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January and February Reading Lists

I read only one book in January!  But, it was 542 pages long.  I had actually started it back in September, but when we traveled to the US in October, there was no way I was adding the weight of that book to my measly luggage weight allowance!  So I left it here and returned to it in December.  I also mentioned that I was sick with the flu in January/February.  The first three or four days, I was so sick I didn't even read.  But then the next two weeks I had no energy, but wanted to do something other than sleep, so that enabled me to do quite a bit of reading in February, finishing off six books.

I usually keep my books on the nightstand by my bed because I ALWAYS read before going to sleep.  In fact, I can't get to sleep unless I've read something.  But I've discovered that if I leave at least one of the books I'm reading (I usually have at least two going at a time) out in the living room, then I'll pick it up more when I'm waiting for something else to happen. 


So, my 542 page book was Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. Eric Metaxas has compiled a very thorough and well-written biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I know that Bonhoeffer was not a perfect person and I don't doubt that I would disagree with some of his theology. But, according to Metaxas, Bonhoeffer was a man who believed in living your faith. He believed in meditation, in searching out the meaning of Scripture, and then of applying it to your life. For him, this meant going against the laws of Germany in the 1930's and 40's when Adolph Hitler spread the blood of millions across Europe. Bonhoeffer encouraged the "Confessing Church" to have nothing to do with the German Church, which was a made-up church of the Nazis. He recognized that it was wrong to kill Jews and he took a stand to defend them. As his brother-in-law, who was in the German military, revealed the true inside story of what was happening, Bonhoeffer came more and more to believe three things: 1. The true church in Germany could not take part in oaths of allegiance to Hitler or in the activities he promoted; 2. He himself had to be a conscientious objector; and 3. He would join forces with those plotting to kill Hitler and overthrow his government.

Was Bonhoeffer right to be part of a coup and assassination plot? That's something you'll have to read and decide. It certainly wasn't an easy decision for Bonhoeffer and he spent much time agonizing over it. At one point he even took a position in the USA, but was only there for a few weeks before he realized he had to go back to Germany even if it meant death for him.

Whatever you may think about Bonhoeffer, this much is clear: He lived what he believed and encouraged others to do the same. Sometimes living what you believe puts you right in the fray, but so be it. How can you not take up the cause of those who can't speak for themselves?

I highly recommend this book. Please remember that it's written from the author's point of view; an author doing research sixty years after Bonhoeffer was martyred. It is well researched, but there are times when one can only surmise what Bonhoeffer's motivations or thoughts were.

The next book I read is by Myquillan Smith and is entitled The Nesting Place:  It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful.  Myquillyn Smith's main premise is, you don't have to wait until you're living in your dream house to decorate the way you want to. You may live in a rental you hate, but do what you can to make your space beautiful. She gives some good useful decorating tips, but mostly she encourages you to find what you like and then make it happen. She says to stop complaining that it's too expensive to decorate (she buys a lot of stuff at second-hand stores or on sale); save up for expensive items that are important to you such as having a comfortable couch, but don't go into debt for things; and don't be afraid to experiment, especially with paint since you can always repaint. She also encourages using things from one room in another, even things you wouldn't traditional use such as taking a dresser from the bedroom and using it in the living room. This was an easy read, but I got some good ideas and some fresh motivation for some things I can do in spite of the challenges my house throws at me (such as a long, narrow living room with too many doors in it!).  I enjoyed the pictures in the book of her house, but it was through her writing that I could look at the pictures and say that's not really my style.  Her point is to find your style and the purpose for which you want to use the room and then decorate it so that it's a place you enjoy being.

My third book (Suzanne gave me The Nesting Place and this book for Christmas) was Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin.
I sometimes got hung up on the writing style, but the message is challenging and a great reminder to not get caught up in what our middle class and upper class culture tells us is good, right, and normal. The book is a challenge to live in ways that may be uncomfortable for us and that shake us up, but that allow us to be used by God where he wants us.

Shannan Martin's writing style is not my favorite. Often I wasn't really sure what she was getting at. For example, she is talking about how we need to be like the woman at the well, drop our water jars, and run to tell people about Jesus. She writes, "Once that jar hit the dirt, the gates swung open and the razor wire lost its sharp edges." Ummmm, is this called mixing metaphors? What does she mean? In another place she is thanking her blog readers and she writes, "On one of my hardest days, you baked loaf after loaf of warm, virtual banana bread and I've never felt more sustained by imaginary food." What does she even mean?

But then the book is full of challenges and quotable lines and so I love the book after all. Warning, if you are living the American dream and don't want to have your toes stepped on, you might not want to read this book! Mrs. Martin steps ever so gently, but believe me, you will be challenged to move from your comfortable life.

Subjects she covers are adoption, choosing to have less, letting God un-plan and re-plan your well-planned life, being willing to live simply and smaller, being involved in community life, showing hospitality, letting God be the one to protect your kids, involving yourself in a local church where people can come with their lives in a mess, and giving generously.

As I said, Mrs. Martin's writing style may not have been my favorite, but here are some quotes I LOVED. "We elevate our families above God's divine plan to heal humanity through his glory, but we are fooling ourselves when we believe we can rubber-stamp a guarantee of protection and provision across their lives, prioritizing their perceived safety above our call to go swiftly to hard places." "Without even catching my mistake, I had idealized 'church' into a temple created to fit perfectly around the shape of my precious soul. I was fine. I was great. I wasn't looking to be changed by the communion of its fellowship. I clearly wasn't searching for Jesus." "Quite bluntly, we have lost our way. Rather than being reclaimed by the alliance of our poverty, we've learned to endure a false community of the proud polite. We've sworn membership to our feel-good Sunday club where the real troublemakers are outside our walls, and we're honestly a bit suspicious when one straggles in. We maintain the illusion of 'family' despite not even truly knowing one another. But hey, that's what boundaries are for -- separation of church and life and all that jazz."

Can I encourage you to pick up this book and allow it to challenge your thinking?

Next up was In Search of Africa by Manthia Diawara.  This book was a tough read for me. The author is a university professor and the book reads very much like a text book. It is extremely intellectual and philosophical. There were parts I enjoyed such as the author describing interactions with friends and strangers in Guinea, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia; his struggles to understand where he fits as an African immigrant to the US; and some of his insights into African and African-American life. He has several sections where he ruminates very philosophically on books he's read. Some of it was interesting, but honestly, a lot of it was just way over my head! Here is a sample sentence: "The frequent reference to change in conversionist discourse echoes the modernist impulse toward constant renewal." Yeah, I'm not sure what that even means.

His final chapter entitled "Homeboy Cosmopolitan" includes some really useful insights in understanding today's American black culture, though the book was written in the late 1990's, so I'd like to see an updated version of this chapter written by the author.

If you are a student of African history, of sociology, or of African-American culture, you may enjoy this book. Just be aware that it is VERY intellectual!

I've been studying the book of I Corinthians by reading through it 20 times, outlining chapters, writing down the theme of each chapter, etc. But there are a lot of complicated things going on in I Corinthians and I felt that I needed some good explanations that would be both expository and understandable, but not watered down. I was not disappointed in N.T. Wright's book entitled Paul for Everyone: I Corinthians as he has a great way of writing that doesn't water down theology, yet is understandable for normal people. I will be using more of N.T. Wright's books as Bible study commentaries.  As a companion to this book, I worked through N.T. Wright's Bible study called I Corinthians (13 Studies for Individuals and Groups).  

My final book is called Jesus and the Disinherited, written by Howard Thurman. I picked this book up for free of a book table when we visited Daniel and Kelly's church.  I wasn't sure what the book was about or who Howard Thurman was (turns out he greatly influenced Martin Luther King Jr's thinking), but I thought I'd give it a try.  After all, the book had been free!  By the second page I realized I was going to need to grab a pencil to do some serious underlining.  The first thing I underlined was, "[This] reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples."

Howard Thurman wrote the book in 1949, but he could have written it today.  Other than the fact that segregation is no longer legal and Jim Crow laws have been abolished, not much has changed.  How sad is it that almost 70 years later there is still active discrimination and a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.  Thurman gives us some great insights into how oppressed people default to fear, deception, and hate.  It shows how the privileged have created unfair situations, sometimes due to fear and hate, but often just because they can and usually for economic gain.  Thurman shows how the disinherited need to understand the importance of leaving behind fear, hate, and deception, all things that will eventually destroy the individual.

Best of all, Thurman offers hope in living with Jesus as our example of love (but if you're expecting a call to salvation, you won't find that here) . Jesus was certainly the poorest of the poor living in a Jewish society dominated by the Pharisees and their endless laws and ruled over by the cruel Romans. Yet Jesus said to "love your enemy". I think we know that Jesus was perfect, but then we forget that he struggled with temptation as part of his human nature. He must have been tempted more than once to hate the Pharisees and the Romans. Jesus' love was not wimpy, all roses and hearts. True love takes fortitude and strength of character to carry out, and Thurman leaves us with the hope that love can change our society.

Personally, I think every American should read this book, or at least every one who says they follow Jesus.
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