My Fall Reading List





THE SACRED YEAR: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice – How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Faith, by Michael Yankoski (Thomas Nelson): This book isn’t shown in my stack because it’s just coming out this week and I’m still awaiting my copy, but I did take a gander at the pre-publication manuscript and am excited to dig in again. Yankoski first hit the book scene ten years ago with the publication of UNDER THE OVERPASS, which tells the story of the four months he spent in intentional homelessness. He is a wonderful storyteller with an eye for the truth and whimsy in any situation. In his newest book he recounts his experiences of living out the Christian faith through disciplines as eclectic as contemplating an apple before eating it to mending socks on a bus. One of my favorite passages deals with his one-week solitary sojourn in a cave on Galiano Island. This is a fabulous book for those wishing to go beyond a simplistic beliefs-driven approach to Christian faith to a robust and embodied experience of the gospel. Check out www.TheSacredYear.com for more information.

CONSIDER THE BIRDS: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, by Debbie Blue (Abingdon): I confess, I’ve already read this one as well, but have added it to this list because it was truly wonderful and I’m keeping it by my beside a little longer so I can regale my husband with interesting birdy tidbits when he’d rather be drifting off to sleep. Debbie Blue is a bird affectionado, a pastor and a preacher extraordinaire and this book is full of fascinating ornithological facts that become windows into biblical truths. Vultures, pigeons, hens, roosters, pelicans and eagles all make appearances and all show up in unexpected ways. The book jacket says it well: “Debbie Blue offers an edgy, scholarly, and shocking take on these winged messengers to reveal poignant life lessons on desire and gratitude, power and vulnerability, insignificance and importance. Taking a closer look at these unknown or unseen creatures in some of the best-known passages of the Bible, Blue provides us with profound truths about humanity, faith, and God’s mysterious grace.”

WANDERLUST: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin): I discovered Rebecca Solnit this summer and feasted on three of her books in just two short weeks. She is a remarkable writer and thinker and is the author of the now classic essay MEN TELL ME THINGS and numerous collections of essays including THE FARAWAY NEARBY which is full of jaw-droppingly gorgeous sentences that made me despair of ever writing anything ever again (why add verbal drivel to the world when Rebecca Solnit has spoken!?). WANDERLUST, says the book jacket, “draws together many histories – of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores – to create a portrait of the range of possibilities for this most basic act…Solnit’s book finds a profound relationship between walking and thinking, walking and culture, and argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in a n evermore automobile-dependent and accelerated world.”

SLOW CHURCH: Cultivating Community in the Slow Way of Jesus (IVP): I’ve had a peek at this book and met one of the authors back in June and am excited by the vision Chris Smith and John Pattison propose and have lived. This vision includes, as the title implies, slowing down to make room for relationships and conversation and true care. The book is not just prescriptive vision, however, it is full of stories about how the Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis has lived out these principles of connection and availability, which transformed their neighborhood in the process.

THE ROAD IS HOW: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire, and Soul, by Trevor Herriot (Harper Collins): Herriot is an award-winning author and naturalist who hails from the Canadian prairies. The inside jacket says this about this acclaimed book, “Three months after a serious accident, Herriot sets out along an ordinary prairie road, to sort through the questions that rushed into the enforced stillness of healing. Unfolding over three September days, this enchanting narrative reconceives our modern map of desire, spirit, and nature. Meeting farm people who stop to talk, detouring along ralibeds and into field, sitting next to sloughs…we enter a territory where imagination and experience carry us beyond the psychological imprint of our transgressions, coming at last to the soul’s reconnection with a broken land.”

CITY OF GOD: Faith in the Streets, by Sara Miles (Jericho Books): If you read Miles’ earlier books TAKE AND EAT and JESUS FREAK then you know what a wonderful and iconoclastic storyteller she is. CITY OF GOD tells the story of one particular day – Ash Wednesday, 2012 -- when Miles and her fellow parishioners at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco hit the streets of the city’s Mission District to distribute ashes to any and all they meet. “CITY OF GOD narrates the events of that Ash Wednesday in vivid detail, exploring the profound implications of touching strangers with a reminder of common mortality. As the story unfolds, Sara also reflects on life in her city over the last two decades, where the people of God suffer and rejoice, building community amid the grit and beauty of the streets.”

BETTER OFF: Two People, One Year, Zero Watts, Flipping the Switch on Technology, by Eric Brende (Harper Perennial): Evidently, living without technology has become an extreme sport, at least that’s what is implied when extreme sportier Jon Krakauer reviews your book on said topic. He writes, “Deftly steering clear of dogma, never sounding like a sanctimonious scold, Eric Brende makes a persuasive case that most of us would enjoy life more by radically minimizing our reliance on modern technology. Better Off is a buoyant, thought-provoking, and very entertaining read.” Good enough for me.

THE THING WITH FEATHERS: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, by Noah Strycker (Riverhead Books). Sort of like Debbie Blue’s A Provocative look at Birds of the Bible without the Bible. Stycker is an ornithologist who weaves his personal encounters and vast knowledge of birds into highly readable prose (no small thing for a scientist). Through careful observation of the habits and personalities of birds like the albatross, the penguin, and the bower bird, Strycker ponders everything from the nature of memory and relationships to game theory and intelligence.

DOING GOOD WITHOUT GIVING UP, by Ben Lowe (IVP): Ben is the author of GREEN REVOLUTION and has been at the forefront of the Christian environmental movement for the past ten years. In this book he asks, “How do we [who want to make the world a better place] persevere when the novelty wears off and our enthusiasm runs out?” His answer: faithfulness born out of “key postures and practices for sustaining faithful social action.” Sounds like something anyone in the trenches of social change would do well to read. Check out https://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3679.
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Margaret Atwood and the Matt Damon Syndrome

credit: Sandra Vander Schaaf
It became know as the “Matt Damon Syndrome.” About a year ago a friend attended a BBQ on Bowen Island. It was a small affair consisting of the host family, my friend Peter and the hosts’ guests who happened to be none other than the Oscar-winning actor Matt Damon and his family. In the weeks following the BBQ Peter regaled all within earshot on the wonders of Matt Damon. Pete’s eyes would fix somewhere over his listener’s left shoulder, his voice would take on an airy quality, and this big, normally reserved and quiet man suddenly spouted a fountain of superlatives befitting a besotted teenage girl. It got so bad that his business partner and fellow renovation expert perfected a wonderful impersonation of Peter, “Matt Damon, OOOH, Matt Damon, he’s soooo fabulous, he’s soooo down to earth, he’s sooo…blah, blah, blah…(exaggerated rolling of the eyes)…blah, blah, blah...”

At the risk of falling into the Matt Damon Syndrome, can I share with you, my blog chums, my latest encounter with Margaret Atwood (because, well, she’s sooo fabulous and soooo down to earth and …)?

Yes? Well, if you insist.

Here's the link: Margaret Atwood & Leah Kostamo at the Green Gala

You can watch it now.  I'll wait.  

Tra la la, tum tum, tiddily tum....

The video was filmed at A Rocha’s Green Gala fundraiser about three weeks ago where I had the privilege of participating in an onstage “conversation” with Ms. Atwood. It was truly so very, very fun (which came as a great relief since, no joke, I had been waking every morning for the previous two weeks in a cold sweat, dismayed that I had agreed to interview this literary icon and uber smart woman in front of 300 people – what had I been thinking!? )

Highlights by category, from my vantage point:

Historical: Margaret’s musings on her childhood in Northern Quebec – a childhood spent, during her father’s field work seasons, without indoor plumbing, electricity, roads or schools, and with lots of time outdoors – a childhood that laid the foundation for her lifetime love of the natural world.

Humorous: Margaret’s rendition of The Mole Day Hymn (If you watch nothing else, watch this 2 minute sequence; you’ll find it at 12 minutes). Her adorable singing is preceded by her “outing” of my tone-deafness for the entire world to see. I think Margaret Atwood actually laughed at me. Oh well, she’s sooo great and soooo down to earth… And, truth be told, I am so very Piglet-like in my singing. I console myself with Richard Rohr encouragement to pray for at least one daily humiliation as a means of character formation -- this was mine for May 22, 2014… But I digress.

Profound: Margaret’s reflections on the stories we are writing and living that are environmentally dangerous and those that are environmentally helpful and hopeful. I think she just might have mentioned my book in the latter category. Can’t be sure, maybe I should go watch it again…

Lowlight: Actually, I won’t poison the well. You can decide for yourself what bit I found minorly mortifying (hint: not my tone-deafness, but something voice – my voice – related, which served as my daily humiliation when I watched it for the first time last week. But, hey, whatever, I didn’t trip and fall on the way up to the stage, and I didn’t do the deer-in-the-headlights routine which I was verily afraid I might do, and Margaret was sooo brilliant and sooo funny and sooo very articulate and ….
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If a whale explodes on the beach and there's no one around to see it does it make a sound?

credit: Doris Sheppard

A blue whale lies fermenting on the shores of Newfoundland. With a world population numbering a mere 250, it represents one of the most endangered creatures on earth.

I’ve stood under a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of the Beatty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver and the thing was mind boggling big. The length of two city buses, one feels the vulnerability of Jonah in its skeletal presence. These are rare, grand creatures.

This one probably won’t explode. The gasses building in its gut will likely seep out through its decaying skin. But what if it did explode? Yes, the clean up job would be enormous and very gross, but it would certainly serve as a stunning metaphor for the extinction drama our planet is currently experiencing.

The place where the metaphor breaks down, of course, is in the sound department -- while species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate, they are doing so without explosions or cymbal crashes. They disappear quietly. No explosions, just fewer chirps, croaks and songs.

If a whale explodes on a beach and there is no one around to hear it does it make a sound?

Of course.

Perhaps the better question is “What sound of lament will we make as Creation’s choir loses so many voices?”
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Earth Day Offerings

Happy Earth Day fellow earthlings!

  

To celebrate this important day my kind and clever publisher has put the ebook version of Planted on sale for the low, low price of $3.99. If you haven't read it yet, here's your chance to save a tree and enjoy some green literary morsels.

And, the fun doesn't stop there! To celebrate this important day, my kind and clever friend Kelli Trujillo has just posted a couple of interviews with yours truly. The first is in Today's Christian Woman's online magazine. The second is part of a creation care series on Kelli's website. In both Kelli and I consider the implications of living like the earth truly belongs to God and not us.

What are you going to do to celebrate this day? I hope it involves time outside in this glorious green world!


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A Sucker for Easter

credit: Brooke McAllister
In these days drawing near to Easter I am mindful of Christ’s work of redemption – of His design to reconcile “all things” to Himself, as Paul says in Colossians. His work of redemption not only transforms human lives, but all of creation as we participate with him in his reconciling work. Allow me to illustrate.

I was strolling across the lawn at A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre when one of our summer interns came scurrying by carrying a bucket. When I asked what it held she showed me a grey, wide-lipped fish swimming in a few inches of water. Her voice betrayed her excitement as she related that she was off to the program office to identify it.

Turns out it was a Salish Sucker -- an endangered species. Not seen in our watershed sine the 1970’s, this species had been considered “extripritated” in the Little Campbell River system. Needless to say, her find was a very big deal!

When I asked later about the experience of discovering an endangered species, she told me the story of the day. Upon waking she had felt like God was saying to her, “I have a surprise for you today.” She went about her day, doing interny things, wondering all the while when the “surprise” was going to show up. Near the end of the afternoon, she toured some visitors around the A Rocha property and down to the pond where she could check a fish trap which was being used as part of an invasive species monitoring project. In fact, this was to be her last “check” of the season. As she bent to pull the trap out of the water she felt God saying, “Here’s your surprise.”

Her eyes brightened as she told me how she lifted the wire cage and found, not a Pumpkinseed fish or one of the other invasive species she’d been catching all summer, but a strange fish that looked too big to even fit through the opening of the trap. She knew immediately that it was something special.

I grinned widely. “Wow! Amazing!” I said. “How fantastic!” And, in the inner sanctum of my mind, I thought, What a whacko!

I thought this even though the week before someone had prayed for me and I had crumpled to the ground like a deflating accordion, awash in the presence of God. I thought this even though I’d been practicing contemplative prayer for the previous two years and often sensed God’s voice speaking to me uniquely. I thought this even though I believe wholeheartedly in God’s care for all of his creation.

In hindsight I think I viewed this fish-finding intern as a whacko for two reasons:

a) To “hear” God speaking so directly is weird. How presumptuous! But my own knee-buckling episode and my experiences in contemplative prayer had demonstrated that God is quite capable of interacting on a very personal level. Funny how God’s interactions seem so bizarre in other people’s lives but not in one’s own.

b) To assume that God cares about a sucker fish is weird. Sure, I believe, as that old song goes, that “His eye is on the sparrow.” And when it comes to endangered species I am easily convinced that His eye is on the Panda, and the Sumatran Tiger, and even the Vancouver Island Marmot. But on the Salish Sucker? A bottom-feeding, wide-mouthed fish with big lips? His eye is on such an ignoble, unattractive creature? That’s weird.

And so I’m left with the question, who’s the whacko? Maybe God’s the whacko – a God who risks his reputation to earnest interns and middle-aged contemplatives. A God who fixes his eye on the humble, the overlooked, the ugly. A God who’s eye is on the Sucker.

A portion of this post was adapted from Planted, a Story of Creation, Calling, and Community, published by Cascade Books.
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