WordPress sends me a report each year to tell me a bunch of nerdy stats. How many views I got, most popular post, how many people from the Netherlands can’t get enough of me, etc. The report this year said I only wrote ten blog posts. I wasn’t very bloggy this year.
The only stat it didn’t tell me was how many times I referenced Lord of the Rings, but I know the answer. It’s three. Three times. The same number of rings for elven-kings under the sky.
On that note, please enjoy my 11th and final blog post of 2015. It is a list of every book I read this year.
I have included a quote (or more) from each book. Please utilize the rating system I came up with to your advantage.
One star = A book I think other people will enjoy. I liked all of these, but I know I’m not like other people. I starred the ones other people might like to read.
Two stars = You have to, have to, have to read it. Just read it.
Three stars = Must read before casting any votes in any political election.
It is a very simple, yet precise, rating system.
1. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer *
At the end of a life spent in the pursuit of knowledge Faust has to confess: “I now do see that we can nothing know.” That is the answer to a sum, it is the outcome of a long experience. But as Kierkegaard observed, it is quite a different thing when a freshman comes up to the university and uses the same sentiment to justify his indolence. As the answer to a sum it is perfectly true, but as the initial data it is a piece of self-deception. For acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the existence in which it is acquired. The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from grace. But those who try to use this grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.
2. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
I looked around and saw the same anger lurking in the faces of all the men who stood there. It was the sort of anger that comes to a slow boil in the hearts of good men who want justice, and finding it out of their grasp, decide vengeance is the next best thing.
I am no poet. I do not love words for the sake of words. I love words for what they can accomplish.
So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. But to love a thing despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.
3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
I nodded, feeling enormously consoled, less by his answer than by his very presence.
This was once Mazama, I kept reminding myself. This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye. Not the mountain or the wasteland or the empty bowl. They simply were not there anymore. There was only the stillness and silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.
4. Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
The reason for our confusion is that we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a “moral” for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather, it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right. In other words, the Bible doesn’t give us a god at the top of the moral ladder saying, “If you try hard to summon up your strength and live right, you can make it up!” Instead, the Bible repeatedly shows us weak people who don’t deserve God’s grace, don’t seek it, and don’t appreciate it even after they have received it.
5. Onward by Howard Schultz
This is a book written by the Starbucks CEO. I did not save any quotes from this book. But I did start drinking Starbucks, so, you know. Think what you will of that. Instead of a favorite quote, I will tell you my favorite drink is a mocha. Hot mocha, iced mocha, white chocolate mocha, peppermint mocha, all the kinds of mocha. I am a child when it comes to coffee drinking.
6. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero *
Sadly, we often turn our differences into moral superiority or virtues.
Emotional health powerfully anchors me in the love of God by affirming that I am worthy of feeling, worthy of being alive, and lovable even when I am brutally honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly deep beneath the surface of my iceberg.
Christians can be notoriously judgmental in the name of standing up for the truth. But people who have been through the Wall are broken.
7. Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf *
No two situations are alike, and it is best not to cleave to a single inflexible rule.
There’s no question that it is more difficult to forgive when offenders refuse to repent. Their lack of repentance is, in a sense, a continuation of their offense in a different form.
In forgiving we sometimes put on a display of our righteousness, magnanimity, and greatness, and in the process, insult, demean, and diminish the offenders. It is possible to forgive so wrongly that it can seem we need to be forgiven for forgiving!
Should we forgive even those who refuse to repent? Consider once again God’s forgiveness, which serves as the model for ours. There are people who think that in relation to God, repentance comes before forgiveness. But that can’t be right. God doesn’t angrily refuse forgiveness until we show ourselves worthy of it by repentance. Instead, God loves us and forgives us before we repent. Indeed, before we even sinned, Jesus Christ died for our sins. God’s forgiveness is not reactive – dependent on our repentance. It’s original, preceded and conditioned by absolutely nothing on our part.
8. Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist *
She said, “You’ve been celebrating with me, and I’ll be here to grieve with you.”… It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of friendship I’ve ever had.
I should have been praying, and I was, but they were the ragged, desperate prayers, their fabric torn with anger and shot through with bullets of accusation and bad memories. The prayers I prayed were rags, falling apart and dirty, stained with all of my bad memories of what feels like the same terrible thing all over again.
9. Scary Close by Donald Miller
I think that’s the difference between being loved and making people clap…
Normal, healthy people don’t like being wrong, but they’re willing to admit it when they are. Those who manipulate by playing the role of Judge have a problem explaining any kind of specific wrong they’ve ever committed. The truth is, they don’t believe they are wrong at all. To be wrong is to give up control, and manipulators don’t give up control.
It all goes back to the thing I was talking about in the beginning, about wanting intimacy but settling for applause.
10. Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey
Jesus fulfilled the messianic promises, but – an important but – not in the way anyone expected.
The kind of faith God values seems to develop best when everything fuzzes over, when God stays silent, when the fog rolls in.
Kierkegaard said that Christians reminded him of schoolboys who want to look up the answers to their math problems in the back of the book rather than work them through.
One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your disappointment – he can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out.
11. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Here are the two best prayers I know: “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.
12. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are the primary reason that the U.S. prison population has ballooned since the 1980s to over 2.5 million people, a nearly 300 percent increase. We now lock up one out of every hundred adults, far more than any other country in the world.
A lengthy term of community service with addicts on the outside would probably have driven the same truth home and been a hell of a lot more productive for the community. But our current criminal justice system has no provision for restorative justice, in which an offender confronts the damage they have done and tries to make it right to the people they have harmed.
Instead, our system of “corrections” is about arm’s-length revenge and retribution, all day and all night. Then its overseers wonder why people leave prison more broken than when they went in.
13. Brain On Fire by Susannah Cahalan
Sometimes, just when we need them, life wraps metaphors up in little bows for us. When you think all is lost, the things you need the most return unexpectedly.
14. Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of color across the sky – so the space where I exist, and want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.
15. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyoder Dostoevsky
“The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with any one for two days together, as I know by experience. As soon as any one is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.”
“After such a confession, I believe that you are sincere and good at heart…Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute. Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attaining love…I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labour and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting further from your goal instead of nearer to it – at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.“
16. Ordinary by Michael Horton *
Faithfulness over the long haul is undermined by perpetual innovation.
We need more churches where the Spirit is immersing sinners into Christ day by day, a living communion of the saints, where we cannot simply jump to our favorite chapter or Google our momentary interest.
In his Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has the veteran demon tell his apprentice that “the horror of the same old thing” is “one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart.” The discussion follows about how fashion, novelty, and change will certainly produce an insatiable desire for, ironically, more of the same. “This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire. The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns.”
17. Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
I am still practicing gentleness and beauty, over and over again. Someday perhaps my fingers will find those keys without thought.
Let’s agree, for just a little while anyway, that both sides are probably wrong and right in some ways. I’m probably wrong, you’re probably wrong, and the opposite is true, because we still see through a glass, darkly.
18. Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller *
…modern culture defines the happy life as a life that is “going well” – full of experiential pleasure – while to the ancients, the happy life meant the life that is lived well, with character, courage, humility, love, and justice.
19. Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller **
The peace of God is not the absence of negative thoughts, it is the presence of God himself…Christian peace does not start with the ousting of negative thinking. If you do that, you may simply be refusing to face how bad things are. That is one way to calm yourself – by refusing to admit the facts. But it will be a short-lived peace! Christian peace doesn’t start that way. It is not that you stop facing the facts, but you get a living power that comes into your life and enables you to face those realities, something that lifts you up and over and through them.
20. Then Sings My Soul by Robert Morgan
In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here
The storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me, and can I be dismayed?
Wherever He may guide me, no want shall turn me back;
My Shepherd is beside me, and nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waketh; His sight is never dim
He knows the way He taketh, and I will walk with Him
Green pastures are before me, which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be over me, where darkest clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure; my path to life is free;
My Savior has my treasure, and He will walk with me.
– Anna L. Waring
21. In His Own Image by Art Mathias
Recognition is the first step to victory.
22. Marching Powder by Rusty Young
“But they’re still people aren’t they?” I felt quietly disgusted that people could die of hunger in jail, even drug addicts, and no one would do a thing.
23. Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held-Evans
Over the years, I’ve heard all sorts of things described as “God things” – scholarships, job opportunities, new cars, remodeled kitchens. Appealing to God things has an effect similar to appealing to “God’s will.” When a friend tells me that it’s God’s will for her to date a certain guy or buy a new car or go to a specific school, it’s difficult to object or ask questions without looking like I want to pick a fight with the Almighty himself. Similarly, when my friend hails her low interest rate or her airfare or her concert tickets as a God thing, it’s nearly impossible to get away with asking if she really needs a new house or a vacation or yet another Dave Matthews experience without seeming to rain on God’s parade. Every good Christian knows that the best way to insulate yourself from criticism or input is to say that God wants whatever you want.
24. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning **
Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if it is only personal discipline and self-denial that will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing.
Just as a smart man knows he is stupid, so the awake Christian knows he/she is a ragamuffin.
These sinners, these people you despise are nearer to God than you. It is not the hookers and thieves who find it most difficult to repent; it is you who are so secure in your piety and pretense that you have no need of conversion. They may have disobeyed God’s call, their professions have debased them, but they have shown sorrow and repentance. But more than any of that, these are the people who appreciate His goodness; they are parading into the kingdom before you: for they have what you lack – a deep gratitude for God’s love and deep wonder at His mercy.
The following are books I have read before, but wanted to read again. So I did. (This post is so boring! I know! But just read number 25, okay?)
25. Myth of a Christian Nation – Gregory Boyd ***
This book does not take a position on any political issue. When I implore you to read it, I am not trying to convince you of my favorite platform or candidate. This book just makes me say “amen” over and over, because it is about Jesus. I’ve read it twice, and it actually makes me weep at the beauty and love of our Lord. He is so Good. Just read it.
…the assumption that society’s problems can be solved by empowering the right ideology, whether this be a democratic, Marxist, Islamic, or Christian ideology, constitutes a fundamental denial of the lordship of Christ.
Still, we must never confuse the positive things that America does with the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is not centered on being morally, politically, or socially positive relative to other versions of the kingdom of the world. Rather, the kingdom of God is centered on being beautiful, as defined by Jesus Christ dying on a cross for those who crucified him.
The question that wins the world is not, how can we get our “morally superior” way enforced in the world? The question that wins the world, and the question that must define the individual and collective life of kingdom-of-God citizens is, how do we take up the cross for the world? How do we best communicate to others their unsurpassable worth before God?…We conquer not by the power of the sword but “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of [our] testimony.”
Jesus never allowed himself to be defined by the political conflicts of his day, and neither should we. The distinctly kingdom question is not, How should we vote? The distinctly kingdom question is, How should we live?
26. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling *
But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some thing you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.
There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.
27. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling *
“But why’s she got to go to the library?”
“Because it’s Hermione. When in doubt, go to the library.”
“Haven’t I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Don’t trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”
28. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling *
“I’m not going to be murdered,” Harry said out loud. “That’s the spirit, dear,” said his mirror sleepily.
29. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling *
If I thought I could help you by…allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.
30. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling *
“Er,” said Harry to announce his presence.
31. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling *
And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.
It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.
32. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling *
That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend.
33. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R. R. Tolkien *
All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king
34. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien *
There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.
The burned hand teaches best. After that advice about fire goes to the heart.
They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing – unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. “I feel sick,” said Sam. Frodo did not speak. For a while they stood there, like men on the edge of a sleep where nightmare lurks, holding it off, though they know that they can only come to morning through the shadows.