Friday Five: books I’ve read lately

This week I realized I’ve read 14 books already during 2011. I’ve made an effort to read “real” books this year, and I believe this is already much more than I got through in all of 2010. I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to make this a priority! The five books I’m sharing here are some of my favorites, listed here in my own chronological reading order.

1) Orthodoxy
by GK Chesterton. This book is a great look at how Chesterton came, intellectually, to accept the Christian faith. I devoured this immediately after re-reading Mere Christianity, where CS Lewis similarly reconciles his academic intellect and confession of faith, and enjoyed the way they told almost the same story in two very different ways. I especially appreciated his discussions about the way modern thinking (that is, modernism and humanism) affect human belief:

“Everyday one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. …Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought… Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” (Orthodoxy)

*****

2) One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp is really popular right now and I normally shy away from “those” popular Christian books because I prematurely assume they are fluffy and not interesting, but this one is on fire for a reason. This book was passed on to me by a brilliant woman, a dear friend who assured me it profoundly blessed her on the path to recovery from a life-altering betrayal, and I am so grateful I didn’t brush this off! It is anything but superficial. Her lyrical style is almost burdensome at first, if you’re not normally reading much poetry, but after the first chapter I found it easy to connect with her writing about a life of thankfulness in the midst of heartbreak, disappointment and unhappy circumstances. I loved this quote about reversing your heart in a typical “go-go-go” busy life of ungratefulness:

“The real problem of life is never a lack of time. The real problem of life – in my life – is lack of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks – take the just one loaf, say it is enough, and give give thanks – and He miraculously makes it more than enough.”  (One Thousand Gifts)

*****

3) The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias. I enjoyed this book immensely and thought it could be a great companion to the book above. Where Voskamp’s book is framed into her life as a farm wife and home-schooling mother of six, Zacharias uses her experiences of traveling the world in Christian ministry to tell the stories of how God reaches to us in suffering – both the hot-button exotic type, like refugee camps, orphanages and brothels and the every-day challenges we brush off because they seem so common, like rejection, death, and divorce. And what I really, really, really love is that she doesn’t say “I am so glad these awful things happened, and as a Christian you have to be thankful that you are suffering.” Instead, she reflects about the sorrow of her broken marriage:

“I am not in a place where I can say I am grateful for all that has happened. Given the choice I still wish very much that it could have been different, that there had been another way to have learned the lessons. I struggle to accept the life that is mine because it is not the story I wanted. And not a day goes by that I don’t notice it still hurts inside…. But now I see the world with perspective; I view people through vastly different lenses and recognize beauty in things that once escaped my notice. God seems more mysterious – sometimes mysteriously confusing, absent, and maddening. But always mysteriously true. …I opt for a life that is extraordinary over a life that is simple.” (The Scent of Water)

*****

4) Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Aaron actually read this one first and convinced me to try it, too. It’s the only real “story” I read, and it’s still a biography! Apparently there isn’t much fiction being read around here. It was great to talk about this tale of Louis Zamperini, a troublemaker-turned-Olympic-athlete-turned-Japanese-POW, in the context of our own life. While, thankfully, there was no capture and imprisonment business during Aaron’s deployment to Iraq, there’s no denying that any experience of war profoundly affects everyone it touches and we were both blessed by this testimony of the invincible dignity of the human spirit, created in the image of a gracious God:

“Resting in the shade and the stillness, Louie felt profound peace. When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that [his captors] had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation.” (Unbroken)

*****

5) Here and Now by Henri Nouwen. I loved these short devotionals, especially his urging to consider the importance of communing with God in the midst of each moment:

“The real enemies of our life are the oughts and the ifs. They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful… God is not (just) someone who was or will be, but He is one who is. …Prayer is the discipline of the moment. When we pray we enter into the presence of God whose name is God-with-us. To pray is to listen attentively to the one who addresses us here and now. When we dare to trust that we are never alone but that God is always with us, always cares for us, always speaks to us, then we can gradually detach ourselves from the voices that make us guilty or anxious and thus allow ourselves to dwell in the moment. …If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone and that the One who is with us only wants: to give us love.” (Here and Now)

*****

I hope you’ll take an opportunity to read some of these yourself if you’re looking for straightforward and thought provoking summer reading!

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