About August 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in August 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2008 is the previous archive.

September 2008 is the next archive.

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

August 2008 Archives

August 5, 2008

Culture Making

Thanks to email and Facebook friends who've wondered where my blog reviews have been lately.  I had the great joy and privilege to teach, hawk books, and chill a bit with OCBP again and even shared a class with great pal Derek Melleby, co-author of The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (my favorite book to give to Christian college students wanting to relate their beliefs about God to their classroom learning.)  I was happy to sell a few copies of Jim Wallis' old Call to Conversion, a book I truly love about how faith is "personal but never private" and Os Guinness' classic, The Call (which I take to nearly every book display I do, regardless of the topic, it is such a favorite.)  Some picked up the classic worldview book, The Transforming Vision by Walsh & Middleton, since they had heard me pushing their Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be and the brand new Beyond Homelessness by Walsh & Bouma-Prediger in other settings.  These young collegiate leaders are great fun and yet aware of the seriousness of the call to meaningful discipleship and it was good being with them again.  Sorry, guys, about turning all of your dinner tables into the portable bookstore.  Thanks for your interest in books.

And then, home from NJ,  I drove a van full of middle school kids to an event in another part of the state, returning home at 2 am, and then spent a day with my mother at a funeral of an old family friend, a man of great character, kindness and philanthropy.  I talked with a few older men who knew my dad about how they balanced their obvious success in their careers and their dedication to community service and fund-raising for organizations they believed in.  I wish I could show them books about this, as some good stuff has been written, including excellent books on the "second half" of life shift "from success to significance."   From helping with Middle School-age discovery of God's grace to collegiate reflections on vocation and calling to retirement-years dreams of "finishing well" it has been an rewarding and yet exhausting week or so...we are grateful for customers who buy books from us, supporting our bookish ministry and on-going effort to be "more than a bookstore."

Are these travels, our mail-order business and friendships with authors and conspiring with folk like the OCBP activities that could be considered "culture-making"?  It is a more complicated question than you might think, and an urgent one, I believe, one that gets to the very heart of everything we are about here at Hearts & Minds.  Such a question raises questions of our responsibility as humans, the cultural mandate of Genesis, and meaning of work and leisure in our age.

culture making.jpgI've been working on a review of a splendid new book by that name, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch, published as the lead title in the new IVP catalogue ($20) but haven't quite polished that particular artifact.  But I can't wait: you have to know that this book is now out, it is spectacularly important and truly wonderful; wonderful for the cogent ideas and the lovely writing, the insight and the charm.  I could not put it down, have much to say about it, maybe a few small bones to pick, and an upbeat hope of publicizing it Big Time this fall.  Andy may show up at the shop, here, to chat a bit about the book and you will be seeing several good reviews of it in magazines and websites.  I'll say more later, but for now, trust me, please, please---this is a book that if you are a BookNotes reader, if you support H&M, if you like the kind of stuff we promote about cultural reformation and the Christ-honoring social innovations and a Biblical vision for human flourishing, then this is a book you must have.  You can get a feel for it at his intriguing website, here.   Please spread the word by passing it on.  The YouTube promo for the book---yep, that's culcha for ya---is very, very nice, so take 3 minutes and watch that. (He talks about a coffee shop in it, so you gotta love it!) You can listen to an interview with Andy done by a great blogger over at Good Will Hinton.

If you feel any small yearning to be creative, to start something, to make something, to contribute, this book will inspire you, and help you be assured of God's good blessings on your endeavors.  If you are distressed by the apathy of too many churches, or if you are creeped out by some of the plans of the triumphalist groups mired in culture wars (I think of the grandiose vision of the Christian Right, but I suppose others are similar) then Andy's wise call---can I call it faithful localism?---for small steps and local activism and human-scale projects will surely reassure you.  Culture Making is one of the great books of the decade, and our little Hearts & Minds culture-making mission will be successful insofar as we help get this book on the sales charts and its vision in the conversations of our friends.  I don't write this with irony:  let's make culture by starting book discussion groups using Culture Making.

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August 9, 2008

Culture Making, The Cloisters and Angels in the Architecture

cloister arch.jpgI happened to be near New York city in North Jersey yesterday with several unscripted hours and no books to lug.  Ever since my oldest daughter, Stephanie, read Girl Meets God and  Lauren Winner's description there of The Cloisters, she has gone several times.  As you may know,  this spectacular spot is a site of the Metropolitan Museum, off on Manhattan's largest hill, in a lovely Olmsted-designed park, and is one of the world's finest installations of medieval religious stuff.  Set in an old castle-like mansion, much of the inner structure of the building is, in fact, imported from ancient cloisters, monasteries, and churches from cloister christ.jpgMiddle Ages Europe.  The setting---from the garden's planted in authentic ways to the breathtaking vaulted ceilings, stained glass and dark hallways--is perfect to display 12th century doorways, 13th century columns and windowsills, 14th century chancels or furniture from the 1400s.  The liturgical art, frescoes andcloister art.jpg icons were stunning and the whole place offered a spirit of awe and, for me, deep, emotional worship.  Seeing a detailed carving from the time of Charlemagne or a crucifix from a 12th century Cistercien worship space or an entire Chapter House from a 1500-era Benedictine monastery took my breath away. That they knew who made many of these items, or who the craftsman studied under, is astonishing and set me thinking about the legacy of our work and our lives.   Beholding old illuminated prayerbooks, portions of handwritten and delicately illustrated pages of Bibles, and a few rare books from the early Middle Ages---created my nameless scribes---actually got me choked up.

In my last post I commended Andy Crouch's fabulous new book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP; $20.00, but offered for $15.) Seeing close up the artistic glory of the architecture, dinnerware, liturgical art, albs and tunics and staffs and chalices and jewelry from the high Middle Ages surely reminds us that God's people have a grand history of sharing God's call to creativity and beauty.  What amazing work is shown!  What diligence and giftedness it took to create these items!  I kept thinking of Andy's new book, and a phrase which is the title from one of my all time favorite books, Calvin Seerveld's book about aesthetic richness as God's gift and our responsibility to offer "rainbows for a fallen world."

And---and this is something I need to recall since, as a theological advocate of the role of the laity in their daily tasks in the world, I am often critical of the "sacred/secular" dualism and churchy piety that gives rise to neo-Gnostic monastic spirituality and an overstatement of the role of worship, the role of the clergy and church life generally, as if church life on Sunday matters more to God than work or political life on Monday, as if religious art was somehow more important or valid than ordinary stuff---it was a sheer delight for me to see the beauty not only in the liturgical art that has been traced to various monastic and sanctuary settings, but also in their items displayed from more ordinary, family settings.  From intricately carved wooden stairwells to enamel dishes to stone carvings from outbuildings or garden walls, from "secular" statuary and portraits to the famed (erotic?) Unicorn tapestries, it seems clear that (for at least the upper classes) there was a wholesome desire to make material culture that was beautiful and excellent and uplifting.  I despise the superstition, the Christendom violence, the gilded art in honor of a homeless Savior, and other problems with that complex era, of course.  But still, the aesthetics of these devotional objects (and the way they must have been integrated into people's lives) was a good testimony.

All of this brought to mind my urgency for selling Andy's Culture Making book, and also reminded me of a book we have stocked for years entitled Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth by Douglas Jones & Doug Wilson (Canon Press; $15.)   Their positive take on the earthy goodness of daily life, understood as Christian service in a good creation, was provocative and helpful, and I shall pull it off the shelf again, I'm sure.  The Cloister's beauty, besides making me thankful for inspired curators and wealthy donars, raised questions of class and injustice, of course.  Thank God for the Franciscan renewal of the early 1200s.  But obviously there is more to study about the Medieval world than our proper critique of the Crusades, the bloated Catholic aesthetic, or my concern about St. Thomas Aquinas' accomadation to pagan Aristotle.

I saw the best and worst of culture in my quick day trip to New York.  I was lost due to sometraffic jam.gif very (very!) bad advise from a very (very!) bad employee of the state of New Jersey.  I ended up in Harlem for a few hours, but didn't explore the Renaissance there, interesting as that would have been.  No, I was stuck in traffic of the worst sort.  For hours, in crisscrossing roads of dubious integrity, serious congestion and significant urban ugliness.

Our other daughter Marissa saw Radiohead and Girltalk and some other hipster groups at a fabulous outdoor festival overlooking Manhattan.  Back at the store, faithful employees dusted shelves and talked about books.  Beth was enthralled with the opening exercises of the Olympics.  Daughter Steph drove to an out of town funeral of a young friend tragically killed, and Micah worked at the climbing gym and drove home measuring his gas mileage.  And I got lost again coming home, in the industrial zone outside of Newark.

Yes, we are all cultural beings; we don't speak of it much, taking it just for granted, living for better or worse with rock stars, rituals and roads.  Of course, we are embodied people----some religious folks who talk endlessly about our souls seem to forget this essential truth of Genesis 1---and our lives unfold embedded in the culture(s) we have, and, if we are followers of our Creator, perhaps they point to His good intentions for this planet.

 I'd like to think that our book selling can help serve that large hope, to encourage a thoughtfulness about our world and God's vision for life in it.  BookNotes readers hopefully want to be exposed to books like Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling which will help us get beyond the mere consuming of culture, to an insightful bit of reflection and criticism, and then to renewed commitments to making modest and hopeful contributions.  Even though Andy explains that his book is not about a renewal of high culture or museum-going, my visit to The Cloisters, and the step back in time it allowed, reminded me of much, and inspired me to again promote his great new book.  And to spend a bit more time with those perplexing cultural artifacts known as maps.



August 13, 2008

A Christian view of Sport? What the Book Says...

beijing.jpg
Do you have Olympic fever?  It's a certifiable diagnosis, you know, and we've got it.  We've loved watching it all, staying up late each night this week, and even admit to a fair amount of Team USA patriotism.  We especially enjoy the features on the athletes and wonder about their character, how they've gotten to be successful, and what sort of sportsmanship they show.

Which raises the natural question here at BookNotes: in what way does the gospel of Christ effect athletes in what they do?  What is a Christian perspective, as we like to ask, on sports?  And, of course, what good books help us go more deeply into that question?

First, an important rant.  You may know, if you follow these things, that there are a goodly number of books that are about Christian faith for the sports fan or athlete.  There are some fine daily devotionals with a sporting theme and some fine books about character and sportsmanship and the like. Books like the recent The Goal and the Glory compiled by Josh Davis (Regal; $14.99) are great, offering testimonials of world class Christian athletes.   Many use effective sporting as a platform for evangelism. One new series from FCA look very nice, one called Integrity, and one called Service, asks how successful athletes have learned from their discipline and training lessons that can be applied to ordinary living. These are helpful and make fabulous gifts for athletes you may know.

And yet.  As is our often-repeated concern here, the bigger question, is one of worldview and perspective.  That is, how does a Christian understanding of life, of the human body, of play and recreation, of leisure and of competition and so forth, shape our vision of what sports is to be?  What does it mean to be faithful as Christian people in the arena of athletics?   If something is wrong (and who would say there aren't some large problems in sports, from kids' leagues on up?) we have to have some normative vision to know what ought to be which can inform how to fix things.  So, we could ask,  (a) in what way are the possibility for sports and play created by a good God in a certain kind of good world, (b) and how is recreation and sport distorted by our sinful tendencies and screwy culture, and  (c) how can faith in Christ (who makes "all things new') lead us to imagine sport in more redemptive ways?   How can we develop a wholistic Christian framework for  approach sports in a distinctive and helpful way?

There are hardly any books like this.  Again, catch the situation:  oodles of books on devotional life for athletes, few on a Christian view of actually playing "to the glory of God."  Plenty on character and inspiration, few on what it means to play as a Christian.  Many that view faith as an add-on or supplement to business as usual, few that are intregal.  In fact, a few decades ago, a prominent leader of a prominent ministry in the world of athletics caught this vision and wanted to write a book approaching the question of competition.  His supervisors made it very clear that this was unhelpful:  if one relativizes competition by having some transforming vision of play, the team might not win and the evangelistic testimonies would be less compelling. This is what they told him; don't think about sports from a Christian perspective, just play well, and then share the gospel.  The guy thought this was crazy, and wrote the book anyway, despite threats that it would jeopardize his ministry.  I was told that he was then fired for daring to see sports not merely as an avenue of testimony, but a side of life that has to truly come under the Lordship of Christ and be structurally and philosophically explored in light of a Biblical worldview.  We stocked the book 25 years ago but it went out of print.

Here are a few rare and exceptional ones that really do offer an integrated and wholistic view of faithfully exploring sports from a mature theological perspective.   There are others, too, if you  want to give us a call. 

What the Book Says About Sport  Stuart Weird  (BRF) $8.95  Published in England, this mass market sized paperback is solid, mature, interesting and a great Biblical perspective.  Nothing else quite like it in print.  Highly recommended.

Focus on Sport in Ministry  Lowrie McCown & Valerie J. Gin (360 degree) $24.95  This is a book about coaching, and a study of how to train coaches to see their work as a Christian ministry.  Still, Lowrie and his colleague are deeply engaged in training a natural and integrated perspective rooted in faith-based values.   This is profound stuff.

Physical Education, Sports and Wellness: Looking to God as We Look At Ourselves edited by John Byl & Tom Visker (Dordt College Press) $19.95   Thoughtful leaders in collegiate physical education, sports, coaching, leisure studies and such offer chapters that were once speeches given at various conferences and symposia.   This important collection offers theological, sociological and ethical evaluation of thinking and practices in this whole arena.  A must-read for those serious about a Godly perspective in playful sports or health education.

In Praise of Athletic Beauty  Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Harvard University Press) $22.95  This is a lovely small hardback, a book that doesn't seem guided by religious faith but is nonetheless a perfect addition to our reading this week.  What moves us so as we watch these world class Olympians?  The aesthetics of all this, the sheer beauty of it all, comes to the fore in this marvelous, rich exploration.  Scholarly and charming.

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August 20, 2008

Outrageous Idea of Homemaking & Culture-Making in Higher Education

Fighting off illness after packing up the van, Beth and I took our books Westward to Geneva College, where good friends there had invited me to address their faculty. (And, man, was I nervous!)  As an obviously Reformed institution, they are all about the sovereign reign of Christ over all of life.  Francis Schaeffer gave his wonderful lecture that became Art and the Bible there.  (I had friends who hitchhiked there from our college in the early 70s and I foolishly did not go.  What did I know?)  Now, decades later, Geneva is a small but important voice in the movement to promote the worldview that calls for an integration of faith and learning, the stuff inspired by Schaeffer, not to mention Abraham Kuyper's famous line about Christ pointing to "every square inch" of creation and declaring "Mine!"  Like most intentionally-Christian colleges, professors are expected to "think Christianly" about their fields, to teach in a distinctive fashion, to invite students into the deepest conversations about what matters as they prepare for vocations in the arts and sciences, and are tasked to mentor young adults with not only the Christian mind, but a counter-culturally powerful alternative Christian way of life, "in but not of" the world, as the Gospel of John puts it.  My lecture to them, my sermon, was a heartfelt cry of appreciation for their strategic work in raising up a generation of young scholars who will be robust disciples of the King of creation, and who will pursue their studies, now, and their careers eventually, with a distinctiveness that is honoring of Christ Jesus, attentive to His ways in His world.

"Do all to the glory of God", the apostle says.  Indeed.  But what does that look like if one is a chemist or speech pathologist, a PR guy or a civil engineer?  How does the Christian worldview shape the heart and mind and practices and intentions of the future schoolteacher or filmmaker, the businesswoman or physical therapist?  How does engineering or astrophysics, child development or music teaching,  politics or poetry, witness to the manifold truth that we are in a good world, broken by sin, being restored by the Maker incarnate?  How can higher education in all its facets, be a place to help young folk come away with a radically thoughtful and faithful purpose driven life?   Can institutions of higher learning, anticipating God's healing reign of creation, also be, to swipe N.T. Wright's phrase quite knowingly, "surprised by hope"? From my experience earlier this week with these Genevans, I think so.  Their leadership is committed to truly "doing education" in ways that are coherent and principled and good.

Well, I showed our large selection of books about higher education.  I cited everything from the Christian Scholars Review to the Chronicle on Higher Education, and pondered stuff as diverse as the controversies about linguistics to intelligent design, what ways we can encourage service to the poor and how social networks and cultural reform can help good ideas bear fruit over time.  I reminded them of the importance of the Jubilee conference next February, which is knowingly designed (somewhat inspired by a former and legendary Geneva prof) to explore these very themes.

Outrageous Idea.jpgObviously, I cited Geneva professor Donald Opitz, whose PhD was taken under the imminent sociologist Peter Berger, who co-wrote (with Derek Melleby) The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (Brazos; $13.99.)   I challenged these college professors, newbies and tenured, those from various faith traditions perhaps less inclined to think in these terms of integration, and those who were there in the years of Schaeffer's visit and who have been at this faith and learning project a long time, to re-read Opitz & Melleby.  Written in breezy prose with stories and humor, it is perfect for the younger student, inviting them to take their college classes seriously, the develop habits of the heart that allow them to serve God in their course work and to be faithful as students.  Yet, professors, I believe (and parents and youth workers too) need to be ever aware of how younger adults think,  need to know the kinds of resources that  make sense to their young friends,  need to recall basic ways to articulate a whole life Christian vision that relates faith and learning, worldview and way of life, heart and mind.  Outrageous Idea... is ideal for this and it would be foolish to think that it is "beneath" us to be refeshed with such important, important insights.  It is obviously one of the most important books for those who do campus ministry or young adult work. It is fabulous for RA staff, for student affairs leaders, for college administrators, for highschool youth workers---not to mention college students themselves!  Don't you know somebody you can send it to early this fall, as part of a "back to school" care package?

Hopefully, our mind-boggling (if somewhat outdated) biblio of "books by vocation" can offer more resources for this journey, too.  We've listed entry-level annotations of books that help develop Christian perspectives across the curriculum, in nearly every career area.  Know anybody you could forward the link to?

Another book that I begged them to read and re-read is written by a Geneva alum, and I hope they (and you) don't tire of hearing this, too, but I will promote this book as long as I have breath and will try to sell it as long as we are in business: The Fabric of fabric 3.jpgFaithfulness: Weaving Together Believe and Behavior by Steve Garber (IVP: $15.99) is an elegant and exceptionally thoughtful book, wide-ranging philosophically, with profound stories of those who desire to live out their deepest cares in the world, to not be overwhelmed by the daunting obstacles to wholeness and transformation, and to live out of the insights they've learned in their young adult years.  From commitments to truth, to having mentors that shape character, to the strength gained from being intentional about life-long relationships and community, Garber has documented glorious practices that can sustain a live-long discipleship that is faithful and fruitful.  I was gratified that a handful of scholars took up the challenge anew, to read Garber and consider how to be better at what they do, living into their vocation of being teachers.  Given the issues of the day, the need for church folk to step into the fray of modern times a bit more insightfully, and the earnestness of many young adults, nothing cheap will do. Garber is very, very highly recommended for those with the most honest questions who desire only the most honest answers.

beyond homelessness.jpgTwo other books were on my tongue at the Geneva bookselling extravaganza.  I have already declared that Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Brian J. Walsh and Stephen Bouma-Prediger (Baker; $24) is the book of the year.  When I met a prof who did his doctoral thesis on hobo studies, I knew he needed this. I told an environmental science teacher about it (Stephen's For the Beauty of the Earth, if a bit demanding, is truly one of the very best books on the theology of creation care and his insights and passions are very influential for Beyond Homelessness!)  Several profs there are doing much with localism and reflections on "a sense of place" and they were eager to pick it up.  One retired prof is studying exile, and had read Walsh's Colossians Remixed so this seemed a natural pick for his ongoing reading.  What an amazing book, interesting to many different kinds of folks, from those interested in literal homelessness and poverty to those interested in postmodernity and cultural studies and, not insignificantly, Biblical studies.

culture making.jpgCulture Making: Reclaiming Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch (IVP; $20), of course, could be promoted anywhere, but I offered that they should see this as one of the fruits of a Christian liberal arts education--that students get a vision for themselves made in God's image and responsible contributors to culture buoyed by the possibilities of their lives making some small difference through social and cultural innovations that they birth.  Students as culture-makers (or, in Walsh & Bouma-Predigar's language, "homemakers") could be a theme here; perhaps not just for educators at Christian colleges, but for any churches, any ministry:  we want to form folks into faithful Christlikeness so that they might serve God by being active in the world, creatively contributing to the betterment of the world by making stuff. 

Outrageous, to think that church-related institutions could form the hearts of young people to be something other than consumers, who could dream dreams other than the American one, who could give themselves to living for God's glory by serving their neighbors with whatever gifts and abilities God has given them, in places wherever they find themselves.  Andy's Culture-Making book, as I've said before, is a fabulous and interesting way to be reminded of all that this entails.  I'm very glad some Geneva folks purchased it.

We're grateful that Geneva gave us the chance to share this stuff with them.  We're glad that books can help the process along.  Maybe you, too, could make a new contribution, if only by promoting these kinds of books with us.  Why not start a book club this fall, reading something a bit different.   Here's a bit of incentive, offering you all the discount we had going out at the  college gig.  20% off anything you order.  Just mention this blog special.   Thanks.

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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313     717.246.3333


August 23, 2008

The Courage to Teach and other gifts for teachers

school arch.jpgThe evening weather has been cool and crisp, making it feel all the more as if autumn is approaching.  Every night this week we've heard the nearby Dallastown High School drum-line practicing, a bittersweet sound that assures us that it is back-to-school time.

In my last post I told of giving a presentation for college faculty reflecting upon their job as Christian teachers and mentors.  I mentioned books not only important for collegiate staff and educators, but for students themselves heading back to dorms and student unions. Some readers of BookNotes, though, are going back to public schools, elementary or high schools, to take up their posts anew in the fresh fall air.

One of my life heroes is Jonathan Kozol, whose early books in the 70s reminded us of the politics of schooling, the way curriculum---what is taught and what isn't---is more than transmitting data, but the shaping of values such as concern for common-good citizenship and social justice.  Kozol, you may recall, was fired from an impoverished Boston ghetto school in 1964 for using a Langston Hughes poem that was, as they said, unauthorized.  He won the prestigious National Book Award for Death at an Early Age in 1968, a book that riveted me and has not quite let go, decades later.  The Night Is Dark and I Am Far From Home, now out of print, remains one of the very most influential books I've ever read.

Kozol has gone on to study, describe and protest what he has called the "savage inequalities" of our schools, with some being quite beautifully well-off and others being poor and under-funded.  As an advocate for children, especially those forced to attend bad schools, he has made his mark.  His last large book about these things, just a year or so ago, and now in paperback, was The Shame of A Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.  (For the record, as much as I esteem Mr. Kozol---and cherish a long car ride I once had with him talking mostly about Jesus and His radical politics---I think he is misguided in his critique of school vouchers, Charitable Choice, and such.)

letters to a young teacher.jpgHis very lovely new collection of thoughtful letters to a first year teacher, Letters to a Young Teacher (Three Rivers Press; $12.95) recently came out in paperback.  It would make a wonderful "back to school" gift for a teacher of any kind, and Kozol's practical advice (even a recipe for making goo) would be inspiring for a young, new teacher or an older more experienced one.  His advice is almost always spot on, and his tone is not the least bit condescending.  He is a radical thinker and a prophetic voice for justice, but this book is less about his social vision and more about his classroom demeanor (which is, nonetheless, informed by a deep humanistic vision of care for the students and the need to sometimes work to reform educational institutions.)  We commend it to anyone who wants to think a bit about the profession of teaching.

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life
by Parker Palmercourage to teach.jpg (Jossey-Bass; $27.95) may be the most talked about book for teachers of the last decade, and for good reason.  Palmer, the profound writer, mystic, Quaker, activist, is another favorite of ours, and this book emerged firstly from his spectacular work on educational theory---exploring a Hebrew view of what it means to know (To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey which is a very important little book indeed.)  After that meditation on forming educational communities of deep knowing and responsible caring (rather than teachers being the sole transmitter of abstract facts) where education makes a personal, even spiritual, difference, he set off doing workshops for educators.  His masterpiece The Courage to Teach emerged from those workshops (followed by a beloved book on vocation, Let Your Life Speak, which he tells us was written after being so inspired by so many teachers who seemed to truly be called---vocare--into this line of work.)  A new anniversary edition was released recently of CtT and a fabulous follow up has been compiled as a companion study/reflection book, too.  You can follow some of Parker Palmer's other work, listen to podcasts and such, at the Center for Courage & Renewal. (Fans should know that his very first book, The Promise of Paradox, has also recently been reissued in a great little hardback!)

teaching with fire.jpgMany who have been in the network promoting Parker's model of teaching with the heart were asked what keeps them going, and particularly, if poetry helps.  Many sent in poems, with a brief description of why this particular work is taped to their classroom desk, or in their lunchroom, or in the cover of their grade-book.  These "teacher-selected" poems have been compiled by Sam M. Intrator in a lovely hardback, Teaching With Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach (Jossey-Bass; $16.95.)  It, too, would make a lovely "welcome back to the classroom" gift for any teacher, old or young.

Letters to Lisa: Conversations With a Christian Teacher (Dordt College Press; $11.95) is aletters to lisa.jpg fabulous book we often tell folks about.  John Van Dyke teaches education from a Christian perspective at his post at Dordt College (a CRC related college in Iowa) and has authored the excellent Craft of Teaching.  As the story goes, his daughter, one of his former college students, ends up teaching fifth grade in a fairly sophisticated alternative Christian school, yet is frustrated with the old "how to apply what we learned in college to the ordinary day-in-day-out classroom of a real school?"  So this book is a set of questions from Lisa, the first year teacher, back to her dad, the esteemed reformational professor of Christian education.  She says, in effect, "Remember how you taught us about x, y or z?  Well, let me tell you how it really is in this crazy classroom.  What do I do?  And Van Dyke, part college mentor, part caring dad, writes back these wonderful epistles translating wholistic pedagogical philosophy rooted in a solid worldview, into very practical advice for a first time teacher, trying to be faithful in her daily job of students, discipline, grades, administration, parents and all the rest.  In this sense, in style and format, it resembled the aforementioned book of letters from Mr. Kozol.  In its naturally-breathed faith perspective, though, it is a perfect example of the faith-work integration stuff that I lectured about at Geneva last week, the notion of ordinary folks serving God in their ordinary jobs by developing a view of work and set of practices in their workplace that reflect the core truths of the Biblical story and a Christian framework.  Every career should have a book of letters just like this one.  Thank God that there are so many useful resources for teachers.  May they take great courage for their work is so very important.

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313  717.246.3333



August 30, 2008

Surpised by Hope and Seeing Through Cynicism

Regardless of your political persuasions, I hope you watched some of the Democratic convention, and will also watch the upcoming speeches at the Republican convention.  I am not quite a political junkie, although we do have as many books about faith and politics, I'd bet, than any store in the country.  "Something to offend everyone" really is a slogan here, and, if heard with an open-minded ear, means that we have a real variety of books, something to challenge us all. We always encourage reading widely, but that may be a civic duty these days.  I have written a length review piece at the monthly column a few months back suggesting books on this topic, and our Books By Vocation part of the website offers an annotated listing for political science types.   There are wonderful books for those of us seeking to be Biblically faithful, agents of the sorts of change God might desire, and eager to approach our civic life with Christian sensibilities even as though that transcends typical party affiliations.

faith of barack obama.jpgFor those who may be interested, which should be many of us, there is a fair and informative discussion of the role (and what kind of) faith plays in Mr. Obama in a newly released book.  The Faith of Barack Obama is written by best selling historian and  conservative author Stephen Mansfield (Nelson; $19.99.) Mr. Mansfield wrote The Faith of George W. Bush and has penned works on Winston Churchill, Booker T. Washington, and a book called The Faith of the American Soldier.  He can hardly be considered a partisan, yet it seems that this book is fair-minded, thorough, and quite helpful.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called it "perceptive and well written" as it explores Obama's "faith-based liberal politics."  From Trinity UCC, black liberation theology, to his relationship with Sojourners magazine and Saddleback's Rick Warren, this interesting study shows Obama's influences and helps explain what he has said he believes.

Here is an audio interview with Mr. Mansfield about the book, his hopes to be fair (Mansfield himself is conservative and pro-life) and how this book came about. 

It is exciting to many of us that Obama has motivated many younger citizens to be involved in civic affairs, and his rhetoric has inspired many as has his memoir, The Audacity of Hope.  Hope is a theme, of course, of his candidacy, and regardless of the necessary evaluations we must make of the content of his positions, the vision has stirred many.  It has placed change and hope in the center of the national debate.

We have several good books on hope in our store, but the one that I have been touting is--Isurprised by hope.jpg know some of our customers can predict it, since I've mentioned it before---the extraordinary Surprised By Hope by our favorite Bible scholar, N.T. Wright.  (HarperOne; $24.95.)  The subtitle is Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church and from it you can see that he is asking the largest questions we can ask, questions that have been central in our ministry here: in what way does Christ's resurrection give us hope?  What is the nature of our hope--is it that our "souls" go to "heaven" for eternity? What is the destiny of history, that God will burn up the world and whisking some to an ethereal location in the clouds?   No!  Jesus is bringing His regime change to the planet, and his wholistic rescue mission--with the principle battle being won at Golgatha and His Kingdom vindicated through resurrection and ascension---allows us to wait and work with all creation even as we groan for redemption (see Romans 8.)  What real hope---the redemption of our bodies, the restoration of creation--- this brings into real history!  What joy it is to read N.T. Wright's reflections on this reality that God rules, that Christ is Victor, that His bodily resurrection is historically true, and God's Kingdom is breaking in "on Earth as it is in Heaven."  That our hope is not pie in the sky, as they say, and that God's ultimate intention for His planet is a restored creation regained, a new urban garden called the New Jerusalem which comes as gift as Christ returns, gives us huge and significant freedom to be new kinds of people.  He explores these implications in the third portion of the book.  (Amongst other things, we can be friendly critics to any and all ideologies and political movements, knowing the likelihood of idolatry and the reality of their limitations.)  We care for our place, our country, even as we are loyal to another regime---God's Kingdom.  We are citizens of heaven, which means, though, as Wright shows, that we can be truly responsible actors in history.

From a helpful explanation of our wrong-headed and sentimental views of heaven to our un-biblical views of our souls, from the shifting understanding of death and funeral practices, to dumb hymns and otherworldly piety, Wright brings great sanity to the church.  He does battle with unhelpful speculations (from the theological left and right) and is in constant interaction with the most popular theological tendencies across the denominational spectrum.  Surprised By Hope offers a true alternative which is a vision that is at once historically orthodox and 21st century fresh, utterly evangelical and yet quite ecumenical.  With endorsements from leaders as diverse as Rob Bell and Richard Foster, Dallas Willard and Walter Brueggemann, this is widely being described as one of the most important books of our time.

Will Willimon properly calls it a "masterful work of Christian hope" where the Biblical teaching on hope is "defended, explicated, and proclaimed with wit, wisdom, intellect, and grace." "This is," he continues, "quite simply the best book we have on the substance of Christian hope." 

Surprise by Hope will help us get beyond (as Rob Bell puts it) "the tired old theologies of escapism and evacuation" and allows us to understand and grieve death and dysfunction, to understand not only a Christina way to live in the world but to hope well.  In a political season when that word is often used, it would do us all well to plumb its deepest Biblical meaning, and there is no better resource to use.  We eagerly and enthusiastically share our hope in God's work in our world, seen, for instance, in the publication of such rich and solid works as N.T. Wright's magnificent Surprised By Hope. 

Lastly, you may be rolling your eyes at Obama, or peeved at the hilarious send-up David Brooks did in his New York Times column to the overblown Democratic speechifying ("in front of Greek columns conscientiously recycled from "Yanni---Live at the Acropolis.")  Either way, I wonder if some of us need to examine our reluctance to allow ourselves to hope.  Are we too bitten by a bug called cynicism?   Are we overly suspicious of everybody's views?

seeing through cynicism.jpgSeeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion by Dick Keyes (IVP; $16) is a book which deserves its own lengthy review, as it is wonderfully unlike any book in print.  Written by the co-director of the New England L'Abri, it brings together insightful cultural criticism, thoughtful psychological study, a critique of an unqualified shift to the postmodern, and how all of this allows many of us to wallow in our nearly self-righteous contempt for nearly everything.  We are so suspicious that we deconstruct nearly anything other than the weird, and carry ourselves with disengaged detached irony (even as it may parade as prophetic or hip.) Dick Keyes understands this, and has struggled honestly to examine the deepest causes of our cynical selves.

 This is a book, I say again, that is truly thoughtful and exceedingly rich.  It is very important, and utterly compelling for those willing to work through it.  It is not a cheery little read--- and it certainly is not a book about which we can be cynical.  The author is brilliant and in many ways offers us new insights again and again, some based on his honest journey.  Seeing Through Cynicism is a tremendous bit of Christian scholarship, and a wise spiritual anecdote to the spirit of the times.  We commend it to you sincerely, with great hope.  Especially for those who roll their eyes at my unabashed earnestness it thinking it could make a difference.  Please know of this important resource, and pass this on to others if you think, in kindness, that it might help. 

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