I Kissed Dating Good-Bye, by Josh Harris.
This book shaped my burgeoning and eager adolescent paradigm for what relationships ought to(and ought not to)be. At that point in his life, Harris took a very extreme stance against any sort of romantic relationship with a member of the other sex. Why? Because romance is risky and people could get hurt. And me, being very eager to please everyone as well as being terrified of ever being hurt, thought this would be a great model to emulate.
So I did. I never had a girlfriend. Nor a boyfriend. I tried a couple times, but either my efforts were squashed by my parents, or my lack of socialization caught up to me as I would be drawn to a girl and then immediately try to have a conversation with them about marriage.
I notice that strategy doesn’t fly anywhere but at Bible College.
Also, shortly after I read the book, I started realizing I didn’t want to be home schooled, but my parents wanted me to be home schooled, and my mother would occasionally reference Josh Harris as the wet dream of all home school parents. Why couldn’t I be excited about being home schooled like him?
Read the Bible for a Change, by Ray Lubeck
Read the Bible…as a book?
I take the concept for granted now, but when I first learned how to do this, my world righted itself. I could begin to approach the Text with a competency comparable to my pastors. I could read Bible stories in context of themselves, their books, their authors, their genres, their historical eras, their political climates…I could do much more than my childhood pastors had done. More than sensationalize and spiritualize and turn every phrase into metaphors they were not meant to be.
In short, I got cocky.
But I also got to thinking, and never stopped thinking.
The Bible became sensible and accessible and quite exciting.
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
Pi Patel is an Indian boy who endeavors to devoutly practice the core tenets from(if I remember right) Christianity, Islam and Buddhism(and if it wasn’t Buddhism, if was Judaism…it’s been a while since I read the book). Then he gets stranded on a life boat with a tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for almost a year.
I love the concept of the characters and the stories. I love the writing style. I list this book among the most impactful for how it has influenced me as a writer and story teller. When I write my own story, I look to Martel as one of my heroes and mentors.
Blue Like Jazz, by Don Miller
Miller popularized the concept of non-religious spirituality among Christians. He also struck a nerve with his splendid use of common ordinary narrative to illustrate the grandest metaphysical principles. His work was approachable, entertaining, provocative, tastefully irreverent.
From his writing, I learned a few things. As a writer, I learned more about how to use words to turn ordinary events into epics. As a Christian, I learned that I am okay to have my own individual experience of faith.
Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell
I read this when I was just becoming comfortable re-examining my own spiritual traditions. Bell made a celebration out of challenging what we’ve always taken for granted…and out of clever font and formatting tricks to make every page of his book an art piece. My experience of Bells’ writing is similar to that of Miller – catchy writing that evokes emotion and draws my heart to connect to a concept, that concept rooted in the challenge of tradition and the celebration of individual spirituality set in the framework of authentic community.
Sex At Dawn, by Christopher Ryan
From an evolutionary standpoint, polyamory just made so much more sense. Or so say the authors. They argue for a fresh look at what healthy human sexuality actually is. As a reference point, they draw from what our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors must have been like, as well as what the tribal peoples of the world still are like. They examine relational and sexual patterns in an out of marriage covenants to see, what in their view, actually works.
I found their argument…interesting.
But perhaps what made the book impactful to me was my headspace when I read it. I was newly married and having trouble adjusting to new rigors and new paradigms. I wanted someone to justify me in my marital discontentment.
Ultimately, I chose to reject the message of the book, that being that Humans are merely highly sophisticated animals for whom sexual functioning is a core and essential element. I do believe that sex is important(and let’s be honest; I like it!) but I don’t believe that Humans are necessarily driven by sexual desires. What makes a Human so special and sophisticated is their ability to forego needs and desires for the sake of deeper overarching values.
Even as I say this, though, there’s still stray thoughts in my mind, left over from my rampant readings as an angry younger man, those thoughts saying to unleash my inner creature.
The Man who fell in Love with the Moon, by Tom Spanbauer
When I talk about books being life changing, the changes are sometimes bittersweet. The Man who fell in Love with the Moon is one such bittersweet read.
The story follows the lives an interactions of a polyamorous family on the American frontier. Interwoven are themes of sexuality, racism, religious colonization and Native Spirituality.
I have read few books so entirely exquisitely beautiful. Every word of this volume is perfect. Together, every phrase and paragraph are a splendid tapestry of wordsmithing glory.
This was also another book I read when I was questioning everything I held dear about faith, sexuality and marriage. Spanbauer’s story awakened things in me that perhaps should have lain dormant, a sexual ethic eternally at odds with that of my faith culture. Beautiful, tantalizing, and for me at the time, toxic.
The story is incredible; perhaps one of my favorites ever. But when I read it, I was not in a headspace to differentiate fiction from my chosen reality. There were ideals that I adopted from this story that were ultimately debilitating to my marriage.
Torn, by Justin Lee
The question of how sexual orientation develops and why are some individuals attracted to their same sex is one of the most vigilantly contested of our day. I perceive that a majority of people in the Christian community look for some environmental cause. Perhaps abuse or parenting style or bullying by same-sex peers.
Justin Lee exists outside the commonly held perceptions of how sexual orientation develops. Per his story, he grew up securely attached in a Biblical Christian family, sone of loving and safe parents. No trauma, no abuse, none of the typical environmental factors that are associated with a non-mainstream sexual orientation.
Even still, he is gay.
His story made room for my story to exist. I think I had a bit more trauma than he did, but not that much. I grew up in a conservation home school Christian home. I first became aware that I perceived other boys as beautiful when I was fourteen and that orientation only solidified from there.
Lee’s story allowed for people like me to just…be…gay…with no blaringly clear environmental factor. His story also allowed for gay people like me to be absolutely committed to Christ and the Gospel.
In some mysterious way, this works.
Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin
The author and founder of The Marin Foundation started his journey after 3 of his best friends came out to him in a very short time frame. His journey led him to explore how to address the conflicts between the church and the LGBTQ community.
Marin introduced me to the concept of Bridge Building. Developing safe and nurturing relationship between the church and LGBTQ communities and committing to loving each other, even in the face of seemingly irreconcilable differences.
When I learned of this concept, something awakened in me. Finally, here was a vision, a type of work, in which I could invest myself for years and years, perhaps the rest of my years.
For some years, this has been the conversation of conversations for me, the thing that all other conversations seem to come back to. I hear every sermon, see every movie, experience every social interaction through the question of, “Now, how does this create a safer space in the church for a Queer person…?”
If only I could figure out how to take more steps to further this conversation in my own life…
The Developing Mind, by Daniel Siegel
When I read this book, I feel so nerdy and so very smart.
Developing Mind is Siegel’s work about Interpersonal NeuroBiology, IPNB. He explores in brilliant and captivating detail how the brain, the mind and relationships are so closely interrelated as to be a part of each other, and how they literally shape each other.
In particular, he talks about trauma, attachment, relationships and what we can learn about them through how a person relates their personal narrative.
I learned a tremendous amount about my own attachment style. Further, I feel like an understanding finally crystalized in my head for how to support a person in recovering from trauma. Beyond that, I feel like I just understand the brain so much better.
Well. There you have it. Ten books that have been life changing for me.
I did not list the Bible in this collection. The reason for that has more to do with timing than with influence. Of course the Bible has had a shaping effect on me; without doubt the greatest shaping impact.
But I started with the Bible. I grew up with its stories and precepts. The Biblical narrative is bone deep in my soul; these are the stories I can never unlearn. But if the Bible is my starting point and foundation, then every other book, every other idea, is something else, something extra, something to which I must respond, a new truth to integrate. I have experienced all these other stories through the lens of the Bible, and indeed, some of them had their impact on me for how different than the Bible they were.
All that to say, I am grateful for every book that I have read.