Top 10 Books I Read in 2018
It was a good reading year. I made it through about twenty-five, and am in the middle of five more. Less than I’d hoped for (darn you Netflix and your 4 seconds till the next episode!), but so many of them challenged me to think genuinely new thoughts, work on the cultivation of my self in deepened ways, breathed life into my journey of discipleship and relationship with God, and furthered the way I engage the world for justice and peace.
Here they are by category with a bit of commentary (and a couple bonuses). Happy reading ;)
Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being, by M. Shawn Copeland
Womanists are Black women whose theological praxis is brought to bear by the realities of their body’s lived experience on the intersection of race, gender, and class. Copeland’s Catholic roots lead her to reflect on themes like lynching and the multilayered oppressions of Black women through categories of incarnation, sacrament, eucharist and more — leading to one of the most profound statements on solidarity I’ve encountered.
Black Womanist Ethics, by Katie Cannon
Rev. Dr. Cannon passed away this year, and is remembered as one of the mothers of the womanist movement who continually reached out and brought other Black women along with her on her journey of intellectual, epistemological, and material liberation. I had the honor of sitting in on a session in her honor at AAR in November, and picked up this book immediately after. I’m so grateful I did. Rooting the question of ethics in the particularities of Black women’s tripartite oppression across the epoch’s of American history, she draws on the Black religious tradition’s faith in Jesus, the life and literature of Zora Neal Hurston, and the theological vision of Howard Thurman and MLK.
Acts: A Theological Commentary, by Willie Jennings
Jennings’s first work, The Theological Imagination, might be the book that had the most impact on my life of any I’ve read. In this commentary (that doesn’t read at all like a traditional commentary), he draws on the same themes of identity, imagination, and the ways moral-theological notions tie to land and body and culture and are translated through history into community, institutions, and structures used for joining or for violence across difference, Caesar’s Empire or Jesus’ Kingdom. The parts on imprisonment alone (lots of the Bible was written by inmates) makes it worth the read. Jennings is fire and his writing is art.
Race & American History
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson
I couldn’t put this book down. Wilkerson is a phenomenal story-teller (good journalists who write books are so often winners), using three central character’s journeys from the South to Harlem, Chicago, and LA to weave together decades of history and little known but highly significant segments of the Black experience in America. It tied together a lot of loose strings in my understanding of the time between Reconstruction and the Black Southern Freedom Movement (aka Civil Rights Movement).
The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein
The word I kept thinking about after finishing this book was “relentless.” From every possible policy angle, African-Americans were blocked from home-ownership and neighborhoods with white people. Rothstein’s main goal is to make a case that residential segregation didn’t just happen because white people were racists as individuals (though they regularly were) or through racists private sector actions (though they regularly were) and certainly not because Black people just like “living with their own people” (though it’s legit when you’re hated elsewhere) — but through the conscious, ruthless and pervasive drafting and implementation of racists local, state, and, first and foremost, Federal policies. The case he builds is devastating. There is no way to comprehend the landscape of American cities, the racial wealth gap, or really any contemporary racial inequity and division issues without this history. It’s sick and it demands action.
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, by Kate Raworth
Raworth is totally my intellectual crush coming out of this year. She doesn’t only make a case for what an alternative economy should do (clue: fit in the doughnut to be distributive and regenerative) or how it should be structured. She understands that economics is fundamentally a battle over stories that will be won by who can tell the one that resonates most deeply, sticks in people’s minds, and reverberates there until they have to take action. Raworth’s claim is that economies are build on imagination where are built on images — so she destroys the case for the seven neoclassical economic images driving our current system (think: growth, supply/demand, homo-economicus) and presents a counter image (with accompanying concrete policy and institutional change recommendations) that resonates with 21st century science and the kind of system we need for global equity and sustainability. It’s readable for anyone and so inspiring. I freaking loved it.
Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing, by Ryan-Collins, Loyd, and Macfarlane
I’m pretty deep in the affordable housing scene and the progressive conversations happening around how to fix our problems. But the stuff these guys get into in this book isn’t even on the map for almost all affordable housing advocates, developers, and policy makers because, honestly, we don’t understand the deep drivers how we the intertwined economics of land, housing, and finance actually work. Why do market’s become expensive in the first place? How does the privatization of land undergird the system dynamics we’ve seen over the past decade? How does housing fit into extreme inequality and market instability? This book is important. Full stop. It needs to find its way into more people’s hands. We need these authors to come on a speaker tour in Colorado. We need advocates to sit down, think, and really wrestle with the implications of what they are saying for our work. Then we need to go out and make something happen.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber
Takes top place for books that boggled my mind. Debt is Graeber’s theory of everything, weaving together contrarian ideas around moral theory and religion, slavery and violence, the roots of money and the market, and why we’re all so obsessed with the idea that “one must pay one’s debts.” He lays out a few major epochs across the millennial, and makes a case that, since decoupling the dollar from gold and going all in on neoliberalism, we’re on the cusp of something historically unprecedented. Particularly profound for those of us who follow someone who said, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” I picked it up because of my work on payday lending and (while there’s good predatory lending insight) I got a whole lot more.
Books for Contemplation
Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community by Wendell Berry
Berry is one of my favorite people to argue with, because we both care about mostly the same things, he’s thought about it way longer and more deeply than I have, his points of departure (land and place) resonates with me, and he is largely pointing in the directions I want to go — but I still find myself disagreeing with him and making notes all over the margin, typically about things I hadn’t even thought about yet that he brought to light for me. The title says it. He’s wading into the deep end, per usual, and it’s beautiful. The chapter making the case to Christians for creation care is the best essay on the subject I’ve read, and could be handed to someone anywhere on the theological spectrum.
The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, by Chris Heuertz
Oh man. I just finished this book a couple days ago (thank you Libbey for the Christmas gift), and now I’m journalling through it. I was a skeptical-to-resistant slow warmer to the Enneagram, then an obsessed devotee once it click. This the best thing I’ve read on the tool, particularly because Heuertz is so insistent that we not allow the Enneagram to function as a personality tool that gives us excuses for some static “way we are.” It’s precisely the opposite. It’s a map showing us the road out of the self-destructive loops of our False Self back to God and our True Self. It uncovers the lies we believe and the gracious truth we need to hear. It’s a tool for empathy to self and others, and a deep exposition of the ways to cultivate spiritual growth that precisely fits who we are and what we need. It laid out the work I’ll be doing on my self in 2019.
Something I’m Currently Reading
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk
Every person working with homeless folks needs to read this. Every person who’s ever heard of homeless people should at least have to listen to a two-hour seminar on its content. Everyone who has kids, or works with kids, or knows kids should read it. Everyone who knows someone with mental illnesses or has opinions about people with mental illnesses should read this. Everyone who has a brain and a body and a mind should read this. It’s hard stuff, but massively illuminating and will, hopefully, help guide the work we do at Colorado Village Collaborative next year.
A Few of the Books I’m Excited to Read in 2019
The Long Loneliness, by Dorothy Day
Collective Courage: African American Cooperative Thought, by Jessica Gordon-Nembhard
A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor
The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman
The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America, by Mark Lewis Taylor
The Death of Jesus ad the Politics of Place in the Gospel of John, by Peter Claver Ajer
Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, by Glen Sean Coulthard
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John O’Donohue
White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response, by Jacquelyn Grant