About September 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in September 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2005 is the previous archive.

October 2005 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

September 2005 Archives

September 2, 2005

Losing Moses part II

I posted a few days back an entry about my enthusiasm about the Chris Hedges book on the Ten Commandments entitled Losing Moses on the Freeway. An evocative title, I think, which may not be fully transparent, but does conjure up some image of GodÕs Word being subverted by Òthe freeway.Ó

Jackson Browne once sang, in one of his most passionate and sad and moving songs, The Pretender, a story about a guy selling out.


IÕm going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
IÕm going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
IÕll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
IÕll get up and do it again
Amen

Say it again
Amen

He ends the song after wishing for something better, and wondering Òwhat became of the changes, we waited for love to bring? Were they only the fitful dreams of some greater awakening?Ó with this:

IÕm going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy

Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Well, it is a moving piece about selling out, losing oneÕs values, accommodating oneself to the dominant culture, turning inward, losing faith and giving up any chance of forging a meaningful alternative to the shallowness of the American Dream.

Which is a rather long way into my promise to blog a bit more about the Hedges book which illustrates how our culture has lost any connection it may have had with the ways of God. Moses has gotten lost, or been taken over, by Òthe freeway.Ó The dominant imagination of consumer capitalism (words he doesnÕt use, by the way) has co-opted the prophetic witness of Holy Scripture. As Walter Brueggeman makes powerfully clear in the opening pages of The Prophetic Imagination, this is true for social conservatives and social liberals. The zeitgeist of our times has influenced our worldviews and we are hard pressed to develop a truly prophetic, passionate and pathos-filled vision as did the Hebrew prophets, from Moses to Jesus. Which may or may not be what Hedges inteded with his odd title and odd book jacket.

This is, though, clearly not a work about political pluralism, church-state relationships or the legality of placing the Ten Commandments on plaques, in courtrooms or public schools. Rather, it is an evocative meandering through the ways in which these deep values are contested, subverted, triavialized or ignored in our day and age, often, he seems to say, by those who give them the loudest lip-service. If you know anything about us here at Hearts & Minds, you will know it is a concern with which we resonate. From the messages of Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio, to Wendell BerryÕs slow-moving novels, to the radical Walsh & Keesmat commentary on Colossians (Colossians Remixed) that I wrote about over at the website months ago, to our constant reference to books about worldview, we are part of a movement, it seems, of those questioning how the mores and ethos of our culture has eroded Biblical truth and domesticated Scriptural ways of being in the world. We must read the Bible, more, yes! But we must learn to read it in a community of discourse that is attempting to allow God's Word to shape us in our interaction with the secularized modern culture (rather than reading it merely within the sets of assumptions of that culture.) I think this book is a helpful resource in our formation of being those kind of readers.

***

The first chapter of Losing Moses on the Freeway, then, entitled "Mystery", is rather an extended preface, one of the most chilling and riveting stories I have ever read. Not since my own introduction to the literature of urban ministry and ghetto lifeÑ I think of William StringfellowÕs first book, or Jonathan KozolÕs Death at an Early Age or some of the mid-twentieth century Afro-American writers---have I read such an indicting example of how the church has failed those living in the inner city. (As we all ponderÑor at least I pray to God in heaven that we are all pondering---why the Bush administration cut funding for anti-hurricane repairs in overly-developed, unusually poverty-stricken, New Orleans and why most of those stranded in the awful floodwaters are poor, this opening chapter which tells of HedgesÕ Divinity School internship in the rough and tumble urban blight of BostonÕs Roxbury, would make very timely reading.) HedgesÕ pell mell efforts to do something useful thereÑby himself in a run-down manse, apparently paid (a very little) by an uninvolvement denomination, not helped or offered support, let alone community---is heart-rending and scary. He writes of the abuse he suffered from neighborhood thugs and addicts and the disconnect between that harsh mission and his arcane, theologically liberal academics back at Cambridge.

HedgesÕ own awareness of and shame about his struggle with his (racist?) ego and violence, manifesting when regularly accosted, was a turning point for him. His painful decision to leave this ministry, such as it was, and leave, further, the Church of Jesus Christ, is hard to read. I wiped tears more than once, clutched the book to my chest in horror (as he described thrilling boxing matches in which he was pummeled), and shook my head in disbelif at the foolishness of entering into significant urban mission without adequate support or congregational care. That chapter is eye-opening for most middle class readers, anyone who has funded Òurban outreachÓ and yet will sound familiar to any who have lived in harsh inner city environments. It brought back some vivid memories for me, I must say, although our few McKeesport and Pittsburgh years (prior to the bookstore plan) were never that bad. It is an important and mesmerizing story, with much to learn about how to (and more, how not to) do urban ministry. I appreciated Hedges honesty and courage, on the streets and in these pages.

Then, each of the other chapters tells the story of a person who did or didnÕt embody the particular commandment under reflection. There are good chapters on idolatryÑone with the entry point being a fascinating piece on a ÒPhish headÓ who lost herself in the subculture of the enigmatic jam band. What an example!

A very moving, sad and eye-opening chapter on lying reports on comfort women who serve bars in neighborhoods comprised mostly of illegal immigrants in Long Island. These womenÑnot prostitutes, he is clear to explainÑtease lonely and culturally displaced men into buying them drinks (as the bar keeps account and profits) and then pretend to be in romantic relationships with them. This sordid dishonesty is a structure---a cultural institution---which exits in utter deceit and where everyone, from bar owners who set up the ÒgameÓ to the women to the undocumented workers themselves, is complicit. He does more than shake his finger at these poor folk, though, but rather offers a brilliant and caring sociological view of the profound violation of GodÕs call to authenticity that haunts us all. And what it may really mean to not use the Name in vain.

Another example of a chapter of such nuance and compelling storytelling is the chapter on adultery. There, he tells the sad story of H.R. Vargas, a young man struggling to make sense of his life after being born out of wedlock with a father who left his mother. Abandoned and abused in a dysfunctional foster care system, he eventually longs to do better than his own parents; he has no role models of normative fathering and he struggles. It is a painful and yet rewarding story, well told, and the start of a serious reflection on the meaning of this commandment. Not moralistic, nor dismissive, it shows the consequences of a violation of God's principles for sexuality and family troth.

The chapter on theft was, similarly, sad and powerful, and yet very insightful. He traces the life of a perpetrator of high-end insider trading, a gentleman who went to jail for his minor role in some big white-collar crime. Hedges prophetic critique of crime in the suites comes through powerfullyÑgranted, the boys from Enron and company are fairly easy targets, but his telling of the reform of this guy who let greed get the better of him is very moving. With ample quotes by social commentators like Hannah Arendt, and this moving narrative of loss and redemption, it makes for a very good essay.

One of the most moving chapters for me told of his love for his father, and unfolded the fascinating journey of a fairly common but yet dignified and progressive Methodist preacher. Without really explaining (but aware he is in the chapter about ÒhonoringÓ onesÕ parents) he shifts to the edge-of-your-seat telling of a very controversial and electric anti-war speech he gave as a commencement speaker at a small college. As one who has given controversial speeches, and protested in rather public places, it brought back sweaty underarms and heart-racing as I wondered if he would be booed of the stage, heckled or actually attacked for his bold words. He has the entire transcript of his eloquent sermon against making warfare into a national ideology and the dangers of this particular war, with the crowds increasing interruptions (even the power turned off on the public address system) actually recorded as well.

He then endsÑas my heart beat nearly out of my chest---with this:

I sat down in the chair behind the podium. I opened a small plastic bottle of water. The awarding of the diplomas began. A heavy set man who identified himself as the head of campus security asked me to climb off the stage and follow him. I was put in a car and driven to my hotel. I packed my bags, was handed the coat I had left in the president'Õ office and put on a bus to Chicago.

The event spawned a feeding frenzy among conservative commentators from Rush Limbaugh to his well-groomed counterparts on Fox News. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial denouncing the talk. The local paper, The Rockford Register Star, reported the event with the headline SPEAKER DISRUPTS RC GRADUATION.

I have few interviews. I refused invitations to go on television talk shows. I did not want to toss little bits of red meat into the public arena to keep the story alive.

The New York Times, my employer, sent me a letter of reprimand, saying I had made Òpublic remarks that could undermine public trust in the paperÕs impartiality.Ó I was called into the office. It was an unpleasant moment. We all fear losing our job. We all fear insecurity. We dislike angering those above us. I am no different. But I knew what I was called to do. I had seen the cost.

To be silent would be to betray my father, to turn my back on what he stood for, to deny his life, to dishonor his memory, to dishonor my own memory. The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not the only story of resurrection in the Gospels. A few weeks after the crucifixion in Acts, two disciples, who had fled Jesus on the night of the arrest, were hauled before the authorities for preaching. This time they refused to betray Jesus. This refusal was a physical manifestation of the resurrection, of new life.


Hedges has really got me here, and I tremble even as I type that marvelous paragraph. I wonder if those of us with high regard for the authority of the Bible have created ways of reading and heeding the text that we may be able to tell about the Older Testament prophets but we wouldnÕt recognize one if he were to sit down beside us. We think we "know" the Bible, but few of us have dared to live it out with the robust abandon of the Biblical characters. We have so domesticated the powerful texts about Moses being called by the Holy I AM to go into the places of power to protest the mistreatment of GodÕs poor, that we may need to be confronted with a real life example of somebody standing up and speaking truth to power to perhaps even begin to imagine the political and spiritual power of Moses, of Amos, and yes, of those two disciples who committed civil disobedience in the early part of the book of Acts.

And, you should know, this hint that he has learned to speak out for the disadvantaged and stand up for truth in unpopular ways from his beloved father, really gripped me. Even if I have not been mourning the loss of my father-in-law, and therefore pondering the death of my own dad, whose heroic and decent public stances I have written about in our local paper, I still would have been struck deeply by this moving chapter.

I am sad and troubled by Hedges next agnostic lines, but they are nonetheless so honorable, and so real for me, that I want to share them with you. He continues:

I am not sure my father, as a distinct individual, exists in death, although I dream of him frequently. I am not sure he knows what has happened to his son. I doubt he can hear my voice, but then he does not need to. It is his own. I am my fatherÕs son. This is my inheritance. I will not squander it.
Excerpted from: Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America Chris Hedges (The Free Press) $24.00 Order here.

September 5, 2005

Labor Day bibliography


Although it is a day to commemorate labor, I feel like working. Yesterday in church our pastor noted that one of the great sadnesses of the Gulf Coast tragedy is that so many people's workplaces were demolished. Folks have no where to work, no way to excercise their professional gifts, cannot now serve the community in their employment, cannot earn a paycheck.

And so, we are struck by yet another layer of grief for the victims of Katrina. And are resolved to, among the more obvious relief efforts, hold up a high regard for meaningful labor, affirm that that, too, is part of any fully human and rich culture, and to, at least, try not to grumble about the stresses of my job.

You may know that providing a place to talk about integrating faith and work and encouraging what some call "marketplace ministry" was one of the earliest visions Beth and I had for Hearts & Minds. Although we have a huge theology section, emphasize Biblical studies and are known for our shelves full of diverse spiritual formation books, we are especially excited to offer books for the working person, aiding them in recalling the "cultural mandate" of Genesis 1 and 2 and the implications of Biblical themes for their particular workplaces. Our human calling to work is wired into who we are--and where we are-- and, in this fallen, hurting world, it is important to be intentional about "thinking Christianly" about what constitutes a "Christian perspective" on callings, vocations, careers and jobs. For the sake of the glory of God and for the love of neighbor (not to mention our own self-fulfillment) we must make this a central topic of Christian discipleship. It is our experience here, that it isn't.

Over at the website, we have compiled a beginners guide to titles that might help profesionals, especially (or students) live into their careers out of their deepest convictions. It is a listing we are proud of and those that discover it find that they want to cut and paste sections of it--the part for businesses, or artists, or psychologists or engineers, say---to people they know in those jobs. Or to students who ought to be developing resources for integrating faith and learning in their disciplines. We cannot tell you how pleased we are when we hear of this happening and we invite you, this Labor Day of our Lord 2005, to send a part of this list to some college student you know. Or a pastor who did (or didn't) preach a good labor day sermon yesterday.

So, for this project to help get the word out that these kind of books exist, we offer you our somewhat dated, entry-level bibliography, a little-known feature of the Hearts & Minds website*. Please, let us know if it is helpful in your career area.

Click here for "Books by Vocation."

*I say little known not only because our sad little website isn't that well known, but more because of this (hold on to your hat): I have been told numerous times that people think that that moniker on the website button---"Books by Vocation"---is for people thinking about becoming a clergy person or entering the vocation of church work. Makes me want to spit, of course, since this is the heart of the problem, a damned dualism that dishonors God by the implication that some aspects of His good world are "religious" and therefore people can be "called" into "vocations" in those holy arenas and other parts, are, well, second-class options for we secular folks who have to choose the necessary evil of working in the real world. If this irks you--grieves you, if you are like Jeremiah--as much as it does me, go back a few postings and re-look at the list of books about vocation and think what church library or fellowship group or campus ministry you can get these kind of books into. If you have no idea what I am talking about---thinking Christianly about engineering? developing a Christian viewpoint on work? serving God in popular culture and media? rejecting dualism that suggests only some jobs are holy? then please consider getting a few of these books for yourself. It is one of the most significant cutting edges of Christian faith in the 21st century.

And it is one of our greatest passions, and yet weeks go by without getting to talk about such things, at all, even surrounded by books like this, as we are here at the shop. Where are Max Lucado and Marcus Borg (just to name a characteristically popular author in the evangelical and liberal theological tradition) when you need them? Hardly anybody speaks on this topic much, and hardly anybody buys these kind of books. Why?

September 7, 2005

Joy at Work

In my Labor Day post I criticized the dualism that fails to adequately honor ordinary jobs. I invited folks to take seriously a few previous posts on calling and vocation. I offered a really great link (if I do say so myself) to a feature of our website that lists entry-level books on integrating faith and various careers, academic disciplines and professional areas---from film studies to economics, science to urban affairs, special ed to politics. I suggested a project of getting some of these kinds of resources into the hands of pastors (who can tell their flocks) campus ministry organizations and workworld study groups. I hope you liked our annotations in "Books By Vocation."

Perhaps, though, I got the proverbial cart before the horse. (Can you use such a metaphor in cyberspace?) Rather than jump from the high notions of calling and vocation a few days back to concrete jobs and career choices, I should have offered some more general books on a uniquely Christian view of work. Actually, that bibliography does have some listed, like Your Work Matters To God by Doug Sherman & William Hendricks (NavPress; $15.00) and Loving Monday by John Beckett (IVP; $12.00.)

Here are a few newer ones:


The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, Ministry in Biblical Perspective R. Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $25.00 This is a very, very thorough and mature study; Stevens teaches Marketplace Theology at Regent College in B.C. and knows more than just about anybody about the spirituality of the ordinary and the mission of the laity in the workworld.

Work & Leisure in The Life of a Christian (Burlington Reformed Study Centre) $7.95 This slim little volume includes fabulous but brief essays by the extraordinary Gideon Strauss (of the Christian Labour Association of Canada and the brillant and innovative Work Research Foundation) and his good colleague, the down-to-Earth and amazingly thoughtful Ray Penning. Then these guys are treated to a robust feedback/response panel--these are obviously talks from some conference or retreat and bear that tone. The transcribed dialogue portions, too, are very interesting---don't skip them! These conversations are useful as they offer wise, foundational thinking about the meaning of work, the curse, the implications of a redemtively Christian worldview, and not just for work, but also for rest and leisure.

I would suggest that no one in North America has done as solid and sustained thinking on these things over recent decades as the CLAC and it is a delight to announce this rare little book. Packed with workworld insight from the revival of Dutch neo-Calvinism that has always affirmed the layperson's calling into the sphere of labor.

Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job Dennis Bakke (PVG) $24.95 It isn't every book that bears an endorsing blurb by Jack Kemp, Peter Block, and Bill Clinton! Bakke presented some of this unique material at the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference a few years back; he is renowned as an innovative Christian leader in international energy work and hugely important in philantrophy. His brother, Ray, you may know for his considerable work and writing in urban ministy. This is an innovative and exciting book which, while profoundly meaningful, doesn't come across like a Biblically-oriented "Christian" book. Use it in your workplace!


Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Worker's Rights Darren Cushman Wood (Seven Locks Press) $14.95 You're not going to find this just anywhere, either, and it is an important and moving call for workplace justice and concern for the underpaid and underemployed. The author is an esteemed United Methodist pastor and theologian and professor of labor studies.

Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life Michael Novak (Free Press) $25.95 For the thoughtful executive, or deeper reader of business literature, this may be the best of its kind. Magnificantly thoughtful by an astute, conservative Catholic.

The 9 to 5 Window: How Faith Can Transform the Workplace Os Hillman (Regal) $19.99 This book may not be as sharp as some, but it is energetic and passionate for what God can do as people serve Christ at the job site. The cover art is nearly worth the price of the book---what a treat to see a stethoscope, wooden spoon, fountain pen, adjustable wrench and paintbrush all lined up, clean as a whistle. This book has a strong and specifically charismatic bent, with some stuff on spiritual warfare, miracles and Godly impact on entire cities through spiritual transformation of institutions of commerce.

*Do check out these websites; if you are not familiar with this Christian effort to offer distinctive "in the world but not of it" policies and alternative approaches, you will be amazed. What a testimony to God's agents working thoughtfully and seriously about ways to offer insight and healing to a broken culture. Kudos and praises. Check 'em out. I think, too, it will help you understand Hearts & Minds a tiny bit better---CLAC was a huge inspiration to me in my college years as I heard for the first time about the Lordship of Christ over society, culture, and spheres of life like business, art, politics and education, all newly approached through the reformation of scholarship. From the CCO's Jubilee conference to our own sense of calling as booksellers, this structural witness, which is neither conservative nor liberal, has been very, very influential. I only wish our we here at the bookstore could keep up with the remarkable work they've done over the decades. Sometimes it is all I can do to empty the trash. These books, though, are a good step in the right direction. Call us or send us an email. Or order, here.

September 9, 2005

Brand new books

Some days are hard, here, as with anybody's job. But today's UPS truck brought a handful of books that made me smile. One is an brand new book by our good friend Art Lindsley of the C.S. Lewis Institute. Art goes way back to Young Life around Pittsburgh, was on staff with and co-wrote with R.C. Sproul, and was a campus ministry theological specialist with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO.) He now not only teaches and writes for the Lewis Institute in Washington, but has a significant ministry with his wife of hospitality, care-giving, prayer and counseling. He is a good, good guy.

And his new book is one we have been waiting for. He told me this morning that he hasn't even seen it yet. You can be the first to know.

C.S. Lewis's Case for Christ is the new title, somewhat of an introduction to Lewis and how his insights can be a useful apologetic, especially in this current postmodern climate. The subtitle explains much: Insights from Reason, Imagination and Faith. (InterVarsity Press; $14.00.) Art explored some of these themes in his earlier book on apologetics, True Truth in which he attempted to hold to absolutes and yet offer strong critique to overly ideological absolutism. Those significantly influenced by postmodern philosophy---say Walsh and Keesmaat in their wonderfully provacative commentary on Colossians called Colossians Remixed or any number of the emergent writers---may have some disagreements. But his effort to get beyond rationalism without eroding notions of truth, is honorable and helpful.

Here, he draws on none other than Clive himself to both argue for a reasonable and classic understanding of Christian truth and to honor the ways in which myth, mystery and imagination shape our knowing. Art has often said that Lewis, with his critique of naturalism and rationalism, is a very helpful ally for those who desire to proclaim a Christian worldview that is neither rationalist nor relativist, modernist nor postmodernist. Reason and imagination, heart and mind, all brought together, as Ravi Zacharias says in a friendly blurb, "through the spyglass of C.S. Lewis."

The book has some nice vignettes that follow a small gang of fictional characters hanging out at a bookstore doing a Lewis study club thing. Each brings certain concerns, questions and needs to the table and Art shows how working through Lewis' own writings, indicative of his own struggles and journey, can bring clarity and insight to this batch of issues. I spend a hour with it over a late lunch today---slurping soup and thinking about his take on some of the lesser known Lewis books--and am very excited to read more. If you are a Lewis novis (and who of us isn't, really) or know his work well, this will be a book you will greatly benefit from. Art has done his homework, has immersed himself in Lewis's work--fictional and nonfiction, academic and popular--and it really shows.

***

Also, today, a new book by Art's friend and world-renowned theologian and scholar Alister McGrath, showed up. Like his previous coffee-table, glossy pages, full-color art work enhanced reflection on what the Bible says about creation, this one unpacks the various aspects of the incarnation. Incarnation is beautifully published in hardcover at a very good price, by Fortress, and is a joy to behold. This is a topic of immense importance and not only tells us much of God's character and plan as we get a window into Christ's incarnation, but, in this lovely art-filled presentation, allows us to reflect on the beauty of it all. A book to have and to give.


C.S. Lewis's Case for Christ: Insights from Reason, Imagination and Faith Art Lindsley (IVP) $14.00

Incarnation Alister McGrath (Fortress) $15.00

September 14, 2005

Where God Was Born

I hope blog readers don't mind random posts. Maybe that is part of the point, I dunno. I do have to give a quick annoucement of a brand new book that we are thrilled and charmed to see, so maybe that is a theme---great new books. I have to tell you about Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion by Bruce Feiler. We have some autographed first editions---a rare treat for a small, indie store like us. Thanks to HarperCollins and my very cool sales rep there, who lives in California.

Feiler, to give you the skinny you've got to know, is a great, great adventure/travel writer, somewhat akin to what David Brooks calls himself, a "comic sociologist." (Well, he isn't as funny as Brooks, whose two books I adore.) Mr. Feiler wanted to do a book on carnies, so off he goes to the fair for a while, coming back with Under the Big Top: A Season With the Circus. He's got a book on the rodeo, one on country music. He wondered how the smartest people on earth date and mate, so he goes to Oxford for a year, and wrote a book about that, Looking for Class. (What kind of way cool job is that?) His memoir of travels to Japan, with the exquiste title, Learning to Bow, is highly regarded. He sometimes contributes to Gourmet.

A few years back he, a secularized and, if I might say it, a rather cynical Jew, heads off to walk around looking for the stuff of the first five books of the Bible. Walking the Bible became a huge sensation, and I highly recommend it. It is out in paperback and there is soon to be released a coffee table kind of companion volume for the PBS series of the same name that will be on soon this fall. The New York Times understatedly said it was "invested with a keen intellectual curiousity." Mr. Feiler's understanding of the complexities of the Middle East, the trajectory of Jewish culture, the historicity of the Old Testament and his own blossoming faith just simmered through his months spent hiking around the spots made legendary by God's great deeds in history, The Pentatuch. WtB is a great book.

Next, he documents another tale, this time of his journey hanging with contemporary Jews, Muslims and Christians all over the Middle East, which was a deeply touching read and at times edge of your seat interesting. Although I find the religiousity of that book a bit unfullfilling--I'm an evangelical, after all--the story was gut-wrenching and truly riveting. A fun, funny, sad, scary, and very real story of his journey seeking understanding about the Abraham legends make up the acclaimed Abraham. He is a sincere and good writer--not as gonzo as, say Hunter Thompson or as funny as P.J. O'Rourke (although I recently re-read some of his political-travel stuff, the only right-wing nasty that makes me howl with laughter.) But Feiler isn't your typical Bible travel guide, either. This guy is on a quest.

Now, he's back. Or, he's back from being back there. And the brand new Where God Was Born looks like an educational thrill-ride. The book's publicists say it is ambitious.

Through secret underground tunnels he ends up at the spot where David toppled Goliath. After being airlifted into Baghdad, he visits what locals say is the Garden of Eden and makes another life-threatening trip to the rivers of Babylon. How cool is it to see a deeply thoughtful, good-hearted and somewhat wise-acre storyteller uncovering the secret burial place of Queen Esther? And this is just the stuff on the flyleaf.

Times like these are frustrating for a bookseller. I've got stuff to do. This book is right here. I have hours of work---paperwork for a conference on racism and cross-cultural stuff that we are sending books to, ordering cases of books for an upcoming Henry Blackaby gig, getting stuff for next week's CCO staff training seminar---and we've got boxes of books to unpack before we repack for our next on-the-road adventures. We sure aren't going anywhere as spectacular as Feiler, though. His exploits and learnings, I'd say, are well worth the investment. Did I mention they are autographed? Would make a nice holiday gift, wouldn't it?

Check out more about his work at www.brucefeiler.com

Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion Bruce Feiler (Wm Morros) $26.96 403 pp

September 17, 2005

Habits of the High-Tech Heart

A friend asked me to compile a list of books for a student who is writing a paper on a Christian perspective on computer technologies and cyberspace. I thought you might enjoy seeing the descriptions of the titles I told him about. Is there somebody you know who you might forward this to? We all are influenced by this virtual stuff and there is no doubt that the high-tech world is a culturally-significant feature of our times. How best to be fully human and honor God in these times?

I also want to share this biblio with you since, I am told, not too many Christian bookstores carry this kind of stuff. We think it is important to hold up the call to distinctive Christian thinking across the whole of life, and is illustrative of our efforts here at Hearts & Minds. We welcome you to look over my shoulder as I offer some suggestions for this wise collegiate.

Dear _____

Thanks for your request to send a list of books that would help college students Òthink ChristianlyÓ about cyberspace and computer science. Integrating faith and learning, and offering resources to do that, as you know, is one of our great passions. Please feel free to pass this on to others, too. We usually have all of these in stock and are eager to serve you further. Thanks.

GENERAL BOOKS ON TECHNOLOGY

WeÕve got others titles that could be mentioned, too, of course; I will just list our favorites. For starters, thought, here are a few excellent ones on the general theme of Christian faith and technology. Although these may or may not have much in them about cyber technologies and computer science, they do provide the essential framework for thinking worldviewishly about a cultural milieu that is as high-tech as ours. I think these are very good and important for foundational thinking.


Faith & Hope in Technology Egbert Schuurman (Clements) $19.95 This Dutch neo-Calvinist is the guy to read on this topic, and this is his most recent major work. It isn't distributed widely in the states, we are very happy to stock it. Not only is he an engineering professor, he is a member of the Senate of the Dutch Parliament. Very important.

The Technological World Picture and an Ethic of Responsibility: Struggles in the Ethics of Technology Egbert Schuurman (Dordt College Press) $9.00 This is his brand new one, brief and informative, calling on us to be responsible in our globalized world, and to be attentive to the worldview of faith in technique. Substantial and very nice.

Discerning Prometheus: The Cry for Wisdom in Our Technological Society Robert Wauzzinski (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press) $39.95 DonÕt get me started about academic presses and their overly expensive books. This one, though, is worth every penny. Bob is not only a friend, a Presbyterian pastor, a former staff worker with PittsburghÕs Coalition for Christian Outreach, he is a bone fide prophet when it comes to cultural discernment. This book is well grounded in a Biblical worldview, wonderfully interdisciplinary, and practical. (He works doing degree completion stuff with prisoners, so he cannot be accused of being esoteric in his philosophical critique.) Wauzzinski gives the best overview of the different schools of thought about the philosophy of technology, using a typology that he has developed in light of a Christian worldview, which is a very helpful feature, making this a useful guide to the current literature.

Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology Albert Borgmann (Brazos) $14.99 WeÕve been a fan of Borgman since we read his important Crossing the Postmodern Divide. Eugene Peterson once told me that he thinks one of the most urgent books for ordinary pastors to read and ponder is BorgmanÕs Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. You will see one listed below on information technologies which will be very germane to your topic. This, though, is a wonderful and shorter version of his take on things, written more explicitly out of his Catholic faith and presuming a Christian reader. Rave blurbs on the back from the likes of Robert Bellah, Marva Dawn and David Gill may help you see the significance of this little book, packed with helpful insight.

The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention David Noble (Penguin) $14.95 Hold on to your hatÑwhat a provocative and interesting study of the religious roots of Western technology. On everybodyÕs list, especially on the history and philosophy of the rise of the technological age.

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology Neil Postman (Vintage) $12.00 How could I not list a Postman book! Read everything the man wrote! Here, he passionately invites us to resist the ideology of technique, calling us to become Òloving resistance fightersÓ by living somewhat differently than the world around us. More fun and feisty, but brings to mind the eloquent and wise writings of Wendell Berry. His essay on why he doesnÕt use a computer, in Another Turn of the Crank is well worth reading, even if he is appears to be too much of a Luddite.

ABOUT COMPUTER SCIENCE

Christians in a .com World: Getting Connected Without Being Consumed Gene Edward Veith & Chris Stamper (Crossway) $14.99 You may know these two from World magazine. Veith is a good and accessible cultural critic from a solid Christian perspective, and Chris does (or used to do) the pop culture column in that mag. This is basic, readable, and gives the helpful framework that all technologies, including computers, are able to exist because of the possibilities put into GodÕs creation; yet, things are fallen and can be distorted due to sin and human ideologies, and, still, in Christ, we can reclaim and restore cultural artifacts for proper and appropriate use and service. For those who think either Ògood or badÓ or "safe or dangerous" catagories, this Bibilical creation-fall-redemption call to be both active and discerning in this field may be refreshing. For some, it may be a bit basic. Perfect for highschoolers or first year college students who have never attended to integrating faith and scholarship or reflecting on a Christian perspective on something as common as computer use. Nice.


The Soul in CyberSpace Douglas Groothuis (Wipf & Stock) $22.00 This basic paperback came out in the 90Õs and at the time seemed brilliant. It has been reprinted as it is still used in some seminaryÕs or colleges; this is not a superficial critique (takes too much of our time, isnÕt real, can be used for pornography, say) but rather looks at the structures and presumptions and how they order our thinking and experiences. Profound without being scholarly. Very useful.

Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age Quentin Schultze (Baker) $18.99 Quite simply the most important work done yet on how cyberspace effects us, and what sort of Christ-like character we need to stand strong amidst these new experiences. Blurbs from scholars like Walter Ong and theologians like Rich Mouw illustrate that this really is a book to be taken seriously. And, it is a delight to read. Every field of study should have a spiritually minded and thoughtful book like this.

Information Technology and Cyberspace: Extra-Connected Living? David Pullinger (Pilgrim) $16.00 British Christians have long been particularly thoughtful about emerging cultures and willing to bring together faith and the issues of the day. This is part of a series of books, published by the UCC, which grapple in introductory ways with ethical concerns (reproductive technologies and such.) This one, a small paperback, is very nicely done, raising all kinds of ethical questions, noting new ways e-commerce or virtual experiences can effect us, both positively and negatively.

Holding On To Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium Albert Borgmann (University of Chicago Press) $14.00 A significant and meaty paperback, this gives really clear and persuasive assessment of what one quote calls our Òhype-addled age.Ó Makes the case for using technologies in ways that still allow for mystery and grace, rather than reductionistic claims of hard data. Very important, if a bit philosophical. (I mentioned some of his other books above.)

HERE ARE A FEW MORE ABOUT SPECIFIC MATTERS IN THE FIELD.

Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation Don Tapscott (McGraw Hill) $14.95 It may seem dated, but it might be fun (and helpful) for current youngsters to read this study, written just a few years back, profiling their generation and the one right before them---and the major changes that the digital revolution has brought. A great guidebook to kidsÕ brains and how they think these days. It brings to mind Leonard SweetÕs quip in Carpe Manana, that some people were Òborn hereÓ in this hot-wired culture, and for us older ones, we are immigrants, learning a new language and way of being that is not our native tongue.


The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds Jonathan Rosen (Picador) $10.00 A gracious study of how reading, and especially devotional reading, happens in books and on line. ÒWisdom, intelligence and tenderness in one slim volumeÓ says one reviewer. Very interesting.

Cyberselfish Paulinea Borsook (PublicAffairs) $13.00 This woman was a contributing writer at Wired during the magazineÕs glory years and writes with great passion and wit. She is examining the culture of computer geeks in a savvy and sharp way. The subtitle is: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech. Wow.

The Gospel in Cyberspace: Nurturing Faith in the Internet Age Pierre Babin & Angela Ann Zukowski (Loyola University Press) $15.95 This isnÕt exactly on developing a uniquely Christian or Biblically-wise approach to computer science, but, rather, how faith can be developed given the reality of our cyberspace experiences. Still, it is insightful and helpful, written from an explicitly Roman Catholic faith development perspective. Clever, provacative and unique.

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age Sven Birketts (Ballantine) $19.00 My goodness, I loved this book. It isnÕt, again, exactly about computers, but, rather, the fate of reading. He tells marvelous stories in this memoir of his experiences of reading, working in a bookstore, learning to love the printed page and bound volume. You can see why I so enjoyedÑand was deeply moved byÑthis great reflection. One of our best essayists. Some people contrast it with the more optimistic book by Richard Lanham called The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology and the Arts published in the 90Õs by University of Chicago Press. Not sure of thatÉ

Anybody else know of any essential ones which would be fruitful in this project?

September 26, 2005

Some Books' Temporary Boxed Lives & Our Travels by Van


Just a quick note to let those who check in from time to time know that we have been out and around. Hope you feel a part of our story, here, since we can't do this bookselling thing without you, our friends, customers and allies. So here's where we've been lately.

A few days ago we sold books, back to back, with two of our favorite organizations. We set up all night--getting done at 6:30 am--in Ligonier PA for the campus ministry organization, the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) and their regular staff training seminar. It is from the CCO that Beth and I first learned of the whole worldviewish- engage-the-culture-from-a-Christian-perspective-kind of approach and first heard of heroes such as John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, Abraham Kuyper, Brian Walsh, John Perkins, Calvin Seerveld...So it is always good to be with their energetic and zany crew.

The always-excellent Derek Melleby gave a keynote talk to set the stage for their Biblical studies topic, and showed the new trailer for the upcoming Hollywood Spring blockbuster, The DaVinci Code, staring Tom Hanks. Whew. He suggested that collegiate ministers had best bone up on their answers to questions about the authenticity of the gospels and be prepared to give good answers to important questions. Yet, besides suggesting solid stuff to counter the silliness of the Gnostic gospels, he quoted a lengthy and powerful passage of Walter Bruggemann, inviting us to consider ways that the Biblical vision runs counter to our typical ways of doing things, and is subversive to the ways of the American culture. Not only do we need details about the historicity of the texts, but we need poetic proclaimers who can invite us to live into the world of the text. The Bible Makes Sense (St Anthony Messengers Press; $9.95) from which the quote came, is still one of my favorite little overviews of the Bible. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Gohen (Baker; $19.99) is another that is a bit more substantial as handbook to the unfolding redemptive plan of God. Check out the link! Praise God for the CCO's efforts to be Biblically rooted and for the Bible books, commentaries, and apologetics titles we sold there.

My good buddy and cyber-savior Scott Calgaro then drove me, sans van and books, to the C.S. Lewis Institute's big event in DC where we caught up with Beth and rented van, bigger and more red than some fire trucks I've seen. There we got to hear Henry Blackaby (Experiencing God and dozens of other titles) and talk to Lewis geeks (and not a few Baptists there to hear Blackaby who, believe it or not, had never heard of Lewis. So it was a good event, with our hats off to Scott, Gordon--out of Hearts & Minds retirement for the trip--and volunteers there who pitched in getting the books down the freight elevator.

A couple of really late nights, some great conversations and a batch of books sold. Sam Van Eman--whose wonderful On Earth as It Is in Advertising: Moving From Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope I blogged about weeks ago--drove our van back from CCO and, voila, we're all home again. We rested on the Sabbath; slept after church, watched TV, helped with homework. Ordinary, restful stuff.

Now, Beth and I drive again to DC to be a part of a prestigious launch of an amazing book Deepening the American Dream edited by Mark Nepo and recently released by Jossey Bass. We will get to sell books at the National Press Club with presenters who contributed to this important new title. Parker Palmer, Huston Smith, Vincent Harding, Elaine Pagels (yep, the Gnostic scholar. Sometimes my head swirls as we travel from event to event.) We have to set up late tonight, and then work all day. That event, and the book which brought the event to Washington, deserves much more. I'll fill in the details in a couple of days. Thanks for your prayers.

September 29, 2005

Deepening the American Dream: Reflections on the Inner Life and Spirit of Democracy

Where to begin to share about our exciting trip to set up at the National Press Club in Washington DC? What was more special, the prestigious and rare inside look at the halls of this important journalistic headquarters or meeting the wonderful folks from the Fetzer Institute that sponsored this excellent event? The grace shown as we struggled to make our way through this complex city (and complex building---don't even ask about Beth being lost in the freight elevators and labyrinth of underground service halls) or the gift of meeting long-time heroes such as Parker Palmer? I admit that it is not usual for our little mom & pop efforts to be noticed by events coordinators of fabulous organizations like Fetzer*, and it is uncommon for us to hob-nob with editors like the wonderful woman who edited some of our favorite recent titles from Jossey-Bass (yes, like Brian McLaren's triology of novels; and Diane Butler Bass, Deb Reinstra, Debra Farrington, David Batstone, Kent Groft and the whole set of wonderful Faith & Practices series based on the spectacular Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People which was compiled by Dorothy Bass. ) It was good for us, after we sweated out the heavy loading at 2 am, to be refreshed the next Big Day by selling books to such a good and caring group. The final late night ride back to Pennsylvania felt good for many reasons.

Enough about our hard jobs and good times and vocational renewal. The book that set off this whole conference, this gig that we were honored to be asked into, recently came out on the publishing house Wiley/Jossey Bass and, as we said in my previous post, is called Deepening the American Dream: Reflections on the Inner Life and Spirit of Democracy. It was gracefully edited by Mark Nepo, a delightful gentleman, a poet and seeker, the guy who MC-ed the entire event. He has been active in similiar days of dialogue that Fetzer has put together at their retreat center and has great concerns about public life and spiritual renewal. His new book, The Exquisite Risk : Daring to Live an Authentic Life (Harmony; $22.00) has gotten rave reviews from some quarters, and is an admirably motivational work. Although this book, and, more importantly, the American Dream collection does not, by "inner life" mean the same thing that most evangelicals mean, it is clear that there is a huge similiarity between Christian conversion and the sort of renewal dreamt up and reflected upon at this gathering and in this book.

There is something about our inner character that will give shape to our public virtues, and those of us who desire social and political change must necessarily attend to these personal, spiritual matters. As Parker Palmer quipped, his academic mentor for his own dissertation was Bob Bellah, whose famous Habits of the Heart title was plagarized from De Toqueville. And it was Lincoln who famously said we must seek the "Better Angels of Our Nature" as we rebuild a nation torn by ideology, injustice, war. Palmer had a sweet spirit, a subdued sense of kind humor, and yet spoke very powerfully. He summarized his very important chapter in Deepening... which is about the politics of the broken-hearted. His gentle probing and inviting us to take seriously the grief of this world and to make room for deep pain in our body politick was just stunning. It seemed like a good pastoral response to a heavy day--even though packed with political implications, even as he told of Quaker John Woolman's campaign against slavery--and especially to Vincent Harding's heart cry to face the American Nightmare (racism, classim, poverty, genocide of Native peoples, etc.) as part of our recommitment to the American Dream.

I really commend this book. Some chapters are a bit less fulfilling---Elaine Pagels suggesting that the gnostic gospels can fund a greater sense of tolerance than traditional, historic Christian orthodoxy. (Hmmm. I wonder why there are no hospitals, orphanages, anti-war campaigns, underground railroads or universities named after gnostic dreamers? [Few are named after secularists, either, for that matter---ever hear of a Voltaire Home for the Disadvantaged?] Perhaps this is for the same reason that Ghandi observed that the ethereal spiritual worldview of Hinduism could not energize his anti-caste campaign; to do his human rights work, he needed to borrow from the vision of the dignity of the human person found only in the gospels. As Os Guinness insightfully explains in The Long Journey Home, "differences make a difference." Some views really do offer a better foundation for cultural health than others. We need not embrace a mushy relativism to achieve a tolerant and good society. But I digress.)

I will tell of a few other great chapters from this important book next time. For now, thank God with us for our successful, if exhausting, participation in this good gathering, for meaningful conversations and for a few dollars earned. And, for the central argument of this book--that there is a substantial conversation in which we need to be vigilant to be involved: the relationship between our inner character and our world-formative reforms, the relationship between faith and civic life, between spirituality and cultural restoration. To raise that question, again and again, is part of the urgent task of our time. This book, I believe, helps us ponder how to do that. We would think that our customers, friends and fans of Hearts & Minds, regardless of tradition or faith perspective, would find it well worth pondering.

*To gather a bit of a sense of the things the Fetzer Institute is working on, and the iniatives they've promoted, click here. At the conference we met a few of the scholars who are working on a forthcoming book (soon to be released) with higher education guru, Art Chickering, on spirituality and community colleges. That, too, has Fetzer imprints on it.

Deepening the American Dream: Reflections on the Inner Life and Spirit of Democracy edited by Mark Nepo (Jossey-Bass) $24.95 Order it here.

September 30, 2005

more on Spirit of Democracy book

Deepening the American Dream

Before I move on to other new booksÑa new hardcover Marva Dawn called Talking the Walk for instance---or to talk about the amazingly creative and enjoyable Sufjan Stevens concerte my son and I attended last night, I want to tell about a few other chapters in this great new collection of pieces, essays by authors with whom we shared a day of dialogue in Washington a few days back. What a privilege to sell books with the Fetzer Institute, The Faith & Politics Institute , and The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Jossey-Bass publishers. This was a healthy crowd of caring folks who, under the gentle leadership of editor Mark Nepo, worked through the contents of the book.

At the conference, one of the great highlights was a very brief welcoming speech by one of the executives from the Fetzer Institute, who talked about their convictions and hope to bring a certain vision to the world, beautiful words about the passion of vocation and the power of love and forgiveness. Yes, yes. In light of that, they have convened these gatherings and commission this book. With a forward by Theodore M. Hesburgh (formerly of Notre Dame) and an important introduction by Robert Bellah, it is a significant and valuable work.

Here is how the book is arranged:


Part One: Looking and Listening for America

Two Dreams of America by Jacob Needleman. His friends called this world-renowned philosopher ÒJerryÓ which for some reason cracked me up. His significant book The Soul of America, by the way, is now out in paperback.

Footprints of the Soul: Uniting Spirit with Action in the World by Carolyn T. Brown. She was a forceful and yet tender voice, a staff scholar at the Library of Congress.

Part Two: Suffering the American Dream

Created Equal: Exclusion and Inclusion in the American Dream by Elaine Pagels. In my last post I criticized her sloppy scholarship on Christianity and suggested that gnosticism is of little help in social reconstruction. IÕve re-read this chapter, though, and realize it is well worth reading and makes some powerful and important points.


The Grace and Power of Civility: Commitment and Tolerance in the American Experience by David Abshire. His presentation was excellent; he is an old school scholar that does remarkable study of various Presidents and the administrations they led. Fascinating stuff, and a good chapter.

Part Three: Deepening the American Dream

Breaking the Cultural Trance: Insights and Vision in America by Robert Inchausti. Meeting Bob was one of the highlights of the event for me, and I wished his role on the panel could have been expanded. Several years ago, he wrote the amazing memoir of being a teacher, Spitwad Sutras and, more recently, one of my favorite books of the year, Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and other Christians in Disguise (Brazos Press; 19.99.) It is especially a celebration of personalism---Dorothy Day, Chesterton, Illich, Berry, Merton (he wrote a book on Merton, too, by the way) and a host of novelists and poets, social critics and poets. I hope to blog more about this later as it is rare kind of bookÉObviously, this is a very good chapter.

From Cruelty to Compassion: The Crucible of Personal Transformation by Gerald May. There was a tribute to the late Gerald May and his family was there, along with colleagues and friends from the Shalem Institute. He was a dear man, an important guide to the growing field of spiritual direction, and this is a brilliant chapter, making the book worth having for this alone. We stock all of his books, natch.


Part Four: Participating in the WorldÕs Soul

Opening the Dream: Beyond the Limits of Otherness by Rev. Canon Charles Gibbs. Rev. Gibbs was there, and I sold of few of his own book on peacemaking. I regret I didnÕt speak with him. I think, as an evangelical with a certain understanding of the nature of truth claims and the Story of the gospel, that I may have some significant theological differences with some within this ministry. His remarkable and extraordinary work, though, in bringing people of any and all faiths together to craft meaningful and blessed initiatives for peace and development, conflict resolution and justice, should be enough to get him the Nobel Peace Prize. Check out the United Religions Initiative organization and see the numbers of great projects, peace-building strategies, and inter-faith reform efforts they have going. Excellent.

The Politics of the Brokenhearted: On Holding the Tensions of Democracy by Parker Palmer. As I mentioned in the last few posts, it was a supreme privilege to meet Mr. Palmer and to chat with him about some mutual friends. He wished us well as indie booksellers, a blessing we shall take to heart. This chapter is about tension, about holding together the hard work of this renewal of culture stuff. As a Quaker, he has much helpful knowledge, experience, and insight into the best practices of consensus-building and ways to move forward. It is, like several of the others, an excellent chapter, well worth studying, sharing, discussing and praying through.

If we want to be, in JesusÕ good words, Òsalt and light and leavenÓ in our distorted culture, and if we desire to create spaces for good conversations of some consequence, this resource could be a very helpful investment. I hope your reading about it hear strikes your interest, and helps you at least think about how you can deepen your cares for our culture and nation.

Deepening the American Dream: Reflections on the Inner Life and Spirit of Democracy Edited by Mark Nepo (Jossey-Bass) $24.95. Order it here.

* A few of my favorite organizations and movements were under-represented at the conference, most likely because different organizational run in different crowds, hang with different folks. (Funny to think of prestigious think-tanks and non-profit leaders like teenagers in different cliques, but that is just the way social organizations tend to network.) These are groups which have thought hard about similar concerns, and would have much to offer this reconstrual of the best values of the American experience. Please visit good friends like the Center for Public JusticeÑworking carefully on public policy concerns in light of the tradition of principled pluralism from the heritage of late 19th century Christian democrats in Holland, or the Call for Renewal---Jim Wallis and others working on a prophetic, faith-based activism that goes beyond the Òreligious right and the secular leftÓ, or a character-forming Òuniversity without wallsÓ such as Trinity Forum, who, under astute leadership of founder Os Guinness, has raised the deepest kind of questions about meaning, virtue, truth, integrity and routinely celebrates the genius of the first amendment in their work with business, political and civic leaders. Voices from these organizations would offer considerable innovation and radical wisdom to the American Dream project. It would be good to compare and contrast their respective takes on this book and the ways they understand this common task in these times...

September 1, 2005

Self Help Books That Are Not Cheesy or Shallow


Those that follow this monthly book review column or who have browsed are old archives, or, for that matter, have looked at our new blog (you can subscribe to it, if you'd like, www.heartsandmindsbooknotes.blogspot.com) know that we tend to offer books that are, if not necessarily theological texts or academic treatises, are, well, not exactly in the category of self help. Odd, this was one of the largest and most debated book categories of the last quarter of the last century, and one hardly hears that phrase any more. Still, I am sure you get the idea--from the insightful to the silly, from Dr. Laura to Dr. Phil, from AA to Focus on the Family--basic, practical books to help people learn how to live more effectively is a large part of the book biz. The evangelical book world, especially, reflecting its anti-intellectualism and populist roots, has majored in these kind of formulaic self-help guides.

We have some ambivalence about that trend, although there are wonderful books that can truly help those who need some practical advise. Especially as our modernist culture has created forms of living together (or not living together, as the case may be), most folks don't have the wisdom of elders to surround them. The scripts from the increasingly lurid TV dramas and the testimonials of the participants of the reality shows seem to be more formative than the gathered wisdom of the ages, passed down from parent to child, in extended families and helpful neighborhoods. There are serious books about these kinds of concerns and, although a bit different, the magisterial fourth volume in the set by David Wells about the eroding of truth and distinctive Christian practices amongst American evangelicals, especially, is to be released this month and will be well worth reading carefully. (The first three were called No Place for Truth; or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, God in the Wastelands: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, and Losing Our Virtue: Why The Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision.) The new one is called Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World (Eerdmans; $25.00) will surely be one of the more talked about books of the year.


To begin this list, though, one more about the self help phenom. It is a title I am sure many will want to read. Check out The Gospel According to Oprah by Marcia N. Nelson (Westminster/John Knox; $14.95.) You may know of our fondness for this series of books published by this Presbyterian Publishing House---books like The Gospel According to the Simpsons, the classic The Gospel According to Peanuts, and David Dark's brillant, brilliant, Gospel According to America (I blogged about that over at the blogsite last month.) This book just arrived and it will surely be appreciated by O's many fans. I suspect it has a bit of critique, but this endorsing blurb may give you a feel for the author's approach:

"Winfrey has taken a lot of flack over the years for hyping a therapeutic, eclectic, and consumerist spirituality though her media empire"¦Nelson helpfully balances that critical account with a respectful rendering of Winfrey's pastoral gifts for listening, encouragement and exhortation. Gospel or not, The Church of O certainly has an impressive book of virtues"¦" And this from Phyllis Tickle, "You don't have to be a fan of Oprah's to be a fan of this work. This clear-eyed analysis of Oprah Winfrey as high priestess of America's Judeo-Christian ethos celebrates Oprah's virtues and her gifts to our society; but it never once lets us confuse the uses of cultural religion with those of communal allegiance and private devotion." Could be fun, eh?

Having said all that---reminding readers that we encourage deep reflection and serious reading including sound literature on spiritual formation, critical social commentary and various kinds of theological works, old and new--we do want to highlight a couple of books that seem to fit the constellation of concerns that we might call personal growth. There are older classics, exceptionally popular ones, and exceptionally important ones. But here are a few new ones that have crossed our shelves. We hope you find it helpful to know of these wise guides. We are happy to encourage folks to use these kind of resources. Most of us need not only to dig deeply and thinking broadly, but, sometimes, need a little bit of a helping hand. The common sense and Biblical guidance in these practical books can come in, if you will excuse the pun, handy. Although we've got books on everything from how to forgive to communication skills in marriage; books on teaching children to care about missions to learning to steward your time or money, these that I share with you now are mostly about grief, coping with hard times, moving along those harder places in which we all find ourselves from time to time.

Healing Is A Choice Stephen Arterburn (Nelson) $22.99 Arterburn is a classic writer in this genre--he tells stories, including his own about a tragic and painful divorce, uses clear Biblical teaching and invites folks to take specific steps towards the goal of inner healing and renewed hope. If you ache, and want to get well, this book could be more useful than a dozen trips to the shrink. I could hardly put it down. You may know Arterburn from his very popular books in the Every Man's Battle series. Those are still very important resources, and they issue new ones from time to time on related themes and topics. The subtitle of this one is Ten Decisions That Will Transform Your Life & Ten Lies That Can Prevent You From Making Them. Fascinating and helpful.


To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future Dan B. Allender (Waterbrook) $19.99 I read everything this guy writes and his work is always, always rewarding. This new one is creating a bit of a buzz among folks interested in story, in helping to find meaning in our daily lives by way of tying our life's story into the bigger Story of God's work in the world.

Allander and his old college buddy Tremper Longman are among the most dynamic of duos these days; they've written a couple of very good books together. They just did a lovely little study series for married couples on InterVarsity Press---complete with DVD, various small group guides, and a nice book called The Intimate Mystery: Creating Strength and Beauty in Your Marriage ($15.00.) To Be Told, though, is a book about knowing your past story, those decisive concerns that shaped who you are, and how to live into and out of those narratives, into new, redeemed ones. The back cover says "God invites you to co-author your future. It starts with reading your past. This book presumes that God's hand has been in your past and that you can move into your future in great confidence knowing how every chapter of you life--the hope and the heartache--can be part of becoming who you were meant to be. I don't usually taut the latest study guide or workbook, but many who have used it have insisted that I tell people about how useful it is. Check out the companion workbook, too. By the way, a decade after his remarkably important book on sexual abuse, The Wounded Heart came out, Allander released a sequel, of sorts, although it can be appreciated by anyone, especially anyone who has had a rough past. It is called The Healing Path and it is structured around reflections on the loss and recovery of faith, hope, and love. They are marvelous chapters. Self-help literature simply would not be mocked or seen as hopelessly cheesy if this kind of book and this caliber of insight were more common.

How Rembrandt Reveals Your Beautiful, Imperfect Self: Life Lessons From the Master Roger Housden (Harmony Books) $20.00 Readers who look to the Hearts & Minds reviews for solid, Christian insight and resources that directly emerge from a coherent Christian world and life view may be surprised with this odd recommendation. Although most of our fellow travelers know that part of the joy of a mature Christian vision is the liberating freedom to read widely and take the best insights from various perspectives. With a tight and Biblically-taught mind and a heart well-formed by the things of Christ, we can be, as they say, open-minded. So, in that spirit, here is one to not only learn from, but utterly enjoy. What a great, great idea. Housden is the author who gave us the lovely books such as Ten Poems to Change Your Life--again, taken with a grain of salt, are very, very interesting and helpful in many ways. His knowledge of Rembrandt is significant, and his insight into the painting is nicely applied. This is a delight of a book, interesting, tender, helpful and a handsome volume to have.


Only Human: Christian Reflections on the Journey Toward Wholeness David Gushee (Jossey-Bass) $22.95 Okay, I digress a bit. This isn't exactly a self-help book--ahh, the irony of putting a book with a forward by the gusty Stan Hauerwas into that category. Still, it is a reflection on what the publisher is calling the "Enduring Questions in Christian Life" and it attempts to take some significant theological study (in anthropology, our view of the person) and make it resonate for those seeking foundational truths about themselves. Questions like "What am I made of?" and "How do I become a good person?" become entryways for wonderful ponderings, nuanced teachings and, yes, practical guidance. If Lew Smedes were here, he'd have a blurb on the back, an eloquent and graceful one, I'm sure. This is a great book.

Ordinary Losses: Naming the Graces That Shape Us Elisa Stanford (Paraclete Press) $14.95 This beautiful little paperback is exquisite memoir. It is about common losses, stuff particularly that younger folk need to attend to. That makes it pretty unique, I think.

You know, if you follow my reviews over the years, that some of my all time books are memoirs. (The extraordinary story and beautifully composed memoir of a woman's journey after her brother's suicide, The Tender Land: A Family Love Story by Kathleen Finneran remains one of my all time favorite books; I was stunned and awkwardly breathy when the very kind Ms Finneran showed up in our shop one day a few months back to thank us for the rave review we wrote a few years ago.) Similarly, James Carroll's riveting An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Tore Us Apart a Viet Nam era father/son story, is on my top few books ever list. And the "everybody who ever reads it can't put it down" study of personal redemption amidst a season among Appalachian snake handlers told by gutsy writer and honest seeker, Dennis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain is, again, still among my all time favorite books.) So, I have high standards for good memoirs.

Ordinary Losses is a gentle set of reflections--not as much of a full narrative as many bone fide memoirs---on the kinds of things that the author find sadness in. She is a good writer, a fine crafter of prose, and she is spiritually mature and deep, without being arcane or speculative. She is a reliable storyteller and, therefore, a reliable guide. Here is what Lauren Winner--hey, another memoirist who we adore, and whose work we go back to again and again--says in the preface:

Ordinary Losses is about the unspeakable absence we feel at the oddest times in the middle of a bright summer afternoon, when just for a moment the world feels like the saddest ting ever; or when we bounce a baby on our knee and are suddenly pierced through by the ending of our own childhood; or when we look down our street and around our town and know that we have no idea what pain and suffering go on inside the sweet brick houses that make up our neighborhood.

Writing like that cannot be used to endorse a book of fluff or mere prosaic self-help advice. Like Lauren's insightful and nicely phrased preface, this book is a well-written journey into the kinds of losses, especially, that are experienced by those in their 20's. Although just now in our 50's and grieving the loss of parents, still, this gentle little collection of "ordinary losses" resonated with us deeply.

On Broken Legs: A Shattered Life, A Search for God, a Miracle That Met Me in a Cave in Assisi Wendy Zoba (NavPress) $16.99 This is a handsome and slim hardcover that tells more of the story of the pain and struggle faced by this extraordinary woman. Her other very good books, including a set of memoirs published by Tyndale, are loved by those who pick them up. She ought to be better known. If you are feeling melancholy, struggling with the aftermath of divorce (or want to hear how it feels from one going through it) this book could be a deep blessing. Rave, rave reviews come from sharp thinkers and good writers such as Lauren Winner, J.I. Packer, and Luci Shaw. If that trio doesn't convince you"¦

Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in The Lost Language of Lament Michael Card (NavPress) $13.99 I reviewed this last month over at my blogsite. I was glad about what I wrote, and it was certainly apropos--my beloved father in law had just died. I will copy here what I wrote then about this wonderful work.

I hope you don't mind me commenting on the funeral and the death in our family, one more time. The service today was notable for a couple of reasons, not the least of which, of course, was the stature of the deceased, my wife's father, Harry H. Gross (1908-2005.)

But also, helpful and interesting to me (and I think I speak for my wife and family, too) was that the pastor, filling in for one who was away, ended up being a guy who was what they used to call a "son of the church." That is, he grew up with Beth and her sister Debi in that church, saw Beth's parents as spiritual mentors of sorts, knew their lives and congregation and town, well. His deep knowledge of and care for the situation meant that, even though he was highly liturgical as a well-trained contemporary Lutheran, he was authentic. He got choked up when talking about Harry, choked up when reading the Scriptures of grace, choked up when he assured us that Harry was in the New Jerusalem, choked up at the gravesite, for and with us all. He cared, he loved, his heart was in it, as they say. This is theological and pastoral ministry as it should be. Sad that it seems less common these days.

To wit: a book comment. In my regular review last month (over at the website column) I rave about the newly re-issued Rainbows for the Fallen World by H&M friend, Calvin Seerveld.

A newish book by long-time and thoughtful CCM singer-songwriter Michael Card, called A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament (NavPress; $13.99) starts off in the introduction saying that he got a card after 9-11 from Cal Seerveld, asking why it is that so many churches these days have "praise teams" but no one has "lament teams." He invited Michael to write some suitable laments. Card also says that about that time he read the powerful, powerful, dense and rich book, The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann, which has as a major theme the (subversive) power of grief. A note from Seerveld, a book by Brueggemann, and Michael Card started writing. His new book is very, very good.*


In his very good forward, guest writer Eugene Peterson tells of someone that he didn't even know offering "preacherish cliches" in response to Peterson crying during his role leading a funeral---the funeral of his own father! A well-intended person who should have known better said something really dumb to Peterson, as if grief, or displayed grief on the part of a pastor, was inappropriate, or that deeply felt hurt could be easily swept away by reciting a Christian truth.

And so, Eugene writes:

This is a magnificently conceived and executed book. Michael Card has saturated himself in the rhythms, music, and truth of our people-of-God ancestors and written a necessary book for all of us Christians (and there are many of us) who have lost touch with our native language of lament, this language that accepts suffering and our freely expressed suffering as the stuff that God uses for our salvation. At-homeness in the language of lament is necessary for expressing our companionship with our Lord as He accompanies us through the 'valley of the shadow of death'...

Later, Peterson concludes,

So, learning the language of lament is not only necessary to restore Christian dignity to suffering and repentance and death, it is necessary to provide a Christian witness to a world that has no language for and is therefore oblivious to the glories of wilderness and cross.

Peterson is right, it seems to me. Many in our culture, including in our churches, have thin language for this hard work of bereavement, no sure framework to help make sense of it, certainly no sane way to way to construe it as "glory." I am not sure I do. I know it hurts; I know the gospel is deeply true. And we shall cling to that. And, whenever we can, we shall tell people that Christian faith makes us more human, not less (to quote Charlie Peacock, in New Way To Be Human) fully able to grieve and hurt, and not disguise our pain in "preacherish cliches." Therefore, we need help in learning anew to be real in our grief, to affirm the power of lament, and to deal with the dead. That is what we did today. As most of you know, it is hard work. Thanks for writers like Thomas Lynch (who I noted yesterday) and Michael Card who gives us wise and courageous words along the way.


*There are several other good books that have been released in the last year or two about lament, the Psalms of lament, and the theological and pastoral implications of lamentation. Seriously written and very important is Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew and Public Square edited by Princeton Seminary's Sally Brown and Patrick D. Miller (Westminister/John Knox) $24.95. In our post-Tsunami and post-Katrina era, we simply must give voice to pain and brokenness. Maybe this scholarly resource will be helpful.