Two weeks ago, I stole away to ignore the Superbowl and eat dinner alone (!!!) while reading my new book club book. (Any introvert mother knows how valuable time like that is.)
While basking in the beauty of being alone to eat a meal and drink a glass of wine, reading my new book made me reflect back on all the good books I’ve read along the way and how significant a part of my life they’ve been.
Truth is: I don’t remember reading much as a child. And I know that, in high school, I completely faked my way through every book report required. Growing up as a “church kid,” I did read the Bible a lot, and lots of pop Christian literature. But, I don’t remember many specific books before college.
What you’ve read and what you’re reading tells me a lot about who you are. A stranger’s bookshelf is one of the quickest views into his heart and mind. Maybe you’re not a big reader. Maybe you’re not a collector of books. But you’ve probably read something somewhere that made a difference in your life–something that changed your mind, saved your life, or helped shape who you are.
I tried to think back on the books that have made me who I am and came up with 15 titles. These aren’t necessary my favorite books (books I could read over and over again) and they aren’t necessary books I still find as compelling (or still agree with), but they are the books that entered my life at just the right time and, literally, changed me.
In chronological order of when I read them (with quotes when I felt necessary):
Ragamuffin Gospel– Brennan Manning
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”
The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”
My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.
A People’s History of the United States– Howard Zinn
The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.
The Pursuit of God– A W Tozer
O God, be thou exalted over my possessions. Nothing of earth’s treasures shall seem dear unto me if only thou art glorified in my life. Be thou exalted over my friendships. I am determined that thou shalt be above all, though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth. Be thou exalted above my comforts. Though it mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy crosses, I shall keep my vow made this day before thee. Be thou exalted over my reputation. Make me ambitious to please thee even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream. Rise, O Lord, into thy proper place of honor, above my ambitions, above my likes and dislikes, above my family, my health, and even my life itself. Let me decrease that thou mayest increase; let me sink that thou mayest rise above. Ride forth upon me as thou didst ride into Jerusalem mounted upon the humble little beast, a colt, the foal of an ass, and let me hear the children cry to thee, “Hosanna in the highest.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Into The Wild– John Krakauer
No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green– Melody Green
Till We Have Faces– C S Lewis
When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
I And Thou– Martin Buber
Godric– Frederick Buechner
What’s prayer? It’s shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who’s to say? It’s reaching for a hand you cannot touch. The silence is so fathomless that prayers like plummets vanish into the sea. You beg. You whimper. You load God down with empty praise. You tell him sins that he already knows full well. You seek to change his changeless will. Yet Godric prays the way he breathes, for else his heart would wither in his breast. Prayer is the wind that fills his sail. Else drift with witless tides. And sometimes, by God’s grace, a prayer is heard.
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Politics of Jesus– John Howard Yoder
Telling The Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale– Frederick Buechner
Switching on the lectern light and clearing his throat, the preacher speaks both the word of tragedy and the word of comedy because they are both of them of the truth and because Jesus speaks them both, blessed be he. The preacher tells the truth by speaking of the visible absence of God because if he doesn’t see and own up to the absence of God in the world, then he is the only one there who doesn’t see it, and who then is going to take him seriously when he tries to make real what he claims also to see as the invisible presence of God in the world? Sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy, they divide the world between them and where they meet head on, the Gospel happens. Let the preacher preach the Gospel of their preposterous meeting as the high, unbidden, hilarious thing it is.
Crunchy Cons– Rod Dreher
A CRUNCHY CON MANIFESTO
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.
5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.
6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.
7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.
8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.
9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”
Last Child in the Woods– Richard Louv
Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).
Let Me Be A Woman– Elisabeth Elliot
It is a naive sort of feminism that insists that women prove their ability to do all the things that men do. This is a distortion and a travesty. Men have never sought to prove that they can do all the things women do. Why subject women to purely masculine criteria? Women can and ought to be judged by the criteria of femininity, for it is in their femininity that they participate in the human race. And femininity has its limitations. So has masculinity. That is what we’ve been talking about. To do this is not to do that. To be this is not to be that. To be a woman is not to be a man. To be married is not to be single – which may mean not to have a career. To marry this man is not to marry all the others. A choice is a limitation.
Sidewalks In The Kingdom: New Urbanism And the Christian Faith– Eric O Jacobsen
(W)e of all people have a deep history of interest in the city, rooted in our biblical tradition. … When John (the evangelist), exiled on Patmos, is given a picture of our redeemed state, he does not see Eden restored in some kind of agrarian utopia; not does he see the American ideal of a single-family detached house surrounded by a huge yard for every inhabitant of the kingdom. What he sees is a city — New Jerusalem descending from heaven onto earth.