2018 Book List

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A few years back I set the goal of reading at least the same amount of books as I had read the year before.  For a while I was able to accomplish this objective, but things changed this year in one significant way.  Needless to say, I wasn’t able to hit my 2018 goal and my blog writing became more focused on reflections for my church and personal poetry.    That said I did read some books this year, and so in what has become sort of a tradition for me, and as a way to remember what I read, what follows is a recap of the books I finished in 2018.

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.  This list is only includes books I’ve finished and does not include the many, many books I’ve referenced or utilized in part for personal or professional purposes.  For an explanation of my process here is my introduction from 2016.

2018 Book List:

A Baby Makes Three, John & Julie Schwartz PHD
So many practical and helpful tips for couples who’ve added another member to their family.

Barking to the Choir, Father Gregory Boyle***
Loved this book.  Fr Boyle started what is widely recoginized as the most effective program working with gang members in the nation.  Boyle’s anthropological and theological insights are many and this book should be read by everyone.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuvel Noah Harari***
I’ve finished a few books by Harari and this one was the most fun of them all.  Basically, Yuvel makes predictions about the future and explores the many ways the forthcoming decades will look way different than those already past.

The Kingdom of God is Within You, Leo Tolstoy
Classic Tolstoy theological pontifications.  This work is specifically in the vein of contemplation/introspection and how the divine is revealed within us. A little dense, but still a decent read.

Holy Luck, Eugene Peterson
Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite pastors/authors, passed away this year.  This book was a collection of his poetry and contains some of his most powerful literary explorations.  Eugene’s work has always been good for my soul, and that’s an understatement.

Building a Disciplining Culture, Mike Breen
One of the areas folks in my line of work often miss the mark in is in their focus on church attendance rather than deeper engagement. .  This book reflects on the ways we can better help people orient their life around Jesus in a way that is truly transformative and moves folks from being spectators to participants in the work of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace.

Cultural Literacy For Religion, Mark Berkson
Recently Oak Life had a “Question and Conversation” series where folks asked various questions and we did our best to facilitate spaces for deeper engagment.  One of the questions that came up was in regards to Christianity’s relationship to other religions.  As part of my research, this book was a great refresher in some of the basics of the great faiths of the world.

Short Stories By Jesus, Amy Jill Levine
So good.  Levine’s work explores Jesus’ parables and some of the contextual interpretations that reveal the ways these stories are way more subversive and disruptive than many of us ever thought.  Anyone interested in Jesus and his teachings would find this book interesting and worthwhile.

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Olue
Over the past few years I’ve been committed to continued reflection on racial injustice and my own place within American racial dynamics.  This book is a great 101 introduction to the common vocabulary and concepts commonly utilized in our current discourse.  If you’re just starting the journey of understanding the magnitude of race and racism in America, this is a great resource.

Braving the Wildernness, Brene’ Brown
Brene Brown is sort of a cultural thing right now.  Her reflections in Wilderness are largely about acceptance and self discovery.  Good book.

Inspired, Rachel Held Evans***
A great read for folks trying to reconcile the nature of the Bible with their scientific/historic/modern disposition.  Basically, Rachel is able to find the deeper value and truth in the Bible as she explores what exactly it is all while being free to ask questions and consider its problematic characteristics.  We actually had a book club at our church that read Inspired together and it was super fun to see folks deconstruct their oversimplified views of the Bible and reconstruct a more robust, nuanced, and reverent understanding.

Mans Search for Meaning, Victor Fankl***
A classic existential exploration of life, suffering, and meaning.  Frankl writes as a holocaust survivor and his wisdom is timeless and precious.  Everyone should read this book at some point.

Bitten by a Camel: Leaving Church and Finding God, Kent Dobson
A really fun deconstruction/reconstruction journey from the guy who took over Rob Bell’s pulpit.  I highly respect his process, honesty, and faith.

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, Brian Zahnd***
For anyone who has a view of the Divine as a cosmic Zeus who looks down on humanity with a frown judging each of our actions, this book is an urgently needed offering. Basically, Zahnd starts and ends his view of God with how God is revealed in Jesus- a God of endless mercy, inclusion, and love.

Heretic: An LGBTQ-Affirming, Divine Violence-Denying, Christian Universalist’s Responses to Some of Evangelical Christianity’s Most Presssing Concerns, Matthew J. Distefano***
I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this title, but man was it enjoyable.  In this work Distefany basically does a catechism style Q&A in defense of his theological positions which would be considered by mainstream American evangelical culture as heretical.  Fun read for anyone coming from that context looking to broaden their framework.

Watch For the Light: An Advent Devotional , Assorted Authors
I was given this book by a mentor of mine and I’ve thouroughly enjoyed it.  It’s a daily devotional for the Advent season that includes authors like Bonhoefer, Barth, L’Engle, and more.  Lots of great insights and fresh/old perspectives on the eternal significance of Christmas.

Previous Reading Lists for Reference:
2017 Book List
2016 Book List
2015 Book List

When Hell is Not a Metaphor

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There’s a slight chance of rain next week
Until then, orange skies and pierced lungs
Down here our breath is poison
Where are you God, where were you?

It’s so  much worse up there
I heard the flames moved at 100 yards per second
They had no way out
Hundreds missing and tens of thousands homeless now
Where is your protection?

Hell manifest in space and time
And it’s not a metaphor, I wish it was
And we have nothing
Our prayers seem fleeting

Around here everyone’s on edge
Hearts nervous and dread creeps
Things are not right
And we’re in it together

Everything looks like the movies
The ones after The End
We’re sucking in scorched trees, homes, and life
Wondering, how much longer?

The list more than tripled last night
The souls they can’t find
What is their fate?

I drive past my neighbors in the tent cities
Pressing the gas to get us indoors
Keep the baby and dog safe
That’s number one

But what about them?
What about the thousands we pass by without their own indoors?
They’re enslaved to this air
The air that gives life, filled with death
Do you even care?

And we’re hundreds of miles away
From the burnt down town
Where the heavy smoke of Hell’s despair hovers
And it’s not a metaphor, we wish it was

God I know this will pass,
But why not sooner?
How much longer will we drown in this harsh moment?
Lord, be who you are
Because your children suffer.

——-

This poem was written to process, pray, and honor those affected by the Camp Fire.  Here is one resources to find ways to support them, but there are many other ways:

https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/help-2/

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Vocation

Sacred sadness
That’s how they named the color of paint that adorns a pastors office
Somehow it’s always there
The cafes, parks, homes, and theaters
These walls, this air, holds it all
Pain, hurt, desolation,

but also the shrill and fresh cries of newborn life

They don’t really warn you, how much it will be
And they never told you that you’re stronger than you thought
You can carry it, most of the time

Not because of the ivory tower in which learned to divine
But because of the divine presence in the shitstorms, foxholes, and hospital beds

Is there anything as holy and blessed as this life?
One in which I get let into the deepest darkest nights and encounter the luminous warmth of resurrection flame?

Bruised cheeks, emptied bank accounts, hungover mornings, unknown loves, grieved dreams of family lost, assaulted and all left out in the dark alone-

These are the stories of these walls.
I’m not sure how but they are me.
I am the paint that hears, absorbs, and loves

God grant me the strength to see it all as sacred and holy.
Let me love more than I thought I could.
Though I’m always a little bit sad,

your glimmering hope makes the sorrow joyful at the same instant

Dear Pastor #2: a liturgy (written on a phone, on a plane)

Pastor,

You may say it well but it’s not enough

This pain won’t let me hear

It’s too much and it’s too little, no matter how sincerely you try

You’ve un-surfaced these scars yet again and their depth drowns out all else

You missed the mark and your words fall short of being a balm that heals

You’re all wrong, just by default, your skin, your voice, your body

You are the problem that triggers these wounds so deep, and there’s nothing you can do

That Sunday I entered the sanctuary, it entered me, and this sacred mess spun around

Communication in words and symbols will always fail

Amplified thoughts both dilute and stab all we’ve carried here

Is there even a way to speak a truth that won’t offend and stir?

I don’t know

So in the mean time I’ll assume the worst and project my past, and make you the caricature I’ve been told you are

I’ll conclude you’re wrong and declare your shame without inquiring of your own pain

It’s not valid anyway

Whether you already know what I’m trying to say or you actually said what I claim you didn’t, isn’t something I care about

Because what I need is beyond all that, an impossible ask that I still expect

I need you to hold all my burdens because if you don’t, who will?

I need you to say what I want you to, and afterwards I need you to be ok with me saying you didn’t or you did it wrong

Cause I’m lost and tumbling and tossing in this world of suffering

The currents so strong you’re sure to drown no matter how well trained your strokes

So what’s the point? Why do you try? What were you hoping to do?

———

Child,

I’m sorry, and I love you, and your scars are beautiful here.

I can’t make it better and I’ll surely mess it up, but I hope there is something more

I hope what’s stirred is exposed for love and the divine will find you there

I pray to God that I don’t get in the way and that you’ll encounter the holy still

That all I say and all I am may only serve as a rope of life

Climb, push, throw, and forget as long as you make it to the shores

——-

All,

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can, and the wisdom to know the difference

A Prayer of Gratitude

The below prayer is from my final retreat with a cohort of early career pastors from around the country that I was privileged to be a part of.  For the past year we’ve gathered together quarterly to share lives, be encouraged, and practice spiritual formation. As we closed our time together were asked to write a prayer/psalm of gratitude which we would each read aloud around a snowy campfire at Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado.  It was a beautiful and memorable moment.   For me, my prayer of gratitude includes the four things I’m most thankful for at this point in my journey: our new child, my wife, our church, and the cohort itself.

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“To the one who has given us everything we can behold through, from, in and for love.

We say thanks in words that go beyond language

Thank you for the gift of flesh from my flesh, for his transcendent smile, sheer ecstasy and joy. I do not deserve to bear witness to such heart melting, pleasure giving, heaven pointing love.

Thank you for the grace of my wife. For her strength, peace, constant friendship and the endless ways life is more full because of her.

Thank you for the miracle of a church that came out of our dreams, where the margins are embraced and the centers are challenged both into deeper, condition-less love. Where you call our messes beautiful, sacred, and holy.

For the unreal, unearned opportunity of this ministry cohort. For the gift of being served, loved, seen, believed in, inspired, refreshed, admired, challenged, and nurtured by you through these co-laborors

For these gifts, this bounty and for all those things not mentioned we give thanks and say, praise god from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above the heavenly hosts.”

Amen amen amen.”

It’s all ego

It’s all ego
All of it
All of our worthiness projects
Every single one of them

Each post, provocation, and premiere
Hanging there like stars
Who’s light we long to shine on us
Validating our being

The framed sunsets and smiles
The lighting and lines
Comments and likes
Are all impotent attempts at satiating our souls

I’ve been doing it this whole time
I’ve given decades of my life to it
Forging a church Ex Nhilo
So much sleeplessness, sweat, and stress went into it

Yes, it is beautiful
But it’s also bullshit

Today I’ve got to make words appear on a screen
Words that will rally the troops once more
And convince us yet again that it’s all worth it

But is it?
Worth it?

Or is it all a reflection of my sickness?
That I want to feel valued
That I want to be seen
That I want to be better than them
And that I want to be loved

What is it that keeps us going each day?
What is it that makes a man do anything other than hold his beloved
And give it all away building something to prove that he was there?
That he was worthy?

It’s all ego
All of it
All of our worthiness projects
At least most of them

Peace be still
Peace be still
The storm rages
Peace be still

When Pastors Lament

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Over the last few months I’ve had the privilege of participating in a cohort of early career pastors from around the country.  Every quarter we gather for a couple days to retreat and provide space for spiritual formation as ministry colleagues.  In between our retreats we meet online and engage in spiritual writing/reflection together.  Sharing this season of life with other young pastors has been a transformational gift in so many ways.  I’m deeply grateful to have been accepted into the cohort, and for the people who lead us in such a special journey.

On our most recent retreat we convened in Austin, Texas at a special place called Community First Village which provides long term housing for the chronically homeless.  Though not a traditional retreat center, the atmosphere at the village was as sacred as any monastery.

The focus of our time together was on forgiveness and reconciliation.  As we heard about the story of Austin’s past and present, specifically the affects of gentrification and racism, we reflected on our world and the role the church has played (or not played) in both combating and perpetuating oppression.  On our final night, before receiving the Eucharist as a cohort, we broke up into smaller groups to process and write a lament.

Below are prayers written by a small group of young pastors from across the country.  Laying bear our grief and concerns before God in the form of a lament is a deeply Biblical practice that the American church often neglects, but given the state of our world, is something I’m convinced we need more of.   The process allows us to acknowledge the depth of suffering facing our world without a need for resolution or solutions, but just to mourn.  From there we look to the wounds of our Savior which offer us God’s presence and solidarity in the midst of our brokenness, and we trust in the God who with us.

“We lament that there are American churches that think the work of racial reconciliation is optional

We lament that pastors are reticent to bring up these issues due to fear of losing members or money

We lament our blindness to the ways we are racist and the ways we are complicit in racism

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that we choose comfort over sacrifice and privilege over justice or equity

We lament that sometimes we are for justice in appearance only

We lament that we only care about the ‘en vogue’ justice issue of the week and then it is quickly forgotten

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that our leaders of faith have aligned themselves with political power over the way of Jesus

We lament accepting theology that has propped up racism by promoting a White Jesus

We lament that we have a skewed understanding of our history

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that the voice of women has not been heard on an equal basis in the church, ever

We lament the fact that this is also true for the Black voice, the Hispanic voice, and any other marginalized people group

We lament that so many don’t want to take the next step, no matter the starting point

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that in church contexts women are not given the benefit of the doubt

We lament that in church contexts, the victim isn’t supported while the person in power is

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that our schools are becoming more segregated

We lament that the history of the private Christian school movement is partially racially motivated

We lament that our denominations have a racialized history

We lament that the history of the global church is steeped in partnership with racism and slavery

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament our own personal prejudice that has taken root because of what we have witnessed in the church

We lament that we have lost the ability or desire to have conversations with friends and family that have supported leaders we disagree with

We lament the difficulty of having real conversation with sisters and brothers in Christ without discord

We lament that we have vilified the person on the other side of the argument

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that we don’t care as much as we should about reconciliation

We lament our apathy concerning reconciliation

We lament that the White culture has not truly repented and sought biblical forgiveness

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that we work in silos and ignore our neighbors in need

We lament that we work in silos and criticize the ‘other.’

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy”

*Written by Diane’s small group as part of the the 2017-2018 Fuller/Lilly Early Career Pastors Spiritual Formation Cohort