Life among the pagodas
What a year it has been! The first half of the year offered lots of opportunities for reading, the second half, not so much. I am a slow reader—embarrassingly so. I discovered in moving here that having so few opportunities to speak English has helped me increase my reading speed, interestingly enough. Without further ado, here is a short list of some thoughtful books and podcasts Jim and I enjoyed this year.
Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible
If you have never traveled outside of North America or been a part of a multicultural church community, I recommend this read. It is a good introduction to cultural diversity and how it affects the way we read the Bible. Not all of the book rang true to us, and some of it overgeneralized, but I still would recommend reading it, letting it challenge some of your preconceived ideas about the Bible, and allowing it to expand the way you read. A few examples of good questions raised in this book:
Does relationship ever trump theology?
On our tendency to rank sin: “We know that sexual immorality or financial misconduct can disqualify a person from ministry. But can pride? Is pride a vice worth firing a pastor over? Are some sins or vices worse than others?”
Pax Americana: does our US nationalism and military strength exceed our faith in the peace Christ promised us?
Is our western virtue of having savings actually considered by Jesus to be greed? As you read the Bible, are you skipping over virtues and vices you don’t like?
The Gospel Coalition has a good review of this book here, and it does a good job of addressing its strengths and weaknesses.
You are what You Read (podcast) and Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert
This summer I read both of Rosaria Butterfield’s books, “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert”, and ”Openness Unhindered.” I appreciated her story and her thoughts about conversion, homosexuality, and the weaknesses of Christian conservatives. Both of her books seem to diverge from their original thesis and meander down side roads on topics of adoption, denominations, hospitality, etc. There were plenty of gems to be found in these little side routes, but these divergences from the original premise of the book were frustrating at times.
If you are short on time, I would recommend her talk, “You Are What You Read,” above her books. It is a good listen, especially in light of the Obergefell ruling this year, and the consternation it caused in conservative Christian circles. To pique your interest, here are a few quotes from the talk:
“Jesus holds exclusive rights to our most primal senses of self: heterosexual and homosexual.”
“The church has become just like the world on [the issue of marriage]. The world declares sexual activity a hallmark of adulthood. The church concurs, only declaring you must get married first. This is no small problem. It leads to a landslide of problems within Christian marriages.”
“You can engage in sexual purity for very prideful reasons.”
“Homosexuality is a sin. But so is homophobia. We don’t have a sexual orientation. We have a sin orientation and a soul orientation. Pornography and adultery would not be nearly so prevalent if heterosexuality as an orientation truly held its purported moral block on sanctification.”
“What if the way of escape for our brothers and sisters in the LGTB community was your house or mine? Your time or mine? Your friendship or mine? Your church or mine? Are we part of the problem or part of the solution? Are we good company for the suffering?”
“Do we secretly harbor the heresy that people’s world defined identities overpower the imprint of God’s soul upon us? Do we only want to rock the boat, reducing people who do not yet know Christ into stereotypes to mock and despise, to hold up as an example of what not to be?”
“When well-meaning Christians declare that orientation change is the proof of redemption, they are peddling a vestige of heresy called the prosperity gospel.”
Evidence Not Seen / I will Never Leave Thee (podcast)
Jim and I both agree that this is our favorite book this year. It is a beautiful story of a woman’s experience living through unimaginable circumstances. She shares provocative descriptions of jungle life in Papua New Guinea, fascinating history of WWII as it unfolded in the Pacific Theater, and heartrending stories of life and loss in a Japanese internment camp. Her walk with God, her prayer life, and her perseverance are compelling. This book is hard to put down.
If you prefer to listen to her story, you can hear her telling it via this podcast from several years ago. Have tissues ready, though.
“I want to help you to grow as beautiful as God meant you to be when he thought of you first.” A favorite quote from George MacDonald, and a mantra we like to carry in our friendships. This talk from Timothy Keller is a helpful primer for strong friendships, encouraging us to find our strength, grace and truthfulness for our mortal friendships by first embracing the great friendship we have been offered in Christ. Give it a listen!
Letters of a Woman Homesteader
Elinore Pruitt Stewart
These letters make for a lighthearted read. If you are looking for some good pioneer tales and great descriptions of mishaps, frontier life, and salty settlers, this is the book for you. Also a good reminder for me of just how much ease I enjoy in my modern life.
Bonus: What I didn’t read!
Pregnancy and Newborn handbooks
Partway through my pregnancy this year, I turned to a dear friend (and a mother) for insights on parenting, and what she has learned about herself in the process. She responded by telling me that at an early point in her life as a mother, she had to turn away from parenting books, as they caused her more grief by way of comparison and measuring up to others’ standards. This was refreshing to me, and I greatly respect her restraint in not sharing a box of recipe cards for Perfect Children. I have been equally encouraged by my mom friends who fielded my newborn questions as they arose in those first few weeks with a baby and nearly always ended their advice to me by saying, “you’re doing great!” (Thank you, all of you encouragers. Those words meant a great deal).
I have made it through pregnancy and five months of parenting without ever having cracked a copy of “What to Expect…” or one of its counterparts, and without tracking my baby’s every function with a smartphone app. I attended three sessions of a birth/newborn care class, and the rest of my advice and preparation came rather on the fly, from other mothers. Not that I think parenting books are bad, but I would encourage women to shed the idea that they are utterly necessary. If you are prone to worrying or wanting to control your circumstances, these books will present you with 1,000 difference scenarios of potential children and problems. But guess what? You only get one child, and the difficulties you will face will likely be the ones you never researched.
If I were to be adequately prepared for motherhood by way of a custom handbook it would have been entitled, How to tell if You are Becoming Septic: the Postpartum Edition (With bonus tips for maintaining milk supply while receiving an IV and recovering from surgery!). The odds of me having the postpartum health troubles I did were less than 1%. Who would have thought?
Our strength for parenting has not come from books, but rather from those who gathered around us to support us from near and far, from listening to our instincts, and ultimately, from God, who has been faithful and gracious to us in this new leg of life’s journey. So if you’re on the verge of becoming a parent and feeling overwhelmed by all the do’s, don’ts, and diets, feel free to liberate yourself from a required reading list, and go read some Calvin and Hobbes instead. 😉
Other good reads from the year:
Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging – Marilyn R. Gardner
Center Church – Timothy Keller
Recipes and Revelation – Robert Farrar Capon
Date Night In: Over 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship – Ashley Rodriguez
Those are some highlights of our reading and listening life this year. Feel free to share some of yours in the comments!