An Open Letter To My Sister For Her 30th Birthday

To My Sister On Her 30th Birthday

There are many people who can tell you that the 30’s are significantly better than the 20’s. Most of those people probably have all of their student loans paid off. I love being older than 29, for other reasons. I do occasionally panic about how I’m going to afford retirement (the internet says I need a million dollars), but overall it’s nice. One advantage I have is that I don’t live in Texas where it’s weird to be 30ish and single. It’s not weird in other places. Since you’re living in a zone where people might not understand that you’re not weird and there’s nothing wrong with you, I wanted to speak to that.

I am the only person in our family who has gone before you into the territory of being 30 and single. In the same way that Sarah or Mom can speak more meaningfully about parenting, I can tell you all about this.

Sometimes people give well-meaning but slightly misguided advice to single people that is rooted in a deep misunderstanding of the person of Jesus Christ, and the way He loves us.

They might tell you that if you are content, a spouse will magically appear before your eyes – right in that moment when you are able to be perfectly content. Aside from the fact that being perfectly content is not even a thing this side of Heaven, I wonder if these people might be bigger fans of Buddha than they are of Jesus. You can’t manipulate Jesus into giving you a husband. You can’t earn a husband (or anything) from Jesus by performing a task – even if the task is a good one, like being content. Being content is great, but not because you are trying to earn something else from Jesus. We can’t earn anything from Jesus. Remember the cross? That was Jesus, taking care of the fact that we can’t earn anything or do anything right. We can’t trick Him into giving us what we want by obeying Him. He loves us and gives to us freely, no matter what we do. He lavishes us with love while we are stuck in the darkest, most sinful moments of our lives. So if you desire to be married, please trust me when I say that your desire for marriage is not keeping you from being married. Jesus isn’t playing games with you. He doesn’t command you to stop wanting to be married, so that He can give you a spouse. He’s not insane. He gives bread, not stones. He is bread.

You might have also heard that if you become the kind of person you want to be married to, then you can/should/will get married. How very zen. Does this mean that people who are married have “become” someone good, but single people haven’t? Yikes. This seems like the same kind of faulty mindset: If you do ______, then you will be rewarded with ______. This is so contrary to the gospel, I have not the words. Anytime someone tells you that you need to “become better” or “improve” in order to obtain anything from Jesus, run as far and as fast as you can in the other direction. You’ll be running into the presence, rest, and peace of Jesus. If He ends up telling you to make improvements, it’s not because He’s dangling a carrot in front of your eyes for some other prize that you want. He doesn’t treat us like animals. He doesn’t play games. He’s not holding anything back from you. The prize for any change that takes place in your heart – is Jesus. He has given you everything, because He has given you Himself.

Someone once implied to me that married people are more mature than single people. It was super cute. She was young and newly married. Insert epic eyeroll here. I just wondered: if I was 90 and unmarried, would this adorable newlywed be claiming to have more maturity than me? Married people are not inherently more mature than single people. Consider the Kardashians. Marriage is not the only thing that breeds maturity, although it does. The single life is full of opportunities to become a mature adult. I still cry when I have car problems, but I take care of them by myself. I pay my bills by myself. I come home from stressful days of work, shake it off, and deal with it – by myself. I don’t have a husband to talk through the day with. No one else to take out the trash, change the oil in my car, or fix my computer problems. No tasks are divided. They’re all mine. No second income to pay the rent/mortgage/loans. No one else has the same stakes in my life decisions as I do. These things develop maturity in a gal. Jesus has given us everything we need to follow Him, everything we need for life and godliness. He’s not delaying your growth and development until you get married. Your maturity comes from only one source: Jesus Christ.

Are you sensing a theme? Have I exalted Him too high? Given Jesus too much credit?

When people scour the Bible for an example of a godly marriage, they go straight for Ruth and Boaz. It’s a simple, easy story. No offense to Ruth and Boaz. They’re totes amazeballs. But it’s the milk and cookies version of a marriage story in the Bible. You can read it to five year olds, and they won’t ask uncomfortable followup questions. (Mom, what is a kinsman redeemer?) If you want some meat, I encourage you to read the story of Hosea and Gomer. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute. (Dad, what is a whore?) Over and over again, Gomer was faithless. No redeeming qualities. But God told Hosea to pursue her and love her, to not give up on her, to be faithful. This is the gospel. It is the story of how much Jesus loves the Church, His bride. This is the story that marriage was designed to tell us. You can’t read Hosea and then tell single people that self-improvement is the way to marriage, or the way to anything. Jesus Christ, in all things, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

There will be days when you love being single and 30. The days when no kids are rubbing their snot on your clothes. There will be days when it’s hard to be single, like when you have to fill out your tax return and can’t make someone else do it.

The answer to any kind of sadness you feel is not found in a mindset within yourself – not in being content, self-improvement, or maturity. The medicine, the answer, the hope – it is all found in the person of Jesus Christ alone. Marriage and the family unit are not the cornerstone and savior of society or you, Jesus Christ is. Alone. Period. Look nowhere else. He is so good to us. Every day, every trial, every victory, every longing, He is so good to us. He ordains marriage for some people, because He is so good. You are single, because He is so good. Trust me, because I am two years older than you so this means I know everything.

Other relevant life advice:

– Consider not voting for Donald Trump. Third parties are real candidates. Not voting is a type of vote. You have options, okay?

– Eat fish once a week, for your brain. Alzheimer’s runs in the family and this is supposed to help. You should also brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, and do word puzzles.

– But don’t eat fish more than twice a week. Something about mercury.

– Go to the bathroom every two to three hours, even if you don’t feel like it. But you will feel like it, because your bladder starts shrinking when you turn 30.

– Drink more water. This probably goes without saying, but I’m just saying.

– Go on vacation with me to New York. This is not advice. It’s just something we should do.

– Look at NASA’s “astronomy picture of the day” every now and then for some perspective, if you aren’t prone to existential crises’. It’s a good way to spend all that free time you have on your hands as a single person. It will make you want to be an astronaut, but it’s too late. You can’t be. I am nothing if not realistic.

– Organic meat is not worth the price. Just accept the fact that you are going to die one day, and buy your ground beef at Kroger anyway.

Happy birthday!!! Enjoy another trip around the sun.

Advertisements

I’m A Little Late to the Party

The Mumford & Sons party.

When I was younger, listening to music was not something that happened in the background. I used to sit down with music the way someone might sit down with a book, or watch a movie. I didn’t just turn it on. I read the lyrics while songs were playing, or sang along. I haven’t been like that in a long time. But I discovered Spotify (I’m also late to that party). I don’t know what made me do it. But the lyrics (not just this song) made me stop and follow along again. Because, whooooaaaaa.

THE CAVE

It’s empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you’ve left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

‘Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I’ll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s hand

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

Whoa.

Mumford & Sons, y’all. This is why I listen to music.

And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
On my knees and out of luck,
I look up.
Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won’t rot, I won’t rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won’t rot.
And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.
But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

Just a Little Narnia Before Bed

I think I only blog these days to shared words written by others. Today’s treat is an excerpt from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Written by the one and only Clive Staples Lewis.

The story picks up after Lucy and Edmund, the youngest of four siblings, have returned from Narnia. Edmund claims they were just pretending, and Lucy claims it was real. The older two siblings have trouble believing her because Narnia couldn’t possibly be real. And if something sounds implausible, that must mean it’s false.

The two older ones were really beginning to think that Lucy was out of her mind. They stood in the passage talking about it in whispers long after she had gone to bed.

The result was the next morning they decided that they really would go and tell the whole thing to the Professor…

…he sat listening to them with the tips of his fingers pressed together and never interrupting, till they had finished the whole story. After that he said nothing for quite a long time. Then he cleared his throat and said the last thing either of them expected: “How do you know,” he asked, “that your sister’s story is not true?”

“Oh, but” – began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see from the old man’s face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, “But Edmund said they had only been pretending.”

“That is a point,” said the Professor, “which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration. For instance – if you will excuse me for asking the question – does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?”

“That’s just the funny thing about it, sir,” said Peter. “Up till now, I’d have said Lucy every time.”

“And what do you think, my dear?” said the Professor, turning to Susan.

“Well,” said Susan, “in general, I’d say the same as Peter, but this couldn’t be true – all this about the wood and the Faun.”

“That is more than I know, said the Professor, “and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.”

“We were afraid it mightn’t even be lying,” said Susan, “we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.”

“Madness, you mean?” said the Professor quite coolly. “Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.”

Call Me Idealistic

All quotes that follow are from a book called “Myth of a Christian Nation” by Gregory Boyd. Read ’em and weep, because that’s what I do. And read the book.

———

“While all the versions of the kingdom of the world acquire and exercise power over others, the kingdom of God, incarnated and modeled in the person of Jesus Christ, advances only by exercising power under others. It expands by manifesting the power of self-sacrificial, Calvary-like love.”

“Pilate assumed Jesus’ kingdom could be understood on the same terms as every other earthly kingdom – along geographical, ethic, nationalistic, or ideological lines. But he was mistaken.”

“Much of the profound animosity Islamic terrorists feel towards ‘satanic’ America is fueled by a cultural memory of what Christians did to Muslims during the Crusades. Believing that America is a Christian nation, they direct their collective, historically acquired hatred toward it. Now, you might be tempted to respond by saying, ‘Well they did a lot of bad stuff to Christians throughout history as well’ – and you’d be right. But this is exactly the sort of thinking that fuels the endless tit-for-tat kingdom of the world.”

 

“It was the same message Jesus was about to send Pilate and the world. Rather than calling on his disciples or the legions of angels that were at his disposal to exercise ‘power over’ in his defense, Jesus let himself be crucified. Why? Because Pilate and the world needed him to. It was an outrageously loving thing to do – and for this reason it violated the common sense of the kingdom of the world.”

“When God flexes his omnipotent muscle, it doesn’t look like Rambo or the Terminator – it looks like Calvary!”

“The cross is the ultimate symbol of the kingdom of God, for it defines what that kingdom always looks like. It looks like Christ – self-sacrificial and loving. It looks like grace.”

“It’s hard to communicate to a prostitute her unsurpassable worth by taking up a cross for her, serving her for years, gradually changing her on the inside, and slowly winning the trust to speak into her life (and letting her speak into our life, for we too are sinners). Indeed, this sort of Calvary-like love requires one to die to self. It is much easier, and more gratifying, to assume a morally superior stance and feel good about doing our Christian duty to vote against ‘the sin of prostitution.'”

“For the sake of the kingdom of God, we need to proclaim with our lives, and with our words when necessary, that the sole criteria for whether something is a manifestation of the kingdom of God or not is the person of Jesus Christ. To the extent that an individual or group looks like Jesus, dying for those who crucified him and praying for their forgiveness in the process – to that degree they can be said to manifest the kingdom of God. To the degree they do not look like this, they do not manifest God’s kingdom. Hence, to the extent that the church throughout history has persecuted ‘sinners’ and ‘heretics’ rather than embracing them, serving them, and sacrificing for them in love, it was simply one religious version of the kingdom of the world among a multitude of others – only worse, precisely because it claimed to represent the kingdom of God.”

“Did Jesus ever suggest by word or by example that we should aspire to acquire, let along take over, the power of Caesar? Did Jesus spend any time and energy trying to improve, let alone dominate, the reigning government of his day? Did he ever work to pass laws against the sinners he hung out with and ministered to? Did he worry at all about ensuring that his rights and the religious rights of his followers were protected? Does any author in the New Testament remotely hint that engaging in this sort of activity has anything to do with the kingdom of God?”

“…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 version 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 entered into the fray of particular debates about the status of women in society. He rather exposed the ugliness of patriarchalism by the countercultural way he treated women. Ignoring negative consequences for his reputation – and ultimately for his life – Jesus befriended them and gave them a culturally unprecedented dignity. In a society in which women were generally understood to be the property of men and in which women had few rights, Jesus’ actions were revolutionary.”

“Finally, and most fundamentally, Jesus exposed the barbarism of the Roman government, by allowing himself to be crucified by them. Instead of using the power available to him to preserve his life, he exercised the power of love by giving his life for the very people who were taking it.”

“Ask any random sampling of pagans in America what first comes to their mind when you say the words ‘evangelical’ or ‘born again Christian,’ and chances are close to zero that anything like ‘outrageous, sacrificial love’ will be the first thing out of their mouths.”

“Related to these questions are a host of other complex considerations that will affect how you vote. For example, how does the party or candidate that most closely reflects your view on abortion fare on other issues you deem important: concern for the poor, economics, foreign affairs, war, the environment, and so on? How much weight do you put on each of these convictions? Also, what do you deem attainable at the present time in our culture? Is it more efficient to work to outlaw abortion outright, or is it better to minimize abortion by, say, voting for the candidate and party you think will best help the poor, since there is a demonstrable link between the rate of poverty and the rate of abortion in the U.S.? Even more fundamentally, do you think it more efficient to hold an uncompromising stance on this issue, or is it better for the unborn, and for society as a whole, for you to work with people who have different beliefs than yours to overcome our present polarization and find a middle ground? What do you believe is the best way to create a culture in which abortions are as unnecessary and rare as possible?”

“How one answers all these difficult and important questions affects how they vote. But kingdom people need to understand that none of these questions are distinctly kingdom questions. The polarized way the issue is framed in contemporary politics is largely a function of various groups trying to gain power over each other for what they believe to be the good of the whole, and while we as Americans have to consider these questions before we can give an informed opinion (a vote) when asked, there’s no reason we – as kingdom-of-God participants – should allow this political way of framing the issue to define our approach. 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?”

“How can we who are worse sinners than any woman with an unwanted pregnancy – and thus have no right to stand over them in judgment – sacrifice our time, energy, and resources to ascribe unsurpassable worth to them and their unborn children?”

“Enemies are enemies precisely because they threaten us on some level, and it always seems justified and practically expedient to resist them, if not harm them when necessary. Jesus simply said, ‘Love your enemies’ and ‘Don’t resist evildoers.’ Note that some of the people he was speaking to would before long confront ‘enemies’ who would feed them and their families to lions for amusement.”

“It is the power of the cross, not the power of the sword, that holds the hope of the world, for the power of the cross is also the power of the resurrection.”

“Now, as kingdom people we are called to live in love, which means we are called and empowered to live free of fear. Because our source of worth, significance, and security is found exclusively in God’s love and God’s reign, not our own immediate well-being, and because we believe in the resurrection, we are empowered to love even those who threaten our well-being – for this does not threaten our essential worth, significance, and security…If we do fear them, it is only because some element of our essential worth, significance, and security is rooted in what they threaten. In other words, fear is an indication that we are living in idolatry, not love.”

“As followers of Jesus, we are called to do the same. While we, along with all decent citizens, should work against unjust laws by political means, our distinctive calling as kingdom people is to go far beyond this and manifest Calvary-quality love. We are called to enter into solidarity with all who are marginalized and crushed by the powers-that-be and to allow ourselves to be marginalized and crushed along with them. This Calvary-quality love exposes the ugly injustice of laws that marginalize and crush, and in this way just possibly leads oppressors to repent.”

Elevenses

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.

Advent: Peace

This week at work has been pretty wretched. It would be crazeballs of me to blog about work (that’s how people get fired!), but suffice it to say this week has left me thankful that one of the advent themes to reflect on is peace.

Peace is rich, partly because it’s not mayhem.

I don’t want to just say some cute, flowery phrase that turns out to be meaningless, so I will try to explain what I mean.

I consider chaos, confusion, and mayhem to be negative things. But the only reason I can say that is because peace is a thing. Mayhem is an absence of peace. Peace is the good thing, the defining value, not the other way around. Peace is not a lack of chaos. Chaos is a lack of peace. I’m not C.S. Lewis. I’m not saying this right. I can’t say things like he can say things!

I have seen what the enemy can do when peace is lacking. I have heard the lies he can tell. I have seen the messes he can make.

But peace is not just the opposite of that, it’s more. Peace doesn’t just mean things are calm. Peace doesn’t mean “lack of conflict.” I love the way a book called “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” talks about peace:

When, out of fear, we avoid conflict and appease people, we are false peacemakers.”

“...the way of true peace will never come through pretending that what is wrong is right! True peacemakers love God, others, and themselves enough to disrupt false peace. Jesus models this for us.”

The Prince of Peace doesn’t pretend like the darkness isn’t there. The darkness and chaos and confusion are voids, voids lacking peace, and He fills them. He walks right in.

It’s easy to chase serenity, but that is not what our Prince did.

He got all up in our face and saved the world. (It’s really crazy that no one is begging me to write a Christmas book, when I’m such a vivid story-teller!)

This still leaves me wondering…

If peace is the absence of mayhem, but not necessarily calm times, what is peace?

I was reading the epic peace hymn tonight (It Is Well With My Soul), and briefly experienced a peace-void. I read the line, “Christ has regarded my helpless estate…”

I immediately thought, “but I am not helpless. I create a lot of problems for myself. I’m not a victim of someone else’s trouble-making. My family didn’t drown, like the writer of this song. This epic peace hymn is not for me today.”

Enter baby Jesus.

He shed His own blood for my soul! He didn’t just shed it for the souls of people who are always nice, and have awesome times, and are super good at life. That’s like, the whole point of Christmas, of Easter, of everything, forever! My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole…It’s nailed to the cross. I bear it no more. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh my soul!

The peace that leaves me in awe, the peace I can’t describe even though I ramble about its “opposites”, the peace that shook the foundations of the whole world and everything in it,

is the peace that silences any faint suggestion that the promises of God given to us in the person of Jesus Christ are not for me,

the peace that showed up in a smelly, undesirable, crowded, peace-voidy corner of the world when Jesus was born.

He walked right in and brought us this peace, because He is this peace.