Top 10 Reads of 2018 - Part 1
I’ve been talking about this post for a while so I guess it’s time to actually get it written. You may have gathered that I like to read. At the end of every year I find it helpful to think back over the previous 365 days’ reading and try to remember what I want to take with me into the year ahead. So this post is really for me, to help me remember what I thought was good to learn in the past year and to document that for myself. It’s another way of trying to embed these slippery ideas into my life at a level deeper than just head knowledge. So what were my favourites from the previous year? I’m glad you asked. In no particular order, here they are. (In the interests of not going too long I’m going to let this post be part 1 of 2. 5 books this week, 5 next.)
Survival Guide for the Soul - Ken Shigematsu. Ken is the pastor of a church in Vancouver. He’s a gifted communicator and writer and I appreciate what he has to offer. The book is divided into two main sections, the first addresses the situation that we find ourselves in. Ken describes what we live in as a state of the divided self, a conflict between our desire to achieve and contribute to the world and our desire to be relationally connected to God and to others around us. He calls it the "striving Adam" and the "soulful Adam". While both these aspects of our souls are important, our current cultural worldview seems to pressure us to live the striving aspect and forget the soulful side, fracturing within us what is meant to be one whole person.
The second part of the book outlines 8 "survival habits for the soul" to help us move from a divided self, torn between achieving and relationships, to a whole self, holding these two aspects in balance in surrender to God and His work in our lives. Ken writes of these habits beautifully, balancing the practical "how-to" of each habit with personal stories and experiences from his own journey. I was especially challenged (and encouraged) by the chapters on meditation, sabbath, and simple abundance.
How (Not) to be secular: Reading Charles Taylor - James. K. A. Smith. While this book is not an easy read, it’s a guide to a more difficult book called A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor. For me it’s a good fit, kind of a Charles Taylor for Dummies. The Taylor book is a long and in depth look at why in the past 500 years society has gone from a world that assumed the existence of God to a world that sees the assumption of the divine as at best simplistic and at worst delusional. It’s a fascinating study and one that helps us to see the way we think differently than people thought 500 years ago as well as identifying the positives and pitfalls of the shift. James K A Smith, professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, plays tour guide and translator, helping people to navigate the dense forest of Taylor’s analysis. One of the most profound insights I gleaned from this book is that we have shifted to viewing ourselves as “buffered” (more insulated) from others and outside forces instead of seeing ourselves as more “porous” and impacted by the world around us and the forces, both visible and invisible, that pressure us. This shift has caused us to question things we never questioned before and to form assumptions that we see as fact. Once again I was reminded that I tend to assume that my thinking is correct. Not a great place to start if you are hoping to learn and grow.
America: The Farewell Tour - Chris Hedges. I wrote about this book here, so I don’t have too much more to say about it. I do think it is a difficult, but extremely important read. Chris Hedges has a gift for pulling back the curtains and exposing reality for what it is. He engages with real people and tells their stories in a way that cuts through the political rhetoric to expose the moral and social bankruptcy of current day North American society. Consider him a cultural family doctor who has news about your condition that you would love to not hear, and even more love for it to be proven untrue. But the lab results don’t lie. Things are bad and will never get better until we get honest about the way things are. As I wrote in the entry on this book, “We all need to be forced to look truth right in the face and feel its full impact. It’s important because deep down we really like our illusions, our perceptions of the world around us the way that we hope it might be. They make us feel safe and comfortable. They help us believe that the world is manageable. Into that comfort zone the prophet comes and “dis-illusions” us with words that force us to acknowledge a reality that we’d like to ignore. It’s painful, but necessary and healthy. It’s a role that church and our fellow believers should play for us, keeping our eyes on the reality that is, both in regards to the world around us, and to our true identity of Christ within us. It means that church will often be a place for difficult conversations. These words and their sting keep us awake and alert to what is actually happening. This waking up to reality is the first step we need to take in engaging our world - the world as it is, not as we think or hope it might be.” It’s the least “fun” to read of the top 10, but that may mean it’s the most important.
The Wingfeather Saga - Andrew Peterson. (Amazon.ca link) On the other end of the spectrum for fun, and yet still very important and valuable to read comes a series of 4 books written by Andrew Peterson. Andrew has for some time been one of my favourite singer/songwriters and this year I found out that he had written this series of youth fantasy novels (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree. (2008) - North! Or Be Eaten: Wild escapes. A desperate journey. And the ghastly Fangs of Dang. (2009) - The Monster in the Hollows. (2011) - and The Warden and the Wolf King. (2015)). These books are incredibly creative, engaging, and fun to read while dealing with themes of identity, good versus evil, healing of brokenness. and the power of love to transform. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but these were amazing. Imagine the Chronicles of Narnia meets Die Hard. The third book was my favourite, especially the ending which was sad and powerful and hopeful and transformative all at the same time. If you like a great story, and aren’t too much of a grown up to indulge your whimsy you should read these books. I got them from my local library, why not see if they are in yours?
The Cloud of Unknowing - Anonymous. To round out the first five of my top ten let me give you a book that I have been coming back to over and over throughout the past year. It’s a fascinating read that has helped me to realize how much of my Faith has been focused on knowing about God. I’m a thinker and I like to learn. The writer of this book doesn’t negate that, just reminds me that there is more to a relationship with God than merely knowing about God. Here’s the book summarized in one quote, “Through God’s grace, our minds can explore, understand, and reflect on creation and even on God’s own works, but we can’t think our way to God. That’s why I’m willing to abandon everything I know, to love the one thing I cannot think. He can be loved, but not thought. By love, God can be embraced and held, but not by thinking.“ It has to do with moving faith from the head to the heart. Or maybe a better way to say it is that the book acknowledges the need to both know AND experience God, joining the two into one cohesive whole. This book will not be for everyone, I think it hit me at a time of life when I was ready to hear it. But hit me it did. There are things in here you will disagree with. There are things in here that I disagree with. But what impacted me in these short chapters was the need to love God with mind and heart, and to realize that I am loved by God not because of what I do or how welI think or understand Him, but because He is a God who loves me. It’s who He is. Resting in that has been a growing theme in my life over the past five years, one that this book fanned into deeper flame. For that I am extremely grateful to the unnamed writer who spent the time sharing his thoughts and experiences.
So that’s 5 of the top 10…check back next week for 5 more.