Posted by: alliehope | December 31, 2008

2008: The Best Words of the Year

I think I’ve worn out my Borders rewards card this year, and frustrated a couple of their cashiers trying to find some titles. However, this year’s been worth it–some of the books that have come out have been tremendous. So, in no particular order, here they are.

Toni Morrison, A Mercy. I had to read this at least 3 times to truly “get” it. It’s a little gem of a book, coming in at less than 200 pages. But it’s spellbinding. She can really tell a story, and this is no exception. It is haunting, strange, and ultimately satisfying.

William P. Young, The Shack. I realize this choice will mark me as theologically controversial; I accept that. If you want to take up the issues it presents with me, I’m more than willing to discuss them with you.

Having said that, the story it tells is ultimately the story of all of us: we all have our “shack”, our place(s) of intense pain, loss, and shattered dreams, and it is in those places that God most deeply meets us. The story of Mack’s transformation as a result of his encounter with his own “shack” (both in literal and figurative terms) is inspiring, and one that I keep coming back to as I deal with my own “shack”. (Blogger’s note: the copyright on The Shack indicated 2007, but I didn’t (providentially) stumble on to it until 2008, which is why it’s in this year’s list for me).

Rob Bell, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. This one both infuriated and inspired me. I’d only read snippets of Velvet Elvis, so his disjointed writing style was somewhat off-putting at first. But once I got past that, his view was shattering.

His writing exposed the arrogance with which a lot of Christians live, and the ignorance we are so often guilty of. The way he traces the narrative of the Bible was one that I keep coming back to in my quest to further understand who God is, and what He put me on this earth to do.

Gary Haugen, Just Courage. I saw him live at Leadership Summit at Willow Creek this past summer, and his talk was nothing less than inspiring. I have admired the work of International Justice Mission since I heard about them on an Oprah show about human trafficking.

The book, Just Courage, is a short read (I finished it in a day), but it packs a terrific punch for its less than 150 pages. It made me wonder, Where in my life have I “gone on the trip, but missed the adventure”?

It’s not a manipulative, guilt-inducing punch, though. The book is a gentle, but strong, call to be involved on behalf of the least of these, to stretch beyond yourself and into the work of justice on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. It’s not about guilt for what you’re not doing (as I thought in my first read-through), but rather about finding your passion, and using it to spur you into the fight for justice.

John Burke, Soul Revolution. I loved this. I can’t say enough about it (and someone has my copy now, dagnabbit). I have read a lot about the “spiritual disciplines” in the last several years, and I assumed (mistakenly) that this would be more of the same: I should pray more, read the Bible more, swear less, give more, serve more, be less self-focused, etc, etc, etc. I thought, spare me the guilt trip!

Fortunately, Burke did just that. Through both story and Scripture, he makes a great case for the disciplines as being building blocks for our lives, not things that we “should” do without compelling reasons why we do them.

Erwin McManus, Wide Awake. While not as strong theologically or creatively as Uprising, this was, out of all the books I’ve read, the biggest swift kick in the rear. It’s about chasing God-sized dreams, living life to its fullest. Again, nothing new. I’ve been hearing the same song for years.

But somehow, the contents and the way he casts the vision for a person living “wide awake”, living their dreams, helped to crystallize a lot of the journey I’ve been through the past couple of years. I’m learning to embrace and live out the hero within me, something that isn’t always easy. But thanks to McManus’ inspiration, I’m learning that’s a process, not an instant result.

Last, but certainly not least, Bill Hybels, Axiom. This book is the most unusual of my list, since it’s really a book of short leadership lessons, not chapter by chapter. But the lessons are so compelling, since they come from Hybels, who’s spent over thirty years in the leadership trenches.

For me, as I’m just starting out, learning who I am and what I’m called to do as a leader, this is invaluable. I felt like Hybels had come alongside me, and was teaching me what he’s learned in his years of experience. As I’ve read through it, I’ve found my values and priorities challenged and nurtured, and learned to ask more and better questions, something that I’m still not too good at.

Honorable mentions: This is the part of the list where I name books that I’ve loved but am running out of room to talk about! So on the loved but not forgotten list: Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, Shane Claiborne’s Jesus For President, and Mark Batterson’s Wild Goose Chase. Loved all four; I just don’t have the space to talk about them here!

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