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!

Our First Year in the Episcopal Church

For someone like me who grew up in a non-denominational, charismatic church, the Episcopal church*, along with other denominations, were synonymous with secular culture. I wasn’t totally sure what they believed. Do they believe in grace? Are they spirit-filled? What do they really think of Jesus?

In 2015 I moved from a moderately sized, non-denominational community to a Sunday morning gathering with meditative music, scripture readings, prayers from a book, and a guy who wore a white collar. Drawn to this style of worship, I began appreciating the value of ancient liturgy, the church calendar, and the Book of Common Prayer. Although not an official Episcopal community, it offered a gentle introduction. 

Even though I loved the liturgy and studied some social justice in college, it took some time before I was ready to consider the Episcopal tradition home. At times it felt “too out there.”

In 2018, I came home one evening from a seminary class. The entire course discussed intersectionality and theology, and this particular session had presented a fork in the road, so to say. After plopping my backpack on the floor and taking a seat across from Aaron at the dining table I said something like “we need to make a few changes.” Luckily he was interested and we started talking. 

The very next Sunday we walked right through the front doors of our current parish, unsure of what we would find. We were completely surprised by how many faces we recognized as we sat down. It was a bit of a (calculated) risk but one we’d take again. We’ve settled in this past year, taking it all in, and getting to know new friends and old hymns. 

Flowers we brought home from our Easter service.

If you’re curious what we like about it, here’s a few things that have stood out to me this past year, in no specific order. (Obviously these elements are not exclusive to the Episcopal tradition, many other communities share similar practices or thoughts.)

Embracing Ancient Mystery & Modern Questions

This was what initially drew us to the Episcopal tradition. The more I studied theology and considered all the “answers” I had stored away, the more I realized I had harder and bigger questions. I craved a space that appreciated the ambiguity of scripture and allowed room for discussion and contemplation. My questions are welcomed and given no easy answers. Neither my intellectual instincts or my past mystical experiences are shamed. The Episcopal church is often called a “big tent” which means a variety of theological beliefs and convictions (progressive and conservative, republican and democrat, army and navy, etc.) are hosted in one tradition. 

We begin each service with a prayer to love God and love others. We hear scripture read aloud and taught by both women and men. Corporately, we confess sin and pray for others. We say the Nicene creed. We “pass the peace” to those around us and take communion. Simple, meaningful, holy.

“Anglicanism has long been known as the via media, the “middle way” between two traditions. The Episcopal Church has also helped me navigate the middle way between unbelief and dogmatism. Ours is a faith handed down from the apostles, but not one so fragile that it cannot cope with science, with new findings about the origins of the universe, ourselves, or whatever else we might discover.” 

— Ben Irwin, 11 Things I Love About the Episcopal Church

Worship as a Lifestyle

There is so much to say on this topic. I’ll keep it brief.

I had wrongly assumed the worship and community would be stale and outdated, not realizing how much I craved the depth and reverence of the liturgy. And how much I needed the weekly wisdom of those who have lived a little longer and differently than me! We sing songs or scripture throughout the entire service, sometimes standing up and other times sitting down. I really love this approach, even though I can appreciate the contemporary concert-style every once in a grand while, too. The hymns are rich and beautiful. (Aaron sings them way better than me.) There is a whole art form to sacred music that I’m beginning to learn about.

Yet, we know worship isn’t just singing. The Episcopal tradition especially, believes worship happens each day through acts of faith and love. The Gospel isn’t limited to evangelism or a sermon, it’s a lifestyle of generosity and hospitality. Often this results in efforts to pursue justice for those with their “backs against the wall” as Howard Thurman wrote. The “prophetic” is approached from a different angle. I appreciate how our community, locally and globally, advocate for social initiatives such as food pantries, homelessness, climate change, interfaith issues, racial justice, art and music, LGBTQ+ equality, international partnerships, academia, military chaplaincy (a ministry close to our hearts!) and so much more.

Eucharist Every Week

Communion is a double edged sword for me. I think it’s one of the most mysterious and generous practices given to universal church. We devote almost half of our weekly service to the eucharist. It’s a beautiful sacrament we share together. (This video is a good one.)

Whether or not the bread and wine are a symbol or whether you believe that they are the literal body and the blood are up to you. I believe they have enormous power to change hearts, attitudes, lives, tear down prejudices, bridge gaps, and bring peace. I believe that in most cases, the elements speak louder than any sermon or hymn or prayer. Something mysterious and unfathomably beautiful happens at the table. It’s a place where any person, no matter what belief system or background they come from can come and receive the God of peace.

— Lindsey Hart (Link to original post no longer exists, sorry!)

On the other hand, it can stir up a few hard feelings for me. At one point in my life I could not kneel at the altar to take the bread and wine. My body would not let my knees touch the altar; I preferred communion served standing up. The power dynamic between the male clergy and myself, in a position of vulnerability, was too much for me. I felt anger and fear bubble up inside me. (Read some research on this.) These feelings have faded (healed?) for me as women have served at the altar and as I’ve grown in self-understanding, among other things. Still, I cannot take communion from Aaron when he assists in serving the eucharist. I’m not sure if I can fully articulate why. I make sure to place myself on the opposite end of the altar or simply attend an adult formation hour instead.

At this point in our lives we love our church community. By no means is it perfect but it does offer us ample space to be nourished and challenged to grow. We’re about to step into a hefty discernment process in 2020 as Aaron discerns the priesthood. It’s about a year’s worth of meetings and prayer to confirm his desire to be ordained in the Episcopal tradition. And so the adventure continues.

These are just a few brief thoughts as we continue to explore the body of Christ via the Episcopal church. I’d love to hear what you love about your place of worship!

Curious? Confused? Here’s a few other experiences: 

*Christianity is very diverse and includes hundreds, if not thousands, of denominations (or flavors) of the Christian faith all over the world. The Episcopal tradition is one flavor in the larger Anglican Communion, which is another tradition.