to its connection with how I see and understand the world, with attention to things like creation, wholeness, interconnectedness, and creativity.

9. Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline. When the Ready Player One movie came out in 2018, I saw it in the theater and I loved it, perhaps because I am a child of the eighties. I often return to the movie when I am looking for entertainment. Although Cline’s book has the same basic premise, there is a much greater richness and depth to the storytelling. I began with the audiobook, which is narrated by Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but because I am impatient and could not wait for my son to finish the audiobook with me, I purchased the paperback and quickly finished it. You cannot go wrong with either.

8. Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse–and Freeing Yourself from its Power (2020) by Wade Mullen. In the past few years, I have read several books about spiritual abuse and Something’s Not Right is among the best of them. Mullen writes from years of experience and research, yet does so in an accessible way. I particularly appreciated his discussion of how abusive organizations often use “impression management.” If you want to learn more about systemic abuse, I could not point you in a better direction than Something’s Not Right.

7. What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism (2017) by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner. The past four years in America have felt increasingly divisive. Deception and vitriol ravage political decency and we have lost sight of what has made America great. Dan Rather, together with his colleague, Elliot Kirschner, put together 15 essays about America that filled me with hope. Drawing from his nearly nine decades as an American citizen, Rather addressed topics such as voting, the press, science, the arts, and the environment. As I listened, I wondered how I can foster the sort of vision Rather and Kirschner have of and for America.

6. 11/22/63 (2011) by Stephen King. There was a time in my life when I read books by Stephen King, and little else. In high school, I wrote a paper about him and I remember going to the Mead Public Library in Sheboygan, Wisconsin to ask the librarian to obtain a copy of the Playboy magazine interview with him for my paper. My friend Jordan turned me on to 11/22/63, which he described as one of his favorite books. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Craig Wasson, and I was captivated once again by King’s ability to craft a story.

5. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (2020) by Kristin Kobes DuMez. Jesus and John Wayne may be the most provocative title on my top 10 list. When I posted a picture of the book cover on my Facebook page and expressed my eagerness to read it, a family member commented, “Give me a break!” I suspect the author has heard far worse. Briefly, the author traced the often parallel paths of rugged masculinity and 20th century evangelicalism, identifying the fallout. If you been trying to make sense of evangelicalism in post-Trump America, you cannot do much better than Jesus and John Wayne.

4. Exclusion and Embrace, Revised and Updated: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (2019 revision) by Miroslav Volf. My friend Perry, who often has great book recommendations, suggested Exclusion and Embrace and I was not disappointed. Volf is an accomplished theologian, but more importantly, he was raised in Croatia and a witness to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. He has an exceptional understanding of confronting oppression, neither dismissing hurt nor the hard work of reconciliation. My copy is filled with underlines and marginalia, which is typically a sign of a book that engaged me deeply.

3. Art + Faith: A Theology of Making (2020) by Makoto Fujimura. I think a lot about topics like goodness, truth, and beauty and their connection to becoming whole. In his previous book, Culture Care, Fujimura introduced me to the term “maercstapa,” which is a border stalker. Maercstapas explore what is possible and bring it back to people. I was equally pleased with Art + Faith, which is just a few weeks old. Fujimura built upon ideas introduced in his former books in developing a thoughtful “theology of making” as he described it. I especially appreciated his connection between the work of creativity and God’s new creation. Weaving in examples from several of my favorite artists and writers solidified its position on the top 10 list.

2. Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making (2019) by Andrew Peterson. I read Adorning the Dark in January and knew that it was going to be a good book year. It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that Andrew Peterson is my favorite singer. He also wrote one of my favorite book series, the four volume Wingfeather Saga. Over the years, I have appreciated his thoughts on beauty and the creative process, so I welcomed having his thoughts condensed in book form. Like Art + Faith, Peterson’s book stirs my love for wholeness and beauty.

1. An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork (1981) by Etty Hillesum. As soon as I began reading this book, I knew it would be on my “must read” list, not to mention my 2020 Top 10. I first heard about Etty Hillesum from the writings of Chuck DeGroat, the author of Wholeheartedness, which is another favorite book of mine. Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jewish woman living in the Netherlands at the beginning of World War II. She kept a series of self-reflective journals from 1941 until 1943, when she was sent to Auschwitz. She demonstrates an uncommon spiritual depth, no doubt sharpened by her experiences.

Notes from the Upper Room

I am very happy to announce that my most recent book, Notes from the Upper Room: Lessons in Loving Like Jesus, is available through Amazon in either paperback or e-book.

From the Back Cover:
John 13 to 17, often referred to as the “Upper Room Discourse,” provides John’s narrative of the disciples’ last meal with Jesus. There is no place in the Bible where a single conversation is so carefully recounted, making up nearly one-fifth of John’s Gospel. In Notes from the Upper Room: Lesson in Loving Like Jesus, you are invited to listen in on their conversation, and learn what it means to love like Jesus. From the very first verse of John 13 and the very last verse of John 17, love was the recurrent them. Jesus showed love for his disciples by washing their feet. He taught them about what real love looked like and how he wanted them to put love into practice. In his longest recorded prayer, John 17, he prayed that they would love one another in the same way that the he and the Father loved one another. We were created for relationship, with God and one another. In Notes from the Upper Room, you will learn about loving and relating in the manner of Jesus. Climb the steps, take a look around, and have a seat.

“Jason’s gracious and wise perspective on the Upper Room discourse strikes at the heart of the Gospel, with a hard-to-find balance of depth and accessibility. He applies the love of Jesus to the tensions of our brokenness with great care and empathy. This is an extremely encouraging and uplifting book, and one that I highly recommend you read.”-Chris Wheeler, author of Solace

“If you’re hungry for a biblically centered understanding of both the difficulties and the possibilities of actually putting the love of Jesus on display by how you relate to your spouse, children, friends, and co-workers, Notes from the Upper Room sets the table with a tasty meal. In a strong, clear, and gentle voice, Jason speaks to the crucial value of Trinitarian theology for living the relationally loving life we were designed and equipped to live. This a book well worth reading.”—Larry Crabb, Psychologist and author of When God’s Ways Make No Sense

Here are several ways you could support this project:
1) Please consider purchasing a copy either through Amazon or directly from me and reading it. Books also make great gifts.
2) If you found the book beneficial, would you consider leaving a review on Amazon and, if you use it, Goodreads? Reviews are very helpful to authors.
3) Consider following my blog through WordPress or subscribing by email.
4) If you email me at jasonkanz (at) yahoo (dot) com, I will send you a free PDF of 129 devotionals I wrote based upon John 13 to 17 as well. If the Lessons in Loving Like Jesus is a finely cooked steak, the devotionals are steak bites–the same meat, prepared differently. The devotionals will also be available in a paperback version through Amazon.
5) Stay in touch. Let me know what stirs for you as you read the book.

Go out and love like Jesus.

Top 10 books–2019

For the past decade, I have posted my favorite ten books I read during the previous year. 2019 has been a light reading year for me; so far, I have finished 81 books, which is about two dozen fewer than my average, which also means that the field of contenders is smaller. As I consider this year’s list and I compare it with previous lists, I am aware of a shift in my thinking. Of course, the question arises, has my thinking shifted because of what I am reading, or do I choose books that reflect these changes? Presumably a bit of both. Another observation and a warning to go with it: at least seven of these books may challenge deeply held assumptions. So, without further adieu, here are 2019’s top ten.

Request for Readers

Last week, I finished the manuscript for my third book. Over a long weekend, I took a couple of passes through the book and I read the first 80 pages aloud to Heather (she seemed to like it though, admittedly, I am her husband). I would like to ask for a few volunteers to read through the manuscript and offer comments about the content of the book before I pass it along for copy editing. Let me offer some basics about the book and then let you know what I am hoping.

SYNOPSIS: Notes from the Upper Room: Lessons in Loving Like Jesus (working title) is a non-fiction book about Jesus’s last supper with his disciples in the upper room before going to the cross, recorded in chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel. This book began when I “mind-mapped” these five chapters, wanting to identify core themes in Jesus’s teaching. The book, which is just shy of 57,000 words, has two sections. The first section, which is roughly 75 pages, is composed of 7 chapters discussing some of the themes I see. Following the introduction, the chapters are titled: Trinitarian Relating, Belonging, Sacredness of the Ordinary, Servanthood, Obedience, Peace in Suffering, and Jesus’s Prayer.

The second section, about 120 pages, is a series of devotional thoughts, verse by verse, through the upper room discourse. In light of the two different sections, you will notice overlap, but I hope they are unique enough to be of benefit.

In light of that brief synopsis, I am hoping that a handful of people will be sufficiently intrigued to do a read through with an eye toward the content. It is certainly not academic, so I hope it is accessible. If you are familiar with the general flow of John 13-17, if the chapters sound interesting, or if you have a general interest in books about the Christian life and Trinitarian relating, all the better. I will probably limit the number of early readers because “too many cooks spoil the stew,” but if you are at all interested, please reach out. I will send out a Word document, so you can track changes and offer comments. If it is something that seems interesting, but you don’t have the time to spend with it, I would ask that you wait until the book comes out.

Regardless of whether you read it now or never, would you please pray for this book and for my nerves as I move forward?

Schema of a Soul

Although I share many book reviews on my other blog, I don’t share them here, preferring to reserve this space as a place for beauty. However, this blog is precisely the right forum for Kimberlye Berg’s book, Schema of a Soulone of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

In a world where nearly one million books are published each year, I would never have encountered Schema of a Soul apart from a chance meeting. Several years ago, I met Kim at Larry Crabb’s Next Step School for Spiritual Direction. All week, she sat a few chairs down from me as we listened and learned together. She struck me as a kind, unpretentious woman and only later did I learn that she had authored a book. Indeed, I am doubtful that she was the one who told me about it.  With just a glimpse of what the book was about, I added it to Amazon wish list where it remained for years. I ordered it last July, but it sat on a shelf in my library since then. I finally opened it this morning and was grateful for an unofficial snow day.

Describing books is sometimes a difficult thing to do. I found that to be particularly true here. In Schema of a Soul, Kim tells of coping with the death of her son nineteen year old son Michael, but that description is woefully inadequate. 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. As I read, I was reminded of something I read just yesterday: “Language in itself, beginning with the name of ‘God,’ is holy, a precious gift that makes it possible to live in community” (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).

Though the book is just shy of 150 pages, I cried a half-dozen times today. Before I left for work this morning, I read my wife just one paragraph and felt that familiar hitch in my throat. Kim’s transparent reflections upon her grief, with hues of anger and fear and confusion stirred my soul. I found myself thinking about my own losses and those of friends, especially those who have borne the grief of losing their own teenage sons.

One of the joys of reading books by other readers is getting a glimpse of what writers have stirred their souls. It came as no surprise that Kim and I share an affection for Larry Crabb, but I was grateful to read of her other influences, among them Chesterton, Buechner, and Lewis. Midway through the book, she reflected upon reading Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce, one autumn afternoon: “I had no idea the wringing I was in for.” The Great Divorce is not only my favorite CS Lewis Book, but one of my favorite books overall. As soon as Kim mentioned her “wringing,” I knew exactly what story would affect her so deeply, the story of a mother who goes to heaven and is looking for her son. Michael. I had forgotten his name was Michael. I wrote in the column of page 75, “Had you ever read The Great Divorce before?” It also brought to memory that when we attended Next Step, we were treated to a one man production of The Great Divorce by Anthony Lawton. I found myself wondering if Lawton brought the character of Pam to life and what effect that would have upon Kim. Upon reflection, I do not think he did.

Schema of a Soul is a gem, formed in the heat of Kim’s suffering, but polished to a rare beauty by her willingness to honestly wrestle with multifaceted changes wrought by the loss of Michael.

Thank you Kim.