About May 2009

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

April 2009 is the previous archive.

June 2009 is the next archive.

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

May 2009 Archives

May 2, 2009

Girltalk/Godtalk and other ways to welcome youth & children

Last week we spent a few good days with a small group of mostly Presbyterian (USA) Christian educators.  As I have written before, these are innovative and caring folk, some learned and theologically informed, others who are volunteers and serious about growing in pedagogy and ministry.  Young and old, mostly women, these directors of educational ministries in local churches work very hard, often affirmed in ways that tend to minimize their important work.  We sell to them a ton of books, from good theology to fun programmatic stuff, from childrens books and Bibles to inspiring memoir and a bit of fiction.  We love the Eastern region of APCE, and hope that if you have educators at your church, or at least Sunday school teachers, you thank them often.  And, maybe buy them a good book or two, since they usually use their budgets for workbooks and curriculum resources and supplies.

Virginia Theological Seminary prof and popular author Joyce Ann Mercer was their main speaker, a woman whose books we stock at the store. Beth nor I had never met her, and although I've often wanted to do a blog review since I like her new book a lot.  (That my daughter likes the mash-up,  re-mix "not a DJ" performing artist GirlTalk makes it that much more fun to talk about.)  Now that we've heard her and spent some time listening to her describe her research (and yes, selling her a couple of books, too) it seems a perfect time to tell you about three of her titles.  And offer you a "blog special" deal, too.

girltalk godtalk.jpgGirltalk/GodTalk: Why Faith Matters to Teenage Girls---and Their Parents (Jossey-Bass) $22.95  We generally rave about the Jossy Bass religious line, and this one is no exception.  It combines a scholarly acumen with tender heart, good academic and theological foundation with tons of stories, illustrations and narrative.  In fact, that is mostly what this is---which makes it worth twice the price for anybody who needs to know this stuff:  Mercer spent weeks and weeks interviewing adolescent girls doing "holy listening" and creating a safe space for them to tell of their lives.  The girls she interviews are admittedly mostly Christian, although they represent nearly every sort, from Catholic to charismatic, African Methodist Episcopal to United Methodist, Presbyterian to Unitarian.  A significant finding of the research, which the narrations show over and over, is that these girls (at least) are willing and able to talk about their faith.  Unlike the important work of Christian Smith (whose now-classic Oxford University Press Soul Searching:The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers she cites) which found that most youth are unsure and unaware of their religious convictions and inarticulate at that, these girls were often confident and articulate.  (This is not to say they were orthodox, or even sensible...) A second fascinating insight that Mercer found was that the subjects---girls she obviously cared for---were able to weave together their own faith and life;  God was a given, and their own story (girl-talk) naturally included---no, it naturally was---God-talk.

For instance, Mercer tells of one good, rambling, long conversation with a girl name Kit;  an hour in, she suggested they take a break and then come back and maybe talk about her understanding of God and her faith.  Kit broke in: "That's what I have been talking about!"    As the reinging queen of youth ministry scholarship Kenda Creasy Dean (The God Bearing Life and Practicing Passion) writes, "In a world where the struggles of adolescent girls seems to get most of the press, GirlTalk/GodTalk offers a refreshing dose of hope..."

She continues: "If you have ever loved a teenager, and if you have ever cared about the faith of girls.jpgour daughters, GirlTalk/GodTalk is a must read."   I agree.  Mercer has used her clinical research work and her pastoral insights as a feminist theologian to gather together story upon story, grouping them around chapters that help us understand how (at least) some Christian young women construe their lives, their gender, their bodies, their relationships.  There is a section on moms, a section on dads.   The opening long preface, where Joyce tells of her own journey of faith, coming of age in the early 70s, girlssitting.jpgrelating growing faith and gender awareness, is itself priceless.  Beth and I were honored to meet Dr. Mercer, glad for her good work, and want to tells others about this helpful, fascinating, well-crafted and powerful collection of young womans stories.  Bonnie Miller-McClemore (whose books Let the Children Come and In the Midst of Chaos are also "must reads" from Jossey Bass) notes,

Mercer practices wonderfully the spiritual discipline she preaches---listening attentively, thoughtfully, sympathetically to adolescents---and takes us straight to the heart of the rich complexities of faith as framed through the voices of teenage girls.  For all those eager to understand how theology is woven into everyday life, for those ready to serve as advocates for vital faith among teens, this book is an immeasurable resource.
Lives to Offer: Accompanying Youth on Their Vocational Questions  Joyce Ann Mercer & Dori Grinenko Baker) $20.00  This is part of the "youth ministry alternatives" series released lives to offer.jpgby the UCC publishing house.  "Resources of Theological Integrity Rooted in Real Congregations" is their tag line, and there are several of these in the series.  (All are serious and fascinating and, I think, important.  One is about entering into discernment with youth, one called Branded is about consumerism, another on the formational power of worship is called Book, Bath, Table, Time.) 

Lives to Offer is a rare book about helping teens think through and embody their own faith journey, especially regarding coming alongside youth as they respond to God by finding callings that matter. There is fabulous stuff in here, interesting and provocative. (And fun!  What other books compares Whale Rider and Napoleon Dynamite?) There is a unique chapter about guys (informed by the likes of Raising Cain) another about girls (Reviving Ophelia, natch).  There is an closing chapter by "stages of faith development" guru James Fowler regarding vocational discernment and faith development. (And, yes, of course, they cite Sharon Parks, whose Big Questions,Worthy Dreams offers the best research on mentoring young adults.)  What a treat to see a semi-scholarly, ecumenically-oriented study of youth ministry.

Still, I wish the book would have quoted more solid theological stuff on vocation (like the important standard, Os Guinness' The Call) and it would be improved if it cited Steve Garber's Fabric of Faithfulness which remains the most important book for helping young adults forge meaning amidst responsibility in history, connecting faith and vocation, calling and career. Granted, they are wise to remind us that theologically speaking, vocation is more than paid employment, the question for meaning more than a "baptized" job search.  However, a more robust doctrine of calling and work would have enhanced and deepened their thin account where vocation seems reduced to discipleship.  It is ironic that their important work on vocation--citing Brueggemann's accalimed article on "covenanting as human vocation" and Doug Schuurman's book Vocation and at least mentioning in passing Luther and Calvin and Barth--which they offer as a more substantial offering than some of the more typical youth min topics and approaches, say, remains somehow less than substantial or sustainable, for all of life, for the rest of their life, as Garber might say... There isn't much about mentoring youth into practices in their jobs, either, unless their career path is about social change.  What about those desiring to make a difference in law or medicine or business, as public school teachers or scientists, artists or advertisers? How might adult lay people who take up their callings in the world with Christian integrity help youth along the way to meaningful service in their college years and future jobs?)

There is an important section in Lives to Offer which is about how being in nature can help young adults.  With the adventure/experiential education movement growing, this is a splendidly important chapter; one needn't agree with the near-pantheism of cited authors Sally McFague or Rosemary Ruether (theological integrity? Yikes!) to agree that this thoughtful chapter is a significant contribution to how we construe youth ministry, and a reminder to be intentional about creation-care, "nature deficit disorder" and helping folks of all ages be open to the voice of God found in the outdoors.  I recommend this book for a variety of reasons, but this chapter alone could serve to start good conversations for those doing wilderness trips, church camps and outdoor education.

wc.jpgWelcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood Joyce Ann Mercer (Chalice) $29.99  Again, Dr. Mercer here is shining as an author, practical theologian, Christian educator and researcher.  Part sociologist, part mainline denominational advocate, always a caring follower of Jesus (and herself a mom) Ms Mercer brings various skills and sensibilities to her work.  She obviously knows Fowler's work--developmental stages, brain research, discipleship as a journey and such.  And, she is well grounded in ecumenical theology;  how many Christian ed books get ringing endorsements from Yale's Letty Russell, say?  (Russell brought her own inclusive passions as a feminist theologian into her blurb: "This is not an ordinary book on Christian education and children," she writes. "It is a compelling invitation to practice full inclusion of children in all aspects of church ministry and outreach.  By welcoming children as partners in our shared life, we join Christ in reaching out to the least of these our sisters and brothers."

At our recent APCE conference, Joyce spoke passionately and caringly about her convictions not to exclude children (and don't even get her started about "childrens church"!)  She was a delight to listen to--and to read, here--because she has logged so many hours doing the hard professional work of listening to kids.  (Think of the way Jonathan Kozel, say, has woven so many good stories and anecdotes of childrens lives in his important work over the years.)  This book not only explores the Biblical data and offers theological insight, but it is really grounded in the lives of children and youth. It is based on her extensive research and her hearing and explaining  the voices and experiences of children, in church and in the world.

I mentioned her passion for children in worship.  One chapter in Welcoming Children speaks volumes, and ought to be weighed by pastors, worship leaders and congregational leaders on this very topic: "Practicing Liturgy as a Practice of Justice for Children."    It is rich, thoughtful, deep and radical. 

In fact, this whole book is rich, thoughtful, deep and radical.  It brings together oodles of interesting, vital voices such as social critics bell hooks, Neil Postman, and Zygmunt Bauman, Bible schoars and theologians such as Chad Meyers, Richard Horsely, and Karl Rahner and, educators like Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, Iris Cully and Carol Lakey Hess.  Of course Mercer knows her colleagues and pals in the theology of childhood movement such as Marcia Bunge, Elizabeth Caldwell, or Karen-Marie Yust.

Do you care about kids, serious theology, radical social criticism, church renewal?  This would be a good, if rigorous, book to work through with some friends over the summer.  If you aren't used to edgy theology and critical theory, it might be stretching, but it is well worth it.   As Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore says in the forward,

Many congregations do attempt to welcome children and many do an excellent job.  Yet Mercer makes clear that vigilance, reflection, and action are needed.  Complaints about the impact of consumer culture upon children are common, but few people really press the deeper question of genuine change.  A market-driven consumer culture forms North American Christian life, not Christian discipleship.  This has particularly insidious consequence for children...Welcoming Children takes the reader on a fabulous excursion that does not disappoint in its suggestive vision of the road leading toward a more "child-affirming theology and church."

A final book or two, not written by Dr. Mercer.  We've got shelves of books about children's ministry, about the role of children in our congregations and lives, and a large youth ministry section.  Do call us if you want more info.

Although it deserves its own long review, a slim book by seasoned main-line denominational youth workers packs an incredible wallop, a powerful critique of mass culture and how we have domesticated adolescence and tamed youth ministry.  Awakening Youth Discipleship: Christian Resistance in a Consumer
awakening.jpg Culture is by Brian J. Mahan, Michael Warren, and David F. White (Cascade; $17.00.)  If you are interested in the very ways of Jesus and the social practices intrinsic to Christian discipleship--contra the consumerism and shallowness of our contemporary culture--this call to radical formation and multi-faceted youth work could rock your world.  How many youth ministry books quote evangelical youthster Mike Yaconelli and Catholic resister, Dan Berrigan?  How many drawer on Charles Taylor, "The Merchants of Cool" and The Prophetic Imagination?  Co-author Brian Mahan, by the way, wrote the absolutely wonderful Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition. Wow. 


Engaging Soul.jpgI think that one of my favorite books on understanding the cultural context of kids today is the very, very important book we've noted here before: Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews and Christian Truth by Dr. Walt Mueller (IVP; $1700)  Walt is more represenitive of a more historic, orthodox view of Christian doctrine, so that evangelical framework will underscore his sense of vocation, discipleship and the call to nurturing students with life-long commitments to the authority of Scripture and so forth.  Yet, I think that even those with more liberal theological biases will find Walt's work in this book (and at the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding) a very helpful ally for understanding youth, the context for their emerging faith in a postmodern setting.  He is, I would say, one of the best cultural critics working in youth ministry today, and his clarifying insight is extraordinary.  Is cultural discernment a spiritual gift?  If so, he is gifted as he and his CPYU team helps nurture in women and men who do youth work a sense of being "sons and daughters of Issachar" (I Chronicals 12:32) who understand the times and know what God's people should do.  I commend his incisive work in this important book.

 For a quicker-read compendium of the latest in youth trends and teen culture, see Walt Mueller's popular Youthyouth culture 101.jpg Culture 101 (Youth Specialties; $19.99.)  It is fairly recent, so it is still up-to-date (although these sorts of books have a short shelf-life these days.) None-the-less, Walt and his CPYU gang have kept their ear to the ground, read widely, gone to movies that teens watch, listen to more hip-hop and alt-rock than most adults ever will, and have a great fun time hanging with kids they love. If Joyce Ann Mercer is the gentle and caring listener, creating space for students to share long narratives of their complex faith lives, Walt is the anthropologist--without the pith helmet--- of the cultural context in which those narrations unfold.  If you are a parent of a teen, or a youth worker, Christian educator, Sunday school teacher or volunteer youth ministry volunteer, and over 30, you need this book, as the kids might say, so yesterday.  Order it today.

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May 15, 2009

New Titles--- No Hoopla, but these are great!

I have been too busy to write well about our work, our recent times with clergy retreats and other opportunities to talk books with good folks, or to develop detailed reviews of great titles.  Sorry...Forthwith, I will dispense with the hoopla and hype, and just list a bunch.  I am enthusiastic and glad, just so you know.  Holler back when you can.

Yoder.JPGChristian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution  John Howard Yoder (Brazos) $34.99  A few more cheers for Brazos who has brought this largely unknown collection of posthomously published lectures, class notes and underground curriculum to light.  It is a marvelous 450+ paperback, long, long-awaited.  Thanks to Theodore J. Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker, Mennonites who gathered this together and edited it well.  A new Yoder---imagine!

Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua  Walter Brueggemann (Cascade) $13.00  This is the second new Brueggy book from Cascade issued just recently.  As one reviewer said of this brief work, he addresses this pressing matter of violence in the Bible "with theological candor, exegetical rigor, and literary eloquence."  Of course he does.  Whew.

The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith
  Mark A. Noll (IVP) $25.00  With a stellar blurb from Lamin Sanneh on the back, and the spirit of Philip Jenkins hovering, this is more than another urgent investigation of global faith.  This provides deep insight into the relationship (or lack thereof) of American evangelicalism and the growth of Christianity throughout the world.   Noll is a historian so he looks back to the 19th century, and makes what Ogbu U. Kalu (McCormick Theological Seminary) calls "startling conclusions."  Complex and nuanced, Noll is a great read;  IVP Academic extraordinary in their  important, high-quality output.  

Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality  Barbara Bradley Hagerty  (Riverhead) $26.95  A prestigious and literary imprint, an author known by all who listen to NPR.  A Christian friend, a great journalist, a true seeker.  What more do ya want, I ask?  This looks to be one of the books of the year---can we measure faith?  What's going on in brain studies?  Who are we, after all?  How many sharply written, insightful books have blurbs from Coki Roberts and Donald Miller?  As Sister Helen Prejean writes, this will "provoke you, intrigue you, and inspire you."  I think it will be a delight and inspiration to many.

Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting  Michael Perry (Harper) $25.99
I hope youcoop bigger.jpg know that Beth and I really, really love this guy, this writerly rural fella who regularly makes you laugh, and occasionally cry, and often clap your hands at the joy of a well crafted sentence.  Jonathan Miles (Dear American Airline) says he writes books of "ultra-charming midwestern earnestness and serrated wit" and that he is "outrageously funny and surprisingly touching."  Homesteader Gene Logsdon writes that "There is a literary gem on every page."  We adored his Population 485 and Truck and the thoughtful essays Off Main Street. Here he revisits the faith of his youth, buys some pigs and poultry, tells of some other crazy stuff that happens at his rickety new farm, and home births their baby.  You don't want to miss it; trust me, you don't want to miss this.  

Indwelling the Forsaken Other: The Trinitarian Ethics of Jurgen Moltmann  J. Matthew Bonzo (Pickwick) $14.00  We have oodles of what appear to be doctoral dissertations that become books in theology, social theory, political science, and some are pretty good.  This is great.  It is concise and clear and offers important insights for anyone interested in contemporary theology of the way in which a Christian worldview impacts our hurting world.   What does it mean that we are to copy God? How does that work, anyway?  Okay, he doesn't say anyway; it's a thesis. But, man, this is good stuff.  Matt is a friend, now teacher at Cornerstone in Grand Rapids, where he operates a sustainable farmstead.  He co-wrote (with Michael Stevens) A Celebration of Life: Wendell Berry's Vision of Life.

Life, Inc.  How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back
  Douglas Rushkoff (Random House) $26.00 Decades ago I was taken with social critic Jeremy Rifkin.  Years ago, somebody said that Rushkoff is a postmodern Rifkin.  I don't know about that, but some of us await every new book he does.  The corporatization of public life and personal space is urgent and there are blurbs on the back from Naomi Wolf and Seth Godin.  How cool is that?

The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life  Dennis P. Hollinger (Baker) $19.99  We have said before that Dennis is one of the most sane and thoughtful ethicists around. He is a friend and I admire his work and his writing.  Now the President of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, this deeply faithful book addresses the complexity of this tender and painful and joyous side of life.  Blurbs on the back come form scholar-leaders like Rich Mouw, those who have worked in socio-sexual research like Stanton Jones, and youth worker guru Walt Mueller.  We'll send it in brown paper if you want, but just buy it!  Very thoughtful.


orthodox heretic.jpgThe Orthodox Heretic And Other Impossible Tales  Peter Rollins  (Paraclete) $19.99  This is a handsome little book that fits nicely in the hand, with endorsements from Phyllis Tickle and Frank Schaeffer.  I think it is worth it just to see that, if you know what I mean. (If not, don't worry about it.)  I don't fully grasp the meaning of these wild stories but Rob Bell says that he heard Pete once and just thought that, "Everybody needs to hear these." You may know his other books, How (Not) To Speak of God and The Betrayal of Unbelief.  Founder of the Ikon community in Ireland, which may explain the storytelling.

Peter Rollins.jpg 





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May 4, 2009

Wilderness, Memoir and the Outdoors Life

A few years ago I did a book review column that really meant a lot to me.  (Then, in the pre-blog era, I did them every month and they are still archived in the "reviews" section here at the website.)  I told about a new nature writer that Iholdfast.jpg discovered, a woman who occasionally writes for Orion, and whose work I really, really loved.  Her name is Kathleen Dean Moore and one of her wonderful books is called Pine Island Paradox.  Another is called Holdfast, another is Riverwalking and they are truly among some of the best essays I've read, drawing out themes of philosophy and religion, marriage and family and commitment, caring for home and caring for nature.  And, lots of good ol' adventure, outdoorsy stuff.  You can read that review here, and I would be pleased if you did, as I still hold her work in utmost respect. 

I've rarely found anyone who can write like she does, but the nature writing genre continues to grow and there are authors who take my breath away.  My wife Beth and I have both recently finished the stunning and haunting book
trespass.jpgTrespass: Living on the Edge of the Promised Land (North Point Press; $15.00) by Amy Irvine, and we continue to talk about it as it haunts us so.  Set in the Redland canyons and deserts of Utah, it evokes a very strong sense of the place making for a memorable reading journey;  I was  holding those last few chapters, reading slowly, so I could savor them, when I heard that it had been chosen as the Orion magazine Book of the Year.  Orion is a remarkably literate environmentalist journal, with contributors like and Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry and Terry Tempest Williams.  I have to say I'm a little proud for choosing Trespass before they did.   I may write more about it eventually, as it is a serious study of belonging amidst hostility (the redneck locals hate "tree huggers and the upright, Mormon locals hate anybody who isn't like them, it seems) of competing visions of progress, a story, finally, of loss and hope.  Irvine and her husband work to protect wilderness land, even as in the Bush years, land was being sold off for drilling and desecration.  She tells of her time in the desert, recovering from a dysfunctional family of origin, coping with her own inner turmoil as she bonds with her passionate new husband, recalling ancient Pueblo culture and not-so-ancient Mormon history.  It is a heavy and beautifully written book, insightful and lovely and troubling and unforgettable.  And so keenly aware of place: colors, smells, experience of light and soil, temperature, sensations of God's extraordinary creation near the famous four corners region of South Eastern Utah.  Like Terry Tempest Williams' famous Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, this is quintessential nature writing woven together with a woman's own memoir full of politics and faith and love.  It is a wonderful sort of literature that I truly love.

Other similiar "nature" books are also memoiristic, but with less inner turmoil, less back-story.  These kind of books narrate a journey into the woods, into the wilderness, tell about adventure or hi-jinx, hard living or joyous contemplation of beauty, farming or gardening, but they are, well, just that.  Shorter on biography or politics, they tell the tale of what happened when, and show you around the place.  Think of the great Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods which is his beloved tale of hiking the Appalachian trail.  Often the ones I like may not even be about a canoe trip or wilderness climb, but are just reflections on a ordinary life with a particularly clear sense of place; that is, they are the memoir of what Russell Scott Saunder's called, in a lovely book by this name, "staying put."  For those who love the great out of doors, or enjoy the slower life, these make nice reminders of the beauty of nature, and are perfect for a day off, Sabbath reading, or a book to take along on a day hike or vacation. 

Here are a few you might like:



One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World Gordon Hempton (Free Press) $26.00  This new book is written as a road trip story, a guy in his Vee Dub, and a bunch of high tech recording equipment, trying to find places of utter quiet.  Hempton is the world's leading recording of environmental sounds, and his "one square inch of silence" project (which includes trying to chance jet patterns and resist tourist helicopter rides above National Parks) is incredibly important.  Here, he tells of what he sees, who he meets up with, the places he goes and, mostly, what he hears.  Documentarian Ken Burns calls it "a gem of a book."  Includes an enhanced CD with sound recordings and photos from his historic trek. 

We Took to the Woods  Louise Dickinson Rich  (Down East Books) $16.95  The New York Times wrote in 1942 that this was "uncommonly good reading..." and to this day, it stands as a classic study of a cherished dream awakened into full life.  She and her husband lived in the back-country of Maine and wrote these reflections after her morning chores each day.  She continued to write for magazines (from Outdoor Life to the Saturday Evening Post to Good Housekeeping, even.)  Very nice.

Reading the Lanugage of Home  John Elder (Harvard University Press) $20.50   I have written atreading the mountains.jpg length about this mavelously literate book, one of my all time favorites,  I read it at a time that it moved me very, very deeply and have found myself telling folks about it ever since.  Elder is known in the environmental/nature writing world, and here he spends a year (as a lit prof) reading--and doing---a late and relatively unknown Robert Frost poem.  It is mostly about paying attention to the woods around your place, which Elder does in a series of hikes, culminating in a dangerous maiden voyage of a canoe he and his son made.  The book is thrilling for it's attentiveness to place, for the descriptions of New England landscapes, for the joys of a day hiker.  And, it is very, very important for how it frames the history of thinking about landscape and wilderness in the United States, blaming some key figures for macho disinterest in Eastern landscapes in favor of the more rugged Western terrain.  This is really, really brilliant---natural history, philosophy, ecology, poetry, and family drama, in one exquiste work.  Here is my older review of this and some others... 

This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm  Scott Chaskey (Penguin) $14.00  Travel writer Peter Matthiessen writes "An almanac and handbook for the community organic gardener, with hard-earned practical lessons in counterpoint with fine touches of insight, poetry, and the earthy lyricism of weather and the seasons."  Another reviews says, "Chaskey's book is so well-rooted that one can almost shake the fine Amagansett silt from its binding."  A great reminder about our connection to the land, and a lovely meditation on life lived in harmony with nature, in service to a purposeful cause.

A Northern Front: New & Selected Essays  John Kildebrand (Borealis Books) $22.95  It may be that handsome collections of smart essays published by the Minnesota Historical Society don't often show up on lists provided by theological booksellers, but this rare treat is, indeed, a treat.  I suspect if first learned of it through our favorite rural memoirist, Michael Perry, or perhaps by poet/undertaker Thomas Lynch, who has called Hildebrand "one of our most reliable and essential witnesses---as essayist of that most daring sort that sets forth on a sea of words, relying on language to keep afloat his searches in the natural and interior worlds."  Liked to Aldo Leopold or Edward Hoagland, he writes brilliantly and "leads without pushing, emotes without gushing, chums readers with scraps of information yet leaves them sated."  Mostly set in the northern climes, it says this on the back cover: "both as a place, and an idea of that place---and reveals the passionate ways Americans define a given land as home."

Bone Deep in Landscape: Writing, Reading, and Place  Mary Clearman Blew (Oklahoma University Press) $12.95  This is mostly one woman's life in the Rocky Mountains West, and excellent writing about prairies and blizzards and scorching sun, set in Montana and Idaho.  Very enjoyable, this is part of the on-going Literature of the American West" series.

The Wild Places  Robert Macfarlane (Penguin) $15.00  This celebrated and passionate author writes of genuinely wild places in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales as he embarks on a series of breathtaking and beautifully described treks. From climbing to swimming, in all kinds of weather, he gets to snowy woods and ancient meadows and rugged cliffs and phoshporescent seas...well, his prose is stunning, his travels amazing.  As one reviewer notes "Prose as precise as this is not just evocative.  It is a manifesto in itself.  Macfarlane's language urges us to gaze more closely at the wonders around us, to take notice, to remind ourselves how thrillingly alive a spell in the wild can make us feel."  Vivid and joyful.

Desert Solitaire Edward Abby (Touchstone) $14.95  One simply cannot avoid the presence of this book on the landscape of nature writers and desert ecological activists.  Considered a masterpiece of the genre, it inspires and informs Williams and Irving and Moore and others, and is cited by folks as diverse as farmer Wendell Berry and Al Gore.  Of course he was a curmudgeon, didn't like the fancy day trippers who came to his canyon-land and his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang inspired militant folk trying to protect the earth from irreparable harm.  I loved this lonely, beautiful work and hope some might take it to heart.

Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape: Vermont's Champlain Valley and New York's Adirondacks  Bill McKibben (Crown) $16.95  McKibben is beloved as an essayist, social critic, and environmentalist.  Here, he writes in straightforward prose the story of this grand, classic trail. Great for anyone who likes hiking.

Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age  Ted Kerasote (Voyageur Press) $16.95  This little hardback is about paddling a wilderness river, from the vastness of Canada's Northwest Territories to the Arctic Ocean, and is a reflection on (one would think) "getting away from it all."  Yet, with the advent of satellite phones, this is about his paddling partner's decisions to stay in touch with others.  Adventure travel.  Wired world.  Remoteness and solitude.  Cell phones and cyberwires.  This is a thoughtful bit of nature writing with some good musings on the meaning of the nature of our times.  Highly recommended.  He also wrote When The Wild Calls: Wilderness Reflections from a Sportsman's Notebook  (Taylor Trade; $24.95.)

The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature
  Gerald May
Wisdom of Wilderness 2.jpg         (Harper) $13.95  My goodness, how I loved this book.  I suppose it isn't fair to list it as a category of pure nature writing, since May is very eager to share his spiritual journey, the healing he experiences, even as he was dying of cancer.  Who knew that his eminent psychologist cum spiritual director was such an outdoorsman?  With a lovely introduction by Parker Palmer, this narrates his hikes and treks, some exciting encounters (with a bear) and some rather mundane insights, exquisitely told.  As Tilden Edwards notes, "Anyone reading this precious gem can't help but be left closer to their own true nature, the nature of the earth's wilderness that we share, and the wild loving wisdom that mysteriously animates and guides our steps."  Mysterious and touching.

A Leaky Tent is a Piece of Paradise: 20 Young Writers on Finding a Place in the Natural World  edited by Bonnie Tsui  (Sierra Club Books) $19.99  This is not your "fathers" nature writing or sportsman's guide.  Here are edgy young writers doing essays about integrating nature into their lives, and how they struggle to balance travel and home, branching out and having roots, going far and eating local.  Some are pretty outrageous, some inspiring, a couple pretty amazing.  These short pieces are all by serious, under 30 writers, kicking back and telling it straight.  Actually, it is pretty remarkable and a lot of fun.

Two in the Wild
edited by Susan Fox Rogers (Vintage) $13.00  Women's outdoors adventure writing is nearly its own genre, and this is representative of some of the great stories, writing and insights offered by gutsy women who lace up their boots and head out to climb, hike, bike or travel all over the globe---together.  Some of these are pretty fun, a few quite tender, all are well written. 

Living on Wilderness Time: 200 Days Alone in America's Wild Places
  Melissa Walker (University of Virginia Press) $24.95  This heavy hardback is made well, rugged, I suppose, like the content.  Here the author is one the road, on the loose, in the wilderness (as one reviewer noted.)  She thinks and lives outside the boundaries, and has been likened to the glorious and influential writer Rick Bass.  What an odyssey, this mid-life woman, setting out to discover adventure in order to discover life.  Risky, solid,  rare.

Soul Survivor: A Spiritual Quest Through 40 Days and 40 Nights of Mountain Solitude
Paul Hawker (Northstone) $15.95.  I chuckled when the little "category" tag on the back of this paperback reads "spiritual adventure."  Yep, that is it;  Hawker felt  "restless and rudderless" in his mid-40s and he set off to reclaim his spiritual self by going solo to the treacherous Tararua Mountain Range in New Zealand.  The author is a well respected TV documentary producer and here he bares his own soul, even as he explores the snowy peaks.

Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey  Bill Roorbach (Dial) $14.00  I am not sure where I first discovered Roorbach's prose, but he is renowned as a writer---" a marvel in a genre that's tough to master" says National Geographic.  One reviewer said, "You'll be homesick for a place you've never visited."  This chronicles Roorbach's determination to explore a stream from its mouth to its elusive source.  What fun.

Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees Nalini M. Nadkarni (Universitybetween earth and sky.jpg of California Press) $24.95  This handsome hardback is a delight to hold, and a book like few others.  Nadkami is a scientist and a poet, a scholar and activist.  Here is what it says in the flyleaf: "World-renowned canopy biologist Nadkarni has climbed trees on four continents with scientists, students, artists, clergymen, musicians, activists, loggers, legislators, and Inuits, gathering diverse perspective on our affinities with trees."  Between Earth and Sky is a rich tapestry of personal stories, information, and illustrations, from science to symbol, culture, and religion.  Fascinating, learned, and altogether satisfying.

American Earth: Environmental Writings Since Thoreau  Edited by Bill McKibben (Library of America) $40.00  I cannot tell you how solid this sturdy hardback is, with ribbon marker and solid pages full of the best nature writing of our recent centuries.  Essential writings from Walt Whitman to John Muir, Frederick Law Olmsted to Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot; Aldo Leopold, John McPhee and Paul Hawkens and Buckminister Fuller.  There are those who we ought to have on our shelves: E.B. White, John Steinbeck, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and a few surprises (P.T. Barnum, Woody Guthrie, Lyndon Johnson, Philip K. Dick) and some contemporary classics such as Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver and Barbara Kingsolver.  Happily, a few important theologians are included such as Cal DeWitt The introduction to each writer's excerpt is exceptionally useful and are themselves an education in literature, science, ecology, and beauty.  We cannot recommend this enough.  The best book of its kind.

For those who may want an overtly spiritual approach to relating faith and the outdoors, of course we might recommend any number of books on God's care for creation, our task as human stewards, and titles on Biblically-inspired books on Earth-keeping. (Just for instance, how 'bout the recent and great Green Revolution: Coming Together for Creation Care by Ben Lowe (IVP; $15.00) or   Some, though, are more specifically about recreation, enjoying wilderness experiences, finding God while in nature,  even devotions in the wilderness.  Here are some that fit that bill.  There really are some interesting ones, that's for sure. 


A Spiritual Field Guide: Meditations for the Outdoors compiled by Bernard Brady & Mark Neuzil (Brazos) $12.99  A handy collection of very thoughtful meditations from the likes of Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Thomas Aquinas, Julian of Norwich, Francis Schaeffer, and more.  The most thoughtful collection of its kind, with an outlined plan good for day hikes, or can be used on longer treks following another suggested cycle of readings. Once again, kudos to Brazos.
 
devotions for outdoors adventures.jpgDevotions for Outdoor Adventures  Larry Wiggins, Jack Harris & Amy Garascia  $10.95  Created by friends of Hearts & Minds, we are proud to promote this lovely paperback full of devotional thoughts from and for (as the subtitle puts it) Backpackers, Hikers, Climbers, Canoeists, and Other Outdoor Enthusiasts.  These are solid evangelical reflections on the Word and the world, inspiring, insightful and perfect for the outdoors.  Handsome pen and ink drawings of cliffs, crags, birds, and such are themselves worth meditation upon.  Nothing quite like it in print!

Earth's Echoes: Sacred Encounters with Nature  Robert Hamma (Sorin) $12.95  An inter-faith perspective by a Catholic author invites seekers of all kind to find God in nature by way of a series of lyric exercises and experience.  From the seashore to the forest, mountaintops, or meadows, these brief meditations are jumping off places for learning to pray by experiences God in creation.  A very attractive little book!

When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature Thomas Merton (Sorin) $16.95  This compact hardback collects some of the most extraordinary nature writings, and some of the more mundane observations, by the beloved monk and mystic.  Merton's love of nature is well known; these wise ruminations were prescient in foreshadowing a faith-based appreciation for creation and an ethic of stewardship.

Sacred Earth: Writers on Nature & Spirit compiled by Jason Gardner (New World Library) $12.95  This is a splendid, compact sized collection of some of the great nature writers of our time, from Edward Abbey to Chet Raymo, Diane Ackerman to Sue Hubbell.  Most are not overtly religious, fewer are obviously Christian.  Still, taking the likes of Wallace Stegner or Barry Lopez into the woods can be a marvelous experience.

Earth Gospel.jpgEarth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God's Creation  Sam Hamilton-Poore (Upper Room) $18.00  This is truly a full-on prayer book, a green one, with Biblical prayers, litanies and written prayers and meditations.  Nothing like it in print!

Renewal in the Wilderness: A Spiritual Guide to Connecting
renewal in the wilderness.jpg with God in the Natural World  John Lionberger (Skylight Paths) $16.99  The opening story of this guys coming to experience God for the first time on a wilderness trek with Outward Bound mid-life trip is itself worth the price of the book.  This guy, who had been thoroughly unchurched, found himself drawn to Christ and eventually became ordained, commissioned to help others experience God's presence in the outdoors.  He brings an interfaith approach, from a mainline church setting, leading trips of various sorts.  Clear, inspiring, fun, helpful.

A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism  Rabbi Mike Comins (Jewish Lights) $16.99  It may sound a bit corny, but Torah Trek is a specifically Jewish outdoor education ministry, and these stories which explore the connections between God, wilderness and Judaism and fabulous for anyone to read.  Mindfulness exercises for the trail, meditative walking practices, Four-Winds wisdom from the Jewish tradition and more.  Grounded and practical.  Who knew?

God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors with the Adventure
Rabbi  Rabbi Jamie Korngold (Doubleday) $11.95  It has to take some chutzpah to use a moniker like "Adventure Rabbi" but this Reform Jewish woman rabbi has it.  And, here, she wisely weave ancient teachings with personal narrative of her time in the outdoors, her leading trips, and doing remarkable Scripture study in the grandeur of creation's wilds.  Despite our hectic pace, she maintains, people of any or no faiths can find renewal in the wilderness, and appreciate nature as God's good gift.  Very nicely done.

landscape as sacred space.jpgLandscape as Sacred Space: Metaphors for the Spiritual Journey  Steven Lewis (Cascade) $16.00  This brief work is a significant contribution to spirituality and theology that is exceptional and important.  Nearly brilliant, reflective, insightful and very compelling, this study draws on the serious work of Beldan Lane and articulates how land and place can help in spiritual formation.  Physical spaces are named in the Bible--mountaintops, valleys, deserts, rivers--and these clearly serve as symbols on our journey, apt metaphors for moments in everyone's life.  Anyone interested in the outdoors and who enters into wilderness experiences will surely find this a helpful companion for thinking about what can be learned in creation, not so much about creation itself, but about our inner landscapes.

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountaintop Spirituality
Solace of Fierce Landscapes.jpg Beldan Lane (Oxford University Press) $17.95  This is a classic and beloved narration of this thoughtful theologian and spiritual director doing both mountain and desert hikes, drawing deeply on the Biblical material and the legacy of "desert" or "mountain" spirituality writers.  Part hiking guide, travel narrative and theological study, this is spirituality at it's finest, interacting with creation, journey, wilderness and Scripture.  Serious, hefty and very rewarding.  Highly recommended for serious students and well loved by many.

Landscape of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality  Beldan Lane (Johns Hopkins University Press) $25.00   An innovative and scholarly study that broke new ground (no pun intended) this historical survey traces how geography and place shapes spirituality writing.  This is an under-appreciated text, significant and serious.

The Fragrance of God  Vigen Guroian (Eerdmans) $13.00  This is a wonderful and wondrous little book by a mature and elegant writer, an Orthodox scholar and ethicist, writing here lovely prose about, well, gardening and his own journey through life.  Great stories, great illustrations, homilies, even.  As Frederica Mathewes-Green says of it, "Earthy in all the best senses.  (It) recalls us to the beauty of creation.  Guroian is expert at demolishing the kind of spirituality that gets overly spiritualized; he reminds us that God fills and blesses this blooming, growing, changing world."  Equally rewarding is his lovely little similiar volume Inheriting the Garden: Meditations on Gardening  (Eerdmans) $ 12.00.  Gotta love a guy who plants keeping in mind the colors of the liturgical calander.

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