Tag Archives: Books

Five Books I Loved in 2019

Any book-lover knows that there are bad books, good books, and books that leave a permanent mark. There are some books that for one reason or another imprint on your heart and leave you a different person than you were before. For me, books such as The Lord of the Rings, Of Mice and Men, and Les Misérables have stuck with me for years after I read them for the first time. While it is not every year that I read a book quite as impactful as these, I have to come find that there are certain books that require some reflection. Too often I put a book down – even a particularly good book – and move on to the next without letting everything settle. So as 2019 came to a close, I tried taking some time to reflect on some of my favorite books from this last year and reconsider why I appreciate them.

I will not be providing summaries or reviews of the following books. Rather I will simply be reflecting on my experience of reading them and what I liked most about them. If you want to know more about the books listed, I encourage you to look them up and read them for yourself.

These are also not necessarily my favorite five books or “the best” that I read last year. These are just five particular books that I wanted to reflect upon and share with others.

With that said, here are five books I loved reading in 2019:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – There is a reason this book is so popular. My wife read it years ago and adored it but for some reason I just could not bring myself to pick it up. But when the library book club chose it last February, my time finally came and I enjoyed every moment of it. The unique point-of-view that a personified Death gives the reader is a hook from the beginning. Yet it never becomes a gimmick or a crutch. The true strength of this book is in its characters who struggle to truly live in a world surrounded by death.

I have read numerous books about life in Nazi Germany, both fictional and non-fictional. But despite the bleak subject matter and the potentially morbid point-of-view, this book was able to charm me. Any reader knows the power of books, but The Book Thief shows that their real power is in who we share those books and stories with. I read it back in February and I do not believe I read a better work of fiction the rest of the year.

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace by Brian Zahnd – Let me begin by saying that I am not a pacifist even though I have long been sympathetic and attracted toward pacifistic views. This book did not make me a pacifist but it did push me closer in that direction.

I truly appreciated reading about Zahnd’s personal journey as he wrestled with issues of war, violence, and nationalism from a Christian perspective. This is another book that I read toward the beginning of 2019 so it has been a while, but what I remember most from A Farewell to Mars is not so much about violence and peace as it is about idolatry. It is so easy to place more faith in country and violence than it is in God.

This book is convicting and challenging. I am sure that many would strongly disagree with what much of Zahnd has to say. But at the very least he is posing questions than anyone following Jesus has to wrestle with. Not least of which is the question: do we just believe in Jesus as a means to salvation or do we actually believe in the ideas that Jesus taught and lived? One of the many quotes from this book that has stuck with me is, “We forget that when we see Christ dead upon the cross, we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies.”

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott – If you have never read Anne Lamott, stop reading this right now and pick up something (anything) by her and start reading. Thank me later.

I read several great books by Lamott this year but it was Bird by Bird that encouraged me to begin writing again. Although I have not written as much as I would like to this past year (I will blame becoming a parent on that detail), I can honestly say that I doubt I would have written much of anything other than Sunday sermons if it had not been for this book. The simple reminder to take things one step at a time – “bird by bird” – has been invaluable for me. On almost a weekly basis as I look at all that I have to do, I find myself saying, “I’m just going to have to take this bird by bird.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – I thought I would hate this book. It is a book I would never have picked up on my own. I remember almost rolling my eyes when it was passed out at book club – it looked like some kind of bad Rom-Com. But I was reminded that one of the reasons I joined the library book club was to make myself read things that I would not otherwise read. So I gave it a try and I am better for it.

In the early stages of the book I wanted to rename it, Eleanor Oliphant is a Batman Villain Waiting to Happen. But as I continued, I decided a better name would simply be Eleanor Oliphant Needs a Hug. This is a powerful book about a broken woman coming to terms with her past and finding healing and redemption. It is at times tragic and painful to read but I ultimately found it hopeful and important. Sometimes we have to learn that there is power in naming our pain and brokenness. We have to come to a point where we acknowledge that certain things that have happened in our lives are not okay or normal. It is okay to acknowledge that everything is not “fine”.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – I have never read a book that made me so angry. There were times I had to put this book down because I could actually feel my face turning red with rage. The true stories of injustice that Stevenson shares in this book are heart-wrenching and infuriating.

There was a time in my life where I considered becoming a lawyer and doing similar work to what Stevenson does. Although the Lord led me in a different direction, I could not admire the work that Stevenson does more. He has become a bit of a hero of mine. If you have not seen his TED Talk, watch it here.

If there is one word I could use to describe this book, it would be “Important”. This is a book that needs to be read.

I have come to find that we need to completely rethink how we do criminal justice as a society. Right now it seems to be, “Well, someone broke the law…let’s lock them up in prison and hope that they’ll come out better.” What if we asked questions like why did this person do such and such and how can we help them find redemption and healing?

Stevenson repeats throughout the book: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” We need a criminal justice system that understand that fact.

This book angered and challenged me like no book ever has. Besides issues of criminal justice, Stevenson offers painful reminders of the issues of systemic racism and prejudice that continue to plague our country. This is a dark book, but Stevenson does offer hope to those of us who acknowledge our brokenness and have eyes to look with mercy upon the brokenness of those around us.

It was these powerful reminders that made Just Mercy stand far and above any other book I read this year. Suffice it to say – this one left a mark.

I’m Back

1616449_10152554142953332_844687268_nI can’t help but wonder as I type this if anyone in the blogosphere will remember me. It has, after all, been six months since I last posted anything. It would not surprise me at all if those following this blog have completely forgotten about Where the Shadows Lie.

If that is the case; well, I have a lot of work to do to rise out of obscurity and regain a following. But first, let me share a bit about my journey and why I have been absent from the blogging world that I miss so much.

I remember sharing before I fell off the face of the Earth that I was getting married so I would not be blogging during the honeymoon. Well, I did in fact get married to the girl of my dreams and we are very happy together. Yet, I did not return to blogging, as promised. There are a few reasons for this: (1) My wife and I could not afford internet service so it was difficult to get online enough to blog. (2) Being a newlywed, blogging was not nearly has high on my priority list. (3) Right after getting back from the honeymoon, I began to enter into discussions about a new ministry position.

This leads me to the next major step of my journey: I am now the senior pastor at Vale Church of the Nazarene in Vale, Oregon. Yep, not even two months after being married my wife and I packed our bags and moved an hour away to a little town in Eastern Oregon. I would not have considered a senior pastor position right out of school under ordinary circumstances; however, it is a very unique position that I am in. Ontario Church of the Nazarene (in Ontario, Oregon — about 15 minutes from Vale) is a much larger church and decided to “adopt” the church in Vale to help keep the doors open. So, although I am the lead pastor in Vale, I am simultaneously on staff at Ontario Naz and their senior pastor and board oversee my work.

Honestly, it is about as ideal of a situation as I could think of for a young pastor just out of school looking for his first position.

My wife and I have now been in Vale for three months and we are excited to see this church grow. I am learning a lot about life and ministry and now that we are getting settled here in Vale, I could not be more excited about rejoining the blogging world.

For the first time since being married, I now have regular access to internet so I hope to make posts weekly and be as involved in the blogosphere as I was before falling off the map.

So, regardless of whether or not you remember me, I am looking forward to once again sharing my thoughts and stories with you (I have more now than ever!). I hope to finally finish my “Apology” series with “Why I Still Believe” (Because yes, I most certainly do still believe in Jesus Christ my Lord!) Once that series is over, I plan on sharing my sermons with you as I work on turning my manuscripts into blog posts. I am also looking forward to using this as a place to share all of the exciting stories that are happening here at Vale Church of the Nazarene and any other stories I come up with as I follow my savior into the lands of shadow.

P.S. Several months back, I did some promoting for a book that I hoped to release earlier this month. With all the life changes that have happened, I ultimately had to shelf that project (again). I hope to announce a book release sometime over the next month.

Putting a Book Down

I hate not finishing something that I have started — especially when it’s a book. I very rarely ever start a book that I fail to finish. There are some books that I trudge through for weeks even though they are pointless drivel and struggle to hold my attention.

When I pick up a book to read, I’m making an investment of sorts. There are millions of books that I could be reading at any given time; yet, at that moment I have decided, for whatever reason, that a certain book is worth my efforts. Maybe I like the writer. Maybe the cover grabs my attention. Maybe the storyline seems interesting. Whatever the case may be, I have decided to give this writer a few hours of my life for him or her to tell me a story.

Putting a book down and failing to pick it back up feels like I’m telling the writer that I am no longer interested in what they have to say and that they might as well be quiet now.

As a writer, I find this offensive and I hate the idea of doing such a thing to a fellow writer.

Yet, there are times, I must admit, that I have done this. In fact, very recently I picked up a book that I simply could not finish — it was not worth my time. There were other books and stories that were waiting to be read and I could not bring myself to finish a story that was more or less garbage. Out of respect for the writer, I will not tell you what that book was.

I really wanted to like this book — I really want to like every book that I read. Yet, the storyline of this book was ridiculously unbelievable (and believe me, I have a very strong ability to suspend disbelief). Further, the writer obviously skimped on the research which involved subjects that, unfortunately in this case, I have studied enough to know just how far off the writer was. Now, normally I could forgive these things; yet, even if it weren’t for these major flaws, the story would have been second-rate. Thus, I did the terrible thing that I never like to do…

I told the writer I wasn’t interested anymore and that he could just go ahead and be quiet.

I fear someday that someone will read one of my stories or books and tell me, “Andrew, I’m really not interested anymore”, and put my story down — which is why I find it such a horrible thing that I would do this to another writer.

But, perhaps, putting a book down isn’t such a loathsome crime. There are so many good books out there that maybe we could spend more time reading the good one’s if we just put away the garbage once we realize that the story will never get any better. Not every story will be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. Sure, I wasn’t crazy about this last book I attempted to read — but I’m sure that there were many who love the book! And maybe someday someone will tell me that they are no longer interested in my story — if that is the case, then more power to them to read a book that suits them. Hopefully, I’ll find as many readers that find my stories intriguing.

It’s thoughts like these that challenge me to be a better writer. When someone read’s one of my stories, I understand that they are making an investment. They are taking time out of their lives to allow me a chance to tell them a story. When that time comes, I hope and pray that I do not disappoint.

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