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    Entries in Writing (14)

    Friday
    Jul062012

    75 Books That Have Propelled Me Forward

    Dear Sarah, Lindsey, and Countless Friends:

    As I have cultivated a life of reading, I have learned a few lessons. For now, I will expound upon three. Then, you will find a list of 75 books that have helped me on my journey chasing after Jesus.

    First, what C. S. Lewis wrote concerning the reading of old books is true, in that the ancient texts show us the biases and shortsightedness of our own age, as well as underscore where we have found solid footing. Don't read the prominent titles in the Christian Living section of the bookstores; dig deeper. Dare yourself to read Calvin and Wesley and Luther, and beyond them Augustine and Athanasius, the Didache and the Church Fathers.

    Secondly, it is wise to keep a notebook handy when you read, and mark a page "to explore later", wherein you can record all the titles to which great authors make passing references, or those works buried within the footnotes that scream your name and ask for you to chase. I have become accustomed to following the breadcrumbs, and while on occasion I've found the trail fade and have turned back, more often I have found the morsels more satisfying the further down the path I'm led.

    This second bit of advice led me to works like Watership Down and Saint Maybe, books I read because they were referenced within theological essays. It also led me to Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, a play I never explored in high school, after it was referenced in a compelling way within the context of a sermon. Books seem to work their way in to my life, and I am always searching for great titles. Bibliographies have become great friends, and as time has passed, more and more names I find there are familiar.

    Thirdly, I would recommend aligning yourself with others who read great books, preferably those who you may see from time to time, so that the great ideas can enter in to conversation, and the truths of any book, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, can be wrestled with in community. As much as I love the realm of ideas, I have never lost sight of the reality that it is the life that counts. A great scholar is not necessarily a great saint. Let what you learn transform your life, with love of God and neighbor being your highest aspiration. 

    These lessons are not exhaustive; more could be said. But they make for an adequate beginning. The life of study, I believe, is necessary for every Christian. Scripture is our foundation, but the Great Tradition also serves to build us up, as other Christians throughout history have sought to know and serve Jesus faithfully, and have left behind wisdom for us to explore and apply and take back to Scripture as we prayerfully discern what aligns and what stands askew. Learning is a constant wrestling with God; we are all like Jacob.

    Since you asked me about the "great books" I have read, I have listed Christian books and others that are not explicitly so, but have taught me lessons or given me some insight in to our world. I'd rather not remain in the Christian ghetto. Like other evangelicals, I have attempted to maintain an "engaged orthodoxy", pursuing sound doctrine and a greater understanding of the truths of the faith, all while remaining cognizant of the world we live in.

    Finally, if this list is too overwhelming, you may want to begin by browsing my recommendations for "Practical Approaches to Christian Spiritual Growth." You may also want to consult Renovare's 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, some of which are available for download, for free.

    Blessings as you chase after Jesus. Hopefully some of these books will help you on the way. And of course, if you ever wish to discuss any of these titles, you know where to find me.

    In Christ,

    BAS

    The Five Most Important Books I Have Read Apart from Holy Scripture

    1. Thomas A’Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Dover Thrift Editions)
    2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
    3. Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic
    4. John Wesley, John Wesley's 'A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.'
    5. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God

    Theological and Philosophical Works That Have Shaped Me 

    1. The Desert Fathers, The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Penguin Classics)
    2. William Abraham, Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism
    3. William Abraham, The Logic of Evangelism
    4. Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford World's Classics)
    5. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline
    6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
    7. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
    8. Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
    9. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
    10. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
    11. C. S. Lewis, Miracles
    12. Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition
    13. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
    14. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, 3rd Edition (7 Volumes) 
    15. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

    Historical and Sociological Works that Have Been Invaluable 

    1. James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
    2. Alister McGrath, Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution--A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First
    3. Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
    4. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) [Vol. 2-5, also.]
    5. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force ....

    Practical Approaches to Christian Spiritual Growth

    1. The Rule of Saint Benedict
    2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
    3. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth
    4. Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
    5. Reuben Job, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living
    6. Joshua Choonmin Kang, Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God's Word
    7. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
    8. Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow
    9. Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
    10. Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology [Vol. 1 in his Spiritual Theology Series, five volumes total.]
    11. James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows (Apprentice (IVP Books))
    12. James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ (Apprentice (IVP Books))
    13. James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love (Apprentice (IVP Books))
    14. Dallas Willard, Hearing God, Updated and Expanded: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
    15. Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives
    16. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture
    17. N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (with DVD)
    18. N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
    19. N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters
    20. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

    Contemporary Works That I Have Enjoyed

    1. Jon Acuff, Stuff Christians Like
    2. Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
    3. Tom Conover, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing
    4. Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
    5. Ian Morgan Cron, Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts
    6. Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
    7. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
    8. Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
    9. Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World
    10. Timothy J. Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
    11. Timothy J. Keller, The Prodigal God
    12. Timothy J. Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
    13. Timothy J. Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters
    14. Timothy J. Keller, King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus
    15. Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith
    16. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
    17. John Perkins, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development
    18. Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
    19. Avi Steinberg, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
    20. N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

    Provocative Fiction and Short Stories

    1. David James Duncan, The Brothers K
    2. C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia Box Set
    3. Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories
    4. Charles Porter, True Grit
    5. J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

    Books on Creativity and the Work I Do

    1. Jon Acuff, Quitter
    2. Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
    3. Stephen King, On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft
    4. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
    5. Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
    Thursday
    May242012

    One Job Ends. A New Job Begins. 

    Tuesday marked my last day with the school bus company.

    Wednesday marked the start of a new journey.

    Like any planned transition, there is a mix of grief and excitement; anxiety and anticipation. I am both fearful and expectant. Worried, yet assured.

    Since moving to Kansas my vocational journey has been mired in difficulty and confusion, at least personally, as I have moved from job to job with a deep sense that the task at hand was not necessarily the task for which these hands were made, but rather an indefinite place holder for a richer, fuller, and deeper life to come. Even in the midst of those transitional jobs, others saw things in me I did not see, and success where I may not have named it. 

    I have worked as a barista, a youth minister, a school bus driver, and as an occasional freelance writer, having been published here and there around the web and, in a few instances, in print. Of the tasks undertaken, it has been in writing and communicating with others that I have been most deeply fulfilled, and therein lies the surprise.

    My writing work began in 2008, or at least that was the period in which I became serious. I pitched an idea to my friend Jeff that was eventually written and published. After that piece, when asked what I did, I would respond that there was no singular answer to that question, but among the things from which I drew pleasure and pay, I was a writer.

    I had never aspired to be a writer. But here I was. A student on the bus would say, “Is this all you do?” I would answer, “No, among other things, I write.”

    The bus job happened to be a great context for a writer to embed himself, not only because I obtained a small sample of what the “next generation” may be thinking or feeling at any given moment, and not only because I once heard a student ask if Gaddafi was a chocolate, but also because in the quiet moments on the highway I was able to think. No cell phone. No radio. No internet. Only me, my thoughts, and rows and rows of empty seats. From time to time, arguments would arise, but only with myself and an imaginary interlocutor, whom I would always soundly defeat, or so I would imagine. It is hard to tell if you can be a winner or a loser when addressing the silence, for the silence both defeats us and humbly bears our ravings, present with us, yet at the same time distant and humbling us, reminding us that we are but a breath.

    As I reflect back on my time as a bus driver, it may be that this will be one of the most significant and formative times for my life as a thinker and writer, not because of the work itself, but because of what the work afforded me: scheduled breaks, a small community, periods of silence, and routine.

    But as I look forward, I am even more exited. Giving voice to thoughts, long hidden, is an adventure. I do not even know what I think, or what I have thought, until the moment when words take shape as sentences, and sentences as sections, sections as chapters, and chapters as books.

    For now, I will settle for a blog post here and again.

    I hope you’ll read along and step in to the void. And whatever is produced henceforth as written word, I hope will bring about an occasion for thought, an argument or opinionated discussion, a grounds for friendship and exploration, or maybe even a shared silence defined by wonderment.

    Bye bye, bus.

    Hello, pixels, ink, and page.

    Monday
    Sep192011

    Donald Miller's Advice: Love Your Reader

    A couple of years ago I heard Dan Pink remark that writing was more akin to digging ditches than anything else.  Every day you pick up the shovel and move some dirt.  Remove a word here, insert a rich adjective there, mine a clever thought and place it carefully in context with care (Seussian, right?).  Writing is hard work.  And it seems that a growing focus for writers has been telling others how to write, how to stay motivated, and how to stay at your best even when you believe you do not have an audience.  One of my friends, Matt Anderson, said that he once submitted a guest post to an influential blogger encouraging writers to write even when they felt no one was reading.

    Donald Miller has added his thoughts to the fray with an insigthful piece entitled "The Best Writing Advice I've Ever Received."  Reflecting on the books in his library on writing, the counsel he has received, and his experiences as a writer, Miller says:

    In all those books about writing filled with tips and tricks, I think loving the reader is the best motivator I’ve found. And it keeps the quality up, too. We do tend to put our best foot forward when we care about somebody.

    So the next time you sit down to write a blog, just remember somebody is going to read it and be encouraged.

    Even though the work can be tough, the labor is not in vain, even if your audience is small.

    Thursday
    Jun232011

    Excited. "The Right Way to Disagree" Published at RelevantMagazine.com

    I was glad to discover via Twitter that RelevantMagazine.com published an article I submitted under the title "the Right Way to Disagree".  I am thrilled.  Here is my conclusion: 

    John 13:35 reminds us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This includes loving one another enough to speak the truth. It means loving one another enough to ask hard questions, to be picky about the details and to take care that our words and actions are truly Christian. As Stanley Hauerwas has reminded us, living as a Christian requires learning a language that encompasses what we say and what we do.

    We may not be of one mind, but we can be of one heart. If we hold our love for Christ in common, God has given us all the time we need to work out our differences and disagreements. In those difficult moments, we must trust that, though we can’t see it, God’s Kingdom is bigger than our corner.

    You can read the rest here.  Share with your friends.  I hope you find my words of value, and worthy of discussion.

    Wednesday
    Jun082011

    Like to Write? :: An Interview With Jeff Goins

    I write.  A lot.  And when I'm not writing, I'm usually thinking about writing.  I'm processing ideas, making connections, forming criticism, or affirming the finer qualities of something that I've seen, read, or heard about.

    This inspired me to get in touch with Jeff Goins, who also likes to write.  He is very passionate about encouraging others to write as well.  You can find Jeff's blog here, or you can follow him on Twitter.  I contacted Jeff to ask him a few questions about writing.  What follows is our exchange.

    Hopefully you'll pick up a few tips.  I know I did.

    You write a great deal about writing.  What inspired you to encourage and instruct other people about the craft of writing?

    I started writing on writing, because it was a subject that I felt particularly passionate about. I also wanted to grow as a writer. At first, I thought that this disqualified me from blogging on the craft, but then I found out that many "expert" bloggers on certain subjects (including Problogger) started out as amateurs, wanting to become professionals. I'm finding that I'm in good company; not to mention, the best teachers are learners.

    For many writers, the hardest part is getting started.  Where do you look for inspiration and ideas?

    I look at what's available to me. I consider the following: books I'm reading, movies I've seen, stories that friends have told me, and what's happening in the world. But mostly I look inside myself. What's happening in my life? How is it affecting me? How am I growing as a result of it? What lesson am I supposed to learn?

    What about discipline?  I know that many writers struggle with procrastination.  What are some of the best ways to make sure you sit down to actually do the work?

    I'm terrible at discipline, but here's where I land on that: Just make a covenant to do SOMETHING every day. I wrote over 1000 words the other day, responding to a 15-minute daily writing challenge. I was amazed! I just try to write a little every day. From Pressfield to Grisham to King, I hear this idea resonated amongst some of the most successful and motivated writers of today. It's not about quality or quantity; it's just about doing it. Every single day.

    Whose writing do you really enjoy?  What bloggers or authors do you find stylistically compelling?  Do you model yourself after anyone in particular?

    For books, I like Hemingway, Donald Miller, and C.S. Lewis. For blogs, I enjoy Seth Godin (of course), Michael Hyatt, and Keith Jennings. In terms of who I'm trying to model myself after, I tend to write more memoir style in long form (offline) and more like Copyblogger in short form (i.e. blogging).

    Lastly, how would you describe the intersection between your creative work as a writer and your convictions as a Christian?  What does your faith have to do with your work?

    I like what Madeleine L'Engle says about faith and art: All true art is Christian art (my paraphrase). That is, if we believe we are created in the image of a creative God, then we have no excuse not to steward our creativity and use it to change the world. My faith is my work. And my work is my faith.