t’s time for a book roundup, of course. So no recipe blog backstory–just my list of favorite books from 2021. According to Goodreads, I (slightly) exceeded my goal of 42 books! (This doesn’t necessarily mean the book I list released in 2021–just that that’s when I read it.)
What a book for its time. As we all drowned in the Ravi story, yet another story of power abused, I began to wonder–what is the answer to halting this cycle? It doesn’t do any good to remove these men (and sometimes women) from power. We need to figure out why it happens and, more importantly, why we allow and even create circumstances ripe for it to happen. Then I picked up this book immediately after asking those questions, and there it was. The answer I was saying someone needed to write. Isn’t it great when things happen like that? Must read for all church leaders.
Moore pulls no punches yet manages to write with such love and understanding of white people who aren’t “there” yet. Her stance that everyone is beloved pulls readers into wanting to learn how to bridge those seeming unbridgeable divides. Hers is an incredibly accessible book for those looking for something to give a white person who needs a “beginners guide” to racial issues. A group study is also a great idea!
There’s been enough said about this one that I needn’t add much more. Suffice it to say it explains so very much of how we got where we are today in the church. Voted most likely to get thrown across the room several times before you finish it. For good reasons.
My new son-in-law put this on his Christmas list and I bought it. I read the intro and was captivated by the professor’s beautiful writing. So, of course, I got myself a copy. The author makes a case for learning about people on the autism spectrum from those people first (nothing about us without us), and his writing makes the case for him. I learned so much and fell in love with the unique gifts, and challenges, that come with being on the spectrum. You simply can’t learn this from anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves.
Is complementarianism/patriarchy historic Christianity? Dr. Barr has a surprise answer for us. We’re listening to the historians this year, and I am here for it. How else will we know how to navigate the future?
6. A Rhythm of Prayer, Sarah Bessey et al is an incredible devotional read. The power and beauty of these prayers is breathtaking.
As an expert on next-gen conversations, I loved this look into what teens really want to know from all of us. The amazing thing was how the 3 questions fell so neatly into the 3 big ideas I teach out of the creation story: We’re created to relate to our Creator, to live in community, and to work toward a purpose. Funny–it’s almost like the longings into our hearts are matched by the plans of God. Great practical book on talking with, listening to, and understanding younger generations.
And to round out a top ten of sorts, I’ll list my favorite 3 fiction books this year. I made it a goal to read ten classic novels I’d never read. These rose to the top for me, even though some were rough to read. The best novels are at times, and then after you put them down, you can’t stop pondering them.
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
Do you have suggestions for me for 2022? I already have a half dozen on board, but I’m always interested in suggestions!
(So many more that were very good books. Here’s the full list of what I read this year. I’d heartily recommend almost all of them.)
Are we ready for a round up post? On February 1? Of course we are. Because we know:
1) I’m not usually on time for these sorts of things.
2) You got inundated with that jazz last month, and now you actually have time to look at these things.
See? I planned that out. So here we go. My favorite things of 2020.
Five favorite books
OK, 7. Because choosing is hard, and I could have easily picked twelve.
I met my goodreads goal of 35! I know that’s not a ton, but 2020. I was tired. We were all tired. I spent the first third of the year finishing and defending my thesis. Plus also, I did a lot of puzzles. Finishing the goal is a win. It doesn’t matter what the goal was. I finished.
Let’s not waste our time moving goal posts on ourselves because we don’t think what we did was good enough. Not Spoiler: it was good enough. We made it.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Enough said. Truth – I’ve never read it. I’ve been a little major and an English teacher, and I have never read this book. Now I have, and now it has changed me. It makes me sad to see how much has not really changed. To see the world through the eyes of a child and to see her slow awakening to what people to what people are capable of, both good and bad, is enchantingly and devastatingly told.
From Burned Out to Beloved: Soul Care for Wounded Healers. Bethany D. Hiser. As a pastor and as a person who is constantly trying to save the world (is that redundant?), I found this work indispensable. Ms. Hiser helps people like me to pull back and to see ourselves. She helps us to equip others rather than to “save” them. In the process, we learn how to love and be blessed by our work rather than burned out. After the year we’ve just had, this is required reading for caregivers of any sort.
Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson. Peterson’s work is so challenging for pastors and so absolutely necessary. I needed this this year. Desperately. His whole section on rest and Sabbath is something I had been contemplating and wrestling with for a while, and this book blew it wide open.
Sabbath is a chance to let God do what God does best, without my interference. It’s my chance to join that after stopping long enough to see and to hear it.
The God Who Sees, Karen Gonzales. Gonzales puts the story of her family’s journey from Guatemala to the United States alongside the nomads of Scripture. The foreigners, those on the margins, those of whom God tells us to take special care. She explains to the reader God’s heart for those who find themselves on this journey and how we can make that struggle easier. I love the way she puts the stories together and the research she does into this very difficult issue.
Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell. I will inherently love anything Gladwell writes. This book is quite timely, given our desperate need to hear what others are thinking and understand where they’re coming from. His exploration of how our different backgrounds and “languages” of communication affects the way we understand one another is fascinating. Gladewell is always a winner for me. He’s what I want to be when I grow up.
The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton. What can I even say? This man lost most of his life in prison. Why? Because, to summarize the words of those who arrested him, “they will convict any black man of the crime, and you are as good as any other.” It’s not just a story of one man’s injustice though. It’s a story of the relationships he made in prison and what all of us can learn from listening to those men alone in their cells. The relationship between the author and the klansman was so crazy and beautiful. This is one of the men you meet in the movie Just Mercy. You should meet him in this book, too.
Booked, Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior. As the Goodreads descriptions says, this book is for, “Anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.” Dr. Prior tells her memoir through literature, and this is so relatable to me. As a little girl who could never be torn away from a book, I could also tell my life through stories. Some of the stories she chooses could also be mine. I love the mingling of memoir and literature and life. This, too, is how I could explain out my life.
Five favorite recipes
Creamy Sun-dried Tomato Fettuccini Yes please. Pasta. Garlic. Sun-dried Tomatoes. The word “creamy.” It’s all there.
Cinnamon Roll Macarons. Hands down the best macarons I’ve ever made. Only I put chocolate ganache filling in, because who doesn’t’t love cinnamon and chocolate???
Vaca Frita de Pollo. One of the women in our church was making this while on zoom, and I NEEDED the recipe. It was all I dreamed of.
Chicken Normandy. Do it on a cold day when you have lots of time and want the most delicious chicken dinner you’ve ever had, possibly.
Za’atar Man’ouche. I saw this on a travel show and said—I need this in my life! And what do you know? Our kid had given us zaatar in a Christmas gift. Here you are. You’re welcome.
Thing I’m most proud to have made: Two of the kids gave me a Great British Bakeoff Book, and let me tell you, everything in it I’ve made is incredible. But this was quite the challenge.
Five favorite podcasts
2020 was not a good year for podcasts. I generally listen to them in the car, and, well, I didn’t spend much time in the car this year. Like, we saved a lot of money on gas, maintenance, and we should have just probably cancel the insurance. I hardly drove that thing. So I’ve been missing my podcasts. But these have been my favorites.
That we learned to slow down and live without the unnecessary things we thought were so important.
That we said “enough” to injustice and decided to change ourselves in order to change our culture. We also decided to stop engaging with the nonsense and just get to work.
That many of us came to appreciate in a new way those who keep the gears running and keep us safe. Healthcare workers, food workers, delivery drivers and sanitation workers. Those who bring my groceries to my door and those who hover over ICU patients, for 36 hours straight. Please, let us not forget. Oh and by the way, a lot of those people are immigrants.
The thing that happened this year I desperately needed and didn’t know I did. Can you guess?
That’s it. That’s my round up. What about you? What were the things you loved about 2020? What are the things you’ll remember and take forward? I would love to hear.
Day in the Life posts, videos, instas, etc look like so much fun. I’ve always wanted in on it. Who wouldn’t want to wittily record their day, with all its pratfalls and pitfalls? Every one of the joys and brilliant flashes of inspiration?
When I actually try to video a day in my life, however, two things happen.
I realize I do not video well. At all. I’m just better in person, guys.
I discover that a day in my life isn’t all that riveting.
I forget about twelve minutes after I begin and don’t ever get back to it.
So, no day in my life has been recorded for posterity. Yet.
Yet, if I practice what I preach, I also realize that “not riveting” describes mot of us, and that, too, is a valid way to spend our hours. “Not riveting” doesn’t mean pointless. Most of us, if we tell the truth, find that pursuing our dreams and passions is a fair mix of riveting and tedium, things that must be done for the rivet to happen.
Riveting Is Overrated
The mix tends more toward reliable trudging most days. That’s what makes up the moments that earn us the ten minutes of riveting. I’m learning to be OK with that. I’m learning, with Bilbo Baggins, to celebrate a simple life, and to be grateful and ready for the adventure.
It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and.
But do you have any curiosity about a day in the life of a pastor? Most likely, my day is different than other pastors’ days. I can assure you, it’s different from male pastors.
Just a Liiiiittle Different
I remember sitting in my spiritual formation class in seminary, where the professor had just handed out a worksheet on time management. Next to each blank, we future/current pastors were supposed to record how much time we spent on each item.
Sermon prep. Check.
Administrative duties. Check.
. . . .
I looked all the way down the sheet and raised my hand.
“Where are the blanks for child care? Housekeeping? Running errands? Cooking dinner? I don’t see any of those.”
My prof looked confused for a moment. Uncomfortable. Then slightly rebuked. “I guess it’s an old worksheet. Maybe it’s time I get a new one.” (I liked that man.)
I think times have changed somewhat, and I want to give male pastors their due when they share the household load equally. Still, I wonder how much has changed.
So, instead of a video, here are a few random moments in the life of a (female) pastor.
A Day in the Life, Sort of
6am— Wake up. Shower. Write in gratitude journal, pray, ice my pain-filled feet, and color pictures on my phone. Whatever it takes to stay awake.
7am—Take middle child to train station to catch her train to work. Find Pokemon Go stops on the way home because, hey, life is short.
8am—Breakfast, facebook, email, grocery order. All the administrative things.
9am—Chores for the day: laundry, dishes, bathroom. Pick up endless errant stuff lying around like some really nerdy people had a rager. Feed cats before they eat my face. The usual.
9:23—Remember the three administrative tasks I forgot to do, pledge to do them as soon as I sit down again, and promptly forget them seconds later. (This is what Flylady calls mental clutter. I have a LOT of it.)
9:30—Start work for real. Sermon prep. Blog posts. Article writing.
9:35—Get distracted by birds at the feeder. The blue jays are bullying. The Orioles are gorging. The grey catbird is also eating jelly—who knew? And I’m afraid my beloved Grosbeaks have flown farther north after their usual May stay.
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9:45—Get back to work. Get lost in a rabbit hole while researching marathon racing. Don’t return to task for twenty minutes.
Speaking of rabbit holes . . .
I bet you think pastors know/learn about the Bible and not much else. Ah, how much you don’t know. How much I didn’t know until I started doing research for sermons. In just the past sermon series I have learned:
What a Mercalli Intensity Scale is and that earthquake shocks can travel at 8300 miles per hour. This is way faster than my new car, even when I push the “Sports mode” button.
That the Battle of Bunker Hill did not take place on Bunker Hill. I feel greatly deceived and will check this out on my next visit to the Freedom Trail.
That there are people who have nothing better to do with their time than to rank angels in order and determine all their possible permutations, even though to say that is extra-biblical knowledge is to greatly understate things.
That there were still people living in the South believing they were slaves in 1963. Actually, I already knew that, but now I have a name and a story to put to it.
That 12 million Americans believe there are reptilian beings taking over human bodies, intent on dominating the world. I, too, find it hard to believe that 12 million Americans are that stupid imaginative, but there it is.
This is merely in the past month. It says nothing of my research into building skyscrapers, ancient shepherding practices, Greek oratory, or the lost head of King Henry the 4th. For a person whose highest Strengthsfinders indicator is Input, this is the Best. Job. Ever.
Also, in church during this series, we have built gingerbread houses, simulated earthquakes, blown bubbles, and other shenanigans, so it’s safe to say some other people are having as much fun as I am.
12:00—Lunch, which I might be blessed to have with friends, colleagues, or church members, but which usually happens at home. If it’s at home, it’s highly likely to be cheese on top of some starch item consumed in my chair while I keep working.
Yes, I need healthier options. Feel free to bring lunch.
Btw, said work chair, next to the bird feeder, is a chair bought specifically for my back issues, which was a great green leather until Pippin the furniture shredder got hold of it. It needs a little TLC. And reupholstery.
12:30—Sit and stare at social media wondering if I’ll ever concentrate on my work again and also if I have any idea what’s for dinner.
1:00—Maybe I’ll putter in the garden; maybe I’ll do housework. Maybe I’ll look over the 123 things I have to get done before my daughter’s wedding and do, or contemplate doing, one or two of them. It’s a toss up, Maybe I’ll keep staring at Facebook. Post-lunch concentration is hard, people.
2:00—Back to work. Very possibly this will take place in a local library, because said concentration level at home is just done. I am acquainted with every library, and every Starbucks, within fifteen miles. If anyone needs to know the comfiest chairs in DuPage, Kendall, or Kane County, I can tell you. (Actually, my favorites are in Cook County, because the Elgin Library reading area is AWESOME.)
Possibly this means:
Complete outline of sermon.
Write blog post or two or three for me or one of the outlets I work with.
Read articles I left from the morning’s email because ain’t nobody got time for that in the morning.
Work on church programs that need to be finished this month.
Finish sermons details.
Create graphics for the main points.
Create graphics and choose pictures for blogs and social media. These are fun. They aren’t work.
Research next week’s sermon.
Work on an article.
Plot out next week’s sermon.
Work on a speaking engagement.
Friday: Go to the zoo. Scrapbook. Read. Work on some of those 123 things to do for the wedding. Garden. Fly to Paris. Whatever I want. It’s my day off.
5:30—Finish any social media posting/marketing that needs to be done.
6:20—Return to train station to pick up child. Remember I never got anything out for dinner. Or folded the last load of laundry. Finish above. Binge watch Great British Baking Show or Dr. Who. Sleep. Repeat.
I cant be finished talking about books. Not quite yet.
Childhood Classics in Adulthood
I seem to have developed a habit of reading childhood classics for the first time well after the expected range. This happened, as I mentioned before, with the Chronicles of Narnia. Also Anne of Green Gables (where was she all my lonely childhood???), The Hobbit, and today’s classic—A Wrinkle in Time.
I loved A Wrinkle in Time so much that I went on to devour all of L’Engle’s writing shortly after reading it. I now have one more book of hers on my shelf, and I have just discovered, after beginning to Kondo my books (hold me!), that I actually have two copies. I wanted it so much I forgot I owned it already. (This is not an unusual circumstance for me.)
When I heard a movie was in the making, I got that familiar mix of thrill and horror. Would they do it justice? Would it come across as beautiful and longing and intense as L’Engle wrote it? I had seen previous adaptations—and they were less than inspiring.
I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it. Honestly, the acting was meh, and the departures from the book too many. I did love Charles Wallace—incredible acting from someone who was probably only eight at the time. My real love, however, was the costuming, as I decided in that theater last January what I would be for Halloween ten months later. Mrs. Which was stunning, and I needed those eyebrows. (Here’s an fyi—corsets covered in parachute cord are very heavy. And extremely hard to fasten. Now you know.)
L’Engle’s ode to sacrificial love has never been so needed.
TL;DR version: Meg’s father is MIA. Her little brother is an uber-genius. Both kids are ostracized for their oddness, brilliance, and, in Meg’s case, her angry insistence that her father would come home. She did not take well to naysayers.
Meg and her brother journey through the titular “wrinkle” to find their father, and Charles Wallace (said brother) gets ensnared by the evil “IT” that is consuming the universe. Only a rediscovery of the power of her love—the one thing IT does not possess, allows Meg to save her brother and her family. She has to face her fears and her anger to find that love. After all, we know that only a hard-won, bought-with-a-sacrifice kind of love can offer anyone salvation.
It’s not a story without precedent.
L’Engle’s affirmation that there are some things worth getting, and staying, angry about is a vital corrective to our world. The transformation of Meg from a girl angry at the world to a young woman who understands the power of anger, and not to waste such power on small, self-centered things, informs us well if we let it.
Meg learns some things about anger that release her from her bitterness and propel her into a force that evil need reckon with. That is a change worth noting and emulating, fiction or no.
Too Much Anger?
I don’t need to mention that there are a lot of angry people out there in our world, too. (See last weeks’ post—re toxic.) That there is much to be angry about is as true in our world as it was in Meg’s, where the forces of evil threatened her beloved little brother and their tight relationship. Angry people sometimes sin, but it is not a sin to be angry. Sometimes, it’s downright holy.
Those who cannot handle the anger of others, wishing them to wrap it up in colorful bows of sweet Christian platitudes, confuse anger with bitterness. They fear doing the holy work of hearing the anger of others and the echoes of all the prophets who have gone before.
If you’re uncomfortable with another believer’s anger, you must not read Jeremiah very often.
The beautiful lesson of Meg is that anger is good. Anger is holy. But anger is like a scalpel—best respected for both the healing and the damage it can do.
“Stay angry, little Meg. You will need all your anger now.”
That parting line from one of her helpers defines the transformation Meg needs to make. She must confront the reality that mishandling her anger only fuels IT’s power. Using her anger to defeat IT, by refusing to let hate win and pulling all her love to the surface, brings them all home.
It’s the best line in the book.
I don’t know what you’re angry about, or if you are. I don’t know if you’re uncomfortable with anger and would rather not see it in your newsfeeds. (Good luck with that.) I do know that learning to wield our anger well and for God’s purposes is the difference between destroying ourselves and bringing ourselves home. I know that pulling all our love to the surface is the only way to stare hate in the face and tell it, “not today.”
Since we’ve been talking about books that changed us, it seems appropriate to do a book wrap up blog—not an unheard of thing in the blogging world, and you’ve probably read a few already.
Usually, when I consider writing about the books I’ve read in the past year, I think, no one on earth except the nineteen other people in your doctorate class care about the books you read all year. And maybe not even them.
Truth, most of my reading is tuned to the thesis-writing channel these days. That might be over this year. It might not. Professional reading is fun to me, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I do a lot of it. It’s a blessing to love to read about what you do.
Nevertheless, here are some reads from this year I’ll pass on. I think you’ll find something you like. Maybe we can talk about it!
The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis, PatrickKingsley
Yes, it’s heartbreaking to read. I’ve had it on my list for a while. The author takes us on the journey of one refugee, while bringing together the tales of other men, women, and families, as well as facts about the refugee crisis. It’s riveting, horrible, and hopeful, all at once. It’s also the sort of book I’m working on right now, so stay tuned.
I heard Patrice at Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference and knew from the first night I would like her. When I listened to her teach about memoir, I had already picked up her book the night before. It’s a treasure of one woman’s learning how to navigate growing up, race, marriage, family, and not belonging anywhere yet finding grace. It’s beautifully written and relatable. I loved meeting her and hearing her heart. Also, that cover.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown.
What can I tell you about this one you probably don’t know? I read it on a plane in a few hours. It was painful, arresting, and true. There are so many things I don’t know about being someone I’ve never been. It is so helpful to read about others’ experience so we can open our eyes wider at the world and our space in it. There is no fear in knowledge—especially if it makes us better able to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is never anything lost by hearing another story.
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans
I got to be on Rachel’s launch team for this book, so I got to read it before the world! There is poetry, drama, logical analysis, theology, and story, all woven together in this ode to scripture and our use or misuse of it. If you want to look at Scripture with fresh eyes and maybe see it in ways you haven’t, check out Rachel’s writing and her way of bringing love of the Bible to reading of it.
Why do I seem to like unsettling books? There is a trend here. I love a willingness to deconstruct church and its practices and not fear imagining something else. Not everything he suggests might work, but the candor to say it is refreshing. Viola offers a model for church that pulls us away from American cultural church and toward its roots. He dares to say that what we practice might be closer to our own preferences and heritage than to Jesus. It will make you think, and that’s the goal of all good books.
Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, Bob Goff
I wanted to preview this book because Bob raises a question I struggle with—how do we really love people who try their hardest to be unlovable in today’s political and religious climate? Bob manages to open eyes to not only how we do that but, of course, how we sometimes are those unlovable people to someone else. His striking humility and hands-on personal testimony about how this works are enough to sell his authority.
One of my favorite quotes right off was: “I’m trying to resist the bait that darkness offers me every day to trade kindness for rightness.” Knowing it’s many of our struggle, not just mine, was a great start. It’s a daily thing, not a one and done. We have to resist that bait every single day it’s offered. And believe me, it’s offered a lot. Needless to say, I bought the whole book after being on the preview team, because I needed the rest of the story.
Full disclosure—this is my second read of this book. I love Rubin. She is a soul mate in some ways. Her work here on how we form good habits is perfect because it takes into account the many different people we are and that what works for one utterly fails for another. A great choice if you want to create better habits for 2019. I’m eagerly awaiting her next book.
OK, I’m late the the party on this one, but it was so helpful. Learning I am an enneagram 5 is a life-changer. I understand my motivational forces so much better, as well as the poor directions they could take me if allowed. Knowing why I have to feel so capable has led me to be able to put down some of those burdens and let myself be questioned and taught. I also understand my loved ones’ motivations and needs so much better. We have two 5’s, two 6’s, and one 4 in the family. It’s fun.
Books I am looking forward to in 2019:
Dare To Lead, Brene Brown. Enough said. It’s Brene. Also, I just got this one for Christmas, so maybe I’d better finally read it first.
Outer Order, Inner Calm. Gretchen Rubin. Same. If it’s hers, I’ll read it. Also, that title. Who doesn’t need that?
Can We Trust the Gospels, Peter Williams. Just found this today, and I think it will be a valuable resource as a pastor. I like to discuss the hard questions with the congregation, especially the younger members, and this promises to be easy to understand and interact with.
The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom, Helen Thorpe. How did I not know about this one? It’s recommended by Malcolm Gladwell, and that’s enough for me. Also, I volunteer with refuge high school students, so this is needed reading for me. Can’t wait.
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. This beauty. It came to me on my birthday . . . I cannot wait to be unbusy with doctorate stuff long enough to dive in. The illustrations alone are stunning enough to buy the book, if you’re a Tolkien fan (um, fan might not be strong enough a word) like me.
Small Church Essentials, Karl Vaters. I read his blog very day because I need all the wise info on how to lead a small church and love it. Another Christmas present I need to find the time for soon.
What about you? What was your favorite read of 2018? The one you most look forward to in 2019?
Apologetics was fashionable in the 80’s, and I was nothing if not fashionable. OK, I was never fashionable. Not one day of my college career, most likely. But when you’re surrounded by Izods and boat shoes, and you’re a Laura Ashley kind of girl, it’s just never going to happen.
Trained as a high school debater, I found my psychological home in apologetics. I soaked in the books handed to me by InterVarsity leaders like Know What You Believe and it’s younger brother, Know Why You Believe.
But One Remained
The one that caught and kept me, though, could only have come from the pen of CS Lewis. Mere Christianity.
Two years ago, I bought a copy of it, older than the one I still had from college, at an Antiquarian Book Sale. It’s eggshell cover, sheathed in plastic so that it did not become as brittle as shell, bore no modern photoshop or multi-color printing, only blue pin-striping and a title. It was austere. Plain. Speaking to me of a faith that Lewis didn’t embellish either but embraced for its straightforward truth to him, not its smoke and mirrors.
I didn’t know what I had subscribed to when I walked that church aisle two years prior. Lewis told me. Logically. Honestly. The way I liked to be told things that mattered.
My new faith could coexist with my intellect. One of the greatest minds of the century knew this, so why should I doubt it? I devoured Lewis’ arguments for belief, digesting them like the meat Paul says our souls were made to crave.
You Can Be Smart and Still Believe
Lewis confronted me with the honest reality of my willfulness and the stunning equal reality of God’s intent for me.
“..fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”
“God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature.”
He wrestled with me over the ways my culture told me the horrible truth about humans could be “fixed.”
“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”
He explained Jesus in a way that appeared utterly sensible to my logic-craving mind.
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.”
He told me of the yearning I thought only I knew, the ache to belong somewhere I had never known.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
And There Were Others
It wouldn’t be the only time Lewis challenged my assumptions. The Great Divorce forced new thoughts on hell and heaven and all that might fall in the grey space in between. If God’s time isn’t linear, perhaps Lewis’ notions of busses and second chances between the afterlife zones wasn’t so far-fetched.
Of course it was story, meant to convince us to make the right decision, get on the right bus so to speak, now. Yet his imaginary exploration did something for me that would be invaluable later in life. It made me understand that sometimes, I could be wrong.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a book I didn’t open until after college, eclipsed the other Chronicles for me. I know, the first book is the favorite. But the story of Eustace, with its greatest of first lines in literature, taught me the value of perseverance and the beauty of a King who would adore me so much he would come tear off my dragon scales.
I may have been young, but I knew there were many dragon scales. Those layers of defensive, self-protecting coarse skin don’t slough off easily. They’re still coming, I think.
The Screwtape Letters would give me one of my favorite quotes of all time:
Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
In my darkest of days, and there have been some, I would turn back to Wormwood and declare that his master would never win, no matter the lonely universe.
Years later, I stand around on Sunday and Tuesday nights, directing a cast of twenty in an assuredly non-professional version of The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. The other night, one of the children pondered Aslan’s death and coming back to life as we worried about how to create a stone table that would hold a grown man on a tiny stage and a tinier budget.
“It’s like Jesus!” he exclaimed in a moment of relative quiet.
Another generation finds the great lion, and a great author, still unfolding the Author of All, in ways only he can.
In the beginning, the baby bird’s cries sounded not so much plaintive as curious. “Are you my mother?” He didn’t know, as he ran from one being to the next, dog, cow, boat, plane, asking his question. Nearer the end, I’d hear the increasingly frightened baby, fearful of being alone in a giant world of snorting cranes and belching barges.
The turquoise cover with the sparsely-drawn little hatchling always closed on a happy ending, and I didn’t know if it was his safe return to his mother or his adventures in the great wide world I loved the best as a little girl.
I can still see my favorite book covers that I pulled open over and over as a tiny girl. Are You My Mother? sat on the shelf near the white polka-dotted Put Me in the Zoo and the Old World deep red ofFerdinand the Bull. They all fell open easily, their bindings creased with jelly-butter hands and little girl adoration.
Now that I review the past, it shouldn’t amaze me that all three have a protagonist who feels mismatched with the world he experiences.
Those are the stories that spoke to a little girl, the last of seven, the one no one in that family of nine quite understood, except perhaps my sister Marilyn who stayed home with me all day, because her wheelchair didn’t allow her the freedom to explore the world as she would have liked. My smallness didn’t, either.
More Old Friends
By eight, I rode my hand-me-down teal green bike to the McHenry Library once a week. We lived outside of town, over the one-lane metal Old Bridge, so it felt like riding to the next county. My mother told me it was only a mile—google maps now tells me two. Mom didn’t have google.
At least a couple times a year, I strained high and took a blue book off the shelves in the “big people” section. I knew exactly where it resided on that shelf, a biography of Helen Keller the name of which I don’t remember but the content I don’t forget.
The cover felt worn, partially because I had worn it but mostly because it was old, the blue fabric wearing into strands rough on my small fingers rather than a smooth linen.
Helen, too, felt alone. Helen, too, had dreams of leaving her confined world. Helen, too, was, as my mother described her last offspring, “stubborn as a mule.” I liked Helen. I loved that she won. I struggled with her every time I read her story, and I read it a lot.
I didn’t know as a little one that my firm standing as an INFJ and a female Enneagram 5 would always ensure I felt not quite “in” anything. Such knowledge comes much later, if at all, and we’re left to navigate the whys of feeling in this world but not of it on our own when we’re small.
I only knew books helped.
It wasn’t even hard to feel countercultural when I became a Christian near the end of high school. I already was.
The hard part was taking “me” out of the center of it all, a struggle I continue every morning when the alarm wails at me.
Books have continued to help.
When I stood beneath the venerable tan archway of Wash U as a new student, looking alternately up at the looming arch and down at the bronzed, scuffed circle beneath me that honored our equally venerable founder, William Greenleaf Eliot, I knew the next four years would involve a lot of books.
I planned a major in political science. Economics stood in the second-place slot, at least until I discovered how much calculus it involved. Third, in what the horses races call “show,” was English. Somehow, by the beginning of sophomore year, that third horse pulled around the outside corner to become the winner, surprising no one but me.
Four years later, with a black flat cap, gold cords, and a three-hundred degree graduation ceremony out in the quad (English majors know the proper use of hyperbole), I held a degree that led me to teach high school literature, not sit at a table learning of amicus curiae, habeas corpus, torts, and writs.
Thank you, Jesus.
Books saved me as a child. They told me there were others out there like me. No one could be completely alone if stories brought into my bedroom nearly-orphaned little birds, not-quite-dogs whose spots led them to seek acceptance in a zoo, or bulls who sniffed flowers and imagined a world in which they didn’t have to be who they weren’t.
Books opened my confined world as a teenager. Sometimes, the discovery left scars, because the world I didn’t know could be brutal, even more than the one I did. That was Of Mice and Men and The Pearl. Darn Steinbeck.
Sometimes, they left yearning, like half-breaths I didn’t know I was breathing, catching in my throat. That was Anne of Green Gables, Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time—books I didn’t even read until I was twenty-two, but that doesn’t matter.
Books have formed me as an adult. I’ve turned from fiction to theology, sociology, biography, history. Non-fiction, well done, still drives the imagination, and that it drives mine toward a better me, a better church, and a better world resonates with me more than fiction these years.
With the tribute to Eugene Peterson last week, I thought perhaps I would continue in a series of books that changed me, in some way, spiritually. In a positive way, that is. We’ve got way too much negative swimming around already.
What works have stuck with me, making me a better version of the small child who wondered if anyone else out there understood what life felt like, real life, the kind that feels everything and wants to know the limits and go beyond them. That child is still there. I hope, believe, she’s less her, more Jesus by now.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram (or read last week’s blog post) know I went to Scotland last month. Those who know me well know that Scotland was mere subterfuge.
Not that I didn’t want to go there—Scotland, specifically the Isle of Skye, has hovered on my top five travel list for quite a while. The main reason for the trip at this particular time, however, lies about 500 miles southeast of the island.
The holy Mecca of literary snobs, particularly Lewis/Tolkien fanatics, a title which I wearwithout the tiniest shred of nerd shame. The Tolkien exhibit of manuscripts, paintings, and memorabilia was all this hobbit-loving heart hoped it would be.
This exhibit, as well as a morning visit to the British Library, made me ponder the future of writing. What, specifically, might generations to come of fanatics line up, or cross an ocean, to see?
Not what I saw.
On this trip, I marveled at original drawings, schematics, and words from DaVinci’s sketch books. How have they survived so long? What fantastic theories flew through his mind as he penciled those sketches? What genius rabbit holes was he considering plumbing as he wrote?
I smiled at Jane Austen’s lovely, dense cursive on a page on her own writing desk. Thinking of her hand on the page conjuring those works brought her whole being alive, sitting there, smiling back at me, inviting investigation.
Actual tears came when I peered (I did have to peer, because the room was dark, and there were a zillion people) at Tolkien’s handwritten charge,
“Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake, fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!”
I saw it. I heard it. I nearly went to battle myself.
This is the power of the written word. More specifically, it’s the power of the handwrittenword. Others of you stand on chairs to see your team score a touchdown. Some, like my husband, go agape at the sight of ancient statues and clay pots. Paintings will transport certain people to realms of imagination and joy.
Handwritten words make me cry. Especially when they are words I know and love.
What are we leaving?
I realized, while I inhaled those manuscripts like am addict getting a fix, that we are not leaving written words to other generations. Whoever the great authors of our age are, is anyone going to want to stare at their Messenger notes in a museum one day? Is the sight of their emailed manuscript going to make anyone’s heart beat faster? Will anyone ever stand and peer at their iPad, on which they typed the thrilling battle cry for that climactic scene, and sob with the pure joy of it?
Will anyone cross an ocean to see their laptop?
On a more prosaic level, handwriting doesn’t have to be famous. My daughter recently found photos of my husband in his elementary school years. They have his mother’s writing on their backs, carefully penned notes about who, what, where, and when.
The archivist in my daughter winces at the ink on the backs of photos. The word lover in her carefullyplaces the written-upon photos on the copier, wanting to preserve that piece of her grandmother’s hands, fingers, thoughts.
It’s the reason I have a Pinterest board of recipes, but I also have a tin box, rusted and creaky, with yellow legal paper and lined index cards and my mother’s writing covering them. I will never make the recipes—I do not have my mother’s taste in food. I will also never throw away those small reminders of her hands, moving across a paper, writing down something she wanted to use to nourish her family.
Maybe it’s the hands
We can’t separate handwriting from hands, and hands are so intimate, so identity-sealing. They are such symbols of personal presence.
Scripture shouts this message.
“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49.16
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me . . . and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10.27
“I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41.10
“My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63.8
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64.8
“Even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139.10
“My times are in your hand.” Psalm 31.15
Hands. Handwriting. They are presence. I sobbed at Theoden’s heroic battle cry because I knew the story, and I could feel the presence of the storyteller through the ink on the page.
Sometimes I sob at the beauty of the scripture. It’s not handwritten. Maybe it should be. Maybe we should have someone go back to the days of the scribes who slowly and carefully wrote out the words of God, illuminating letters to shine light in darkness.
But I cry because I know the story, and the storyteller, and the hands that created it are holding me, present, always.
It’s round up time. Well, it’s a little late for round up time, but that’s how I roll. SO here is my list of favorite things from 2017. I would love to hear some of yours in the comments.
It always feels a bit odd to write a list of my favorite books. I mean, I am a self-professed theology and lit nerd. I’m also in school. So most of my reading material is not general public interest. Nevertheless, I think this is a good list.
Favorite books of 2017 (in no particular order):
Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance. Made me understand my own family of origin better. It’s also a fascinating and personal look at what’s contributing to national divides and crises.
Of Mess and Moxie,Jen Hatmaker. All the fun Jen usually is and all the serious we need to hear. Very favorite quote:
“God has not given us a spirit of fear, nor has he saddled us with a spirit of defeat. We live because Jesus lives, because he is real and present and moving and working and he will not have us conquered. This is not hoodoo; it is a powerful reality. Flatten your feet, because nothing in your life is too bad for resurrection. It can be worse than you think and more crushing than you imagined. And even then, we live.”
Welcoming the Stranger, Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate. Matthew Soerens and Hwang Yang. No work is so packed with the truth on this issue. The authors go through the history, struggles, and realities of this difficult human problem.
Emboldened: A Vision for Empowering Women in Ministry,Tara Beth Leech. Buy this for your pastor or church leader. Now. Male or female. A powerful story of her own wrestling with the call to ministry and how we can work together to unleash all of God’s people into the kingdom.
Again, I don’t even own a TV, so you know how much of it I watch. But we have broken down and gotten Netflix (solely because of the advent of the Gilmore Girls reboot), so there is that.
Favorite shows of 2017:
The Crown. I am loving this completely. Also, I want her wardrobe. And the waist that can wear it.
Dr. Who. Well, I would be loving this if I could get us together to watch it. We have a solemn pact between me and my younger two daughters that we will not watch this apart from one another. This was made much more difficult in 2017 as one spent 3/4 of the year in West Virginia and one in southern Illinois. I am hopeful for the remainder of Christmas break. I love the actual theology here. Surprising, for supposedly atheist writers. How can you not love speeches like this:
“I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that… Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point to any of this at all. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it. And I’m going to stand here doing it until it kills me. And you’re going to die too! Some day… And how will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.” — The Doctor
3. Murdoch Mysteries. I know, a Canadian outlier. It takes a while, but then it’s fun and addicting. Also, I think George is the best.
4. Anne with an E. I’ve decided I’m on the side that likes this one. It’s real and honest about what her life was probably like as well as being the beginning of a loving family. However, if they mess up peoples’ lives in the next season, I won’t be so easy on them. I did not like the end of season one.
5. British house shows. Especially Hidden Houses of Wales. But all the ones I’ve watched. British house shows are better than American. Americans are all drama and going Kardashian if they don’t have double sinks or the right paint color. Brits just nod and politely say, “That’s still nice. We can work with that.” It’s refreshing. Also, they’re both creative and respectful of history. We just don’t seem to have that.
It occurs to me that all of these are British or Canadian. Make of that what you will.
Favorite Movies of 2017:
Seriously, I only went to about four movies this year, so . . . But these two were amazing. I bought a Wonder Woman mug. I preach with it.
What’s saving my life right now:
Volunteering with Homework Club for World Relief. Refugee teenagers are a joy. And as frustrating sometimes as any teen. Which is the truth, really. We’re all the same inside.
My Christmas tree. It’s still up. The lights are all on still. I am all about Christmas and I love it all. Also, I can see my Cubs World Series ornament from here.
Almond Cookie Tea. Sereneteaz. Yes, it does taste a bit like the cookies you get with Chinese takeout. And it’s wonderful!
My new date book. Nothing says new year, new plans, new places to write all the things than a new datebook. I am a list nerd, too. I love my lists. I love my organization. I love the entire concept of a new date book.
Scrapbooking weekends. I found a meetup group that spends entire weekends doing this. They are hard core. These ladies bring luggage racks full of stuff. I’m not (I show up with three bags), but it’s been great to catch up on all the vacation albums this year. In two weekends, I’ve finished Spain, the UK, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and some miscellaneous Christmas. I am almost done! Which means–a new vacation!
What’s saving your life? What are you reading? Watching? I’d love to know.