D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: books

Lent 2017: Reading List

So today I want to share a few books I am aware of that center the stories of undocumented neighbors in the US. I am sure there are more out there--which is why I need *you* to leave your recommendations in the comments!


Jesus was a Migrant by Deirdre Cornell

First off, there doesn't seem to be that many books written about the struggles and challenges of our immigration system within a Christian framework that espouses dignity for all involved. This one does.  And isn't the cover amazing? I reviewed this book a few years ago at Englewood Review. You can read the review here. (Spoiler alert: you should read it!)



Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang.

I just got this book and am so excited to dive into it. I've chatted with Matthew quite a bit and had the privilege of hanging out with Jenny Yang before and let me tell you that these are QUALITY people who are currently working very hard to engage with the wider church on these very important issues. I will be writing a bit about my reflections on this book as we go throughout Lent, so get it for yourself!



Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives.

Now, here is the other book I am currently reading (this one is not faith-based, but will incite our Christian imagination all the same). It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the Voice of Witness series (oral histories edited and compiled around human rights abuses). I knew for this time of studying it would be of paramount importance to read stories from undocumented folks themselves. This collection (which I am only halfway through) has already made me sob like a baby. I don't think there is anything more important than taking the time to read the stories from undocumented people themselves. There are so many reasons why and how people find themselves in the US without papers. This book is humanizing, and so incredibly complex--but the common element is the amount of suffering that leads someone to be in a position where they live undocumented in another country. 

(You can read my review of another book in this series, Palestine Speaks, here). 


So those are the books I am committing to immersing myself in. I also have these two on hold at the library, and will let you know if/when I get to them:

Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants



For topics as complex as the US immigration system, I know that we will have to look past clickbait articles and simplistic solutions. Diving into books seems like a great way to counteract my own impulse to respond in fear and anger to all the anti-immigrant sentiment in our news and in our current administrations. 

I am 100% sure I am missing some vital books on this subject. So please, jump in on the comments and share the wealth of your knowledge.




The Best of a Bad Year

Some say 2016 was the worst, but for others it was hard just like every year. For me, it was punctuated by the Big and Good (first book published, bought a house, read at Powell's) and also the Very Bad (none of which I can discuss in public, alas). Then, we have the whole freaking political situation plus every day life with small kids and jobs and bills and church and . . . you have a year that you survived. Here are some of the things that helped with that endeavor.





Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Everybody read this book last year (and for good reason). A great (devastating) way to get inside the housing crisis. For me this book had a special impact in that I watched as neighbors of mine were forced to relocate over and over again. Christians need to get on a theology of safe and affordable housing, and soon! 

City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence

The title is a reference to the thorn fences that surround the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya. I have friends who have lived here, so I was very invested. Again, this is a relatively risk-free way to enter into the stories of some of the most marginalized people in the world. I highly encourage everyone to read it.

The Very Good Gospel: How everything wrong can be made right by Lisa Sharon Harper

I love this book and read it in a day (though it takes much longer for all the truth contained to sink in. Harper is a smart theologian but she also weaves in current events and life experiences which makes for a much richer text. Why couldn't I have read this in Bible college? It's deep and topical (#blacklivesmatter!) and Harper brought her communities with her as she wrote about Jesus being actual good news. I can (and do) see myself giving this book to a very wide spectrum of people.

Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I always Wanted by Shannan Martin

Caveat: Yes, Shannan is my friend. She is friends with lots of cool people :) But what makes her book so special is that it is a subversive work of practical and applied theology. What if living our best life now meant diving into chaos, disfunction, a lack of a savings account, and drawing a very wide and wobbly circle around who is in our family? Oh man this book is funny but will also cut you like a knife. Be warned!


Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah

Full disclosure: I am not all the way done with this one. But I already know it is one of my favorites. It is like the most intensely timely commentary on the book of Lamentations you will ever read. In one or two sentences Rah will upend so much of what I was taught in my childhood--and he does this over and over again. It's gorgeous and makes me feel like I recognize the God the world that Rah is talking about.




I'm not a huge fiction person but I read a few this year that I can't stop thinking about. These are like bonus picks for intense non-fiction me :) 


The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

This book is about a missionary going to another world in order to convert the locals. Already relevant! Then it takes a harrowing turn as the main character communicates with his wife back on earth, where things are slowly falling apart. This book brought up so much for me to process. If you have read it, lets chat about it!


The Story of A Girl by Sara Zarr

Ah, the holy grail of YA that is actually grounded in non-middle class sensibilities and conflicts . . . I think I read this book in a day? Definitely some heavy themes (but hey, all the teenagers I know are all dealing with very grown-up problems) but the writing is wonderful and fast-paced and it is a really good portrait of living with quietly angry adults in your life and how to overcome. Bonus: this is being made into a movie this year!

No Parking At the End Times by Brian Bliss

This is another YA book with a fascinating plot: twins whose parents completely embraced an end-of-the-world cult. The twist is, we meet this family right after the world DOESN'T end. The tension in this book is real, and I could vividly sense what it was like to be in the main character's lives . . . well worth the read!



(Bonus bonus: kids books!)

The Story of Ruby Bridges.





Here are some podcasts that I really dug this year:


Pass the mic

This podcast is from the Reformed African American Network. I am neither African American nor Reformed and yet this podcast has helped me so much! The hosts (Tyler Burns and JEmar Tisby) use much of my evangelical language but they infuse it with new belief. I love this. This is such a great way to learn from POC if you are in mostly-white spaces. 

Pop culture happy hour

Still my go-to for when I need to switch my brain off and listen to witty ramblings about pop culture. Love it.

Code switch

This is a fascinating podcast on all things related to race in America. I learn so much and have to wrestle through a lot while listening--which I enjoy!

Pray as you go

This is so awesome for people (like myself) who need some help being contemplative. Every day there are scripture readings, songs, and reflections. Some of my favorite memories from the past few months involve me wandering around my neighborhood in the early mornings, listening to pray as you go. 





Brooklyn 99

Still my favorite comedy on TV. Fresh off the Boat was in second place but this season has felt rather heavy handed . . .

Mozart in the jungle

This show is weirdly delightful. There are a couple of storylines I could do without, but I think the characters are fascinating!

Man in the High Castle

Ok so I have not seen the second season yet. The conceit is--what if the Nazi's won? It is the only drama I really watched all year and I was totally on edge. Now I am wondering if it will all seem too applicable . . .

Super Store

This little comedy was a sleeper surprise--I think it tackles issues of class and religion in ways most television shows don't. Also as someone who worked in retail for many years I highly relate to it.


Bonus: Kids Shows!

For kids, I love Puffin Rock (Chris O' Dowd is the narrator!) and when my daughter is older I can't wait to watch Gortimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street with her.




Honestly, I didn't love most of the (few) movies I watched this year. Here are the three I could come up with wholeheartedly recommending.

Song of the sea

Sing Street

Babettes feast




I'm not a super big music person these days but here are my highlights:

Hamilton (duh)

Hamilton Mixtape (even better than I could have imagined)

Teenage Politics by MxPx (somedays you just want to be as self-absorbed and angsty as a teenager)

25  by Adele




Pho (and trying to make it myself)

Little Debbies Christmas Tree Cakes

Chili oil

Afghan-style bread by my neighbor, who is a baking genius. 




And there it is--my rather random list. What are some things that helped you survive this past year? I want to know!












My Year In Reading


You guys. 2014 was a YEAR. A lot happened, most of it not fit for a Facebook year in review. I went to LA, Mexico, Portland, Michigan, Maryland, and a monastery in northern MN. Life was hard. Relationships were strained and repaired. Following Christ wherever he leads in 2014 was a continual process of being wounded, a continual process of being healed. I am not a brave soul, so if I had my druthers I would not care to do it all again. But it happened, and I am so incredibly grateful. 

One thing I did do a lot of this year was read. Being stressed and teensy bit desperate helped. So did the fact that I started to LOATHE television with everything within me. I just read, a bunch. Not everything was great, but I did manage to corral a nice bunch of books for y'all. 


Here, in no particular order, are my favorite reads of 2014:




Works of Love Are Works of Peace: Mother Teresa and The Missionaries of Charity by Michael Collopy

The images in this large, gorgeous, black and white book are stunning--mostly of the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta. I don't think I can convey the power of the pictures of the Sisters and their volunteers holding people as they leave the world. Collopy's photographs are so powerful, they almost don't need words. But luckily Mother Teresa also took the time to say and write down some important treatises on what it means to love one another, and what it means to love the poor. The pictures juxtaposed with her simple beliefs about love and Christ and vocation make this into the best coffee table book ever. 





On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

John Wilson (of Books & Culture) asked if I would be interested in reviewing this book. After a brief look at the subject matter (vaccines) I thought nah. But I adore Graywolf Publishing and Mr. Wilson had a hunch I would be interested. And boy was I ever. This is hands-down the best book on fear and isolation and the myths we believe in regards to individualism and community. It's about a lot more than vaccines, but it does make a compelling argument for us all to lead more interconnected lives (and to live with our more vulnerable neighbors in mind). I would give this book to anyone, but especially new mothers and fathers. You can read the review in the January/February print edition of Books & Culture.  





Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

What a year for essay collections! This one was lovely (although it does lag in spots). I just read a great review which mentioned that it is a bummer that it took a  white woman with a veneer of intellectualism to convince us that essay collections were powerful--but hey, I will take it. I love it when people are fearlessly committed to mining the depths of their fears and questions, and this book certainly did that. 





Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor

I don't read a lot of fiction. In fact, part of the reason I read this was because I thought it was literary non-fiction. But nope--it's a collection of short stories that MUST be read in order (srsly). It is searing, beautiful, and reads so true and painful. Minor comes out of a fundamentalist background and is definitely chasing some demons (and forces us to face a few ourselves). I am warning you that the territory is rough, but well worth the read. If you aren't ready for a punch in the gut, maybe skip it. But I will feel sad for you. 





The Wisdom of Stability by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

I met JWH this past summer and that guy is the real deal. I was so impressed with his character that I immediately went out and bought this book. My husband and I have been drawn towards reading about community and this is the best book I have read on the subject. It is humble, thought-provoking, and very challenging in forcing me to think through how vulnerable it is to commit yourself to being rooted in a place. I also love how he undercuts his well-thought out theology with stories from his friends and neighbors. I think Wilson-Hartgrove is one of the great listeners of our time, and we could all stand to learn from him.






Red Yellow Brown Black and White: Who's More Precious In God's Sight? by Leroy Barber

This is a challenging read. Barber exposes why there are so few people of color involved in missions and non-profit work, and it ain't pretty. As a white girl who moved into a diverse neighborhood (and who also works for a Christian non-profit) yeah, it stung a little--but in all the right ways. Some of the stuff I have been feeling in my spirit was laid bare before me, and it felt good. While it leans a bit too heavy on talking specifically about leadership, I still found this to be a valuable resource in working through my own vocation, and ways that I can do better. I urge you to read it!






The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day is my spirit animal. She is a scrappy journalistic Jesus-lover with a razor sharp tongue. I finally re-read her autobiography this year and loved it--the Catholic Worker truly is inspiring, and the history of where America was in Day's time was fascinating. That being said, I wish Day had been able to examine herself a bit more deeply (you don't get much vulnerability from her there) but it is an inspiring, flawed look at a movement which sought to love and serve the most vulnerable in our world. 





Palestine Speaks: Voices from the West Bank and Gaza (Voice of the Witness)

I wrote about this book for the upcoming issue of the Englewood Review of Books. I stand by my claim that the Voice of the Witness series of first-person narratives are some of the most important works being published today. Oral histories are not sexy in a bloggy world, one where we listen to the loud and the brash and the (often) white and male. This book takes a look at what life is like in occupied Palestine through the varied eyes of many residents (including a few Israelis). I am a firm believer that our lives are enriched by getting to know people different from us, and reading first-person narratives is a smashing good step in that direction. Plus, this volume is smashingly edited. Go read it right now. 





Women In Clothes edited by Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, and Sheila Heti

This was my weird book of the year. This is a compilation of surveys that the editors asked over 600+ women to complete on the subject of clothes. It sounds incredibly boring except it turns out that how we present ourselves to the world says a lot about our inner lives. This book actually forced me to think through a great many of my life choices and attitudes, just by asking me about the clothes I wear (for the record, I dress to protect myself and be invisible and be culturally appropriate). This book is long, bizarre (one page will be about a fashionista paying $500 for a purse and the next will be interviews with garment workers in Bangladesh), and totally stretched my mind. I recommend it, especially if you (like myself) think that you don't care too much about clothes. 

My Name is Child of God, Not "Those People": A First-Person Look at Poverty by Julia Dinsmore

Here's a thought: what if people who grew up in generational poverty wrote books on what it was like to be poor in America? It seems common sense, but there is a serious lack of these kind of books to be found. Julia Dinsmore (who I had the pleasure of meeting this summer) wrote a beautiful, hard, lyrical book about her life (and the lives of so many others). Seriously, the woman is a poet who is not afraid to say the harsh truths. She makes me uncomfortable in all the best ways, and she is truly someone who is listening to the Spirit of God. This book is a treasure. Read it, then give it to all of your friends.





Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Probably my favorite straight-up novel of the year. Adichie is so fast and smart and witty. The beginning of the book sucks you right in, and immediately you are engulfed in a book that is more about race relations in America than it is about the cross-cultural experience of being an immigrant. It is eye-opening, relentless, so readable. I hated the ending, but besides that this was the perfect blend of being engrossing while stabbing your heart with truth. I wrote an extensive review over at SheLoves (which you can read here). 





There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America by Alex Kotlowitz

Ok technically I may have read this at the very end of 2013. It's the story of a journalist following two boys around one of Chicago's infamous low-income high rise apartments,  chronicling an entire year with them will simultaneously getting hopelessly attached.. The writing is stunning, and achieves that rare feat of creating empathy and humanity while still exposing great dysfunction and chaos. There is a sense of dread as the pages build, as you watch the little boys start to build up the armour they need in order to survive. This book will wreck you, in the best way possible. And don't be fooled--although this book was written in the 1990s I am here to tell you that this other America is alive and well. I know this because I see it every day. 





Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Here is my YA pick of the year. I went on a John Green bender where I read his entire oeuvre during my hard and dramatic summer and it honestly left me feeling a little ill (enough with the manic pixie dream girl tropes, John!). This book, however, sticks like meat to your bones. A love story between two teenagers becomes something much more--a book on acceptance and grief and poverty. I thought it was just lovely, and a super quick read. 







Children of Crisis by Robert Coles

I have talked about this book before, but I have to mention it again. This wasn't the first year I read it, but I found myself cracking open the (huge) book and poring over the pages again this year. This is a pulitzer-prize winning feat of radical compassion disguised as journalism. In the 1960s Robert Coles toured the country and lived with the most vulnerable in America--the poor, migrant workers, native Americans, kids in the south--and he listened to them and recorded what they thought in their own words. He had them draw pictures and talked about what they meant. He wites eloquent treatises on the resilience and emotional bounty of people who have been left to dissapear by the rest of America. The New York Times called it the most important book of the century, and I don't dare disagree. This is a book to buy and spend the rest of your life reading and re-reading. 










Honorable Mentions (books that were lovely, but I couldn't be bothered to type out any more paragraphs):

Free by Mark Scandrette

I am the Beggar of the World by Eliza Griswold

The Sacred Year by Mike Yankoski

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Intentional Christian Community Handbook




Also, to keep it real:

Books I started but Didn't finish (the fiction because I lost interest, the non-fiction because it was too much/too good):

The Goldfinch The Circle Let Us Now Praise Famous Men The Magicians A People's History of the United States Sabbath as Resistance in a Culture of Now With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God



Do me a favor and check some of these out, ok? Oh, and please feel free to comment/point me to a list of your favorite reads of the past year.


And here's to finding ourselves in the words of another in 2015.



The Book

As per usual, I couldn't take a glamorous picture because I have a very crappy phone (which blesses me and allows me to feel smug and superior, but is annoying on the whole instagram level).  






It was a hard spring and summer, harder than I care to admit; now that everything is better I realize what level of stress and sadness I was operating under. Coming out of a winter where it was colder than mars, we ran headlong into a season of chaos and being crushed under the burdens of trying to neighbor well in intense situations. I thought I became allergic to something, found my throat closing up, started gasping for breath at the most inopportune times. I went to the doctor and had them stick all the needles in my back, but it came back negative. The doctor gently told me that there was no biological evidence that I was allergic to anything. You might want to consider panic attacks, he told me, and I instantly felt foolish. I didn't know that was what they felt like--I assumed shaking and jittering and crying. Not wanting to drive or talk on the phone of feeling like your throat was closing in on you--this was just my new normal.

Now I breath clear and fine, I have forged through rough relationships and came out tender and new on the other side: what lesson better than forgiveness can we ever take to our graves? It is truly a mystery, finding yourself rock solid in selfishness, having the Spirit crack you wide open, deciding that you are the worst and everyone is the worst and why don't we all consider the lilies together? Because there really are some lovely ones in my neighborhood.

This summer I went back to Oregon for a visit, the place of my family and my people and so many of my threshold experiences. I visited with the Somali refugee family that changed my life, nearly a decade ago now. The girls are tall and tower over me, high schoolers who take inordinate amounts of selfies, giggling into laptops, cooking the evening meal. I wrote a book, I told them, feeling more than a little nervous. They were non-plussed. Oh yeah? I thought you liked to write or something. I pushed ahead. The book has a lot to do with you guys. They look at me, but don't say anything. You know, how you guys changed my life. How you taught me so much about God, about what it is like to be a refugee, what America looks like to you . . . I trailed off. I suppose I was looking for their approval. They shrug their shoulders and look back at their screens. Yeah, you did learn a lot from us, both of them say. This has been apparent to them since day one. They are bored of this conversation, and pull out a baseball cap that is completely covered in large gold studs, the bling just dripping off of it. Want to take your picture wearing this hat? they ask, and of course I say yes.




Very few people I see everyday care about books. They do not read the magazines I read, they do not adore the same authors, they do not understand the intricacies of industry and marketing and platform, the great big desire to be noticed, to be new, to be good, to be admired. They do not understand how people who publish books can sometimes become giant cardboard cut-outs of themselves. They do not know how easy it is to fall into those categories, to wander in the way of self-righteousness, irony, elitism, hubris, or easy breezy moralism. Most of the people I hang out with are refugees, many of them non-literate, the majority of them all carving out lives in the hard stone of the American Dream. The other person I hang out with is 4, and she is a wormhole of ferocious need, an excellent advocate for herself, a barreling ball of kingdom values (truthfulness, faith, love), and she most emphatically does not like anything that takes my attention away from her.

It is good to be small, good to have more than a handful of identities (wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, neighbor, teammate, teacher, advocate) that vie for your attention, split you up and keep you on the ground. For awhile I looked in despair at the discrepancies of my life: living and working within one population (people experiencing poverty in America) while writing for another (mainly Christians who come from somewhat privileged backgrounds). But now it starts to seem like a gift, an authentic whole, a way to beat back the sin of pride (which comes at me from every direction). To be small, everywhere. Living in the upside-down kingdom, and writing about it. To try and be honest, to be vulnerable, to open yourself up for the inevitable misunderstandings and criticisms, to forge on ahead and practice forgiving and being forgiven. What lesson better than forgiveness can we ever take to our graves?




I was born a reader and fed by a mother who let me be interested in the world, by small-town libraries, by a quest to know truth. But I did not start writing (beyond the college paper or a re-cap of a missions trip) until a few years ago. I now pinpoint the shift to when I had my daughter. I was made small and still by that experience. I had many more hours to contemplate (feeding and rocking and jiggling the baby), and it seems to me writing happens in your head when you give yourself some space to think. So I wrote a few things and sent them off, was legitimized by places I adored and read religiously. And I was surprised to find that the element underlying my new obsession with writing my own words was this: I finally wanted to be as honest as I could. And the only way I could be honest with myself is if I wrote it down.

And in the past 3+ years, that is what I have been doing. Eventually I realized I had written a book. It took me a long way to get to the place of saying I am ready for people to read that book, but here I am. I am over the moon. I am entering into this new part of life, this plan I never expected for myself. I just signed a contract with HarperOne (such a dream choice!) and I am excited for the expertise and the bridge-crossing that this particular publishing house is capable of. I'll be sure and give you all the particulars as I come to understand them, but for now I just wanted to say thank you. It's been a hard season, it has been one that has changed me. I am still coming to terms with all of my different selves, especially the ones that I never lived up to. When I started writing, I was finally able to be honest with myself and with God. And it became my way of considering the lilies--especially the ones that the world forgot. When I started writing, I started to finally start being able to understand the radical nature of honest in relationship to reconciliation and forgiveness. And I know I will have to keep re-learning it until I can learn no more.

I guess I just want to say thank you to everyone: thank you so much for reading along with me, for encouraging me and praying and being the cup of cold water that I generally always seem to need. But most of all, thank you for letting me write it out as I need to. It means more to me than you can possibly know.











my year in books

I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker because the world is in desperate need of originality.*  

image from Pinterest

i have been thinking about gifts lately, and about what are things i actually like to give and to receive--presents that value us as people. and i have to say the first thing that came to my mind were books.

books, books, beautiful books. i am a reader first and foremost; a teacher and a writer second. books are my bread and butter. when we sold almost everything we had and moved to the MidWest, we took clothes and artwork and mostly books. they are important.

i love to give books to other people, and i love to receive them as well. hanging out with people all day who were denied the pleasures of them their entire lives gives one a unique perspective on reading for pleasure. it's a privilege, one we need to acknowledge, and a gift that is fruitful to cultivate.

all this to say, i wanted to tell you guys my favorite books that i read this year. this was a difficult, joyous year, and as per usual, i read a lot of books. not so much fiction this year; a bit more about the charismatic stuff and food/lifestyle books. here are the ones i couldn't get out of my head. instead of buying crap that no one needs, let's all buy books for each other this year! we can scrounge for them at thrift stores, give one to our favorite missionaries or teachers or friends or sisters (or, even buy one for yourself). i have not linked to any websites, but i encourage you to buy local (or use indiebound). anyways, here they are in no particular order:


spiritual books


the life you save may be your own

by paul elie

This is one that will take me a while to get through. Paul Elie weaves together the extensive biographies of notable Catholics: Flannery O'Conner, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day (my hero!), and Walker Percy. It is described as a pilgrimage following people who "made literature out of their search for God". Excellent stuff, here.




miracle work: a down-to-earth guide for supernatural ministries

by jordan seng

Just keeping it real, people. I read books on miracles, because I am intensely interested in them and our world is in great need of them. This book was nice and pragmatic, and while I don't agree with all of it, it made me question some of my own malaise and unbelief. I also will never be able to pray for people in the same way (Seng models his own prayer style after Jesus, who basically just spoke the truth about God's desire for the world into people. None of this hemming and hawing).




jesus feminist: an invitation to revisit the bible's view of women

by sarah bessey

Bessey is a friend of mine, and I love how she takes a topic that is battered about left and right and asks us to sit quietly with it a moment. When she writes that "patriarchy is not God's dream for the world", something inside me stirs up. You will relate to her, you will thrill to her message, you will be surprised at she refuses to to be controversial.




when we were on fire: a memoir of consuming faith, tangled love, and starting over

by addie zierman

Addie is also a friend, and this book is unstoppable (named one of publisher weeklies best 5 religious books of the year!). In almost every chapter, I recognized myself in the pages categorizing the weird, parallel world of Christian culture in the 90s and early 2000s. She is a ferocious talent with a keen eye for the sorrow that undergirds all of our desires to be loved by God and by our peers.




speaking of jesus: the art of non-evangelism

by carl medearis

This book lifted a weight off of my shoulders. There is no other way to put it. Medearis spells out the ickiness behind our desires for conversion to Christianity, and instead asks the reader to trust that Jesus himself is worth following. I laid down my idol of Western Christianity a long time ago, but I still felt compelled to save people personally. I am still working through the implications of actually believing the power of the Bible and the Spirit, but it is pretty life-changing stuff.



literary books


swimming studies

by leanne shapton

Shapton is one of my favorite designers of book covers, which led me to read her own strange little "memoir". It is a beautiful, non-traditional look at her years of almost-professional swimming. There is no way to explain the book, but it thrilled me in how it broke out of so many boxes. There is not a boring page in this book, and I am not even remotely interested in swimming.




this is running for your life

essays by michelle orange

Orange is a new discovery to me this year. She writes complicated, smart, funny essays on a variety of subjects. If you don't want to buy the book, just google one of her essays. You will be hooked (especially on the one about Ethan Hawke's face).




blue nights

by joan didion

I read this book on an airplane as I flew away from my daughter. I do not recommend this. Didion writes an almost excruciating book on the death of her daughter, her friends, and her own impending old age and ill health. It is beautiful writing, but not easy reading. There is one passage in particular which made me so aware of how privilege does not protect one from harm; Didion herself is a testimony to this.




high rise stories: voices from chicago public housing

compiled and edited by audrey petty

True confessions: I have only read a bit of this one. I am saving it for when I complete my manuscript, which hopefully should be done soon (because I want to finish this book!). The Voice of the Witness series out of McSweeney's is one of my all-time favorite non-profits, publishing works of narrative that will crush your heart and make you sit up straighter. This one is dear to my heart as it focuses on densely populated low-income high rises in the urban MidWest. By letting the residents speak for themselves, we learn so much.




rooms in the house of stone

by michael dorris

This was one of those happy accidents, a library book plucked off the shelf for no reason. A few days later and I am in a coffee shop, bawling my eyes out at the grace and severity in the short essays Dorris wrote during the great famine in Zimbabwe. This book will make you stop your life for a few hours and consider what the opposite could be. It is intensely powerful writing, coming from a very complicated man. I haven't stopped thinking about it since.




refugee hotel

by juliet linderman (essays) and gabriele stabile (photographers)

I got this for my husband's birthday, but I really wanted it for myself. This is another Voice of the Witness book which details the lives of refugees when they first arrive in America. It is gorgeous and a visual way to engage with the realities that our refugee brothers and sisters face when they come to America.






where'd you go, bernadette

by maria semple

Hands down my favorite fiction book of the year (but honestly, I didn't read very much this year). So funny and witty and charming and fast-paced and very very poignant. I would recommend this to anyone. Anyone! (Read my longer review here).




north and south

by elizabeth gaskell

This is one of those I-Have-Read-Jane-Austen-A-Thousand-Times-And-I-Need-Something-More books. I liked it pretty well. Some of the themes surrounding commerce and wealth inequality and factory conditions were fascinating to me. But in the end, it is a period romance. You have been forewarned.




the complete stories

by flannery o conner

All the hype is true. All hail Flannery, the lover of grotesque darlings, the one who sees beauty in all of the tragedy. This is perfect reading when your life is both very beautiful and very very hard.




the fault in our stars

by john green

My foray into YA fiction for the year (although I did re-read books 6 and 7 of Harry Potter as well--never gets old!) and I did like it. It was very cathartic. It was fun. It was exceptionally sad. It made me have hope for some teenagers. If you hate it when people die in books, then don't read this one.


food/lifestyle books


depletion and abundance: life on the new home front

by sharon astyk

I don't believe a book has impacted me like this in a long time. Astyk has gotten me to reconsider nearly every facet of my life that I felt like I couldn't change: energy consumption, food choices, buying local, making do. And she made me reconsider it because this lady loves her life, and she loves the lives of her poor brothers and sisters. I believe in peak oil, I believe a day is coming where everyone will be forced to change their habits. But I believe our lives can be free from the bondage of materialism, and they we can be more joyous for it too--and that this is a freedom offered to everyone, regardless of status or money. I am doing a terrible job of describing it. Just read it, ok?




how to cook a wolf

by m.m.k. fischer

Fischer is one hell of a lady. Cooking food in war time, man. This book is radical and easy to read and somehow very, very encouraging.  I couldn't help but think about the solidarity Fischer would have had with the millions of people the world over who struggle with filling their bellies with food every night. It will make you think, and you won't ever throw out your scraps again.




an everlasting meal: cooking with economy and grace

by tamar adler

Adler is a bit like the kinfolk'd-up version of Fischer. But this girl can write about food, and inspired me to cook beans at least once a week (the way she writes about them makes them seem precious and beautiful and luxurious). I am not much of a cook, but I was changed by the way Adler described how good it is to eat well for not much money at all. So many books on food reek of privilege, but this one did not. It was accessible, in all the right ways.



the husband's picks

(Note: he is a much slower and much more thoughtful reader than I am. Mostly he reads psychology books, but he picked out two for this here blog).



disunity in christ: uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart

by christina cleveland

I am going to read this when the husband is done, but he can't stop talking about this one. Christina's blog is so smart and so well written, I can't wait for myriads of people to hear her clear voice on reconciliation.






simply jesus

by n.t. wright

I am sort of in a I-Have-Read-Enough-Theology-Books-By-White-Dudes-To-Last-Me-Awhile phase, but my husband assures me this is an excellent book. He especially liked the chapters on what the ascension and resurrection actually mean. I head him talk about Jesus at a conference recently and had mad respect for his message. For the theology nerd in your life, it seems like you can't go wrong with N.T. these days.




So, that's it. I read a lot more, but these are the cream of the crop. 

I would love to hear what your favorite books of the last year. Share, please! 



*this post is sponsored by Grammerly, (which is excellent for ESL teachers, BTW). all the books and opinions and content are my own, thank you very much.

more links than you can shake a sprained foot at

well. it is saturday. i had great plans for today. they involved roaming around basilicas and sitting still in the quiet; they involved coffee shops in the most crowded neighborhood in the land between chicago and los angeles; it involved escaping my charming and exhausting responsibilities as mother, wife, apprentice, new neighbor. but then i went and hurt my foot (humble brag alert: running 5 miles in below-freezing weather), to the degree in which i cannot stand on it. so now i am sitting on my bed, ice on the foot, alternating between common prayer, scripture reading, journaling, praying, checking fb, and catching up on online life. it ain't no monastery but thanks to lovely friends i have enough toast and jam, coffee and cookies, personalized mugs and journals to last me (that's right. i received even MORE special prezzies from fantastical internet--and real life--friends!).

so. while i can't imagine anyone has the annoyance luxury like me of being a pampered invalid, perhaps you have a few moments to spare? because i have some things to tell you about.

first: a conversation worth delving into is the discussion on how to tell stories. for anyone involved in working/living/interacting with people from marginalized communities (insert whatever word you use), there has got to be some ground rules. how much do we share? what is exploitative, what is redemptive? i don't believe the answer is to sit on our hands and be quiet, but historically we have not done a good job of empowering people to tell their own experiences. this TED talk (introduced to me by the blog of the lovely Rachel Pieh Jones) does a beautiful job of describing the danger of telling a single story. well worth your time to watch if you have ever wrestled through these questions.

second: i am sort of obsessed with the nanowrimo phenomenon. do people really do this? do "legitimate" writers do this? i don't want to sound snobbish, but is it only the realm of those writing sci-fi? please tell me everything you know about it. i am inordinately invested, because out of nowhere last week i got hit with this fantastic idea for a novel (and trust me, i have NEVER wanted to write fiction before). is this month-long experiment in production a waste of time? i want to know.

third: folk music is the best for writing, no? i have been really into the barr brothers (still), and recently fell in love with sandra mckracken (her children's music makes me teary, but is not available on spotify. but check out the album The Builder and the Architect). what are you listening to? that christmas song sufjan wrote about unicorns?

fourth: i am starting to fall down the rabbit hole of reading Sharon Astyk. described as a female Wendall Berry, Astyk writes about the realities of our excessive lifestyles. in her book, she has introduced me to phrases like "peak oil" and "post-depletion worlds". at first terrifying, this ain't your normal climate change/the end of the world is nigh book. instead, it talks about our homes as the gateways of escaping our excessive economy, which dangers us and more importantly (in my book) our poor neighbors. she writes that living well on less is not only possible, it is our only option. the implications of this are stunning, especially as i find myself in such an urban environment. how are my lifestyle choices today going to effect my neighbor tomorrow? so many of these conversations seem to end up with just a bunch of isolated do-gooders, the rest of us carrying on as normal. i am interested in solutions for the most vulnerable; this seems like kingdom stuff here.


there is nothing good on television. there is nothing good in the movies. everything has gone to rot. should i just stay in and read my Brueggemann sermons every night? a girl has got to put her hair down every once in awhile. this is where i need your help. what is actually worth watching?


i am finally, sluggishly, starting to feel political. and i don't really like that feeling, since it can tend to harness such unnecessary and misdirected anger. i am much more drawn to the slow process of being involved in cultural and community change. but that stuff ain't sexy, is it? one thing i have been reading over and over again is psalm 146, which i hear-by christen as the "election day psalm". read it, won't you? and let's just all agree that the princes of our world are pretty lame, and thank goodness the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

whoo. that is a lot of information. and i asked you a couple of questions somewhere in there. so hit me up. i can't go anywhere for the rest of the day.

The wounds of God.

I am re-reading a book of my childhood, a book that my mother read to me when I was 10, 11 years old. A simple series based off of the lives of monks in the 14th century, Penelope Wilcock's The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy is still one of the most fantastic works of fiction I have ever read. Simple stories on deep, pervasive themes: grief, suffering, poverty of spirit, pride, abandonment. Not a shred of romance or plot twists, yet it holds my interest like none other. I cannot recommend these books highly enough; I will be honest and say that this may or may not be influenced by nostalgia. If you read them (or have read them in the past) can you let me know what you think? I would be ever so grateful. And now, a lengthy quote from the second book in the trilogy, The Wounds of God. This particular story revolves around Abbot Peregrine, the severe central figure of most of the stories. He is being visited by his old friend abbot Guillaume, a monk who enjoys the pleasures of the world. They are arguing over which way of life is better: the way of holy poverty, or the way of enjoying the good things that God gives to us. Guillame has said we ought not to throw God's gift in his face; Peregrine has said they are to view the cross as the ultimate way we are to live life, preciously similar to those who live life in the sorrow of real poverty.

Guillaume leaned back in his chair, regarding Peregrine with amusement. "You have not changed, mon ami. Your rhetoric is as impressive as ever. But you are wrong in one thing. You are too late to win grace, or heaven, or strike any kind of bargain with God. It is not a prize to be won, or a deal to be negotiated. It is a gift, already given. Receive it. Be glad. Celebrate a little now and then"

"I ought not to have said we win heaven. It is, as you say, a gift. The free grace of God, the treasure of his love, precious beyond words, it is a pure gift. We do know celebration here, Guillaume. I have seen men's faces alight with peace, with joy, content. Good, wholesome food, and enough of it, we have that. Alright, it's a bit chilly, I grant you, and we are frugal, but we do not go without. But the dainties of the rich, platters of silver and fine linen; in the church, altar frontals of cloth of gold, a chalice studded with jewels--these things would shame our vows."

"Your purity condemns my self-indulgence. You make me blush, mon pere!"

"Guillaume, it's not funny. Why do you mock our simplicity? Am I pretentious to insist on it? No, no it cannot be right to live like kings when we are supposed to be like Jesus. Can it?"

"Ah, my dear friend, it is because you are a little crazy that I love you so. Le Seigneur, yes, he laid aside everything and became poverty for us. But we are not Jesus. You overreach yourself. Be realistic. We--"

"Are we not?" Peregrine leaned forward, his eyes burning urgent in his intent face. "If we who are the body of Christ are not Jesus, who will ever be? The world has need of the presence of Jesus, in the word of the gospels, in the holy bread and wine and in us. Somewhere in all the cynicism's and disappointments that bind and stunt their lives, men need to find a living Jesus, one who can hear their pain and understand their grief and shame someone to be the love of God with them. It has to be a poor man . . . doesn't it? To touch and heal the pain of men's poverty? I mean all kinds of poverty: the poverty of their need and and their brokenheartedness, of their sin . . . It would need a man poor in spirit and poor in means to comfort the loneliness of the poor. It is not possible for a rich man's hand to dry the tears of the poor--is it?"

They continue arguing, becoming more urgent as their entire lives are laid out on the line. Abbot Guillaume eventually turns to one of the younger brothers in the room, who is there serving them, and asks him this question:

"What do you say? To follow Jesus a man must live stripped of everything as your abbot would have me believe, or can he without sin enjoy the good things of life if his heart is thankful?"

"Jesus . . ." brother Tom struggled for an intelligent answer. "Well, who is your Jesus? I can see Father Peregrine's Jesus in the gospels but who--where is yours?"

I don't know why this little passage struck me. It probably has something to do with our own vows of simplicity that we are figuring, the two friars arguing inside my own little head. But I keep coming back to that phrase: Where is your Jesus in the gospels? He says nothing about modern day family values or creating safe spaces or being responsible financially or saving for your children's college or your own retirement; we have searched and searched for an answer to our own conscious as to what Jesus would say to us, those who live with more than enough when there are those dying in need around the world. And I think we know what Jesus would say, and so we ignore him. We have created another Jesus, a fictional one, who is concerned about welfare reform and border control and the middle class above all else. But where is this Jesus?

Where is he?

I cannot find him anywhere. But in these weeks of loneliness and sorrow, I have found him, both in the flesh and in his word, and he is more similar to the Jesus that Father Peregrine loves than I ever imagined.

1 Week without Facebook

Week 1 without Facebook is going pretty good. The highlights:

1. Not feeling bad about my life (because I am not comparing it to hundreds of others).

2. No longer thinking of expereinces in terms of status updates.

3. More time for reading (which I really have utillized. So many good things are in books!!!!!!)


The lowlights:

1. Spending a little too much time on Twitter. Not a ton, because I am unsure how to use it correctly, but enough so that it feels like I am just once again filling up my empty space.

2. Crickets. The sound of crickets in my in-box and my phone. Which makes me feel . . . not super awesome.



The lack of interaction with people due to not being on FB is a little bothersome. I am feeling a teensy bit lonely, not having my brain filled up with the minutia of everybody else's life. Also: I HATE talking on the phone, so I think I must get over that. But the deeper questions of what types of relationships I hunger for (real, authentic, challenging) and how do I go about building those--those certainly haven't been answered in a week.

It has been pretty wonderful, however, to dedicate more time to to Jesus, the husband, the baby, and my family. Which makes me realize that I have got some pretty fantastical stuff going on.


What up, 2012?

When I am in a better frame of mind I will prolly do a 2011 recap. Because it was a banner year, and there is something deliciously spiritual in remembering all the graces that have happened to us.  

But as for right now, as I wallow in the post-Christmas sickness for yet another day, I will keep it short.

I wrote this piece for Relevant.com, so I must now adhere to it.

I am going to start slow, and take the month of January off Facebook. Depending on how the month goes, I will assess and see if I can delete it permanently or need to hold on to it for emergencies. The most important bit is this: will I be able to fill that time with good things? Because that is what I am really after.


One of the good things I want in the year 2012 is good books. As usual, I am starting strong (my shelves are filed to bursting right now, as is my head) and I hope I can keep it up. Here is what I have started/plan to start reading this break:

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller (who wrote Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, one of my all-time favorite memoirs about her growing up in Africa).

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Sharp as a tack, intensly moving memoir about grieving.

The Irrational Season by Madeline L'Engle. L'Engle writes about her struggles being a mother, wife, and professional woman, all the while talking spirituality. Need I say more?

These are the top three. I have a smattering of backups, including some YA fantasy literature (Hugo) and a feel-good book about a dog (oogie). Plus, I bought an awesome book for the hubs for Christmas and can't wait to get my hands on it (The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight).

So here's to getting our brains back in gear, moving and shifting and sorting and questioning. And here's to the Spirit being the one to do all the answers, as we rest and wait and hope in Him.



Powered by Squarespace. Background image by Kmayfield