Reptiles & Repentance

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When I was tween I suckered my parents into letting me get a lizard terrarium, and in my own bed room even!  The whole thing was sort of a mess.  Each week I’d get mom or dad to take me down to the local pet store so that I could purchase a plastic bag of crickets, which were what my Green Anole or Brown Skink would eat.  They’d be stored in a container next to the reptile tank and chirp all night.  Some would inevitably escape their insect death-row and be discovered later around the house.   When feeding time came my prepubescent eyes would would widen as I watched nature do its thing and my pets would transform from harmless creatures into ferocious dinosaur descendants, consuming those squeaking little protein-nuggets as I looked on in delight.

Though it was a fun aspect of my youth, I wasn’t a very good lizard keeper.  The cage would often go weeks without being cleaned, something that should have been done consistently and repeatability, which would in turn create a not so subtle smell-region of our house.  One of the reasons most reptile terrariums need to be cleaned often is because the tenants do this thing called moulting.  Basically moulting is when the animal sheds its skin and emerges fresh and new.  In my lizard tanks, the shed skin would be left sitting around way too long.   I still remember avoiding my responsibility to clean out the tank and reset the environment, which was to the detriment of both my pets and my family.

So what does that all have to do with the second part of this post’s title? With repentance?

The easy metaphor is that like reptiles shed their skin and are made new every so often, we need to shed our “skin”, the parts of our being that hold us back or don’t reflect the God of love.

That’s a great image.

But in this illustration the church isn’t the reptile, but the reptile keeper.

Just like I was irresponsible when it came to what maintaining the life of those creatures took, I think the church is similarly guilty.

We enjoy the show of church, the way it makes us feel, the shallow and entertaining elements.  We like to watch from the sidelines as both spectators and critics, but when it comes to actually cleaning out the whole tank, we’re nowhere to be found.  Meanwhile things are literally rotting.

That’s the way the church-landscape often feels to me.  I read yesterday that white evangelical support of President Trump is at an all time high, even though the his words and actions couldn’t be more antithetical to the gospel of Jesus.  Though some of us are deeply engaged in the hard work of community, compassion, justice, and being people of good news,  most of us aren’t.  Sure we notice the smells and sounds that tell us change is needed, but we’re not very comfortable getting messy to the detriment of ourselves and our message.  My experience is that because of our neglect and apathy, we don’t smell that great to those around us.

I think there are many, many elements of our faith ecosystems that need to be cleaned out.  We’ve sold out to marketing and flashiness.  We’ve largely worked in silos building our own brands.  We’ve turned the grace of Jesus into an us-or-them ultimatum, leaving entire communities who don’t meet our standards on the outside.  We’ve wed ourselves to corrupt politicians.  We’ve neglected the poor.  We’ve worshiped at the idol of nationalism, when we should be people of a backwards kingdom.  We’ve lost our first love.  Meanwhile things are literally rotting.

Thankfully, there is this thing called repentance.  It’s one of those things Jesus preached often.  It means to reverse direction- to acknowledge our need for change, and turn.  It means that we take the time to clean out our tanks, something that we must continue to do over and over, and in the process we’re transformed into something completely new.

There are a myriad of examples of this sort of change in the gospels.  One example is of Zacheus, a tax collector who made loads of money fleecing the people of Jesus’ homeland.  In one encounter with Jesus he went from working for the occupying empire of Rome, to following a radical religious leader from the sticks.  He even gave back all the wealth he had accumulated and then some.

My prayer is that our churches would become known not for the shows or products that we offer, but for this very process.  That we would be communities of repentance, where we consistently confess our shortcomings and do the work of change.  It can happen, I’ve seen it.  Maybe then we wouldn’t smell as bad.


Confession of Sin

Most merciful God,

we confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what we have done,

and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on us and forgive us;

that we may delight in your will,

and walk in your ways,

to the glory of your Name.

Amen.

 

Letters to My Son: Ninjas & Imago Dei

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Elliott,

I’ve been kicking around different subjects for this letter for a few days.  There are so many things to write to you about, and since this is my third message, I feel like it has to carry some significance.  Do I start with the big stuff?  Do I wax poetic about the mysteries of the soul or the universe?  Should I settle for you once and for all why Ninjas are better than Pirates?

I guess those questions tap into one of the emotions we have about you at the moment.  Tomorrow marks your third week amongst us air breathers and there is so much still ahead.  So far our time together has consisted mostly of diapers, nursing, sleeping, not sleeping, and lots holding you, rocking in our arms- that’s my favorite.  Oh, and we did take you to your first A’s Opening Day on your two week birthday.  They won in a walk off.  Other than that it’s been mostly a lot of hanging around the house.  In the coming months, years, and decades we’ll get to explore life’s vastness and so I guess I should do my best to enjoy the simplicity of this moment.

Hearing your tiny vocal chords chirp as you guzzle milk, feeling the softness of our skin on mine (there aren’t really words to describe how soft your skin in),  and watching your fresh blue eyes open for those few moments during the day- those gifts are more than enough for now.

Life really is precious my son.  Every breath that fills your newly exposed lungs is a gift to be received.  The presence of beauty and goodness are with us always, if we notice it.  Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and miss what’s in front of us.  For now, you are what’s in front of us.  And bundled amidst your swaddling cloths is a heart, a soul, and a mind that holds all of life’s mysteries in one elegantly ordained body.

You my son are beauty, curiosity, miracle, joy, and wonder.  Before anything else, you are a reflection of all of that is sacred.  Within your being is a capacity for what I’ve come to believe is truth itself: love.  This is who you are,  created in the image of the Divine, the Imago Dei.  All the rest of us too.

There will be many contrasting messages sent your way in the future, and many dividing forces that will do their best to quench this flame, but I want you to know that we will always see this in you.  You will always be a reminder of the grace that is life and our hope in love’s source and home.   As we enjoy this season of our lives with you, this is what we behold.

Next time I’ll probably share some really great fatherly wisdom about life and faith, but for now I think I’ll go back to you.

Love,

Your Dad

Letters to My Son: Surprise!

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Elliott Matthew Scott, Born March 15th 2018

Dear Son,

The day you were born the newspaper headline in the East Bay Times boldly read in all caps, “CAN’T HOLD US BACK!”.  Those words, describing a current political movement led by young people, poignantly framed your arrival into the umbilically detached world, as you entered center stage 5 weeks before your show was set to begin.   I had every intention of writing a series of messages to you that would have been nicely wrapped up before you came, sort of like the way you are currently swaddled in a blanket, but life does life stuff.

It’s hard to find words that can possibly capture the magic, mystery, and miracle that you, your mom, and I have lived these last few days.  Where can I even begin?!

First of all, your mother is amazing.  Anyone who ever tells you that women are not as strong as men has likely never spent any time in Labor and Delivery.

Her water broke at about 10:30 pm on Wednesday March 14th.  We had house-guests that night and we were so not ready.  After calling the hospital to check in about her symptoms, we quickly headed over filled with anxious anticipation.  Over the previous few weeks and months we talked constantly about meeting you.  Once we arrived and checked into the room, the room that would be the place of your first breath and touch, the nurse told us that you were coming.

The human body is a mystery.  I’m told we still don’t know what makes a woman go into labor or what makes her water break.  Maybe it was hormones, maybe it was the Mexican food she had for dinner, or maybe it was something more divinely orchestrated.

One of the many overwhelming experiences of the next 12 hours of labor was watching your mother beam with expectant fear and joy, even in the midst of tremendous pain.  As the contractions swelled like a rising tide, there was a palpable sense in the room that something immense, life-changing, and sacred was near.  There was also a sober awareness of life’s precious fragility as one drop in blood pressure or shift in heart rate could turn the tide completely.  Those moments were unlike anything else I’ve experienced.

Before the final push came, our hearts were beyond overwhelmed as we were about to encounter the emergence of life itself.  It was then that your mom asked if we could pray.  We asked for God’s protection and strength and offered our thanks for the unspeakable privilege of being present to all that swirled around us at that moment. There was energy in the room and our job was to let go. We cried and kissed, completely carried by the currents of labor.

She pushed in increments of ten.  We counted each number off, slowly growing louder and louder as the breaching tides of contractions rose higher and higher.  From somewhere deep inside her being, your mother pulled from the primal strength of creation and you began to emerge like the glimmers of first light.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.  GOOD! BREATHE!  YOU GOT THIS, PUSH AGAIN! ONE, TWO, THREE….”

Finally, your head plunged into the atmosphere.  Then your blue and pink body.

Our Doctor immediately carried you to your mothers chest and I wept tears of total and uncontrollable joy.  You cried as you breathed air. We kissed your soaking head.  It was beyond overwhelming.  In my life I’ve experienced a few moments of joy and transcendence, but nothing quite like the first time we met you.  It was pure, vulnerable communion.  Ecstatic and elated.  Holy and home.  It was a glimpse of God.

You Elliott are a glimpse of God.

As family and friends showered us with their company and their gifts over the next couple days, we soon took you back to our home, though it came after some time in the NICU since you came so early.   We couldn’t be happier having you here.  Watching you receive life and sustenance from your mothers body is amazing.  Holding you on my bare chest as you breath and nap is so special.  Having to get up every few hours in the night to make sure you get fed isn’t so bad, though it’s a lot more work for your mom (be sure to thank her one day).

Yesterday I went on a jog and was brought to tears as I thought about how blessed we are to have you.  I’m sure folks who saw me must have been confused as I cry-jogged around our neighborhood.

Son, I want you to know that you are a gift to us.  We are so in love with you.  I hope and pray that you hold that deep inside of you for the rest of your life.  And I hope you know God’s love.  It’s really hard to explain it, but it’s the one that all other loves reflect in some way.  It’s the one that filled the room as your mother held you for the first time.  It’s the one that brought me to tears yesterday.   And it’s the one that I see in your eyes.

Elliott, we can’t wait to learn that love together from here on out.  There is so much to explore and experience and encounter my son!  Welcome, welcome, welcome!

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Letters to a Future Son: 6(ish) Weeks To Go

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Artwork from Sleeping At Last’s song “Son” created by Elicia Edijanto

*Before reading you might want to read an explanation/disclaimer about this series of blog entries found below.

Dear Son,

The past months have been a journey, especially for your mother.  Pregnancy is crazy.  It’s been fun and strange to watch your legs and arms rub against Alie’s belly.  I wonder if you can hear us.  It seems like you like food based on your activity after Alie eats.  You take after your father.  Anyways, we can’t wait to meet you.

This week we’re about 6 weeks from your expected delivery date.  It feels so close but also an eternity away.  We’re slowly but surely getting your room ready.  I wish we had a bigger home for you.  One with a yard.  I wish we didn’t live on a noisy street, but I’m sure you’ll come to love where we live.  It’s a wonderful city in a beautiful place, and like a portrait of humanity, is messy and amazing at the same time.  I’m also excited for you to meet our dog Sonny.  He chases shadows and loves to cuddle.  I’m sure you’ll find his fluffy, quirky presence intriguing, and hopefully he’ll be good around you.  Either way, we’ll keep you safe.

There is so much to see.  I can’t wait to show this place to you.  I can’t wait to watch you discover things.  I can’t wait to watch you learn words, remember faces, and become who you are.  We’re committed to loving and supporting you for who you are no matter what.

As long as you’re an A’s fan.

But seriously my son, there is so much to experience: movies, touch, redwood trees, ice cream, philosophy, giraffes, time, Myanmar, ocean waves, jokes, laughter, literature, friendship, scotch (we’ll save that one till later)…

There is also pain.  We won’t be able to spare you from that, and we all hate that it even exists.  Just remember that the bad things of life do not get the last word.

I’ve been praying for you.  Praying is a concept we’ll talk about at some point.   It’s sort of a hopeful trust in, surrender to, and communication with the ultimate benevolence of reality.   It comes from a part of our world that is a big part of my life, faith.  Faith and  the things we’ve created around faith reflect the best and sometimes the worst of us.  I think we’re all people of faith and for me, my faith is in Love.  Which is another big topic.  We’ll get there.  There are some pretty amazing stories that will help.

But like I said, I’ve been praying for you.  Praying that you are healthy.  Praying that we’re ready to care for you in the ways you deserve.  Praying that you’ll know that you are loved.  Praying that you’ll be a person of compassion and heart.  Praying that you’ll be the kind of baby that sleeps well.  All the books say that’s sort of a challenge at first.

So here we go.

For me, this moment feels like a waiting area before a marathon race.  Last time I ran a half marathon it was delayed for about 45 minutes.  There I stood, on a foggy Oakland morning, waiting, wondering if I have what it takes, if I’ve trained enough, and curious about each step, sight, sound, and scene that lay ahead.

Son, I already love you and I can’t wait to rediscover the world with you,

Your Dad

 

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*This post if from a series of blogs written in the 6(ish) weeks before my wife and I meet our first child, who the doctors tell us will be a boy.  As a soon to be father of a son, my insides are a kaleidoscope of fear, excitement, insecurity, amazement, stress, and wonder; and I’m not even the one growing a human being within their body.  Words can’t capture the respect and admiration I have for my soul mate and life partner as she’s endured the precious miracle of pregnancy.  What follows is written from my vantage point- a personal exploration of anticipation as I get closer and closer to becoming a dad.  While there are a legion of topics that intersect with this current point in our lives, ranging from social gender constructions to spiritual pontifications, the aim of these posts is not an attempt at resolution or reconstruction.  My agenda in these messages is to explore things my soul longs to tell this person, who will soon reset my whole reality, about life as I’m learning to see it.

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Do for us what we cannot do for ourselves

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A poem/prayer of lament for myself, my friends, and our world:

You, the great promise maker
The one who said you’d always be there
Where’d you go?
Don’t you see us?

Down here at the bottom
Below who you’ve made us to be
Alone with everyone else

We can’t get out
We’re all drowning
And it’s getting worse

Send us a line
Break these barriers
Do something!

If we do our best to be still and hear you, will you say something?
If our lives become holy prayers why do you still let us suffer?
Why are you so silent to us?
Why do you let us drown in these depths?

Swimming for air we’re powerless
Our best efforts have only brought us deeper
We’ve lost sight of north and south
Where have you gone?

Do for us what we cannot do for ourselves
I thought you loved us?
I thought you were near?

Quiet

Still nothing

Selah

Currents change in the dark wavy light
The pressure lessons
The tides wane
The shadows subside

Before we could understand
Before we could open our eyes
Before we could reach out our hands
The threshold is broken

We choke and cough and gasp
Salty sea and saliva
Painful breath
The first painful breath, every time its the same.

Do for us what we cannot do for ourselves
Draw us out
Pull us up
Stop neglecting our muted prayers

Carry us through
Give us the shore
Warm our icy skin

Breath into our lungs
Be who you are
Be the one who’s always been there

We’ll do our best to trust
We’ll try our hardest to hope
But we’ve only got so much
Do for us what we cannot do for ourselves

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Church Pastor, Can You…?

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Can you do this thing for me?
I mean, you don’t have anything else going on right?
I don’t think I’m asking much.

Can you give me a ride?
And be there when I need you?
Can you visit my mom in the hospital?
And can you make church better?

Actually, can you answer for the entire church?
And when I have an idea for something, can you be the one to execute it?
And when you do the thing I said you should do, but I don’t show, can you be cool with that?
Can you just create a church that meets my standards and lives up to my expectations?

When I post things online about how messed up the church is, don’t take it personally.
And can you be sure never to call me on it?
Because that’s probably your white fragility or you’re just man-splaining.
Seriously, can you just be what I need you to be?

And definitely don’t talk about money.
This thing is free right?
I mean my yoga class is $60 a session, but I just need it.

Speaking of money, can you get the church to give money to my cause?
And when it does, can I still complain about how the church never gives money to anything?

Can you be sure to always be accessible?
Like you’re on call for me 24/7, right?
Hey, how come you didn’t respond to my text last night?

Can you be sure to promote my event?
And when it doesn’t go well, can I blame you?
You’re coming right? No one else in the church has events right?

Can you meet me on your day off?
And can you make sure your sermon says what I told you I like to hear?
Oh, and can you update the website?
How come the podcasts are old?

I was thinking I should try to come to service once in a while.
But I was up late binging the new season and sometimes the free coffee is out by the time I get there.
Seems like you should probably get some more volunteers, can you get on that?
And that guy who talks too much in the discussion time, can you handle that too?

Can you make church modern but historic, inclusive but just for me, and welcoming of the outsider but ‘deep’ for us church folks?
Can you meet my needs for community but not expect me to give much back?
Can you be real with us, but not so real that I’d have to see you as more than a caricature?

Can you call out the things I don’t like about church, but keep doing the things that I do like?
Can you do my wedding for free and with a sense of professionalism, but not act like clergy all the times I don’t need it?
Can you have grace for my issues and the people I have grace for, but call out the people who I think are wrong?
Pretty simple right?

Can you be the object of all my critiques of religion?
Can you be the punching bag for all my frustrations with God?
Can you just let me tell you that you’re whats wrong with the world?
And don’t get discouraged, but if you do, please don’t show it.

In that vein, can you actually stop being a white man?
Seriously, I’m over those people.
In fact can you answer for all historic racism and injustice?
I mean you’re a white man, so… that’s on you pastor.

Can you be sure to not get on my case when I can’t make it to the service project at the homeless shelter?  Again, I was out late the night before.  Spent way too much on drinks and that Uber fare was crazy.
Seems like that shelter does cool work though.

In fact, can you get the church to do something about homelessness?
Oh and also poverty, education, human trafficking, education, equality, refugees, famines, droughts, the environment, gun violence, current legislation, police brutality, racism, healthcare, access to clean water, women’s rights, and everything else I’m passionate about in my facebook feed?
It’s about time the church runs a shelter, starts a school, or opens a hospital somewhere.

Can you be an anchor for my life as I travel and take jobs and leave?
I kind of forgot about you while I was away,
But now that I’m back in town, can I have a bunch of your time?
Like, we’re grabbing coffee and I’m staying at your place right?

Can you do these things for me?
Can you make me feel happy and safe while at the same time challenge me to grow?
Can you run an organization that’s well managed and tax compliant, but still makes me feel like it’s only all about relationships and authenticity?

Can you just be the church I long for?
Can I bring all my issues and still be loved?
I know it’s a lot.
But underneath it all, I need you.
I’ll learn to let go.

Because what I’m really asking is
Can you tell me I’m enough?
And point me towards grace?

Can you see me?
Can you walk with me?
Can you carry this burden?
Can you acknowledge my trauma?
Can you hold my pain?
Can you show me that you care?

I’m lost and I hurt.
I’m alone and I ache.
And I need some one.
I know you’ve got a lot going on, but can you?

Some Thoughts on Reading & My 2017 Book List

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Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland. Prob the coolest looking collection of books that you can’t touch in the world.  Almost as cool as my personal library.

Growing up in a digital age where the most expansive and colorful universes lived behind every illuminated screen, bound paper and ink were not always my favorite medium of mental engagement.  Additionally, I was not always, and am still not the fastest of readers.  Reading always felt like homework while movies and video games were invitations into sensory experiences at another level entirely.

At some point in early adulthood things began to change.  I began to be interested in things of deeper consequence.  I began to wonder about current events, global challenges, human complexity, and especially about God and the nature of existence. In trying to find conversation partners that I could explore these questions with, I was led back to books, this time with fresh eyes, and in them I’ve found a soil rich and fertile with a potential for nourishing my being in ways that silver screens and first person shooters never could.   Now, I still love film and enjoy digital escapes as much as anyone, but I’ve learned that the written and spoken word actually invites us into something unique and beautiful, some of which I’d like to explore with a haiku introduction:

Reading is like Scotch
Pure like a fresh mountain spring
It’s good for the soul

Reading is like Scotch
For many, Scotch is an acquired taste.  What does that mean and what does that have to do with reading?  It means that in order to acquire the capacity for experiencing the symphony of  flavors, aromas, narratives, and dynamism contained in each dram of, what Ron Swanson calls, “God’s chosen elixir”, one must learn to develop an awareness of those dynamics.  Over time, and often with the help of others, what at first sip appears to be nothing more than a golden, fumy liquid becomes a work of art.

In the same way, literature may at first appear like a less engaging way to communicate or tell stories, but with a little bit of time and curiosity, it can quickly become a labyrinth of discovery and wonder.  For some people this process comes easier and for others it takes more effort, but the same treasure is available to us all.  In my case I had to endure for a little while, but eventually the galaxies of prose revealed themselves in the sky as my eyes adjusted to the new lighting scheme.

Pure like a fresh mountain spring
There is something deeply refreshing about the the written word.  Even though papyrus scrolls have become bound pages, which have become kindle pixels, and even though quill and paper has become printing presses, which have become digital keypads, the essence of reading and writing is still ancient and true.  And in an age of constant sensory distraction, exploring the words and thoughts of another human being through nothing more than symbols and shapes taps into a part of our humanity as profound as any other.  Literature is simple, raw, quite, uncontaminated and unassuming.  It was there before we were, and will likely be there after me.  It’s like drinking cold, clean, clear water after years of carbonated, colorful, corn-syrup infused soda.

It’s good for the soul
Reading does something for my insides.   For both my mind and body.  It lowers my blood pressure and nurtures my spirit.  Spiritual traditions often call this intersection of being, soul, and it’s that part of me that reading tends to, like a gardener to a garden.   The ideas, phrases, and stories that I encounter in books have a way of sticking around my subconscious and exposing my unconscious.

Most days I read in the morning, usually the Bible and some other book (recently from the list below).  While this habit doesn’t seem to have a particular impact on any given morning, over time I see the affect.  It helps me center, takes my mind off the the news cycle, and sparks my imagination.  And as I converse with authors from across the centuries and continents, I learn about our shared humanity, about things unseen, and about myself.

So,

Reading is like Scotch
Pure like a fresh mountain spring
It’s good for the soul


2017 Book List

Below you’ll find a list of the books I read this last year.  I’ve noted my favorite books of the year with three of these ***.  Also, I’ve included an amazon link and a brief sentence or two recap for some context and for my own documentation and, done my best to place them in similar categories. The aim of this list is for my own benefit- so that I won’t forget. I tend to do that pretty often. Where was I?  For an explanation of my process here is my introduction from last year.

Alright, here they are:

Autobiographical-ish:

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell, W Kamau Bell***
One of my favorites of the year.  This book is essentially an first person exploration of Bell’s journey as black male comic who also happens to be a nerd and spends a lot of time in the Bay Area.  I found Bells writing funny, engaging, and interesting.

If It Were Not For Love, Kook-Hui Lee Kim
This one is not hyperlinked because it was given to me as a PDF translated from Korean.  The author of this book is a dear friend’s mom who retells her family’s epic, multi-generational story as they leave North Korea, find themselves in church ministry in Japan, and eventually put down roots on the west coast of the US.  I was inspired and amazed as I read of the experiences of their family.

Mother Teresa: In Her Own Words, Mother Teresa
This book was a collection of Mother Teresa’s sayings, sermons, and teachings woven together by a narrator who spent time with her and offered some wonderful commentary and context along the way.  For anyone looking to get a glimpse into this beautiful and complex saint, In Her Own Words is a great resource.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coats
In what’s already an important work that I had only skimmed the year before, Coats’ writing opens a window in the the American black experience through the form of narrative/letter between a father and a son.  For anyone looking to understand the perspective and forces underneath American race dynamics this book is a must read.

We Goin’ Be Alright, Jeff Chang
During some challenging and important conversations at our church, a friend organized a discussion on this book which was timely, at times difficult, and productive as we processed together some recent events regarding the racial and economic inequality affecting our country today.  As Chang wrestled with his own position and documented recent demographic shifts and current issues like gentrification, the reader is challenged to become more deeply aware of privilege and marginalization.  For a recent exploration of these issues, Chang’s work is a great supplement to Coats’.  I especially liked this book because Chang talks a lot about Oakland and the Bay Area.

Learning-ish:

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson
This book was so good!  I’ve always loved pretty much everything Neil deGrasse Tyson does and says and this book felt like it was written for me- an overview of the entire field of Astrophysics in a few hundred pages!  No need to get a PHD, just spend a couple days with this book!

A Little History of Philosophy, Nigel Warburton
In a similar fashion to my previous entry, Warburton quickly summarizes the major names and movements in the history of (mostly Western) Philosophy.  For anyone who’s taken a philosophy class in college, this will likely serve as a refresher course, and could be a great help if you’re on a pub trivia team, which everyone should be.

The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt ***
The subtitle for this book is “Why good people are divided by politics and religion”.  As a moral psychologist, Haidt draws on his years of work to explore why we’re so divided, placing the causes in our biology and culture, and eventually offering ways we can work past our inherent “us vs them” instincts.  This book couldn’t be any more relevant to our modern predicament and though it was a rather long and at times academic read, I found it an extremely important contribution.

The Myth of Equality, Ken Wytsma
This aim of this book is to unpack the roots on racial inequality in America with a theological lens.  Ken spoke at our church this Summer and was obviously well studied in this subject.  Admittedly, Ken was writing to a largely white audience with the intention of helping them understand and deconstruct their privilege, so Myth of Equality might not be for everyone, but as a white leader in a faith community I found his historical overviews and connections very important.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who identifies as a Christian and cares about justice, equality, etc., especially if you voted for Trump 🙂

Originals, Adam Grant
Every year dozens of books get written by CEOs, sociologists, and other Malcom Gladwell like voices that offer their insight into how/why people are successful, how society changes, and what cultivates great corporate cultures.  Generally I’m not a fan of these kinds of books, but I found Originals… well, somewhat original.  In summary the book is an exploration of people who create culture and chart new pathways instead being simply successful at life.  As some one who’s mostly created jobs for myself, I resonated with much of Grant’s research and musings.  Great book if you like that kind of stuff.

Travel:

Greetings from Myanmar, David Bockino
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was really excited about something and talked to you about it as if you didn’t know much about it but in actuality you knew way more than them?  That’s what this book felt like to me.  I’ve pretty much lost count of the times I’ve traveled to Myanmar, but it was still fun reading the experiences of this wonderful country from some one who was having them for the first time.  It reminded me of the times I’ve taken people to places I love and watched their responses.  For anyone interested in Myanmar’s history or curious about what travelling there might be like, Greetings is worth checking out.

Poetry:

Bone, Yrsa Daley-Ward ***
Through conversation with a really inspiring friend I was turned on to Yrsa’s poetry.  She crafts words that expose a her own rawness in ways that draw readers into her experiences and reflections.  Bone explores womanhood, sexuality, being a minority, relationships and more.   I found that her art and vantage point felt deeply authentic and in many ways original.  If you’re into poetry and haven’t checked out Yrsa’s work, do it.

Spiritual-ish:

Help, Thanks, Wow, Ann Lamott
In her typical sarcastic-but-profound style, Ann explores here the idea that most of our prayers, whether we call them that or not, derive from one of three base postures: help, thanks, and wow.  I’ve always enjoyed Ann’s reflections and like most of her other work, the reader is just as likely to laugh as they are to cry.

Hallelujah Anyway, Ann Lamott***
I deeply resonate with Ann Lamott’s understanding of spirituality, humanity, God, life, etc., and read this book while traveling through Scotland, which was breathtakingly beautiful, which might have affected why I have such positive memories of it.  Hallelujah Anyway is all about finding meaning in the messiness of life in mercy and kindness.  For anyone interested in the big questions, you should read any of her work- but this is one of her best IMHO.

Prayer and the Modern Man, Jacques Ellul
French, Christian, and an Anarchist are three words that you don’t often hear together, but in Jacques Ellul they sing like a three piece harmony.  Writing after WWII, Ellul explores the nature of modern society in ways that are just as relevant today as they were at the time of writing.  In Prayer he reflects on the nature of prayer by deconstructing and reconstructing some of the various ways we’ve misunderstood its essence in ways that I found very thought provoking and challenging.

Presence in the Modern World, Jacques Ellul
While Prayer dealt with the practice of prayer in specific, Presence deals being a person spiritually awake within the trappings of modern society.  So many times while reading this book I had to remind myself that it was written five decades ago because it felt like something that would have been penned today.  Of the two Ellul books I read this year, I’d recommend Presence over Prayer.  Also, I think I’m a Christian Anarchist.

Life and Holiness, Thomas Merton***
For a good chunk of the year, a small section book was part of my daily reading ritual each morning.  Generally working in the same genre as the two Ellul books above,  in Life Merton, who is a Trappist monk, explores how to learn peace and holiness amidst the anxieties of modern life.  This book was one of my favorites because of Merton’s straightforward, honest, and deeply true writing.  Life and Holiness was good for my soul

Culture Care, Makoto Fujimora
As an well respected artist who also oversees The Brehm Center at Fuller Seminary (often rated the best seminary in the universe), which seeks to strengthen the relationship between the arts and the church, Fujimora is uniquely steeped in creativity and theology.  Culture Care is essentially an exploration of the relationship between Christian efforts and societies culture.  In the past Christians have often had an antagonistic relationship with secular culture, seeking to convert it or in some cases stand against it.  Fujimora argues that we should instead care for culture, bringing out the glimmers of beauty and goodness inherently found within it, especially through the arts.  Anyone interested in the intersection of art, faith, and modern culture would find this work thought provoking and worth reading.

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton
In Strengthening, Ruth Haley Barton invites readers, especially those who are in faith-community leadership roles, to examine  health of their soul.  Often public positions can lead people to neglect their inner health and spirituality while externally appearing to have it all together.  Using the example of Moses, Barton writes about how to maintain health and also warns of potential pitfalls that come with spiritual leadership.  I’ve ready lots of books in this genre, and many of them regurgitate the same ideas, but I found Barton’s offering fresh and encouraging.  I’d recommend this book to anyone in or thinking about getting into ministry.

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrims Tale, Iran Morgan Cron***
I loved this book even though it was a little cheesy at times.  Chasing Francis tells the story of a megachurch pastor who’s burnt out on flashy Americanized Christianity and finds himself traveling with a group of Franciscan monks through Italy.  As high jinks ensue, the lead pilgrim discovers the simple and subversive spirituality of St. Francis and is “re-converted” into a a robust faith, refreshed and nurtured in ways he hadn’t experienced before.  I appreciated this book because it made fun of many aspects of American Christianity in ways that I could relate to and also because the story introduced readers to St. Francis in an engaging way.  Anyone who’s processing faith issues or interested in St. Francis would be encouraged by this book.

Between Heaven and Mirth, Fr James Martin
I’ve really enjoyed getting acquainted with the work of Father Martin.  He’s a catholic priest with a heart for justice and who frequently appeared as guest on the Colbert Report.  This book outlines something that often gets neglected in Jesus faith circles, that humor is a big part of the Bible.  While I didn’t laugh quite as much as I would have thought reading a book about humor in the Bible, it was still worth the read.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Eugene Petersen***
Petersen has been one of my favorite authors for a long time.  He’s a humble, soft spoken, well read, pastor.  This book is a compilation of some of his sermons from his career at a small local church.  As a pastor myself, I’ve always found his example inspiring, and getting a glimpse into his heart through his conversations with his congregation is a treasure.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Petersen
As he explores the wisdom of the Psalms, Petersen paints a picture of life and faith as something more about simplicity, patience, and faithfulness rather than immediacy or pomp and circumstance.  You could say that his thesis in this book is that living a life of faith is summarized in the books title, “A long obedience in the same direction”, which interestingly enough was a phrase he borrowed from Niche.  In my experience, this concept has proven true, and it’s within this simple faithfulness that the richness and presence of the Divine become known.

Fiction:

The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald***
I guess I don’t really read a lot of fiction.  There are probably some good reasons behind this that would shed light on my personality and proclivities, but I’ll save that for another time.  I chose this book because I was traveling in Scotland earlier this year and out of all the legendary Scottish authors to choose from as travel partners I chose George MacDonald, I think because he was a pastor too.  And also because he was one of C.S. Lewis’ biggest influences.  The Princes is a fairy tale story that follows a young heiress and her miner friend as they uncover a sinister underworld of goblins who are scheming to take down the kingdom.  It’s a fun read with short chapters, which I like.

For Reference:
2016 Book List
2015 Book List