Writings by Cole Huffman


The Books List 2018

“Books! To fling myself into a book, to be carried away to another world while being at my most grounded…is literally how I have survived being here at all.” 

—Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

The opinion is attributed to Aristotle that the body is at its peak between the ages of 30 to 35, and the soul is at its peak at about age 49. This then being my year of peak soulness, here in no particular order are some books that piqued my interest:

All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. Growing up dirt-poor in Alabama, Bragg became a prominent columnist and achieved Pulitzer success. But his longsuffering mother back home remained the center of his world. He weaves her story through his.

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch. “Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople,” Lynch wrote. A Michigan funeral director, he knows his way around the land of the living—what makes us tick, where our fears lurk, and why we worry ourselves to death.

A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus by John Dickson. To get vegetables into our picky eater, Lynn turns them into smoothies. This and Dickson’s other two doubters’ guides (to the Bible and the Ten Commandments) are the literary equivalent. Take and read.

Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian by Bret Lott. A novelist “with Christian concerns,” as Flannery O’Connor once put it (his chapter on her is stellar), Lott says, “Art in harmony with our creator God is art that must encompass the whole of man’s experience, its depravity and triumph both.” So must preaching be.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Walter McMillian was wrongly charged with a crime, not as a mistake, but intentionally. Justice eventually prevailed, but sin embeds deep within social structures, not just individuals. 

Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story by Steven Curtis Chapman. His music was the soundtrack of my spiritual growth in college and seminary, and I still listen to him. It was at his 1990 concert in Huntsville, when he told the audience about how he met his wife in college, that I decided to ask out the girl in front of me when we got back to Florence. That girl was Lynn.

Even In Our Darkness: A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life by Jack Deere. The brokenness in the Deere family resulted from his vocational upheavals, his son’s suicide, and his wife’s alcoholism. “When I lusted after material wealth, he [the Spirit of God] turned my gaze toward eternity. When I sought large crowds, he brought me humility. When I tried to change my wife, he taught me how to love and understand her. What I really needed all along, more than anything, was to see myself through his eyes.”

Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table: Contemporary Christians in the American South by James Hudnut-Beumler. The South is still the region of the country known for prevalent religiosity. But Christianity is quite varied here in expression, not uniform.

Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. The chaplain of the Maine Warden Service is widowed and has to hold herself, family, and people who lose loved ones in the North Woods together.

Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently About the People and the Land by Gerald McDermott. An Anglican theologian who makes multiple visits to Israel rethinks his replacement theology (i.e. the church is the New Israel). I read this book while in Israel this year, and it deepened my appreciation of the place.

The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life On the Road by Finn Murphy. I’ve always thought my fallback career could be trucking. Or coaching Vanderbilt.

The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respect and Caring for All God’s Creation by Joel Salatin. A voice-in-the-wilderness kind of book: Salatin wonders why Christians are so quick to dismiss environmental concerns—and this from a proud Bob Jones University alum. “In our self-righteousness, Christians make jokes about animal rights, organic farmers, and fruit and nut eaters, all while holding our Bibles in one hand and gobbling Hot Pockets with the other.”

Twelve Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robertson. A selection of choice servants from America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and the deep sufferings they each weathered. Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing but turn it into glory.

Carry On: A Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family by Lisa Fenn. The author was an ESPN reporter who covered the story of two high school boys, one legally blind and the other without legs, who bonded as wrestlers on their inner city high school team. The reporter became part of the story in a way she never imagined.

Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) by Kate Bowler. What almost did Bowler in was not her cancer so much as the “trite cruelty in the logic of the perfectly certain”—all those who offered her lessons or solutions, or minimized her scary ordeal by “spray painting everything in gold.” Her two appendices on what to say and not say to suffering people are gold.

How to Think by Alan Jacobs. Chronic incivility amid diverse beliefs and opinions stems from getting stuck in what Jacobs calls “Refutation Mode.” It’s indulgence in revulsion that keeps us from recognizing others as our neighbors. We turn them into “RCOs” (“Repugnant Cultural Others”). Evangelicals can do better.

I’m leaving out some other good titles, some of the scholarly books I read for work, and the Richard Scarry books I get to read again now that I’m a grandfather, fittingly in this my year of my soul peakness. My grandson, Huff, already loves his little books. How could he not?

Posted by Cole Huffman at 10:04 AM
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