About February 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in February 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2009 is the previous archive.

March 2009 is the next archive.

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

February 2009 Archives

February 5, 2009

New books for pastors, church leaders, or anyone who cares about congregations and ministry...

Earlier this week I had a chance to spend some time with a small group of local pastors, friends from a particular denomination that, like many of our old-line denominations, are struggling with membership decline and controversy due to theological shifts.  Yet, these wonderful clergy serve well, gather for reflection and encouragement, and, in many cases, are doing fine jobs of caring for  their local congregations and our community.  Their good humor and steadfastness always impresses me and that they allowed me to ramble on about new books, stuff I like, things I think they ought to read, is an encouragement.   Now if they could just find the time to read the resources I reported on, or get their parishioners reading more.  I know they are trying, and I'll bet you are too...spread the word about BookNotes blog, please, if you think it might be helpful to other readers, or those who ought to be reading.  Thanks.

One of the many books I told this groups of pastors about deserves a mention here:  Changing the Conversation: Achanging.jpg Third Way for Congregations by Anthony B. Robinson (Eerdmans; $18.00.) I've mentioned it here before, but I think some of our readers will appreciate knowing that there are books which help with this process---helping mainline (and other) congregations learn to change by learning to frame our conversations a bit differently, by being more theologically grounded and creative.  In the  20th century, many of us church folk, if we got out much, realized that there were mostly two kinds of churches, liberal and conservative.  (I know, I know, many actually didn't fit into that simple dichotomy, and rather, were somewhere along a continuum, or not on the continuum at all: pacifist Mennonites?  High-church, pro-life Lutherans?  Russian Orthodox?  The historic black churches?  None fit the simple mold of liberal or conservative do they?)  Well, now most or our churches don't fit the simple mold, if they ever did, but yet, we so often talk as if we do.  Our imaginative construct is stilted, I'd say, and we either are ideologically driven or we are theologically lazy.  Robinson offers a handful of urgent conversations that transforming congregations need to have, and---importantly---shows how to have these conversations in ways that get beyond old, tired dichotomies.  Surely God's invigorating Spirit can push us to faithful ways to be church that are current and contemporary, but rooted in the ancient traditions, that are relevant and faithful, that are some alternative combo of the best of what some call liberal and conservative. As Bishop Willimon writes, "For some time now Tony Robinson has been changing what we mainline Protestants talk about.  In this book Tony furthers the conversation with clear, wise insights into how we can be a changed church."  I told these pastors yesterday that they should be about leading these kinds of gentle paradigm shifts, so that our churches can be vibrant and faithful places, which inform lay folks to live out their callings in the world.  I think this book is quite a resource for those on the journey...

Of course, as is often the case, by the time I returned to the store, great new stuff had be delivered by our stalwart UPS and FedEx guys, so when I got back from the gig, book bags and boxes under arm, I found even more stuff I could have told them about.

Here are a few I didn't mention, but should have.


pastor as minor poet.jpgThe Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life  M Craig Barnes (Eerdmans; $18.00.)   I loved many of Dr. Barnes' books, and his last was especially good, on developing a spirituality of homecoming (Searching for Home.) He has been a friend to many Presbyterians (and others) in DC and in his recent position in Pittsburgh. Dr. Barnes is a poet himself, writing with considerable grace and something beyond charm, although charming he is.  It is wise and deep, luminous and provocative.  Anyone who has paid attention to serious theological literature in our time knows of the seminal role of Walter Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination or his homiletics works such as Finally Comes the Poet.  Well, finally, the poet has come, and Barnes calls pastor to a poetic ministry, to see themselves as "minor poets" and to help them interpret the text of Scripture and the lives of the congregations, thereby helping them understand their lives as poets of their souls.  Can faithful words pull this off (I mentioned to the UCC pastors how I like the Lutheran writer Richard Lischer's remarkable book about preaching called The End of Words which makes this audacious claim.)  One good friend, himself a poetry lover, said this was one of the finest books he's ever read.  Highly recommended. 

mad church disease.jpgMad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic  Anne Jackson (Zondervan; $16.99)  When organizational guru and best selling hip marketeer Seth Godin blurbs a book about the church, you know it has to be interesting. And this one really is!

  This play on words is itself pretty funny, but the book is remarkable.  Bloggers may know the author's collaborative  FlowerDust.net blog about Christian leadership issues, so she has thought long and hard about this stuff.  She is a fine writer, too, clever and punchy and smart.  Here's the starting point of the book: she asks--and tells of her own asking of it---"Does working at this church interfere with your community with Christ?" Whew.   That question saved her life and she believes it could save yours too.

Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the
christianity beyond belief.jpg Sake of Others  Todd D. Hunter (IVP; $22.00)  Many of us have been waiting for this thoughtful and systematic study of how the local church can promote deep living, real life, and thereby stand a chance at enfolding into our communities the disenfranchised and cynical.  Hunter, who was for a while the director of Alpha in the US,  is known as a vibrant speaker and his "Society for Kingdom Living" is all about life outside the institutional church, yet he lives to invite others into God's Kingdom.  I love a book that is endorsed by George Hunsberger and Dallas Willard, and delightfully, Brian McLaren, who cares about the unchurched (and the postmodern culture in which they live) as much as anybody I know.  Can we really "get" the good news of the Kingdom of God?   Can we truly be transformed into Kingdom people, not viewing faith as merely some security for after death?   Can we become churches where we help people understand the whole scope of the story of God, and see our lives as a part of that redemptive drama?  There is a very, very great introduction by Eugene Peterson and it builds expectation for this wise, passionate and very practical book.  Here is his website, with changes to hear him, see other work he does, and learn more. Better, here's a video clip of Todd talking about the book.

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February 10, 2009

JUBILEE: Every Square Inch


Usually, about this time of year, I get really, really jittery.  It's the pre-game Pittsburgh nerves, stress from all the hoopla and build-up.  And I'm not talking about the Super Bowl, although the Borger household is uniformly pro-Steelers, so had our share of jitters last weekend. I'm talking about the run-up to Jubilee.

Jubilee large group.jpgIf you've read our blog for more than a year or lingered in the Dallastown shop, you've heard tell of our bookselling role in the annual Jubilee conference, this event, this amazing, beautiful mess, with over 2000 folks, mostly college students, gathered annually in Pittsburgh to reflect seriously---with raucous joy and all manner of tomfoolery---on what it means to say that our Triune God runs the world for His pleasure, and that we, His servants, are called to join Christ in establishing a Kingdom on Earth.  This vision, of course, is not like some theocratic sharia state, not even like Calvin's Geneva (although that generally was not as bad as some historians suggest.)  Jubilee, "the favorably year of the Lord" as Jesus called it in Luke 4, is lived out, as Jesus Himself put it, like leaven in a loaf, salt, light (or, in a particularly vexing analogy) an alternative city on (another?) hill.  In/not of is how close readers of the end of John put it.  We are a counter-culture, but one for the good of the host culture.  We are called--all of us---to explore how our vocation and calling has something to do with this cultural mandate to be busy with good stuff on the Earth.  As Andy Crouch puts it in his fabulous Culture Making: Recoving Our Creative Calling, we "make something" of the world around us, which means we must attend to "the power of cultural goods."

Serve the Lord.  Serve the people.  That's how the old Sojourners magazine used to put it, butCultureMaking.jpg that is just a start.  To adequately glorify God by loving our neighbors, we must attend to institutions, cultural customs, principalities and powers--creational givens and idolatrous distortions.  We can't fully or adequately love sick people without an effort towards a reform of health care.  We can't helpfully love third world poor people without thinking through the implications of canceling international debt or the complexities of global trade.  To truly love our children, surely, we have to think about what is broken in public education or youth culture entertainment, say.  Our neighbors whom we are called to love are embedded in and influenced by culture.  The God we are to honor has made it so.  All areas of life, and the cultural forms we've created in them, need to be restored to something of what God intends, and in figuring that out "(thy light is a lamp" the psalmist wrote, so we are guided by the Bible) we see the good, the bad, and the possible.  (One Jubilee speaker this year, Bill Stickland, who works in the inner city with urban kids teaching practical arts, serious crafts and music, has a renowned book called Making the Impossible Possible.  Nice, eh?)  Jubilee exists to recruit students into a life-long adventure into the possibilities of authentic and world-changing Kingdom living and to give them the intellectual categories, life stories/examples and mentors and spiritual resources to do so.

 For collegiates, especially, this includes "thinking Christianly" and learning to relate faith and studies, piety and politics, worship and scholarship.  Just what does it mean to be a distinctively Christian witness in film studies or special education or bioengineering?  (You outragous idea of academic.jpgknow how we promote Derek Melleby & Don Opitz's great little book for students, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.  We will promote that there, natch.)   How, really, does a Christian person conceive of, reflect upon, and then practice her chops as journalist, business person or traffic cop?  If we are to serve the people do we not have to work for the common good, and does that not mean doing some Biblical and theological reflection on our entire worldview, which could give rise to some sort of intentionally faithful philosophy, which could then fund uniquely Christian concepts about things?  What is a state, after all, and what should the government do?  What is the task of the business enterprise?  Is advertising good or bad?  Is technology innately idolatrous?  Does a family have to be defined in heterosexual terms?  Can we really expect to change the corporate culture where we work?  With all of these questions, and more, we must help Christian laypeople to think faithfully and then live well in their various spheres of influence.  This is the audacious claim of the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), the campus ministry group who sponsors Jubilee.  We are associated with them, and have been involved in one way or another with Jubilee for over 30 years.  I do not jest when I say it is part of our liturgical calendar. 

I have good friends who have crossed the line of faith at Jubilee and they are able to name that time when they understood that they were born anew.  For most, though, it is a vision engendered, a direction refined, a journey begun, books bought, friendships enhanced---the slow boil of influences that can shape a life for a lifetime.  I know others who had nearly given up the faith, thinking that God didn't really have much to say about art or justice, creation-care or poetry; if the church doesn't seem interested in the passions of my heart, they'd say, why bother?  When this worldviewish way of life broke upon them at the conference, this radically costly and yet joyful adventure to change the world for Christ's sake, starting by thinking Christianly in each side of life, they found new lights coming on and embraced the faith anew.  The old, old gospel was explored in stunning new ways.  I've sadly seen some who got excited about living fully for God's reign at an event like this, only to drift, or despair.  It is easy (and some churches, and our secularizing public lives make it easier) to segregate our faith into a "religious" box, to maintain a private faith experience, go to church, as they say, and yet neglect what Jesus called "the weightier matters of the law" (Matthew 23:23.)  Still, most students come back from Jubilee never to be quite the same again.  Just the other day, while doing a radio interview about books we will be selling at Jubilee the radio host noted that many years ago as an undergrad she bought a book when she attended the conference---about how all of life is redeemed, including career aspirations---which shaped her in profound ways. 

The Episcopal prayer book and my Free Methodist grandma, the Anabaptists struggling with alternative Christ-centered lifestyles amidst a consumer culture and the neo-Calvinists asking about the reformation of ideas, the radical voices of liberation theology and the liturgical worldview of the Russian Orthodox all in their own way point us in the same direction: "thyfabric of faithfulness.jpg Kingdom come, On Earth..." Faith must be embodied in the ways we think, in the formation of our character, and in the lives we live, even in our work and play.  Jubilee gathers students to explore, in winsome and culturally-savvy ways, how to live out the meaning of the gospel for the rest of their lives.  As Steve Garber puts in, in the subtitle to his remarkable Fabric of Faithfulness, some of which grew out his own involvement as Jubilee conference organizer, we are to "weave together belief and behavior." 

And so, with over 50 speakers, artists, performers and teachers, oodles of booths and mission agencies, and literally more books displayed---we're renting a truck!--- than are in some small bookstores, this is a life changing time.  We are exhausted already as we plan for it, and not a little bit nervous.  There are over 20 different speakers who themselves have written books (from poetry to books about neighborliness, from research on radical Islam to delightful memoir, from books about vocation to books about technology, books about immigration to books about modern art.  You get the picture.)  You might guess why we are nervous, getting the right quantities of the right books.  And then selling the right books to the right customers.  And honoring the authors in our midst, friends like Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch, and Kelly Monroe Kullberg.

Please pray for us.  Check out the Jubilee website, and study the credentials of the speakers (scroll on the headshots...and keep on scrolling!  It is amazing how much good stuff is going on, and how these speakers represent the best of socially engaged evangelical wholistic ministry.)  Pray with us that our bookish work pays off, that the young seekers who attend this exuberant event are not merely manipulated by the moment, but, in the quiet of their own dorm rooms or coffee shops, later, they read what they bought, recall the speakers and workshop, and think deeply in concert with new friends and networks, how to build a new world in the shell of the old.  May you, too, think about your life with this grand vision, to see Christ glorified "in every square inch" of His creation  (as the old statesmen and public theologian Abraham Kuyper*** put it in the Dutch revival of the late 1800s.)  Funny that that slogan has captured the generation of Jubilee leaders, every square inch.  May your reading equip you to be that kind of Christian, serving God by loving neighbor, in every square inch of life and culture.  Thanks.

***A final quick observation:  Father Abraham, as some of us who are pleased to reflect on theOur Worship.jpg rich theological heritage of Dutch Calvinists like theologian  journalist-Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper who taught and worked for cultural reformation at the turn of the last century, call him,  wrote more than his famous works about "every square inch" and Calvinism as a world and life view.  For instance, just this month Eerdmans has released the first English translation of his detailed pieces on worship called, simply, Our Worship  (edited by Harry Boonstra; $30.00.)  With endorsements from the likes of historian Mark Noll, and a great afterward by Nicholas Woltersdorff, this comprehensive volume has a section on worship in daily life.  Leave it to Kuyper to regularly note how mature and solid worship in a Biblically-shaped local church equips us---compels us--to walk out into holy ground.  In fact, another fine afterward by John Bolt asks, "Is All of Life Worship?"  Father Abe would surely say yes.  So would the folks at Jubilee.


February 17, 2009

Selling books, once again, at the spectacular Jubilee


Mid-day Friday we still had box upon heavy box stacked all over the beautiful, cavernous pre-function lobby of the spectacular Pittsburgh convention center, with books spilling out on every available surface.  The helpful Teamsters had gotten us more tables, CCO friends had lugged in lamps and Beth was trying hard to get our credit card machines to work.  The stress was stinking bad.  Around us the booths coming to display their work to the thousands of college students who would be attending Jubilee were setting up.  Most---from Blood:Water Mission to TeachAmerica, from Bread for the World to Cardus/ Comment, from area church camps to nationally known seminaries---had spiffy and attractive display booths, and most whipped 'em up in under 15 minutes, nicely showing off a few glossy brochures and free pens, maybe a slide show under a bank of small lights.  boxes.jpgWe had pulled and boxed books for days and days, my fingers were bleeding, and now, with only hours to go before the flood of students poured into our portable bookstore, it felt like we had maybe six more hours of work to go.  We would never get the thousands of books that were unceremoniously sprawled everywhere into some kind of order for our arriving customers.  This was chaos in the primordial Genesis sense.  I wanted to crawl up under the boxes and cry.

every square inch.jpgThe miracle happened, we pulled it off, God gave our desperate spirits renewed energy and soon we had a great looking, full-service bookstore set up complete with a few good volunteers (Jason, Justin & Debi) working the registers.  Nearly 3000 folks were singing their hearts out in worship being lead by the fabulous Josh Moyer band, and next thing I know I'm under the spotlight glancing over my shoulder at the Jumbo-tron as I told Jubilee participants what they should be reading, plugging a few key books.  Three times through-out the event I was given ample time to explain the significance of Christian reading, and about the stuff we had there---including hard to find books of Christian perspectives, resources to help in the integration of faith and learning, books by authors who are world-changers in their own fields of politics or film or science or business or health care.

CCO (the campus ministry that sponsors Jubilee each year) has deep in its history the desire to spread the good news of Christ's Lordship over life, helping college students enter into Christian faith in robust and faithful ways.  That is, they are solidly evangelical, yet considerably influenced by those faith traditions that call us to seek, as Francis Schaeffer used to say, "substantial healing" across the "whole of life."  We call the conference Jubilee because of the profound image of multi-faceted healing--a restoration of shalom---found in the land redistribution and debt cancellation policies at the shofar blow of Leviticus 25, a passage that is poetically picked up by the prophet Isaiah, famous, largely, because it served as the text for Jesus' first sermon (Luke 4.)  The Kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus taught us to say, because, in Him, it is.  What good news, what extraordinary, remarkable, exciting, challenging, life-transforming news!  God's reign is breaking into human history and those who are in Christ shall reign with him.

If Christian faith, then, is about more than awaiting death, or only experiencing God's personal solace, but involves us in a rescue plan for the planet, good news for all creation, then college students, especially, must be helped to see that the lives of leadership they are studying for, the careers and callings they will soon enough take up in their professional lives, are avenues of Kingdom service.  They can be more than doctors, lawyers, city planners, journalists, teachers, artists or engineers who also happen to go to church, or who hold a personal spirituality.  Rather, they, with the help of mentors like those found in the CCO, and with inspiration from events like Jubilee, can develop a tranformational Christian perspective in their fields, think and live in ways consistent with a Biblical worldview, and learn to be salt and light and leaven in the spheres of influence in which they find themselves.  We can help them understand, as one book puts it that Your Work Matters to God as they do the requisite thinking and praying to figure out what that looks like on Monday in the marketplace.  It is also why I held up, in a workshop I did on these things, the handsome little book A Mind for God by James Emory White.

 This Biblical flow from Leviticus law to prophet Isaiah to Lucan Messianic proclamation is central to the CCO's historic-redemptive view of the Scriptures, and it makes perfect sense that Michael Goheen, author of The Drama of Scripture: Finding Your Place in the
drama of scripture.jpg Unfolding Story of God, did Bible teaching at Jubilee.  He gave four small devotional talks before each main plenary session and, as you might guess, they were about the key moments in the Biblical narrative, the high water marks of the story that shape our view of all things: the goodness of creation, the radicality of the fall, the centrality of Christ's death and resurrection for redemption, and the concrete hope of a final restoration of all things.  This is the basis of Jubilee living---Surprised by Hope as N.T. Wright puts it--- and learning to live out the implications of this storied Biblical narrative is not only central to the ministry of CCO but is, I presume, the heart of Christian ministry everywhere.  I know it is why we stock so darn many Biblical resources and why we are sad that we don't sell more books about the Bible.  We were thrilled, though, when students purchased books like the very brief, but truly helpful A Walk Through the Bible by Leslie Newbigin, The Bible Makes Sense by Walter Brueggemann, The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight or Eugene Peterson's delightful into to each book of the Bible, The Invitation.  And what a thrill to sell Heschel's classic The Prophets or any number of good books on the life of Jesus (do you know the recent book by Dan Russell,  Flesh-and-Blood-Jesus: Learning to Be Human From the Son of Man?  Very, very nicely done.)  And, you bet we displayed Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by our friends Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat, a book which provocatively honors the postmodern setting of these dangerous times and opens up with great insight this revolutionary letter from the first century. 

Jubilee this year was stunning in its creativity, an interesting blend of performance and teaching, improvisation and drama, jazz and testimony.  I was not the only one weeping as renowned Philadelphia jazz singer Ruth Naomi Floyd sang her heart out, illustrating the powernaomi.jpg of the story of suffering and hope, longing and homecoming, guilt and redemption in black music, especially in spirituals, blues and jazz.  There are a number of YouTube videos of her (and worth every minute so check 'em out. Here is a brief portion of a documentary about her to introduce you if you don't know her work.) You can buy her CDs from us, although heaven in a nightclub.jpgyou should start with the amazing CD Heaven in a Nightclub, the live recording of the show Bill Edgar, Naomi and the rest of Renewal did in New York, which is an extended version of the show they offered us at Jubilee.  The instrumentalists are smoking, Professor Edgar's comments understated and clear and inspiring, and Ruth's mighty vocals are powerful.  This artistic presentation from main stage at Jubilee carried as much truth as a typical keynote lecture and it was a fabulous part of the program.

Another artistic highlight of Jubilee was hearing (andjustin.jpg selling books to) our pal Justin McRoberts.  In his workshop on songwriting and justice he recommended books like Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination and Mark Labberton's The Dangerous Act of Worship (I hope some of the many worship leaders from campus fellowship groups were paying attention: we really need liturgy and song and prayers that give voice to these Kingdom dreams and Biblical mandates for justice and cultural renewal.)  I know McRobert's singer-songwriter acoustic vibe caught the attention of a lot of students and his plea for Compassion International was excellent. Later, when the young singer Joy Ike (and her very talented sister Peace) joined him on stage, and New York poet John Walton did his beatbox thing, it was a moment of zany syncopation.

strickland.jpgMr. Bill Strickland's amazing story of the success of his classy art school for urban youth, The Manchester Craftsman Guild, just left everyone with their jaws dropped; it was one of the most inspiring moments in Jubilee history, I'd say.  The standing ovation was for his guts and care and vision and boldness, insisting that poor people deserve dignity, that the arts should flourish in all schools, and that with a bit of pluck, you can raise money to accomplish extraordinary social betterment.  I've linked to his website before, and I again recommend checking out his video clips about this great center in a very rough part of the 'burgh.  And then order his book from us, Making the Impossible, Possible.  You won't regret it. Visit his sites, browse around, and thank God for such blessings of uncommon grace.

Much of the conference, time and again, came back to the themes Andy Crouch presented in his sessions on Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, the book which we have pushing since the day it came out!  His masterful presentations, his vital insight and gentle hopefulness, his call to serve well and to think through the ways our cultural power could open up new possibilities, are well worth pondering.  I'm tickled we sold a lot of his books to the Jubilee crowd, but I pray that this book gets even wider distribution.  If you haven't visited his fascinating website lately, I hope you do.  He has a link at his site, Culture-Making, back to Hearts & Minds if you want to buy one.  (Thanks, Andy!)  One need not be an artist or entrepreneur to want to make a creative difference in the world; indeed, all of us, made in the image of a Divine Creator and Worker, can do little else.  As humans, it is what we do.  (Our friends at *cino, which stands for "culture is not optional" which is a line from Calvin Seerveld's Rainbows for the Fallen World, have established a virtual community around this very theme---"culture is not optional" and we love the way they facilitate conversations about all manner of things.)  The question, then, is whether we do it faithfully and well.  Many of us are quite busy with our culture, family, church, and money-making; I hope we are not too busy to reflect on the meaning of it all, and we commend his book to you.  I don't think you've read anything quite like it, and you will ponder it long after you are done.

I was not the only one eager to see Fermi Project main-man Gabe Lyons.  Gabe is thegabe.jpg co-author of UnChristian, the book that presents Barna's research on how younger folks in the US think about evangelical Christians.  (It is one of the most talked about books of the last year or so and churches who wonder about the lack of involvement of young adults simply must study it. Check out the book's informative website, but come on back...)  He opened the conference with a clear and inspiring call to show forth a meaningful and gracious faith that attracts, not repels, seekers and skeptics.  Many are convinced that Christian faith is narrow and nasty, and not particular relevant to real living.c-f-r-r- chart.jpg 

Telling the full "four story" gospel---remember the four talks of Mike Goheen of creation, fall, redemption, restoration?---is one way to counter the misperceptions non-churched folks have of believers.  Salvation is more than a ticket out of hell after death, but is a gift of grace for abundant life, for meaning, purpose, joy.  Living out the Christ-like ways in practical acts of service is another, and Gabe ended his presentation with some inspiring stories to show that it can be done, in ways that are both relational and public, that touch individual lives and can bear fruit of cultural transformation.

Gabe's own creative work with others in Atlanta educating doctors how to more graciously speak of Down's Syndrome was a great example, nicely illustrated with some pictures of his own special needs child, a pretty hip looking 7 year old.  (He's got a haircut just like his not so old man.)  There was hardly a dry eye in the house when he invited us to social initiatives to live out the faith showing love, creativity and care as we invite others into the adventure of living Jubilee day by day.

There were dozens of authors at Jubilee, and we had a hey-day selling books, getting authors to autograph the pages of their works, of recommending this or that title to go with the move of the Spirit in this or that workshop.  Cheers for Matt Bonzo and Michael Stevens work on Wendell Berry!  Hey to Lauren---I was charmed when I heard somebody call you "Professor heaven is not.jpgWinner."  I'm glad I promoted Paul Marshall's excellent handbook for Christian living, Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God's Creation, which captures the reformational worldview perspective across all of life.  His new Oxford University Press book on religious blindspots among journalists (Blind Spots: When Journalists Don't Get Religion)  is very, very important, too---what a classy scholar and impressive speaker.  And Vincent Bacote---ya gotta love an African American theologian that loves Abraham Kuyper!  (It was Abraham Kuyper, you should know, who first coined the expression that was the theme of this year's Jubilee: Christ's claims "every square inch" of His creation!)  How can we sell more copies of Bacote's fabulous The Spirit in Public Theology, that's what I want to know.  What a book, bringing together (among other things) Kuyper's great passion for the Holy Spirit and His broad, public claims about Christ in civic life.

It is always energizing to be around Tom Sine...the title of his recent The New Conspirators could be about the Jubilee gang, I'd say. "Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time" indeed!  I think that our biggest seller of a book not by a keynote plenary speaker, by the way, sepaking of mustard seeds, was Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma's small "road map" collections of brief pieces,  Eating Well.  Both Doing Justice and Eating Well are compiled *cino titles which we are proud to stock (and, hey, I've got a small chapter in each!  I didn't even remember to say that to anybody at Jubilee, not that it would have enhanced sales much.  Ha!)  Let's hope there will be more "road map" collections released soon, as they are beautiful little books, perfect for bedside reading or small group discussions. 

Many Christian college students inspire us, as they really want to study and learn, honor God, live right.   It is a privelege to hang out with them at Jubilee and we give a big shout out to those who asked questions, allowed us to serve them, who picked our brains and bought out books. There is a sense that they are on the bleeding edge of growth, and I very much admire that.  Thank goodness that they had the willingness to buy some books; we truly pray that they will read well, learn much, and embrace this "whole life discipleship" that the Jubilee conference promotes.  I guess we won't know the impact of these moments of learning for years to come...our prayer, though, is that these days in Pittsburgh--and their reading of books bought in weeks to come--- will help shape the character of tomorrow's leaders, impact the nature of cultural institutions, and sustain authentic and normative reformation of society.  Soli Deo Gloria. 

Thanks to those who worked hard at Jubilee, those who spoke, sang, performed, recycled, cleaned up, followed through, and brought us lattes, and served the assembly of students.  Thanks especially to the authors that visited with us at the book display...what joy to meet folks whose books we love, authors whose names we've spoken but who we've never met.  Hats off especially to Danny Carroll R, for his great work on immigration (Christians at the Border, which is a must-read for these times, if you ask me), to Mission Year's Leroy Barber (New Neighbors), to Daniel Siedell (God in the Gallery) and L.L. Barkett (Stone Crossings) for their browsing around.  Extra thanks to Jack Swearengen who not only bought books from us several years back as he wrote his book on a Christian look at technology (Beyond Paradise: Technology and the Kingdom of God) but helped lug books around for us as we set up the show.  Friends like this, those who write books and those who promote them----some award should go to Jory Fisher, professional coach and guidance counselor and book pusher extraordinaire---deserve our heartfelt appreciation.

 And, to those of you who read about our role in Jubilee, just because you care about what we do, we thank you.  May it give you a lift as well, that you, too, will be ever more captured by God's Jubilee vision, living for Christ's sake, learning to love the world enough to help make it more of what it ought to be.  Call it culture making or social action, revival or reformation, Kingdom living or being Jubilee people, we hope we can somehow assist you in the journey towards faithfulness and hope.  As we sometimes said at the conference, "Read for the Kingdom!"books.jpg 

February 23, 2009

Academy Awards, Hollywood worldviews, and Finding God in Popular Culture


oscar.jpgDid you watch the Academy Awards last night?  We sure did.  Even though we don't go out to the theatrer much (well, at all, really) we enjoy these award shows and think it is important to keep up with the movies our friends, neighbors, culture-leaders and critics are affirming.  I think Beth and I both agreed that The Visitor, a DVD we rented on a whim when it first came out, is our favorite film of the year (and Richard Jenkins was nominated for Best Actor; just sayin'.)  I think I'll blog about why we so appreciated it another time.

For now, though, here are a few books from our large film studies department here at the shop.  Although we have more than just overtly Christian books, there has been, in the decades since we opened, a wonderful outpouring of thoughtful resources relating faith and film, and we love 'em.  For the serious film-maker, the thoughtful critic, or just anyone who enjoys a good movie and wants to think about entertainment in a way shaped by Christian convictions, there are interesting and helpful books out there. 

Eyes Wide Open.gifIf this notion of watching movies in a uniquely Christian fashion is new to you, my old friend Bill Romanowksi's book Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture  (Brazos; $19.99) remains the best introduction.  (We still have his great lecture series---highlighted with oodles of film clips----for sale or rent on video, too.)  Every church library should have this book on hand; youth leaders, young adult ministries, college fellowship leaders, and anyone interested in the popular arts should own it.  Here are some quick reviews that might assure you this is an excellent study.  For another voice saying as much, click here for Denis Haack's of Ransom Fellowship's astute recommendation.  By the way, their film reviews and discussion guides are as interesting and significant as any I've seen.  They offer all this to the reading public for free, but you sure might want to consider offering them some finanicial support if you use their great web resources.  If you are interested in cultural discernment, interesting small group conversations, grappling with the deepest things in winsome ways, you should check them out. 

Faith & Film: A Guidebook for Leaders by Edward N. McNulty (WJK; $24.95) offers short synopsis of hundreds of films, some insightful discussions of key moments in each film, a set of Scriptural texts that make for parallel reflection, even where to cue up key scenes which are able to be used for discussion purposes.  Ed has spoken on the topic of film and religion for decades and has edited a monthly newsletter Visual Parables.  He is quite sharp, and this is a fabulous resource for those wanting to start faith-based film groups, use movie clips in educational settings, or learn the process of dialoguing with contemporary films.

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Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom and Discernment  Brian Godawa  (IVP; $16.00)  This has been a staple in our film category for years, now, and it is still very, very useful for the way the author is able to help us discern worldviews, ideologies and philosophical assumptions in modern movies.  There are great links to on-line conversations about these perspectives and, even if you think he is "fishing" a bit, overstating the role of existentialism, scientism, postmodern relativism or whatever, it makes your viewing that much more discerning to be thinking about it all.  I may not agree with every assessment he offers (although I quite often do) but he is absolutely right on in helping us learn how to be wise about what is really coming at us in the flickering celluloid and between the lines of the screenplay. 

gospel according to hollywood.jpgThe Gospel According to Hollywood Greg Garrett (WJK; $16.95)  Garrett is a fabulous young writer, a memoirist and novelist, a Southern Baptism boy turned Episcopalian and a guy whose books you should know.  He's a heck of a good writer, knows the popular arts well, and has an honest and authentic voice.  This is a great overview of the topic, touching down on certain key films, and sharing his own personal story of being (surprised to be) significantly moved to spiritual insight by watching movies such as Pulp Fiction.  Mark Pinksy (author of the classic The Gospel According to the Simpsons) says Garrett is "brilliant, probing, pioneering...."  Notable stuff.  Read his Holy Superheroes, by the way, if you like that genre!  Pow!

Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary FilmUseless Beauty.jpg Robert K. Johnston (Baker Academic; $17.99)  I've written about this before, naming it as one of the most important such books of our generation.  With endorsements from Biblical scholars like Brueggemann, Patrick Miller and Regent's amazing Rikk E. Watts, it stands as a creative and vital illumination of the Biblical text.  And yet, it is essentially a collection of exceptionally thoughtful film reviews, focusing on the darker (prophetic?) stories which offer critique to the American Dream and the weightlessness of late modern culture.    From films such as MagnoliaAmerica Beauty, and About Schmidt to important directors like Akira Kurosawa, Woody Allen or M. Night Shyamalan,  the wide-eyed Dr. Johnston knows contemporary film and filmmakers and brings his interesting insights into dialogue with Ecclesiastes.  He teaches at Fuller, by the way, and really is one of the best guys writing on these themes these days...those who follow this field know his (now updated) classic, Reel Spirituality, an earlier contribution in the on-going Baker "Engaging Culture" series.


into the dark.jpgInto the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century  Craig Detweiler (Baker; $18.99)  I wrote about this when it first came out this summer, again, exclaiming how great it was.  Detweiler has done work on pop culture before, and is well equipped to offer Christian insights into the most regarded films of our times.  He used the prominent Internet Movie Database to determine which films are considered the most important and worked with those.  Fascinating and highly recommended.

Listen to this clever endorsement by Dick Staub (certainly a guy who is to be trusted on these matters): "Soak a brain in billions of digital bytes of filmic splendor and an equal amount of dynamic theology, awaken it to the 'sudden and miraculous grace' available at the intersection of faith and film, and you've got Craig Detweiler's tour de force. A brilliant, timely, and useful piece of work from the only brain that could have produced it!

Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline  edited by Robert Johnston (Baker Academic; $24.99)  This is, without a doubt, the definitive collection for those on the cutting edge of this several decades old discipline of relating theology and film, exploring the landscape of the discipline, thinking through recent insights, and charting a possible future for this evolving subject.  S. Brent Plate, editor of The Religion and Film Reader writes, "In this single volume, the field of theology an film has matured from infancy to adulthood...No future writing on the topic can ignore the categories reframed by the contributors here."  Way to go Baker, for this latest volume in their "Cultural Exegesis" series.

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February 25, 2009

InteGratE, books on work & Jubilee tapes from IND Duplication

Bob Robinson is one of my good friends, a supervisor for the CCO campus ministry in Ohio.  Bob has a number of passions, and was one of the first bloggers I knew.  He's written widely about the emergent conversation (discerningly supportive), the missional church (oh yeah), non-partisan social justice work (passionately committed) and the wholistic, reformational worldview of neo-Calvnist Kuyperianism (integrate! integrate! "Every square inch!")  Bob is a talkative guy who reads tons, and is always thinking about new ways to, as we say, "get the Word out."  He's a first-class dreamer and visionary and leader (with a great wife and kids, to boot.) 

InteGratE is a low-key and helpful event he's put together at his church (The Chapel in Akron Ohio) on March 7th which attempts to take the visionInteGratE.png and whole-life discipleship perspective of the CCOs Jubilee conference, into the ordinary, local congregation.  Can we name and explain a Christian view of the work-world, holding up God's care for and interest in marketplace and shop floor, medical center and office cubicle?  Can we help church folk learn to serve creatively and faithfully (as some obviously already are) in areas as diverse as the building trades and town council, from public school classroooms to the civil courtroom, from careers in journalism to jobs in corporate sales, from blue to white to pink to no collar callings?  Indeed, as we challenged students last week at Jubilee to relate their faith and their academic majors, thinking in Biblically-informed ways now as they prepare for callings and vocations in their future careers, Bob wants to help equip adult Christian lay people to live out their spirituality in the 9 to 5.  Jesus is Lord of all of life, after all, eh? 

You know that we promote the wonderful books such as Your Work Matters To God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks (NavPress; $15) to help our customers and friends think about this.  It is still one of the very best, although we have a whole shelf full here at the shop.  Catholics, Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodists, charismatics, Presbys old and new--- everybody is writing on this these days (thanks be to God!) There are plenty of new titles, too (how about: Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work by John Beckett (IVP; $18) or the great new Christianity Today Study Series one simply called Faith & Work (Nelson; $9.99) which is useful for personal study, an excellent for small groups.  Most of us spend a lot of time at the daily grind and it confounds me why we don't sell more books along these lines...

The InteGratE event will sell these kinds of books, and more.  We've consigned them titles on art, business, science, engineering, sports, home-making, politics, law, medicine, etc. 

Here is wonderful brief short article (complete with discussion questions) that Bob did to prepare folks to attend this great event on a Christian perspective on work.  You can read the excellent additional portions herehere, or here.  We are so impressed with this upcoming event that we invite you to consider going if you live anywhere near Eastern Ohio.

 Or, consider InteGratE a model for your own local event.  Beth and I organized just such a conference at our own church 15 years ago which we called FaithWorks.  We had Os
the call.jpg Guinness give lectures which later because the must-read book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nelson; $17.99.)  You should know that it is one of my all-time favorite books, one I come back to often.  If you haven't read it, do consider ordering it.

Happily, Bob will be featuring the Guinness book at his event, too.  It really is a classic in this field, and I pray that folks at The Chapel event pick it up.  Although it is a classic, and lays the essential foundation for any serious thought about relating faith and work or vocation and career, a brand new book by the truly luminous writer Robert Benson just came out in a slim hardback, nicely titled The Echo Within (Waterbrook; $14.99)  Not quite as mystical as echo within.jpgParker Palmer's moving Let Your Life Speaking: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Jossey-Bass; $18.95), the new Robert Benson has as its subtitle "Finding Your True Calling" so it is moving in similar terrain.  He is a man who is both practical and contemplative, deeply serious yet quite humorous, and it seems he here strikes just the right balance, with his honest reflections on his own struggle to discern what God has for him, how to say "yes" to the process of sensing God's pleasure in one's work, and how to discovery your own vocation.

He writes, "Your vocation is not only about the work that you do with your hands and your heart and your mind; it is about what shapes that work, about the person that you become in and around that work as well.  Vocation is about the things that shape the work before the worker even begins to work." 

Heaven is a Place on Earth.gifThe keynote speaker at the Ohio InteGratE conference is Michael Wittmer, whose book Heaven Is A Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God (Zondervan; $16.99) explores a Christian worldview as clearly and pleasantly as anything we know.  Reflecting on the unfolding Biblical narrative--creation-fall-redemption-restoration---Wittmer's book is packed full of ideas, discussion questions, application points and provocative theology that is at once assesable, interesting and a bit provocative.  Do you really think much of the glorious future of heaven coming to Earth (Revelation 21 and 22) and that it includes a bodily existence, where we worship as we work?  Do you think "everything you do matters to God?"  This is highly recommended for anyone seeking an integrated lifestyle where convictions and character are one, where praise and politics are seamlessly related, where work and worship are part of the same whole-life lifestyle of making much of God by serving His Kingdom in all that we do. The audacity of hopefulness?  Try imagining heaven on Earth!  Heaven is a Place on Earth will help.

HERE IS A BIG  HEADS-UP and RECOMMENDATION
 which has no direct benefit for Hearts & Minds, but is so important for our readers, I'm eager to hook you up.  I've mentioned last week's tremendous Jubilee conference, with the plenary speakers, musicians and workshops galore (even one that I did, on the significance of reading, raving on some Biblical/spiritual reasons for reading widely and being a life-long learner.)  You can order CDs or MP3s of most of these talks, even DVDs of a few, by visiting IND Duplications who were cool enough to drive from Atlanta to Pittsburgh because they believed in the significance of this Jubilee worldview stuff.

IND has free shipping, too.  Check 'em out, to see what they have (at reasonable prices)--- the famous speakers (Andy Crouch, Lauren Winner, Bill Strickland, Tom Sine, Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Paul Marshall) and the lesser knowns but often brillant (ahem, ahem) on topics such as a Christian worldview in contemporary culture, engineering & technology, theater, law, social justice & urban ministry, modern art, film-making, race, creation-care, politics, sexuality, immigration issues, missional church planting, sports, apologetics, urban education, faithful ministry with the GLTB community, what Muslims believe, journalism, psychology, reading, business, the high school-to-college transition, the work of Wendell Berry, the role of theology, fighting sexual trafficking, new urbanism, social justice & worship music, and much more.

Going to InteGratE in Ohio would be fabulous (you'd get, at least, to meet Bob Robinson and hear Michael Wittmer.)  But buying a couple recordings of these major addresses and breakout session discs could be a whole new learning experience for you.  If the speakers mention any books (as some surely do) you know who to call.  Thanks.

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