The Books of 2020:
The books are arranged in the order in which I read them. I leave it to you to decide which one(s) capture your interest.
“The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life“, David Brooks, 2019. Written as a follow up to “The Road to Character“, Brooks explores the four commitments that give life meaning and purpose: spouse & family, vocation, philosophy/faith, and community. It is clearly a book that comes out of the rich experience of finding himself on the “second mountain” as he reveals his own spiritual journey at this stage of life. Well written and thought provoking. As one critic noted, “This powerful book, Brooks’s best to date, may be especially valuable to those convinced they don’t need it.”
Mentoring: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives, ed: D.K.Thompson and D.C.Murchison. 2018. This collection of essays on the broad topic of mentoring is very informative by virtue of its many and varied contributors. As one contributor noted, “the Christian life is particularly full of mentors, not experts, but good companions on the road who have lived with the questions that discipleship inevitably raises and who have found treasure hidden and shared in some unlikely fields.” This collection tends to have more academic articles, but worth the read if this is a topic that interests you.
The Pastor: A Memoir, Eugene Peterson, 2011. One of the last books written by one of my favourite authors. Somehow he knew he had only a few more years left to write this insightful and mostly chronological account of what made him “the pastor’s pastor.” He understood his congregation to be “defined by their creation in the image of God, living souls, whether they knew it or not. They are not problems to be fixed, but mysteries to be honoured and revered.” At 320 pages, this is satisfying and accessible for anyone interested in reading the account of a life well-lived.
The Plague, Albert Camus, 1947. I happened to have selected this novel to read in February when I went to Singapore just when the Coronavirus was beginning to emerge as a new epidemic. Even back when this was written, Camus – through one of his characters – speaks to “individualism” as the other virus of the day. Camus was an interesting person who had “developed an interest in early Christian philosophers, but Nietzsche and Schopenhauer paved the way towards pessimism and atheism.” By the end of the novel, the narrator identifies himself as a kind of messiah: “there was not one of their anxieties in which he did not share, no predicament of theirs that was not his.” It is an echo of how Jesus is described in Hebrews 4:15, 16 who shares our humanity and in whom we find mercy and grace in our time of need.
Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, ed. Preston Sprinkle, 2016. As one of the books recommended from my 2019 Book List, I was able to finish this book this year. It is a remarkable anthology in which two authors take the affirming position, and two take the traditional position. “Unlike most heated – and quite obnoxious – debates about homosexuality, you are going to experience a very different tone in this volume.” Here is “a dialogue between people who disagree on significant ethical and theological matters, yet still maintain a respectful and humanizing posture.” This is a timely anthology of fair and well written essays with thoughtful rebuttals by all the authors.
Survival Guide for the Soul: How to Flourish Spiritually in a World that Pressures Us to Achieve, Ken Shigematsu, 2018. Gently and honestly written, Ken draws on his scripture, experience, his mentors, and many others to speak the to the health of the soul. I met regularly with a friend of mine who would read portions of the book to me (try it sometime). We’d stop and discuss and pray and add to our wisdom. Complete with end of the chapter questions and prayer, it is a very accessible book at @ 220 pages. Download for free at “Survival Guide for the Soul.”
One Church Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God made you, Richard Twiss, 2000.
One reviewer wrote, “this is a refreshing perspective written by Richard Twiss of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux tribe, who is the cofounder and president of Wiconi International, and a member of the International Reconciliation Coalition. Historical facts, Biblical truths, interesting accounts, and heartfelt passion, this book is a life-changer for many – should be read by all. A necessary message ripe for the time, it calls on Christians to work together as one to bridge age-old disparities—spiritually, mentally, denominationally, and culturally.”
Memoirs of a Joyous Exile and a Worldly Christian, by James M. Houston, 2019. In less than 140 pages, my mentor and friend James Houston somehow summarizes his storied life of some 98 years. He who hung out with the likes of C.S. Lewis, and a long list of both influential and ordinary people (like me) humbly condenses a full life into a small memoir. Admittedly as a fan and friend, I would (and have) read anything this godly, brilliant, humble person writes, so I am not sure how the un-informed would ingest this. It’s just that my love and admiration for him is refined again by a life well lived, and well given. Part of the subtitle alludes an earlier book he calls a “veiled autobiography”: “Joyful Exiles: Life in Christ on the Dangerous Edge of Things.” Well worth the read.
Leadership Is: Devotions for Servant Leaders, Laurie Kennedy, 2020. This is the distillation of a lifetime of leadership – offered as bite-sized insights for our own sphere of influence. It is a delight to know Laurie personally as a friend and mentor, and to know his credibility in leadership. He has devoted his life work to building “healthy leaders leading, serving and caring with integrity”. No matter what level of leadership you may find yourself – you will find something simple and profound. The focus on “servant leadership” is timely and is in contrast to leaders who bully or “lord it over” others. At 260 pages, it is an easy read.
Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life: 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth, Jane Marie Thibault, Richard L. Morgan, 2012. “If we re-envision aging as a pilgrimage and ourselves as pilgrims, we choose to realize the we no longer have to maintain the illusion that we are young, we don’t even have to use the qualifying euphemism ‘young at heart’.” This gentle devotional written by two aging authors, 65 and 82, draws on their own long spiritual pilgrimages. The reader is enriched by listening in to their wise perspectives that nudge us from the indulgence and entitlement of the first two thirds of our lives. At 140 pages, this is a very accessible read for anyone in the “last third” of their lives.
Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture, Mark Sayers, 2019. Sayers writes to what he calls “the fractious cultural landscape of constant controversy, in which Christianity seems to be dragged through the mud in continual crisis, at times being targeted, at other times wounding itself.” As many churches are finding out, church ain’t what it used to be, and good thing: silent in the face of violations and harassment, exposed for greed and sexism, or irrelevant to the society that just moved on, the current remnant of the faithful now must reconsider what it means to be a Christ-follower for such a times as this. This is a challenging and straightforward read at 220 pages, complete with study guide in the back.
Sabbath as Resistance: Saying no to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann, 2017. In less than 90 pages we find a thoughtful book for our times (it comes with an additional 40 page study-guide). Whatever Sabbath has meant or has come to mean, we need to be reintroduced to it. Sabbath is an act of resistance to anxiety, coercion, exclusivism, and commodity acquisition. Sabbath is resistance to the hounding demands of the economy, status, and “secured isolated self-indulgence.” It stands against our culture of consumption where we are to achieve, accomplish, perform, and possess. Sabbath is the spiritual illustration of “less is more.” This informs our understanding of Jesus as “the Lord of the Sabbath” – the One in whom we find our Sabbath Rest.
Unveiling Paul’s Women: Making Sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Lucy Peppiatt, 2019. Dealing with arguably one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, Peppiatt does a good job of describing *what happened when women in this culture became Christian, *and how they interacted with the life of the early church in Corinth in what she describes as the “social and cultural earthquake” of Paul’s thinking about fellowship, partnership, and body life.
This was one of the required readings for the course I took this summer at Regent. Professor Wesley Hill taught “Male and Female in Christ.”