Eight Books That Blew Up My Brain

8 Books that Blew Up My Brain

Books can be so transformative, can’t they?

I thought I’d share a list of the books that have most impacted me.

These books dramatically changed the way I understood some aspect of myself, the world, or God, turning my assumptions and long-held beliefs upside-down.

They helped form me into the person I am today.

Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical – Shane Claiborne

Blew up my understanding of the Christian life.

“Christians had taught me what Christians believe, but no one had told me how Christians live” (p. 38). This book changed the way I understood my role as a follower of Jesus, and inspired me to begin actually changing my life — my habits, my words, my spending — in response to Jesus’ teachings. I was no longer just trying to make people believe the same things as me, but striving to make the world a safer, kinder, more beautiful place — to help bring heaven to earth.

When I had gotten tired of talking about Jesus and studying Jesus, this book encouraged me to start living like Jesus. It also introduced me to radical nonviolence (which eventually led me to nonpunitive parenting). And it also inspired me to start this blog.

Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture — Shannon Hayes

Blew up my understanding of vocation.

I guess I’d already been heading down this road when I picked up this book, but Radical Homemakers confirmed for me that there is freedom in domesticity. Hayes convinced me that it’s possible to change the world through the choices we make in our homes. We can actually help solve global crises by focusing on family and community. Homemaking can, in fact, be a political and ecological act.

One of the most powerful concepts for me was that of turning the household from a unit of consumption to a unit of production. I am ever striving for this.

This book made homemaking exciting and empowering, and affirmed my vocation as a homemaker.

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats – Sally Fallon

Blew up my understanding of health and nutrition.

Before I read this book, I was completely taken in by conventional nutrition wisdom: all fat (especially saturated fat) is bad for you; whole grains should be the staple of your diet; and calories are the enemy. And if it comes from the grocery store, it must be safe — otherwise, how is it for sale?

This book turned all that upside down, introducing me to Weston A. Price and traditional foods. Turns out, we’re actually undernourished despite being overfed; we need the fat in meat and dairy; grains actually deplete our bodies of minerals; and most of what you can get at the grocery store isn’t really food. And the most surprising of all? we need more bacteria in our food.

Thanks to this book, I’ve come to adore butter and lard; I constantly have food fermenting on my counter; and I’m crazy about real food while being suspicious of anything that comes pre-packaged.

I don’t love most of the recipes in this book, but the introductory chapters were life-changing enough to merit owning this book.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health – Toni Weschler

Blew up my relationship with my body and my understanding of the female body.

Growing up, I bought into the notion that women’s bodies were kind of lame. Menstruation was our curse, and our fertility was something that needed to be managed with medication (to prevent unwanted pregnancies).

TCOYF changed all that. I came to understand the whole menstrual cycle — from ovulation to menstruation and back again — as a beautiful and elegant cycle, to be honoured and understood, not managed. I learned that my body was speaking to me, and learned to read the signs of my fertility so that I didn’t have to rely on drugs. Our bodies are miraculous and stunning, full of life and potential.

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason — Alfie Kohn

Blew up my views of parenting.

This book first introduced me to non-punitive parenting. It was a game-changer. It revolutionized my understanding of the relationship between parent and child, and convinced me that you can raise responsible, compassionate, morally-developed children without reward and punishment. Whaaaaat?

This book got me to question the belief not only that we can control our children, but that we should. Mind-blowing suff.

(I talk about this book some more here).

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality – Donald Miller

Blew up my understanding of Christianity.

I know. Who of my generation of the evangelical subculture wasn’t affected by this disarming little book?

It’s been many years now since I read Blue Like Jazz as a starry-eyed university undergrad, but at the time it was revolutionary, and elements have stuck with me all these years. I’d never experienced a Christian writer being so honest and funny and self-deprecating. Unbelievably refreshing.

Most memorable: His idea of carrying an “I am the Problem” protest sign. It encouraged me to stop trying to figure out who was responsible for the mess we’re in, and recognize me own sin. If we all redirected our energy away from trying to correct others and turned the focus toward our own sin, we’d go a lot further with making the world a better place.

Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering – Gregory Boyd

Blew up my understanding of God.

This is the one book wherein I could practically feel the furniture in my brain moving. I remember sitting on my parents’ bed, clutching my head as lifelong beliefs dissolved like snow and new ones rushed in to replace them.

Greg Boyd — now one of my all-time favourite theologians — first introduced me to Open Theism with this book — namely, the idea that God can/does not know the future . . . because the future does not yet exist. Instead, God’s omniscience means he knows all the infinite possibilities of the future; but since he has given us free will, he has allowed us to co-create that future reality with him.

In this view, God has not pre-ordained our suffering: instead, suffering is the consequence of free will (that of humans and angels), and our choice to alienate ourselves from God’s goodness and love. But God is always working to redeem Creation through our suffering.

I fell in love with God all over again, thanks to this life-changing book.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church — N. T. Wright.

Blew up my understanding of the afterlife.

Wright shocked me by arguing that most Christians have the afterlife all wrong: Jesus and the New Testament writers clearly teach that God’s children will be resurrected into physical bodies, here on Earth, just as Jesus was. (Heaven is, in fact, a temporary holding-place for the departed until the Resurrection.) He then goes on to explore the implications of the Resurrection: it changes the way we understand our mission, and has highly political implications. A stunning read.

Have any of these books had a big impact on you? What books are at the very top of your this-changed-my-life list? Any other mind-blowing books you recommend?

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  1. Radical homemakers and TCYOF blew up my brain too! Simplicity parenting did more lasting “damage” than “Unconditional Parenting” personally, but it’s still such a great book!

    Siddartha by Herman Hesse was the first book I remember reading that I needed a point to collect myself afterwards.

    • I wonder if it makes a difference, what order you read them in? I read Unconditional Parenting first, so I think that’s why it had a bigger impact than Simplicity Parenting. Maybe it would have been different, had I read them in reverse order. Which one did you read first?

  2. Hmm. The one book that greatly altered the course of my life is the Book of Concord. A book of confessions of the Lutheran church. It is heady stuff but really impacted me in college and is the reason I became a Lutheran.

    I have to admit that I don’t understand the big deal of the N.T. Wright book. The historical church and most liturgical churches have always believed that Jesus was talking about a physical resurrection. It’s right in the last article of the Apostle’s Creed (emphasis mine):
    “I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    The Holy *Christian Church,
    The communion of saints,
    The forgiveness of sins,
    The resurrection of the BODY,
    And life everlasting, amen”

    *the original language uses the term “catholic” but it was written at a time in history BEFORE the Roman Catholic Church existed as a denomination and this named. Back when the Apostle’s Creed was written, the term “catholic” simply meant “universal.” Due to this, many groups today use the term “Christian” when translating the creed as it conveys the original meaning without confusion about denominations.
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    • Thanks, Michele. Interesting about the Book of Concord!

      And I sort of know what you mean about the NT Wright book — once I read it, I could see that the truth had been obvious all along. But the Evangelical church has gained incredible influence in North America (I believe Evanglicalism is the most prominent form of Christianity in North America, and has the loudest in the media), and they teach (in NO uncertain terms) that Christian souls immediately go to spend eternity in some disembodied heaven after death. Wright points to a lot of ambiguity from the Anglican church, too. There’s been a lot of confusion on the afterlife in general, despite quite a bit of clarity in the Bible.

      • I agree Kathleen, as a child in a mainstream evangelical church the message I got (often implied, but still clear to me) was always that we should be so eager for heaven that we don’t really enjoy our time on this earth. I always struggled with this message, as I for the most part quite like it here. And I always felt incredibly guilty for not wanting to hurry up and get to heaven already. The follow-up was that we would eventually get new bodies, but that effectively God would blow up this earth and make a new one.

        It wasn’t until we started attending our current church (part of MCC) that the concept of God’s kingdom on this earth really came across. I finally felt like I had permission to enjoy this place, and the wonders of God’s creation. And furthermore, that we have a role to play in bringing the kingdom here.

        I have long been a “hippie” and I struggled a lot with the idea that “dominion” gives us carte blanch to do whatever we want with God’s creation (which was the de facto message I received from mainstream evangelicalism). I haven’t read this book so I’m not sure if this point is brought up at all, but for me I think the subtle difference in those two concepts have a profound effect on how we approach life and God’s creation. Believing that God will basically just start over significantly reduces our stake in and incentive to love and protect this earth. Whereas, if you believe we are co-creators with God in ushering in his kingdom on this earth you begin to see it as home, and it’s harm and destruction take on a whole new meaning.

        • Love all your thoughts here, Lily! “I finally felt like I had permission to enjoy this place.” YES! And Wright does address a lot of these ideas. The idea that this earth is good and that it will be our home forever definitely encourages me to take better care of it.

  3. This is a great list! I want to read all these books – and happily I have just borrowed Nourishing Traditions from my local library.

    PS I have been a lurker on your blog ever since Project M. I love the perspective you bring to marriage and family – it has led me to make changes to my life. Thank you for all you do.
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  4. Radical Homemakers, yes!
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  5. Feelings Buried Alive Never Die by Karol Truman really changed the way I see health and wellness. It helped me to realize how interconnected our emotional and physical selves are. I’d always thought that to take care of my physical body I just needed to do physical things, but now I better understand the importance of taking care of my whole self.
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  6. Well this explains a lot. :)

    Irresistible Revolution also blew up my brain. The same summer I read that, the older book “Christianity Rediscovered” by Vincent Donovan also blew my mind (missionary to tribal people asking what the gospel looks like without Western trappings). A few years later, “Jesus for President” by Claibourne/Haw blew up my brain about empire, politics, military, and the gospel.

    “Creating Health: Honoring Women’s Wisdom” by Christiane Northrup and “Love, Medicine, and Miracles” by Dr. Bernie Siegel both blew up my brain about the mind/body connection and how to approach health, healing, and disease.

    “A General Theory of Love” is about neuroscience, and blew up my brain about human attachment, and single-handedly convinced me that of the importance of staying at home with children under 2.

    I, too, count Radical Homemakers as a favorite. Nourishing Traditions continues to blow up my brain.

    My husband keeps urging me to read Surprised by Hope. I already think I’m on that page about a new earth (instead of disembodied heaven), but I’d like to understand it more deeply. (And I totally still feel like a heretic referring to that idea around most churchgoing folks I know!)

    • Hope! You’ve added a bunch of new books to my reading list! Thanks a lot. As if it wasn’t long enough already. :)

      “A General Theory of Love” sounds right up my alley. Perhaps too much. :)

  7. Kathleen, the more I read your posts the more I think that we would be really great friends. Or at least, I would really like you and you would politely put up with me. :)
    At least four of those books blew up my mind as well, and it’s been an explosive journey since,

  8. James Burns says:

    Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution should be a must read for anyone that wants to take their Christianity out of the pews. It “blew up my brain” also. I have met Shane and he is as real as it gets. What you see in the book is what you see when you meet him. His attitude “Jesus meant the things he said is a vary Anabaptist position. I have one of Greg Boyd’s books as well and upon your recommendation I believe “Is God to Blame….” will be a future purchase.

  9. I’m years late to the conversation, but “Irresistible Revolution,” completely changed my life. I’m an attorney (who has always gone the public interest route) and the book was recommended to me by a big firm attorney who, after interviewing me, told me that he could see that big law was not for me. I’ve since read it twice and have “stalked” Shane Claiborne and his friends ever since.

    I’ve read Blue Like Jazz and I really enjoyed the read, but it didn’t change my life. I think I was already there by the time I read the book..

    I’m heading to the library today to pick up Surprised by Hope and plan to get through the other books on this list over the next few weeks. Thanks for the recommendations!

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