Top 10 Books

Top Ten Books: Ben Fader
Anna Freeman has challenged me to do something intense: List the top ten books that have inspired/impacted me. I’ll include quotes and reasons book impacted me or how I came upon it. I think I picked 10 that inspired/impacted me, though I deliberately left out the BIble (for a number of reasons, including that it is a whole library in and of itself).  I hope this list presents a survey or summary of a number of authors and themes that have impacted me, while highlighting the particular books/authors that stand out. Here we go:
  • 1 Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
“The earth is speaking to us, but we can't hear because of all the racket our senses are making. Sometimes we need to erase them, erase our senses. Then - maybe - the earth will touch us. The universe will speak. The stars will whisper.” 

“She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a cork board like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.” 

Stargirl is an allegory, an anthem, and an invitation to live a life of blessed uniqueness (nonconformity). This book touches on the mystical, the personal, the social and taps into authentic emotions of people struggling to simply be themselves. Stargirl is basically my hero, and I strive to emulate her by being a star person myself. I don’t want to give too much away, because I think you should read it! :)

If this sounds good, check out another children’s book favorite:
HOOT by Carl Hiaasen
  • 2 No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton
    • I was walking through a Borders store one day, following the spirit and my intuition until I came into the religion/philosophy section and this book basically jumped out at me. Okay, metaphorically speaking, but I felt a strong sense that this book was for me… and it has deeply resonated in my soul! Don’t you love it when you feel like someone is writing to you directly? Merton has an adept gift in reaching into the soul of persons and our collective human experience, and from that place sharing deeply and profoundly about facing God and ourselves in vulnerability, trust and authenticity. Must read. 

“It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no expects us to be 'as gods'. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.” 
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them” 

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” 
Some other books in this vein:
Naked Now by Richard Rohr (or anything by him, really)
other books by Thomas Merton or ANYTHING by HENRI NOUWEN! (Beloved and The Wounded Healer come to mind). :) Also check out The Passionate Jesus by Peter Wallace.

  • 3 The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” 

“It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” 

“One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.” 
This book was recommended to me by my cousin, and it sat on my shelf for a while. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. I read it cover to cover, and found myself enraptured in the world, and discovering that the journey of the protagonist was in many ways my journey at the time I read it. Too good to pass up. 

  • 4 The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
    • I remember finding a Calvin and Hobbes book when we moved, and I’ve loved Calvin and Hobbes ever since. The imagination of Calvin’s world, the sarcasm, the perennial questions of human existence, and the mischief combine into a sweet, savory and satisfying reading experience. For the kid in all of us, for the questioner in all of us, check it out. :)
“You know, sometimes the world seems like a pretty mean place.' 
'That's why animals are so soft and huggy.” 

“I'm a misunderstood genius."
"What's misunderstood?"
"Nobody thinks I'm a genius.” 

“Calvin: I used to hate writing assignments, but now I enjoy them. I realized that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog! Want to see my book report? 
Hobbes: (Reading Calvin's paper) "The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender modes." 
Calvin: Academia, here I come!” 

    • I haven’t found another comic that compares, but The Far Side is pretty good. :)
  • 5 Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medaeris 
    • Ever felt trapped by your tradition? Have you ever encountered the sense that there is truth and goodness in what you believe but an apparent lack in how that manifests in your life? Maybe you’ve felt forced, pressured to share the “good news” but something has felt off? Well Carl has done a great job removing the scaffolding (of Christianity) from Jesus and focused on following Jesus and loving people. It’s a beautiful, simple, liberating and powerful book that I cried as I read. 
“There's a place for doctrine and dogma, and science and history and apologetics, but, these things are not Jesus - they are humanly manufactured attempts to make people think that having the right ideas is the same thing as loving and following Jesus.” 

“When we preach Christianity, we have to own it. When we preach Jesus, we don’t have to own anything. Jesus owns us. We don’t have to defend Him. We don’t even have to explain Him. All we have to do is point with our fingers, like the blind man in the book of John, and say, “There is Jesus. All I know is that He touched me, and where I was once blind, now I see.” 
    • For more on having a strong sense of [Christian] identity while being free to love others, check out: Why did Jesus, Moses, Muhammed and the Buddha Cross the Road by Brian McLaren
  • 6 Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    • I have long felt a call and a draw to pursue a deeper sense of community. This isn’t only for faith communities, but includes them. It just so happens that this little volume shares so much that is particular and practical while including some philosophical and structural themes that go beyond those particularities.
“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.” 
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community... Let him who is not in community beware of being alone... Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.” 
    • For more on intentional community and sharing life, check out: The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne and The Rule of Benedict by St. Benedict. 
  • 7 Crucial Conversations by
    • Psychology and sociology have always captivated my attention, and within those disciplines, I’ve found myself asking “How do we, people of varied perspectives and different understandings, communicate effectively with one another?” Less to do with identity and more to do with perspective and practices on how to communicate, Crucial Conversations changed the way I talk. 
“People who are skilled at dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add their meaning to the shared pool--even ideas that at first glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own beliefs. Now, obviously they don't agree with every idea; they simply do their best to ensure that all ideas find their way into the open.” 

“The Pool of Shared Meaning is the birthplace of synergy” 

Also check out Leadership and Self-Deception for some philosophical and practical help in getting out of your “box.”
For some crucial conversations happening every week, check out the radio show On Being with Krista Tippett, it’s amazing. 
  • 8 Love Wins by Rob Bell
    • I definitely hesitated before putting this book on this list, but if I were to be honest, this book has had a huge impact on me. I appreciate the insights and critiques that this book brings, but even more appreciate the depth of conviction that hopes audaciously for the well-being of all people. So many theological/metaphysical systems thrive off of an us/them dichotomy, but I believe that part of the gospel is a transcendence of this dichotomy, because God really wants people to be loved and live in that love! This book has highlighted rifts in Christian community/ies that I have felt first hand, and has shown violent backlash from people that haven’t read it (and wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole). Whatever your opinions or indifference related to Rob Bell or this book, I highly recommend reading it and engaging the material for yourself. I have learned much about the bigness of the gospel and the out-reaching love of Jesus from Rob, and appreciate the guy a lot.

“Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God's ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.” 

“As we experience this love, there is a temptation at times to become hostile to our earlier understandings, feeling embarrassed that we were so "simple" or "naive," or "brainwashed" or whatever terms arise when we haven't come to terms with our own story. These past understandings aren't to be denied or dismissed; they're to be embraced. Those experiences belong. Love demands that they belong. That's where we were at that point in our life and God met us there. Those moments were necessary for us to arrive here, at this place at this time, as we are. Love frees us to embrace all of our history, the history in which all things are being made new.” 

“As obvious as it is, then, Jesus is bigger than any one religion. 

He didn't come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain him, especially the one called 'Christianity'.” 

“Your deepest, darkest sins and your shameful secrets are simply irrelevant when it comes to the counterintuitive, ecstatic announcement of the gospel. So are your goodness, your rightness, your church attendance, and all of the wise, moral, mature decisions you have made and actions you have taken.” 

“If we want hell, 
if we want heaven, 
they are ours. 

That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced. 
It always leaves room for the other to decide. 
God says yes, 
we can have what we want, 
because love wins.” 
For more on life, death, love and hell, check out:
Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? by Hans Urs Von Balthasar
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
or talk to my buddy Mark Stone
  • 9 The Kingdom of God is Within You by Tolstoy
    • So you know those times when you’re up late in “input” mode? Taking in lots of information because you have to get to the bottom of this idea or question? Well, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking on the relationship of violence, politics, and what those have to do with Jesus. Tolstoy may not be the poster child for thought and action, but is thought helped me to dig deeper into some of my questions and issues with violence. In this work, he has some harsh words for violent empires, and the thought is not always laid out in a systematic way. Nevertheless, whether you’re a Quaker/Anabaptist, a just-war theorist or somewhere in-between, I think Tolstoy would be a great conversation partner. :)
“It is often said that the invention of terrible weapons of destruction will put an end to war. That is an error. As the means of extermination are improved, the means of reducing men who hold the state conception of life to submission can be improved to correspond. They may slaughter them by thousands, by millions, they may tear them to pieces, still they will march to war like senseless cattle. Some will want beating to make them move, others will be proud to go if they are allowed to wear a scrap of ribbon or gold lace.” 

“And therefore the Christian, who is subject only to the inner divine law, not only cannot carry out the enactments of the external law, when they are not in agreement with the divine law of love which he acknowledges (as is usually the case with state obligations), he cannot even recognize the duty of obedience to anyone or anything whatever, he cannot recognize the duty of what is called allegiance.” 

    • For more on Christian ethics and practices, check out:
      • Bonhoeffer’s ETHICS
      • Greg Boyd
      • Walter Wink
    • For more on justice and social change in the realm of politics/economics, check out:
      • Small is Beautiful, economics as if people mattered
      • Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus
      • Anything you can on the Catholic Worker movement.
      • Look up information on Christian Anarchists. I think you’ll find it quite fascinating. 
  • 10: Mountain Interval by Robert Frost, especially “The Road Not Taken”
    • The Road Not Taken often comes to mind when I am confronted with a fork in the road. Do I take the conventional road? Is there another way? A third way? What path fits with who I am? Counting the cost in those decision points is often aided by the awareness that my taking the slower or less-traveled road has made all the difference. 

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

  • Near misses, other books that shaped me FYI:
    • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    • The Fault in Our Stars
    • Les Miserables
    • 1984
    • Anything by Shel Silverstein
    • 10 HOOT by Carl Hiaasen
    • books by Richord Rohr.
    • books by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein 
    • Mystical Union by John Crowder
    • Works by Rob Bell or Brian McLaren
    • The Celtic Christ by J Phillip Newell 
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