Books I Read in 2013

It seems that every time it comes around to write out these year-end book posts, it always gets a little crazier, and I’m always left feeling like I should have spent less time reading and more time being a productive member of society. But I didn’t. And reading is fun.

I set out to read 90 books in 2013, which is admittedly insane. I completed 2/3 of my goal — 60 books!

Presented below is a list of all of the books I read in 2013.  As I finished each book, I added them in. So this is, more or less, chronological throughout the year. Following that is some highlights and favorites. And I finish with some trivial statistics and self-indulgent nerdery. Here we go!                          book cover of Ways of Going Home byAlejandro Zambra                                                                    

Now for the superlatives…

Favorite Fiction Book

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an incredible book in all of the ways that every review says it is. Read it with all of the awe and incredulity that’s meant to accompany its reading. Stay up late to finish it. Then later this year, go and see it in the movie theater. But whatever you do: READ. THE. BOOK. FIRST.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is another wonderful book. It’s a story that you can get lost in as it follows a boy from his childhood through adulthood in a bizarre North Korean setting. You yearn with the character as he strives to survive and thrive in the midst of a brutal totalitarian regime. Here’s an interview with Johnson (who won a Pulitzer for this book) from the SF Weekly. Check it out here.

The Circle by Dave Eggers was one of the more recent books I read and got completely lost in. If _Brave New World_ would have been written when Twitter existed, this is what Huxley would have had in mind. Very engaging story that made me question and scrutinize the way I use social media and interact with everyone for a long while after I finished.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book

Anything by Brené Brown! If you’ve seen some of my posts on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that Brené was my big literary/intellectual/social work crush of 2013. It sounds weird, but I stand by it. If you’ve never read any of her books, she recommends reading The Gifts of Imperfection first, Daring Greatly second, and finish up with I Thought It Was Just Me. Highly recommend all of her stuff. Seriously. Read it. Now.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber is a must read for anyone who’s worried they screw up too much to be a Christian. It’s a seriously good book that deserves all of the credit it has received. The way Nadia weaves through stories — both from the Bible and from her own life — is flawless. Can’t recommend this book enough.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey is an excellent companion to Nadia’s book. Sarah is an incredibly poetic writer and beautifully explores her own experience as a follower of Jesus with the male-centric messages that are often implicit in popular (read: evangelical) Christianity. She finds that it’s actually Jesus who calls her to be a Feminist. She also writes about feminism in a loving, kind, and compassionate way as well. Again… Just read it. It’s awesome. I promise.


Total Pages Read (compiled by using Amazon’s pages numbers for each book): 16,267

Total Pages Read (adjusted for accuracy — subtracted 10% to count for indices, footnotes, and other numbered, but not read pages.): 14,640

Pages Read Per Day: 40.1

Average Number of Days It Took to Read One Completed Book: 6.1

What were some of your favorite books from 2013? What are some that you’re looking forward to in 2014?

Here’s to another great year of reading in 2014!


In Which I Am an Unabashed Jesus Feminist

I love writing. And I love reading. But more than anything I love reading great writing. And Sarah Bessey is a flat-out GREAT writer.

I’d been following her blog for a couple years now and have always appreciated how she manages to simultaneously speak with such passion and grace. She has a way of teaching through storytelling that makes you forget how much you’re learning and simply enjoy the lesson. [As you read her blog, you’ll notice the “In Which” in this post’s title is entirely unoriginal to me.]

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (Howard Books, released on November 5, 2013) is her latest project and it is a wonderful contribution to the conversations surrounding faith, gender, church, and the Bible.

She starts [as the title probably implies] with Jesus. She weaves her own narrative of growing up in an incredibly faithful, yet by most standards “ordinary” family. One of the first lines to make me laugh out loud was when she described her dad. She says,

My dad is a true Canadian kid, deeply distrustful of religion, Toronto, politicians, and the Establishment.

She goes on to talk about life growing up in the church as one where women were constantly confined to certain parameters based on the fact that they were a woman, rather than where their gifts may lie. In many, though certainly not all, churches women are consistently put into boxes within the church. They’re told they can be involved in children’s ministry, hospitality ministry, the women’s Bible study ministry, the quilting and sewing ministry, the keep the coffee warm ministry, and on and on it goes. Regardless of their strengths and passions, women are confined to certain boxes, and those boxes limit their participation in the broader Church. And Bessey’s point is this: the Kingdom of God is missing out on some seriously talented and passionate people because of it!

A favorite part of mine [perhaps because of my love of lists-as-evidence] is in Chapter Six when she goes through the narrative of Scripture through the history of the church describing the incredibly significant roles women have played in the history of our faith. Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Rahab, Esther, Hannah, Tamar were a few of the significant women of the Hebrew Bible. Moving through to the New Testament women like Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, Martha, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, Euodia, and Junia. She then considers women of modern church history like Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, and Harriet Tubman.

When we think about the impact that women have had throughout the history of the faith, it should be overwhelming evidence against trying to strictly define what women can or cannot do in the life of the body of Christ.

But so often it isn’t. And that’s where the feminist part of this book comes in.

I have to admit that I was ready and waiting for the unabashed feminism to come in with a hyper-aggressive, demanding approach. But:

1) That’s not Sarah Bessey’s style.


2) As Sarah points out, that’s not the way of the Jesus Feminist.

The wonder of this book is in its subtlety. I was barely aware that I was becoming a Jesus Feminist until I closed the book and I could feel the tension in my muscles when I considered the injustice of the Church telling women what they can or cannot do because of their womanhood.

It doesn’t necessarily matter where you fall on political lines or religious affiliations, this is an important book for everyone to read. The writing is both poetic and challenging, but espouses a kind of humility that is incredibly rare.

It’s available on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Even though I was given an advanced ebook copy, I still ordered my own copy. You should too. Buy it. Read it. Buy it for your friends to read. Buy it for your pastor to read. Then talk about it. These are the conversations that are worth having.


I received an advance copy of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey from NetGalley in return for my review. There was nothing that stipulated that it had to be positive, only honest. No other compensation was provided.

Death & Resurrection: A Review of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s ‘Pastrix’

I won’t lie, the only words that ran through my head when I put this book down after finishing it were, “Holy shit.”

Which is actually quite apropos for Nadia and for the incredible narrative journey that is her newest book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.

This book is at times both funny and heartbreaking, irreverent and beautifully sacred. It has to be one of the best books to combine narrative and theology that I’ve ever read. If there’s a better one, I can’t think of it. She brilliantly weaves her story of growing up in a Fundamentalist church, to substance abuse, to meeting her husband [whom she lovingly describes as a Lutheran unicorn], and ultimately to her calling as a pastor in one of the more diverse Lutheran communities in the country (not that that’s very difficult.)

All the while, she reminds us of the stories of the Bible that so wonderfully fit alongside the stories of our messes and shortcomings. I want to buy a copy for friends of mine who have been disenfranchised by the church and have given up faith altogether.

She has a way of writing that strips faith of its pretension and speaks to the heart of the gospel story. She writes,

“…the Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of American culture, is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small. This faith helped me get sober, and it helped me (is helping me) forgive the fundamentalism of my Church of Christ upbringing, and it helps me to not always have to be right.”

The thing that speaks most from this book, however, is that while Nadia could have relied on her life stories and experiences, she’s constantly getting out of her own way to let the stories of grace, mercy, and radical inclusivity do the talking. It’s an incredible thing for a writer, particularly a pastor-writer at that, to do.

I can’t help but read Pastrix from my perspective as a Lutheran pastor. That being said, it speaks words of incredible grace and acceptance to leaders in the church as well. I always feel like I need to read another book, or attend another webinar or conference to keep growing my skill set. But one of the things that was so refreshing about Pastrix was Nadia’s invitation to let go of that need to control everything, and instead be open  to where God is moving in the community — to be open enough to have people pray for you when you’re pissed off and tired and the Rally Day extravaganza you had planned fell on its face.

That’s going to be one of the things that sticks with me the most. Ease off the control. Keep yourself open to God and people, to the death and resurrection that comes everyday.

Pastrix did for the 27-year-old me what Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies did for the 17-year-old me.

When it comes down to it, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s the best I’ve read in a long time. If it has even close to the same effect on you as it had on me, it will help nourish your faith, restore your hope in the church, and give you encouragement for the journey we all walk with God and with our neighbor. It will remind you in the most refreshing way that you don’t have to be naïve or cynical in order to be a follower of Jesus. Ultimately, it will push and pull at your heart to gather under the umbrella of God’s grace.

I do have one disclaimer on the book. If you’re easily offended by profanity, then I might skip this one. It’ll distract from your reading.

If you have never heard of Nadia and are contemplating checking out Pastrix, this is a good introduction to her. It’s from last summer’s National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. Enjoy!



You Lost Me: Why Young People Are Leaving Church & Re-Thinking Faith

David Kinnaman, co-author of the 2007 book unChristian, has recently released his latest book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.  The book deals with 6 reasons Kinnaman has identified that young people are disconnecting from church during middle to late adolescence. David, backed by research from the Barna Group, offers a great detail of stories and interviews that were conducted over the course of the study that gives a portrait of the faith of young people in America. I would highly recommend this book. It’s a wonderful read. I think it’s certainly worth the time if you are interested in faith and young people. It can get a little technical with the study, and you’ll never want to see the word Barna again, but it’s completely worthwhile. These are the six conclusions that he drew along with a little reaction/debrief from me. The statistics are red-lettered in case you want to skim.

Reason #1 — Churches seem overprotective

A defining characteristic of the modern culture of young adults is that they are the most tech-savvy generation that has ever existed. This can bring about both positives and negatives. One of Pete Ward’s observations in his book Liquid Church, is that many adults see church as a refuge site for their kids to hide them away from the big, bad culture of today’s world. Not only does this not line up with their experience of that culture, but it also paints the church in a pretty bad light. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%). 

Reason #2 — Teens and 20-somethings experience of Christianity is shallow.

I had a conversation with my brother in a Target parking lot once and asked him point blank why he didn’t feel like going to church anymore — not to antagonize him or anything like that, but I was just curious. He told me that it didn’t really add anything to his life. He felt like he could still live a complete life not going to church. In the Barna research, one-third of people surveyed said that “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%). In a very telling sign to the church, many of these young adults surveyed who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%). Whoa…

Reason #3 — Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

It has become a stereotype of a lot of the more conservative Christian groups to be “anti-science”. This tension between faith and science is one deeply felt by young adults. In the research, the most common perception in this conclusion is that “Christians are too confident that they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Ever since the Catholic church wanted to execute Galileo, the church has always seemed out of sync with the scientific advances of modern times.

Reason #4 — Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often overly simplistic and judgmental.

These last three mark a turning point, for me, in the group. These next three really seem to highlight the aversion that young people have to the black-and-white attitude through which some people experience life. This seemed particularly true in the area of sexuality. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly emphasized among 18 to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of every five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.” This black-and-white attitude combines with the perceived lagging behind to create quite a mess that can prevent churches from speaking meaningfully into people’s lives.

Reason #5 — Young people wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity

Religious pluralism has become mainstream for many young Americans, but many churches seem particularly against this new wave of religious tolerance. Particularly in the wake of 9/11 religious tolerance has lately seemed to be lacking. The political arena certainly doesn’t help this cause. Most young adults want to find areas of commonality with each other. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%). These are pretty troubling conclusions and are really a call to change course and quickly.

Reason #6 — The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt

This is the final reason Kinnaman gives that also exhibits the black-and-white-ness of a lot of young people’s perceptions of church. The (mis)perception is that church is a place for only the faithful. If you don’t have faith all of the time, you cannot be there. To a lot of people this may seem fairly absurd, but it doesn’t necessarily matter if perceptions are, in reality, false, they are still held by a large number of people. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%).

All in all, it was a pretty troubling book to read as a young Christian who happens to be planning on working in the church for a good portion of my life. As a 25-year-old, I can see a lot of these problems. I like to think that I am becoming a pastor to help move through and away from a lot of these problems and perceptions. Hopefully there will be a church on the other side with me.


Sorry this post got so long. I tried to highlight/summarize the best I could to make it readable more quickly.

Music Monday: Ryan Adams Edition

Last Tuesday was an awesome week for me. Not only did the latest Terrance Malick movie “The Tree of Life” come out on DVD… not only did one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Eugenides, publish his long-awaited book The Marriage Plot… but the always-awesome Ryan Adams released his album “Ashes & Fire“. So in his honor, I celebrate Music Monday. I’ll span his days with Whiskeytown to now with some highlights of some of my favorites. This could get to be a lot of links, but they’re all worth it.
  • Whiskeytown’s “Avenues” seems like a good place to start. This was the band Ryan was a part of before going solo. Sorry it’s a crappy montage video with the studio recording in the background, but it was the only Youtube version that didn’t include a badly lit living room and no one named Ryan Adams.
  • “Oh My Sweet Carolina” off his debut solo album “Heartbreaker” will be next. Such a good song with Emmylou Harris singing some harmonies on the album version — This one is just Ryan. I never get sick of hearing this song. Check it out.
  • “Firecracker” is the first of his solo stuff I ever heard (shout out to Dave Tack, my sophomore English teacher for the intro). This version is great — stripped down and the way it was meant to be.
  • “So Alive” is an awesome song. It’s equal parts charged and mellow. It’s part Smiths in the verses and then explodes to a great chorus. Enjoy this one.
  • For many Ryan Adams fans, I may be doing an incredible disservice by leaving out the Love Is Hell sessions. Both are great, but there’s just so many good ones. The next one is off his disc “29”. It’s a track called “Blue Sky Blues”.
  • “Dirty Rain” is the final track I’ll post. It leads off his new disc and continues his streak of awesome.
As I said earlier, there are plenty of tracks I have left off of here. But it gives a good intro to the world of Ryan Adams. Hope you’ve enjoyed your tour.
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