Life among the pagodas
Okay, here goes! Not an exhaustive list of our reading for 2016, but a summary of our favorites. Hope you get a chance to pick up a couple of these!
We’ll start light, with three different graphic novel recommendations…
The Complete Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
Persepolis is a coming of age story written by a woman who grew up in Tehran during the time of the Islamic Revolution. A fascinating window into young adult life in what was an incredibly tenuous time for the people of Iran. This graphic novel is a compelling perspective into a life and world that was/is very different from what we are familiar with in the West.
We love Guy Delisle’s travel narratives. It is possible we wouldn’t be aware of them if he hadn’t written one about Myanmar (check it out The Burma Chronicles). We got our hands on these ones this year and really enjoyed them. He does a great job of giving the reader a view of place that is filtered through the lens of a weary traveler who is working abroad and far from family. Delisle has seen and experienced a lot of the world, between his work as an illustrator and his wife’s work with MSF. His stories contain a blend of wonder and weariness, a mix that can likely be understood by anyone who has traveled and spent time in a foreign culture, especially dark places. It makes for some dry humor at times. We especially enjoyed his North Korea travelogue; it was fascinating.
Economix (Michael Goodwin)
I wish I had read this in college when I was trying to understand economics. It is a lively and fascinating overview of how economics works, viewed through the lens of world history. As the book draws closer to current day history, some may disagree with his views of recent politicians and the effects their respective administrations had on the world economy. Nonetheless, it is a great read, and important material for those of us who struggle to understand how the world economy works (most of us—am I right?), and how the US economy affects our daily lives. Also, a graphic novel on economics: much more palatable than trying to read a textbook of theories!
Finding George Orwell in Burma; No Bad News for the King (Emma Larkin)
Two wonderful books depicting life in Myanmar. We have thoroughly enjoyed them, not only for Larkin’s beautiful depictions of people and places in Burma, but also for her acute insights and research in the political and military dynamics that have shaped this place. Some things have changed here, much has remained the same, too. Finding George Orwell in Burma is a travelogue tracing the life of George Orwell when he lived in Burma as a military policemen. As she writes, Larkin draws parallels between modern day Burma and Orwell’s landmark work, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Many in Myanmar have referred to him as “the prophet”, because Nineteen Eighty-Four aptly depicted many aspects of Burma over the past 50 years (as a result, Nineteen Eighty-Four was a banned book in Myanmar up until recently).
No Bad News for the King is Larkin’s story of her experiences getting into Burma right after Cyclone Nargis, her firsthand accounts of the destruction and corruption she witnessed, coupled with many testimonies from people in affected areas who were denied help and relief for many days and weeks after the Cyclone. It is estimated that the storm itself killed only half of the 140,000 people who died because of Cyclone Nargis; many more people died due to exposure and lack of aid in the days following the storm. This book is an intriguing view into the vagaries of a reclusive and superstitious government, and their effect upon hundreds of thousands of people.
We found this book relevant to our work overseas. But its focus is actually on urban work among refugees in the western world. So if you live in North America, this book is for you! I wrote more thoughts about Assimilate or Go Home here.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman)
This true story is an illustration of how two different parties with different worldviews may do their best to work together and yet still fail, despite good intentions and great effort on both sides. In this story, the cross cultural struggle centers around the health of an epileptic child, and an immigrant community trying to work alongside American health professionals in order to address the epilepsy. This heartbreaking story highlights the need for and importance of wise cultural brokers who can successfully communicate and bridge the gaps between two vastly different cultures; a very real need in today’s global world, where people of different cultures live in close proximity to one another.
Center Church (Tim Keller)
Whether you are in a formal church ministry position, or just a layman trying to encourage church growth, this book is a valuable read. Keller offers concise and powerful examples and reasoning for the importance of the church, how to contextualize in a gospel-centered way. He repeatedly illustrates how the gospel is for the religious and irreligious, for the elder and the younger brother, and how everyone fits into those categories. He encourages holistic church ministry that applies the gospel to both “elder brother” and “younger brother” tendencies within our own hearts.
Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging (Marilyn Gardner)
Gardener writes from her perspective as a third culture kid who grew up in Pakistan, raised her own children overseas, and now settled in the United States. She brings up many poignant thoughts in this essay collection. I think her writing at times could have benefited from more editing, but her story and perspective is still valuable and important to the discussion of what it means to have a home, to love another place, to move and to change. If you live cross culturally, or if you love someone who does (or someone who has lived abroad in the past), I recommend picking up this book. It is an enjoyable and easy read, and very insightful into the challenges faced by folks moving between worlds.
I am always interested in reading about cross cultural work, and because Myanmar is a high context culture (i.e. many things go without being said directly) relative to American culture, I know I have a lot to learn from Myanmar culture about listening and picking up on subtleties. There are many Christian books on the subject of cross cultural work, some of them are good, some are total rubbish and perpetuate more of the stereotypes they claim to eliminate. I enjoyed The Culture Map because it approaches cross-cultural differences from a scholarly, research-based perspective. The book is full of fascinating tidbits on culture and business; here is one:
“The comfort of silence is also another factor in trust and comfort building. In the US, Italy and France, the comfort of silence is low, but not so in Japan, Indonesia and Korea. In the US, it takes three seconds of silence before a conversation gets uncomfortable; in Japan, it takes 27 seconds. This leads to many Asians not getting an opportunity to speak in business meetings with Westerners.”
Friendship at the Margins (Heurtz/Pohl)
“Human beings who are not Christians are far more than potential converts. In our concern for reaching out with the gospel, we can unwittingly reduce the person to less than the whole being God formed.… If we want people to experience the kingdom of God and to dwell with God for eternity, then how they experience their relationship with us should be a foretaste of that goodness and beauty.”
An important read for anyone engaged in cross-cultural ministry. (Heurtz draws on his experiences working with a particular ministry, and at times the book can unintentionally sound like a plug for his ministry, but don’t let that put you off!) Heurtz and Pohl have some incredibly valuable things to say about ministry and the importance of friendship as a lifestyle; not treating people as projects, but as individuals who have something to offer. The authors suggest that when we do not engage with others in order to seek friendship with them, we are objectifying them, belittling them, and failing to embrace the image of God in them. This book strikes at the heart of one of the biggest weaknesses in the Christian ministry community. If you work in Christian ministry, please consider reading it!
A great little book containing 100 short chapters. Every chapter is just a page, and talks about an aspect of cross cultural church planting and ministry. The author writes based on his experiences working in Indonesia. He is consistent in his exhortations to humility in cross-cultural work, to being mentored by locals, and to matters of faith and cultural sensitivity. This is a great little devotional book to keep on your shelf.
This devotional collection has an emphasis on the Psalms as they relate to being Jesus’ prayers and part of his ministry. The book’s focus on how the Psalms were Jesus’ songs is a helpful new lens for a part of the Bible that is so familiar to many of us.
The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago)
Have you heard of this book yet? Or are you sick of hearing about it from us? Well, here is a quick commendation, just in case you missed it earlier! Jim has been translating it into Burmese for the past year and says over and over, “this is not just for kids!” Lloyd-Jones does a beautiful, kid-friendly retelling of the gospel, and the subtitle of the book is true, every single story in the book points to Jesus. And if you are interested in supporting the work of putting this book into print in another language, we can connect you to some people. 😉
Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago)
A final plug for another Sally Lloyd-Jones book! (And a big thank you to my in-laws for gifting us this book.) If you thought the illustrations in the Jesus Storybook Bible were beautiful, this book is even more incredible; every page is a stunning work of art, and every illustration is coupled with short devotional thoughts. The book is designed to be a devotional for kids, but I think it is a really great read for adults as well. The devotional thoughts are paired with scripture, and Lloyd-Jones does a wonderful job of reciting the truths of the gospel, page after page, in lyrical and beautiful prose.
We’d love to know what you enjoyed reading this year. Feel free to let us know so we can add some more good books to our To-Read list!