Books I Read in 2018

Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill
Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser (read the introduction and you’ll get the gist of this)
When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
The Physiology of Taste OR Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy by J.A. Brillat-Savarin
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire (ideal for anyone working in community- i.e. everyone)
Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien
Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard
A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Spinning Thorns by Anna Sheehan (very fun YA fiction)
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (I cried)
After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin (confusing sometimes, but beautiful writing about NYC)
Momo by Michael Endo
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Possession by A.S. Byatt
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Volma… My Journey: One Man’s Impact on the Civil Rights Movement in Austin, TX by Carolyn Jones
Taliessin Through Logres, The Region of the Summer Stars, Arthurian Torso by Charles Williams (the poem about coins was my favorite)
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Stoner by John Williams
The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander (this is a work of art)
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
1491 by Charles C. Mann
The New Strategic Selling by Stephen Heiman and Diane Sanchez
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (I would make my children read this… ages 8-18?)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
For the Time Being by W.H. Auden
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (the toolkit companion to The Timeless Way of Building)

New York

Wide, deep streets. Rich color. Silver, grey, tiny shops, lines out restaurant doors. Murmuring underground trains, hustle, people flowing like water. French speakers, Spanish speakers, frustrated voices on the phone, small dogs walking small circles in small squares of grass. Central Park: no identical bridges, squatty pine trees, maples, elms, running and biking, the sound of a waterfall, the stink of horses, no identical lakes. Joel Pafford who knew everyone who worked at the Italian restaurant and told us that New Yorkers are extremely tied to small localities. Flashing lights in Times Square-not-a-square. Falafel and hot dog vendors, the smell of food, the smell of trash, the smell of sweat, smoke, coffee. Calf-length trench coats, yellow cars, black cars. Blue bikes. Hissing of buses and of steam coming up through fat orange pipes that loom in the middle of the street and are fenced off with plastic. Bagels with cream cheese. Repaired tenements, gilt condos, windows, occasionally bay windows. Steel bridges stretching like neural dendrites between Manhattan and the other islands. A secluded community garden near the wharf. Children walking unaccompanied and unafraid. A snaking line to get in the Met, gentle rain. Umbrellas, dogs wearing shoes, Lincoln Center all gold in the dark. A man organizing pumpkins in a Greenwich Village shop window, delivery men climbing in and out of basements. A hazy and distant Statue of Liberty looking tiny and kind. Lindens in far north Ft Tyron park, Robert Moses’s visible or invisible stamp on everything. Construction noise and scaffolding, car horns, maple leaves clicking together overhead and crunching underfoot, out-of-tune carousel, cellist on the Highline, boy choir at St Thomas. Suited business people, tourists with iPhone cameras out. Amy’s Bread: narrow and bustling. A New Yorker bag slung over a shoulder. Making walking into a dance: darting through crowds, shifting my shoulders, shaping my body to the narrow breaks that open before me.


A lunch box dangles from a man’s hand, waiting to cross the street at the
intersection of Dean Keeton and Robert Dedman, going to law school.

When the light turns, we start across. I count the lanes:
2 west, 2 east, 1 for turning. Bike lanes on both sides, back-angle parking.

In class, I draw the cross-section, imagining renovations and repairs.
18-foot sidewalks, timed lights.

Streets and intersections: I can know these. I can cross them over and over
Unlike some bridges. I measure lane widths.

Meagan says I am a slightly dampened version of myself.
I am cross and flustered. I redesign roads while my emotions lie cluttered.

An undergraduate in sweatpants walks past, carrying a lacrosse stick.
Its netting is stiff like his expression and my lately limber mind.

I loved someone who didn’t love me. That’s all it is.
It is like being stuck at an intersection, unable to cross.

I watch the red pedestrian signal, feel the cars plummet past,
north, south, west, east, I cross myself.

a poem for january 15

What is it called when two people have an ESV Bible,
A Spanish New Testament,
A Merriam-Webster dictionary,
A Greek New Testament,
A Greek lexicon,
And the internet
All open at the same time, looking up the etymology of jealousy versus envy?
Then later a roommate, in a black and white sweater,
lilts across the kitchen making sweet potatoes and a salad-
from one counter to another, she leans into what she does
like grass leans in the wind-
and salmon goes into the oven.
And there is a recording of “Gaudete” in sung in cockney accents.
Then a friend comes over with music in his hands,
Trying to put it into your clumsy hands, and you practice conducting entrances on the second eighth note of the down-beat.
What is it called when he and Meagan sit in the afternoon-lit living room
And talk about thought and emotion and the Aeolian harp
And whether a Brahms piece sounds like it was meant for strings or organ?

We have all of this and no name for it.
O peace of imprecision, of gifts that waft like fragrance, out of definition’s reach.

365 beautiful things

Back in April, I wrote about listsThe truth is, I have internalized Rilke when he said that perhaps we are here simply to make lists: House. Bridge. Fountain. Gate. Pitcher. Apple tree. Window. To say things as they are in their integrity, without embellishment.

Last New Year’s Day, I made my first and only New Year’s resolution: to make a note each evening of something beautiful I saw or experienced that day. I set a repeating reminder on my phone and didn’t miss a day. It became a precious ritual, and I think it made me progressively more mindful and grateful. I want to share some of the 365 beautiful things with you, interspersed with a few mediocre iPhone pictures.

1. Ben climbing to the outside of a fence at the arboretum to look over the ledge: “Everything is an adventure.”
6. Driving to Austin in 30 degree cold with rhapsody in blue on the radio and the clouds rolling away from the sun
16. Ran past restaurants this morning- and past Christmas trees left out for bulk pickup. It smelled like breakfast on Christmas.

31. Quiet at Trinity university, surrounded by walkers, next to a sculpture like Stonehenge, under the thin moon and two stars
39. I fed stingrays. In addition, I felt quite acutely homesick, and I think there is a beauty in that awareness.
50. Jesus changed death from a weapon against us into a weapon to be used by us. “Unless a grain of seed falls into the earth and dies, it cannot bear fruit.”
52. Two hawks flying between South Lamar and Rio Grande
60. Bible study and communal prayer. Emily Serven showing emotion in the tiniest facial muscles as she talked about her family
79. Sunrise pervading the spring sky. This poem about the Boeing 777:
81. My choir kids leaning over Jeffrey Blair’s shoulder at KMFA
87. John talking about Paris- the boulevards and the monuments and how he used to go into restaurants and talk to the owners when they were closed
99. Sitting in noon service. Cold chairs. Small organ and the rumble of heavy rain.
112. Tears in service. Urban walking/prayer with Bethany and Cara. Football huddle with choir kids after rehearsal.
118. Community walk in Clarksville led by a vibrant and energetic woman who cares about Urbanism and this city.
132. Walking A&M with Dad and hearing stories about his college years
135. The way Joshua says “humongous distinction”
138. Laughing around the Lills’ tiny kitchen table
143. Thudding over the white iron bridge in montopolis. Whiteness and the sensation of drumming
149. Joking with Geoffrey in our TPPF conference room– he smiles honestly around me now
166. Two American Airlines employees in Raleigh thinking hard and working together to get me home to Austin
168. Unbelievable red extravagance of a plum cut and bleeding sweetly on a plate
174. Holding sway over a choir of VBS kids, conducting them through Rutter and them smiling back at me
180. Going through the taco cabana drive thru to get one 35-cent tortilla
188. Camaraderie in the office; Emily holding her chin in her hand as she listens
193. Mars Hill cello, a description of Charles Williams, and use of the word “posit”
197. In the very early morning hours, a long and healing conversation. Alternatively talking about serious pain and laughing at it.
217. Tumbling with Brooke, holding Lily, squeezing John Mark, singing to Amber
227. The slow ordering of cleaning supplies and the patient consideration of homemaking
234. Anna knowing me so well in ikea
236. Lived vision and visceral love at community first village
245. Caroline telling me about her lessons in pterosaurs
247. An afternoon with Dad: planting a garden and watching a documentary about Wendell Berry afterwards
260. Meagan’s early Sunday morning soliloquies on the nature of the good, true, and beautiful as she seasons crockpot curry
264. Hill country clouds in soft colors; conversations about handed-down and aspired-to faithfulness with my family in our favorite vacation cabin
275. Two little girls waving joyously at my train as they roll beside us in the back seat of a black convertible
285. Joonho sight reading a Billy Joel song at the Ahrens’ house and trying to help me sing along
306. Biking through the HEB tunnel, seeing the light at the end fill more and more of my sight; the lovely, silly, cruel, innocent world opening to me again as it always does
308. Hearing a south Dallas developer talk about his investments as farms that he commits to for life…knowing I was born for this work
324. Walking up lavaca with Nina and Josiah, talking city and economics and the reformation and laughing like crazy college kids
334. Meagan in a garishly adorable sweater dress, sewing and telling me how to do archival research
339. Roo Panes’ Little Giant album and 59 degrees
342. Austin commuters exiting the train and sliding down the icy platform ramp- some joyously, some with trepidation
358. Breathlessly singing Christmas carols on my bike to and from church on Christmas Eve
363. Sitting at a hospitable and homely Ethiopian restaurant with Aubrey, flavorful food eaten with hands, rich-smelling coffee, and sensitive conversation
364. A doubled waffle recipe and an impromptu breakfast party
365. T S Eliot in cherrywood coffeehouse: “take no thought of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.”

reading list 2017

Books I read in 2017:

Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers (insightful and full of clarity- probably the book I recommended most often due to its relevance)

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers

The Way of the Modern World by Craig Gay (I need to read this again, but it was an excellent treatise on post-modernity and made me think)

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Why Business Matters to God by Jeff Van Duzer

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Blue Horses by Mary Oliver

Parzival: The Quest of the Grail Knight by Katherine Paterson

Middlemarch by George Eliot (a novel full of wisdom and gentleness)

On the Mother of God by Jacob of Serug

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Night by Elie Wiesel (this shook me seriously)

Home from Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler

The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

The Martian by Andy Weir

How to Kill a City by Peter Moskowitz

Evicted by Matthew Desmond (“without stable shelter, everything else falls apart” — highly, highly recommended)

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Welcome Homeless by Alan Graham (the written companion to Mobile Loaves and Fishes and Community First Village here in Austin)

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy

Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (this book tried and didn’t quite succeed– struck me as a failed attempt to be The Book Thief)

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (a wealth of beauty here- even better than his prose, which I didn’t think was possible)

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

On China by Henry Kissinger

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff*

For the Time Being by W.H. Auden

Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal

Robert Moses, The Master Builder of New York City by Pierre Christin and Olivier Balez

* previously read


This morning I resolved to ride my bike- just in the neighborhood, to check its alignment before I frighten drivers on busier streets. But now rain streaks my windows and drools out of the gutters, so I sit squinting at IRS forms and thinking of poetry.

You asked why I don’t write more poems.
Quite actually, you didn’t, but there I’ve beaten you to it,
and in bending the truth thus, accomplished that subtle
weave of fact and feeling that I associate with poetry.

But I undid the threads. The truth is, I have internalized Rilke
when he said that perhaps we are here simply to make lists:
House. Bridge. Fountain. Gate. Pitcher. Apple tree. Window.
To say things as they are in their integrity, without embellishment.

So every night at 9:50 I add to a list: Train going by in the dark.
Small singers’ hugs. Kitchen table. Two hawks. Dent in my car.
One huge arched cloud trail. Skeletal trees.

I notice the way the rain envelopes and becomes the sky, content to sink through the earth and change its form, abandoning flight and keeping me indoors, where I sit like a reservoir of simple things, making my lists when I ought to be doing my taxes. Rilke says we ought to speak the lists aloud, or write them, as the most fitting beginner’s form of poetry. “There are the hurts,” he writes. “And, always, the hardships. And there’s the long knowing of love – all of it unsayable. Later, amidst the stars, we will see: these are better unsaid.” So I write: the soft way light reaches through the window to rest in stripes on a girl’s brown hair during church. A friend talking about Paris. Unexpected meetings and free food and my hand out the window to feel the warming air and, of all things, Call Me Maybe on 95.5.

These are no more than fragments that I, in listing them, weave into a body. Rilke, again: “And the things which, even as they live, pass on – understand that we praise them. Transient, they are trusting us to preserve them – us, the most transient of all. As if they wanted our hearts to transform them into – o endlessly – into us. Whatever we are.”

I cannot yet call that transformation Poetry. I slowly fulfill my human duty to name things, but it is ironic that I have no name for the Opus that results. There is great and solemn joy in the mystery. To all the spoken and word-upheld world, I say: be.

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I weave through the city.
The squirrels keep up; they understand
the urge to race in the dappled light.

A recorded voice drawls out, slow and Texan:
“The walk sign is on to cross 24th street at Lamar,”
and the woman at the crosswalk repositions her earbuds.
She runs north, and I, south– past Shoal creek looking rocky
and innocent, as if it did not flood west downtown just last year
and the year before that.

A girl’s dog pulls her to the ground straining to greet me.
“He’s excited to see you,” she pants. I understand
the urge to run toward the new and the strange.

The silvery exhale of a bus
matches the uneven pulse of
my breathing as I see my city’s skyscrapers
like a collective shout, loom over the 15th street bridge.

Living in a city is like lying eye level with the grass,
watching it grow.

reading list 2016

Books I read in 2016: the latest in a string of consecutively shorter lists.

(following asterisks denote previously read)

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card
Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred by Philip Bess
The Small Rain by Madeleine L’Engle
Hamlet by William Shakespeare*
A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Postmillennialism by Keith Mathison
Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers
Antigone by Sophocles
Bold Love by Dan B. Allender
The Essential Rilke selected and translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton*
Passion and Purity by Elizabeth Elliot
A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Harvest Poems by Carl Sandburg
The Power Broker by Robert Caro
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling*
Heidegger in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
What’s Best Next? by Matt Perman
The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth by Wendell Berry
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers
The Confessions of Saint Augustine*
The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats


urban light

This week I sit curled up next to family, watching small siblings opening gifts. I lie on carpet squinting at economics and algebra textbooks, and watch the pilot episodes of a couple of shows people have instructed me to see, weighing whether I can sustain the commitment to finish their stories. I wake up late. I run. I sit cross-legged on my bed in the temperate glow of my single strand of Christmas lights and ponder things. What am I looking for? What do I need to manufacture for myself vs. find outside of me? What duties/joys am I shirking and why? Where am I needed? I read T.S. Eliot:

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

There are things you lose when you pursue a career: Worship as an obvious chief vocation. Time to be still. Motivations unaffected by the hope of rising higher.

O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

I have lost the easy stride of a worshiper. I am like my brother who, untrained at piano, can play hymns in full harmony by ear– but when I straighten his bench and sit down to teach him note names and fingerings, inspiration is forgotten and he languishes in a tangle of thumbs and accidentals.

I am that child. Learning technique. Questioning my choice of direction and reminding myself what I leave behind. And still, still drawn to my work. But the work and the life get confused often because I think about density and walkability and sustainability and ecology and community and bake myself into a buzzword pie but forget to till my own land and speak to my own neighbors.

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.

And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.

I have given you hands which you turn from worship,
I have given you speech, for endless palaver,
I have given you my Law, and you set up commissions,
I have given you lips, to express friendly sentiments,
I have given you hearts, for reciprocal distrust.
I have given you power of choice, and you only alternate
Between futile speculation and unconsidered action.
Many are engaged in writing books and printing them.
Many desire to see their names in print.
Many read nothing but the race reports.
Much is your reading, but not the Word of God,
Much is your building, but not the House of God.

And the wind shall say:
“Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

I fight suburban sprawl and automobile-oriented environments. But imagine I win; who am I then? A decent godless person: her only monument the pedestrian-oriented streetscape and a thousand lost souls?

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

So I hear the questions and I am afraid because it turns out I am not good at walking this path, but I refuse to turn back. Like a fool, I wander forward into the unknown because I just want to HELP, but I don’t know if I will. I want to be important, but I’m afraid it would destroy me. I want to be independent but I don’t want to be alone. I want to worship AND be accepted in a secularized city. So it’s a mess. But I believe I’m meant to wade through it.

In spite of all the dishonour,
the broken standards, the broken lives,
The broken faith in one place or another,
There was something left that was more than the tales
Of old men on winter evenings.

I believe Jesus will be faithful to complete a good work in and through me. Halfway in and halfway out of the dark, I will keep Christmas.

The work of creation is never without travail;
Lord, shall we not bring these gifts to Your service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order.
And intellectual pleasures of the senses?
The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.

(Poetry taken from Eliot’s Choruses from “The Rock”; I recommend the entire poem.)

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