Of the 50 books I read in 2017, I attempted to narrow my favorites to a list of ten, as has been my practice over the last six years. While I read some incredibly helpful books for my vocation – including an incredible book on managing organizational transitions and the basics of Christian fundraising – I also read some incredibly challenging books on race and learning how to lament the injustices and suffering we face in this world, if we aren’t closing our eyes.
So, in no particular order:
Kent Anan, Slow Kingdom Coming
Having big respect for the author after reading about the journey and posture of his work in Haiti, I was eager to learn about the practices that have sustained him. I read it in one day and immediately told my director that we needed to make this book available to all service-learning trip members headed to Guatemala. Through the practices of attention, confession, respect, partnering, and truthing, we can avoid being paralyzed by the complexity of helping others and doing justice in difficult places.
Scott Sauls, Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear
Real friendship is costly, says Scott Sauls, one of my current favorite authors and tweeters. And at a time where we easily seek out echo chambers and friendships that work easily, Sauls challenges us to cultivate diverse friendships – real friendship with people who are different from us in any way. He writes, “Compelled by the love of Christ, we must not withhold kindness or friendship from any person or people group, and we must not engage in any sort of us-against-them posturing. This in itself is countercultural in modern society. Compelled by the truth of Christ, we must honor and obey the Creator’s design—even when his design is countercultural and, at times, counterintuitive to us. His ways and his thoughts are higher than ours.”
John M. Perkins, Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win
Dr. John M. Perkins is a spiritual giant – a community development leader, civil rights activist, and Bible teacher in Mississippi. Looking back over years of ministry, Perkins shares his struggle, experiences, and persistent dreams of love conquering racism, hatred, and injustice. Perkins has a rare voice – one who has lived out “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God” before the verse became a bumper sticker. His life is an example to all of us and his wisdom like a beacon to light the way forward. “Justice is an act of reconciliation that restores any part of God’s creation to its original intent.”
Marilyn Gardner, Passages through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith
Marilyn Gardner’s first book grew my understanding of my own TCK (Third Culture Kid) husband’s formative experiences, so I was eager to read her memoir of growing up in Pakistan. From her experiences crossing the ocean, heading off to boarding school, visits to her passport country, and returns to her life in Pakistan, Marilyn shares openly and honestly about her experiences as a missionary kid making sense of her own story, faith, and sense of home. Her book reinforced my desire to someday change her from a social media friend to a real life friend.
Anne Bogel, Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything
As a MBTI-certified practitioner who has seen the incredible impact when people understand how they are uniquely wired and how that relates to the way our spouses, friends, family, coworkers, and leaders are uniquely wired, I naturally loved this book. Anne explains the most popular frameworks for understanding ourselves and others – each chapter giving an overview of MBTI, Enneagram, StrengthFinders, Highly Sensitive People, and so on. It is a great starting point for those skeptical of the usefulness of these tools in all relationships – church, work, and home.
Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do
Graphic novels make powerful memoirs. Persepolis was the first to prove this to me. The Best We Could Do seals it. Bui shares her family’s story of escaping war-torn Vietnam. Displaced and forced to flee for their lives, this book provides an emotional and enlightening window into what it is like to be a global refugee. To grow up as a child without feeling safe or secure, yet daring to dream and struggle for a sense of belonging.
N.T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential
The great N.T. Wright has written a simple yet profound argument for singing, pondering, and living out the Psalms – and not just the warm, fuzzy verses picked out of context for a word of comfort – but all the praise, pain, joy, and laments. He refers to this book as a “personal plea.” The Psalms are our lifeblood, root system, worship manual, prayer book, hymnal, and map. As Wright put it, “They are God’s gifts to us so that we can be shaped as his gift to the world. All of us need to find ways of allowing the hymnbook God has given us to be the means of personal and communal transformation, renewal, and growth.”
Ruth Ann Batstone, Moving On: Beyond Forgive and Forget
Forgiveness has been the core message of my faith and ministry. Nothing seems easier than lavishing forgiveness on the prodigal sons around us – those fully aware of their imperfection and need of forgiveness. But forgiveness for those who do not seek or see a need for forgiveness – this has never been very easy. For those who intentionally hate, harm, wound, reject, and perpetuate injustice. Ruth gives weighty, Biblical definition to what forgiveness is and what it is not. Not platitudes, but a path forward into the steps of God-honoring, liberating, life-changing forgiveness.
John T. Edge, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South
Food, politics, civil rights, and cultural identity in the South? Yes, please. Edge looks at the complex history of the South with its deepest injustice and its most beautiful cultural contributions through the lens of food. Much of our food heritage comes from the South and any of us who have enjoyed the farm-to-table movement or hipster barbeque would do well to read this book. From the stuffed pork chops that fueled civil rights activities to the soy ice cream commercially sold by hippies to the traditional fried chicken that Colonel Sanders turned into a fast food to the country ham tamales that reflect the culinary influences of recent immigrants to the region, this book is filled with delicious examples that leave you craving the wide range of foods birthed in the South.
Skila Brown, Caminar
I’m partial to any book highlighting the stories and people of Guatemala, it’s true. But, this free-verse poetry novel is a beautiful way to step into the highlands of Guatemala during the 36-year civil war. Caught between the army and the guerillas, Carlos escapes the fate of his village by hiding in a tree. He travels through the mountains to find his grandparents, asking God for answers and making sense of his survival. A moving children’s novel about a difficult history.
What were your favorites? I’d love to hear your recommendations!