Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"The Greatest Love of All?"

In Whitney Houston's 1985 hit song, we are told that "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all."

Christians certainly ought to disagree with that sentiment, for we follow One who summarized the Law in His greatest commandment to "love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself."  Surely going outside of oneself to love God and others is the greatest love of all!

Still, by including those last two words, "as yourself," Jesus does not deny us the right to a healthy self-love.  He only denies us a total preoccupation with ourselves to the extent that all interaction with God and others is calculated to our own self-interest.  We must love God and others, not use or manipulate them.

Some believe that human beings are naturally selfish...that we come into this world hard-wired to seek our own interests.  This may or may not be true, but to be selfish is not the same thing as to love one's self.  Here I agree with Whitney: proper love of self is something that one must learn.

In my last post, I delineated three attributes that characterize the love of God as presented in the Bible: specific, tangible acts; merciful understanding; and a willingness to reconcile.  I further argued that if we claim to love as God loves, then our interactions with others should also be characterized by such attributes.  So today I want to ponder the question: What does Godly self-love look like?

Specific, Tangible Acts

To love myself properly, I must do concrete things that benefit my life.  And by "benefit," I do not mean that I should gratify my immediate urges, but that I should do what is in my long-term best interest.  Here are some concrete acts that I believe every person ought to do to love themselves:
Merciful Understanding

There are two equal and opposite errors that we often make in relating to ourselves.  The first is to fail to look honestly at our own failures, weaknesses, and sins...to rationalize our own behavior even when it is destructive.  The second error is to be so self-critical that any fault, mistake, or sin--even small ones--evoke shame and self-doubt that paralyze us.

Godly self-love requires that we candidly confront and accept responsibility for our own misdeeds.  We must face the reality of all our choices and actions, because in doing so we actually affirm our worth and dignity as responsible persons.  Not to take responsibility is actually to diminish our personhood.  

But even more, as sinners saved by grace, we can let go of the destructive tendency to berate ourselves with undue shame and guilt.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus understands our fallen nature (Hebrews 4:15), and since He gives us merciful understanding, we ought to give ourselves merciful understanding as well.  To do less is to cheapen His grace.

Willingness to Reconcile

Love involves more than just understanding...it involves reconciliation.  God did not just understand our fallen nature...He reconciled that fallen nature to Himself in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  True self-love, then, involves reconciling ourselves to ourselves.  What does that mean?

Much of our sin, our brokenness, is rooted in deep hurt and dysfunction from our past.  Sin is much more than just our own action: it is a deeply entrenched system of evil that has existed since the Fall.  No relationship, no family, no community has escaped its influence.  

It is a harrowing experience, but true self-love involves an honest confrontation with the brokenness in our past: a discerning look at how the false stories of our past tend to mar the story that God intends us to know about ourselves.  Often this involves facing personal experiences of abuse, abandonment, loss, or injustice.  

These are not just "in the past."  All these experiences...and the lies and distortions of reality that result...will continue to influence our present and our future..  Godly self-love demands that we reconcile ourselves by seeking healing and restoration that can only come from God.

Loving yourself is not "the greatest love of all," but it is a love that we must learn to practice so that we can live with integrity and joy as we seek to love God and our neighbors.

Friday, May 27, 2016

God is Love

"Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love." - 1 John 4:8.

This passage is quoted by all kinds of people in order to justify all kinds of attitudes and behaviors.  Which attitudes and behaviors?  That depends on how one understands those three simple words, "God is love."

Should I take my experience and definition of love and then assume that to be, in some way, what God is?  For example: The people who really love me just accept me for who I am and don't demand that I change.  That's the kind of God I believe in!

Or should I take an abstract, doctrinaire concept of God and then use that to put limits on what love is?  For example:  The God of the Bible disapproves of homosexuality, greed, and Islam, so preaching against homosexuals, "the 1%," and Muslims is actually the loving thing to do!  It will get those people to repent and turn to Jesus!

These are perhaps crude characterizations, but I think they do reflect a very natural human tendency. Love is active and risky.  As C. S. Lewis once wrote, "To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken."  To combat this disturbing insight, in our relationships with others we may tend to act out of self-protection and self- justification: to be defensive, to wear masks, to avoid authenticity...because that is the way of safety.

Biblical love--God's love--is not self-protection or self-justification, and it requires risks that many of us wish not to make.   However, to love truly as the bible defines it, we must look at God and then love as He loves.

Much could be said here, but from Genesis through Revelation I definitely see three characteristics of God's love:

1.  God's love is shown in specific, tangible acts.  God's people are always asked to recall specific acts in history in which God acted decisively to love them: the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Law, the sending of Jesus, the Cross and Resurrection.  While some theologians argue that the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the true essence of God's love, I think the overwhelming testimony of Scripture reveals God's love in His intentional, loving acts towards His people and, indeed, towards all creation.

2.  God's love is shown in merciful understanding.  Like the Good Samaritan, God enters into the midst of our brokenness.  He sees us not as He expects us to be, but as we are, in all our humanity, and yet He chooses to react (to quote a friend of mine) with compassion instead of contempt.  When Jesus interacted with "the sinners," he referred to them as "sick, in need of a doctor," not "damned with a one-way ticket to hell."

3.  God's love is shown in the willingness to reconcile.  God is a Person, and therefore a relational Being.  Though His heart is deeply hurt and offended by our sin and rebellion, it is God's constant will to reconcile us to Himself...never to write us off or reject us.  Ultimately reconciliation only happens when we respond in love and repent of our sin, but the point is that our sin does not stop God from taking the risk and reaching out first.

If we claim to know God, and to love how God loves, our love ought in some way to reflect these characteristics.  This is necessary in our love of God, others (in our immediate sphere of influence but also beyond), and even ourselves.

My next several blog posts will take these very general thoughts and put some shape on them.  For now, my challenge to myself, and to you as well, is to meditate deeply on the Bible's portrait of God.  Ponder the concrete images of God's love in passages like Isaiah 40, Psalm 23, Luke 15, or Romans 8.  Drink deeply from the well of the Gospel, and receive that love.  Only then will you be able to live it out. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Virtue of Empathy

In 2010, researchers at the University of Michigan carried out a vast, comprehensive study on college students' ability to have empathy for others.  You can read more details about this study here.  The study concluded that today's college students have displayed a 40% decline in their ability to show empathy to others compared with those from thirty and forty years ago.

Based on a surveyed understanding of our culture today, and a deep understanding of my sinful heart, I'm going to take a leap and say that this data is true for the general population.

Webster gives this simple definition of empathy: the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings.

Why is this important?  Put simply, empathy is the basis of all honest dialogue and relational connection.  It is next to impossible to communicate in any meaningful way with another person unless one can, in some sense, see the world as that other person sees it.  Without this capacity, I merely talk past the other person...and regretfully, that is what I see with alarming regularity in the current cultural conversation.

I believe there are three dimensions of empathy.

First, there is narrative empathy.  All of us have a basic story that runs through our heads and hearts, defining who we are and what life is about.  It may be healthy or unhealthy, positive or negative, helpful or unhelpful to us...but it is there.  A huge part of empathy is embracing the truth that each individual has a unique story, and if we are going to relate with him right now, we have to accept that his story is probably different than ours.

Another dimension is intellectual empathy.  At present, there is a dangerous tendency to attach dismissive, judgmental labels to anyone with whom we disagree.  We live in an era of sound bytes and social media, and it is easier to label than to engage.  For a true and open dialogue to occur, one must have genuine goodwill for opponents as persons who honestly hold differing views, and then debate the logic and content of the views without attacking the persons.

Finally, I believe there is volitional empathy.  This last dimension is perhaps the hardest to overcome.  At least it has been for me.  Volitional empathy recognizes that a defensive spirit exists in every one of us--that we all have triggers--and then makes the conscious choice to let our defenses down.  Volitional empathy is a simple decision to move toward the other person in love, regardless of that person's response.

While intellectual empathy might be relevant only in broader cultural discussions and in academia, the other two are indispensable in any human relationship.

Now for the really bad news.  Genuine empathy isn't as easy to come by as we might think.  It is not an innate character quality, and as this study suggests, our own experiences of pain and distress do not necessarily make us more empathetic towards others.  In essence, empathy is a choice that we must make and, ultimately, a habit that we must cultivate in our souls through hard work.

How do we cultivate empathy?  Here are some practices that have been valuable to me:

1.  Be humble.  Acknowledge that your personal narrative skews your perspective.  You have biases based on your own experiences and your own interpretation of those experiences.  Admit that your personal experience does not define the whole of life, and therefore, others will have different values, feelings, and attitudes.

2.  Listen.  Allow others the chance to express their perspective without interruption.  Maintain eye contact.  Don't try to come up with responses in your head.  Just hear what is being communicated.  Then communicate back to the other person what you heard, and let the person clarify any misunderstandings.

3.  Make diverse friendships.  As a Christian (and certainly as a pastor), it is uber-tempting to enclose oneself in a virtual ghetto of like-mindedness.  (We often misinterpret certain biblical passages as proof that this is the way of godliness).  I imagine the same is true for other social or racial groups.  Empathy requires that we break down some of these social inhibitions and develop genuine friendships with people who hold different views, who come from different cultures, and who live different lives than we do.

4.  Broaden your perspective.  If you only read the Huffington Post and listen to NPR, you have a biased view of life, culture, and politics, whether you admit it or not.  Ditto the Washington Times and FOX News.  Every once in a while, read something that makes your blood boil.  Then when your blood returns to 98.6 degrees, read it again.  Avoid labeling the writer and focus on the content of the article.  Ask yourself why he/she might be advocating the views he/she is advocating.  Are his/her facts accurate?  Does the logic make sense?  Is there anything in the piece you can affirm as basically true?

I am deeply grateful for the ongoing challenge to grow in empathy.  Will you join me in that?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

In Defense of Leisure

The first four weeks of my Sabbatical have reminded me of the absolute importance of leisure.

Let me state at the outset that I do not define leisure as laziness or inactivity.  Nor do I envision leisure as merely reclining on a cruise ship, drinking a Long Island Iced Tea and listening to sultry jazz standards (not that there's anything wrong with that).

No.  As originally conceived, leisure is a very profound concept that generally escapes most peoples' sensibilities.  The German philosopher Josef Pieper (taking his cue from ancient and medieval philosophers) offered this erudite definition of leisure:

Leisure is a way of looking at the world, born of an affirming oneness with the origin of all being and an authentically free, gracelike experience of the meaning of reality as a whole.

At the risk of seeming presumptuous, let me try to take that definition down a verbal notch or two:  

To be at leisure is to step beyond the daily grind of life, not to rest passively but to contemplate intentionally the deeper meaning of one's existence and one's place in the world.

Thus, leisure is a state of being that we must choose to enter.  It doesn't just happen when we "stop working."  It requires intentional thinking.  That's why it escapes many people.

In fact, most people exist in either one of these two states of being:
  • Functional activity, in which we simply do what needs to be done, accomplish what needs to be accomplished, checking off all the tasks on our list.  In this state, we identify with whatever function we have at the moment.  I'm "at work."  I'm "parenting my child."  I'm "cleaning the house."  I'm "doing something productive."

  • Mindless inactivity, which we often mistake for leisure.  In this state, we are often consuming something (media, sports, food, alcohol) to escape from "the real world" of nonstop demands, activity, and busyness.  But to consume is not the same as to receive, and while we may be feeding our bodies or our attention spans, we are not feeding our minds and souls.
Read that last sentence again:  To consume is not the same as to receive, and while we may be feeding our bodies or our attention spans, we are not feeding our minds and souls.

If you want to know why American culture is in jeopardy, I think it is because we are feeding our bodies and our attention spans but starving our minds and souls.  I think it is because many people spend their lives shifting back and forth between functional activity and mindless inactivity.

People need genuine leisure, and the sad part is that our cultural institutions that ought to be promoting and encouraging leisure, aren't.  Whether it's churches, schools, or the arts, quite often they seem to be promoting even more functional activity and mindless inactivity.  They offer few opportunities to step back (not escape) from the "real world" in order to ask deeper questions about what is our purpose, what is the good life, or what ultimate spiritual reality imbues our lives with wonder, majesty and grace.  In other words, they offer us little opportunity truly to be human.

If we cannot rely on our cultural institutions always to provide us with opportunities for leisure, then that means we must create opportunities for ourselves.  Here are just a few that I engage in and recommend:

Soul Friendship.  This is based on an ancient Celtic practice called the anamchara (Gaelic for "soul friend").  Schedule a regular meeting with a trusted friend.  No cell phones, I-pads, Kindles, or laptops allowed.  Don't just talk about what you're doing at work or what mutual hobbies you enjoy.  Talk about who you are.  Explore the deeper values that animate your life.  Ask each other why you do what you're doing.  Encourage one another, but ask deeper questions of each other about your motives and your choices.

Spiritual Disciplines.  The ancient and medieval Christians offer a treasury of disciplines that can be used to create space for leisurely contemplation and, indeed, transformation.  However, I recommend a brand new curriculum entitled Essential Practices of the Faith.  My wife and I are currently journeying through this material.  We love that it is simple without being simplistic; it is profound without requiring a degree in theology; and it requires commitment but not a great deal of time.  One thing it does require is that you study it with others...not on your own!

Contemplate Great Art.  I'm not talking about the "arts" that fill our popular culture and win Oscars, Emmys, or Grammys.  I'm talking about the "Classics."  Read a book with exalted language and heroic characters that embody great values (my favorites are Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces).  Listen to classical music that stirs deep emotion (my favorites are Copland's Symphony No. 3 and Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe, Suite 2).  Look at great works of art that stylize great subjects (my favorite is Dali's Crucifixion).  Find your own favorites, but remember that great art is more than just entertainment.  It "incarnates" and enables you to experience profound ideas at the physical and emotional level.  That is food for the soul.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


In the Greek language, there are two words for time.  

First, there's chronos, which refers to linear time: the quantified units of seconds, minutes, hours, etc..., in which we measure and live out our daily lives.

Then there's kairos, which refers to something quite different.  Kairos is not about quantity but about quality.  It refers to opportunities or moments in time which seem to present themselves and of which we ought to take advantage.

When you look at your daily calendar to see what you've planned, you're thinking about chronos.  When you look at old photo albums to remember milestones or significant dates in your life, you're thinking about kairos.  

This morning, my family and I experienced kairos.

First, some background:  My son has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, and one of the many sensory issues with which he struggles is his utter fear of snow.  He hates it.  Hates feeling its coldness, hates getting it on his clothes.  Hates snow.  He'll walk on it only if we make him, and only in snow boots, but he will not play in it.  Ever.  And we live in West Michigan.

Second, we got a significant amount of snow overnight.  (We live in West Michigan.)  My wife and I had a ten o'clock appointment this morning, but due to the condition of the roads, the appointment was cancelled.

Now, I was already preparing to go outside and shovel the driveway, but my wife decided she wanted to turn this morning into an adventure.  She said, "Let's all go outside and build a snowman."  (Remember: My son hates snow.)

The next several minutes of chronos time witnessed Cyrus in total tantrum-mode as we struggled to help him put on his snow pants, winter coat, hat, gloves, and boots.  We assured Cyrus that he could merely stand in the garage and watch as mommy builds a snow man and daddy shovels the driveway.  He assured us that he was not going to let us win.  But Cherith wisely fought this battle.

We got Cyrus out into the garage.  Cherith started building the snowman.  I started shoveling the snow.  Occasionally we would throw snow at each other jokingly.  (At least, I think it was jokingly...)  Slowly but surely, possibly encouraged by the fun he saw his mommy and daddy have, Cyrus began walking out to the driveway.  He walked over to the snowman and insisted that he help mommy put on the finishing touches.

That was just the beginning.  Next, he offered to help clean off daddy's car.  He brushed all around the car, and even though some snow occasionally flew in his face or fell on his head, he pressed on undeterred by any discomfort he might have felt.

And then, just to show what a bad-ass he really is, he made snowballs and thew them at mommy, daddy, the snowman, and the big tree in our side yard that we lovingly named Treebeard (after the character from Lord of the Rings).  Long after I had finished shoveling and was ready to go inside, Cyrus wanted to stay outside and play in the snow.

Just to be clear, this was not our first venture along these lines.  Cherith and I routinely try to get Cyrus out of his comfort zone, and we've made previous attempts to acclimate him to the fun of snow play.  It never worked.  If it had been snowy a week ago and we had tried then, I don't think it would have worked.

But for some reason, this time was different.  It was the right time.  For most kids, this would be no big deal.  For my son, it was kairos.

Have you ever experienced those moments?  I mean those events when you knew, in the moment, that eternity was entering into time and offering you a unique gift?  And I don't necessarily mean something huge, like the birth of a child or a spiritual conversion.  Those huge events are unmistakeable and obviously life-changing.

However, I tend to think that life offers us many more kairos moments than we realize, and we don't realize them precisely because they're not huge and obvious.  They happen in the ordinary mess of everyday life, in the very mundane and predictable choices that we sometimes face.

We miss those events because we are a culture wired by chronos time.  Chronos time is orderly, predictable, and much more within our control...and oh, how we love to be in control.

Only if we relinquish some of that control will we have the eyes to see kairos time, which is much more random, much less predictable, but ultimately much more imbued with depth, meaning, and possibilities for growth.

Today, thank God, I had the eyes to see it when it happened.

So I'm grateful for my wife, who saw an opportunity and fought for it.

I'm proud of my son, who was brave and overcame a fear.

And I'm overwhelmed by the Creator, who showers us with snow, with grace, and with kairos.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Soul Music

If you look to the right column of this blog, right under the "About Me" section, you'll notice that "My Other Passion" is music...specifically, playing and composing pieces for piano.

I started taking lessons at age eight when, every Saturday morning at 10:30 am, my grandfather would take me to King's Music in Downtown Sharon, PA, where I would take a half-hour lesson with Jeff Wachter.  Jeff's lessons with me went beyond mere piano playing: he taught me music theory, he showed me how to read and interpret orchestral scores, and he patiently coached me through some of my early attempts at composing.

I took lessons faithfully for eight years, until my sixteen-year-old ego determined that I didn't need anyone to teach me anything anymore.  Of course I still played all the time.  I accompanied the high school choir, and when all my relatives converged upon my small home for various family get-togethers, they would bribe me into providing crowd-pleasing entertainment.  (I had to learn Sinatra songs and specific old Catholic hymns because certain Italian aunts demanded it...and one other relative insisted that I learn the theme to The Young and the Restless.)

In college I had the great blessing of studying under Elizabeth Pastor.  She was a total prodigy--she had studied with some of the greatest piano teachers herself (Beryl Rubenstein and Arthur Loesser), and performed with the Cleveland, Boston, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, just to name a few.  Although I didn't major in music, she graciously accepted me as a student, and from her I received a rigorous (that's putting it rather mildly) training in classical performance.

I know several individuals over the years who have asked me why I did not make music my vocation.  My answer is always that I view music more as an avocation: not something to earn money, but something to feed and edify my own soul.  In my time working with teenagers I gave piano lessons to some interested students, and I use my musical gifts in church when I'm able.  But the music I like to play and compose is more for my own personal expression...not to win fans.

Unfortunately, when the busyness of life overtakes me, I often find myself unable to make the time to use this gift.  Lately I was reminded of how empty my own soul can feel when that is the case.  Perhaps each of you has his or her own "avocation" that feeds your soul and you can relate.  If so, will you join me in promising ourselves that we will make time--whatever it takes--to keep that "soul music" in our lives?  To do that one thing about which we can say, "This gives me life"?

My personal commitment is that I will go back to composing.  On this Valentine's Day, I'd like to share with you a piece (click the title below) that I composed ten years ago for my wedding day.  My bride inspired it just by being her.  I hope it might inspire you too.  Blessings...................................

"Cherith" by Jeffrey M. Kahl

Friday, January 29, 2016

My Top Ten List

Near the end of his life, C. S. Lewis was asked by The Christian Century, "What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?"

Not surprisingly, the list of ten books offered by Lewis is an eclectic mixture of philosophy, theology, poetry, biography, and social commentary.  The authors are Catholics, Protestants, pre-Christian pagans and post-Christian humanists...and one or two in a class all to themselves.  Like some of the early Christian saints, Lewis affirmed that "all truth is God's truth," and he read widely and deeply in order to absorb as much truth as possible.  You can find Lewis' "top ten list" here

You'll notice that the Bible is not in Lewis' list.  Lewis never gave a reason for this "omission," but to my mind, the reason is perfectly clear.  For Lewis, the Bible is not a book to shape his philosophy of life; it is a book to shape him.  The Main Character of the Bible does not call us to come and think about His ideas...He calls us to "come, follow Me." 

At any rate, the past few weeks I've issued myself a similar challenge to discern the books that most sharpened me and helped me to define my personal sense of life.  It was much more difficult than I thought, but here I offer ten books, all published in the last one hundred years, that have been foundational for my journey through this mess we call life. 

Like Lewis, and for the same reason, the Bible is not listed.  And like Lewis, my list includes a hodgepodge of philosophy, theology, history, literature, and drama, written by believers and nonbelievers.
  • Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes.  We live in a world full of causes that try to create Jesus in their own image...to co-opt Jesus into serving their own particular ideologies.  The result is today's Religious Right Jesus, Socialist Jesus, Anti-Church Jesus, and Hipster Jesus.  This book is a needed remedy.  Having lived for fifty years in traditional Middle Eastern villages, Dr. Bailey is in a unique position to interpret the life and teachings of Jesus as they would have been experienced by His original disciples.  The result is a fresh look at the stunning, scandalous Man whose words reached right into the heart of every person He met.
  • C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.  While his Chronicles of Narnia and his Space Trilogy are much more popular, this is by far his best work of fiction.  It is a reworking of the pagan myth of Cupid and Psyche, and it delves deeply into the nature of human love.
  • Anne Holm, I Am David.  A children's book written in the 1960's, this is a poignantly heroic tale of one little boy's escape from a Soviet gulag and his quest to find his mother.  Along the way he learns about courage, friendship, and grace, and perhaps most importantly, he learns to affirm his own unique identity.
  • Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture.  This is a work of dense Thomist philosophy, but its message really is quite practical.  In a world full of noise, busyness, and productivity at all costs, Pieper calls us to reclaim a spirit of "leisure."  However, leisure (far from being laziness or boredom) is an intentional quieting of our internal and external lives so we can observe and listen to the deeper truths of life.  Only in such leisure can human culture genuinely flourish.
  • Ayn Rand, Anthem.  Being a liberty-lover, I am a huge fan of Rand's much more substantive works such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  However, this brief novella will always be my favorite.  It portrays one young man whose spirit cannot be crushed by the collectivist society in which he is held captive, and his quest to find the one word that will liberate him.
  • T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party.  This thoroughly modern play illustrates the bungles of contemporary relationships...relationships defined by narcissism, half-truths, and manipulation.  Yet through a mixture of hilarious comedy and profound tragedy, Eliot adroitly hints at the kind of sacrificial love that is required for true reconciliation.
  • Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.  I'm a history buff, and I have a particular love for early American history...a love that was first kindled by my grandfather and then fanned into a steady flame by two college professors.  By examining the writings of philosophers who influenced the American patriots, and also dissecting the pamphlets that helped spread their ideology, we are given a thorough elucidation of the Revolutionary spirit that created our nation.
  • Richard Rubenstein, Aristotle's Children.  Another work of history, this book examines the oft forgotten dialogue among Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Middle Ages...a dialogue that centered on the writings of Ancient Greece's greatest philosopher.  Definitely relevant for today!
  • Barry G. Webb, Five Festal Garments.  This work of biblical theology scrutinizes five books of the Old Testament known as the "Megilloth" (The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes).  While not often read today, these five books illuminate fundamental attitudes that every human being ought to cultivate in order to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.
  • Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express.  Not really deep or anything, but a well crafted murder mystery and a detective, Hercule Poirot, who uses the "little grey cells" in his brain to find the killer.  I just read this one for pure enjoyment.
So that's my top ten.  What books would be on your list?