What I Read in 2019

This year I read 67 books, thanks to both the last semester of seminary and a summer of job hunting. I listened to a couple through my library’s audiobook app but for most I picked up a “real” copy.

There’s only a few days left in December and I doubt I’ll get around to finishing off the last couple books in my queue and reaching my 70-book goal. Oh well!

In addition to reading many wonderful books, Aaron and I were able to visit the homes of authors I grew up loving, Robert Frost and Louisa May Alcott. Each home was beautiful. The Orchard House, Alcott’s home, was by far my favorite tour; if you’re in the area you have to make time to visit. (Both gave us free admission with military IDs.)

We stopped by one of Robert Frost’s homes in Shaftbury, VT this fall.

A Note on Theology Books

Earlier this year an old friend asked me to recommend a few books on Christian theology. She was looking for an overview, of sorts. I recommended some authors and theologians I liked in that moment, and a book or two. But honestly? Her question stumped me. Did a summary of Christian theology truly exist?

After I replied with my answers, I kept thinking about it. Each author or editor comes with their own set of biases. This means that all theology is accompanied by an adjective. (Western theology, feminist theology, reformed theology, etc.) There is no default theology, no hard answers that can’t be argued a hundred different ways, even in orthodox Christian theology. Therefore, it is difficult to select only two or three books to summarize thousands of years of history, culture, and academic study.

All that to say, if you’re looking to learn more about scripture and the concepts inside without a degree program, pick a book or author you’re already familiar with and read their appendix or bibliography in the back of the book. Read similar authors and definitely read the work of those they disagree with. Go get your toes wet and don’t be scared to make a splash!

A “shelfie”.

My Top 10 Books

Picking favorite books is like trying to choose a favorite dog meme: practically impossible. 10 of my favorite books (in no specific order) of the year include:

We visited Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord, MA this summer.

Other Noteworthy Authors

  • Mike McHauge
  • Sarah Bessey
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • John M. Perkins
  • Serene Jones
  • Phyllis Trible
  • Margaret Atwood

Find the whole list here on my Goodreads. I have different categories (or “shelves”) on my profile that might help you find your next read according to the particular topics I frequently read.

As for my 2020 goal, I think I’ll start with 50 books and work upwards if I happen to keep the momentum. One of my favorite instagram accounts made a goal to read more, if not exclusively, women and authors of color in 2019. I’d like to do the same in 2020.

Do you have any reading goals in 2020?

Since this is the last post of 2019, here’s a quick recap of the year:

This year has been a memorable year here on this blog. It will be hard to beat. A big thank you to all my readers over this last decade, either here or other blogs I’ve created. You make me smile!

Happy new year!

Impure: A Reading List on Purity Culture

For my final masters project, I wrote on the implications of evangelical purity culture. And let me tell you, what a wild ride. Normalized sexual violence, gender roles, politics, #ChurchToo, liturgy — there is a little bit of everything packed into this paper.

This paper has gained quite a bit of interest since mentioning it on my Instagram last month. My hope is to break down my research into digestible, accessible pieces for others to benefit from. (What use is all this if I hoard it all in my brain?)

Purity culture, or the evangelical sexual purity movement of the 1980s-2010s, establishes sexual “purity” as the ultimate standard for those waiting to be married. (Marriage is assumed.) In this subculture, to be sexually “impure” would be disastrous in all other areas of life and would doom any relationship with a future spouse. In both political and pastoral spaces, methods of control and fear seek to maintain patriarchal power over the hearts and bodies of young people, though primarily girls and women.

Stories and testimonies reveal the abusive nature of “purity” teachings and practices. Girls and women are often dehumanized and denied vibrant sexualities of their own. If feelings of discomfort or reports of sexual violence are made known, they can be frequently silenced and ignored. Sadly, there are real convictions buried in these teachings – blinded by ignorance and the fight for power. There seems to be no intention to inflict harm on to others. Rather many of those who participate are held to a conviction which values hierarchy between men and women, emphasizing a woman’s submission to men’s needs. “Purity” is interpreted as protection. More on this later.

Before I jump into the research itself, I wanted to share some materials on the impact of the evangelical sexual purity movement or abstinence-only education.

This reading list is fairly brief and does not include academic articles. Even so, these examples are moving and incredibly revealing. Please note, many portions of these texts discuss sexual trauma, which can be triggering or overwhelming for some.

Books or Essays

Blogs

I would also encourage you to read through the #ChurchToo on Twitter or sign the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Statement.

If there are other articles, books, podcasts, etc. that have been helpful to you, I would love to read them and include them here. If your experience in purity culture has been positive, I would also love to understand more about your story.

Read more in this series:

Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Sadness, heartache, dread, disbelief — maybe you felt these things too as you heard the news of Rachel’s death yesterday.

I’m not sure what kind of words or feelings she was met with yesterday as she entered Heaven but I’m certain it was a celebration of God’s faithfulness in her life. Rachel was adventurous in her faith. She explored the scriptures, asked the risky questions and embraced her doubt.

She was a forerunner and a pioneer in many ways. Before it was popular, she made room at the table for different voices and faces. She helped others, like me, understand the beauty of hard, unanswered questions of faith and also the importance of the gospel. It’s hard to think of a world without Rachel.

Remembering Rachel, here is a brief list of my favorites:

Books:

Podcasts:

Blogposts:

Did RHE have a role in your faith?

A Reading List for Relationships

I asked and you answered. I’ve only read a handful of these books, so I’m not endorsing them or the authors, simply reporting the answers from friends, family, and followers.

I found that most of the authors suggested are white males, who as you may guess, do not hold a monopoly on healthy relationships or great sex. If you have suggestions, please let me know so I can add them to the list. In the meantime, I would strongly encourage you read outside the box!

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Which Christian dating/marriage books have either helped or misled you?

Here’s what helped.

Other helpful authors or speakers.

And these seemed to be misleading.

If you disagree with any of the characterizations above, I’d love to hear! Obviously, there’s a lot more to say on these subjects that these few authors can cover, but it’s a start. Knowing some of the authors listed, some books most likely disagree in certain ways.

I asked this question with “purity culture” in mind. I’m curious to hear if you experienced this growing up and if there were teachings or books that promoted this in your church or religious context. 

A Year of Bravery

This year has been one to remember.

2018 has felt almost like a desert with long dry patches of loneliness and heartache, stress and uncertainty. There have been moments of peace, like the day Aaron came home or time spent with family. These past 12 months have pushed me to redefine what success looks like and to reconsider what my faith in God looks like in the ordinary day to day. I’ve learned more about what I cannot do, rather than what I am able to do. (I have the hunch that this is all life ever teaches us and perhaps success is found where we least expect it.)

I’d like to think that I have been brave throughout most of my life so far, but this year held a few more opportunities to test that and this was also reflected in the books I read. (This is not to say the challenges in my life are anywhere near comparable to the stories of Dorothy Day or Howard Thurman, but they have been excellent examples of strength and courage.)

Here is a complete list of the 60 some books I read this year. (Isn’t Goodreads cool?) Sixty is quite a few, averaging a little more than a book a week, but I sure didn’t keep that pace. I reread several books. I fell deeper in love with the Chronicles of Narnia and Liturgy of the Ordinary and my perspective and understanding of Divided by Faith’s message and methodology shifted. Below are some books that really caught my attention.

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Photo: Joyce McCown

In no particular order, these books shaped my 2018.

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

This is a small, but powerful book that helped continue to shape my understanding of racial reconciliation. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom’s brave journey through the Holocaust emphasized human dignity, prayer, and forgiveness. I read it in one sitting.

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

I wrote a paper on Dorothy Day’s spirituality this past semester knowing little to nothing about her. She is one of my new heroines; she was incredible! This book is her autobiography. She wrote for a living, so just in case you fall in love with her, there are so many more chances to read about her life and faith.

The Story of Christianity, Volumes 1 and 2 by Justo Gonzalez

I believe studying church history made the difference for my faith. These books are easy to read volumes that are very engaging and well written. The chapters are pretty short, which I found helpful.

The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor

I love just about anything put out by the Gungors. Lisa’s story is so beautifully written. I cried and laughed. In some ways it felt like she had been writing to me. I also read this in one evening. I couldn’t put it down.

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

This book made more sense after getting married and walking through some other pain.  I sobbed all the way through. In contrast to The Problem of Pain, this book doesn’t try to make reasonable arguments about suffering. (Pain isn’t reasonable.) This story reveals how Lewis understood and handled his own grief after losing his wife.

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee

These stories are more common than white evangelicals might like to acknowledge. Lee’s book validated my own experience as a woman in the church. (!!!) The stories she presents are real and worth your time.

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This book is important. There is also a documentary based on this book, as well as another book written in response titled Half the Church.

The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

If you have not yet critiqued your Christian faith, or perhaps you have lost hope for evangelical Christianity, I would recommend this book. Rah is convicting, but also hopeful.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This is a fictional story that captured my attention from the start. I haven’t read other books by this author, but I would dare believe this is her best book. This book made me squirm and at some points I wanted to throw my book across the room. This story is incredibly moving and all too real. The ending is unexpected, but worth it. Easily one of my favorites.

There are many other books I could have listed, but selected just a few that impacted me in specific ways. Each story was full of courage, despite the cost of sharing their experience or the pain of loss in their lives. Their examples dared me to be brave. Challenge yourself to read something out of the box in 2019 or find a reading challenge that keeps your eyes open for authors of color and stories of a different culture or ideology. Let me know what you find!

What did you read this year?