To read is to learn, to grow, to improve, and sometimes I wonder how much of these wonderful books I’ve actually retained. There is way too much information available to us and my brain can hold only so much – these summaries are for my benefit as much as yours. Hopefully you’ll find one or two books that look interesting.
The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship & Work by Seven Garber. Garber’s collection of essays on vocation, work, living in a fallen world, in other words “living seamlessly” is well worth reading. In the first essay, Garber writes, “This is a book about vocation, but a different book, a collection of essays and photos….Rather than making an argument that is developed over scores of pages and many chapters, this one is a deeper and deeper reflection on one question: What does it mean to see seamlessly? To see the whole of life as important to God, to us, and to the world – the deepest and truest meaning of vocation – is to understand that our longing for coherence is born of our truest humanity, a calling into the reality that being human and being holy are one and the same life.” I read one essay most days for a month or two, and that is the best way to read this book. Each one made a point that was worth thinking about. I’ll read it again.
Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society by Amy L. Sherman. Inspiring and well researched work about how to promote genuine flourishing. Sherman gives examples of churches and non-profits that have done just that. She identifies 1) the good – the realm of social mores and ethics, 2) the true – knowledge and learning, 3) beautiful – creativity, aesthetics and design, 4) Just and well-ordered – political and civic life, 5) Prosperous – economic, 6) sustainable – natural and physical health. For every one of those characteristics, she gives examples of those who have made a difference, increased the flourishing of society, and it is inspiring.
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton. Barton encourages us to develop a rule of life by which we can honor God, get to know him better, learn how to listen and discern what he’s telling us, and rest our bodies and souls so that we can work with him more effectively. The chapter on discernment, which she describes as “a habit, a way of seeing that eventually permeates our whole life. It is the journey from spiritual blindness (not seeing God anywhere or seeing him only where we expect to see him) to spiritual sight (finding God everywhere, especially where we least expect it.)” was most meaningful to me. I’ve never thought of myself as a terribly discerning person, but I do tend to see God everywhere.
An Uncommon Guide to Retirement by Jeff Haanan. A solid book about the biblical view of work/retirement and a better perspective on retirement. Chapters on culture, sabbath, calling, work, time, family and health, among others, are punctuated by highlighted comments such as, Common: Retirement is a life stage “preparing for the end” vs. Uncommon: Retirement is a contemporary social construct that allows men and women to prepare for a new season of life and Common: The road to deep freedom in retirement is found in self-actualization vs. Uncommon: The road to deep freedom in retirement is found in self-surrender. Plenty to ponder.
Translating Your Past by Michelle Van Loon. Translating Your Past makes sense of those who came before you, their locations, DNA, traumas, faith, and asks us to consider how their past has contributed to making we who we are. Most interesting to me was the concept of epigenetics. “The National Human Genome Research Institute defines epigenetics as a study of ‘heritable changes caused by the activation and deactivation of genes without any change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism.” Fascinating.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Kimmerer, of Native American descent, understands indigenous stories, honors our land, is a botanist looking at the land through a scientific lens, and an excellent writer who describes the beauty of the natural world. She demonstrates a respectful and elegant way of looking at the land, plants, trees, and animals. Indigenous men and woman have quite a lot to teach us. She advocates for treating natural resources with ‘restorative reciprocity.’ It makes sense, and it’s sad that we have gotten so far away from that thinking.
Fearing Bravely by Catherine McNiel. This book encouraged me to be open to developing relationships with anyone and everyone that God brings into my neighborhood, workplace, grocery store; my life. McNiel shares personal experiences to demonstrate how to live in Christian bravery, which is different from the hero-bravery we see in movies. Christian bravery is acknowledging our real fears and entrusting them to God. It will not be easy, she says, but it’s the only way to follow Jesus.
Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Emotional Lives of Black Women, by Inger Burnett-Zeigler, PhD. Inger is a psychologist and professor, and she takes up the stories and emotional issues of the “strong black woman.” Strong black women hold up their families, churches, neighborhoods, in their small part of the world because someone needs to, and they have convinced themselves that they are strong enough to do it. And most of them are, but they pay an emotional price. She talks openly about her faith, the faith of many strong black women, and the healing she experienced through running and yoga. Some of the stories she told were devastating, but the book was hopeful. I’m so glad that strong black women have this book to encourage them.
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. An interesting look at Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover, Sacco and Vanzetti, Al Capone, and the events of 1927. I realize that we have come a long way in about 100 years. In 1927, racism was commonplace and completely accepted, justice was far more random than it is today, and corruption was just as bad, or worse. It was good to be reminded that progress has been made.
The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, by Catherine Price. I read this book for some ideas on how to get some fun back into my life – it helped. Price’s definition of “True Fun” is: “…the confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow. Whenever these three states occur at the same time, we experience True Fun.” (p. 32) She contrasts true fun with fake fun, often a solo activity involving the screens of our phones, tablets, or computers. (Price also wrote the book How to Break Up with Your Phone, which I haven’t read but completely agree with its premise.) Doom scrolling is not fun, and a distracted mind cannot fully process all of the information it’s absorbing.
Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley, by Carolyn Chen. Interesting book by sociologist Chen who analyses the practices of tech companies in Silicon Valley to increasingly encourage their employees to devote their lives to their work. All the ‘perks,’ like snacks, daycare, gyms, meditation gurus, dry cleaning, rides to and from work, are making it easy for employees to live exclusively for and with their work. Of course, this is profit motivated, but it is dangerous. The difference between the tech workers’ salaries and blue-collar workers’ salaries in Silicon Valley is the highest in the country, the cost of living has risen enough to drive people out, and neighborhoods, churches and social activities are suffering. She says this is a harbinger of things to come, and we should pay attention.
Measured by Grace: How God Defines Success by Sharla Fritz. The world measures success by achievement, wealth, status, skill, fame, and influence, but Measured by Grace gives us example after example of biblical characters who were unsuccessful in the eyes of the world but were successful when measured by the grace of God. It’s easy to forget that success in God’s eyes is much different from success by a worldly standard. Measured by Grace reinforces that truth and encourages us to seek to follow God and to remember that everyone from the wealthiest and most influential to the many people who are just scraping by are measured by the constant and loving grace of God. That’s the only success that matters.
The Way Up is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself by Marlena Graves. Graves, a professor, author, and activist writes about spiritual and biblical truth that have been in use for centuries from the perspective of one in the process of emptying herself. Actually, we are all in the process of emptying ourselves. Graves encourages us to serve the marginalized, to walk down the social ladder, which will paradoxically create upward momentum on a spiritual ladder.
Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a decade, and I finally read it. I’m glad I did. Crouch defines culture as “what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.” The thesis of his book is that culture making is always creative, and unless we create, we will have little to no influence in the culture. “Creativity is the only viable source of change.”
The Message by Eugene Peterson. Every once in a while, I read the Bible in a different translation, and last year I read the paraphrased version, The Message. More than once, I read a passage that I’ve read multiple times and Peterson’s words magnified the meaning for me. The truth is still the truth, no matter how it is expressed.
Have you read any good non-fiction books lately? I’d love to hear about them!