D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Category: 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.

 

 

 

dangerous territory

I had a dream last night. My family and I--including my sisters and my parents--were going on a cruise. We had been preparing for this, and we were excited. As we entered the large ship, things began to get strange. I saw piles of shoes everywhere. I saw people sleeping in cots stacked side by side. We were shown to our room and discovered it was a section of the dining hall, that the tables and chairs were to be our beds. I went onto the main deck and saw large shipping containers full of simple food items like bread and water, and people lining up to procure items. I saw people laying out blankets wherever they could find room. I looked around, and as the large ship started to sail I had a realization: this wasn't a luxury cruise ship, after all. As it turns out, we were all refugees, and we were all being sent to the middle of the sea, with no idea of what would come next.

//

What does this dream mean? Is it from God, or my anxiety, or my years of hearing stories from refugees, from recent weeks of absorbing the narrative of how no one wants to help the stateless wanderers of our earth? I don't know. All I know is that for all of my life I have yearned for comfort and safety and clear and correct answers, but I have been propelled into the very opposite waters.

I thought about this dream and I thought about a book that my friend just wrote. It is called Dangerous Territory. What is dangerous? The country that she got kicked out of due to her Christian faith? Or the place she came from, which gave her too many simple answers for the complexities of a world broken by colonialism, racism, misogyny, and inequality? The answer, of course, is both.

I think of the dangerous territories I always wanted to live in as a young and wildly self-assured woman. I never got to go to any of those places. I never smuggled Bibles or started an orphanage or led a resistance movement. I never got to be great. I never got to convert anyone. I never got an easy narrative of victory. 

Instead I have been crushed by defeat, bruised by proximity to the suffering, I have had despair of my own complicity in systems of sin dig deep wells into my heart and then--they were filled by a God who always was and only ever will be love. 

In her book, I think my friend was writing a love letter to her younger self, and to all of us who want to be world-changers. I wish I had been able to read it a few years ago. I wish growing up didn't always have to feel so hard. I wish I had been more aware of all the ways our world can be dangerous, especially if you find yourself at the top of an unequal system. 

//

I do not know where our ship of a country is currently going, and this feels very dangerous to me. But no matter what happens, I do know this: I am grateful for where God has brought me. I am grateful for my neighborhood, my life, my school, my community, my friends and family and neighbors. I am surrounded by those who will be the first to feel the effects of injustice. I am surrounded by people with very thin life vests. I am surrounded by people who have taught me how to be brave. I am surrounded by people who have survived more than I could ever even imagine. 

And together, I know, we will work to see God's kingdom established, on earth (and sea) as it is in heaven. 

 

 

(linking up with Amy and her blog. I encourage you to buy her beautiful and thoughtful book!)

 

Christmas Promotion Time!

Merry December, y’all! Today it snowed for about 30 minutes, we got our janky lights put up outside our new-to-us-house, and I am currently laying down with an ice pack on my back as I try and type this out. So, you know, just living my best life now.

Ok, so obviously I am a working writer and as much as it is about the art and craft of it all, book sales do factor into the world of writing as well. Nobody likes self-promotion, but it’s just something us plebes have to do. So, in order to make it a little more fun, I decided to pair a bit of self-promotion with a gift that is both beautiful and strengthening. And while I don’t love consumerism and all that jazz, I do think that buying people books is one of the more fun (and beneficial!) things we can invest our money in. But hey—I am a reader and a writer, so I might be biased. 

I am going to keep this super simple, because that is how we roll. Here is the deal: if you buy my book for someone else for Christmas you get an awesome print to throw up on your wall for free. 

 

 

The story behind this print is that my good friend and co-conspirator Lindsey (who lives around the corner in our beloved apartment complex) gave me this Scripture on an index card. I kept it in my bathroom and stared at it every day. What if I believed it was true? What if I decided to live like I might one day see small signs of the kingdom of God in this day and age? Every time I looked at it, I could feel the promise sinking deep in my bones. Even in the midst of postpartum depression, an anxiety disorder, no money, publishing a book about my most vulnerable thoughts, listening to my neighbors share stories of trauma constantly . . . I started to believe it. Eventually, that index card got splashed one too many times by my rowdy children, so I asked my artist friend Emily if she could make a print for me.

This is what she came up with:

 

 

I know, right? And thanks to her generosity, she is offering up a free digital download of this print for me to give to anyone who buys my book for someone else for Christmas. (If my mother and/or my sisters are reading this then HI! THIS IS YOUR CHRISTMAS PRESENT, SORRY FOR THE SPOILERS)

So that’s it. If you already bought it for someone, that’s great! Just email me (dlmmcsweeneys @ gmail . com) and I will send you the link to the digital download. If you were thinking about buying Assimilate or Go Home as a present for someone, now is the time—it’s currently on sale on Amazon for under $9—but if you want to support a local business that is great too! We will just do this the honor code way and I will believe you at your word—no receipts necessary :) I also won’t tell if you read it first BEFORE you give it away to someone, but I did want the focus of this promotion to be on sharing the book with others.

Emily does gorgeous watercolors and prints over at her Etsy shop Coopey Creek. She also does custom work for very affordable prices. Please go check out her shop here. Also, her husband Paul wrote a book about the Holy Spirit that I dearly love. You can find that right here.

 

Thank you for reading along, and making it through this self-promotional post :) I'm so grateful for all of the connections I've made here. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing what this stunning print looks like on your walls!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Commitment to Celebration (Book Bonanza Edition)

So, I’m not sure if you all heard or not--but I wrote a book! And it was released last Tuesday!

 

There are a lot of things I could say about this process, and I am not quite sure where to start. Of course I am grateful for the opportunity, and I am so touched by every kind word and comment, and I feel some measure of accomplishment, and I am relieved to have it out in the world. But (true to my nature) for every positive feeling there is an equal and opposite reaction: I wish publishing didn’t favor people like me (white, dominant culture), I have received criticism that is both fair and not (which def takes the wind out of my sails), and I am very wary of being put in a position of being an expert on anything.

So many of my writer friends talk about wanting to hide under the covers in the weeks post-book-release. I never understood that until just this moment (I hit a wall three days after publication and am still trying to recover). I have a vulnerability hangover, people. I am sure I will recover soon. In the meantime, my actual life of care-taking and neighborliness and activism is still just as great and as exhausting as ever. The people I am surrounded by for the most part do not care that I wrote a book (except my husband. He is very, very proud. It’s adorable).

at my book launch party, the snacks were very On Brand.

at my book launch party, the snacks were very On Brand.

 

Still, it’s both necessary and a pleasure to make a commitment to celebrate this momentous time. To that point, my friends and my readers have been amazing. I asked a few of my favorite writers/people to write down reflections they had after reading the book, specifically in a few areas:

 

1). What is your favorite unrecognized ministry?

 

2). How did you use to want to change the world? How do you view yourself now?

 

I’m going to link to all the posts right here, but I would love to hear from more of you! Please feel free to leave a comment on this post (or link to a blog).

 

Without further ado, here are some thoughts from some of my favorite people:

 

Michaela Evanow "The Ministry of Meal Making"

 

Amy Peterson "The Ministry of Reading Aloud"

 

Kevin Hargaden "We were just Sitting there Talking When . . ."

 

Christie Purifoy "The Ministry of Flowers"

 

Addie Zierman "The Small, Ordinary Ways we are Changing the World"

 

Marilyn Gardner "Small Things for the Kingdom"

 

Abby Norman "The Ministry of a Messy House"

 

Jessica Goudeau "The Ministry of Keeping Vigil"

 

Shannan Martin "The Important Poverty of Enough"

 

Stina KC "The Ministry of the YMCA"

 

Christiana Peterson "The Unrecognized Ministry of Listening"

 

Lori Harris "That Time We Thought We Assimilated"

 

Tanya Marlow "For Every Wannabe Missionary"


 

A few more links:

 

I have two separate essays about food and interacting with my refugee neighbors (both of these themes are very big in my life, obviously).

 

For Off the Page I wrote this (on despair and resilience in the face of so much being wrong in our world): Staring into the Sun. (Off the page also did an interview with me AND published an excerpt of my book! They are awesome!)

 

For Her.meneutics I wrote about my obsession with the Great British Baking Show and how it points to the importance of interdependence in a fractured world: Let Them Bake Cakes.

 

And here’s two other interviews I did: one for Sarah Quezada at A Life With Subtitles and one for Upright Magazine about Nurturing Craft in an Age of Content.

 

Here’s a link to a podcast I recorded with Matt Mooney.

 

Finally, if you are in the Portland area, make sure to come out to Powell’s on Wednesday night at 7:30 for my book reading/signing. Can you say life goals achieved???


 

WHEW.

 

Now I’m off to indulge in the ministry of coffee, baby snuggles, and reading all of the lovely and kind things so many of you have said. Thanks to all who have shared about the book and who reviewed it for Goodreads and for Amazon (keep em coming!) and who have taken pictures of it out in the wild. I am treasuring this all up, and I will never forget it.



The Privilege of Lent

Lord, not many of us could sustain hope in the midst of such horrors as Apartheid South Africa. Thank you for the witness of people like Nelson Mandela, who remind us that hope is a lifeline for those who hang by the threads of injustice. As long as there are people held in captivity, oppressed, and denied basic human rights, help us all to consider ourselves to be hanging by the same frail threads.
— From Common Prayer for today

 

I drive 25 minutes to my parents house, my children in the backseat. We take the back-route, winding through our burnt-out suburb and heading into the hills and farms and subdivisions. Every once in awhile the trees clear out and I see them, scattered up and down the gorgeous green hills: large houses, in various shades of brown, pristine and similar. Every once in awhile the thought creeps into my brain: there are enough people in this area to afford to live in these houses? Houses that cost upwards of half a million, 4 and 5 bedrooms, backyards and play structures, two car garages? How can there be so many people with money, I wonder, truly in awe. But it's obvious to me that this is true, although it does not speak to my reality. As soon as the questions appear in my heart I shrink back into myself. The layers of disbelief, judgement, sadness, isolation come and go in waves. I am starting to make peace with the idea that I might always be in culture shock, all the rest of my days.

In a book I am reading, the author discusses two stories which are placed side by side in the Scriptures, but which are often told separately. First, Jesus stands on top of a great green hillside, and he feeds the 5,000 people. And right after that, his disciples go out on the water and get caught up in a terrible, chaotic storm, where Jesus eventually meets them. The book said, we look at those two stories side by side, and we accept them as true. For every person sitting on a hill with Jesus, their every need met, there is another in the midst of a terrifying pitch-black storm. Both are real. And the sooner we accept the truth of where we are, the sooner we can accept the truth of where others live. 

This leaves me weepy with gratitude. It feels beyond my power to change my personality anymore. I am a stormy person. I am more Hamilton than Burr (I can't talk less or smile more). I am also drawn to other such persons—the hollow-eyed, the doubters, the single-minded activists, the outsider voices. And this is ok. This is my reality, and I accept it (even as I wish it weren’t so, as I wish it were all easier, more tidy, that I was more content). And already, by voicing this, I can see it starting in my heart: my indifference towards others is getting smaller. I can see us all coming from different places, I can see the beauty in a kingdom that thrives on vast and varied lives and perspectives. 

At least, that is what I am hoping for. Hello to being honest about where we are, whether in the storm or on that great, green hillside. 

//

The way I celebrate Lent is very non-denominational. It’s all over the map. It is for the messy and tired and for people who can’t parse out all the theological reasons for it. Some years I skip it altogether, and it’s great. But this year, I feel the prickling to actually do a few things. Like: I will not be mindlessly scrolling on my favorite social media spaces (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). I’m not going to check out any hot new book titles from the library. I will decrease the clutter of words and focus on a slow reading of my own bookshelves, choosing those books that nourish me. I hope to create some emotional margin in my life so I can start an ESL class/tutoring time in my apartment complex. I will be praying along with Common Prayer every morning (feel free to join me!). I want to start dreaming up ways for me to get outside the boxes I still continually build up for myself. 

But there is something else, something more amorphous, that I am feeling drawn towards this year. Pope Francis says we should give up our indifference for Lent this year, and I agree. And we all flounder in this area, no matter where we live—at least, I certainly do. Lately I have found myself surrounded by books and tv shows and churches where there seemed to be no sense of the struggle. The struggle against inequality, the struggle against complement consumerism, the struggle against a system that isn’t just broken but rather insidiously designed to elevate some at the expense of so many others. Any time someone mentioned a good gift from God I wanted to scream and cry in rage, my mind flooded with the thoughts of all of those who don’t receive that same thing. If you are blessed, does that mean they are cursed? I had lost it, all of my perspective—whatever that means. I had a bad week and my depression made me feel alone, drifting further and further into my own mind. 

But then I opened up this book in a coffee shop and I was sobbing before I knew it, especially when the author started talking about testimonies:

“Jesus fed me when I was hungry, we hear, and those who are hungry feel bereft. Jesus healed me when I was sick, say the healthy, and the burdened feel more burdened. Meditation cured me of depression, say some, and others make plans to hide the Prozac. Upon whom is the burden of words? I don’t know. I don’t think there is an answer. I cannot dampen gladness because it will burden the unglued. But I cannot proclaim gladness as a promise that will only shackle the already bound. Faith shadows some and it shelters others . . . Hello to what we do not know.”

And there it was, what I needed to say: hello to recognizing where we are.

Hello to the hard work of not becoming indifferent to all of those not in the exact same spot as ourselves. 

//

Today is Ash Wednesday and I will not have time nor be able to attend a service. I will not be marked by an ashy gray cross on my head, but this is OK for me. I grew up never celebrating this particular holiday, I would feel like an outsider amidst the language and the ritual, but perhaps in the future I will risk baring my ignorance and attend one all the same. I think about what I know of Ash Wednesday, how it begins: a bright green palm leaf, so exotic, so full of promise, waved around a sanctuary by joyous and un-scarred children. And then, that same leaf, a year later: dried out, burned, ground into ash, smeared onto the foreheads of murky, complicated souls on their way to the next trial to be overcome. 

I have been thinking how marked I have been by my life, by my friends, by all the very hard stories I heard last week, or last month, or last year. What a sorrow, what a privilege, to be scarred like this. To carry a reminder,  everywhere you go.  Always, always, hidden in your heart: the ashes of those lives around you which are hanging on by a thread. 

 

Lord, hear our prayers. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

Places My Name Has Been

I've got a few things floating out in the wide world and I thought I would just quickly tell you about them. I also thought for a few of you it might be interesting to know how I got myself into writing these pieces/what they were about.  

 

 

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1. Books and Culture

Firstly, I wrote a book review that was published in the September edition of Books and Culture. I had e-mailed the editor (the illustrious John Wilson) out of the blue a few months before because I so admired the high level reading and writing they had going on in this publication. To be honest, I also wanted to write for them because most of the reviews I saw were written by very academic (and very smart) folks who all worked in colleges and had published highly-acclaimed books. Since I am none of those things, it made me want to try just a bit harder. John Wilson was very gracious and sent me a book on labor trafficking to review (Life Interrupted, by Denise Brennan), which sent me down all sorts of rabbit trails (the best kind of book there is, in my opinion). Since then I have read and reviewed another book (I believe it will be coming out in January) that John also sent to me and now I must say I trust his taste implicitly.

If you like to write, then reading/reviewing books is such an excellent way to hone your skills/figure out what the power of the written word means to you. I regularly now find myself reviewing at least one book a month (although, I have discovered that if I just truly don't like a book, I can't bring myself to review it. There are too many good books out there to focus on the bad. And let me tell you, there is a lot of bad in mainstream publishing). Besides Books and Culture, another favorite place of mine to read (and review) books is over at Englewood Review of Books. They are the coolest (they started out as a church community that read/reviewed books together, and now it is a big beautiful collection of fascinating reads from people all over the country).

The review is online, but is behind a paywall. I do highly recommend the subscription, however, especially if you like your scholarly + theological sides to be challenged/unlocked.

 

 

 

2. Timbrel

Timbrel is the Mennonite Women USA magazine (I know!). My good friend Claire is the editor of Timbrel (besides being an awesome writer herself, as well as an occasional model for Christian Amish book covers). She asked me to write about my journey in pursuing foster care as a means to growing our family for their "mothering" issue.

I am not someone who writes a ton about motherhood or things that can be strictly considered "women's issues" and to be honest this was one of the more difficult pieces I ever had to write. Motherhood, mothering, and growing your family are all so very personal, and I am well aware of the variety of experiences. Just a few short months ago we made the decision to stop pursuing adoption through foster care, after many months/years of prayer. I hesitate to explain our decision because it is tied up in the lives of so many people we now are in relationship with--so many of our friends and neighbors who were in foster care themselves when they were young, or who had their own children taken away from them). As we have journeyed into the system, and seen others do the same, there is just no way around the brokenness to be found in every corner of this world. While we most certainly do believe there is still a definite need for people to be involved in foster care (and many children need permanent homes) we also realize there are many ways to support families in crisis, and we are being drawn to help families stay together.

I know, big topic right? It is so hard to even address in anything fewer than a hundred thousand words. The wounding of our families in this country is incredible. The space for transformation is breathtaking. Lord, may your kingdom come. This article is also not available online, but you can purchase a subscription here. I also have a few copies of the magazine if anyone desperately wants it I will send it to you!

 

 

 

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3. Image Journal

My friend (and amazing photographer) Fritz Leidtke got me a subscription to Image last year and it has been one of my favorite gifts ever. It is a beautiful, meditative, smart and thrilling journal. I mean it. I have always been a bit out of my mind and so I decided that Image was one of my favorite places to read I should most certainly send something in. Perhaps it is because my identity has never been tied up with being a writer (but oh my, don't you dare touch my do-gooder/missionary/social justice identity or I will cut you) but I don't seem to suffer the paralysis or nervousness that can affect some. I tend to read good things, get inspired, and then type away and send my stuff out into the cold world. And sometimes, it works! Like with Image--while I can hardly believe it, they accepted a piece I sent them and published it in the October issue. Now, sadly, there is nowhere to go but down (also, I sense a theme: being the least qualified writer in the joint. This makes me feel a teensy bit proud but also pretty insecure).

This piece was born out of a really intense season this spring. I thought: I have never read a literary exploration of what it means to burn out. I know people toss that phrase around like old change, but that truly is the sensation I experienced. Being surrounded by people ricocheting from one chaotic situation to the next really took a toll on me. Writing it out helped me more than I can say (as did making a few changes to my schedule). This is probably the most personal (and raw) piece I have ever written.

If you don't already subscribe to Image, I would highly encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed. I believe you can sign up to get a digital copy for free--so check it out, and I trust you will be astonished as I have been by the craft and care of this publication.

 

 

4. Interview

Lastly, a few months ago Heather Caliri asked me a few questions about how I read the Bible. I think I thought it was for an e-book or something and would be highly edited, so I dashed off some (ahem) casual thoughts. She just recently put the answers up on her blog as a part of a series she is doing called "Quiet Time Confidential" (all the evangelical kids shiver a little bit when they read that). So if you have been dying to hear about what I think about reading the Bible, you should go on over and read it.

 

 

Thanks for reading!

Your Correspondent, srsly has got to go eat something with pumpkin spice in it right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book that Changed Josina’s Life

I met Josina at my Collegeville retreat this summer. I was immediately struck by her beauty, her warmth, and her very sweet way of speaking the TRUTH! Her writing is extremely powerful, and I love this reminder that art means more when we have suffered--which reminds me of the beauty of Christ (Also, I now really need to get this book). Be sure to read more of Josina's work, and find out more about the amazing community that she is a part of.  

 

 

 

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Cries of the Spirit edited by Marilyn Sewell

Guest Post by Josina Guess

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps it is cheating to choose an anthology of poetry as the book that changed my life.  With more than 300 poems by women from Hildegard of Bingen to Audre Lorde each one speaks across history, ethnicity, geography and class and draws me in to a deeper sense of myself as a woman.  I received Cries of the Spirit as a graduation gift from a housemate at Earlham College.  I knew so much more then than I do now and sometimes read smugly the voices of cynicism, rage and doubt that cry through these pages which are a “Celebration of Women’s Spirituality.”  I was pure, hopeful, idealistic and passionate for Jesus and justice- I wanted more happy and righteous poems.  Over the years I have become a wife, mother, witness and bearer of grief and joy that my twenty one year old heart could barely fathom.  As experience has made my heart break and harden and crack open once again I read these poems over and over with eyes that always cry at wisdom that transcends what I thought I knew when I first received it.

This book is not Chicken Soup for a Woman’s soul.  It is the whole bird: feathers bones and blood, mouth gaping with eyes wide open; the shock of feet with toenails floating in the broth.  This book has a flavor so rich and deep - never canned-that is always good medicine for my sin-sick soul.  Tough poems on suicide, rape, abortion, domestic violence, divorce and menstruation are joined by tender poems on washing dishes, peeling apples, planting a garden and making love.  This book reliably primes the pump of my tear ducts and keeps me feeling in a world that tempts me to go numb and give up.

Now that I have sat with a friend and wept over the divorce papers that finalized the death of a marriage that her husband had been killing for years; now that I have watched my friend carried out of his house in a blue body bag after losing his battle with psychosis; now that I have had a friend tell me of running from gun fire with her baby shot dead on her back; now that I have had my body four times stretched and poured out through the birth of children that keep stretching, pulling and pushing me I see in this book a mirror.  This book gives me words when all I have are sighs too deep for words.  When my friend’s mother died I emailed her an Alice Walker poem when I had no words of my own to give.

Though Cries of the Spirit is heavy on the pain I am still hopeful, idealistic and passionate for Jesus and justice.  Now I can see more clearly that these burdens and blessings we women bear are worth sharing with one another and the one who made, loves and redeems us.  It makes the poems that radiate joy, hope, forgiveness and redemption all the more sweet.  Gathered in these pages I see myself: white and black, urban and rural, broken and healed.  At 35 I know I’ve only just begun.  Maybe it has not changed my life as much as help me to articulate life as a woman in all its complexity.  As my life and perspective has changed, Cries of the Spirit has given me words to embrace those changes. In some grace-filled moments I find myself writing poems when nothing else will do.  I know I have this great cloud of mothers, sisters, grandmothers and friends, whose voices sing through this book- who give me courage to raise my own- to thank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

unnamedJosina Guess lives with her husband and their four children at Jubilee Partners, a Christian service community in Comer, Georgia.  Josina has written for Conspire, Communities Magazine and Red Letter Christians Blog. Pull up a chair at Josina's Kitchen Table to read a few more of her thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

East Of Eden

The Giving Tree

The Irresistible Revolution

Winter’s Tale

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

 

 

 

 

The Book that Changed Lydia's Life

I met Lydia at my Collegeville workshop in July. She was a pleasure to meet and hang out with, and the stories of her life (growing up in the Catholic Worker house in Detroit) and her current work as a water activist were so inspiring. Her writing is amazingly evocative, filled both with a sense of activism and a deep lyricism. I too love the Narnia books, and for me they are so tied to family as well. I want to honor the richness of this essay by telling you it would be best if you find a quiet space to read it and be prepared to be moved: when Lydia writes about her mother there is something deep happening. I am so grateful for her words here, and am honored to host them. 

 

 

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Love Story to Narnia

by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann

 

Frustrated he said, “Well what would you do if you were trying to convert someone?” He had been following my mom around campus for months trying to convert her to be a Crusader for Christ by following the 5 spiritual laws of conversation. Without needing a minute to think about it, she said “I would ask them to read the Chronicles of Narnia and then invite them to talk about it.”

She was raised on those stories, traveling Europe with her parents. She read them aloud in the little chapel on the hillside in Taize, France while the monks chanted prayers. On the Queen Mary, she carried her small metal Reepacheep sword around the decks. Narnia came alive in her as her sense of imagination, adventure, and wildness grew.

That deep magic found its way into our home. Tucked under the covers, I feel her hand on my back and her voice carrying the pages into my own dreams. We were a family who craved winter, to walk through the snow and trees imagining being in Narnia where the animals and trees are alive with spirit and speech. It was a tale and a land that nurtured my love of the seasons, honored the animals, instilled a sense of hope and faith against all odds, trusted in the unseen sacred spirit around us, and taught me an unfaltering belief in resurrection.

At twelve, my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. Given six months to live, she miraculously lived for seven and a half years. It was a season in my life marked with surgeries, seizures, and long hospitals stays. On the times when I would sit with my mom waiting for her to regain consciousness, I knew there was only one thing I needed to bring. Chronicles. We read those stories over and over from one hospital bed to another.

In the final months of her life, my dad took to reading her The Last Battle (the seventh and last book). On December 30, the night before she died, my sister Lucy (a name not unrelated to Narnia I believe) and I crawled into the hospital bed that lay beside our Christmas tree in our living room. We tucked ourselves under her arm, as my dad read the final chapter out loud to us all. He read the final words as we all clung to that moment with warm tears hanging on our cheeks.

 “And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Narnia had woven its way through my childhood with a sense of mystery, kept me company through my teenage years beside hospital beds, and now at 19 years old it led me deeper into my own grief. When we closed her casket, I placed a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in her hands. I held onto a deep sense of knowing that when I read those books throughout my life, I would continue to meet her on those pages.

At her Memorial Service, I read about the sisters, Lucy and Susan, caring for Aslan’s body as we cared for my mom’s washing them both with our tears. A couple years later, in a moment of numbness and loneliness, I found my way to that little chapel in Taize. I curled up in a corner leaning against the cold stone and found the courage to open the page and speak the words aloud. We buried my mom’s ashes up in the thumb of Michigan in a patch of tall pines she loved. The only thing that marks the spot is a lamppost. A young girl and her grandmother wandered into the woods and finding the lamppost, the girl cried out “We have found Narnia!” Indeed they had.

To be clear, there are also many problematic pieces of the stories as it is rich with patriarchy, warfare, and blatant atonement theology. None of that is to be ignored or excused. But for me, they are the stories that wove through my life holding a sense of home, mystery, and awe. In some ways, it almost doesn’t matter what the books were, but that they were.

As an adult, in moments when my belief in God or heaven are challenged or the reality and  possibility of building toward the Beloved Community, I find myself thinking of Puddleglum from The Silver Chair. He is a lovable, pessimistic, Debbie Downer, dreary, pain-in-the-butt, but completely loyal froglike friend. Towards the end of the book, him and his companions have been captured and taken to an underground world and tortured into believing that there is no world above, no Narnia, no Aslan. In an incredible act of faith that breaks the spell, Puddleglum cries out “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones…I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” Amen.

 

 

 

unnamed-2Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is an activist, writer, and mother in Detroit, MI. She is part of the Jeanie Wylie Community, focused on urban agriculture, immigrant justice, and nonviolence. She works for Word and World- an experiment in alternative theological education bridging the gap between the seminary, the sanctuary and the street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

East Of Eden

The Giving Tree

The Irresistible Revolution

Winter’s Tale

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

 

 

 

 

The Book That Changed Kelsey's Life

I just recently made the pleasure of Kelsey's acquaintance, and now we are in an IRL writing group. Her presence is a joy, as are her thoughtful comments, fantastical sermons, and her general air of practical whimsy. Kelsey is new to this whole writing-on-the-internet thing, and I am so glad she is starting. Also, I read this book when I was a teenager as well, and it completely went over my head (not surprising, but still rather depressing). I do believe it is time to crack it open again. Heaven knows I love a good underdog story. 

 

 

 

 

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The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

by Kelsey Maddox

 

 

I don’t remember where I acquired the book or when. Nor do I recall what age I was—a teenager, I know that much. I do remember that it was a stiff, musty, cheap paperback, and that it was hard to keep it propped open. The print was small, type-writer looking, and there were no illustrations. It is a substantial read, and the print felt especially minuscule for all the movement that happened on one page.

I also recall thinking that with a title like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter that the content was perhaps too “mature” for me, and that maybe I should wait to read it. But I had a habit of woofing down entire voluminous novels, even if I couldn’t fully fathom them. The summer that I was seventeen I read three of Shakespeare’s plays and four other classic pieces of lit. That is what my teenage self did on vacation. I couldn’t help it. Books were a kinship that no human offered. They were my friends. Books were the very thing that cured and caused my isolation. I didn’t lack friends entirely, but I would sometimes choose a book over a social gathering. How strange! It was easier for me to identify with the book characters than my own friends.

It was an escape.         

And I had found the ultimate one. This book, this one in particular, epitomized my isolation. It embraced why I could be unique and exploited it, all at once. There were so many characters to escape into, each of them a different part of me. So easy it was for me to identify with them, yet each of them radically different from me to a degree of deep intrigue. I couldn’t put it down, this stiff, musty paperback, even though it persisted in closing on me. I would read until my eyes grew wide or would slowly begin to ache, becoming big pools of tired.

This, this novel is the great anthem of underdogs and isolation. The ensemble of main characters, 5 of them at least, each a different offering: the deaf-mute, the diner owner, the Greek who smelled bad. The 12 year old girl I wanted to emulate—her name was Mick. I wanted to live in her house, see the world from her gritty perspective, and be as transformed by a Jewish boy and a deaf-mute and she was. I wanted her short hair and audacity to smoke cigarettes. I wanted to eat at that diner with her and have the same hopes and dreams and sadness. I was curious about the deaf-mute, just like her. I wanted to be his friend—he was so intelligent for his lack of sound. How could you forget him, John Singer? I wanted to sleep on the other half of his bunk bed and write down what he had to say to the world. In this unusual spree of characters and their interwoven stories, I had, for once found people I could identify with—a much more difficult feat in reality.

SO GOES THE TALE OF THE UNDERDOG.

Underdogs.

Underdogs:

Winsome, yet mysterious.

Exposed, yet withdrawn.

In view, but you turn your gaze away so as not to gawk.

    Pridefully different, embarrassedly alone.

    Naively divergent, happily oppressed.

   Wanting belonging, peacefully singular.

              Lacking self-propriety, careless of what others think.

              Economically poor, focused on ailments of self.

              Navigating self worth by both flaunting and hiding ailments.

              Internally stormy, yet full of surprise victory.

Underdogdom was my destiny. Entering the world at two pounds, runt-like in my qualities, I was set for certain meekness. Surely I was destined, with my parent’s broken marriage, my dad’s mental illness, my mom’s intestinal disorder. Was I humble in my isolation? Or just lacking self confidence? Naive? Or just hadn’t asked the questions yet? By high school, I had figured out how to caged-bird sing (thank you, dearest Maya Angelou), beat-of-my-own-drum marching, flaunting outright how I am not like you. Was it circumstantial? Or was it just…me? Regardless of circumstance or simply personal development, there was one thing that differentiates an underdog from a down and out mope: the underdog never loses HOPE.

With the underdog, there is an element of surprise. This capacity to shock society, or even just whoever is around, is the most gratifying thing the created underdog could feel! Even if it is only momentary, it is proof that the underdog can rise above, can excel, or in the very least, is an adequate human being.

In the novel, this is the most vivid through John Singer--the deaf mute--the man I so badly wanted to become friends with in real life. I was so very sad for him when he lost his one true friend, the Greek—such an irrevocable plot twist. Now what would he do? No one else seemed to miss the Greek for what good is a deaf-mute to the general populace? This, this is the song of the underdog—set in a time when people seemed to have less education concerning underdogs. They are all underdogs in this story and they are all champions in their isolation because for once their story is told. We all have stories to tell and the tale of the underdog is no less valuable, though it may seem so because that is the very essence of the underdog—to be less valuable. I think most people want to see the underdog on top for one glistening moment, but would they want to remain an underdog after that? Would you want to remain isolated and ailing?

HOW DARE YOU UNDERESTIMATE THE ISOLATED CREATURES!

And is this not the message of Christ?

(Christ: The paraclete society shocker. The turn-normal-upside-down bringer. The “isolation [read: solitude] is where you’ll find me” lover. Is this not his message?)

And this is why I have read this book over and over: it is where I began to see Christ in the underdog. It is where I began to see Christ in myself. It is where I began to see Christ in those who were like me, underdogs, and for the first time in my teenage life, I made friends that were not books.

 

 

 

 

 

Kelsey Maddox is a lover of words and far too many other things, but most especially: people, the outdoors, gardening, biking and rock climbing, and the monastic life. When she is not attempting the craft of words, figuring out the perfect from-scratch ice cream recipe or problem solving scaling a rock, she works for Grace Trinity Community Church (www.gracetrinitychurch.org/) and hangs out with the two most swell dudes she knows: her husband Phil and son Oliver—well, three dudes if you count the dog!

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

East Of Eden

The Giving Tree

The Irresistible Revolution

Winter's Tale

 

 

 

 

 

The Book That Changed Ben's Life

Well, this is officially the first book in this series that I haven't read--so I best be getting on that (seriously, now I really really want to). Ben is an IRL friend of mine from lovely Portland. I love the way his literary mind is in constant conflict with the beautiful and terrible world that he finds himself in. Do yourself a favor, read this essay, and then get on over to his website where you can find more of his writing. 

 

 

 

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Winter's Tale

by Ben Bishop

 

“A lot of people hate heroes. I was criticized for portraying people who are brave, honest, loving, intelligent. That was called weak and sentimental. People who dismiss all real emotion as sentimentality are cowards. They’re afraid to commit themselves, and so they remain ‘cool’ for the rest of their lives, until they’re dead—then they’re really cool.”

- Mark Helprin

^  ^  ^

I’m infatuated with New York City. My fascination is of a particular variety, the kind that comes from visiting a place, immediately becoming enamored, and then returning numerous times without ever actually moving there and having to suffer its more dismal aspects. It’s an infatuation rooted in the aromas of history and raw ambition I get a whiff of every time I walk through Manhattan’s cobblestoned alleys, or drift over the timeless span of the Brooklyn Bridge. New York is a romantic city in the fullest sense of the term, at once exhilarating and unpredictable, a grand old place, occasionally desolate, seeming to have a thousand faces. 

Set near the turn of the 20th century, Mark Helprin's "Winter’s Tale" takes place in an alternate version of New York. Recognizable as the real thing, the city’s subtle deviations from reality are revealed only gradually, as the novel unfolds. “Winter’s Tale” traces the life of Peter Lake, master burglar, including his exploits as a thief, his encounters with an enchanted white horse, his pursuit of a beautiful woman dying of consumption, and his running conflict with a brutal gangster. It is fundamentally a fantasy and a work of magical realism, although it operates within (and, just as importantly, was acknowledged and received by the powers that rule) the world of literary fiction. Verbose to the point of intoxication, the book includes some of the best names I’ve ever encountered (a street gang named the Dead Rabbits? come on), and is both a paean to New York City and a document chronicling the author’s love affair with the English language. 

When I first encountered "Winter’s Tale" two years ago, I was deep in the throes of trying to sell my first novel, a process that involved trying to understand my place within the world of fiction. Who was I writing for? What was I trying say? Who was going to read my book? I furrowed my brow and reflected with great sobriety on the Good Books I’d read or had recommended to me over the past decade. Meanwhile, there was a moment during my devouring of "Winter’s Tale" when I began to realize what the distinct-yet-not-unpleasant twinge I’d been feeling since the first page was. It dawned on me that the sliver of undefined matter lodged way back in the molars of my brain had as much to do with what I was not encountering in the book as what I was. Several hundred pages into the story I was surprised to find that I was not ankle deep in existential despair. Try as I might, I simply could not find any artful ennui, nor any of the other neuroses I’d come to associate with much of the literary fiction I'd read. The lead characters were not grappling with suburban desolation, the disintegration of the nuclear family, or that postmodern ambivalence which, while sometimes useful, is all too often symptomatic of a corrosive, humanistic resignation. 

Yes, you say, but did the book change your life? It did. From nearly the first page, I was captivated by its earnestness. Here were characters who believed in the eternal power of love and the ultimate weight of justice. Here were clear depictions of good and evil and the struggle to choose one and not the other. Here was the promise of immortality, and a clear-eyed embrace of the spiritual reality that underpins the material world. And yet it was not a naive work. Neither, miraculously, was it sentimental. You can’t elide the realities of depravity and despair and also tell a human story of any consequence. Not if you want people to believe you. Yet the overall tone of the book—the exuberance of the language, the almost obsessive preoccupation with light and color, and the simple yet powerful claim that things like faithfulness and selflessness are not only possible but vital—was so fundamentally and unapologetically optimistic, that upon my exposure to it I felt something inside of me resonate like a sounding bell. 

Of course, not all of what we would call literary fiction is depraved or morally relativistic. Not by a long shot. Still, I cannot deny how clearly I was struck by the difference between the story of Peter Lake and many of the novels featured on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. Indeed, I wonder if there has ever been as tantalizing a description of a book as the one that ran in the September 4, 1983 Times review of “Winter’s Tale": 

“There’s far more that I would wish to say about the book - so much more that I find myself nervous, to a degree I don’t recall in my past as a reviewer, about failing the work, inadequately displaying its brilliance.” 

As someone who has grown up reading and studying modern American novels, I’ve absorbed numerous unspoken rules, including the one that states that it's simply not cool to hold up people who are gentle, hopeful, generous, or altruistic as heroes. Novels that celebrate virtue wholeheartedly, without irony or shame, are exceedingly rare. Those that are canonized are even rarer. That a reviewer for The New York Times would say of any book, let alone this book, that he is nervous about failing to adequately display its brilliance surprised me, to say the least. 

You will note that I have not told you much about the plot or characters, save a cursory overview. I haven't talked about the moment when I roared with laughter while alone in my bedroom while reading. I haven't told you about coming to the final scenes of the book, and how I mourned finishing it. I haven't done any of these things because I want you to have an unadulterated experience of the novel for yourself, to discover its joys on your own and thereby forge your own memories. Before I ever thought about "Winter's Tale" on an intellectual or critical level, I simply drank it in as a story, and in drinking it in I was powerfully moved. By the end, I found myself agreeing with another reviewer who once wrote that Helprin’s work "exists to remind us that… it is sometimes wiser and more fulfilling to cherish our deepest ideals than to mock them.” 

Last Christmas, I unwrapped a gift from my sister; a copy of "Winter’s Tale." She didn’t realize I’d already read it. When she did, she was crestfallen. She offered to take it back, get me something else. 

“No,” I said, waving my hand. “No, no. Absolutely not. I’m going to read it again."

 

 

 

Ben Bishop lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

East Of Eden

The Giving Tree

The Irresistible Revolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book That Changed Stina's Life

I read The Irresistible Revolution late in the game, only a few years ago. But I was already smitten with the ideas and gentle humor and radical hope that Shane Claiborne and his friends possessed. In recent years I have been fascinated by our culture's reactions to authors who ask us to look at issues of poverty, in-equality, and privilege. In interviews with Claiborne, the most common question I hear being asked is this: "yes, but what about us--the people living normal American lives--is there any hope for us?" There are no easy answers, and--as I think this essay makes clear--there is no way to tell when a book stops changing your life--or what it changes it toward. 

 

 

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The Irresistible Revolution

 

By Stina KC

 

 

What was it about that book?

It was the gee whiz let’s do something. It was the stories of hope. It was the promise of a glittery but gritty revolution where the kingdom breaks through cracked concrete, mustard plant by mustard plant.

It was the acknowledgment that not all is well with the world, stop pretending. Instead, let’s move into the neighborhood and tithe our money relationally; let’s reject the investment in sprawling suburban church campuses when so many are scrounging for grocery money. Be a new kind of believer, a prophetic witness who takes Jesus at his word.

Shane Claiborne came to speak in chapel at my evangelical college in 2004, two years before The Irresistible Revolution was published. It was the week before finals and I skipped his talk to write a paper; I had never heard of him. But I saw the impact he had on my friends, how they came back from chapel pumped up by his words about authentic faith, by his dreadlocks and patched jeans. Some of my crowd looked a lot like Shane that way, and I have a faint recollection of a drum circle that he performed with students on campus.

Shane, it was decided, was very cool. The New Monasticism movement that he headlined buzzed with words like “intentional community” and “downward mobility,” setting my idealist heart ringing. It dovetailed with the “you can change the world” message I had long heard growing up. And I believed in my heart of hearts that I, too, would never settle for a stale and materialistic Christianity.

But, if you’re like me, the sounding gong of radicalism eventually faded into disillusionment. Your life never looked like the dramatic stories in Shane’s book. You forgot to have grace for yourself when your experiments with countercultural living in the city fell flat. You flamed out, young radical. Maybe you never invited your neighbors over for that BBQ you were meaning to throw. Maybe you volunteered at the neighborhood community center until your schedule changed and you had to drop it. Or maybe you got depressed or broke up with your boyfriend or spent a year listening to indie rock in coffee shops while you hung onto cynicism like a scar.

I’m here to tell you – I see you. I am you.

Let’s walk together and sit down here, at the feet of Jesus. Put down the radical rule books and “shoulds” about how we must live or relate to the poor. Instead, look upon your disappointment with kindness. Perhaps you needed a few years to grow up, to be jaded and confused and cynical. Sit here beside me, see his robe hems? Maybe those years were leading you right here, onto the ground like a child at library story time. Lean forward and listen. He is looking at you in love, dear child of God; he is speaking words of grace.

While you sit, remember what Mother Teresa said about great things. Not all of us can spark a movement like Claiborne, not everyone can start a community house in a struggling neighborhood.  But we can all rest here awhile and listen. And when you finally stand up to go about your day, be amazed at how God interrupts your mundane life like the wiliest of mustard plants. Watch dirty things become clean with every dish you wash. Witness tears turning to laughter when you comfort your child. Observe prisoners going free as you extend a meal to a lonely friend. All of them are such small things, such un-sexy things. But, as Mother Teresa would remind us, they are great when done with love.

Actually, this was Claiborne’s message all along – his book tagline is, after all, “living as an ordinary radical.” He even cites Mother Teresa’s words about small things with great love at the end of the book, striving hard to make the revolution legalism-proof. Yet somehow I walked away from that book and the radical Christian sub-culture with a different message, one that elevated inner-city ministry and intentional poverty above all else. It made anything less feel like failure.

Still, The Irresistible Revolution changed my life; it stirred me to reimagine my faith in a terrible, beautiful world. It led me to volunteer with refugees and torture survivors, to live below the poverty level in an intentional community for a season. And, though my life looks different now, I continue to struggle with the questions that Claiborne raised about poverty, about injustice, about taking Jesus at his word. I keep returning to the humble floor, laying the discord and tensions I feel at his feet. I keep reminding myself: the smallest of things, the greatest of love.

Maybe God isn’t done with us yet, my fellow failed radicals. As for the “what now” – well, maybe our lives of doing dishes, childcare and cooking will never inspire quite like Claiborne’s. Let’s content ourselves by watching mustard sprouts wherever we can find them. And, when you start paying attention, you just might realize they are springing up everywhere.

 

 

unnamed-2Stina KC is a fledgling writer who blogs occasionally at
http://stinakc.wordpress.com/. After turning 30, she decided it was
finally okay to write for strangers on the internet. She is an angsty
Anabaptist/Anglican hybrid who likes to write about faith, motherhood,
and being all grown up. Stina lives in Minneapolis with her husband
and daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

East Of Eden

The Giving Tree

The Book That Changed Claire's Life

I woke up to a world in disarray (to be honest, it has been all this time). I think this is as good as time as any to read a beautiful piece on The Giving Tree, a book that I to this day cannot read to my own small daughter without sobbing. I remember the first time I read it, at my grandparents house. Setting it back down on the shelf, 8 years old, I remember feeling immense sadness and gratitude, as well as thinking "well, that certainly wasn't a KIDS book". Claire (an amazing writer/editor who I have the pleasure of being in a IRL writing group with) brought me back with this piece. Feel free to leave a comment on your own Giving Tree story--I know there must be others out there!

 

 

 

 

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The Book That Changed My Life

by Claire DeBerg

 

This book did not change my life. This book transformed my life. The youngest of three, I would sit enrapt with my siblings as our father recited long passages of poetry to us each evening. I can’t remember if I was mesmerized by his remarkable ability to recite verse after verse after verse of poems he’d kept sealed in his heart his whole life or if I was caught up in the adventures of different poetry he shared, but having a father who was a writer and poet and pastor meant the mellow, oaky boom of his deep bass voice was calming and comforting and home.

My father loves language and wit, which is why the books of poetry by Shel Silverstein were such a critical part of our literary repertoire growing up. We three siblings would page through Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic giggling at the wild images enjoying how funny phrases would somersault in our heads plastering us to our beds imagining the wonders of the small worlds Shel created in perfect rhyme.

So when my father first settled me into bed to read me The Giving Tree for the first time I was confused by the lack of a rhyme in the first several pages. I interrupted the story to check out the cover—yes, there was the odd wonderful name “Shel Silverstein” scrawled on the cover as though he signed the book himself. Yes, there was the simple line drawing on the book cover—the comforting signature of his art. So convinced this was indeed a Shel Silverstein book, I let my father start from the beginning again with his deep, sweet voice touched with echoes of the southern drawl his grandparents had gifted him, “Once there was a tree…”

And I loved the beginning because I immediately identified with that little boy as most of my childhood was spent in the trees and woods on our property. Despite the lack of rhyme, I thought I knew why my dad had chosen this book…he was seeing how my tomboy shenanigans were aligned with this little boy. He knew how much I loved sitting in the deep sand pit next to our garden carving out tunnels, he knew how I protected the pussy willow from being stripped of her buds by the hands of the legions of boys traipsing around our neighborhood. I knew my father read me The Giving Tree because he saw me climb Jennifer’s Tree scaling it with grace and care and hugging Jennifer’s Tree before bed each night in the summer.

And then he read, “…the tree was often alone.” The “alone” was a balloon just slipping from my grip and there was a pause where my father let me watch it float away. And my tiny little eight-year-old heart splintered, deflating. I could never leave my tree unattended. But the story continued and became for me a warning tale because in the story, the years tumble forward and the tree remains a steadfast giver each time the boy returns as the unapologetic taker.

The Giving Tree can be read in about nine minutes or less and when my father first read it to me I was exhausted at the close having surged through all the emotions my childhood heart could manage: love, grief, hurt, anger, mania, hurt, love again, longing.

I cried by myself after my father left the room and switched off the light. I distinctly remember feeling as though I needed to choose which I would be: the boy or the tree. Would I give with utter abandon until I was used up? Would I always look forward to someone even if they used me? Would I be the boy—always clear about what I needed? Always wanting bigger and better?

I was afraid to page through it again and instead let it sit on my bedside table for a week. Only after that time could I manage to let the story break loose inside me once more until I was withered and teary all over again. The heartbreak of the story and the gruff author’s image on the back cover frightened me for years until eventually I moved out of my parents house at 16 to board at my art’s high school. As I considered the stack of books to bring with me to high school I held The Giving Tree in my hands but didn’t crack it open because just holding it transferred the simple power of the story so I tossed it away from me and it stayed shelved at my childhood home until I myself became the home to a child.

I was pregnant and so was the dog when I returned to my parent’s house as a 22 year-old. I’d gotten pregnant in a scary way and was entering a dark night of the soul trying to decide if I should keep the baby or place it for adoption. I considered the dog at my feet in the kitchen her belly full of seven puppies she’d nurse for several weeks and never see again and I tried to see this pregnancy as simple as that—just birth and give your puppy to someone else to raise.

There were lots of late nights that winter where my family and I sat around the kitchen table discussing the plight of my life: single, poor, pregnant, minority, jobless. Finding hope in the folds of a Minnesota winter with taglines like those trailing my every move was very bleak to say the least. And being newly pregnant I discovered insomnia so I dove headfirst into my parents’ library reading everything by Wendell Berry and working my way through Barbara Kingsolver and eventually Walt Whitman.

And then one night I found and read The Giving Tree and I cried and cried and cried for the boy and for my baby. I cried for myself and for the tree. Her ideas about life were subverted as the boy grew. Each of her welcomes were ignored.

I wanted my life and body back. I wanted to be happy like the tree and the little boy at the beginning, to keep life as it was where everyone in my family had a place and nothing was changing—each day there would be apple-picking and branch-swinging and hide-and-go-seek and then we’d do all over again the next day and be happy.

But my body was changing, that baby was growing and demanding I make choices and face truths and be honest. The boy was echoing what this baby was already saying into the core of my body—that they would love me and leave me, “And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away.” I just remember reading that and weeping softly in the room where I’d slept during my childhood. I considered my unsettled life and the reality of birthing a being that would cut down my trunk and sail away from me. I asked myself if I could allow such a thing, if I could permit the possibility of growing the heartless little boy and not the beautiful loving tree…I asked myself if I could manage the burden of choosing a person who might possibly be the taker of all of me.

I didn’t decide that night whether to keep the baby or not. But eight months later when I was sitting on my hospital bed with the beautiful little brown girl I had just met by pushing her into the light of the world…when I was sobbing and whispering to her my apologies and asking that little person for an ocean of forgiveness—I was reminded of The Giving Tree: the truth that it is quite possible to have a beautiful life and to choose to give

 

and give

 

and give

 

and give

 

and give

 

and give

 

and give away…

…and still be happy.

 

And I am happy. I am happy to live into a life where someday I can invite my sweet daughter to, “Come…sit down. Sit down and rest.”

 

 

 

Claire DeBerg headshotIf Claire DeBerg isn't writing snappy copy for her commercial writing biz or managing content and timelines as editor of the magazine, Timbrel, for Mennonite Women USA, she is eating an ungodly amount of peanut butter right off the spoon, prepping for a modeling shoot, biking on a 1950s Schwinn Suburban with her pre-teen, playing a Chopin piano prelude, discussing the merits of the uncooperative chair with her toddler or trying to behave as much like Elaine Benes as is socially appropriate. She's put over 3,500 miles on her legs after training for and running 7 marathons (including Boston!) but now she needs to put some miles on her fingers and finish writing her novel (for the love). She forever adores her sweet littles, Gloria and Harold and always her beautiful husband, Darren, and occasionally her hairy airedale, Velvet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

East Of Eden

 

 

 

 

 

The Book that Changed Kurt's Life

I met Kurt a few weeks ago at my amazing Collegeville writing workshop. Kurt has the spiritual gift of editing (having both a keen eye and an enthusiasm for beauty) and it was such a pleasure to meet him. He encourages me to read well, to write "tight and bright" and I really resonated with his thoughts on Steinbeck here (about time for me to re-read ol' East of Eden). 

 

 

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The Book That Changed My Life

Kurt Armstrong

 

When I was 23, I moved back to the family farm in southern Alberta to help my mom and dad with the harvest. I was broke and depressed and the two-year MCC program I’d been counting on was cancelled because funding had been dropped. That summer someone had stolen my bike from outside my apartment and someone at work swiped my camera. Someone else dumped me because she recognized me as a half-hearted boyfriend and knew she deserved better. (Correct on both counts.) So I moved home for a couple months, and in the evenings I read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

Steinbeck sets out to tell his own family’s history, but about eight pages in he gets sidetracked for about 535 tumbling pages and then, oops, he never gets back to what he supposedly set out to do. It’s moody, brooding, and dramatic, overwhelmingly masculine – very few women other than the nearly-silent Eliza and the shape-shifting, nearly-demonic Kate – and some of the characters seem more like caricatures than the more complex, layered flesh-and-blood humans you or I might be related to. It is not a perfect novel.

But East of Eden is a bold, ambitious modern midrash on Cain vs. Abel, touching on the timeless, perennial struggle of sons to honour their fathers without being damned to echo all of their shortcomings. The sins of the father run thick through the book, as in human history, and Steinbeck’s flawed novel proclaims a hard-won hope that even though inherited sin may be an unbearable yoke, even heavy yokes can be broken.

It’s nowhere near as iconic as his Pulitzer Prize-winning Grapes of Wrath: too subjective, too narrow, too intimate of a story. But where Grapes of Wrath weaves politics and parable into the tale of a family, thus narrating the experience of an entire generation, East of Eden reaches back to ancient, primordial myths and touches on a more universal, and much more personal story. James Joyce said that “In the particular is contained the universal,” and it is precisely because East of Eden is such an intimate, particular story that it rings true on such a fundamental level. “Here’s your box,” Steinbeck writes in the dedication, a note to Pascal Covici, his editor at Viking Press. “Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full.” How true. It is a sprawling book, full of sin and redemption, loss and hope, suffering and love, and soaring above it all, the great, terrifying gift of human responsibility – and yet there remains ample room for readers to find themselves. Forty-seven years after it was published, it was obvious to me as I read it: a story this personal is much, much bigger than the little box contained between its covers.

East of Eden touched me more deeply than I knew a novel was capable of. Broke, depressed, and heartbroken, I was highly sensitive to it’s high drama. And being home on the farm, practicing the simpler pace of farming – more demanding and more direct than any of my city jobs had been – clarified my own thoughts and feelings. Steinbeck’s book got into my bones; the mood and images stuck in my everyday imagination for months afterwards.

It’s rare that I re-read any books, especially novels. Having wasted too much of my youth in front of the television I spend a lot of time reading because I’m already so far behind. But I’ve read East of Eden three times now, and each time I’ve found it more surprising, refreshing, and moving than the last. I know I’m in the minority, but I consider it by far the better of Steinbeck’s two “big books.”

 

 

 

kurt

Kurt Armstrong is the author of Why Love Will Always Be A Poor Investment (Wipf & Stock) and has written for The Globe and Mail, Paste, Image, and Geez, among others. He lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and works at Saint Margaret's Anglican Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

 

 

 

 

 

The Book That Changed Amy's Life

Well, I will be straight with you: this one is a doozy. I SO identify with everything my good friend Amy writes here-- missionary biographies were my JAM growing up. However, Amy highlights some pervasive lies we swallow in regards to vocation that have serious consequences for us all. As someone who devoured these types of books with fervor (and realizing how they have shaped me) I am so glad that Amy is working on a book-length project (!) that deals with all of these sorts of issues. I cannot wait to read it.

 

 

 

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The Book That Changed My Life

by Amy Peterson

 

 

 

 

This summer I’ve been re-reading the missionary biographies I devoured in childhood. Amy Carmichael was my favorite missionary, not only because we shared a name, but because she was as imaginative, daring, and heroic as Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drew combined.  Amy Carmichael started a Bible study for “mill girls” on the margins of Irish society, traveling through neighborhoods considered unsuitable for proper young ladies. Eventually 500 girls attended her Bible studies.  In India, she snuck disguised into temples to rescue girl-children destined to be temple prostitutes.  She adopted the Indian way of dressing, assimilating at a time when few missionaries understood the importance of entering a new culture as a learner.  She wrote poetry. I loved her- her rebellion, her zeal, her heroism, her red hair, all of it.

But when I opened With Daring Faith: A Biography of Amy Carmichael this summer, to re-read it, my breath caught in my throat at the author’s dedication. It was to her daughter:

To Katherine Joy Davis

with the prayer that she will hear and

answer a call from the Lord

to a foreign mission field.

I tried to imagine praying that for my daughter, Rosie, when I put her to bed at night.  Wouldn’t hearing that prayer send a seed into the soil of her heart, implanting the idea that I believe (or even that God believes) that overseas missions work is the best thing you can do with your life? What kind of pressure might that put on a child?

 

 

I wondered if Katherine went.

***

Before I continue, there are some things you need to know.  Chief among them is that when I was twenty-two, I moved to Southeast Asia to “teach English.”  When I say that books like With Daring Faith changed my life, what I mean is this: when it came time for me to decide how to live an adult life, I could envision no more interesting, meaningful, or heroic work than missionary work overseas, and I blame that mostly on the books.

Sure, if you had asked me, I would have said that there was no division between “sacred” work and “secular” work -- that working as a copyeditor at a publishing house could be just as meaningful and worthwhile as moving to a foreign land for God -- but I didn’t really believe it.  How could I?  No one wrote biographies of copyeditors.  Accountants never snuck into temples. Housewives never changed the world.

Sermons that talked about living lives fully dedicated to God rarely held up sweeping the floor daily as an example of dedication.  They seldom lauded people who responded to emails punctually and thoughtfully.  They didn’t praise those who regularly attended conferences for professional development so that they could be up-to-date in their fields.

I wanted an extraordinary life, flush with spiritual vitality and adventure, fully committed to God.  I wanted to be the greatest.  And the only way I could see to find that life was by going overseas.

***

How does a child begin to believe that one way of life is more spiritual than another?

***

I read the dedication to the book, and I wondered about that daughter - Katherine. How old was she when she found those words?  What did they mean to her then? What do they mean to her now?

My daughter is five, and I’m not sure she knows what the word missionary means.  I ask her.

-Have you ever heard the word missionary?

-I think, maybe, once.

-Do you know what it means?

-No.

-A missionary is a person who goes to another country to tell people - people who have never heard about Jesus - to tell them about Jesus.

-Oh. {pause}.  Like, if Mae Mae and Papa didn’t know about Jesus, and we went to visit them and told them about Jesus?

 

 

 

 

Yeah, like that.

***

I confess: then I googled her.  I googled the author, and found her on Facebook.  Her daughter Katherine is married now, maybe a few years younger than I am.  She has an art degree and lives in Michigan with a husband and a baby.  There’s no sign that Katherine ever heard a call to foreign missions.

***

I’ve been wondering if I should put missionary biographies on the shelf for my daughter.  She’ll be old enough to read them in just a few years. Do I stack them next to Nancy Drew and Half Magic and A Wrinkle In Time, or keep them in my office?

***

I went overseas, running face-first towards what I thought was the will of God. I hit a wall of thorns, landing flat on my back, the God I thought I knew quite well wilting like a punctured balloon animal next to me. I went overseas looking for adventure and found tragedy. God was silent, and I spun into a dark night of the soul.

That’s why I’ve been re-reading these books from my childhood.  I had to know: did they leave the tragedy out when they wrote the stories for children?  Why had I expected adventure but not opposition, spiritual success but not sorrow?

Here’s what I found: the hardships are there, right there in the stories I read as a child.  Gladys Aylward leading a group of starving children through mountain passes. Elizabeth Elliot losing Jim. Eric Liddell dying in an internment camp, hardly having spent any of his adult life with his wife and children. The heartache was there, plain as day.  Why hadn’t I remembered it?

I hadn’t remembered it because missionary biographies shaped my imagination in my formative years, when I could understand heroism but had no framework for tragedy.  The intrigue and daring had stuck with me, but the losses and struggles had gone in one ear and out the other.  I had no way of comprehending them.

It’s like this: you read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth before you have your first baby, and you feel confident in your ability to give birth: you hear these stories about women strong and in touch with their bodies and their babies, and you think, I can do that, too.

Then you go into labor.

And when you read Ina May again after having given birth, you notice things that slipped right past you the first time.  Oh, in this story her labor lasted for thirty-six hours.  Oh, one woman said the pain was orgasmic, but another described it as the worst feeling of her life.

Before, your mind had attached to the successes, but now, when you read about the thirty-six hour labor, that detail doesn’t go in one ear and out the other.  Now, you know exactly what that feels like.

So should we encourage women to read Ina May before they give birth, knowing that they won’t really have the framework to understand the stories?  Should we encourage children to read missionary biographies?

I haven’t decided whether to put the books on the shelf for Rosie yet.  I still have time.

***

 

If I ever dedicate a book to my daughter, I’ll say this:

 

To Rosemary,

the beloved of God,

with the prayer that she will grasp how wide

and long

and high

and deep

is the love of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amy Peterson teaches ESL and works with the Ockenga Honors Scholars at Taylor University. Read more at her blog, or follow her on twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

Jesus For President

 

 

 

 

 

The Book That Changed Our Life

BK_JFP-2  

 

 

I graduated with a degree in Bible/Theology in December of 2007, and a few short days later, we were married. We moved into the old farm house next to the mega-church where you were the care-taker/maintenance man. The price was right (free) and the rolling hills and llamas-for-neighbors allowed us to buy a beat-up old drum set and start a 2-person family band (sample lyrics: We're just two pork chops marinating love/we've got each other and that's enough).

You were still in school, I was working depressing retail jobs, we were young and in love and materially poor. We ate candy for dinner and never worried about anything that happened outside of our cozy house, safe and secure with each other.

At the independent bookstore on campus, that oasis within the storm, I saw a book that would not escape me. Jesus for President. Faux-battered, a precious little lamb on the cover, an intriguing political title. Although we never, ever did this, I bought the book at full price, fresh off the press, and took it home to read.

We took turns, devouring entire chapters, me impatient with your slow and careful reading. Maybe this was our first married fight. We sat together in the over-sized recliner that was there when we moved in, too large to fit through the doors. Squished next to each other, we would talk long into the night: serious conversations about what we were reading. Words like "Empire" entered our vocabulary for the very first time. You were converted intellectually and theologically to the idea of pacifism right away, chasing down the rabbit trails in your mind, finding for you a belief that mirrored your own sacrificial love, your unshakeable forgiving spirit, your sense of God as a very good father. I was captured by the immediate practicalities, casting off the cloak of the kingdoms of capitalism and consumerism. We changed all of our shopping habits, committing to second-hand and doing without, tuned out of all the political discussions swirling around us.

We were being converted, together. This doesn't always happen, and I know what a precious gift this time was. We were changed, both of us, and we decided to obey together.

The book spoke to us in a time where we could recite the Bible out of both ears yet hungered to know how it could penetrate our spirits and our wallets and our relationships with everyone we knew. The subversive nature of it was exciting, the practicalities beyond challenging. We spent a night or two hopeless at our own complicity. And we repented to one another, and held hands as we tried to move forward.

A few short months after we read that book, we made some changes. I went to graduate school, getting a degree that was slightly less theoretical in nature. You pursued your calling as a notice-er and a peacemaker. We moved into the low-income apartment complex where so many of our refugee friends lived. We said goodbye to the rolling hills and llama's and our last chance to play the drums as loudly as we wanted to, to live just exactly as we pleased.

And it has never been the same. With Jesus as our President, the world has become so much more complicated. We have been shocked at the amount of confrontation we have run into, the amount of forgiveness we have had to ask our Father for. Nothing is easier, but it has all been so much brighter.

Sometimes, if I am being honest, I still feel a little afraid of what will happen next, now that we have no Empire guidelines to fall back on. All I have is this little piece of Jesus I hold onto, believing that he can heal us from ourselves. And you are here with me, sitting right beside me as I type this out. It helps me to no end that I know we will continue to turn again, to be converted towards the Christ that brought us together, and I pray that it never stops.

And maybe someday we will buy another old drum-set, and start a band where everyone we know will be invited to sing along.

That certainly sounds like something you would do.

 

 

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//

Other posts in the Book That Changed Your Life series:

Night

Walking on Water

 

 

 

 

 

Look out for a killer guest post coming on Thursday!

 

 

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