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Book Lists

Here’s a short annotated book list of some of my favorite books.  As you can see, it’s a work in progress.  I will finish writing the book descriptions and add more books as I can.

Spiritual Practices:

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.  I must admit, anything by Barbara Brown Taylor is a must read for me.  I love, love, love her.  This was the first book I read by her and is the book that made me rethink how I moved through life.  Everything can become sacred and holy, if we find God there.  (On a side note, I love this video of Barbara Brown Taylor talking.  It’s short.  Check it out.  She had me at “I’ve been bathing in scripture for forty years).

The Breath of the Soul:  Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister.  Chittister is another one of my favorites.  This has been my Lenten reading the past two years.  Each day has a reflection on prayer, a Bible passage, and a short mantra or breath prayer to repeat throughout the day.  From the book: “The point of prayer is not to spend our prayer lives begging for ourselves but to turn us into the Jesus figures who answers the prayers of others.”

Monastery of the Heart:  An Invitation to Meaningful Life by Joan Chittister.  Chittister is a Benedictine nun.  While many books have been written about the Benedict’s Rule, Chittister approaches it slightly differently this time–in poetry.  This is a book to be savored.

Prayer:  Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard J Foster.  Another book on prayer.  Richard Foster is another author who has written extensively on spiritual disciplines  (he authored Celebration of Discipline as well). In this book, Foster explores and explains inward prayers, upward prayers, and outward prayers.  It’s probably about time I read this book again.

The Quotidian Mysteries:  Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris.  Norris writes of finding God in the everyday.   This is a small book–it is the text of lecture she gave at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.  Norris is not a Benedictine nun, but has spent time with the Benedictine tradition.  This book is a good reminder that God is in the everyday and how we do our everyday tasks can demonstrate our love for God and others.

Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner.  I loved this book.  Lauren Winner converted to Christianity from Orthodox Judaism.  In this book, Winner examines some Jewish practices and explains how to incorporate these into the Christian life.  Here’s what she says about food (which is big deal in the Jewish faith and a personal favorite thing of mine):  “For the first time since I have become a Christian, I have found myself thinking about what food I put into my body, and where the food has been-in whose hands, in what countries-before it got to my plate.”  and then: “On Sunday morning when I watch my priest lay the communion table for the gathered believers, I remember why eating attentively is worth all the effort:  The table is not only a place where we can become present to God.  The table is also a place where He becomes present to us.”


Telling God’s Story:  A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible by Peter Enns.  I’ve struggled with how to teach the Bible to our children.  During our Advent Jesse Tree readings, we were supposed to read Abraham sacrificing (almost) Isaac.  We couldn’t do it.  We have a three year old Isaac and both struggle ourselves with what to do with this scripture.  We decided we didn’t weren’t ready to introduce that one to our kids yet.  Enns addresses this issue—the Bible being hard for adults–and how we teach the Bible to our kids.  Depending on their age depends on what parts of the Bible they’re ready for developmentally.  Makes sense to me.  The book is divided into two sections.  Part 1 is How to Teach the Bible and Part 2 is Reading the Bible for Yourself:  The Five Acts of the Bible.  The most impressive part of this book for me though was Enns writing.  I had read another of Enns’s books and it was heavy, very academic.  I was quite pleased that he was able to appropriately vary his writing style for his audience.

In the Midst of Chaos:  Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore.  I debated whether to put this as a parenting book or a Spiritual Practice book.  It could go either way.  Miller-McLemore describes a set of spiritual practices which particularly pertain to raising children.  Some of her chapters include:  Sanctifying the Ordinary, Taking Kids Seriously, Doing Justice and Walking Humbly with Kids, Playing the Field, and Take, Read.  The chapter on Blessing and Letting Go, Miller-McLemore writes:  “The practice of blessing, like a good benediction, declares our willingness to live joyously and gratefully within finite existence and to set our loved ones free to do the same.”

Good and Angry:  Exchanging Frustration for Character…In You and Your Kids!  by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.  I have to admit, I haven’t finished this book.  This book hasn’t been one I just sit down and read–it’s been one I turn to for help.  I’m generally not a fan of parenting books because they are good at spelling at problems, telling you how things should be, but they forget to tell you how to get there.  Good and Angry explains the desired goal and then gives step by step plans (including language to use) to get there.    Two of the most helpful chapters I’ve read are titled:  They Don’t Do What I Say:  Instruction:  Giving the Gift of Responsibility and They Won’t Accept No for an Answer:  Accepting Limits:  Giving the Gift of Contentment.

It’s All About Love:

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.  This book wasn’t earth shattering for me, like some have talked about.  It was more like a warm bath, being surrounded by the reminder that I am loved by God and there was nothing I could do that could separate me from the love of God.  I liked the second half of the book much better than the first.  Here’s a quote:  “We must choose either Christ or the Law as author of salvation.  Does freedom come through faith in Jesus or through obedience to the Torah?  The issue is momentous.”

The Inner Voice of Love by Henri J.M. Nouwen.  This was a book I picked up and put down many, many times.  Nouwen was writing for himself in this book and was published posthumously.  This book addresses our need to please others and gain their acceptance and praise.  Nouwen’s suggestion to the reader at the start of the book reads like this:  “Do not read too many of these spiritual imperatives at once!  They were written over a long period of time and need to be read that way too.  They also do not need to be read in the order in which they appear….These spiritual imperatives are meant to be like salt for the meal of your life.  Too much salt may spoil it, but a little at a time can make it tasty.”

The Return of the Prodigal Son:  A Story of Homecoming by Henri J.M. Nouwen.  The Return of the Prodigal Son was written around the same time as The Inner Voice of Love and published four years prior to Voice of Love.  Nouwen uses Rembrandt’s painting, Return of the Prodigal Son, to write a reflection on this very well known parable.  I’m still in the process of reading this.  Nouwen manages to shed new light on a story we’ve all heard many sermons and reflections on.

Falling Upward:  Spirituality for Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr.  Rohr’s book explains the second half of life–that half that occurs after we’ve been broken and have experiences that have changed our faith.  This is not a book about living life in retirement.  Rohr writes about moving away from either/or thinking to the and/both.  The black and white nature of living falls away, as does the need to be right or powerful.  This allows us to be loved by God more fully and to love others better.  Rohr says:  “Like any true mirror, the gaze of God receives us exactly as we are, without judgement or distortion, subtraction or addition.  Such perfect receiving is what transforms us…All we can do is receive and return the loving gaze of God every day, and afterwards we will be internally free and deeply happy at the same time.”

The B-I-B-L-E

The Friendship of Women by Joan Chittister.  In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve loved everything by Chittister that I’ve read, and each has been unique to itself.  In this book, Chittister looks at several women from the Bible (and a few from Christian tradition, like Jesus’ grandmother, Anne).  She tells the story of each woman and then applies their actions to our friendships with other women.  This is a very easy and enjoyable read.

Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.  I was nervous when I picked up this book.  Would it read too much like a textbook (like John Howard Yoder’s Politics of Jesus, which I still am unable to read)?  I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t at all.  Enns balanced story with lecture well.  He presented some of the Ancient Near East literature that was written around the same time as the Bible, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other historical records from other traditions.  The book suggested that the Old Testament was an incarnation for the people who lived in that time.  We can’t expect the Bible to be written so it makes total sense to us, because it wasn’t written for us.  It was written for the people of the Old Testament and the context and culture they lived in.  The last section of the book, he suggests a new lens for us to read the Old Testament with, recognizing that everything in the Old Testament points to Jesus.  This book challenged me greatly at times, but I enjoyed the challenge it presented.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.  Unlike the other books in this section, this book is rather humorous.  Rachel Held Evans decided to live according to the Bible for a year–everything that the Bible said for women in the Bible she was going to attempt to do at one time over the course of the year.  Of course, she stayed in a tent in her yard for a part of a month.  She also did penance by sitting on her roof, sat by the Welcome to Dayton (her town) sign with a sign saying how great her husband was, tried to sew, learned to cook bread, and covered her head whenever she prayed.  While this book has gotten a lot of negative press from those who haven’t read it for making fun of the Bible, it did the opposite.  Held Evans found some practices over the course of the year that was very meaningful to her.  She approached the Bible with respect, but wanted to point out that we all pick and choose to a certain extent what we use from the Bible.  The most interesting part of the book with me was her dialogue with an Orthodox Jew living in Israel and her introduction of the term “Eschet Chayil,”  woman of valor.

Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James.  Custis James sets to explain why women are so important to the church in her book.  While I needed no convincing of women’s value, I did enjoy her exploration of specific passages of the Old Testament, in particular, and the Hebrew words used.  For example, the word “ezer” is used as the first word for Eve/woman, which has warrior conotations.  Custis James explains that the church needs women and women are called to be strong “ezers.”  The issue of women preaching in church is skirted, much to the chagrin of some of her reviewers, but by no means are women described as submissive or quiet.  This book paired well with A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Half the Sky.

Bread of Heaven by Barbara Brown Taylor.  Bread of Heaven is a collection of Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons.  Each sermon is about three and half pages long.  I love Barbara Brown Taylor.  This is an easy book to pick up in read over a long period of time because the chapters don’t build on each other.

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg.  When I started this book, I was initially turned off by it.  I didn’t especially enjoy the writing or the content, however I decided to stick to it, because a voice I trusted recommended it.  As I read on, I liked it more and more.  Tverberg looked the Old Testament and Hebrew words to explain some of the things Jesus preached.  She set things contextually and explained the nuances of some Hebrew words. It was in this book that I discovered how interesting the original Hebrew was.  This isn’t a difficult read, which is nice for a book that is about cultural, context, and language.


Books that Don’t Fit Anywhere, But Are Worth Reading

Red-Letter Christians by Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne.  Red Letter Christians could probably be book in the B-I-B-L-E section, but it wasn’t quite. In this book Campolo and Claiborne define a movement they have started.  They want to live according to the red letters in the Bible– the words of Jesus.  The book is divided into 26 short-ish chapters about different aspects of Christian Life.  The book is written like a dialogue—Campolo writes and then Claiborne writes.  Each author is acknowledged as the author and they often ask questions of each other and respond to the questions.  It is an easy read, but also a challenging one.  They challenge us to live according to the words of Jesus and not the cultural norms around us.

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl DuWunn.  Half the Sky is not a religious book, per se.  However, it has challenged be spiritually more than many.  Kristoff and DuWunn examine many of the challenges women around the world face regularly.  They begin by spelling out the issue—trafficking, lack of maternal/pre-natal care, lack of education–at the beginning of each chapter.  The last section of each chapter explains a grassroot movement that is working to alleviate the issue, which keeps the book from becoming too dark and depressing.  The book does an excellent job of empowering those of us in the first world to do something and not be overwhelmed with immensity of the issues facing women today.  It made me realize it is not ok to stand by and let others fix problems.  There is also a PBS documentary by the same name available on Netflix that I highly recommend.

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