Even as a "do-gooder" – whether you donate to good causes, volunteer your time, or run a business to support thriving employment of vulnerable women ;) – it is possible to do the good, but still maintain a distance in your heart between yourself and the other.
I'm speaking about myself, of course; being so geographically distant from the work at Basha (& Basha's partnering training programs) makes it easy to check out emotionally from the lives of people who are so very different from my own.
This summer, I've read a string of books that have been so extraordinary! They have nudged me and pressed my heart in transformative ways; to see all people – from the most vulnerable to the most powerful – as people, humans, made like me and of equal value.
To be upfront: there are Christian faith elements in all of these books; I love to read and read a wide range of genres, but this summer, these books were my jam! Like, as a friend once said, "water for a thirsty guy [gal!]". I have listed them below from the most widely interesting & accessible (ie. least Christian-y) to the most specifically faith-based.
Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
I am super late to the party with this one, but given that I have mentioned it to a few people who also hadn’t read it, or even heard of it, I know I am not the only one!
Unbroken is a narrative history of Louis Zamperini, a wayward child who became an Olympic runner, then WW2 bombardier, then life-raft survivor, then prisoner of war. There is no summary to do justice to how remarkable this story is, and the quality of the writing is so top notch that it doesn’t even draw attention to itself. One of my 5 star, all-time top books for sure.
It is about survival; it is about the extraordinary ability of the human body & spirit to withstand more than we ever dare imagine (nor do we want to); it is about the transforming power of Jesus & his radical peace & forgiveness; it is about human life at its most physically excellent, its most vulnerable, its most hideous, and its more humbly glorious.
Tattoos on the Heart – Father Greg Boyle
I first heard about this guy on facebook, where I saw a video about an organization in LA where doctors volunteer their time to administer tattoo removal to former gang members. As I dug around and learned more about Homeboy Industries, I fell in love with their vision & practice.
The book is his attempt to record (both for posterity and wider distribution) the stories of his homilies, tales that speak to the homies’ fundamental worth, value, goodness in the eyes of God. I may have loved the vision from the start, but he talks the nitty gritty of loving the people.
How to you wrestle through caring for the homie who got shot & his grieving family AND still have compassion and love for the one who held the gun?
This book challenged me about what it looks like to truly see all people as fundamentally worthy of love, respect, & dignity, from victims to victimizers and everyone in between.
For the Love – Jen Hatmaker
You guys. Jen Hatmaker is the kind of gal whom you read, and for one, you want to be her best friend. You could totally imagine sitting on her front porch, drinking wine, chatting, and in fact let's move to Austin right now. But, at the same time, it's kind of like watching a three-ring circus or comedy show. Highly entertaining!
She rants about tights-as-pants, hipster outfits on toddlers, and why Christians need to stop being so lame, bringing Jesus into disrepute.
Among the most resounding of her challenges to the Western-world-Christian is her statement: if it isn't true for a poor widow in Haiti, it can't be true. As in, if my faith tells me I won't suffer, but someone else who believes the same faith is suffering, something is out of whack. If my beliefs are hinged on believing I will experience wealth & ease of life, but a poor widow in Haiti believes the same thing, and continues to live her lot, I must have gotten it wrong.
She also has a (self-admitted) Jimmy Fallon knock-off: Thank You Notes. My most fave?
“Thank you, Caillou, for having a nonphonetic title so my son cannot look you up on Netflix.”
Overall, it's a super-fun, easy read with an unexpected depth & richness.
The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom
When I discovered this book (after it had been on my shelf for literally years, unread), I was floored. I kept asking Christians I knew if they had read it, and so many said, "Oh yeah, I'm sure I read that when I was 10 or a teenager or something..."
If that is you, READ THIS BOOK AGAIN. Like my children, who seem to think that it is normal that both of their parents are around for nearly all of their 3 meals a day, every day, you don't realize what you have. This book is an honest, authentic gem, where joy and love triumph in the face of adversity of the type I have never come close to knowing.
Like Father Greg & his gangsters, this book, set in pre-war Holland and subsequently the concentration camps of WW2, challenged my belief of whether I truly do see all men & women as equally worthy of love. Aren't "gang bangers" & Nazis horrible people who deserve suffering, punishment, and disdain? Or is there another way...
Gray Matter – David Levy
This is the account of a neurosurgeon and his journey as a superstar medical savior through the professional risks of introducing prayer with his patients into his medical practice.
Whether you believe in prayer or a god or God or not, it is inspiring to follow his humble desire to seek healing for the whole of the patient – physical, mental, & spiritual – and how that imperative slowly (& sometimes painfully) overcomes his professional pride & fears.
This is a great book for anyone working in a helping, healing profession. But, it is equally intriguing if you are hungry for a vision of wholeness in our culture that tends to separate our issues into their tidy boxes. It is also a very honest look at where success and excellence may hit their limits, when dealing with unpredictables like the human body.
Interrupted – Jen Hatmaker
After reading For the Love, I was an immediate, bona fide fan of Jen's, so when I saw Interrupted on the bookshelf at my local thrift store, I snapped it up. [Somehow, our local Value Village has a treasure trove of amazing books; most of the ones on the list I found there! A grizzled Christian clearing out her bookshelves, maybe?!]
Where many of the other books above impacted the way I see or think about people, this book is a call to action. What do you do about it? is the question that Jen poses; a natural follow-up, but a challenge in that it requires... you know, doing something.
What does sacrifice look like? Is it easy? Is it right? Is it helpful? Is it good? What makes sense in my life context? The book's subtitle, When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity really just sums it all up, doesn't it?
Let me know if you have read any of these books and what you thought! Or, add your own books in the comments below, books that have fundamentally impacted your life. I'd love to have a read of those, too!