My Top Books of 2017

Happy New Year, 2018!

The new year is a time to look ahead as well as to take stock of the past year.  I’m sure many of you are spending time in reflection, I certainly am.  As I think about 2017 I realize that I have done a lot of reading, some for school and some for pleasure.  So I wanted to share some of the books I read last year that had an impact on me.

First, I did a lot more academic reading in 2017, partly because I started a Doctor of Ministry program this year.

I really enjoyed the cleverly titled When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel according to Paul by Beverly Gaventa.  Romans is a big book with twists and turns, so its nice to have a guide.  I picked this one up after listening to her discuss it on the Kingdom Roots podcast with Scot McKnight.

For my first Doctoral seminar on Jesus in his context I read Making Sense of Sex: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature by William Loader.  Sexuality is an ever present topic of discussion and debate, and Jesus is often co-opted as a voice in support of either side.  This book explores what a first century Jew, like Jesus or Paul, would have thought about sex and sexuality, if they were consistent with their Jewish environment.  While I didn’t agree with all his conclusions, the information Loader provides is very helpful.

One more academic book.  I’ve been reading up for my next DMin seminar, in a few weeks.  I have found Jesus against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict by Chris Keith to be very helpful for understanding the hostility toward Jesus from the Jewish Leaders.  Keith asserts that Jesus would have upset societal norms simply by presenting himself as an authoritative teacher.  By entering into space reserved for a select, literate few, Jesus assumed a status that some would have thought he did not deserve.  This, in part, led to his rejection and possibly to his death.

Aside from the academic books I’ve read in the past year, I have read a few for pleasure.

I really enjoy P. D. James, and am always amazed by the abilities of Female British Mystery writers.  James is well known in this category (I recommend her Death in Holy Orders).  She has also written other forms of fiction, including The Children of Men.  Some of you may be familiar with this title, since the book was adapted as a film in 2006.  The movie departs from the book in significant ways, but maintains the foundational premise: that the human race has lost the ability to have babies.

My Summer Hebrew professor mentioned a book that had been significant for him: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, so I picked it up at his recommendation.  The story is set in Mexico at a time when the Catholic church has been outlawed, and follows a priest (“the Whiskey Priest”), who is struggling to remain faithful to his calling.  In essence, the book wrestles with the disparity between appearances and reality: The Church is more than it may sometimes appear to be.

Finally, I appreciated Brené Brown’s Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  This book builds upon her work on vulnerability.  Her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is well know.  This book has encouraged me in the area of personal awareness, something I have been growing in over the past year.

Have you read any of these titles?  I wonder what books have had an impact on you in 2017?  I’ve already got a stack of books to read in the coming year, but I’m sure to be coming back to these ones in time.

Many blessings on the year ahead!



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Stepping into 4th Grade

I can’t believe we haven’t written since Christmas. Well actually, I’m not surprised as my one track mind has been fixated in one direction over the last few months. Perhaps Daniel’s Facebook and Instagram posts are about all that we have shared recently.
At the beginning of January I stepped in to substitute teach for the KICS 4th grade teacher who was taking maternity leave. I loved being back in the classroom, though it was a bit all consuming at times. Being in 4th grade was quite a shift from my previous middle school and high school teaching roles. However, I enjoyed the challenge and learned a lot along the way.
KICS started a J-Term this year. For the primary kids, each grade had a different direction that they focused on for a few weeks. In 4th grade we had the opportunity to dive in to discover Rwandan culture, history, geography, dance and language. It was a fun start to my three months in 4th grade.

The 4th grade class learning Intore (Rwandan traditional) dance

I also had the privilege of shepherding the kids through their second student-led conference of the year. It was so fun to see the kids take responsibility for their learning, set goals for their final quarter and articulate to their parents areas that they have grown and where they are struggling.

Student Led Conferences

On a daily basis I was the 4th grade homeroom teacher and taught Math and Science to both 4th and 5th grade. One major highlight for me was the first 15 minutes of each day. After greeting the kids as they arrived, we would begin each day with a brief class community time. We shared and discussed a passage of Scripture, sang a song or two and prayed – something that is so rare nowadays in typical American classrooms. I treasured those kids’ hearts as they lifted their voices in praise and as they prayed for one another and for the world.

I am so thankful for my time back in the classroom with these kids and once again reminded of what a joy it is to serve in this community in Rwanda. My time filling in as the 4th grade substitute came to a close at the beginning of April. The kids showered me with kind notes and hugs, though I will still be close by.  As the kids adjust back to their “real” teacher, I’ll now begin the transition to a different, more longer-term role as the Director of Teaching and Learning. Thanks be to God for this beautiful, yet short, season – for the challenges that came, the lessons learned, and the precious learning moments with students.

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Kids and Christmas Crafts

Josiah and Norah are at a fun age for messy play. Crafts aren’t quite crafty, yet. Their “crafts” are more of an exploration of color and texture and the products are a little-kid kind of beautiful. As we prepare for another Christmas in Rwanda, we’ve had some special moments together – so far we’ve done some baking and decorating cookies, finger painting a “Christmas tree,” and lots of coloring and cutting. We’ve also shared some lovely mornings with friends. In a few of the pictures below Josiah, Norah and I are decorating cookies with Katie and her kids who are new, dear friends. We have another big batch of cookies to make this afternoon for some special guests coming to visit for a Christmas meal. I can only hope they turn out as lovely as the first batch!

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Jay’s Visit

Jay, a friend and the pastor of our sending church in Illinois, just left after a week long visit to Rwanda. We are so grateful for the time we had with him.

Jay has been coming to Rwanda for about 12 years now.  He started coming in the early days of AMiA when the Rwandan Anglicans reached out to American churches in a time of need.  He has continued to come, building and deepening relationship here, both personally, as well as through our sending church.  Jay has been pressing in and he has been welcomed in, being made a canon (a person of leadership as well as counsel for the bishop) of the Shyira Diocese.

This trip, Canon Jay was invited to participate in a ordination retreat, a time of teaching and encouragement for those about to enter into full-time, ordained ministry.  Jay presented on the topics of worship and clergy self-care, subjects near to his heart and interests, to the almost 50 men and women following God’s call to ministry.  You can see his own reflection on the time here.

Jay also made a point to spend time with our family.  To some this may sound intimidating: the sending church pastor come to check in on the far-flung missionaries.  We have missionary friends here who would not enjoy the experience.  On the other hand, we’ve known missionaries in Rwanda who never received a visit from their sending church.  It really means so much to us to have Jay come visit.  He encourages us, offers perspective on challenges, he gives pastoral counsel, and helps us feel connected to those he represents at “home”.

Jay has personally witnessed a lot of the development in Rwanda over the past years of visiting.  We were able to check out two Kigali establishments, newly opened since his last visit.  Jay and I had coffee at the big new Kigali Marriott in the city center.  This will definitely be one of the premier places to stay in Rwanda.  Then on his last day, Kari and I took him to the new Kigali Convention Center and Raddison Blu hotel complex.  It was fun to explore some of the new sites in our city with Jay.

We felt really blessed to have this time with Jay.  There was a lot of good conversation and catching up.  Two things stand out for mention.  First, I think Jay’s time teaching helped him see some of the challenges of cross-cultural Bible teaching and training.  He may not feel it, but it means a lot to me that he can identify with my own work here by his experience.

Second, Jay spent time with our kids. Josiah and Norah know him as “Papa Jay” and obviously feel a sense of closeness to him.  Having been a Third Culture Kid, Jay seems able to relate to them in a way that most of our friends and family at home won’t be able to.  I think he takes that seriously, which means so much to us as parents.  Jay wrote a little on the kids here.

Jay has recently celebrated his 10th Anniversary as the pastor at Church of the Redeemer and we have known him as our pastor for the last 8 years.  We are thankful for his ministry to us and the time we had with him.


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