During our online conference this year we asked participants to share the best book they’ve read in the past year. Here’s what your colleagues are reading! Book descriptions are borrowed from Amazon.

Jump to: extraordinary lives; leadership; racial justice; spiritual formation; trauma and relationships

On extraordinary lives lived:

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by Yeonmi Park

In In Order to Live, Yeonmi Park shines a light not just into the darkest corners of life in North Korea, describing the deprivation and deception she endured and which millions of North Korean people continue to endure to this day, but also onto her own most painful and difficult memories. She tells with bravery and dignity for the first time the story of how she and her mother were betrayed and sold into sexual slavery in China and forced to suffer terrible psychological and physical hardship before they finally made their way to Seoul, South Korea—and to freedom.

Park confronts her past with a startling resilience. In spite of everything, she has never stopped being proud of where she is from, and never stopped striving for a better life. Indeed, today she is a human rights activist working determinedly to bring attention to the oppression taking place in her home country. Park’s testimony is heartbreaking and unimaginable, but never without hope. This is the human spirit at its most indomitable.

Fierce Convictions, the Extraordinary life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, by Karen Swallow Prior

The enthralling biography of the woman writer who helped end the slave trade, changed Britain’s upper classes, and taught a nation how to read. The history-changing reforms of Hannah More affected every level of 18th-Century British society through her keen intellect, literary achievements, collaborative spirit, strong Christian principles, and colorful personality. A woman without connections or status, More took the world of British letters by storm when she arrived in London from Bristol, becoming a best-selling author and acclaimed playwright and quickly befriending the author Samuel Johnson, the politician Horace Walpole, and the actor David Garrick. Yet she was also a leader in the Evangelical movement, using her cultural position and her pen to support the growth of education for the poor, the reform of morals and manners, and the abolition of Britain’s slave trade. 

Fierce Convictions weaves together world and personal history into a stirring story of life that intersected with Wesley and Whitefield’s Great Awakening, the rise and influence of Evangelicalism, and convulsive effects of the French Revolution. A woman of exceptional intellectual gifts and literary talent, Hannah More was above all a person whose faith compelled her both to engage her culture and to transform it.

On leadership:

A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, by Edwin Friedman

Ten years after his death, Edwin Friedman’s best-selling A Failure of Nerve continues to offer insights into leadership that are more urgently needed than ever, and this revised, anniversary edition is essential reading for all leaders, be they parents or presidents, corporate executives or educators, religious superiors or coaches, healers or generals, managers or clergy. Friedman was the first to tell us that all organizations have personalities, like families, and to apply the insights of family therapy to churches and synagogues, rectors and rabbis, politicians and teachers. His understandings about our regressed, “seatbelt society,” oriented toward safety rather than adventure, help explain the sabotage that leaders constantly face today. Suspicious of the “quick fixes” and instant solutions that sweep through our culture only to give way to the next fad, he argued for strength and self-differentiation as the marks of true leadership. His formula for success is more maturity, not more data; stamina, not technique; and personal responsibility, not empathy A Failure of Nerve was unfinished at the time of Friedman’s death and originally published in a limited edition. This new edition cleans up some oversights in the original and brings his life-changing insights and challenges to a new generation of readers.

Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly reading of the Jewish Bible, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

In this companion volume to his celebrated series Covenant & Conversation, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks mines the weekly Torah portions for insights into the nature of power, authority, and leadership. Based on the understanding that no man is born a leader, the book explores the principles, and perils, of becoming one. Profound, eloquent, and deeply inspiring, Lessons in Leadership reveals the biblical secrets of influence, as relevant now as they were three thousand years ago.

On racial justice:

White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, by Anthea Butler

The American political scene today is poisonously divided, and the vast majority of white evangelicals play a strikingly unified, powerful role in the disunion. These evangelicals raise a starkly consequential question for electoral politics: Why do they claim morality while supporting politicians who act immorally by most Christian measures? In this clear-eyed, hard-hitting chronicle of American religion and politics, Anthea Butler answers that racism is at the core of conservative evangelical activism and power.

Butler reveals how evangelical racism, propelled by the benefits of whiteness, has since the nation’s founding played a provocative role in severely fracturing the electorate. During the buildup to the Civil War, white evangelicals used scripture to defend slavery and nurture the Confederacy. During Reconstruction, they used it to deny the vote to newly emancipated blacks. In the twentieth century, they sided with segregationists in avidly opposing movements for racial equality and civil rights. Most recently, evangelicals supported the Tea Party, a Muslim ban, and border policies allowing family separation. White evangelicals today, cloaked in a vision of Christian patriarchy and nationhood, form a staunch voting bloc in support of white leadership. Evangelicalism’s racial history festers, splits America, and needs a reckoning now.

Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel by Dr. Eric Mason

African-Americans have long confronted the challenge of dignity destruction caused by white supremacy. While many have found meaning and restoration of dignity in the black church, others have found it in ethnocentric socioreligious groups and philosophies. These ideologies have grown and developed deep traction in the black community and beyond. Previously found primarily in urban communities and conscious Hip-hop songs, now that we are in the Internet age, they have a broader reach than ever. Revisionist history, conspiracy theories, and misinformation about Jesus and Christianity are the order of the day. Many young African-Americans are disinterested in Christianity and others are leaving the church in search of what these false religious ideas appear to offer, a spirituality more indigenous to their history and ethnicity.

Edited by Dr. Eric Mason and featuring a top-notch lineup of contributors, Urban Apologetics is the first book focused entirely on cults, religious groups, and ethnocentric ideologies prevalent in the black community. It brings the church up to speed on the legitimate issues that blacks have with Western Christianity as well as the questions alternative religious groups pose about historic Christianity, and it applies the gospel to black identity to show that Jesus is the only one who can restore our identity.

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee

Heather McGhee’s specialty is the American economy—and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out?

The Sum of Us is a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here: divided and self-destructing, materially rich but spiritually starved and vastly unequal. McGhee marshals economic and sociological research to paint an irrefutable story of racism’s costs, but at the heart of the book are the humble stories of people yearning to be part of a better America, including white supremacy’s collateral victims: white people themselves. With startling empathy, this heartfelt message from a Black woman to a multiracial America leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than a zero-sum game.

Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance, by Edgar Villanueva.

Decolonizing Wealth is a provocative analysis of the dysfunctional colonial dynamics at play in philanthropy and finance. Award-winning philanthropy executive Edgar Villanueva draws from the traditions from the Native way to prescribe the medicine for restoring balance and healing our divides.

Though it seems counterintuitive, the philanthropic industry has evolved to mirror colonial structures and reproduces hierarchy, ultimately doing more harm than good. After 14 years in philanthropy, Edgar Villanueva has seen past the field’s glamorous, altruistic façade, and into its shadows: the old boy networks, the savior complexes, and the internalized oppression among the “house slaves,” and those select few people of color who gain access. All these funders reflect and perpetuate the same underlying dynamics that divide Us from Them and the haves from have-nots. In equal measure, he denounces the reproduction of systems of oppression while also advocating for an orientation towards justice to open the floodgates for a rising tide that lifts all boats. In the third and final section, Villanueva offers radical provocations to funders and outlines his Seven Steps for Healing.

With great compassion–because the Native way is to bring the oppressor into the circle of healing–Villanueva is able to both diagnose the fatal flaws in philanthropy and provide thoughtful solutions to these systemic imbalances. Decolonizing Wealth is a timely and critical book that preaches for mutually assured liberation in which we are all inter-connected.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabelle Wilkerson

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
 
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabelle Wilkerson

In this bestselling, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.

On spiritual formation:

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, by Kaitlin Curtice

Native is about identity, soul-searching, and the never-ending journey of finding ourselves and finding God. As both a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation and a Christian, Kaitlin Curtice offers a unique perspective on these topics. In this book, she shows how reconnecting with her Potawatomi identity both informs and challenges her faith.

Curtice draws on her personal journey, poetry, imagery, and stories of the Potawatomi people to address themes at the forefront of today’s discussions of faith and culture in a positive and constructive way. She encourages us to embrace our own origins and to share and listen to each other’s stories so we can build a more inclusive and diverse future. Each of our stories matters for the church to be truly whole. As Curtice shares what it means to experience her faith through the lens of her Indigenous heritage, she reveals that a vibrant spirituality has its origins in identity, belonging, and a sense of place.

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, by Skye Jethani

Why are American Christians, who have more access to biblical teaching than any other people in history, failing to experience the freedom of the Christian life? Why are pastors, those closest to the work and ministry, burning out at an alarming rate? Why do many church members, who give large amounts of their time and wealth to Christ and his kingdom, secretly question the legitimacy of their efforts? And why are spiritual seekers dismissing the validity of the Christian message?

Is it possible we’ve misunderstood the call of the Christian life? A life lived in rich communion with God cultivates faith, hope, and love in a way that transforms both us and the broken world we inhabit.

Abide in Christ, by Andrew Murray

In this timeless classic, Dutch Reformed Pastor Andrew Murray probes scripture and the life of Christ in order to teach us how to live daily in closer communion and fellowship with the Son of God. So many Christians, come to Jesus as Redeemer but never go beyond the doorway to abide in Him and experience the unspeakable joy of dwelling with the King of Kings. Instead of accepting God’s invitation to enter His throne room for more intimacy with Him, they stand alone outside the door, uncertain and ashamed. Though Christ beckons them to His banqueting table and offers them a room in His house, they foolishly give up the glory of the life He has offered. This book offers a structured series of thirty-one short and concise, practical and powerful lessons to fill the reader’s heart with a hunger for God’s presence.

On the Road with St. Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by James K.A. Smith

Following Smith’s successful You Are What You Love, this book shows how Augustine can be a pilgrim guide to a spirituality that meets the complicated world we live in. Augustine, says Smith, is the patron saint of restless hearts–a guide who has been there, asked our questions, and knows our frustrations and failed pursuits. Augustine spent a lifetime searching for his heart’s true home and he can help us find our way. “What makes Augustine a guide worth considering,” says Smith, “is that he knows where home is, where rest can be found, what peace feels like, even if it is sometimes ephemeral and elusive along the way.” Addressing believers and skeptics alike, this book shows how Augustine’s timeless wisdom speaks to the worries and struggles of contemporary life, covering topics such as ambition, sex, friendship, freedom, parenthood, and death. As Smith vividly and colorfully brings Augustine to life for 21st-century readers, he also offers a fresh articulation of Christianity that speaks to our deepest hungers, fears, and hopes.

The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories we Believe About Ourselves, by Curt Thompson.

We’re all infected with a spiritual disease. Its name is shame. Whether we realize it or not, shame affects every aspect of our personal lives and vocational endeavors. It seeks to destroy our identity in Christ, replacing it with a damaged version of ourselves that results in unhealed pain and brokenness. But God is telling a different story for your life. Psychiatrist Curt Thompson unpacks the soul of shame, revealing its ubiquitous nature and neurobiological roots. He also provides the theological and practical tools necessary to dismantle shame, based on years of researching its damaging effects and counseling people to overcome those wounds. Thompson’s expertise and compassion will help you identify your own pains and struggles and find freedom from the lifelong negative messages that bind you. Rewrite the story of your life and embrace healing and wholeness as you discover and defeat shame’s insidious agenda.

On trauma and relationships:

Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts, by Harriet Lerner

Renowned psychologist and bestselling author of The Dance of Anger sheds new light on the two most important words in the English language—I’m sorry—and offers a unique perspective on the challenge of healing broken connections and restoring trust. Dr. Harriet Lerner has been studying apologies—and why some people won’t give them—for more than two decades. Now she offers compelling stories and solid theory that bring home how much the simple apology matters and what is required for healing when the hurt we’ve inflicted (or received) is far from simple. Readers will learn how to craft a deeply meaningful “I’m sorry” and avoid apologies that only deepen the original injury.

Why Won’t You Apologize? also addresses the compelling needs of the injured party—the one who has been hurt by someone who won’t apologize, tell the truth, or feel remorse. Lerner explains what drives both the non-apologizer and the over-apologizer, as well as why the people who do the worst things are the least able to own up. She helps the injured person resist pressure to forgive too easily and challenges the popular notion that forgiveness is the only path to peace of mind. With her trademark humor and wit, Lerner offers a joyful and sanity-saving guide to setting things right.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk

Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. He explores innovative treatments—from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama, and yoga—that offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal—and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.

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