About June 2009

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

May 2009 is the previous archive.

July 2009 is the next archive.

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

June 2009 Archives

June 4, 2009

Brand New May Review Column--books about wilderness, memoirs of place, meditations on creation

I'm hoping that many Hearts & Minds customers will click on over to the larger May 09 Review Column to see my annotated bibliography of books of nature writing, devotions for the outdoors, backpack inspirations and memoirs of gardening, hiking and such.  It is a great list, if I do say so myself, with a mix of titles and authors I suspect you may not find in any other bookshop anywhere.

Here is how I introduced the list.  We hope it invites you to check it out, maybe order some.  Enjoy the Springtime.  Thanks for reading----we couldn't be booksellers if there weren't good readers.

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 "reviews" section of 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, wonderful books is called Pine Island Paradox: Making Connections in a Disconnected World. (Mildweed Editioins; $14.95)  Another is called Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World (Lyons; $20.00) another yet is Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water (Harvest; $13.00) and they are truly among some of the best essays I've ever read, drawing out themes of philosophy and religion, marriage and family and commitment, caring for home and caring for nature, being at home in this world.  And, lots of good ol' adventure, outdoorsy stuff.  You can read that old 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 is an old one with many classics, and it 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 weirdness 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 a 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.

If you skip on over to the monthly review column, filed under May 2009,  you will see I start off with One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural
one square inch of silence.jpg Silence in a Noisy World, an earnest and interesting story of a road trip by the world's leading recorder of natural sounds, Gordon Hempton. I only describe it a bit, but could say much more---it is fascinating!  I list a book by the Adventure Rabbi, (yes, there is an Adventure Rabbi, and she rocks), classics like Desert Solitaire, and philosophical studies on the nature of landscape and place.  Mostly, though, fun stories of those who love the great outdoors.  One title is called Heaven is a Leaky Tent.   Another brings luscious reflections on the beauty in creation, and gardening, by an Orthodox theologian. 

I hope you enjoy the May list.  We could have listed more...what are you favorites in this genre?  Annie Dillard? McKibben on silence?  Into Thin Air? Feel free to post suggestions...

June 6, 2009

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

In the last post I linked to the May Review column where I annotated a whole bunch of great books about nature, wilderness, and finding God in the great outdoors.  Some were overtly Christian, although some were not.  I don't know how many other so-called Christian bookstores stock this kind of stuff, but we hope you like our distinctiveness in bringing together these genres and perspectives, books and authors not commonly found together. Do check it out if you haven't; it's a fun early summer list!

Finding Beauty.jpgI've just recently finished Terry Tempest Williams brave and unusual and deeply moving book Finding Beauty in a Broken World (Pantheon; $26.00.) It deserves more than I can give but I thought I'd offer a few remarks and reflections. We commended her in the previous post, so this is a natural follow-up, as she is known as an eminent nature writer, a memoirist of place, a passionate critic of the foolish policies of progress that have eroded sustainability and sanity.  We like her a lot.

Finding Beauty in a Broken World
is a sprawling, big book, divided into three distinct portions.  This is a bit unusual, and although she weaves the themes of each portion together a bit, I would have wished for more connection, making explicit what I presume is understated purposefully.  Still, at the end my jaw was dropped in one of those experiences of epiphany and connectivity.  It really did come full circle.

The book opens with a beautiful, mysterious account of her learning the fine art of mosaic
tiles.jpg work; the frontispiece line These fragments I have shored against my ruins from T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland** becomes clearly relevant. Ms Tempest Williams is in Ravenna, Italy, waxing on about the history and power of mosaic.  "Eloquence is spoken through the labor of hands, anonymous hands of forgotten centuries.  With eyes looking up, artisans rolled gold tessarae between their fingers in thought, as they searched for the precise placement in domes and aspes where light could converse with glass.  Jeweled ceilings become lavish tales.  I want to understand these stories told through fragments."

Even as I type that quote it dawns on me---" stories told through fragments," how did I miss it?---that the fragmentary nature of this book (some pages only have one sentence, some appear to be journal entries or quotes from other books) is itself mirroring these fragmented tales, made luminous as they are brought together.  Hmm;  a stroke of brilliance perhaps, some hint at form and content?

This first part is brief but beautiful.  She tells about the "city of mosaics" and tells of her learning the craft, in this mosaic workshop, so that she could "learn a new language with my hands."  It is interesting that this art form uses broken pieces.  It is an imperfect beauty.

The second more lengthy portion is more typical terrain for Ms Williams as she has volunteered to serve as an assistant with the world's leading scholar of several species of prairie dogs.  She is at Bryce Canyon National Park, assisting the study of this fascinating critter, a controversial animal beloved and hated in the developing West.  She makes a very strong case for the preservation of prairie dog towns and it is helpful to learn of how the eco-spheres of the prairie lands are dependent and inter-dependent on these rodents maintaining their traditional habitat.  It is also interesting how government mandates of protecting habitats of such creatures are and are not followed, are contested and ignored.  As a small side-note, she is banned from some National Parks because she was a signature of a class-action type lawsuit against the feds in their disregard for environmental law protecting the dogs.  Who knew citizens could be banned for such things?  Outrageous.  It is not a large portion of the book, but the expose of the corruption in the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bush appointee Julie MacDonald who so undermined the mandates of law, is important as we assess the current state of environmental law after recent years of disregard.

In this well-written portion she laments the gross mismanagement of Western lands, and portrays the gross hostility of those who love to squish to death these small creatures (not to mention the companies that burn them alive in their burrows which she describes in a harrowing paragraph.)  This battle about exterminating the dogs is symbolic of much of the public debate around ecological living, and her personalizing it---working in this one spot, marking and observing these mammals' behaviors, following their habits for 8 hours a day sitting in a little tree stand---was helpful and informative.  (Her method, offering fragments of repeated numbers and letters from her daily log was tedious, and I admit to skipping pages at at time, having "gotten" the painstaking monotony of natural science research in action.)  Still, learning about these "prayer dogs" was very interesting and oddly compelling reading. You may want to read "Report from the Burrow" or glance around the website of WildEarth Guardians which she recommends.

This section becomes truly riveting, though, as she narrates the story of her blue-collar family, whose family work is in large excavation.  Her father and brothers are honorable men, hard-working and dedicated, and Tempest Williams' sincere appreciation for their diligence and skill give her a local working-man's view of the eco-conflicts.  That her brother was dying of cancer during this portion of the book adds an extra poignancy.  Without drawing it out into overstatement, the battle over protecting endangered species, the cancer that is prominent in Nevada and Utah due to the testing of nuclear weapons, and the inter-relationship with family, land, local history and prairie dog towns, becomes profound. One chapter reprints some of her famous piece in the New York Times, written on Groundhog Day, 2003.   Given the world's large and looming problems (this was just weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq) why should we care about rodents?  "Quite simply, she wrote, because the story of the Utah prairie dog is the story of the range of our compassion.  If we can extend our idea of community to include the lowliest of creatures, then we will indeed be closer to a path of peace and tolerance.  If we cannot accommodate "the other," the shadow we will see on our own home ground will be the forecast of our own species extended winter of the soul."

She raises important questions for all of us, even those of us who hold to a Christian worldview, which insists on distinguishing between God and creation, and humans and non-humans.  Yet, even the conservative theologian and cultural critic Francis Schaeffer went to great lengths to show that evangelicals should agree with St. Francis as he talked about our unity with fellow-creatures.  Terry Tempest Williams writes,

Most people are not comfortable making a connection between racism and specism or the ill treatment of human beings and the mistreatment of animals.  We want to keep our boundaries clean and separate. But isn't that the point, to separate, isolate, and discriminate?  We create hierarchies, viewing life from the top down, top being, of course, God, then a ranking of human races, and so our judgements move down "the Great Chain of Being" until we touch rocks.  This is the attitude of power, and it hinges on who is in control.  Who has the power over whom?  How does this kind of behavior infiltrate the psyche of a culture?  And what are the consequences of scala natura?

The third portion of this book was even more captivating, and I was riveted by the tale she weaves of her journey to Rwanda with a Philadelphia artist, Lily Yeh, whose movement of "Barefoot Artists" work to create spots of beauty to memorialize the inhuman brutality of the genocide there.  Her time in this crowded African country is told powerfully and engagingly and the relationships that develop in this part of the book moved me as deeply as any great novel. Whether you know much about this place (think of Hotel Rwanda) or very little, this is an amazing bit of writing and very, very worthwhile reading.  Some of it is horrific as she tells of listening to the stories of the genocide victims; some is healing in a manner made known to the world by the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission.  That is, it is hard, hard stuff, but told in the service of healing, justice, and even forgiveness.  There is great grace reported here, and their desire to offer an artistically rich spot, a regional memorial, as a symbol and place of remembrance, is truly one of the most amazing things about which I've ever read.

Much could be said about this moving last third of the book, but I cannot do it justice.  The plotTerry Tempest Williams 3.jpg develops and unfolds as we read of Terry's month-long stay and friendship with rural Rwandan folk (and of a subsequent visit later with some fabulous episodes which I won't spoil by telling.)  She studies the local soil erosion, visits the Congo and hears of the killing of guerrillas (this is the area where Diane Fossey did her famous research), the rise of evangelical religion, the creation of small local businesses, like a sunflower oil press. The arts are celebrated, schools are started, art classes begun, villages beautified and the architectural plans and creation of this mosaic-laden memorial completed.  Through rain and illness, hard stories and great laughter, multi-cultural teams find beauty as hopeful as they empower and work with those at the Genocide Survival Village in Rugerero.

A Catholic mystic writer once said that beauty can save the world and my esteemed friend an editor of Image, Greg Wolfe, will have a book out soon with that title.  I do not think it is so.  But it sure can help, and my simple formulation is woefully inadequate. It does more than "help."  Such gifts of true beauty are, as Calvin Seerveld says in his book of this title, a "rainbow for the fallen world."  People of Biblical faith can give away their artistic gifts, he says, as signs of redemptive hope, like the dove returning to the ark (Seerveld's other famous book about the arts is entitled Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves.) Terry Tempest Williams and her gang of barefoot artists do just that, offer hope in color and texture, fragments of light, forming truth and goodness.  Thank God for this brave and important book and the work it so passionately documents.  What connections there are that linger, nearly unspoken, between art, justice, ecology, life.  "Grace" sings Bono of U2, "makes beauty out of ugly things."  Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams is an example of just that.  As they proclaim in Rwanda, Ukurikurakiz!  Truth heals!  Read it and take hope.

You can see pictures of the memorial, and other great global arts projects of the Barefoot Artists project at their glorious website. There is even a 24-minute film you can watch.

**in a footnote, TTW writes, "...the poet William Caros Williams described the effect of The Waste Land as that of an atom bomb.  This 433-line poem is Eliot's monument of words to a fragmented and disparaging world, his own poetic mosaic of collage that celebrates the failure of civilization, the distractive and destructive impulses of the modern era."

By the way, kudos to Zondervan for recently publishing two books on Rwanda (rather a risky move for a publisher, doing not only one, but two.)  Both are excellent. 

mirror to the church.jpgMirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda  Emmanuel Katongole (Zondervan) $15.99  Katongole is a prof at Duke and co-director (with Chris Rice) of their Center for Reconciliation.  He is a Catholic priest of the Kampala Archdiocese in Uganda. Fr. K had some help in the writing by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Not only does this serve as an excellent and brief introduction to the horror of the Hutu's and Tutsi's barbarism, it explores what we can learn, and how the gospel must transcend national and ethnic differences.  Very important stuff, indeed.

as we forgive.jpgAs We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda  Catherine Claire Larson (Zondervan) $15.99  This well written collection is inspired by the award-winning film of the same name.  As We Forgive was the Gold Winner for Best Documentary in the 2008 Student Academy Awards (yes, sponsored by the Academy Awards!)  An evangelical Episcopalian living in the DC area, this film-maker is a talented, sharp young woman and her film would be a good compliment to anyone reading Larson's powerful book.  You can get info at the As We Forgive website.

June 9, 2009

Religious Knowing? Stages of Spirituality? A Hidden Wholeness and more

You may know that our shop is renowned for having a large and diverse selection of books onlonging for god 2.JPG spirituality, contemplative practices and classic spiritual disciplines.  We ponder these books often, and have our favorites, but occasionally some arrive that deserve special celebration.  For instance, a month ago we showed the brand new Richard Foster book, his best in years.  This title, Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion (IVP; $25.00 )has been getting very good customer reviews and we are learning so much through these little spiritual biographies.   As John Ortberg says of it, "This is the best and richest of Christian thinking and soul-making made accessible to everybody.  It would be very hard to read this without having your heart grow."

Two new books came in recently that are not just how to deepen one's relationship with God or how to practice the spiritual life.  These two are about how to know, really, whether what we think or feel about God is true, and whether one is making proper headway in one's journey "deeper in and farther along" (as Lewis put it.)  These are fairly serious books, so  may not be for everyone, but are for anyone who is fluent in this literature, experienced in these habits, or involved in spiritual director or pastoring or teaching others, they are very, very important.

Knowing Christ Today.jpgFirst is the most serious work Dallas Willard has done to date (well, excepting his professional scholarly work as a philosopher.)  Knowing Christ Today Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne; $24.99.)  It is a thorny debate, actually, about the nature of truth---can we really know spiritual things?  (What are spiritual things, really?  If religious truths are real---as Christians insist---than why do we have this sort of dichtomy in our language?  Is there a split between "facts" and "values"?  Others have addressed this helpufully (Leslie Newbegin, for instance, in his brief but potent Foolishness to the Greeks, or Nancy Pearcy in her worldview opus Total Truth.)  To see Willard "focusing like a laser beam" (as Foster puts it) "on the issue of moral knowledge as a legitimate source for understanding reality" is extraordinary.  How many books on Christ-likeness and formation carry endorsements by eminent sociologists, as this one does, with the rave blurb from Boston University's Peter Berger?  Do you recall the Bible verse "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge"?  This lucid account of the issues of what true knowledge is, and how that helps us gauge our growth into Christ-likeness, give an excellent lay of the land to how we can regain faith-based knowing, authentic insight, and confident spirituality. This one is worth working through slowly, pondering and underlining as you go.  

seasons of the soul.jpgSeasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development Bruce Demarest (IVP) $16.00  This is another book that is less about how to grow as a Christian, but how to measure or discern the maturity and adequacy of this growth.  And how to learn to appreciate the new levels and stages and ages of the trek.  Some of us have read and appreciated the developmental research done by James Fowler et al.  A bit too influenced by Piaget's rationalism, perhaps, and a bit too academic, that school of thought has influenced Christian educators, but hasn't caught on for ordinary folks as a helpful tool for self examination or aiding formation.  Stages and ages are useful, but haven't necessarily helped us be more aware of understandable ups and downs on the journey with God, or more comfortable in our spiritual stages.  This new book fills a real need and looks to be just spectacular.  It uses the structure of Walter Brueggemann's seminal assessment of the Psalms, namely, that there is orientation, disorientation and re-orientation.  Demarest calls it "initial orientation" (the first stage of putting our faith in Christ), "painful disorientation" (which is the season of experiencing struggles, doubts, and the dark night sort of loss of God's presence), and the phase of coming to subsequent deeper faith, which he calls "joyful reorientation."  Are they three simple chronological stages?  Cycles or phases?  How can our deepest relationship with God and our devotional life help us as we suffer?  

Demarest, of Denver Seminary, has a very helpful appendix summarizing other authors who have used the journey as a metaphor for spiritual maturity, from the desert fathers, the medieval mystics, to contemporaries such as Evelyn Underhill to M. Scott Peck.  Throughout the book, Dr. Demarest proves himself fluent in the widest readings;  what a delight to see the Syrian fourth century Pseudo-Macarius quoted next to 20th century CM&A preacher A.W. Tozer; to see Elizabeth O'Connor cited next to John Owen.    Like I said, it may not be for everyone, but there are many Hearts & Minds readers who would benefit from this slower, deeper sort of reading, which actually is delightfully written and really quite amazing.  Seasons of the Soul will help you, and equip you to help others. Highly recommended.

A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life: Welcoming the Soul and
hidden wholeness.JPG Weaving Community in a Wounded World Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass)  $19.95; DVD included  This is not particularly academic or dense, but for those who are used to primarily evangelical piety, this blend of spirituality and psychology, community and pain, may be bracing.  Parker, of course, is a beloved writer, a clear and kind thinker, old friend of Henri Nouwen, and contemporary philosopher of education.  We stock all of his stuff (and his very first, Promise of Paradox, was re-issued this year in a lovely hand-sized hardcover.)  This new paperback edition of Hidden Wholeness includes two new features. Circles of Trust is a DVD containing interviews with Parker Palmer and footage from retreats he facilitated for the Center for Courage & Renewal.  Bringing the Book to Life is a reader's and leader's guide to exploring the book's themes.  (The discussion guide particularly connects the DVD and the book, drawing on the insights and practices of "circles of trust.")  As it says on the back, "Together, these features gives readers new ways to internalize the themes of A Hidden Wholeness and share with others this approach to sustaining identity and integrity in all the venues of our lives."

brazos introduction to spirituality.JPGIf one wants to delve into these thoughtful areas, deep spirituality and classic convictions, habits and practices, and learn the broad teachings of the church universal, you may want to pick up as a life-long reference what may be the best collection of essays and articles in a large textbook format, The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality  edited by Evan B. Howard (Brazos) $39.99. At 500 large pages, this is a treasure trove, interdisciplinary and ecumenical.  There are chapter outlines and objectives, sidebars, focus boxes, charts, pictures (and even cartoons) a useful glossary, chapter summaries, questions for consideration and very helpful "looking further" resource lists.  If one wants to know what a relationship with God looks like for Christians, and is willing to hear the perspectives of the breadth of Christian spirituality, this comprehensive volume is a must.

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June 20, 2009

The Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail A memoir by Margot Starbuck (Likewise. books)

girl in the orange dress.jpgI really, really wanted to write this earlier in the week, but I was busy proving to be a less than perfect dad.  Consider this a Father's Day confession, or a clever way to introduce a book about the search for a father who is truly there for his child.  The Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail (Likewise. $16.00) by Margot Starbuck is a great book to tell you about on Father's Day weekend, although it is not about fathering.  It is about being a child of a father.  Or fathers, as the case may be.

Margot Starbuck is one heckuva great writer, a breezy, witty gal who will be (or ought to be) compared to Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) and Lauren Winner (Girl Meets God), perhaps even the queen of all memoirs, Mary Karr.  She is less bohemian than Miller, not as elegant as Winner, but (sorry Lauren) funnier by far.  (And while making comparisons, her life was not as hardscrabble as Karr chronicles in The Liars Club and Cherry but for some reason it made me think of those amazing works.  Starbuck is raised in a seemingly safe suburb of Chicago.)  Her quick wit and self-consciousness---how do good memoirists recall such details about their days lived out in previous decades?---serves us well, as The Girl in the Orange Dress is a rollicking story, moving quickly with some laugh out loud lines and some very clever tales, and yet has this wonderful novelistic arch.  It is a powerful read.

It gets heavier as it goes as Margot struggles to reconcile a loving God who calls Himself Father with the lack of faithful fathers in her own life.  I don't want to spoil the story, but she is searching for her birth parents after her adoptive parents divorce, re-marry, divorce again.  Early on, she easily sees what she considers the good gift in having many caring adults in her life, and doesn't quite see the anguish to come as she becomes more aware of issues of abandonment and family dysfunction. 

Margot tells of her high school years, her church life and coming to more robust faith, even choosing to go to an evangelical Christian college (although, admittedly, not for the most pious of reasons.)  The stories set in this portion of the book ring so very true; anyone now in college, longing for intentional community, learning to serve the poor and work for justice, trying to discern vocation, to make a difference and make ends meet, and (yes, of course) falling in and out of love--with all the requisite embarrassments and tomfoolery---will surely relate to these chapters.  She gets this part really right and I recommend it to college students and parents of college students.

Ms Starbuck is quite a pistol in those years, the kind of 80s punk chic grrrl who wears maybe different color converses and dies her hair weird colors, showing off multiple piercings.  Her mom (I can just hear it) is concerned about her wardrobe, even as she tries to be supportive, more or less.  Here she describes her look:

    ...I looked like the strange offspring of Pippi Longstocking and G.I. Joe. Blond spiky hair, candy-cane striped tights, mismatched socks, rhinestone jewelry, and daisy-painted combat boots did not a mothers dream make.  When I look at the short stack of pictures I have from the period, I am forced to admit that I cannot distinguish from my clothing a typical school day from our high school's annual Wacky Tacky Day.  Could we really have celebrated it five days a week?
She continues writing about her decision to go to Westmont College, a short ride from the Southern California beaches.  She and her mom, while visiting, noted the tastefully dressed girls in cute sandals.  By this time, Margot had a half-shaved head, visiting campus in cut off overalls.  She reflects, "Mine had to have been the only family in the Midwest to hope that the child they were sending off to college in southern California might actually be domesticated by the experience.  My family would, of course, be sorely disappointed."

"I would be changed there", she continues, "but not in a way I ever expected."

Navigating a conservative religious ethos while being an artsy firebrand is not an uncommon journey for many younger friends, and her journey through these good years is well told.  Finally, there is the sojourn to Portland.  An epic road trip, talking about justice and romance and Providence and beauty?  In a blue Chevy Nova, no less?  Move over, Donald Miller, that open road stuff ain't just for the edgy Christian boys any more...

Yet, these lighthearted escapades and heart-wrenching experiences (she does inner city work in Camden for a summer, has some relationship and spiritual crises, a friend becomes a single mom) are backdrop for what is clearly more than a postmodern evangelical coming of age narrative.  Girl in the Orange Dress tells of this desire to find a God who can be the parent who does not reject her, who can heal her deep woundedness, who can bring her Home.

Our grrrl ends up donning some somewhat more reliable cloths and ends up at Princeton Seminary.  And how I appreciated the story of a moderately evangelical, slightly charismatic, intuitively feminist student at a liberal seminary where one may not use masculine pronounces about God.  She had served in reconciliation work in South Africa as apartheid fell; yet here, abstract post-colonial theology ruled, oddly without much traction for the real poor that she so obviously served herself.  Ideologically strict males yell at women who have more traditional faith for not being pro-woman.  Hmmm.  Unless one is experienced in this arcane theological academic climate, her observations in the chapter "Welcome to Oz" may seem surprising.  For many, mainline Protestant seminaries nearly ruin one's vibrant faith and she tells it fairly.

She moves on, through very painful physical disabilities and the trajectory towards reunion (ormargot.jpg not?) with her long lost birth mom and dad. She works at a church while seriously depressed. She sleuths and prays and yells at God.  Suffice it to say that I stayed up way too late reading this thing, as I had to know what comes next.  I even read while on a Greyhound bus, a dizzying feat for those of us who are easily made queasy.  I had tears in my eyes at one point, savoring the pathos and joy and goodness of insights gained the hard way.  And the poignant story of the Pink Post-It note is worth the price of the book, right there (especially if you have any tenderness for aging grandparents.) 

This is a fun book, and, I think, it is an important one.  Whether you have, who know someone who has had, experience with adoption, or know adopted kids or foster parents or have divorced parents in your extended circle of family and friends, or a clay-footed father, this matter---knowing we are beloved and accepted by a God who is there for us---is of extraordinary significance. 

Near the end, Margot tells of seeing an unusual church sign--not that unusual, oddly, since our churches are so often theologically murky and grossly sentimental---that said something dumb about good parents, implying that it would be "unthinkable" for a parent to fail a child.  Ahh yes, she is driven to knock on the door, to ask the pastor what in the heck he meant by this.  Didn't he know?  It is all too thinkable for parents to do hurtful things.  Ask her.  Ask me.

The Girl in an Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail is a beautiful gift for anyone, a perfect kind of book because it is easy to read, a bit lighthearted (no, it is downright funny) and yet packs a notable punch, in the story-line, the sheer emotions in conjures, and in the theological truths it conveys.  It is published by an edgy recent imprint by one of our most respected publishers, IVP. (They did the truly stunning memoir Stone Crossings by L.L. Barkat a year or so ago.)  Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines) calls it "lovely and challenging" and novelist Lisa Samson says it is for "anyone who needs to know, really needs to know, how much God loves his children."  Happy Father's Day, indeed.

Check out the publisher's webpage that has samples of her writing, endorsements of the book and such, but please come back and order it here.  Thanks.

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I mentioned the memoirist Donald Miller.  I presume you know his books published by Nelson, which have sold over a million copies.  Blue Like Jazz is his most popular. His second (and more substantive) is Searching for God Knows What, and his epic road trip saga is Through Painted Deserts (first discovered by Terry Glaspy at Harvest House, originally titled Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, although now considerably expanded.)  Mr. Miller has co-authored a book about the absence of fathers, not as witty or precocious as his others, but a deeply moving story of a man who stepped up and mentored him, since Miller's father had left the family.  It is called To Own A Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father and it is very highly recommended for fathers, young men, or anybody who cares about them.

And, for the record, I truly recommend Starbuck's The Girl in the Orange Dress for men and women readers, and, likewise, Miller's To Own A Dragon is not just for men, although I suppose it may be most helpful to hurting guys.  Or dads who need reminded of the value of their love.

Donald Miller's very long-awaited fifth book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What Imillion miles.jpg Learned While Edited My Own Life is due out in hardcover at the end of the summer. It will detail one man's opportunity to edit his life as if he were a character in a movie, which he sort of is. You can order it now if you'd like, and be among the first to receive it in September.

Check out his blog, and tell me if he isn't trying to look like Tom Waits.  Great stuff.  We stock the DVD projects he talks about, too, btw (The Open Table and Free Market Jesus.)  

June 1, 2009

Books on Prayer


Thanks so much for this fabulous inquiry...we love offering suggestions about important books and are so glad you wrote.  Of course we know that you know your way around this topic, we surely don't expect you to want all of these, but thought it would be fun to let you know about them.  Sorry I got carried away.

Of course, just for the record, we both know that prayer and a prayerful lifestyle, includes more than intercession.  You know we handle oodles of books on spirituality, the classic spiritual disciples and practices that enhance our contemplative experiences, centering prayer, deeper intimacy with God, the work of Christ-like formation and reflections upon our inner lives.  I haven't listed any here any standard spirituality books, but rather, just those more generally on prayer, and more specifically, on intercession (or those that have good sections about intercession.)  I didn't list any more books about healing ministry, since you have a few (I still love the wise and modest Stretch Out Your Hand
by Tilda Nordberg and Bob Webber from Lancaster Seminary and of course Fr. McNutt's Healing is a classic) but do let us know if you want any ideas in that arena of intercession or on ministries of healing prayer.  Thanks again.

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Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom 
Stan Grenz (Eerdmans) $14.00  This expanded edition has a forward by Eugene Peterson and is a fabulous, serious-minded reflection, for personal and communal praying.  Very thoughtful, perhaps not for beginners.  It brings to mind the one by the UCC scholar Donald Bloesch, The Struggle of Prayer, which is sadly out of print. 

Prayer: Does It Make a Difference?  Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $21.99  In lesser hands, this would still be a fabulously interesting book, but with Yancey's graceful and honest style, it has become a well-respected study of what is really going on when we pray.  Powerful, fresh, elusive, insightful and important. 

Praying: The Rituals of Faith Lucinda Mosher (Seabury) $16.00  This is from the remarkable series called "Faith in the Neighborhood" which attempts to develop inter-faith sensitivities by seeing how different faith traditions "do" various spiritual practices.  (For instance, there is one on grief, one on belonging, etc.)  This is for anyone with an ecumenical heart, or who may be involved in interfaith coalitions.  This encourages even shy Christians to talk to their neighbors about prayer and their own religious practices.  Nice.

The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God  James Houston (Victor) $16.99  This is one of a magisterial and profound five-volume series called "The Soul's Longings."  Maybe a tad deep and dry, it is still wonderful, meaty, and important work written by a scholar who knows the Catholic medieval, Reformation, and Puritan literature, C.S. Lewis and all the rest.  What a great gentleman, teacher and author, offering here a very thoughtful book helping us learn that prayer isn't a dreary exercise or a difficult skill, but a way to be friends with God, shaped largely on how we perceive God.  Very Scriptural, theologically aware and yet wisely pastoral.  Houston helped start the DC-area C.S. Lewis Institute, and was a major influence at Regent in BC for years.  Very important.

The Heart of Prayer: What Jesus Teaches 
Jerram Barrs (P&R) $14.99  Barrs is a conservative, Reformed evangelical and I think this is one of the most solid explorations of prayer I've seen.  It shows, too, how prayer is essential for a graceful life of discipleship, how God understands our weaknesses, and how we must be honest about our need to improve our prayer habits.  Thoughtful and wise and highly recommended.

The God Who Hears  W. Bingham Hunter (IVP) $16.00  This includes reflections on all the best questions---are faithful prayers always answered? Does prayer change God's mind? How can I be close to an invisible God? And how to do it, pray regularly and faithfully and effectively? Poet Luci Shaw writes "Though I've prayed all my life I needed the fresh, refreshing thinking and writing that I found...Hunter has opened up God's heart and turned my understandings of dialogue with him upside down."  Fairly short chapters and great discussion questions make this perfect for personal study or small group conversation.

The Folly of Prayer: Practicing the Presence and Absence of God
  Matt Woodley (IVP) $15.00  This is the author of the fun and challenging book Holy Fools and this is a serious continuation of that theme:  it is crazy to belief this stuff, folly--well, at least in light's of the world's logic and practices of power and control.  Brand, brand new, I look forward to hearing good reviews of this power little book which offers eleven "Biblically landscaped pathways" to prayer.  That last phrase is so important, since many don't know how to endure in prayer when God seems so distant...

Lord Teach Us To Pray  Alexander Whyte (Regent College) $24.95  Eugene Peterson has often raved about this deep study by the renowned Scottish preacher.  Learned and yet imaginative, this is a series of sermons he preached in the winter of 1895, rooted deeply in various Biblical prayers.

Daring to Draw Near 
John White (IVP) $15.00 (regular sized) or $10.00 (slightly edited, smaller sized)  This is one of my all time favorite books on prayer, a study of pray-ers and their prayers in the Bible.  What we can learn about God and the diverse sorts of prayers that Bible characters prayed!  I've been highly recommending this for 30 years!

Great Prayers of the Old Testament Walter Brueggemann (Westminster/John Knox) $16.95  Because of my love for the John White book, I can't wait to get into Walt's great-looking study.  You can imagine the rich language, the thick Biblical study, and yet this is readable, designed for adult ed classes or small groups.  Well worth the time, I'm sure. 

Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home  Richard Foster (HarperOne) $23.95  Oh my.  Although not all of these styles or methods of praying are intercessory, many are, and I cannot say enough about this moving sequel to the extraordinary 20th century classic, Celebration of Discipline.  It is truly one of my all time favorite books, and nearly anyone can relate to at least some of the many chapters, each offering a different way to pray.  Inspiring, reflective and yet very instructional and helpful.  Wow.  You might want to know that this is available in an audio-book form, in CD.

dimensions of prayer.jpgDimensions of Prayer: Cultivating a Relationship with God  Douglas Steere (Upper Room) $12.00 While much of this is gentle, deeper spirituality informed by Steere's reflective Quaker perspective (it is no surprise that Tilden Edwards and Parker Palmer have endorsements) it also has some truly wise insights about intercession and the cost of praying for others.  Very, very nice.

Pray With Your Eyes Open: Looking at God, Ourselves, and Our Prayers
  Richard Pratt (P&R) $12.99  Pratt of course means to keep our eyes open to the needs around us, but even more, suggests that since we are talking to God, we need to know about God, God's attributes and characteristics.  There are charts and diagrams and teaching devices here that walks the reader through substantial Reformed theology regarding God and our role in praying for others and ourselves.

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World 
Paul E. Miller (NavPress) $14.99  I know this man's marvelous prayer ministry, his engaging teaching, his prayer-drenched efforts and love for Christ and His ways. (In fact, he wrote the fabulous Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus.) He invites us to face the facts that pray is hard work, but offers a warm and refreshing vision of thinking about prayer in new and Biblically sound ways.  I especially appreciate his candid look at cynicism, and ways out of it...As J.I. Packer says, it is "honest, realistic, mature, wise, deep.  Warmly recommended." 

The Life of Prayer: Mind, Body, Soul 
Allan Hugh Cole (Westminster/John Knox) $16.99  This seminary prof from Austin has written about raising boys, grief and other pastoral concerns, and here gives a brand new, very practical and discerning book.  Phyllis Tickle says it is "the most complete tutorial on the basics of Christian prayer I have ever seen."  That speaks volumes in my book, and hope to study it soon.

Too Busy Not to Pray  Bill Hybels (IVP) $15.00  Many have said this is the best book they've ever read, many more say it is the best book they've read on prayer.  It is accessible, clear, and oddly moving, calling us to slow down and draw near to God.  It is challenging and comforting, inspiring and helpful.  A must for beginners, and a great way to refresh your commitments.  Mavelous.

Prayer  O. Hallesby  (Augsburg) $7.99  This little gem is a 20th century masterpiece, a world-famous classic to enrich and deepen your prayer life.  This edition has a study guide making it ideal for study groups or adult ed classes.  Richard Foster did the forward, saying that the book itself "breathes prayer...a book full of grace and mercy, jubilee and challenge."  A must-have resource!

Simple Ways to Pray: Spiritual Life in the Catholic Tradition  Emilie Griffin  (Sheed & Ward) $19.95  This author is well known among liturgical folks and those who read widely in contemplative spirituality.  (You may know here Clinging which, although out of print, is a classic.)  This is such a sweet and practical little guide, including classic prayers, tons of ordinary information, helpful overviews of many approaches to prayer.  Her insight about different techniques, styles, and types of praying is really helpful.

Mighty Prevailing Prayer  Wesley Duewel (Zondervan) $14.99  It is hard to do a list of books on prayer without listing Dr. Duewel, a passionate leader of intercessory prayer.  He has written about prayer in the cause of world evangelization (Touch the World Through Prayer) and is a serious practitioner!   He covers how to have greater faith, how to have perseverance, the prayers of agreement, fasting, etc etc.  A deeper level work by a thoughtful and zealous evangelical.

Prayer Power Unlimited J. Oswald Sanders (Discovery House) $9.99 Sanders was from New Zealand and wrote the famous devotional My Utmost for His Highest.  Here, he offers great insights about intercession, knowing God through prayer, resisting disillusionment, struggling with questions of God's sovereignty, and how to be a deeper, more fruitful prayer warrior.  He discusses five characteristics of balanced prayer, including some practical application lessons.  I think the somewhat goofy title belies a very wise little book.

talking to god in the dark.jpgTalking to God in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn't Make Sense  Steve Harper (Upper Room) $13.00  I trust Harper very much, and this slim book is faithful, honest, real.  He acknowledges his own struggles with prayer and has a very helpful section on praying for others, and praying for yourself.  I'm so glad there is a resource like this and hope that pastors and spiritual directors give it out often to those in dry or frustrated or hurting places...ask me about Michael Card's books on lament, too, on this theme...very helpful.

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer  C.S. Lewis (Harvest) $13.00  Well, why not list this--Lewis was a wonderful correspondent and his letters are always fascinating, amusing, and often quite poignant.  Here he offers timeless, friendly advice, mostly on praying. 

A Simple Way to Pray  Martin Luther (Augsburg) $16.95  This little letter, written by the great reforming priest to his barber, Peter, is often cited.  This small hardback has a sweet forward by Marjorie Thompson (Soul Feast) who notes that it is a childlike treatise.  Serious and yet so understandable and simple. 

The Power of Personal Prayer: Learning to Pray with Faith and Purpose  Jonathan Graf
power of personal prayer.jpg (NavPress) $10.00  The founder of Pray magazine, this emerged from his work with a network of church-based prayer leaders.  Particularly helpful is his identification of obstacles to serious prayer work.  Very useful.

Intimate Intercession: The Sacred Joy of Praying for Others  Tricia McCary Rhodes (Word) $14.99  The great writer and pastor Mark Buchanan says "This is a great book on prayer for the simple reasons that it actually makes you want to pray."  My, my, this is great writing, interesting and elegant and creative and lovely.  I suppose it is marketed more to women with the nice flowery cover, but I seriously recommend it to anyone with a heart for intercessory prayer.

The Ministry of Intercessory Prayer  Andrew Murray (Bethany) $8.99  This is pretty old school, 1800s-era revival stuff, but many feel that it is a real classic, somewhat like the great London preacher, Charles Spurgeon.  While I'm mentioning Murray, I should list his classic With Christ in the School of Prayer (there are several editions, from a mass market paperback to even a handsome hardback for $7.97.)  As a late 70's 20-something, I viewed it as a bit too staid, until Richard Foster insisted it was one of the best books he ever read.  If it shaped Richard, that is something, eh? 

Together in Prayer: Coming to God in Community
  Andrew Wheeler (IVP) $15.00  This is a resource to help small groups think about prayer, and actually pray, together.  This is a rare kind of book, and will be very useful for leaders or anyone wanting to learn to intercede together.

The Rhythm of God's Grace: Uncovering Morning and Evening Hours of Prayer
  Arthur Paul Boers (Paraclete) $15.95  This Mennonite pastor is one of our great writers about the inner life and here, Eugene Peterson says, "This could well be the most important teaching on prayer you'll ever get."  A rich resource for nourishing the spiritual life...

The Prayer-Given Life
  Edward Stone Gleason  (Church Publishing) $12.00  As we all know, Episcopalians use their prayer book---The Book of Common Prayer--which has marvelous resources for intercession.  This is a hymn to the power of the prayer book and includes stories and testimonies and reflections.  For those with a more eucharistic theology or liturgical yearning, this is a wondrous study of formal prayer.

Praying With the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today  Scot McKnight (Paraclete) $15.95  McKnight is a well-known progressive evangelical scholar and here he gives helpful chapters on how the Orthodox pray, how Roman Catholics pray, how Anglicans pray, and why even non-liturgical folk might want to explore the liturgical practices of communions that stem back to the earliest church.  He studies Jesus' prayers, and moves into the use of the Divine Hours.

In Constant Prayer Robert Benson (Word) $17.99 This is in the "Ancient Practices" series which I have blogged about on occasion.  This is the most eloquent, yet simple, telling of the story of "fixed hour" prayer I have seen.  Very beautiful and very moving.

Praying for Dear Life: A Reason to Rise, Strength for the Day, Courage to Face the Night Thomas R. Steagald  (NavPress) $12.99  A conversational writer of great skill (he's got endorsing raves from Frederick Buechner and Lauren Winner) he tells of his own spiritual practices, his hobbled-together times of daily office and why this United Methodist pastor prays as he does.  I loved this book and really wish we could promote it widely!

Lord Have Mercy: Praying for Justice with Conviction and Humility  Claire Wolfeich (Jossey Bass) $21.95  This is in the renowned "Practices of Faith" series and each chapter narrates a story of prayer for some aspect of social justice and global peace.  It is surprisingly complicated stuff, learning to not use prayer as an ideological weapon, and the stories are really illuminating  (do you pray for or against a war, the death penalty, abortion, or whatever...) This is careful research on six examples of modern Christians involved in social engagement and humble prayer served them.  A rare sort of book, ideal for those with these concerns.  By the way, the Roman Catholic activist James McGinnis just released a lovely little handbook for global intercession, country by country, called Praying for Peace Around the Globe (Ligouri; $10.95.) Perhaps that might be a helpful resource.

The Power of a City at Prayer: What Happens When Churches Unite for Renewal Mac Pier & Katie Sweeting (IVP) $12.00  This may be a bit too evangelically-minded for some (the Brooklyn Tabernacle pastor Rev. Jim Cymbala and charismatic leader Che Ahn, have endorsements.)  But so does the Honorable Rev. Floyd Flake (retired African American congressman, social justice advocate, and pastor of Greater Allen AME Cathedral in NYC.)  Urban missions leader Ray Bakke has the forward, illustrating that this is a wholistic and culturally-engaged resource, telling of a large prayer gathering, interceding for New York and her churches.  Can pray change a city?  Who knew NYC had such a splendid past of hosting ecumenical prayer gatherings?  

Becoming the Answer to our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals 
Shane Claiborne &
becoming the answer.jpg Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (IVP) $13.00  I deeply respect the zany servants of the poor that these two young activists are, but who knew they are guys of deep prayerfulness, who understand the desert fathers and mothers, the mystics and monks--and know how to apply them to the fast-paced and urgent world of today?  They really are wise, here, informative, inspiring and reminding us that God uses us even as we respond to our own prayers, in obedience and action and care.  We can't say enough about this, often suggest it, for those who desire passionate discipleship, social action, and who know that prayer should be at the heart of all public witness and struggle.  Very highly recommended!