The 2009 book list…

Here we go again…asterisks mean I’ve read the book before. Somehow my reading count’s gone down the past couple of years…

*January 5: Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath (148)
January 14: William Shakespeare, Macbeth (285)
*January 27: Donald Miller, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance (289)
February 2: Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History (226)
*February 4: C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (238)
February 16: Richard Winter, Perfecting Ourselves to Death (188)
*February 26: C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (382)
March 6: G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (156)
March 19: Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (384)
April 1: Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (341)
*April 8: Lauren Winner, Girl Meets God (297)
*April 25: Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (242)
May 7: Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (218)
May 15: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008 (363)
June 8: Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (400)
June 12: Jane Brocket, The Gentle Art of Domesticity (279)
June 13: Ralph Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien (175)
June 23: Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth (983)
June 25: Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (213)
June 28: Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (163)
June 29: Walter Wangerin, Jr., The Book of the Dun Cow (241)
*July 3: Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb (191)
*July 22: J.I. Packer, Knowing God (279)
July 22: Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (309)
*July 27: Greg Garrett, Crossing Myself (236)
August 9: Sinclair Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (201)
*August 16: Stephen King, On Writing (288)
August 25: Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life (313)
August 26: N.T. Wright, Simply Christian (240)
*September 14: Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (356)
September 16: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (304)
*September 20: Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time (198)
September 20: Madeleine L’Engle, A Wind in the Door (211)
September 30: Steven Johnson, Interface Culture (242)
October 6: David Gelernter, Mirror Worlds (225)
October 7: Madeleine L’Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet (278)
October 11: Timothy J. Keller, The Prodigal God (135)
*October 18: Jeffrey Yamaguchi, 52 Projects (176)
October 22: Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife (540)
November 15: Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam (254)
November 22: Stephen King, The Stand (1141)
*November 29: Lauren Winner, Real Sex (161)
December 6: David Allen, Getting Things Done (259)
*December 14: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (305)

page count: 13,053, or about 35 pages a day (not bad)
total books read: 44
non-fiction: 29
re-reads: 15

top 5 new reads, in no particular order:
The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Look, if you get martyred because you tried to assassinate Hitler, and you did it because you loved Christ and the people around you, you pretty much have the right to kick my butt. And that’s what Bonhoeffer does in his book. If you haven’t read it, do so; I was challenged, convicted, and forced to wrestle with it.

Simply Christian (N.T. Wright)
N.T. Wright is sort of a controversial figure in Reformed circles because of his views on justification, but that doesn’t really come into play in this book. It is just that, simply Christian, and I can see why it’s been called a Mere Christianity for the twenty-first century. He argues not just from logic, but from desire, and into discipleship.

The Stand (Stephen King)
My friend Teacher Dave read this a while back and has been recommending it to me for years; I finally got around to reading it, and boy, am I glad I did. I read somewhere that Stephen King, with this book, set out to create an American epic like Lord of the Rings, and while he doesn’t quite succeed, it kept me glued to it until the last page. Lots of good vs. evil, thoughts on human nature and culture, some explosions, and a crucifixion (!).

The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
I heard the movie version of this sucked, but I can see why: There’s too much detail and secondary plot and theme and whatnot to squeeze into a Hollywood movie. I don’t know about the time travel physics, seeing as that’s not something I think about that much, but it worked for me. I don’t want to call this a fun read, but it was entertaining, at least.

A Homemade Life (Molly Wizenberg)
I now have two friends who’ve lost fathers to cancer, and while that wasn’t the case when I read this book, when I finished reading the section where Molly Wizenberg writes about her own dad’s battle with kidney cancer, my soul ached for a while afterwards. But there’s more than cancer–there’s a love story (via the Internet, at that), the story of a life, and some pretty interesting food writing at that. Check it out (and check out the blog that inspired it).

[runners up: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Eugene Peterson), The Book of the Dun Cow (Walter Wangerin, Jr.), The Gospel According to Tolkien (Dr. Ralph C. Wood), The Death of Adam (Marilynne Robinson), Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)]

crush, part 2

despite everything
your weakness
your other loves
your sadness

despite the fact
that i may be more
attracted to the idea
of you
than the flesh and blood
person there

i would still take you in
give you a chance
to break my heart
and i would forgive everything

but it’s not my say

don’t waste other people’s suffering.

(Inspired by Dr. John Piper’s post, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”)

I’ve had a string of bad news come down the pipe lately, and it’s had me thinking: What are we supposed to do when other people in our lives are hurting? How do we, as followers of Christ, keep from wasting their suffering? How can I learn from it? This is what God has been teaching me about it. I’m not great at dealing with other people’s problems, but He’s been pushing my heart towards obedience, and this is what has come out:

We waste other people’s suffering when we freak out about it.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a worrier by nature, and my mind automatically jumps to the worst case scenario whenever I hear about someone else’s bad news. And then I start getting fearful for that person, and instead of truly loving them I freak out, then shut down so as not to get overwhelmed. This is ultimately a self-centered reaction; it’s creating excuses for me not to get in the trenches with them. And it fails on another front, too, but that’s for the next point:

We waste other people’s suffering when we forget that it’s all in the sovereignty and grace of God.
God doesn’t abandon our friends when they’re going through a hard time, and He is not freaking out about this. He grieves with us, absolutely, and He walks with us, but He knows what’s going down, and He knows that He is going to accomplish His purposes with whatever we’re going through. We can say, hey, He works all things for good, but when you’re going through crap, we need to trust and know that.

We waste other people’s suffering when we don’t learn from it.
What can we learn from it? How to persevere. How to practically love them. How to trust God in the middle of utter chaos. How to pray deeper. That it can happen to us, because we all deserve it, and worse. That we are fragile people, that the world is broken. That different people react to suffering differently.

We waste other people’s suffering when we don’t love them in a practical way.
Sometimes that looks like showing up at a funeral, even if funerals make us uncomfortable. Sometimes that looks like giving people space, or taking them out to dinner, or making them cookies, or writing them cards, or calling them on the phone, or spreading the news about their loss or illness or struggle to other people so they can pray. Sometimes that looks like hugs, or tears, or mix tapes. Whatever. You know what the people you know need.

We waste other people’s suffering when we try to fix it.
There are just some problems we can’t solve. We do what we can (see the above point), but we shouldn’t try to fix people’s reactions to things if they’re not reacting in the way we think they should. (Sinful reactions being the exception, of course, but even then, in love, not out of the need to be right or out of self-righteousness, like Job’s friends.)

We waste other people’s suffering when we don’t take them to Jesus.
Not just in prayer, but in our words and in our actions. That’s the best thing we can do for anyone: Love them as the Church, and to remind them of the gospel, and that their suffering is one day going to be resolved and reversed, because of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. When we mourn with those who mourn, we follow the example of Jesus, who came and lived with us. “Surely He bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”

* * *

I still really suck at all of this, but God has been good about bringing that to my attention, and bringing me out of myself towards love and obedience. My prayer is that He would continue to do that in me, so I would love other people because He loves them, and be able to bear their burdens with them, both now and in the future. I’ve been really blessed to have had people in my life who have done these things for me and my family, so now it’s time to pass it on.

“come and behold Him…”

I’m at my parents’ house in H-town, and in the past 48 hours I think I’ve eaten about 20,000 cookies (okay, not really, but it feels like it–oof). Also been working on their Christmas present (pictures will be posted as soon as they get it…my dad reads this) and listening to a lot of podcasts. Got to see folks at Kaleo–they always get really excited when I show up, which amuses me. My brother and his wife and kiddos are all in town; the oldest two are almost as tall as I am now, which is NOT COOL, and I got to meet my youngest nephew (who’s two and a half) and he is freaking adorable. 🙂 My brother and I have sort of a tenuous relationship, given that we’ve been on much different life trajectories for the past twenty years or so, and I’m just recently getting over some of my issues I had with him, but it’s good to see him even though I think we make each other nervous. 🙂

Downer notes for this post: There was a girl at my church in Austin that we’d all been praying for for a while, as she had leukemia. The past few months brought her a bone marrow transplant, and several complications, and finally last Sunday, she went to be with Jesus. Middle school-aged. Parents, two sisters, and all of us at church who may not even have known her, but still loved her.

And in case you haven’t heard, Matt Chandler, who’s the pastor at The Village Church in the Dallas area, recently was diagnosed with brain cancer. Wife, three young kids, giant church.

So if y’all could be praying for these situations, that’d be swell.

All this, and my friend Steph’s dad’s recent death, has got me thinking, and now I have a post cranking up in my mind, titled “Don’t Waste Other People’s Suffering.” My life has not really sucked of late–but it seems a lot of people’s have, and it’s been humbling and convicting to walk alongside them, and it’s generated some thoughts, so look for that.

Well, now that I’ve bummed everyone out…a reader survey:

a) So, what are your plans for Christmas?
b) What are you giving folks for Christmas (given that they don’t read my blog and you wouldn’t be spoiling it)?
c) What is your favorite hot beverage?
d) What was the best book you read this year (assuming you have done better than 70% of Americans and actually read a book this year)?

Love you guys.

fourth week of advent.

(originally written 2006)

through four hundred years
ever since the man called messenger
put down his pen after asking the people
who could abide the day of the Lord’s coming
they had waited for that fire
to come refine them
and heard only the whispers of the wind
on a land still rebuilding and being rebuilt

and the wars came and they burned oil
all through the nights praying for the day to come
(like watchmen wait for the morning
like watchmen wait for the morning)
and all they heard was the loud silence of God

and for long years of marriage the old endured
the quiet of an empty house, an empty womb

and for long years of life the old creaked
their bones toward the temple to pray

and for long years the young rose up to fight
except for two who said “we will go down to bethlehem”

after four hundred years the old brought forth a voice
after four hundred years the new gave birth to Word
silence broken by the small cries of a prophet and a King

third week of advent.

God is with us
in our suburban sprawl houses
in our high rise apartments
in our one-room shacks
in our sleeping bags on the church stairs
in our desert tents

God is with us
at the marriage bed
at the hospital bed
in the trenches
in the fields
at the factory line

God is with us
when we take our first breaths
when we breathe deep in the night
when we’re struck breathless by beauty
when we take our final breath
when we breathe in the air of heaven

He came and stayed
in a hostile territory
He has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows
He is with us
He has been and will be
one of these days
we will be with Him

the living room recommends…

Used bookstores
If you need me to explain this, I can’t help you.

The Dinner Party Download
I just discovered this the other day–it’s a podcast from some NPR station in California, and it’s full of wonderful trivia and interviews and general chuckle-inducing randomness, including a weekly cocktail recipe based on a historical event. Seriously, it’s fun. You will like it.

Helping your friends move
Because it’s the right thing to do, especially if you have a truck or an SUV. And occasionally your moving friend will buy you lunch.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
Cake + dried cranberries + cream cheese icing + white chocolate (I think) = Starbucks, I love you.

Christmas caroling with people who can harmonize
This is best if you have folks from all four vocal parts, but even if you have two, it’s just that much better. The “gloria” in “Angels We Have Heard On High” is amazing in four parts.

Appreciating the people in your life
Because the days are evil because they are few. Love the ones you’re with.

Taking a deep breath
Inhale to a count of ten. Hold it for a count of ten. Exhale for a count of ten. Hold it for a count of ten. Do this a couple of times. Doesn’t that feel better?

Book People in Austin
My favorite independent business in the city. I love it. Great selection of books, good people who work there. I bought my Christmas cards there this year.