Books, books, books! One of the only ways that I want to relive 2020 is by reviewing its best reads. Quarantine seemed to either kick my brain into overdrive or squash it into a puddle of mush. During those times of overdrive, I read as many books as I could get my hands on and have some wonderful ones to present to you today. Hopefully you’ll find a couple to add to your reading list next year!
#1: The Color of Compromise, the Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, Jemar Tisby
This one comes in at number one in a landslide victory. Starting in 1619, Jemar takes us on a whirlwind tour of the dominant response of the American, white church to major racial events and trends. He covers topics like how the church justified slavery, why many Christians protested/remained silent during the Civil Rights movement, how “evangelical” became a political term, and why many of us grew up thinking that being Christian meant being Republican. The history is just stunning. Understanding history prepares us to change the future. Where the church is at with racism is not an accident. And the future will look different only if we take courageous steps to reverse the trend. This book (and its super exciting sequel, releasing January 5!) are tools for change for Christians ready to be active participants in fighting racism.
2. Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to Tue Solidarity, by David Swanson.
The first time I heard racism described as a discipleship issue, I was a bit puzzled. But the book clears that up pretty quickly. Racial discipleship, David explains, is something we undergo constantly from society: we are influenced to think who is beautiful, smart, powerful, criminal, normal, wrong, etc. That’s social science, there’s no getting around it. But that’s why it is so important for the church to be active in its own, countering force of discipleship. But none of this can be accomplished if we refuse to talk about race. Racial discipleship is a lifelong journey that can lead churches into places where they become places of solidarity with the poor and oppressed, not just places where their members are sprinkled throughout the pews. The book is highly prescriptive and utterly compelling.
3. The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of our Neighbor, Kaitlynn Schiess
Well, this book just took everything I assumed, or thought I knew about a Christian’s relationship to politics and flipped it on its head. Kaitlyn’s question for us at the beginning is, what if the church’s problem wasn’t that it was too political, but that it wasn’t political enough? Wait, what? Rather than having nothing to do with politics, or choosing to rigidly align with one political party, there is a third and better way for the church. And that is the way of discipleship: something we should not be content to leave to the world of news outlets and social media. Because it’s not a matter of if we will be shaped politically (we all are) but what shapes us. We can reclaim political engagement for the sake of neighbor and the sake of the gospel while transcending the pitfalls of previous models of engagement. I’m glad I read this during the election season and I’m really looking forward to what Kaitlyn writes next.
4. Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming our Ethnic Journey, Sarah Shin
Ethnicity is different and more specific than race, which is what makes Sarah’s book so fascinating. With an encouraging and Christ-centered voice she helps us dive into how ethnicity is a beautiful, foundational aspect of our being. With wisdom she guides us through deep questions about our own ethnicity and how to recognize it at work in others. Most importantly, she explains how Jesus is the ultimate healer of all ethnic brokenness and that we are his hands and feet in this work. The words in this book course through my heart regularly, reminding me of the beautiful call to step into ethnic tensions for the sake of the gospel.
5. What if Jesus Was Serious? A Visual Guide to the Teachings of Jesus we Love to Ignore, Skye Jethani
Is it possible to be wrecked by a doodle? This book does that at almost every page. And, for this one, I’m going to post the publisher’s review because I don’t think there is a better way to describe its uniqueness. I’m so thankful for Skye and his “devotionals for people who hate daily devotionals.” How refreshing!
From the publisher: “Let’s face it. A lot of Christian resources can feel cheesy, out-of-touch, and a little boring. But when Skye Jethani started doodling and writing up some of his thoughts about God, his Twitter and email list blew up. What If Jesus Was Serious? is a compilation of all-new reflections (and hand-drawn doodles) from Skye. He takes a look at some of Jesus’ most demanding teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and pushes us to ask whether we’re really hearing what Christ is saying. The visual component of the book makes it memorable and enjoyable to read, and Skye’s incisive reflections make it worthwhile for any Christian. If you’ve traditionally been dissatisfied with Christian devotional resources but love to learn about Jesus and think deeply, this book was written for you.”
6. I’m Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
I have a complicated relationship with this book. It made me so mad at times, but I’m glad I pushed through. Austin doesn’t hold anything back as she relays her painful experiences of growing up Black in white, evangelical spaces. Reading her stories as a white person was a super uncomfortable experience. But it was also a huge step in understanding that as a white person, I need to be uncomfortable because I have little to no paradigm for what it means to be racially on the “outside.” And that creates pride. Pride being broken is not pleasant, but it is where we grow. I’m still conflicted over this book but I keep it in a prominent place on my bookshelf. As a reminder to grow.
7. Reading While Black, African American Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, Esau McCalley
Have you ever heard a distinction made between theology and “Black theology?” Or theology and “social theology?” This book makes the uncomfortable point that an unspoken (or explicit) theological hierarchy is at work in the church. Theology perceived as culturally influenced is often considered tainted or subpar. But, as Esau shows, there’s no such thing as theology uninfluenced by culture. White culture influences our theological interpretations even if we deny it. And we desperately need the interpretations of other cultures, especially the American Black church, if we hope to have our own blindspots checked and humbled. Esau goes through key passages of Scripture on justice, government, and more that are interpreted and applied very differently in the Black church. I hope very much to sit under the leadership of a Black pastor someday. Because, as Esau quotes at the beginning, “The South’s got somethin’ to say!”
8. The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi
Ok, I’m a huge Lazy Genius follower (Kendra’s podcast and Instagram are fantastic) and a book by her was such a gift. The LGW is a framework for doing life better. It’s not a series of life hacks. Rather, it’s a set of principles that, when applied, really help us sift through what matters and how we can structure our decisions, routines, and even relationships around it. Why the “lazy” in the lazy genius? Lazy just means learning the freedom to ditch the stuff that doesn’t matter, because we can’t be good at it all. By choosing what to be a genius about and what to be lazy about we gain peace and freedom in our decisions. I just love this framework and recommend the book and podcast to everyone.
9. Don’t Overthink it by Anne Bogel
This is the third book on decision making I read this year, and that was not a bad thing for 2020! Anne Bogel is the host of one of my favorite podcasts “What Should I Read Next.” The podcast is where I find almost all of my fiction reads. Don’t Overthink It is a book all about the science of overthinking, where and why we get stuck, and what to do about it. It’s a great book to read a couple times and is almost endless in its applications.
10. Joyful: the Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book has changed the way I think about nearly every object I bring into, or purge, from my life. With fascinating science, Ingrid explains the aesthetic (visual) aspects of life that are constantly influencing the joy or chaos beneath our awareness. Ingrid was one of the geniuses behind Target’s creation of a joyful atmosphere in their store (and who doesn’t relate to that?). The book walks you through each aesthetic of joy and how you can incorporate them into your home, your clothes, and your overall life. Game changer!
11. Get out of Your Head, Jennie Allen
From the publisher: “In Get Out of Your Head, Jennie inspires and equips us to transform our emotions, our outlook, and even our circumstances by taking control of our thoughts. Our enemy is determined to get in our heads to make us feel helpless, overwhelmed, and incapable of making a difference for the kingdom of God. But when we submit our minds to Christ, the promises and goodness of God flood our lives in remarkable ways.
It starts in your head. And from there, the possibilities are endless.”
12. Shadow and Light by Tsh Oxenrieder
This book ends my list just as Advent, which it is about, ends the year. This is a beautiful, liturgical, biblically centered look at Advent. The book has a reading for each day of Advent, including scriptures from the Psalms, rather than the gospels. The Psalms, the songbook of Jesus, are full of the prophecy and loning that prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas. Each day also has a curated song to listen to and a work of art to view. It has been such a worshipful experience to go through and I know I’ll be returning to it next year.
Whew. If you made it to the end, hello and thank you! Please let me know which reads have been important to you in 2020, fiction or non-fiction. Or what you’re looking forward to in 2021. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
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