So, we’re already in 2015 and everybody has posted their favorite books from 2014, and I acknowledge that I am late to the game. I also acknowledge that this can seem a bit pretentious AND that most of these books were not published last year. ALSO… it was originally a top 14 list (get it?) but realized that I didn’t want to type all that much. So here we go:
When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, T.M. Luhrmann
For anybody trying to understand Evangelical spirituality, namely from a more charismatic bent, this book is perfect. Luhrmann’s research and analyses are incredibly interesting, bringing together Church history, anthropology, and psychology to understand Evangelical mysticism. As somebody who was a member of a Vineyard church and is much influenced by John Wimber and Vineyard’s values, this book was especially fascinating. Luhrmann did most of her fieldwork at two different Vineyard churches, one in Chicago and the other in northern California. Though she does not consider herself a Christian, she became intimately involved in these communities, regularly attending small group meetings, conferences, retreats, etc. One thing I love about charismatic/”renewalist” spirituality is the acknowledged fuzziness between what was God and what was one’s self, and how that is not necessarily a bad thing. This book was helpful as it explored how spiritual experiences could be developed and sought out from a psychological/neurological perspective. By no means are these experiences explained away, but a bit of insight is given on such phenomena.
Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms in Prayer, Ken Wilson
Ken Wilson, founding pastor at Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor and now Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor, has a lot to say about the power of prayer, not just for the sake of petition but also for personal transformation. I read this book right before I read Luhrmann’s and they seem to complement each other well, especially as Wilson explores the use of spiritual disciplines in renewing and transforming the mind to experience God more fully. He also gets bonus points for including the Quaker practice of “holding in the Light“.
Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, Jeff Chu
This book may not present a radical queer theology or even attempt to push one in a gay-affirming direction, but it was extremely helpful in understanding the depth and diversity of the predicament that gay Christians deal with. Chu interviews folks from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, ex-gays, ex-ex-gays, “Side B”/celibacy-endorsing gay Christians, and former Christians whose disillusionment was sparked by their community’s rejection of an integral part of who they are. I really enjoyed the stories told in this story and it really helped me process and make peace with my own journey.
Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
This is one of those books I know I am going to continually come back to. I may be reading it a bit prematurely, but honestly, I think this is one of those books that can speak to everybody’s condition. Fr. Richard Rohr reframes the second half of life not simply as coming to terms with the fear of death and our inevitable end but as a place of finding hope and redemption in what the world sees as falling down. The only ways we can grow to be full human beings, in fact, is by falling down; we find our way up by falling down. And so Rohr goes on to explain why the second half of life is not simply about preserving the life we found in the first half, but building off of it, expounding on it, and continually growing from it. This book gave me a lot of peace as I came to terms with the idea that being a “wise elder” someday does not mean I have to get all the right answers and reach some spiritual state close to infallibility in the first half, but that finding Christ and grace in my failures and weaknesses is a whole lot more important.
A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God, Bob Ekblad
Ekblad’s ministry and teachings beautifully blend charismatic spirituality with Liberation Theology, and A New Christian Manifesto is a perfect example of that. Coming from a progressive mainline Presbyterian, social justice-oriented background, the Charismatic Movement was understandably both foreign and scary to Ekblad. His charismatic experiences began at Catch the Fire, the home of the controversial “Toronto Blessing”, despite his own wariness of the right-wing culture of Charismaticism. Ekblad has since married Spirit-led ministry to his ministry to inmates, homeless folks, immigrants, and addicts in a way that reflects what he calls Christ’s mission statement, Luke 4:18-19:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, Christian Smith
Years ago I heard about this book and was threatened by the idea that the language of “biblical inerrancy” could be problematic. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then and I came across this book at just the right time. Reading The Bible Made Imposible demystified the Bible in some ways, but even more than that, it made me more thankful for how much of a gift the Scriptures are to the Church and solidified my own testimony to the inspiration behind these books. It also made me want to approach and read the Bible more reverently and responsibly. It prompted many queries that I am still exploring about what the authority of the Bible, and authority as a whole, looks like in charismatic and Quaker community and discipleship. I could not recommend this book enough, especially for those dissatisfied with the American Evangelical perspective on the Bible.
Girl Meets God, Lauren F. Winner
Girl Meets God is Winner’s spiritual memoir, and she has a very unique story to tell. As the daughter of a lapsed Southern Baptist who promised her husband, a Reform Jew, that she would raised their children Jewish, Winner had grew up very aware of her Jewish heritage, and later on developed a deeper hunger for Jewish tradition, becoming very involved in her local synagogue. As her interest in Judaism grew, so did her love for the Law, and she eventually converted to orthodox Judaism. After years of being in community with other Orthodox Jews while studying at Columbia, she found herself with a growing curiosity about Jesus. Despite her biases against Christianity and even opposition from friends and family, she became baptized as an Anglican while studying in England. The chapters of the book follow the Christian liturgical calendar, and her reflections are appropriately fitting in each season it is placed in. This book got me thinking a ton on religious pluralism, the preciousness of tradition and ritual, and her brutal honesty and love for God were inspiring, for lack of a better word.
Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas
My introduction to Hauerwas was his memoir, Hannah’s Child, which I still feel kind of guilty about. I don’t know exactly how to explain why other than I feel like I cheated my way into intimacy with Hauerwas. For the most part, though, I am glad I did, as it helped me understand the context of his other works more fully. What Hauerwas wrote about Resident Aliens in Hannah’s Child seems most fitting, so I’ll let him do the talking: “I thought it quite odd that Resident Aliens was received as a radical book. All Will and I did was suggest that actions as basic as preaching had radical implications. it is not as if we thought we were reinventing Christianity. We asumed the exact opposite. God can use even a church as accommodated as liberal Protestantism. We were trying to remind Christians that, in the words of Peter Maurin, we were sitting on a keg of dynamite.”
- The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800-1907, Thomas D. Hamm (Quaker Nerds will love this.)
- Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus J. Borg (Despite disagreeing with Borg on so much, he has a lot of integrity and I am thankful for his willingness to dialogue and his own processes.)
- A Testament of Devotion, Thomas R. Kelly (Quaker mysticism at its finest!)
- The Heavenly Man, Paul Hattaway / Brother Yun (Stories from Brother Yun and the underground Church in China.)
- Grace (Eventually): Thoughts of Faith, Anne Lamott (Lamott’s transparency and story-telling are both challenging and encouraging.)
- Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber (Nadia’s story reveals the inclusive grace of God shamelessly and powerfully.)