My Best Books of 2015/ a Challenge/ and Book Giveaway

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I set a book reading goal for 2015 of 24 books. 
Right now, as of December 11th, I’ve read 18 (and a half). 
So I am going to fall shy of my goal.

The real challenge began when Phil decided to number two index cards,
(one with his finished books and one with mine)
slid them into a binder,
and basically just kept “tabs” of our reading lists all.year.long. 

When you number something, it’s over.
You have officially invited me into a challenge.
And I do not like to lose in physical or intellectual pursuits…
So, I’ve been in a race with my husband all of 2015 for top “reader” spot in our home.

He is on book 22.
I’m just bitter.
And reading like crazy.
But mostly just bitter. 

In an effort to turn my bitterness into something more redemptive, I’m listing my top reads of 2015 below.  I am currently reading If Nuns Ruled the World, Accidenal Saints, and Player Piano (I have decision-making issues).  I just need to distract Phil from reading for the next 20 days so we can end in a tie…Or maybe I can win.  

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Best Book of 2015:

I have a ‘thing’ for the Old Testament.  Since I was a kid, I’ve loved the first half of my Bible dearly.  I don’t often get to work that little nugget of info into conversations, but it is true.  Enns’ book is challenging, brutally honest in its question asking and answer seeking, and oddly/brilliantly funny.  I have pondered ways to become his best friend, but for now I will settle on awarding myself ‘biggest fan.’  This book steadied my already shifting faith.  I read it in one sitting, 5 days into 2015. 

So it was also the biggest let down because nothing else really measured up for the following 360 days. 


Best Book for Nerding-Out on the Bible

It’s a commitment-read.  As in, it might take you a solid three months to get through…but it is a treasure and an invitation to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures.  

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Best Re-read in 2015
Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle

I have promised myself to re-read this in January every year till I die.  It is one of my all time favorite books.  Ever. 


Best Book to Recommend to a Friend:

I love her.  I do. 
I heard her speak this fall, and she is just rad.
I even took Niamh and Philly, and they loved the Lutheran, tattooed, lady pastor (who occasionally cursed).  It is rare that a chapter in her book ends in a neatly tied bow...and I was super glad for a raw book like that.  I thought about going back to school for a masters in theology just to land an internship with her… but she lives in Colorado, and I’m not sure about all that snow…and it would just be a whole thing. 
But anyhow. 
She made an impact on all of us (it’s one of Phil’s 2015 books as well), and I think that is cool- when an author can speak to a whole family, kids and all. 


Best Book for the Spiritual Heart

If a book could be the baby of the bible and an Anthropology store, this would be it.  It is such a work of art and eclectic beauty…and its all anchored in Christ.  I loved everything about it, from the title to the very last word.  I could literally feel myself getting more and more comfortable in my own skin as the pages flipped. 

Phil is also reading this one, right now actually. 
So whatever.
Good job, Erika, for making books that everyone loves (and that cause me to lose year-long marriage challenges). 

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Best Book to Gift

This is the other book I will re-read every January because it is a story changer.  Plus, Donald Miller…I mean, come on.


Second Best Book, because 2nd is the first loser…

“Original Sin” was giving me a lot of trouble this year.  I came to a point where I knew I could no longer believe in it in the orthodox sense of the definition but did not know what that meant or if I was just weird…or a heretic.  And then my friend Tim suggested this book, and it was the perfect compass to steady my bearings a bit.  I found company and questions and even some answers….and that is a welcomed relief after a long period of feeling very alone and awkwardly trying to fit into an “evangelical” mold.

Note: Also, if you need a white elephant gift [i.e., ‘extravagant but burdensome gift that cannot be easily disposed of’] for a conservative, young-earth, fundamentalist Christian, pair this with Peter Enns book and a six pack of Stella.  And, basically, you win.

*On a more serious note, I think these two books embody some of the most important conversations Christians need to be a part of for the next 100 years.  Just my two sense.


Best Brain-Pain Book

He is a smidge too smart for me…and by smidge I mean crapload.  But while reading his words, I started feeling understood.  I felt appreciative of the people who do the leg work in making room for different views (specifically, on the bible’s ‘perfectness’) rather than locking arms and shoving the searching/questioning hearts out. 


Best Book Club Book
Bread and Wine, Shauna Neiquist

I’ve cooked or eaten just about every recipe from this book.  The Chicken Chili is my favorite (and perhaps the easiest and tastiest, too).  I’ve been a part of two book clubs this year reading this gem.  And I still find myself grabbing for it weekly, whether to glean some goodness off the pages or to remember some ingredient from a recipe.  There is something sacred about food, table, and friends.  Some of my very favorite moments this year were created in the mixture of those things… where heaven breaks into our living, if just for a meal.  It really is communion in the truest sense.


Best Coffee Table Book
Humans of New York Stories, Brandon Stanton

Because stories will change us~ this should be on every living room table and a morning companion to our Bibles and cups of Joe.

For 2016,
I am hoping to make it to the 24 books mark. 
My first book is going to be Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey. 
I’ve been saving it to start my 2016 reading.

What are some of your best-books-read this year?
Do you re-read certain books from time to time? 
Give me some recommendations!
Because you know I will go look them up.
And probably read them, too.

I'll pick one comment and send you the Humans of New York Stories book for your coffee table:)...



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‘Theology’ is a word that, for most of my life, has been better described as adopted or borrowed rather than owned. 

I grew up in a Christian family, went to church regularly, and attended a Christian school for 13 years.  All my friends were ‘saved.’  I was saved like 17 times myself, so I knew a lot about being born again.  Again. 

I thought a lot about God because he felt heavy on my shoulders.  Looking back, I think I asked him into my heart so many times because nothing ever seemed to change within that space; and I couldn’t figure out why Jesus sucked at saving me.  I believed he shooed me into the “Book of Life” (whatever that is) because he stuck his foot in his mouth and decided to get overly cute—welcoming everyone to Life—forgetting that I would show up in the 80’s and need to get in on that, too. 

Much of what I believed about God and Jesus was shaped from adopted theology, just taking in what others said...never mining the truths for myself.  I had questions.  But I found easy answers in Sunday school and Bible lessons.  The answers were abundant and took so little effort (“Because He is God, and He can do whatever He wants.”).  Even in the parts of my soul where they fell quite short, my answers were able to keep my heart afloat enough to always keep God in my cross hairs.  I had to keep him there because I didn’t trust him let loose in my life.  He felt too much like a bull in a china shop, and I liked all my breakables safe, especially my heart. 

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Something shifted like an earthquake along the way.  So much of what I believed fell to the ground, shattering in a thousand fragments.  I think things still fall down, even now; but I am not so afraid of the broken places.  As I walk through all the crashed down beliefs and answers to the questions I never really wanted answers to, I have found that this God I feared for so long is actually a Reclaimer of all the broken things.  Part of me likes ‘hippie-Jesus’ imagery, because He really does upcycle all things into beauty again. 

Broken theology seems like a bad thing to admit; like, maybe I should have my crap a little more together after being born again 17 times.  I think if I were a disciple, I’d have been Thomas, the doubter.  Because I hardly get through a day without doubting so deeply, I can feel myself demanding Jesus’ palms face up, running my unworthy fingers over my redemption over and over.  Just to be sure it all exists; that I exist.  These are the broken places I inhabit more than not, where I am echoing my favorite tattooed, female pastor:

There are times when I hear my name, turn, and recognize Jesus. There are times when faith feels like a friendship with God. But there are many other times when it feels more adversarial or even vacant. Yet none of that matters in the end. How we feel about Jesus or how close we feel to God is meaningless next to how God acts upon us. How God indeed enters into our messy lives and loves us through them, whether we want God’s help or not. And how, even after we’ve experienced some sort of resurrection, it’s never perfect or impressive like an Easter bonnet, because, like Jesus, resurrected bodies are always in rough shape.

Rough shape seems to be the only place I’ve authentically encountered grace.  Little by little, in the shifting theology, the reading into early morning hours, the questions, the fear of slippery slopes until I finally just closed my eyes and allowed the slide into muddy places, the encounters with dark and holy things, the Sundays I don’t know if I believe the words I sing, and the Sundays I cannot imagine anything else as true but those very same lyrics… in it all I find the edges and textures to my faith.  It is rough, honestly.  God feels like sandpaper some days, rubbing everything hard-to-understand against my finite space-time existence.  But these are the troubling spots, the uncertainties, and the doubts where I’ve been given an invitation sealed with grace to adventure into mystery.  To know what it means to love a God who no longer feels heavy on my shoulders, but who sets me free.  To find space to listen and love others, having learned that theology might be more about grace and less about black and white answers.  To believe in the process and struggle; because I think there is something God loves about the mingling of dust and holiness~ like maybe something about being his image bearer means that I should not ever want to shake my humanity away while I become the very thing he made me to be. 

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 One of the ‘favorite people I’ve met in my life’ persons is Sarah Bessey.  I went to Haiti with her two Springs back, and I remember how she genuinely seemed interested in my story.  She looked at me like I mattered and something about her resembled Jesus.  She says smart things all the time, and she writes books that everyone should read.  Recently, she posted a quote that made me want to fly all the way to Canada and hug her (and God knows I hate flying…):

“Theology belongs just as much to the rest of us—
the mother folding laundry,
the father coaching basketball,
the university student studying to be a nurse,
the construction worker,
the artist,
the refugee—
as it does to the great scholars.” 

Theology belongs to the individual.  It is our opportunity to know the God who we proclaim, and to not know him, too.  To see him more clearly while never finding his lines or edges, allowing him to exist outside our back pockets and tiny God-shaped boxes.  I believe in this truth like I believe I need my next breath.  I want even my children to search and struggle, feel allowed to ask everything hard and scary.  And I don’t want to answer it all.  I want them to hear tattooed Lutheran lady-pastors preach about crappy doctrine and a redeemed church, to believe every truth in Genesis while never feeling tethered to a historical or scientific interpretation of it, to see the bible through the lens of mission—and know that the Author of stardust and universe pursues them their whole lifelong existence, to wrestle with the gracious inclusion of all misfits and sinners- because we are each those exact things.  I do not want to define God for them; I just want to invite them to his table.  Theology belongs to the children, too.  To all the innocent hearts, all the magic and imagination, all the creativity we lose along the way in our growing up.  I want mine at his dinner table, even a little rowdy with laughter, questions, and story.  Because if they learn to be comfortable in the process, they will know freedom and joy.  And grace. 

They will know his presence and find he is never heavy on the shoulders. 

Theology is my favorite place to be.
It feels like home; and like journey.
Like a table full of delicious things and hunger, too. 
And I’m thankful to be exploring beside my two littles, Phil, and all my friends who believe in the same invitation to love and know the One who completes their souls.


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