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Books that make me want to be and do better

In May of this year Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, published “An Antiracist Reading List” in the New York Times. His list popped my bubble of self-perceived, well-read, wokeness given that, to date, I’ve read one (yes, one) of the books on his list. I plan to correct that in the months ahead. His list, however, inspired me to come up with a list of my own. Not an antiracist reading list (I am not qualified to curate such a resource), but rather a books-that-inspire-me-to-be-better list.

“Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It takes brilliance and spiritual maturity to pack so much profound wisdom into so few pages. My copy dons various colors of highlighter and pen, revealing the many times I’ve returned to this book for a booster shot of biblically-shaped inspiration for not only my call to ministry but my call to human decency.

“The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein. Rothstein details policy after government policy that continues to shape our country, oppress people of color and render racial equity impossible. Every white person in America needs to read this book. The sin I must confess is that of my surprise. My African American siblings know all too well the reality and scourge of these long-standing laws.

“Dreaming America: Voices of Undocumented Youth in Maximum-Security Detention” edited by Seth Michelson. Read these poems and weep. Heart-wrenching and yet relentlessly hopeful, the words of these young people whose lives overflow with hardship humble and convict me. Christians should be flooding the halls of power and demanding better for the least of these languishing behind locked gates and prison bars.

“The Junkyard Wonders” by Patricia Polacco. This beautifully written and illustrated children’s book speaks to young and old alike. Children with various disabilities are relegated to the classroom known as the “junkyard” only to be met there by a teacher who sees their value, giftedness and possibilities. Polacco based this book on her own childhood experience. Everything she writes unveils the glorious that lives within the junkyards of our world.

“In the Shelter: Finding A Home in the World” by Pádraig ó Tuama. Poetic, poignant, painful and breathtakingly honest, Tuama shares his personal story of being a gay man and a devout Irish Catholic working for reconciliation between formally mortal enemies in Northern Ireland. He weaves Scripture with real-life stories seamlessly — reminding us that the narrative of Scripture, when we are open to it and aware of it, has the power to utterly transform the narrative of our lives and world.

“Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott. This was published almost 20 years ago, but I still remember where I was when I read it and how hungry I was for her frank words about faith and life. Her vulnerability invited me to be bring my whole self to God, unafraid and unmasked, and to unconditionally welcome others in God’s name. I wrote copious notes in the front pages, jotting down page numbers with words beside them like “grace” and “forgiveness” and “mercy.” This book offered me a lifeline during a season when drowning felt imminent.

“The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism” by Jemar Tisby. It is a sign of a keen and rare intelligence when a writer distills a swath of history to its critical content and consequence without dumbing it down or making it reductive. Tisby manages in a little over 200 hundred pages to thoughtfully present and offer tangible evidence for white Christianity’s complicity with racism and then gives tangible ideas for how to do better and enact justice. Reading this in a Sunday school class or other small group and discussing it would bear fruit that lasts in our congregations and communities.

I have so many more books, but no more space, so I will end with this obvious admonishment: Read the Bible. There is no more powerful and transformative book. But that goes without saying, right?

Grace and peace,