Some people learned how to make sourdough bread during social distancing. And some other people learned how to make a tiny Mac.
As a former pastor who is on a path to become a spiritual director, this book is a gift for pastors, or anyone involved in some kind of spiritual leadership. Eugene was a pastor to pastors, but Winn Collier acquaints us with Eugene the person in a way that makes him relatable while also helping us aspire to who he was.
It helps that Winn was the perfect person to write this book. His heart, humility, and beautiful prose match the standards set by Eugene himself.
The last year has been especially difficult for all the pastors I stay in touch with. The timing of this book couldn’t be better, and I hope it will be an encouragement and inspiration to all of them.
Some important ideas to consider here, as Alan Jacobs pulls together some threads about the shape of journalism today.
Trellis is a new project I’m collaborating on with my good friend Ross Gebhart. We’ll be writing content about using both spiritual practices and practical tools for living with more intention.
Released in June of last year, I hadn’t heard of this book at all until my friend Matt Tebbe raved about it in a conversation a few weeks after the election. Shortly after that, I felt like I was seeing it mentioned everywhere I looked. And I’m glad for that…it’s an important book about the state of evangelicalism and politics in the United States.
I imagine there is some strong critique out there, but I found it to be a helpful survey of how evangelical Christianity has been so closely tied to conservative politics. I’d always considered this to be something that especially developed in the last 40 years or so, but Du Mez thoughtfully traces it back to the origins of evangelical Christianity:
Contemporary white evangelicalism in America, then, is not the inevitable outworking of “biblical literalism,” nor is it the only possible interpretation of the historic Christian faith; the history of American Christianity itself is filled with voices of resistance and signs of paths not taken. It is, rather, a historical and a cultural movement, forged over time by individuals and organizations with varied motivations—the desire to discern God’s will, to bring order to uncertain times, and, for many, to extend their own power.
For those hoping to help form an expression of Christianity that isn’t enmeshed with nationalism and conservative politics, this book helps unravel the history between the two. And that unraveling is critical to reimagining a more pure expression of Christianity moving forward.
I’ve explored transcribing podcast or other records several times, but the cost was alway prohibitive. That all changes with this app. Very affordable, but even more important, very accurate. (And yes, that’s a referral link for extra free minutes for me…and you.)
2020 was a difficult year…that’s a common, and usually undisputed, refrain. I won’t dispute it either, but I think 2020 was as much of a revelation of our ills as it is the cause of it. Culturally, we’ve experiencing growing isolation, anxiety and discord for a few years. The pressure of 2020 pushed those to the surface, alongside all the extra sewage 2020 brought.
More than ever, there is a need for all of us, as individuals, to be intentional about our own health. Physical health. Mental health. Relational health. Emotional health. And yes, spiritual health too, though I’d argue that’s a composite of all the others.
I will acknowledge (with some hesitation!) that reading a book isn’t alway the answer for what challenges us. But since this a time where we need to be intentional about our health — and since we all might have more time for reading a book right now — I’d like assign everyone to read Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson.
Thompson merges neuroscience — the science of our brains — with the work of emotional and spiritual health and formation. For me, it’s a sweet spot between my nerdy side (the neuroscience bits) and my pastor side (the spiritual formation bits). But there is plenty of value in it for non-nerdy non-pastor people, you know…normal people.
Published 10 years ago, I only recently discovered it as it was assigned as part of my spiritual direction cohort. Here are some of the reflections I captured for my cohort after reading it:
- The chapter on how we form, and hold memory, feels very significant to me. The stories we remember, and the way we tell them, reveals everything about how we experience God, how we see our selves, and how we engage relationally. It helps me to see spiritual direction as primary a practice of encouraging the telling of stories, and encouraging throughtful reflection of those stories. It reminds me of Dan Allender’s structure of seeing faith as looking backward at how we have seen God’s faithful presence, hope as turning that faith into the future, and love as how we live in the present.
- I found the idea that there are specific practices that help reshape the connections in the brain, like centering prayer, aerobic activity, or learning new things like a foreign language or musical instrument. While sitting together for an hour can be meaningful sacred time, I find it helpful from my own direction to have suggestions of practices to focus on, and likewise find it helpful that I might suggest some of these practices that extend beyond traditional spiritual disciples.
- On a personal level, this may be the most thought provoking and engaging book I’ve read in several years. I think my copy weighs twice as much as it did new from all the ink I left with underlines on page after page. This book was in a sweet spot for me, combining the nerdy brain science with the hope of growth and formation for myself and others no matter what our story might be. Much of the content of the book covered ground that was somewhat familiar to me, but pulled the pieces together and deepened understandings in a significant way.
It looks like I missed a year or, um, eight, since I last posted my favorite reading of the year. Thanks for noticing…
In some ways, reading has felt more labored this year, with all the other things going on. Like many others, I’ve felt restless at times and struggled to stay engaged with reading. But, reading has long been a place of restoration and even familiar comfort for my mind and soul, so I was still able to meet my annual goal of averaging at least a book a week.
These are my favorite books of 2020. Most of them weren’t published this year, but I read them this year, so that’s the date criteria.
As far as what makes them favorites? Well, that means they somehow stuck with me. These are books I was sad to be done reading, or they changed my thinking on something, or I felt myself thinking about them later. And as far as the order goes…here they are in the order I read them over the course of the year.
Stillness is the Key, by Ryan Halliday
The theme of slowing down, or being more present, was kind of a forced reality in 2020 (though I read this book pre-distancing.) I’ve read a number of Halliday’s books in the last couple years. I appreciate his perspective in each, but this ways my favorite.
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, by Giles Martin
History books focused on warfare aren’t my usual area of interest, but I saw it on a table at Barnes and Noble and it looked fun and interesting. It’s a well researched look that dials in more closely at a specific initiative of England in World War II that in many ways reads more like a spy novel.
Medallion Status, by John Hodgman
This was perfect weekend reading — a step away from the practical or philosophical books i often engage with. Hodgman’s humor resonates with me, and I’m not wary to say so. My kids mocked me when I read this (and the prior one) because of how often I chuckled and guffawed.
Strange Days, by Mark Sayers
Mark Sayers is one of the most helpful and thoughtful voices in Christianity today, always prompting mental fist pumps or clear new understandings as I read. This was published in 2017, but seems to be more and more relevant with each passing day. His chapter on “Polarized Politics” was especially helpful.
Scandalous Witness, by Lee C Camp
Speaking of polarized politics…we have Lee Camp’s “Political Manifesto for Christians”. This is probably the most helpful and important book I read this year, and one I shared about here and on social media in hopes that many would read it. The election in United States is over (in spite of what some want to think), but this book is still just as relevant.
Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson
I read this for my spiritual direction training. If Scandalous Witness is “probably” the most helpful and important book I read, then this is its primary contender. It certainly is my most highlighted book of the year.
Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Jaron Lanier
I was a fairly early adopter of social media, and stayed pretty engaged for many years. The last few years, I’ve been more detached as I’ve been in a longer season of reflection. But I’m trying to determine how it might fit in my life still. There can be value in social media, but as Lanier argues, so much of that is lost to the way it is managed and filtered by the companies that control it.
The Gift of Being Yourself, by David Benner
Another one that I’m reading for spiritual direction training. I read this five or six years ago, but it’s clear to me that there was a lot more to get out of this short book. It’s one that could and should probably be read once a year.
Stoner, by John Williams
I still read fiction almost every day, but I struggled with it this year. I don’t know if it’s the books I chose or if it’s a season of life thing. Stoner, though, is the exception. It’s a straightforward story through a man’s life, but so well written that it was a pleasure to return to each evening.
Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi
I’m cheating a little here, because I’m not done with this one yet…but I’m close. Like many, I felt compelled to read this (or other similar books) in light of some of the events of 2020. This is a straight up history book, but written to show perspectives and layers of history that I’ve never really seen before.
I was thankful for the invitation to preach for Journey of Faith this past weekend. It’s been a while since I preached, but even on Zoom, is still felt comfortable and familiar.
As I was starting to tell others that I was considering becoming a spiritual director, a friend suggested Sacred Companions by David Benner. I’d read, and valued, Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself, so I didn’t waste much time getting Sacred Companions into my reading queue.
The subtitle of the book — The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction — helps frame how Sacred Companions serves as a helpful introduction to the practice of Spiritual Direction. Benner frames it within a continuum of sacred friendships — the kind of companions we have in life where our soul, our inner life, is able to be made known to another:
A soul friendship is therefore a relationship to which I bring my whole self, especially my inner self. And the care that I offer for the other person in a soul friendship is a care for his or her whole self, especially the inner self.
I’d never heard of spiritual direction until about 15 years ago, and it was even somewhat mysterious to me about 5 years ago. I think there is a growing need for it, and thankful to see awareness of it has grown in many of the Christian streams where it wasn’t very well know before.
But, of course, many people still just see it was somewhat mysterious, like I did a few years ago. Here are a couple of Benner’s quotes that help fill out my own understanding of the work of spiritual direction, along with some thoughts about each:
I use the term spirituality to refer to a person’s awareness of and response to the Divine. On the basis of this I would argue that to be human is to be spiritual.
This is core to spiritual direction, as the heart of the practice is to come alongside another and help them to hear and respond to the “Divine”. It’s not mentoring or coaching, so much as helping to create space and awareness.
While counselors and therapists have an important role to play in restoring wholeness that has been lost, spiritual friends and directors have an equally important role in helping others become all they were intended to be.
I think would have triple underlined this if that was a feature on my Kindle. I’ve benefited from therapy. I have therapist friends and deeply respect the work they do. It is necessary. But I appreciated this comparison. Much of my own journey and teaching has been around the theme of vocation…learning to recognize who we were created to be and how we can partner with God. I see Benner saying here that therapy can help restore our wholeness, while direction can help move us toward our vocation. There is room for both and they often can complement each other.
My own focus on spiritual direction aside, this is a book that those who want to be followers of Jesus in community with others would benefit from. While he does focus on spiritual direction as a particular expression, overall the focus is what the title implies: being a sacred companion to others. It is a book about being in relationship that invites souls to shared. We are as isolated as ever, and as we find ways to be physically present with others again in the coming months, there is an invitation, and a need, to also be spiritually present with others.
It’s been right about two years since my last Sunday with the church we started in Austin. We recognized our family could not thrive health wise in Austin. It was a somewhat fast, and very hard, decision. But it was the right one as we have seen improvements in our family. And the church, of course, is doing just fine without me.
I didn’t leave Austin looking for another pastoral job in a church. It felt like any new church role would be held in an unfair comparison to the church we loved so deeply in Austin. There was also the grief of leaving, and it felt like it was good to have time away from the strain and demands of leading within a church.
A year ago, I was feeling some longing to return to ministry, and sent out a few resumes. Some I never heard back on, though I did go through several rounds of interviews with one. It was a helpful process, as I sensed in the midst of it that my immediate interest was not to return to formal leadership in a church.
I felt like the kind of work I wanted to do did not match well with what most churches are looking for. The parts of ministry where I always found joy were in teaching, or walking alongside others in their spiritual journey. There were parts of the organizational leadership and planning that I enjoyed, but they weren’t what got me out of bed in the morning.
So, as I near the end of my fifth decade of life, I’m moving toward a new season of spiritual leadership. In the midst of my hunt for church roles, I began considering what it might look like to become a spiritual director. As I imagined and prayed about that work, the passion and the interest grew.
And so here we are.
This week, I’m beginning in a training cohort to be a spiritual director through Sustainable Faith. I’m hopeful for more opportunities to sit with people as they consider how God has formed, and continues to form, them toward wholeness and vocation. I’m hopeful for opportunities to do some teaching and writing around spiritual formation. And most of all, I’m hopeful to embrace life beyond 50 by making an effort to be generous and humble in how I offer my own learning and experience in a way that will benefit others.
About two months ago, I started hearing and seeing Roam Research mentioned across the span of podcasts I listen to and sites I follow. I dabbled with it a bit, but in the last week or two, I’ve gotten hooked.
I wish I would have had this for the last 15 years to capture and link book notes, writings, or ideas I’m working on. But, finding a lot of satisfaction in slowly migrating different notes into it and seeing them start to form.
I already wrote a little about this book on Instagram when I was only a few chapters in:
I would hope anyone who identifies as a Christian in the United States might consider reading this. Following Jesus doesn't line up very well with being a Republican or a Democrat. It's a matter of putting hope somewhere else. I … hope that you might read it too, and think deeply about it in the months to come.
If I were to add to that, I'd say that this book gives you permission to think beyond your party when choosing how to vote. And that undersells it — the truth is, party loyalty is a form of idolatry that leans on a collective and broken ideology…regardless of party.
The book is based on 15 'propositions' to weigh as one chooses how to vote. As a teaser for the book, here are those propositions:
Proposition 1: History Is Not One Damn Thing after Another
Proposition 2: The End of History Has Already Begun
Proposition 3: American Hope Is a Bastard
Proposition 4: Christianity Is Neither a Prostitute nor a Chaplain
Proposition 5: The United States Is Not the Hope of the World
Proposition 6: The United States Was Not, Is Not, and Will Not Be a Christian Nation
Proposition 7: How Christian Values, and the Bible, Corrupt Christianity
Proposition 8: Every Empire Falls
Proposition 9: Christian Partisanship Is like a Fistfight on the Titanic
Proposition 10: Hostile Forces Have a Role in the Unfolding of History
Proposition 11: Christianity Is Not a Religion; Christianity Is a Politic
Proposition 12: Liberal Political Puissance Is Not the Goal
Proposition 13: Exemplary Political Witness Is the Goal
Proposition 14: Christianity Is Not Countercultural
Proposition 15: Christian Engagement Must Always Be Ad Hoc
(Yes, it started yesterday, but it only counts when I get to watch the Angels.)
And the other message from this is, I think, to religious conservatives: Please calm down. Yes, the culture is against you and winning the debates you haven’t yet figured out how to engage. But you are not doomed or persecuted by the state. You have largely won the judiciary over to a strong defense of religious freedom. Your side keeps winning again and again in court. I can see how woke intolerance is real, but you have one branch of government still firmly on your side — and for the foreseeable future. Quit your whining about being persecuted, and figure out how to convey the truths of Christianity in a way that can win over the deeply troubled souls of your fellow Americans. There’s a spiritual void out there waiting to be filled, dangerous cults are filling it, and you’re wallowing in self-pity. Snap out of it.
So far so good with iPadOS 14. I mean, I’m handwriting this post so I guess its kind of awesome.
Installing iPadOS 14 beta on my iPad Pro. Surely I won’t regret this, right?
No betas on my Mac, though. Something has to hold things together…
I read this story the week it was posted on MacStories, and have thought back to it many time since. I keep passing it along to others in conversations about iPads, but never shared it here, so…here we are. I love my iPad Pro and if I didn’t do coding, I think I’d go almost full-time with an iPad anymore. This article shows why it is so versatile and powerful.
Usually my book posts are prefixed with “Recent Reading”. But I fell off that wagon about 3000 miles ago. Some books, just stick with me, though. And if that does’t merit a post, what does?
A few weeks ago, I decided to review my notes from So Good They Can’t Ignore You, because I just keep thinking back to it since I read it last year. This book isn't as well known as Cal Newport's more recent books…but it should be. It's older, but it seemed timely for this season of my life, and I want to re-capture some of Newport’s key points.
His core idea is that we need to make our pursuit of meaningful work to be craft-centric, rather than focused on pursing something we’re passionate about. When we focus on passion, we turn our ideal job into something that we are trying to consume. It’s all about what we can get out of the job — how can this job fulfill me or give me meaning. It’s an approach to your job or career that is oriented only on what you can get from it really for you own benefit. And when the passion isn’t there, then things start to fall apart.
His argument, instead, is that we should be ‘craft-centric’. We should base our work on what we can do well, and learn to do even better. When we know we are investing ourself in making something that is good, and of value to others, the focus turns to the value we bring others, rather than what we get out of the work. And ultimately, that becomes more fulfilling to us too.
In some of the final chapters, as he talked about putting this into practice, he talks about the trap of productivity. That’s a topic I’ve dabbled with a lot. My goal for productivity initially was to be so productive with the work that I have to do, that I can protect space for the work that I want to do. I still hold this idea, I think, and I wouldn’t dismiss it.
But his take is that the focus on productivity alone loses impact, because we start to measure all of our time merely based on what we can get done in that time. We see each block in the calendar as currency to invest in getting things done. And I can say this one is all the more true for me now as I’m working mostly hourly as a freelancer. Every hour not spent in work is missed opportunity to support my family. It’s both motivating and dangerous.
When we are craft-centric, there is a desire to keep improving that craft. Sometimes, the work of improving might feel in tension with being productive. There is a value from learning how to do that craft or work better that might not come when we just do the work in front of us. I know firsthand that in web development, there are new technologies or tools that I might not discover if I just keep doing the work I’ve been hired to do the same old way. And I certainly want to go to a doctor that is finding time to read medical journals of some kind and keep up with the latest discoveries in how to offer the best care for my family.
Of course there is more than this to the book, but that idea of craft-centric is central to the book, and my key takeaway.
I’m in a season of heavy reflection to determine my next steps. It’s helpful for me to think about what I already do well, but also can continue to improve how I do it, so that I can find the most fulfillment by offering that craft to others.
Haven’t been keeping up with recent reading here, but have been reviewing notes from some of the books I read in the last year or so. Realizing it might be more beneficial to circle back and post reflections of books that are still sitting with me months later.