Books that help us see

Below is another installment in our occasional book review feature, written by our “resident librarian,” Carolyn Vance.

Books have always been important in my life. I’ve always loved reading. As a shy and timid child, books would take me places, expose me to characters and ideas that I otherwise would not encounter, and stimulate my imagination.

I’m going to briefly share some of the books that have most stimulated my imagination in recent years in living a life of faith. These are books that help me to see. These are books that I will return to again and again. I am profoundly thankful for each of these books. They make me want to dance! (A phrase I borrow from Vic Fein.)


Geography of Grace: Doing Theology From Below 
by Kris Rocke & Joel Van Dyke. Street Psalms Press, 2012

No, this is not a dry book about theology, but rather a deeply thoughtful, beautifully written book about journeying with Jesus with grace and humility in the hardest of places, whether that be the inner cities in the U.S. or the garbage dumps of Guatemala City or any of the other places in the world where there is much suffering. The authors write not theoretically, but out of their lived experiences. They offer the reader an amazingly beautiful re-imagination of what it means to do ministry not “for” or “to” but “with” people. They share how they have seen God’s spirit work in unexpected ways and how they have been taught and blessed by people that society places at the bottom, thus the subtitle of the book.

About four years ago, Missions, Mercy & Justice (MMJ) visited with NCF small groups to get feedback on what people were thinking about NCF’s role in the ministries of missions, mercy and justice. One small group said of missions that there was a lot of harm done in the past, which the authors of this book freely acknowledge. That small group said missions really needs a complete re-imagination. This book does that beautifully. It has moved me to tears. I have found myself wanting to shout “YES!” many times throughout the book. The authors’ deep and sensitive thinking and beautiful writing on being Jesus’ church in hard places is a tremendous gift to the church in general and to those seeking to incarnate Jesus in the margins of society in particular.
(In the NCF Library under the heading “Missions/Ministry” (M/M))


Meal from Below: A Five Course Feast with Jesus
by Kris Rocke & Scott Dewey. Street Psalms Press, 2012.

A companion book to Geography of Grace, this book offers weekly readings in the same deeply thoughtful, beautiful writing style of Geography of Grace.

Designed to be used by groups, often around communion, I am using it as part of my Sabbath reading. As someone who gets terribly frustrated with regular devotional booklets, I find the readings in Meal from Below thoughtful, rich and worthwhile. And though the authors have more of a liturgical approach to worshiping God together than suits me, the thoughtful writing is so compelling that it draws me in every time. I’ve been amazed at how God has met me in the readings.
(Not in the NCF Library)


Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life
by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill & Douglas Morrison. Doubleday, Revised editon, 1989 (first published in 1982)

I don’t think I have the words to do justice to this amazingly wonderful book. If Henri Nouwen (and friends) had never written
another book, this one would have been enough. If you never read another book on what it means to follow Jesus, this book would be enough. In this book, as in all of his books, Nouwen writes from a humble, gentle, careful and thoughtful heart. Nouwen describes a compassion that grows our humanity into the fullness that God intended it to be. God is the God-who-is-with-us. He is the God who comes down to us in Jesus where we are. He is the God who is servant and the God who suffers with us. He is a compassionate God. At its heart, this is a book about listening and learning to pay attention to God’s spirit so that we might live as Jesus did, compassionately.

Perhaps the concept from this book that has stayed with me the most is the authors’ assertion that our call as a community of faith is to move away from the “ordinary, comfortable and proper places” of life and to move towards what Nouwen calls “voluntary displacement” as a way of life. Voluntary displacement he defines as a kind of solidarity. In the fifth chapter he describes the many and varied ways that this might be understood and lived out in individual and corporate life. He sees it as key to developing the ability to hear God’s voice in our individual and corporate lives and to grow in living compassionately.

This is a beautiful book. It offers the reader a wealth of riches to ponder. Though not a new book, it is just as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1982.
(In the NCF Library under the heading “Christian Living & Responsibility” (CL/R))

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