Posted in Books, Real Life

Spiritual Health Month

I’ve been on a health kick recently (and not just because my antidepressants are making me fat.)

After reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I retooled her basic premise: What if I pursued not happiness, but health?

In June, I worked on my physical health, prioritizing yoga, meditation, and meal prep.

In July, I focused on finding comfortable, work-appropriate clothing that looked good on me.

This month, it’s time for spiritual health. I’m spending the month of August growing closer to God by asking big questions.

I initially balked at my own imposition. I dreaded doing “intense” Bible study involving maps of Israel and historical commentaries. I despised most of the theologians my friends and family loved. What else was there for me to do?

Read books. Obviously.

Instead of forcing myself to read “spiritual” tomes (C. S. Lewis is great and all, but he’s not for me), I checked out books by authors I respect on topics that interest me. For once, I’m excited about theological exploration. This never happens.

Here’s my August book list, with brief explanations behind each choice:

  1. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee
    Justin Lee fascinates me. He created the Gay Christian Network as a space where those who believe in monogamy and those who support celibacy can dialogue. In my experience, genuine dialogue between different camps has been rare. I’m used to Christians “standing up for the truth” by digging their heels in and refusing to listen. I’m excited to hear Justin’s story and learn more about his mission.
  2. Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found it Through Science by Mike McHargue
    Many of the churches I’ve attended believe that faith and science are incompatible. In college, it was a shock for me to meet dedicated science-lovers who called themselves Christians. I’m more inclined to encounter God in art instead of science, so I’m interested to see Mike McHargue describe his experiences on the other end of the spectrum.
  3. Rising Strong by Brene Brown
    So…apparently Brene Brown is great. I’ve seen her quoted in plenty of depression studies and namedropped by Liz Gilbert. Her writing process is pretty unique – she records brainstorming sessions with friends, then writes her books using the transcripts. THAT’S NUTS. Also, SHE ARGUES ON BEHALF OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH. THAT IS A DREAM COME TRUE FOR ME. This book explores vulnerability and failure, two areas I struggle with. DON’T LET ME DOWN, BRENE.
  4. Space at the Table: Conversations Between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son by Brad and Drew Harper
    How do one’s beliefs change when a family member comes out as gay? I WILL FIND OUT.
  5. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell
    Confession: I chose this book because of its controversy. At some point during my college years, my then-church deemed Rob Bell a Bad Christian. My crew nervously accepted this idea without knowing exactly what Bell had done. At the time, I heard that Bell no longer believed in Hell. Just recently, I read the perspectives of several pastors (including my boy Greg Boyd) who came to Bell’s defense. I want to see what all the fuss is about.
  6. The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage by Rob and Kristen Bell
    A marriage book about give and take written by a husband and wife team; in other words, an egalitarian’s dream. Gimme.
  7. The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright
    A few years back, I had a traumatizing experience with some traveling missions recruiters that put me off missions for good. I bristle when missionaries return home and demand their fellow Christians move with them to rural Mongolia. It’s hard to express these feelings when many of my friends dream of sharing the gospel overseas. I want to see if Jamie Wright feels the same way I do.
  8. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
    I love punky little misfit churches that don’t fit the nice, religious image of what a church “should” be. I want to read about the places freaks and oddballs call home.
  9. Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction by Caleb Kaltenbach
    I’ve wondered how new Christians deal with this exact scenario many a time. In the past, I’ve asked a number of specific questions about the LGBTQIA community that no pastor has felt comfortable addressing. CALEB KALTENBACH TO THE RESCUE.
  10. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
    The aspect of my former Bible study that really rankled was its adamant focus on history. Other interpretations and lenses were dismissed or ignored in favor of yet another examination of ancient warfare. Calling attention to writing style or poetic language (WHICH I HAVE A DEGREE IN) prompted hardened, “NOPES,” and hasty returns to Pre-Christian Jewish culture. I thought, If this is the only way to read the Bible, I’m no longer interested. That Evans wrote an honest examination of the variety in Biblical texts gives me hope that my interpretations are valid. If what she says is true, I’m not limited to poring over maps of Israel or cross-referencing historical events. Thank God for that.

 

Update: I couldn’t wait for Spiritual Health Month to start, so I dug into my book pile four days early and ended up finishing two (going on three!) books. Luckily, the authors recommended additional books for my ever-expanding list.

New books include:

  1. Sex God by Rob Bell
    A look at the relationship between sexuality and spirituality. I can’t find a print copy at my local library, so I may have to PURCHASE this one. Desperate times, fam.
  2. Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
    My friend Stacia, knowing how much I love personality tests, recommended this one. In it, De Bono describes the six roles small group members can play (I already know I’m the red hat.) I’m a little skeptical due to De Bono’s cheesy website (it takes a special kind of Christian to make a website that lame), but I’m trying to keep an open mind.
  3. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr
    A liberal theologian explores the advantages of a scarily-accurate personality assessment!? OH. HELL. YES.
  4. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
    Hill details his experiences as a celibate, gay Christian in an effort to encourage other gay believers. I’ve heard good things and I needed a wild card.
  5. Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin
    Apparently this is THE book to read on relations between the church and the queer community. Andrew Marin seems both passionate and sincere concerning this topic, so I’m on board. Also, this book won awards, and that fact has never once betrayed me. Never.
  6. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
    Come on, it’s IN THE TITLE.
Posted in Books

Summer Reading List

I’ve rejoiced my parents’ last day of school. I’ve purchased aloe for a terrible sunburn. I’ve broken out the baby powder for 80-degree days.

Summer is upon us.

That means it’s time to read. A lot.

If you’re looking for suggestions, I have TRILLIONS. I even organized them from fluffy to thought-provoking, with ample gray area for darker reads.

Here they are in list form. I’ll start with the fluffiest and get progressively more…mature? Serious? Literary? Whatever.

Key:
YA: Young Adult
CR: Currently Reading
TBR: To Be Read

  1. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (YA)
    A 14-year-old Manhattanite finds out she’s actually a European princess. I will never not recommend this book.
  2. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (YA, TBR)
    Two teens with clashing personliaties meet and presumably fall in love at computer camp. I will note that I bought this for $3 at a book sale solely because of the iced coffee on the book jacket.
  3. My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
    An absolutely insane choose-your-own-adventure romance. Your choices include a sharp-tongued aristocrat, a half-dressed Scotsman, an intrepid explorer, and several fantastical creatures of dubious sanity. Rated NC-17. No, I’m not kidding.
  4. Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe (YA)
    Forensics fanatic Jasmine Callihan, along with her colorful group of friends, tries to solve a mystery involving a cat, a severed thumb, and Kermit underpants. Hilarity ensues. This is the funniest book I’ve ever read, hands down, and the biggest influence on my writing style. Show some RESPECT.
  5. The Selection series by Kiera Cass (YA)
    Published in the wake of The Hunger Games, these books ask an important question, namely: What if the monarchy participated in a “Bachelor”-style reality show to pick the new queen? THESE BOOKS ARE SO DUMB…but I own the entire series, including the spin-offs, which have made me weep REAL TEARS.
  6. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman (TBR)
    Good girl Rachel Friedman shocks everyone by buying a ticket to Ireland on a whim. I keep buying travelogues with mixed results, so we’ll see how this goes.
  7. Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley
    An artist’s tale of her DIY wedding in comic book format. Includes recipes, photos, practical wedding tips, and pages soaked with my tears.
  8. Less by Andrew Sean Greer (TBR)
    Author books whirlwind speaking tour to cope with ex’s wedding. I’m guessing he Finds Love and Learns About Himself…but the book won the Pulitzer prize, so it has to be good,
  9. The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna (YA, CR)
    Sophie Sophia, like her father before her, has an active imagination. JUST KIDDING! She HALLUCINATES! Or does she…? A thoughtful look at mental illness in hot pink packaging.
  10. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
    Follows a New York writer as she falls in love with French cuisine. Includes many recipes I will never attempt and one for profiteroles I might.
  11. Dramarama by E. Lockhart (YA)
    Small-town girl and her gay best friend navigate theater camp politics. Come for the amateur musicals. Stay for the smart handling of sexuality, race, and identity.
  12. Ship It by Britta Lundin (YA)
    A slash shipper and an inexperienced actor go on tour following a PR slip-up. I thought it would be silly romp about shipping culture, but its deep dive into representation and belonging broke my stupid heart.
  13. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (YA)
    Bisexual bad boy Lord Henry “Monty” Montague takes a trip with sister Felicity and secret crush Percy that turns into a piratical adventure full of…frank discussions about race and sexuality? WHAT?
  14. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (YA)
    Girl hospitalized following a car accident ponders whether she wants to keep living. This was THE book in 2009 and it made everyone cry. Think The Notebook for teens, only interesting and well-written.
  15. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (YA)
    Private school girl infiltrates all-male secret society. Alternate title: A Young Girl’s Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy.
  16. The Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore (YA)
    Fast-paced, female-led fantasy novels with a feminist bent. Though all three books are excellent, Fire is my favorite.
  17. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (YA)
    “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” That first line was all the context I had going into this book. I’ve read lots of fantastical forbidden love stories in my day; I don’t often get to read one this well-written. Also, winner of the award for MOST TRAUMATIZING DEATH SCENE. I READ THIS AT WORK. I WAS UNPREPARED.
  18. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (YA)
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales…IN SPACE. Series highlights: Scarlet falling for a terse streetfighter in Scarlet and all the characters joining forces to abduct royalty in Cress.
  19. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (YA)
    Six teenage criminals pull off an impossible heist. Don’t let the book’s thickness fool you – the plot moves fast. Contains multiple romances and a gunslinger(!).
  20. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (YA)
    Pyschic-adjacent Blue meets a band of prep school boys with an unnatural interest in Welsh kings. Home to THE GREATEST YA HERO in recent memory. The Raven Cycle? More like the RONAN Cycle.
  21. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (YA)
    Anxious teenager Asa Holmes joins her exuberant best friend in a money-making scheme that results in Asa confronting her issues with intimacy, as well as her waning mental health. Contains incredibly-accurate and validating depiction of anxiety.
  22. Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (YA)
    On orders from her deceased aunt, Jane travels to the mysterious mansion Tu Reviens, where things get weird as hell. That’s all I’ve got.
  23. The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew
    Alternate history exploring a modern-day Third Reich. Picked this up at a Blind Date with a Book giveaway. No regrets.
  24. Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew
    Illustrator Mari Andrew reassures “unsuccessful” millennials with her own journey through early adulthood. Buy this for your sad 20-something friends.
  25. The Happiness Project, Or, Why I  Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
    Chronicles Gretchen Rubin’s attempt to increase her happiness in 12 months with charts and research. Eat, Pray, Love for the left-brained set.
  26. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
    Follows the life of a maid having an affair with a wealthy lord in the 1920s. It’s deeper than you would expect.
  27. You Can’t Touch my Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
    Humorous and thoughtful take on race relations in America. Contains one of my favorite passages on sidewalk rage ever printed.
  28. Would You Rather by Katie Heaney
    Writer Katie Heaney comes out as gay after 28 years believing herself straight. This book came out in May; I’ve already read it four times. Will appeal to anyone who has moved to a big city, struggled with anxiety, or  watched “The L Word.”
  29. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
    Gay’s essays deconstruct “perfect” feminism, popular television, rape culture, and use of the word “girl.” Now available in pink!
  30. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
    Evans ties modern church pitfalls with her own experiences using the seven sacraments. Perfect for depressives dealing with a crisis of faith. (Meaning ME. IT’S PERFECT FOR ME.)
  31. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill/Chemistry by Weike Wang
    Two stream-of-consciousness novels about women battling mental breakdowns. These books are weirdly similar, but I love them both.
  32. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
    After her grandfather dies unexpectedly, a young woman traces his origins to a village that once harbored an escaped tiger. That sound you hear is my stupid heart breaking all over the pages.
  33. The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead (TBR)
    A novel about the Underground Railroad…except, in this story, it’s a literal railroad. Also a Pulitzer Prize winner, AND I’ve heard the author namedropped by my two favorite podcasters.
  34. Hild by Nicola Griffith (CR)
    A novelist’s take on medieval warrior princess St. Hilda of Whitby. Called “one of the best novels ever.” So far my experience fits that description.
Posted in Books, Real Life

The Truth About Sex After Marriage

The church I grew up in taught a lot about sex.

The intent was to help (I think.) Sex is a big deal and the church SHOULD be talking about it.

By “talk,” though, I mean “dialogue,” and no such conversation existed at the time.

Adults told teens “DON’T HAVE SEX” without telling them how or why. They squeamishly avoided listing potential consequences of unprotected intercourse, making high school Sex Ed look competent by comparison.

More embarrassing was a series on married sex taught by the three senior pastors. They lauded their bravery for talking “openly” about the subject without using medical terminology or addressing the “how” of how to improve your sex life. They discussed sexual pleasure with extreme discomfort, transmitting their shame to the rest of the congregation.

I learned that porn is a fantasy without learning about the reality of sex.

I heard over and over the gender myth that men like sex and women don’t.

College proved worse; Christians shut down honest conversation with red faces and whispers of “inappropriate.”

Finding Debra Fileta’s website in 2014 came as a huge relief.

You mean to tell me Christians can honestly discuss sex?

Debra posted an excerpt from her newest book about why we save sex for marriage. I find it helpful having a reason aside from “JUST DON’T” or “WOMEN DON’T LIKE IT.” It helps, too, that she’s honest, ratcheting down the expectation of the Super Awesome Pinnacle of Experiences many Millennials were promised in youth group.

I so appreciate an author willing to tackle lies and point to Scripture instead of bolstering false teachings.

Debra Fileta’s new book drops today at Amazon or your favorite book seller.

Buy it. Borrow it. Learn. Dialogue. Enjoy.

Posted in Books

BOOK REVIEW: The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle

The premise: “Good girl” Wren Gray has just done the unthinkable–she’s withdrawn from college and decided to move to Guatemala for a year, much to her controlling parents’ chagrin. Wren continues to disappoint her parents by pursuing foster kid Charlie Parker. The rest of the book chronicles their intense, confusing, and ultimately triumphant relationship.

I’ve got a few trigger authors, and Lauren Myracle is one of them. The phrase “trigger author” doesn’t denote anything bad, per se–I’ve just read a lot of their stuff and know them well enough to know they’re only okay. (My other trigger author is David Levithan. I find him consistently underwhelming. It’s a struggle.)

I’d been wanting to read The Infinite Moment of Us for a while, but was hesitant when I found out Myracle had written it. Like with Levithan, I’ve never found her particularly insightful or entertaining, so New York Times‘ description of her as “this generation’s Judy Blume” was baffling to me. (Or maybe Judy Blume is another one of my trigger authors. It’s a mystery.)

I read the book anyway, clearly. It was at the library and had a pretty cover–I couldn’t resist.

There was no epiphany–I’m still not a huge fan of Myracle’s writing–but, unlike many of her other books, this one evoked a reaction. The way Myracle addressed the confusion of adolescence, growing up, and the risk of intimacy was well-done–every page resonated . The importance of family is a common theme in her books and this book was no exception, contrasting Wren’s hyper-controlling parents with Charlie’s loving foster family.

Myracle also explored her characters’ other relationships: Wren realizes her friendship with best friend Tessa is valuable but transitory, while Charlie navigates a dysfunctional relationship with Starrla, knowing he should pull away but unsure about the timing.

The book does a pretty good job of increasing tension, though some of the conflicts come across as a little…childish? Yes, these are 18-year-olds, and I recognize some of these behaviors as (unhealthy) things I’ve done in prior relationships. In that way, the book represents the teenage experience very well. Some of the teenage navelgazing was a little irritating, but most, if not all of the conversations, were ones I could see real teenagers having. I guess I was surprised that much of the plot hinged on two teenagers’ inability to deal with minor relationship difficulties. I read YA fiction all the time, so maybe I shouldn’t feel this way? It felt more dire than other YA books I’ve read (Anna and the French Kiss comes to mind), but not as heartbreaking as others (i.e., I’ll Give You the Sun.)

Okay, fine. I cried. A lot. From page 286 to the end.

I cared about the characters. Even though I thought they were dumb at times and made terrible, terrible decisions, I cared about what happened to them, and I wanted a happy ending. One of my favorite books that I read this year (Just One Day–review forthcoming) had an ambiguous yet satisfying ending. Infinite Moment‘s ending reminded me of that, which I enjoyed. I didn’t need everything in the characters’ lives to be wrapped up; I was happy enough to know they were on the right track.

The only other aspect I wasn’t crazy about was the graphic sexuality. There are, however, only one or two sexual scenes. I know people have different opinions about sexuality in YA books, so do with that information what you will.

Even though I’ve never been crazy about Lauren Myracle–or about books that take place in the South–I would recommend this book. It’s the best one she’s written by far and will leave you crying for 31 pages.