The Art of Essay

Frank and I were sipping rosé with a friend this weekend and talking about genres of writing and reading. I was saying how much I love reading essays and that a goal of mine is to get better at writing longer essays. I think there’s something powerful in saying something in limited space but that is more formal than a simple blog post.

Frank’s favorite collection of essays is Down the River by Edward Abbey. (Most likely because he has gone down that same river quite a number of times, always relishing in the quiet adventure.) I thought this was interesting, as another friend just last week recommended Abbey’s collection, Beyond the Wall.

I started thinking about collections of essays that I love and thought I’d share just five of my favorites. There is a trend to compile a collection of essays, but often these feel like a series of blog posts (and sometimes, these books are literally taken from the author’s personal blog and compiled.) What I love about the following collections is that they feel intentional to the book. Which makes sense, because for three of these authors, the world of blogging played no role in their writing lives.

71nhadCDSTLEverbloom edited by Shayne Moore
I received an advanced copy of this collection by the talented women of the Redbud Writers Guild. It releases today and I’m excited to share the news of this book. I knew these women were incredible writers, but the stories of rootedness and faith, of solidarity and doubt have made me read these essays slowly. I want to savor the words and I think anyone who is looking for a powerful series on faith will enjoy this collection. Bonus? Each essay ends with a reflective question, which as allowed me to continue the conversation, in a way.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I am a fan of Gay’s writing style and this collection of witty, honest commentaries on culture had me nodding and laughing. I appreciate her point of view and journey that she brings to these essays. However, I recommended this to a friend who did not connect at all. I suppose, as with any of these authors, time and place and voice all play into our experience. But this is a collection I find myself recommending to all sorts of people.

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
My college years were spent trying to emulate Annie Dillard and this is my favorite of her collections. These essays captured my imagination and Dillard’s descriptive language is unparalleled. I find myself drawn to authors who connect our humanity to nature and this series makes me want to rediscover myself on a trail.

You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt
I read this collection while pregnant with Elle (and thus, her namesake) and I connected with Roosevelt’s observations on life, mothering, and being a thoughtful human. Some of her lessons sound a bit dated to modern thought but the underlying themes are timeless and solid.

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
I first read this collection before I even thought to claim creativity as my own. L’Engle talks about the blurred area between being an artist who is Christian and a Christian-artist. Like so much of life and faith, L’Engle argues that one need not Write About God to write about God. Really, I could pick any of L’Engle’s collections but this one in particular has stood out as a pivotal read on my journey.

I was reviewing Book Riot’s 100 Must-Read Essay Collections and realized how few I’ve actually read. (And, upon reflection, how few men I’ve read…) So, my new reading goal is to always have a collection of essays on my nightstand. Whether by all the same author or a collection of voices, the essay format remains a powerful form of expression.

Do you enjoy essays? What are some of your favorite collections? What are your thoughts on blogs-turned-books?

Love Flowers Best in Openness and Freedom

Have you ever been to a place where your entire body exhales? Where you wouldn’t necessarily want to live year-round because you need a place to go and reset?

IMG_0021We were talking the other day about investing vacation homes instead of renting for a week and the discussion turned to finding a place that is incredible enough to return to again and again. Because, to invest in a vacation home means to invest time that could be spent exploring a new location.

There is one place I have gone, both when I was single and with my family, where my soul breathes. Where, upon arrival, I know that I can reset and reenergize.

Moab, Utah is about a six hour drive from Denver. It’s close enough to do in a day but as we drive from the city, over the mountains, into the canyons, and finally emerge in the red rock desert, it feels light years from our normal view.

I can’t put my finger on the exact reason I love this part of Utah so much. Maybe it’s the incredible red rock sculptures, so unique and different. Maybe it’s the dry desert air and the brilliant blue sky. Maybe it’s the fact that when we arrive, family time starts and we leave chores and “real life” behind.

Last year, we rented a condo for the week after tax season. We hiked in the mornings and swam in the afternoons. Bea scampered up the sandstone to Delicate Arch, pretending to be a mountain lion and only taking brief breaks to ride on Frank’s shoulders. We watched movies and grilled. The girls napped in the car after hiking Dead Horse Point and we spent that time slowly driving through the red canyons, dreaming about the future.

I’m reminded of what Edward Abbey says in Desert Solitaire,

“The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”

Perhaps I’ve seen love flower best among those red rock canyons. When we dream about the future and of our family story, I can’t imagine it without repeated visits to Moab. I think I have found the one place I would visit again and again.

As we wound through those roads, girls asleep we added another goal to our ever-growing list: Save for a vacation home one day.

Do you have a place that you return to, where your soul breathes? Do you like the tradition of one place or the adventure of going somewhere new?

This post was inspired by Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home in the World. It releases today and, while I haven’t yet read it, I am looking forward to her perspective on travel as a family and finding a place to put down roots. She provided this prompt in honor of her book’s birth-day: Share about a place you feel at home in the world.

Blood Brothers Discussion

I have the honor of leading the book discussion of Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers over at SheLoves Magazine today. This is a challenging and thought-provoking book about the conflict in Israel & Palestine. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

Photo-2017-02-28-10-29-25-PMNaïvely, I have always viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of Jews and Muslims. The descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael. Of course, nothing is as black and white and the conflict over Israel and Palestine impacts many more people than those two particular groups.

Elias Chacour’s memoir, Blood Brothers reminds me again and again that we are bound by much more than religion, political views, and geography. If we are to truly live out the upside down, peacemaking message of Jesus, it does us no good to divide into separate categories.

Chacour brings his own story of belonging to one of those other groups to life. As a Melkite Greek Catholic, Chacour imagines that his family, who had farmed the same area of land in Galilee, may have “eaten bread and fish miraculously multiplied by Jesus’s hand” (33). That is to say, his family have been Christians since the earliest followers of Jesus and they have lived in Palestine longer.

And yet, when the Zionists began claiming the land of Palestine in the 1940’s, Chacour’s family, supporters of their Jewish neighbors and those who wanted to settle in Palestine, were forced to leave and live out their lives as refugees.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about which “side” is the right side. Our neighbors are from Israel; my husband’s family is Jewish; I was raised with the Evangelical ideal that Americans support Israeli Jews without question. And yet, my heart aches for those who were forced to leave their homes and who have lived in exile for generations. I grapple with my belief that we are called to help the refugee, to pursue peace, to turn the other cheek with the complex idea of justice and how that looks for so many opposing sides.

What Chacour reminds me, is that this particular conflict is the work of politics, not of people.

Read the rest and join the discussion over at SheLoves!

Review: The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb by Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel + Giveaway

One of the things that I love about our church and, that I forget makes it unique, is that we have three equal copastors. There is no lead pastor and each of the copastors depend heavily on the help of our community to make our church work. It’s an interesting set-up and one that seems to be a best practices way of running any organization. When you get rid of the sole “sage on stage,” you make room for many voices, talents, and gifts.

_140_245_Book.2132.coverIn The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel look at ways in which we allow power to corrupt our churches and communities. Often the power comes from having a lone pastor as the brand of a church. But often, it comes from the church community expecting one person to meet the needs of so many.

The authors interview seven leaders in the evangelical church and ask how they reframed their idea of power. From Jean Vanier to John Perkins to Eugene Peterson, we gain glimpses into what it looks like to give up prestige and follow a different path.

The interviews are interesting but they seem a bit disjointed. There is very little background or lead-in as to the reason these particular men (and one woman) were chosen as examples of leading without power.

This book was definitely written for pastors or people who are in places of power. Goggins and Strobel try to make their message more universal – at one point they mention that even stay-at-home moms struggle with power. But, all their experiences and examples are for people who are in a place of leadership.

Overall, I think this book is good for the target audience of pastors, professors, and people who are given a lot of power over others. For me, it fell a bit flat. But as I read, the disconnect was definitely from my own place in life and not because the general topics aren’t important.

How do you view power? If you’re not in a traditional leadership role, how do you balance your expectations of those in charge?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. Leave a comment about your experience in leadership and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, March 17, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Abandoning Books

In January, I quickly put the book Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship of Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X on hold at the library. It’s one that I’m writing the discussion post for with the Red Couch Book Club and I was eager to get started. When the book came in, I dove in but quickly found myself floundering. I was having such trouble connecting the lives of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali to the book club audience of primarily women who are social justice-minded.

IMG_3693I emailed the woman who was writing the introduction post, saying I was about 100 pages into the book and just not connecting with the direction. She wrote back saying she was at about the same place and would focus on her views of Palestine.

Wait. Palestine?!

I quickly went back to the archives of when we assigned the books and realized in my haste, I had reserved the incorrect copy of Blood Brothers. What I actually wanted was Elias Chacour’s memoir of being a Palestinian Christian. Completely different story.

The Muhammed Ali-Malcolm X book is still sitting on my desk. I’ve renewed it twice and only have 3 more weeks before I need to return it. I know that I’m not going to finish it, but I’m unable to abandon the idea that I could still read it and learn something new.

I’ve always had trouble leaving books, whether they’re just not my style or too dense or the completely wrong book. I like the idea of being able to find something anywhere to learn and expand my worldview.

But sometimes, it’s ok to stop, to return the book, and to recognize that I’m just not in a place to finish every single thing I start. And that’s ok.

Are you able to abandon books or projects? When do you realize it’s time to let something go?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “abandon.”

Books to See the Other

I was reflecting on books that have helped me to understand those we have labeled as The Other. Whether from a different socioeconomic background, a different culture, or a different political viewpoint, I think it’s important to read books that challenge our own worldview.

img_3774I’ve referenced many of these books already, but in case you’re looking for something new to read during this season, these are five nonfiction books that have helped me understand a different point of view a little better.

Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah
Working through the Old Testament book of Lamentations, Dr. Rah reminds prosperous countries that, without the recognition and practice of lament, we cannot truly experience joy. Without going into a doomsday prophecy, Rah links similarities between prosperous Jerusalem and prosperous America. How can we practice a destruction of ideology and how we read the Bible? (Another good essay about this is by Tanya Marlow for SheLoves Magazine: Blessed are the Overdramatic.)

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
I read this memoir at the end of last year and appreciated Mayfield’s commitment to learning from rather than about refugees. She and her family have chosen to live side-by-side these families and her compassion and empathy have helped me see this “Immigration Issue” as far more complex and meaningful.

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
This is a memoir of a Palestinian Melkite Christian. What I appreciate about this books is that Chacour shifted my view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from one of Jews-Muslims to one of deeper, wider spreading origins. I gained new insights into this conflict that took it far from the black and white point of view I had been raised with. (Also, this is our Red Couch book club discussion for March. I hope you’ll join in if interested!)

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
This is my winner for Books that Have Changed My Life. These stories are hard but necessary. It’s so important for us in comfortable homes with some sort of access to healthcare and assistance to remember what most of the rest of the world is experiencing. It’s also a reminder of why women’s issues here in America are so important to address.

Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield
This is a timely book for anyone looking to go beyond helping the poor institutionally. How do we actually  live out the idea of opening our homes and learning to love our neighbors? Greenfield describes the highs and lows of living out this messy theology.

These are just a small handful of powerful books. I’d also suggest reading an author who looks different from you or who comes from a different background. A friend and I were talking about the need to read and know more about Native Americans. I’d recommend starting with Richard Twiss for a Christian perspective or Louise Erdrich for powerful novels.

What are some books that have helped you shift your worldview? 

Review: What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery + Giveaway

In less than a month, we’ll be entering one of the most popular seasons of the church calendar, when Jesus asked his disciples to give up Facebook for 40 days. (Excluding Sunday check-ins, as part of breaking the fast, of course.) I can’t condemn this practice at all – I have given up or put extreme limits on social media during Lent and it’s always been a needed breath of air.

_140_245_book-2130-coverGiving up social media for a month or a short season is one thing. All internet (and internet related conveniences) for a year? That’s an entirely different sort of fast. This is exactly what Esther Emery does – no internet, no cell phones, no debit cards for an entire year.

When I first read the synopsis for What Falls from the Sky, I wondered what kind of “year long experiment memoir” this would be. I should have known better. Emery’s honest writing and keen observations on life made this much less an experiment in living without internet and much more the type of memoir that makes all other memoirs pale in comparison.

Emery’s story of moving from Southern California to the Boston suburbs while simultaneously making ties to community – both old and new – much more difficult in this technology age is not at all what my current life looks like. And yet, the lessons she learns and the powerful storytelling she uses drew me in. I felt like I was walking alongside this year of challenges and struggles. I found myself assessing our own life choices in new ways and through a different perspective.

Emery gracefully blends her own story into a greater picture. She draws the reader into her own details without ever making it seem like her choices should be anyone’s but hers alone. There is no pressure to live life by her choices – this is a tale of what happens to Emery and her family because of those.

I haven’t enjoyed a memoir like this in quite some time and Emery restored my love of this genre. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking, beautifully written story, I’d highly recommend What Falls from the Sky.

What is your relationship with the internet? Do you need to take intentional fasts from social media or have you found a natural balance?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of What Falls from the Sky. Leave a comment about giving up the internet and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, February 10, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.