Books 2019

The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith
Thomas Merton

I am reading this book with the eventual goal of spending a weekend at Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where I will enjoy a silent weekend retreat. As I write this, I am through the first chapter which is further than I have gotten in my previous ten attempts at reading this book. Some books have a particular time and season in which they should be read by certain people. Now is the season for me, for this book. 

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Pema Chödrön

This is a book I have read multiple times in my life, and typically I have reached for this book at times in my life when I wasn’t sure what else to do to get right. This time, I wanted to read Chödrön’s writing from a place of relative wellness. As I suspected, many passages hold different meaning for me when I am more stable in my own skin. The chapter “Six Kinds of Loneliness” is a good example. When I read this chapter before, I suspect I was wallowing in my own despair and looking for a way out of loneliness, but when I read it this time, I finally got that loneliness isn’t something to try to get out of, but something to embrace. Through loneliness, we can learn more about ourselves and learn to open our hearts. We can learn, by being with our loneliness, how to be content with nothing, because we recognize that we are nothing but the present moment. Everything is impermanent, shifting, changing. 

The ABC’s of LGBT+
Ashley Mardell

I bought The ABC’s of LGBT+ because a student told me that they had this book and really learned a lot from it. I was skeptical when I realized it was written by a person who became famous through youtube, because let’s face it, my English department training has taught me to mistrust most text that aren’t 400 years old *sarcasm*. Anyway, I figured if my students were reading this book, I should probably check it out. It’s good and worthwhile for sure. Mardell set out to create an easy to understand explanation of the very complicated world of human gender, sexuality, sex, and romantic attraction. The most beneficial section of this book for me is the glossary at the beginning of the book. Nearly every label or term that is used throughout the text is explained there, and the glossary if a handy place for me to search when I don’t understand a label used by a student in our GSA. Many of them, in fact, are not words I’ve ever used before, and many of them are words I’ve never heard until I read them here. Another of my favorite things about this book is that it is graphic in nature. There are many drawings and diagrams to show the reader exactly what Mardell means. Who doesn’t like pictures?

Shameless: A Sexual Reformation
Nadia Bolz-Weber

My friend Amy messaged me one day and asked if I wanted to go hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak on her book tour, so of course I said yes, because her book Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint was a fabulous reinforcement for my own theology of grace. I loved hearing the story of someone else who believed so strongly in embracing grace and living a shame-free life. Bolz-Weber’s work resonated with my spirit in the same way that Brené Brown’s Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead made me feel like I was doing something right in acknowledging my weaknesses. I’ve always been a strong proponent of honesty, authenticity, and knowing our strengths and weaknesses, so the work of these two women helped me really formulate my own theology and philosophy of wholeness, which is always a work in progress. Shameless is a thorough look at the ways in which the Church has used sex and gender as weapons, or more importantly Bolz-Weber writes about how we can reclaim sexuality and how we can, in turn, create a holy resistance to all we’ve been taught about sex and gender in the Church. 

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes
Dan Egan

This book is about so much more than the flora and fauna of the Great Lakes, because it details the commercial and scientific history of the unknowing mistakes that have been made in the journey from the completion of the Saint Lawrence Seaway to today’s management of the Great Lakes. From the sea lamprey to the salmon to the burning rivers and the zebra mussels, Egan traces a sordid trail of one attempt after another to balance the imbalance created by early 19th century shippers and traders. As usual, though Egan doesn’t say this in his book, Capitalism broke the Great Lakes and forced them into being much less than their original sacred waters. While I read this, I thought of Autumn Peltier and her quest to protect the ceremonial and sacred waters for First Nations people, and I wish she, and others like her, had been able to be heard a couple hundred years ago. Maybe books like this will help us to see the error of our ways and listen to people like her.

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.
Brené Brown

Brené Brown is one of my favorite philosophers/social workers of our time. When I first read her work (and Nadia Bolz Webers work) about shame, I knew I was hooked. Because our culture functions so much on a shame dynamic, I appreciate the way Brown ransoms us from that hold. In Dare to Lead, Brown builds on her previous work and adds to it the role of leadership in businesses, schools, and even every day life. Nearly every page has a sentence that makes me stop and say, “Well, that seems like something I could implement at my school and in my classroom.” As a classroom teacher, I am especially grateful for the thought put into education, along with the attention to business, since my second job is in the service/retail industry. My biggest take away from all of her work is that we have to continue to put ourselves out there in big ways, minding our boundaries, but allowing ourselves to be uncomfortable in all of the right ways. Our vulnerability comes from allowing ourselves to be heard, but it also comes from listening.