Friday, January 1, 2016

Best Of 2015

As 2015 came to a close at midnight last night, I thought I would compile what were my favorites in books, music, and movies for last year.

I was surprised to discover, in looking through what I'd read over the last year to find that the majority of it was nonfiction. This surprised me since I tend to read far more fiction, but in reading more nonfiction, I discovered new writers who I had never read before and are now among my favorites. While some of these books weren't published in 2015, I chose them because that was when I read them.

My favorite nonfiction books all have one thing in common: authors who were honest, vulnerable, and oftentimes funny in their perspectives on the world, on their faith, and have challenged and nudged me closer to the call that Christ has for his followers.

I had discovered Sarah Bessey from her wonderful blog ( before reading her book Jesus Feminist. No other book has inspired more conversations on faith in the waiting rooms of doctor's offices or in parks than this one did. I think it is due to a mixture of the intriguing title along with the fact that I, as a man, was reading it. I loved this book, as well as her other one Out of Sorts. I love her voice, her intelligence, and her honesty.

It was an interview on NPR that introduced me to Nadia Bolz-Weber and made me rush out to find a copy of her book Accidental Saints: Finding God In All The Wrong People. Much like Anne Lamott, Nadia can be gut-wrenchingly funny, honest, and heartbreaking as she writes stories about her faith, her role as a pastor at All Saints, and her struggle with belief. She can be deep, thought-provoking, and foul-mouthed but ultimatley writes of her desperate reliance on the grace of God. Her question of, "How would my life be different if I was not scared, if I really believed that I am fully and totally loved by God?" struck a nerve in me and caused me to ask the same thing.

Can I just say that I love Jen Hatmaker's writing? I know 7 is her biggest and most well-known work, but it was Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity that made me question what I was really doing for Christ. 

Before I read Jen Hatmaker's book, I happened across The Irresistable Revolution: Living As An Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne. I state that because she, too, was shaken to her core by this book and began to question whether she was really doing what Jesus has called all of his followers to do, especially for the poor. This book was one of the key works that shaped her book Interrupted. The Irresistable Revolution definitely challenged me in a way no book has done in a very long time. Like the Sermon on the Mount, this book holds back nothing in the way that it confronted me with whether or not I am truly doing what Jesus commanded me to do for the least of these. Shane Claiborne is a modern day prophet for the church.

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts On Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller is a book I wish I had read when I was younger so that I had no felt so odd as he writes humorously, honestly, and with grace about his struggles, his questions, and his need for community.

Other Notables:

Orphan Justice by Johnny Carr

Unlike my nonfiction choices, those for fiction have no connection to each other except a love of language and great writing. Two of the works are by two writers whose works I absolutely cherish and I am always waiting for what they write next. 

Lila is by one of the best living American writers, Marilynne Robinson. Her novel Gilead is easily in my top ten favorite books. She writes about faith in fiction in a way I have never seen in any other novelist. This is the third in a series that deal with the fictional characters and place that she introduced in Gilead. Like Wendell Berry, she is masterful in her portrayal of people wrestling with the power of grace. Her writing is beautiful as it is deep and meaningful. It is a work of quiet epiphanies. If you've never read her, do so now.  

Why this kid's book as one of my favorites? Because Kate DiCamillo rocks! I have adored every work that she has created. Reading this one to Cava was a delight that had both of us laughing and rooting for a girl who is an outsider and the squirrel she believes to have super powers. 

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story is set in occupied France during World War II and deals with a blind French girl and a young German soldier whose paths cross and their lives are forever changed by this meeting. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is a classic that doesn't read like one. It moves along at a page-turning pace as the reader wants to find out what is going to happen next. This novel offers one of the best examples of grace. 

After books, music is my favorite thing in the world to enjoy. Some of my favorite CDs (notice I didn't say downloads) this year were by four of my favorite singer / songwriters. Sorry Adele, yours didn't make the cut. Like my nonfiction choices, all of these works showed a depth of artistry and honesty one does not see enough in the music industry. What saddens me is how none of these artists are played on the radio. 

Floodplain by Sara Groves not only is one of my favorite CDs from this year, but is one of my favorite records ever. This record is one of the most beautiful and profound she has ever made, which says a lot because Sara is a true artist. It shows her at the height of her craft. Her voice draws you in and the lyrics move you by their sincerity, their honesty, and their sense of grace. 

Audrey Assad's Fortunate Fall is a worship song unlike any being heard on Christian radio. This is intimate, profound, and draws one closer to God. I could not help but feel the truth of her singing in the song "I Shall Not Want":
From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

Not to mention, how many other singers do you know that are influenced by Saint Augustine?

Like Sara Groves, I have been listening to Andrew Peterson for years. They remind me of each other in that both are artists of integrity who lay bare their struggles, their questions, and their faith in some of the most moving music recorded. With The Burning Edge Of Dawn, he continues to show what a wordsmith and storyteller he is with his songs. He is vulnerable and intimate, which is rare among songwriters (particularly male ones). Andrew can both challenge and encourage you.

The Psalms are my favorite book of the Bible, so it should come as no surprise that Sandra McCracken's latest makes my list. She takes these poetic songs and reveals the depth that they have in showing love, loss, longing, joy, sorrow, loneliness, grief, and trust. Her voice helps us to enter into all of these things and to be grateful for the experience. These are more than musical meditations, these are the stuff of what life is made of.

Other Notables:

Nichole Nordeman's The Unmaking

Matt Maher's Saints and Sinners

I guess what my movie choices show is that I seldom go to them and when I do it's with my kids. So this list is either a kid's film or a documentary (two of my favorite types of film).

Pixar is amazing in their ability to not only tell stories but to pull at all of our emotions. This film deals with emotions in a creative and deeply moving way. It also provided a great opportunity for Cava and us to share about emotions and how they make us who we are.

Paddington was a charming little film that helped Cava connect with the idea of being adopted. 

A riveting and deeply moving portrait of the young Nobel Prize Winner. "Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapon." Malala Yousafzai.

This documentary revealed the struggle, the passion, and the bravery of the Ukrainian people. My prayers continue to go out to them.

Sewing Hope is the powerful documentary about the amazing Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe and how she lives out the love of Christ to bring hope to girls who were former Rebel soldiers in Uganda. Also, check out her website at 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yup, I'm a nerd. So what else is new? And this film was a lot of fun. I loved watching it almost as much as I did my two sons as they watched it.

Those were my choices, so what were yours?

Please let me know what you favorites were for 2015 so that, maybe, they will become mine for 2016!

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