My Favorite Reading from 2008

Ten books this year that I found worthwhile and inspirational…

While I do not agree with all the conclusions that the various authors come to (if they come to one at all), I was challenged by each of their perspectives and offerings.

These books were both prescriptive towards a new reality in my life, and descriptive of existing realties.  Some of them were read multiple times–others only once. Some from last year made it onto the list–mainly because they continued to have a deepening or enjoyable effect in my life. And some that I just finished are here as well (maybe they’ll go on next years list too).

I hope you Enjoy and have a chance to check them out in the coming months:

10.

This is an incredible collection of spiritual and mystical poems.  They are from another faith tradition, but don’t let that scare you off, besides inspiring greater understanding we also find that there are many things we share in common.  Hafiz articulates a God who is found in every laugh and tear.  The poetry extends beyond cognitive thought and hints at things that are beyond our ability to grasp…they turn us towards the Divine.

 

 

9.

Rollins gives, perhaps rather strangely, a lot of people hope.  I know so many who find themselves on the fringe–on the outskirts of belief or faith–but Rollins invites them to move beyond the mundane questions about God’s existence but to actually give God birth in our lives. He asks us to allow the miracle of God to be our own transformed lives.  At the same time Rollins puts forward a basic thought: faithfulness to God will always look like unfaithfulness to religious form.  This will be hard for many within their tradition to swallow–but those already outside, it seems to connect. I loved it.  

8.

I read Kester Brewins book last year, in fact it was the last book I read in 2007.  I feel as if I have lived it in 2008.  This book is one of my all time favorites.  It is written like poetry or a prayer escaping the lips of a hopeful yet hurting child.  There is a sense of wonder in these pages that invites the reader to wait on God, to discover the new thing God is doing and to dig ones hands into the grimy, often dirty, work of living towards a shared community as followers of Jesus.  Really this is a brilliant work.  I can’t say enough about it and even recently demanded that a friend and co-pioneer here in Portland read it.  I wish I could force every church planter, visionary, and co-worker to do so as well.  

7.  

I met Carl McColman this summer and had no clue who he was outside of a mutual friend’s recommendation. After our dinner together I realized that I wanted to spend copious amounts of time with this brother in Christ.  His history is rich and varied. His path of conversion is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever heard. And his generosity of spirit is intoxicating without being purely a free for all.  More than anything though, he brings all of this to a book he wrote over a decade ago.  This is a book for all spiritual seekers. It helps to articulate a path that neither negates nor excludes faith traditions, but rather affirms and invites people to recognize our great need for honest exploration of that which is beyond the here and now.  I have Christian and non-Christian friends alike I would love to loan this book to, provided I get it back. ;)

6.

Reading this book while flying 30,000 feet above the ground was a dizzying experience. I finished it between the round-trip flights to a speaking engagement in the midwest. It left me breathless.  First, it is a good mystery, or rather three of them. 1) the disappearance of God in the Hebrew Bible 2) The Madness of Niechze 3) The connection of Cabbala and the Big Bang.  For any student of Scripture who has ever noticed the peculiar problem of “the disappearance of God” between Genesis and Daniel, this is a must read.  I was always troubled by the overt involvement of God in human affairs up front, only to be completely absent (not even mentioned) in the book Esther.  Why?  This is one of the questions Friedman seeks to answer.  He also delves into a completely bizarre connection between Nietchze and Doestoevsky…in the end the man who proclaimed God was dead actually believed himself to have become God.  And then finally the last section explores what Medieval Jewish mystics seemed to know about the beginning and ending of the universe that scientists are just now catching up with.  All in all this book was riveting. I ended up have a quasi-spiritual experience akin to being slain in the Spirit but in the middle of the Denver airport. Incredibly powerful–and bizarre.  Still, an incredibly challenging and altering book about unexpected subjects from an unlikely source.   

5.

The Anabaptists have slowly, quietly, been tending to the treasury of actually taking Jesus seriously for hundreds of years now.  My wife is Mennonite as well as some of my best friends.  Though it has become, in many aspects, largely cultural–devoid of the original prophetic voice calling for radical apprenticeship to Jesus via the Sermon on the Mount, there are those who would reclaim that voice. Lee Camp is one of them.  He wrote this book as a more popularized and updated version of John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”.  This book is at once accessibly written and extrutiatingly demanding.  Still, while inviting us to take Jesus far more seriously than we probably ever have–Camp also asks us NOT to take OURSELVES so seriously.  This is a message we need to hear more than ever.  (AND, if the book weren’t already worth it, I would pay the $15 just for the Appendix’, full of Mennonite/Anabaptist creeds, and spiritual practices to be utilized personally and communally).  

4.  

For anyone who enjoyed Frost or Hirsch’s past offerings, “Exiles” or “The Shape of Things to Come”, you are going to LOVE this book.  ReJESUS is prophetic, calling us to discover, as they say it in their subtitle, “a WILD messiah for a missional church”.  Jesus, to these authors, is a flesh and blood figure who offered hope for his world and in Spirit offers hope for ours today as well.  The book is a critique of laissez faire market place Christianity, while at the same time, affirming the biblical rendering of the person of Jesus.  Once again they beautifully express the need for the church to engage the Mission of God on this earth and to discover the radical claims of Jesus for the present moment.  It is faith renewing.  It was for me.  

3.

Fact is perhaps best described by fiction.  Eons ago, back when Gen X still was mostly unnamed and we didn’t know who we were turning out to be, Douglas Coupland was elucidating the sense of isolation and desperate spiritual desire that the first generation without God was living with. The book is really a collection of short stories each focussing on different characters and situations. Still, a single thread runs through this small volume, hopelessness inspiring hope.  I recommend it because it describes the people I’ve met and am meeting.  People who are tired of running. People who are searching without realizing it.  It’s entertaining but its much bigger than that.  It’s descriptive.

2.  

The National (a band) sings about being “half awake in a fake empire”.  Chuck Klosterman is such a person.  He sees the connectedness of everything–from “Saved by the Bell” to internet porn to Frosted Flakes.  This book will make you believe that the “merchants of cool” (the shady marketeers who are engineering a culture of consumers who will buy their products) are real…and have been so for a very long time.  It will also make you realize the peculiar pit fall of being postmodern–something that Klosterman continually addresses and critiques.  In the final essay which happens to be on the topic of the once wildly popular “Left Behind” series in evangelical Christianity, he says why he admires fundamentalists. I found his reason interesting: “They’re probably the only people openly fighting against America’s insipid Oprah Culture–the pervasive belief system that insists everyone’s perspective is valid and that no one can be judged.”  Because, while he freely admits he’s a product of the mind numbing culture strewn between 1975-2005, Klosterman sees that there MUST BE MORE than pluralistic pliability–there are absolutes…even if we’ve been absolutely confused about them.  Very funny book. Very entertaining and insightful into the culture at large.

1.

The subtitle of this book defines for me something that has been, and continues to be, an arduous and at times perilous journey: reconnecting your spirit without disconnecting your mind.  To embrace mystical spirituality that affirms the Bigness of God, the unknowability of God–who can only be known in the breaking point of Spirit and Body, while at the same time exploring actively the mental ramifications of knowing ABOUT God in my mind–this is the challenge that Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in SF, seeks to do.  He’s well qualified to do it too.  His church in San Francisco has been trying to find a “third way” between spiritual fundamentalism and secular post-modernism for years.  To his critics he is just another heir to the ooey-gooey hippies but to those who are being radically healed of pessimism  and spiritual lack Alan Jones is on to something (in the same way that Jesus was ;)).  This book ministered to me.  It wouldn’t have 2 years ago. It may not in the next year. But where I am today–it helped me reaffirm my commitment to life in the Way of Jesus, to His followers and indeed to all of humanity, and to moving in Spirit and Truth.  People who find themselves disappointed or wounded, on their way out or maybe even on their way in, will love this book.  People wanting to understand those of us who I’ve just described should probably give it a read too.  This year, this book is really the one about a Christianity worth believing–Hope-filled, Open-armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in us All.

The Conversation is Changing

The conversation has, for me at least, changed.  

10 years ago, 5 years ago for that matter, these were questions that were circulated around, “what could happen if we had a church that ________?”  or “What if the church was a place where people just _______?”  It seemed like all of the talks that were being had dealt with the church; its composition, make up, and activities, etc…  

The end result of those conversations was a 6 year experiment in flat leadership (where everyone was perceived as functionally equal), open source (where everyone was able to contribute directionally, situationally, content wise), de-centralized (without any governing committee or person, decisions were made by consensus or not at all), communitarian and incarnational (where we attempted to BE the church rather than GO to church, living near each other to create opportunity for further exposure and relationship), organic (little structure, if any; constant reliance on the Spirit–eventually becoming synonymous with perpetual spontaneity)  and Christ centered (as opposed to “issues driven”, an entire focus on the person of God as opposed to the activities of God).

It’s interesting because today I hear many of the “hot” church planters (even Guru’s for that matter) toting these ideas around.  They, and many others we lived, are the sexy new methods.  Interestingly, for me, they are now (in some ways more than others) old hat…we lived them to their logical conclusion the ultimate extreme; we road tested them and found that some drove better than others.  

What’s funny is sitting at a restaurant or coffee shop with one of the new champions of these notions.  I’ll listen to their passionate and intense rhetoric about “following the Holy Spirit”/being spontaneous, tossing aside leadership roles in favor of function only models where everyone can be anything and everything, throwing out events and embracing incarnate organic church lifestyles…and then I yawn.  I’m bored.  Or those bizarre moments when I mention something as random as “growth” or throwing some sort of event or planning an “outreach” towards the community–only to be rebuked for my lack of Christ-centeredness (because of planning). In the end, the new guru’s are disappointed by me.  They don’t understand why I feel more comfortable in an brick and mortar institutional church (Mennonite, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Orthodox) or not in one at all (All faith embracing spirituality discussion groups/centers for transformation and mutual support).  Either way…the questions that I was asking, that are now being asked with a great degree of mundane regularity are not the ones that interest me any longer. And I really can’t explain that.

The goodness of God, the bigness/all expansiveness/(un)knowability of the Divine, the transformation of the entire person/locality/world, the life of justice/mercy/faith/and love practiced by individuals and collectives, art and hinting about things too big for cognitive expression, discovering a new way of thinking by living the question and embodying the certainties, surviving/coping/medicating/figuring out how to hope again, letting the symbol become the real (communion IS the reality…don’t kid yourself into thinking its only a shadow)…these are the thoughts that keep on coming back to me…The other stuff…well, I get it…I just am not there any more.

Oddly, I sense that a lot of the others–the ones who began asking those same questions around the same time–find themselves in the same place.  

For them also, it would seem, the conversation is shifting.  Interesting…I wonder where it goes next–if anywhere.

Relevant or Peculiar?

If we are to become wombs of the divine, then what we give birth to will not only take a great deal of careful nurturing but will also be very specific to the culture and the place where it is born.  In order to reach humanity, God had to re-emerge and be reborn into human form.  In the same way; we need to re-emerge and be reborn into specific places and cultures in order to be truly incarnate to them and so to reach them.  God came all the way to us–yet we now expect people to come so far toward us in the church.  Far away from their music, far away from their vernacular, far away from their visual language, their codes and symbols.  God was born again–became nothing and re-emerged–in order to reach us in our own language, to live and grow among us.  As the body of Christ, we must do likewise and, just as for Christ, this re-emerging will take immense courage.  Kester Brewin “Signs of Emergence” pg 68

______

But…what we bring them to is Holy! It is true! When we force them to abandon their culture we invite them to lay down earthy and embrace spiritual…right?

Well…maybe not…maybe our sacrosanct hymns and jesus-my-boyfriend chorus’, our insular and exclusive terminologies, our detached rituals…maybe they are simply our sub-culture…created and kept by us for us.

Maybe the how is never as important as the Him.  It’s about His Life breaking through and into this world…and He always seems to do so by incarnating himself…coming to others as the other.

The tension of being relevant versus peculiar is found held in Christ…fully human and fully divine…totally relevant and relatable and yet completely beyond and intangible.

This is incarnation–this is His History and our story…

What shall this man do?

A junkie’s list of best hits…

Alright…as promised a (book) junkie’s list of best hits (reads)…

Due to popular demand…my top 10–the first five. I’m an avid reader. I read probably 10-20 books at a time, probably several hundred in the last year…I read fast and furious…I belch out content and trade in the currency of used books and Border’s Book store credit…seriously I’m a fanatic (ick…it’s almost embarrasing just admitting how much I read)…But there are a few books that have arrested my attention and furthered my development.  They are deeply personal…but also deeply applicable to a broad spectrum of living.  Other’s have gained tremendous enjoyment from them as well…so I feel pretty good about passing on the recommendations.

Like every Rolling Stone List– which mistakenly emphasizes the new music simply because it’s the current flavor of the week–you will find that some of my selections are part of my new reading…I don’t know what to say about that…but they are great…truly!  I hope you read some of them!.

Number 10: The Divine Romance by Gene Edwards–When I read this first, over ten years ago, my life was changed.  I had never seen the Bible as more than history and suddenly I was being invited into His Story…the greatest love story ever told.  What an amazing and full vision of God’s Eternal Purpose–from everlasting to everlasting (with you and me at the center of His heart).

Number 9:  The Complex Christ by Kester Brewin–In December a friend recommended this. I was dreading the book to be honest–it looked like a dummy’s manual “how to guide” to emergence…and I really had no interest in reading it…But then I opened it…I was wrecked.  The words were prophetic. They were inspirational. They were centered on the person of Jesus Christ and offered a deep vision of God and humanity working in concert together in His Kingdom.  Truly awesome.

Number 8: Christ the Sum of All Spiritual Things by Watchman Nee–8 yeas ago an church planter and Christian worker suggested this. I had just met the Lord in a “knock you off your ass (donkey–in reference to Paul’s road to Damascus experience)” sort of way.  He thought that this might inspire an even deeper appreciation for Christ as all and in all…He was right.  It became the language I spoke for 7 years.  Very formational.

Number 7: Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell–there’s no doubt that this book was all about timing for me.  My faith needed repainting. I was on the verge of mental breakdown, I was immersed in a system of thought that had led me to pride–exclusivity–and absolutism, I was numb to God and closed to anything but the narrow vantage I found comfortable…Then I read this book.  It forced me to confront all of those demons and acknowledge my own brokenness…I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

Number 6: The Indwelling Life of Christ by Major Ian W Thomas–it’s not like I hadn’t heard the deeper Christian Life message before…this wasn’t a revolutionary book per se…but I’ve still not found a more artful and articulate synthesis of the theme of “All of Him for all of me”…I can’t help but wonder if this writing and thought process set me up for a significant embrace of the kingdom reality in my life–the kingdom gospel which speaks of a heavenly invasion into my livingess claiming my head, heart, and hands.  I would say that’s what Major Ian W. Thomas was talking about all those years ago…

Number 5: The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann–this book took me off guard.  It’s a recent addition in my life.  I knew of Brueggy baby (that’s Mike’s nickname for him) but thought of him merely in terms of dry scholasticism and theology. This book couldn’t be further from dry.  It reads with the language of an intellectual giving voice to the preaching of a pentecostal apostle.  He envisions the Scriptural reaction to the Empire/current dominant regime…he traces the continuity of how God’s people always respond the culture of competition and competence…guess how (and I hate to spoil it)…as dreamers…as believers in a better reality…as artists and poets and suffering grieving lovers…as a compassionate people–which the empire can never co-opt!  Brilliant! Brilliant!

Alright…check em out…buy em, borrow em, read em…

if you’ve already read any of them let me know what you thought. I’d love to hear your feedback.

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