1. This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley

    Sometimes it seems as though we find two gospels in the New Testament: the gospel of Jesus and the gospel about Jesus.

    This Beautiful Mess explores tension. Tension in our faith. Tension in our human experience. Tension in our relationships. Tension isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, tension is an integral part of the Christian faith. Throughout the book, Rick McKinley masterfully explores the call for us to live in an already/not yet kingdom.

    Rick McKinley is the founding pastor of Image Dei Community in Portland and I came across his book from his publisher (Thank you bloggingforbooks.com for the free copy). Any book with a forward by Donald Miller is worth a look, right? I was astounded at how important this book felt while I was reading it. He’s just saying the same thing that’s been said (more or less faithfully) for 2000 years, but the amazing part is how revolutionary that message still is. His vision for how the community of the Church should live is nothing short of earth-shattering. Rick puts flesh and bones on principles and ideals. The stories he tells are moving and convicting and his writing is effortless and conversational.

    This book is worth the read just for the chapters on Peace, Children and Money. Those 3 alone are enough to give you a spiritual development checklist for the year. Our internalized, self-focused faith has never been what Christ intended and this book lays bare the bankruptcy of the building-fund thermometer. The church in America is too inward-focused and this book makes the best case possible for turning our focus to the things Christ originally intended.

     


  2. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls

    Do things like French dentistry, taxidermy and sea turtles interest you?

    Anyone?…

    That’s the wonder of David Sedaris. In Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls he builds captivating stories out of obsessive detail and minutiae that would go completely unnoticed by most decent human beings. I’m a huge fan of essay collections and his are among the best in the genre.

    The book goes between fiction and non-fiction and covers a wide range of topics. It can be hilariously funny and disarmingly poignant. My favorite stories were about him picking up trash on the road by his house (Rubbish), travelling (Standing By), dealing with his abusive father (Memory Laps), visiting China (#2 To Go) and engaging a telemarketer that had “an accent and though I couldn’t exactly place it, I knew he was poor. His voice had snakes in it. And dysentery, and mangoes”.

    Seriously. You need to read this book.

     


  3. The Divine Conspiracy - Dallas Willard

    “We must understand that God does not ‘love’ us without liking us - through gritted teeth - as ‘Christian’ love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core - which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word ‘love’.” 

    -Dallas Willard , The Divine Conspiracy

    Confession: I’ve never read The Divine Conspiracy. I’ve been meaning to for years, but I never got around to it. The next book on my list is Sinning Like A Christian by William Willimon but I’m between books right now and with the passing of Dallas Willard this week, I’m going to go ahead and push this to the top of the list.

    I picked it because Willard’s name comes up in the footnotes of so many authors I love and he gets called a heretic by all the right people. This book is a classic in the same vein as The Ragamuffin Gospel by Manning. I’m really excited to get into it.

     


  4. When Pro-Life Isn’t

    image

    really don’t want to write this post.

    But Rachel Held Evans makes a great point.

    We live in a country where abortion is an ugly reality we have to live with. Whether or not we agree with it, it is legal. It’s ethical and moral validity is in a gray area, albeit a dark gray area and there are valid arguments to be made on both sides. Many people have used it to save lives, but that doesn’t change the fact that abortion is a form of killing. People who are consumed with fear turn to abortion to save them from what they feel to be an intractable situation when, in reality, there are (or at least should be) other, non-violent solutions. Abortion, when done successfully and as intended, kills a person and that fact should make anyone considering an abortion pause and re-evaluate their decision. That’s not to say abortion should be made illegal. It’s illegality would, in itself, lead to the death of others. It comes down to a personal, moral decision that can only be made by the people in the situation.

    Still with me? Let’s try this:

    We live in a country where gun use is an ugly reality we have to live with. Whether or not we agree with it, it is legal. It’s ethical and moral validity is in a gray area, albeit a dark gray area and there are valid arguments to be made on both sides. Many people have used guns to save lives, but that doesn’t change the fact that guns are killing tools. People who are consumed with fear turn to guns to save them from what they feel to be an intractable situation when, in reality, there are (or at least should be) other, non-violent solutions. Guns, when used successfully and as intended, kill people and that fact should make anyone considering buying a gun pause and re-evaluate their decision. That’s not to say guns should be made illegal. It’s illegality would, in itself, lead to the death of others. It comes down to a personal, moral decision that can only be made by the people in the situation.

    Okay now that all my readers have left…

    We live in a country where war is an ugly reality we have to live with…

    See the trend?

    You can swap out abortion with guns, war, the death penalty or a careless consumerism that refuses to acknowledge where our diamonds come from or that children die for the metal in our cellphones. It’s all death. The distinction is what form of death we are comfortable with.

    The Kermit Gosnell case is deplorable and harrowing. The stories from that clinic were terrible. But they aren’t new. That happens. Not just in abortion clinics, either. We live in a world where 2 men were shot in the back for stealing a purse and where a mentally handicapped man can be killed by the government and where soldiers urinate on the corpses of their enemies. Our government tortures people accused of no crime and we ignore it with the same apathy we give to genocide and civilian casualties.

    People are broken and death is ugly and it’s all around us.

    But to rage against one form of death while keeping silent about other forms of killing you find more acceptable is to strip the term “Pro-Life” of every ounce of meaning.

    According to the latest numbers, there are about 3,300 abortions done every day (1.2m a year). That’s a large number, but nothing compared to the 19,000 children that die every day just from a basic lack of clean water, food and simple vaccines. We can meet the needs of those people for around $30 billion dollars which is almost half as much as we Americans spend in a year on our pets.

    And we don’t.

    We could save six times the amount of children (and I’m not even counting adults that would be saved) with a fraction of the political anger and bickering by just matching dollar-for-dollar what we spend on our pets and donating it to Unicef, World Vision, Charity Water or any other great relief organization.

    I refuse to participate in our culture of death. I know that at the furthest reaches of my imagination I can justify abortion, war or gun use but I can’t live by rationalizing my wildest imaginations. There are gray areas all around these issues that can only be navigated accurately by the people in those situations. Our energies need to be focused on fighting for life where it really is black and white.

    Do you have a pet? If you do, join me in matching your pet spending with Unicef (or any other group) donations. If you are petless, match what you spend on ice cream (Americans spent $5.4 billion last year), coffee ($250b) or lunch out ($400b).

    We can change the world and we don’t need to debate anyone and we don’t need to vote for anything.

     


  5. The Invisible Girls

    "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me" - Ralph Ellison

    And that is the perfect introduction to the book The Invisible Girls by Sarah Thebarge; a gripping, touching, wonderfully written memoir that weaves together the story of her meeting a Somali refugee family and her devastating bout with cancer years earlier.

    The title comes from the nickname she gives the five daughters of Hadhi - a Somali refugee escaping a dangerous country and an abusive husband. Sarah finds them broke, starving and unable to function in their strange new home and decides to help in a deep, meaningful way. She finds that her struggle with loss and pain put her in a unique position to guide the family through their struggles. But that realization was hard to come to.

    I kept imagining what the female equivalent to the Biblical character Job would be. Jobess? That doesn’t sound right. At any rate, that’s the story constantly on my mind as I read page after page of her multiple struggles with cancer, pneumonia, depression, a nasty episode of sepsis… really just the systematic dismantling of her life. She does a great job by not sugar-coating her struggles and the gnawing questions she had for a God that seemed distant. We all ask “Why?” and I’ve never heard someone say God answered immediately. The answer is never easy to come by and that silence can be devastating. Cancer, poverty, bombings at marathons and explosions in Texas are cruel, random reminders of our broken world. The trick is to stop asking “Why?” and start asking “Where?”. God is with us in the struggle. The trick is being aware.

    The story of the Girls’ existence is shocking. I am writing this in DC on a block in Chinatown that has a Starbucks on each corner. I can carelessly buy lunch today and the only ramification would be guilt for buying a lunch when I have one in the freezer. The Girls live on food stamps and WIC. They struggle to get by in the richest country in the world. I couldn’t stop thinking about the invisible people I pass on my walk to work or the invisible families that don’t have a “Sahara” Sarah to help them function in our busy, confusing country. We have caricatures for those people. Welfare queens and freeloaders. When we talk in caricatures we ignore their story and replace their humanity with a lie that suits our ideology.

    The story is important.

    This story is important.