There are countless reasons why I’m blessed to be a part of this year. But one of the unexpected blessings is located some three hours away in the Leiseth home in Pietermaritzburg. The Leiseths have collected an incredible library, full of fiction, nonfiction, history, religion, politics, guidance, you name it, and all geared towards helping us make sense of our year here. Wanting to share a little bit of what I’ve been reading, here’s a highlight of what’s already shaping the way I accompany my wonderful community, how they’re accompanying me, and what’s shaping my entire identity (maybe a little melodramatic, but it’s true!). Part of why they’ve all been influential for me is simply because of where I am, right now. Regardless of where you find yourself, these books carry truths and wisdom that I can’t help but share with everyone I love. So read them and at some point, let’s talk about ’em!! Because I can’t get enough.
The Shack – WM. Paul Young
An easy read, but by no means as easy book to forget. I know a lot of people in my generation have read it and I have yet to hear someone speak badly of it. A refreshing and revolutionary take on the trinity, grace, and love, set within a story of incredible loss and heartbreak. I’m half way through reading it a second time in four weeks. It’s that good. There’s some stuff I can’t quite wrap my head around, some that I’ve never thought of, and some stuff that I’ve believed for years. It may not hit as close to home for you as it did me, but I promise you won’t regret reading it. (Mom, Dad – There’s a copy upstairs. Read it. And make David read it. Tell him I told him he has to read it. You too, Sara, if you can find a copy at school.) A bit of a slow start, but hang in there – it’s well worth your patience.
Tattoos on the Heart – Gregory Boyle
I honestly cannot articulate how much I am in love with this book. The author, Gregory Boyle and my new hero, founded Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in LA. The book is an incredible tapestry of stories from his time spent among the “homies”, stories of grace, loss, redemption, compassion, patience, and the kind of love that seeks to find the holy in everyone it encounters. His stories are powerful, his writing captivating, and the whole book was a “how-to” in accompaniment. While it may not (yet) work with the gangs of LA, this book outlines exactly what YAGM is all about – accompanying strangers in order to break down preconceived ideas and stereotypes, helping each other gain a better understanding of the “other”. Read it. And then we can gush together.
No Future without Forgiveness – Desmond Tutu
Everyone’s got to read a little Tutu in their life. And this one, part difficult history, part running commentary, part a beautiful expression of hope, is a great place to start.
Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices – Brian McLaren
For those of us who have ever felt “spiritual, but not religious”, I’d highly recommend this book. For those who just can’t quite feel the Holy in repetition or in liturgies that don’t seem relatable, you’ve gotta read this book. In his descriptions of why they’re helpful, they’re historical relevance, and in the spiritual practices found at every chapter’s end for your own use, McLaren makes traditional spiritual disciplines not only relatable and relevant, but sacred. Admittedly, some of his questions in his spiritual exercises make me roll my eyes (like comparing spiritual discipline to dieting and identifying the ” doughnuts and tortilla chips that tempt you”). But some questions, like those involving the “cold war between science and religion”, force you to really think about your spirituality in a concrete, regulated way. They’re exercises and he makes you work, but nothing beats the high of spiritual endorphins.
Sanctuary: Unexpected Places Where God Found Me – Becca Stevens
A small book, meant more, I think, as devotional then anything else, Stevens illustrates instances of sanctuary, places of grace she experienced over a period of several years. A beautiful depiction of the “everyday-ness” of God and a quiet reminder to keep looking for God in all the unexpected places (some examples from Stevens – a Kroger parking lot, along a road in Botswana, bathing her son, and in the midst of melted M&Ms).