Each year I try and get through over a hundred wide ranging books, whether old classics, the latest releases, or ones I’m slow to catch up on. Here’s 7 that have deeply influenced me this in the last year, that have particular relevance to us as travelling people and also to the Coronavirus season. I must also add – this is not what I feed myself spiritually on as a Christian traveller! It’s the extras on the side.
- SCIENCE: Why we sleep. (Matthew Walker, Penguin, 2018)
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have tried at some stage in life to be living such a productive life, that you get up early and stay up late – burning the candle at both ends, so to speak. Matthew Walker writes quite a shocking book in that regard, making me realise that such patterns of living longterm would make my health, mental wellbeing and life crumble. He does so simply through outlining the science which he has spent years researching with many others. He also has very practical tips about drinking before bed (those whiskey nightcaps!), screentime and caffiene which may help improve life too. It’s a heavy read in places (you may want to skim at times), but one that shouldn’t be avoided because of that. Ultimately, I hope that the Coronavirus will return many to rhythms of rest which they hadn’t before, particularly amongst those of us who travel and always desire “more”.
- BIOGRAPHY/APPLIED THEOLOGY: The Common Rule (Justin Earley, IVP US, 2019)
Potentially the millennial’s book of the year! I have not heard many my age be able to read it and say “that’s not me”. Justin describes his life as a successful cross-cultural business person and traveller, seeking to thrive and live life to the fullest, only to find his life crashing on the rocks, in ways many of us will say “that’s me – just a few steps further down the line!” Addiction to work; distraction; busy-ness; alcoholic tendendcies; indecision; paralysis; medications; mental collapse and more – this book doesn’t dramatise or tell glamourous tales, but instead shares of an ordinary life. The downward spiral was one that had him (although a missionary) at the end of his tether with God, deciding to pack it all in. But over the years that followed he was able to come back to the truths he’d neglected, that would have actually helped him flourish and grow as a human. This is his story. But it’s part of mine too. And I’m guessing many of our generation. Not sure? It’s worth a read. Again, my prayer is that the Coronavirus period will slow us down enough to stop many of these “rushed” patterns in life that cripple us mentally and physically, and instead will let us get back into daily, weekly and annual rhythms.
- FRIENDSHIP/THEOLOGY: Why can’t we be friends? (Aimee Byrd, P&R, 2018)
As we think about isolation and community a lot, may we think about our regular patterns of isolating ourselves or developing deep community. Gender is one of the big topics of recent years, and sadly, many of us as Christians have been busy defending 1960s cultural conservatism, rather than Biblical good news. Aimee seeks to unpick a massive movement in Christianity that claims we shouldn’t get too close to members of the opposite sex, lest we fall into temptation. Showing provocatively how this is not good news at all, for a #metoo world, she calls us to engage wisely and hold out a marvelous Biblical picture of cross-gender friendships, that honour and empower each other, whilst having holiness at the centre. She answers common questions about the fall of so many Christian leaders through sexual sin. When you’ve travelled through cultures which disrespect women, and have segregated genders, there is nothing more free-ing than knowing good news of liberation – a liberation which doesn’t descend into sexual chaos and dishonour. Review here.
- MISSIOLOGY: Stubborn Perseverance (Nyman, Mission Network, 2017)
What we do as humans when we perceive an urgent need or a seeming problem: panic! And its not just in response to viruses that we do this. Another complete change of topic brings us to the latest in missiology that all the main mission organisations are buying into. This is an easy-read fictional account based on real life stories from ‘Creative Access Nations’. It is gripping, very helpful in places, but like much of current missiology in such places, it is largely shaped by panicked pragmatism. In a bid to get the gospel to as many as possible, as quick as possible, we over-emphasize things the Bible does not emphasize. I’ve already written on this briefly here though more full treatment can be found on this website. What should shape our views on urgency? The Biblical pattern. And I think some of us more task-orientated cultures in the west will be shocked that God’s glory is greater than simply some of the tasks He calls us to.
- COMMUNICATIONS: So Everyone Can Hear (Crosby, SPCK, 2019)
The Church has gone online! With Coronavirus stopping any gatherings of people over a certain size where it’s possible to socially distance, livestream events and social media have taken over. But as one who works part-time in communications (including social media), I’ve noticed a wave of panic, as many churches just put up whatever content they can. Every church would do well to read this beautifully presented book, and then to discuss as a leadership team afterwards, how their church’s theology drives communication. It’s not a how-to-guide but an empowering read that will help guide you from your theology to practice. Of course, many in other parts of the world would chuckle, that western Christianity has tied itself so much to buildings and large gatherings, and can’t perceive of other ways of easily being a local church. But regardless, this book is a helpful read.
- THEOLOGY: Understanding Christian mission: participation in suffering and glory (Sunquist, Baker, 2013)
One of the things that strikes me most about my own life, is my feeling of entitlement and desire for control over my life. The Christian doctrine of suffering and joy both running concurrently in the Christian life (1 Peter), is simply baffling for many of us in the west, even to those of us who’ve preached about following in Christ’s sufferings (as well as his resurrection hope) for years. We just can’t fathom suffering when it hits us. We want to say it’s evil, but then struggle when its used by God for eventual, ultimate good. And so this virus shakes the western world and has thrown us in disarray. This title, (recommended to me online by a lecturer at Edinburgh Theological Seminary), helpfully puts participation in suffering at the front and centre of God’s mission. There is so much that is helpful historically and to meditate upon in this volume, that I hope we can overlook the broader side to it. May this virus humble humanity to realise how to incorporate suffering into our worldview well. What might that look like for us pleasure travellers? I’ll leave you to figure.
- HISTORY: Dominion (Tom Holland, Little-Brown, 2019)
This much acclaimed volume I’m sure has reached your attention a long time ago, but I believe still deserves a mention. Secular historian Tom Holland is certainly no friend of endorsing the Biblical text (taking a very liberal view of the Old Testament), but makes astounding claims, which seem fairly undeniable, around the fact that the way that we think in the west, is undeniably Judeo-Christian. Even if you are a hardened atheist reading this, you will be standing on Christian foundations, according to Holland. How are we thinking about the virus? In Christian ways. We mourn at such suffering! Why? Because we have expectations stemming from the Christian worldview. Why do we have the moral response we do in light of the virus? Because we steal our moral framework from the Christian one etc. But ultimately, Holland’s just a great writer who has got me back reading history (having been bored stiff at school by it). It might help us as we travel, to see outside our narrow cultural lenses.