If you are active on Facebook, than it is likely you have seen one of the recent trends of people sharing the 10 most influential books they have ever read. By now I think I have been challenged by at least five different people. I have been avoiding this, partly because I was too afraid to try and get the list to 10 books. But since its Friday, and perhaps you are looking for something to read for fun this weekend at the lake, inside if its raining where you are, or just to be a learner, here are some books that come to mind, in the order of when I believe I first read them. I refuse to say they are the absolute definitive ten though, and obviously I couldn’t keep the list to ten anyway.
One note, I would include The Bible in this list, but I don’t think its fair to put the central written text of my faith on this list. I don’t think its fair to the Bible, but I also don’t think its fair to all of these other books. So, if you are wondering, that is why it does not appear on this list.
1) The BFG. This might seem like a very odd book to start this list with. But in elementary school, like thousands of other people I believe, I loved reading the works of Roald Dahl. This is the first “chapter” book that I remember really reading cover-to-cover, and then actually reading again and again. So as I think about what books have influenced me, this book stands out if for no other reason than it helped me fall in love with and realize I enjoy reading.
2) For my second book on this list, I have two that equally influenced me at roughly the same time. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Invisible Man. In junior high and high school my favorite subject to study was definitely history or social studies. These two books opened my eyes to understand some of where we as a society had been, and in many ways still struggle with regarding race, justice, and bigotry. These books helped open my eyes and understanding about social justice.
3) In high school, I also had the opportunity to read many of the works of Elie Wiesel. I was so intrigued and moved by Night, that I was able to convince my senior English teacher to allow me to do my major literature criticism work on some of his writings. The combination of Night, Dawn and The Accident as part of a trilogy helped open my eyes to some of the deeper theological questions and how they are wrestled with in literature. The Trial of God and From the Kingdom of Memory also stand out as works that have stood with me to this day. Perhaps its because of these writings that some of my favorite books in the Bible to read and study in seminary were the prophets? (Well, that or because Terence Fretheim was my professor.) These books also furthered the sense of call I feel to speak out against injustice and to respond to it in the world.
4) The longest work of fiction that I have ever read and enjoyed remains to be Crime and Punishment. I enjoyed that book because of the important life questions it posed. Like the previous few, this book is full of life, moral, philosophical and theological ideas. What I greatly appreciate is the hope and I believe idea of redemption or resurrection (in a way) that can be seen towards its end.
5) I have to admit, I wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea to turn this list into a blogpost. My friend Hannah did it first, so Hannah, imitation is the highest form of flattery (I hope), and thank you for the good idea. I wanted to admit that, because we both share the book Proverbs of Ashes on our list. I first read this book in college, and it opened my eyes and changed my worldview. In large part because of this book, I was moved in my understanding about the use of language. Language can be harmful and hurtful, especially when it is applied to God and as part of faith. This book helped me understand sexism and abuse at much deeper levels, and has shaped my approach and use of language ever since.
6) In undergrad, I double-majored in Economics and Religion. So any text that spoke to their intersection I found interesting. A few that stood out then and I have continued to come back to because they shape my thinking and keep opening my eyes to new possibilities are St. John Chrysostom’s On Wealth and Poverty, my professor Samuel Torvend’s Luther and the Hungry Poor: Gathered Fragments, Cynthia Moe Lobeda’s Public Church: For the Life of the World, and Herman E. Daly & John B. Cobb Jr.’s For the Common Good: Redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future.
7) One of the major reasons that I chose the graduate school that I did was because of its namesake, Peter Drucker. His seminal work, and the famous big blue book that many leaders have on their shelves, Management, covered the gamete of thought which he wrote about. Many of his other works I have enjoyed too, but this one deserves singular recognition. What gave it even newer life for me though was the book written by other leadership thinkers (and some of his younger colleagues), The Drucker Difference. In concert, these books helped shape my understanding of management and leadership.
8) There is one book that I use almost more than any other book now (outside of the Bible). It’s Peter Drucker’s The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Organization. I have found this book to be immensely helpful for working with non-profits, for-profits, and congregations. Some times the questions might need a little translating, but these five questions really do get to the heart of what an organization’s values, mission, purpose and vision are. If the answers to these questions aren’t clear, chances are the organization isn’t clear about what it is and what work it does and what need it responds to.
9) Perhaps the greatest joy of being able to study at the Drucker School, was getting to study with and learn from Jean Lipman-Blumen. Her concept and book about Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing World resonated and just made sense. It put into words what I could not express about what I had sensed leadership is and could be when done collaboratively in responding to the world’s great needs. Her insights in the late 1990’s in this book I think are being lived out today especially in the leadership approaches and values exhibited by millennials. This work, along with John Bryson & Barbara Crosby’s Leadership for the Common Good: Tackling Public Problems in a Shared-Power World, helped shape my major project at Drucker but also shaped my thesis at Luther Seminary.
10) Speaking of my thesis and seminary, it allowed me to actually dig in a bit to some of Martin Luther’s works. Two stand out in particular for the way they shape my understanding of neighbor love which I articulate and write about on this blog so often. They are: The Freedom of a Christian and The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ and the Brotherhoods.
So clearly I couldn’t keep the list to ten books, and I probably really didn’t try. But I think this is more helpful for understanding a bit more about me and what I find fascinating and interesting. These books, in their own way have shaped me and my interests into who I am and where I am at today.
If for some reason, you need more books to check out, some honorable mentions that have influenced and continue to influence me, which didn’t quite crack the top 10 are: A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises; Song of Solomon; Presence:Human Purpose and the Field of the Future and Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies; Leadership is an Art; Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard; Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations; The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change; Ask, Thank, Tell; Working Together: Collective Action, The Commons and Multiple Methods in Practice; and The Lean Startup.
Now it’s your turn! What books have influenced you?