As I am wrapping up my time on staff and start looking back over the last 3 years, I notice that there has been a lot of change in my life- good, bad, and undecided. But books seem to be the things that permeate and leave deep traces in my heart and mind, and have been some of my most influential shapers. God has spoken to me quite a bit through these books, and I think they are books everybody should read at some point in their lives (my own humble opinion).
So here they are, the top 10 books from my time on staff- AKA Books I Think Everybody Should Read.
1. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
by Eugene Peterson
This was one of the 10 (yes, 10- one for each day) books given to us at the Orientation for New Staff I attended in June 2010. I read it that summer, and it was deeply encouraging to me. Peterson basis each chapter after a key attribute in each of the Psalms of Ascents, and he basically describes the process God uses to shape us- and it is a slow and deliberate one. This is contrary to our culture (and to what I would prefer), because I like things to be fixed quickly. But his book helps to remind me that God's ways are not mine, but they are good even if they are uncomfortable for me.
2. Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America
by Robert Lupton
I read this for the first time the summer I did FUI as a student in 2009, but I re-read it each summer I staffed FUI in 2011 and 2012. Each chapter is only 2-3 pages, and each tells a story that deals with an aspect of urban ministry. Lupton poignantly connects the Gospel to everyday life- particularly how it pertains to "the least of these." I think it is one of the most compelling explanations of the Gospel I've read- it challenges anyone who reads it, but in a way that is very tangible and understandable. One of my friends said he gave it to a friend who is considering Jesus, and I think it is the perfect book for that. It makes Jesus look really good- but in a real and honest way, one that makes you self-reflect and inspires you to action at the same time.
3. The Human Condition
by Thomas Keating
Both of the summers I staffed FUI, Todd Minturn (the FUI director) had the staff choose one of four books that related to the concept of True Self/False Self as part of our staff development. This was the first book I chose, and it is small and short but incredibly deep. It is one of those books that I probably need to re-read about 45 times to really grasp all of it. Keating challenged me to really look inside of myself to what God is doing, and not keep trying to change and look for answers on the outside- since, as he says, "the key is lost inside the house" even though we like to look outside because there is more light out there. This book really helped me to reframe the way I looked at my spiritual life and circumstances- it kind of blows my mind/heart.
4. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
Even though it is not an explicitly Christian book, this book was incredibly shame-relieving for me. Cain explains the "extroverted ideal" that our culture holds, and why the very needed and real gifts introverts hold are often down-played or overlooked- even by introverts themselves. She talks about how introverts brains are actually wired differently from extroverts- and this has implications for learning (group collaboration not being helpful), work, and relationships. As I was reading it, I felt like she was explaining me and my relationships, and it was so affirming and liberating. It is very well researched, and she interviews a very wide variety of people. I'm still pondering the idea of "the orchid principle"- that many people (extroverts) are like dandelions, and they can grow fairly well in almost any environment. But introverts are like orchids- put in the wrong environment, and they will not grow at all. Given the right environment, however, they will flourish - sometimes even more than extroverts. I've been thinking about that quite a lot lately- in relation to myself, but also thinking about urban settings, and the implications of that idea on introverts in the inner city. Basically, this book is fantastic, and anyone who is an introvert, or an extrovert who loves or works with an introvert, needs to read it. It will help explain a lot.
5. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
by Beverley Daniel Tatum
Written by a psychologist on the development of racial identity, Tatum describes racial identity in general, then goes through the development stages for each ethnic group- including multi-racial people. It was very helpful for me in thinking about my own ethnic identity, but also in thinking about those around me. The stages she describes have implications for how we look at and relate to each other, and how we can navigate through the complexities of all the diverse people we will come across and that are in our lives. It is probably especially helpful for parents and teachers (because it goes through the different age stages) but I think everyone has and needs to ask questions about race that most of us are thinking but are afraid to ask.
6. Falling Upwards: A Spirituality of the Two Halves of Life
by Richard Rohr
Todd Minturn (former FUI director) first introduced me to Richard Rohr when I staffed FUI in 2011, and I am very grateful he did. I have needed the insight and the way Rohr looks at life and faith- a way that is beyond black and white and lives in the gray areas, and that is familiar and fine with imperfections and mystery. In this book he explains the two halves of life- that in the first half of life we are busy building our containers and our boundaries, following laws and finding our group and our jobs and our spouses. Some people stay in the 1st half of life forever- exemplified by black and white, Ten Commandments type of thinking. Some people move forward into the second half of life- and it usually takes either great love or great suffering to move them forward. In the second half of life you realize that all the containers that you have constructed in the first half of life have to be moved past. Not abandoned, but not constrained by. Its much more gray area, Beatitudes kind of thinking- and it is much deeper and more spacious, and it is actually what Jesus is inviting us into. It is another book that I need to read another 30 times to fully grasp, but it has been a great support for me in the midst of a lot of chaos and transition.
7. The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality
by Ronald Rolheiser
Like Rohr, Rolheiser is a Catholic priest, and they seem to be much more comfortable with paradox and mystery than Protestants- and it has spoken to me where I am right now. This book looks at all the aspects of Christian spirituality: private prayer and morality, attention to heart and spirit, social justice, and community- and says that they are all necessary. All of these I've heard before, but he explains it in a way that is both understandable and fresh. It really makes you self-reflect. My favorite chapter is "The Spirituality of the Paschal Mystery" which talks about the need to imitate Jesus' death and resurrection in the different deaths that we experience in our lives. In the midst of the deaths of our youth, dreams, etc, how can we let it go, and receive the new spirit for the life we are now living? So helpful in the midst of transition, and the book in general gives a refreshing way to look at the Christian life.
8. The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom
by Henri Nouwen
The title is intense, but Nouwen never shies away from real, hard stuff. All of the books of his that I have read have been very deep and very practical at the same time. He is vulnerable and honest with his own struggles, which helps me think about how I can be vulnerable and honest with mine. In this book, he gives one page encouragements for anyone who is going through anything. They have been so encouraging to me, and reading one or two before going to sleep or as a devotional is incredibly helpful. I lent it to a student who was going through some hard things and wrestling with some tough questions, and she said it refreshed her every time she read it, and helped keep her afloat. Nouwen knows from experience what is needed in hard times.
9. Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America
by Eugene Robinson
This book was suggested at the first InterVarsity Black Staff Conference I went to in 2011, and the leadership said any staff who wanted it they would buy it for. And I'm glad I got it, as it was helpful for me to think about the new paradigm of black students I was trying to reach. Robinson talks about how their used to be one black America- unified in ideology and experience. Since the 1960's and 70's, that has been slowly morphing into four Black Americas- and they all see and experience the world very differently. There is what he calls the Mainstream- or the growing Black middle class- which most of the rest of America doesn't know exists, but is very present. Then there is the Abandoned, or the forgotten poor. There is the Transcendent, or the wealthy black class. And finally there is the Emergent, which is the growing African immigrant population, as well as the growing multi-racial population. Robinson talks about how each of these groups has a different definition of what "blackness" is, and yet all are still trying to hold on to the idea that there is one definition of blackness. But that doesn't work anymore, and so we all need to reshape how we see blackness, and by doing so we can see from each others' perspectives, and help those in need. Such a helpful book.
10. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
by Anne Lamott
I really don't know why it took me so long to discover Anne Lamott, but I picked up one of her books at our friend's cabin in 2011, and I read it in about 3 days. All her books are funny, witty, insightful, crude, deep, and touching all at the same time. She is an unabashed raging liberal, and she is honest and makes you want to be her friend. Her books have been good for me to read, because they are just about life and don't make you think too much like a lot of the books on my list do. They help you see yourself with real eyes, but in a way that makes you want to- it is do-able and not scary somehow. Each of her books are just a collection of stories from her own life, and it is hard to pick the one I like best. But I read Traveling Mercies on the plane to Panama in 2012, so I think it was one of the more memorable ones for me. Her books make me feel like its ok to be me, and that God is one who is quite alright with all of me as well: the good and the bad, the stuff I wish were different but may never be, and the stuff that I'm proudest of. And they are easy to re-read.