Every year I set a goal related to reading. This year, my goal was to read for thirty minutes every day. It went…okay. I think if you averaged out the time across the year, I probably got to or near the finish line. Let’s say B+ for effort.
For 2018, my goal is to only allow myself to start a new book once I’ve journaled or blogged about the book just finished and can point to one practical step I’m taking in my life as a response to what I read.
I am learning as I get older that I often love to finish a book just for the sake of finishing and moving on to the next one. My hope is that this habit will push what I’m reading toward actual growth in my life.
When I look back over my reading list from this year, I can tell that the main question I was processing was “How does my vocation as a follower of Jesus move from my working hours as a career missionary down into the everyday life of my family in our neighborhood?”
I started off 2017 with a good sense that I was about to leave the missionary agency I had been with for nine years. One of the goals my wife and I had in that transition was to get a better sense of what our family’s mission is in the world. We are certainly still trying to understand that but I can tell that themes like vocation and calling were central for me in 2017.
And now, with no further ado, here are 10 Books I Loved in 2017:
Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter-McNeil
I first heard the term “racial reconciliation” in college and, as the author herself laments, the hardest thing about reconciliation is not explaining it; it is practicing it. How do you actually work toward reconciliation as a community? This is the closest thing to a handbook on reconciliation that I have read and I would heartily recommend it to you if you are looking for a community resource. You can read my full review here.
Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber
This book would also win my 2017 Award for Most Boring Cover. I have owned Visions of Vocation for at least a few years and never thought to open it until I read about Garber in Jena Nardella’s book, One Thousand Wells. Garber is the principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture and is a consummate mentor even across the medium of a book. If you want to learn more about vocation in 2018, check this one out.
The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch
I have already decided to buy every book Andy Crouch writes so this wasn’t a shocker for me. However, if you’ve found yourself daunted by his 10,000 foot thinking before, I would recommend giving this book a chance. It is an immensely practical treatment of the role of technology in our lives. I genuinely believe every new parent should be issued this book as they leave the hospital. You can read my full review here.
Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith
I heard about Smith, a philosophy professor at Calvin College, from listening to podcasts featuring Sandra McCracken and Andrew Peterson. When two of my favorite songwriters recommend a book, it goes on my Amazon Wish List. Smith argues prophetically that humans are not primarily thinking creatures in need of better worldviews; we are instead, desiring creatures in need of better liturgies to shape our hearts. Timely and beautifully written – don’t miss it.
Faithful Presence by David Fitch
As someone engaged in “mission work,” for the past decade, I have read roughly one billion books on being missional. There is an entire industry that exists to convince you that your church or ministry is wildly old-fashioned and irrelevant and, if you only buy a certain book and attend the $500 annual conferences designed around it, you too can be missional and actually love Jesus. If I could recommend one mission-centric book that you could buy today and then unsubscribe from all of that silliness, this is it.
Embrace by Leroy Barber
Having worked with college students for my entire adult life, I know that it is usually around this age that many develop a heart for justice in the world based on their exposure to perspectives beyond their home experience. If you are opening your eyes to injustice in the world and looking for a great first book to accompany your journey toward active engagement, I found Embrace to be a wonderful, simple introduction into the Christian movements for justice.
A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman
Hot take: This may be the most prophetic and necessary book on leadership for our generation and it was written twenty years ago.
Friedman’s key point is that organizational leadership in our time is crippled by interpersonal relational anxiety and using all of the wrong tools to address the problem. It is dense and challenging and bypasses many of the “ten simple steps” and other bland tropes of the genre. I’m still chewing on it months later.
Slow Church by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison
Drawing inspiration from the Slow Food movement, this book is structured around the themes of Ecology, Economics, and Ethics. It pushes back against the “mcdonaldization” of the church, particularly in the urban core of cities in which so many white millennials, in particular, find themselves living and attending church. If you, like me, find yourself in that demographic, I would highly recommend this book.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Our family devoured this book in 2017. When we could have been watching TV or going to bed, my wife would instead choose to read Steinbeck. I had to see what all the fuss was about and I was not disappointed. Between the highly readable prose, the cavernous depth of characters developed, and the fascinating biblical narrative parallels and theological conversations, I got hooked on it too. Timshel!
The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
This was another book highly recommended by a handful of songwriters that I admire and I am glad I finally crossed it off my list. It’s a little bit Orwell, a little bit Chaucer, and a little bit The Hobbit – all wrapped around an epic good versus evil story where even the good characters have to come to terms with the evils within. It’s an easy read with a beautifully sad and heroic ending that is wonderfully satisfying.
How about you? What did you read and love in 2017? What were some major themes from that reading for you? Any recommendations for my 2018 list?