This is a guest post from Teresa Preston. Since 2008, Teresa has been blogging about all the books she reads at Shelf Love. She supports her book habit by working as a magazine editor at a professional association in the Washington, DC, area. When she’s not reading or editing, she’s likely to be attending theatre, practicing yoga, or doting on her toothless orange cat, Anya. Follow her on Twitter @teresareads.
My Christian faith is extremely important to me. It’s part of who I am, and I’m not sure who I’d be if I didn’t have it. But when preachers and politicians use my faith to tear down people they don’t approve of or when times are just plain dark, it’s hard to hold on to these beliefs. But there are books that cut through those voices, offering a different and better path. There are writers who get beyond stereotypes and soundbites and dig in to what the Christian faith is really about.
Here are a few books that have shown me another way to be a Christian:
1. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. When I was a 20-something with moderate-to-liberal political views living in a conservative community where Jerry Falwell was revered, Lamott’s essays were a light in the dark. She showed that it’s possible to be an irreverent, liberal Jesus freak. I don’t know where I’d be without her.
2. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans. Evans grew up a good evangelical, but the questions about what she was taught never went away. In this memoir, she shares her and others’ stories about learning to love the church despite how it goes wrong.
3. Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen. After years of living with the type of Christianity that is all about the ways we fall short, I found this book’s focus on how we are loved just as we are to be an absolute balm to my soul.
4. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to carry this book on his travels. It’s a powerful discussion of what the gospel has to say to society’s outsiders and how to promote peace and justice.
5. My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer by Christian Winan. Poet Christian Winan chronicles his messy journey toward faith after a cancer diagnosis. It’s not inspirational in any traditional way, but it’s a beautiful and honest examination of what faith can look like even when it isn’t exactly working. I read this during an especially difficult year and found its honesty bracing and strengthening.
6. Take This Bread by Sara Miles. Atheist and lesbian Sara Miles wandered on impulse into a church one Sunday and was transformed by the bread and wine she found there. Before long, she was in charge of the church’s food pantry, and through that food pantry has turned her church into a radically welcoming place.
I focused on nonfiction here, but I could name just as many novels that have had an equally strong effect (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Silence by Shusaku Endo spring immediately to mind).
If you’re a Christian, what books have helped you hold on to your beliefs? And if you’re not, what books have helped you better understand the faith?