by David Benner

October 6, 2020

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.

by Lee C Camp

July 27, 2020

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

by Cal Newport

June 15, 2020

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.

by Steven Pressfield

October 7, 2019

Alongside his fiction writing, Pressfield has found a market for books about the creative process. The War of Art was a formative book for me, and Do the Work was a helpful follow-up.

The Artist’s Journey follows in the stream, while pulling concepts from Joseph Campbell’s heroes journey — another topic I have deep appreciation for. Put those pieces together, and it seems like this book should have hooked me. But, my attention span wasn’t having it. Either Pressfield has gone to the well one too many times in writing these books, or I’ve gone to the well way too many times in reading books about the creative process.

by Matthew Walker

October 3, 2019

This stands right alongside Digitial Minimalism in the scuffle for most influential book I read this summer, and maybe year to date. Walker outlines a deep exploration of sleep, how it works, and how the quality of it impacts our health and flourishing as humans.

As he says late in the book, we teach kids about healthy eating, and the importance of exercise — and those are topics that are mainstream even beyond school. But when it comes to the importance of sleep, there’s not much to be found. Maybe that’s because we’ve long understood the muscular and digestive systems of the body, but are still unfolding how our brains work.

I’ve become more intentional around my sleep in the last three months since I’ve read it, with a focus on a consistent schedule and a goal of 8 hours a night. It doesn’t always happen, for various reasons, but when it does I feel like I have better focus, especially in my afternoon focused work time.

by Blake Crouch

October 1, 2019

I had super high expectations going in to reading this. Crouch’s last book, Dark Matter, was one of my favorite fiction reads of the last few years.

Recursion was maybe only the slightest of notches below Dark Matter on the enjoyment scale. Crazy, out-there ideas that drive along a suspenseful story line. I kind of hope they never make these books into movies so that these stories can live only in the fullness of their prose.

by Sylvia Keesmaat & Brian Walsh

October 1, 2019

I’ve read theology at different levels for all of my adult life, often pulled forward in them by the ideas they gave me to build upon for my own teaching of others. In this season, there’s not as much teaching, but I’m glad to say, I’m still enjoying reading theology. It’s never only been about teaching, but also my own growth and interest has been spurred on by stretching my understandings in new directions.

So, Romans Disarmed was one I was excited to stumble on. Many years ago, I was challenged by Keesmaat and Walsh’s prior collaboration, Colossians Remixed.

I was expecting more of the same, and that’s what I got. It’s a different take on writing about ancient Scriptures, but one that brings them to life in new ways. I find that I resonate even more when I agree with them, and when I disagree, it forces me to think through more deeply why that might be the case.

by Cal Newport

September 25, 2019

Last year, no book got my attention more than The Hacking of the American Mind. I'd read before how social media and online behavior triggered some addictive type behavior in our brains, but somehow Lustig made the case in a way that really took hold with me. I've spent much of the last year reflecting on what healthy connections online might, and might not, look like.

Digital Minimalism is a book that explores all this even further. Newport's outlines a practice for how to engage with digital relationships in a way tries to maintain some of the value, while also moderating the unhealthy aspects. Ultimately, he argues that we all want to have meaningful relationship, but that digital interactions only lead to a kind of connection this is not complete.

The book resonated with me, and I've adapted some of what he's said since I read it in June. I lessened my online engagement, downshifting all of my social media engagements, and finding I don't miss them. Most of my professional life exists in this season exists in digital interactions — I think it's important that the same isn't true for my non-professional life.

by Patrick Rothfuss

September 18, 2019

I'm not a fantasy enthusiast, and outside of Tolkien, I can't name much other fantasy That I've read. But I'd had The Name of the Wind, which is part one of f this series, recommended to me quite a few times, so I read it a few years ago.

I liked it well enough, but I held off from continuing in the series for two key reasons:
– Book two, The Wise Man's Fear was a whole lotta longer and a big investment.
– Book three is apparently nowhere in sight and people who've read the first two are beyond impatient waiting for it.

So, here I sit unfinished like so many others. But no regrets for the time invested. Rothfuss is a good world builder (which I understand to be an Important thing in fantasy writing), and there is enough intrigue to keep me interested in part three. Probably. Someday.

by Ronald Rolheiser

September 17, 2019

Everyone once in a while, I hear another bibliophile mention that they find a certain book so meaningful that they re-read it every year. And when I hear that, I'm confident they are either lying or they are a way better person than I am. See, there are so so many books I want to read, and to devote the time to read a book again? Impressive.

But I understand the sentiment…there are some books that deserve to be re-read. Sometimes, it's because you know you want to understand their content more fully. Other times, it's because you know that what they say is so important that you want to not let any of it pass you by. Enter Sacred Fire.

I'm aware that I'm getting more "seasoned" in life. Sacred Fire is a book that offers a vision for who I might hope to become, and how I might hope to spend my later years in life. It's a book that celebrates life experience and offers a sacred view of maturity.

So, yeah, I'd like to read it again. And I'm serious enough about it that I just added a reminder to do so in early 2020. That's just about the most intentional step I've ever taken to read a book a second time.

by Michael Hyatt

September 17, 2019

When I saw the release of Free to Focus last spring, it made it into that back of my mind list of books I’d like to get around to reading. But shortly after, I heard Michael Hyatt talking about the book on Mac Power Users. That interview flipped the book over to that ‘read soon’ list of books closer to the front of my mind.

What intrigued me in the interview was Hyatt describing some of the high level concepts he talks about in the book. The first section, Stop, is about taking time out to focus on what your overall priorities are. As someone who’s spent the last year in transition that was appealing and helpful, and it’s what makes the book worthwhile.

The rest of the book is fine, as the content narrows down to lower level day to day stuff. Truthfully, I was concerned it would be a sales pitch for the Full Focus Planner, but didn’t really turn out to be that. There were helpful ideas for whatever system you use.

But, it’s the first quarter of the book, and the extra resources made available online, that’s worth the while.

by Dave Eggers

August 5, 2019

I’ve read most of Eggers stuff. With his fiction, there is usually some kind of underlying social commentary. In The Parade, that commentary is subtle until it isn’t at all. This one is a fast moving read carried along both by characters and tension that show Eggers’ experience…and also because it’s short.

by Fredrik Backman

July 30, 2019

Considering the apparent popularity of this book, I'm not sure how it escaped my attention or my “to read” list until last year. I wasn't even familiar with Backman until I read Beartown a year ago, but sheesh now I feel like I see this book everywhere. (An upcoming moving with Tom Hanks might be a factor…)

We are offered Ove. He is a character who we probably wouldn't like, and likely would avoid, if we met him in real life. But over the course of a story, Backman gives us sympathy for him, and we find ourselves rooting for him. This is good fiction, doing one of the things I think literature should do best — invite us to be aware of the experience and humanity of others.

by Tara Westover

July 29, 2019

I'm not sure how many “Best of 2018” book lists I looked at, but I am sure that this was on all of them. It was recommended by Bill Gates and Barack Obama, among many others, and I'll join them in that recommendation.

Often times, the most painful stories to read are also the most hopeful. This memoir might have been too hard to read in the earlier chapters, though knowing she got to the place of being able to write it offered hope enough to keep going.

by Octavia Butler

July 29, 2019

One of the earlier entries in the ongoing fascination we have as a culture with post-apocalyptic fiction. This one dates all the way back to 1993 with a strong young female character. (Literature has had room for a strong female lead long before the recent celebration of these kind of roles in film & TV. )

It wasn't a a page turner for me. But it was an interesting look at how a young woman forms a belief system and invites others into it, as a way of making meaning and hope when there isn't much to be found.

by Barbara Brown Taylor

June 30, 2019

I’ve done enough reading about Christian history that there wasn’t much new in this book for me. And yet, I appreciate what Taylor did here, offering some of the buried gems in the troubled rubble of Christianity past and present.

It’s one I’ll have my kids read as they mature into independence, with hopes that it will give them a wider framework of what Christianity has looked like throughout the centuries. All this, with much hope that it will give them some pride around the term Christian as they consider making this faith their own.

by Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers

June 30, 2019

Most of my reading during the week is either practical growth type stuff, or broad ideas around theology or philosophy. And, I still read fiction in the evenings in bed.

But there have always been other categories I’ve wanted to fit in my routine and not had space to read as much — generally memoirs, history, or some collections of essays have sat on my wish list for months and even years. Recently, I’ve been taking a break from other reading (besides fiction) on the weekend to read in these categories. It’s been good to broaden my reading, but also to help my mindset shift into weekend mode, and even give me something to look forward to returning to during the week.

Our family has admired Marcus Samuelsson mostly from seeing him on Chopped. But we also saw and met him at the Texas Book Festival a few years ago, hearing more of the depth of his story. All of that depth was present in his memoir, and it served the purpose that I most hope for in this kind of writing — it gave me new understanding into the experiences of a life very different from mine. And in that, it gave my new understanding of my own self as well.

by Trevor Noah

June 13, 2019

Before reading this, I wasn’t a Trevor Noah fan. It’s not that I disliked him, I was just…neutral. Now, after finishing his book, it would seem trite to say I’m a fan. It would be true to say, though, that I respect him quite a lot.

He’s a comedian, so I expected a funny book. It’s not. It’s a thoughtful reflection of a young man trying to find his way forward through multiple levels of familial and cultural brokenness. And above all, it’s a lovely homage to a mother who guided him along that way even as she was broken herself.

by Christopher Heuertz

June 13, 2019

It’s become easier and easier to mention the enneagram in a conversation without expecting a blank stare in return. And while I’m far from an expert on it, I’ve hoarded more than my fair share of reading about it. It’s also been a helpful tool, as I believe it was designed to be, for understanding my inner motivations that shape so many of my patterns and behaviors.

Chris Heuretz’ book is a unique and helpful take in the growing, and perhaps overcrowded, market of Enneagram books. He offers the obligatory summary of types, as you’d expect. But he goes beyond, getting into some core spiritual practices, from a Christian perspective, that will be beneficial for each type.

This is the kind of writing that is needed in the chatter around the Enneagram. Rather than something that helps us wedge ourselves into a type that matches our behaviors, he drives us deeper into how the number we identify with reveals our core longings. And once there, the practices he offers reveal not just a path to self identity, but to maturity and growth.

by Robert Kurson

May 24, 2019

I don’t recall any of the Apollo missions though they were happening in my earliest years. But I still remember our family watching a TV show about Apollo 11 on the tenth anniversary of the first moon landing. My imagination was captured, and it is still held. Rocket Men is, of course, about an earlier mission, but holds the same sense of wonder for me. I’m thankful for stories like these being captured and told while there is the distance of history alongside the perspective of those who actually experienced it.