Follow What I’m Reading This Summer

Books will be placed in chronological order with the latest book to be read placed first:

Book 33: The Return of the Prodigal Son By: Henri Nouwen ( 139 pages) – This book is one of the most unique Nouwen books I have read so far, in that it is very focused on art and one painting in particular – the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt.  In this book, Nouwen focuses on the three main characters in the story: the younger son, the elder son, and the Father sharing how much he is like each one of them and exploring the lostness of both the sons (rather than just the younger one).  Nouwen also begins each section with a short biography of the life of Rembrandt thus adding even deeper meaning to his painting and makes constant references to Rembrandt’s life throughout.  If you read this book, you will be able to discover this very common children’s Bible story in a whole new way!

Book 32: A Spirituality of Caregiving By: Henri Nouwen (69 pages) – A very short, quick read that was actually compiled after Nouwen’s sudden death through other writings that he had published as well as a few of his unpublished manuscripts.  In this short book, we hear the heart of Nouwen as he talks about what caregiving looked like at L’Arche, as well as provides insights to others who are receiving and giving care.

Book 31: Seeing Beyond Depression By: Jean Vanier (69 pages; actually was 89 pages, but since some of the pages were of quotes I don’t count those as full pages)

This book was different from the majority of Vanier’s other books in that he didn’t share any personal anecdotes or information and so it seemed kind of clinical and impersonal.  At the same time, it was very much like Vanier’s writings in that it focused on certain themes that he often discusses such as vulnerability and the essence of being human.  It certainly was a very helpful read and a good reference for anyone who struggles with depression or has a friend who is struggling.

Book 30: With Burning Hearts – A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life By: Henri J.M. Nouwen (108 pages; actual: 126 pages but that includes some pictures) A short meditative piece written by Nouwen who describes the journey the disciples went through from Jesus’s death until after Emmaus.  Nouwen also relates all of this back to our own lives sharing with us the spiritual themes of hospitality, friendship, and enduring trust in God even when it seems like we have been abandoned or forgotten by Him.

Book 29: Love In A Fearful Land By: Henri Nouwen (128 pages)This book is a different type of book from the ones that Nouwen frequently writes.  It is actually a story about the disappearances and mass murders that took place in Guatemala in the 80s when Christians were being persecuted.  Nouwen shares the legacy specifically of one Priest, Father Stan Rother, who was a martyr and who Nouwen and the Guatemalan people already believe to be a saint (although he has not officially been Canonized yet).

Book 28 : Life of the Beloved By: Henri J.M. Nouwen (119 pages) In this book, Nouwen exchanges letters with his friend, Fred, who is going through a difficult time in his life (after divorcing his first wife).  Nouwen speaks from the heart about being the Beloved Son (or daughter) of God even during times when we feel unloveable and he talks about how God can use even the most negative experiences in our lives to bring us joy and peace.  A short, easy, and very inspiring read!

Book 27: Whatever Happened to Dinner? Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime By: Melodie M. Davis (229 pages) I originally just picked up this book because after briefly looking at it it had some very good recipes in it (some of which I have already tried at L’Arche and have been hits).  But as I started reading the book, I realized that there was so much other good stuff to Davis’s writings.  She talks about how much we waste, how we can cut down on the price of our food, and the importance of saying grace before eating.  Davis is also one of the Mennonerds I blog with, so that made it doubly important for me to read what the other Nerds are writing other than blogs.  The only thing that I wish the book had is more vegetarian menu options.  I felt it was very heavy particularly on chicken, but a few more vegan and vegetarian dishes might be helpful because so many of my Menno friends are going that route.

Book 26: The Naked Anabaptist By: Stuart Muarry (172 pages) – Very quick and

easy read outlining the church history of how the Mennonite and other Anabaptist churches came to be.  This book was written in the European context and deals with the demise of Christendom and what it means for us today – what our strengths and weaknesses as a church are in a society that has ceased to be completely Christian.

Book 25: Spiritual Formation By: Henri Nouwen (135 pages) A very good read written post-posthumously using some of Nouwen’s unpublished writings about the journey one takes to achieve Spiritual maturity.  Nouwen talks about there being 7 movements of the Spirit: From opaqueness to transparency, from illusion to prayer, from sorrow to joy, from resentment to gratitude, from fear to love, from exclusion to inclusion, and from denying to befriending death.  He also talks about the difference between the journey inward and the journey outward and how we need both aspects to truly become mature.

Book 24: According to the Grace Given to Her – The Ministry of Emma Sommers Richards Edited by: James E. Horsch, John D. Remple, Eldon D. Nafziger (150 pages)

Review: Emma Sommers Richards was the first woman to be ordained as a pastor in the Mennonite Church back in the 70s.  Through compiling information and stories from her friends, family members, colleagues, and congregants, we learn her story and see how God has used her to shape the Mennonite church.  The cool thing for me in reading this book is that many of the authors who contributing to this work are people that I met while in Elkhart and while in seminary including some of my professors and alumni from AMBS.

Book 23: Nevertheless By: John Howard Yoder (132 pages)

Review: In this book, renowned pacifist and ethical writer, John Howard Yoder, speaks about the various types of Christian pacifism and does a systematic and philosophical unraveling of each type.  It’s a book that I have been meaning to read for a few years and finally got around to.  As someone who studies peace studies, I think it is a must read, but it is very heady and academic so it all depends on what you are looking for.

Book 22: The Heart of L’Arche By: Jean Vanier (95 pages)

Review: In this book, Vanier talks about the Christian spirituality behind L’Arche largely from a Catholic perspective but what he says could be helpful to any Christian.  Vanier talks about the lessons one learns at L’Arche such as being present, attentive, and listening and he talks about how to grow Spiritually when you are living in a community.

Book 21: The Way of the Heart (Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry) By: Henri Nouwen (82 pages)

Review: This is definitely one of Nouwen’s shorter books, however, although short it is powerful.  In this book, Nouwen does not talk about his work with L’Arche or even his experience as a professor – rather he talks about the importance of silence, solitude, and meditation.  He shares with us why these practices are important to any Christian and helps us to learn how to cultivate them in our heart.  Drawing from ancient church history – this book has both past and present implications for our daily life (especially those of us who are involved in ministry).

Book 20: Holy Laughter and the Toronto Blessing By: Dr. James Beverly (162 pages)

Review: For years, the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship – one of the most charismatic churches in the GTA (and possibly in North America) has hosted strange encounters of people roaring like lions, being covered in gold dust, losing gold teeth, and barking like dogs.  Although millions flock to this church to experience the Holy Laughter and say that it brings them closer to God, Dr. Beverly questions the legitimacy of these encounters.  Using critical thinking, Beverly interviews several involved with the Toronto Blessing carefully weighing the pros and cons.  It’s a good read – critical but not judgmental.  It’s worth it to read.

Book 19: Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul By: Various Authors (360 pages)

Review: A collection of good ‘ole Canadianna stories including everything from the happy to the sad.  Uplifting and encouraging and packed full of history 🙂

Book 18: All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes By: Maya Angelou (211 pages)

Review: Angelou, an African American woman journeys into Ghana and learns what it truly means to reclaim her African heritage.  Full of stories about racism, fighting for women’s rights, and learning to reclaim a love for family, Angelou is a brilliant woman who combines autobiographical writing with thought-provoking quotes.  I’d give this book 3.5 stars out of 5.

Book 17: Thinking in Pictures – My Life With Autism (By: Temple Grandin) – 243 pages

Review: Grandin, a woman with mild autism (I would hazard to say Asperger’s, though she personally does not think of herself in that way) works with cattle.  She explains in her book how her autism has helped her to be able to understand cattle and to work with them in ways that people who are “normal” can’t.   She also describes some of the challenges that people with autism have as well as facts on medication, aggression, and being non-verbal.

 

Book 16: The Inward Pilgrimage – Spiritual Classics from Augustine to Bonhoeffer (By: Bernhard Christensen) – 165 pages

Review: This book includes short biographies and select quotes from some of the famous Christian writers of all time including the Desert Father, St. Teresa of Avila, John Bunyan, etc. It wasn’t entirely what I thought it would be because I thought it would actually have whole chapters written by each person, but it is a very nice overview.  If you’re looking for some background information on a famous Saint or you want to know what St. Augustine’s “Confessions” or the Book of Common Prayer are about without having to go buy a copy, this is a good book for that.  I would give this book 3 stars out of 5.

Book 15: God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World (By: Greg Paul) – 130 pages

Review: God is present in the brokenness, the grief, the puzzle pieces that won’t fit back together again, and the child crying out to his drug addicted mother.  Christ walks with us in pain, in suffering, and in loss.  Many of us who grew up in the church have heard these phrases quite often, yet, they remain just abstract expressions to us.  Greg Paul, one of the leading members of Sanctuary – a local Toronto outreach that many students at Tyndale participated in – has seen this lived out in real life.  God in the Alley beautifully weaves together stories of homelessness with a strong theology of social justice and the love of Christ.   It’s been one of those books that I’ve meant to read for years, but only got around to now.  I think because of Tyndale’s connection with Sanctuary, because I have heard Greg Paul speak at Tyndale, and because I have been on a street walk with Patrick (a man whose story is found in this book) that it has become more meaningful to me.  Sure, any author could have also written about the homeless of downtown New York, Chicago, or the slums in India, but there’s something about Paul’s words coming from a person who has lived in Toronto for three years and will be back there in one month (hopefully to stay).  I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Book 14: Love Wins (By: Rob Bell) – 196 pages

Review: I have long heard about Rob Bell’s liberalism – love it or hate it, so I decided to finally read this “controversial” book which I have meant to pick up for a few years now.  This book describes the fact that a loving God would not cast people into hell and that there are many paths to get to heaven.  Despite my own personal convictions, I feel that Bell never really developed his arguments, did not have a good grasp on Scripture (he proof-texted and took things out of context a lot)  and that in general, he seemed to not be all that great of a writer (he asked a lot of rhetorical questions which just got annoying at times).  He did offer some rather helpful pieces of advice: such as being more sensitive to others who do not have Christian roots when broaching the subject of death (he talked about the difference between telling a Christian she will see her Christian loved ones in heaven some day and telling a Christian with atheist relatives that she will never see them again but she will be so busy praising God it won’t matter – yet her family members are the most important people in her life).  He also offered a lot of helpful advice related to not writing anyone off and not being so preoccupied with the heavenly realm that we forget the social justice endeavours that must be taken here on earth.  I definitely think those are important points to make.  One of the most surprising things that remains to me, though, is how Bell became a liberal Christian.  He did his schooling at fairly evangelical institutions, also many Tyndale students loved the Nooma videos and listen to Mars Hill preaching but don’t like Bell.  I didn’t like this book as well as I liked Sex God, but it still did have some good points.  All in all, I would give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Book 13: Little Foxes that Spoil the Vines (By: W. Barry Miller) – 100 pages

Review: This book centers around the verse in Song of Solomon which says, “take us to the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines for our vines have tender grapes.” (2:15).  These foxes are the Gray, Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Black foxes representing careless words, anger, depression, envy, cowardice, and despair.  Miller talks about how these areas of our lives can take our mind off Christ and cause us to stumble.  He suggests that as Christians we need to depend upon our loving Father to help us get through these life struggles and ask Him to place people in our lives who can help us to also work with these difficulties.

Book 12: A Spirituality of Fundraising (By: Henri J.M. Nouwen)64 pages

Review: A very short book by Nouwen describing how fundraising is a Spiritual discipline and the theology/Christian philosophy behind it.  While Nouwen is not necessarily a businessman, he does offer some helpful suggestions about how riches can both hinder and help the Kingdom of God (including that some rich people are actually quite broken).  He also has a few quotes from some of his other books.  Out of all the Nouwen books that I have read, I would say this one was my least favourite.  He didn’t seem to be the most qualified person to write on this topic nor did he write with the same passion as he did when he wrote about L’Arche.  Nevertheless, it is good to read on a topic like this since it is rarely discussed in Christian settings or in “polite company”.

Book 11: The Shack (By: William P. Young) (248 pages)

Review: Many authors write beautiful fiction, few write with the same depth of theological clarity as W.P. Young while maintaining their creativity.  I decided that I wanted to read this book a second time since the first time I read it I was 17 and had no Theological training or education.  After 4 years of religious instruction, I have to say, I have picked up on so many intricacies that I did not notice the first time around.  W.P. Young really challenges our preconceived conceptions of God.  He brings into light Feminist theology, womanist theology, Asian Feminist Theology and the problem of evil/pain (theodicy).  He also challenges our conception of salvation, grace, and judgement.  While some would likely find Young’s work to be more on the liberal side, I think that he still does stay true to the Scriptures for the most part.  It is a refreshing and challenging read for any seminary or Bible College student.

Book 10: Adam (By: Henri Nouwen) (128 pages)

Review: Adam is a man who is non-verbal and completely dependent on others.  He has a severe intellectual disability and is also given to epileptic seizures.  Still, Adam, becomes Nouwen’s confidant, teacher, guide, and spiritual director.  Even though to the world Adam seems “useless”, to Nouwen and to all the residents and assistants at L’Arche, Adam is so much more.  Adam is a very special man who incarnates the depths of Christ’s love in visible form.  Throughout his brief account of Adam’s life, Nouwen pauses to reflect on the lessons Adam has taught him about looking beyond himself and coming to terms with his own life and death.
It’s a short, but very powerful book.  I had goosebumps by the time it was done.  This book is especially meaningful to me because it teaches peace studies in a different way than the one offered in the classroom.  In this book, Nouwen talks about how one may find peace working with people with a disability.  This book is also important to me because both times I visited the Daybreak community I had the opportunity to meet Adam’s brother, Michael, who asked me to be his sister.  Michael actually just celebrated his 60th birthday only a few days ago.  I’m looking forward to joining Daybreak this summer and getting to know Michael and the rest of the residents more.

Book 9: Peacework (By: Henri Nouwen) (127 pages)

Review: In this book, Nouwen recounts his time at L’Arche as an experiment in peacebuilding and offers helpful advice to Christians who wish to spread the Gospel of Peace and Love.  Nouwen does not discuss in detail his experiences working with people with disabilities, but does give much thought to the lessons of community, prayer, and discipleship that he learned during his time with those who could not communicate with him the same way as others.  Nouwen offers philosophical insights and helpful strategies.  Throughout it all, he reminds us of the Spiritual discipline of peacemaking all rooted in Biblical understandings.

Book 8: Autism & Alleluias (Kathleen Deyer Bolduc)  (140 pages)

Review: Bolduc is a mother to a boy with Autism.  She traces her son’s journey from early childhood until his mid-twenties when he moves out of her house for the first time.  Bolduc shares the joys and struggles of raising her unique son in short excerpts and stories that are written in a devotional way.  Her stories challenge the rest of us to find God amidst chaos and confusion and to cling to the peace that God provides us even during the most challenging, stressful, and difficult of times.

Book 7: Reading the Bible With the Damned By: Bob Ekblad (196 pages)

Summary: Ekblad, a chaplain at Skagit County Jail, works with inmates who have been drug users, alcoholics, abusive husbands, and sometimes illegal immigrants.  Ekblad uses his book to address some of the social justice issues that arise within the criminal justice system (particularly in relation to immigrant reform) and shares the Gospel with the inmates in a way which they will understand.  Ekblad says that Jesus is like “living cocaine” when describing the story of the woman at the well in John where Jesus tells her that He can give her everlasting water.  Ekblad also calls Jesus a “good coyote” when telling immigrants that just like they have “coyotes” who smuggle them across the waters even when it is illegal, it is the same with Christ reaching down to meet us.  I like Ekblad’s writings which are out of the box and written in a way that resembles a Bible study type book.  Recommended.

Book 6: Dancing With Disabilities ~ Opening the Church to All of God’s Children  By : Brett Webb-Mitchell (139 pages)

Summary: A great book which introduces some concepts about disability awareness within the Christian church.  It looks at such issues as baptism, communion, summer camps, Sunday school classes, and spiritual abuse in relation to those with developmental disabilities.  I think it’s definitely a good resource, though it is written from a more liturgical background and talks quite a bit about infant baptism and the Anglican/Catholic/Lutheran understandings of the Eucharist, so some of it wasn’t entirely applicable to me as an Anabaptist.  On the other hand, I can definitely use most of the suggestions in pastoral ministry which is a good thing.

Book 5: Let’s Do More With Persons With Disabilities By: Emma Jane White (70 pages)

Summary: A collection of stories written by individuals in various churches who work with people who have various types of disabilities (intellectual, emotional, physical, etc).  Some of the anecdotes offer good stories, however, it was very out of date and they used very politically incorrect language which was a bit disconcerting.

Book 4: The Selfless Way of Christ  By: Henri Nouwen (81 pages)

Summary: One of Nouwen’s more devotional type books.  This book is the first Nouwen book that I read which doesn’t focus on his L’Arche experience.  The book is actually about our human tendency to always reach for the top (what Nouwen calls “upward mobility”), and Christ’s call in our life to be humble (what Nouwen calls “downward mobility”).  The book focuses on Christian vocation, temptation, and formation.  In the Christian vocation section, Nouwen introduces themes of humility and virtue and the tension that Christians live in.  In temptation, Nouwen sketches out the ideas that he presents in his book In The Name of Jesus concerning our temptations to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.  Finally, in formation, Nouwen shares about spiritual direction and personal devotional life and how these are powerful concepts.  I would recommend this book.  It’s short, yet very powerful.

Book 3: A Testament Hope (Excerpts)  By: Martin Luther King Jr.  (139 pages)

Summary: A collection of Dr. King’s speeches, articles, and interviews.  King is a good writer, however, not surprisingly given the amount of speaking engagements he had he is a bit repetitive.  But you should read the address he gave the night of his assassination – truly an inspiration.  I would even venture to say more of an inspiration that I Have a Dream even though that is everyone’s favourite.

Book 2:
Jesus, Gift of Love  By: Jean Vanier (189 pages)

Summary: A beautiful, poetic book written by the founder of L’Arche focusing on Biblical Spirituality.  A refreshing read after so many intense textbooks.

Book 1:
The Great Shalom By: Peter Dyck (83 pages)

Summary: A somewhat juvenile read about animal friends in a forest learning about how to live peaceably with an enemy who is destroying their natural habitat.  It is rather childlike, however, after doing a ton of academic reading it was a nice break and I was impressed with how many peace studies issues the novel brought forth: ecological well-being, animal rights and justice, etc.

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