Thursday, December 8, 2016

Best Of 2016: Books

I cannot imagine a life without reading or a house without books in it. Thankfully, I don't have to. For as long as I have been a reader, I have cherished discovering new authors and books that would become my favorites; works that I revisit again and again. A good book can take us outside of ourselves, deeper into ourselves, make us see the world and ourselves differently. Books can have huge impacts on our lives, the way we view and think of others, and can impact our theology. 

The books that have made my list have made me think a little differently, see not only my own life but others in a new way, and to expand my faith to allow for even better questions. 

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren was my favorite book of 2016. After reading this, I wished that I knew Tish so that I could call her up and have a great conversation with her about the wonderful book that she had written. Reading her book makes you think that you are because it's like having a wise friend who is deeply honest and funny and real. Structured in the form of an ordinary day, she is able to present how the ordinary is extraordinary because all of it is sacred. This is not abstract theology, but, like Christ's own teachings, rooted in the daily life. "We are marked from our first waking moment," she writes, "by an identity that is given to us by grace: an identity that is deeper and more real than any other identity we will don that day." She then takes us through a day: beginning with "Waking" to "Sleeping" with all of the messy, grace filled moments in-between. Warren is a gifted writer who crafts beautiful sentences that reflects the rhythms that fill not only our days but eternity.

Tish Harrison Warren's official website:

My interview with her:

My original review of Liturgy of the Ordinary:

Back when I was an English major in college, I came across Shusaku Endo's novel Silence. A story about the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan left me with plenty of questions and reflecting on what would I do in their situation? Would I renounce my faith to end the suffering of others? 

I first encountered Makoto Fujimura through his blog and then in his book Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art & Culture.  In his latest, Silence and Beauty, Fujimura grapples with Endo's novel, as well as his own cultural heritage. His writing is as beautiful and as skilled as his paintings. He masterfully weaves his thoughts on culture, Japanese history, art, faith, and suffering and manage to bring it all towards Christ. His insights into the novel and into our culture's inability to deal with lament, suffering, and doubt are deeply profound and moving. "Christianity," Fujimura writes, "from its onset, has valued individual voices, as each person is made in the image of God. Jesus' welcoming of outsiders - even those commonly not considered worthy of attention, or those like the lepers who posed a health risk to communities - shows that Jesus came for the exiled, the marginal and the persecuted as much as for anyone else."

Makoto Fujimura's official website:

Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living was one of those books that brought me to tears. She is deeply honest about her struggles to please others and how it led to exhaustion, problems at home, and a time of serious questioning.

What I loved about his book was Niequist's candor about being someone who says "Yes" to too many things until she found that she was burned out and overwhelmed. All of the things she had thought were God's will and what she thought she wanted, weren't really either. In the midst of speaking engagements, to-do lists, and busyness, she found herself disconnected from everything. She was neglecting her family, her health and her spiritual growth. That's when she began to "remake" her life from "the inside out," She also learned that saying "No" may be the most spiritual thing one can do.

She writes, "What kills a soul? Exhaustion, secret keeping, image management.
And what brings a soul back from the dead? Honesty, connection, grace."

Her honesty is what we need more of in the Church. She doesn't hide behind a spiritual mask of having it all together, but shows that flaws and failures are apart of faith.

Shauna Niequist's official website:

James K.A. Smith is one of my favorite writers, particularly his book Desiring the Kingdom. In his latest work, he shows that who and what we worship fundamentally shapes our hearts. That we are formed not so much by the philosophy "I think, therefore I am," but more as "I am what I love." His thoughts are shaped more by Saint Augustine than Descartes. 

We are all creatures of worship and we will find something to worship, though many do not call whatever we worship "God."  Smith presents how this has shaped even something as ordinary as a mall and how it was designed very much like a church and as a place of worship within our culture. 

Our beliefs are so often formed by our hearts and our desires, more than our thoughts and our arguments. 

"Too often," Smith writes, "we look for the Spirit in the extraordinary when God has promised to be present in the ordinary."

This book is challenging and makes one think and rethink the "whys" or our habits and why we do what we do. He shows us how discipleship should be transformed by our liturgies and our worship.

James K. A. Smith's official website:

I first came to Richard Rohr's writing through his work Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go and Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. When I heard he had written a book on the Trinity, I had to admit that I had not really read any works that dealt with what can be one of the hardest concepts in Christianity: the three-in-one God. Rohr use the metaphor of a dance (think a circular dance in which we are invited to join the "flow" of the movement of it). In Greek the word is perichoresis (from which we derive our word choreography). My favorite metaphor is the one of a child who climbs into bed with his or her parents. "Why do children like to crawl in your bed like this?" he asks, "Because that's where all the energy is! All the safety and tenderness they want! Between the two of you. They've got the best of both of you; they literally rest in the space, the relationship, between you." 

Richard Rohr's official website:

For years I have loved the poems of Mary Oliver, but had never read any of her essays. Her latest, Upstream, made me regret that I hadn't. Like Annie Dillard, another of my favorite authors, Oliver draws me into nature and the spiritual side of it. Both remind me to "Pay attention" and to be aware and present to the moment. 

How could I not love a book with a passage like this one?

"Wherever I've lived my room and soon
the entire house is filled with books;
poems, stories, histories, prayers of
all kinds stand up gracefully or are
heaped on shelves, on the floor, on
the bed. Strangers old and new offering
their words bountifully and thoughtfully,
lifting my heart.

But, wait! I've made a mistake! how
could these makers of so many books
that have given so much to my life -
how could they possibly be strangers?"

That's how I feel about Mary Oliver. Though her essays are autobiographical, she is not confessional. In fact, she holds many of her cards close to her chest, but what she does allow you to see is transcendent with beauty and wisdom. Certainly one can live by her words, " . . . observe with passion . . . think with patience . . . live always caringly."

These were my favorite books of 2016, what were some of yours? 

Comment and let me know. I'm always looking for recommendations on what to read next.

1 comment:

  1. What a great list. Present Over Perfect (which I absolutely loved!) is the only one of these I've read, although I've read a lot of Richard Rohr's other work and lots of Mary Oliver's poetry. All of the rest of these books sound great but I'm especially interested in the Fujimura one because I read Silence for my book club many years ago and found it absolutely life-changing. You read a lot of wonderful stuff -- thanks for sharing!