As I reflect on my past year, it is no surprise that books come to mind. As Karen Swallow Prior states in the title of her newest book, we should be “reading well.” Whether we are drawn to nonfiction or fiction (and I am reminded that much of fiction is actually nonfiction in disguise), reading shapes us.
I am very intentional in what I read as I, along with many of you, have limited time. How will you fill those precious moments?
Here is my top three list of books which I read in 2018 that have shaped me . That’s not to say that I have not read other books that were fabulous in their own right (please note this writer friends whose books I have read that do not appear here). The books below spoke to me in profound ways that have influenced me in the ways I engage as well as my theology. They have changed the way I view the Kingdom of God and its mission. I offer these here so that you, too, may savor the words and let them lead you to wholeness. Warning: the words may lead you to deconstruct your current theology and worldview in order to reconstruct a soul passionate about making this life on earth fulfill Jesus’ prayer: “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Rethinking Incarceration by Dominique Gilliard (Intervarsity Press)
I began this book with the supposition that it would affirm information that I already knew about the prison system. Addressing the need for reformation is a personal passion of mine. I was not prepared for the brilliant unfolding of history that had remained left out of text books and media which catapulted the crisis of incarceration we find ourselves in today. Furthermore, Gilliard incorporates the voice of the church in the conversation. What role has the church in America played in supporting a system that historically has focused on punishment and rejection rather than restoration, transformation, and reintegration?
Through presentation of historical facts, tracing the evolution of incarceration and Biblical scholarship, Gilliard challenges the reader to rethink what we have been taught about justice. In particular, he explores how the atonement of Jesus influences a view of restorative justice. What are the implications and the hope when we embrace such a view? How will it change the ways we view poverty, mental health, racism, and the “war on drugs?” It is not a book with a political “agenda.” however, begin the process of deconstructing and reconstructing your theology. It is a book challenging us to think about how we are going to reconcile our commitment to follow Christ with doing what is necessary to reflect his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Vintage Saints and Sinners by Karen Wright Marsh (Intervarsity Press)
How I wish I our paths could have crossed in this earthly life! For now, I am fortunate to learn from these brothers and sisters through the pages of this book. Marsh introduces the reader to individuals whose lives are held up because of significant ways in which they availed themselves to be instruments of God’s acts of restoration. As we learn more about the personal lives of this eclectic group of “saints,” we become more aware of their struggles with sin in their journeys: doubt, unhealthy relationship choices, skewed images of God’s character, and fear. Hence, they can be recognized as both “saints” and “sinners.” Woven in between these narratives, is Marsh’s own offering up of the ways she connects with these ancestors. I found myself identifying not only with those introduced here but also with her reflections. Her wit, and personable writing style made me long to know who I was going to “meet” in the next chapter.
Liturgy of the Ordinary Tish Harrison Warren (Intervarsity Press)
This book transformed my life by transforming my days. I was challenged to recognize that the way I prioritize and view my first few moments can shape the lens through which I view the rest of my daily interactions. That’s a challenge. Framing even the most mundane task as brushing teeth as an act of worship, Warren prophetically spoke into my life. It’s tempting to ride on the “big” moments in which we see God answer prayer, speak a word, move mightily. Yet, God’s character is so much bigger than those human designated “manifestations.” Warren showed me that when I slow down and take time to listen and observe God’s presence in routine tasks, I allow God to shape my heart and my desires. My rhythms (and interruptions) become opportunities to see God at work; both in my story and the larger one. And I am made new in the process.
“God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”
Now that I’ve shared my list, what is yours?