Top five books I read in 2017: first quarter edition

Book list bullet journal

Instead of waiting till years end and choosing what books to review, I’m picking five books each quarter to highlight. Here’s my top five favorite books I read in the first quarter of 2017. Continue reading

The scariest post I’ve ever written: my favorite reads in 2016

wild-geese

The title of the poem from which this quote comes is “Wild Geese.”

Discussing my reading highlights terrifies me. Much as I comfortably talk about my messy feelings here, sharing my reading highlights renders my knees wobbly. It’s appallingly intimate.

I’m a scared panda.

Maybe sharing your reading is nerve-wracking for you, too? If so, you’re not alone, friend.

I want to mark disclaimers separating me from books on the list, perhaps to make myself look smarter or more holy. But, those are cheap shots, and it’s cowardly.

I’m not going to apologize for my reading choices, particularly books that I loved and that challenged me to grow. I will, however, note disclaimers similar to ones the authors themselves often attach to their work.

Here are the books that changed me in 2016. Continue reading

Boats, Mushrooms and Jump Starting an Adventure

Sailboat at SunsetI think God is pushing me away from what’s comfortable.  “Jump out of the boat, Beth.  Leap.”

I, sadly, think to myself, “No, thanks.” I like predictable.  I like stasis. And doing things where I feel confident about my skills.

I don’t want risk, weirdness and feeling adrift at sea.

But, what wild rides am I missing while I mutinously hunker down into the boat?  How much life am I missing out on while I cheat myself?

Continue reading

What’s the Point of Theology?

Earlier this summer, I noted on Facebook that Chung Hyun Kyung’s book Struggle to Be the Sun Again upset my theological worldview.  I found myself asking what it might mean to do theology in my context.

I thought other people “did” theology.  They wrote it.  I consumed it, looking for “right,” bright and shiny ideas about God.  I approached theology as my own reflection about the nature of God.  Grounded in the Bible, of course.  But largely a private enterprise.  Personal. And predominantly, right thinking about God — orthodoxy if you will.

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For the Love of Books

I try not to do the super geek thing here too often.  I’m making an exception today.  As I’m starting to wind down from seminary, I’ve been trying to process the total experience.  Part of that processing is reflection about what books and authors impacted me the most as part of my seminary journey.

So, here they are (and they’re not in any particular order either… except that the first half were books from the library and the second half reside on my shelf).

Three Mile an Hour God and No Handle on the Cross by Kosuke Koyama:  Koyama came up as a brief reference in my first systematic theology class back in 2012. Feeling curious, I dug a little deeper into his writing. In the process, I discovered an appreciation for Asian theology and challenges to my white middle class American perspective about God. He was a lifeline as I was trying to process my infertility journey my first year of seminary and was instrumental in my learning how to hope anew.

Choosing Life and Creative Disobedience by Dorothee Soelle.  Soelle challenges my comfort and security; she reminds me that the Good News of Jesus does indeed have political ramifications. She also made me question my values of objectivity and non-partisanship. Her introduction in Creative Disobedience was a balm to my soul while I worked my gender roles project for my social ethics class; she made me realize that I’m not a lone crazy person in some of my objections to traditional Western male theology. I don’t always agree with her, but I respect her a lot.

The Crucified God and The Spirit of Life by Jurgen Moltmann. Jesus stands in solidarity with those who are suffering and brings their oppressors to repentance.  In this way, Moltmann offers hope to both victim and oppressor.

The Silence of God by Helmut Thielicke.  I loved this collection of sermons; they brought me hope and comfort as I fought for sanity after the ectopic pregnancy. They helped me white-knuckle it through that dark, dark season. (Also, I’m grateful for Dr. Lawrence introducing me to Thielicke through the required reading of A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, which proved comforting and formative as I came back to seminary in 2012.)

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf. I read this based on a recommendation from Thorsten Moritz. I find Volf’s points about the willingness to embrace the one who is different than me and his approach to forgiveness come up again and again. It’s one of the books that I tend to recommend the most to other people.

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin by Cornelius Plantinga.  Plantinga offers a metaphor for sin that was new and quite helpful for me.  Sin at its essence is a violation of the shalom that God intended.  Sin isn’t simply law-breaking, but at its core is the destruction of relationship with ourselves, God, each other, and the world.

Living in Color by Randy Woodley. Woodley asks the question, “Do I have a responsibility to protect my brother’s culture?” It’s a question I’d never thought about and has haunted me since I read his book. His work challenged the way that I think about ministry and what it means to welcome people of different cultures — particularly in being creative and theologically intentional about adopting different forms of worship practice.

Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality by Richard Beck.  Beck scientifically articulates things that I intuited, but didn’t have language to describe.  While I find his conclusion ultimately unsatisfying, he raises significant issues and questions that the Church should be addressing. This is a book that I highly recommend to everybody as his writing style is fairly accessible and the questions he raises are so critical!

The Gospel of Luke by Joel B. Green (from the New International Commentary series).  Green’s narrative approach to interpretation in conjunction with Dr. Jeannine Brown’s teaching on Luke in the course I took with her were highly formative in the way that I approach the Bible.  Hands down this is my favorite commentary on my bookshelf.   (Though I should also admit, Luke is also my favorite Gospel, so I’m also already biased.)

Re-imagining Dreams

In the past few weeks, I’ve been contemplating new beginnings a lot.  Maybe it’s the hope of spring with crocuses starting to pop up in spite of snow.  Maybe it’s Lent. Or maybe with the attempt to die to my anxious self, I’m beginning to dream about what life could be like now that I’m not tightly gripping the anxious baggage.  And along those lines, Jurgen Moltmann writes, in In the End – The Beginning, “We <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} @font-face {font-family:”Chalkboard SE Bold”; panose-1:3 5 6 2 4 2 2 2 2 5; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Sectishall only become capable of new beginnings if we are prepared to let go of the things that torment us and the things we lack.” I’ve been realizing more and more lately that I’m letting go of my desire to go on and immediately pursue a Ph.D. after finishing my Masters of Divinity.  As I think about what I like to read and how I like to spend my time, the thought of pursuing more and more study seems less life-giving. I don’t want to pursue the Ph. D. just so folks can call me Dr. and think I’m smart.  And maybe the dream of being Dr. McGrew-King was trumping my personality formation goals.  

On another front, I need more time to spend living out my theology before I spend more time thinking and writing about it.  I’m hungry for a balance.  Kosuke Koyama, in No Handle on the Cross, writes “Academic excellence refers to the ability to use particular skills and tools.  But academic excellence must not be appreciated by itself in isolation.  Its value must be brought out in terms of excellence in serving man.”  I can do academic excellence.  I can write great theology and great papers on what the Bible means in various passages. I can do the school bit.  But, the school bit is no longer what feeds me. I’m no longer sustained on the ideas alone.  Instead, I’m on a quest for a truth that I live out in relationship with others.  I need time for the reading and the study to mature and bring fruit in me.  I need testing grounds for trying out my beliefs about the world, and seeing what happens.  I need space to practice justice and mercy till I live them out as part of my own breathing. So that they aren’t just professed values – but the way I conduct my life. If I do a Ph.D., I want it to be about a truth that I actually live, rather than an abstract, out-there thing.  

And we’re beginning to talk about and pray about adoption and how that works once I’m done with my masters. To go on to pursue my Ph.D. puts another time delay on that plan since I don’t want to be trying to become a mom and doing a Ph.D. all at once.  I applaud people, particularly women, who can do it all.  But, I am not one of them.  I can’t work, study, be a parent, be involved in my church, all at the same time without feeling like I’m failing at everything.   In any case, giving up the Ph.D. for now feels like taking a hefty, little used book out of my totebag to free up space for things that I actually need.  I feel lighter and with more space to breathe and move. I may still go back for the Ph.D., but I’ve come to recognize that in the meantime there are things that I want more than letters after my name.