Reading matters: What’s on your list?

I’m convinced, more than ever, that our lives are shaped by two things:

1. Revelation

2. Our response to revelation

A lot of revelation in our lives is pre-determined.  We don’t choose our families,  the nation in which we live (usually), and all the cultural taboos and mores that go with those inheritances.

But it’s also true that, as we grow older, a great deal of the revelation in our lives is the product of our choices.  We choose our friends, the media we digest, and what we do with our free time (including how much time we spend with social media, which is another subject for another post).  In the category of media, there are books, music, and movies/theater.  All of these will shape us profoundly.  Revelation shapes our thoughts, and “as a person thinks in their heart, so are they.”   Here’s a sampling of the revelation I’ve been digesting over the past year, along with some thoughts on why each book is valuable:

The Emotionally Healthy Church, expanded edition, is built on the premise that a church can be growing outwardly, and involved in a frenzy of activity, while ultimately still being highly dysfunctional.  The author’s thesis is that the emotional pathologies of senior leadership will always invariably bleed outward, into the staff, leadership, and congregation.  I’ve always believed this to be true, and with the author, pondered the mystery of so many American ministries that have been outwardly successful while run by highly dysfunctional people.  I’m reading it because of my ongoing need to work on my own issues, finding identity beyond the church I lead, freeing myself from being driven by the demands of others, or fear of conflict, or lust for approval.  It’s a great read, and I’m considering sharing it with other leaders at my church (in a sort of mandatory way).

There’s a new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Anyone interested in WWII history, and the important issue of how church and state relate when the state chooses death and insanity, should read this book.  Bonhoeffer’s a hero because his faith was a blend of mind, heart, and body; of friends, family, and solitude; of nature, word, and culture.  This is what him so effective, and his impact so lasting.  That he offended both the left and right consistently, being beholden to no systematic theological institutionalism is bonus.

Generous Justice:  How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, is written by my favorite author and teacher, Tim Keller.  If you’re wondering why a commitment to the common good, and embodying justice, is vital for our faith, read this.

As We Forgive, is a book written to accompany this movie about the Reconciliation project that’s happening in Rwanda.  If you’re struggling with bitterness and wondering how forgiveness and justice relate, this is a must read.

We Die Alone:  A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance, is a great historic work about a soldier’s escape from the Germans through the icy oceans off Norway, into the snowy mountains, and beyond, to Sweden.  It’s a story both of his own courage, and of the meaning of hospitality and solidarity.  Anyone who loves the outdoors would love this book.

Speaking of the outdoors, don’t miss John Muir’s Travels in Alaska, for a great historic trek through the wilds of 19th century Alaska.  His love of the outdoors offended his Pietist father, but his writings reveal his great sensitivity to the presence of God in creation.  One of my new favorite songs certainly speaks of how such a love leads us, if followed, to throne of God.

Other’s read over the past year:

Anna Kerenina, and The Kingdom of God is within you, both by Tolstoy.

The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (a must for anyone who writes)

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben (Journalist, Environmentalist, Christian)

Genesis:  Translation and Commentary (Robert Alter) If you teach Genesis, you want to own this.

For 2011: What’s on your list?  What should be on mine? Why?

PS: I hope you’ll read my new book, “The Colors of Hope” in 2011, due out in May.


6 thoughts on “Reading matters: What’s on your list?

  1. Two authors I’ve recently been appreciating and enjoying are Randy Alcorn “The Treasure Principle”, “Heaven”, “Safely Home” and Jerry Sittser “The Will of God as a Way of Life” and “A Grace Disguised”.

    I agree that reading is one of the most important forms of influence and is replaced too often anymore with media.

    I always enjoy your posts, Richard!

  2. I’ve been trying to understand our current world, and so am looking back. It took me a year, but I finished Churchill’s World in Crisis (history of WWI), “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” by Herman Wouk, and “The Pacific” by Ambrose (companion book to the PBS series.) Churchill, in particular, while not particularly spiritual in this book, has pretty amazing insights into what drives peoples and nations.

    I’m looking forward to reading “We Die Alone”. There’s a parallel story in The Pacific, about an escape from a Japanese POW camp through the jungles…

    Happy New Year – thanks for the encouragement to read widely.

  3. My 2011:

    Les Miserable, Victor Hugo (This is the year… I can feel it)

    Something by Wendall Berry (suggestions?)

    Poetry of T.S. Eliot and W.S. Merwin

    Best of 2010:

    Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)

    Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)

    The Wind and the Shadows (Carlos Ruiz Zafron)

  4. Quite a good list Richard! On you recommendation I am almost finished with We Die Alone…really good, and almost unbelievable. Thanks for the suggestion! I picked up Decision Points, and it is super interesting to read a behind the scenes account of the whorehouse, and our recent history from a major influencer…like him or not you should read it!

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