The best part of Christmas is getting books. And I got some wonderful ones this year. I want to start with least “Christian-y” one, at least on the surface, because I’m going to challenge everyone to think about this, too. “A Year without Sugar” a memoir by is really well written and really astonishing: A more or less normal family in Vermont went a year (with very few exceptions) without added sugar in their food and without artificial sweeteners either. I just happened to pick this book up at the library for no particular reason. It is really interesting: so much of our food supply is sweet. Food that doesn’t need to be sweet is sweet. Added fructose (the bad part) gains our bodies nothing. The stats on how as fructose has increased in foods, Americans mysteriously keep getting fatter and fatter…. the use of corn for sugar and the economic implications. How the poorer you are, the less access to food without sugar you have. This information was all new to me; and I may or may not have understood it all. But the stories of this family living without added sugar are truly what I loved. I’ve started reading labels. I’ve starting having sugar-free breakfasts. I’ve started trying to eat (even more) vegetables. While the Schaubs went hardcore sugar-free for a year, and I haven’t done that (yet), I’m definitely in a zone of more awareness. Inspirational! So each January as we all vow to be healthier, here’s the challenge I send out — just try to be mindful of the added sugar (honey, agave, fruit juice, white sugar, brown sugar, HFCS, etc. etc.) that you eat. And drink more water.
Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber is a fast, fun read and a beautiful glimpse into the life of a pastor. Nadia (I’ve read her book, I feel I know her on a first name basis) pastors a church called House of All Saints and Sinners in Denver. At the heart of the book is community; and it often isn’t the “cool kids” and you pretty much don’t get to pick — just wake up. Love the people you see. Sounds so easy….Nadia talks about churchy things and explains stuff and I wish I’d had this book when I was a baby Christian looking for the secret decoder ring translator. You guys are strange, I would think. Wash each other’s feet? Seriously? I’d wash Jesus’ feet but your feet? The year that I finally participated in that ritual, it was profound, for me maybe more so than communion. It is humbling and humiliating and nerve-wracking (did I do it right? long enough? do I look saintly? is this enough?) and there’s something about water, and something about towels, and something about how quiet everything gets deep inside me. I think Nadia would understand all that.
Carry on, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton is a freaking revelation. From laugh out loud to tears. Searingly honest about family, faith, children, parenting, the love and beauty and joy of little kids and how completely bat-shit insane they make you because they have no brains yet. I commend pages 155 – 159 as being as funny as David Sedaris. Or more. That funny. And despite (because of?) the laughter there’s so much truth in her writing. So much kindness. So much love and hope and joy and generosity and mistakes and problems and healing and love. Tears in my eyes just thinking about it. Read this book!
take this bread by Sara Miles is another spiritual memoir and oddly, while on the surface like Ms. Miles I’m an adult convert to Christianity, we really have little in common. For one thing, she is much much braver and extroverted than I am or ever will be. It was no doubt very good for me to feel completely inadequate after reading this book. I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that God works in all of us, even if we don’t know it. Ms. Miles wandered into church one day and ended up taking communion and her heart broke and her life changed. Oddly, the first time I attended church with my now in-laws, I took communion for the first time too (even though I wasn’t baptized yet so I shouldn’t have). I remember it and note it as a very important part of my spiritual journey. But communion, for me, in my experience, generally, is a prayerful moment, but not necessarily a mystical moment. Oddly, the food and lack-of-food-for-the-poor is front and center in this book as it lurked around the edges of A Year without Sugar. In fact, in telling us about one event she had as a war reporter, she was on a plane with some refugees and this boy near her ate her meal he was given like the starving person he was. At the end he is staring at the two white packets and asks what are they. She tells him it is sugar. He opens them and eats the sugar and a look of delight and amazement appears on his face. This boy had never had white sugar before…. Ms. Miles started and I’m sure continues a food pantry in her church and community, a way of bringing communion out to the world.
Finally, wearing God by Lauren F. Winner — I’m actually still reading this one. The typical metaphors for God, in the Christian vocabulary, are Lamb, Lion, King, Light, Shepherd. So Lauren (I’m sure I know her too) realizes that most of us don’t know a lamb, lion, king or shepherd. Or these images are dulled by repetition and we feel apart from God. So she went looking for other biblical images: clothing, smell, bread and vine (oh yes food again), Laboring Woman, laughter, Flame. Over and over God is reaching Godself out to us in friendship and the richer our vocabulary for God is, the more we can wake up to this friendship. Lauren says all this much much better than I just did. Her research, her bible study, her writing is perfect and enjoyable. Listen to Lauren on communion: “In the Holy Eucharist, we take a miniature sip of wine and a small bite of wafer, and we call this God’s abundance. I believe by regularly proclaiming that God’s abundance can be found in something small, we are gradually retooling our understandings of what is truly necessary for life.” There’s good food here.