For years now two dear friends and I have taken a trip we call Beach Retreat. It’s a week at the beach where we, oddly enough, retreat. We rest and decompress. We chat and laugh. We read and journal. We stare at the ocean and talk to God. And yes—it’s every bit as glorious as it sounds.
My very favorite thing to do is read, so Beach Retreat is my chance to read All The Books. Each year, just after New Year’s, I start collecting books that I might want to take along. I always collect more than I could possibly read, then I have to painstakingly leave a few behind. And then I spend the entire week immersed in the world of words and ideas, setting my mind abuzz with all manner of thoughts and stirring up my heart to greater love and action.
This year’s book stack was fabulous! Here’s a summary of the books I read, along with links for you to grab a copy and get to know the author.
by Marion Hill
I’ve wanted to read a book by Marion Hill for some time now. As one of his online friends, I know Marion to be a deep thinker and an avid reader—so I was eager to read something written by him! Although Diondray’s Roundabout is the third book in Marion’s Kammbia Series, he promised this installment would allow me to dive right in to the action and characters, and it didn’t disappoint! It is a perfect travel read and was the kickoff to a week of reading with friends on a beach trip! I loved the world and characters Marion created—I could mentally picture the people, hear their voices, feel their joys and conflicts. And because I know Marion, I loved seeing bits of him (music, running, faith) expressed throughout the story.
Find Marion Hill on Twitter @kammbiamh or online at marion-hill.com.
by Alan Noble
Are matters of faith—life and death and eternity—more important than, let’s say, the latest life hack for managing your daily schedule or the latest health/diet fad? Yes, they are—but the difference grows foggy when we use the same tactics and strategies to communicate ideas of varying importance. If the gospel is the greatest treasure, the most precious reality, perhaps the manner in which we proclaim it to the world matters.
Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness (InterVarsity Press) speaks to this quandary, challenging readers to consider how our approach to proclaiming the gospel taints its beauty and renders it near void. Not only is our verbal proclamation a concern—Alan is also concerned about the message proclaimed in the way we choose to live our lives. All at once his words soothe and convict, calling readers to more than inconsequential faith that only buoys our own preferences:
“If we try to bear witness to Christ’s finished work in the cross, but in practice we have set our eyes on some secular vision of fullness, our faith will be perceived as just another consumer preference, something we can add to our current lifestyle.”
My heart is crying out in both sorrow (for ways I settle in my faith) and excitement (for ways to live more richly and meaningfully). This is a must read.
Find Alan Noble on Twitter @oalannoble or online at oalannoble.com.
Even Better Than Eden
by Nancy Guthrie
If you need a glorious big picture view of God’s story—and I dare say that’s all of us—this is your next read. In Even Better Than Eden, Nancy has beautifully summarized the major plot points of Scripture, pulling threads throughout the pages to tie together themes that I had never matched up before. Reading Nancy’s summations of these beloved and familiar accounts is like standing at the top of a mountain range and seeing how the landscape rolls out before you. It’s grand and beautiful, and each crest fills an important and needful place in the scene.
“People are so hungry for supernatural experiences—miracles of healing, visions and dreams, a personal word from God. Here is the supernatural experience that God has promised: the power of Christ coming down to rest on you, to fill you up, so that you can trust him when the worst thing you can imagine happens to you, so that you can be genuinely, if not yet perfectly, content even if he does not fill up the empty place in the way that you have longed for. At least not yet.”
Nancy uses every page of this book to point you back to the love and glory of Jesus. (And that cover art is everything!)
Find Nancy Guthrie on Twitter @nancyguthrienashville or online at nancyguthrie.com.
Surprised by Paradox
by Jen Pollock Michel
I love mystery and feel oddly at home where truths are present but not always connected or clearly obvious. In such situations, whatever clarity is lacking, I presume it to be simply unseen or undetected by me, rather than completely nonexistent. This is a form of that “negative capability” that Keats spoke of, that ability to rest in the unknown and uncertain—for the Christian, this should not be too difficult because what we don’t know (all the whys and hows of life) is beautifully dwarfed by what we do know (Christ crucified and raised to life again).
In light of all this, Jen helps us in her latest book, Surprised by Paradox (InterVarsity Press). Here she helps us pause and wonder at all that doesn’t make sense and line up, and then points to the firm foundation of the things that not only make sense but also hold the whole world together:
“Mystery is inherent to the nature of the gospel, whose wisdom confounds more than assists.”
“We cherish the rich complexity of our faith and its frequent refusal to be bargained unto aphorism and geometric proof.”
Paradox isn’t something to fear but a mystery to embrace and wonder at.
Find Jen Pollock Michel on Twitter @jenpmichel or online at jenpollockmichel.com.
by Michelle Obama
If you don’t care for the Obamas, this is an especially important read for you. In Becoming, you can hear Michelle’s heart for her husband and their shared love for their daughters, as well as their conviction that life is meant to be invested for the well-being of others. And that’s why I loved every bit of this book. The values, virtues, and vision for human flourishing drip from every page, asking me to consider what sort of person God has created me to be and how I can boldly make the world a better place.
“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”
Plus, I learned that President Obama would support my book obsession:
“He never talked about material things, like buying a house or a car or even new shoes. His money went largely toward books, which to him were like sacred objects, providing ballast for his mind. He read late into the night, often long after I’d fallen asleep, plowing through history and biographies and Toni Morrison, too.”
I’m challenged, encouraged, inspired. And still certain Michelle is the type of person we’d all love to hang out with IRL.
Find Michelle Obama on Twitter @michelleobama.
Invitation to Retreat
by Ruth Haley Barton
Because the aim of Beach Retreat is to decompress, think, pray, read, journal, talk, stare at the ocean, and reconnect with God, I try to keep my early mornings focused on time with God, using some sort of guide for meditation or reading. My friends and I have read a few other books by Ruth Haley Barton on Beach Retreat, so when this one released in November 2018 (InterVarsity Press), I knew it would be my pick for Beach Retreat 2019.
“Retreat as a spiritual practice… is coming home to ourselves in God’s presence and resting there.”
Invitation to Retreat was everything I needed for the week, full of deep and probing questions to help you discover the State of Your Soul. It was a solid first step in coming home to myself—the one I’ve been avoiding the past few months—to rest in God’s presence.
Find Ruth Haley Barton on Twitter @ruthhaleybarton or online at ruthhaleybarton.com.
As I Recall
by Casey Tygrett
How do we become who we are? We are not self-made beings nor are we only the product of parental programming. However we get to be the Me that we are today, it’s formed from countless experiences, that added together give us shape and life. We are these things, and more. We are mystery. And yet Casey’s As I Recall (InterVarsity Press) peals back the veil of mystery just a bit so we can make sense of our past for it to give a bit of light and hope for our future.
“We show up to our memories every day in the form of stories and scripts that shape how we live. The spiritual practice of remembering—the practice of engaging with God in our memories—is refusing to passively receive our story and script up to this point, and instead actively embracing God’s presence and our humanity in the midst of it.”
Our lives are full of meaningful ups and downs, joys and sorrows. While we may try to cut out the parts that hurt, we lose part of ourselves in the process. Read this book to embrace the fullness of the You that God has redeemed, in full, through Christ.
Find Casey Tygrett on Twitter @cktygrett or online at caseytygrett.com.
The Common Rule
by Justin Earley
I love, love, love thinking about habits and plans because they paint a picture of what life could be in all its glory and wonder. I’m way better at dreaming up the structure than implementing it though. That’s why I so appreciate books like The Common Rule (InterVarsity Press)—it helped me regroup now that we’re a few months in to 2019. And it gave me some new pictures about small adjustments that can build momentum toward substantial changes.
“Those are the habits worth cultivating—little habits of love, not carried out for success, not carried out to prove who you are, but cultivated because of a longing to love God and neighbor. That is a more beautiful life, one worth the constraints, one worth the failures.”
If you are interested in a vision for taming a bit of life’s chaos so you can better love others, grab this book.
Find Justin Earley on Twitter @justinwhitmelearley or online at thecommonrule.org.
by Belinda Bauman
As a bleeding heart—who picks up on unseen emotional vibes and takes in sorrow and brokenness with ease—I often wonder what the point of all that feeling and knowing is for. Belinda has cleared this mystery in her book Brave Souls (InterVarsity Press): it’s to move toward being present in whatever suffering and sorrow I see in whatever way God’s Spirit leads. This is both exciting and overwhelming. But it is a vision of life that I pray will be made manifest, to keep watch with Jesus in the cracked, barren places and find His life redeeming us all.
“Empathy must be given to something more than ourselves. If it hasn’t, it’s not empathy at all. It remains aloof, an idea, mere rhetoric, a theory. Action must accompany our loftiest of thoughts, our most wrenching emotions, and our bravest commitments. Empathy without action undermines its very reason for being.”
Find Belinda Bauman on Twitter @belindajbauman or online at onemillionthumbprints.org.
In Search of the Common Good
by Jake Meador
“The recent evangelical movement has been designed to do two things: first, grow churches through innovative worship practices and uncritically adopting the cultural garb of suburban Middle America. Second, to secure political power through an alliance with the Republican Party…. A movement designed to obtain power and prestige and status will end up where Jesus predicted it would and where the American church has ended up. Modern American Christianity was never intended to produce morally upright people given to sacrificial love of neighbor.”
Wowza, huh? You’ll get a whole book of that sort of thing from Jake Meador’s In Search of the Common Good (InterVasity Press). Throughout, Jake points to how we can adjust our aims and therefore the results too, for the flourishing of our soul, homes, and communities. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I am challenged to consider my place in the world and how I am an integral part of seeing goodness birthed right here in my midst. I struggle with that, often assuming that my role is so minor that it doesn’t matter if I do much of anything. (Such an Enneagram 9 thing to think.) But Jake’s arguments and vision are so lovely and inspiring, I want to embrace them. And I want our world (and the hearts I know in it), to know the greatest Good I know: Jesus, the one who is Goodness personified.
Find Jake Meador on Twitter @jake_meador or online at mereorthodoxy.com.
My Sister, the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
This was my final read for this year’s Beach Retreat—book 11! And an unlikely pick for me because: 1) I don’t read much fiction; and 2) I don’t like reading about serial killers (or killings, for that matter). Since this was a recommendation from a fellow book lover, I decided to give it a chance. And I’m so glad I did! My Sister, the Serial Killer is a dark fiction about sisters who have each other’s back… even though one of them happens to kill off her boyfriends. The bulk of the book is about family dynamics and the multilayered issues that compound when trauma and brokenness invade our lives and families. This is a quick read—super witty, excellent dialogue, good cast of characters.
Find Oyinkan Braithwaite on Twitter @oyinbraithwaite or online at oyinkanbraithwaite.com.