A List of Favorite Books

September 23, 2010

I spent the other day writing down some of my favorite books.  The list, of course, is not exhaustive, as much of it came off the top of my head.  Let’s just say this:  I love everything by C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, N.T. Wright, Frederick Buechner, and Gerald May, even if I’ve neglected to include them in certain areas.  They may be my top 5, no matter what they write on.  But here are some of my favorite practical works by topic.  I’ve intentionally excluded academic works.

Understanding God’s Story and Yours – The Narrative of Scripture

The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama, Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew

A Walk Through the Bible, Lesslie Newbigin

To Be Told, Dan Allender

Understanding Your Place in God’s Mission

The Mission of God’s People, Christopher Wright

Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright

The Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, Richard Bauckham

The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, Lesslie Newbigin

Introduction to Theology

Theology: The Basics, Alistair McGrath

Mere Christianity, CS Lewis

Understanding your Idols and the Attachments of Your Heart

Breaking the Idols of Your Heart: How to Navigate the Temptations of Life, Tremper Longman/Dan Allender

Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone, Elyse Fitzpatrick

Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller

The Last Addiction, Sharon Hersh

Understanding the Nature of Sin: Personal and Systemic

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Cornelius Plantinga

The Seven Deadly Sins, Graham Tomlin

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

Hope in Troubled Times, Bob Goudzwaard

Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Facing Our Time, Vinoth Ramachandra

Prayer

The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright

With Open Hands, Henri Nouwen

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster

The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence

Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Walter Brueggeman

Belief/Apologetics in a Postmodern World

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, N.T. Wright

The Reason for God, Tim Keller

Who Gets to Narrate the World: Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals, Robert Webber

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, Lesslie Newbigin

Proper Confidence, Lesslie Newbigin

Evil and the Justice of God, N.T. Wright

Understanding and Engaging Culture

Desiring the Kingdom, James KA Smith

To Change the World, James Davidson Hunter

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, Kevin VanHoozer

Work and Vocation

Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work, Miroslav Volf

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer

Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work, David Jensen

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, Os Guiness

Grief/Suffering

The Healing Path: How the Hurts in Your Past Lead You to a More Abundant Life, Dan Allender

Stumbling Toward Faith, Renee Altson

Finding God, Larry Crabb

The Wounded Heart, Dan Allender

A Grief Observed, CS Lewis

Shattered Dreams, Larry Crabb

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, Gerald Sittser

Walk On: Life, Loss, Trust, and Other Realities, John Goldingay

Marriage

Safe Haven Marriage, Archibald Hart and Sharon Hart-Morris

Intimate Allies: Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman

Bring Yourself to Love, Mona Barbera

Hold Me Tight, Sue Johnson

The Intimate Mystery: Creating Strength and Beauty in Your Marriage, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman

The Mystery of Marriage, Mike Mason

Marital Betrayal

Torn Asunder: Recovering from an Extramarital Affair, Dave Carder

Shattered Vows: Hope and Healing for Women Who’ve Been Sexually Betrayed, Debra Laaser

Raising Children/Parenting

Talking to Your Kids About Sex, Mark Laaser

Parenting with Love and Logic, Foster Cline

How Children Raise Parents: The Art of Listening to Your Family, Dan Allender

Mom, I Hate My Life: Becoming Your Daughter’s Ally During the Emotional Up’s and Down’s of Adolescence, Sharon Hersh

Mom, Sex is No Big Deal: Becoming Your Daughter’s Ally in Developing a Healthy Sexuality, Sharon Hersh

Mom, I Feel Fat: Becoming Your Daughter’s Ally in Developing a Healthy Body Image, Sharon Hersh

Mom, Everyone Else Does: Becoming Your Daughter’s Ally in Responding to Peer Pressure (Sex, Drugs, Alcohol), Sharon Hersh

Understanding Yourself and Your Relationships

Bold Love, Dan Allender

Practicing the Presence of People, Mike Mason

Understanding Who You Are, Larry Crabb

The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner

The Cry of the Soul: How our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God, Tremper Longman/Dan Allender

The Seven Desires of Every Heart, Mark and Debra Laaser

Understanding your Sexuality

Sex and Love in the Home: A Theology of the Household, David McCarthy

Sex and the Soul of a Woman, Paula Rinehart

When Two Become One: Enhancing Sexual Intimacy in Marriage, Chris McCluskey

Women

What’s He Really Thinking?: How to Be a Relational Genius with the Man in Your Life, Paula Rinehart

Bravehearts: Unlocking the Courage to Live with Abandon, Sharon Hersh

Redeeming Eve, Heather Webb

When Life and Beliefs Collide, Carolyn James

The Allure of Hope, Jan Meyers

Strong Women, Soft Hearts, Paula Rinehart

Men

Healing the Masculine Soul, Gordon Dalbey

The Masculine Journey, Robert Hicks

Father and Son, Gordon Dalbey

The Silence of Adam, Larry Crabb

Christian Spirituality & Spiritual Growth

Devotional Classics, Richard Foster

Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices, Daniel Wolpert

Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality, David Benner

Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen

The Journey: A Pilgrim in the Lands of the Spirit, Alistair McGrath

Let Go, Francois Fenelon

Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning

Space for God, Don Postema

The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life, Robert Webber

Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries, Gerald Sittser

we need an alternative reality

September 22, 2010

When the Israelites first stepped out beyond the border of Egypt, they could taste freedom.  It is what they wanted, or so they thought.  Very quickly, they began to miss the everyday securities of Egypt.  Some became vocal, and soon a disgruntled group of pilgrims were pining for the peace of slavery that would soothe the chaos of wilderness.

Whether you lived in ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, or today in the Global West, a view of the ‘good life’ is sold.  Together with its unique promises of blessing, prosperity, salvation, security, and progress, this package is enticing in its benefits.  But, as we’ve considered in the New Exodus posts over the past 2 years, this ‘security-package’ isn’t “Gospel” peace and joy.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad Nike’s make me run faster, Peet’s Coffee wakes me up, ATM’s feed me money when I need it, and my navigation system guides me through the maze of San Francisco.  But it’s important to keep our eyes open when it comes to how we define the ‘good life.’

NT Wright sees the New Exodus theme in Paul’s writing:

“When Paul speaks of God rescuing people from one kingdom and giving them another one, and of ‘redemption’ and ‘forgiveness’ as central themes of that rescue operation, he has the Exodus from Egypt in mind.  What God has done in Jesus and is now doing for them is the New Exodus, the great moment of setting the slaves free.  To become a Christian is to leave the ‘Egypt’ of sin and to travel gratefully to the promised inheritance.”

Paul uses the thought-world of both his Jewish history and Roman present in order to infuse a new understanding of freedom and joy.  But choosing this Exodus route means subverting, rejecting and resisting, to some extent, the false versions of salvation offered by the dominant ‘Empire’ of the day, the false versions of redemption, of freedom, of forgiveness, of blessing, of security.  In our contemporary time, this is the trick – figuring out what this subverting, rejecting, and resisting looks like.  As I’ve said before, you can take Israel out of Egypt, but it’s difficult to take the ‘Egypt’ out of Israel.  Our habits and patterns, informed by the reality and promises of the ‘good life’ according to everything from Thomas Jefferson to Tommy Hilfiger, are deeply ingrained.  Sometimes, it’s hard to think that there is a difference.

In coming posts, we’ll animate this further, contending that the Gospel of Jesus offers an alternative reality that is more compelling, and offers a better freedom, than the false securities and cheap freedoms of ‘Egypt’.  Until then, consider this:

To what extent is your definition of freedom informed by the supposed ‘right’ to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (as defined during the Enlightenment), versus the ‘privilege’ of participating in the cruciform life of suffering servanthood?

What are the habits and practices of your ‘Egypt’ which capture your attention daily?  If you lost these, how would you feel?  To what extent has your life become dependent on these securities?

Why aren’t Christians the most radical of all?

September 21, 2010

I’ve been puzzled for a long time.  I was looking back at some old issues of the college newspaper I wrote for, and realized that I’ve been puzzled by Christians for 20 years.

Is it crazy for me to think that Christians ought to be the first in line to rescue the poor, the defenseless, the enslaved (on sex slaves, read my friend Justin’s new book), the mocked?  Wasn’t this the pattern in the early church?  Didn’t Jesus show up in all the wrong places and for all the wrong people and get persecuted by religious leaders for it?

I’m bored of the tired old political critiques that label and mock.  It is amazing to me that Glenn Beck continues to get ratings that blow away more reasoned commentators.  It continues to surprise me that Christians idolize Obama, on one side, or Palin on the other…using Savior-language.  It saddens me that calls for justice for the poor are labeled as liberal and un-Christian.  I see tweets and facebook updates and emails championing the cause of Quran-burning with a passion which would better serve little girls who are being stolen from their mothers and sold to the highest bidder.  But many Christians would quicker protect their pockets, it seems.

Note: this is the point when Republican Facebook friends assume I’m a liberal.

Wrong.

I’m a Christian trying to take the Gospel seriously.  ‘Gospel’, after all, is good news.  It was good news then – to the sinner, to the poor, to the widow, to the weak.  It was proclaimed by a Messiah who was mocked as a liberal and who was accused by fellow Jews who believed that a Savior would be a champion of military might rather than suffering servanthood. It was proclaimed by a disciple – St. Paul – who used politically-charged words like ‘Lord’, ‘Gospel’, ‘fruit’, ‘King’, ‘blessing’ to refer to an alternative Kingdom, a counter-Empire, one that would bring people of different sexes, races, and economic means together.

That will be labeled liberal, by the way.  It will be read by some as an opening to including the “bad guys” in the Kingdom.  Pick your bad guy of the day, by the way – a Muslim, a gay man, Jim Wallis, William Wilberforce.

This is a rant, to be sure.  But I hope it is a biblical counter-rant.  I’m not so much concerned with a reasonable group of people in the middle who are my friends – men and women on the left and right who can debate and disagree.  What I’m discouraged by are the continual, arrogant, Pharasaical rants of the extremists.  (And yes…we have them here in San Francisco, too.)  It doesn’t matter who you voted for.  It’s a matter of what you idolize.  Is your Gospel ‘good news’ to the poor?  Or is it self-protective?  Does it manifest in justice for sinners and saints, the poor and the rich?  Does it anticipate what we’ll see in the new heavens and new earth – lions laying down with lambs?  Or does it devour the weak lambs?

Why does it seem that the ‘good news’ of the Gospel is only good news for the privileged, the smart, those with financial advisors and Ivy league degrees?

Why aren’t Christians the most radical of all?

We need to be more bold, Christian friends.  Don’t be so concerned about being labeled.  You are in good company.

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Who does not wear a mask?

September 16, 2010

Qui ne se Grime Pas

Who among us does not wear a mask?

This is a spiritual self-portrait by the great Georges Rouault (1871-1958).

It may be my favorite among his great etchings in the Miserere, his window into the passion of Christ.

Rouault wrote sometime earlier, “One day I noticed how, when a beautiful day turns to evening, the first star shines out in the the sky. It moved me deeply — I don’t know why — and it marked the beginnings of poetry in my life. A gypsy caravan halted at the side of the road, a weary old horse nibbling stunted grasses, an old clown patching his costume — that was how it began. We all wear a spangled dress of some sort, but if someone catches us with the spangles off, as I caught that old clown, oh! the infinite pity of it! . . I have made the mistake . . . of never allowing people to keep their spangles on.”  (from Frank and Dorothy Getlein, George Rouault’s Miserere.  Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1964, p. 43.)


We believe ourselves (to be) kings.

September 14, 2010

Georges Rouault (1871-1958) got it.  In his wonderful collection Miserere, he spoke to human nature as he witnessed it…in the context of the Cross.  Here he depicts our tendency to enthrone ourselves.

Nous Croyant Rois

We believe ourselves (to be) kings.

Remembering what I’ve forgotten: The New Exodus

September 6, 2010

I started this blog around one big idea – the thought that you and I need help navigating  the difficult terrain of life, and that a narrative penned long ago might help.

I called it The New Exodus because our journey is not very different than the journey a seemingly forgotten, often misunderstood, and perpetually persecuted people took long ago.

Recently, I have been too busy to remember this original desire.  What is interesting is that this is exactly what I write about so often – that the original, shimmering desire for which we’ve been made is often clouded by lesser desires and preoccupations.  And so, I’ve found myself (as I often write about) in a wilderness – learning my lesson the hard way.

A few months ago I tweeted that I was too busy to write.  In recent months, I have lost that creative edge writers need to stay connected to themselves and make an impact on others.  Strangely, this wilderness has not cost me distance with God.  I have found the Daily Office a constant companion, and praying hasn’t been hard.  But writing has.

Why?

Writing is certainly more public, and when I moved to San Francisco I sensed an opportunity to write more and influence more.  Good friends encouraged me to blog.  And then came Twitter.  I was grateful to get followers, but followed many others to play the “get yourself followers” game.  I like Twitter.  It’s a helpful venue to communicate.  But in past months I’ve stopped following hundreds of people.  And consequently, I have lost followers.  And I’m glad.  There are a number of people who I hope to communicate with.  The thought that 500 people, or even a thousand, pay attention is crazy.  I do hope to influence.  But I hope that the quality of what I say might emerge as more valuable than the games we play to gain a following.

That said, I’ve been most happy when I am writing on the New Exodus theme.  I am in discussions about a book being published, and that is good…though what is most important to me is not that this material finds its way on to paper.  What I have noticed over the years is that the same God who rescued the Israelites long ago still rescues.  And He still navigates people through difficult wildernesses.  What means more to me than anything is walking alongside those people.  I’m glad when people are impacted by what I write.  But the most extraordinary moments happen behind closed doors, and are protected by a confidentiality that is not merely law, but a sacred trust between fellow pilgrims.

There is a strong pull in a great urban center like San Francisco to be the best of the best of the best.  It is a competitive climate full of Harvard, Stanford, and Yale graduates.  There are young entrepreneurs and aging venture capitalists, and many in-between.  Many people here respect me because I have a Ph.D.  But credibility is something much deeper, and much more illusive.

It’s curious to me that I can pray well right now, but that I am struggling to write.  I suspect this is because my real self can show up before God, but my false self is tempted to show up in a blog.  This New Exodus material has always grounded me, though.  When I write on it, it is difficult to be anyone other than me.  All this 40 at 40 blog-business feels like an imposter showing up, trying to write something impressive.  It’s an attempt to keep writing when, truth be told, I’m creatively dull right now.

So, here’s my promise:  I am going to attempt to write when I have something that is meaningful to write.  Most likely, I’ll continue to explore the New Exodus material, because it is where my heart is.  I’m convinced that the cruciform journey of the New Exodus is the one we all need to be on…and convinced there is much in me, in the coming days, that needs to be crucified in the wilderness.

I’m going to seek space.  I was re-reading Iain Matthew’s fantastic work The Impact of God recently and was reminded of the importance of space.  The world lives for achievement.  And so we busy ourselves to the point where we lose ourselves, wondering where we started or why we even began the journey.

And so, I’ve remembered.  This is where I began.  The New Exodus.  I’m grateful to God for the wilderness of creative dullness, and perhaps even for a season of extraordinary busyness.  Emerging from the slumber of soul, I sense that something new is coming.  Every writer waits for this moment.  The story tells itself.

I’ll let you know what I hear…

an inspired life – reading and living bonhoeffer

August 31, 2010

I’m drawn to biographies of inspiring men and women.  This summer, I enjoyed Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  Bonhoeffer, of course, was imprisoned for his participation in a conspiracy against Hitler, ultimately paying the ultimate price of his life.  Several things gripped me about his story, however.

First, Bonhoeffer lived a bold, risky, and public faith.  He got it, and got it when he was still very young.  He and his family saw through Hitler’s narcissism and racism, and many family members (including his inspiring grandmother!) stood against the growing tyranny.  Bonhoeffer took on ecclesial authorities, friends, and mentors…often at great cost.

Second, Bonhoeffer started seminaries.  At first, this does not sound radical.  But, in a generation when pastoral education had become stale and irrelevant, Bonhoeffer went off the grid.  He started schools to educate a new generation of pastors, valuing the importance of life in community, prayer, theological integrity, and cultural engagement.  This was short-lived vision, as he was found out, but the lasting impact is seen in a good number of influential friends and students made during these days.

Third, Bonhoeffer was a scholar-practitioner.  In other words, Bonhoeffer was a leading thinker and a leading doer.  At different points, he sacrificed the privilege of being either/or.  He turned down prestigious teaching positions.  And he left prestigious pastorates.  This is because he saw no dichotomy between the two.  His clear thinking about the implications of Christian faith led him to an irreversible lifestyle of costly discipleship – eventually costing him his life.

It’s easy to think about Bonhoeffer in idealistic ways, as if he were a saint without fault, or a disciple who took the road-less-traveled at every turn.  Metaxas shows a very human Bonhoeffer, a man we can all relate to.  He documents Bonhoeffer’s edgy and angry personality, which often erupted in sharp letters.  He shows Bonhoeffer’s pride and self-pity.  He shows an uncertain and confused man, wondering which path God would have him take.  He shows a man falling in love amidst a world in conflict.  And he tells of a man who seems to be vacationing and playing as much as he is risking and studying.  In other words, he shows us a saint for our own time, an imperfect life, but a life to which we can aspire.

Biographies have an amazing capacity to inspire.  The best biographies tell the whole truth, which tell our truths.  The great novelist Frederick Buechner says in his memoir that our stories tell something of our own humanness, our capacity to achieve great things and make horrible mistakes.  Every good story has its peaks and valleys.  Mine does.  I’m sure yours does too.

Every good storyteller will tell this story.  And Metaxas tells it well.  Bonhoeffer inspires, in part because he risks in ways in which I long to risk, and in part because he’s your average Joe – laughing, loving, playing, working, loving, and looking to live a meaningful life in the meantime.

His “meantime,” of course, was at the height of Nazi Germany.

Yet, does our “meantime” hold any less risk or promise?

Mother Jesus

August 25, 2010

from today’s Daily Office, a canticle of St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1109)

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us,
and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

+ + + + +

Why post this?  Because exclusively paternal images of God don’t do the Bible justice.  And they rob us of the motherly comfort and care God wants to offer us, particularly when we are a mess, or feel unlovable.  One of my favorite images in the Bible is of an extravagantly loving Father running toward his screwed up, addict of a son.  It’s in Luke 15, and it’s one of the most moving and motherly images of God in the entire Bible.  If you want to learn more about God as a loving and compassionate Mother in Luke 15, read Kenneth Bailey’s fantastic book.

early christians were bold. and the world took notice.

August 24, 2010

I was speaking at a retreat this weekend when I mentioned that Christians back in the first centuries of the church rescued newborn little girls from large piles of trash.

“Why did you have to say that?” someone said afterwards.

“Because it happened.”

“But that’s just sad,” she said, as we stood there in silence.

The early followers of Christ were bold.  But, for the most part it was not a boldness that felt like the “in-your-face” Christian zealotry of today.  It was simple.  Humble.

And the world took notice.