Friday, December 23, 2016

Part 4. In 2016 I Found The Hands to Guide Me from Disenchantment and Towards Christianity

I have been a disciplined reader for years. This can be mostly attributed to the expectation that staff at Calvary be active readers. This expectation is easily one of the greatest gifts I have taken with me from my time working under that wonderful lead pastor. This discipline, more than anything else, has helped me to reconcile with, and make sense of, the more difficult aspects of my faith. If 2016 did anything, it’s that it turned me into an absolute book junky. My average books a year has been anywhere from 8 to 10 a year. In 2016 I read 41 books, and that’s not counting the books I’m currently reading.

At the end is a complete list of everything I read this year.

 However, I wanted to put the spotlight on the ten books that had the most impact on me. This is not to say these books are necessarily better than the others, just to identify what has guided my life the most this year. If you want a glimpse into what I've been chewing on, and see where the hands that guided me all year stem from, here it is.

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In this convicting and inspiring memoir, Shane Claiborne takes the reader into his experience with a gospel that comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. It was the first book I had ever read that took me into a practical, in depth experiment on living like a disciple of Jesus in modern America. In the book Shane shares his stories of working in Calcutta with Mother Teresa, working in the hospitals in Iraq as America was first dropping our bombs on the country and many other challenging practical ways Shane has taken Gods call to partner with him in this human project very seriously. If every Christian was like Shane Claiborne, and then we all suddenly disappeared, the world would weep and wale at our absence. 

The hand of this book guided me out of my holy-huddle idea of Christianity, and showed me a religion that cares for the poor, loves enemies, and fights to heal our world.


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I was spiritually raised to believe Brian McLaren was a heretic leading legions of squishy semi-Christian spiritualists straight to hell. I don’t think that anymore. With this book, Brian showed me that the Christian story was so much bigger than I could have ever imagined! It’s a story with Baptists and Pentecostals and Catholics and Mystics; and there is room enough for all of our stories.

The hand of this book taught me a virtue that I will probably spend my life fighting for: God called Christians to unity, not uniformity, there is enough room in the Christian narrative for all of our stories; and our faith plunges its depths most when we find the things in each others traditions worth embracing. I read this book while I was at my most dismissal of church. After reading this book, the prospects of church became desirable and beautiful. In a very big way, this book gave me back church.


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Sarah Bessy may not even be ten years older than me, but she speaks with such a gentle and maternal tone, it felt like a spiritual mom wrote this book. Sarah writes about the process of an evolving faith sans a sense of crisis or panic. She didn't make it out to be an easy journey either. Like a good mother, Sarah describes the process of deconstruction and reconstruction as one that is challenging, important, normal and, ultimately, full of abundant beauty.

This hand of this book guided me with a hand of peace, telling me that my questions were welcomed and my doubt isn't sinful. She encouraged my process and invited me to go further up and further in to my faith.


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Brian Zahnd tells a compelling story, his story, of a hyper conservative, evangelical, mega-church pastor who ceases to find his faith compelling or even believable. The story chronicles his process of doubting his doubts, and diving into a deeper, fuller Christianity; a process he calls going from water to wine. Brian tells of how church attendance decreased significantly which lead inevitably to a season of depression and rejection. But he also talks about the victories and the connection to God he experienced as a result of being honest with his journey.

The hand of this book guided me to a place of courage: to see that many will not accept my new convictions, some will directly combat it, but there is also victory in following God into the mystery.


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Through his podcast work Mike McHargue, or Science Mike, has been a guiding light through nearly every step of deconstructing and reconstructing. His musings, his stories, his doubts and his faith challenge, frustrate and inspire me. At this point, he genuinely feels like one of my closest friends. So when his book released at the start of my reconstruction, it was an oasis in my desert season.

The hand of this book guided me to a place that fights for intellectual integrity while paradoxically embracing faith without needing proof, and that within that tension lies the Divine Mystery.


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As I began my reconstruction, I started to look for new ways to summarize the purpose of the Christian life; my examinations met much, if not most of, their resolutions in this book. This book serves two purposes: 1. It is historical, telling the story of this old Anabaptist movement. The movement finds its origins during the Reformation. The Anabaptists saw the giant split in church, and neither of them looked very much like Jesus. On the one hand you had a grimly corrupt Catholic church, more concerned with maintaining influence than the message of Christ. They saw Catholicism in those days as a Christian expression committed to violence and power. On the other side were the Reformers, men who broke away from Catholicism only to be marked by their desire for the power the Catholics had, killing people they condemned heretics and more concerned with the right interpretation of Scripture than living the teachings of Christ.

The Anabaptist would then form their own tradition of Christianity. A tradition marked by a focus on the teachings of Jesus, and building a better world by living Jesus’ lesson that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. Anabaptists did this by refusing the temptations of violent retaliation, by taking care of the poor and by living a culture that was subversive to the empire pleasers embraced by the Protestants and Catholics. As a result Anabaptists went on to be slaughtered by the thousands by the Reformers for their unwillingness to submit to protestant doctrine and dogmatics.

2. The book teaches us how to live an Anabaptist life today. It is a tradition that can be lived within any denomination; a tradition committed to living the teachings of Jesus (which is living the Kingdom of God) to make a better world. It is a existence marked by discipleship, caring for the people pushed to the margins and living a life of peace. In the Anabaptist tradition, we see that Jesus never sought to partner his teachings with the empire, he always took his teaching to the streets. Today, this looks like not trying to partner Christ with the legislation of our country, as this was never meant to be a national religion in a physical sense. It was always meant to be a metaphysical or Spiritual nation of believers, that expands our constructs of race, class, sexuality and creed.

The hand of this book guided me to the first expression of Christianity I could fully embrace while reconstructing. 


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  I don't think I've ever read a book that had made me feel so much discomfort. And no, this isn't a romance novel. In one of the most sobering books I have ever read, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this as a letter to his son. He is a black man telling his black son about growing up in America as a black male. As a white man, reading this book was the closest I have ever been to stepping into the experiences of a man of another race: reading this and feeling his anger, sadness and cynicism, but also experiencing his dignity, and then realizing thousands of black Americans feel exactly this way all the time... It is as overwhellming of an experience as your ever going to have.

 No theological thesis could ever challenge me as much as this book has. All through reading this I wanted to disagree with him: But on what basis? My experience are so far removed from his; how could I possibly say he is wrong? I will never have to look at my son cry after a cop caught on camera murdering a black man is acquitted. I will never have to tell my son that this is how it has always been for our people in America. How to I object to the discomforting things that challenge my personal and religious convictions? It's not my job to object. It's my job to learn and love and stand in solidarity. Make no mistake, even though it's number four on my list, it is objectively the most important book I read this year.

The hand of this book guided me, in a small and safe way, into the big and dangerous experiences, fears and dignity of my black brothers and sisters.

         Image result for fight a christian case for nonviolence

  This next one is very personal. While reading this, and People to Be Loved, I reached out to Preston, and he has frequently taken the time to answer my questions and listen to my doubts. Preston is sort of a distant pastor to me. However, I loved those books before I found out he was actually awesome. While I have read plenty of Preston Sprinkle this year, this one has had a bigger impact on my life than most of the books I've ever read.

  Reading this book may have been my first step in deconstruction. Being raised as a conservative evangelical I was raised to believe war and violence were not only permissible for Christians, but sometimes sanctioned by God. This was something I embraced and argued for, even though I was never able to make sense of this in light of my readings of Jesus. I just figured it was a tension I would never be able to understand... Until I read Preston Spinkle's book, a profound literary piece that convincingly lays out why violence is very much not a Christian ethic. Preston dives through scripture and church history as he laid out for me, the reader, a profound defense for advocating non-violence.

Here's the best thing about this: Preston is not a progressive, liberal Christian. He is very much in the evangelical camp, even serving as the dean of students at a pretty conservative Bible College. Preston just worked his way through intense bible study to come to these conclusions, there is no liberal or progressive agenda: He's just a man who wants Christians to have a Jesus-like ethic, which often appears to be liberal and progressive.

This next one is twofold:
The hand of this book guided me to the process of calling into question things I have always just embraced because my tribe did AND in my reconstruction, has shown me a way of interpreting the scriptures that always looks like Jesus.

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This book may as well be a documented account of my 2016. The story of this book is the story I am in the middle of. It is a story of doubt and intellectual integrity, and choosing not to ignore the things about church that are inexcusable. It's a story about wounds and scars and healing. It’s a story about deconstruction and reconstruction. It’s a story about finding a Christian expression to be proud of, and making room for all of our experiences. This books radical impact on my life cannot be understated: While I was deconstructing and starting my reconstruction of faith, I was terrified. I was angry. I was broken. But I would read Rachel’s words, and I would become flooded with what felt like a promise. In the moment I didn’t know where this promise was coming from, looking back it seems obvious the Spirit was doing some covert work in me. The promise was: Even though all evidence seems contrary to this, you are not losing God, you are not losing yourself… You will get through this. This was how Rachel ministered to me. This kept me going, and on my days when faith is hard and the future is bleak, Spirits ministry to my heart through Searching for Sunday always eventually surfaces. This book will be with me and in me for the rest of my life.

The hand of this book guided me to the place of reconciliation and love with the people who share this Christian story with me.

1. The Divine Dance. 

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Here’s where I was when I started reading Richard Rhor’s book about the Trinity: I had been in the process of reconstruction for a month or two. I was beginning to enjoy the bible and church again, but my construct of God was still so fuzzy. Enter Richard’s theologically brilliant work on The Trinity, and I find myself spending hours at a time, losing ample sleep, reading and rereading this book, usually crying the whole way through.

If Generous Orthodoxy gave me back church, then The Divine Dance gave me back God. Through this book a discovered a God not different from the scriptures, but read through an entirely different lens. The Divine dance of the Trinity is the answer to everything: All of life’s deepest fears and greatest longings find their peace and fulfillment within it. When I get stressed out, filled is anxiety inducing doubt or feel the nudge to become cynical towards religion, it is the pictures of God Richard Rohr teaches (originally found in the Bible) that bring me back to the Presence.

The hand of this book guided me back to my first love; my beloved God I can understand best with this Trinity metaphor.

1. Fight: A Christian case for nonviolence. Preston Sprinkle
2. Wounded Healer. Henri Nouwen
3. Life Together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
4. Searching for Sunday: Loving, leaving and finding the church. Rachel Held Evans
5. If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on things lost and found and hoped for. Jamie Terkowsky
6. The Story of Christianity Vol. 1: The early church to the dawn of the Reformation. Justo Gonzales
7. Across The Spectrum: Understanding issues in evangelical theology. Greg Boyd
8. A Confession. Leo Tolstoy
9. Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri Nouwen.
10. People to Be Loved: Why homosexuality is not just an issue. Preston Sprinkle
11. Myth of a Christian Nation: How the quest for political power is destroying the church. Greg Boyd
12. The Naked Anabaptist: The bare essentials to a radical faith. Stuart Murray
13. How God Changes Your Brain:  Breakthrough findings from a leading neuroscientist. Andrew Newberg
14. Water to Wine: Some of my story. Brian Zahnd
15. Generous Orthodoxy. Brian McLaren
16. The New Jim Crowe: Mass Incarceration in the age of colorblindness. Alexander Michelle
17. The Long Loneliness: An autobiography of the legendary Catholic Social Activist. Dorothy Day.
18. Farewell to Mars: An evangelical’s pastors journey to the Gospel of peace. Brian Zahnd
19. How to Survive a Shipwreck: Hope is on the way and love is already here. Jonathan Martin
20. Chasing Francis: A pilgrim’s tale. Ian Morgan Cron
21. Francis of Assisi in His Own Words. St. Francis of Assisi
22. Finding God in the Waves. How I lost my faith and found it again through science. Mike McHargue
23. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective. Richard Rohr
24. Stages of Faith. Human psychology and the quest for meaning. James W. Fowler.
25. The Bible Tells Me So: Why defending scripture has made us unable to read it. Peter Enns
26. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our hidden life with God. Dallas Willard.
27. The Naked Now: Seeing as the mystics see. Richard Rohr
28. What We Talk About When We Talk About God: Rob Bell
29. The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey from anguish to pain. Henri Nouwen
30. Out of Sorts.: Making Peace with an evolving faith. Sarah Bessy.
31. The Divine Dance: Trinity and your transformation. Richard Rhor
32. Present-Over-Perfect: Leaving behind frantic for a simpler, more soulful way of living. Shauna Niequist
33. Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the devil for doubters and the disenchanted. Richard Beck
34. Prayer: 40 Days of Practice. Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson
35. You Will Not Have My Hate. Antoine Leiris.
36. The Day The Revolution Began. N.T. Wright
37. Between The World and Me. Ta-Nehisi Coates.
38. Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people. Nadia Bolz-Weber
39. The Great Spiritual Migration: How the worlds largest religion is seeking a better way to be Christian. Brian McLaren
40. Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the voice of vocation. Parker J. Palmer
41. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an ordinary radical. Shane Claiborne 

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