Great August read…
So 2014 hasn’t been the year I dreamed it would be, if I’m honest. But this isn’t a post about that. This is about the books read that will have a lasting impact on me beyond the last word, the last day of the year, or the words “the end.”
The best Brueggemann book read in 2014 is Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. In this small volume Brueggemann dips into the depths of Sabbath and it’s meaning in the text and in our current context. The book is approachable and challenging at the same time.
The best book on how to read Scripture well goes to Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did by Derek Flood. (Also, there should be award for that subtitle, I mean, really.) This book was recommended by Brian McLaren and I devoured it in two days. How did Jesus interpret Scripture? What a great question. And once we can see how Jesus handled Scripture, how can we follow His interpretive strategies? Though provoking from the first chapter.
The best book illuminating another view of God’s work goes to Mourner, Mother & Midwife: Reimagining God’s Delivering Presence in the Old Testament by L. Juliana Claassens. The fact that this book is written by a South African woman and theologian doesn’t hurt, I have a deep connection to South African thinkers. This project looks at another way of seeing God’s delivering activity – not only as an aggressive warrior king delivering through battle, but how God is described as delivering through birth, nurture and even lament. Stunning work which helped me see the ‘softer side’ of deliverance, which is bursting with life and fresh imagery for how God liberates us.
The best book about Our Story goes to We Make The Road By Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation by Brian McLaren. My favorite book by Brian over the years has been the first I read, The Story We Find Ourselves In. I instantly resonated with his seven movements of the story – Creation, Crisis, Call, Conversation, Christ, Community and Culmination. This understanding of Scripture made sense to me and gave me the big sweep of the story in a way that allowed me to see where I fit within it. His most current release, he develops this schema further. I love revisiting our story, entertaining fresh nuance that he’s developed over the years, and seeing the overlap with the church calendar. Such a lovely work – even if you read it in a few days (instead of over the year) like I did!
The best book confronting the problem (and presence) of violence in our faith is A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace by Brian Zahnd. In this book Zahnd unpacks the violence in his own previous understanding of the Bible and unpacks the Gospel of Peace he discovered in recent years. I appreciate his honest telling of his change of heart as well as the great exegesis embedded in each chapter. A well written and deeply rich read. (Also, he will be speaking at the Simply Jesus Gathering this coming April in Denver… you don’t want to miss out on the chance to meet him and discuss these ideas in person!)
The best book about darkness, liminal space and faith is Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. She writes, I swoon. This is a woman who knows how to make metaphors vibrate with meaning and open fresh vistas with each sentence. Here she explores the dark side of life and faith which I found so refreshing. I think, to use her words, I’m given to lunar spirituality more than the solar variety. Her writing never disappoints…
The best fiction book I read this year was Americanah by Chimanda Adiche. I’m not much of a fiction reader, much to the chagrin of most my friends. But I’m so glad I read this one on the recommendation of D.L.Mayfield. I loved discussing bits with my writing group friends (I think we’ve all read it now, right?) and the women of SheLoves Magazine who read the book for a Red Couch selection. But I most savored the conversation about the characters and circumstances of the story with my Kenyan friends as we drove down into the Rift Valley together this summer. How great that we’d all read her words and connected with this story! I think they added to my enjoyment and understanding of the book. This is a great story about Africans, Africans in America and the spaces in-between both continents.
The best book I read amid the crisis in Ferguson was Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. This book was carried around by Martin Luther King, Jr. and informed his own thinking about race, theology and no doubt shaped his engagement in the Civil Rights Movement. Reading this book alongside my Twitter feed was sadly surreal in that not much has changed in the intervening years. Not enough has changed, even in the wake of civil rights and the election of our first African American president. This book gives historical context to a conversation that continues today.
The best book about the way forward in Palestine that I’ve read this year is A Wall in Jerusalem: Hope, Healing, and the Struggle for Justice in Israel and Palestine by Mark Braverman. I remember reading Mark’s earlier book, Fatal Embrace, one summer in Burundi. Another work worthy of wide readership, in my opinion. In this current volume I appreciated the connections Mark made between South Africa and Palestine. His exploration of the Kairos Document and what it meant in SA and could mean in the Middle East captivated my imagination. This is another great read for those wanting to learn more about the conflict in Israel and Palestine. (Oh, and Mark will also be at The Simply Jesus Gathering in April… and he is a firebrand in the pulpit! He’s also a gentle and generous person in conversation… Come join is in Denver, seriously.)
There are some honorable mentions this year…
City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles
Song of Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai-Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb by Fr. Paul Glynn
A Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff
Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright (it is worth the long, slow, good read)
Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home by Amber Haines (I had the honor and luxury of reading the manuscript. You’ll need to wait until August to get your hands on a copy, but oh my, please do! This is a lyrical and lovely memoir so rich in goodness you cannot afford to miss it. And you can pre-order on amazon, which I highly recommend…)
But there are two books that make my BEST READS OF 2014…
Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation by Naim Stifan Ateek
This was the first time I read a book written by a Christian Palestinian, the first time I considered what it was like to read the Biblical narrative from the stance of a Palestinian who followed Jesus. This read was nothing short of revolutionary for me – in ways I cannot even fully articulate to date. But this book has changed me and how I read Scripture. If you want to encounter Scripture in a new way, to have the script as you’ve known it flipped and if you are open to reading with fresh insight offered from someone writing from the margins, this is a book for you in 2015.
Lamentations and Tears of the World by Kathleen O’Connor
It seems odd that a commentary on Lamentations would make my best list, right? But this short commentary on the five chapters of Lamentations broke open the depths of lament for me. This book was the best devotional for me amid the turbulence of the past six months – the words of Scripture so poignant and powerful for days such as this. This is a masterfully written, very accessible and potent read for anyone who longs to expand their lexicon and ;practice of lament. It scrubbed my soul in all the right ways…
There are many other great reads that didn’t make the Best List, but will stick with me. And my nightstand is still heavy with other anticipated reads as I begin 2015. No matter what year it is, there never seems to be enough time for all the great books!
What were your two Best Reads of 2015?