Books I Read in 2013

It seems that every time it comes around to write out these year-end book posts, it always gets a little crazier, and I’m always left feeling like I should have spent less time reading and more time being a productive member of society. But I didn’t. And reading is fun.

I set out to read 90 books in 2013, which is admittedly insane. I completed 2/3 of my goal — 60 books!

Presented below is a list of all of the books I read in 2013.  As I finished each book, I added them in. So this is, more or less, chronological throughout the year. Following that is some highlights and favorites. And I finish with some trivial statistics and self-indulgent nerdery. Here we go!

    http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1339602131l/8442457.jpg  http://ericclapp.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/powell.jpg?w=120&h=190                          book cover of Ways of Going Home byAlejandro Zambra                                                                    
                  

Now for the superlatives…

Favorite Fiction Book

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an incredible book in all of the ways that every review says it is. Read it with all of the awe and incredulity that’s meant to accompany its reading. Stay up late to finish it. Then later this year, go and see it in the movie theater. But whatever you do: READ. THE. BOOK. FIRST.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is another wonderful book. It’s a story that you can get lost in as it follows a boy from his childhood through adulthood in a bizarre North Korean setting. You yearn with the character as he strives to survive and thrive in the midst of a brutal totalitarian regime. Here’s an interview with Johnson (who won a Pulitzer for this book) from the SF Weekly. Check it out here.

The Circle by Dave Eggers was one of the more recent books I read and got completely lost in. If _Brave New World_ would have been written when Twitter existed, this is what Huxley would have had in mind. Very engaging story that made me question and scrutinize the way I use social media and interact with everyone for a long while after I finished.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book

Anything by Brené Brown! If you’ve seen some of my posts on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that Brené was my big literary/intellectual/social work crush of 2013. It sounds weird, but I stand by it. If you’ve never read any of her books, she recommends reading The Gifts of Imperfection first, Daring Greatly second, and finish up with I Thought It Was Just Me. Highly recommend all of her stuff. Seriously. Read it. Now.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber is a must read for anyone who’s worried they screw up too much to be a Christian. It’s a seriously good book that deserves all of the credit it has received. The way Nadia weaves through stories — both from the Bible and from her own life — is flawless. Can’t recommend this book enough.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey is an excellent companion to Nadia’s book. Sarah is an incredibly poetic writer and beautifully explores her own experience as a follower of Jesus with the male-centric messages that are often implicit in popular (read: evangelical) Christianity. She finds that it’s actually Jesus who calls her to be a Feminist. She also writes about feminism in a loving, kind, and compassionate way as well. Again… Just read it. It’s awesome. I promise.

Statistics

Total Pages Read (compiled by using Amazon’s pages numbers for each book): 16,267

Total Pages Read (adjusted for accuracy — subtracted 10% to count for indices, footnotes, and other numbered, but not read pages.): 14,640

Pages Read Per Day: 40.1

Average Number of Days It Took to Read One Completed Book: 6.1

What were some of your favorite books from 2013? What are some that you’re looking forward to in 2014?

Here’s to another great year of reading in 2014!

Cheers,
Eric

In Which I Am an Unabashed Jesus Feminist

I love writing. And I love reading. But more than anything I love reading great writing. And Sarah Bessey is a flat-out GREAT writer.

I’d been following her blog for a couple years now and have always appreciated how she manages to simultaneously speak with such passion and grace. She has a way of teaching through storytelling that makes you forget how much you’re learning and simply enjoy the lesson. [As you read her blog, you'll notice the "In Which" in this post's title is entirely unoriginal to me.]

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (Howard Books, released on November 5, 2013) is her latest project and it is a wonderful contribution to the conversations surrounding faith, gender, church, and the Bible.

She starts [as the title probably implies] with Jesus. She weaves her own narrative of growing up in an incredibly faithful, yet by most standards “ordinary” family. One of the first lines to make me laugh out loud was when she described her dad. She says,

My dad is a true Canadian kid, deeply distrustful of religion, Toronto, politicians, and the Establishment.

She goes on to talk about life growing up in the church as one where women were constantly confined to certain parameters based on the fact that they were a woman, rather than where their gifts may lie. In many, though certainly not all, churches women are consistently put into boxes within the church. They’re told they can be involved in children’s ministry, hospitality ministry, the women’s Bible study ministry, the quilting and sewing ministry, the keep the coffee warm ministry, and on and on it goes. Regardless of their strengths and passions, women are confined to certain boxes, and those boxes limit their participation in the broader Church. And Bessey’s point is this: the Kingdom of God is missing out on some seriously talented and passionate people because of it!

A favorite part of mine [perhaps because of my love of lists-as-evidence] is in Chapter Six when she goes through the narrative of Scripture through the history of the church describing the incredibly significant roles women have played in the history of our faith. Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Rahab, Esther, Hannah, Tamar were a few of the significant women of the Hebrew Bible. Moving through to the New Testament women like Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, Martha, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, Euodia, and Junia. She then considers women of modern church history like Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, and Harriet Tubman.

When we think about the impact that women have had throughout the history of the faith, it should be overwhelming evidence against trying to strictly define what women can or cannot do in the life of the body of Christ.

But so often it isn’t. And that’s where the feminist part of this book comes in.

I have to admit that I was ready and waiting for the unabashed feminism to come in with a hyper-aggressive, demanding approach. But:

1) That’s not Sarah Bessey’s style.

And

2) As Sarah points out, that’s not the way of the Jesus Feminist.

The wonder of this book is in its subtlety. I was barely aware that I was becoming a Jesus Feminist until I closed the book and I could feel the tension in my muscles when I considered the injustice of the Church telling women what they can or cannot do because of their womanhood.

It doesn’t necessarily matter where you fall on political lines or religious affiliations, this is an important book for everyone to read. The writing is both poetic and challenging, but espouses a kind of humility that is incredibly rare.

It’s available on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Even though I was given an advanced ebook copy, I still ordered my own copy. You should too. Buy it. Read it. Buy it for your friends to read. Buy it for your pastor to read. Then talk about it. These are the conversations that are worth having.

Cheers,
Eric

I received an advance copy of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey from NetGalley in return for my review. There was nothing that stipulated that it had to be positive, only honest. No other compensation was provided.

A Sermon on Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

During my time in seminary, out in Berkeley, some of my favorite and most memorable nights were when a bunch of us would bring what food we had out to the courtyard. We’d fire up the grill, pour a glass of wine, and spend time talking, laughing, and dreaming about the future.

Every once in a while, during one of these nights, I’d find myself pulling back from the group a little bit and becoming aware of something bigger going on. I was able to see the blessing of friendship and community in a very real and present kind of way. I was filled with a sense of gratitude each time I found this happening. And then one of us would just come out and say it: “Isn’t it just great when we get together like this?” In the naming of that blessing, we give thanks.

We have these experiences often, don’t we? We have experiences that are enhanced by simply naming the blessing of that time. It could be sitting by the river and reading a book on a nice, fall afternoon. It could be gathering for dinner with friends and family who you haven’t seen in far too long. Or it could even be taking a step back from homecoming festivities to notice the blessing of friendship and community.

There’s a blessing in simply doing these actions, but it takes on a bit of a different character when we can name that blessing and be present with it in that time and space. This is what our Gospel story is getting at today.

Jesus is traveling through an in-between land. He’s not quite in Galilee, but not in Samaria either. He’s walking the land in between. And it’s worth noting that these two regions do not like each other. Galileans saw Samaritans as unclean heathens who were not worthy of being seen and respected.

Jesus enters a village and ten lepers approach him, but they keep their distance. They call out and plead with him to have mercy on them. Jesus sees them and gives them a command. He tells them to go show themselves to their priests. We then hear that as they went on their way, they were made clean. Turns out the priest didn’t have any special remedy or anything like that. Rather that it was in the obedience and turning in a new direction, that they were made clean.

Then we hear that one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned around to give thanks. There’s something about seeing and recognizing something in the present moment, and being able to give thanks that increases our awareness of God. Jesus sees these lepers and sends them on their way to healing. The Samaritan leper sees that he has been healed and his only response is to return to Jesus and give thanks.

After the cured leper gives thanks, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.”

The words of Jesus healed the man of his leprosy. The man’s thankful response made him well. There’s a substantial difference between treating an illness and treating a person — between being made clean and being made well.

I’m reminded of the Robin Williams film Patch Adams. In this movie, Williams plays Patch, a rather unorthodox medical student. He sees offering medical care as not only treating diseases, but also treating people. He doesn’t focus so hard on treating the illness that he loses sight on also treating the person.

He doesn’t want to help people just survive. He wants to help them live. He focuses on wholeness. He uses laughter as a treatment. There are some incredible scenes where he goes into the children’s hospital wearing his white coat and red clown nose.

He does this because he knows that there is more to making someone well than just curing their illness.

At the end of the movie, he’s brought before a board of physicians to defend himself against a malpractice suit. He gives an impassioned speech which crescendoes with the line, “You treat a disease, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you win!”

There’s a difference between being made clean and being made whole.

Having eyes to see that difference, and to see those in need around us, is something so important. So often we can get caught in the rat race of what we’re supposed to do that we sometimes don’t see things that are right in front of us. We spend so much time trying to be the smartest, or the most athletic, or the best parent, friend, or volunteer that we can sometimes be blind to the people in our community who might be crying out for mercy.

There’s an ancient rabbi who says that when Moses passes by the burning bush, the bush has always been burning.

This time, Moses finally stopped long enough to realize it.

We pass burning bushes and people crying for mercy everyday — all through the day. But we move so fast and we can be so pre-occupied that we just miss it.

Where are the burning bushes that you encounter in your everyday life?

Who are the people from the fringes of your life who are crying out to you for mercy?

What would it look like to spend this next week intentionally doing what we can to see those around us?

This past Wednesday, when we did the healing service, there were a number of us who were struck at how sacred and holy it is to come forward and say, “I don’t have it all together. I’m broken. And I need to be healed.”

In that moment of humility, we are seen and we are loved by a God who is so much greater than our faults and our shortcomings. We are called forward to be healed and made whole by a God who constantly brings life out of death. And then we are sent out as messengers of this good news to bring mercy and wholeness to the world.

Amen.

Death & Resurrection: A Review of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s ‘Pastrix’

I won’t lie, the only words that ran through my head when I put this book down after finishing it were, “Holy shit.”

Which is actually quite apropos for Nadia and for the incredible narrative journey that is her newest book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.

This book is at times both funny and heartbreaking, irreverent and beautifully sacred. It has to be one of the best books to combine narrative and theology that I’ve ever read. If there’s a better one, I can’t think of it. She brilliantly weaves her story of growing up in a Fundamentalist church, to substance abuse, to meeting her husband [whom she lovingly describes as a Lutheran unicorn], and ultimately to her calling as a pastor in one of the more diverse Lutheran communities in the country (not that that’s very difficult.)

All the while, she reminds us of the stories of the Bible that so wonderfully fit alongside the stories of our messes and shortcomings. I want to buy a copy for friends of mine who have been disenfranchised by the church and have given up faith altogether.

She has a way of writing that strips faith of its pretension and speaks to the heart of the gospel story. She writes,

“…the Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of American culture, is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small. This faith helped me get sober, and it helped me (is helping me) forgive the fundamentalism of my Church of Christ upbringing, and it helps me to not always have to be right.”

The thing that speaks most from this book, however, is that while Nadia could have relied on her life stories and experiences, she’s constantly getting out of her own way to let the stories of grace, mercy, and radical inclusivity do the talking. It’s an incredible thing for a writer, particularly a pastor-writer at that, to do.

I can’t help but read Pastrix from my perspective as a Lutheran pastor. That being said, it speaks words of incredible grace and acceptance to leaders in the church as well. I always feel like I need to read another book, or attend another webinar or conference to keep growing my skill set. But one of the things that was so refreshing about Pastrix was Nadia’s invitation to let go of that need to control everything, and instead be open  to where God is moving in the community — to be open enough to have people pray for you when you’re pissed off and tired and the Rally Day extravaganza you had planned fell on its face.

That’s going to be one of the things that sticks with me the most. Ease off the control. Keep yourself open to God and people, to the death and resurrection that comes everyday.

Pastrix did for the 27-year-old me what Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies did for the 17-year-old me.

When it comes down to it, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s the best I’ve read in a long time. If it has even close to the same effect on you as it had on me, it will help nourish your faith, restore your hope in the church, and give you encouragement for the journey we all walk with God and with our neighbor. It will remind you in the most refreshing way that you don’t have to be naïve or cynical in order to be a follower of Jesus. Ultimately, it will push and pull at your heart to gather under the umbrella of God’s grace.

I do have one disclaimer on the book. If you’re easily offended by profanity, then I might skip this one. It’ll distract from your reading.

If you have never heard of Nadia and are contemplating checking out Pastrix, this is a good introduction to her. It’s from last summer’s National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. Enjoy!
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Cheers,
Eric

The Greatest Contribution to Happiness

The pursuit of happiness has become a multi-billion dollar endeavor with everyone from Oprah to Joel Osteen doing specials and writing books to help increase your happiness. Turns out it much simpler than that. Check out this video from the awesome people at SoulPancake to see what I mean. It’s pretty incredible.
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Who would you call if you were in this video? What would you say?

Think about it as you enjoy the rest of your Friday! Have a great weekend.

Cheers,
Eric

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