Formation | Community | Culture

Five Good Reads: Science & Development

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My undergraduate degree is in microbiology, and I spent four years doing research in cellular and molecular biology. Thankfully, I chose pastoral ministry over research or healthcare—I would have been terribly unhappy in either career. But I still enjoy reading on biology, psychology, human development, health and disease, and the philosophy of science and medicine. Here are just a few that will be helpful for your pastoral ministry.

(Note: These Five Good Reads are adapted from an earlier post on the best creative nonfiction.)

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The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are by Daniel Siegel

Dr Siegel is a UCLA psychiatrist who’s written a dozen or so popular-level books on child and adult development. The Developing Mind is his magnus opus, and although it gets technical later on, the first few chapters—on “interpersonal neurobiology,” memory, attachment, and emotion will blow your mind. The main thesis of the book is that the mind is a complex “embodied and relational process” that grows throughout life and integrates everything we see, do, feel, remember, and experience. (The 2nd edition is like $60 new, but you can find used copies of the 1st edition for under $10.)

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Robert Sapolsky

Dr Sapolsky is one interesting dude. He’s a Stanford physiologist (studying cells and muscles) and primatologist (gorillas and such) who spends his summers living among gorillas in Africa and looks a lot like Zach Galifianakis (so basically, part-human, part-ape). In this book, based heavily on evolutionary theory just FYI, Sapolsky describes the biology of stress and how to respond. He points out that most of the things that stress us out—bills, deadlines, public speaking, our children’s education, etc—is totally unlike what causes a stress response in any other living being—the threat of an attacking lion or going weeks without food. He identifies how the stressor-to-stressor-response system works in most animals (it’s quickly turned on in crisis then quickly turned back off, unless the animal is eaten) versus in us humans (where stress signals get turned on by these mostly psychological factors and go hours, days or even years without getting turned off).

It’s a fascinating book, and although it’s highly scientific, the final chapter on managing stress is helpful. The only downside (other than his obvious dependence on natural selection for describing human behavior) is that he purposefully gives little serious treatment to chronic disorders like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, which are heavily influenced by stress. If you are prone to stress, anxiety, depression, or if you’ve ever had ulcers or other stress-related illnesses, you want to pick up this book. (Although it might increase your stress level for a bit while you realize how jacked up your body is.)

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi

This is one I’m currently reading. Dr Ghaemi is also a psychiatrist writing on a popular level, as he looks at eight notable leaders from history to identify traits of either clinical-level depression (like President Lincoln) or bipolar disorder (like Churchill and Napolean). His thesis is that, during peacetime, we need our leaders and legislators to be mentally stable, but during wartime and chaos, we need to be led by someone with an inner mood disorder. Why? The symptoms of depression and bipolar disorders, which we typically classify as weaknesses, are the exact qualities needed for fearless leadership in crises. It’s a compelling book, especially if you’re interested in both leadership and mental health, as I suspect most pastors are.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Duhigg is a Pulitzer-winning science and business reporter whose bestseller here describes how habits shape our brains, make us more productive, and enable us to tap into our full potential. Interestingly, he spends an entire chapter on how spiritual and cultural movements happen through small, repeated habits of communities, and features a kind-hearted look at Saddleback Church’s development of spiritual rhythms among its members. This is a great sort of book for reading on an airplane or at the doctor’s office—never go anywhere without a paperback.

 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Cain is a former attorney and consultant who self-identifies as an introvert—along with at least 1/3 of us. Her nervous-yet-confident 2012 TED Talk, one of the most-viewed ever, gave her a national platform, and her book didn’t disappoint. It’s compellingly written, with an opening manifesto, a simple quiz, and dozens of examples and illustrations. Whether you consider yourself an introvert or not, you’ll enjoy this book and better understand people afterwards.

Happy readings, folks!

JSL

[Photo cred: Glen Rakozy/ Unsplash]

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